New Japan Pro Wrestling Road to Destruction: Day 1
September 5, 2014
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
As a fan of the game known interchangeably as ‘football’ and ‘soccer’ I must say that I value the end of season break. Just last year my particular team of choice had something of a rollercoaster ride of a year, resulting in a glum day in North-West London in the realization that further success had been curtailed for that season. One six hour coach ride of complete gloom later I was home and I began to wind down.
And then the World Cup started and all of a sudden football was happening in every conceivable location at every hour of the day. I acquiesced with the rampaging beast of football for another month (even though ‘my team’ was knocked out early, friends had countries in the reckoning and felt it rude to not lend support) before the whole thing ended. But the new season has started with nary a gap and I am still not ready. I am not bothered. I need my space. Football everywhere and at all times. Non-stop football night and day. Open eyes: football. Conversation with strangers: football. Just let it end.
So whilst Monday Night Raw might pride itself on being a non-stop no-season break format, let me just say that I am absolutely glad that New Japan have no such desire and take a full month between the conclusion of the G1 Climax and the beginning of the Destruction tour so their guys can heal and that fans can enjoy the end of summer without the wrestling taking over.
But enough of that. It was a great, glorious G1 Climax (check this for a good summary post from Smark Out Moment) that seemed to herald the epochal moment in the Era of Okada as well as a sighting of the ephemeral Comet Jarrett and its associated phenomena D’Amore. Nearly all of the 22 dudes selected to beat and bruise and bloody their fellow man got themselves into the affections of many more than they did before.
Tonight’s card is the first event back from hiatus as we head toward the two Destruction supercards. Across the span of those events only four titles will be defended, two of which are held by KUSHIDA. The rest contains what I would tentatively term ‘glorified jockeying for position’. How this televised house show will build to that I can only imagine. Toru Yano and Minoru Suzuki will work together again though.
Alex Shelley and Sho Tanaka vs. El Desperado and Taichi (Suzuki-gun): Taichi comes to the ring miming a song with El Desperado somehow managing to look embarrassed under his mask. The Suzuki-gun unit contesting this match will challenge for the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in Kobe against the Time Splitters, of which Alex Shelley comprises one half. LOGICAL RIGOUR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.
The other half of his team is the young lion (not literally) Sho Tanaka who I must say tends to always impress me in the short amount of time he gets to be seen. Given the average age of the NJPW roster (in summary: getting up there in years) it seems that the company could use some young blood to mix things up a bit.
The match is a fairly standard house show opener with a greater ratio of heelish crowd work by Desperado (who wears a singlet throughout) and Taichi than you might find in a great ‘match’ as it were. Some of the cool physical stuff were based around Taichi’s stinging kicks, including one really nicely slow-played kick to the chest as Tanaka cinched in a Boston Crab on Desperado.
The whole thing is pretty cool stuff though. Just glad to have everyone back. Shelley gets beaten about about as much as Tanaka does though the latter man suffers the indignity of the pinfall. A tag team manouevre is debuted, as Taichi assists Desperado’s Guitarra de la Muerta with a neckbreaker. **1/2
Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger and Tiger Mask vs. Maximo and BUSHI: The story of the match to begin with is that neither of the New Japan Superheroes, Liger and Tiger, want to square up with Maximo. Maximo comes via the same CMLL talent exchange that sees Mascara Dorada, La Sombra, Rush and Fuego all ply their trade now and again in an Asian ring. What separates Maximo from the aforenamed is that he is an exótico. This culturally-loaded term could serve as the basis for a thesis-length exposition but let’s just leave it as a guy who gets heat by pretending to be gay, or by being actually gay.
One of Maximo’s things that he does is try to grab your face and plant a kiss on your cheek. Tiger seems utterly resistant to this and the match seems to be going the way of unsubtle homophobiaville when Liger reverses Maximo’s attempt to kiss him into a kiss of his own! It’s pretty funny though ultimately I don’t know what part of me wants to believe in a Butlerian performance theory and what part of me is like ‘ok, let’s can the mincing gay stereotype stuff now, it’s 2014, we all know that gay people are the same.’
