After the hustle and pageantry of WrestleKingdom, it’s time for New Japan to get back to business. The New Beginnings shows kick off the wrestling year proper, and set up feuds and stories that will take us to the G1 Climax in July. So, rather then just give a straight review of the two New Beginning shows, I’m going to look at each title in New Japan, the match for said title at New Beginning, and what to look forward to in the months ahead.
NEVER Openweight Trios Championship
The newest titles in New Japan, there have been three matches for these titles between the same two teams. Toru Yano and the Briscoe Brothers beat the Bullet Club B-Team of Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, and Tama Tonga at WrestleKingdom 10, then lost to them at New Beginning in Osaka, then won them back two nights later in Niigata. New Japan and Ring of Honor have a few joint shows coming up in Tokyo, so it makes sense for the team of Yano and the Briscoes to hold onto the titles. The back and forth of the titles is awkward, but pretty much what we expected from these new belts.
Tonga is moving on to other things, so who are the new challengers for Yano and Co.? Fale and Yujiro could add another member of the Bullet Club to challenge, but the most obvious challengers are Los Ingobernables. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, and BUSHI are undefeated when teaming together, and are due for big things this year. It also doesn’t hurt that they are the only regular three man team on the roster. If NJPW wants these belts to headline shows, they should put them on Los Ingobernables.
NJPW Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Title
In Osaka, the Young Bucks lost these titles in a triple threat match with reDRagon and the team of Matt Sydal and Ricochet. One of the highlights of the Young Bucks is the continuing evolution of Cody Hall at ringside, as he caught Kyle O’Reilly over his shoulder and after a moment of confusion, carried him out of the match into the back. Taking reDRagon out of the picture wasn’t enough though, as Sydal and Ricochet won the belts.
These belts are constantly changing hands, and successful title defenses are rare. With Ricochet’s commitments in the states, I don’t expect this team to hold the titles for long. We could certainly stand to see some fresh blood in these matches, but I’m not sure where it comes from. Roppangi Vice is still in the mix I assume, and not much else. The Best of the Super Juniors tournament is approaching, so maybe we will see some new alliances form around that time. In any case, reDRagon is one of the most protected teams in the company, rarely taking the fall in any losses, so I would expect them to get the belts back sooner then later.
NEVER Openweight Title
Katsuyori Shibata beat Tomohiro Ishii at WrestleKingdom 10 to capture his first singles title in New Japan, and this is the rematch. Both of these guys are two of my favorites, and the WrestleKingdom match was excellent. This match was even better. These two wrestlers and the NEVER belt are defined by stiff hits and brutal maneuvers. That can overshadow the rest of the match though, particularly when deal with unprotected headbutts. With the spectre of Daniel Bryan’s retirement looming over them, they kept the risky head shots to a minimum. This felt like more of a great wrestling match with stiff hits then just an exhibition of hitting each other hard. I gave it ****1/2. One of Shibata’s backfists busted Ishii’s lip, and the image of Ishii bleeding from the mouth while trapped in a tight sleeper hold is one that will stick with you.
Where does Shibata go next after vanquishing Ishii? There are never a shortage of challengers for the NEVER title. Naito would be a popular pick, as their rivalry last year felt like the start of something great, but both moved to different programs instead. A guy just spinning his wheels like Michael Elgin would make a good challenge for a big show. But I think Shibata’s next serious challenge will be someone a little closer to home. I think his next challenger will be his tag team partner, Hirooki Goto.
IWGP Heavyweight Title
Goto challenged Kazuchika Okada for the biggest belt in New Japan after beating Naito at WrestleKingdom. And although Goto showed off an intimidating new look, under the bodypaint was the same old Goto, and he fell short again in an uninspired match. Okada has no challengers lined up, but someone like Kojima could keep Okada busy until Naito is ready to step up. The real question is what happens with Goto from here on out.
I’m not a big fan of Hirooki Goto. His pseudo-samurai persona just feels inauthentic to me, and his moveset is wierd. The Ushigoroshi neckbreaker lacks impact, and the Ura Shouten and Shouten Kai are very awkward moves. Now he’s despondent at coming up short again, much like Okada was last year. Similar situations saw Okada rise above and take the IWGP Title, and Naito go in the opposite direction and form Los Ingobernables. What will Goto do? Okada has offered him a spot in CHAOS, and that faction is certainly lacking with Nakamura gone. There’s another option though. The New Japan Cup is soon, and Goto has won it three times. A win this year could see him challenge Okada again, go after the Bullet Club and the new Intercontinental Champion, or even challenge his tag team partner Shibata for the NEVER title.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title
KUSHIDA successfully defended his title against Log Ingobernable member BUSHI in Niigata in a great match. KUSHIDA is someone I have trouble taking seriously. His feud with Kenny Omega was just okay, and his Back to the Future inspired gimmick just makes me shrug. The Hoverboard Lock? Really? It’s a freaking Kimura, just call it that. With all that being said, he brought his A game against BUSHI, and for the first time was a wrestler I could get behind. He fought the odds against Los Ingobernables, diving to take them all out, and survived two Mists from BUSHI. In a fun bit of storytelling, Naito had been bullying the Young Lions at ringside at every opportunity, and here they got their revenge, holding him back as he frantically tried to get into the ring to break up the Hoverboard Lock that gave KUSHIDA the win.
I’m not a huge KUSHIDA fan, but if he can give performances like this more often, I’m all on board. The Best of the Super Juniors tournament is coming, and the rumored lineups look amazing. New Japan really will be having some of the best cruiserweights in the world this year (hopefully), and will no doubt set up some serious contenders for belt.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles
Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma faced the Bullet Club’s Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, defending their titles in a rematch from WrestleKingdom 10. Like at WrestleKingdom, Makabe and Honma were victorious in a fine match. The match will likely be Guns and Gallows New Japan swan song, as they are gone at the end of this month, probably to NXT. Whatever legal trouble Honma was in seems to have blown over, or at least taken a backburner, and he got the pinfall here after a top rope kokeshi.
It as speculated that the team of Tenzen and Kojima would challenge Makabe and Honma after their tag team victory in Osaka. Instead, it was Tama Tonga who came out, fresh after his loss of the NEVER trios titles. He challenged the tag champions, and informed us that there was a new Bullet Club member, and they would be the next tag champs. Who this new Bullet Club member is remains a mystery, but it’s great to see Tama get more ring time. He’s a guy that a lot of people have been waiting to get a chance to shine, and he may have his opportunity now.
IWGP Intercontinental Title
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega went all out to capture the vacated Intercontinental Title in a great main event. Omega won with the One-Winged Angel, securing himself as a fixture in the New Japan main event scene. Some people have complained about the interference, but I thought it added to the match. The Young Bucks beat up Tanahashi before Michael Elgin came out to even the odds. Tanahashi took a beating but kept on fighting, but it wasn’t enough. In the past two months, Omega has pinned Nakamura, sent off AJ Styles, and now defeated Tanahashi. That’s an impressive resume.
Who Omega defends against next will be interesting to watch. Michael Elgin is the natural choice, but like the NEVER title, there are several contenders. What’s just as interesting to me is what is going on within the Bullet Club. They’ve lost three prominent members, and have a new leader and new champion. Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks have taken to calling themselves The Elite, further separating themselves from the rest of the faction. Are we starting to see a divide in the Bullet Club? Time will tell, but it’s possible Kenny Omega’s next challenger will come from inside his own faction.