New Japan’s second iPPV this month from the ‘Kizuna Road’ tour, emanating from Akita, was the latest in what has become a now routine string of iPPV winners for the hottest promotion on the planet.
This show was not as good as Wrestle Kingdom or Invasion Attack, both strong contenders for Best Major Show of the Year, and probably wasn’t as good as Dominion, either. But this is New Japan we’re talking about, so the bar is set very high. Lower echelon New Japan iPPV’s like Kizuna Road would be good enough to be the best show of the year for most other promotions.
This was a show of dichotomies. You had very good matches, like the main event and the Intercontinental title match, but you also had absolute bombs like the semi main event and a Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata rematch that just didn’t work.
You also had two extremes in the main event. The champion, who skyrocketed out of nowhere over one year ago, going from undercard roster fodder to hottest wrestler in the business with a shocking upset over Hiroshi Tanahashi to win his first IWGP Heavyweight championship, opposed by the challenger, a New Japan veteran who slowly crawled his way up the card from undercard junior heel to babyface junior champion to a now two time iPPV headliner, over the course of seven years.
And many felt that challenger, the hottest heel in the business Prince Devitt, would win the IWGP Heavyweight Title on this show. He didn’t, but the loss will do nothing to slow down his momentum, as the current IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champ heads into his first G1 Tournament in a loaded block with tons of matchups against a who’s who of New Japan top stars. Devitt may not be the heavyweight champion (yet), but he’s now firmly established as a major player, and a top contender for worldwide Wrestler of the Year.
The champion, Kazuchika Okada, continues to find his stride during his second run as champion, establishing himself as company ace while Hiroshi Tanahashi (and his bad back) takes a step back and works the mid card. This show was said to be a sellout well in advance, which should quell the fears of some who were concerned that New Japan would lose momentum with Okada on top. There have been no signs of that.
Next up for New Japan is what many are calling the most loaded G1 field of all time. One show is confirmed for worldwide iPPV. We are still waiting for official word on the finals.
0. Kushida, Tiger Mask, Tomoaki Honma, Manabu Nakanishi vs. Gedo, Jado, Yoshi-Hashi, Yujiro Takahashi – The usual preshow match, with a bunch of dudes from the tour thrown together to shoe horn them onto the show. Gedo, who headlined the last iPPV against Devitt and helped produce a Match of the Year contender, was back to working the opener here. Short, inoffensive, and everybody got their shit in. Nakanishi scored the pin on Jado, who probably loses more than anybody else in the company, following his twisting tomahawk chop off of the turnbuckle. Kushida is headed to ROH to work the Toronto show in August. **
1. IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Forever Hooligans (Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov) (c) vs. TAKA Michinoku & TAICHI – Finally, a fresh matchup for the junior tag titles, after what felt like years of Hooligans vs Timesplitters match ups. The Suzuki-Gun team earned the title shot with a win over Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask at Dominion in June, and they did not disappoint as challengers here. Lots of comedy early. Things picked up when TAKA faked an arm injury with incredible believability (he fooled me), which led to a great spot where he played possum to gain control. Good back and forth action typical of these types of matches, with a decent portion of the crowd behind the challengers. The Hooligans won it with the Contract Killer. I have no idea where New Japan goes from here for challengers, but they have a while to figure it out with the juniors taking a back seat for G1 over the next month. ***
2. Minoru Suzuki vs. Tomohiro Ishii – This one had been building over several shows. Suzuki, the coolest and most unique heel on the planet, against Ishii, the trendy underground favorite of New Japan hardcores. I had a feeling with the positioning on the card that it would be short, and it was. A solid brawl, with Ishii showing great fire and Suzuki doing what Suzuki does, which is being awesome. Suzuki won it with a delayed Gotch Piledriver, held up for a few extra seconds for added effect. It felt like this was not the end. They are in opposite blocks at G1, so it’ll be a while before they meet again. Ishii is perfect in this role, as the fiery babyface underdog trying to beat the established higher ranked veteran heel. ***
They took us to the back for a Prince Devitt interview. He was flanked by the Bullet Club, including El Terrible, who I guess is a member by proxy as Tama Tonga’s tag team partner. Devitt was fantastic here, shadow boxing in an Irish football kit and demonstrating how he would overcome the Rainmaker with the help of Karl Anderson:
3. IWGP Tag Team Titles – Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka – Yano & Iizuka stole the tag titles at Dominion, which is Yano’s gimmick. This was not good. They teased a double count out after about five minutes of bad brawling into the crowd. The champs grabbed the mic and demanded that the match be continued. I was kinda hoping they wouldn’t since I knew it was probably going to be bad. And it was. A mundane brawl with no teeth. Champs retained when Iizuka ate a lariat from Kojima, followed by a Tenzan moonsault. Pass. *3/4
4. NEVER Openweight Title – Masato Tanaka (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito – I’ll confess, I think Naito is very overrated. I’ve never saw the appeal, and he does a ton of little things that bug the shit out of me. He has not looked sharp since his return, but this was his best match so far. Tanaka is fantastic, and one of the most under appreciated wrestlers of his era. His late career weight loss and style adjustments are impressive. A mildy shocking result, with Tanaka hitting two Sliding D’s to retain. I say mildly, because you get the feeling the NEVER title is beneath Naito. And with G1 coming up, Naito has a chance to redeem himself from this loss quickly. Good match. ***
5. IWGP Intercontinental Title – La Sombra (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – This match blew away the title change in Mexico last month, which was a sloppy lucha match that bored me to tears. They brought the goods here, particularly Sombra, whose flying was as smooth as ever. I’d love to see him stick around in New Japan full time, but that ‘aint happening. Sombra hit a gorgeous moonsault off of the lighting scaffold, which he made look so silky smooth & easy that it actually made a very dangerous move look far less impressive than it actually was, if that makes any sense. He even landed on his feet like a boss.
