New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Sapporo 2024 Night 2
February 24, 2024
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Sapporo, Japan


Meet our previewers:

J Michael: J. Michael thinks it doesn’t get mentioned enough, but The Critic might be the most exceptionally written comedy in the history of American television. Name one thing in The Sopranos better than “… and nothing of value was lost.” Or when Jay’s best friend, Mel Gibson doppelgaanger Jeremy Hawke, as the lead in biopic Crocodile Gandhi Part II, playing Gandhi as Kirk Douglas and drops the immortal line, “the fast is over! Now I’m gonna fill your bellies… with lead!” There are equally quotable shows, but few pack the punch of The Critic. Most fools out there think The Sopranos is a better show, when it’s pretty self-evident that The Critic is better. What a Duke-tastrophe. Anyway, enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo 

John Carroll: John just did one of these for New Beginning in Sapporo 2024 Night 1, what do you think really happened in their life in the one day that has passed since? John doesn’t really got anything to update you on, fair reader. The Rangers and the Kings both won yesterday, so that was nice. Follow John on fucking X DOT COM @toshanshuinla and @wrestleomakase where they do lots of podcasting (note: they don’t actually).

Frontier Zone Match
Toru Yano and Tomoya (Hokuto Pro Wrestling) vs. Katsuya Murashima and Tomoaki Honma

J. Michael: The same match as yesterday, with a different Young Lion eating the fall. Prediction: The only noise I want to hear, cause Kidani-san is the final frontier

John: I used up the only interesting fact I know about Hokuto Pro Wrestling (that Katsuo was their champion for a full calendar year) on the Night 1 preview, so I don’t know what you want from me here. Prediction: The CHAOS-Hokkaido Connection

Oleg Boltin, YOH, Togi Makabe, El Desperado & Shota Umino vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (EVIL, SHO, Ren Narita, Dick Togo & Yujiro Takahashi)

J. Michael: This one is intriguing, because technically, if all goes according to common sense, this match is going to change, with SHO being forcibly defected to Strong Style.

As we noted in the Night 1 preview, we advocate Oleg Boltin to squash every person with whom he’s in a match, teammates and foes, and win the World Title within six months. What the fuck else do you need to see from this guy? He’s an Olympic-caliber amateur wrestler, he speaks Japanese, his physique is unmatched… just put him there and let him grow into it. The people already respond to his more elaborate spots, he has a good finisher. GO. Prediction: The Garbage Time Kings

John: Uh, is this match a spoiler that SHO is winning the night before? Are they gonna change it if SHO loses? Does he team up with the House one final time but have to wear Strong Style gear? All great questions! Prediction: HOUSE OF TORTURE

Hiroshi Tanahashi & CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii) vs. United Empire? (Matt Riddle, Jeff Cobb, HENARE, Great-O-Khan & Callum Newman)

John: You know what, I’ll go first on this one just to confuse you. Here we are, folks: the end of Kazuchika Okada’s seemingly endless goodbye tour. Somehow it hasn’t actually been THAT long- New Japan announced he was leaving the promotion back on January 19th, so it’s been just barely over a month. Since that date, he’s worked some Korakuens, retained the six-man titles that his team should have lost to TMDK, did one final match with Hiroshi Tanahashi in Osaka, and now it all wraps up in Sapporo. In, uh, two random 10-man tags against the United-ish Empire. And this one, his final match as a contracted New Japan Pro Wrestling talent, isn’t just a random 10-man tag- it’s a random 10-man tag that’s also match two of the main card. It’s below Tama Tonga’s goodbye.

Look, I’m not gonna beat around the bush here: everyone who has spent the last few weeks telling New Japan fans that they’re being weird freaks about Okada leaving, it’s actually all no big deal, he didn’t do anything wrong and New Japan isn’t even actually mad at him needs to fucking explain this match as his final goodbye to me. Kazuchika Okada, one of the biggest stars in New Japan history and at worst the second or third biggest star of this era, is doing a random 10-man tag in the second match of a show in Sapporo for his big goodbye. Shinsuke Nakamura got a six-man tag main event send off at Korakuen with all his faction mates on both teams, who famously carried him out of the arena on their shoulders. Even someone the level of KUSHIDA got a singles match with Hiroshi Tanahashi that he always wanted, again on a Korakuen main event. Two weeks ago Will Ospreay got to go out in a War Games-style cage match surrounded by his closest friends, headlining a sold out show in Osaka. And Tama Tonga is getting a better goodbye IN THE NEXT MATCH, ON THIS SHOW. 

