NJPW Road To Wrestle Kingdom 18th December Review

Naito must be fed up with this by now. Credit: NJPW

It’s the final stop before Tokyo. If you aren’t on board now, well, to be honest, you can still watch. You just won’t be up on the storylines. Dammit, I’ve lost control of this intro. I’m going to get on with it. Let’s dish out some stars.

Shota Umino defeated Ren Narito

Whoever teaches the Young Lions to throw a dropkick is very good at their job. Credit: NJPW

After yesterday’s Young Lion Cup outings, I was looking forward to these opening matches.

This was an example of a very basic but brilliantly wrestled match. Umino stands out because of his selling. He once again had his knee strapped, and even when Narita wasn’t working it over, Umino was showing the effects of that injury. It’s the kind of subtle work that makes these matches so entertaining.

Despite Narita working over that leg, Umino was able to fight through the pain and get the win. After hitting an unusual looking elbow drop, he locked in a Crab and Narita had no choice but to tap. These trainees continue to impress.

Verdict: Three Stars

Tomoyuki Oka defeated Tetsuhiro Yagi

Suzuki has a lot to answer for. Credit: NJPW

After receiving an involuntary haircut from Suzuki yesterday, Yagi has shaved his head. He definitely owes Suzuki a few stiff strikes. Although that would be the last thing he ever did.

Oka’s matches nearly always start on the mat, and this one was no different. The two men grappled for position and showed off some impressive groundwork. It would be Yagi who came out on top, though. He’s slowly crafting a heel persona as he shows a vicious streak that a lot of the Young Lions lack. To say something complimentary about his new lack of hair, it does suit that aggressive persona.

Oka is the quietly special one in this group, though. He may look like he’s in his sixties, but New Japan sees something in him. When Yagi started slapping him in the head, he fired up. He likes throwing people around, and a Gutwrench Suplex set him up for the Boston Crab and the win.

Rinse and repeat from the first match. This wasn’t complex, it was fun.

Verdict: Three Stars

Katsuya Kitamura defeated Hirai Kawato

Poor Kawato. Credit: NJPW

Kitamura and Kawato are the current stars of this Young Lion pride, so this one was intriguing. They also seem like a perfect match. The plucky young babyface against the mighty monster.

It’s a story that allowed both men to play to their strengths. Young Kit gets to beat someone up and Kawato takes said beating. Kawato did get his hope spots, but they were short-lived. Bursts of energy against the pure strength of Kitamura. His big chance came in trying to steal the victory and he went for more than one roll-up.

In fact, it would be going for a roll-up that would spell Kawato’s doom. He was unable to take Kitamura off his feet and instead found himself being powered up for that beautiful Jackhammer.

This was shorter than the other two matches, but it achieved everything it had to. Kitamura looked like a beast and Kawato continued to draw sympathy. It was wonderfully elegant booking and did both men a favour.

Verdict: Three Stars

A Masked Horse, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask and KUSHIDA defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado, TAKA Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Things that didn’t need to happen. Credit: NJPW

I was a bit sad when the Young Lion matches ended. They’re much better than Suzuki-gun nonsense. Yes, that’s the nonsense, not Taguchi’s newfound persona as a horse. Throw in New Japan’s always slightly troubling gender politics when it came to Liger and Taguchi’s reaction to Miho Abe, and this wasn’t my favourite match.

Still, there were some moments of enjoyment. I don’t speak Japanese but the commentator apparently going crazy when he discovered that the horse that looked like Taguchi, wrestled like Taguchi and was as obsessed with asses as Taguchi was indeed, Taguchi, made me laugh.

My problem with these matches is that even when they’re alright, I feel like I’ve seen them before. I love the Young Lion openers because I know they’re going somewhere. There is a point to them. I don’t get that feeling with these eight men. It’s purely there to fill the time. The fact Taguchi’s wrestling as a horse (and he has a Wrestle Kingdom match) makes that pretty clear.

In the end, Taguchi would do his Shinsuke tribute and get the win. If you’re in a rush, skip this one.

