New Japan Pro Wrestling has been officially off since the end of the G1 Climax on August 12th, but that comes to an end this week with the annual Destruction tour.

Though in prior years the tour hasn’t been one of New Japan’s biggest or best, there’s some reason for cautious optimism this year, namely the major main events scheduled for the three big shows of the tour. Compare the major matches this year to the prior few (we’ll just go back to 2016, since that’s the first year they stretched this tour out to three big shows instead of two):

2016: KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI (Junior title), Shibata vs. Fish (NEVER title), Omega vs. YOSHI-HASHI (IWGP #1 Contendership), Okada vs. Fale, Naito vs. Elgin (IC title)

2017: Suzuki vs. Elgin (NEVER title), Tanahashi vs. Sabre (IC title), KUSHIDA vs. Desperado (Junior title), Omega vs. Robinson (US title)

2018: Omega vs. Ishii (IWGP title), Naito vs. Suzuki, Goto vs. Taichi (NEVER title), Tanahashi vs. Okada (IWGP #1 Contendership), KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI (Junior title tournament semi)

On paper at least this year’s tour is ahead of the last two by a pretty wide margin. Of course the big thing that jumps out immediately is the fact that we’ll see an IWGP Heavyweight title defense, the first time that title will be defended on a Destruction show since  Kazuchika Okada retained against Satoshi Kojima in 2013– the last year Destruction was just one major show in Kobe before it was split in two the following year. While it comes at the expense of an Intercontinental title defense, since Chris Jericho is apparently too busy engaging in promotional run-in attacks for his cruise to defend the white belt, you’d be hard pressed to argue that trade off isn’t a huge upgrade for this year’s tour. On top of that you can then add perhaps the biggest IWGP #1 contendership contract defense of all time, just given the fact that Okada is an actual threat to win the damn thing, and you can see why this tour looks a hell of a lot better than those of recent vintage. In 2016 it was Omega defending his contract against YOSHI-HASHI in a match that couldn’t have been more of a foregone conclusion if Gedo had just come on screen and told you the winner before it happened, and in 2017 we didn’t get a contract defense on the tour at all.

Past those two major matches, we have Tetsuya Naito vs. Minoru Suzuki in an oddly placed singles headline match with no title or even contendership on the line, in a match that almost feels like it’s for the phantom IC title of sorts. It’s the big outlier of the tour for sure and definitely the weakest of the three main events, but is it a weaker main event match than Suzuki vs. Michael Elgin or Kenny Omega vs. Juice Robinson was last year just because they each had a title of questionable prestige on the line? I would argue no, even taking into account the fact that the first Naito-Suzuki match earlier this year was a significant disappointment. Maybe they can improve it this time. And even if they can’t, they’re still far bigger stars than Juice or Elgin, which makes this a bigger match.

As far as semi-mains go, things are a bit weaker here, but they pretty much always are on this tour. Hiroshima has no real semi-main to speak of (it’s a six-man tag to build up Okada-Tanahashi), with the only other match of note on the card being a battle for the completely meaningless NEVER six-man titles. In Beppu, Naito-Suzuki has probably the strongest semi-main of the tour in Goto-Taichi, a match that’s been built up off and on dating back to the build for the Dominion three-way. In a weird way, leaving Taichi out of the G1 ended up being a bit of a benefit to his character, as it’s always more interesting when a persistent whiner heel has something actually worth whining about. And finally, at the tour capper in Kobe, Okada-Tanahashi has a meeting of two old junior rivals, KUSHIDA and BUSHI, going on second to last in what could be a fun bout. All in all nothing really to write home about when it comes to semi-mains, but two of those matches could be fun at least. It’s really going to be up to the main events to deliver to make this Destruction tour worthwhile, though, especially after sitting through some undercards that are likely to be extremely dull, but on paper at least they’re well positioned to do so.

