NJPW NEW BEGINNING IN NAGOYA REPORT (1/20): Lansdell’s report on Tama Tonga vs Evil, GoD vs Owens & Kenta, more

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch contributor


January 20, 2024

Announcers: Walker Stewart and Chris Charlton

We were in Kazuchika Okada’s home prefecture for the first stop on the New Beginning tour. As is typical of these cards, there were several preview tag matches showing off the potential of singles matches later in the tour, with a couple of significant matches later in the card. For those preview matches on the undercard my recap will only cover important points.


Two newish Young Lions kicked off the tour. Both men are very young and early in their learning journey. They are both smaller men, so they will likely restock the junior heavyweight division if and when they graduate.

Murashima spent almost the whole first five minutes applying various arm submissions. Kato was able to land a dropkick to gain the ascendancy and went to work on the leg of Murashima. The match ended with Murashima having Kato trapped in a single-leg crab as time expired.

WINNER: Time-limit draw in 10:00. (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A nice technical exchange to get us started. This did not feel like a Young Lions match, the offence was way more varied than usual and there was not a single Boston crab to be seen. I wonder if that will be the norm going forward.)

(1) SHOTA UMINO & TOMOAKI HONMA vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Ren Narita & Yujiro Takahashi)

During entrances, Chris Charlton told us that Narita vs. Umino will main event the Jan. 24 show above Kazuchika Okada’s last New Japan match. Is that a sign of some bad blood between NJPW and Okada, or an attempt to elevate the two younger stars?

Narita came to the ring with the push-up bar he has been using as a weapon, which seems a really silly thing to bring to the ring. As usual, Narita tried to avoid a full-strength Umino as long as he could. The finish came when the referee blocked a low blow attempt by Narita, which then allowed Takahashi to nail Honma in the head with his cane. Narita hit the Double Cross for the win.

WINNERS: House of Torture via pinfall in 10:00. (*1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Not much to see here. Narita and Umino did face off, with Umino getting the upper hand again, but ultimately it was the usual HoT cheating leading to the win. At least this time it only involved people in the match.)

(2) UNITED EMPIRE (Jeff Cobb & Henare & TJP & Francesco Akira & Callum Newman) vs. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (David Finlay & Alex Coughlin & Gabe Kidd & Drilla Moloney & Clark Connors)

The commentators put over the importance of the upcoming cage match on Feb. 11. Callum Newman looked to have filled out a little, maybe that means he’s slowed down to mortal levels now?

As you might expect, Callum Newman spent a lot of time getting beaten up in this match. I can however confirm that he has not lost a single step in terms of speed. Everyone got a chance to get some spots in, until Finlay got his hands on Newman. The young speedster showed some flashes and got a couple of near falls but ultimately succumbed to a powerbomb.

WINNERS: Bullet Club War Dogs via pinfall in 12:00. (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Usually these preview tags help amplify the animosity between the featured opponents, but these two factions do not need any help in that department. This was more of a Callum Newman proving ground than anything else, and the kid looked good.)

(3) HOUSE OF TORTURE (Sho & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. EL DESPERADO & MASTER WATO

Kanemaru and Desperado, two long-time tag partners and multiple-time junior tag champs, will wrestle on Jan. 23 for the Junior Heavyweight title. They’ve faced each other five times in singles, with Kanemaru having the big 4-1 lead. Sho and Wato have a singles match on the same card.

Because it was a House of Torture match, we ended on a ref distraction leading to whisky in the eyes of Wato and a wrench shot. Sho hit Shock Arrow for the victory. Wato was limping towards the end, which might be something to watch.

WINNERS: House of Torture via pinfall in 8:00 (*1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: It was fast-paced and fun until the cheating started. Not much else to say here.)

(4) TMDK (Kosei Fujita & Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste & Zack Sabre Jr) vs. KAZUCHIKA OKADA & TOMOHIRO ISHII & TOGI MAKABE & HIROSHI TANAHASHI

The reaction to Okada seemed a little mixed to me, a combination of applause and the yells of derision common in Japan in place of booing. The Okada chant at the start of the match did seem pretty loud though. TMDK will be challenging for the Never Openweight Six-Man tag titles, though we don’t know which three members will be in that match yet.
Commentary during the match was dominated by Okada’s departure announcement, as Charlton and Stewart discussed the possibilities for various young guys to step up.

