New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Road
March 1, 2017
Watch: NJPW World
1401 fans “packed” Korakuen Hall for a one match New Japan Road show, the third New Japan show in the building in four days, and the fourth in nine days.
Relatively weak lineups for the Togi Makabe Annniversary, two Honor Rising shows which featured two singles matches in total, and now this New Japan Road lineup are taking a toll. New Japan fans have shown over the last couple of years that they won’t show up like lemmings to just any Korakuen offering, and four shows in just over a week has led to some discriminating ticket purchases. Night Two of Honor Rising drew just 1271 fans, which is the low water mark for NJPW in Korakuen in at least two years.
With that said, it might be time to stop using Korakuen as a barometer of health for the company. WrestleKingdom showed growth over the year prior, both New Beginning shows were Super No Vacancy (with Osaka selling out a month in advance and Sapporo doing strong walk up in a snow storm despite a weak lineup underneath Okada/Suzuki), and the upcoming New Japan Cup Final is already sold out roughly a month ahead of time with not a single match announced. This continues the big show business momentum that picked up around G1 last year, even if New Japan fans aren’t falling for the company’s weak Korakuen hustle.
The Honor Rising shows mostly delivered, with Night 1 producing a fun top to bottom show and Night 2 featuring a strong post intermission run of matches. New Japan Road looked weak on paper, and when the dust settled it may have been the most boring New Japan show I’ve seen this decade.
Yujiro Takahashi def. Tomoyuki Oka
A tidy, well worked 5-minute match that saw Yujiro put away Oka with the Pimp Juice DDT.
To show how far Yujiro has fallen in the pecking order, this was his first singles match in nearly a year (a 3/27/16 loss to Hiroshi Tanahashi), and his first singles win since his controversial victory over Tomoaki Honma on the final night of the 2015 G1 B Block. Yujiro is best served and totally inoffensive as an entertaining undercard gimmick.
It’s not fair breaking down wrestlers ten matches into their careers, because you wind up critiquing them too hard, or going overboard with praise for the most basic of skills. With that said, there are some things I really like about Oka, who is considered New Japan’s top heavyweight prospect, and expected by many to one day receive a main event push. What often stands out about young lions is their fire, but it usually takes about 20 matches or so to really show it. Oka has shown great fire almost from the jump. It’s also impossible to not notice his nice belly to belly overhead suplex, which may develop into a signature maneuver, if not a finish.
On the downside, he has a poor look, even by the stripped down, drab by design young boy standards. He’s only 25, but with his shaved head and a resting face that looks like it’s seen a few things, he could easily pass for 40. He’s clearly very strong, with a stocky build, but with very little muscle tone. I suspect this will improve with rigorous dojo time, but I don’t ever see him putting together a ripped physique.
You can see what the company loves about him, even if his look runs counter to the female friendly matinee idol archetype the company prefers in their main event stars. That may ultimately work to his advantage as something different, but at the end of the day he’s the pet project of Takaaki Kidani, so unless he’s a complete bust he’s going to get every opportunity to succeed. **
YOSHI-HASHI, Rocky Romero, Beretta, Jado def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado
It isn’t often that the New Japan crew mails it in, but this began a long string of matches where they clearly threw a stamp on it. I’m usually not a a huge stickler for great striking, but this had no less than three badly missed strikes that missed by a foot. Very little action, lackadaisical effort, and some sloppy work in spots. It’s worth mentioning that YOSHI-HASHI scored the fall, two days after losing to Adam Cole in the same building, so there is booking effort to keep him warm. **1/4
Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa def. Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi
Another uninspired effort. Omega was in rainbow fringe mode, but even his wacky antics were half effort. Cleaner work than the previous match, but equally dull. After a loss to War Machine on Monday, Tama Tonga notably picked up a win here, pinning Nakanishi, whose two month feel good push appears to be officially over. **1/2
Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto def. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Jushin Thunder Liger
The best match of what I can comfortably call the worst first half of a New Japan show in years, but not even close to something you should seek out. The third straight match with minimum acceptable effort and an abrupt finish at the ~10:00 minute mark. **3/4
Minoru Suzuki & Davey Boy Smith Jr def. Katsuyori Shibata & David Finlay
Davey Boy Smith Jr was sans Killer Elite Squad gear hear, and given a strong win with a big Bulldog Bomb (high angle powerbomb) on Finlay that popped the crowd for the first time all night. Suzuki opted to brawl with Shibata one on one in the post match, oddly turning down a double team by refusing the help of his partner. Another dry match. **3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi def. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI
SANADA’s hair is ridiculous and I love it. He should no sell DDT’s.
Hiromu and Taguchi started things off, with Taguchi going right for the ankle lock as Hiromu scurried out of the ring and promptly tagged out. If you haven’t paid much attention to the string of mediorce Korakuen Hall shows over the last two weeks, they’ve set the tone for the upcoming junior title match quite nicely by laying the groundwork of Hiromu being deathly afraid of Taguchi’s ankle lock.
Good action, but aside from continuing the Hiromu/Taguchi story and the post match EVIL/Tanahashi brawl (ahead of their upcoming New Japan Cup bout), this was the least interesting LIJ tag match in ages. Like YOSHI-HASHI and Tama Tonga earlier in the show, Juice scoring the fall was notable. He’s won nearly every televised match he’s been involved in this year aside from his failed NEVER challenge. ***
Tiger Mask W & Tiger Mask def. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo
Easily the best match on the show, and really the only thing you need to watch if pressed for time (or otherwise).
As best as we can ascertain, this was the first Tiger Mask IV NJPW main event since Christmas Day 2011, a card that featured pre-Lord Tensai Giant Bernard, pre-Desperado Kyosuke Mikami, pre-excursion Hiromu Takahashi, pre-Captain New Japan Hideo Saito, pre-retirement Wataru Inoue, and ‘Ol Melty Face Yoshihiro Takayama. Kazuchika Okada was about two weeks away from his return, Yujiro & Takashi Iizuka were still part of CHAOS, and Tomohiro Ishii was working openers.
Kota Ibushi not-so-subtly complaining about the size and awkwardness of the Tiger Mask W mask didn’t fall on deaf ears, as he was sporting a new streamlined model with a shorter snout(?), and he looked way more comfortable and worked way more like himself.
The crowd was hot for the first TMW/Okada interaction, and stayed hot for the entire match, which featured a ton of finished teases from all four men, including Gedo surprisingly kicking out of a TMIV Tiger Driver (which I totally bought as the finish), Okada avoiding the Tiger Suplex, and TMW skillfully dodging the Rainmaker. Gedo pulled off some nifty reversals for Gedo Clutch near falls, and Tiger Mask IV more than held his own in a main event match with two of the best wrestlers in the world and one of the smartest. The Okada/Gedo team always deliver in a big spot, and might be the most underrated tag team of the last half decade or so. A very good match with great action, a ton of fun, and well worth going out of your way to see. ****
A nothing show aside from the main event, especially if you’ve been keeping up on the Hiromu/Taguchi, Tanahashi/EVIL, and Suzuki/Shibata builds post-Fantasticamania. New Japan’s run of mixed bag Korakuen’s ends here, as we head into what on paper looks to be a great Anniversary show and a killer New Japan Cup.