- Sho Tanaka & Tiger Mask vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
- Cody Hall & Kenny Omega vs. Captain New Japan & Mascara Dorada
- Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi & Yuji Nagata vs. TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) & Yohei Komatsu
- BULLET CLUB (Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga) vs. Hirooki Goto, Katsuyori Shibata & Tomoaki Honma
- CHAOS (Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) & Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) vs. Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA), Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito & Togi Makabe
- BULLET CLUB (AJ Styles, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Gedo, Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI)
With very little buzz or fanfare, the New Japan Pro Wrestling Road to Invasion Attack tour has quietly tiptoed across Japan this week, with none of the shows set to air on New Japan World until the March 29 card, and nothing set to air on Samurai TV until March 31. In an era of over the top subscription services and puro uploads that hit the internet just hours after the shows are over, the fact that not a single second of footage from this tour has emerged yet almost feels absurd. We’re spoiled!
This has actually been a very newsworthy tour that we haven’t been able to see, leading up to what is going to be a very intriguing Invasion Attack show, particularly from a business perspective. The company will be counting on emerging superstar Kota Ibushi and two time IWGP champion AJ Styles to do what the current New Japan three headed star monster of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, & Kazuchika Okada have never been able to do – sell out Sumo Hall*.
(*New Japan technically sold every ticket for the October 13, 2014 “King of Pro Wrestling” show with Tanahashi vs Styles on top, but for whatever reason they only made 9100 total tickets available, turning away many fans at the door the day of the show)
A sell out for Invasion Attack seems likely for several reasons, whether they make every ticket available this time around or not. For starters, they technically sold it out last time, and probably would have had full capacity had they offered every seat. Ibushi has already headlined multiple shows for DDT that have sold out the building to full capacity. He’s a bonafide major star with an established fan base, is the reigning DDT KO-D Openweight champion (their version of the World title), and is in the midst of a huge New Japan push coming off of his likely Match of the Year vs Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom (which was a breakout performance of sorts for the New Japan first timers who had never seen him before), a loss that not only got him over stronger than any of his New Japan wins ever did, but also made him 0-2 vs Nakamura, which was sneaky good booking that gives him a nemesis to overcome down the line. In hindsight, Ibushi winning the New Japan Cup really should have been obvious to all of us. In another example of clever booking, he went through respected gatekeepers Tetsuya Naito & Hirooki Goto in the later rounds to do it, which saved bigger matches against the likes of Tanahashi & Okada in the process.
Styles isn’t simply along for the ride. If the show does well, he deserves some credit. New Japan clearly over-estimated his initial popularity among Japanese fans, rushing him to the top before he was over, resulting in what was easily the most disappointing show from a business perspective in the Kidani era when the company returned to Yokohama Arena and filled barely half of the seats. Styles first IWGP run was not a business or aesthetic success, and the company figured it out quickly, even as champion he only headlined *one* G1 show. Styles had what can only be described as an amazing G1 run, which finally got him over with the native fans. He’s getting much stronger reactions post-G1, and his individual merchandise (not just Bullet Club specific) is said to be among the best selling merch in the entire company. If Invasion Attack does indeed draw a sellout, you would have to give most of the credit to Ibushi, but Styles has clearly begun to show signs of becoming a real draw.
Nakamura is fourth from the top in a six-man tag. Tanahashi is third from the top in a tag bout. Okada is facing Bad Luck Fale. None of those matches, with the possible exception of Okada/Fale, is being positioned in any special way to drive business. New Japan is putting this show on the shoulders of Ibushi & Styles. The story coming out of Invasion Attack will be whether New Japan has successfully elevated two new heads onto the current three headed monster.
Back to the tour, and to the New Japan World live show on Sunday. As noted, this tour has been newsworthy and has featured multiple interesting developments. Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from what we’ve (not actually) seen so far on the Road to Invasion Attack shows:
- AJ Styles worked the entire tour – Styles is a part time, yet New Japan hasn’t hesitated to put the IWGP title on him twice. There are some who feel being a part timer will ultimately stand in the way of Kota Ibushi eventually winning the title, but this obviously hasn’t been a barrier with Styles. With that said, Styles is not the ace of another Japanese promotion. New Japan would love to have Ibushi work for them full time (he has dual contracts), but he’s loyal to DDT and reluctant to make the move.
- Roppongi Vice debuted – Technically, they debut at Invasion Attack, but Beretta is on this entire tour (save the first night). The Forever Hooligans act clearly overstayed its welcome, and while I have nothing against Alex Kozlov, adding Beretta (he was “Baretta” on his first New Japan run in 2013, but they’re spelling it “Beretta” now) certainly freshens things up for both Rocky Romero (who is a criminally underrated professional wrestler) and the junior tag scene, which with systematic additions of The Young Bucks, reDRagon, and now Roppongi Vice, we should probably stop calling stale. Long gone are the 2012 days of Forever Hooligans facing Time Splitters on every. single. show. At this point the idea of a stale junior tag division is just shit people are used to saying.
- Yohei Komatsu is reportedly using a Falcon Arrow – Big deal, right? Well, it is kind of a big deal. There are certain clues in the development of a young lion that show when the company is gaining confidence in them, and they usually go in the following general order: Knee pads show up (interesting note – Jay White was wearing knee pads right from the jump). They grow out their hair/facial hair, as the company slowly allows them to show individual personality. New “non young lion” moves are added to the moveset, which is why this addition of the Falcon Arrow is relevant. Finally, when these guys lose the generic all black ring gear, young boy duty is usually over. This usually occurs after an excursion, returning with a fresh coat of paint with years of doing jobs out of fans minds, but with nobody in the dojo aside from White ready to take over the young boy duties, and the current excursion crew not expected to return before 2016, there is some speculation that Komatsu & Sho Tanaka’s excursions may be bypassed. As is blatantly obvious and has been beaten to death on this site, both are more than ready to move up.
- Two NWA title defenses happened – Five singles matches on one house show tour doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but when you consider that two of them were title matches, that’s clearly not the way New Japan usually does things. Hiroyoshi Tenzan successfully defended his NWA World title against tag team partner (and former champion) Satoshi Kojima on 3/21, and Jushin Thunder Liger successfully defended the NWA Junior Heavyweight title against his tag team partner, Tiger Mask, on March 22. I figured they’d save these matches for Korakuen, if not Invasion Attack. But the March 21 show drew 2,200 fans, and the March 22 show did 5,200 (with Ibushi & Naito vs Styles & Yujiro on top, which was the only show Ibushi was booked for on the tour aside from Korakuen Hall on April 2, which features the same tag match on top, and Invasion Attack, which are the three most important shows and he was booked to headline all of them…think about that), so perhaps they felt they should give those slightly bigger buildings more important bouts than the usual 6-man & 8-man throw away tags. The rest of the singles matches on the tour saw Romero def. Komatsu on March 21, Komatsu def. Tanaka on March 22, and Komatsu & Tanaka will face off again on April 2 in Korakuen Hall, where they will face each other for the 41st time. FORTY ONE TIMES.
As for the six match March 29 offering, there isn’t much there to sink your teeth into. No singles matches, no Ibushi. It’s a run of the mill house show stop, and the real “go home” show for Invasion Attack will take place four days later at Korakuen Hall. It will, however, be the first chance to see anything from this tour, so if you’re a spoiled 2015 fan like I am, you’ll be logging in to New Japan World to check it out on Sunday as an appetizer for WrestleMania.