Maximo moves pretty well around the ring for a guy his size and shape (short, doughy) and the match, once it gets past the shenanigans, unfolds into a decent short house show tag match. Liger picks up the win with a roll-up on Maximo. There are some planchas and a hurricanrana from Maximo but it’s more crowd work than wrestling match. **1/4
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Yohei Komatsu vs. Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and Captain New Japan: Great to see Komatsu here in such esteemed company even if the outcome is telegraphed as a result. Komatsu wants to start the match against man mountain Nakanishi but his buddies protect him for the time being, leaving Tenzan in charge. Last time Tenzan was here the roof nearly came off in beating Hirooki Goto. No such luck this time.
Initially on reviewing I wrote “there’s not really much to report from this one to be perfectly honest. It’s just nice to see that Komatsu fits in a ring with so many world champions without looking like a doofus. Captain New Japan, who does look a bit like a doofus, gets the win after a controlled brawl in which everybody basically gets their shit in.”
Since writing that, the Tenzan/Kojima v Nagata/Nakanishi tag match in Okayama has been bumped up to title match status, with Tenkoji’s NWA Tag Team Championship on the line for the first time since June. Three months ago you might not think that such a good proposition, but Tenzan’s revival during the G1 Climax offers hope of more than just legends padding out the card. **1/2
Toru Yano, Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov (CHAOS) vs. Minoru Suzuki, TAKA and Takashi Iizuka (Suzuki-gun): As patient as I am even I am not seeing the point in the Yano-Suzuki war any longer. I’d always rationalized it as such: Suzuki, however awesome he is, is pretty old and needs physically protecting to get the best out of him for big occasions. Yano works a style that isn’t exactly the most physically taxing. As personalities they really work together as a comedy guy and a legit straight man.
But, somewhere, possibly after Wrestle Kingdom, it has run aground. Even with the nuance of Iizuka joining Suzuki-gun, no one really wants to see Yano wrestle Iizuka. Suzuki fanning the flames of a war with occasional CHAOS interloper Kazushi Sakuraba doesn’t make this whole storyline any more appealing to sit through. Jason Felix’s enthusiastic write-up does make me think I’m being mean though.
Koslov and Romero make this one fairly watchable for their in-ring moments but it is once again a shapeless fun brawl that probably works fine in the house but is difficult to get through the central phase at home without checking my phone or contemplating new wallpaper. The ending picks up when the Hooligans work Suzuki over, but TAKA distracts Romero leading to Suzuki setting Koslov up for a stinging Gotch-style Piledriver with a tightly-wrenched Sleeper. **1/4
Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma (GBH) vs. Hirooki Goto and Kota Ibushi: Kota Ibushi makes his NJPW return after suffering a concussion on the go home tour ahead of the G1 Climax by pinning his replacement Tomoaki Honma cleanly, thus resetting the hierarchy. It’s very simply done, it has reason to occur, it doesn’t harm Honma (whose stock is substantially higher than it was pre-G1) and it doesn’t step on the main feud.
The ‘you broke my jaw and ruined my G1’ / ‘no, you broke MY jaw and ruined MY G1’ storyline between Goto and Makabe may have been born out of a fluke and it may be semi-ridiculous but also pretty compelling stuff. They’ve been in and out of one another’s orbit for years: as G1 opponents, as tag team title opponents and as rivals in the guys in the upper midcard who can’t quite climb the mountain. One is a wrestler with brawling tendencies and the other is a brawler with wrestling tendencies. And they will meet at the Kobe Destruction show practically even in wins achieved, jaws broken and G1 Climaxes ruined.
The match here kicks the second half of the show comfortably into a higher gear than anything from the first. Every combination of workers in the ring possible have really complementary skillsets that makes for an entertaining fight even if it isn’t worked at top rate. Goto and Makabe brawl to the back at the conclusion of the match. I’m not 100 per cent sure I buy that these guys hate each other like I did when Shibata and Nagata brawled to the back but I am totally up for their match so I guess they did their job well. ***1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi and KUSHIDA vs. Tetsuya Naito and Ryusuke Taguchi: Katsuyori Shibata doesn’t turn up for house shows which leaves his opponent for Kobe, Hiroshi Tanahashi, treading water for the duration this tour. This is actually not a bad thing, given that you could slot Tanahashi into any program and raise its appeal. Here, alongside two junior heavyweights and one puffed-up junior heavyweight, he gets the rare opportunity to play the big bully.
