New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Tokyo Dome
December 18, 2015
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Jay White vs David Finlay, Manabu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata

This is your classic Young Lions and their dads in a tag team opener. I can’t help but feel that Finlay got a slightly worse deal in this one. With Yohei and Sho leaving us next year, the two gaijin young boys will have to step up their game to keep these otherwise mundane tags interesting.

Nakanishi and Tenzan start us off and go immediately into the big guys spot, each trying to knock down the other with shoulder barges and chops. Tenzan pulls out his signature Mongolian chops to win the exchange but ends up in a backbreaker rack anyway. The Young Lions get in the match and unsurprisingly increase the pace of the match considerably. We don’t get to see nearly enough bouncing off the ropes and engaging in speedy grappling before Nakanishi tags himself back in.

I know Nagata’s whole gimmick is how he’s anti-aging, but I’m still impressed with how well he can move at 47. He rolls under Tenzan’s lariat, and hits a basement dropkick in a sequence I would expect out of the Lions. The old timers tag in their partners and Kojima nails Nakanishi with a particularly devastating series of machine gun chops before signalling to go top rope for his elbow drop. The camera pans out however, and reveals that Nakanishi is already back up. Finlay comes back in and, after kicking Kojima around a bit, runs right into a lariat and takes the pin.  Very skippable bout, but not offensively bad in any way. **

Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe vs Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu

Great Bash Heel warm up for their IWGP Tag Team Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 10 by beating up some Young Lions (I’m really going to miss Sho and Yohei).

I’m sure the two new guys won’t be awful, but it will be quite the challenge to live up to these standards. Yohei in particular is definitely star material. His heel work is exceptional, the cocky young guy picking fights with the veterans works perfectly. He was also great at Muscle Mates (over in DDT) where he played the disrespectful invader with Tanahashi, clearly taking inspiration from him and mimicking his heel actions. He livens up the opening of this match too, by trying to knock down Makabe with shoulder blocks. Ishii can’t even do that consistently, Yohei has no chance. He dodges a clothesline and springs up to send Makabe flying with a perfectly executed hurricanrana, then landing a dropkick as he gets up. Hopefully training in Mexico will expand Komatsu’s already impressive range of fast lucha maneuvers. Makabe is forced into his corner and has no choice but to tag Honma in, the ‘Unchained Gorilla’ is made to look pathetic by a young upstart. Amazing.

Tanaka gets a chance to rumble with Honma. He instantly shows disrespect by slapping  Honma across the face after being forced to break his offence. Great Bash Heel are really angry now. Honma grants Tanaka another test of strength but it doesn’t go well as Tanaka manages to take him down. Perhaps this hints at Tanaka going heavyweight in the future, and Yohei becoming a junior? He can’t, however, out power Makabe, who comes in to sort him out. Shohei has a fantastic showing here, dominating for much of the match while outsmarting the number one contenders. Of course, it isn’t long until Great Bash Heel regains control. Makabe unleashes a series of blows to Tanaka on the turnbuckle, only stopping to let out his signature booming evil wizard laugh (trust me, it happened). Makabe finishes off Tanaka with the King Kong Knee for the win. ** ¾

Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano vs Yujiro Takahashi and Cody Hall

Yujiro’s better half: Mao, sadly didn’t show up to this event, meaning that the two DVD entrepreneurs of NJPW didn’t get to meet face to face. Oddly, Yujiro DID bring his chair with him, which he sits back in, looking expectantly at Cody. Speaking of Cody Hall, his trunks show too much of his butt.

In these meaningless throwaway CHAOS vs Bullet Club tags, Yano always shines as light relief and his hijinks keep you engaged. If you were going to give this a skip, I wouldn’t blame you. But please, PLEASE, check out what happens at about 43:26 (on NJPW World). Cody Hall lets out some kind of pterodactyl scream, akin to Brock Lesnar’s, but maybe even more bizarre. Moving on, Yano comes in and avoids actually wrestling for about a minute by keeping a 2 metre distance between himself and both members of Bullet Club and getting a “Break!” chant going. Yujiro eventually lashes out however, and Cody goes to take out Sakuraba. I know old Japanese wrestlers are made of stronger stuff, but I can’t help but wince as Cody manhandles brittle old Sakuraba. This descends into a brawl on the outside, Yujiro utilising his chair to choke Yano.

