Arnold Furious: February 11, 2016. We’re in Osaka, Japan. Super No Vacancy. Just over 5000 in attendance. I completely forgot this was happening and missed the entire first half of the show. That does leave me with just the business end of things; the final four big matches. I’ve gone back and caught up on the rest so here is the first major New Japan show since Wrestle Kingdom. Quite a lot has happened since with Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles both leaving the promotion for the holy land of WWE and the deck has been reshuffled elsewhere too. I’ll try and bring you up to speed as we move along.
Jay White vs. David Finlay
With Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu having left for their learning excursion in CMLL the premier Young Lions are now both gaijin. Jay has been looking terrific for the best part of a year and Finlay is starting to look like the real deal also. They have a great understanding based on the sheer amount of time they spend together. They’ve probably got matches planned out due to shared dojo time. It’s a capable contest but nothing special due to both guys not having established move sets or even personalities. They do have a few cool spots though including Finlay going after a Cannonball, getting caught and slapped in the Boston crab directly out of it for the submission. Both these guys are going to be good. Probably not as good as Komatsu but good.
Final Rating: **1/2
CHAOS (Kazushi Sakuraba, Gedo & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Ryusuke Taguchi
I didn’t realise how much I wanted to see Liger vs. Sakuraba until this match. Generally that’s how Sakuraba feuds start. He’s randomly opposite someone in a tag and they click beautifully. There are two ways of looking at Saku. That his feuds are so infrequent that they come across as special (Suzuki and Shibata for example) or that New Japan don’t use him enough. Would Sakuraba be less special if he wrestled more? That wasn’t the case with Shibata at all. Personally I’d like Sakuraba in the G1 this year. Taguchi ruins the match for me by trying to take Nakamura’s place on the roster. Just because you do funny pointing doesn’t make you that guy, Taguchi. Especially against CHAOS wrestlers. YOSHI-HASHI isn’t best pleased. Taguchi gets an anklelock on Gedo and wins with a submission. This was total filler after the opening Liger-Sakuraba sequence.
Final Rating: **
TenCozy vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
The veterans are opposing each other this evening and boy are they in the mood to prove they’re not over the hill. Yes, even Nakanishi! Nagata and Kojima have both had genuinely great matches over the past twelve months so they’re not so surprising and Tenzan has been trying to prove his worth as a worker for the past two years. It’s only New Japan that seems to not rate these gentlemen and generally refuse to push them into any meaningful matches, perhaps fixated on the youth of the company. I could live with all four of them just wearing each other out with old man lumber for the rest of the year. This is actually the first time I’m worried about Nagata as he’s finally starting to show the odd sign of aging. It had to happen eventually but the way he was going it felt like he’d be wrestling at a good standard into his 70s. He doesn’t look as old as Tenzan or Nakanishi but he’s approaching it quicker than ever before. That means the number one worker in the match is Kojima, who’s still moving at the same speed as ever. The emotion drags the match up as Nakanishi genuinely looks like he wants to beat Kojima to prove he can still go. Kojima ends him with a lariat to show the old timer what the pecking order is. I enjoyed this. I have a guilty pleasure spot for old men hitting each other.
Final Rating: ***
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & BUSHI) vs. Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Juice Robinson
Poor Shinpei Nogami argues with Naito about who he supports, pointing to a Nagata t-shirt under his suit, which Naito promptly rips off him. Well, you asked for that pal. Did you learn nothing from Takashi Iizuka attacking you? BUSHI is taking on KUSHIDA at the next PPV, in a few days time, so that’s why we’re doing this. Presumably Naito vs. Elgin will happen in some form. #BigMike doesn’t appreciate Naito’s shenanigans and it would be a good match up. KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI should be a solid match too as BUSHI has embraced the Los Ingobernables ways. EVIL hasn’t. I like his hair but a good look can only take you so far. The matches best moments come from #BigMike. His devastating suplex assaults are reminiscent of a certain WWE superstar. Los Ingobernables have been taken to Suplex City. He treats Naito like a complete bitch, which simply hasn’t happened since his heel turn. Juice is the weak link and EVIL picks him off for the pin. I liked most of this with Elgin and BUSHI looking terrific.
Final Rating: **3/4
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship
Toru Yano & The Briscoe Brothers (c) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi)
This is a Wrestle Kingdom re-match that nobody in particular asked for. I figured the trios belts would be a special attraction for B shows rather that something that regularly made it to PPV. It would make sense given the lack of prestige around them but they’re still recognised belts. Yujiro brings some random skank with him instead of Mao. I’m still hoping for a Mao face turn and her accompanying someone else. Maybe slotting into CHAOS. Dem Boys might look like a couple of weirdoes but their redneck kung-fu goes over pretty well in New Japan. Not as well as Yano’s comedy routine. Breeaaaaaaaaaaaaak! He’s still getting freaked out by Tama too, bless him. Yujiro is pretty useless in this match. He just strolls into position for Mark’s spots and then stands there taking them. It’s as if he’s afraid of being out of position so he makes everything over the top obvious. Compare this to Yano getting confused by Tama’s unconventional approach to wrestling and it’s like night and day. Their timing is exemplary. Bullet Club do a bunch of illegal stuff, including Fale pushing the ref, which should be a DQ, and Tama hits Yano with the Headshrinker DDT to win his first title, ever (in Japan). He looks stunned, as if he didn’t expect to ever win a belt. Fale and Yujiro sell the victory with a big group hug. They don’t look that bothered. Hopefully these belts change a lot.
Final Rating: **1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. reDRagon vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal
This is a fun combination of guys. Jim Cornette probably doesn’t approve based on his Bucks/Lucha Underground rants of late. I know I generally like wrestling to be realistic but when you’ve got yourself a nutty spotfest and most of it makes sense and the whole thing is exciting it’s a lot easier to forgive. Oddly enough I’m sure Cornette would love reDRagon as their stuff is tight and realistic. Especially O’Reilly who’s one of the best workers out there. The Bucks settle into formula on Sydal at one point, which is a bit odd and more up the traditional wrestling aisle. Especially with their referee positioning and Cody Hallinterfering. When the match breaks down it’s the usual spot carnage from these guys, especially Sydal and Ricochet vs. The Bucks. It’s a shame really because reDRagon can structure a far different match with technical skill involved and they’re simply not allowed to in this multi-man format that NJPW has been running with their junior tag division for ages. It’s as if they fear changing the format and losing the quality. So it’s fun, as always, but familiar. Ricochet & Sydal are a more exciting team than some of the others that have filled this spot in the past but don’t add anything considering their combined talents. The Bucks end up as the most creative, busting out new spots, which is impressive considering how many of these matches they’ve done. Most of them riff off other Bucks spots. O’Reilly comes across like an absolute star, demolishing both Bucks with strikes until Cody removes him from the match by literally carrying him to the back. Sydal & Ricochet hit stereo SSP’s to win the belts. Hopefully New Japan can get over their obsession with three and four-way matches for these belts and give us some straight up action. This was good, as always, but it really is getting repetitive. At least there are new champions.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
This is a re-match from Wrestle Kingdom, where they had an absolute blinder but got overshadowed somewhat by the two main events. At ****1/2 it was an excellent match and I wouldn’t have disagreed with anyone who wanted to rate it higher. It was brutal. Shibata makes a point of looking like he’s challenging Ishii to hit him in the early going but instead showing his superior speed. The early strikes are solid with Shibata’s elbows landing with a satisfying *thud* noise. Both guys go in for some no selling, rolling out of suplexes to show their manliness. It’s a much safer version of their no-selling strike duels but gets the same response. The match is beautifully stiff with chops to the throat and boot scraps across the eyebrows. Shibata’s hanging corner dropkick gets double duty and they both land hard. It isn’t quite as intense as Wrestle Kingdom, with Ishii in particular holding back a little. Shibata sees a chink in Ishii’s armour and it’s that he leaves himself open for submissions in pursuit of violence. Shibata isn’t just about strikes. He has a tonne of submissions and this second line of attack leaves Ishii looking very fragile. A backfist busts Ishii’s mouth or lip and sees him bleed from the face. Shibata busts out some epic no selling, popping up off a lariat and kicking out at one from another. This forces Ishii to do something more extreme and that’s the headbutts! Shibata responds by doing Nakamura’s flying armbar takedown. The match has certainly escalated! SPINNING FUCKING BACKFIST FROM SHIBATA! HOLY SHIT! The noise that made was unreal. The slaps! Headbutts! Good God, this is brutal. Sleeper and PK finishes from Shibata, confirming his status as champion. The striking down the stretch in this one was magnificent. A truly wonderful experience. Ishii being carried out shows how much the bout took out of him. They left everything in the ring but Shibata’s mixture of talents is what put him over the top. He could match Ishii in striking but was his superior in submissions and that sleeper caught Ishii by surprise.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
