After Fantasticamania wraps, live action returns to NJPW World with a weekend of big matches from Hokkai Kita Yell
Main event- NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto vs Shingo Takagi
Singles record: 1-1
First Championship meeting
After a phenomenal first full year in NJPW saw him become New japan’s ironman with most matches wrestled and most pins scored, Shingo Takagi will seek to build on his first year by setting himself in the singles championship establishment in 2020. His first opportunity has come in the form of Hirooki Goto and the NEVER Openweight Championship, and the Dragon is nothing if not confident.
Scathing comments have come from a Takagi who would do well to remember his defeat to the Fierce Warrior in September last year, after similar bluster saw Shingo claim that anything Goto could do, he could do better. That included a GTR which Goto ate from Takagi on the way to a Shingo victory at New Year Dash!!, all part of a 19-4 record for Takagi and LIJ members over Goto and CHAOS overall. Singles is where it counts however, and it’s there that the two men are evenly matched on paper.
Add to that Goto’s attachment to the NEVER Openweight Championship. Now a five time champion, Goto’s name is tied with Tomohiro Ishii for most reigns, and he arguably has a stronger attachment to the title than anyone else; seven combined defences over his runs more than anyone in history. He will look to build on that number in Sapporo.
7th Match: Tomohiro Ishii vs EVIL
Overall singles record: 3-0 Ishii
Since EVIL returned from excursion as Tetsuya Naito’s first pareja in what would become Los Ingobernables De Japon, he has an 0-3 singles record against Tomohiro Ishii. That record belies a long separation however; after a pair of March 2016 bouts, the two men would go their separate ways until May 2019.
That bout, in the Fukuoka International Center for Dontaku 2019 was a knock down, drag-out affair that had the crowd on their feet, and Ishii off of his for most of the bout. EVIL would work over Ishii’s left knee, and eventually punish the Stone Pitbull with the Scorpion Deathlock, a move made famous by Riki Choshu, passed down directly to his mentor Ishii and indirectly to EVIL, who despite his dark aura, is proud and loyal to his ‘Made in New Japan’ status that in his eyes, makes him the direct heir to Choshu like Strong Style. Despite all that punishment however, it was Ishii rising up and delivering a Vertical Drop Brainbuster that again saw Ishii assert his superiority over the younger EVIL.
In the midst of a freezing Sapporo winter, the only thing we can be sure of from this unpredictable contest is a hotly contested hoss fight.
6th Match: Kazuchika Okada & Jon Moxley vs Suzuki Gun (Taichi & Minoru Suzuki)
There are matches listed that make one nod appreciatively. Ones that cause a smile to appear on the face. Ones that make you instantly stop what you’re doing to run and slap down some money for a ticket. Or matches like this, where one does a double take, blink, rub the eyes, take a minute, have a glass of water, slap oneself in the face, calm down, look again and then do all the above.
Yes, through common Suzuki-Gun enemies, and forthcoming matches that see Taichi tangle with the Rainmaker on Sunday night, and Suzuki face off with the Deathrider with IWGP United States Heavyweight gold at stake on February 9 in Osaka, Kazuchika Okada and Jon Moxley are teaming together.
Just the sight of these two men coexisting is intriguing enough, but there’s also a lot of personal ill will in this match. Taichi will be looking to step up in his home town to make a major statement in one of the biggest matches of his career against Okada, a man he faced and beat in the future Rainmaker’s debut bout and who he insists has been ‘ducking him for 12 years’.
Then Suzuki, who vows to show Moxley real fear in Osaka after the US Champion was ‘scared off by a storm’ in October and ‘scared into changing the rules’ for his Texas Deathmatch with Lance Archer at Wrestle Kingdom. Moxley has a lot of respect for the King, but Suzuki will test his resolve for the first time Saturday.
5th Match: Los Ingobernables De Japon (Tetsuya Naito & SANADA) vs BULLET CLUB (KENTA & Jay White)
Our fifth match of the evening sees a rematch from the main event of New Year Dash!! That January 6 night saw SANADA victorious with a pinfall on Jay WHite, not that you would know from watching the post-match. KENTA and the Switchblade would lay down a vicious beating to Naito and SANADA that was ever more painful to Naito’s faithful; after his history making double championship victory in the Tokyo Dome January 5, El Ingobernable is still to properly bask in the glory with a full ‘De! Ja! Pon!’ chorus.
It was KENTA, with White’s apparent backing, that stopped Naito’s cathartic call, and instantly jumped to the front of the line when it came to championship contenders. Now the most hated man in professional wrestling is looking to seize long in coming glory of his own, the culmination of his journey on February 9 the same place he arrived at former friend Katsuyori Shibata’s behest eight months ago. That, the last stage of a journey mapped by the bridges KENTA has burned along the way, a mentality Jay White has taken to his own success. Should he succeed in putting SANADA ‘back in his place’ by the end of this tour, BULLET CLUB dominance could be unmatched in 2020.
4th Match: Robbie Eagles & Ryu Lee vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
In advance of their meeting on February 9 in Osaka for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, this is the one and only time Ryu Lee and Hiromu Takahashi will lock horns. Of course, as opponents (and after January 5 in the Tokyo Dome, partners), Hiromu and Lee are very familiar indeed with one another, and will pick up where they left off a fateful night in July 2018.
Less familiar are Takahashi and Eagles, but it’s safe to say the Australian star made a lasting impression on the Time Bomb on December 19. Hiromu Takahashi’s 530 day absence due to neck injury came to an end that night, and Hiromu received a hero’s welcome in Korakuen Hall, only for Eagles to score a shocking three count victory. Now Eagles teams with Takahashi’s number one contender, but will be eager to make it known that he has a legitimate claim to next in line.
3rd Match: Ryusuke Taguchi, SHO, YOH & Will Ospreay vs Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Zack Sabre Junior)
The match classical wrestling fans are looking forward to most this weekend sees Zack Sabre Junior and Will Ospreay collide over the British Heavyweight Championship in what will likely be a technical classic. With Desperado and Kanemaru looking to get one more up on IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Champions Roppongi 3K before their Osaka meeting February 9 though, and with DOUKI still bearing a grudge with Taguchi over certain steel pipe transgressions during Fantasticamania, it’s possible that this tag bout will be rather less gentlemanly.
2nd Match: Toa Henare, Tomoaki Honma & Togi makabe vs Yota Tsuji, Manabu Nakanishi & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Manabu Nakanishi continues his road to February 22 retirement in the second match of the evening with his penultimate bout in Sapporo. Nakanishi has carried some success in Hokkaido, especially in recent years, with a 5-1 record in the region since 2015. Nakanishi also knows what it’s like to beat every other competitor in this match; even his teammates here. In this six man, only Makabe can say he’s beaten the former Olympian one on one, and that 2010 G1 group victory the only 1 in a 6-1 record. Nakanishi looks to finish strong up north starting tonight.
1st Match: Yuya Uemura & Tiger Mask vs BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)
The evening kicks off with a Super Junior Tag League rematch between Yuya Uemura & Tiger Mask and former junior tag champions ELP & Ishimori. Tiger Mask looks to continue in his mission to bring Uemura to the next level, and you can expect the Young Lion to give his all against the BC pair; Phantasmo and Ishimori may well look at this as a tune up match, but overconfidence has seen them pay a dear price in the past.