As always, I've got a very simple five point scale laid out where a 1 is total skip, 2 you can probably skip unless you love one of the folks in it, 3 is a match that's worth watching but not necessarily worth making time for, a 4 is a solid recommendation to make time for if you can, and a 5 is a must-watch.
Mind you, these are not star ratings. They're not meant to be absolute ratings in any sense, but rather a simple (and hopefully sensible) way to determine if a match is worth your time. A one is not necessarily a bad match, but rather just one I feel like you're best off skipping. I have my biases, of course, but hopefully I can make it easy for you to adjust for them.
Night One (January 27)
Katsuya Kitamura vs. Michael Elgin (Kitamura Challenge Series Match 2) (3): Strength vs. strength, Kitamura is cocky and flexing his pecs but Elgin has the veteran advantage. Even so the young lion manages to get him off his feet a few times and this is a good, fast-paced HOSS WAR to start us off. Just beefy lads doing beefy things, worth checking out unless you’re really picking and choosing.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Liger, KUSHIDA, Manabu Nakanishi, & Tiger Mask IV vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, Takashi Iizuka, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (1): All-out chaos to start, the dads fight back, we get more brawling on the floor, Taichi busts out the bell hammer with zero repercussions... if you’ve seen one Suzuki-gun ten-man you’ve seen them all. To be fair, there’s the beginnings (and endings) of a really neat TAKA/KUSHIDA sequence that could have elevated this above the average, but Suzuki-gun cut it off before it could really pay off. Bummer. Pass.
Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (1): Ishii is the only honest man in a world full of those willing to cut every corner they see. This showed a spark of something special early when it seemed like Owens was going to go shenanigan-for-shenanigan with the Sublime Master Thief, but then they shifted to standard tag team divide-and-conquer action. Not a bad match by any means, but pass.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Roa) (c) vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Toa Henare, & Togi Makabe) (NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship) (3): Tanga tears Taguchi’s sunglasses up before the bell and it’s on! Annoying Butt Man in full effect, we shift to Henare on Tama and Bullet Club go to work, isolating him and clearing the ring. Henare plays face in peril for a long while and is pretty good at it, before Makabe comes in with the hot tag. the match starts to break down again and from there it’s just a question of if Bullet Club are able to work their magic or if Taguchi Japan can pull it off.
Good solid stuff with a reasonably exciting climax, I wouldn’t go out of my way for this but if you’re committed to, say, checking every title match out you won’t likely regret it.
Bullet Club (Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page, & Marty Scurll) vs. David Finlay, Juice Robinson, & Kota Ibushi (4): Finlay mixes it up with Scurll on the mat and Ibushi trades some fast-paced flips with Page, Cody begs off from going head-to-head with Ibushi at first but Bullet Club are happy to isolate Juice and work him over. Some tight teamwork from the Bullet Club lads, a relative lack of shenanigans, and the Rhodes/Ibushi story elevate this one for me a significant amount over how much I expected to be invested in it. Good stuff with a legitimately great finishing stretch, worth checking out.
Chaos (Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & Tetsuya Naito) (3): LIJ go right on the offensive, taking things outside in their usual style, but once the match settles down in the ring it’s Chaos that have Naito isolated. It’s not an extended sequence, however, as Hiromu almost immediately comes in and starts working Ospreay’s knee over unmerciful. This, too, doesn’t last, Tacos gets worked over for a longer beat but again we end up cycling away.
Maybe it’s just me but this one didn’t hang together at all. Feel like they kept throwing ideas out but it never quite found its center. It’s enjoyable enough watching these four work that I can’t by any means pan it, but I dunno. Count this one in the “watch and decide for yourselves” bin, folks.
Chaos (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, & Kazuchika Okada) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, & SANADA) (2): This is the kind of New Japan six-man that exists entirely to get you hyped for the title matches on an upcoming show, in this case the New Beginning in Osaka next month, and it does that job admirably, cycling through the matchups, giving you enough to remind you why you need to be excited about EVIL/Goto and SANADA/Okada without actually giving the match away. And in that it succeeds admirably, but the inherent nature of these tags makes them, for me, pretty skippable. Watch accordingly!
Chaos (“Switchblade” Jay White, SHO, & YOH) vs. the Elite (Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson, & Nick Jackson) (3): Switchblade clears the apron and goes right after Omega to kick us off and we cycle through to the juniors. Flips and sick tag moves ensue and we end up right back where we started. Kenny plays Ricky Morton well, Nick with the hot tag tour de force, escalating to full-on Young Bucks violence and eventually getting the full Elite involved and leaving the Chaos team scrambling to try and crack whatever opening they can asunder.
Maybe it’s the mixing of a tag feud with a singles, maybe it’s the steady escalation, maybe it’s simply the talent involved, but this feels like a cut above the usual sort of preview trios match I was just talking about. Not quite enough that I want to push it out of three territory, but good stuff all the same.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki (IWGP Intercontinental Championship) (5): Mat grappling early, Suzuki with a clear advantage but of course the Ace is more than capable of holding his own, trading stepover toeholds for heel hooks, but Minoru literally laughs in the face of Tanahashi’s attempts to grind his leg down. The action inevitably spills outside as Suzuki shifts to target the bum arm and wails on the champion with a chair, clearly taking a kitchen sink approach to this one to some extent.
Striking in the ring, an armbar takedown into the Fujiwara nearly ends it but the damage is done, and the match proceeds from there, asking the question of whether the once-in-a-century Ace can fight through the pain well enough to fend off Minoru’s assault from all directions long enough to retain his title once again.