This is how Okada is going out in comparison, and people don’t think the company is pissed at him? People don’t think those reports of him maybe him turning down that G1 block with the young guys last summer were A) true & B) maybe a bigger deal than the minimizers have made it out to be? I’ve seen people speculate that maybe Okada is staying a little longer than they’re saying and they’re going to set up an actual goodbye match for the Anniversary Show on March 6th, and you know what, in the (very unlikely) event they do that then I guess everything I just said was moot. But just the fact that people are speculating that he might be staying two weeks longer than he originally said (because nothing else makes sense to them) should tell you just how nothing of a goodbye match this is for one of the biggest stars in New Japan history.

And apparently there’s even rumors that New Japan won’t license Okada’s music to AEW now (remember, they had no problem doing it for Jay White last year!). But Okada not working with the young guys was no big deal! Nobody’s mad! Everyone’s happy! Look over there! Prediction: Presidential CHAOS

J. Michael: We were ready to absolutely unload here, and we had it fully planned out. Before the Flagship’s segment on it, and we wholly disagreed with everything said there on this subject. Before these matches were even announced. And now, after several weeks, and a oddly placed but delightfully exuberant Fantasticamania tour, we’re too exhausted by this subject to press further.

Our last hope was that Okada’s opponent on Night 1 would be Sabre. We even discussed it with a famed podcaster (Super J-Cast’s Joel) a month ago:

January 24/25

J. Michael

 [8:45 PM]Ok Joel, let me be full “Shibata’s getting the big push this year” idealistic

[8:45 PM] Would Okada do business with Zack at Sapporo?

Super Joel Cast 

 [1:39 AM]The thought had occurred to me

[1:39 AM] But I’ll believe it when I see it

But here we are, with a bizarrely underwhelming finish, as John explained above. The thing there is: it’s typical New Japan obstinance. These people held firm to plans despite a global, catastrophic pandemic; Okada’s departure was not going to compel them to adjust this card. And, with the way this tour is structured, the final leg of the tour was, by necessity, going to include five singles matches to finish the show. That leaves, at most, four match slots open. At best, Okada would finish his New Japan run, one of the greatest runs a wrestler has ever had in a company, and one of the most consequential partnerships in wrestling history, 6th from the top. It’ll End in Tears isn’t just a This Mortal Coil album.

As Joh noted, though, they placed him not only behind Tama Tonga’s send-off match, but also a completely vacuous tag match. Ryusuke Taguchi is going on after Kazuchika Okada’s New Japan culmination. Holy fuck, is this company unimpressed with the way this guy is leaving.

So, we’ll run through this stuff quickly:

The fatalism in wrestling fandom is astounding (but, as usual, not exactly unique… just more frustrating, as it always is). Just because other wrestlers weren’t working with the young guys, just because some statistical computation reveals the “leaving doing business” concept is a myth (as most of these time honored traditions are in this medium where veterans are so caustically acrid and bitterly disdainful of the youth), doesn’t exonerate Okada. If Okada really did take this track, it sounds like the kid that whines whenever a teacher or parent asks them to do something: wuhh, you never ask them

And so, why Okada when no one else was doing it (or, in the case of Naito, failing miserably)? Because he’s fucking Kazuchika Okada. If no one else is doing the right thing, then you do it. If the company isn’t asking them, accept that role. Or, you know, tell the incompetent bastards that you’re leaving. Which, you know, he did. Trust us, we really don’t begrudge Okada’s decision, just the final process steps. 

Now, the main thrust here is that New Japan’s booking was propitious enough for Okada to work these guys. That’s not entirely accurate; if he worked that A block, it would have ruled. Placing SANADA in that block was the most inspired decision they had all year. It would have been even better with Okada, and made significantly more sense. Okada went from being the most galvanizing figure in Japanese wrestling, to suddenly and abruptly totally divorced from all the volatility and acidity he displayed from January-March. 

And sure, it might be that Okada’s decisions were affected by New Japan’s booking, which was very odd in the second half of 2023. There is no rational, substantive examination of Okada’s culpability without a hefty amount of criticism leveled at the company. Once again, they’ve been caught flat-footed and painfully slow (even if we think their ideas have been solid regarding the young guys, it hasn’t been flawless, and it’s hard not to feel like they didn’t gain as much ground as they could have).

