New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Destruction 2015 – Night 1
September 4, 2015
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

No commentary on this show, but there’s so much interesting action that you might not even notice. Feuds and stories that have felt frozen by the G1 Climax — and others which have developed during the length of it — re-emerge here. Plus: the (re)debut of Juice Robinson, the return of Kenny Omega, and much more!

David Finlay vs Jay White

More and more since January — and emphasised by the Battle of the Super Juniors tournament — the Young Lions singles matches have been nothing to sleep on. While the current cohort have always been technically competent, it’s so exciting to see them develop characters; and moves with personality, while bouncing around the undercard shuffle. This match has a far more serious tone than the more frivolous six man matches that Finlay and White have been in lately- it starts off tense, and technical: they’re not playing here.

The theme seems to be that Finlay is stronger, but White is smarter; favouring rope-grabs and wise reversals rather than just powering out of holds. At one point, Finlay floors White with a single, decisive uppercut. This match is a great showcase; running the gambit of mat-based grappling, submissions, power moves, pacy dodging and weaving, and a particularly flashy missile dropkick from White. While the lack of commentary initially serves to emphasise the awkward stillness of a Japanese crowd during the first match of the night, before long they are cheering and clapping for every ropebreak, gasping at a convincing White nearfall, and outraged when Finlay taps out White with a brutal looking Stretch Muffler. ***¼

Sho Tanaka and Yuji Nagata vs Yohei Komatsu and Manubu Nakanishi

This match has a certain sort of pleasing symmetry, like they organised the undercard into genres and then assigned one “father” and one “son” to each side. Nagata’s sporting a disconcerting beard here, for your records. Once again the Young Lions start with fire and resolution, and a rousing “Komatsu” chant erupts from the crowd. Nakanishi gets tagged in for a sequence of never-ending elbows with Nagata, and what they lack in believability or effort they make up for in sheer enthusiasm of crowd reaction.

People adore Nakanishi’s bumbling forearms and grumpy chops, and it’s hard not to be swept along. As a stark and delicious contrast, Yohei throws the most impossibly elegant hurricanrana and the two younger men get a showcase of their own. Like almost always, Komatsu is the stand out here, but there are a lot of fun big-man moments, like Nakanishi pulling off a double-suplex of Tanaka and Nagata; and Nagata throwing Yohei over his head like he was a helium balloon. Nagata gets the pin with a backdrop. ***½

Captain New Japan, Jushin Thunder Liger, and Tomoaki Honma vs Kazushi Sakuraba, YOSHI-HASHI, and Tomohiro Ishii

This match starts off with Captain and Sakuraba, and while immediately that seems a little oddly paced, the over the top harmless cartoonishness of Captain New Japan serves to be a great juxtaposition to Sakuraba’s vicious ruthlessness. Captain emerges from the initial lock-up visibly shaken, with his mask ears all wonky and dishevelled. There’s drama between Ishii and Honma, after Honma’s shocking G1 win, but it doesn’t come to much, and it feels like that story mostly was resolved within that one match. There isn’t anything else to say: it happened; Ishii’s reaction at the time was more of confusion than animosity.

As much fun as it to see Liger being light-hearted abroad; prancing with Dalton Castle’s valets or pinning Tyler Breeze in Brooklyn; it’s also great to have him back here, squaring up to Ishii grumpily and mercilessly backbreaking YOSHI-HASHI. Ishii gets the win with a brainbuster on Captain New Japan. Unremarkable, but fine. **

Tiger Mask, Katsuyori Shibata, and Togi Makabe vs Juice Robinson, Tetsuya Naito, and Kota Ibushi

The nebulous nature of New Japan mid-card impromptu tag teams is a double edged sword. You get to see refreshing match ups and interactions between wrestlers that you wouldn’t otherwise; but if you get attached to a certain combination, you may not see them together again for a long while. I loved Golden Meiyu (or Meiyu Star) from the G1 final, but here Kota is shoved back with previous tag partner Naito, and debuting Juice Robinson (CJ Parker from NXT).

Naito is still just as brilliantly infuriating as he was throughout the entire G1 Climax, masterfully lounging around at every opportunity, draping himself over ropes and taking years to enter the ring. Shibata has less than zero patience for this sort of behaviour, and looks like a man at breaking point almost immediately. He even pulls out a Tenryu-esque chop/punch combo.

The other story here is the burgeoning beef between Makabe and Ibushi. This has a little less steam, and takes a back seat. I feel like Makabe isn’t a very interesting or natural opponent for Ibushi, and when they clash in the ring it doesn’t emphasise either of their strengths.

That leaves Robinson to pair off with Tiger Mask, a decent choice of partner to exchange a few quick-paced spots with. I was feeling quite optimistic and positive about Juice Robinson appearing in NJPW, especially after reading Joey O’Doherty’s thoughtful retospective on the career of CJ Parker, but he didn’t particularly impress here. I think it’s wise to reserve judgement until he finds a niche in the Juniors division, though. I was delighted that Robinson got to hit his amusingly named “Juice is Loose” DDT, but disappointed that I couldn’t hear the commentary excitedly call it with exaggerated vowel sounds. Tiger Mask beat him with a rollup. Shibata piles on Naito after the bell and has to be pulled off by long-suffering Young Lions; while Kota suddenly loses his patience and lays a vicious beatdown on Makabe, which is far better than anything he actually did during the match.