All of Tanahashi’s matches since the arm injury have basically gone down the same road but this one takes it to the ultimate conclusion, with a finish that isn’t just great in the context of this particular match, but in the context of the last year of the one-armed Ace’s career. And sure enough, it makes for a damn good match that’s worth your time. Don’t miss it!
Night Two (January 28)
Juice Robinson vs. Katsuya Kitamura (Kitamura Challenge Series Match 3) (3): Juice happy to play Kitamura’s game here, shoulder blocks and hard chops, and while he starts strong he ends up regretting it. Fortunately as the more experienced man here he has the wiles to turn things around and start trying to grind Katsuya down, chip away at the edges. And so it goes from there, the young lion’s raw power pitted against Robinson’s greater ability, waiting to see what blinks first. Good stuff, the best of the Kitamura Challenge Series so far for sure.
Jushin Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi, Shota Umino, & Tiger Mask IV vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (1): Taguchi deep in trouble early on after grabbing Taichi’s valet Miho Abe and cradling her on the mat for reasons inexplicable but soon enough Liger comes in and clears house. Of course, Suzuki-gun apply That Damned Numbers Game and the match breaks down. Umino has a nice run as the valiant young lion trying to do his best by his team but there’s not really much here, folks. Pass.
Bullet Club (Hikuleo & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (2): Chaos engaging in divide and conquer tactics to start but Bullet Club turn it right around on them and beat on Yano for a good while. Ishii comes in, clears house, we get a really visually impressive sequence between him and Hikuleo, and so this match is much like its counterpart on night one-- pretty standard except for one cool idea that’s not nearly developed as much as I’d like. That said we get a bit more Leo/Ishii action here than we did Owens/Yano on night one and so I’m willing to go just the tiny bit stronger on this one.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Roa) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, Togi Makabe, & Tomoyuki Oka (2): Starting civil, is this one, with Tenzan and Tama engaging in feats of strength before Tonga’s mockery sees the old men fired up to isolate him. This, in turn, leads Bullet Club to break the match down and take everybody to the floor for a beating. Some fun big boy action from Nakanishi and Fale here, but this is a pretty standard by the numbers Bullet Club brawl for the most part. Watch accordingly.
Michael Elgin & Toa Henare vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka) (3): Suzuki-gun with the traditional beatdown before the bell here, Suzuki taking great pleasure in beating on Henare. Toa pours on the speed and fights admirably but Minoru is wily and turns his youthful exuberance against him as Iizuka drags Elgin deep up the aisle for a beatdown. Suzuki throws a barricade and a pile of chairs at Henare and so the match continues, Elgin and Henare only having a chance if they can get a proverbial word in edgewise.
Nothing essential here, not really, but I have a soft spot for a good barricade throw, Suzuki’s clearly feeling his oats, and Henare puts in some good work, so we’ll call this down the middle.
Bullet Club (Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page, & Marty Scurll) vs. David Finlay, Kota Ibushi, & KUSHIDA (4): KUSHIDA and Scurll starting things off on the mat, the Time Splitter well in control and allowing his teammates to make a go of keeping the Villain isolated and working him over. Inevitably, the match breaks down a bit and Finlay finds himself on the wrong side of having the ring split in half. Sooner or later Ibushi clears house and the match goes into its back half with a nice extended sequence between him and Cody.
I liked Night One’s version of this match a bit more— it’s a bit less full-on exciting than this but I feel like it hangs together just a smidge better— but this was still quite good and worth your time.
Chaos (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, & Tetsuya Naito) (4):
A hot start with a fightin’ mad YOSHI-HASHI beating the hell out of Naito goes a long way to make this match worth watching and, much to the credit of everyone involved, goes a long way from taking Tacos’ match against Naito on February 10 from “eh, sure, I guess” to “oh, this is gonna be good.” We also get a nice long Hiromu/Ospreay sequence, Okada trying to draw some fire out of SANADA to follow up his jamming his mouth full of Rainmaker bucks the night before, and all in all this does a good job of showing just how good these kinds of tag matches can be when they’re not just kind of going through the motions.
Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship) (5): The Bucks go right back on the strategy that brought them to the dance this time around, going after SHO’s back and making an attempt to take Rocky Romero out with a powerbomb on the ramp again, but RPG3K make the save. An apron double powerbomb takes YOH out but the match ain’t over yet and carries on from there in much the same fashion as the Wrestle Kingdom match.
This one is bigger, longer, and a bit excessive in places, so I’d take the Tokyo Dome match over it for sure, but it’s still a really good match that has some cool escalations and learned psychology evolutions from that match that make it definitely worth your time.
”Switchblade” Jay White vs. Kenny Omega (c) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship) (5): Omega going hard in the feeling out, not wanting to give White an inch if he doesn’t have to, but Jay carves himself an advantage by going after Kenny’s back on the outside. Omega’s prowess and experience advantages dulled by the back damage, we get a back and forth action-packed match where the question is if Kenny can absorb all this damage and still hit back harder long enough to end it.
After Switchblade’s awkward misfire with Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome, this match is a welcome development indeed. White feels a lot more natural here, going at his natural pace with passing back work instead of stopping and starting the leg work as he did against the one-armed Ace. I don’t think this is likely to make many match of the year lists, but it’s certainly very good and a match that deserves to be watched.
And, uh, as far as the post-match angle goes... consider that a must-watch as well, folks.
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.