NJPW レスリング豊の国 2017
NJPW Wrestling Toyonokuni 2017
April 29, 2017
Beppu B-Con Plaza
Beppu, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

Alex Wendland: You may remember him from such things as NXT reviews and quarterly columns, but now here he is in the VOW NJPW coverage! Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexWendland

Dylan Justin: Japanese professional wrestling reviewer/columnist. Thought-thinker. Has far too much time on his hands. Can be found on Twitter talking about whatever nonsense comes to mind. Follow Dylan on Twitter at @DylanJx4

Andrew Rich: He slices! He dices! He makes obscure pop culture references well outside of his generation! Andrew is the co-host and writer for the Music of the Mat podcast with Chris Maffei. He also writes articles from time to time for Voices of Wrestling. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewTRich.

John Carroll: They provide Dragon Gate audio coverage via Open the Voice Gate and frequently appear on these New Japan previews. Recently they rolled out part 1 of a new ongoing series on how to travel to Japan to watch the graps, which you can find here. Please follow their Twitter @toshanshuinla if you want to see them scream about the Champion Carnival, since that seems to be most of their Twitter content right now. Oh and it’s their birthday on Monday so be nice!

Jushin Thunder Liger, Hirai Kawato, & Tomoyuki Oka vs. Tiger Mask, Katsuya Kitamura, & Shota Umino

Alex Wendland: This match is begging for a cartoon character come to life. Or Kota Ibushi. Either way, this will be the latest in a series of very fun openers with this generation of young lions. I haven’t loved the in-ring work as much as I did from the David Finlay/Jay White young lion group, but these guys have something White and Finlay definitely didn’t at this point: personality. Prediction: Liger, Kawato & Oka

Dylan Justin: Shota Umino, referee Hiroyuki Umino aka Red Shoes’ son, has already shown some potential just a few weeks into his career, with impressive showings against TAKA Michinoku and fellow young lion Hirai Kawato. New Japan has a nice little class here between those two, Oka, Kitamura and Henare, who’s still injured but will be back at some point. Although the match probably won’t be anything memorable, watching these guys grow is never not fun. Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Hirai Kawato & Tomoyuki Oka

Andrew Rich: A fun little opener, nothing too special but a chance for the young lions to showcase their stuff and keep learning. This current crop of young lions took a while for me to get used to, but man these guys have a real spark to them (especially Kawato, who I would love to see go 0-8 in Best of the Super Juniors). It’s going to be fun watching this class develop their in-ring work and harness that spark to their fullest potential. Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Hirai Kawato & Tomoyuki Oka

John Carroll: Yeah, I’m just gonna have to sound like a broken record here: this is a really fun young lion class and I too am enjoying their opening matches of late. Kawato is one of those young lions who took a little while to find himself after debuting, but boy howdy once he figured it out he REALLY figured it out. His manic selling and firey babyface comebacks are a highlight of NJPW undercards. Red Shoes’ kid already looks like he’s coming along and the two big babies are just a really cool change of pace after having pretty much nothing but junior young lions for years now. Overall, they’re just a really well-rounded class that’s making openers like these fun to watch! Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Hirai Kawato & Tomoyuki Oka

CHAOS (Rocky Romero, Beretta, & Jado) vs. Suzukigun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, & El Desperado)

Alex Wendland: I think bets for “Taichi uses the hammer” are off the board now. The Suzukigun return has done absolutely nothing for me (even with my opinions on Zack Sabre Jr. aside). This match was set up when RPG Vice ran in on another Suzukigun cluster at Sakura Genesis. There’s no reason to think that this match will be anything other than another schmozz. Prediction: Suzukigun

Dylan Justin: Taichi sucks. Jado sucks. Kanemaru isn’t going to try. Just hope for some cool Trent/El Desperado interactions since both are complete maniacs. Can’t ask for much more out of it. You know what you’re getting into with Suzuki-gun. I’m predicting Roppongi Vice will be coming in as junior tag champs, and should that be the case they’ll likely walk away with the victory here to put Taichi and Kanemaru in the rear-view. Prediction: CHAOS

