The $15 “Road To” iPPV’s, usually (but not always) emanating from Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, are essentially the New Japan Pro Wrestling equivalent to a WWE go-home RAW. You’re not going to get many (if any) singles matches, but they tease you by matching up the big show opponents on opposite sides of the tags. You’re generally not going to get great matches (I know, I know, the tag team main event at the 12/23 “Road to Wrestle Kingdom” show was pretty great, but that’s the exception not the rule), as it’s a good chance for stars who are banged up to let their tag partners do the brunt of the work. You’ll get the occasional angle, but if you are a regular WWE viewer checking out New Japan to see what the fuss is about, they won’t be the over the top crazy North American-style angles.
Fans have caught on to this pattern, as many hardcore’s skip these shows altogether. Even with the tiered pricing based on show quality (Wrestle Kingdom is $35, the big monthly shows are $25, the “go-home” Korakuen shows check in at $15, and they’ve even ran a couple of bare bones house show type events for $10), buying every New Japan show ends up being an expensive proposition. If you ponied up the cash for all four January shows for example, it set you back $80 bucks. For February, we’ve got this show, plus two “New Beginning” events, one from Osaka, one from Hiroshima, headlined respectively by top star 1a Kazuchika Okada and top star 1b Hiroshi Tanahashi. That’s another $65 if you’re the type who wants to see it all (I’m in that group, but if not for commitments to this website, chances are I’d skip the occasional lower tiered event).
Running two New Beginning shows is a bold move. This would be like WWE running two Elimination Chamber shows two days apart. New Japan feels they can headline one larger building with IWGP Heavyweight champ Okada, and another big building with IWGP Intercontinental champ and long time top star Tanahashi. This was a calculated move. Top star 1c Shinsuke Nakamura’s great run with the IC belt elevated that title to really what is now the strongest secondary title in wrestling since the heyday of the WWE Intercontinental Title, when guys like Randy Savage and Tito Santana would headline the B-tour while Hogan worked the A-towns. It was built strong enough that Nakamura vs. Tanahashi for the IC belt ended up being the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, the biggest show of the year, which drew 35,000 paid and topped the previous years attendance for the third year in a row. And don’t give all of that credit to Tanahashi. Nakamura is every bit as popular these days as Tanahashi & Okada, and his IC run was truly one of the stronger title runs of recent memory. Having a strong secondary title is a great luxury, and Nakamura deserves a ton of credit.
If the iPPV numbers are strong for the dual New Beginnings, there is a good chance they’ll push forward with the double big show concept. Is that a good idea? Striking while the iron is hot would be the mindset. But overexposure is something that sneaks up on you, and once it takes hold, it cannot be reversed. And while $65 bucks for three shows didn’t sound like a lot of money a month ago, the WWE Network changing the game at $9.99 all of a sudden makes it seem awfully expensive.
1. Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – TAKA announced in January that he’d no longer be a New Japan full timer in 2014, but he’s worked nearly every iPPV show anyway. The story here, and this is becoming a pattern, was Komatsu, the 2013 WON Awards Rookie of the Year. He did some mat work with TAKA to start, and after a long heat period with Tanaka (who in an odd twist actually had more first place votes than Komatsu in the Observer awards but ended up finishing as a runner up), Komatsu got back in and hit a cool fisherman’s suplex/cross arm breaker combo.
From there the young lions channeled their inner Rock ‘n Roll Express and hit a pair of double dropkicks. Loud “Ko-mat-su!” chants in the closing stretch, which saw him survive a bunch of near falls including a superkick. I haven’t seen a young lion connect with the crowd like Komatsu in a long time. A second TAICHI superkick finished him off. If/when Komatsu pulls an upset, Korakuen will explode. They love him. **
2. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & BUSHI vs. Yujiro Takahashi, YOSHI-HASHI & Jado – BUSHI was back to plain old BUSHI after working Fantasticamania as BUSHIROAD. Jado did his Ric Flair routine early, including the Flair flop for a big pop. Otherwise a nothing match. Jado had BUSHI in a crossface, and BUSHI rolled him over for the slick pin. Cool finish at least. *1/2
3. Tomoaki Honma & Captain New Japan vs. Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka – Captain sold forever, and then Honma’s hot tag comeback was cut off by a dangerous looking chair shot that looked like a chair leg caught him in the eye. CHAOS was destroying the faces with chair shots while barely bothering to distract the ref, which was Dragon Gate levels of goofy and doesn’t fit in New Japan. Eventually Tiger called for the bell, and thank god, because it was getting stupid. So CNJ & Honma won by DQ, but were left for dead, catching another chair beat down post match as well. **
4. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & El Desperado vs. Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi & Kota Ibushi – Desperado badly wanted a piece of Ibushi, and the rest was window dressing. It really dragged when the veterans were in. Dead horse being mangled at this point, but Tenzan & Nakanishi are in dire physical shape. Desperado ducked out of the way of Ibushi who tumbled outside, and Desperado hit his dangerous dive where he ends up in the 19th row. Kojima hit a weak looking lariat on Nakanishi that would have had trouble breaking an egg for the finish. Meh. **
Wataru Inoue’s music hit at intermission. He fought back tears and announced his retirement. He’s taking an office job with the company. They showed Yuji Nagata crying in the entranceway. Very emotional scene.
5. Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows & Tama Tonga – Tonga looks ripped. Jacked to the gills, as Meltzer used to say (wink, wink). Wild brawl to start. Archer & Gallows paired off, and it was great. They really, really need to have a singles match. DBS did a delayed vertical suplex on Gallows of all people, and held him up forever. I mean, FOREVER. Very impressive. Archer was rag dolling Tama Tonga and going nuts, showing great fire. He really stood out in this one. Suzuki largely stayed out of the way, but choked out Anderson towards the end, leaving Tonga isolated with KES. Killer Bomb, and that was that. Fun match. KES did the universal WE WANT THE BELTS hand gesture. I always pop for that. ***1/4
6. Ryusuke Taguchi Return Match: Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley vs. Prince Devitt, Bad Luck Fale, Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson – KUSHIDA is STILL wearing his Marty McFly vest. Awesome. Devitt teased starting off with Taguchi, but tagged out before they locked up. “Booooo”. Fale beat Taguchi up, and then Devitt tagged back in. Great stuff. Togi Makabe is an absolute magician in matches like this when it comes to hiding & avoiding bumps. Smart man. Taguchi looked real good in what was his return bout, and the crowd was eating him up. Things broke down, and Taguchi finally got his hands on Devitt. Fale saved him, and Devitt hit the top rope double stomp for the win. I should note that Devitt’s contract is up, and this could be his last tour. He has a WWE offer (and to be fair, TNA too, but LOL) on the table. ***1/4
7. Special 6 Man Tag Match: Hirooki Goto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii – This was wild and out of control. Ishii is Mr. Korakuen, and they loved him again. Lots of focus on Naito & Ishii, and they interacted much better than they did at Fantasticamania. Goto was killing people with lariats and looked like a monster, which is important since he’s challenging Okada in Osaka.
Goto also looks like he put some weight back on. Too much action on the closing stretch to describe, as I couldn’t keep up with my notes. Ishii hit a big brainbuster on Naito for the win. Huge pop for that. Best match on the show. ****
This show was a tale of two halves. First half stunk. Second half was very good. Skip everything before the intermission, and pick this one up from the Inoue announcement onward.
As always, special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for the fine gifs!