New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Tokyo Dome
December 15, 2018
Korakuen Hall
Toyko, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

If you skipped right to the matches on this video you missed a tremendous highlight video package detailing all major events in NJPW’s 2018. There was a ton of stuff from earlier in the year that I had either completely forgotten or had been overshadowed in the time by other events across the world of wrestling. While there’s no way it’ll be a better recap than the VOW NJPW 2018 Year in Review eBook tentatively scheduled to release January 2 (CHEAP PLUG) — it was still a great way to catch up on the year that was in New Japan.

Ren Nartia & Teruaki Kanemitsu vs. Shota Umino & Ayato Yoshida – Time Limit Draw

There’s a name we haven’t seen in a while. Kanemitsu last wrestled in November 2016 and has missed over two years with injury. Finally he’s back but in a world very different from the one he was once in. When we last saw Kanemitsu he was battling the likes of Henare, David Finlay, Hirai Kawato and Jay White. Two years later, all of his then-fellow young lions have graduated or moved onto excursion. Now, he once again enters the ranks but as a man who had to see his peers past him by. Kanemitsu was up to the level of having singles matches on major shows now he’s right back, seemingly right back to where he started. The finish was significant as Umino had Kanemistu in a Boston Crab as time on the match was winding down. The crowd rallied behind Kanemitsu hoping he wouldn’t tap out… and he didn’t. He didn’t win but he survived. Given how NJPW typically treats returning wrestlers, particularly those with two-year layoffs, Kanemitsu surviving but not losing or tapping out is good news. It means, at least for the time being, that he’ll be slotted as a young lion but perhaps as a step above this current crop. Time will tell. Regardless this was a fun opener and a great moment seeing Kanemitsu in the ring again. ***1/2

Roppongi 3K & Rocky Romero def. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Toa Henare

This was a fun, fast-paced match with each wrestler getting their time to shine. Roppongi 3k felt somewhat out of place as they have an important match at Wrestle Kingdom while the others (most notably Liger), don’t. The man who made his debut at the Tokyo Dome will now sit out for the first time (non-injury) in over two decades. Henare, who had the most matches wrestled in NJPW this year, is also on the outside looking in. Roppongi looked polished here but I can’t help but wonder if there was a better use for them on this show. ***

Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto def. Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka

Woah, this was better than it had any right to be. The combination of lads in this match (sans Iizuka) definitely lived up to its billing as they duds just mauled one another. The faceoffs between Suzuki and Ishii as well as Suzuki and Goto were great. I’ll even give credit where its due: Iizuka was fine. Either way, the crowd was hot from beginning to end and there was a solid pace to this match which made it really work well. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this match. Goto and Ishii won with a Ushigiroshi/Sliding D combo. I have to wonder if this team (combined with Makabe teaming with Yano in our main event) hints towards some future shakeups in the tag division. Count me the fuck in if that’s the case. Ishii & Goto as a legit, everyday NJPW heavyweight tag team would be great and probably the best way to use both men in 2019. ***3/4

EVIL & SANADA def. Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi

This was fine. It was dull at points and featured a lot of comedy — including Chase Owens ALMOST putting the full Paradise Lock in on SANADA. The master of the hold would pop out of it pretty quickly and lock Owens into a proper one which the crowd loved. The fans were way into EVIL & SANADA and cared about everything they did but there were long periods in this match where seemingly nothing happened. In the end, this was designed to build EVIL & SANADA up for Wrestle Kingdom as they hit an Indytaker on Yujiro (The Young Bucks’ finisher) and a Magic Killer (GOD’s finisher) for the win. **3/4

Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI def. Taichi, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

ACCIDENTAL BLOOD! ACCIDENTIAL BLOOD! Shingo got busted open hardway in this match after Kanemaru—being the bastard that he is—dropped Shingo’s face onto the guardrail. The visual was incredible and it seemed to light a fire under Shingo.

