DECEMBER 23, 2020

Watch: NJPW World

It is the final night of the Road to Tokyo Dome tour’s three-night stand at Korakuen Hall. Two years ago, a legitimate Match of the Year Contender emerged when The Golden Lovers squared off with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay. Would such fireworks emerge from this show? Read the very next sentence to find out!

No, nothing of the sort happened.

It was another perfunctory show. In many ways, these Road to Tokyo Dome Korakuen’s are like a graduation ceremony that we’ve all found ourselves in at one point in our lives. Possibly as a part of the ceremony. The common element: excruciating boredom. The common question: can we just hand out these fucking diplomas and get out of here? And yet, you sit through several speeches, possibly by a mayor that delivers the same exact speech every year for each school in their district each year. You hear the choir a few non-consecutive times. The band plays the same jaunty big band jazz multiple times. Something vaguely sacrilegious happens, either by the Color Guard, or ROTC, or the Dance Team, or whatever. High School, College, it does not matter. It is all the same. Why do all this? Because it only happens once a year, and it is a big deal. Wrestle Kingdom is the diploma dispersal and these shows are all that other nonsense. Why have the nonsense? To give the big moment weight, to ease you in, to acclimate you to the proceedings and educate you on the contextualization necessary to grasp the significance of the one thing you came to see. That’s what these shows do. They warm you up, just enough.

A few hours before this show, the Wrestle Kingdom Press Conference was held. In it, they announced the cards in full:

Night 1: January 4, 2021

  1. A 22-man Rambo to determine the competitors for the KOPW 2021 Provisional Four-Way Match
  2. Super J Cup Winner El Phantasmo v. Best of the Super Juniors 27Hiromu Takahashi
  3. IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match: Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr nd Taichi) (c) v. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)
  4. IWGP United States Championship #1 Contender Briefcase Match: KENTA (B?) v. Juice… Satoshi Kojima
  5. Hiroshi Tanahashi v. GREAT-O-KHAN
  6. IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match: Tetsuya Naito (c) (c) vs. Kota Ibushi

Night 2: January 5, 2021

  1. KOPW 2021 Provisional Four-Way Match
  2. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match: Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) v. One or Eight (Ryusuke Taguchi and Master Wato)
  3. NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Shingo Takagi (c) v. Jeff Cobb
  5. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match: Taiji Ishimori (c) v. Winner of El Phantasmo v. Hiromu Takahashi
  6. IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match: Winner of Tetsuya Naito v. Kota Ibushi (c) v. Jay White

The press conference was fun, with Jay White crashing the Naito-Ibushi portion as a reporter and Dick Togo proving that no occasion is too formal for him to attempt murder. But it would go against all of my principles if I did not acknowledge El Desperado once again extinguishing Master Wato:

Desperado: Wato, I’ll be honest, I hate your guts. That isn’t to do with you as a wrestler, or whether we clash styles, it’s to do with you having no emotion, no passion, no belief. you saying ‘C’mon, give us a shot’, like that makes you sound like a middle schooler trying to get to second base. You really want to do this? You really want it? Because I hate liars, I hate fakes, and I hate you.

So, let’s say you really do want this. Do you remember what you said yesterday, from inside the ring? Maybe you got caught up in the excitement a little and you don’t remember, but it pissed me off, so I do. You said ‘let’s do it now, right here’. That was a lie wasn’t it? Because if that was true, you’d be throwing away your Tokyo Dome match just to wrestle us right them in Korakuen, even though there were six of us there. You had no intention of facing us for the titles. 

You didn’t think about what you said, you just spoke, with no thought and no feeling, just said that like a moron. And if the people hear that, they get excited right? Like they might get to see a title match? You offered something you had no intention on delivering. I can’t expect an idiot to take responsibility for idiocy, so I won’t push this any further, but I’ll say this; I don’t know whether you are an idiot or not. That’s up to you. So think before you speak. 

This night began with the announcement that Juice Robinson has suffered an injury to his orbital bone and will not only miss the December 23rd show taking place, but Wrestle Kingdom entirely. This is really too bad, and I hope Juice does not get discouraged. I remember when Cro Cop busted up Greatest of All Time Kazushi Sakuraba’s orbital and it took Saku forever to recover. It’s hard to really tell where it might have happened; the briefcase shot on December 22 did not appear to make contact at all, so it’s a fool’s errand to go back and look.

The replacement rules, though! It probably should have been Suzuki, but Kojima is another one that deserves something. The guy very unceremoniously left the G1 Climax sphere, no fanfare or even a mention. He moves better than all of the dad combined, and that includes Tanahashi. His turbulent energy could mesh with KENTA methodical trolling quite well.


