Feb 1: New Japan Grumblings

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By Austin Grinnell @WolfmanAustin13

New Beginnings

The New Beginning in Sapporo took place over two nights at the end of January. Keeping true to its moniker, New Japan Pro-Wrestling used the shows to take us in new and exciting directions, setting up programs and stories that should last most of the way through 2018.

The End of Bullet Club? “Bullet Club is fine” were the words spoken by Cody, just after he turned on Kenny Omega in Sapporo and planted him directly on the top of his head with the Cross Rhodes. What we witnessed at the end of Night 2 of the New Beginning in Sapporo will go down as one of the biggest moments in modern day professional wrestling.

Omega had just lost the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship to “Switchblade” Jay White, falling victim to not one, but two, Blade Runner’s before just narrowly being unable to lift his shoulder off the mat before the count of three.

Trying to steal White’s moment, Omega’s BC running buddy Hangman Page made his presence known, taking the US Title and proclaiming his desire to challenge the new Champion for the belt. Kenny though, being somewhat out of place in the Club to begin with, showed respect for the man who defeated him, grabbing the belt from Page and handing it back to Jay White.

White took off with the belt, leaving the ring to Bullet Club. Omega and Page got into an argument about what happened, leading to Cody and the Young Bucks getting involved. With tensions rising and tempers flaring, Cody got in between his best friend Page and his leader Kenny Omega, trying to stop the situation from escalating. With everything going on and the shoving continuing, Matt Jackson tried to calm Omega by grabbing his shoulder, but in a call back to the previous evening when Omega was unexpectedly hit with the Blade Runner by Jay White in much the same way, Omega turned and shoved Matt off of him.

With Matt Jackson already injured and licking his wounds from losing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Titles earlier in the night, he and brother Nick decided that they were done with the in-fighting and bailed from the scene. Marty Scurll had come out to join the rest of the group, and he and Page wound up leaving the ring, telling Omega and Cody to figure things out.

In what seemed like a moment of reconciliation, the two men shook hands, but it wasn’t long before Cody grabbed Omega from behind and dropped him with a vicious Cross Rhodes. The attack from Cody has been a long time coming, as Bullet Club has seemingly been fractured for some time… but it wasn’t even the biggest moment of the night. That would be reserved for what happened next, as Kenny Omega’s former tag team partner and best friend, Kota Ibushi would run out to make sure that Cody didn’t do any further damage.

It was a reunion years in the making, as Kenny and Kota went on separate paths upon entering New Japan. Originally teaming as The Golden Lovers, Ibushi expressed a desire to not be tied down to any type of contract and remained a freelance worker, meanwhile Omega would shed his happy-go-lucky persona, embrace the dark side and become the villain that New Japan needed.

Omega’s time as leader of Bullet Club was always something with an ending. It was just a matter of when, where and why. It can be argued that Kenny Omega was never really the bad guy in New Japan, and it shows in the divide within Bullet Club. Omega and the Young Bucks are highly entertaining performers who love the crowd and the adulation, a very different approach to the business than their faction-mates, most of whom are outright villains (one even taking ownership of the moniker).

We know that the Bucks weren’t happy with Omega’s actions at the end of Night 2, especially after having lost their Championships earlier in the show… but where their allegiances lay is still up in the air. I would have to assume that The Elite isn’t breaking up any time soon, but I don’t expect Omega to continue representing Bullet Club. So either The Elite will break off and form a new faction with Kota Ibushi… or Omega is done with Bullet Club and the Young Bucks stay the course under new leadership.

Regardless of the outcome, the wrestling world is watching with baited breath. The road to The New Beginning in Osaka is light on Bullet Club representation, with only Yujiro Takahashi and Hiukleo (formerly Leo Tonga) scheduled to compete. I doubt that we will learn much more about the happenings within Bullet Club until at least the end of February here, with the Honor Rising shows set to take place.

Ace of (Broken) Hearts

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s reign as IWGP Intercontinental Champion ended at 230 days by referee stoppage. Tanahashi has been working injured for some time, and Suzuki was coming off of losing the NEVER Openweight Championship to Hirooki Goto at Wrestle Kingdom. With those two things in mind, I never would have expected Suzuki to walk out of Sapporo as the Intercontinental Champion, but it happened in an amazing match.

Hopefully Tanahashi uses the time away to recover and doesn’t rush himself back, but even if he does, the visual of Suzuki completely breaking him, tearing apart his leg until the referee couldn’t stand it anymore and called for the bell… that’s going to stick in my mind for some time. Tanahashi came out of the encounter still looking every bit the hero that he has been for New Japan, refusing to quit at the risk of seriously injuring himself. Not just because he was a proud Champion, but because he could not stand the idea of New Japan’s resident bully having any kind of power within the promotion.

Suzuki would get on the microphone after the match and run down the fans, talking about how much he enjoyed hearing the snap, crackle and pop of the bones and ligaments in Tanahashi’s leg as he destroyed their hero. I would most definitely not be opposed to Suzuki going on a streak of challenging and trying to injure more of New Japan’s heroes, with guys like Nagata, Tenzan and even Jushin Liger capable of stepping up to challenge him.

Where I see this headed though, is in the direction of building up a younger talent to take the belt back from Suzuki. Who do I think that will be? Juice Robinson. The New Japan Cup takes place in March, and while I don’t believe he will win it, a strong showing from Juice would continue his upward trajectory within the promotion, and I could definitely see him defeating Suzuki sometime in the Fall, if Minoru’s Championship reign lasts that long.

Osaka Bound

CHAOS Vs Los Ingobernables de Japon is the theme for the New Beginning in Osaka on February 10th. Headlined by three big title matches, I am not expecting any changes, but I also can’t see LIJ going 0 for 3 in the headline bouts.

SANADA will challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. While I absolutely adore SANADA, the Cold Skull won’t be the man to dethrone Okada.

Hirooki Goto defends the NEVER Openweight Championship against SANADA’s partner, EVIL. Had Goto and EVIL not just won their respective Championships (EVIL holds the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles with SANADA), I would be inclined to predict an EVIL win here… but with both men being brand new Champions here, I think Goto picks up the victory. Especially with Okada & Goto set to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships soon.

That leaves Will Ospreay defending the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against “The Ticking Time Bomb” Hiromu Takahashi. Again, Ospreay just won the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, but with this being the third of the CHAOS Vs LIJ title matches, I just can’t see Takahashi losing. The Junior Championships tend to move around a lot more than the Heavyweight belts do, which I am not a massive fan of, but in this instance, I believe the right move is to get the belt back on Hiromu. The Ticking Time Bomb has been a constant source of great matches and memorable moments in 2017, LIJ is as hot as ever, and losing all three title matches to CHAOS just doesn’t make the group look great to new fans (of which, New Japan has secured very many early in 2018).

Long Beach Sellouts

It took only 20 minutes for the return to Long Beach to sell out completely. A New Japan Dojo is being worked on for the California area, and western expansion is still very much in the plans.

Nothing has been announced for the shows yet, but speculation is that Tetsuya Naito will go one on one with Chris Jericho to headline one of the events. It can also be reasonably assumed that the Bullet Club storyline will progress at these shows, as I would imagine that they are an integral piece to western expansion, especially now with the rift between Omega and the rest of the group.

2018 has started out hot for the promotion, coming off of a brilliant 2017. The New Beginning in Osaka should give us plenty of awesome CHAOS Vs LIJ matches, Honor Rising is always fun with New Japan inviting over a handful of Ring of Honor talents (please bring back Punishment Martinez), and the Long Beach shows in March should be huge for the company as well.

It’s a great time to be a fan.

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