New Beginning in Osaka wraps up the tour, for full results of the show check here, and if you missed my recommendations for Sapporo, you can check them out here.
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.
Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yuji Nagata (Kitamura Challenge Series Match 6) (3): Kitamura’s strength clashes against Nagata’s early, with bits of mat grappling here and there to keep it interesting. They shift into strikes, Katsuya nearly takes it with Nagata’s pal Nakanishi’s trademark Argentine backbreaker rack in a nice shoutout, and as always it’s a question of whether the young man’s fire can stand the old man’s attempts to snuff it. Good stuff, maybe the best of these so far.
Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (4): Suzuki-gun targeting SHO’s injured back out the gates but the junior tag champs are able to keep it a fair fight until the rulebreakers take them to the floor in true Suzuki-gun style. Eventually SHO is able to get the tag and YOH fights the good fight for a while but as ever when a tag team is cut in half like that it doubt enters the equation and SHO’s back shows the damage when he tries to come back in.
This was good but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been better if RPG3K hadn’t already won their tag titles back. That, however, is a macro concern and we’re just concerned as to whether or not a match is worth watching and this one certainly is.
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Taguchi Japan (KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Togi Makabe) (2): Trying to cycle through the matchups as is standard for these kind of tags but Suzuki’s not having it, attacking Makabe with a fervor and brawling on the floor. Soon enough the match breaks down and all eight men brawl all over the place. The action eventually settles back down with the babyfaces trying to claw an opening loose, but only ever gets past average in the brief moments Makabe and Suzuki are going at it. Pass.
Chaos (“Switchblade” Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii, & Toru Yano) vs. David Finlay, Juice Robinson, & Toa Henare (3): Cycling through the matchups, Yano doing Yano things against Juice, Ishii and Henare clubbing away, and when it’s Finlay on White our unaligned trio pull ahead for a moment but Switchblade is able to turn things around and the Chaos men beat on Robinson a while.
The exposed turnbuckle comes to haunt them and the match turns into a fair fight in the finishing stretch. Good solid undercard tag action here, not necessarily worth going out of your way for but a good match.
BUSHI vs. Gedo (4): The action commences on the floor as BUSHI goes to retrieve the masks Gedo stole from him, but the veteran has him well in hand and takes control, untying the mask only for BUSHI to tear at his beard! And I mean literally tear, at one point yanking chunks of hair out and wiping his hands on the Japanese commentary team.
The match proceeds like this, alternating beard work with mask work (at one point Gedo ties BUSHI to the ropes with the laces!) until BUSHI gets fired up and we shift to a more traditional dynamic, and it adds up to a pretty compelling match.
Tetsuya Naito vs. YOSHI-HASHI (4): Hot start as Tacos blindsides Naito during his entrance! The Stardust Genius is able to create enough separation to turn it around on him and start going to work on his neck. YOSHI-HASHI’s able to get some kicks in, targeting the knee and the neck, and we’ve got a fair back and forth fight from there, ebbing and flowing and generally a good time. If I have one quibble it’s that it might be a bit on the long side for what it is, but not egregiously so, and if they’re telling a story that Naito needs to become more decisive in the wake of his Wrestle Kingdom loss I’m down for that.
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay (c) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship) (5): Hot start, bit of striking right into the flips, Hiromu taking charge after a trip to the outside yields gold in the form of some neck damage. Ospreay fights back into with the handspring gamengiri and so it goes, a high-octane epic match of the likes you expect from these two that’s absolutely worth your time. Although do note, Will IS a bit shouty here so if it bugs you when he goes big like that, adjust your expectations appropriately.
EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto (c) (NEVER Openweight Championship) (4): Goto in charge to a somewhat surprising degree out the gates, grinding his challenger down and staying on top of him, not letting EVIL have the room to breathe. A trip to the floor restores the natural order as the King of Darkness engages in his traditional chair schtick and dominates the next stretch until the champ gets his licks in and we shift to back and forth action.
It’s a good, physical match but something about this one didn’t click with me until close to the finishing stretch. Goto fired up, bleeding from the mouth, wearing his necklace of prayer beads, staring on in defiance, isn’t just a hell of a visual, but might be the moment I’ve most bought what he’s selling, and that carried through to the finish here. Good stuff.
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. SANADA (IWGP Heavyweight Championship) (5): Cards on the table, folks, I’ve had a bad migraine weekend (which is part of why I’m a little late in getting to this) and that means I got to see some of the discussion over Okada’s formula and whether or not he should do a couple sprints, whether that would enhance his value or degrade his opponents, all of that, before actually seeing this match.
So, is this an Okada formula match? Absolutely. Limb work early leads into his opponent working him over, targeting the neck as has been popular lately. Eventually the Rainmaker finds his way back into it, turns the heat up, gets cut back off, fights into it again, first Rainmaker comes up empty, into the reversal chains and tight nearfalls that he pulls off so effortlessly until either he gets a final Rainmaker or his opponent pulls the upset off, it’s all there.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Predictable in pro wrestling (or entertainment media in general) can never be equated directly to bad, after all. Certainly just about every great wrestler of the modern era has had a formula, although some are better about switching it up than others. The “Five Moves of Doom” were named for Bret Hart’s finishing stretch, after all! It’s all about the execution, and Okada, for all I’m not a huge fan, almost always brings it and brings it well in that regard.
Would I prefer sprints? You bet! If Gedo wants to start booking stuff directly at me, I’m all for it, and I do love a good sprint. I do like the epic “start slow, end big” New Japan main events for the most part as well, but when I look at the clock when the bell rings on the main event and see an hour plus left I’ll admit I groan a little, even knowing that a lot of that is post-show interviews and analysis.
Would shifting to sprints this deep into Okada’s reign be a good thing? That depends on the story being told. If the idea is to present him as a champion who grows more dominant as he settles in and comes closer to being at the peak of his prime, then absolutely, sprints would be the right call. But from his primal scream late in the match as he dug deep to find a way to try and gut it out, I feel like the story being told here is one of a champion who is absolutely on top of his game, but not so much that someone won’t come along and crack the code soon.
In the end, like so many of these main events, this is a match that you really owe it to yourself to watch and form your own opinion on.
(Also, if Gedo wants to start booking stuff directly at me? Zack Sabre, Jr. for NEVER Champion, please and thank you.)
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.