I’ve been critical of Sombra this year, but he’s been really good in New Japan lately. Nakamura nearly slipped again on a springboard Boma Ye attempt, but unlike the Shelton Benjamin match a few months back where he face planted and it killed (an otherwise excellent) match, he managed to (sorta) land the move here. He should probably stop trying that move. He doesn’t need it, and it’s pretty clear he struggles with it. He hit two traditional Boma Ye’s to score the pin. He’s on a collision course with Benjamin for this title after G1. Benjamin has already pinned him in a tag, and they face each other in the round robin portion of Block B. ***3/4
6. Capt.New Japan, Jushin Liger, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe vs. Bullet Club (Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, El Terrible) – On the opening night of the tour, Liger & Tanahashi beat Terrible & Tonga for the CMLL Tag Team titles. They teased a Terrible/Tonga split after that match, but it never happened. The crowd was on fire for this. The Bullet Club is over as true heels like maybe nobody else in the word right now, and the fans were loving the babyface stars in this match. Well, everybody besides Captain New Japan, who is dreadful, and not that he’s put over Bullet Club a thousand times needs to be banished to prelims. Terrible showed great personality, and Tonga keeps getting better & better. The match was built around long heat spots with both Liger & CNJ, leading to hot tags to Tanahashi & Makabe, which the crowd ate up each time. Tanahashi hit the High Fly Flow on Terrible for the win. Best Bullet Club vs a bunch of faces type match that I’ve seen. ***
7. Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata – This was the third singles match between the two. I didn’t like the first, which ended in a double KO. The second, from Dominion, was a brutally stiff Match of the Year contender that pushed the limits of how far a worked match should go in terms of brutal spots. Shibata won that one. So I figured coming in, that Goto would win here, with the rubber match at G1 in Block A. Instead, they did another double KO finish, to dead silence in front of a crowd that clearly was not happy. I wasn’t happy either. The match did nothing for me, and the finish, while I get the premise of these evenly matched guys kicking the shit out of each other, was going to the well once to often. It feels like they’re dragging this out until Dome, which to me is waaay too long for this to go. **1/2
8. Yuji Nagata vs. Kazushi Sakuraba – Look, I like Sakuraba as much as the next guy. I really do. He has charisma for days. But he’s a shitty pro wrestler. He just is. And this match was terrible. Nagata kept pulling guard, and they would exchange non menacing looking submissions that the crowd wasn’t buying at all, until Saku would “attack” with awful looking ground & pound. This was like a really bad business exposing worked shoot match from the 90’s worked shoot promotion of your choice. This didn’t work on any level. My rating is generous. *
9. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Prince Devitt – Devitt’s new music & entrance is great. Terrible did not accompany Bullet Club to the ring for this. Strong work in this one, with Okada in particular doing some new stuff, including a dive. Devitt got into trouble and yanked the ref into Okada’s path, leading to the usual ref bump spot and Bullet Club shenanigans. Okada fought off Anderson & Tonga himself, but got caught by Fale. Fale was about to hit the thumb thrust, but Gedo came off the ropes, sacrificed himself, and ate the move to save Okada. This was my favorite spot in the match. Gedo is so awesome, and the crowd loves him in his role. Devitt did a double stomp off the top with chairs stacked on top of Okada, but Okada kicked out. As foreshadowed in the interview segment earlier, Devitt countered two Rainmakers. Okada hit his high dropkick, and finally nailed the Rainmaker for the win. Really good match. I like Devitt/Gedo & Okada/Makabe better, but that’s not a backhanded compliment. This was very good. Devitt did not come away looking weak in any way. They will rematch at G1. ****