The first night of the New Beginnings tour has come and gone, and while outside the arena the weather was no doubt bitterly cold up in snowy Sapporo, the action inside was fiery. With CHAOS and Suzuki-Gun going head to head throughout the night and Osaka’s big matches getting teased, there was a lot to take in, but below are the big stories to take away from it all.

Suzuki Stopped in Sapporo

Kazuchika Okada has just gone through two absolutely brutal title matches in a row, first at Wrestle Kingdom 11 with Kenny Omega and then in Sapporo against Minoru Suzuki. It was a classic injury battle with Okada’s leg softened up at the press conference the previous day, and the taped knee proved to be a massive bullseye for Suzuki, who spent the majority of the match dissecting it.

There was some wonderful storytelling and legwork by both men, including Gedo considering throwing in the towel as he watched his golden boy writhe in pain, but if I had one complaint it would be that they went a bit overboard on the time spent in a submission hold. Okada’s selling and Minoru’s subtle shifts in submissions helped keep it interesting, but they reached a point of diminishing returns on Okada fighting through the pain. It ended up making the submission prowess of Suzuki look a little underwhelming when he couldn’t get the job done with that much focus – rather than it being all Okada’s fighting spirit.

That being said, it was still a fantastic match. It was brutal, and I am always a fan of the kind of systematic destruction of a body part like we saw from Suzuki; there wasn’t even a pinfall attempt in the first thirty minutes, such was the focus on the leg. It was just that as a viewer I reached a point where I felt if Okada was going to tap, it would have already happened, and it took me a little out of the match. In the end a Rainmaker clothesline felled Minoru at the climax of a finishing sequence that was mesmerising, such is the standard for an Okada match. Suzuki didn’t look bad in defeat, his arrogance ultimately costing him after dominating most of the match. And I ended up wanting the face to overcome against the evil heel, so I can’t really complain from a storytelling level.

Okada Calls out Ibushi – I mean Tiger Mask W

After going to war with Minoru, Kazuchika Okada turned his attention to the upcoming New Japan Cup – where the winner will most likely challenge Okada for his title at Sakura Genesis. But the Rainmaker had one name in mind, Tiger Mask W, mentioning him by name on a couple of occasions and hinting he’d like to see the anime character turned NJPW wrestler standing tall at the end of the tournament.

We all know by now who’s under the mask, and that’s what makes it all the more interesting. Nobody knows what to expect from Kota Ibushi these days, but you’d have to think we’re getting a deep run in the single elimination tournament next month. Who might be standing opposite him? Well if this isn’t the perfect chance to give us some Ibushi/Omega action then I don’t know what is. I’m also not against an Okada v Tiger Mask W match, though it will be weird to see after the nature of the Minoru feud.

CHAOS > Suzuki-Gun

I came into New Beginnings in Sapporo expecting Suzuki-Gun to leave with at least two titles and standing tall as the new dominant faction of New Japan.

Oh how wrong I was.

Suzuki-Gun ended up going 1-3 for the night, with their only victory coming in the opening match against Kushida and Young Lion Hirai Kawato, and defeating a Young Lion isn’t exactly brag-worthy.

It wasn’t all bad. Minoru looked like the ultimate bad-ass in the main event, and Killer Elite Squad didn’t take the pinfall in their match – and I fully expect them to win the titles in Osaka next week. But it was surprising that the faction ended up under-performing after such a strong return at New Year’s Dash. It felt a bit similar to Dominion last year, where CHAOS ran rampant on Los Ingobernables. Only differences was I’m not a mark for Suzuki-Gun like I am LIJ, so I wasn’t as disappointed.

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Juice

Juice Robinson might have only walked away with a busted nose in his unsuccessful challenge of Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight Championship, but the night was a big stepping stone for the youngster. He looked like a star in the making, standing toe to toe with a bona fide and established upper midcarder in Goto and giving him everything he had. It was exactly what he needed to do, and he delivered.

Goto eventually finished him off with the GTR, but it didn’t come easy. Juice was on him from the start, and the match was a clear improvement from Robinson’s clash with Cody (Rhodes) at Wrestle Kingdom 11 from the previous month. It will be curious to see what is next for Juice. The New Japan Cup is next month but it’ll be hard for him to rack up more than one win given the likely strength of the tournament. But if he can keep this momentum going through the year, he should get a respectable showing at the G1 Climax, where the structure of the tournament allows for Juice to pick up a shock win over some established talent.

Bullet (Club) Points:

  • The surprise highlight of the night wasn’t a match or a move or even a wrestler, it was a song. Dragon Lee’s entrance music is copyrighted and as such unavailable for NJPW to air outside of the arena. But in its place was the best/worst song you could imagine. It feels so out of place but it is somehow too good to be true. In actuality it’s not too far off of from what he uses in CMLL, which is Nelly and P-Diddy’s ‘Shake Ya Tailfeather’, but it’s now inferior to whatever New Japan is using. And boy did it play for a while after the 10 man tag match to close out the first half. Here’s to many more NJPW victories for Dragon Lee, so we can get more of that theme.
  • Iizuka might not be much in the ring, but his entrance is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. It’s so ridiculous how he’s trying to run around like a rabid dog with El Desperado desperately (see what I did there?) trying to reign him in, but it’s fun to watch. That said, I’ll give it up if it means I don’t have to see him actually wrestle. Yoshi-Hashi has improved a lot over the past two years, but there’s only so much you can do with Izuka.
  • I love the NJPW referees, but they’re inability to see the dastardly acts from the heels is reaching preposterous levels. Except from the distractions from Taichi’s girl…that I can understand.
  • Ryusuke Taguchi might have reminded everyone last year in the Best of the Super Juniors that when he means business he’s a legitimately talented wrestler. But I’m ok with him being silly Taguchi while he feuds with Los Ingobernables. His cosplay of Evil is way too funny, and now he’s going after Bushi’s spare mask and Takahashi’s jacket. If we see him with his hair up like Sanada, I’m finished.