NJPW Battle in the Valley Report: Kazuchika Okada retains, Mercedes Monè wins title

Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and KAIRI vs. Mercedes Monè defend IWGP Championships in Double Main Events at San Jose Civic Center.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

New Japan returned to the San Jose Civic Center once more for Battle in the Valley 2023. Unfortunately, the English language stream had several hiccups including audio issues and broadcast difficulties during the Buy-In pre-show matches, followed by a nearly 45-minute technical delay for the main card while FITE TV it sorted out. English commentary was led by NJPW STRONG’s Ian Riccaboni and Matt Rehwoldt. 

International viewers were eventually directed to the Japanese Buy-In Stream. Due to the nature of separate broadcast deliveries between international/English on FITE TV and Japanese PPV on NJPW World (and the inability to switch between the two), the technical delay– while frustrating – was a preferable option to zero broadcast delivery.

NJPW Battle in the Valley: Main Event I: IWGP Women's Championship KAIRI vs Mercedes Mone
Double Main Event I: IWGP Women’s Championship Match: KAIRI vs. Mercedes Mone; Photo Courtesy: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

Spoiler-Free Synopsis

  • 0-1 Opening Buy-In Singles Match (1/20): How much Kratos can an Android Suplex – Worth a Watch
  • 0-2 Opening Buy-In Singles Match (1/20): The Rebel is out Sports Fishing Worth a Watch
  • 8-Man Tag Match (1/20): A STRONG-CMLL-IMPACT Melee – Worth a Watch
  • STRONG Openweight Championship (1/30): Could KENTA put Rosser 2 Sleep? – Recommended 
  • STRONG Openweight Tag Championships (1/30): MCMG vs. WCWC Alphabet Soup Frenzy – Recommended
  • Loser Leaves NJPW Match (1/30): Kingston doesn’t like sneaky loopholes – Highly Recommended
  • ‘Filthy Rules’ Singles Match (1/30): Bring Your Own Forbidden Door – Recommended
  • NJPW World Television Championship (1/15): Do Wild Rhinos Kneel? – Recommended
  • Double Main Event I: IWGP Women’s Championship (1/60): An Emotional, Overdue In-Ring Reunion – Highly Recommended
  • Double Main Event II: IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1/60): For the first time in the US since 2019… – Highly Recommended

0-1 Opening Buy-In Singles Match (1/20): Alex Coughlin defeated JR Kratos (10:07) – German Suplex

Glad to see Alex Coughlin continue to suplex the heaviest wrestlers possible. Would like to see him move past the fight forever cycle with JR Kratos, possibly moving on to Tom Lawlor or the rest of Team Filthy. Had to go back and watch it with Japanese commentary as the English stream had no audio. Now that Coughlin has graduated, if he isn’t regularly competing in Japan, I would hope that NJPW STRONG gives him a much larger platform, including a bigger spotlight outside of suplexing the heavies. They have the technology!!

What’s Next

  • Alex Coughlin: Without a berth in the New Japan Cup, I would like to see Coughlin in the queue for the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship or the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship.
  • JR Kratos: So long as Team Filthy remains intact, Kratos will always be looming in the shadows.

0-2 Opening Buy-In Singles Match (1/20): David Finlay defeated Bobby Fish (10:06) – Trash Panda

Good grief it has felt like a hot second since we’ve seen David Finlay in a New Japan ring, even though he is still in NJPW. This was a great warm-up for Finlay heading back to Japan for the New Japan Cup after Fantastica Mania. Since separating from Juice, The Rebel has been able to show a bit more grit and personality and distance himself from his plucky babyface persona. I am hoping that maybe 2023 might be a year that we see him finally get his flowers and the push he has certainly earned.

