New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Destruction
September 12, 2016
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
Watch: NJPW World
David Finlay def. Henare
I might be on an island, but I like David Finlay’s new look. I now present the alternate view:
David Finlay’s leopard print trunks are like when you’re young and you buy that clothing item or album or video game that your stupid kid brain thinks is so cool, but actually stinks. Like sneakers with wheels in them, or the Big Mutha Truckers video game. And yes, I picked those two examples on purpose. -VOW contributor Andrew Rich
Regardless of whether you’re #TeamCheetah or not, the new threads represent a promotion of sorts for Finlay, who has stayed behind while the rest of his young lion generation are off on excursions. Finlay is now 3-0 in singles matches since the wardrobe upgrade, and appears to reside in that odd prelim limbo space wedged between young lion and mid card, a space also occupied by Juice Robinson and Cody Hall. He also sports a new finish, a cutter type move he calls “prima nocta” that he used to put away GO Asakawa at Lion’s Gate 3 and now Henare here.
Henare is the latest product of New Japan’s New Zealand pipeline, following Bad Luck Fale and Jay White. He’s a heavyweight who made his Japan debut at Lion’s Gate 3, but is said to have about four years experience. He’s been booked on most of the Destruction tour shows and has already leapfrogged several of the new crop of lions, many of whom have either worked very sparingly or even not at all. Like the Lion’s Gate match, this was kept very basic, but when watching Henare, while he doesn’t jump off the page like White did early on, it’s easy to see he has some experience. *3/4
Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens def. Captain New Japan & Yoshitatsu
The story here was the continuing saga of the struggling Bullet Club Hunters, with Yoshitatsu becoming increasingly frustrated with The Captain’s penchant for losing. Following Bullet Club’s relatively tidy victory (which saw CNJ taking yet another fall), Yoshitatsu grabbed the mic and implored the fans to head to his Twitter account to vote on whether he should kick CNJ out of Hunter Club (using the archaic “RT for yes, FAV for no” system as opposed to simply creating a poll, which had fans burying him and had me questioning whether Tatsu is the real problem here). I know some people find all of this pointless and silly, but I like the idea of running angles on your deep prelims, as opposed to an endless string of meaningless matches that serve no purpose. Owens & Yujiro have an odd chemistry, and I like them as a prelim level Bullet Club team. Card placement is everything (sup, Tanga Loa), and Yujiro is far less offensive when beating up jobbers in prelims. *1/2
As I write this, “leave” was leading the voting. Either way, we’re probably headed to an eventual Captain New Japan vs Yoshitatsu feud, and I am unironically hyped. Leave me alone.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi def. Will Ospreay, Gedo, Rocky Romero, Beretta
This was your typical mid card 8-man tag, but being relatively early in the tour, the energy level was a tad higher than usual. The big takeaway here was Romero taking the fall instead of Gedo, likely to protect Gedo in anticipation of his upcoming GHC junior tag title challenge. It looked like Ospreay was angling for an easy night before shoehorning in a few big flying moves down the stretch, and those spots were the highlight of the match. ***
Did you know that Will Ospreay is banged up and really hurting? Did you know he better slow down OR ELSE? Nothing gets ignored by me or elicits an apathetic eyeroll faster than “Wrestler X is hurting very badly these days”, because every wrestler is hurting badly. Don’t believe me? Go talk to one.
Every year we’re lectured about Hiroshi Tanahashi’s back or shoulder or knees, and every year he has legendary G1 runs on the hardest tour in wrestling. Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii have supposedly been falling apart for a half decade now, yet both roll out of bed and produce MOTY contenders on a whim. You can find references to The Undertaker preparing for his last match going back nearly 15 years in old Wrestling Observers, yet there he is every WrestleMania, falling through tables and doing suicide dives. CIMA has had a bad neck since his hush hush WWE tryout nearly ten years ago, and still manages to work the grueling Dragon Gate schedule, year after year. I can go on for DAYS.
I’m not denying the physical toll of the sport. I’m not denying that all of those men are banged up. What I’m saying, is I don’t care all that much. That may sound cold, but these are grown adults who choose to make a living this way. Wrestling is physically demanding and a really stupid activity to participate in if you care about how your knees or back will feel when you’re 60. Every one of them knows they have painful days ahead of them in their twilight years.
A few years ago, we went through this same dance with Ricochet. Over the years, Ricochet has slowly adjusted his style in such a methodical and low key manner that we’ve hardly noticed. His body and his mind told him when it was time to pump the brakes a bit and be a little smarter about when to turn it up to ten. He still flies around like a maniac when the situation calls for it, but he’s far more judicious about it. Like most wrestlers, he learned to take care of his body better as he matured (in his case, in addition to flying smarter, he has become a full blown gym rat in recent years), but nothing about this line of work is ever going to be “safe”. Will Ospreay is only 23, and judging by his Twitter account and T-shirt designs, mentally he’s still very much a dumb, cocky, testosterone filled 23-year old male. And that’s OK. Will Ospreay is on top of the world, he feels invincible, and he’s having the time of his life. Leave him alone, he’ll be fine.
Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma def. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
Great Bash Heel scored some revenge for the two straight losses they’ve dropped to Nagata & Nakanishi in the 2014 & 2015 World Tag League’s by scoring a strong mid card tag win here. Aside from another shockingly smooth high cross body off the top rope by 2016 Best Flying Wrestler candidate Manabu Nakanishi, this was paint by numbers, with Nakanishi falling to a Kokeshi/King Kong Knee Drop combo. **1/2
EVIL def. Juice Robinson
This was Juice Robinson’s 108th New Japan match this year alone (with a smattering of indie dates in between), which crushes his single year high for total bouts with over three and a half months still to go. This is one of the reasons Robinson’s bold move to quit WWE and jump to NJPW was a smart one, as in addition to building his name, it’s no accident that he’s rapidly improving bell to bell, thanks to nearly triple the ring time he was getting in a typical North American based year.
This was a good match, but was still no better than Robinson’s third best singles bout of 2016, lagging well behind his Lion’s Gate tilts against Katsuhiko Nakajima and Go Shiozaki. With the basic structure and deliberate pacing, this had the feel of a good late 80’s WWF house show prelim, and I mean that as a compliment. EVIL won it with…the EVIL. Look, I know that reads poorly, but that’s what he calls it. ***
reDRagon def. Katsuyori Shibata & Tiger Mask
Shibata took back to back L’s to Fish and O’Reilly in ROH, which sets up his upcoming NEVER title defense against Fish at Destruction in Hiroshima, and a likely defense against O’Reilly at some point, possibly at King of Pro Wrestling. O’Reilly looks like he’s been adding some bulk, adding to the speculation that the reDRagon boys are moving up to heavyweight full time. Even though Tiger Mask predictably took the fall, Shibata did take Chasing the Dragon and was left for dead at the finish. Fish was fired up all night long, and cut a heated promo into the camera in the post match. Everyone involved has done a good job across two promotions building the reDRagon/Shibata feud. ***
Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI def. Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa
YOSHI, no. I liked everything about this aside from YOSHI-HASHI’s unfortunate new hair color. It looks like there was a Loose Explosion of hair dye on this man’s head.
This was well worked, energetic, told a story, and was super fun. What was most impressive is the the two biggest stars in the match, the two guys who could have easily gotten away with hiding and taking the night off, busted their asses and were arguably the hardest working dudes in the match.
I’ve been saying for years that one thing that distinguishes Okada from his superstar peers (COUGH Tanahashi, COUGH Nakamura) is his inspired work in tag bouts. Okada worked hard here, selling like crazy, and in particular selling big for Fale, who worked over Okada’s back as the champ dutifully played Ricky Morton for the meat of the match, unselfishly setting up YOSHI-HASHI for the big hot tag. I remember a New Japan wrestler telling me years ago about Okada’s unselfish and humble locker room demeanor, even in the face of a mega push at the dangerous age of 24. That type of attitude spills over into the ring. In match like this, the IWGP heavyweight champ could have pulled rank and had someone else eat the heat segment, or took the glory of the hot tag for himself. Instead, he absorbed a long beating from Fale, and ultimately didn’t even score the fall (Ishii beat Loa with the brainbuster).
Omega barely tagged in twice, but even with his limited ring time he was a level above everybody else, flying around like a mad man and working with incredible spark. Even with the throwaway nature of the match and his lack of overall ring time, if I were constructing a Kenny Omega 2016 best of comp tape, this match would be on it. He was that good here, and totally came off like an absolute superstar even with what was probably less than five minutes of total ring time. Omega is in the midst of a special year, and you can tell that he he knows it.
Everyone was impressive here, even the much maligned Loa. Best match on the show. ***3/4
Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, BUSHI def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA
The match was secondary to Los Ingobernobles showing up shorthanded without BUSHI, but with an apparent new member standing at ringside. One possibility for the new member is Rush, who was part of the original Los Ingobernobles in Mexico, and who a few days earlier retweeted a World Tag League Tweet from the New Japan account. Rush worked a show in Mexico on Sunday, so this wasn’t him, but since the mystery man never unmasked, the dude under the hood on this night doesn’t necessarily need to be the same person who’s eventually revealed. An up close shot of the mask revealed what looked like an Asian man underneath, with Twitter speculation based on the shape of the eyes centered mostly on Kotaro Suzuki or Captain New Japan. Suzuki is a freelancer who currently plies his trade for Wrestle-1, and is currently involved in a tag title program with Kaz Hayashi. Suzuki worked a match in the U.K. on 9/10, so while it is entirely possible he could have made it back to Japan in time for this show, why push it if he was never going to show his face? If it was indeed Captain New Japan, it is entirely possible he’s simply acting as a placeholder until either Rush, Suzuki, or whoever else the new guy is intended to be shows up for the eventual reveal.
This was three vs two until BUSHI showed up late in the match, spitting mist in KUSHIDA’s face and moments later scoring the pin. Average match which was more of an extended angle, in addition to putting heat on BUSHI’s upcoming IWGP junior title challenge. **3/4
No great matches here, but an easy watch at barely over two hours with a very good semifinal. Unless you’re oddly fascinated with the Bullet Club Hunters explode story, you can safely jump in for the final three matches and not miss anything of consequence.