Verdict: Two Stars

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Togi Makabe and Henare

Henare dished some out as well. Credit: NJPW

Ishii and Henare stiffing the shit out of each other was a turning point for the Young Lion during World Tag League. He seemed to be holding back post-injury until Ishii slapped some sense into him.

It was an activity that Ishii enjoyed because he went straight back to it here. Those two were having a lovely old brutal time. There were chops, elbows, headbutts, lariats and every other violent strike you can think of. I don’t know what Henare has done, but Ishii was leaning into those blows.

The rest of this match was fine, but the only thing I really cared about was this ongoing war between Ishii and Henare. I would be happy to watch them do this for years to come.

Verdict: Three Stars (Yano and Makabe don’t get any of them, though)

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada) defeated The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi)

It’s a weird looking trophy. Credit: NJPW

Did you notice that KES aren’t on this tour?

On top of giving Evil and Sanada something to do, this was set-up to prevent them going into the Dome off the back of a big defeat. They got to restore some pride (albeit by pinning Yujiro) even if they don’t get their completely worthless belts back.

This was perfectly mediocre. My favourite part was once again thanks to a Japanese commentator. I don’t know who is who but one of them spent the closing stretch just shouting Evil again and again. It made me laugh.

Verdict: Two Stars

Kota Ibushi and Tencozy (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan) defeated The Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa and Leo Tonga)

The size difference is very obvious here. Credit: NJPW

Let’s take a second to appreciate Kota Ibushi’s ability to make everything better… done? We can continue then.

This was average, so I’m not even going to bother talking about it. Instead, let’s talk about Leo Tonga. I’ve been a bit hard on him. He’s far too green for the spot he’s in and quite frankly he should be donning black trunks and getting to the back of the line.

However, I can’t praise the Young Lions for their improvement and not say the same for him. He’s getting better. A lot better. It’s not just the move-set and execution. It’s the way he stands in the ring. When he first came in, he was a big guy with no presence. That’s started to change.

I don’t know if Young Leo (hey, that works) will go on to be a star. He’s heading in the right direction, though, and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that.

Verdict: Two Stars

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Takashi Iizuka) by disqualification

Am I kidding myself in thinking this could still be good? Credit: NJPW

Fuck this match and fuck the tag-team of Suzuki and Iizuka.

Verdict: Zero Stars

Tanahashi! What have you done to your hair? Oh my god, it’s horrifying. His hairdresser should be ashamed.

This was a way to get Tanahashi on the show and put a bit of heat on the match with Jay White. ‘Switchblade’ (I wish they hadn’t bothered with the nickname) came out of this looking vicious as he attacked the injured knee and then elbowed the fuck out of Tana’. It was a simple little angle, but it worked.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi and Bushi) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO and YOH)

And down you go. Credit: NJPW

We’re doing things a little differently tonight as SHO and YOH join Okada to take on the dreaded LIJ. They did a good job. Unfortunately for them – alongside Takahashi and Bushi – their role in this match was to string in the gaps between Okada and Naito. Any chance they get to shine is a bonus.

As for Okada and Naito, I feel we’ve seen a variation of this so many times that you know the drill. However, there was one fundamental difference tonight. In the course of the match, Okada and Naito were even. Naito got the win, but it was over YOH, and the big guns’ interactions were indecisive. Post-match, however, it was Naito’s turn to gain the upper hand. When Okada went for his shiny new Cobra Clutch, Naito responded with a pop-up low blow followed by Destino.

After spending this tour (and most of World Tag League) setting up Okada as having Naito’s number, this made sense. Naito is still technically a heel and while he’s expected to get a favourable reaction at the Dome, having him work entirely from underneath doesn’t make much sense. This did the job of evening the playing field a little.

Apart from all that, this was a decent match and we even got a little snow to close out the show. Beautiful.

Verdict: Three Stars

Overall Show

See you at the Dome! Credit: NJPW

Once again my highlight was the Young Lions. I love those matches, and I’m tempted to go back and watch all the Young Lion Cup stuff that I’ve missed. Apart from that, it was pretty standard. They managed to dish out some heat, but no one was working at full steam. The only genuinely awful part was that Suzuki-gun crap and I expect that now. If you need some NJPW to fill the gap before January 4th, this will do the job.

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