February 11th, 16:00 from the Edion Arena, Osaka
2016 has been a tumultuous year for New Japan Pro Wrestling thus far. The dust hadn’t settled on Wrestle Kingdom 10 before news of several major departures broke. First AJ Styles, then Shinsuke Nakamura, with Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows expected to follow in the near future. The name of this pair of shows (the second of which takes place on Sunday) has never been so apt.
In the interim, the CMLL Fantastica Mania tour was strong, the highlight being an excellent match for the Mexican promotion’s lightweight title between Kamaitachi and Dragon Lee on the final night. Then came Nakamura’s final show, where Tanahashi was revealed to be Kenny Omega’s opponent for the now-vacant Intercontinental title. The King of Strong Style gave a final ‘YeaOh!’ and was carried from Korakuen Hall on the shoulders of the champ.
Today’s show is headlined by a rematch of Shibata vs. Ishii for the NEVER title and Okada vs. Goto for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, a match that’s happening because the latter pinned the former last August. So while we’re undeniably headed towards a new era, we’re not quite there yet.
Here we go…
David Finlay vs. Jay White
Now that Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu have gone on their excursion to CMLL, White and Finlay become the senior Young Lions. Sound work here, with White getting the win by countering a cannonball into a single-leg crab and getting the tap out. Post-match handshake. This should be a fun rivalry to keep track of. **1/2
CHAOS (Gedo, Kazushi Sakuraba, Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Jushin Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask
I went to make a cup of tea, missed almost the whole match. The closing sequence was a nice back-and-forth between Taguchi and Gedo, with Taguchi getting the win by making Gedo tap to the ankle lock. CHAOS did not reign and my tea was nice. N/R
Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tencozy (Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan)
Considering the combined age of these guys, this was better than expected, with a fairly heated closing section. Tencozy get the win the cutter. *1/2
Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito) vs. Juice Robinson, Kushida & Michael Elgin
Your standard Los Ingobornables tag with a little more focus on Bushi and Kushida since they’re battling for the Junior title on Sunday’s show. Evil got the pin on Robinson with an STO. Naito has been conspicuous by his absence in the singles scene, which suggests to me he’s a likely winner of the upcoming New Japan Cup. Elgin too, who got a big reaction here, needs some direction. This was fine for what it was. **1/4
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Toru Yano & The Briscoes (c) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga)
Nowhere near enough Yano antics for my liking and the crowd still don’t care about the Briscoes (despite a pre-match hype video this time). Tama Tonga got the win here with the Headshrinker DDT, pinning Yano and taking the titles. Again, just the usual, but Tama Tonga has potential and deserves some of the spotlight, so it was pleasing to see that. **
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Sydal & Ricochet vs. reDRagon
On the way to the ring, Matt Jackson said he loved Bryan and wishes him luck. Aww. The early going here was a more traditional tag than I’ve seen from the juniors in a while, with Sydal taking an extended beating from the Bucks. Naturally, the match broke down before too long. There was a fun spot where all three teams failed at stereo dives which led to a huge multi-man superplex and a near-fall when Ricochet hit the Shooting Star Press. The Bucks had control of the latter portion of the match, during which Kyle O’Reilly was carried from the arena by Cody Hall, never to be seen again. Ricochet broke up the Indytaker, hit the Benadryller, then he and Sydal were able to nail the stereo Shooting Star Presses for the win and the titles. These matches have a formula and the crowd are wise to it, so you don’t hear peep until things break down, but this was very enjoyable and the work was top notch. ****
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
