After a fun showcase from the Young Lions, the first half of the show was dragged down by some uninteresting and frankly mediocre tag matches. Second half picked up quickly as each match was better than the last, building to an outstanding main event. An uneven card, but one that does its just of selling you on the next show.
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NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo
February 2, 2019
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REN NARITA vs. YUYA UEMURA
Narita’s new belly-to-belly bridge was noted by commentary, and of course his experience edge being a class ahead of Uemura in the NJPW dojo. This came into play early as, after a superb grappling exchange, Narita dominated for several minutes wrenching away on headlocks and basis stretches. Uemura eventually rallied back with a boot wash in the corner and applied a deep Boston Crab. Both of these guy lock their submissions in tight. Narita kept getting pulled back to center but eventually got to the ropes. They traded about two dozen forearm strikes each before Uemura started throwing headbutts, and connected with a ridiculous suplex that had some serious air. The finish came when he hit a dropkick and came off the ropes looking for a lariat, but Narita ducked it and hit the belly-to-belly bridge to score the win.
KILLAM: This was a pleasure to watch. Short, sweet and to the point with some beautiful grappling and tight, believing submission-based wrestling. The dojo creates such a fierce level of competition and can really feel how badly they want to shine and one-up each other, and when Uemura lost I could feel his frustration and understand it. Both these guys are gonna be good. // Score: 6.5
HENARE & MANABU NAKANISHI vs. SHOTA UMINO & AYOTA YOSHIDA
Shota got bullied hard for the first portion of the match, with Henare controlling the action and Nakanishi doing his thing — which at this point is stomping people on the ground, and hyping up the crowd for that lariat. Yoshida eventually tagged in and tried to suplex him, but only got about 40% of it before they both just fell over. I think Nakanishi immediately punished him because he start throwing chops, including one directly to the throat. Umino eventually tagged back in to get his revenge and applied several submissions to Henare focussing on the arm. Henare finally powered out, hit a few sick headbutts, a Herculean running spinebuster, and a uranage slam to score the win.
KILLAM: I find myself really only wanting to watch Henare matches for that ABSURD spinebuster he does. He was okay here, and everything Umino does looks great, but Yoshida did not come off well in a few spots and Nakanishi is pretty much there for nostalgia and utility at this point. It wasn’t bad but it also never made me care. Find the spinebuster on a GIF somewhere. // Score: 4.0
TIGER MASK & HIROYOSHI TENZAN vs. TAKA MICHINOKU & TAKASHI IIZUKA
As always, the first portion of the match was Suzuki-Gun taking the action into the crowd and throwing their opponent’s into as many chairs and bleachers and walls and pieces of the barricade they can find. They teased a count-out spot on Tenzan but he stumbled back over the rails and rolled in at 19, only to get beat down for several more minutes. Tiger got the hot tag and came off the ropes with a crossbody on Taka, but he didn’t last long either. The big spot of the match was Tenzan teasing a moonsault, but Iizuka smacked him with a chair to get DQ’d.
KILLAM: Not great, even by the generally low standards with which I judge random Suzuki-Gun tag matches. Tiger’s offense was surprisingly limited. I understand this was just a vehicle to set up Tenzan and Iizuka, because Iizuka is retiring, but that doesn’t mean this was any good. // Score: 3.5
TOGI MAKABE, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, TORU YANO, YOSHI-HASHI & TOMOAKI HONMA vs. BULLET CLUB (TAIJI ISHIMORI, CHASE OWENS, YUJIRO TAKAHASHI, TAMA TONGA & TANGA LOA)
Tama Tonga ran around hugging everyone including the referee, because he’s a “good guy” now, while his brother stood on the apron yelling at him to wrestle. Jado caused mayhem from the outside attacking their opponents with a kendo stick whenever the referee wasn’t looking (which was always). Honma spent most of the match getting worked over because, of course, he kept missing Kokeshis any time he got some momentum going. Taguchi faired a bit better with the Three Amigos on Ishimori, before taking everyone out with his butt. Bullet Club ran a train of splashes and lariats on Yano before a 10-way brawl broke out. Everyone traded signatures, Makabe took both the Guerrillas out with lariats, and Taguchi finally took out Jado by flying over the ropes. Yano rolled up someone in the all the chaos with a handful of tights, and stole the win.
KILLAM: This had some really fun moments, and was pretty much all action from start to finish once Tama stopped hugging everyone. All these guys are familiar with multi-man tags and know what they’re doing. Totally serviceable undercard match; everyone got their stuff in and the crowd was into it. // Score: 5.0
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (TETSUYA NAITO, BUSHI & SHINGO TAKAGI) vs. SUZUKI-GUN (TAICHI, YOSHINOBU KANEMARU & EL DESPERADO)
Taichi spent time trying to get in Naito’s head, mocking his poses, but I have a feeling that’s about as effective as taunting a brick wall. It’s a Suzuki-Gun match so of course the action spilled into the crowd early and stayed there, with Naito getting hit with chairs and pieces of the barricade, left laying in the stands while Taichi took his IWGP Intercontinental title and paraded around the ring with it. Shingo was the next target, and took a beating for several minutes while Bushi was kept on the outside. Naito finally rushed the ring and dropped everyone in a wild flurry of strikes. He caught Taichi with an enzuigiri and Bushi came off the top with a missile dropkick, before taking out the other two with a springboard double headscissors. He tried for the MX but Kanemaru spit whiskey in his eyes. The finish saw Despy and Kanemaru hold Naito down and force him to watch as Taichi beat down Bushi and hit him with a lariat, but more importantly an absolutely killer back suplex for the win. After the match they ripped of Bushi’s mask and threw Naito’s title on the ground.