This match was fairly average, wrestling-wise, but the tension between Shibata and Naito was really enjoyable, as their polar opposite personalities clashed again and again, and Shibata appeared to be about to go postal at any moment: it made me more excited for the ultimate blow off than ever. **¾

Intermission time, and invaluable NJPW translator @e_key_oide shares some interesting tidbits about the heartthrobs of the Young Lion division:

Toru Yano and Kazuchika Okada vs Cody Hall and Tama Tonga

Lots of little comedy bits to enjoy here: Yano being genuinely unnerved by Tama Tonga scooting round the ring on all fours, and climbing the turnbuckle to escape him, like jumping on a stool to avoid a mouse in the kitchen, is completely charming. This is a match without any overarching plotlines running through it, and despite the IWGP Heavyweight Champion being in it, I can’t help but focus on Tama Tonga. He’s really reached new levels with his playful creepy gimmick and always puts a tonne of effort in everything he does, in contrast to the charisma void of Cody Hall. Okada was mainly there for a few crowd-pleasing spots, and to hit the Rainmaker on Hall. **½

Mascara Dorada, Rysuke Taguchi and Hirooki Goto vs Beretta, Rocky Romero, and Shinsuke Nakamura

This whole card feels fresh after a long slog of a G1 Climax, and really enjoyable considering this is essentially a throwaway set-up show for the more important big Destruction events later in the month. Maybe only a brief rest was needed to enjoy New Japan with fresh eyes, but equally, the addition of some faces conspicuously absent from the G1 tour adds a lot of interest. Roppongi Vice are a welcome sight here, adding to the CHAOS ranks.

Some things haven’t changed, though, like the mystery of whatever’s going on between Taguchi and Nakamura at the moment. Taguchi’s been parodying his moves, his catchphrases, and his merch, for months now, and Nakamura seems to be steadfastly no-selling it. Too much of this match is Taguchi, for my tastes, and his butt-based tomfoolery falls flat for me. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just Taguchi, but then Romero gets involved too, and I have to watch between gaps in my fingertips because it’s too embarrassing.

Goto and Nakamura face down for the next part of action, and while they’re both excellent and skilled, here is where I felt my first hint of matchup fatigue. These two seem to have had hundreds of singles matches in the past few months, and they’re facing off again in the main event of Destruction in Kobe on the 27th of September. Their interactions here don’t outstay their welcome though, and Nakamura is on fine form, looking a little less battered than he did toward the end of the G1 Climax.

As many of these tags are guilty of, this felt more like three separate matches rather than a cohesive fight. Beretta and Dorada exchange a few clumsy high spots, and Roppongi Vice hit the Strong Zero on Dorada for the win. Rocky sings their theme to a disinterested cameraman while Naka silently presses his forehead to Goto’s in the background. *¾

KUSHIDA, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kenny Omega, Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson, and Bad Luck Fale

After a vast amount of criticism, (mostly from myself), Fale has stopped wearing the hat that he so ardently defended on social media, and I sort of feel personally responsible. Tanahashi has the golden G1 briefcase in tow, with black, red, and white motif on it to perfectly match his coat and tights. If this was one of my SmackDown reviews, he would have just secured Best Dressed without a shadow of a doubt.

Kenny Omega, who dropped off the face of the earth after losing his IWGP Junior Heavyweight title to KUSHIDA a few months back, has also graced us with his presence for this main event. He has a rematch set for later in the month, so with Tanahashi/Fale and Tencozy/Bullet Club, this match is heavy with championship match foreshadowing.

Tanahashi seems buoyed with confidence here, to the extent that he exuberantly tries to suplex Fale within seconds of the match starting. It’s a high energy main event, with Kenny and KUSHIDA particularly showboating and one-upping each other with fancy footwork. Things get a little more serious when the Bullet Club decide to divide and conquer by dragging their opponents out of the ring: Anderson dragging Tenzan by the hair, and Gallows kicking KUSHIDA all the way to the top row of seats in Korakuen Hall. When Tenzan makes his way back to the ring, he gets choked by Kenny utilising Gallows’ noose. The Biz Cliz look for all intents and purposes like they’re going to steamroll the other team, especially when they all consecutively hit creative splashes on the limp, laid out body of Kojima, but a save is made just in time, and the tides turn.

Tencozy hit the Koji Cutter together for the finish. ***½

After the match, Tenzan triumphantly cuts a brief promo interspersed with well-meaning but not entirely grammatically accurate English words, stating his intentions for TenCozy to claim the IWGP Tag Titles from Bullet Club.

Final Thoughts: There wasn’t anything bad here at all, and with a lot of notable returns, it was a really interesting show that will scratch your itch if you’ve got NJPW withdrawal already. Nothing was outstanding or particularly innovative, but the first two matches had awesome performances from the Young Lions, which you’ll be fondly rewatching one day in the future after Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu have main evented in the Tokyo Dome. The main event crammed in build for three different championship matches with remarkable efficiency.