Sunday, February 11, 2018

NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka Review

NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka
February 10th, 2018 | EDION Arena in Osaka, Japan | Attendance: 5,481

Whenever Los Ingobernables de Japon are the focal point of an NJPW card, it usually ranks among the best the company puts out there. Last year’s New Beginning in Sapporo was poop compared to the Osaka show, which had LIDJ matches at the top, for example. That’s the case here, as there are a whopping five LIDJ/CHAOS singles matches.

Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yuji Nagata
This was the sixth match in Kitamura’s Seven Match Trial Series. As you’d expect from NJPW, Kitamura entered winless. I still wish they’d go a completely different route with Kitamura. He’s so good and already older than most Young Lions. By the way, Nagata came out with a Tag Title he won in AJPW last week. The match became a strike battle that Kitamura didn’t have a chance in. He did his best, but Nagata just beat his ass. I liked Kitamura using Nakanishi’s Torture Rack, as if he’s learning things along the way during this series. Kitamura came close a few times, and survived the armbar and a PK. He couldn’t get up from a backdrop driver, losing in 10:58. Though it felt rather one-sided, I liked the story it told. Kitamura is continuing to learn, but Nagata schooled him thanks to his experience. [***]

Non-Title Match: IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Roppongi 3K w/ Rocky Romero vs. El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru
This is the best possible Suzuki-Gun Due to the title match with the Young Bucks and all the recent Suzuki-Gun attacks, SHO’s back was taped and still bothering him. Suzuki-Gun did one of their signature early attacks to gain the upper hand. SHO’s injury made him the obvious choice for isolation. YOH got some shine after his hot tag. But, that back just kept coming into play. The champs went for their finisher, only for SHO’s back to give out. YOH got taken out, leaving SHO at Kanemaru’s mercy. He used a Boston crab, along with a cheap chair shot to the back, to make SHO tap out in 10:22. Maybe I’m in a good mood, but I really liked that. I love that SHO still had back issues coming into this and Suzuki-Gun attacked it. Yea, Roppongi 3K overcame the Young Bucks, but they’re still vulnerable. Kanemaru using the crab to win felt like a shot to their recent time as Young Lions. [***¼]

Post-match, Suzuki-Gun added more chair shots to SHO’s back, stomped on Rocky Romero, and posed with the titles.

KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Togi Makabe vs. IWGP Intercontinental Champion Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, and Takashi Iizuka
In a good turn of events, Makabe jumped Minoru during his entrance. It made sense since Minoru keeps denying his shot at the IC Title. The ring emptied, with Suzuki/Makabe fighting in the crowd, as well as Elgin/Iizuka. Taichi went after Taguchi because of the stuff with his lady friend. Once it got back to the ring, things calmed down a bit. However, there was a spot where Iizuka suggestively bit Taguchi on the ass. Callis: I thought I was gonna have to wait until 3 AM to see that. Makabe and Suzuki got their eventual tags and went to war. Things broke down again, and Makabe beat TAKA with the King Kong Knee Drop in 11:52. This was in offensive, but nothing more than the usual Suzuki-Gun match. [**¼]

After the match, Suzuki finally accepted Makabe’s challenge. He then fell on the ramp and beat up poor Tomoyuki Oka for it.

David Finlay, Juice Robinson, and Toa Henare vs. IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii, and Toru Yano
They ran this match in Korakuen on the 6th (***). I appreciate how White doesn’t come out with his partners. He really only joined CHAOS for business reasons (and booking, since Gedo can’t seem to figure out what to do if you’re not part of some kind of stable) and isn’t friends with them. Yano and Juice opened this with some fun exchanges. Henare continued to target Ishii and get beaten for it. I was more into Juice going right at Ishii, though. A New Japan Cup or G1 match between them sounds great. In the end, White was left with Henare. He hit the Blade Runner and instead of covering him, he rained elbows down so the referee could call for a stoppage at 7:33. Like the Korakuen match, this was fine fun. Henare’s issue with Ishii is intriguing, Ishii/Juice was a highlight, and White continues to gain more confidence in his role. [**¾]

In a very cool moment, Rey Mysterio Jr. appeared in a video. He announced he would be wrestling in NJPW for the first time ever at Strong Style Evolved in Long Beach, California. He issued a challenge to Jushin Thunder Liger, who nodded from commentary. Okay, that’s pretty damn cool.

BUSHI vs. Gedo
It feels odd to have this on a major show, but at least it gives BUSHI something to do. He’s too good to be the forgotten member of LIDJ. He brought out giant scissors to cut Gedo’s beard, while Gedo wore the two masks he stole from BUSHI. As expected, that meant a lot of Gedo going after the mask, and BUSHI pulling on his beard, in the early stages. From there, it was a battle of two guys trying to out heel one another. Low blows, mist, tying the mask to the ropes, beard pulling, etc. You know it, these guys tried it, which made for a different kind of match. That’s very appreciated in NJPW. BUSHI won an entertaining match with MX in 10:07. This was fine. Fun back and forth cheating from both men, but nothing more. [**]

