With the New Beginning in Nagoya in the rearview mirror, New Japan Pro Wrestling continued down the Road to the New Beginning this week with three nights, February 1-3, at Korakuen Hall. With cards of only four or five matches and run times of about two hours, these events were light even for NJPW Road To shows. What substance they did have benefited from drawing focus to some feuds that weren’t on the pre-Nagoya shows (alongside some that were.) The Empire, TenCozy, Tanahahashi, and Takagi were out, and G.o.D., ZSJ, Taichi, and Jay White were back in to continue feuds that had started earlier in the year or late in 2020. So while this leg of the tour wasn’t great, it did switch things up and provide some fun matches and notable moments.
And speaking of notable moments
The first week of February 2021 was another big one for international New Japan news, with the new Roku deal and Kenta showing up on AEW Dynamite. For more on the latter, here’s the link to this week’s Fanfyte AEW review.
I don’t care about AEW aside from the occasional match or segment, I’m not yearning for any NJPW storylines from 2018 to get picked up again now, and we’re way too deep in a recession for me to get invested in what things mean financially for companies I don’t work for, so my take on the big wrestling news of the week is pretty much that I hope it doesn’t result in an influx in storylines that leave people in international limbo for months, like Jericho’s IC title run or anytime someone not working primarily for NJPW has won the U.S. title. If this view bothers you, please consider before you send me angry messages that AEW and NJPW produce very different kinds of wrestling programming, and everyone is not required to like every TV show or band or flavor of ice cream.
Road to the New Beginning – February 1, 2021, at Korakuen Hall
Our first stretch of the road to the New Beginning in Hiroshima features under two hours of wrestling, plus two memorable events that take place outside of the confines of a wrestling match. The first is another attempt at a meeting between our e-boy champion and podcaster challenger, which is again interrupted by Kota Ibushi. These clashes between two of NJPW’s biggest weirdos next to a normie jock who has to hold his hair in front of his face to hide his corpsing continue to be hysterical. I’m also filing away the lore drop from the following night’s show that Ibushi realizes he and Hiromu are “so similar,” but Hiromu insists that he’s the normal one. Maybe this self-awareness is the product of divine powers?
Probably the most important thing that happens on this leg of the tour is the return of Switchblade Jay White. After an Okada, Ishii, and Yano vs. Evil, Togo, and Yujiro match, White runs into the ring to attack Ishii from behind, truly beginning the feud that was teased back at New Year Dash. Before this, a lot of people had become convinced that White was leaving for WWE based on exactly zero credible sources, but that’s now clearly not true!
Some other people, like me, became convinced that Jay was going to experience some kind of character evolution based on the content of various promos, but so far that’s not true either. I’m still hoping that NJPW will show some creativity with its dinosaur factions (especially Chaos and Bullet Club, since at least something less repetitive is going on with Suzukigun), but Bullet Club is doing things in three different wrestling companies right now and doesn’t look like it’ll stop as long as there’s T-shirt money to be made, no matter how good or bad or tired what they’re doing is.
That being said, I think everything about Jay vs. Ishii as a one-on-one feud is going great. Ishii is one of White’s best in-ring opponents, their aggression together is high, and Ishii’s rare ability to be both a gatekeeper and an underdog at the same time is on display. Something interesting about this feud right next to Evil vs. Okada is that both White and Okada are trying to achieve the exact same things on opposite sides of a faction war. They’re both trying to climb back to the top of the company by going back and beating the guy who blocked them from a big tournament win (or, in Jay’s case, final participation) in 2020, a year in which neither of these young achievers won anything all that major. It’s just attitude and sportsmanship that makes the heel-face difference, since this is, you know, the King of Sports.
Getting to some actual fake sports action, the Bullet Club (G.o.D. Ishimori, ELP, and Jado) vs. Suzukigun (Taichi, ZSJ, Desperado, Kanemaru, and Douki) elimination match main event is the in-ring highlight of the show. It starts out as a chaotic brawl, then moves on to include good bits like El Phantasmo thinking he can escape elimination by Royal Rumble rules (a day after the Rumble, this is especially funny), exciting elimination spots like those between Dangerous Tekkers and G.o.D., and some quality straightforward wrestling action. The ending is all shenanigans – Red Shoes clearly knows something’s fishy about Jado’s pin on Taichi, but couldn’t see what happened – but it works for this group, especially when since it’s a continuation of the Iron Fingers saga. Tekkers vs. Guerrillas isn’t one hundred percent a comedy feud, but this second round of it is a lot lighter than the first round was, and I think that’s working really well for them.
Road to the New Beginning – February 2, 2021, at Korakuen Hall
NJPW’s second four-match show in a row has even less wrestling worth seeking out— the first two bouts are a Young Lion singles match and the junior tag champs vs. Uemura and Taguchi— but it has some upsides.
The match between the four L.I.J. guys with ongoing feuds and the team of Ibushi, Honma, Sho, and Wato delivers in a very eight-man preview tag kind of way, and its aftermath teases something cool for the one L.I.J. guy without an ongoing feud. Ibushi holds up his titles in front of guest commentator Shingo Takagi, accompanied by some snazzy camera work, which could be an early signal that Takagi’s winning the New Japan Cup, or could be planting the seeds for something further in the future (seeds that were already shaken around in their little seed packet by Tanahashi suggesting that Shingo aim higher than NEVER.) Whatever the timeline for another singles clash between Ibushi and Takagi (maybe beating him in the G1 counts as buying the seed packet), it’s something to look forward to in the future.