What’s Next

  • David Finlay: The Rebel will meet Tomohiro Ishii in the first round of the New Japan Cup on March 6th. Wouldn’t mind seeing him seek out vengeance against KENTA and go after the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship, especially after their dash for the NJC USA 2020 and the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship contract. Or a nice deep cut and set his sights on Kenny Omega and the IWGP US Championship because he’s previously challenged Lance Archer, Jay White, and Will Ospreay, coming up empty-handed and increasingly frustrated over time. Keep him and Juice Robinson apart for now. 

8-Man Tag Match (1/20): KUSHIDA, Volador Jr., Kevin Knight & The DKC defeated Adrian Quest, Josh Alexander, Mascara Dorada & Rocky Romero (10:07) – with Kevin Knight pinning Adrian Quest after a spike DDT

Ten minutes of fast-paced 8-man tag action which highlights the ongoings of NJPW STRONG, Impact, and CMLL and what could potentially be on the horizon for the Roads to Fantastica Mania and Multiverse United in Los Angeles. A great teaser to get folks on board for the return of FanMania as well as hooking in newer viewers into NJPW STRONG.

What’s Next

  • Rocky Romero may have his hands full in the near future as Volador, Jr expressed his interest to reclaim the NWA World Historic Welterweight Championship, which Romero won in January by defeating Volador, Jr for the title.
  • Kevin Knight has an idea of what his next move is, but he isn’t tipping his hand early. The DKC also seems to have graduated from the LA Dojo Young Lion ranks with new karate-inspired gear. 
  • KUSHIDA has a full dance card as next week at IMPACT’s No Surrender, he reunites with Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin as Time Machine against Bullet Club’s KENTA, Ace Austin, and Chris Bey. At IMPACT x NJPW: Multiverse United The TimeSplitter will meet current IMPACT World Champion Josh Alexander in singles competition.
  • Josh Alexander will defend the IMPACT World Championship against Rich Swann at No Surrender (2/24) in Las Vegas.

STRONG Openweight Championship (1/30): KENTA defeated Fred Rosser © (16:31) – Go 2 Sleep/Pin; Second Champion’s eighth defense 

What I have loved about Fred Rosser and Tom Lawlor as STRONG Openweight Champions, is both were given a solid list of credible contenders and lengthy runs with the championship with a consistent defense schedule. This is by far one of the most stable championships in the entire company, which has been one of my personal favorite things about the STRONG brand. While my hopes for Ren Narita as NJPW Strong Openweight Champion went unfulfilled, I was happy to see KENTA finally thrown into the mix.

Since leaving WWE, Rosser has carved out a brand new identity in NJPW, while KENTA’s joining of the company allowed him to reclaim a lot of what made him an international superstar in the first place. Knowing the sheer amount of energy and passion that Rosser has put into the NJPW STRONG brand throughout his time really drew me in and he is one of my favorite parts of the American branch, especially because he is a babyface that doesn’t sit around baffled as to why bad things keep happening to him. He takes action and refuses to suffer any fools who dare show up with shenanigans. KENTA made the perfect foil because while he does lean into the cheeky showboating and cheating tactics, by and large, he does it alone despite being a member of Bullet Club. It’s rare to see someone interfere in his matches. 

Yet, the moment the referee was knocked down, I had an inkling that this would be one of those unicorn moments where someone from BC decides to assist in the championship procurement process. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the usual Bullet Club suspects like El Phantasmo or Gedo (who Jay specifically told to stay in Japan) nor was it Ace Austin or Chris Bey who is tagging with KENTA next weekend in IMPACT. A rare, wild Juice Robinson decided to drop by on his way to the laundromat with a fist full of quarters. Fans were expecting Okada and Mone to make it rain in San Jose, but Robinson decided to make it hail just for Fred Rosser. This allowed KENTA the opportunity to put a little extra grime on that Go 2 Sleep for Rosser, potentially sending a special, playful message to a guest in the crowd as well.

KENTA makes history as the first Japanese NJPW STRONG Openweight Champion. Given his consistent time in NJPW STRONG, especially his regular traveling to Japan and his heavy promotion of the IWGP US Championship, including going after Jon Moxley in AEW and defending the contract and later the Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, this is a deliciously savvy choice. 

