Imp’s NJPW Adventure – A New Beginning for Los Ingobernables de Japon
Good word, rather a lot happened in the short space of time between Wrestle Kingdom and the third and final New Beginning show in Osaka! Minoru Suzuki tore down New Japan’s hero Tanahashi, Jay White won the IWGP US Championship, Ibushi & Omega are back together and Cody turned on the former champion. The latter of which has set up a monster of a Bullet Club clash for Ring of Honour’s show on WrestleMania week, the next year for NJPW has well and truly been set in motion.
However this New Beginning isn’t finished yet, as yesterday we saw three more championships on the line. Every one of them a match between respective members of CHOAS and Los Ingobernables de Japon, we may have witnessed the start of a shift. This year the New Beginning shows truly lived up to the name, a subtle change of the tide has already started and Osaka well and truly set things in motion.
Trust me, in one year’s time New Japan will no longer be in Choas, the land will be tranquilo.
Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi
Should I explain the whole, ‘Ospreay is a cat’ thing? Long story short, Hiromu’s weird and started telling Will he was a cat on Twitter. There you go… okay there is a little bit more to the story. It evolved to a point where, during the build to Wrestle Kingdom, the Flying Essexman drew whiskers on his face and started doing ‘cat things’ in his matches. With Hiromu joining in and ‘cat taunting’ him when they were facing each other in tag bouts. Weirdly, all that silliness formed some kind of underlying respect, with Ospreay accepting Takahashi’s challenge last month without hesitation.
Then the ‘feud’ reached its peak yesterday after their promo package was narrated by a cat. Yes you read that right, ‘narrated by a cat’.
So, with the feline stuff out the way, did the match live up to the hype? Ospreay vs Hiromu was everything you would expect from the Junior division in New Japan. Fast paced, a high number of counters and an even higher number of flips. Hiromu showing no regard for his body at all, that Senton from the top rope to the outside is still as mental as the first time I saw it. Not forgetting Ospreay’s Sasuke Special, that flippy spectacular is a thing of perfection.
However the counters are what made the match for me, the athleticism to pull them off is just marvelling. Ospreay with a Reverse-Rana off the top rope? JESUS! And the move of the night, the greatest Destroyer I think I’ve ever seen from Hiromu. Rotating down off Ospreay’s shoulders and into a Destoyer, so smooth, so beautiful, so devastating. Ospreay must be crazy, normal people don’t agree to backflip onto their heads.
On the other hand, after all that praise there is one recurring aspect that didn’t quite click with me. The amount of ‘no sells’. Some were executed amazingly, like Hiromu kicking out at 1 after that insane Reverse-Rana. But there were a few where I was just thinking, “Why even do such a devastating move?” If anything that can make the actual finish feel like it shouldn’t have been enough to get the pin. It’s something that I normally don’t have an issue with, like I said there were multiple times they executed it perfectly, but maybe they overused the idea a couple times too many.
That’s just my personal taste though, still rated the match as ‘Flipping Insane’. It’s worth a watch just to see the two back flip onto their heads in situations they really wouldn’t want to be doing such a thing. I can tell you now, I can’t backflip onto my head… safely.
Hirooki Goto vs EVIL
Big lads walloping each other with their big lad muscles. Thanks to the hard hitting work of wrestlers like Katsuyori Shibata, Tomihiro Ishii, Togi Makabe and Hirooki Goto, the NEVER title’s turned into an ultimate strong style of sorts. A reputation of toughness has been built around those wrestling for the NEVER Openweight Championship and there’s a level of respect for the wrestlers that enter that fold. The newest of which is the King of Darkness, EVIL. The first to be brought into Los Ingobernables by Naito, and the first of our LIJ members to really mark a new chapter for himself in Osaka.
For me, the interesting part of this match was the greater story that seemed to appear. New Japan aren’t just setting up Okada’s passing of the torch, they seem to be setting up CHOAS as a whole. Osaka outlined Los Ingobernables de Japon’s ultimate rise to the top. But just like with Okada, for the arc to properly hit home you need to want the change. Osaka solidified CHOAS as the top stable, they’re the great entity LIJ must battle through in order to truly become THE top stars of New Japan. The fans no longer just want to see Naito succeed, but they’re behind Hiromu, EVIL and SANADA as well (& BUSHI too I guess). A gradual altering of the state of play, and I absolutely love it.
