NJPW BATTLE IN THE VALLEY REPORT (1/13): Lansdell’s report on Ospreay vs. Okada, Moxley vs. Takagi, more

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch contributor


January 13, 2024

Announcers: Walker Stewart and Veda Scott

I had some technical issues with the preshow matches, unfortunately. Let’s jump right on in!

(1) FRED ROSSER, JACOB FATU & SHOTA UMINO vs. TEAM FILTHY (Jorel Nelson, Royce Isaacs & Tom Lawlor)

Lawlor and Rosser have some deep history in NJPW Strong, but the rest of this match is kind of thrown together. Fatu was making his New Japan debut, but has quite a résumé and of course is part of the Samoan wrestling dynasty.

Lawlor and Rosser started us off, with Rosser escaping an early cross armbreaker attempt. They stood in a stalemate and Rosser offered a handshake, Nelson and Isaacs blindsided him to get control for Team Filthy. Nelson tagged in and hit a big corner splash, Isaacs came in with a big boot and an elbow drop and got a two-count.

Nelson tagged back in and got a near fall after a deadlift German by Isaacs. Nelson and Isaacs continued to beat down on Rosser, with Lawlor in the corner looking frustrated with their tactics. The commentators told us that Lawlor is basically tired of wrestling Rosser and just wants to respectfully move on.

Rosser tried to make a comeback but it was cut off by a big crossbody from Nelson. Nelson dragged Rosser to the corner, where Lawlor tagged himself in. The three members of Team Filthy argued, and Isaacs then tagged himself right back in. Rosser took advantage of the distraction and connected with a running Death Valley driver on Isaacs, then tagged in Fatu.

Fatu took out Issacs and Nelson, then hit a pop-up Samoan drop on Lawlor. He hit a tope to the floor on Nelson, then a second (more impressive) one on Lawlor and Isaacs. Back inside, Fatu hit a senton from the top and a handspring moonsault on Lawlor for a near fall.

Fatu tagged in Umino, who was quickly waylaid by Isaacs and Nelson. Umino fought them off with an exploder to Nelson, a high dropkick to Isaacs, and a fisherman’s suplex to Lawlor for a 2-count. He hooked up Lawlor for Death Rider but Isaacs kicked him in the head and Nelson wiped him out with a pounce. Team Filthy followed up with a triple-team powerbomb, but Fatu and Rosser broke up the pin.

Chaos ensued as all six men brawled. Isaacs and Umino were left in the ring. Rosser hit a back suplex on the apron on Nelson. Isaacs went for a dragon suplex, Umino went for Death Rider, but both men countered twice. Pop-up European uppercut by Umino! Blaze Blade! Death Rider connected! 1…2…3!

WINNERS: Umino & Rosser & Fatu via pinfall in 10:00. (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Perfectly fine, entertaining opener that gave us a chance to see what Fatu and Umino could do, as well as continue the Team Filthy storyline.)

After the match, Rosser tried again to shake Lawlor’s hand. Isaacs and Nelson cut him off, but he pushed through them. Rosser and Lawlor slapped each other then shook hands. Lawlor stormed off on his own.

Umino did his usual glad-handing around the ring, posing with fans and taking photos, when a masked fan cold-cocked him. The “fan” removed his mask…and it was Jack Perry! He hit a draping DDT off the barricade, then rolled Umino back into the ring for a running high knee to a chorus of boos. Perry stood over Umino, pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket with an AEW header on it, and tore it in two. He then donned an armband which said “Scapegoat” and left without speaking. The poor guy, his suspension has financially ruined him to the point he can no longer afford to shave.


Dorada beat Romero for the Historic Welterweight title in CMLL, leading to this match.

Romero and Volador started the match…but Romero was not feeling the vibes and quickly tagged out to stretch on the floor. Soberano took control early but sent Volador to the wrong corner and Dorada tagged in. He hit a crossbody off the top and intercepted Romero with a headscissors. Soberano cleaned his clock with a superkick, then hit another on Volador. Now Romero was ready to tag in.

Romero leveled Dorada with a stiff chop. He tagged Soberano back in, who then hit what I assume to be a very loud chop. Sadly the sound levels were not great and we could only hear the commentary and the fans. Romero and Soberano continued the beatdown on Dorada, until Dorada was able to counter a double-team move into a flying headscissors to each opponent. Volador tagged in and they sent Romero and Soberano to the outside. Both Dorada and Volador followed them with topes, leaving all four men down on the outside at the 5-minute mark.