Cody regains starts throwing poor Yano around, all the while calling out “Toruuuu” to the crowd before swearing at them. I’m not the biggest hater of Hall, but there are better ways of being heel than just yelling profanity and being obnoxious. I guess that’s the Bullet Club way. Sakuraba manages to catch both Yujiro and Cody in a head and leg lock respectively. It’s short-lived, but it’s fun to see Bullet Club out played by a submission specialist. He then counters Cody’s clothesline into a kneeling side slam, followed by the cross armbreaker. Yujiro comes in to break it up, weakening Sakuraba’s hold but not completely stopping it. It’s enough for Cody to regain some control and he almost frees his arm before Yano comes in, low blows Yujiro, covers the referee’s eyes and kicks Cody’s arm back into place, forcing him to tap out. Fun ending, but a slow overall pace. Absolutely watch Cody’s dinosaur screech however. 

NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title
Tiger Mask (c) vs Jushin Thunder Liger

Liger got his muscles out for this one, and considering he’s over 50, he looks to be in amazing shape. I’m not sure what to think about his get up here, I know he’s pulled it out a couple of times before but it still doesn’t look right. He certainly doesn’t look generic, but the Liger look is so iconic and the long hair makes his movements look that much better. It feels less sassy for some reason, then again, maybe it’s befitting this match.

Liger aggressively takes control in the early goings, even going for a Liger Bomb early. Tiger Mask manages to flip out of it and forces Liger to the outside with a nice sequence, followed by a dive to send him crashing into the steel barricades. The two brawling and going all out at ringside creates a very intense feel, which should feel out-of-place in a fight between two old friends, but it works, and makes you root for Tiger Mask. Liger hits a suplex on the outside and throws Tiger Mask into the barricade before returning to the ring and letting the countout continue. You’d expect a friend to break the count, or let his opponent return to the ring to face off, so Liger almost looks like a heel, if only for a moment. Maybe he just has faith in his partner, as he gets back in the ring at nineteen. When he does however, he’s greeted by another Liger Bomb attempt, and this time: it hits. A nearfall so early in the match makes this an upward struggle for the champion for the rest of the match.

Liger now takes Tiger Mask to the top rope and goes for another power bomb. He’s really not pulling any punches. A series of headbutts breaks it up, and Tiger Mask hits a double underhook suplex from the top instead. Brutal. Tiger pulls out a powerbomb of his own for another nearfall. For a Junior Heavyweight Championship match, this has been all about power moves so far. Liger regains dominance with a huge lariat, followed by a brainbuster for yet another nearfall. A Shotei palm strike is reversed by Tiger Mask who has kicked out or countered a large amount of Liger’s extensive move arsenal already. He gets yet another counter on Liger as he swings out another lariat, turning it into a scissored armbar. Tiger wrenches on both arms, roaring like his namesake as he does so until Liger submits.

This match was great and way over delivered on my expectations. This could easily have been a Wrestle Kingdom match. Only part I took issue with is how sudden Tiger’s comeback was, considering that he had been dominated for most of the match. Regardless, intense match with excellent storytelling. ***½

Hirooki Goto, Mascara Dorada and Captain New Japan vs Tetsuya Naito, EVIL and BUSHI

When EVIL faced Goto at Power Struggle, I thought his entrance was pretty cool. Here he has two laser hands that he wiggles around with way too much enthusiasm for someone who supposed to not give a damn. Luckily, that quota is fulfilled by Naito who is up to his usual shenanigans. He forces commentator Milano (who is joined by Makabe) to open the ropes for him, and takes his sweet time in general. With the arrival of Los Ingobernables de Japon, NJPW now has three major heel factions. Yet, they all feel different. They all have different perspectives and values, so naturally they don’t get along. It’s only a matter of time before we see Los Ingobernables facing CHAOS in tags almost every show.