Fujita, who was the principle person calling out Okada for the six-man titles, got a surprising amount of offence on Okada.He was also the one holding Okada back from breaking up the deciding submission, an inverted figure four from ZSJ to Makabe after the latter missed his top-rope knee drop.

WINNERS: TMDK via submission in 11:00. (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This worked a lot better than other matches on the card. Everyone looked good, there was no drop in level or pace, and some interesting story seeds were planted with Fujita and the increased cooperation between Ishii and Tanahashi.)

After the match, Okada’s music played as he bowed to the crowd. He was shedding tears as he left the ringside area.

(5) JUST FIVE GUYS (Taka Michinoku & Douki & Taichi & Yuya Uemura & Sanada) vs LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPÓN (Bushi & Yota Tsuji & Hiroku Takahashi & Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito)

In a fun twist we haven’t seen in a long time, the Feb. 24 card will feature all five members of the two factions facing off in singles action. The headline of course will be Sanada’s rematch for the IWGP World Heavyweight championship.

Each of the five pairings (Bushi and Taka, Hiromu and Douki, Tsuji and Uemura, Taichi and Shingo, Sanada and Naito) squared off in the ring with very little overlap. Each of those interactions was pretty brief, and it was on one of the rare overlaps that we got the finish with Sanada tapping out Bushi in Skull End.

WINNERS: Just Five Guys via submission in 9:00. (*3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: It served its purpose in building the five feuds, but otherwise nothing special here. I’m knocking the rating down because of the lack of Taka Michinoku theme.)

(6) TAIJI ISHIMORI (c) vs. GREAT-O-KHAN – KOPW 2024 Provisional title 10-Minute Ishimori Ring Fit match

That is a mouthful. The match consisted of four rounds. The first three rounds were three minutes each, followed by 30 seconds of crossfit training. The fourth round was a one-minute round. It was scramble rules, so there could be multiple decisions here throughout the ten minutes. I can honestly say I have no idea how to cover a 30-second fitness round, but let’s have some fun.

O-Khan had a new twist to his entrance theme, which added a level of gravitas to it. He came out firing at the bell, dropping Ishimori and stomping him. Ishimori used his speed to turn the tide and hit a seated senton off the top. O-Khan ducked a clothesline and locked in the claw sleeper, but Ishimori reached the ropes. THe first round ended with Ishimori sliding under the bottom rope and running into the crowd with O-Khan chasing.

Both men returned to the ring from their expedition into the crowd, although O-Khan took his time doing so. Each man had to complete ten jumps, ten high knees, and ten burpees. Both men displayed abysmal form, but Ishimori comfortably finished first.

Round two started much like round one, with O-Khan leveling Ishimori. He paused to catch his breath and tried for a suplex. Ishimori kicked furiously to escape and eventually did, only to be dropped with a Mongolian chop. Ishimori ducked a clothesline and tried a handspring elbow, but O-Khan caught him in midair and transitioned into a suplex for a near fall. O-Khan applied a head and arm choke on the mat as the round ticked down, but Ishimori was able to hold on until the end of the round.

For the second round of fitness the competitors had to do five pushups, ten v-crunches and 15 air squats. I cannot believe I am typing these words. Ishimori did zero pushups by anyone’s definition but apparently that did not matter. He looked shocked that O-Khan was able to complete the challenge.

Ishimori, despite being almost choked out to end round two, was able to complete the fitness portion and start round three on the offensive. He ran O-Khan’s shoulder into the corner post and then hit a divorce court. A pair of small packages got a pair of near falls for Ishimori. A schoolboy got a third near fall, then Ishimori applied the Bone Lock. O-Khan withstood the hold for a good 40 seconds to take us to the final exercise round.