Andrew Rich: New Japan decided to spread out the title matches throughout the tour instead of putting them all on Wrestling Dontaku. While it’s a smart play to bolster the attendances, it also means that in some cases we’re getting these multi-man tags after the title matches. This match, for instance, takes place after Taichi and Kanemaru defend the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship against RPG Vice on the 27th. Suzuki-gun schmozz tactics are to be expected because, well, it’s Suzuki-gun! Let’s just hope Roppongi Vice win the belts back because as Dylan so aptly put, Taichi sucks. And for god’s sake, Jado, stay on the apron as long as possible; watching you run makes my hips sore. Prediction: CHAOS (Rocky Romero, Beretta, & Jado)

John Carroll: Look, you don’t want to watch this match. I don’t want to watch this match. Why are we even talking about this match? Screw this match. I’ll flip a coin for the prediction. Prediction: Suzukigun

Ryusuke Taguchi & YOSHITATSU vs. LIJ (SANADA & BUSHI)

Alex Wendland: SANADA and BUSHI seem to be forgotten men since the breakout of Hiromu Takahashi. It’s weird to think that LIJ is already tiered with five-or-so members, but there really are 3 distinct tiers led by Naito and Takahashi with EVIL in the middle and these two bringing up the rear. Quite a fall, especially for BUSHI who was competing at the top of the junior division a year ago. The story here is the highly anticipated return of YOSHITATSU from the shortest excursion in the history of excursions. It’s hard to think YOSHITATSU was gone from NJPW long enough to have even left the country, but apparently he has. I suspect he’ll win exactly one match before debuting his new “LIJ HUNTER” gimmick. Prediction: Taguchi & YOSHITATSU

Dylan Justin: You can’t help but feel bad for the guy because he really does try and he really has had some bad luck, but man Yoshitatsu is a terrible pro wrestler. He’s not good. I watched Yoshitatsu have one of the worst matches of 2017 with Volador Jr. in Arena Mexico while he was on excursion or whatever you want to call it. Yoshitatsu was so bad in CMLL that Mexican lucha reporters were making fun of him for weeks, which from what I understand is uncommon. If lucha reporters are making fun of you, you’re pretty damn bad. While it’s hard to say I’m looking forward to it since it’s Yoshitatsu and Taguchi, who shouldn’t be carrying a tag team, I’m sure this will be inoffensive at worst. Prediction: BUSHI & SANADA

Andrew Rich: Somebody get Yoshitatsu some conditioner because his hair looks drier than Steven Wright. Since returning from his excursion to Mexico, the “Bullet Club Hunter” (yes, he’s still wearing that shirt) has joined forces with Taguchi Japan to take on Los Ingobernables de Japon; certainly not one of Taguchi’s better recruits. Speaking of Taguchi, he, Ricochet, and Tanahashi will be defending the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship against EVIL, SANADA, and BUSHI at Wrestling Dontaku. Since Tanahashi and Ricochet are occupied for the evening, Taguchi must team with Yoshitatsu. Oh joy. Look, bless Yoshi’s heart for coming back after breaking his neck, but it’s been over a year since his return and he still stinks. Taguchi, BUSHI, and SANADA will spruce this one up a bit, but don’t expect a homerun with Yoshi “Peter Criss hair” Tatsu involved. Prediction: LIJ (BUSHI & SANADA)

John Carroll: I honestly was flabbergasted when Yoshitatsu was back on my television screen in his Bullet Club Hunter t-shirt, spitting water like a fifth-rate Hunter Hearst Helmsley cosplayer again. I really and truly thought the entire point of the CMLL excursion was so they could quietly drop this stupid damn gimmick and just bring him back as a guy on the New Japan roster, and when I saw he was teaming up with Taguchi Japan on this tour I figured I was right for sure. I mean, it would have worked fine! Here’s Yoshitatsu, who’s already a little wacky himself, now the wacky new sidekick for Taguchi’s wacky (and amazingly fun, to be clear) little unit! Maybe he could have even worn their new logo on his tights or something! But nope, there he was at Korakuen Hall, still in the stupid shirt, still spitting his damn water. What is it gonna take, man? You’re not even wrestling Bullet Club on this tour, your eternal rival BONE SOLDIER has thankfully vanished into the ether, and you’re STILL out here doing this crap?! Just let it die, man! Someone put this damn gimmick out of its misery already! Prediction: BUSHI & SANADA

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & David Finlay vs. BULLET CLUB (Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa, & Yujiro Takahashi)