Romero and Volador came back in, and Romero hit a series of running clotheslines in the corner followed by a mule kick for a near fall. Volador avoided a corner splash and hit a superkick and backstabber for a near fall of his own. Volador went for a powerbomb, but Romero countered into Strong Zero! He elected not to go for the cover, and both Dorada and Soberano tagged in.

Soberano got the upper hand and hit a tornillo off the top on Dorada. He then kicked Dorada mid-Lionsault, which looked very impressive. A cover got another near fall. Soberano played to the crowd, allowing Dorada to counter his running attack. Electric chair Death Valley driver from Dorada! Wow, I have never seen that before.

There was some confusion as both men appeared to make a tag, but all four men were in the ring. Dorada hit a huracanrana on Soberano sending him to the floor, and Volador hit a running Canadian Destroyer on Romero for the win.

WINNERS: Mascara Dorada & Volador Jr. via pinfall in 13:00. (**3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I am decidedly not a fan of the lucha style, but in between all the flips and twists there was a solid match here. A little jumbled and hard to follow, especially if you are not used to lucha tag matches, but it had some very fun moments.)


Bullet Club vs. United Empire continued in this match, playing off what happened at New Year Dash when TJP was the one to take out Finlay in the post-match bloodbath. It was however their first singles match.

TJP entered first, then hit a dropkick to the outside during Finlay’s entrance. TJP continued the assault on the floor and they brawled up the ramp. Finlay was able to reverse a suplex, taking TJP over onto the ramp. Finlay tried to push TJP into the post on the outside, but the latter was able to escape and pulled Finlay into the post instead.

Finlay rolled into the ring and crotched TJP who was going for a top-rope attack. Finlay went on the attack with some standard heel tactics. He whipped TJP to the corner hard enough to send him over the top and to the floor. Finlay rolled him back in and hit a big backbreaker for a 2-count.

TJP countered an attempt to throw him to the floor, and ended up standing on the apron. The commentators kept mentioning the Aswang, which I am pretty sure was a one-off for WrestleKingdom. TJP got an armbar takedown and snapped Finlay’s arm backwards. Finlay tried to maintain the attack but TJP jacked his arm over the top rope and hit a crossbody from the top rope to the floor. He tried to suplex Finlay back in, Finlay would not allow it, so TJP draped him over the top rope and went to the corner for a splash on the suspended Finlay.

Tornado DDT from TJP connected, and he followed up with the facewash boots in the corner. The crowd chanted for another one, and TJP obliged. Finlay countered a suplex attempt, TJP ducked under an attack and hit a springboard DDT. He set up for the running knee but Finlay countered with a spinout Bossman Slam.

Finlay hit a uranage backbreaker for a near fall. He trash-talked TJP, who had a brief flurry of strikes before Finlay hit a spinning uranage backbreaker and a Dominator for a very close near fall. Finlay grabbed the shillelagh, which the referee confiscated. While the referee was distracted, TJP sprayed Finlay with the red mist! Running knee connected for TJP! 1…2…no! TJP went up for the Mamba splash…nailed it! Another near fall!

TJP locked in an octopus hold, Finlay just picked him up and dropped him onto the turnbuckle. Finlay’s running attack was intercepted with a TJP superkick. Lariat by Finlay! Only a 1-count! Piledriver by Finlay! Only a 2-count! Oblivion! That will do it.

WINNER: David Finlay via pinfall in 15:00. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: OK this was genuinely very good. TJP really stepped up here, from a junior heavyweight to a match with a heavyweight who is the secondary champion in the company. He only looked out of his depth during the finishing sequence when Finlay just picked him up out of a submission. Finlay showed some versatility here too, keeping up with TJP for the most part.)

Tom Lawlor joined the commentary team. He seemed to announce that Team Filthy was no more.

(4) GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (Hikuleo and El Phantasmo) (c) vs. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Alex Coughlin & Clark Connors) – NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship

Coughlin and Connors are not regular partners, so I had a hard time seeing them pick up the win here. They jumped GoD during the pre-match very high five spot, but that advantage was short-lived Hikuleo hit a side slam on Connors and ELP followed up with an elbow from the second rope. Coughlin briefly fought back but ran into a DDT by Hikuleo, giving GoD the time to hit their high five.