It is my hope that KENTA will not spirit the championship away to Japan, but make those regularly scheduled championship defenses solely at the STRONG LIVE events. Bringing it to Japan is great and showing it off? Sure thing. Yet my hope is that KENTA’s MO forces potential challengers to pack their bags and fly to NJPW of America to prove how badly they want a STRONG championship match. I dare KENTA to refuse all defenses in Japan, making it something special for the NJPW STRONG brand. Defending other NJPW IWGP/NEVER titles on STRONG and international shows are great to give audiences outside Japan a more authentic feel, but keep STRONG Championship exclusive and elusive.

What’s Next

  • KENTA: The Third NJPW STRONG Openweight Champion will meet the winner of SANADA/TAICHI in the New Japan Cup on March 11th. With the rebrand of the STRONG concept and production, it’s my hope that there will be a scramble for challengers and an influx, especially from Japan queueing up. Just for kicks, could someone get Naomichi Marufuji to come by and challenge for it? He’s celebrating 25 years of wrestling this year.  
  • Fred Rosser: The NJPW STRONG mainstay’s path is uncertain at this time, but I’m fairly certain Mr. No Days Off is already back at work cooking up his next move. However, with Juice Robinson sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, I feel like Robinson might need to scrap together an action plan quickly. 

STRONG Openweight Tag Championships (1/30): MCMG © (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin) defeated WCWC (Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs) (9:21) – with Sabin pinning Nelson

Shelley and Sabin have their double champ vibes going as they enter the match as NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Champs and IMPACT Tag Champs, so the odds were definitely not in favor of Nelson and Isaacs. While this match was the shortest on the entire card, I am relieved they had close to ten minutes of frenzied, super junior-paced wrestling fun. While Team Filthy is known for their… ‘lighthearted clownery’ in the ring at times, it was refreshing to see a more focused WCWC, especially against a decorated veteran team like MCMG. 

Admittedly, I am behind on my NJPW STRONG queue, but I have a feeling that WCWC is rocked up in some new gear for these festivities. I am curious to know the story behind the design choices. Please keep in mind that the last time I saw Team Filthy wrestle live and up close was at Rumble on 44th Street in October, and the image of them dressed as members of the Catholic Church… is still burned vividly into my brain. I would like to see where the chase for the STRONG Tag Championships takes MCMG and what the journey forward for WCWC looks like.

What’s Next

  • MCMG: Shelley & Sabin team up with their favorite tag partner KUSHIDA next weekend as Time Machine to meet Ace Austin, Chris Bey & KENTA at IMPACT’s No Surrender. Wouldn’t mind seeing Time Machine versus STRONG STYLE for the NEVER 6-Man Championships, especially given the trios’ connection with NJPW. 
  • WCWC: As part of Team Filthy and long-time members of the NJPW STRONG roster, I feel it isn’t a matter of IF, but WHEN with regards to Nelson and Isaacs eventually becoming STRONG Tag Team Champions. I would like them to clear this hurdle first before potentially being thrown into the IWGP Tag picture. I still haven’t figured out if they are Juniors or Heavyweights, so eventually let them try both. Why not? 

Loser Leaves NEW JAPAN (1/30): Eddie Kingston defeated Jay White (19:07) – with a Northern Lights Bomb/Pin

Earlier this week, the stakes were raised for this special singles’ match as during Jay White’s interview with Wrestling Observer Radio LIVE with Bryan Alvarez, Eddie Kingston called into the show. With less than three days left, the match was rebranded as a Loser Leaves NJPW match. This would be followed up with a statement being issued that Bullet Club was barred from ringside and any moves would cost Jay White the match.

