New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Tokyo Dome
December 16, 2016
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Yuji Nagata, Yoshitatsu, Ryusuke Taguchi def. Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask, Henare

We are witnessing the bitter divorce of Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi.

Nakanishi called out Nagata post World Tag League, presumably hurt his long time pal bypassed teaming with him in the tournament in favor of the younger, sexier Katsuyori Shibata. Nakanishi responded by totally overcompensating, teaming with young lion Henare, like a middle aged dad strutting around with a bimbo half his age, desperately trying to show that he still has it because his wife has moved on with a better looking and more successful gentleman, but inevitably falling on his face (0-7 in the WTL).

The singles match will happen 12/17, and this was like watching those two divorcing parents get into an argument at a Little League game, embarrassing themselves and providing second hand embarrassment to everyone around them. Post match, Nakanishi took the house mic and declared (what in my mind was) “I’ll see your ass in court!”. Tomorrow, they’ll get down & dirty and split the assets.

Henare seems to be learning from his new mentor, as he nearly put away Taguchi with a backbreaker (set up very nicely by a crab hold), but Taguchi slithered out and locked in an ankle lock for the tap. **1/4

Tomohiro Ishii def. Chase Owens

This was exactly what it should have been, which was a short sprint with bursts of violence, with a satisfying Ishii brainbuster win in the end.

As Owens gets more comfortable in New Japan, we’re seeing more glimpses of the wrestler we see in the U.S. indies, a guy who is confident in his own skin and a solid worker. He’s also finding himself character wise, expressive in his heel mannerisms and doing a much better job connecting with the crowd. He’s become the Bullet Club utility guy, in that he can viably fill many roles, from Super Junior rep to filling out a six man team to pin eating workhorse tag partner.

What also connected were Ishii’s strikes and headbutts on Owens, as Owens creative offense was matched at every step by Ishii’s usual nasty counter attacks. I had relatively high expectations for this, and it delivered. ***1/4

EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI def. Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, David Finlay

Two thirds of the NEVER Openweight champs took on one of the three teams they’ll face at Wrestle Kingdom, with Tenzan stepping in for Ricochet, which is like taking a dump truck out for a weekend spin instead of a Corvette. This was short and packed with action, with the obvious finish of the LIJ side picking up the win to tease the title switch. Finlay shined, and was on the verge of victory, before taking the mist to the face and eating an EVIL (STO) from EVIL. ***

Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Juice Robinson def. Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, BONE SOLDIER

This was a hot little match with a wild scene at the finish. With GoD on the verge of finishing off Juice, the bell rang, which had everyone confused because it was way too soon for a time limit draw. Cut camera to the returning TORU YANO, who was having the time of his life fucking with the finish. Juice took advantage of the distraction, reversing a Tonga cutter and hitting the Pulp Friction for the surprising upset win.

Yano wasn’t finished, as he slid into the ring and hit all of the babyfaces in sight with low blows, before fighting off the angry Bullet Club. He then declared that he was the “X”, playing of off his yearly Wrestle Kingdom gimmick, hinting that he’d be debuting a new partner at the show.

Yano’s NOAH sabbatical did him a world of good as he came off fresh here. This was also a sneaky way to build up some credibility for Juice before he puts over Cody R The American Nightmare at Wrestle Kingdom. ***

Hirooki Goto & Jado def. Katsuyori Shibata & Jushin Thunder Liger

Hirooki Goto, in what may well be a makeshift last second storyline to cover for the dissolved NOAH relationship and potential loss of the presumed Shibata vs Go Shiozaki Wrestle Kingdom match, has done a great job in a short amount of time getting over the idea that the NEVER title is something he very badly wants. Shibata has done a great job insulting his former pal Goto, calling into question his guts for his “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” CHAOS membership. They’ve had some slugfests in the past, and with the match outcome in doubt, their bout at Wrestle Kingdom should be an excellent one.

Goto pinned Liger and left Shibata laying in a heap of taped up flesh, in a nothing match dragged down by the presence of 2016 Rambo champion Jado, who is back from his failed stint booking NOAH and ready to grind NJPW cards like this one down to halt. Skip this. **

Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi def. Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI, Gedo

Continuing the theme of champions on the losing end of things as we build heat for Wrestle Kingdom’s big matches, Yujiro scored the fall on Gedo. They stayed away from Kenny beating Okada or any sort of post match attack, as they shot that big angle at the World Tag League Final instead.

The highlights here were YOSHI-HASHI’s selling during the heat segment, the (very) brief Omega/Okada interactions, and a fired up Gedo working with real spirit, putting over his being ambushed at WTL. A good match, but there are better Omega/Okada tags to seek out. ***

Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA

Before I rave about this match, we have to have a little chat about Hiromu’s gear. Hiromu carries himself like a star, Hiromu works like a star, but right now, Hiromu doesn’t look like a star. I get that the tattered denim shorts, t-shirt, and old sneakers fits the punk gimmick, but a 2006 CZW yarder cosplay is not a star look, especially in a company loaded with and built around matinee idol main eveters. There are ways to convey the gimmick without looking like you just worked Toby Klein on the undercard of some low rent IWA-MS show or fell on some thumbtacks against Corporal Robinson in front of some methed up juggalos. This is not Dove Pro, you are not teaming with “brother” YASSHI on an indie sleaze show in Kiba-First Ring.

This is New Japan Pro Wrestling, and there should a higher standard of look at the top of the card than BONE SOLDIER. Based on his post match comments, it looks like he gets it:

The match itself was well structured and accomplished it’s goal of getting Hiromu over and having him come off as a real player, even if aesthetically he looked like absolute shit. LIJ baited their opponents from the start, setting up KUSHIDA for an incredible sneak attack where Hiromu flipped over the ropes to sunset flip an unsuspecting KUSHIDA off of the apron.

This set the tone for effectively taking KUSHIDA out of the match, leaving Tanahashi to valiantly fight two on one with little support from his damaged partner. When KUSHIDA finally recovered, Hiromu showcased the high impact offense he’s known for, with KUSHIDA offering no answers in what was an utter destruction of the junior champ. This was the Hiromu show, with Naito & Tanahashi coming off secondary, and he came away from this looking like a top guy in spite of his atrocious yarder level gear, which hopefully improves dramatically when he upgrades at Wrestle Kingdom. ***1/2

Final Thoughts:

There are no blow away bouts here, but a couple of cool matches, a good Toru Yano angle, and the fantastic (re)debut of Hiromu Takahashi make this a good appetizer for Wrestle Kingdom, especially if you’re one of the many who skipped World Tag League. NJPW’s Korakuen shows are often compared to Monday Night RAW, and this was the best possible example of that, with PPV feuds showcased, a good Ishii/Owens TV style bout, a couple of fun angles, and the hot reintroduction of what will surely be a major player moving forward.