Connors chop-blocked Hikuleo and wrapped his leg around the corner post. Coughlin took out ELP, and the crowd showed their disapproval. Coughlin went to work on Hikuleo’s leg on the outside. Back in the ring, Connors and Hikuleo were the legal men. The leg targeting continued. Connors hit a running spear in the corner, and tagged in Coughlin. The beatdown continued, with Connors pulling ELP off the apron to prevent a tag.

As we went past the 5-minute mark Hikuleo was able to make the tag to ELP who came in with a crossbody to both opponents. He hit an inverted and a regular atomic drop to Connors, then an atomic drop and a Russian leg sweep to Coughlin. He sent Connors to the floor and started a run for a leap to the outside, only to get wiped out by Coughlin. ELP would quickly regain control and hit a tornado DDT to Coughlin.

Hikuleo tagged back in and GoD hit a tandem big boot-cutthroat driver combination for a near fall. ELP set for Sudden Death, Coughlin blocked it and pushed ELP into Hikuleo. MASSIVE German suplex to Hikuleo! Dreadnought Driver to ELP! He tagged in Connors, who went right through Hikuleo with a spear. Hit and Run connected! 1…2…Hikuleo kicked out!

Hikuleo blocked a double-team move but Connors went back to the knee to cut off the rally. Bullet Club hit a tandem brainbuster for a very near fall. They hit another tandem move, a spear/suplex combo, but ELP broke up the pin. Connors went to the second rope and Coughlin picked up Hikuleo for a tombstone, but ELP broke it up! Sudden Death! Chokeslam! Super Thunderkiss ‘86! That’s all folks!

WINNERS: Guerillas of Destiny via pinfall in 12:00 to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight tag titles. (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: There was some good action here, and Connors & Coughlin worked well together, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Hikuleo as the face in peril was surprisingly effective. His development continues to impress me.)

(5) GIULIA (c) vs. TRISH ADORA (w/The Infantry) – NJPW StrongWomen’s Title Match

Trish Adora was pretty emotional in her entrance, understandably. I don’t know why, but Giulia reminds me of Okada not just in mannerisms, but also somewhat in appearance. Trish’s eye makeup looked like she was wrestling in glasses, which threw me right off.

We got a handshake to start the match, but Giulia tried to turn it into a backdrop driver. It didn’t work, so we got a second handshake. Giulia got the upper hand early with a snap mare and headlock. Trish rolled through into a hammerlock. Giulia locked in a flying octopus hold, which Trish transitioned into an air raid stretch. Impressive strength. Trish took Giulia down and locked in a short arm scissors.

At the 5-minute mark, Trish hit a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Giulia came back with a flurry of strikes but ran into a Bossman slam backbreaker. Trish held on and stretched the back of Giulia, then hit a bridging suplex for a 2-count. She tried a second, but Giulia reversed and hit one of her own.

They exchanged forearms mid-ring, and my goodness were they stiff. Trish won the exchange but Giulia tripped her up and applied an STF. Trish made the ropes. Giulia hit a missile dropkick off the middle rope for a near fall. Lawlor on commentary mentioned that Trish would be looking to hit the Lariat Tubman, and I never want to hear that again. Giulia set for the northern lights bomb, and after a couple of reversals Trish hit a beautiful release German…but Giulia stood up and hit her own! Trish stood up and hit another! Giulia with a back suplex now! Even my neck is hurting! Giulia went for the northern lights bomb again, but Trish hit a divorce court and a senton to the lower back.

Both women were down. Giulia was first to strike with a single-leg dropkick, Trish responded with a slap and a Bubba Bomb. Cattle mutilation by Trish! Giulia got to the ropes as the ten-minute call sounded. With both women on the outside, Trish hit a running powerslam on the floor. Wow. She went for a suplex but Giulia escaped and whipped Trish into the barricade, then hit her own suplex. Giulia went to the top…Trish prevented the dive by getting up and following Giulia to the corner.

They fought on the top rope, both women going for a superplex. Giulia got the upper hand…super butterfly suplex! It only got a one-count! Knee strike flattened Trish and for a near fall. Giulia ran into a pump kick but ducked a lariat and hit a haymaker right hand and the northern lights bomb for the win.