I’m not sure why this match exists, or why Despy and Kanemaru had their years end a night early. It featured exactly what you would expect: an abundance of earnest, fiery passion from the Young Lions. Kidd and Wato looked pretty good against each other, as did Tsuji and Tiger Mask. Uemura was kept out of the match an exceedingly long time, pretty much telegraphing that he was going to eat the pin. Everything Uemura did preceding it was great. He pushed Wato to the brink, but in the end, took an RPP and a pin.

A couple of things were strange here, one of which was the spacing between Wato and his opponents. I don’t think this one is Wato’s fault. At one point, Kidd whipped Wato into the ropes and was supposed to dropkick him. But Kidd ended up so far from the center of the ring that when Wato reached him on the bounce-back Kidd was barely up in the air. Likewise, there were a couple of points where Uemura found himself too close to Wato on some kicks. Again, these things seem to follow Wato wherever he goes but this was on the Young Lions.

Also, because the backstage comments come out roughly 12 hour after the shows, the comments cannot usually be incorporated into the review. That’s generally the end of that, but in this case it’s worth looking back at a backstage comment from a couple of shows past. This is where we can delineate Wato’s choice to name his tag team with Taguchi “One or Eight.” This is an idiom: “ichi ka bachi ka.” This is the Japanese equivalent of “sink or swim,” or “all or nothing.” I’m not sure if it is a well known phrase, or if the 1 or 8 translation is well known, because when Wato dropped that name in a backstage comment months ago, Taguchi and Tenzen were utterly baffled. Just a very, very awkward silence met the gleefully proud Wato.

Wato further explained during this tour that “1 or 8” is also a reference to the 18 year age gap between him and Taguchi. Taguchi and Tenzan accepted this motivation and Wato left, which was weird because the promo was definitely not over. Taguchi and Tenzan joked about Tenzan becoming a diva, and how he might be the hottest diva. Tenzan seemed in good humour about it, joking alongside it. ***1/4


A subtle story of this stretch of shows is the whittling away of every surrounding EVIL vs. SANADA, and the increasing intensity between the two. That culminated in this match, where the entire focus was on these two, though Ishimori and Hiromu sure tried to steal it. Hiromu came out in the ELP mask that he wore to the press conference, effectively making the most inherently likable wrestler in the world rancid.

SANADA was animated and full of distempered frenzy during this match, especially after the match. EVIL grabbed a chair and SANADA grabbed a chair and they did a duel that, as a fencer, reminds me of bad fencing in films. You see it a lot, actors sort of hitting each other’s swords, and it’s especially frustrating; they could just straightforward thrust the swords at each other because there are, believe it or not, actually very simple techniques for preventing someone from hitting you with a sword. It’s called fucking PARRY. Everyone knows what that is. A lot of bad acting swordplay are just people parrying each other.

That’s akin to what EVIL and SANADA did here. They swung at each other, but they swung in a way that they could only hit chairs in the middle. Either way, the exchange ended in a stalemate and they brawled to the back. I do not know if this will convince any persistent doubters that this match is Wrestle Kingdom worthy. Actually, it won’t. Not at all. But the build and the pull apart brawls have been excellent. Just a lot of fun and hopefully something SANADA can call upon going forward.

Hiromu and Ishimori went a million miles an hour and, as has been the case all year, looked magnificent against each other. At one point, EVIL worked over Hiromu and, I kid you not, this pairing was actually an IWGP Heavyweight Title Match. This year! ***1/2


Eight years ago, I tweeted about how I really wish some wrestling company, any wrestling company, would WAKE UP and give me the Bodyslam or Last Cornerpad Removal match I thought wrestling needed in 2012. Finally, someone listened. Thank you, Toru Yano.

For those keeping track, KOPW still does run off the conceit that both wrestlers vying for the Provisional Title should suggest a stipulation. Both stipulations are then placed in opposition through a Twitter poll, and the winning option is named the official stipulation of the match. This has happened properly in four out of the six proper singles KOPW matches. Which, of course, means that 1/3rd of the time they completely fucked it up.

In this case, they really don’t deserve credit, but technically they’ve achieved the goal. Fale’s option was a bodyslam match. Yano’s option: a bodyslam or cornerpad removal match. I suppose this is the equivalent of betting one dollar more than your rival. The voting New Japan populace decided that two things are better than one, regardless of whether both are detrimental or not.

I purposely requested to review this show to provide written, published, on-the-record defense of the KOPW concept. And this was before it was confirmed to be returning in 2021. NJPW brass must have hired a private investigator that took incriminating photographs of Kazuchika Okada entering an eyeglass chain’s corporate offices. KOPW will not die!

