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  • Connor Ewens

Let's Review: New Japan's New Beginning in Osaka

This is a pretty big New Japan show for two people in particular. Will Ospreay has already signed for AEW and has been wrestling out the end of his contract for NJPW. After 8 years, many 5 star classics and plenty of championships he bids the Japanese promotion farewell here. Also bidding farewell soon is New Japan's biggest star and arguably best wrestler for the past 14 years, Kazuchika Okada. He will wrestle his final match at New Beginning in Sapporo. It is unconfirmed where he is going, but it is widely expected he will turn up in AEW. Many believe he has already signed. With New Japan's 2 best wrestlers leaving within 2 weeks, it will be interesting to see how New Japan get through 2024 with such a huge hole created. This feels like an end of an era for the company. Will it be a beautiful farewell? Let's find out. Let's review.


February 11th 2024- NJPW New Beginning, Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Osaka, Japan


Oleg Boltin & Ryusuke Taguchi vs CHAOS (Toru Yano & YOH)

This is a pretty standard tag match to open up the show. Boltin is relatively new to New Japan only debuting last year. He is in there with good company though and he clearly has potential to be a good wrestler. The finish came as Taguchi and Boltin were showboating their ability to lift their opponents, Boltin especially showcasing his power but he did not see YOH roll up Taguchi for a flash victory. Good booking, match was fine.


CHAOS win by pinfall (3:45)

**


Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) vs United Empire (Callum Newman & Great O-Khan)

Bishamon are one of the best tag teams in the world. After a big loss at Wrestle Kingdom, a victory here to continue recovering momentum felt inevitable. O-Khan has no heat currently but Newman is a very recent addition to United Empire. At 21 years old he has a great amount of potential and is already very exciting to watch in the ring. Whilst it is vert premature to suggest he could be the next Will Ospreay in Japan, I expect New Japan view him that way. This was a good match, Bishamon hit their Shoto finish to put away Newman. I see another IWGP tag title challenge in their near future.


Bishamon win by pinfall (7:37)

***


El Desperado, Shota Umino, Tiger Mask & Tomoaki Honma vs House of Torture (EVIL, Ren Narita, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi w/Dick Togo)

Desperado and Umino both have their issues with members of the HoT, specifically SHO and Narita. This is a standard New Japan multi-man tag made worse by how boring the HoT are and how immobile Tiger and Honma are. The usual antics of the House being dicks and cheating to get a win. Some nice things from Narita and Umino because they're future stars, but not enough to make this too much better. It was fine, inoffensive compared to other HoT matches. A brief brawl after them match, EVIL sprays Umino with an X after the match seemingly marking him as a target. Desperado recovers his mask that was stolen, but SHO steals his IWGP Jr Heavyweight title. Very creative booking, its not like other HoT member EVIL ran that exact same angle with SANADA at the end of last year. I just want them to stop existing please.


House of Torture win by pinfall (8:43)

**1/4


Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & Yota Tsuji) vs Just Five Guys (DOUKI, SANADA, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku & Yuya Uemura)

Naito defeated SANADA in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom to win the IWGP World Championship. It'll be interesting to see how Just 5 Guys continue this year, I feel like they haven't really built up much momentum thanks to mostly feuding with the House of Torture and LiJ. Way too many repeat matches. Hopefully feuding with someone else will give them a little boost in 2024. Sanada is a great wrestler but lacks much personality and character. Uemura is great and has a bright future, but I just don't really care for the rest of the stable. Taka is a legend, Taichi is okay but DOUKI is kinda mid and also he is named after a Hulk Hogan meme. SANADA has a rematch with Naito in a few weeks time because why not I guess. This was another fine multiman match, watching Uemura vs Tsuji was pretty interesting but I was not intrigued by any of the other matchups. Like I said, way too played out at this point. Sanada traps BUSHI in his Skull End finish. Numerous stare-downs with members of both factions. Tsuji and Uemura grab each other by the hair ahead of their Hair vs Hair clash. Please New Japan, don't cut Tsuji's beautiful hair.