WINNER: Giulia via pinfall to retain the NJPW Strong Women’s championship in 13:00. (***3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: That was excellent. Trish Adora is wasted on Ring of Honor, she is very very good and has a unique look and ring style. She held her own with one of the five best women’s wrestlers on earth. Giulia on the other hand continues to show her talents and charisma, and she will be an asset wherever she ends up.)

We get a video for Mustafa Ali, who called out Hiromu Takahashi as “mentally unstable” for going into battle with a stuffed animal. The match will be on Apr. 12 at Windy City Riot in Chicago. Well OK then! New Japan is signing all the former WWE guys it seems.

(6) THE CHOSEN BROS (Jeff Cobb & Matt Riddle) vs. TMDK (Bad Dude Tito & Zack Sabre Jr.)

TMDK got a big pop, largely for ZSJ I have to assume. Especially since Ichiban Main Event Sweet Boy Kosei Fujita wasn’t present. More’s the pity. Riddle also got a good pop and a “Bro” chant. Riddle’s mystery partner was in fact Jeff Cobb, reuniting the former PWG tag team champion team The Chosen Bros.

ZSJ and Riddle got us underway with a mat exchange. On commentary, Scott told us that ZSJ and Riddle have a long history, a rivalry dating back to 2016. They continued to exchange counters and holds, and I now want to see them wrestle each other for about an hour please.

Cobb and Tito tagged in to a chorus of “Meat!” chants. They exchanged shoulder tackles until Cobb hit a beautiful dropkick. Riddle tagged in with a round kick and an assisted Floating Bro. Scott says she’s a vegetarian and therefore cannot endorse the “Meat forever” chants currently happening. OK that was good. Tito ran Riddle into the TMDK corner and tagged in ZSJ, who kick Cobb off the apron and then hit a charging kick on Riddle in the opposite corner.

Tito and ZSJ took turns stomping on Riddle in the corner. ZSJ attacked the toes of Riddle and stomped on his foot. Tito tagged back in and leveled Riddle with a short-arm lariat for a 2-count. We got the 5-minute call as ZSJ came back in. He ate an upkick from Riddle, who made the tag to Cobb. ZSJ tried a flying guillotine but Cobb just ran through it and into the corner. A back suplex by Cobb got a 2-count. Tito tried to interrupt and got suplexed for his troubles.

Cobb dropped ZSJ with a slam, but missed the standing moonsault. ZSJ snapped Cobb’s neck, and after a series of escapes and reversals he got the European clutch for a one-count to the shock of everyone in attendance. ZSJ hit a lariat, Cobb shrugged it off and hit his own. Tour of the Islands…countered into a crucifix for a near fall. ZSJ tried a German suplex but Cobb was too thicc, so ZSJ hit a tornado DDT instead.

Tito and Riddle both tagged in. Riddle blitzed Tito with a flurry of kicks, Tito fought off an exploder and hit a series of kicks of his own and a suplex for a near fall. All four men were in the ring, Tito and ZSJ played tennis with Cobb and sent him to the floor. ZSJ locked in a choked on the floor while in the ring Tito hit a blue thunder bomb at the ten-minute mark for a near fall.

Riddle avoided a charging Tito and hit a senton to a standing Tito. ZSJ came in and applied an ankle lock, Riddle escaped and sent ZSJ into the waiting arms of Cobb who then launched him into Riddle’s knee. Ouch. Tito tried his luck with some chops and absorbed a German from Cobb before hitting a German suplex. Riddle cut off the momentum with a roundhouse, a knee strike, and the Bro Derek for the win.

WINNERS: The Chosen Bros via pinfall in 12:00. (**3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Riddle seemed a little off, but this was always going to be a showcase match as well as a tune-up for him. )

After the match, Cobb made overtures to get Riddle in United Empire. The King of Bros said they would talk about it.

(7) EDDIE KINGSTON (c) vs. GABE KIDD – AEW Continental Title / NJPW Strong Openweight Title / ROH World Title Match

It was a little unclear which title or titles were on the line here. Kidd made it clear he only wanted the Strong title, but the match was announced as being for all three titles. Apparently Kidd has threatened to trash the AEW Continental title and the ROH World Title if he wins, and take the NJPW Strong title to the UK. Well that clears it up somewhat.