By contrast to the last match, the crowd were way into this from moment it began. A rematch of their Wrestle Kingdom bout, and amongst the hard elbows and nasty throat chops this had some thoroughly entertaining moments, e.g. the polite exchange of suplexes to prove manliness. From there, Shibata took control in dominant fashion and Ishii was struggling to stay in it. As Shibata continued to exert control, he pulled out a Death Valley Driver and Busaiku Knee, but just when it looked like Ishii was done, he powered out of the Sleeper and willed himself back into an elbow battle. He then nailed Shibata with a couple of huge lariats, but The Wrestler kicked out at one! Ishii got caught in an armbar and just reached the ropes, then a Penalty Kick attempt was caught, before both men slapped the shit out of each other. Sleeper from Shibata, and this time it stuck. The PK connected and Shibata got the three-count to retain his title. The champion was presented as the superior athlete here, with Ishii barely able to stay in it, then, when the pendulum swung, Shibata proved his toughness and got the job done. A typically great match from these two with absolutely the right result. ****1/2
Bullet Club (Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Kenny Omega) vs. Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe & Hiroshi Tanahashi
Omega is the new leader of Bullet Club having attacked and ousted AJ Styles at New Year’s Dash on January 5th. Early on, Omega ran Tanahashi shoulder-first into the ringpost, and the Bullet Club got to work. The injured Ace was eventually able to make the tag, and Makabe ran wild for a short while, but soon he and Omega were back alone in the ring. Omega, once again, got the better of that exchange. Honma battled for a while, but soon the numbers overwhelmed him and a three-man splash nearly ended it. A One-Winged Angel from Omega shortly afterwards got the win. Post-match, Bullet Club assaulted Tanahashi’s shoulder with anything they could get their hands on, culminating in Omega’s trash-can frog-splash. This did a good job of previewing two of Sunday’s title matches, where Tanahashi’s real-life injury will clearly play a part. ***1/2 for the match and the booking.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
That’s right, they’re paying off a result from last August. The pre-match video recounted Goto’s seven previous failed attempts at winning the title, his challenge to Okada at New Year’s Dash and subsequent press conference attack. Goto then entered the arena in all-white gear, covered in silver body paint and Hakushi-like script. Interesting… Okada looked in control early on with a springboard dropkick and senton, but Goto popped up and whipped the champ into the barriers, following with an elbow drop from the top rope. Reinforcing his new heel(?) persona, Goto ignored the referee’s count and worked at a deliberate pace. Okada was able to gain some respite with a flapjack, some back elbows and a big boot, then he kipped up after a DDT. The top rope elbow drop was avoided and Goto came back with high kicks and a back suplex for two. Okada hit a reverse neckbreaker from the corner and both men were down. Heavy Rain earned Okada a two-count and a series of seated dropkicks got the same result. A second attempt at the top rope elbow drop connected, but following the Rainmaker pose, Goto wrapped him up in the Shoryu Kekkai armbar. Okada was able to escape, but a Ushigoroshi put him right back into the submission hold with Okada just making the ropes. Ura Shouten facebuster for a two-count. Top-rope Ushigoroshi for another two-count. Shouten Kai! Too close to the ropes, however, and Okada reached a hand out to break the count. Rainmaker! Both men down. Main Event Elbow Battle. German suplex from Okada. The Dropkick! Headbutt from Goto to counter the Rainmaker. And again! Shouten Kai countered, and Okada hit the Rainmaker not once, not twice, but thrice! The three-count is academic and Okada retains at 25 minutes. This took a long time to warm up, the crowd unfamiliar with Goto’s new persona and neither man working to their strengths. It picked up nicely by the end, but its main failing was that it didn’t carry through the intensity that had been a feature of the build-up. ***3/4
Post-match promos from Gedo and Okada (in which the champ invited Goto to join CHAOS) and we’re out.
Final thoughts: Shibata vs. Ishii is always worth seeing and they delivered again here in what is surely their last match for a long time (and given Bryan’s retirement this week, let’s be thankful for that). The six-man hyping Sunday’s title matches and the Junior tag were also very good, and the main event was solid if not spectacular, so overall it’s an easy thumbs up.
I’ll be back on Sunday for The New Beginning in Niigata which is headlined by Omega vs. Tanahashi for the vacant Intercontinental title. See you then.