Just 5 Guys win by submission (11:05)

**1/2


Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada

Okada has had many excellent rivalries in New Japan. He and Naito came up at the same time and have been rivals at the top. He had some of the best matches in history with Kenny Omega during his meteoric rise. However, no one is quite on par as a rival like current NJPW Television champion Tanahashi. Okada had to run through him in order to become the new top man in the company. They've had many matches together over the last 10+ years in NJPW, plenty of match of the year candidates produced and some amazing stories told. Here is the final chapter in the historic rivalry. Okada comes out very emotional and receives a huge ovation from the Osaka crowd. This was a greatest hits match between these two. Okada pulled out offence we hadn't seen from him in years such as the Heavy Rain. The Ace is well past his best but he still puts in a great effort to keep up with Okada as best he can. After a great back and forth, Okada finally puts away his foe with the Rainmaker. Of course not the best these two have had but it was a very good match. The two men embrace post match and Okada says goodbye to Osaka. Lots of emotion.


Okada wins by pinfall (16:50)

***3/4


Guerillas of Destiny (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo w/Jado) (c) vs Bullet Club (Chase Owens & KENTA), IWGP Tag Team Championships

GOD are ready to face any and all comers for their tag titles, but they also have requested a match against fellow stable mates Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa for Tama's last match for New Japan on the 24th. Another iconic New Japan name leaving the company. Since they only just recently defeated Bishamon, a title retention seemed almost inevitable here but I was wrong. This was far from a great match. Owens is the quintessential average wrestler, Hikuleo is a mediocre big man, KENTA as a heel wrestles boring/lazy matches. ELP tried to inject life into this match. It's a shame, after Bishamon spent the last couple years making the tag division something worth watching, within a month the division has became a piss break. The title change was very shocking. I don't see why they have done this. I know they're trying to rebuild Bullet Club but out of the entire stable they chose these two? Owens is the BC member who takes pins and Kenta overall has been a disappointment since joining NJPW. Coughlin & Kidd should have won them if it had to be anyone from the BC. I did like the one fan who chanted loudly and proudly for KENTA as much as he could. I don't think this is as bad as people are claiming it is, I think people are just upset about the booking which I do understand. Taiji Ishimori gets involved with the referee knocked down, his interference allowing Owens to get the pin. PLEASE do not turn the BC into a second House of Torture or I swear. Kenta & Owens play the belts like a guitar almost Undisputed-esque.


Bullet Club win by pinfall (13:11)

**1/2


Bryan Danielson vs Zack Sabre Jr.

Their first match together last year won my MOTY award, so I expect this to be shortlisted for my End of Year awards also. Danielson won their match but ZSJ suggested he could not defeat him via submission, so we have ourselves a rematch. Honestly, I hope they just feud forever, have a match once every 6-9 months and I will never get bored of them. Unsurpisingly, I'm giving this 5 stars. Another classic between these two. It started as a back and forth technical stalemate, both coming away as equals. A whip into the ropes injured the left leg of ZSJ injured which became the focus for Danielson's offence. He fought on with the injured leg but his submissions were not as effective when Bryan keeps going to the leg. They have heel hooks on each other, ZSJ slaps him and Bryan just spits and laughs at him before trading stiff boots. Awesome sequence. Both men sold excellently, the exhaustion and the pain. After strike exchanges and counters, ZSJ almost gets a win after a Zack driver. Amazing near fall. The strikes, counters and submissions just kept coming and coming with seemingly nothing able to end the match. Bryan hits the running knee, how he won the first time, and goes for a second but it is countered. Back and forth pinfall attempts, Zack locks him tight for the 1-2-3. Amazing technical bout. A challenge has since been issued for a 2-out-of-3 falls match and I am 1000% down. Bryan suggested another promotion to host for neutral ground. From a business perspective, that is a terrible idea. If either AEW or NJPW allow that to happen they are big morons. Danielson reluctantly shakes the hand before leaving. ZSJ also called out Kazuchika Okada and said he would win the IWGP World title. I am happy with both of those things happening.


Zack Sabre Jr win by pinfall (32:46)

*****


United Empire (Will Ospreay, Francesco Akira, TJP, Henare & Jeff Cobb) vs Bullet Club War Dogs (David Finlay, Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Gabe Kidd & Drill Maloney w/Gedo), Dog Pound cage match

The 'Dog Pound' match is a New Japan version of the famous WarGames match. Whilst I love the stipulation, it is a pretty weak name for it. Blood & Guts is too on the nose but even that is better than this. Ospreay calls time on his New Japan career by going to war with the War Dogs. This is a very unusual match for a New Japan show, it is a very western wrestling stipulation. Here's the rules. It starts as a 1v1, War Dogs won the advantage so they will have another man enter first. A new man enters every 2 minutes. When all are involved, that means falls can now take place. There is not 2 rings, it is just the one ring with a thick steel cage around Hell in a Cell style. They have even removed the NJPW logo from the mat. The cage is not high at all, maybe like 10 foot high? When they're stood on the top turnbuckle they tower over the cage fence. There is no roof of course. The first two entrants are David Finlay and Will Ospreay, who the feud is built around. There is A LOT to cover here so I am going to do a mostly play by play because there is plenty to run through.


