February 14th, 16:00 from the Aore Nagaoka, Nagaoka
The second of The New Beginning shows is headlined by Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega for the vacant Intercontinental title. The Junior and Tag belts are also on the line in a promising card. Thursday’s show in Osaka was highlighted by an excellent bout for the NEVER title – can anything today match it?
Here we go…
Bullet Club (Cody Hall, The Young Bucks) vs. Captain New Japan, Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask
Having lost the Junior tag belts on Thursday, a good showing from the Bucks and their second was needed, particularly given the hints of a Bullet Club offshoot/subsection with Kenny Omega. This was fun little tag match, with enjoyable interactions between the Jackson brothers and Tiger/Liger and an funny gag where they refused to tag in Captain New Japan. Eventually the Captain did get the tag, but found himself quickly outnumbered. He managed a brief flurry, but was soon pinned after a three-man Indytaker (Hall with the Tombstone, both Bucks off the top rope spiking down). Most amusing. **
CHAOS (Gedo and Kazushi Sakuraba) vs. reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly)
reDRagon have, even in losing the Junior Tag Titles, been well-protected in recent months (their excuse on Thursday being that O’Reilly was carried out of the arena in Osaka by Cody Hall). Fish and O’Reilly got to play at being MMA fighters for a while, before getting the inevitable win with Chasing the Dragon. I’m not adverse to mixed-martial arts grappling in wrestling, but it didn’t feel it worked here. O’Reilly’s great, no doubt, and he plays the part brilliantly, I just wish he looked the part. Still, Gedo sold the hell out of everything reDRagon did and made them look great. *1/2
David Finlay, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet, Matt Sydal & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Junior tag champs paired with the possible No.1 contenders to the heavyweight belts? Makes some sense. The other team? The definition of thrown together. I guess that on these joint/split/dual shows the undercard will have an element of randomness, and since we’re unlikely to see these bizarre combinations again, best to make the most of it. Some nice double-team moves throughout and Finlay got a couple of moments to shine before taking a two-man Benadryller and a Shooting Star Press from Ricochet for the pin. Decent work all round and it’s worth mentioning that Finlay, like Hall, has a unique – presumably inherited – way of moving around the ring, and that subtlety alone bodes well for his future, I feel. **
Los Ingobernables de Japón (EVIL & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Michael Elgin & Jay White
Another interesting pairing here. Jay White, a hugely promising Young Lion, teaming with the always-over Elgin. I’d assume Tanahashi was to team with Elgin before Nakamura’s departure, so we’re left with another match in which the fall guy is obvious. Before the match, Naito and Milano (the ex-wrestler/now-commentator he’s been abusing for months) bumped fists and it looks like Los Ingobernables de Japón have new supporter. Poor Jay took a beating here and a big glob of sputum to the face courtesy of Naito. Big Mike did his thing, then Jay got a moment in the spotlight, but succumbed to Evil’s STO for the three-count. **1/2
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga) vs. Toru Yano & The Briscoes
Third match in a row for these teams, the Bullet Club B-team having claimed the recently-founded NEVER six-man titles in Thursday’s title match. Loads of Yano antics in this one! I. Am. Grateful. The running joke of Tama scaring the crap out of Yano was revisited here and it’s never not funny. The Sublime Master Thief also got the pin (the Akakiri Cradle on Takahashi) and the titles change hands again. I expected the belts would become meaningless over time, I didn’t expect it would happen so quickly. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ **1/4
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson & Katsuyori Shibata
Goto’s new persona debuted to a comprehensive loss against Okada, reinforcing his status as a choker, and here he was back to the regular gear and apparently over his heelish phase. The crowd were way into the Okada/Goto and Shibata/Ishii interactions, the latter of whom continued their Feats of Manliness. It seemed Shibata had grown impatient of Goto, tagging himself in at points, but he was also being a surly bastard to Yoshi-Hashi, so perhaps he was just looking to pick a fight with anyone who crossed his path. Juice Robinson found himself alone in the ring with Okada in the closing stretch and did a great job, somehow getting the crowd to buy a near-fall. He may have awful hair and gear, but he has also has potential. The Rainmaker connected, however, and that was more than enough for three. Okada once again offered his hand to Goto, but Goto walked away. CHAOS, meanwhile, in their first significant match since Shinsuke Nakamura departed, appeared as cohesive and harmonious as ever. Good match. ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. BUSHI