Alex Wendland: Bread Club for lyfe. No one in New Japan has done as well for themselves in preparation for American expansion than Satoshi Kojima. Not Kenny Omega, not Takahashi, not Okada. Bread Club is over and Kojima has endeared himself even further into the hearts of NJPW’s North American audience. The whole Bread Club phenomenon coincided perfectly with a surprise TenKoji title run, but it doesn’t seem like the former champs will stay at the top of the division for long. There isn’t really a whole lot to this match, but it will show whether TenKoji will have longevity at the top of the tag division for this little push they’ve been on. Prediction: Bullet Club

Dylan Justin: David Finlay has become a product of New Japan having too many people on their roster, because this guy has done absolutely nothing this year to the point where I forgot he existed for a while. I know he was injured for a little bit but even after returning he’s just been…there. He hasn’t done anything. He’s a lower-tier fall-guy like Yujiro, and it’s a shame because he really is talented. Maybe he’ll get a chance to shine in BOSJ, who knows. TenKoji and the Guerillas of Destiny are both challenging War Machine for the tag titles at Dontaku, so that’s what this is building towards. Either side could win here, it doesn’t matter, but for the sake of the review let’s go with G.O.D. and Yujiro. Prediction: Bullet Club

Andrew Rich: Bullet Club vs. Bread Club. For Life vs. For Loaf. Too Sweet vs. Too Wheat. Okay, I’ll stop. Ten-Koji and G.O.D. are going up against War Machine for the IWGP Tag belts at Wrestling Dontaku in a Three-Way Dance, but they’re squaring off here first. Bread Club bannerman David Finlay and Bullet Club’s “Tokyo Pimp” Yujiro Takahashi are tagging along, making this a 6-man affair. While Finlay’s 2016 saw him rise up the card to hold NEVER gold with Kojima and Ricochet, this year he seems to be in a holding pattern. Maybe once BOSJ kicks in, he’ll find a direction. Maybe. Prediction: Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa, & Yujiro Takahashi)

John Carroll: Am I the only one who finds build-up to a 3-way tag title match where one of the three tag teams is nowhere to be seen to be a little, uh, weird? Especially when the missing team are the champions, for pete’s sake?! So yeah, I can’t say this is doing much for me. It’s just like, great, TenKoji and GOD are fighting, but neither team is even the champions. It just adds to the overall feeling of “what is the point of any of this/this is just filler” that constantly hangs around the NJPW heavyweight tag team division. Put the belts on a team that’s actually going to be on your tours, please. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, & Will Ospreay) vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka, & TAKA Michinoku)

Alex Wendland: Will Ospreay has been picking up pins as he heats up on his way into BOSJ, but his ascension will be secondary to the fire that will still be raging after Goto’s defense against Suzuki. The bad blood at the top of the match, however, will give Ospreay space to shine and pick up another pin leading into the tournament. Prediction: CHAOS

Dylan Justin: *sigh*…*long pause*…Can Suzuki-gun please go away now? Enough is enough already. I’m sick of these multi-mans. I’m sick of Iizuka and his stupid claw. I’m sick of TAKA and his stupid stomps. Is there any reason for Suzuki-gun to exist? Can we be honest about it? Who could possibly care? Suzuki and Goto are going to have an excellent match two days before this and then they’re going to do absolutely nothing here. I’m done with it. End the pain. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

Andrew Rich: This is another instance where the big title match (in this case, Goto defending the NEVER Openweight Championship against Suzuki) happens on the 27th, while this multi-man tag happens two days later. Goto and Suzuki will no doubt beat the tar out of one another (both here and in their title match), Iizuka will want to punish YOSHI-HASHI to avenge his loss at The New Beginning in Sapporo (or just because he’s crazy), which leaves Ospreay facing off against TAKA (who is coming… motherfucker). Ospreay’s been picking up the wins in these CHAOS vs. Suzuki-gun multi-mans to gussy him up for BOSJ, so I’m predicting another OsCutter on poor TAKA to win it for CHAOS. Prediction: CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, & Will Ospreay)

John Carroll: Let the record show I wasn’t a fan of Suzukigun coming back from the beginning. Minoru Suzuki himself can still have some good singles matches (although your tolerance for run-ins may greatly affect your enjoyment of the match, because SZKG is much worse about it than either LIJ or BC) but his unit is just such a drag on these NJPW undercards. Three heel units is simply too much, especially when they’re all simultaneously involved in feuds with CHAOS & the NJPW sekigun, essentially interchangeable babyface armies at this point. If we could transition to something actually new and interesting, like SZKG going up against either BULLET CLUB or LIJ in a heel vs. heel battle, it might be a lot more tolerable. About the best thing I can say about Suzukigun’s return is they’ve made the stale BULLET CLUB look like 1996 nWo by comparison. Prediction: CHAOS