Highlights from “Road to THE NEW BEGINNING Night10” (Feb 2nd)
Watch NOW in English: https://t.co/CcdQ1XrpWA
We're heading to break in Korakuen Hall!
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) February 2, 2021
The main event is another elimination match, a different Bullet Club lineup from the previous night (Evil, G.o.D., Yujiro, and Jay) taking on the Chaos team of Okada, Yano, Goto, Yoshi-Hashi, and Ishii. While everyone in the BC vs. SZKG eliminator was in a pre-existing feud, there are only two pairs of rivals going into this match. The ending gets another feud going, but unfortunately, the ending is also terrible.
Bullet Club vs. Suzukigun had a cartoony ending that made sense; Bullet Club vs. Chaos has a very serious ending that doesn’t. The match is eventually whittled down to G.o.D. and Jay against the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Champions, then to sole survivor Yoshi-Hashi against the three heels. He puts up a fight until he can’t anymore – and when I say he can’t anymore, I mean he plays kayfabe knocked out for around two minutes while Jay and the tag champs toss him around like Yoshihiko. Jay keeps pinning a totally unresponsive Yoshi-Hashi, then pulling him up just to keep beating him up until Goto throws in the towel.
We saw referee stoppage endings for so many Money Clips last year, but here Yoshi-Hashi is acting like he has the kind of concussion that puts people out of action for weeks and Red Shoes doesn’t call the match. A ref stoppage ending could have easily sent a message about the strength and evil of White and the Bullet Club in a way that made sense, but instead, we get fictional refereeing so bad it seems out of character even considering how much Red Shoes has been known to let things slide. I don’t understand why they would do such a confusing and over-the-top ending here.
This bummer of a main event gives us a trios title match on Night 2 of New Beginning in Hiroshima, which I assume is going to set up Ishii vs. White for Castle Attack. If Tama and Tanga retain the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on Night 1, it could also easily set up Goto and Yoshi-Hashi getting back in the tag title picture. It could be pretty good, but the way this elimination match played out makes me a little apprehensive about it.
Road to the New Beginning – February 3, 2021, at Korakuen Hall
The February 3 show, which has a whopping five matches, quickly sets the BC vs. Chaos feud on a path to redemption with Ishii, Yano, and Okada vs. Evil, Yujiro, and White. Ishii and White continue to work fantastically together, and their aggression elevates the match as a whole. The shenanigans are much better executed in this match as well. We get Jay trying to powder out at one point only for Yano and Okada to jump him and push him back in the ring with Ishii, then Jay and Gedo getting payback later; plus, a classic Yano victory. Ishii hauling Jay over to the Samurai TV commentary station for Goto to help beat him up is a great post-match moment too. The Chaos dads giveth (encouraging promos when you’re down after your Wrestle Kingdom loss) and the Chaos dads taketh away (your ability to breath easily when they’re kicking your ass after you come back just as terrible as before.)
The BC vs. Suzukigun match that follows is solid, but the semi-main event of Sho and Honma vs. Naito and Hiromu produces the show’s next memorable moments. Hiromu and Sho continue to deliver in the ring, and 2021 Honma is still 2021 Honma, but he’s at least working with a guy who has a talent for making his opponents look good. Hiromu and Naito also deliver out of the ring with their very effective skincare advertising (the little spray bottle with the lion mark on it does not look all that legitimate, but Hiromu does have great skin) and their response to yet another tragic breaking of a BOSJ trophy.
Backstage, Sho and Hiromu finally get their uninterrupted one-on-one, and it’s a really nice conclusion to this part of their angle. Like I mentioned before, Sho’s more subdued role in those scenes as the corpsing straight man while Hiromu and Ibushi meet on a higher plane of existence has been really endearing, and Hiromu’s sincere “You are still the same old Sho Tanaka I knew before. I mean that in a good way” line makes the same point.
In a division with a lot of colorful characters, most of all our current champion, Sho has come into himself as a singles wrestler by moving further away from his post-excursion gimmick. In a wrestling environment as gimmicked-up as NJPW is right now, it actually stands out to have this guy owning that at heart, he’s just a straightforward jock just working hard to make things work. I doubt it’s going to work well enough in kayfabe for him to win the title when that would rob us of Ibushi vs. Takahashi at the Anniversary Show, but it’s working better and better all the time.
The February 3 main event gets us back on the trend of Hontai vs. Los Ingos tag match show-closers with Master Wato and Kota Ibushi vs. Sanada and Bushi. I think the Bushi vs. Wato stuff continues to be good, Wato continues to shine in these bigger tag matches, and the match ends strong, with lots of teamwork and a nice big swing Dragon Sleeper. If there’s a weak link in this match, it’s the IWGP double championship feud. There’s a terrible-looking roll out of the ring early on by Sanada that’s very obviously getting into position to be plancha-ed onto, and the rest of their work together looks better but feels similarly inorganic and heatless.
With two shows between now and their title match, Sanada and Ibushi’s feud has yet to really escalate. At first, it was kind of funny that they were so polite with each other, but it feels like they should have built something from there and they haven’t yet. Sanada’s line about minimalism a while back was good and Ibushi getting involved with Sho and Hiromu was great, but nothing has been added to really build the rivalry between these two. The promotion of Ibushi vs. Sanada seems to be coasting on the popularity of these two wrestlers and the theory that they are going to have a “good match,” especially since it doesn’t seem like Ibushi could possibly lose. I’m not saying they have to set something on fire, but it would help a lot to see some more passion and aggression between these two in the ring before February 11.