So that brings us back to this weekend’s Road to Destruction shows. The tour kicks off with an untelevised show in Nagoya on September 5th before heading to Korakuen Hall on Friday the 7th for two straight nights, both of which will air on New Japan World. In an interesting twist, the Sunday show on the 9th in Chiba, at the small Togane Arena, will air on New Japan World as well. Typically that show would not be expected to air, but it’s making tape due to it being the return of Satoshi Kojima from long-term injury (his last match was on January 22nd of this year). You can find the full cards for these three shows on New Japan’s English website, but we’ll just cover the major highlights here.

Starting with the two Korakuens (both of which are pretty similar cards), on Night 1 on Friday you get a big main event with Tomohiro Ishii teaming with Will Ospreay to face the Golden Lovers of Omega and Ibushi. This is obviously the major hype match for the Omega-Ishii IWGP title match in Hiroshima on 9/15, and it’s the kind of tag team match that probably has many fans salivating given the names on paper there. However, any longtime Bushiroad-era New Japan viewer will know to be cautious with your expectations on a hype match tag; even if you see the talent on paper and think they’re capable of having a ***** classic, the actual match will generally never get close to that level.

The following night on Saturday is another tag team match, this time to hype up the Okada-Tanahashi #1 contendership match on 9/23 in Kobe. Okada teams up with Beretta, making his first New Japan appearances on this tour since the ROH/NJPW Honor Rising shows on 2/23 & 2/24 (he missed significant time with an injury, only returning to wrestling at all on July 21st and wrestling just five matches since then), to take on the team of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Juice Robinson. While this match certainly lacks the on-paper pop of the previous night’s main event, Korakuen is almost always hot for Okada-Tanahashi showdowns, which should be more than enough to carry the match. One expects that Beretta will be trying to make an impression upon his NJPW return as well.

Some other observations of note from both shows:

  • Tomoaki Honma will be making his first Korakuen Hall appearance since March 1st, 2017. He’ll team with Makabe & Tanahashi to face the trio of Okada, Yano & YOSHI-HASHI on the first night (he doesn’t appear on the second).
  • The LIJ vs. Suzukigun feud from earlier in the year goes back to full steam here, with two nearly identical 8-man tags on each show. Night 1 sees Naito, EVIL, SANADA and BUSHI team up to face Suzuki, Iizuka, Kanemaru & Desperado, while Night 2 swaps out Kanemaru for TAKA Michinoku.
  • Speaking of TAKA, KAIENTAI Dojo’s Ayato Yoshida, after months of appearances on the LION’S GATE shows that featured Yuji Nagata out-and-out saying he wanted to see the youngster jump to New Japan, will go on his first full time New Japan tour. On Night 1 he’s featured in a rather nondescript 8-man tag, but on Night 2 he gets a far more interesting showcase singles match against the BULLET CLUB’s crown jewel, Chase Owens.

Other than that, it’s your standard Korakuen Hall New Japan fare: a whole lot of multi-man tags. The only singles match on the two shows other than the aforementioned Yoshida-Owens encounter is Beretta versus Toa Henare on Night 1.

That brings us to the third of these shows making tape, the event in Chiba on Sunday the 9th. The main event of the show is Satoshi Kojima’s return match, as he teams with fellow 3rd generation stars Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi to take on the team of Makabe, Honma, Juice and David Finlay. While this likely won’t cause anyone to update their match of the year lists, it should be a really fun house show-style match based around the New Japan dads kicking some ass. The rest of the show is just a normal NJPW house show, with three (!) other eight-man tags, a Tanahashi/Henare-Okada/YOSHI tag, and the only singles match being a young lion opener (Yota Tsuji vs. Yuya Uemura). If there’s ever been a show you should probably skip right to the main event of, this is probably it.

So that’s our overview of the upcoming Destruction tour. Please stay tuned to Voices of Wrestling for full coverage of the tour, including in depth previews of the three major shows (9/15 in Hiroshima, 9/17 in Beppu and 9/23 in Kobe) and of course reviews of all the shows after they air. I can always be found hosting Wrestling Omakase every week, where alongside a rotating cadre of guest co-hosts I cover New Japan but also the rest of puroresu (especially DDT & All Japan), sometimes US wrestling, historical wrestling, and more. Check out our latest show live from Chicago after All In! Thank you for reading.