New Japan Pro Wrestling has been the promotion to watch in 2018 with the upcoming North American event, Strong Style Evolved, on March 25 selling out in 20 minutes. Wrestle Kingdom and New Year Dash were also great events and a big success. Coming off of New Beginning In Sapporo, there are three championship matches for New Beginning In Osaka on February 10, with the biggest prize in the land on the line in the main event. It’s a night for Los Ingobernables De Japon to win it all or take a backseat to the top champions in NJPW. SANADA gets a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight championship, EVIL challenges Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight championship, Hiromu Takahashi takes on Will Ospreay for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight championship, BUSHI wrestles Jado and Tetsuya Naito has to tend with Yoshi–Hashi. Let’s break down the nine matches on this spectacular card that will be broadcast live on New Japan World.
Kitamura Proving Trial Series, match #6: Kitamura vs. “Blue Justice” Yuji Nagata
Kitamura is receiving the kind of attention that the former Young Lion deserves, even if his ring-work needs some improvement. Juice Robinson, Jay White and Michael Elgin have all pinned Kitamura in this 7 Match Trial Series so far, in matches that lasted less than 10 minutes, but that doesn’t mean Kitamura is a failure in his pursuit up the card. After winning the Young Lions Cup, after years without that tournament, means NJPW has big plans for the heavyweight and an excursion to North America would help out his career exponentially. “Blue Justice” is a veteran that should make Kitamura look very good and Nagata still performs at a top-level even at his age. Nagata could tap out Kitamura to his trademark armbar, but Kitamura could use this win and the crowd would react in kind to the future defeating the legend.
Taguchi Japan (Michael Elgin, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA) and Togi Makabe vs. Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Iizuka, Taichi and TAKA Michinoku)
Minoru Suzuki took Hiroshi Tanahashi’s leg apart, then dethroned him of the IWGP Intercontinental championship at New Beginning In Sapporo. Tanahashi is off the New Beginning tour as a result of acute osteoarthritis in his right knee. Mike Elgin is the replacement for “The Ace” but the numbers game always goes to Suzuki’s advantage in tag team matches. This is a solid team on the opposing side of the ring and maybe KUSHIDA gets the win. If KUSHIDA were to defeat a member of Suzuki–Gun, he could attempt to break out from the Junior Heavyweight division and what bigger test than Minoru Suzuki for the IWGP Intercontinental championship.
BUSHI vs. Jado
Jado is one of NJPW’s longest tenured pro wrestlers, with 16 years in the company, and he has been at war with Los Ingobernables De Japon for years now. Both know how to bend and break the rules – Jado may have more experience but BUSHI has more tools in the arsenal. This shouldn’t be a long match and BUSHI has earned the victory over established talent to rise up the ranks. It wasn’t long ago that BUSHI almost became the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion in a feud with KUSHIDA and he needs to go back to his winning ways in singles matches, not just multi-man tag team matches with his faction, Los Ingobernables De Japon. Jado should take mist to the eyes and the MX in the end.
Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, David Finlay Jr and Henare) vs. CHAOS (“Switchblade” Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano)
Taguchi Japan teams up with Young Lion, Henare, to brawl with CHAOS in a match that will have very interesting implications. Jay White defeated Kenny Omega at New Beginning In Sapporo to win the IWGP United States Championship, in a move that shocked even die-hard NJPW fans. It would be magnificent if Tomohiro Ishii clashed with his own partner and then challenged White for a title match, questioning his uneasy alliance with CHAOS. We could see the future challenger to Jay White in Juice Robinson, in a battle of the future of NJPW’s future for the IWGP United States Championship. Jay White pins former Young Lion rival David Finlay Jr is the prediction here, because that would be full-circle with that past feud. White sent several elbow strikes to Finlay’s collarbone at Road To New Beginning when it looked like White would give Finlay an ice-pack.
Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh with Rocky Romero) vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado
Sho and Yoh defeated The Young Bucks at New Beginning In Sapporo for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championships when The Young Bucks reliance on the sharpshooter resulted in a surprising roll-up. Rocky Romero has been the boost Roppongi 3K needed and now they are the complete package as a tag team with power moves like the German Suplex frenzy and the high-octane offense. Kanemaru and El Desperado are the secret weapons of Suzuki–Gun, capable of winning almost any match, and they both showed how great they can be in the Best Of The Super Juniors tournament last year. This could result in a rematch if Suzuki-Gun can pin the champions, but Roppongi 3K should win to establish themselves as real champions an not paper champions.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Yoshi-Hashi
The career of Tetsuya Naito is ever-changing and 2018 is the turning point where he looks to become the face of the company after years of attempting to take the top spot occupied by Kazuchika Okada. Naito could not pin Okada at Wrestle Kingdom but now he has his eyes on Chris Jericho in a dream match that doesn’t have a date set just yet. Naito and Yoshi-Hashi have the potential to steal the show and rightfully so – Yoshi-Hashi doesn’t get the credit he deserves in big singles matches. These two had a great match in the 2016 G1 Climax tournament and Yoshi-Hashi has grown so much since then with matches against Kenny Omega and SANADA. Yoshi-Hashi winning would be a breakthrough victory and the audience would erupt, although that probably won’t happen and Destino sets Naito up for bigger things the rest of the year.
NEVER Openweight championship: Hirooki Goto (c) vs. EVIL
EVIL has become one of the wrestlers to keep an eye on in NJPW, ever since the G1 Climax last year, when EVIL vs. Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada became instant classics (and even earned EVIL a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling). While EVIL and SANADA became the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champions at Wrestle Kingdom in a brawl with Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr. they both decided to further pursue singles gold and it’s the right choice – they are needed in the singles division as much as they are needed to tag against the likes of Guerrillas Of Destiny. Hirooki Goto had a long route to regaining the NEVER Openweight champiop against Minoru Suzuki and he’s been waiting his whole career to defend against the up-and-coming talent in Japan. Goto will retain with the Goto Revolution (GTR) in a slug-fest is the prediction but EVIL comes close, hitting “EVERYTHIIING” except the STO.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight championship: “The Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
We are looking at a possible match of the year contender and considering this match has been saved for the last day of the New Beginning shows, this will get much more time than their amazing match in the Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. The roles are reversed now and Hiromu Takahashi is the man chasing what he calls “his” title. The athletic ability of “The Ticking Time Bomb” and “The Aerial Assassin” surpasses maybe the entire roster, so expect some new sequences we have never seen before in a wrestling ring. Ospreay is so fast that he can throw a back-kick or a springboard maneuver at any time and Takahashi can do the same – his sunset flip Powerbomb to the floor is a game-changer. Hiromu Takahashi will make a comeback this year by picking up huge wins but that time isn’t now. United Kingdom sensation Will Ospreay was signed to NJPW in 2015 and in 2018 he forges a legacy as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion with several title defenses.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. SANADA
This will be the tenth defense for Kazuchika Okada as IWGP Heavyweight champion. This year it’s a whole new playing field because Okada has retained against almost all contenders from Bad Luck Fale to Kenny Omega, even Naomichi Marufuji from Pro Wrestling NOAH. On February 10, it will be 601 days in a row for Okada as champion and a rising star looks to take it all away in the main event. SANADA is the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champion going into this match so he would be a dual champion if he is victorious but he has never been able to get a win over Okada. They briefly feuded two years ago and met again in the G1 Climax tournament last year in a lengthy main event that SANADA mostly dominated. Okada is one of the absolute best because of his stamina and ability to adapt to any situation. When Okada is exhausted he realizes his opponent is in the same state and that’s when the champion strikes. SANADA will have a false sense of security by the later portion of the match and he may go to the Skull End too many times, leaving himself open for a Tombstone Piledriver and the Rainmaker.