Having conquered Madison Square Garden, New Japan could return home feeling rather proud of themselves. After all, they didn’t hire and fire two twats within the space of a few weeks. Anyway, it’s now business as normal as they hit the road for the Dontaku tour, with a brief stop off at Sengoku Lord. It’s a show with a sneakily good card, so fingers crossed it translates to being even better in reality.
Shota Umino and Ren Narita defeated Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura
Tsuji and Uemura have recently transitioned from drawing every match they have, to trading wins. They are 1-1-24 according to Kevin Kelly. However, on this occasion, they were teaming up to take on the Young Lion veterans Narita and Umino.
As you’d expect, the four of them put together an entertaining match. The structure might not have been anything complicated, but they are headed in the right directions. You only needed to listen to the fans in attendance getting caught up in the action as they battled back and forth to see that.
Ultimately, Narita would hit that beautiful Bridging Belly to Belly for the three as he and Umino continue to dominate their peers. It’s hard to see what else they need to learn.
Verdict: Three Stars
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Taka Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata and Tomoaki Honma
It’s a credit to Liger that he’s managed to find the one way he could get more over. Since announcing his retirement every crowd has exploded when his music hits.
That pop only got louder when Suzuki demanded Liger get in the ring and face him. If the Thunder God fancies unleashing the demon that exists underneath that mask one last time before he goes then a feud with Suzuki might be the perfect opportunity. As Murder Grandpa piled chairs on him and Taichi wrenched at his mask, you’ve got to imagine Kishin was growling.
Outside of that intrigue (which might be my invention), this was what you’d expect. Suzuki-gun wrestled a Suzuki-gun match, and while Nagata and Kojima always bring it on the Dad’s side, there is only so much you can do within that formula. Poor Henare got all of a couple of minutes to impress (as usual he did a decent job with it) before ultimately tapping out to the Stretch Plum. Decent, but forgettable match.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Dragon Lee defeated The Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa)
As much as I enjoyed Ishimori’s too brief title reign ( he should be a cornerstone of New Japan’s Junior division for years to come), I am always delighted to have more Dragon Lee in my life. The two of them sparkled when they faced off with the only downside being that Ishimori had brought Jado and GOD with him.
Talking of GOD, they’ve got their tag titles back from Yano and nicked the NEVER Six-Man Titles while they were at it. Haku’s sons have spent some rare time in my good books thanks to their utter contempt for ROH, but watching them wrestle reminds me why it’s a rarity. Putting Makabe, Yano and the brothers in the ring with wrestlers as dynamic as Lee and Ishimori is almost cruel.
Still, it’s not like they were fucking up, so they didn’t ruin my mood. Yano would steal the win with a roll-up after Makabe hit a Lariat to get the Most Violent Players on a role going into their title defence and shot. I can’t pretend I’m too excited about that one, but we’ll see.
Verdict: Three Stars
Mikey Nicholls defeated Chase Owens
Mikey Nicholls saved Juice Robinson from a Bullet Club beat down after he defeated Chase Owens. The Best Midcard Wrestler In The World wasn’t impressed by that, and here we are. It’s perhaps not the most complex set-up for a match, but any excuse for Owens to be highlighted is alright by me.
Not that it started well. Before Nicholls could get into the ring, bloody Jado attacked him from behind with the kendo stick. He was sent to the back, but the damage was done as Chase went to work driving Mikey into barriers and attacking his neck. It was a continuation of the tactics he used against Juice, and while you can’t quibble with the results, I’d rather the spanner with the stick wasn’t involved.
For all my moaning, it was the perfect set-up for an Owens’ match. Chase works a very old-school style, as you can tell he was trained in the world of good old-fashioned Southern wrassling. He might be a Bullet Club member, but he has no interest in looking for cheers as he’s all about building that heat. Everything he did during this match was designed to make Nicholls shine when he started his comeback.
It was a tactic that kind of worked. Nicholls got the chance to fire up and bring the pace with him as fought from underneath. He’s yet to standout in New Japan, but you could see hints of what he can do in those moments. However, he’s still doesn’t seem to be clicking with the fans. The Nagoya crowd had been hot, but they were merely respectful as Mikey picked up the win. All signs suggest he’s got a bit to go yet.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Hirooki Goto and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated The Bullet Club (Jay White and HIKULEO)
With the entirety of Bullet Club at his disposal, are we to believe Jay White is choosing to team with HIKULEO? Let’s hope that he follows Kenny’s kayfabe example in the future and elevates Chase to that role. Beyond being very tall, HIKULEO has shown nothing to suggest he should be this far up the card.
And while he’s tall, he’s not Kitamura. If you look like a monster and throw people around, you can get away with not being the best wrestler, but Leo doesn’t have that yet. Someone like Goto looks a lot more physically imposing than him, even if he lacks the inches. It appears HIKULEO is bulking up, so he might get there, but at the moment it’s hard to buy him as a Super Heavyweight wrecking ball.
Anyway, I’ll stop picking on the kid. Outside of him, this was solid. White was in troll mode, doing everything in his power to avoid getting in the ring with Goto. Old Hirooki had to fight to get his hands on Switchblade, and the fans were delighted when he finally did. It was only a short flurry, but it was enough to suggest his attempts to smash White are going to be fun.