But this final month has felt perfunctory. Whether it falls on recalcitrance from Okada, pettiness from the company, or both. Like with Nakamura in 2016, there had to be a scenario on Night 1 where Okada could have dropped a fall. Night 2 would have still been open for this grandiose finale. But then, you could have solved this by having Fujita catch him at Korakuen Who gives a fuck, it’s the NEVER 6-Man titles. Fujita has something very special, and the boldness of that decision, especially early in the tour, well before the finality of Okada’s leaving would have been truly resonant, would have felt monumental. 

We will say this though: when it comes down to pondering believability, New Japan’s purported behavior aligns a lot closer to the historical record than Okada’s. This oft-careless company, replete with corporate turmoil and worker-antagonistic office cretins, versus the guy has been consistently pegged as egoless, a comedy wrestler’s brain in the GOAT’s body and push, wearing other people’s gear in a decade-long prank. BUT, as Joel and I have wondered (with full conjecture, we know), things may change significantly when it’s time to hand off the baton. It seems uncharacteristic, but it’s also a totally different context than the one the Known Okada has inhabited.

So much of this comes down to an is-ought dilemma. It’s a basic fundamental principle of philosophy, and the basis of humanity’s angst: everything is a certain way, and we are capable of imagining how things ought to be. And so, most wrestlers never job on the way out, but they ought to. That’s where the dissension in this debate emerges from, and why neither side can reconcile. One side is looking at reality, and one side is being quixotic.

And even though we understand that we’re on the quixotic side, and we don’t really have an issue with the other side (which is logical and well-supported), we’re still sure that we’re right.  New Japan should have done more for everyone, and Okada should have done more for… someone. The problem is, New Japan’s bad decisions stretch back years, and Okada’s bad decisions stretch over a month.

We hadn’t heard the Anniversary show idea… but if he sticks around, the best he’s doing is the semi-main. For a guy that main evented eight of nine G1 Climax A block shows in 2018, anything less than the final match is demeaning. And, also, made it even more sensible to put just one motherfucker over in some way on this tour. It should have been Fujita, end of story.

We’re sad it’s ending like this, but all signs point to a guy unsure of what he wants to give back, unsure he wants to give back while still in his prime (the same age Tanahashi gave to him, though), unsure he’d have enough time to properly give back before leaving… and very sure that he had, without question, the most unique and encouraging opportunity to successfully jump to America. 

For us, and this is totally unfair to write after John has finished his portion, but we’ll remember…

  • Wrestle Kingdom 12, when we dejectedly forced ourselves to stay up for the main event, convinced our favorite wrestler’s historic title reign was about to end… and the exhilaration when he somehow pulled it out (the correct booking decision, obviously).
  • How he turned a stalwart All Japan Pillars geek, a total New Japan skeptic, into a fan and subscriber through Wrestle Kingdom’s 9 and 10. 
  • The fucking Shibata match. 
  • The fucking Marufuji match
  • That fucking Tenryu match
  • The confirmation of Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11, possibly the most consequential match of this era. 
  • Blistering Dominion matches against AJ Styles and Kenny Omega. 
  • The balloons
  • The time he promised to literally beat Makabe to death in the ring until children started crying
  • The way he would go into worker mode in backstage comments by doing that supercilious, condescending squint of his eyes
  • When Okada went back to the shorts
  • When Dave was tricked and thought that a bar full of screaming, joyous Brits were actually watching Wrestle Kingdom on short circuit TV and were actually responding to Okada revealing that the shorts were back (or Dave was joking?)
  • The documentary, The True Kazuchika Okada, which hopefully will be back on World some day, showing the dismaying toll these matches take on Okada’s body, including that scene where he and Ibushi were getting worked on by trainers in the same room. But also the ridiculous routine he had running fucking sprints backstage wearing an oxygen deprivation mask
  • Dragon George
  • His 2017 G1 Climax, the greatest G1 performance by a reigning champion
  • His pertinacious zeal in spending the pandemic demanding fans either TAP OR NAP to the Money Clip, while baffling everyone trying to convince us all that he had lost his touch

And so on and on and on and you get it, we all get it, it’s great. Just thinking of that list was arduous; it’s nearly impossible to separate Okada from the entirety of New Japan in the last twelve years.

