This nine match card from Hiroshima was, at least on paper, the weakest New Japan Pro Wrestling iPPV to date. That, combined with the idea that this year’s NJPW World Tag League wasn’t exactly setting my world on fire, had me entering this show with very tempered expectations. It ended up exceeding them.

Instead of breaking down what looked to be a fairly weak show coming in, let’s delve into some of the themes that have developed on this tour, with only two more shows remaining before the finals on 12/8.

• Doc Gallows has looked fantastic. He’s in tremendous shape, has come across like a real killer, and fits the Bullet Club like a glove. This man was thoroughly wasted in TNA. Come to think of it, he was wasted in WWE, too.

• Parity booking in a tournament. Again. Look, New Japan is the best booked promotion in the world today, and honestly it would be hard for me to accept an argument otherwise. Regardless, Gedo & Jado love to book tournaments where nobody looks dominant and as many participants as possible are still in the mix on the final shows. I’d be okay with that every now and then, but I wish they would mix it up, especially on a tour like this one which is sort of overlooked anyway as people gear up for Wrestle Kingdom.

• Hiroshi Tanahashi is clearly hurting bad, but we already knew this. In most of his matches to this point, Captain New Japan has carried the brunt of the heavy lifting. With that said, CNJ has done a fantastic job, as this has easily been his most impressive tour to date. I’d like to see New Japan give guys the tour off when they are hurting like this, or maybe just book them on the major shows. That’s never going to happen. Instead of being part of the tournament and they felt they absolutely needed to have Tanahashi on these shows, perhaps he could have been hidden in the nightly six man tag.

• On his first New Japan tour Jax Dane has been out shined by Strongman and Doc Gallows,  both of whom work similar powerhouse gimmicks, and both of whom project themselves much better than Dane. Overall, Dane has done well and has likely earned future work here.

• Next year, New Japan should add some juice to this tour with some outsider teams. The NWA guys are essentially regulars, so they don’t count. I vote for Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi.

• Young lions Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu have looked very good, and appear to be ready for excursion in 2014. Both are leading candidates for WON Awards “Rookie of the Year.”

1. Tiger Mask & Yohei Komatsu vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – No Sho Tanaka on this night, as fellow young lion Komatsu teamed with Tiger Mask instead. Komatsu continued to impress, with crisp offense, good selling, and great fire. Short inoffensive match, with Taichi pinning Komatsu following a high angle power bomb. *3/4

2. Manabu Nakanishi & Strong Man vs. Jado & Ged0 – Jado & Gedo were scared of Strongman and did rock, paper, scissors to figure out who would start. Strongman is…enormous. He had his thigh taped up and wasn’t moving very well. He didn’t have to, as this was all comedy with the little guys bouncing off the big guys and Strongman tossing people around. Muscle Orchestra won with dual torture racks. Nothing to this. 3/4*

3. Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma vs. Rob Conway & Jax Dane – This was Nagata’s last match of the tour, as he faces KENTA for the GHC Title on the big NOAH show on 12/7. Crowd was dead for this, as poor Conway kept appealing to the crowd to no reaction. Nagata made a nice comeback off a hot tag, otherwise not much to this. Conway is technically fine, but there is something missing. Conway hit an ace crusher & Ego Trip on Honma for the win. **

4. Togi Makabe & KUSHIDA vs. Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale – This looked like KUSHIDA would be the latest victim of the Fale Border Toss KO finish. And he was. But not before he absolutely tore it up. KUSHIDA single handedly got the crowd back into this show. It looks like they are calling Fale’s move ‘Bad Luck Fall’. **1/2

5. Tetsuya Naito, La Sombra & BUSHI vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & Jushin Thunder Liger – Tons of babyfaces. Everybody looked real good here. Sombra is a beast, and I would like to see him in G1. I wonder if he’s good looking. If so, WWE is going to be all over this guy someday. Especially if he learns/knows English. He’d fail Wellness these days, though. He’s large. Liger used a brainbuster on BUSHI for the win. Hot closing stretch, good match. ***

6. World Tag League – Block B: Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (6) vs. Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin (4) – Two teams with a real chance to win the tournament faced off here. Some good action, and a good match, but it never really hit the next level.

Anderson took a chair to the head while TAKA distracted the ref, and then Shelton hit the Paydirt for the win. **1/2

7. World Tag League – Block A: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Captain New Japan (0) vs. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. (6) – Tanahashi was super over, which was a reminder as to why he works injured. He worked hard in this match, too. Archer mocked Tanahashi’s second rope taunt, which was funny. CNJ had another nice performance. For the finish, the match broke down into a four way brawl. Tanahashi got tossed out by Archer, skinned the cat to get back in, but Archer gave him the big boot to knock him back out. This left CNJ isolated, and KES hit the Killer Bomb. With eight points, KES is a virtual lock for the finals. ***

8. World Tag League – Block A: Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii (6) vs. Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi (4) – The early Nakamura/Tanaka portion made me want to see a singles match between the two. Ishii’s exchanges with Tanaka weren’t too shabby either, as stiff and aggressive as you would think they would be. This match was great. Ishii survived the equivalent of a nuclear attack, including kicking out of the Sliding D. Tanaka was on fire. Is there a more underrated worker than Masato Tanaka? Ishii leveled Tanaka with a lariat, but Yujiro made the save. It took a Tokyo Pimps from Yujiro and a second Sliding D to finally kill Ishii. Loved this. ****

9. World Tag League – Block B: Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI (2) vs. Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka (2) – Odd main event, considering these teams were tied for last in the block. Believe it or not, this was the first ever meeting between Okada & Iizuka. This match over delivered. It wasn’t the best match on the show (the semi blew it away) but it was very good and they had you believing the CHAOS team was going to beat…well, the other CHAOS team. Despite some clever cheating spots from Yano & Iizuka, Okada hit the Rainmaker on Iizuka for the win. Gedo cut a promo after the match putting over Okada. On this show, Okada was popular, but his response did not match Tanahashi or Nakamura. ***

This show not only exceeded expectations, it ended up being the best show of the tour to date. Everything from match five onward was pretty good, with a hot second half. This is the first show from the tour that I would recommend seeking out.

Block A:
1. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. [8]
2. Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii [6]
– Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale [6]
– Masato Tanaka& Yujiro Takahashi [6]
5. Manabu Nakanishi & Strongman [4]
– Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma [4]
7. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Captain New Japan [0]

Block B:
1. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima [6]
– Tetsuya Naito & La Sombra [6]
– Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows [6]
– Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin [6]
5. Rob Conway & Jax Dane [4]
– Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI [4]
7. Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka [2]

Special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for the gifs