Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Usually, the New Beginning events come in February, but here we are. NJPW booked them the same weekend as TakeOver: Philadelphia and the Royal Rumble, so it was easy to forget they were even happening. It’s the first major show after Wrestle Kingdom.
I’m surprised NJPW continues to book Michael Elgin after everything that was revealed about him. The guys played up the power battle right from the start. Kitamura didn’t back down from his successful opponent and matched him in strength. They traded suplexes throughout this, with Kitamura looking like his equal. Kitamura came close a few times, but they went the predictable route and had him fall to the buckle bomb/Elgin Bomb combo in 8:04. This was a solid opener with good action. I’d have thrown in a twist and had Kitamura go over. [
This started with the expected Suzuki-Gun pre-match attack. Doesn’t it ever get old, fellas? Even Don Callis called out the faces for not having it scouted. The Suzuki-Gun guys worked their usual stuff. Not much in the way of interesting offense, underhanded tactics, you know the drill. The faces made their comeback, highlighted by a Liger somersault off the apron. KUSHIDA avoided Kanemaru’s whiskey spit and made TAKA tap to the Hoverboard Lock in 8:06. I’m beyond over Suzuki-Gun matches. Break up the group and get rid of Taichi, Iizuka, and Kanemaru. They add nothing of value. This was basic at best.
Ishii started with Yujiro and kicked his ass. Owens got tagged and hilariously wanted Yano instead. He’s not stupid. Though Yano was Yano, he found himself in trouble. Commentary had an interesting conversation about guys in stables not challenging champions in the group. Like, why doesn’t Ishii go after Okada’s title? Callis said Gedo would probably kick him out, since it’s all about protecting the champion. Ishii ran wild on a hot tag for a bit. A Yano low blow was interrupted, but Yujiro accidentally got hit by Owens. That left Chase alone to fall victim to a Brainbuster in 7:06. The Yano/Ishii pairing is a fun odd couple tandem. This was solid and will most likely set them up for a Tag Title match at some point soon.
This was quite the interesting trio of challengers. Before the match, Loa broke Taguchi’s sunglasses, which is the most vile thing a Bullet Club member has possibly ever done. The champs took control by isolating Henare and beating up the other guys outside. It eventually set up the Makabe hot tag, which the fans seemed to enjoy. He was working harder than usual. The final stretch was the best part of this match, with some solid exchanges. Tama Tonga got a near fall on a flapjack, before applying a new submission and making Henare tap at 9:15. Solid enough. I didn’t expect much from the participants, but the champs worked well together, Taguchi was fun, Makabe put in effort, and Henare did well in his role.
Finlay and Scurll had a good back and forth to start, before the focus turned to Cody and Ibushi. Of course, Cody avoided a straight up fight with him, allowing Hangman to take the beating for him. Juice ended up in position as the face in peril. It’s a role he excels at, so it made sense. Ibushi got the hot tag and had another showdown with Cody. His interactions with Scurll made me crave a match between them at some point. Ibushi landed on his feet to survive a missile dropkick style Doomsday Device, which was easily the coolest spot. Things broke down from there. Finlay accidentally Speared Juice, and then was beaten with the Rite of Passage in 10:41. Good fun here. The Ibushi stuff against Cody and Scurll was very good, while Juice played his role well. Some of the closing stuff wasn’t too great, though.
This was here to build the upcoming singles matches in HASHI/Naito and Ospreay/Hiromu. Nothing against HASHI, but Naito working him feels like a huge step down after the Tokyo Dome. I’ll say it forever, but the wrong guy won at WK12. The pairings brawled around the ring at the start. Ospreay’s momentum was stalled by a dropkick to the knee. Callis noted that Hiromu and Naito could hold every tag title if they wanted. I believe it. Ospreay’s knee was the focal point, though he didn’t sell it too consistently. HASHI’s hot tag stuff was just like everything else he does. Solid, but unspectacular. Near the end, Ospreay and Takahashi had a wild little exchange. Naito used a low blow and jackknife pin to beat the Jr. Champion at 11:19. I liked Naito cheating to beat Will there. It sells him working heel again after the Dome failure and keeps the champ strong. LIDJ/CHAOS continues to deliver.
The groups brawled again after the match, with HASHI/Naito being more physical.
Next month, EVIL faces Goto for the NEVER Title, while SANADA gets his first crack at the Heavyweight Title. SANADA’s new hair is still cool. He and Okada played mind games with one another, EVIL and Goto went right after each other, and BUSHI/Gedo was kind of just there. I did get a kick out of Gedo trying to unmask him and BUSHI pulling his beard to prevent it. The match had a fair amount of action, slightly below the previous one in that aspect. The SANADA/Okada exchanges were good, and give me hope that they’ll FINALLY have a great match together. BUSHI was the clear fall guy for his team, and submitted to Okada’s cobra clutch in 11:52. Good match that had a quick pace to it. The Gedo and BUSHI stuff was lighthearted enough to balance things out.
Post-match, Okada called out SANADA to speak. SANADA refused, so Okada attacked him in the aisle. He brought him in the ring, hit a Tombstone, stuffed Okada dollars in his mouth, and put on the cobra clutch. Jerk.
These are the two title matches on tomorrow’s show. Kenny Omega didn’t take White seriously, turning his back to him during introductions and leaving his shirt on. White attacked him before the bell, showing that he meant business. Following their early battle, a lot of the focus was on the tag teams. White was good at showing how much of a team player he wasn’t. He barely helped his partners and refused to tag at certain points. In the end, his Blade Runner attempt was broken up. That left YOH alone to take a pop-up Indytaker for the finish at 10:53 This was fine. A bit too one-sided for the Bucks and Omega, to be honest.
While the Bucks celebrated, White snuck in and dropped Omega with the Blade Runner behind their backs.
I’ve only given out 24 perfect ***** ratings in history. It’s exclusive company. These two had one of those matches back at King of Pro Wrestling 2012. Instead of the typical SG attack, Minoru was content to take things slowly. That put Tanahashi in the driver’s seat first. Suzuki weathered that storm and got violent. He brutally kicked and slapped at Tanahashi, and used a chair. Suzuki toyed with Tanahashi. He put him in various submissions and won strike battles, all the while laughing at Tanahashi’s feeble retaliations. When the champ got going with dragon screws, he added High Fly Flow. However, he landed in a way that caused his knee to give out, giving Minoru another target. He worked a LENGTHY figure four, draining every bit of emotion from the crowd as Tanahashi fought to remain alive. Tanahashi survived, but was basically useless. His vulnerability left him open for the Gotch Piledriver. But, Suzuki didn’t go for a pin. He wanted to destroy Tanahashi, applying the knee bar again. Tanahashi lasted a few more minutes, but once rolled to the center of the ring, Red Shoes had no choice but to call for the bell at 32:28. Suzuki won the title via ref stoppage. This is what I’ve been waiting for from Suzuki. There was no SG bullshit. It took place mostly in the ring and told the story of Suzuki playing the determined Tanahashi like a fiddle. It was a brilliant story. It did go a bit too long (as with most NJPW main events) as they could’ve accomplished the same thing in about 25 minutes. Still, after 27 days (and before TakeOver), this is my current MOTY.
Overall: This was a very average show up until the main event. That’s not to say it was bad, because only one match (the Suzuki-Gun tag) was something I’d recommend to avoid. It just featured a lot of basic things that built to the next few New Beginning shows. Other than the main, this screamed “Road to” show. And like those kind of shows, this was good and advanced the stories it needed to. Go out of your way to see Tanahashi/Suzuki.