Godammit, we meant for that to be quick. This is why we don’t write reviews anymore. We could never finish them close enough after the show. Prediction: It would certainly be bold if Riddle gets the pin on Okada and we can be a bunch of babies doing the old “no, not like THAT!!” but we think it’s still CHAOS-Hontai

Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs Guerrillas of Destiny (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo)

J. Michael: The highlight of this tour, or the first half, was the series of matches in which House of Torture interfered relentlessly in the Korakuen main events, and the Hontai boys stormed out of the locker room to help each other. At the epicenter of this engagement was Tama. After Desperado defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Despy cut a legitimately heartwarming in-ring promo, recounting the days he and Tama got into trouble when they were in the dojo together. The next day, Tama said goodbye to Korakuen and asked Shota Umino to avenge him and take EVIL’s title.

Basically, Tama’s farewell tour feels as satisfying and profoundly joyous as Okada’s should be. Obviously, that’s possible in a situation completely absent of stakes. Stakes are the fuel of emotions, and the emotions surrounding Okada are fundamentally irrational, on this side (motherfucker should do business) and other (this motherfucker isn’t doing business and shouldn’t have to). Tama’s exit feels good, simple as that.

We doubt many will feel good about this one, though. ELP and Hikuleo haven’t elicited strong enough responses to consider them divisive, but the stances are polarized. The problem is that ELP and Hikuleo have not escaped the perdition of potential, and, unfortunately, time’s close to being up. ELP’s not catching on in Japan as a babyface as quickly as we expected, and Hikuleo’s in the David Finlay area where people’s minds are made up about him, feet are planted, and it would take amputation to unplant them. We’re baffled, because we see a guy hitting harder, running harder, wrestling with more conviction, and enjoying the benefits of being his team’s usual hot tag. And he’s fucking good at in that role. Hopefully, we see that transfer to his tag work.

But this is a tag team, and because they’ve been up-and-down, most have cast them aside. Even though they’ve really only been a team for what, 6 months? But then, they cultivated this a bit, souring the critical community with their unsolicited contract talk. There’s no easier way to antagonize this fandom, with all the exigencies of Japanese wrestling fomenting legitimate unease. The easiest way to babyface yourself right now is to shut down contract talk, stridently commit to the promotion and the fans. But then, it’s not their currency that’s dire. Not yet, at least. We can’t really fault the survivalism. 

But now that they’ve lost the belts, and been persecuted through a quagmire program with KENTA and Chase Owens, it’s hard to see their purpose. The BULLET CLUB Cold team dragged them down into insignificance, and they were already precarious. The bounce-back is going to be critical.

Considering how abysmal most have considered Tanga Loa’s most recent work, this portends even worse. But we’re confident that they will find a way to make this somewhat compelling. We’re not sure how long this is going to last, but if GOD Nouveau is going to be a thing for a while longer, we hope their conviction and commitment to earnest, fun, babyface manners pays off. We’re still on the train. Prediction: Guerilla of Destiny the Younger

John: Yeah, again, just compare Tama Tonga’s goodbye to Okada’s and it’s not hard to tell which guy the office is mad at. Tama got to win the NEVER title for a fourth (!) time at Wrestle Kingdom even though they already knew he was leaving, lose it only via shenanigans against EVIL, publicly endorse a successor in Shota Umino to go after the belt (and assist him in his own struggles against the House), and go out as a universally beloved figure in New Japan canon. Hell, we all thought he was done already before they announced this extra GOD vs. GOD goodbye match, which is honestly the exact kind of goodbye match I thought they’d give Okada (something like Okada/Yano/YOH vs. Bishamon/Ishii, or maybe even Tana instead of YOH since Tana may as well be a CHAOS member at this point who cares) but just didn’t.

Anyway, this will probably just be OK. I don’t really have strong feelings on either of these teams, besides the fact that I thought the GODeux team had a pretty good tag league that ended with a really strong final match against Bishamon. But an underwhelming Wrestle Kingdom rematch with them and then that horrible feud with Chase & KENTA have really lowered their stock again (plus it’s just annoying that they didn’t unify the utterly useless STRONG tag titles with the IWGP when they still had the chance, although obviously in real life that’s the office’s fault not theirs). I’m sure they’ll probably win this, and then afterward I would expect both to be in the New Japan Cup, so hopefully they can both make an impression as singles guys in a kind of needed little break for the team. Prediction: ELP & Hikuleo

Nic Nemeth & Ryusuke Taguchi vs BULLET CLUB (David Finlay & Gedo)

