NJPW ROAD TO THE NEW BEGINNING REPORT (1/24): Lansdell’s report on Narita vs. Umino, Okada’s Korakuen farewell, and more

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch contributor


January 24, 2024

Announcer: Walker Stewart


Someone mentioned to me that Boltin Oleg looks like Lars Sullivan who shrunk in the wash and now I cannot unsee it. Oleg is a lot further ahead in his development than Kato and Murashima, thought perhaps not quite ready to go on excursion.

Usually in matches like this you can bet money on the team without a Young Lion being the one to pick up the win. Kato and Murashima continued to show out, but it was Oleg who really took a step forward in this match. He has a trademark spot where he lifts his opponent for a gutwrench suplex and continually switches sides on the lift, which not only shows amazing strength but is noteworthy in that a Young Lion typically would not HAVE a trademark spot. He also played the role here of a veteran, absorbing multiple forearm strikes from Murashima before leveling him with a single chop. He picked up the win with a kamikaze fireman’s roll, which is as much of a shock result as you can get in an opening match in New Japan.

WINNERS: Oleg & Kato via pinfall in 6:00. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I am legitimately surprised at the result here. This just does not happen in New Japan. Yano would get the win 99 times out of 100, and a Young Lion winning with something that isn’t a Boston Crab used to be unheard of. Oleg might well be headed out for his expedition sooner than I thought.)


Well this was random. I guess in part it was to let us know that ZSJ would not be in the title match later on. The expectation was that ZSJ would walk through this, but Tiger Mask made him work for it with a technical prowess he does not normally get to show. The pair went through a lot of intricate mat work and reversals before the inevitable submission win for ZSJ.

WINNER: Zack Sabre Jr via submission in 7:00. (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Fun but short grappling exhibition. The result was never in doubt but it was more competitive than I expected.)


Quite the eclectic team to face off against Bullet Club, as El Phantasmo was out of action for non-injury reasons. Bullet Club jumped their opponents before the bell and promptly went to work on Taguchi’s butt. That’s a sentence I just typed. Jado got a disturbing amount of offence in this match, including locking a crossface onto Ishimori and almost getting the tapout. Ishimori however was able to roll over into a cradle pin for a quick win.

WINNERS: Bullet Club via pinfall in 6:00. (*1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I’ll give them a break because of ELP’s absence, but it was a whole lot of nothing. I hope when I get to Jado’s age, I look that good.)

(4) TAMA TONGA & EL DESPERADO & YOH & TOMOAKI HONMA vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Evil & Sho & Yujiro Takahashi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

The Alliance to End House of Torture sure leads to some strange bedfellows. This match does at least flow from the previous night’s main event when a cast of characters ran in to save Desperado’s title. This was also Tama Tonga’s final Korakuen appearance, and he was definitely emotional about it.

After the standard jumping before the bell, Sho went after the mask of Desperado. We also got to see the old Sho-Yoh rivalry reignited briefly. Walker Stewart stole my “typical House of Torture shenanigans” line verbatim, but he was working solo so I will allow it this time. Yoh really showed out at points of this match, including picking up Tama’s discarded shirt and putting it on himself before clearing the ring. For once the HoT nonsense was kept to a bare minimum, only one instance of Togo jumping on the apron to distract the ref. It did however lead to Everything is Evil on Honma, and the finish.

WINNERS: House of Torture via pinfall in 11:00. (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Actually better than most HoT matches, although still pretty standard fare. They were clearly building to Sho and Depserado, but I would not mind the elevation of Yoh at all. I have a soft spot for that kid.)

– After the match, Sho wiped out Desperado and removed his mask. He was immediately covered up by a Young Lion, but it’s clear what the next title match will be.

(5) UNITED EMPIRE (Great-O-Khan & TJP & Francesco Akira & Henare & Callum Newman) vs. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (David Finlay & Clark Connors & Drilla Moloney & Gabe Kidd & Alex Coughlin)

This is a repeat of the previous night’s match, albeit after Callum Newman announced that he was no longer a Young Boy, he was a man. He will be competing as a heavyweight, which is interesting as I expected him to mirror Ospreay’s career path.

War Dogs did not make it to the ring before the brawl started. Eventually Henare and Kidd made it inside the ropes and just pounded on each other. From there we just had a procession into and out of the ring by various participants. No tags, no legal men that anyone could have tracked, just one man in, one big move, one man out. If anyone could be said to have been in the ring more than anyone else, it was the junior heavyweights. Catch-22 and Moloney & Connors went all-out with pace and impact, and Connors got the pin and Akira with No Chaser.