KOPW is fun and has been executed as well as I hope for, certainly. I broke out in a cold sweat at the complete nonsense Okada through out there at the KOPW press conference about cage matches and other trifle. KOPW has been restrained, a sequence of stipulations that are much more about conditions for winning than about elaborate match types. Finishers Only. Finishers Prohibited. Shortened Count-outs. ET CETERA. It is harmless, innocuous, and in no way denigrates the integrity of New Japan. The stipulations, as noted above, are usually just winning conditions, so it doesn’t even strain credulity.

Well, it didn’t strain credulity until this match, I guess.

Fale went for a bodyslam immediately, but Yano was wearing a conspicuous backpack. Inside the bag? A bag of sand. An insider joke was inside the bag. Well, nothing too bad, just the harmless fun I was… ah, I see the bag of sand has ended up on top of Marty Asami, who is flailing around, presumably unable to move because of the incredible weight of the sand. Thus, a new low of ref bumps as Fale hit a bodyslam, seemingly winning the match, but Asami was pinned to the floor by a normal-sized sandbag like it was a bag of fucking neutron stars.

Chase Owens, looking Shenandoah Valley as fuck, interfered constantly. At one point, he thwarted Yano by tying the final cornerpad left in some literal gordian knot of unsolvable complexity. Yano gave up and went to the crush-the-referees-xiphoid-process-with-my-inside-joke backup plan. Yano hit a low blow, followed by a bodyslam to win the match. Presumably that means he will end the year as the KOPW Provisional Champion, thus becoming the actual 2020 KOPW Champion.

I didn’t know what to rate this one, until they showed an actual slow motion replay of the body slam. A replay on a Road To show. I’ve already exposed myself to enough ridicule defending this concept, I might as well be generous to this match. ***1/2 (you bastards)


This is where I proclaim that my favorite tag team in New Japan is no longer Dangerous Tekkers. It is Jay White and KENTA. Jay White and KENTA both have utter disdain for everyone and contempt for everything. They relish any opportunity to ruin someone’s mood and exult in any moment where they’ve frustrated someone into a visual reaction. They are complete fuck faces.

But they seem to have a mutual appreciation and admiration. For one, they both very much enjoy watching the other irritate people. The glee on Jay White face as KENTA plays keep away from people to begins match says it all. But there is absolutely a friendship here. Like all good heels, they revel in the pain the inflict on others, and are aghast when it is returned to them. I return to the Power Struggle tour, when KENTA complained that Yota Tsuji pulled his hair. White stormed around the ring and badgered Tsuji, apoplectic that he would have the audacity to do such a thing to KENTA. Later in the tour they basically hazed Tsuji on camera before a match.  Do not mess with KENTA when Jay White is around. Or, more accurately, try not to have KENTA make something up about you tat would enrage Jay White.

Jay tagged in at one point by asking KENTA if he needed a breather. At another point, KENTA choked  Henare against the ropes and both mocked Asami’s counting. When KENTA did the fake handshake/wipe sweat off brow and throw it deal after the match to Kojima, you could hear White in the background, beside himself with delight over someone else being such a wanker. On December 22, KENTA marveled at Jay’s new briefcase and they touched cases in solidarity. It’s a damn shame World Tag League is seen as beneath Jay because that might have been the tour of the year if these two were on it.

Kojima challenged for KENTA briefcase, and here’s where I bring up Kojima’s singles matches this year: a CMLL Heavyweight Title Match against Ultimo Guerrero, a match against Jef…

Actually, hold up. Yes, this happened. At Fantasica Mania, Ultimo fucking Guerrero defended the CMLL Heavyweight Championship, which he has now held for over two years, against Satoshi Kojima.

Kojima faced Jeff Cobb and Alex Coughlin on the United States shows, EVIL at the New Japan Cup, El Desperado at the KOPW show, and Yota Tsuji twice in September. He’s looked great all year and looks absolutely massive compared to most of the roster.

As far as Henare, he looked great as well, and although he had one minor miscommunication with Jay, it does seem like those two could have a barnburner of a G1 match together. ***1/4


This confirms that O-Khan has different entrance gear based on whether he comes out with unit or tag team. My wife also said that Tanahashi looks like a pheasant.

The Empire attacked early on, but Tanahashi targets O-Khan’s knee early. Unlike the other heels in the company, instead of doing the ubiquitous eye-rake, Khan turns the tide by executing a shoot and turning it into a cool-looking leg submission.

The Empire doesn’t seem to be cheaters just yet. At one point Honma ran the ropes, with Cobb right there to trip him. Cobb watched him hit the ropes and does a most languid and perfunctory swipe at Honma’s legs. Eventually another failed top-rope Kokeshi led to a Tour of the Islands for Cobb and the win.