J. Michael: Ryusuke Taguchi’s Pharoah character he breaks out during Fantasticamania is one of the highlights of the New Japan calendar. The little sound sting they play when he misses a move is phenomenal. Everything about it encapsulates Fantasticamania’s majestic, buoyant celebration of wrestling itself. That’s all we have to say on this meaningless multi-man tag. Nic Nemeth is going to attempt a hip attack and, we’re just guessing, he’s going to deliver an audacious one. If Taguchi comes across contrived (in a good way), Nemeth’s hip attack and interplay with Big Gooch is going to irrevocably rip the fabric of kayfabe asunder. Prediction: Buttocks

John: Why the fuck is this match so high on the card anyway lol? Prediction: Probably the team without Gedo on it I’d imagine 

Los Ingobernables vs. Just 5 Guys
Match #1
BUSHI vs. Taka Michinoku

J. Michael: BUSHI fucking sucks, and he’s not a dojo product, so he must have the most concentrated, potently tangible loyalty and fealty imaginable. This part of the rivalry, and the entire faction warfare aspect, began at New Year’s Dash, when Taka improbably beat BUSHI in a LIJ-J5G multi-man. The germination of this tour’s framework program began with these two, with BUSHI as the emotional center. That fall Taka gained set up this fairly anodyne, predictably-but-pleasant program, where BUSHI will get his revenge. On a side note, watch the video where Kenoh went to BUSHI’s fried chicken joint, in an LIJ mask, expecting an easy way to dunk on the group’s weakest link, and was shocked by how good it was. Prediction: BUSHI

John: This will give me the chance to have a rare bit of disagreement with J. Michael in one of these previews: I think BUSHI is a perfectly cromulent little wrestler for his role and it makes perfect sense why he’s stuck around forever despite not being a dojo product. He’s like the absolute perfect embodiment of what you want a unit loss post in New Japan to be: he can lose all the time and still stay over (partly because he’s in LIJ, partly because he just has a weirdly likable energy to him), he’s more than adequate in ring, and he seemingly never complains about losing all the time. Not sure what more you can ask for out of a guy who’s main purpose is to get pinned in multi-man tags really. Anyway, he obviously gets his win back on TAKA from New Year Dash to kick off this series. 

By the way, BUSHI’s fried chicken place was selling little bento boxes at the Suidobashi train station on the day of Wrestle Kingdom (one of the main stations you get off at for the Tokyo Dome) and I wanted to get one, but the line to buy one was so incredibly long that I ultimately passed. I regret it now. Gotta remember to go to his fried chicken place on my next trip- if it has the Kenoh seal of approval that’s more than good enough for me. Prediction: BUSHI

Los Ingobernables vs. Just 5 Guys
Match #2
Hiromu Takahashi vs. DOUKI

J. Michael: In Night 1’s preview we quoted Shakespeare to highlight Hiroshi Tanahashi’s definitive fatness. Let’s quote an even better writer, David Bowie: “five years, my brain hurts a lot/five years, and that’s all we got”

It’s been five years since DOUKI returned to Japan to cover Desperado’s spot in that year’s BOSJ (Despy, of course, had a shattered jaw, because everyone thought it was a perfectly rational idea for him to wrestle Jun fucking Kasai right before the tournament). This is all we’ve gotten?

At this point, DOUKI is dangerously close to becoming the junior…. well, not even Goto. At least Goto’s trophy shelf is overflowing with secondary titles and worthwhile tournament achievements. DOUKI’s shelf  is bereft of any achievements. His major accomplishment remains living in Mexico for ten years. It is, and will forever remain, a remarkable, brazen, nearly heroic feat: a literal fucking kid packing up and taking a chance in a completely different hemisphere. The gall necessary to do that is mind boggling.

Time to start the ascent. He does cool moves, crowds like him, the only issue we see is his smallness, but then… take off his fucking shirt! If you didn’t see, the guy is fucking jacked now, under his silky sexy sensual shirt, and won the 2023 New Japan Concurso. No doubt, there hasn’t necessarily been the right time to push him, but there’s been no signs of progression either. 