To give HIKULEO some credit, he reacted well to a Taguchi mistake late on. He was spring boarding into the ring when he slipped on the top rope and sprawled to the floor. Rather than panicking, Leo picked him up, hit a slam and went back to wrestling Goto. A Gedo distraction then looked to have given Bullet Club the advantage, but the old warrior fought out and hit a GTR on the tall youngster for the win.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, Shingo Takagi, SANADA and BUSHI) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, SHO, YOH and YOSHI-HASHI)
I wouldn’t want to count how many LIJ ten-man tags I’ve reviewed. It’s a lot, let’s leave it at that. So, it should be no surprise that I’m going to repeat myself, but these are always good. Those guys have this shit nailed down, and swapping Hiromu (come back soon) for Shingo has done nothing to change that.
This example of it had a few advantages too. Shingo and SHO have joined Okada and Naito by getting involved in a never-ending feud while EVIL and ISHII were determined to elbow each other as hard as possible. If there hadn’t been other people involved in the match, you got the impression they’d have been happy to keep going until one of them was a smear on the mat as even the bell ringing didn’t stop them fighting. Throw in the build to SANADA vs Okada, and you’ve got a host of feuds within the feud to add to the heat in that ring.
Even YOSHI-HASHI looked alright before Naito pinned him. The Ingobernable boss has promised to find something to do during this tour, so you’ve got to assume he’s picking up wins ahead of challenging someone… guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Juice Robinson defeated Bad Luck Fale to retain the IWGP US Title
I’m shan’t lie to you, I fell asleep during Fale’s heat section and I’m not going back to rewatch it. When the big man gets in the ring with anyone not named Okada or Tanahashi, he’s at best boring and often terrible. Falling asleep is the best thing you can do. From what I caught, he went after Juice’s back.
The biggest worry was how quiet the fans were as Robinson came back into the action. Juice usually gets a decent response, but he had to work his arse off to get people to care. You’ve got to assume the combination of the US Title failing to get over and Fale’s recent going through the motions left them struggling to give a shit
However, Robinson deserves all the credit in the world because he managed to turn them around as he battled to slam the Underboss. By the time he kicked out of the Grenade they were firmly in his corner and even got excited as he escaped the Bad Luck Fall before catching Fale with the Left Hand Of God. A huge slam followed by Pulp Friction and Robinson saved this from being awful.
Not that any of it changes my opinion. Fale’s time is behind him, and I hope NJPW have noticed. Another G1 full of him half-arsing it sounds hellish.
Verdict: Three Stars (all for Juice)
Kota Ibushi defeated Zack Sabre Jr. to retain the Intercontinental Title
Having got his hands on the Intercontinental Title, Kota Ibushi decided to make life difficult for himself by challenging Zack Sabre Jr. He’s been open in the past about struggling against Sabre’s style, and they came into this with a 2-2 record. Throw in ZSJ tapping out one of his Gods at MSG, and it was a tough hurdle to start Kota’s new life as a champion.
However, Ibushi came into this imbued with a confidence we haven’t seen from him when facing Sabre before. Right from the start, he had a plan, and it was one he’d picked up from his idol. While Tanahashi lost at MSG, he won in the New Japan Cup by attacking Zack’s leg, and Ibushi must have seen something he liked. Lashing out with a vicious series of kicks to the thigh, he put Sabre on the back foot.
Sabre was not the only one to have recently had a tough series of matches, though. Ibushi spent the last few weeks being dropped on his head by Naito and ZSJ knew it. As Ibushi looked to be taking control, Zack got dirty. Wrapping his legs around Kota’s neck on the outside he leaned over the barricade, dragging Ibushi back over. With Sabre having down the work to set-up a target, these two were back to an even footing as they battled for control.
It was the perfect groundwork on which to build a stunning epic. Sabre seems to bring the best out of Kota, grounding him and eliminating some of his more elaborate tendencies. He still has that Ibushi magic, but he’s battling hold for hold and strike for strike. They push each other, and it brings that fiery Ibushi to the fore. The one that responds to Zack kicking him by sitting cross-legged in the centre of the ring before slapping that smug English smile right off the prick’s face (love you, Zack). It’s the Ibushi that Ishii brings out too, and I fucking love it. Even as Red Shoes dragged him away from a Sabre who was slumped in the corner, he was lashing out behind him, slamming his heel into Sabre’s face.
It led to a gruelling finale as these two laid into each other, their stiff blows echoing around the arena. Time after time, Sabre would seem to have the answers. He reversed the Swan Dive German into a Neck Crank over the ropes and ducked out of the way of Bomaye. However, it was an Ibushi counter that ultimately proved pivotal. He powered out of an Octopus and threw ZSJ into his knee. A Kamigoye later and that IC Title is going nowhere.
It was a stunning match. Ibushi and Sabre are two of my favourite wrestlers, so I was always going to enjoy it, but even by their standards, this was fantastic. Ibushi looked awesome while Zack lost nothing in defeat. God, I love both these men so much.
Talking of men I love, Naito swaggered down to ringside before the show could end. He previously swore he’d become the first man to hold both the Intercontinental and Heavyweight Titles and it looks like he’s not given up on that dream. The Ingobernable is coming for a belt he once claimed to hate.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
A fun show topped off with a fantastic main event. I haven’t been watching the Road To offering, so I’m not burned out on the undercard tags, but if you have I imagine they dragged. If that’s the case, skip on through to Ibushi vs Sabre. It’s the only thing you have to see.
Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/