DECEMBER 21, 2020

Watch: NJPW World

Unbelievably, it has been 10 days since El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi delivered a mind-blowing spectacle in the Best of the Super Juniors Final, and New Japan has run four event in the interim. This is actually Night 5 of the Road to Tokyo Dome tour, though the first to be broadcast on New Japan World. It is the beginning of a three-night stand at Korakuen Hall to end the year.

Let’s just get this right out of the way now: this is in no way a necessary show. Nothing of substantive consequence happens. If you have the inclination to skip straight to January 4, you definitely will not regret missing this show, or the next two.

That said, there’s something to the notion that these shows are the warm-up and stretching needed before some strenuous training. You might not want to totally jump into Wrestle Kingdom cold. These shows are successful in that regard. They are light enough to skip through, and provide enough meaningful interaction to enticement.

This is the fifth show of the tour. The first two danced around Tokyo in Shizuoka and Yamanhashi, took a sizeable drive up North to Miyagi, then returned to Saitama. Thus, these shows are the first time Tokyo proper and Korakuen Hall got a taste of the tour. They got a modified version of what the tour had been. Most of the matches in the first four cards were exactly the same, with Honma, Henare, and the Young Lions shuffled around. This show was the Road to Tokyo Dome tour debut of Jay White, Juice Robinson, and KENTA, which mixed things up a bit.


I feel like the intro VTR package deserves its own attention. It was a bit longer and served as a New Japan 2020 video yearbook. It went from Wrestle Kingdom 14 all the way through the Best of the Super Junior 27/World Tag League 2020 Finals. It represented the year in some ways: I counted five Destino’s, four Money Clip’s, three Evil’s, and one Rainmaker. I contained four low blows, but no ref bumps. It made sure to note Master Wato’s debut, YOSHI-HASHI’s title triumph, and a lot of New Japan Strong related stuff. And, of course, it didn’t just show Hiromu winning the Best of the Super Juniors Final. It gave special attention to El Desperado’s mask removal spot, from a different angle and in film quality. It ends by running through all the of January 4 and January 5 matches.

If anything is going to get you pumped for Wrestle Kingdom, it is this video.


Tiger Mask returned here, and he looked… good, I guess? This match was a stark reminder of the Way Things Were: completely inconsequential opening matches pitting aching dads against zealous Young Lions. Although it’s been ten months since we’ve seen Tiger Mask, it’s also been several months since we have seen Togi Makabe on broadcast. He also looked… fine? He and Kojima are so much bigger than just about everyone else in the promotion.

Quite frankly, after the Best of the Super Juniors, I consider it beneath Yuya Uemura to wrestle anyone but the tip top main eventers. I was expecting Tiger Mask to light these kids up, but it was a fairly anodyne match. Gabriel Kidd looked tremendous. His forearms and European uppercuts have incredible snap. We also got an overlooked moment when Kidd and Makabe were in the ring together; the last time we saw Makabe, Kidd was badgering him for a match.

The story of this match: people putting their opponents on their back foot, running the ropes, and absolutely eating something heinous. First Makabe ate a Uemura dropkick. Then Makabe ate a Kidd dropkick, in the exact same way. Tsuji avoided Kojima’s Lariat for a while, but eventually he… hit the ropes, and ate one. He bumps for that thing gloriously. Kojima looked awesome, as usual. ***1/4


A dreary match. The highlight came during KENTA’s entrance, where a fan had a remarkable accurate United States title shot briefcase, replete with cracks and taped on handwritten explanation of the source of said cracks. A lot of this match, unfortunately, was centered around Yujiro’s soporific offense.

At a certain point, you wish we could just skip this balderdash and get straight to KENTA’s backstage comments, which is what we’re really here for honestly. And Juice’s, for that matter. Keep in mind, it was after the G1 Climax match with Juice where KENTA cut the one serious backstage comment of the entire tour, the only one that wasn’t centered around his bashful courtship of the New Japan cameramen.

There were some hot tags, but they got cut off fairly quickly every single time. Neither team worked well together, and they barely tried. Things picked up a bit when things went tornado, and Juice nearly got the crowd excited with his arm pump thing. Honestly, this Korakuen crowd was not very responsive today. Juice hit the let hand and Pulp Friction in Yujiro to thankfully end this one. There follows a long segment of KENTA and Juice staring each other down, languidly gesturing towards each other. **1/2


SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: El Desperado is going to be fine! Yes, he has the mask, and it is indeed surreal to watch someone have a moment as transcendent as the one we saw on December 11, and so quickly regress back to sub-mid-level. It sucks. But, if you’ve read any of my reviews previous, you know I have an eagle-eye when it comes to Despy related things.

