After months of waiting, New Japan Pro Wrestling returns in front of a limited-capacity live audience. How fantastic to see live wrestling in front of a crowd again. For New Japan, at least, the era of shows with no-fans was short-lived. However, with a good chunk of the roster unable to travel to Japan because of flight restrictions, NJPW’s restart would inevitably involve somewhat of a reboot to various rivalries which were originally set to play out.
The first noticeable difference in this so-called new normal is the lack of crowd chanting, for obvious reasons. Instead, each match is accompanied by smatters of applause which is quite nice. A bit like being at the theatre, which was appropriate given the evening’s dramatic finale.
GBH (Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe) defeated Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji
Things got underway in the traditional way at NJPW with a couple of Young Lions and a couple of veterans pounding the heck out of each other. GBH looked good and we were treated to Honma’s headbutts now complete with audience reaction (it wasn’t really the same without fans), Makabe no-selling the Young Lions and a lot of pace and ferocity from Uemura and Tsuji who get better by the day.
As is customary, the Young Lions were defeated with Uemura pinned by Makabe’s huge German suplex.
TenCozy (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan) defeated Gabriel Kidd and Hirooki Goto
Gabriel Kidd is another Young Lion who continues to impress. Having taken up Katsuyori Shibata’s offer to the then-Rev Pro Contender to go to LA and train at the NJPW Dojo there, he hasn’t looked back since and the transformation is phenomenal. Given Tenzan and Kojima’s old school Strong Style, er, style, it might be easy to expect a Young Lion to get absolutely battered by the accomplished veteran team but Kidd was certainly able to go toe-to-toe against Kojima.
‘Big match’ Goto is a force to be reckoned with but he faded into the background here for me, which was a shame. But I suppose that was the intention, to get some of the spotlight on Kidd in front of a live audience. Despite falling to Kojima’s Cozy Lariat, Kidd has nothing to worry about. He is certainly one to watch and, one hopes, the future of British Wrestling in Japan.
Master Wato defeated Douki
After taking a pasting at the hands of Douki who was armed with his trademark pipe, the returning Master Wato was on a mission to pick up the win. Wato, formerly Young Lion Hirai Kawato before going on a learning excursion to CMLL in Mexico, put on an impressive display against troublesome Douki.
After picking up the win with his RPP twisting senton from the top rope, Wato was unceremoniously jumped by Douki’s Suzuki-gun stablemate Yoshinobu Kanemaru, perhaps setting up a match at Dominion. Luckily for Wato, Tenzan was on hand to help the youngster out and see off Kanemaru.
This match worked well in terms of providing a glimpse at Wato’s promise as a junior heavyweight in New Japan and with Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi seemingly intent on an eventual move up to heavyweight, it will be intriguing to see how the next several months playout for the youngster.
Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and Yujiro Takahashi) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI and SANADA)
This was a slightly forgettable tag match, seemingly setting up the events of the New Japan Cup Final where EVIL betrayed LIJ and joined Bullet Club. Yujiro scored the win over BUSHI with his DDT finisher.
The highlight here was seeing SANADA and Ishimori tangle with each other, quite literally, as they traded Paradise Locks with the move’s innovator and NJPW commentator Milano Collection A.T. giving SANADA the thumbs up for its successful application. And it’s things like this that show just how well put together New Japan’s shows are, given Milano’s support of SANADA seemingly foreshadowed EVIL’s betrayal in the main event. Pro wrestling storytelling at its best.
Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) defeated Ryusuke Taguchi, Yugi Nagata, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi
The main story here is the Golden Aces’ feud with Sabre Jr. and Taichi, with Tanahashi and Ibushi suffering at the hands of their Suzuki-gun rivals. Given Taichi’s victory over Tanahashi, it seems as though Sabre Jr. and Taichi winning the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships from the Golden Aces is inevitable. Quite frankly, given the absurdity of Taichi’s gimmick as some kind of Phantom of the Opera cosplayer who somehow wrangled himself a spot in Shoot Style legend Minoru Suzuki’s stable and the hot mess that is seemingly floating around ZSJ’s lack of a response or acknowledgement of the #SpeakingOut movement in the UK, coupled with the sudden abandonment of a Twitter Q&A with him, it’s difficult to maintain an interest here.
The best thing about it is that it’s brought together the dream team of Tana and Ibushi albeit for not very long, in all probability.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi and Hiromu Takahashi) defeated Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano and SHO)
A great multi-man tag match here, helping to reinforce LIJ’s connection before EVIL’s heel turn as Hiromu, Shingo and Naito was on fire with a nifty superkick, Pumping Bomber and roll through pin combination from the Ungovernables helping them to score a win. Yano’s reign as one of the best comedic wrestlers of today continued as his attempted low blow on Naito was blocked and Ishii and Hiromu chest-chopped each other into the next time zone.
Shingo and SHO’s bitter rivalry was also spotlighted with Takagi mercilessly mocking the youngster during and after the match. Their feud has really heated up over the last few weeks with SHO knocking Shingo out of the New Japan Cup. Their match at Dominion is bound to be a highlight.
New Japan Cup final 2020 – EVIL defeated Kazuchika Okada
Given that NJPW is effectively resetting its status quo, it made a lot of sense that a shock ending to the New Japan Cup was on the cards.
After an early pinfall attempt by EVIL with Darkness Falls, the match soon spilled to the outside. As EVIL battered away at Okada with a chair and after a series of ref bumps and outside interference by Gedo and Yujiro Takahashi, EVIL was able to low blow Okada and subsequently pick up the win.
It’s this kind of long-form view where New Japan excels. The seeds had been planted throughout the Cup, with EVIL taking no prisoners against SANADA and battering everyone he came up against with a chair. Given EVIL’s upset win against Okada in the G1 tournament three years ago, it also makes sense that Gedo would recruit EVIL to Bullet Club. Coupled with Bullet Club’s recent penchant for scooping up misanthropic young men (see Jay White and KENTA), EVIL will no doubt prove a good fit for the group. Having Naito’s former tag team partner Yujiro running interference for EVIL was also a masterstroke, really rubbing salt into Naito’s wounds.
Several months ago, Naito was encouraging greater rivalry between members of LIJ. Now, with the betrayal of EVIL, one of the group’s founding members, this has certainly become a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.
As NJPW moves towards its own new normal and the stage for Dominion is set, it’s good to see the company give EVIL a well-deserved push into the main event spotlight. His matches have been a highlight of the last few G1 tournaments and, as an established tag team wrestler, having him betray Naito and SANADA lays the groundwork for a bitter rivalry between Bullet Club and LIJ over the coming weeks and months.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!