When your first PPV is a sure fire contender for Wrestling Event of the Year, like Wrestle Kingdom 9 was for New Japan Pro Wrestling, it sets a pretty tough precedent to be gauged on. Rather than saving best for last, NJPW unleashed their very best at the dawn of the New Year, creating a pretty tough act to follow up. Of course, the two events that took place on February 11 and 14, collectively and aptly known as New Beginning, marked a pretty important place in Japanese wrestling history. New Beginning was never going to be the same excess grandeur as Wrestle Kingdom 9, but as the name puts it so eloquently, the events that took place on 11th and 14th February respectively marked the beginning of something new, for better or for worse.
The first event held on 11th February took place in Osaka, main evented by a battle for the prestigious IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Hiroshi Tanahashi was quite literally on top of the wrestling world, defeating The Rainmaker last month in what was the greatest fight of his career. It was almost written in the stars that Okada would walk away as the champion of champions at Wrestle Kingdom 9, but Tanahashi pulled out an unworldly offence to prove that he was destined to remain champion. However, on that same night at Wrestle Kingdom 9, antagonist and Bullet Club leader AJ Styles would exhibit his dominance with a hard-fought champion calibre win over Naito. With two men who were on top, it only made sense for AJ Styles and Tanahashi to battle over the IWGP Heavyweight title. The national hero versus the most sinister man and force in Japanese wrestling today, it was really inevitable.
Tanahashi vs AJ Styles at Osaka was a match that was quite simply the exact opposite of last month’s historic heavyweight title bout. The main event at Osaka wasn’t pretty, it felt like a forgone conclusion, it felt like watching a losing effort, despite Tanahashi taking out the entirety of the Bullet Club faction at one point during the match. AJ Styles went in as a man with everything to gain and nothing to lose, with every advantage and ace up his sleeve, but damn it Tanahashi went down swinging. It was shocking, it was heart breaking, and for better or for worse the championship picture has changed.
The second part of the New Beginning took place on 14th February in Sendai was main evented by the IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match. Who better to showcase on Valentine’s Day than the enigma who transcends all sexual boundaries: The IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura. His challenger in Sendai was Yuji Nagata, a man who really brought it to the champion. Now the thing about the IWGP Intercontinental title is that it’s honestly just as prestigious as the Heavyweight belt, which is why any match over that title is so important. Nagata was like a wrestling machine possessed by the spirit of a demonic wrestling god, his offence was downright scary and relentless, and he always seemed to have Nakamura grounded with submissions that he locked on with the same strength as an anaconda. Still, Nakamura is a man who has knees that can help him in any situation, even more so in this epic bought where he hit Nagata square in the head with his knee, whilst standing by the way, from a suprise point-black range. Shinsuke Nakamura is awesome, Shinsuke Nakamura is a wrestling demi-god.
Heartbreak and triumph go hand in hand in pro wrestling, and NJPW’s New Beginning showcased just that.
*screenshots provided by Jeremy Peeples (@Jeremy_Peeples)