For one, when Suzuki comes out, I spotted two things: a woman had a Despy bear to the right of the screen, and a guy had a Despy “Hecho en Mexico” hoodie to the left. Even better, when Suzuki came out, and walked alongside the top of ringside, the camera did not follow him; they stayed on the entranceway. Many of the camera followed Despy as he went course left along ringside, toward the camera.  Listen, I’m biased, but I examined this very closely. I’m a complete imbecile.

I also must point out that, if you look at the Suzuki sign the camera found and showed during Suzuki’s entrance, you’ll notice someone wearing the Okada “Tap or Nap” shirt. Swear to God.

Anyway, the point is this: Despy is still several steps away from a glorious climax, but the propulsion has begun. Other things have to happen first. Hiromu has to deal with ELP for a while, probably. Despy also has some Dragon Lee issues to straighten out. Yes, Desperado’s entering his late-30’s… but have you seen him? It’s going to be fine. Him continuing to stabilize a division that had 15 title changes in three years is a perfectly acceptable diversion until the rest of his path is excavated.

Suzuki-gun get jumped before the bell for once, and Master Wato injects some real energy into the show for the first time. Wato was a house of fire until Taguchi did the thing where he gets on the second rope and asks his opponent to Irish whip his opponent into his anus. Unfortunately for Master Wato, Despy reserved the Irish whip, and Wato for Sanchez’d hard.

Here’s a fun fact: walking bag of leftover concrete mix Hiroyoshi Tenzan is actually three younger younger than Minoru Suzuki. You might have walked away from this match convinced that Tenzan is at least three decades older, but this is indeed not the case. Actually, that isn’t fair. Although Tenzan has in recent months moved like the reanimated corpse of a barrel-chested carnival strongman from the last 1800’s, he actually looked fine here. They did the spot where everyone hurt themselves hitting Tenzan’s barrel-head.

Wato looked quite good here, until he won by pinning Kanemaru with that jack-knife bridge pin he used to defeat Desperado in Gunma one month ago. In that match, the camera was on the side being flipped toward. In this one, the camera was on the opposite side. It was not favorable. The set-up looked a bit sloppy, and, although Wato landed away from camera this time, it looked like he sipped up on the jack-knife bridge.

This one was fun, though. Wato and Taguchi made the belt motion around their waist, which will never get old. They did not not officially challenge for the belts, but assuredly this is a Wrestle Kingdom match? ***1/2


Tama Tonga should be ashamed of himself. Clearly going against the example set by his stable leader Jay White, Tama covered his ears as Taichi sang his entrance music. Unforgivable.

Suzuki-gun once again were jumped before the bell. This began with a whole bunch of stuff by Zack Sabre Jr that Tyson Dux assuredly would not approve of. Indeed, I’m sure so many clocked out of New Japan World in response to this sequence and sprinted to Youtube in order to revel in the blisteringly logical delight of a Tyson Dux match. Congrats to Tyson on discovering the lucrative grift of appealing to sour atavists.

There was a sequence where Taichi choked every one of G.O.D. in succession, which he has somehow turned into a babyface spot. The crowd finally woke up when DOUKI tagged in, though the action stayed relatively fundamental. Not a lot to sink your teeth in here, or any hints for Wrestle Kingdom, besides Sabre being the face in peril, most likely?

This was reached a peak, and ended right on it. It was a cool ending. DOUKI went for Daybreak, but Tama hit him with the Gun Stun instead. He then teased putting him in the Sharpshooter, but Dangerous Tekkers made the save. A ton of jibber-jabber ensued as G.O.D. made their way to the back. This is the one time where I actually yearn for a press conference angle. Look at the picture below from their backstage confrontation. I love it. ***1/4


O-Khan is back to the full face covering, which I do not approve of, but its hard to stay mad about anything when the person that has been doing full O-Khan cosplay is in the crowd. Or is this a thing multiple people do? Just how fast has this motherfucker gotten over?

Okada came out in that light-reacting robe. I only mention it because it always looks especially awesome in Korakuen. I don’t care what slump or washedness or whatever is going on with Okada. If he comes to the ring in that robe, he is my favorite wrestler. Its that simple. I am that simple.