The crowd are very hot for Ospreay here as expected. Ospreay grabs a mic and asks for 10 minutes alone with the leader if he is the true leader. Finlay settles on 5, referencing the 5 minute truce Ospreay & Moxley made at Wrestle Kingdom to beat up Finlay. Traditional singles to start, Finlay takes control and starts using the cage to his advantage. Ospreay returns the favour after dodging a chair shot. Back in the ring for more of a wrestling match, both men exchanging control but Finlay has been most dominant, wearing Will down whilst mocking the fans. Ospreay regains control as Drilla Maloney enters the match. He drags out United Empire member Callum Newman, distracting Will to be hit by a chair. Newman is handcuffed to the cage and attacked while Will is forced to watch. Drilla hid a strap with forks attached under the ring. That looks horrifying. Ospreay is double teamed for 2 minutes, he tries to fight back but he is suplexed into the cage. Out next to help Will is Henare. The powerhouse runs wild, confidently fighting 2-on-1 before helping Will up to fight. The Empire are firmly back in control as Clark Connors comes in with barbed wire wrapped around his left forearm. He starts tearing at the flesh of Will Ospreay, the Bullet Club flip off the crowd. Connors brings in a table, Ospreay is dripping with blood. TJP enters next for the UE, someone who feels ready to step up as the leader. He brings in barbed wire to use, grinding it against Connors' face. The Empire are back in control, TJP protecting Will from BC members to help him get time to recover and heal, nice touch of storytelling. Alex Coughlin is 4th for the BCWD and he carries down literally 20 chairs on both of his arms like the strong boy he is. I love this man. Plenty of chair shots for the UE, even poor Newman still handcuffed on the cage. TJP is buried under chairs, Henare is dropped with a driver on top of them. 4th man for the Empire is Akira. He climbs the cage for a huge dive onto the whole Club. He goes fucking crazy with a kendo stick and unleashes hell on Finlay. Akira doesn't see Clark Connors maul him with a big spear through the table. Gabe Kidd is the final man for the BCWD to come out. He wheels out a case full of chairs, kendos, a trash can and a table. He cracks Will with a brutal chair shot to the head. He is a man possessed, he pulls out a ladder from underneath. Will is at the mercy of the Club as his allies are down. Finally, Jeff Cobb comes down as the final entrant. The big hoss comes in and suplexes everyone in his path. Henare has seemingly been taken out of the match with a head injury. It is 5-on-4 but the UE are still dominant. So far, this has been an excellent slice of violence.


The cage is locked, which is funny since it is so low that anyone could reasonably climb over it. Cob dodges a spear and Connors runs head first into the table, denting it. A bloodied Kidd wields a ladder and violently spins around, honestly very unsafe no one could even approach him properly to be hit around because he went too fast. A ladder bridge is set up by Ospreay. Akira brutally dropped in a chair for a 2 count. TJP channels his monster to help his partner Akira, the mask is really cool. Henare manages to make his way back in the ring, his entire head bandaged to fuck. All the men hit some offence in and all 10 men are down in the ring. At this point I was expecting the match to be over soon with 35 minutes gone by. I would be wrong. Both teams regroup and begin their brawl once again. Ospreay and Finlay are back fighting 1v1. Finlay spears Ospreay off the apron, through a table and into the cage, a gnarly spot. Henare with a brutal kick to a bin-trapped Drilla. Henare and Kidd duel with chairs, Henare punches a chair in half and cracks him on the head with his own. Kidd fights through but they both blasted. Coughlin challenges TJP and Akira to attack him with Kendos, he eats plenty shots and still stands but Catch 22 eventually drop him. Coughlin is on a table, Henare climbs the cage for a senton. He is insane. Connors sprinkles the ring with thumbtacks, drinks plenty whiskey and tries a move but TJP reverses, dropping him twice into the thumbtacks. A tour of the Islands is broken up for a near fall.