Tetsuya Naito vs. YOSHI-HASHI
Man, that WK12 result looks worse and worse with Naito treading water like this. HASHI jumped Naito during his entrance, drawing the ire of the crowd. The story has been that Naito doesn’t take him seriously. Even when Naito gets attacked, he shrugs it off because he doesn’t care. Naito withstood that and took control. This match had a slower pace than expected. There wasn’t much outwardly wrong with this match, it just wasn’t very interesting. It lacked an urgency and Naito didn’t seem to be at his best. The crowd was kind of dead other than cheering for Naito. Naito won after two Destinos in 16:46. It felt longer than that and really hammered home how Naito shouldn’t be stuck here. By this point last year, he already had two 4.5 star matches and this year, he’s yet to have one crack 4. Nobody believed HASHI had a chance and they never made it feel like that was the case. As I said, this was good, but nowhere near great. [**¾]

Post-match, Taichi attacked Naito with his microphone stand. There have been rumors of Taichi moving to the heavyweight division. Holy hell, imagine being Naito and falling this hard from grace.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The video package for this was filled with cats and I loved it. This show has been wildly average. Save us, Hiromu. They went right at each other and Hiromu nailed a great German suplex on the outside and belly to belly into the guardrail. From there, the pace remained insane, with both guys pulling off impressive feats of athleticism. Each bump looked violent, especially the way Ospreay took the sunset flip bomb. In fact, Ospreay took the brunt of the beating and had to continually struggle for any advantage. In one sick spot, Ospreay countered a super wheelbarrow driver into a release German suplex onto the turnbuckle. It didn’t come off cleanly, but was a vicious idea. They continued with the great back and forth, which included an imploding 450 by Will, Oscutter counter by Hiromu, a great strike exchange, and Hiromu kicking out a middle rope reverse rana at one. After even more quality stuff, Ospreay used the beheading forearm and the Oscutter to retain in 20:05. Easily the best thing on the show. They had the breakneck paced match I wanted from them. Tons of great exchanges and counters throughout, with the fans completely into everything. I miss Hiromu as Jr. Champion, though.[****¼]

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto [c] vs. IWGP Tag Team Champion EVIL
It’s almost impossible to be interested in Hirooki Goto. Where the last match was fast paced, this one was much slower. It was two bigger dudes wearing each other down. They eventually moved into some of the harder hitting offense, though it didn’t grasp me the way those spots in other NEVER Title matches have. It felt like it dragged on and went about double the actual length. It picked up a bit late, but not enough to save things. Goto won with the GTR in a long 20:19. I thought with the title off Suzuki, the bullshit in these matches would get cut down. Instead, this still had some nonsense and ref bumps, while also featuring a crowd that didn’t get behind EVIL. Hugely disappointing. [**½]

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. IWGP Tag Team Champion SANADA
Their three prior singles matches were all good, but none even sniffed great. Okada has passed 600 days as champion. I feel like I had a soul when it started and now it’s gone. Thinking about it, for all the talk of how great his reign has been, the only matches during it I went 4+ on were against Omega (1), Marufuji, and Shibata. Anyway, this got off to the typical Okada start, until SANADA drove his face into the guardrail and hit a piledriver on the ramp. Once back to the ring, things dropped a bit in interest, outside of Okada being a smug jerk. It’s a role that’s so natural for him. Of course, Okada couldn’t hit the Rainmaker on his first attempt, giving SANADA an opening. The crowd really picked up when SANADA hit his signature dropkick and followed with a series of planchas. The fans began to buy into a SANADA win, especially when he locked in Skull End. They were way invested in the usual Rainmaker counters series that we always get. There was modification on this one, as it lasted way longer and saw several different escapes. We got the Okada wrist hold spot that he can’t seem to live without, before using one to retain in 32:12. It was an Okada title defense. Slow start, great closing stretch. It was their best match together, for sure. The crowd believed in SANADA, but I never bought him as a winner. Also, as crisp as the Rainmaker counter stretches are, it’s hard to get invested in them, when you mostly know what’s coming. There was also a sense of overkill, from the ramp piledriver to the Skull End being applied seven times. Everyone in the company feels like second class citizens compared to Okada and it’s not even close. I know people will defend NJPW booking to the death, but it’s the kind of thing WWE would get chastised for. By the way, I’m not complaining at the result. It was clear the Tag Champ wasn’t winning the Heavyweight Title. [***½]

Interesting to note that Tanahashi had 11 successful defenses in 404 days, while Okada just reached 10 in 600. Anyway, after the match, Okada said he wanted to compete in the New Japan Cup. Champions usually don’t do that. Then, he called out Will Ospreay for a match at the Anniversary Show in March. He faced the Jr. Champion at the Anniversary Show a few years ago (Ibushi), though this has the added intrigue of CHAOS vs. CHAOS after Jay White has been seemingly playing them against each other.

Overall: 6/10. After a strong Wrestle Kingdom, the February shows lacked for NJPW. I understand the business decision to split up the New Beginning into three cards, but it made each show weaker. This one had a standout match (Hiromu/Ospreay) but this was a rare care where LIDJ didn’t deliver the good. Naito looked like he was going through the motions against HASHI, EVIL/Goto was disappointing, BUSHI/Gedo was kind of just there, and Okada/SANADA fell victim to the overly done Okada formula. The undercard was relatively fine. Outside of some top matches this year, NJPW has been okay at best. Hopefully, things pick up with the New Japan Cup.

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