The Empire… jumps the faces before the bell! This is where we begin a true thought-provoking exercise: who moves slower – Tanahashi, Okada, or Honma? It’s hard to decipher, as The Empire have such phenomenal chemistry as a faction that you have to assiduously readjust your perspective to make sure you notice their opponents. At one point, Cobb lifted Honma up, carried him to the brink of getting a tag rom Okada, and just carried him back to the Empire corner. Honma gets some offense in on O-Khan, which feels legitimately insulting.

Okada took a hot tag, and goddamn was it a hot tag. He looked spryer than I could remember in ages, and this carried over to a dragon-screw-happy Tanahashi. O-Khan overpowered him, however, and anyone that scoffs at O-Khan offense needs to let themselves out and take a long journey of reconciliation before returning. At one point, Tanahashi and Okada did this cool thing where they pressed Honma and then dropped him onto Cobb for a Kokeshi.

Eventually, Cobb puts Honma away with the Tour of the Islands, and then its off to the races with the bastard heel gauntlet. Tsuji tries to save Tanahashi from O-Khan, and gets blasted for his altruism. The Empire once again decimate Tanahashi’s knee with a chair until Okada makes the save. Okada takes his eyes off of The Empire as they leave, so Ospreay dashes back into the ring and seamlessly annihilates Okada with a Hidden Blade. O-Khan cut his trademark no-microphone promo and goddamn does this faction rule. ***1/2


We have three Korakuen’s on this run, each presenting a different variant on the Double Dome Title match sequence in the main event. Tonight we get Naito and White, tomorrow it is Kota Ibushi and White, and on December 23 it is Naito and Ibushi.

The whole intrigue of this show, the only legitimately interesting aspect of this show, was that it would be the first time Jay White and EVIL team together. They will not team together the rest of the tour. Thus, a lot of attention is placed on the way they interact, and the cameras focused on this from the moment White came out. For one, instead of showing crowd shots during White entrance, they showed EVIL. When White and Gedo initiated a Too Sweet, the camera made sure to focus on what EVIL’s hand did in response.

EVIL and Dick Togo reciprocated the Too Sweet, but it was a very cautious and measured response. Likewise, a lot of attention was drawn to any moment Jay and EVIL tagged each other. Every time, it was a slow, cautious tag. Until the match began, each side kept their distance, and after the match EVIL cut a promo on SANADA and immediately left. The distance between the two provoked some deliciously uncomfortable tension in the viewer.

Jay has his own personalized briefcase, and I personally imagine every single person on the roster has their own personalized Wrestle Kingdom Title Match briefcase, like WWE having those side plates they pop into every title when someone wins it, and we get a dot-com exclusive showing how emotional they are to see a technician work a screwdriver.

Jay White and Tetsuya Naito have the same chemistry as ever. Naito usually frustrates people with his relentless insouciance, but not Jay White. In response to Naito’s cavalier reactions, Jay proffers indefatigable trolling. It’s the real-life version of the “Are You Upset?” bit from Pop Team Epic. You’d think either one would get tired of the other, but they keep pushing on, Naito displaying how unimpressed he is with Jay’s nonsense, and Jay providing a never-ending stream of nonsense, never once appearing deflated.

By the way, my wife looked at the screen during Naito’s entrance and said that she thought he was the Asian Kid Rock because of his hair.

Bullet Club get a lot of mileage out of Irish whipping L.I.J. into the turnbuckle that EVIL exposed, which is a tad uncomfortable to watch after what an exposed turnbuckle did to Despy’s back last week. SANADA picks up the pace, but it is the White-Naito sequence late in the match that is fiery and galvanizing, with Naito taking a completely, wholly unnecessary top-of-his-fucking-head DDT sell at one point.

The ending gets across one noticeably clear point: EVIL and Jay White are a damn near unstoppable team together. They take out all three members of L.I.J in a fantastic closing sequence, with Evil’s and Blade Runner’s all around. Afterwards, EVIL cuts his promo and leaves, while Jay mercilessly taunts Naito, leaves with the belts, and then leaves them on the floor in the back after his comments. ***1/2


A subdued crowd was treated to subdued action. As said at the top of this piece, they serve a valuable purpose of getting you mentally prepared for Wrestle Kingdom. The main event had a lot of curious EVIL-White interactions. You could just as easily pick one of these Korakuen shows and run with that, but if you’re looking to get some level of internalization of these programs going into the biggest event of the year, you’d be well-served to at the very least skip through each match on this one.