As expected, Kidd kicked Kingston in the face as Kingston tried to get in the ring. They brawled on the outside with Kingston blocking a piledriver and hitting a backdrop on Kidd on the ramp. Kingston continued the onslaught at ringside, as Scott pointed out we still had not had a bell to start the match. Kidd blocked a suplex attempt and hit a German suplex on the floor. He rammed Kingston repeatedly into the corner post.

Kidd finally rolled Kingston into the ring and we got the bell to start us off. Both men exchanged multiple stiff chops. Eventually Kingston got the upper hand, which led to Kidd biting him. Kingston came back with an exploder suplex, and both men were down. Kingston hit a corner clothesline and the machine gun chops in the corner. He went for a running boot but Kidd cut him off with a forearm, then laid in several more. A brainbuster from Kidd resulted in a near fall.

Kidd tried a piledriver, Kingston blocked it and hit a half-and-half suplex. Uraken! 1…2…no! Both men were down and slow to recover. Kingston got to his feet first and tried a northern lights bomb. Kidd escaped and hit a backdrop suplex and a tombstone for a near fall. They exchanged headbutts from their knees, an exchange which Kingston won. They got to their feet and started exchanging chops again. Kidd got the upper hand and laid in several right hand slaps, but…oh dear, he spit on Kingston several times. This displeased the champion.

Kingston blitzed Kidd with a flurry of strikes. He hit a palm strike to the face and a second uraken, but Kidd went to the floor. Kingston took some time to gather himself, Kidd though tripped him and dragged him to the floor. The chop war continued on the floor. Exploder on the floor by Kingston! The referee was about to count Kidd out when he grabbed the mic and asked Kingston if that was all he had, while calling him a fat expletive. Kingston saw red and went back on the offensive, causing a double countout.

WINNER: Double countout in 11:00 (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: It was a pretty standard Eddie Kingston match until that weak finish. I’m not sure why a tag team guy needed to be protected against a main event name, but that’s where they decided to go and it hurt what was a very solid start.)

After the match, Kidd threw down the Continental Crown. Kingston charged the ring again and set to take down Kidd with a belt shot. Connors and Coughlin hit the ring and took out Kingston. Kidd dropped Kingston on one of the title belts with a piledriver and posed to a cacophony of boos from the crowd.

(8) SHINGO TAKAGI vs. JON MOXLEY – No Disqualification Match

Somehow these two men have only faced each other once, in the 2019 G1. Shingo was wearing jeans for this street fight, which was an interesting look.

They started as you might expect, with repeated forearm smashes. They continued to brawl to the floor, where Shingo grabbed a pair of kendo sticks and tossed one to Moxley. They swung at each other a few times, Shingo dropped his first and Moxley went on the offensive. Garbage can lid to the head by Moxley. He retrieved a chain and wrapped his fist in it, then hit Shingo.

Back on the inside, Shingo caught Moxley with a shoulder tackle. He followed up with a snap suplex and a pair of elbow drops. Shingo hit a senton, and Moxley rolled to the apron. He surreptitiously grabbed the garbage can lid, and waffled Shingo with it as Shingo came to fetch him.

Back to the floor, Moxley crotched a now-bleeding Shingo on the barricade. I certainly did not expect Shingo to bleed first. Moxley tossed a garbage can in the ring, then rolled Shingo in. He put the can over Shingo’s head and pounded on the can with a kendo stick. For added fun, Moxley broke the kendo stick and jammed the jagged edges into Shingo’s head wound. A piledriver from Moxley only got a 2-count.

Moxley upped the gross level by jamming one kendo shard in Shingo’s mouth and one in his ete. Shingo tried to battle back but Moxley stopped him with a flurry of strikes. Shingo kept coming back at Moxley, countering a charge with a back elbow and a left-arm lariat.

A corner clothesline and a suplex got a near fall for Shingo at ten minutes. Moxley came back by biting Shingo’s head and clotheslining him over the top to the floor. Moxley hit the ropes for a tope but only found a garbage can lid. Oh look, Moxley was bleeding.