The overall match was a ton of fun and featured Naito looking over his shoulder concerned about an attack from his Wrestle Kingdom 13 opponent Chris Jericho. The closing stretch was great as BUSHI hit a beautiful suicide dive onto Desperado while Naito put Kaneamaru away with the Destino. I enjoyed this one a lot and it was even better in post-match as Jericho appeared from the crowd and attacked LIJ with chairs. Jericho laid Naito out with the Codebreaker and left through the crowd but not before getting in the face of every fan wearing an LIJ shirt. God, Jericho is great. ***1/2

Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Taiji Ishimori def. Kazuchika Okada, Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Tomoaki Honma & KUSHIDA

10-man tag time. Before I get into the match I should point out some interesting pairings on the non-Bullet Club side. First off, we had a melding of units as Okada and Yano from CHAOS teamed with the Great Bash Heel unit of Makabe and Honma while KUSHIDA, a de facto member of the NJPW Army, was along for the ride as well. We don’t often see units brought together for matches like this but it was a nice breath of fresh air. There’s been talk that maybe NJPW would want to put Makabe and Yano back together as a tag team with Honma’s inability to get back on track following his return from injury. There was a nice tidbit from a friend of the site Chris Charlton during this match stating that the last time Makabe and Yano teamed in the ring together Taiji Ishimori was in Dragon Gate, KUSHIDA was in Mexico and Jay White was in high school.

Yeah, it’s been awhile.

The match itself was a bit wild as there were so many bodies flying around. There was crowd brawling, dives to the outside, blind tags and just a ton of stuff happening throughout. Yet, it didn’t feel like a frantic, fun pace, it just felt like stuff happening. This wasn’t a bad match by any measure as it featured some great heel work from White and his manager Gedo as well as some fun spots with Honma and KUSHIDA but ultimately it felt a little unfocused. Regardless, this match did a good job of making me more excited for White/Okada and I suppose that was the only intention. After the match, Okada ran into the ring to attack White but with all of Bullet Club in the ring alongside Jay, it proved to be a terrible idea for Broken Kazu. Okada was beaten down and laid out with the Bladerunner while KUSHIDA was laid out by his Wrestle Kingdom 13 opponent Ishimori. ***

Golden Lovers def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Will Ospreay

Wow, wow, wow. Apparently, nobody told these guys this is a random Road to Tokyo Dome show and that the big show is only a handful of days away as Ibushi, Omega and in particular, Ospreay put their foot on the pedal and delivered one of the year’s best tag matches.

The pacing, the moves and the double team maneuvers all came together to tell an unbelievable story that not only helped the build to Wrestle Kingdom but gave us a peek into the future of NJPW in one Will Ospreay. The next year is going to be a huge year for Ospreay and this match was all the evidence you need. Both Ibushi and Omega wrestled the match with the clear intention of making Ospreay look great and they succeed. Ospreay, not Tanahashi, received the hope spots, the nearfalls and the crowd admiration. Even though he ultimately took the fall for his team, Ospreay looked incredible in defeat.

Between near-perfect pacing and moves that will blow your mind, we also had incredible visuals throughout including a GIF that belongs in a museum:

If I want to levy some criticism on the match and its purpose, Hiroshi Tanahashi was non-existent. Sure, he was there for the big spots and the big moments but ultimately seemed lost in the shuffle as the match shined a light on The Golden Lovers and Ospreay. Likewise, I don’t feel any different towards the build of the Wrestle Kingdom 13 main event as Tanahashi and Omega’s faceoffs were brief and at times forgettable. The English commentary duo of Kevin Kelly and Charlton did more to help the build of the match explaining the difference in wrestling ideologies between the two. Unfortunately, very little of that was reflected in the body of the match. That’s my one big complaint with the match but still, the interactions between Ibushi, Omega and Ospreay alone were enough to take this match to the upper echelon.

You cannot finish your Match of the Year ballots or complete your 2018 wrestling viewing without watching this match. *****

Final Thoughts: 

The final NJPW show of 2018 continued the build to Wrestle Kingdom 13 but found a way to sneak a handful of good matches in along the way including one of the best tag matches of the year.