WINNERS: Bullet Club War Dogs via pinfall in 6:00 (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: They fit so much into those six minutes that it left me breathless. Non-stop action and a finish that made sense.)

– After the match, War Dogs beat down their opponents. They isolated Akira in the ring and threatened to gouge him again with a fork, making him flinch. Henare cleared the house with a chair, but the story was that Akira is scared of the cage match.

(6) LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Shingo Takagi & Yota Tsuji & Bushi) vs. JUST FIVE GUYS (Taichi & Yuya Uemura & Taka Michinoku)

Finally an interesting wrinkle to these repetitive preview tags, as the LIJ-J5G feuds have been split into two tag matches. While the smaller teams did mean we got to see more mixing of each feud pairing, there were no notable developments in the match. Well, we were cruelly denied Taka Michinoku’s theme as he was folded in half by a Takagi powerbomb for the finish, but that’s likely only notable to me.

WINNERS: Los Ingobernables de Japón via pinfall in 10:00. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: All six men seemed to be going through the motions here. Sometimes you can go back to the well too many times, even for the talent.)

– After the match we had some actual story development. Tsuji and Uemura just kept going at each other while the other competitors stared each other down. That rivalry is getting to be almost as heated as Umino and Narita. Only the ringside Young Lions made any attempt to break up the brawl.

(7) LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. JUST FIVE GUYS (Sanada & Douki)

It was almost refreshing to see a two-on-two tag match here, especially one that moved at this pace. The chemistry between Sanada and Naito has been on display before, but I was not prepared for the Douki-Hiromu chemistry. Douki picked up the surprise win with a Rivera special, which has to count as a progression. Douki has sort of cruised along in New Japan, and that pinfall was the biggest moment for him so far.

WINNERS: Sanada & Douki via pinfall  in 9:00. (**½)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Hiromu getting pinned and subsequently freaking out and begging Naito’s forgiveness was a surprising development. Although most of the Feb. 11 undercard is without stakes, this result does add some spice to the Hiromu-Douki match.)

(8) KAZUCHIKA OKADA & HIROSHI TANAHASHI & TOMOHIRO ISHII (c) vs. TMDK (Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste & Kosei Fujita) – Never Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship match

I fully expected the Dream Team to drop the titles here, given that Okada is on his way out the door and that this was his last Korakuen event. In hindsight, I am a fool. This night was always going to be about Okada. The crowd chanted his name before his music hit, they chanted it throughout his entrance, and they were all there to see him. Tanahashi and Ishii held the ropes open for him. The only question was going to be how much he gave to Fujita, and how well they could sell the jeopardy to the titles.

Fujita was in the ring for the first seven minutes of this match, taking punishment from all three legends on the opposing team and firing back occasionally. He looked very good doing it, too. This was without a doubt his elevation and his best showing. He even toyed with Okada, pushing his head around with the sole of his boot while Okada shook his head in disbelief at the hubris of the young man.

Nicholls and Haste are always good to excellent, but were diminished a good bit here by Ishii kicking out of two Tankbusters. That move put away basically everyone in World Tag League. Ishii and Tanahashi were pretty much afterthoughts, Tanahashi moreso, but Okada gave the Korakuen fans all his greatest hits and also made a star out of an overlooked future star in the process. He would, naturally, pick up the pin on Fujita with the Rainmaker.

WINNERS: Okada & Ishii & Tanahashi via pinfall in 22:00 to retain the Never Openweight Six-Man titles. (***3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This is how you beat someone and still put them over. Fujita is not usually mentioned in the same breath as Umino, Tsuji, and Narita…but it’s time to add him. This was a star-making performance and I am not exaggerating when I say that. The match was very good, but honestly it felt like four men were accessories.)

– After the match, Okada broke down in tears on the mic as he thanked the fans. He said he didn’t want to cry, he had cried enough already. He said that Ishii put the belt on him, but today he was vacating it. He said he had three more matches left in New Japan, and that this was not goodbye. All three members of the team were visibly emotional as they posed for the cameras. Okada did a lap of the ring before leaving, shaking hands with Toru Yano on commentary and Yoshi-Hashi (his Chaos stablemates) on the way out. I won’t even pretend that didn’t leave me emotional.


There was no world in which this match did not start as a brawl and continue as one. Umino hit a shotgun dropkick at the bell and the match went to the floor from there. Umino played barricade bingo with Narita, hitting all four sides for the bingo call. Somewhat surprisingly, Umino slowed the pace right down when they returned to the ring. Narita would take control by rolling to the floor, then rolling back in when Umino tried to chase him and catching Umino with a boot in the process.