Finlay drops Cobb with chairs, a shillelagh and a conchairto. Cobb is handcuffed to the cage now. Henare is too. 2 back to back Into Oblivions by Finlay but Ospreay kicks out. 45 minutes have gone by. Gedo brings out a barbed wire wrapped table. United Empire member Great O-Khan comes down to stop him but he is attacked. The cage is unlocked. O-Khan attacks Gedo and grabs the key. He unlocks Newman as Finlay looks to end Ospreay. Kidd helps his boss, but Kidd is ground into the barbed wire. Newman kicks Gedo, mist is sprayed on Finlay and Ospreay/Newman hit synchronised Ozzcutters. A powerbomb through the barbed wire table for a 1-2-no. Finlay kicks out. That should have been the finish, I think everything from here was too long. Drilla has a fork and is stabbing people, licking the fork like a freak. Kidd piledrivers Ospreay through the ladder bridge Akira fights up and stabs Drilla himself, then Connor. Akira puts Connors in a dog collar and hangs him, which happened to him prevoiously, then TJP drains his soul from his body? Very silly. Kidd and Finlay concoct a plan, they expose the wooden boards under the ring. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it looks and it takes them fucking ages. It was very awkward. It makes the Empire look silly doing nothing while this goes down. With the boards exposed and very clearly not secured like we see in western rings, it becomes so much more dangerous. The boards are falling out of place and moves cannot be executed properly. It looks like an Ian Rotten match from ECW. The rest of the Empire are down, Akira fights on his own and gets a near fall on Finlay. Akira is crazy, his hurricanrana is reversed, the hijack piledriver is done carefully onto the loose boards. Ospreay saves Akira and drags him to safety. Finlay crawls towards them, the whole BC stand, Ospreay rolls Akira to safety and stands up on his own to them. Ospreay is too exhausted to hit the hidden blade. Ospreay eats a high-low then a barbed wire wrapped knee strike by Finlay for the 1-2-3. Bloody hell, there is a lot to unpack.


The Good

This was an enjoyable violent match with plenty of carnage to fill your sadistic boots. Plenty of spots, plenty of blood, plenty of weapons. This is a very unorthodox New Japan match. This is probably a lot of the wrestlers involved best match. I really liked the storytelling in this match. Bullet Club wanting to pin Ospreay, handcuffing all of the United Empire to watch him be brutalised, Akira originally being averse to the violence but here he embraces it and goes sicko mode. Henare looked like a fucking beast fighting through his head injury to still continue the match. The pacing for the most part was excellent, naturally building up and up in violence without feeling rushed. It was a fucking incredible war. A win for War Dogs should hopefully be a good thing especially with the quality of the match, they really needed a match of this quality. The closing spot of Ospreay sacrificing himself on his own was beautiful storytelling.


The Bad

It fell into the trap a few of these match types do, over indulgence. I understand why, you want to keep ramping it up and up to a huge hoorah but I think this went far too long. I was still on board even when it went too long, but I was completely lost when they started ripping up the mat. It was awkward and took too long, it really killed the flow of the match. Also, the boards are not secured down?!? Wtf? That was insanely dangerous and I'm shocked nothing serious happened. The cage design was a bit flimsy and I don't think it really added to the match at all. They did the usual lock and break in spot, someone diving off the top but I think the exact same match could have happened without the cage being their. That is a very minor complaint.


In full the match was still fantastic, narrowly missing out on a perfect score from me.


Bullet Club War Dogs win by pinfall (64:05)

****1/2


-Ospreay has his faction by his side as he says goodbye, plenty of emotion from him and the fans. Even his girlfriend comes in to console him. This was a touching farewell for a man who paved his legend in this company. He promises to come back one day. A beautiful send off for the man who deserves it.


Overall- 63.8%

Pretty much a two match show, outside of the last two matches and the last Okada vs Tanahashi ever, it was a really weak show elsewhere. However, Okada and Tanahashi brought the goods, Bryan & Zack had another MOTY candidate and Ospreay had a beautiful but bloody send off as he now goes to work AEW full time. Last 2 matches I would definitely go check out, you can skip everything else unless you're a big Okada/Tanahashi fan.


CHAOS defeats Boltin & Taguchi. **

Bishamon defeats United Empire. ***

House of Torture defeats El Desperado, Shota Umino, Tiger Mask & Tomoaki Honma. **1/4

Just 5 Guys defeat Los Ingobernables de Japon. **1/2

Kazuchika Okada defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi. ***3/4

Bullet Club defeat Guerillas of Destiny (c), IWGP Tag Championships. **1/2

Zack Sabre Jr defeats Bryan Danielson. *****

Bullet Club War Dogs defeat United Empire, Dog Pound Cage match. ****1/2

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