Five jumps, ten jumping lunges and 15 mountain climbers were on the docket. O-Khan shook his head vigorously and did not want to even attempt the exercises, but he tried. He did not complete the required exercises in the 30 seconds, but that just meant he had to do them anyway. It took him another minute at least.

Ishimori shoved the ref away and tried to clean O-Khan’s clock with the title belt. O-Khan ducked and hit a straight right to the gut. The pair exchanged counters, Ishimori almost locked in the Bone Lock but O-Khan fought it off. O-Khan hit the Dominator out of nowhere! Time expired as he collapsed on top of the belt…and he was the winner?

Oh my goodness. The winner was the last person to HOLD the belt. As in, physically hold it. As O-Khan collapsed onto the belt, he was the winner.

WINNER: Great-O-Khan via falling on belt in 10:00 to win the KOPW 2024 Provisional title. (*)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I have no idea how to rate that. The finish and win condition was ludicrous, the exercise portion was funny but had no repercussions, and the wrestling never really got going as it was broken into three-minute chunks. It was a nice idea but it ultimately did not work.)

(7) GUERILLAS OF DESTINY (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) (c) vs. BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens & Kenta) – NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team championship match

GoD were double tag champs going into this match, and the NJPW tag titles will be on the line Feb. 11 against this same team of Owens and Kenta. An interesting booking decision to be sure. Kenta has been out of action since November but looked to be in good shape. This was the first time Owens and Kenta had teamed up as a two-man unit, and somehow that earned them a title shot. Nobody tell Tony Khan.

The match took way too long to get started, as Kenta and Owens kept tagging out and slowly plodding around the ring. ELP tired of their shenanigans and chased them to the floor, but Bullet Club rolled back in and taunted ELP…then turned around into a noggin knocker and shoulder tackle from Hikuelo. GoD each hit atomic drops on their opponents, then Hikuleo hit a side slam on Owens. ELP came off the middle rope with an elbow drop, and GoD played to the crowd.

ELP hit a beautiful dropkick on Owens, who came back with a flurry of strikes and a short-arm clothesline for a one-count. They ran through a succession of avoiding each other’s moves, until ELP hit a springboard crossbody. He went for a Lionsault but Kenta stopped him mid-move and tossed him off the middle rope and over the top to the floor. Nice little counter. Kenta whipped ELP into the barricade as we passed five minutes.

Back inside, Owens got a near fall on ELP. Kenta tagged in and connected with a back elbow for a two-count, then applied a bulldog choke. ELP tried to escape but was yanked back to the mat by the hair. Owens tagged in to continue the beatdown. A back suplex got another two-count. Kenta tagged in and laid in a series of kicks to the chest for a near fall. Owens catapulted ELP’s throat into the underside of the bottom rope, sending him to the floor. Kenta followed him out and rammed him into the barricade. Hikuleo interrupted the beatdown, and we went back to the ring at the ten-minute mark.

Owens and Kenta continued to beat down ELP. He would block a double-team whip and take down Owens with a headscissors, but Kenta yanked Hikuleo off the apron to prevent the hot tag. ELP again avoided a double team move and connected with an enzuigiri, and finally made the tag to Hikuleo. The big man cleaned house, dropping Kenta with a snake eyes and shoulder tackle. He attempted a double chokeslam which was blocked, but then ran through both men with another tackle.

Hikuleo set for the Godsend, but Owens escaped. Owens nailed a kneelift to the jaw of Hikuleo, and tried the Jewel Heist. That seemed…optimistic at best. Hikuleo backdropped out of it, but Owens held on. Kenta yanked Hikuleo backwards into the knees of Owens, a cool spot. Owens charged Hikuleo in the corner, and Kenta followed with the hangtime basement dropkick. From the top…double stomp by Kenta got a near fall. He also tried an optimistic move, this time Go 2 Sleep, which Hikuleo countered by being large. Owens interfered to help Kenta get free, but Hikuleo countered a charging Kenta with a snap powerslam before tagging in ELP.

