Wednesday, February 8, 2017

NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo Review

NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo
February 5th 2017 | Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center in Hokkaido, Sapporo, Japan | Attendance: 5,545

Following a successful Wrestle Kingdom show that exceeded my expectations, NJPW returned with the first New Beginning show. At New Year Dash, Suzuki-Gun returned and looked to run roughshod over NJPW the way they did with NOAH in recent years. There’s an Osaka show next week that looks like a stronger card.

Also of note, I typically watch with Japanese commentary but chose English here to see how Don “Cyrus” Callis does replacing Steve Corino.

El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Hirai Kawato and KUSHIDA in 7:34
Here’s some Suzuki-Gun right from the start. Kawato is truly a young lion at just 19 years of age. He started for his team and got bullied by the Suzuki-Gun duo. KUSHIDA got a hot tag but didn’t fare much better thanks to his shoulder injury. He’s taped up like his name is Cesaro. Kawato showed fire in his next run. He survived a single leg crab, which I wasn’t expected and nearly stole it with a small package. Desperado put him down with a blue thunder bomb. Fine opener. KUSHIDA’s involvement was kept to a minimum, which is a shame. Kawato showed improvement and did well despite his age. **¼

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Yuji Nagata def. Henare, Yomoyuki Oka and YOSHITATSU in 7:48
NEW JAPAN DADS! When the hell is YOSHITATSU leaving to CMLL? Surprisingly, his team attacked before the bell like a group of heels. Kojima turned it around and chopped them to hell in the corner. Yes, all three. Callis tried to be nice and say YOSHI looked good. I mean, he looked better than usual but not by much. I liked Oka and Nagata trading blows. Nagata is big on Oka and helped train him in the Dojo. Nagata slapped on a cross face and Oka powered out. It was a cool touch but Nagata transitioned the move and made him tap anyway. Another fine tag match and probably the best YOSHITATSU match in months. However, that was mostly due to the Dads being good and the continued progress of Henare and Oka. **½

Gedo, Jado and Will Ospreay def. Jushin Thunder Liger, RPW British Heavyweight Champion Katsuyori Shibata and Tiger Mask IV in 6:47
This is to help build the upcoming Ospreay/Shibata match at the next New Beginning show. Unlike previous Shibata/Ospreay interactions, this didn’t see them go to war. They used a more mat based approach with flashes of something more. The veteran juniors came in and things were much less interesting. They did some back and forth, where everyone got a bit of shine. Ospreay won by hitting Tiger Mask with a cutter. After the match, Shibata attacked Ospreay but also ate a cutter. This match was kind of just there. I enjoyed Shibata and Ospreay interacting but that was it. **

YOSHI-HASHI def. Takashi Iizuka in 7:00
Iizuka’s wacky entrance began all the way up in one of the decks in the arena. They brawled outside early because that’s what Iizuka does. The crowd was into this, which helped. YOSHI nearly got counted out after Iizuka used a chair. Once inside, YOSHI still had trouble with wild man Iizuka. He finally started a comeback, which seemed to take forever because of Iizuka’s pace. YOSHI avoided the iron claw gimmick that Iizuka does and won with Karma. Nothing match that was only here to get YOSHI a win. Iizuka is better suited for tag matches or bigger brawls like the one he had in 2015 with Taniguchi. 

Dragon Lee, Michael Elgin and NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi and Ryusuke Taguchi def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito) in 13:03
Everyone is involved in matches in Osaka, with the NEVER Tag Titles on the line, Lee/Takahashi and Naito/Elgin. Lee and Takahashi began with their incredible pace. Their match should be the best of the New Beginning shows. Elgin beat up Naito for a bit before we got a reminder of Naito/Tanahashi from Wrestle Kingdom. Elgin did some Taguchi like ass attacks. Lee hit a great tope con hilo as the pace picked up. The final stretch was strong as always, with everyone getting some shine. I was particularly impressed by an Elgin German on EVIL. Tanahashi fought off Naito and took out everyone with a dive outside. That left Lee to put away BUSHI with a suplex into a powerbomb. Best thing on the show so far. These guys all just work so well together and their matches in Osaka should all be good. ***½