This match felt like NJPW truly getting behind EVIL as a future star, whilst also cementing Goto as the tough champion. LIJ are going to have to fight for their respect and it’s not going to be easy. If you’ve ever played a Japanese Role Playing Game, you’ll have seen this theme before. You feel like you’re powerful until you come face to face with an enemy who well and truly is, then you realise how titanic that mountain is going to be. Osaka felt like Hiromu, EVIL and SANADA having that realisation, getting a true sense of the task ahead of them. Don’t be surprised if we get a more focused LIJ this year, to get to the top they don’t need to just get through Okada, they need to defeat ALL of CHOAS.
And Goto vs EVIL was step two in that direction, after Okada beat Naito on January 4th. LIJ are building experience to make themselves stronger and take down those tough as hell bosses. And my God did EVIL put up a fight, to a point where I really thought he was going to pull off the win. Only for Goto to hit a devastating move, taking his opponent completely out of it. They really made EVIL feel on par with Goto, the inaugural LIJ member is officially one tough, respected NEVER warrior. And just like with Okada/Naito, you’re ready for the change.
I always recommend the NEVER matches, a true counter to the uneducated ‘wrestling doesn’t hurt’ rhetoric.
Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA
The night after Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan Pro Wrestling have their annual New Year’s Dash show in the famous Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Look at it as their version of the RAW after WrestleMania. It sets up feuds for 2018, immediately gets the ball rolling towards their New Beginning towards the end of January/start of February. This year there was a huge 10 Man Tag between CHOAS and Los Ingobernables de Japon, the importance of this match was much greater than I initially thought.
In a shock, SANADA pinned IWGP Heavyweight Champion Okada for the win. After which the matches in Osaka were announced. LIJ’s leader Naito faced YOSHI-HASHI, aka the guy that’s half decent but probably won’t win many championships. A strong showing to keep up Naito’s momentum whilst the focus is temporarily elsewhere. As for Okada, the greatest opportunity went to SANADA, his first ever IWGP Heavyweight Championship match.
An incredible landmark moment for his career, but the champion didn’t respect him at all. In Sapporo Okada showed a darker side, going mental after SANADA snubbed him post-match, beating on him and shoving Okada dollars into his mouth. Both Okada and SANADA felt the other ought to show a little more respect. In a total surprise, it turns out the best way to do that in wrestling is to have an awesome match. Who would have thought? After New Beginning, Okada will no longer be taking SANADA lightly.
Just like with EVIL, there were moments where I genuinely thought SANADA was going to win. They did that good of a job making the Cold Skull feel legitimate! New Japan play us by twisting the patterns we’ve come to expect from them. The initial shock win, redemption for the champion and then eventually redemption for the challenger. It’s the exact arc used for Okada after all, so no matter how strong he is, he will always feel vulnerable to someone new. And NJPW played that fiddle to perfection with SANADA.
He constantly countered the Rainmaker, found ever impressively evolving methods for trapping Okada in submission. For a moment there was a feeling that Okada was going to have to come up with something new, because SANADA seemed to always have a counter. Until Okada hit a jumping, twisting Tombstone, to SET UP and finally hit the Rainmaker. A fantastic match that somehow managed to make me forget the certainty of an Okada victory, and succeeded in furthering the stories of both wrestlers.
SANADA feels like a star, like with EVIL, it would now feel natural if he does win a singles title by this time next year. As for Okada, cracks are beginning to show. His overreliance with hitting the Rainmaker gave SANADA opportunity after opportunity, exemplified by the wear and tear experienced by the champion. Those cracks are going to open bigger and greater opportunities for his opponents down the line and will most likely lead to his downfall. But the champion proved how tough he can get when staring in the eyes of defeat, he keeps digging down deep and finding a way.
One day someone will be able to reach deeper than him, for now he’s holding on. But what will the champion resort to once he realises he’s getting worn down and his time is coming?
And that’s it! The future of the feud between CHOAS and Los Ingobernables de Japon looks like it’s evolving nicely, but it is a long road to January 4th 2019. A story of respect, a company champion and the men carving their own paths. This isn’t the end for LIJ, it’s a New Beginning.
Follow Imp on Twitter: @TheDamnImplicat