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, & Toru Yano) vs. BULLET CLUB (Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, & Chase Owens)

Alex Wendland: This’ll be a nice rest for Okada, Omega, Fale and Ishii and give them a chance to square off before their big singles matches. There won’t be much to this, though the potential of Okada and Omega in the ring together could light a few sparks. Fale is on his annual “oh yeah, he can be dangerous” tour and is clubbing the bajeezus out of anyone in his path. It’s about time for Ishii to come out of hiding as well, the tag run with Yano has done him no favors. Ishii is so good, though. A strong showing here will have him on fire for Omega. Chase Owens is here to do Chase Owens things…like get pinned. Prediction: CHAOS

Dylan Justin: I’ll give you three guesses as to who’s taking the fall here. Okada? Omega? Fale? How about Chase Owens? I’m thinking Chase Owens. Considering Omega has a big match with Ishii coming up, don’t expect a whole lot of anything out of him in this one. You’ll get a few cute little interactions between him and Yano, which don’t do anything for me but people seem to enjoy, a forearm exchange between him and Ishii, which will be great, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a tease between him and Okada, who he never interacts with in these multi-mans. While it won’t be anything great since Okada, Ishii, Omega and Fale will be preserving their bodies for Dontaku, if Yano’s not in there for too long it’ll be good, solid fun. Prediction: CHAOS

Andrew Rich: Wrestling Dontaku’s top two matches (Okada vs. Fale and Ishii vs. Omega) make up the bulk of the final multi-man tag of the evening. Some really interesting stuff in this one. Fale has had Okada’s number this entire tour, clobbering him any chance he gets. It reminds me of early 2015 when Fale and Okada feuded during Okada’s slump post-Wrestle Kingdom 9. To add insult to injury, Fale has started using the Tombstone Piledriver, Okada’s own move, which I LOVE because it accentuates how Fale isn’t some big lumbering monster; he’s a thinker, a Tongan giant who can be equal parts brutal and calculating. He wants to hurt Okada’s pride along with his body. As for Omega and Ishii, what can you say? It’s a stone cold lock that their match is going to be amazing. Ishii is Ishii (read: sympathetic bulldozer) and Omega is Omega (read: evil wrestling genius). They’re two great tastes that taste great together. Owens and Yano are here as likely fall guys for either side, but I really wouldn’t be shocked if Fale pinned Okada again in this match just to really drive home the point that Fale is a huge threat to Okada’s reign. Prediction: Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, & Chase Owens)

John Carroll: I find it interesting that Chase Owens is suddenly allowed to mix it up with heavyweights here and at one of the earlier Korakuens too. Usually NJPW does a pretty good job balancing teams, so if one team has two heavyweights and a junior so will the other, but maybe it’s just a “we’re out of warm bodies” kind of thing which is fine I guess. Anyway, the annual Fale monster push is a fun little thing that I don’t get why people hate on. The fact that they go out of their way to make Fale look dangerous and give him these little runs is why he stays so over! If he didn’t get these little runs every year, he’d basically be Kane by now. Or Cyber Kong. If you want your monster to actually stay a believable monster, who people react to like he can beat anyone on any night, you have to actually let him, y’know, beat people! I’ve really enjoyed Fale’s new Tombstone finisher too, which they’ve gotten over great. It’s a cool little parallel to Okada using the Tombstone as a set-up to the Rainmaker, and I’m sure there’s gonna be a neat Tombstone reversal sequence during their title match at Dontaku. Anyway, I know Chase Owens looks like an easy pinfall victim here, but I think Fale is gonna get one more pin heading into Dontaku. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ricochet

Alex Wendland: Hiromu Takahashi’s reign has been incredible. His destruction of KUSHIDA was a landmark in the junior division and could redefine what that title means for a generation or more. Ricochet has been the highlight of tag matches for the past…well, since the Ricochet-Ospreay BOSJ match last year. I hope this match isn’t another Takahashi KUSHIDA-like angle and that we get the incredible this should be. I’m looking forward to flips and kicks and guys getting dropped on their heads…and eventually, this:

(SANADA and BUSHI neglected to comment) Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Dylan Justin: I don’t think there’s ever been a nickname in pro wrestling more suited for a talent than Hiromu Takahashi’s. Hiromu Takahashi is quite literally a ticking timebomb. His unpredictability is unmatched. You never know what you’re going to get with this man. He’s a psychopath. He’s a lunatic. He’s a goddamn timebomb. He killed himself against KUSHIDA in January, he killed himself against his bitter rival Dragon Lee in February, he trod unfamiliar territory against Taguchi in March yet still came out victorious, he beat KUSHIDA in under two minutes in front of a sold out Sumo Hall in April, proving that he’s simply better than KUSHIDA is and that he’s replaced KUSHIDA as the top dog in the division, and now he meets Ricochet, someone he hasn’t meet in singles competition since he was a young lion. Ricochet’s stepping in there with a whole new animal, Hiromu not being the man he was four years ago, some kid Ricochet squashed in under seven minutes. Now Ricochet’s the one with something to prove, even as the respected junior that he is, and I have no doubt in my mind both are going to give everything they have to make this a memorable match. Another very strong win for Hiromu as he heads into BOSJ as champion, since there’s no way that he’s losing. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Andrew Rich: Now THIS is podracing… er, wrestling. Takahashi has been jetpacked to the moon with his first IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title reign, picking up decisive wins over KUSHIDA, Dragon Lee, and Taguchi thanks in large part to his break-neck pace, lethal offense (that sunset flip powerbomb to the floor gets me every time), and Ivan Drago-like attitude (“If I die… I die”). The man is dangerous. He also happens to be one of the most exciting wrestlers on the planet. But then again, so is his opponent. Ricochet: The answer to the question “What if a Jackie Chan film became a wrestler?” It’s nice to see Ricochet back in the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship hunt after so much time in the Jr. Tag and NEVER Openweight 6-Man scenes. We probably take him for granted because he’s Ricochet and we’ve known for years how good he is, but seriously, he’s so good! This match should be nothing short of excellent with both men pulling out all the stops to claim the belt. I’m going to say that Takahashi will win (and almost kill himself in the process as per usual) and cruise his way into BOSJ, but Ricochet is going to have plenty of opportunities to wow and amaze us with his flip-dee-dos. Afterwards Takahashi can celebrate with his belt and his dolls (because Hiromu has dolls now). Prediction: Hiromu “Dark Helmet” Takahashi

John Carroll: Hiromu Takahashi is yet again proof that professional wrestling is not difficult to book. You find a really talented guy, you let him beat everyone under the sun (and let him be himself besides), and boom. You have a new star. Not difficult. It’s tough for me to find something else to say about Hiromu after everyone else piled on the superlatives, but yes, he’s amazing and we’re all super lucky to be watching a future hall of famer in his absolute prime. Ricochet is also extremely good, so the floor for this match is probably “really, really good”. Can’t wait for BOSJ this year! Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL

Alex Wendland: THIS SHOW NEVER ENDS. It’ll be about this time during the show on Sunday when things start getting awkward in House Wendland. There will be things to get done during the day and I’ll be in sweats watching Japanese professional wrestling for six hours. Tanahashi may not be the Tanahashi of two years ago anymore, but it’s about time for him to show a flash of ACE so that Tanahashi himself can believe he’s still got it. I was of the “Tanahashi is great, but kind of boring,” opinion that for a long time, but this new twist with hints of desperation and delusion is incredible to watch. Go ACE. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Dylan Justin: Some of the most predictable booking New Japan has done in a while between this and Omega vs. Ishii. Anyone who keeps even the slightest eye on the company can see from a mile away that they’re redoing the top two Wrestle Kingdom matches in Tanahashi vs. Naito and Okada vs. Omega. I’m not criticizing the booking, in fact I think it’s quite smart of them, it’s just patently obvious that’s where they’re going with no room for any sort of doubt. Tanahashi’s getting his win back over EVIL from the New Japan Cup in what I’m expecting to be another great match both on this show and between the two of them. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Andrew Rich: While there have been a seemingless endless amount of Taguchi Japan-LIJ multi-man tag matches (If I wanted this much repetition, I’d go to shul), there has been a constant throughout all of them: Tanahashi and EVIL beating each other up. Those two have been gunning for one another since this whole mess started at New Year’s Dash. EVIL managed to beat Tanahashi one-on-one at New Japan Cup with some mist and an EVIL STO, so Tanahashi is back for revenge in anticipation of *sigh* another Taguchi Japan-LIJ match at Wrestling Dontaku for the NEVER 6-Man belts. Tanahashi is right where he should be, a supporting pillar for a main event that needs support. EVIL is right where he should be too, a gatekeeper for Big Boss Naito and his IWGP Intercontinental Championship. With Dominion coming up in June, Naito needs a challenger. Enter Hiroshi Tanahashi, who finally gets the win over EVIL (in what should be a stiff, hard-fought contest) to set up a Wrestle Kingdom 11 rematch in *gasp* Osaka! Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