ELP came in with a top rope senton and an impressive lionsault that covered most of the distance across the ring. He hit a tornado DDT from the apron to the floor on Owens, then went up top for Thunderkiss ‘86. Kenta moved, ELP landed on his feet, but Kenta hit a running boot and a draping DDT for a two-count. ELP slid out the back of a Go 2 Sleep attempt, and Kenta escaped a CR2 attempt. Kenta hit a spinning backfist and again went for Go 2 Sleep…countered into a rollup! 1…2…no! Another rollup with another near fall for ELP!

Owens nailed ELP from the apron and dropped him with a DDT. Kenta rolled up ELP with a schoolboy for a near fall. Kenta locked in Game Over in the middle of the ring, but ELP made it to the ropes. Owens and Hikuleo both came in, and miscommunication led to Kenta kicking Owens. Hikuleo chopped a hole through Kenta’s chest, and GoD hit the big boot-UFO combo for a two-count.

GOD set for their finishing sequence, but Owens tripped Hikuleo and crotched him on the corner post. Kenta ducked Sudden Death and hit a roaring lariat. He tagged in Owens as the 20-minute call rang out. Bullet Club hit a tandem powerbomb-neckbreaker combo for a near fall. Kenta went to the top, but ELP whipped Owens to the ropes to crotch Kenta. Sudden Death to Owens! 1…2…no!

ELP picked up Owens for the UFO…Burning Hammer! Well my day is made. It only got a near fall as Kenta came flying off the top with a stomp to break it up …ELP moved! Kenta hit Owens! Hikuleo came in and hit Godsend on Kenta, ELP hit CR2 on Owens, and the champions retained.

WINNERS: Guerillas of Destiny via pinfall in 22:00 to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight tag titles. (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Owens and Kenta are not at the peak of their powers any more, and it showed here. This would have been a much better match had there been more flow to it. The multiple miscommunications make me wonder about the Feb. 11 match, which almost seems superfluous now.)

(8) TAMA TONGA (c) vs. EVIL – NJPW Never Openweight title match

Tama has announced he will be leaving NJPW, and leading up to this match Evil and Dick Togo “forced” New Japan to change the NJPW website and list Evil as the Never Openweight champ. Dick Togo (and the rest of House of Torture) accompanied Evil, with a sign saying “UR FIRED”. The F in the sign was made with Tama’s hair, calling back to the trim Evil gave Tama at New Year Dash.

Tama strode to the ring with purpose and jumped right on Evil, who quickly rolled to the floor. Tama followed and sent Evil to the barricade. Back inside, Tama pulled out a pair of scissors and was about to cut Evil’s hair when the entirety of House of Torture charged the ring. Evil held the referee down and out of the way while HoT beat on Tama. Here comes the cavalry! ELP, Hikuleo, El Desperado and Shota Umino evened the odds, and there was a ten-man brawl.

Poor old Red Shoes could only stand on the outside and watch as the interlopers fought each other. Evil and Tama continued to fight though. Red Shoes found his authority and called for the bell, leaving us with a no contest in the main event?

WINNER: No contest in (No rating)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Well this was a waste of time. That said, it was only a matter of time before a referee took a stand and threw out a House of Torture match.)

Tama Tonga took to the mic, predictably, and called for the match to restart as a lumberjack match. Red Shoes checked with both factions, and called for the bell.

(9) TAMA TONGA (c) vs. EVIL – NJPW Never Openweight title lumberjack match

Tama started off fast with a back elbow. Evil tried to escape to the floor but he was immediately thrown back in. Tama went for a TKO but Evil went to the eyes to escape. Tama rolled outside and a brawl ensued. Evil and Red Shoes stayed in the ring, with Evil preventing Red Shoes from seeing Togo and Yujiro hit Tama with a double suplex on the exposed concrete floor.

Evil went to the floor and shoved Tama into the barricade. He took the mic and yelled “You’re fired” at Tama. Sho rolled Tama back inside, and Evil whipped him to an exposed corner. Yup, it’s a House of Torture match. Evil choked Tama with a t-shirt and went for the cover, and Red Shoes refused to count. I have an unreasonable love for him doing that.