Kingston and White were able to have twenty minutes to make up for the match they weren’t able to have while Jay was IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, and it was a solid one. With everything Jay accomplished in the years since his return from an excursion, short of winning the IWGP Tag Titles and the NEVER 6-Man Championships, there wasn’t really anything left for Jay White in Japan. The same with NJPW STRONG. He was IWGP US Heavyweight Champion before there was even a proper American touring brand. With his green card/visa situation in 2020, he took NJPW STRONG by storm, especially when he was NEVER Openweight Champion. Again, Jay White came home to New Japan plenty of times with his shield. In the vein of 300, it was time he came home on it, so as to make room for someone else to thrive.  

What I hadn’t expected in this match was the finish. The very clean, definitive, staring up at the blinding lights of the venue finish for Switchblade Jay White. I expected something to cost him the match, particularly with the Bullet Club banned from ringside stipulation because since when does BC ever listen to rules when it goes against what is best for Bullet Club? Gedo still shows up despite Jay telling him to remain in Japan… Juice Robinson having an encore performance to help out his former fellow Young Lion turned BC stablemate… Someone. Anyone. Even just to stand on the stage threatening something. 

It wasn’t until Kingston took his leave, and Jay was given the mic to address the crowd, the situation took another unexpected turn with the sneak attack from David Finlay. While San Jose tried booing him out of the building, David had what might be his most authentic, raw promo I’ve ever heard to date. Over the last ten years, Finlay saw others come into the company well after him and skyrocket to immediate success, while he was forced to toil and work twice as hard for a fraction of the spotlight or title picture scene. Much like SHO and Juice, it looks like Finlay has finally had his fill of constantly standing in the shadow of someone else, and much like Jay and Ospreay pinning everything on Okada, Finlay has selected Jay as the common denominator and the lightning rod for his bottled up rage. 

However, with the caveat that Jay can no longer work in NJPW, the question turns into, “this simply can’t be the end, right? It has to be the beginning of something new, right?” It is possible that depending on where and when Jay’s next chapter begins, we could look forward to Jay finding a loophole to keep his foothold in New Japan (or at least finishing up this new line item of unfinished business), like potentially showing up in IMPACT Wrestling over the next month or so, leading up to the IMPACT/NJPW show. Had the match ended with Bullet Club showing up in defiance to cost Jay the match; continuing their time-honored tradition of unceremoniously deposing their leader and installing Finlay as the new frontman, I would have felt a bit more closure. 

I am glad that Jay had a proper send-off in Japan with the fist bump to Tanahashi and the rousing ovation from the crowd in Osaka. That moment was the start of his face turn, and Finlay attacking him solidified it, as he was left to fend for himself without the numbers of BC behind him. I didn’t think he needed more beyond this match to close the NJPW STRONG loophole. However, with NJPW’s working relationships with IMPACT Wrestling, and Eddie Kingston’s home promotion of AEW, will there be lingering threats to tie up or simply Switchblade-shaped tatters left in the fabric of NJPW?

What’s Next

  • Jay White: First Japan. Now all of New Japan. Will he find loopholes? What about the metaphorical Molotov Cocktail that Finlay just smashed over Jay’s head? We’re just going to have to sit and wait because you know The Catalyst of Professional Wrestling does his best to always dictate the pace of everything. When he’s ready, he’ll resurface. 
  • Eddie Kingston: Kingston gets to keep his toe in the Forbidden Door as a fan favorite in NJPW STRONG. As for the AEW and independent side, keep your eyes on POST Wrestling for all the great folks who cover those promotions.  
  • David Finlay Part II: He’s heading back to Japan, but with this new, edgier, angrier tear, does he still fit into Hontai? Or could we see him defecting to a group like STRONG STYLE? Or possibly get his own group in STRONG instead? Where does this version of Finlay want to be?