Shingo slid a pair of chairs into the ring, then untied the corner pad. He dropped Moxley on the exposed buckle, then set him up for a superplex…connected. Shingo hit a series of 12-6 elbows and a sliding lariat. Moxley popped right up and they headbutted each other repeatedly mid-ring. They ran into each other with a pair of lariats. German suplex from Moxley! Backdrop suplex from Shingo! Another double lariat! DDT from Moxley! Forearm to the back of the head by Shingo! Both men were down and bleeding.

Both men tried to get up and play to the crowd, and both promptly fell to the apron and then the floor. Back inside, both men had chairs and smacked them together a few times. Moxley dropped his first. Shingo snapped the chair shut on Moxley’s fingers, then leveled him with a clothesline. Shingo wrapped his arm in the chain and hit a pumping bomber for a near fall.

Shingo absolutely nailed Moxley in the head with a kendo stick, then rolled him to the apron. It’s table time! The crowd came alive for the table being pulled out. Shingo went for Made in Japan on the table, Moxley slid out the back and choked Shingo over the ropes with the chain. Moxley released the choke and placed Shingo on the table. Moxley got a deranged, Terry Funk-esque look in his eyes and went to the top rope…elbow drop through the table!

Moxley slowly rolled Shingo in and covered for a very near fall. Moxley went back outside and retrieved a second table, which he slid into the ring at twenty minutes. Moxley set up the table and dragged Shingo to the corner, looking for an avalanche Death Rider through the table. Mist from Shingo!!! Super Death Valley Driver through the table by Shingo! He hit Moxley twice with shards of the broken table, and connected with a Pumping Bomber. Cross-armed powerbomb from Shingo gets a near fall.

Shingo launched a table into the face of Moxley. Made in Japan on a chair! 1…2…no! Even Red Shoes was jumping up and down, that was very close. Moxley blocked Last of the Dragon and tried to lay in some forearms. Shingo’s response was more impactful, but Moxley was able to hit a cutter and a curb stomp. Death Rider!! 1…2…no! The crowd got even louder at that kickout, rising to their feet with a “fight forever” chant. Moxley locked in a rear naked choke. Shingo tried to power out of it but Moxley dropped him on his head with a sleeper suplex. A running high knee got a mere one-count. Moxley set up a chair…Death Rider through the chair! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Jon Moxley via pinfall in 26:00 (****1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I am not a fan of death matches, but this was excellent. They avoided some of the more outlandish weapons, but I really do not want to see people being gouged with sharp wood. This is Moxley’s milieu, but I thought Shingo needed the win here more than Moxley did. Still, a tough and physical encounter that kept the crowd on the edges of their seats.)

After the match, Moxley took to the microphone. He said in 2024 he only has one aim in all of professional wrestling…Naito. The match was quickly made official for Windy City Riot.


Somewhat uncharacteristically, Okada went around ringside giving high fives to the fans during his entrance. Ospreay locked eyes with Okada as he got to ringside, and the intensity was unreal. Okada remained stoic throughout the chants for Ospreay.

The two men stared each other down before locking up. Ospreay looked to be going after the left arm of Okada early on, playing off the WrestleKingdom match with Danielson. They grappled to the ropes and Okada stuck out his chin, inviting Ospreay to take a shot. Okada pulled a switch and teased taking a cheap shot, making Ospreay flinch but ultimately just tapping him on the chest. The psychology on display was something else.

Ospreay got a beautiful armdrag and flying headscissors to take control. He clotheslined Okada to the floor and went for a slingshot plancha. Okada side-stepped and hit a big boot to regain the upper hand. He hit a draping DDT to the floor and got back in the ring, inviting the referee to start the count. Ospreay made it back in easily but immediately ate a basement dropkick. Okada attempted a one-foot cover which Red Shoes did not bother to count.

Okada played to the boos he was receiving from the crowd. Ospreay reversed a whip but got flattened with a back elbow. Ospreay managed to reverse a suplex attempt, and then hit the handspring corkscrew kick to send Okada to the floor. This time the plancha connected. He rolled Okada back inside and hit a springboard forearm at the ten-minute mark.

Okada countered a charging Ospreay with a flapjack, leaving both men down. Air raid crash connected for Okada, into the Money Clip right in the middle of the ring. Ospreay broke the hold and hit the moonsault kick and an enzuigiri, but Okada escaped the powerbomb attempt. Ospreay then backflipped out of a German suplex attempt, he avoided the Okada dropkick and tried a running shooting star press. He only found the knees of Okada, who then hit the dropkick at the second attempt.