As we passed five minutes, Evil and Sho played catch with Tama, throwing him out to the floor and rolling him back in. Again the two factions brawled on the outside. Togo rolled Tama back in, and Evil clamped down with a chinlock. Tama powered out and hit some elbows to the gut, but was tripped by Togo. Desperado returned the favour, tripping Evil! Both men were down.

Tama connected with some stiff rights and a big lariat. He fended off House of Torture before landing a blue thunder bomb…kind of. It was far from smooth. He went to the top for Supreme Flow but Evil rolled to the apron on the opposite side. Tama hit a slingshot crossbody to the floor onto Sho and Kanemaru, while Evil attempted to abscond with the title.

Hikuleo chased down Evil and leveled him with a clothesline, then held him in place for…the purple nurple from ELP. I just heard Walker Stewart say the words “exposing the nipple” and I may never sleep again. ELP and Hikuleo dragged Evil back to the ring, where he attempted to beg for mercy. It did not work. Rolling Death Valley driver from Tama, and he went to the top for Supreme Flow…he landed it! That got a near fall at the ten-minute mark.

Tama set for Gun Stun but Evil pushed the ref in between them. He then used the ref’s shoulders to hit a Magic Killer on Tama. That looked a lot smoother than it usually does. With both men and the referee down, Yujiro pulled Tama to the floor and hit Pimp Juice. Back inside, Evil covered Tama from a very near fall. Darkness Falls! 1…2…no!

The crowd chanted for Tama as Evil called for the finish. Everything…Is…blocked by Tama! Evil landed a pair of lariats but Tama refused to go down. Evil removed his elbow pad and went for a third…Tongan Twist to counter! Tama laid in a pair of chops and whipped Evil to the exposed corner. He tried to lift Evil for a German, but Evil grabbed the ref’s shirt. Red Shoes was having none of it and swatted Evil’s arm away! Tama went for an O’Connor roll! 1…2…no!

Evil’s kickout sent Tama into a chair shot by Togo! He rolled him up for a dramatic near fall. Togo and Evil remonstrated with the ref, and Tama tripped Evil into a kendo stick shot by Jado! 1…2…still no! As the ring announcer called out the 15-minute mark. Red Shoes got squashed in the corner. Shenanigans and chaos (the abstract concept, not the faction) ensued.The other ten men took turns running in and hitting each other.

Tama and Evil were eventually the only two standing. Evil went for a belt shot, Tama ducked and hit a dropkick. He went for Gun Stun, Evil blocked it and went for Everything is Evil…also blocked. Running Gun Stun…blocked again! Evil tried to shove the ref into Tama, but Tama leapfrogged him and hit Gun Stun! 1…2…no! Wow that was close. DSD connected! 1…2…Togo pulled the ref out of the ring!

Togo choked Tama with the garotte, but Jado made the save with a kendo stick shot to the back. Gun Stun to Togo! Tama set for the DSD on Evil again…Evil blocked it! He ran Tama into a shot from Narita and the push-up bar…Everything is Evil! 1…2…3! New champ!

WINNER: Evil via pinfall in 18:00 to win the Never Openweight championship. (***¼)
(Lansdell’s analysis: Honestly a lot better than I expected. The shenanigans were annoying but at least they made a bit more sense in the context of the match. The result was pretty much a guarantee with this being Tama’s last scheduled NJPW match. Curious that his brother was nowhere to be seen, and there’s been no talk of his future. Come to think of it, there’s been no mention of Tama in the Royal Rumble or WWE as a whole, despite there being a well-known interest.)

After the match, Tama Tonga thanked New Japan and the fans. He was emotional as he told the fans he loved them and then posed in the ring to an ovation.

Final thoughts: This was an unusual card. The preview tags were what they usually are, but the top of the card did not really deliver the way you would expect for a New Japan event. Not that either of the final two matches were bad, but they did not rise to the level of New Japan main events. This was the first of a series of emotional goodbyes we can expect on this tour, with Okada and Ospreay still to come. There are a lot of big matches still to come on this tour, and hopefully we go upwards from here.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Join us later this week for Road to the New Beginning from Korauken Hall. Thanks for stopping by!

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