New Japan’s second stop on the Kizuna Road tour, which essentially serves as an appetizer for the upcoming G1 Climax, rolled into a sold out Korakuen Hall for a show filled with tag matches and headlined by a Tomohiro Ishii NEVER title defense against Yujiro Takahashi.

Yujiro has taken a pounding lately from fans for sloppy, uninspiring performances. The big question (and really the only question on such a low profile show) for this show, was whether the presence of Yujiro would derail the amazing string of MOTY caliber Ishii singles matches.

Mascara Dorada is back for this tour, and he brought Fuego with him. Here’s hoping the junior tag openers they work will get a little more time than they received here.

There was no word as of this writing whether the second Korakuen date on this tour will be offered on iPPV, but I strongly suspect that it will be (Editor’s note – still no word as of press time on 7/1, so the answer looks to be no). That card is significantly stronger on paper than this offering was, with Kota Ibushi defending the IWGP Junior Title against KUSHIDA, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito vs Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata, and a very rare non Best of the Super Juniors junior singles bout between Alex Shelley & El Desperado, which looks to be a set up bout for either Shelley or Desperado to be the next challenger for the Ibushi/KUSHIDA winner.

1. Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask, Mascara Dorada vs BUSHI, Yohei Komatsu, Fuego – Komatsu might be one of my five favorite wrestlers on the entire roster. I love his fire. He shoved his partners into the corner and DEMANDED to start the match vs Liger. Liger obliged. Komatsu then set the “i’m finally making my statement, dammit” tone by immediately backing Liger into the ropes and smacking him across the face. Komatsu is my favorite young lion to come down the line in many years. Tiger Mask, on the other hand, may as well be invisible in these matches. Not that he’s ever been all that great anyway, and maybe he’s just being cautious since his emergency appendectomy several months back, but he’s as a complete non entity as anybody on the roster. Fuego taught BUSHI his funky dance moves, and then they did a cool double dive. Dorada got to do more than usual too, and he scored the pin with a Tornillo at the end of a nice closing sequence with Komatsu. Komatsu was absolutely gutted with the loss, pounding the mat and having to be coaxed by his teammates to shake the hands of the victors. I liked this, but it was short. Komatsu, Dorada, & Fuego stood out. **3/4

2. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi vs Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Captain New Japan – Days gone by. You’ve seen this match before. They worked hard. I don’t know what else to say. Kojima killed CNJ with a great lariat for the finish. **1/2

3. Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI vs Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka – Speaking of “you’ve seen this match before”…ugh. Look, i’m not trying to dog it on this review, but some of these matches are pretty hard to break down because you get tired of typing the same things all of the time. I would imagine that this is how a RAW reviewer feels when the Usos wrestle the Wyatt’s and they have the same match for the 15th time. YOSHI-HASHI was here to add some energy (I’ve liked him a lot this year when he’s gotten the rare chance), but you knew what you were going to get. Iizuka was disqualified when he blatantly used the iron fingers on Yano while Suzuki held him up, right in front of the ref. Suzuki-gun left the CHAOS guys laying. It was fine, I guess. **

4. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata vs Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma – If anything was going to have the right combination of time and the right players to be the sneaky match of the night, I thought this could be it. It took a while to hit the next gear after Honma took his trademark burtal beating early, but once it did it was excellent. Honma’s late rally against Goto had Korakuen as hot as they’d been the entire night to this point, and people badly wanted to believe that he had it won with a brainbuster. Goto put him away with the Shouten Kai. They’ve got another Ishii on their hands with Honma. This is the similar cult like support that the underdog Ishii used to get in the hot buildings. Honma always had that to some degree, but now that Ishii is a made guy, it almost feels like the fans are trying to do the same for Honma. If he ever gets a big win in Korakuen, the place is going to come unglued. I can see Komatsu having similar type of charisma & crowd connection someday, since he sort of has it already. ***1/4

5. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Alex Shelley, KUSHIDA vs Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, El Desperado – I loved this, for many reasons. Sometimes these types of matches can be a little flat, and understandably so, because you can’t blame these guys with tired bodies for mailing it in a little bit to save themselves for bigger spots. But everybody worked hard here, and it brings me back to a point I touched on in my Dominion review. Between the end of the Best of the Super Juniors tour (6/9), and this show (6/29), New Japan ran exactly two dates (Dominion, as a stand alone show with no tour attached, and the 6/28 kickoff to Kizuna Road from Gifu). This is traditionally the time of year that the crew gets a bit of a break as they rest up for G1, especially when you consider that even the last full tour, BotSJ, is filled with outsiders and the big heavyweights are working easier on the body multi-man tags. There was a very palpable spring in the step of the roster at Dominion, and it definitely carried over to this show as well, particularly in this match. Tanahashi in particular was far more active and energetic than he has been other times this year when hidden in six mans. The juniors all busted ass, and the match told a pretty fun story to help set up the 7/4 show back in this same building, as they not only peaked the match around the Ibushi/KUSHIDA sequence to wet the appetite for their title bout, but they also built some heat for Shelley/Desperado as well. Desperado has gotten mixed reviews since returning from excursion in January, and is sort of lost in the booking shuffle, but I’ve enjoyed his stiff style and his fun tweener act. When Ibushi & KUSHIDA’s sequence ended in a stalemate with both men down, Ibushi reached to make the hot tag to Naito, but Desperado yanked his own partner off the apron so he could take the tag himself. Cool spot that popped the crowd. For the finish, Shelley escaped Desperado’s finisher, but Desperado tried to shove Shelley into the ref. Shelley stopped himself short to avoid the DQ, but that allowed Desperdo to cradle him up for the win. Naito was not pleased with Desperado during the post match. This was all tremendous stuff nvolving Desperado. Ibushi & KUSHIDA had the final face off, and thanks to this match i’m now way more interested in Shelley vs Desperado than I was before. Mission accomplished. ****

6. Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, Rocky Romero, Alex Kozlov vs Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Doc Gallows – You know the closing stretches of these types of matches in New Japan are going to be hot, but the first half of this was putting me to sleep as they all tagged in one by one to do their trademark shit. Nakamura took the night off. So did Okada, for that matter. The star here was Romero, who really shined as the junior going toe to toe with the heavyweight star in Anderson, surviving & fighting until Gallows saved Anderson’s ass and helped him put the feisty junior away. Hard to rate, because I loved the Romero/Anderson story, but there wasn’t much else to sink your teeth into. ***

7. IWGP NEVER Openweight Title – Tomohiro Ishii vs Yujiro Takahashi – Pretty intense Ishii chants at the start. Korakuen loves this man. I was pretty surprised that Ishii sold for nearly the entire match, and then lost, but then again this is Ishii, and that is where his strengths lie anyway. Just as things were about to pick up and I was gearing up for the big Ishii comeback, Yujiro grabbed the referee on the way down on a powerbomb, leading to the ref bump/Bullet Club run in. This completely took me out of the match. Ishii fought them off, but then they did ANOTHER ref bump. Ugh. CHAOS eventually ran in and ran off the BC, but the damage was done, both to Ishii and the match. Ishii got the visual pin after a brainbuster while the ref was selling, and survived a bunch of big moves like the Tokyo Pimps and a buckle bomb, before Yujiro picked up the win with his new Miami Shine finish. They lost me on the first ref bump, and I didn’t really care about anything after that. If I wanted to watch constant ref bumps, run ins, and visual pins, I have RAW or Impact for that. This stuff just isn’t for me, and not what I want out of my New Japan main events. **1/2 Fuego