Side note but Dragon Lee’s dubbed over theme is awful.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice (c) def. Taichi and TAKA Michinoku in 13:37
I don’t love Roppongi Vice but they are far more entertaining than any team involving Taichi. Taichi’s lady tried distracting RPG Vice before the bell but Beretta wanted none of it. Kanemaru and Desperado also showed up to help jump the champions. RPG Vice had to fight through the bullshit as Beretta had the heat worked on him. Romero got the hot tag and did the FOREVER clotheslines. Beretta took a beating here, getting hit with a chair and the ring bell. It wasn’t a good night for him. He hit the Dudebuster from out of nowhere for a near fall. He used a chair to take out some of Suzuki-Gun before they retained with Strong Zero. Early on, I expected this to suck and be full of shenanigans. They worked through it and came out with a good match. Beretta did a great job in peril and took a good amount of damage before the champs turned things around. ***

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) def. Juice Robinson in 14:41
This is the biggest test of Juice’s career. He pinned Goto at New Year Dash to set this up. Juice started hot with instant strikes. He got a near fall after a cannonball and diving headbutt, forcing Goto to retreat. Commentary kept trying to hammer home how Goto “won the big one” at Wrestle Kingdom, even though he didn’t. Goto has won plenty of titles before, even some in the Tokyo Dome. He can’t win the Heavyweight Title. He didn’t overcome anything. Goto took control, wearing down Juice and slowing the pace. Juice did a strong job in making his close calls believable. His corner powerbomb and frantic pin were highlights. Juice fired up after eating a German and went blow for blow with Goto. He survived a fair amount but fell to the GTR. I thought this went exactly how it should have. Juice had a game plan to attack early but then got overwhelmed at times by Goto. He sold well and had some great near falls. After having good performances with Kyle O’Reilly, Go Shiozaki and others in 2016, this was the best outing of Juice’s career. ***¾

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano (c) def. Great Bash Heel and The Killer Elite Squad in 13:35
Everyone brawled at the start, which is fitting given the teams involved. We got some classic Yano antics with the BREAK gimmick and quickly tagging out. When he was in, he took a beating. The other teams wanted to isolate him because Ishii is one bad dude. Honma ran wild when he got the tag and the crowd still loves him despite a lackluster 2016. By the way, Davey Boy Smith Jr. is in the best shape of his life. Easily. Makabe’s cackling laugh and yelling at Honma made me chuckle. Yano tried to steal a pin after blind tagging himself following a Kokeshi. Down the stretch, things picked up and saw Yano steal it again with a low blow and roll up on Makabe. That was fun. KES looked great and didn’t get pinned, while the Yano/Ishii dynamic continues to be enjoyable. I’d like to see KES/Yano and Ishii with no GBH next time. ***

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Minoru Suzuki in 40:48
Suzuki-Gun has lost every match of importance on this show. They returned at New Year Dash and Suzuki went right after Okada to set this up. Since the summer of 2015, Okada has been champion for all but 70 days. Okada had his knee heavily taped due to recent Suzuki attacks. I liked the early stuff with Suzuki going for the leg and Okada desperately getting to the ropes. Suzuki spent the bulk of the match just obliterating Okada’s leg. Inside and outside of the ring, it was all Suzuki. Okada sold the leg well for most of the match. Of course, when he had to hit his elbow he was fine. Suzuki countered the Rainmaker into another knee bar, which was great. As if the barrage of submissions wasn’t enough, Okada also withstood Suzuki-Gun interference and sent them packing. Suzuki countered a Gotch style tombstone attempt from Okada into yet another submission. The amount Okada survived is absurd. Cena and Reigns wish they got this level of superhuman booking. Okada got destroyed with strikes and put in a sleeper but of course, he still somehow fought off a Gotch piledriver. He hit a Rainmaker and did his now cheesy spot of keeping hold of the wrist. It was cool the first time but not so much now. They countered each other and Okada magically managed to hold Suzuki up for a German suplex. What happened to the leg work? He hit the Rainmaker and retained. That was a sickening display of superman booking. Parts of this match worked but a lot of it got wiped out by some of the selling, or lack thereof down the stretch. The superman stuff was absurd and took me out of the match. It was never done as believable. I understood the constant submission attempts but things were boring after a while. I know he’s the ace but the Okada stuff is getting out of hand for me. Also, this story could have bene told in a shorter window. Give me Okada/Suzuki from the G1 24 every single day over this. 

Overall: 5.5/10. One of my least favorite NJPW shows. My favorite match on the card was Goto vs. Juice. That and the LIDJ tag were the two things I would say are worth seeing. The two Tag Title matches are good, not great, while the undercard is kind of just there. The main event is an overly long match where Suzuki was good only for it to not matter and Okada to superman up, making none of the previous 35+ minutes matter. A disappointment all around, but I have faith in the Osaka show being much better.