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Pantoja’s NJPW The New Beginning In Sapporo Night 1 Review 2.4.23

February 5, 2023 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo - 2-04-23 Image Credit: NJPW
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Pantoja’s NJPW The New Beginning In Sapporo Night 1 Review 2.4.23  

NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo

February 4th, 2023 | Hokkaido Sports Center in Hokkaido, Sapporo | Attendance: 3,073

Once again, New Japan has a show and I had no idea it was coming up. I’m reviewing both nights of this but Vengeance Day comes first since I’m covering that live and if it becomes available, Stardom’s Supreme Fight would also take precedence.

In happy news, Japanese crowds can now cheer again going forward! That’ll give this show a boost and I can’t wait to see Stardom with a cheering audience.

The Great-O-Khan vs. Oscar Leube

I love how goofy Great-O-Khan is. We need more of that in a company where so many guys are pretty bland but good wrestlers. Leube is a Young Lion who I haven’t seen much from but he brought the usual fire expected from those fellas. O-Khan dominated for the most part with Leube firing up for a body slam and even the Young Lion Crab. Of course, it didn’t go much further than that. Leube got tossed by O-Khan and submitted to the Sheepkiller in 7:25. That was fine enough for a little opener. [**¼]

Dick Togo, EVIL, SHO and Yujiro Takahashi vs. El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Ren Narita & Ryohei Oiwa

Oh, no, not the House of Torture. But I do love Despy/Suzuki/Narita. House of Torture did the jump start because that’s really they’ve got going for them. Man, I would’ve loved SHO vs. Minoru if it were 2018. Narita continued the story of not trusting Suzuki and not wanting to tag in. Oiwa took the opportunity and looked good against Yujiro. A brawl broke out at ringside and Suzuki teased bringing a chair into the ring but got stopped by the referee. Oiwa was beaten up a bit before we got the hot tag to Desperado. He’s so good. His work here was smooth. Narita got the next notable tag but EVIL cut him off and hit a Fisherman Buster. When things broke down, Togo tried to cheat but Suzuki stopped him and set him up for a Narita PK. He added a suplex and Cobra Twist to win in 9:26. Better than the opener and not filled with Torture BS so it was okay. [**½]

Bishamon, Tomohiro Ishii and Yuto Nakashima vs. Kosei Fujita, TMDK and Zack Sabre Jr.

Blonde Zack is still a choice. The faces started this hot but eventually got taken down, leaving Nakashima and his great hair alone. He fired up and laid into everyone though he had no chance. I dug it though. Of course, the highlight of this match was Ishii vs. Sabre. Those two work so well together and we got another great preview of their TV Title. There was also some great stuff involving Bishamon and TMDK, making me surprisingly intrigued by their match. The Young Lions getting late tags to go against each other was a fun call as well. They beat the shit out of each other and Nakashima WRECKED Fujita with a strike at one point. Alas, Fujita is learning from Zack and beat him with a submission in 11:28. That absolutely ruled. Hard hitting, filled with action, and a blast to watch. [***½]

El Phantasmo, Jay White, KENTA and Taiji Ishimori vs. HIKUELO, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Master Wato and Tama Tonga

They just ran this match at a previous show. I think they did it with the last one too, further proving why these cards being split into 2-3 shows is a bad move. Commentary keeps trying their hardest to say that Jay/HIKULEO is losing either a current top guy or a future top guy. Sure, Jan. This was here to continue the existing feuds like Jay/HIKULEO, Wato/Ishimori, Tanahashi/KENTA, and ELP/Tama. Tama continues to be better as a fiery babyface and his exchanges with ELP were pretty good. I can’t imagine why Gedo thought it would be good to have him drop the title to Karl Anderson for nothing. The closing stretch saw the action pick up before Wato beat Ishimori again with a jackknife pin in 12:48. A fine little tag here though most of the feuds don’t really interest me. [**¾]

BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and Shingo Takagi vs. Kazuchika Okada, Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano and YOH