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KILLAM: Now we’re starting to pick up steam. This was a straight up brawl. Nobody did anything fancy, and Bushi’s missile dropkick was probably the only high-flying, but that wasn’t the story they were trying to tell. The focus was on Naito and Taichi the whole time, and while I still kind of hope he gets hit by a bus, I have got to give Taichi credit for showing a ton of personality and really driving Naito nuts in this match. I definitely want to see him get his ass kicked tomorrow, so, mission accomplished. I liked this one. Simple and effective. // Score: 6.0
MINORU SUZUKI vs. SANADA
Sanada made a grave mistake putting Suzuki in the Paradise Lock, as that was the last bit of offense he got before an enraged psychopath brutally assaulted him and threw him into every chair and piece of metal in the arena, before literally burying him under the barricade. The theme of the match was Minoru controlling most of the offense, looking for any chance to weaken his opponent for the inevitable sleeper hold, and Sanada valiantly battling back time and time again, shaking off holds and desperately trying to string together more than two moves of offense. He eventually came back and hit the Dragonscrew he was looking for all match, applied the Skull End, but when he went for a moonsault, Minoru go this knees up and brutalized him with more thudding forearms. Again Sanada showed heard and the two traded dozens of slaps, strikes and forearms while trying to avoid each other’s submissions. He had one final flurry of offense, nailing strike after strike, but he couldn’t avoid the Gotch Piledriver and Minoru got the win via pinfall.
KILLAM: They started good and got really good. Minoru is a guy that can completely dominant his opponent, but still keep the pace feeling like it’s competitive and back-and-forth throughout. The last act in particular with Sanada starting to do serious damage making it seem like he could possibly hit enough strikes and big moves to set up for his finish, but Minoru simply getting the better of a great exchange. Their transitions were so smooth. I’m not sure why I was supposed to care about this beyond it just being a darn good wrestling match, but it was that. // Score: 8.0
EVIL vs. ZACK SABRE JR.
It must be opposite day because EVIL actually controlled the first 3-4 minutes of the match by expertly maintaining control of wristlocks. This of course frustrated ZSJ to no end, which is a rare thing to see indeed. Eventually Zack figured it out and started countering things left and right, applying submissions galore and murdering his opponent’s wrist and elbow, but to his credit EVIL made it a whole lot harder for him than most opponents. They eventually fought out to the ramp and he dropped Zack with a Fisherman’s Buster on the floor, both rolling into the ring at the count of 19. EVIL hit Darkness Falls for a nearfall. We get the old strong-style gauntlet where they trade elbow strikes and chops until they’re both barely able to stand up. EVIL got a superplex off the top rope, into a lariat, but every time he went for the STO it got blocked. Sabre rolled into a series of absurd pinning combinations for a series of equally absurd nearfalls, getting more and more frustrated every time he couldn’t finish his opponent off. Finally, after a great back and forth, EVIL powered out of a submission and hit the STO to score the win.
KILLAM: So good. This really turned the usual Zack Sabre Jr. “formula” upside down and created a unique match where, as much as he was truly great with his counters and various submissions, EVIL was just as good at having an answer and being able to power through his usually superior grappling game. I though the pace was fine, never too slow, and they took their time getting to the finish. I loved the minor story of EVIL trying for the STO all match and having to fight through a dozen different holds, just physically beating his opponent until he was too stunned to counter it. People always praise EVIL for a variety of well-deserved reasons, but I don’t hear enough about how great his selling is. // Score: 8.5
JAY WHITE & BAD LUCK FALE vs. KAZUCHIKA OKADA & HIROSHI TANAHASHI
The heroes got their hands on White right away and worked him over with holds, slowing things all the way down almost immediately to give the fans a chance to get all their chants out. The tone totally changed when Fale tagged in, turning into a violent brawl as they separated the two, leaving Tanahashi lying under a pile of metal barriers out in the crowd. This of course resulted in Okada getting the stuffing beaten out of him for quite awhile as the Ace tried and tried to get back into the match. When Tana finally got the hot tag he cleaned house and delivered a series of sentons, Slingblades and dropkicks. but it only took one Dragonscrew from the Switchblade to stop all his momentum. Fale beat him up with clubbing blows until Okada recovered and the double suplexed the big man. Hot tag made and he dropped the big man with a DDT, then actually managed to hoist him up for a body slam! Things completely broke down and they took Fale out of the equation with a double Dragonscrew. White nearly pinned the champion with a beautiful German suplex bridge after Gedo started getting involved on the outside. Tanahashi saved his partner by shoving him out of the way and hitting a Slingblade, and Okada returned the favor with a dropkick. They lit up White with the Tombstone into a Styles Clash into a top rope elbow drop from Okada, but when Tana went to end it with the High Fly Flow, Fale returned to break it up. Amazing finish as Tanahashi hit the Twist-and-Shout on both guys and looked to put things away, ducked a chair shot from White, dropped Gedo on the outside, but in all the chaos got hit in the bad leg with the chair. White locked in an inverted Four Four and actually tapped out the champion in the middle of the ring, as Fale destroyed Okada with the Bad Luck Fall to stop him from making the save.
KILLAM: They basically took the slow, methodical pacing of a usual Tanahashi main event match, but applied it to a tag team contest. It was SLOW at times, but it absolutely worked and by the end they had crawled their way to an absolute fever pitch. Outside of being a really solid back-and-forth match there were some truly excellent moments, including the run of signatures Okada and Tanahashi had together near the end, and saving each other from Fale using their big defensive moves. As it turns out they don’t just have untouchable chemistry as opponents. The last few minutes gave me whiplash in the best way, and White shockingly tapping out the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the middle of the ring, while Okada desperately tried and failed to make the save, was a MOMENT. Great stuff from beginning to end. // Score: 8.5