Los Ingobernables immediately turn this into a brawl on the outside, whipping their opponents into barricades and making babies cry. Not even thirty seconds into the real match and the Captain is already reaching pathetically for a tag. You’d think that the embodiment of NJPW wouldn’t be such a jobber. Whenever he begins to mount any kind of resistance, Los Ingobernables employs some sneaky business to shut it down. He eventually gets the hot tag to Dorada, who comes flying in to do all his usual impressive flips including a giving a hurricanrana to BUSHI on the centre of the top rope. BUSHI removing Dorada’s mask at the finals of Tag League came as a huge shock, and gives this feud some major heat. Speaking of heat, Goto (the only really dependable member of his team) goes straight into a war of elbows against Naito. The feud between Meiyu Tag and los Ingobernables this year has been really fun and even though Shibata has ditched his partner here, the fire doesn’t seem to be fading between these two going into their Wrestle Kingdom match. Goto gets the upperhand here and hits Naito with his reverse Ushigoroshi followed by a roll up cross arm breaker.

The faces get a huge comeback sparked by Captain New Japan of all people. Of course, the Captain being the Captain, he messes up and undoes all their efforts anyway. Los Ingobernables beat take out all the members of the steadfast faces. Captain is hit by a basement dropkick to the head from Naito, Goto is thrown out the ring by EVIL and Dorada takes a nasty DDT on the apron from BUSHI. Despite all this, Captain New Japan kicks out of a big lariat from EVIL. But EVIL quickly polishes him off with his finisher of the same name (Evil). Good match that never slows down for long. ***

Shinsuke Nakamura vs Ryusuke Taguchi

I was skeptical going into this match. Taguchi isn’t amazing but at the same time, all the interactions he’s had with Nakamura have been entertaining. His weak attempts at being relevant are sad, but hilarious. We all know how this is going to go, Nakamura is going to wipe the floor with him and it’s going to feel great.

Taguchi comes out mocking Nakamura’s entrance (with like one tenth of the swag) as he has done a few times before, but this time he has a fetching crown which he places atop Finlay’s head when he’s done with it. The crowd here is chanting for Taguchi over Nakamura. Maybe they’re just fucking with Taguchi. Shinsuke pacing around Taguchi, looking him up and down as the camera zooms in on the green parodies of Nakamura’s gear that Taguchi is wearing is hilarious. While it’s impossible to take him seriously, Taguchi does know how to mess with Nakamura to the point that he’s able to get advantages in the match via mind games. He gets so downright frustrated with the parodies and the constant taunts that all he has this one expression on his face the whole way through like he can’t wait for the match to end. He has no problem taking out Taguchi (at one point he completely no sells his chops) but he knows that for every pinfall that doesn’t quite make three, he’ll be mocked.

In the final moments of this match, there’s a bit of accidental symbolism that I found deeply emotional. As Nakamura raises Taguchi up for a slam, Taguchi’s green rip off armband falls off and he’s no longer a Shinsuke impersonator. He’s just Taguchi, he’s a loser again. Nakamura bounds into the corner, looking for a Boma Ye. As Taguchi is stumbling up, Nakamura is impatiently begging him to get up quicker so he can end it. Taguchi makes it to his feet and… flops straight back down as Nakamura sighs in disappointment. Taguchi’s butt based offense gets him a comeback and he dodges a couple of Bomayes. Eventually though, the end comes to the Funky Weapon when Nakamura ducks a butt attack and finally lands a Boma Ye Knee for the win, gaining momentum heading into his title defence against AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom. ***¼

Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI, Gedo and Tomohiro Ishii vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Katsuyori Shibata and KUSHIDA

This is a special eight man elimination tag, where elimination can occur not only via pinfall or submission, but also from being thrown over the top rope (until the last two). The theme here is obviously to build hype between Shibata and Ishii as well as Okada and Tanahashi before their Wrestle Kingdom matches. So why is Juice Robinson here? Ugh. Juice and YOSHI-HASHI start us off with probably the least interesting match-up they could come up with.