DOUKI was 27 when he came to New Japan. Here’s his Best of the Super Juniors runs, from 2019 to 2023: 

  • 2019: 2 points (1-8), 9th of 10 in block
  • 2020: 4 points (2-7), 9th of 10 in block
  • 2021: 6 points (3-11), 12th of 12 in block
  • 2022: 6 points (3-6), 10th of 10 in block
  • 2023:  6 points (3-6), 8th of 10 in block

It’s not like he should contend this year, but at the very least, a winning record would be nice. Or finishing in the top half of his pool? 

Obviously, Hiromu has a fondness for DOUKI. Whenever they are matched up, he relentlessly shifts the focus towards him. They have established Hiromu, even more than Desperado, as the hurdle DOUKI must overcome. These two have amazing chemistry and have delivered some of the most spectacular junior matches in the company. Other times, their matches have been merely captivating. The point is, whenever these two meet, the ceiling is high. Honestly, the times the matches have fallen short is when the expectations were impossibly high. We’re expecting lunacy and audacious indifference to their safety. Sometimes they have, sometimes they haven’t. We expect a more restrained affair, which is still fairly insane compared to the rest. 

The coolest thing about this tour: on January 24th, in front of a raucous sold-out Korakuen crowd, DOUKI pinned Hiromu, in a two-on-two tag of Naito and Hiromu vs. DOUKI and SANADA, with the Jorge Rivera Special. This led to a hilarious scene in which Hiromu threw an increasingly frantic tantrum in the ring, while a slightly perplexed, slightly bemused, slightly rascally Naito watched on, never once moving in any manner to offer Hiromu support or consolation.

Hiromu hasn’t evened the score, which leads one to believe he will here. Honestly, we’re really wondering whether this is going to be an LIJ sweep. But, for the sake of everyone, we’re desperately hoping that they make the bold choice and have DOUKI win again. Hopefully we’ll be singing a different song to DOUKI in five more years. Prediction: DOUKI

John: This is such an exciting match because it really could go either way. As J. Michael has said throughout, I don’t think an LIJ sweep is out of the question at all, in which case Hiromu is obviously winning. They could also have TAKA beat BUSHI again, it’s not like it REALLY matters whether BUSHI gets his win back on fucking TAKA Michinoku or not, in which case again Hiromu is probably winning this to even up the series at 1-1. 

But I’m going to go with the far more exciting route here which is having DOUKI finally beat Hiromu Takahashi in a singles match. Hiromu just lost the junior title and is basically bulletproof in this division anyway, so there’s no way he can’t handle the loss (and it might just end up being another roll up finish, although it would be even more impactful if DOUKI really beat him this time). It would also make an inevitable rematch in the BOSJ in a few months more exciting, because DOUKI finally beat this guy and you’d thus know he could do it again (even though obviously Hiromu would likely just end up getting his win back there). Either way, this match should be thrilling, as almost all of their meetings before have been. Prediction: DOUKI

Los Ingobernables vs. Just 5 Guys
Match #3
Shingo Takagi vs. Taichi

J. Michael:  This one is a bit deflating. This is probably the best bet of all five matches to be reliably great, but it’s slated third, and a match-up between these two feels bigger than that. Obviously, that impulse could strengthen the notion, the inherent feeling that Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura have surpassed their level, or that it is believable that they could achieve that level soon. But then, it could also poison that notion by placing them there too fast.

Making the young guy’s match a lucha de apuestas solves part of that, obfuscating the strength of this match in comparison. We suppose that this undergirds the rivalry, by having something so strenuous, so immaculately barbarous, in the middle. It’s the pillar. Prediction: Taichi

John: Yeah, this is another pairing that pretty much always produces awesome matches, and I don’t see how this one won’t unless it just doesn’t get any time or something. They’re gonna hit each other very hard and trade axe bombers and scream in each other’s faces, you know the deal by now. It’s the kind of match that if you don’t like I question why you’re even watching puro in the first place. This is it, man. This is why we love this shit.

With Taichi in front of his home prefecture, I think he gets the win over Shingo here and puts J5G up briefly in the series (setting up LIJ needing the big comeback in the last two matches to win it). But again, you can really come up with almost any set of results you want in this thing and I’d believe it, short of one (I cannot believe they’d actually have SANADA win the belt back, but we’ll get to that). Prediction: Taichi

Los Ingobernables vs. Just 5 Guys
Match #4
Hair vs. Hair Match
Yota Tsuji vs. Yuya Uemura

John: It’s not really an exaggeration at all to say that these two young bulls have been carrying the LIJ vs. J5G feud for the last month and a half. As we both talked about in the Night 1 preview, it’s been quite languid and without much in the way of thrills overall, but three moments in particular have stood out as exceptions:

  • TAKA pinning BUSHI at New Year Dash in the 10-man tag. Look, I was in the building for this and everybody gasped like what the hell, it was exciting! TAKA Michinoku won a fall in the year of our lord 2024!
  • Yuya tapping Yota out with a cross armbreaker out of nowhere in only 7:16 to win one of the approximately seven thousand LIJ vs. J5G ten-man tags at Korakuen on 2/4.
  • Yota firing back by pinning Yuya with two straight GENE BLAST spears to win the (again, say it with me) otherwise pretty dull faction gauntlet on 2/5.