‘Filthy Rules’ Singles Match (1/30): Tom Lawlor defeated Homicide (16:22) – via Referee Stoppage 

A Bloodsport approach with no ropes and MMA gloves, yet a fantastically filthy twist with plenty of weapons around and underneath the ring. I know it’s a street fight, but I really cackled at the sight of a door being brought out from under the ring. I should have expected it, especially because they tend to break cleaner than tables, but I always get concerned when items in matches utilize the guard railing as a bolster because, unlike Japan, the front rows of seats are usually rather close OR there is a lack of ring crew, so they slide all over the place. 

I enjoyed the trash-talking by Lawlor to the commentary team. It was a fun match, but again, the ladder head butt drop gave me flashbacks of KENTA/Tanahashi. I was surprised at the distinct lack of Team Filthy involvement, which given the stipulations, could have made the match a little more chaotic in a good way. I liked the referee stoppage, but I wish the match was a smidge shorter, given the 45-minute show delay. 

What’s Next

  • Tom Lawlor: I’m sure his NJPW dance card will remain full in the months to come. Team Filthy are one of the most beloved parts of NJPW STRONG. I’m hoping that Lawlor sitting out of the NJC means he’s coming back for the G1 this year. Looking forward to seeing which Mania Week shows he crops up at. 

NJPW World Television Championship (1/15): Zack Sabre, Jr © defeated Clark Connors (14:06) – via submission/arm bar

After Connors’ run with Ryusuke Taguchi as Wild Hips during Super Junior Tag League late last year, I was pleasantly surprised to see him step up to the challenge that is Zack Sabre, Jr. This more focused, serious Clark reminded me of when he was LA Dojo Young Lion, Clark Connors. Less wild, milder in the best possible way. His intensity and back-to-basics approach reminded me why he was one of the core individuals selected to start the LA Dojo with Shibata five years ago. I do love the fun-loving Wild Rhino, but this was a solid reminder of what a star he could become, especially with the impending departure of Jay White. 

I love Zack with this championship, and not just because he’s finally got one, but how he drives people to must-see matches in less than fifteen minutes. I hope they keep lining up a diverse batch of contenders because I have yet to see a match of Zack’s in this NJPW TV series, that I haven’t liked. While his challengers are very different from one person to the next, he’s quickly making this championship one people need to keep up with, because he’s keeping everyone talking about it.  

What’s Next

  • ZSJ: The Frontman of TMDK and Third NJPW STRONG Openweight Champion will meet the winner of SANADA/TAICHI in the New Japan Cup on March 11th. After the match, Kevin Knight met ZSJ on the ramp to cement his spot at the front of the queue. However, no official announcement yet. Might have to wait until after the NJC for this to take place.  
  • Clark Connors: It’s back to the drawing board for Clark, but I don’t think he’ll be down for too long. Should Best of the Super Juniors return in May, I am certain he is on the shortlist for potential entrants. There is also a time before the All-Star Junior Festival on 3/1 as the entire participant list and match card won’t be revealed until 2/25.

Double Main Event I: IWGP Women’s Championship (1/60): Mercedes Monè defeated KAIRI © (26:47) – Moneymaker/Pin; Inaugural Champion’s second defense

Before I unpack the match, I definitely need to break down Mercedes’ homage to Hana Kimura, especially given the timing. It was around this time in 2020, in the wake of STARDOM’s first exhibition match in the Tokyo Dome, that Hana Kimura was also taping episodes of the Netflix/Fuji TV reality TV series, Terrace House. Kimura would wear this light blue version for NO PEOPLE GATE (3/8/2020), STARDOM’s empty arena show as a result of her Tokyo Dome version getting ruined in the taping of Terrace House. Several weeks later, “The Costume Incident” aired (3/31/2020), triggering the unfortunate chain of events leading to Kimura’s passing on May 23, 2020. 

On her official blog, Jungle Kyona thanked Mercedes for honoring Hana’s memory with her costume in a New Japan ring, as Hana was a massive Sasha Banks fan. Kyona included photographs of her time with Kimura in the Tokyo Cyber Squad. The version of the costume included in the blog post and in which Mone’s costume is modeled is the light blue version, which became Kimura’s signature look as leader of TCS. Kimura also wore this version of her costume in the STARDOM dark match at G1 Supercard in NYC’s Madison Square Garden (4/6/2019). Hana’s mother, Kyoko Kimura, also personally thanked Mercedes for honoring her daughter’s memory. 

