NJPW Road To Wrestle Kingdom 17th December Review

Okada’s on a roll. Credit: NJPW

We’re on the Road to Wrestle Kingdom, every night I’m hugging my IWGP Title. Yea that didn’t work. Anyway, we’re back in New Japan and it’s not for a World Tag League show. Bless the wrestling gods. Nope, it’s the final build-up to the Dome and gosh darn it I’m excited. Let’s dish out some stars.

Shota Umino defeated Tetsuhiro Yagi

Work the knee. Credit: NJPW

There was nothing flashy about this. However, Umino and Yagi both went out there and showed a lot of intensity and passion. They built a story in the short time they had.

Umino was the injured babyface (he came in with his knee wrapped up), and Yagi was the heel willing to take advantage of that. In the early goings, he went after that injury with everything he had. Yet, no matter what he did Umino refused to tap. Showing the kind of babyface fire you’ve got to love. Eventually, he mounted a comeback and picked up the win with a Boston Crab.

Both of these men did great. Yagi was vicious as he took pleasure in ripping Umino’s knee apart. Shota, meanwhile, sold it like a champ. Even during his comeback he never once forgot to grimace as he moved around on that leg.

This wasn’t incredible or blow your mind amazing. What it was, was exciting. These Young Lions have the potential to be great someday, and here you saw the seeds of that.

Verdict: Three Stars

Katsuya Kitamura defeated Ren Narita

Young Kit channels his inner Goldberg. Credit: NJPW

It’s clear that Kitamura is a star. New Japan is high on him, and he’s coming off a fine performance in the World Tag League.

Narita is apparently aware of that as he seemed desperate to make his reputation by taking down the beast. Right from the start, he was looking to be on the front foot, attacking before the bell and displaying a vicious streak. It was a solid tactic, it just didn’t seem to take into account the unbelievable power of Kitamura.

Against the stars of New Japan, Kitamura has to wrestle like a Young Lion and bump around for them. Against his peers, he has none of those limitations. Once he’d shook off Narita’s initial attack, he went on the offensive, and his brutal strength was too much for young Ren. At one point, he seemed to have it in the bag as he locked on the Crab in the centre of the ring, but Narita was unwilling to give up and dragged himself to the ropes.

It was only to be a short reprieve. A few seconds later Kitamura showed off a new move in his arsenal with a picture perfect Jackhammer followed by the pin. This wasn’t as back and forth as the previous match and was designed to make Kitamura look good. However, Narita did enough to make sure he wasn’t overwhelmed by the cult of Young Kit. More solid Young Lion action.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Hirai Kawato defeated Tomoyuki Oka

Poor Kawato. Credit: NJPW

This was another short Young Lion encounter and yet, once again, they did a fantastic job. You can tell that New Japan is beginning to loosen the reigns on the likes of Kawato and Oka. Their move-sets are expanding, and their personalities are becoming more and more defined with every outing.

Here it became clear that while Kawato has a lot going for him, that extra ounce of power in Oka’s game was giving him the advantage. They were evenly matched but as the action continued, it was Oka who was coming out on top. In the closing stretch, he was able to start dishing out suplexes and looked to have it in the bag.

Kawato ain’t no quitter, though. Just as it looked like he was about to spend his evening looking up at the lights, he spotted an opportunity. One roll-up later and he had not only survived Oka’s onslaught. He grabbed himself a win.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time on these three Young Lion matches. The truth is that I find them fascinating. These men are slowly shaping the wrestlers they are going to become, and every time they go out there, you can see them improve. New Japan has a special group on their hands.

Verdict: Three Stars

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Taka Michinoku) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask and Henare

Fly my pretty! Credit: NJPW

Talking of Young Lions, Henare started this match by attacking Suzuki-gun before the bell. It was a nice twist on the formula and continues to suggest that this young man has become a little bit unhinged. That’s what teaming with Makabe will do to you.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long till everything spiled to the outside. It was time for Suzuki-gun shit. It was shortlived but God I wish we could watch a New Japan show where it didn’t play a part.

Once they got back in the ring, this was fine. Tiger Mask seemed in the mood which is always a bit of fun. However, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Eventually, the heels picked up the victory after Liger accidentally spit whisky in Tiger Mask’s eyes.

None of these men are going into Wrestle Kingdom hot, and there’s no reason why they should be.