Tanahashi’s presence also offers a solid foundation for the Jr. Heavyweight title rivalry between KUSHIDA and Ryusuke Taguchi to stand in. When the match was announced I was a little disappointed because since returning to wrestling, I’ve not seen much from Taguchi apart from some spots taken from the less interesting matches of the Super J Cup era and a lot of Eddie Guerrero worship. He doesn’t appear to be a great talker or man of charisma and isn’t blessed with the greatest look or gimmick. So why persist?
But recently I’ve delved into the history of the man and caught up with his run in Apollo 55 with Prince Devitt and his matches at the 2011 Best of the Super Junior (to my mind the best since the classic era in the 90s) and it’s pretty clear to see that Taguchi certainly was one of the best under-the-radar guys in the world. Injury seems to have robbed him of commitment to the moment, but maybe like my own real world injury, it’s easy to get back to functionality but a slow road to total recovery and confidence.
This is a really fine match, all things considered, and built hype well for the Taguchi/KUSHIDA match. Like many juniors in Japan right now, there’s a combination of aerial antics and ground-based material in both guys’ arsenals. If arranged in a fluid manner, these contrasts really renew the possibilities of junior wrestling by incorporating psychology and variety with moments of speed that heavier guys can’t match. Taguchi takes the surprise win by forcing KUSHIDA to tap. ***3/4
ELIMINATION TAG TEAM MATCH – Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI and Gedo (CHAOS) vs. Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, Yujiro Takahashi and Tama Tonga (Bullet Club): A nice addition to the Survivor tag format here is that you’re eliminated if you get thrown over the top rope. It serves a double utility in a match like this: i. it keeps the audience on their toes and ii. is a way of eliminating people without resorting to the crowdkiller of the DQ or reducing their star power by taking the pinfall. But this match wasn’t about simply protecting the stars. It potentially made one.
Nobuo Yoshihashi, or YOSHI-HASHI, has worked for NJPW for six years. In that time he has not done much. He has won no titles. He has eaten the pin in multi-man tag matches several times. He has been violently battered by the likes of Shibata, Suzuki and Tanahashi. He rarely gets to perform on big shows. On excursion to CMLL, he wagered his hair against Rush and lost. His long term tag partner is Okada, though it is fair to say that he has been outstripped by Rainmaker somewhat. He is a member of CHAOS, but even they acknowledge his status as something of a loser (though they want him to succeed).
During Karl Anderson vs. Tomohiro Ishii from the G1 Finals, Yujiro Takahashi interfered on behalf of Anderson. From out of the depths of the cavernous Seibu Dome came YOSHI-HASHI, evening the score by ridding the ring of the wicked sex goblin to widespread approval.
And then there’s this match. Ordinarily YOSHI-HASHI would be among the first two to depart. Tama Tonga pinned Gedo before getting eliminated by Shinsuke Nakamura. IWGP Intercontinental rivals Bad Luck Fale and Nakamura chased each other down the drain by taking each other over the top rope. Gallows tossed Ishii, before Okada eliminated Gallows and Anderson. Anderson took revenge on his Destruction opponent Okada by sneakily having him eliminated. And somehow, we’re left with YOSHI-HASHI and Yujiro.
From here the Korakuen came unglued, willing the goonish staff-carrying job candidate to get his first meaningful victory. CHAOS stayed ringside, spurring YOSHI-HASHI on. The match remained a singles contest for five whole minutes after Okada’s elimination, before Yujiro was ended with a YOSHI-HASHI Swanton Bomb to cement a shot at Yujiro’s NEVER Openweight Championship.
A popular win, celebrated in-ring by CHAOS. In the aftermath it transpires that Okada and YOSHI-HASHI will also challenge Bullet Club for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Okada made a forceful and convincing speech, showing that his post-G1 proclamations were not just an adrenaline-fuelled fluke. As a match it was fun. Given the format it still felt pretty long, but entertaining throughout, with something always happening to maintain full attention. ***3/4
A furniture mover of an event rather than a shitkicker, but the final moments were executed in an exemplary fashion. Even if YOSHI-HASHI loses, he has been elevated to a level above pure job guy now. The second half of the show featured some great action too. Have a look if you can.
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