Monè’s interpretation of Hana’s signature look, including the gas mask, fuzzy boot covers, pleated cape, and peek-a-boo powder pink bob was tasteful and beautifully designed. However, it wasn’t until KAIRI started making her entrance that the gravity of the moment hit me. When Hana passed, KAIRI was still living here in the United States, working in WWE alongside Mercedes. The last time The Pirate Queen wrestled Hana Kimura was in April 2017 during her final reign as Wonder of STARDOM champion, just prior to her departure for WWE.

Much like Jungle Kyona’s return match against Kyoko Kimura at the second Hana Kimura Memorial Show: BAGUS! (5/23/2022), KAIRI versus Mercedes has a third contender in the spirit of Hana. That’s when the emotions hit me, completely taking my breath away. Ian Riccaboni on the call for this particular match put me in tears, knowing how beloved Hana was to the ROH family. The third Hana Kimura Memorial Show: PINX is scheduled for 5/23/23 at Korakuen Hall.

Now. That being said, this match is what should be expected when it comes to the IWGP Women’s Championship. Much like the IWGP Women’s Championship Tournament Finals of KAIRI vs. Mayu Iwatani at Historic X-Over (11/20/2022), it was an absolute showstopper, making KAIRI’s first defense against Tam Nakano sting just a tiny bit more because it opened back up the wound of “what could and should have been” with regard to that history-making first defense in the Tokyo Dome. I am thankful that KAIRI and Mercedes were given time to have their first match in nearly three years, especially with Monè being away from the ring for nine months and KAIRI returning to the US after her WWE departure. 

What I love about these incarnations of KAIRI and Mercedes, is they have taken the best parts of their previous characters and further evolved them. Without the restrictions of having to tone things down for the sake of WWE TV, especially for fear of outshining the men’s match, both women were given permission to let loose without fear of repercussions for threatening Okada/Tanahashi as the show-closing second main event. 

Monè leaned heavily into her heel persona, despite trying to contain all her happy, very relatable fangirl feelings about finally writing the first chapter of her new life post-WWE. KAIRI being her first opponent after hiatus and her bridge to Japan was the best choice honestly because KAIRI could temper the residual WWE habits while driving their match toward a more Japanese strong-style delivery. Yes, I am fully aware of Mercedes’ love of Japan and Japanese wrestling, but after the Tokyo Dome debut, I had my reservations about this entire situation, especially with how heavily Monè has been promoted in comparison to KAIRI as the actual champion.

I had very little hope that KAIRI would remain champion, especially when the venue immediately sold out upon the announcement of their match and how much pomp and circumstance Mercedes has received since December. I like that they let Mercedes use basically every single tactic from a referee bump to a table spot to wear KAIRI down, so even when KAIRI eventually lost, she didn’t get squashed or look weak in defeat. I am happy that the guests in attendance did get to see the Cutlass (spinning back fist), the Anchor, and the Insane Elbow Drop (even though it wasn’t successful) because now that KAIRI isn’t the champion, who knows when we’ll get another opportunity to see her wrestle outside of Japan. KAIRI and Mercedes’ backstage comments were complementary of one another, and I am glad they could have this match together. Oh, and don’t think that Bayley-to-Belly suplex went unnoticed, Madame CEO Monè. 

Someone kindly gives Mercedes the rundown on the seemingly bulletproof durability of Japanese tables. While seeing KAIRI powerbomb her through a standard issue American one was immensely therapeutic, remembering how light she is and how she’s unintentionally bounced off tables before, I worry about her experiencing the superior construction of Japanese office furniture in a wrestling setting. Though, I wouldn’t be mad seeing her and Giulia try to destroy each other at some point. Just keep the tables out of it. 