It isn’t long until Gedo and KUSHIDA get tagged in. Now this is what I want to see. KUSHIDA is sent out of the ring and just about holds on to the top rope, dangling on like his life depended on it. Gedo tries to kick him off, which prompts all of Team Tanahashi to run in and try to tip Gedo out too. CHAOS comes in to counter that and we end up with all eight men in a heap before breaking apart and having a huge face off. When order is restored, Ishii starts tossing little KUSHIDA around, taking out his infinite anger on him and taunting Shibata. Each member of CHAOS takes turns punishing KUSHIDA until Gedo gets him in a submission that KUSHIDA tries to escape and turn into a shoulder arm breaker, but Gedo isn’t easily fooled and says: “NO, NO, NO, NO! I KNOW YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”. KUSHIDA eventually gets his comeback after nearly being knocked over the top rope by all of the opposing team. He gets the tag to Shibata who goes straight into an elbow exchange with Ishii. Ishii shows him that he’s going to have to change-up his offense in their Wrestle Kingdom match because no one can out elbow Ishii. They start fighting on the apron, dangerously close to elimination, throwing out lariats and big boots until out of nowhere, YOSHI-fucking-HASHI comes flying in and dropkicks them both out the ring. He has no time to regret his actions as Juice catches him in his series of funky punches.

HASHI regains composure and lands a superkick into a jackknife powerbomb with pinning combination but it isn’t enough to put away Juice. A Loose Explosion (Juice Explosion?) is enough however, and Robinson is eliminated. So to summarise: YOSHI-HASHI, who lost to Honma earlier in the year has now eliminated three wrestlers and is the only person to do any kind of elimination whatsoever!

In comes Tanahashi, which I would assume to signal the end for YOSHI-HASHI, but I’m not sure I know anything anymore. Sure enough, HASHI gets the upperhand and comes close to pinning Tanahashi, but not quite. He tries throwing Tana over the top rope instead. As Tanahashi is skinning the cat to get back in the ring, he wraps his legs around HASHI’s head and sends him out the ring while saving himself. The era of YOSHI-HASHI is over. Damn. Gedo comes bumbling in and takes a Dragon Screw to the leg. That leg then gets twisted into a Texas Cloverleaf, causing Gedo to tap to Tanahashi. This leaves us with Tanahashi and KUSHIDA vs Okada. We get a preview of Wrestle Kingdom’s main event right here and the tension is palpable. They’re not quite able to hit any of their signature maneuvers on each other however, Tanahashi avoids a piledriver by grabbing on to the top rope and hopping onto the apron. This proves to be a big mistake as Okada springboards off the ropes on the adjacent side of the ring and hits Tanahashi with a dropkick, sending him to the floor and eliminating him.

Our final two are Okada and KUSHIDA. You’d think it’d be Okada and Tanahashi, but there will be plenty of time for that come January 4th. KUSHIDA, now well rested from the beatdown he received early in the match is floored by a glorious dropkick, and Okada heads up top, looking for an elbow drop. He soars through the air but… KUSHIDA catches it and counters into an armbar! The IWGP Heavyweight Champion comes so close to tapping out but makes it to the rope. What an upset that would have been. KUSHIDA takes no time getting Okada into another submission, this time a Hoverboard Lock (Kimura). This matchup is incredible, and I really hope we get to see this in singles some time in the future. Sometimes, the divide between Heavyweights and Juniors deny us some truly fantastic matches. Okada hits a piledriver and gestures to Tanahashi before heading top rope, presumably going for another elbow drop after weakening KUSHIDA. But instead, he lands a HIGH FLY FLOW! Tanahashi is outraged at ringside as Okada flashes a cheeky grin, assumes the pose and nails KUSHIDA with a Rainmaker Lariat for the pin. Insane match. ****

Final Thoughts: December 18th’s Road to Tokyo Dome was a great show that’ll whet your appetite for Wrestle Kingdom 10 next month. The main event is phenomenal, Liger vs Tiger Mask is epic and Nakamura vs Taguchi is hilariously entertaining. Thanks for reading!