Welcome to The LAW’s coverage of the NJPW New Beginning event from Sapporo, Japan.
This is the first English broadcast with new commentator Don Callis joining Kevin Kelly.
EL DESPERADO & YOSHINOBU KANEMARU VS KUSHIDA & HIRAI KAWATO
Kawato insists on starting the match.
Desperado Irish whips Kawato into the guardrail on the floor. They have the heat on Kawato until he lands a dropkick and tags in Kushida.
Kushida hit a double handspring back elbow and tagged Kawato back in. Kawato landed a springboard dropkick to Desperado. Desperado hit a spine buster and then applied a single-leg crab and Kawato fought to the bottom rope.
Kawato was given a lot by young lion standards until finally being hit with Desperado’s Guitarra de Angel and was pinned.
Winners: El Desperado (pinned Hirai Kawato) & Yoshinobu Kanemaru at 7:35
Kanemaru and Desperado attacked Kushida on the floor after the match.
The match was a nice showcase for Kawato, who was the focus of the match more than anyone else.
Kevin Kelly and Don Callis went over the attack by Minoru Suzuki on Kazuchika Okada at the contract signing.
YOSHITATSU & HENARE & TOMOYUKI OKA VS YUJI NAGATA & SATOSHI KOJIMA & HIROYOSHI TENZAN
Yoshitatsu, Oka and Henare jump them at the start but Kojima responds with chops to all three in the corner as they each get chopped.
Tenzan was in with Yoshitatsu, it really showed when he tried to run the ropes at where his speed is.
Nagata and Oka traded forearms and then Nagata slapped him. Oka hit a belly-to-belly suplex and applied a Boston crab but it was broken up. The rest fought to the floor and Nagata hit an exploder and applied the Nagata Lock III, Oka tried to break free and then Nagata transitioned the submission to the opposite side and Oka tapped out.
Winners: Yuji Nagata (pinned Tomoyuki Oka) & Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan at 7:48
KATSUYORI SHIBATA & JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER & TIGER MASK VS WILL OSPREAY & JADO & GEDO
Shibata and Ospreay start the match. Ospreay avoids a PK and tags out.
Liger and Jado pose at one another. They get the advantage on Liger in their corner. Liger makes his way to tag Tiger Mask.
Tiger Mask hit a Tiger Bomb and Gedo kicked out. Shibata breaks a cover and attacks Ospreay with forearms in the corner.
Ospreay fights off Shibata, hits his corkscrew roundhouse kick and OsCutter to pin Tiger Mask.
After the match, Ospreay hit the OsCutter onto Shibata and held up the title in front of Shibata to set up their match for Osaka next weekend.
Winners: Will Ospreay (pinned Tiger Mask) Gedo & Jado at 6:48
This was mainly a back drop for the program between Shibata and Ospreay with Ospreay having the upper hand going into the Rev Pro heavyweight title match next weekend.
TAKASHI IIZUKA VS YOSHI-HASHI
Iizuka enters through the crowd with El Desperado holding him on a leash. Shimpei Nogami is not at ringside and he teases going after the other announcer but doesn’t.
Yoshi-Hashi attacks Iizuka with a baseball slide from the ring and they fight on the floor. Iizuka uses a chair and sends Yoshi-Hashi onto one of the tables at ringside. Yoshi-Hashi returns at the count of 18.
Iizuka wraps a microphone cord around his throat as Callis thinks a disqualification is in order. Yoshi-Hashi fights back until Desperado distracts the referee and Iizuka chokes him with tape from his trunks.
Iizuka gets his knees up when Yoshi-Hashi goes for the Swanton. Iizuka gets the Iron Fingers and Yoshi-Hashi ducks and superkicks him, hits a back stabber and hits Karma and pins Iizuka.
Winner: Yoshi-Hashi at 7:01
Not much of a match as Iizuka is limited significantly in this environment. Iizuka is hardly a Suzuki-gun member that needed the win here and I guess it was kept short and that was for the better.
TETSUYA NAITO & HIROMU TAKAHASHI & EVIL & SANADA & BUSHI VS HIROSHI TANAHASHI & MICHAEL ELGIN & DRAGON LEE & RYUSUKE TAGUCHI & MANABU NAKANISHI
Elgin tagged in right away and wanted Naito, who entered the match for a preview of their title match next weekend in Osaka. Sanada and Bushi ran in and Elgin fought them off.
Dragon Lee flew to the floor with a tope con giro onto Takahashi and his legs hit the guardrail when landing.