Verdict: Two Stars

Kota Ibushi and Togi Makabe defeated The Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi and Leo Tonga)

A second later, Leo no longer had a head. Credit: NJPW

Kota Ibushi drew the short straw when they were booking this card.

This wasn’t very good. Ibushi elevates everything he’s in, but even he couldn’t make up for the fact he was on the same team as Makabe (who believe it or not went missing mid-match) and was facing Yujiro and a guy who is greener than all of the previously mentioned Young Lions.

I can’t say it was a disaster. Nothing particularly bad happened, and I do love watching Ibushi knee people in the face. There’s just no real reason to watch this.

Verdict: Two Stars

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi and Takashi Iizuka)

Suzuki’s certainly got into the hair stip. Credit: NJPW

This match proved that Henare is smarter than CHAOS. He knew Suzuki-gun would attack before the bell so got in there first. How has the faction that has been feuding with them all year not figured it out?

Most of the action was a Suzuki-gun brawl, and I hate Suzuki-gun brawls. They’re cheap, full of shortcuts and always go the same way.

The only thing worth paying attention to is what Suzuki and Goto got up to. These two were out to beat each other up and they’re doing a great job of showing that they hate each other. That hatred boiled over into the post-match when Suzuki decided to cut the hair of poor Yagi to make up for being unable to get his hands on Hirooki’s lovely locks. I’m not entirely convinced by the stipulation but New Japan have also banned CHAOS and Suzuki-gun from ringside, so I’m cautiously optimistic it could be decent.

That aside, this was a Suzuki-gun match. We’ve seen it all before.

Verdict: One And A Half Stars

Satoshi Kojima, KUSHIDA and A Masked Horse defeated Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO and YOH)

This was a thing that happened. Credit: NJPW

Tanahashi was meant to be in this but was replaced by Taguchi in a horse mask. Yea, I don’t know know what to say about that.

Despite that oddity, this was a hell of a lot of fun. Five of these men are capable of working at a fast pace while Kojima has those years of experience to fall back on. Even going at half speed – which most of the wrestlers on this card were – they are going to entertain.

Of course, Taguchi did introduce some comedy. Thankfully it added to rather than hindering the match. My one complaint would be questioning the decision to put Kojima over. Out of everyone in this, he’s the one who needs wins the least going into Wrestle Kingdom. Still, no one will remember it come January 4th.

Verdict: Three Stars

The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil, Sanada and Bushi) to win the NEVER Six-Man Titles

Run Bushi! Credit: NJPW

Yes, the NEVER Six Man belts are still around. I believe LIJ are the record title holders now. However, with them having won World Tag League, it was pretty clear what direction this was going in.

I do wonder whether knowing that was what led to my general apathy towards the match. I tried to get into it. It just wasn’t happening. There were a couple of alright moments but on the whole, it was dull. Perhaps it was too close to the WTL Finals for it to stand out.

Despite that, it did what it needed to do, and now the belts are on Bullet Club heading into the big show.

Verdict: Two Stars

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated Los Ingobernables dee Japon (Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi)

Ibushi like selling from Naito. Credit: NJPW

The same tag match that closed out most of World Tag League, now with YOSHI-HASHI replacing Will Ospreay. That’s not an upgrade.

Digs at YOSHI-HASHI aside, this would have been worth it just for the moment where Naito fist-bumped that adorable child. You can’t imagine Okada pulling off anything that cute.

A lot of stuff happened in here and most of it was pretty good, but let’s be honest. The only thing worth caring about is Okada and Naito. This wasn’t some super-hot build-up, however, it was solid. They appear to be trying to inflict as much damage on each other as possible and they’re managing it without giving away any big spots.

Interestingly, it’s Okada who continues to get the better of these encounters and they’re going in hard on his new Cobra Clutch finisher. I can only assume that it’s going to play a big part at Wrestle Kingdom. Okada even went as far as hitting the Rainmaker post-match, after Naito pissed him off by kicking him in the head.

This was good and continued the build towards what will be an incredible main event.

Verdict: Three Stars

Overall Show

They never learn. Credit: NJPW

It was a Road To show, which means that your expectations have to be at a certain level. No-one is going full speed this close to Wrestle Kingdom and you’d be stupid to expect them to. However, there was still enough there to make this worth a watch and, if nothing else, you should check out the Young Lions.

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