Narita took his turn throwing Umino into barricades and then the corner post. He continued his assault by choking Umino with his trademark push-up bar (watch the typos on that one…) and a backdrop suplex on the apron. Into they crowd they went with Narita firmly in control. After a walk-and-brawl, Narita left Umino laying and returned to the ring as the referee started to count. Umino made it back at 19, and was immediately dropped with a chancery suplex for a near fall.

Umino fought back and leveled Narita with a flying forearm. A fisherman’s suplex got a two-count for Umino. Narita blocked a suplex but ran straight into a gorgeous dropkick. Umino took a pade out of Jon Moxley’s book and laid in a succession of elbow strikes, but Narita went to the eyes and then reversed a whip to drop Umino with a knee to the gut. Narita laid in a series of strikes, which Umino did not register. Narita staggered Umino with a stiff forearm, but Umino slipped out of the corner mounted punches to hit the Cheeky Nandos kick. Umino repeatedly kicked the head of Narita while it was trapped in the corner, then hit a slingshot DDT over the top onto the apron.

The action went back into the crowd, and Umino grabbed a chair before dragging Narita up the stairs. I was hoping he would slide Narita down the stairs on top of the folded chair like a surfboard, but alas he just sat Narita in it and kicked him in the face. Umino wedged a table across the top of a staircase and powerbombed Narita through it. Narita rolled down the stairs and out into the concourse, bleeding from the elbow. Umino dragged Narita back to the ring as Walker Stewart questioned where the rest of House of Torture might be.

Umino set up another table, then rolled Narita into the ring and hit a Rolling the Dice and a Bloody Sunday for a near fall. Ignition connected for another near fall. Umino went for Death Rider but Narita slipped out and rolled to the floor at lightning speed. Umino chased him and got caught and thrown overheard into the table by Narita. Both men were down on the outside as the referee started to count.

Again Umino made it back to the ring at 19. Narita hit a single-knee Meteora from the top for a two-count. He brought the push-up bar into the ring, which the referee took away. That allowed a low blow and a German suplex for another near fall. Narita locked in the cobra twist in the middle of the ring. He transitioned into an exploder suplex with a bridge for a two-count, then a northern lights suplex. He rolled through and went for a second, but Umino countered into a spike DDT. Narita was bleeding from the nose as both men were once again down.

Umino hit a tornado DDT and rolled it into a Ram-Paige DDT for a near fall. That was the cue for the clowns to come in, as the ref got squashed in the corner. House of Torture beat down Umino with their standard HoT shenanigans. Sho lined up for a wrench shot, and then the lights went out. Is Tony Khan booking this? The lights came back up and Tama Tonga was in the ring to clean house. The numbers got the better of him, but El Desperado came running to help out! Gun Stun to Evil! Pinche Loco to Sho! Tama rolled referee Red Shoes back into the ring as Narita tried to flee again.

Umino caught Narita and hit a half-and-half suplex for a very near fall. His Death Rider attempt was turned into a sleeper by Narita. The sleeper was transitioned into a high-angle northern lights for a very near fall. Narita went back to the sleeper, he tried Souled Out but Umino hit a SICK roaring elbow that must have rattled some teeth. A spinout Death Rider got a two-count. Blaze Blade followed up by a more traditional Death Rider got the win for Umino.

WINNER: Shota Umino via pinfall in 34:00. (****1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Understand the significance here. Two of New Japan’s next generation had a 35-minute main event war on the same card as Kazuchika Okada’s final Korakuen Hall match. That’s absolutely massive. My rating here takes into account the build, of which I was a massive fan, and the way the match keyed perfectly off the ongoing issue between the two. If not for the fact that Umino has recently fought Will Ospreay, I would say this was the best match of each of their careers so far. )

– After the match, Desperado got on this mic. He said that Sho wanted a title shot, but he hadn’t earned one. He would give Sho a singles match, and he wanted his mask back. Tama Tonga took the mic and said he wanted Shota Umino to kick Evil’s ass and take the Never Openweight title. He thanked the fans, told them and Umino that he loved them, and left the ring. Umino agreed to Tama’s request, then thanked him and Desperado. He said that some people weren’t sure whether New Japan would be OK without “these guys.” But he would be the New Ace of New Japan. Don’t take your eyes off him. Wow.

Final thoughts: That main event outdid all my expectations. The last two matches were the real selling points, and much of the rest is skippable, but you owe it to yourself to see Fujita’s arrival as a breakout star and the proof that Narita and Umino will be just fine filling some mighty big shoes.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Thanks for joining us!

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