Okada went for the tombstone, Ospreay slid out and hit the hook kick. Os-cutter…connected for a near fall. Ospreay slammed Okada and went to the top for a Skytwister press. Okada moved, Ospreay landed on his feet but immediately ate Okada’s feet as the 15-minute call rang out.Okada tried another tombstone, this time on the outside, and landed it.

Back inside, Okada slammed Ospreay and hit his elbow drop off the top. Rainmaker pose! Ospreay elbowed out of the Rainmaker, but could not sustain the comeback as Okada beat him down. Okada tapped Ospreay with some half-hearted boots, allowing Ospreay to get to his feet. Hook kick from Ospreay! Os-cutter countered into Rainma…SPANISH FLY from Ospreay! 1…2…no! What a sequence.

Okada hit a Michinoku Driver, but his Rainmaker attempt was countered into a crucifix for a one-count. Ospreay rolled through the kickout into a Styles Clash for another very near fall. Ospreay set for what appeared to be a V-Trigger, but ran into a dropkick. Rainmaker reversed again, Ospreay tried one of his own but Okada turned it into…Stormbreaker! 1…2…no! Rainmaker connected! 1…2…still no!

Both men were down as we went beyond 20 minutes. Okada was incredulous that Ospreay kicked out. He flipped off the fans and tried for Rainmaker again, but Ospreay fought it off. Dropkick to the back of the head by Okada. Another dropkick CAUGHT by Ospreay into a massive powerbomb! The counters and reversals in this match have been unreal.

The two men met forehead to forehead on their knees, trading blows. They got to their feet and continued the exchange. Okada shrugged off Kawada-style kicks and went for a short-arm clothesline, which Ospreay ducked and hit the not-so-hidden blade. Rainmaker pose by Ospreay! Okada ducked the Rainmaker attempt but ran right into a dropkick. Rainmaker lands for Ospreay! 1…2…no!

Ospreay set for Stormbreaker, Okada escaped with a rollup for a near fall. Ospreay countered another Rainmaker attempt…Stormbreaker! A dramatic near fall for Ospreay! Ospreay removed his elbow pad and set for Hidden Blade, but ran right into a dropkick! Ospreay shrugged it off and tried Hidden Blade again…tilt-a-whirl Emerald Flowsion! Rainmaker attempt blocked again by Ospreay, but Okada held on to the wrist. He nailed three consecutive clotheslines while maintaining his wrist grip, then hit a Death Valley driver. Rainmaker absolutely flattened Ospreay! 1…2….3!

WINNER: Kazuchika Okada via pinfall in 29:00. (*****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Well if that isn’t Match of the Year, I cannot wait to see what is. The psychology in this match was what really pushed it to the full boat for me, as these two know each other so well. The counters and reversals and anticipating of what would be next really told a different story that most pairings cannot pull off. These two men however can pretty much do anything in that ring, and it showed. An incredible match that would have been worth the price of admission by itself.)

Both men embraced after the match, but Bullet Club War Dogs came down the ramp to confront them. Finlay then blindsided Okada with the shillelagh. Bullet Club beat down Ospreay until United Empire and Eddie Kingston made the save. The fans chanted “Thank you Ospreay” as he took the mic. He thanked Eddie Kingston, then thanked the fans.

Final thoughts: With all the speculation that the recent WWE releases would be showing up in AEW, it’s New Japan that seems to have signed them. With Mustafa Ali, Moxley, Riddle, and Nic Nemeth all having high-profile matches coming up very soon, there seems to be something of an influx of recognizable US names into New Japan. That is a very interesting development. NJPW Strong is a quasi-brand, more of a gateway to get North American viewers to watch the big shows from Japan, but they are really going all-out with their signings.

This card looked stacked from the outset, and it definitely delivered. They managed to cater to a wide range of fans without pushing into the ridiculous. The main event was always going to be the standout, but do not sleep on the rest of this card. I’m also expecting Okada and Ospreay to team up before Feb. 11 against Bullet Club, which would be a really nice way to put the bow on that relationship.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Thanks for joining us, and keep your eyes open for New Beginning coverage coming soon!

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