New Japan officially kicked off the “Road To Wrestling Dontaku” Tour last weekend, with back to back nights in Korakuen Hall on April 13th & April 14th.

Neither showed featured any of the countless title matches that are taking place throughout the tour (the first of those are coming up early next week), but since these two events aired on NJPWWorld, I thought I would briefly go over some of the highlights, just to catch everyone up.

Both shows featured a five-on-five elimination match (with eliminations occurring via pinfall, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor) as the main event, with a Hiroshi Tanahashi led team taking on CHAOS on April 13th, and a LIJ/Suzuki-gun showdown on April 14th.

In each instance, it was easily the best match of the night, and did a solid job in building up all of the upcoming title bouts. There were times when the rivals in questions, particularly those in the bigger matches coming up, simply eliminated each other (such as KUSHIDA/Ospreay, Okada/Tanahashi, Naito/Suzuki), but there were a few notable moments when it came to some of the other feuds. In the elimination match on April 13th, Juice Robinson managed to toss out Hirooki Goto, and when it came down to Jay White vs. David Finlay as the final two, Finlay managed to score (arguably) one of the biggest wins of his career when he eliminated White to win the bout for his team. While this big result didn’t break to streak of pinfall losses that Finlay has to White, it was certainly a moral victory for the challenger, as he finally got on over on the IWGP United States Champion.

The eliminations in the April 13th main event were all over the top rope, but thankfully, the elimination match on April 14th avoided being a direct copy.

BUSHI and Yoshinobu Kanemaru were both eliminated via quick pinfalls (following some shenanigans involving low blows), while Naito and Suzuki took each other out and brawled to the back shortly thereafter. In an very interesting, the bout actually came down to Hiromu Takahashi vs. Lance Archer & El Desperado, with Hiromu facing a massive challenge in the form of Archer. Eventually, Hiromu did manage to send Archer over the top rope, but in the end, Suzuki-gun still came out on top after Hiromu got rolled up by El Desperado after Kanemaru spit whiskey in his eyes. It was certainly an underwhelming ending, but again, it did its job of setting up a title match well. The current IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions then took out their challengers from LIJ, and stood tall over them to end Night 2.

These first two events on the tour also featured the current crop of young lions throughout the undercard.

The openers on both nights were very entertaining, and involved the two newest young lions, who were making their debuts on a proper New Japan show after appearing on a recent Lion’s Gate event. In the opener on Night 1, Tetsuhiro Yagi defeated Yuya Uemura, and on Night 2, Ren Narita picked up a win over Yota Tsuji (who, for my money, bears a slight resemblance to current Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo). Both matches were very solid, and the two new young lions showed a ton of promise. In particular, Yota Tsuji made a great first impression with some of his incredibly hard strikes. Meanwhile, some other young lions got opportunities to take on New Japan veterans in singles competition. Tomoyuki Oka came up short in a singles bout against Manabu Nakanishi, while Shota Umino lost to Yuji Nagata. The former match was….about what you would expect, given that Nakanishi was involved. The latter match, however, proved to be very entertaining from start to finish. It speaks volumes about what the company thinks of Umino that he was given a singles bout with Nagata, and the fact that he actually seemed to dominate the first minute or so further speaks to that fact. Even with all of the questions surrounding the status of Katsuya Kitamura, there’s no doubt that there’s still a ton of talent in this current young lion class.

One common thread that stretched across both nights is the budding undercard feud that’s been developing between Tomohiro Ishii and Toa Henare.

They’ve had exciting interactions on the past few tours, and they were on opposite sides once again on these two cards. The only real difference between the two bouts were Henare’s partners (Hiroyoshi Tenzan on Night 1, and Togi Makabe on Night 2), but whenever he got in the ring with Ishii, the action always picked up. He showed great fire on both shows, but ultimately lost to the more experienced Ishii. I’m sure that I’m not the first person that’s expressed this feeling, but at this point, it feels like New Japan is grooming Henare to be sort of an Ishii-esque performer. The fact that they’re constantly matched up against each other in tag team matches is surely no accident, and I (along with many others) hope that we do get a singles bout between the two. This little mini-feud certainly has me excited to follow Henare as he continues to progress.

If there’s a match from each show that you should absolutely avoid like the plague, it’s the Roppongi 3K vs. Suzuki-gun six-man tag. They repeated the same match on both nights, and neither was any good. I suppose the Suzuki-gun team was naturally going to win, since the team (consisting of Taichi, Taka Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka) had two heavyweights and junior going up against a CHAOS trio of three juniors, but these just didn’t click at all. Roppongi 3K is in a bit of a weird spot right now, since they’re out of the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title picture at the moment, but surely you find something better for them to do. Both bouts were just filled with way too many shenanigans for my liking (too much Iizuka biting people in weird places), and are completely skippable. Sadly, this exact same six-man tag is happening again on the two Korakuen Hall events next week so….get excited for seeing this crappy match two more times

Finally, I’ll close out with my star ratings for both shows, for those that care about star ratings (and I’m sure there are plenty who do):

NJPW Road To “Wrestling Dontaku 2018”: Night 1
Tokyo, Japan (Korakuen Hall) 4/13/2018

1.) Tetsuhiro Yagi vs. Yuya Uemura: ***1/4

2.) Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tomoyuki Oka: **1/2

3.) Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask, & Shota Umino vs. Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Ren Narita: ***

4.) Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH, & Rocky Romero) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Taka Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka): **1/4

5.) CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toa Henare: ***1/4

6.) Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, Hiromu Takahashi, & SANADA) vs. Suzuki-gun (The Killer Elite Squad, El Desperado, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru): ***1/4

7.) Ten-Man Tag Team Elimination Match – CHAOS (“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, “Switchblade” Jay White, Will Ospreay, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay, KUSHIDA, & “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin: ***3/4

NJPW Road To “Wrestling Dontaku 2018”: Night 2
Tokyo, Japan (Korakuen Hall) 4/14/2018

1.) Ren Narita vs. Yota Tsuji: ***1/4

2.) Yuji Nagata vs. Shota Umino: ***1/4

3.) Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Tomoyuki Oka def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tiger Mask, & Tetsuhiro Yagi: **3/4

4.) Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH, & Rocky Romero) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Taka Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka): *3/4

5.) CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) def. Togi Makabe & Toa Henare: ***1/4

6.) CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, “Switchblade” Jay White, Will Ospreay, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Juice Robinson, David Finlay, KUSHIDA, & “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin: ***1/2

7.) Ten-Man Tag Team Elimination Match – Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, EVIL, & SANADA) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, The Killer Elite Squad, El Desperado, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru): ***3/4