Taguchi was in with Evil and came off the middle rope with a reverse hip attack and tagged in Elgin. Elgin lifted Bushi and Takahashi for a Samoan drop / fall away slam combination. He then caught Naito and hit a release German to him and Sanada and followed with rolling Germans to Evil. This was a really impressive sequence from Elgin.
Dragon Lee and Takahashi were working at a different speed than everyone when they were in. Dragon Lee caught Takahashi off the rope with a snap German.
Tanahashi went for a high cross to the floor and was stopped at first by Naito, Elgin lifted Naito off and powerbombed him to the other bodies on the floor. Tanahashi then hit them with the crossbody to the floor.
Inside the ring, Dragon Lee hit the Phoenix plex to Bushi for the pin.
Winners: Dragon Lee (pinned Bushi) & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin & Ryusuke Taguchi & Manabu Nakanishi at 13:04
The standouts in the match were Michael Elgin and Dragon Lee. It was a fast paced match but all the key points were digested and Elgin going for Naito’s title was the major focus and the powerbomb to the floor spot was the big moment in the match.
RPG VICE VS TAICHI & TAKA MICHINOKU FOR THE IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TITLES
Taichi’s valet distracted the referee and allowed Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado to join Taichi and Michinoku and jump RPG Vice.
Taichi attacks Baretta with the bell hammer he had tucked in his pants. Baretta is fighting to his corner and Desperado yanked Romero off the apron to prevent the tag.
It’s all Suzuki-gun after beating down Baretta and continuing when Romero does enter. RPG Vice finally mounts a comeback on Taichi and double team him. They go for Strong Zero as the valet enters the ring to distract the referee and Baretta is hit with a chair from the floor and Taichi gets a near fall.
Michinoku hit an Asai moonsault to both Baretta and Romero. They double teamed Baretta in the ring, including Michinoku with a springboard spin kick and applying a choke to Baretta but they can’t finish him. Out of nowhere, Baretta hits Michinoku with the Dude Buster for a two-count.
Baretta grabs a chair from Suzuki-gun and attacks them with the chair. Romero hit a big suicide dive to the floor to take out three members and then they hit Strong Zero and pinned Taichi.
Winners: RPG Vice at 13:37
Very good match, the junior heavyweight tag matches are significantly more focused when it’s two teams in the match instead of multiples. RPG Vice have quietly become one of the best elements to the New Japan undercards as the champions of the division and built this match around the numbers game they had to overcome and pulling off the victory.
After the match, Suzuki-gun attacked RPG Vice and Kanemaru cut a promo (one of the drawbacks with Steve Corino gone is his ability to translate the Japanese promos on the spot on the English broadcast).
HIROOKI GOTO VS JUICE ROBINSON FOR THE NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE
This is the biggest match of Robinson’s career. Tanahashi is shown at ringside on commentary to watch.
Robinson attacks right away and hits a diving head butt of the top. They went to the floor and Robinson missed a cannonball and leaped into the guardrail missing Goto. Goto sent him into the steel post and took over the match as they returned to the ring.
Robinson reaches the rope when Goto applied a Boston crab and Robinson later clothesline Goto to the floor and followed up with a pescado.
Robinson missed a moonsault from the top rope and Callis called it questionable given that his back has been worked over in the match.
Robinson slipped off the top and powerbombed Goto out of the corner and stacked him for the first cover that the crowd bought for Robinson. Goto blocked Pulp Friction and was German suplexed onto his neck but powered up. Goto head butts Robinson to block his left hand and then Goto runs into a big lariat by Robinson for a two-count.
Goto draped Robinson on the top rope and hit a reverse GTR that Robinson kicked out of. He followed with a kick to the chest and then hits the GTR proper for the win.
Winner: Hirooki Goto at 14:42
Robinson was given a lot in this with the idea that he stepped up even in defeat and went toe-to-toe with an established champion. This was a really good match and probably the best of Robinson’s career.
TOMOHIRO ISHII & TORU YANO VS DAVEY BOY SMITH JR. & LANCE ARCHER VS TOGI MAKABE & TOMOAKI HONMA FOR THE IWGP TAG TITLES
Archer ran around spitting water at the fans.
The first team to score a fall wins.
Early in the match, Yano removed the turnbuckle padding. Ishii made several attempts and finally hit Archer with a vertical suplex. Honma was tagged in and hit the head butt off the ropes to Smith.
Smith pressed Honma into the air as Archer hit a powerslam as Honma dropped.
Makabe and Honma double team Smith with Makabe sending Smith into a head butt from Honma. Honma went to the top and hit the kokeshi but Yano blind tagged in and went for the cover, which Honma broke up and they argued and fought.
Archer choke slammed Yano and Yano turned it into a crucifix and Honma saved. Makabe tagged in and attacked Smith and Archer with lariats, Honma dove at Ishii with a head butt and then a double clothesline was hit to Yano.
Makabe hit the spider suplex to Yano from the top but Archer grabbed Makabe from the top and went for the Killer Bomb and Honma stopped them. They knocked down Honma and hit the Hart Attack to Makabe. Ishii avoided the Killer Bomb and Yano low blowed Smith and Archer.
Yano distracted the referee and hit a low blow to Makabe, Ishii hit a lariat and Yano rolled up Makabe to get the pinfall.
Winners: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (pinned Togi Makabe) at 13:36 to retain the IWGP tag titles
They will be doing a rematch with all three teams next weekend in Osaka. Three-way matches are far from overdone in New Japan for the heavyweights and it was something different with all the different save scenarios.
The way the show has gone with Suzuki-gun being beaten in all but one of their matches seems to telegraph a title change in the main event.
KAZUCHIKA OKADA VS MINORU SUZUKI FOR THE IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
Okada’s right knee is taped coming off the contract signing angle and attack by Suzuki. Suzuki attacks it early and goes for a knee bar as Okada gets to the bottom rope.
Okada came back and leaped off the middle rope to dropkick Suzuki off the apron. Okada Irish whipped Suzuki into the guardrail and hit a draping DDT off of the guardrail. Suzuki comes back and attacks Okada with a chair on the floor and wraps the injured knee around the guardrail. Suzuki then smashes the knee with a chair shot.
Suzuki and Taichi both attacked Gedo on the floor.
Callis brought up Suzuki defeating Ken Shamrock in Pancrase with a knee bar and how he can do the same to Okada.
Suzuki just isolates the knee and works it over in the ring. Suzuki lit him up with a forearm and boot in the corner and Okada received a small cut by his left eye as a result. Okada fought back and did a kip up and sold the knee upon doing so. He leaped off the top and landed on the injured leg and went down.
Suzuki slid down and applied the knee bar again and Okada rolled to the rope. Red Shoes counted to five and Suzuki explained he needed help to let as he was caught, which was perhaps the best heel tactic I’ve seen in a long time.
Okada comes out of the corner and placed Suzuki on the top turnbuckle and dropkicked him off to the floor. He calls for the Rainmaker and Suzuki counters the attempt and back to the knee bar while trapping Okada’s other leg as well and Gedo is holding the towel as though he may throw it in but doesn’t as Okada reaches the rope.
Suzuki applies a figure-four and Suzuki stops him from reaching the rope and has him in the middle as Gedo holds up the towel again. Okada reaches the rope on his next try.
Okada gets a reprieve as he hits Suzuki with the Heavy Rain. Suzuki sticks out his tongue as Okada lands forearm strikes. Okada comes off the ropes and Suzuki shoves Red Shoes in between and Okada nails Red Shoes.
This allows Suzuki-gun to run in and attacks Okada. CHAOS runs down to stop Suzuki-gun. They clear the ring as Okada lands a dropkick as Suzuki comes off the ropes. Okada follows with a tombstone attempt and teases a Gotch style version and Suzuki counters and re-applies the knee bar and Okada is in tremendous pain, Suzuki drags him to the middle, Suzuki stands and falls to his back torqueing on the knee and then the ankle as well.
The crowd is chanting for Okada as he tries to kick free but Suzuki will not let go but Okada will not give up and after several minutes he finally gets to the rope.
They trade slaps standing, Suzuki comes off the ropes and applies a choke, Okada counters with a belly-to-back neck breaker. Suzuki then lands a dropkick and lights up Suzuki with slaps and shots to the body, applies the rear-naked choke, releases and goes for the Gotch piledriver and Okada blocks and lifts up Suzuki by the wrist to hit the Rainmaker but both are down.
Okada holds onto the wrist, he goes for another but Suzuki fights back with slaps and a head butt but Okada still hits the Rainmaker but both are once again down.
Suzuki ducks another Rainmaker, Okada hits a German suplex, lifts Suzuki and hits one more Rainmaker and finally wins the match.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada at 40:49 to retain the IWGP heavyweight title
This was an outstanding main event and worked around Okada’s knee throughout the match. On one hand it kind of cools down Suzuki-gun as they came up short in every match tonight with the exception of the opener.
This was one of the best Okada title defences he has ever had, it will obviously be compared to the Kenny Omega match as will all of their future matches but this was a great match and story told over the course of 40 minutes.
The selling from Okada was as great as you are going to see and it’s a question of where Minoru Suzuki goes next as they could have switched the title here but kept Okada in the top spot. In any other year, this would be the early front runner for match-of-the-year.