Two of those three moments obviously involved these two guys. So putting them in the semi-main made all the sense in the world. And you know, I’ve seen lots of consternation about this being a hair vs. hair match and how neither of them should be losing their beautiful locks, and on the one hand I get it. On the other hand, Yuya Uemura looked great with short hair! And hair grows back! So Tsuij will win this one again I think (evening up the series at 2-2 heading into the main, if everything else has gone how I’ve predicted so far- which it probably won’t mind you), while Yuya Uemura will lose his hair and thus have to try and bounce back in the New Japan Cup. Tsuji, who’s openly talked about challenging his own faction mate Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP, will enter that same Cup riding a lot of momentum. Hmm! Prediction: Yota Tsuji

J. Michael: John explained the escalation here beautifully. There’s nothing else to add, except that Uemura is annoyingly hot and thus can afford to lose his hair. He’ll still, annoyingly, be hot. Even a cursory search of Young Lion-era Tusji tells you all you need to know about a smooth-bodied Tsuji. He needs to be lushly hirsute. The Wrestle Kingdom decisions to have Uemura win their match was weird, since Uemura is being positioned like a guy that benefits more from loss and chasing something. That aspect should be fulfilled here.  Prediction: Yota Tsuji

Los Ingobernables vs. Just 5 Guys
Match #5
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. SANADA

John: Did the world really need another Naito vs. SANADA IWGP title match this fucking soon? I’m pretty much about as big of a fan of El Ingobernable as you can find on the planet earth, and I like SANADA too, and I’m not even remotely excited for this. So I can only imagine how one of SANADA’s many haters (or the weird anti-Naito people too) must feel about this one.

I understand why they booked this- it made sense for SANADA to save Naito at the end of Wrestle Kingdom and get a nice moment of cheers from the Dome crowd (god knows almost no one in attendance was cheering him to win the actual match…), and it also made sense in storyline for him to request a rematch from Naito in return for saving the roll call, something that had been built up to an almost mythical level in the four years between 2020 and 2024. Whether or not you personally cared about the Tokyo Dome roll call, it was a big fucking deal to Naito’s fans to finally get to see it happen after all the waiting (and I’m sure the original plan back when they booked KENTA’s run in wasn’t for it to take THAT long, but y’know….pandemic and all), and since Naito is the most popular wrestler in the company, that means it was a big fucking deal for New Japan in general. 

So fine, SANADA gets a rematch because he saved the roll call. Again, that makes logical sense. But man, they just did nothing afterward to make people get interested in or care about this rematch. Look at Naito and SANADA’s one-on-one meeting at the start of the LIJ vs. J5G gauntlet a few weeks ago- Korakuen is typically a rabidly pro-Naito crowd and usually likes SANADA well enough too, but the fans in the building couldn’t have given less of a shit about their face-off if they tried. It speaks to what a weird, nothing feud this has been, featuring one guy who seems openly frustrated with his opponent’s complete unwillingness to speak and that guy, uh, just continuing to be unwilling to speak. It was kind of fun in a weird way in the lead up to Wrestle Kingdom (if only for what a bizarre way it was to build a WK main), but they did that story already and it didn’t need to be continued. Now it’s just been another month and a half of a guy not talking. And on top of it, the other guy barely seems like he even cares anymore! At least it was funny when Naito was exasperated by it!

Anyway, if they have SANADA win this belt right back they’ve either truly lost their minds or Naito’s bones are about to explode or something. And honestly, even if it’s the latter, Naito should probably still win and lose this belt to someone else at Sakura Genesis, exploded bones and all. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

J. Michael: If Naito vs. KENTA is a 10/10 on the New Beginning title match scale, this is a solid 3. And you know what, FINE… I’ll say it: you all told me so.  Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

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