The main focus here is on previewing YOH/Hiromu and Shingo/Okada. That made this the quintessential New Japan multi-man tag. The other guys who don’t have anything to promote were kind of just there and we got previews of the upcoming matches with short but energetic exchanges. I honestly don’t have much else to say here because nothing of real note happened outside of the ordinary. I liked the gimmick of YOH having a strategy on how to beat Hiromu. Taguchi got beat by the Last of the Dragon in 11:02 and this was basically the definition of 6/10 wrestling. [***]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Francesco Akira and TJP [c] vs. DOUKI and Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Just Two Guys beat the champs in the Super Jr. Tag League (***¼). I had now real expectations for this because DOUKI and Kanemaru weren’t the best guys from Suzuki-Gun but this managed to exceed pretty much any expectations. TJP’s knee was a big part of the story here and I liked that aspect though I will say that I wish his selling of it was a bit more consistent. It wasn’t awful but it would’ve been better. DOUKI played the face in peril and he’s grown on me over the years. I remember when he first showed up my friend was like “there’s a guy named Dookie in the tournament?”  The spots where TJP couldn’t do his signature stuff worked and I think that made this more interesting. Catch-22’s tag moves were a step off and that allowed Kanemaru and DOUKI to get going. Kanemaru was the main one to target the knee, wearing it down at every turn. I also liked that TJP was stubborn and refused to give into the knee. He didn’t pivot and kept trying his shit despite it not working. It’s not a smart strategy but it fits perfectly with him. Still even with the knee work, I never believed things like a Figure Four would lead to a title change. However, when Kanemaru put it on as Akira was trapped in the DOUKI CHOUKI, I bought it. The close calls late were great and Akira survived a lot before winning with the Nova Fireball at the 18:42 mark. That was way better than it had any right to be. [****]

Taichi vs. Will Ospreay

They’ve met three times before with Taichi holding a 2-1 edge. I saw two of them, one in the 2017 BOSJ (½*) and one at Strong Style Evolved UK 2018 (*¼). Needless to say, this isn’t a pairing I like but Taichi has stepped up in a major way since and Will had a really good 2022. I do have to mention though, I haven’t liked where they’re going with Will. I thought him being somber and then vicious at New Year Dash was great but since then, he’s just back to the same cocky Will. Given the beating he took in the Dome, I wanted that match to really impact him. It should consume him and make him more violent as he gets closer to a rematch. Anyway, this was structured like the anti-Okada formula. It started ridiculously hot, got pretty slow in the middle, and then ramped back up. That had both its advantages and its flaws. I love a fast start though the slow middle didn’t tailor to either of their strengths. Ospreay being vicious and kicking Taichi’s ass in the opening five or so minutes was so well done as was Taichi turning things around and ripping off his pants. We love THIGH MEAT TAICHI. I thought Taichi throwing his own Hidden Blades was a cool idea and commentary kept teasing towels being thrown in even though we knew that wouldn’t happen. Taichi survived Hidden Blade and countered Storm Breaker before we got them trading shots in the middle of the ring. A forearm laid out Taichi and instead of a pin, they did a weird 10 count tease. Taichi got up at 9, ate a Hidden Blade, and lost to Storm Breaker after 22:47. This had bursts that were incredible and it is great overall but some stuff didn’t work for me and held it back. [****]

Shota Umino vs. Tetsuya Naito

Gedo, what are we doing? Yet another shining example that not every main event needs to be overly long, this was given a ridiculous 32:11. For an unproven guy in his first big New Japan singles match. And as anyone should’ve expected, it flopped. Commentary made sure to tell us about how this was similar to the Mutoh/Naito situation over a decade prior and how Naito got beaten decisively. They attempted to tell a good story but having to 32 made this drag on for way longer than it needed to. Umino isn’t ready for that kind of thing and that was exposed here. Naito slowly worked him over and since the crowd isn’t connected to him yet, they were silent for most of it. You’d have thought this show didn’t allow cheering. Umino’s rally was mediocre and then they blew some late spots, making this a huge mess. Naito ultimately won with a Death Rider and I was happy to be done with this. [*¾]

The final score: review Good
The 411
Two great matches, another I’d recommend, and some solid multi-man tags made this a good show overall. It has some lesser multi-man stuff and a terrible main event though, so I can’t go higher than a 7.