What’s Next 

  • Mercedes Monè: The Second IWGP Women’s Champion has no challengers or announced next show dates at this time. With IMPACT x NJPW Multiverse United at the end of next month, I wouldn’t be mad at seeing the five-time IMPACT Knockouts Champion Mickie James as a potential contender, especially with how supportive she is as a woman in wrestling.  
  • KAIRI: The Pirate Queen is charting a course for home with her coffers a little lighter, but having her first match in the USA in front of a wild crowd since her departure from WWE, feels like the send-off she never had during the height of the pandemic/Thunder Dome Era of WWE. She currently has no set opponents or appearances scheduled.

Double Main Event II: IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1/60): Kazuchika Okada © defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi (21:08) – Cobra Flowsion/Rainmaker/Pin; Sixth Champion’s second defense

When we last saw Hiroshi Tanahashi, he was embroiled in his forever feud with KENTA in Osaka at New Beginning last Saturday. Earlier in the day, a rogue protein bar plucked out three of his veneers, leaving the consummate professional to wrestle his opponent with a very visible gap between his teeth.  For the main event, Tanahashi joined Japanese commentary to watch Okada make his first IWGP World Heavyweight Championship defense against Shingo Takagi. During his victory address, Okada called out Tanahashi as the desired Ex-Champion to become X in the San Jose match-up. Okada demanded that The Ace comes at him with whatever he’s got left, and Tanahashi suggested, maybe he’d finally get a little payback for The Rainmaker Shock eleven years ago.

The last time international fans were blessed by the icon singles match-up of Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, it was the opening night of the G1 Climax in Dallas Texas. Four. Years. Ago. The opportunities for the international venues to get IWGP World Championship matches, let alone a glimpse at one of the company’s most iconic rivalries in the modern NJPW era, truly is a treat. The pressure was on Tanahashi because Okada does what Okada always does and makes up special rules along the way. In this case, should Tanahashi fail, he won’t be allowed to challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship as long as Okada is champion. Personally, I’m fine with that because there certainly is no shortage of championships within NJPW currently.

With the influx of new fans, this was a sampler of the greatest hits of The Ace and The Rainmaker. It was a good match that didn’t require much build prior to it given their storied history together. Well before Okada retained against Takagi last week, the building had sold out. I know some may think Okada/Tanahashi is going back to the well of Old Reliable one too many times, and while I liked their G1 match in 2019 better, this match served a different purpose, especially for those joining the fandom for the first time. It’s NJPW History 101.

Plus, Battle in the Valley was sandwiched between a defense last weekend, and Okada’s long-awaited singles match with Kaito Kiyomiya at Keiji Muto’s Retirement Show on Tuesday. Tanahashi will join a very extensive celebrity commentary panel for the show, where I am sure they will discuss this match. For a split second, I wondered “What If…” The Ace Shock happened, and Okada was suddenly forced to convince Kiyomiya to put up the GHC Championship, so Okada had a reason to show up at the Tokyo Dome, unlike his skipping out on the press conference to go eat Korean barbecue. However, with the Tokyo Dome Muto show on Tuesday and the Anniversary Show (3/6) and Antonio Inoki Farewell (3/7), I think they wanted Okada to hang onto the championship a little longer.

What’s Next

  • Kazuchika Okada: The Rainmaker is scheduled to face Kaito Kiyomiya on Tuesday at Keiji Muto’s Retirement Show at the Tokyo Dome. Unless there is a defense at the finals of the New Japan Cup, there currently isn’t another challenger slated for Okada just yet. With Mercedes joining Okada after the show, I would love to see if Utami Hayashishita could have her mixed match dreams come true if The Currency Collective of The Rainmaker & The MoneMaker team up… and she could tag with Tetsuya Naito. Oh, Fantasy Booking fun! 
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi will enjoy the long-awaited revival of Fantastica Mania starting on 2/22 as CMLL finally returns in full force to Japan. Currently, there is an Ace-sized hole in the New Japan Cup brackets, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plans in place for Tanahashi. With KENTA as the latest NJPW STRONG Openweight Champion, they could be on a collision course sooner rather than later. Okada’s post-match suggestion that the Mega Aces reunite their dream tag team to go after IWGP Tag Team Championships. Could be a fun time. Tanahashi is being featured in the promotional graphics for the Collision shows in April.  