Bushi had the better of Kushida at every turn in the build up to this match, blinding him with mist in each confrontation. Would Kushida be able to Overcome the Odds™? In the early going, Kushida showed himself to be a superior mat wrestler, but it wasn’t long before Naito and Evil joined the fray, wrapping one chair around Kushida’s neck the smacking it with another. Not enough for a disqualification apparently. From there, Bushi continued to work on the neck, wrenching in an STF and removing his t-shirt to choke his opponent. Kushida managed a clothesline to knock Bushi out of the ring and followed with a Topé con Giro. Back in the ring, the ref was distracted and inadvertedly bumped, allowing Bushi to use the mist and get a near-fall, but once again Kushida fought back, hitting palm strikes and ripping at Bushi’s mask. A battle of strikes ensued, Bushi’s arm being weakened in the process. A low blow and more mist got a close two-count. Diving codebreaker for two! Kushida reversed a dive into a Codebreaker of his own, before firing up. Evil tried to pull him from the ring, but was knocked down by Taguchi, then Naito was prevented from interfering by the Young Lions on the outside (including Jay White, whose attention Los Ingobernables had been courting). Meanwhile, Kushida had the Hoverboard Lock applied, and Bushi tapped in short order. A good match, but the presence of Los Ingobernables from early on affected my enjoyment. Kushida retaining was the right decision, I feel. He’s well-liked by the audience and could restore the prestige of the Junior belt. ***3/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) (c) vs. Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows)
This got going before the bell, with Bullet Club doing most of the damage on the outside, Anderson delivering a flying knee to Honma’s prone left arm. In an unusual sight, they proceeded to partake in several minutes of limb work, until Honma somehow managed to hit a deadlift suplex and get the tag. Makabe ran wild with lariats for everyone and ten-count punches in the corner. Honma back in, and the first Kokeshi… landed and was followed with a Blockbuster for two. Anderson was hoisted up for the Doomsday Kokeshi, but Gallows broke it up, the Bullet Club got rid of Makabe and a Swivel Gun Stun on Honma got a two-count. A huge powerbomb from Gallows set up Anderson for the Bloody Sunday! Only two! Makabe returned to knock everyone down, and this time the Doomsday Kokeshi connected on Anderson. King Kong Knee Drop! Top rope Kokeshi! One two three, and the champs retain. A really fun, fast-paced match with great heat. ***3/4
Post-match, Tama Tonga challenged for the titles. His partner: a brand new Bullet Club member. Intriguing.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
The Bullet Club did a number on Tanahashi’s shoulder following the six-man match that previewed this encounter, so it was taped up here. Omega is the de facto leader of his stable, having ousted AJ Styles at New Year’s Dash, and this was by far the biggest match of his New Japan tenure. He was seconded by Cody Hall and Yujiro Takahashi, but sent them to the back early on, eager to do it on his own. Tanahashi pulled out Nakamura’s foot shake, but missed the follow-up corner knee strike and Omega got to work on the injured shoulder with an armbreaker and shoulderbreaker. Outside, Kenny suplexed Tanahashi over the barrier, then followed with an asai moonsault. Tanahashi just made it in before the count, but Omega ripped off the tape and continued to stretch the shoulder joint in a manner Stu Hart would’ve enjoyed an inappropriate amount. A Dragon Screw looked to get Tanahashi back into the match, but it wasn’t long before Omega had another armbar cinched in, then a second-rope moonsault on his one good leg got two. Omega tried for a gut wrench powerbomb, but his leg wouldn’t hold out, and Tanahashi sent him to the outside and nailed a huge High Fly Flow crossbody from the top rope to the floor. Another dragon screw, this time over the second rope, had Omega hobbling, and a couple more inside the ring allowed Tanahashi to lock in the high-angle Cloverleaf. Cody Hall returned to distract the ref, then the Young Bucks emerged from under the ring to hit superkicks and an Indytaker on Tanahashi! Styles Clash from Omega for 2.9! A missed charge, dragon suplex from Tanahashi, both men down. Inverted hurricanrana from Omega! Inverted hurricanrana from Tanahashi! Arm-trap German suplex for a near fall. At this point, all hell broke loose; a trash can took out the referee, Elgin ran in to take care of the Bucks, a Slingblade got a near-fall and the High Fly Flow missed the mark. Omega landed a knee strike, then something like a Boma Ye for two, then another and finally the One-Winged Angel for the win at 30 minutes. A huge victory for The Cleaner and two big losses in a row for Tanahashi, although the Bullet Club inference was a major factor, as was the shoulder injury. I’m still not entirely sold on Omega, mostly because his goofiness occasionally feels a bit “indie”, but while he’s not of Styles’ in-ring ability, he can more than hold up his end of a match and this was his best yet for New Japan. ****1/4
Kenny gets the post-match promo, describes himself as God and sings a bit of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams – y’know, the usual. Confetti cannons go off, Omega sweeps some of it away with his broom, and we’re out.
Final thoughts: Putting the Intercontinental title on Omega was the brave choice and I hope it pays off for them, since not many promotions would have the balls to do it. The match itself benefitted from the length, with the new champ demonstrating he could hang at main event level, and I didn’t mind the overbooking either, coming as it did near the end of the bout. Everything before the intermission was at least solid, everything after was at least good. Great show overall.
The New Japan Cup begins in couple of weeks. See you then.