John Carroll: Even though EVIL is almost undoubtedly losing this last match against Tanahashi, I think he’s still going to come out of this feud above where he started on the NJPW pecking order. Getting a singles win over a legend like Tana was a huge step for him in his development, and I think he’s set up to have a decent G1 this year as well. Meanwhile, Tanahashi does seem set for a rematch with Naito in the future (that he very well could win, honestly), as the strange tale of Tanahashi’s Taguchi-inspired redemption continues. If this is anything like their NJ Cup match, it should be a lot of fun. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

IWGP Intercontinental Title
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Juice Robinson

Alex Wendland: How great is Juice Robinson? Juice left a comfortable-yet-unassuming role in NXT to bet big on himself and head to Japan. He was roundly mocked when he left, but he did everything the right way and he’s excelled more quickly than anyone would’ve expected. He’s had two major opportunities with a NEVER shot and this Intercontinental shot and his best outcome is probably the February Adam Cole/YOSHI-HASHI match I lamented the booking of way back when. Except now the geographic roles are reversed. A plucky foreign babyface is going up against a homegrown monster who is going to be pissed off about the pin Juice got at Sakura Genesis. And how great was that Juice celebration after the pin on Naito? It was like he actually won the title and the crowd was absolutely into it! There isn’t much “rooting” left for many of us in pro wrestling, but Sunday will be different. There’s as clear a good guy and a bad guy as you can get in 2017 and, preview objectivity be damned, I’m going all-in on a rooting interest. Prediction: Juice Robinson

Dylan Justin: A nice low-level defense for Naito and a nice opportunity for Juice, who’s elevation could not have gone any better. If you would have told me a year ago that Juice Robinson would be headlining a New Japan show, I would have told you that’s crazy. And if you told me two years ago that Juice Robinson would be headlining a New Japan show, I would have told you you’re on drugs. Juice is not a huge star, nor is he ever going to be. He’s not a huge draw, nor is he ever going to be. What Juice is, however, is a solid midcard babyface who’s impossible to not get behind. He has more heart than just about anyone on the roster. He wants nothing more than to have great matches. He wants nothing more than to be in Japan, and it shows. He has a long way to go before he’s on a guy like Naito’s level, he probably won’t even come close to winning, but he’s going to try his hardest and he’s going to hang in there as long as he can, because that’s what Juice does. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Andrew Rich: Not only will this be Naito’s third title defense of the year, it will also be his third singles match of the year! Yeesh, that’s a lot of tag matches. Still, this should be great. Naito is on top of the world with this LIJ run. He can enrapture a crowd like nobody’s business. And how can you not love Juice Robinson? He took a gamble on himself when he left WWE to start over in New Japan and I’ll be damned if it hasn’t paid off for him. Juice may not have a lot of wins under his belt, but he’s improved tremendously in the ring and he’s earned the New Japan crowd’s adoration. He too knows how to capture the spirit of the audience, albeit in a different way. Whereas Naito is the cool rebel we want to be, Juice is the underdog hero we want to win. This will be the biggest match of Juice’s career and I know he’s going to deliver big time. Naito’s going to emerge victorious, of course, but just because we know the destination doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

John Carroll: People who think gaijin can’t really get over as babyfaces in Japan because ~they’re too racist~ or whatever (this is a real, honest to god take I’ve seen from people!) need to get a Best of Juice Robinson comp, because the NJPW crowd loves him. As the others have said, he’s a fun midcard babyface getting a bigger push than usual here, and that’s the kind of thing shows like this one were built for. I don’t see Juice winning but because he and Naito are so good, there will be approximately four or five near falls where I’ll swear to god Juice is about to win the belt. And yes, as Andrew said, it’s pretty amazing this is only Naito’s third singles match of the year; of his first two, Naito-Elgin is my second favorite match of 2017 so far, and Naito-Tanahashi was fantastic as well. If Naito can deliver here again with Juice, he’ll continue putting on the ultimate “quality over quantity” year. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito