New Japan Pro Wrestling has been on an upward trend over the last few years, gaining in global popularity as their streaming service, NJPW World, has become more accessible and the quality of wrestling has taken off.
Coming off the back of a massively entertaining Wrestle Kingdom 12, New Beginning saw several title changes and shockwaves ripple though America's favorite t-shirt brand.
New leader of Bullet Club?
Prince Devitt and AJ Styles were unceremoniously booted from the top of Bullet Club by their subordinates. On Sunday morning it seems as if the roiling tension between Cody and Kenny Omega finally boiled over.
After the Young Bucks lost to Roppongi 3K and Matt Jackson sold the hell out of his back once again and Kenny Omega surprisingly lost his US title to New Japan's latest star Jay White, the famous faction seemed to once again make a move on its leader.
The tease we got at New Year Dash was flipped on its head as this time. Hangman Page came out to challenge White, but Kenny seemed upset, ripping the belt from Page's hands and giving it to White, who made a hasty retreat from the approaching Bullet Club.
Cody and Marty Scurll came down to argue for Page's right to challenge, then the Bucks came down. Things got heated and Kenny ended up shoving the injured Matt Jackson down. Cue the Bucks exiting the ring and leaving Kenny to Cody's gang. After seemingly making peace, Cody hit Kenny with the Cross Rhodes and readied to waffle the Bullet Club leader with a chair when Kota Ibushi returned the favor from New Year Dash and made the save. After a protracted back-and-forth the two former teammates hugged and went to the back.
While White's title win shocked everyone, including Kazuchika Okada who was on commentary, it wasn't the story. Cody and Kenny finally came to blows. Kenny and Ibushi finally hugged it out. It leaves a lot of interesting directions for Bullet Club to go in.
Cody taking over would return the faction to full heels. Kenny has been at worst a gray wrestler of late, with his popularity limiting his heel tactics, and the same goes for the Young Bucks and even Scurll. The factions roots are as heel gaijin, and Cody would return them to that.
However, there is no doubt that New Japan's popularity in the west has a lot to do with the brilliance of Omega, the Bucks, and Bullet Club. Their shirts fly off the shelves and are the most common shirt at any wrestling show, including WWE ones. Giving up that Golden Goose is not likely to appeal to many, but splitting The Elite from Bullet Club would make a lot of sense too.
The future is very uncertain right now, but a battle between Kenny and Cody for control of Bullet Club at the All In show in September is the most likely result.
Minoru Suzuki isn't just one of the scariest men alive, he is one of the very best wrestlers in the world. His match with Hirooki Goto at Wrestle Kingdom was a show-stealer for a lot of fans, and while he lost his NEVER Openweight title and his signature hair it opened the door for him to go after bigger fish. New Year Dash saw him attack Hiroshi Tanahashi viciously, and their match on Saturday followed a similar vein, with Suzuki torturing Tanahashi as the Ace resisted and tried to fight back from underneath.
A year-plus of injuries took their toll though, and eventually Red Shoes had no choice but to end the match, giving Minoru Suzuki and Suzuki-gun their biggest title win since their return to NJPW.
Tanahashi losing is always a surprise, but it gives him a chance to go away and get his injuries sorted out. Hopefully we won't see the Ace again until the G1, and in the mean time Minoru seems set to rule the roost with the Intercontinental title. Togi Makabe seems set to be the next man up after spending a lot of time being laughed at on commentary by Suzuki.
Nothing but net
The two nights in Sapporo were a roaring success for New Japan, and Osaka on February 10 is likely to be as well. The questions coming from this weekend are going to ripple out through the whole year. Can Jay White establish himself as a top draw after his matches with Tanahashi and Omega? Will anyone be able to stand against Suzuki? Will Bullet Club shatter or come together? New Japan is continuing to set the bar for in-ring work and storytelling, and I can't wait to see where we go from here.
Who do you think should lead the Bullet Club? Let us know in the comments below!