This is to hype the two main events at the other New Beginning show, which are Omega vs. Tana and Anderson & Gallows vs. Great Bash Heel. Karl Anderson has started to rub me up the wrong way and the only thing that’s different about him is he’s got a stupid beard. That beard has vastly changed the way I perceive him. The Bullet Club spend most of the match trying to soften up their opponents at the second New Beginning show. This includes Omega working over Tanahashi’s shoulder to establish a weakness. The match exists in the shadow of the last one and crawls along. The heels seem to be one step ahead throughout because Tanahashi is remarkably gullible and Honma is predictable, constantly going for Kokeshi. Omega is the star, looking more serious and focused than he has during his entire New Japan run. The prospect of a show-down with Tana has got him operating on a higher level. You can tell he’s been moved up to heavyweight too with the way he exchanges strikes with the likes of Honma. The selling is seriously wonky with Tanahashi just disappearing after the match breaks down. Credit to him, he’s still selling the shoulder from earlier in the match but even so it’s excessive. One Winged Angel puts Honma away and the heels win. This was ok but was merely here to hype Sundays show.
Final Rating: ***
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Okada has an excellent record against Goto but Goto did win their last meeting back in G1. Goto’s attitude has changed dramatically of late too, angry that he’s perceived as a routine defence and turning into a complete jerk. This has occurred at press conferences, post match celebrations and even during Shinsuke Nakamura’s last match in New Japan. Goto only sees Okada and the belt. Goto debuts a completely new look with a red mask and silver and black facepaint, complete with white robes. It’s reminiscent of Jinsei Shinzaki and he has kanji all over his body. He looks completely different and I really liked Goto’s old look but this is shocking. It’s an immediate psychological victory and it makes this feel like a massive deal. Goto debuting a massive character overhaul, from ronin to demon god, is a big deal and it creates a sense of unpredictability that didn’t exist before. Everyone had this pegged as a routine defence for Okada…until Goto walked out here. Sadly the match is a bit flat and heatless. As if the crowd don’t know how to take this new Goto. Goto is 0-7 in title matches but so was Masa Chono. He won his first IWGP title on his 8th title shot.
Given the matches these two have had beforehand this match is a disappointment. They shoot for epic and do a lot of grinding away to start. In particular Goto is dull and the new Goto is a stripped down version of the old Goto. Goto’s heat segment is a grind and then Okada just takes over. The one good thing is Okada setting for the Rainmaker and Goto getting a sensational counter out of it into an armbar. Goto has no conviction in applying it though. It’s a performance lacking in passion. Especially compared to Shibata vs. Ishii. That was two guys who were desperate to win a match and that was for the NEVER belt. The IWGP belt is far more important. Okada is cool as a cucumber so it’s not on him to bring that passion against a lesser challenger. It’s all on Goto and he’s not bringing it. Which is bizarre because Goto brought a tonne of intensity in the build up and now there’s nothing. The only way they get the crowd to bite is by having Goto get near falls off big spots but anybody can do that. They do some nice counters around the Rainmaker but Okada batters Goto with rolling Rainmakers for the win. Goto blew his big shot here in a major way and it ended up being the routine defence we all thought it would be. A huge disappointment but at least the last five minutes were good.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Summary: The one big rematch from Wrestle Kingdom landed superbly. Everything else was solid with nothing standing out. The main event was nowhere near as good as it should have been. The standard approach they took to it was disappointing, especially given the build. Post show Okada got to talk and he suggested that Goto continue to change and join CHAOS. That would certainly be a switch. They have a spot open seeing as Nakamura just left.