Tanahashi and Okada commemorated their time in San Jose by having breakfast together for the FIRST TIME EVER.

What’s Next?

New Japan Cup

Complete tournament reveal (c) NJPW

New Japan Cup Opener (3/5) Korakuen Hall (and multiple venues 3/8-21)

  • March 5: SANADA vs. Taichi (winner faces KENTA on 3/11)
  • March 5: Tetsuya Naito vs. El Phantasmo (winner faces Chase Owens on 3/11)
  • March 6: David Finlay vs. Tomohiro Ishii (winner faces Great O-Khan on 3/15)
  • March 6: Shota Umino vs. Yujiro Takahashi (winner faces Zack Sabre Jr. on 3/15)
  • March 8: Ren Narita vs. EVIL (winner faces Jeff Cobb on 3/13)
  • March 8: Toru Yano vs. Mark Davis (winner faces Will Ospreay on 3/13)
  • March 10: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kyle Fletcher (winner faces Hirooki Goto on 3/12)
  • March 10: Shingo Takagi vs. Aaron Henare (winner faces Tama Tonga on 3/12)

New Japan Cup Finals (3/21) Aore Niigata

  • IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi © vs. Lio Rush
  • New Japan Cup 2023 Finals: Winner A vs. Winner B

2023 Domestic Schedule

  • NJPW x CMLL Fantastica Mania 2023 (2/22-28) – multiple venues
  • All-Star Junior Festival 2023 (3/1) Korakuen Hall 
  • New Japan Cup Opener (3/5) Korakuen Hall (and multiple venues 3/8-21)
  • New Japan Cup Finals (3/21) Aore Niigata
  • Anniversary Show (3/6) Ota Ward Gymnasium
  • Antonio Inoki Final Farewell (3/7) Ryogoku Sumo Hall
  • Sakura Genesis 2023 (4/8) Ryogoku Sumo Hall
    • Road to Sakura Genesis 2023 (multiple venues 4/1-7)
  • Wrestling Dontaku 2023 (5/3) Fukuoka International Center
    • Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2023 (multiple venues 4/20-21; 23-27; 4/30-5/1)
    • Hirooki Goto’s 20th Anniversary Show (4/22) Sports Center, Mie Prefecture 
    • Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni (4/29) Kagoshima

2023 NJPW STRONG Live/International Schedule

  • IMPACT x NJPW: Multiverse United (3/30) Globe Theatre, Los Angeles, CA – streaming on Fite+ at 8PM US Pacific Time; Full Card TBA
    • Singles Match: Josh Alexander (Impact) vs. KUSHIDA (NJPW)
    • Singles Match: Speedball Mike Bailey (Impact) vs. Will Ospreay (NJPW)
    • Singles Match: Moose (Impact) vs. Jeff Cobb (NJPW)
  • Capital Collison (4/15) Entertainment & Sports Arena, Washington, DC
  • Collision in Philadelphia (4/16) 2300 Arena, Philadelphia, PA

We’ll keep you POSTed on all the upcoming ongoings in NJPW and STARDOM! So keep an eye for Dream Slam Monthly and other coverage soon!

About Karen Peterson 108 Articles
Occasionally drops by wrestling podcasts, but remains rather elusive. Joined the Japanese wrestling fan scene in summer 2017, and continues to work on bridging the language gap between fans. Outside of wrestling, she’s a dog mom, perpetual Japanese learner, and when conditions permit, world traveler. Never skips dessert.