Second night in Sapporo sees two title bouts, four singles matches
Main event: Kazuchika Okada vs Taichi
Singles record: 1-0 Taichi*
Yes, Taichi is undefeated in one single match against Kazuchika Okada. Heed the asterisk meanwhile; that match, six months after a pre-debut exhibition bout against Tetsuya Naito, was Okada’s first in an NJPW ring, and four years before the Rainmaker made himself known.
‘You’ve been dodging me for the last 12 years,’ runs Taichi’s narrative, though the Holy Emperor knows far too well not to let facts get in the way of a good story. Okada went on excursion and on his return shot to the top of the heavyweight ranks, while Taichi was a junior heavyweight for years; the 12 year separation also includes two years for Taichi in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Still, with Taichi having turned heavyweight in spring 2018, this remains an intriguingly fresh matchup.
Okada has spoken to the chance for this match to show ‘just how much we’ve changed in the last 12 years,’ while offering what could easily be seen as a snide comment to Taichi by suggesting ‘this is the kind of match that I wouldn’t be able to have if I were still (IWGP) champion.’A slight, well, slight to the honour of the emperor then, but Taichi has wrestled with a chip on his shoulder for years, with a considerable amount of relish. While Okada was coming up through the NJPW Dojo, Taichi volunteered to enter NJPW from his AJPW and independent roots despite tough business circumstances for New Japan at the time. Respect Taichi felt he deserved but was not proferred allowed him to view himself a martyr, or a ‘black saint’.
In what was quietly a breakout 2019 for Taichi as a heavyweight, the chip on his shoulder turned into a previously unseen aggression. That was twice the case in his home town of Sapporo last year against Tetsuya Naito. Evoking the bloody ‘Sapporo incident’ that wrapped Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami in controversy in 1984, Taichi promised a surprise at New Beginning 2019, and delivered Takahashi Iizuka laying out Naito before the match would begin. Iizuka retired shortly afterward, but he left behind his iron fingers, a weapon Taichi used to beat Naito in Sapporo during the G1 Climax, and lay out Okada at new Year Dash!!
Taichi standing victorious over Kazuchika Okada at the end of the night in Hokkai Kita Yell would be an end to New Beginning in Sapporo almost as surprising as Okada’s first IWGP Heavyweight Championship win at New Beginning in Osaka 2012. Can the Holy Emperor deliver a shock to the Rainmaker? Or will it be rain, not snow, that falls on Hokkaido?
7th Match- British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Junior vs Will Ospreay
Overall singles record: 7-4 ZSJ
In NJPW: 1-0 ZSJ
In British Heavyweight Championship matches: 1-0 ZSJ
A classically trained star who helped pull the scene around him up by its bootstraps from near obscurity and crowds in the dozens to an age of prosperity, tens of thousands in the Tokyo Dome and a sold out Madison Square Garden. Opposite, a young, confident opponent who took an alternate route to success, made a sudden, massive splash and became a global megastar.
One could easily be talking about Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada in NJPW, but every bit their equal and opposite numbers for the British wrestling scene are Zack Sabre Junior and Will Ospreay. ZSJ’s technical acumen, learned under Andre Baker in NWA UK Hammerlock, tempered by Japanese influences and honed around the world was a perfect tonic to the malaise British wrestling suffered from in the early to mid 2000s. A generation removed from mainstream television exposure, live crowds were often small and tepid, as the scene sought to ape what was popular elsewhere rather than what made British wrestling great long ago. ZSJ represented the past, but with modern influences, and his popularity, and matches with hot international talent kickstarted a British wrestling revolution, and saw him to four British Heavyweight Championships.
Will Ospreay couldn’t be more different in mentality and approach, being largely self taught and inspired by the greatest high fliers at home and abroad. His style would become more high impact, instantly visually spectacular, and when the flash combined with impact, immensely successful. When he caught the eye of Kazuchika Okada and CHAOS, his ascent to the stratosphere also took his domestic scene to the very next level, in much the same way that Okada’s success and subsequent feud with Tanahashi saw NJPW rocket into a boom period in Japan.
Now, two standard bearers for British wrestling meet in Sapporo, the first time in history two British wrestlers have competed for a heavyweight championship in a NJPW ring. With half of the British Heavyweight Championship defences in 2019 taking place outside of the UK, it’s a title that represents the toughest schedule for a fighting champion of any title contested in NJPW. Certainly both Ospreay and ZSJ have proven they can wrestle at a top flight level all over the world, and we will see the top flight in British wrestling in Sapporo’s semi-final.
6th Match: Los Ingobernables De Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito) vs BULLET CLUB (Taiji Ishimori, Jay White & KENTA)
Six man tag team action is the precursor to our two main event singles matches in Sapporo Sunday, as KENTA and Tetsuya Naito and Jay White and SANADA continue their journey to New Beginning in Osaka and two of the most hotly anticipated matches in Osaka Jo Hall next week. Then there’s Hiromu Takahashi and Taiji Ishimori, who have their own history to draw from; a memorable bout in, and all over, Korakuen Hall saw Hiromu to victory in Best of the Super Juniors 2018. Ishimori will be eager to reintroduce himself to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and reestablish himself among a growing list of contenders.
5th Match: Ryusuke Taguchi, SHO, YOH & Jon Moxley vs Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki)
If Jon Moxley teaming with Kazuchika Okada on night one in Sapporo is enough to make one do a double take, the prospect of him combining forces with Ryusuke Taguchi is positively mind boggling. It’s frankly difficult to imagine Moxley playing nicely with anybody in a team environ, but this squad of four has more than its work cut out opposite junior tag and US title contenders from Suzuki Gun.
4th Match: CHAOS (Robbie Eagles, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & Shingo Takagi)
A day after Goto and Shingo collide in the main event in Hokkai Kita Yell, and after Ishii and EVIL meet as well, both sides of this six man affair have to make their own New Beginnings and reset. Plenty of fallout will take place the night after the night before, but eyes will also be on the future, and a match for these two teams on February 6 in Korakuen Hall over the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships.
3rd Match: Gabriel Kidd vs El Phantasmo
In the third match of the evening, NJPW World viewers will be getting their first looks at new LA Dojo prospect Gabriel Kidd, who made his debut on the New Beginning tour’s Japanese leg. The 22 year old Briton is no beginner, having started wrestling at age 15 and made waves in RevPro, where he caught the eye of Katsuyori Shibata and is now competing at a world class level. He has world class competition in El Phantasmo this Sunday; the British Cruiserweight Champion will be looking to teach some painful lessons to Kidd with trademark arrogance and flair.
2nd Match: Yuya Uemura, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
With less than three weeks remaining in a 27 year plus career, Manabu Nakanishi will be looking to pull out all the stops in his last match in Sapporo, a town that has seen him successful in recent years. Can he close out his career up north with a win?
1st Match: Toa Henare vs Yota Tsuji
Toa Henare starts off the evening opposite Yota Tsuji in singles action. Henare’s 2019 singles record ended with a win over Tsuji, and he’ll be the favourite to start his 2020 singles campaign with a victory. Tsuji is already 1-0 in singles competition this year however. For him, this year will be about moving up a gear as he makes his case for being sent on excursion. For Henare, 2020 may be do-or-die. The Maori Warrior claims that a fire has been lit within him; will it consume Tsuji in Hokkaido?