After the match, there is a lot of scuffling. Tsuji got abused for defending Tanahashi, but Okada stormed in and cleaned house. Then.. he locked in.. the Money Clip. A move that leaves him essentially immobile and ties up his arms. This is yet another time he’s locked in the Money Clip while outnumbered. Anyway, The Empire pummeled Okada, who deserves it for such a preposterous lack of foresight, but then Tanahashi laid waste to The Empire with a chair in a great moment. ***


Sho and Ibushi are just two jacked brothers. There are a healthy number of towels for Ibushi and Naito, so at the very least you have two popular guys heading to January 4. The Ibushi-Naito dynamic is interesting. It’s different from the previous two we’ve looked at over the last two shows. With these two, it’s just mutual bemusement. When Naito does the thing where he complains that he needs more time to take his suit off, after already having taken an absurd amount of time already, Ibushi just grins and nods. Yes, old chap, absolutely. Take as many precious moments as necessary to enact your disrobing.

This match is fun, with consistent action, although I do feel like BUSHI should be forced to wear gloves to prevent him from touching Ibushi. The ending involved a very cool sequence where Ibushi took out BUSHI but it was turned seamlessly into a Destino from Naito. The Desinto should always be filmed from behind. SHO finished BUSHI with his package piledriver to end it.

This one is all about the aftermath. For one, Ibushi’s wide-eyed support of SHO, to the point where he encouraged SHO to take the hand-raise from the ref by himself, was adorable. It’s weird to think of a youthful-looking autonomous wrestling deity like Ibushi having a protégé, but these two pure manifestations of earnestness work so well together.

Naito and Ibushi confront each other, and Jay inserts himself into the conversation. He delivers a gloriously self-aggrandizing promo that bordered on solipsism, concluding that he is going to become God instead of Ibushi. Last year, everyone stole Naito’s idea to become a double champion. By stealing Ibushi’s idea, the stakes are infinitely higher this year, literally.

There’s a funny moment where Jay demanded that his music gets played, it doesn’t, and he wondered what the X-sign he’s being given means. Ibushi asked him to leave in a way that got laughs from the crowd, which made me realize how Ibushi never gets a laugh from the audience. Ibushi told Naito that he will take the belts on the 4th, and Naito affirmed that his focus is on Ibushi, and that he looks forward to seeing Jay on the 5th. Jay left with both belts, to Naito’s bemusement and Ibushi’s complete exasperation.

What’s unfortunate here is that this story would have been phenomenal if it didn’t have to be condensed due to the scheduling changes. This is where we stand going into the January 4th Main Event IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches:

  • Ibushi has had enough of cheating pinpricks like Jay White, and as God it is imperative that he deliver scrupulous judgment upon Jay, going through his old rival to get there. He has clearly referenced “that day,” a moment of ignominy that Ibushi simply cannot allow to stand unresolved. If Kota Ibushi is going to deliver his style of wrestling to the pinnacle of professional wrestling, there must be consequences for the Jay White’s. Without the time to tell this story, the emphasis on Jay’s cheating and resultant invalidation hasn’t been as strongly felt. Two more months of Ibushi as this Shakespearean vengeful specter haunting Jay and vowing to avenge “that day” and we’d all be imbued with Ibushi’s soberly righteous indignation.
  • Naito is looking past Ibushi and not taking the whole thing as seriously as he should did not have enough time to gestate. He views this as another fun Tokyo Dome main event. He’s made it to the top of the mountain and, like Okada, he’ll just continue to run through people now that he’s there. Why take a day off when you can have fun with your old buddy? That sounds like a worthwhile warm up for the big match on January 5. Naito’s blitheness is a deadly sin, but it’s only been exhibited in Road To shows that have a limited audience
  • Jay’s complete buffoonery led him into leaving an opening for Ibushi to get back in the picture. Ibushi will be laser focused and driven by the notion of annihilating this lamentable fool. Jay White hubristically took the safest possible option, but in doing so opened up a path wide enough for his biggest nightmare to traverse. Well, that is established, but would have been a bit more flavorful with more time in the oven.

It’s unfortunate, but I hope the awareness of the intricacies of this story become apparent at some point in the next two weeks. Some incredible Wrestle Kingdom promo packages could do some of the trick. We’ll always know and feel the bereavement over what this story could have achieved, but the story’s armature is plainly apparent. ***1/2


After three nights, even with an abridged lead-up, things should be absolutely crystal-clear heading into the Dome shows. These shows will not galvanize you, but they will warm you up a bit and give enough juice to, perhaps, push you to the spectrum wherein you readily anticipate Wrestle Kingdom. Wrestle Kingdom 15 looks superb on paper, and these shows confirm that perhaps the ends justify the means every once in a while. As long as that while ends on January 5th, of course.