JANUARY 18, 2021

Watch: NJPW World

Right now, we should be firmly entrenched in a magnificently ludicrous FantasticaMania tour. El Desperado should be walking through a swinging door, with Namajague walking in almost seamlessly as Desperado walks out. Raijin and Fujin should be engaged in some of the most sincere babyface energy conceivable, and rewarded with literally every backstage comment insouciantly referring to them as Tanaka and Komatsu. Crowds should be politely acknowledging Luciferno and Euforia, at a lost for any alternative reaction. This is where we should be, and bereft of it New Japan has several dates to fill. And by God, they must be filled. And by God, all of them must be filled at Korakuen Hall. This is the only logical response when a year-long pandemic with no end in sight severs your connection to excellent Mexican labor.

This is the middle child of the first leg of a New Beginning tour, and essentially indistinguishable from the show preceding it. This was entirely predictable, considering that this set of three straight Korakuen Hall shows are nearly identical, with minor shuffling. Because there’s so little to differentiate this show, I honestly considered just taking Neil David’s review from yesterday and presenting the exact opposite take on every issue, just to see if I could get away with it. But I have integrity, dammit, so we might as well examine the differences between the shows on this tour. There are, in fact, two unique aspects to this show.

Match #1 concerns the Kojima vs. United Empire feud. Each night, Kojima is paired with a Young Lion. In Night’s 1 and 3, he is paired with Yota Tsuji. On this night, he teamed with Yuya Uemura. This is the only time Uemura finds himself on this run of shows.

Match #4 concerns Ibushi’s squadron versus Los Ingobernables de Japon. Ibushi and Honma team each night, as do SANADA and Naito. On night 1, Hiroshi Tanahashi joined Ibushi/Honma, and Shingo Takagi joined SANADA/Naito. Night 3 will be a simple tag match between Ibushi/Honma and SANADA/Naito. On this night, SHO joined Ibushi/Honma and Hirmu Takahashi joined SANADA/Naito. The pairing of SHO and Ibushi is the reason I chose to review this doomed inconsequential show.

Match #5 concerns Master Wato and BUSHI and their emergent rivalry. On Night 1, Wato teamed with SHO to take on BUSHI and Hiromu Takahashi. On Night 3, Wato and SHO will be joined by Hiroshi Tanahashi to face BUSHI, Hiromu, and Shino Takagi. On this night, it was a simple tag: Master Wato and Hiroshi Tanahashi teamed up to battle BUSHI and Shingo Takagi.

If you are taking stock of all this, a jarring realization must have set in: the main event feud of this set of shows is, astonishingly, Master Wato vs. BUSHI. The Universe will end in heat death, and this is the microcosm. Because of the relative lack of distinction between this show and the others, we must find other advantages to exploit. The only one is the backstage comments. While last night’s show was pedestrian, the backstage comments were great. We’ll touch on them throughout the show.

Oh, I just thought of the third way in which this show was differentiated from Night 1: NO ONE SHOWED UP TO THIS THING. Holy fucking Moses, I think the entire audience carpooled together to this one. When you watch, you are aghast by how empty the stands across from the main camera are, just devoid of humanity. But then you get a shot of the area behind the main camera, where most of the seats are… it’s practically vacant. There’s only one solution: run Korakuen more.


Kojima’s backstage comment after New Year Dash! was phenomenal. The feral rage unleashed in response to his partner’s obliteration was, alone, enough to sustain this tour. And it would have to be, considering Ospreay’s work in opposition. During last night’s backstage comments, Ospreay dubbed Kojima a “B.E.T.” Per usual, Will Ospreay did not have the decency to leave things unexplained, thus allowing us to use our imaginations to derive something more clever than what he intended. He made damn sure that we understood that “B.E.T.” was an acronym for Bread Eating Twat. Well. What a charming bastard.

On the other end, Great-O-Khan continues to rule in every facet of professional wrestling, to the dismay and befuddlement of a wide coterie of clueless philistines. O-Khan uses the royal we liberally in his backstage comments and interviews, and he takes it literally, peppering his comments with metaphors about taxation and peasantry. But what kind of taxes, O-Khan? Is this more of a taille, or a corvee? Are you after our purse or our labor, O-Khan? If we lose, do we have to join the faction for a specified period of time? When are we going to get some goddamn Bulls decreed up in here?

Anyway, Uemura was fiery throughout this, but the limited crowd was completely languid, only rustling whenever Uemura went on a run. This happened twice, and both times were brief. Uemura got significantly less offense than Yota Tsuji did the night before. Kojima, to his credit, was also enthusiastic, but it was hard to get a grasp on anything considering how disengaged the crowd seemed to be. Neither Ospreay nor O-Khan, who controlled Uemura for the resounding majority of the match, did anything spectacular.

This one was perfunctory, but it was nice that we got to see future Wrestle Kingdom main event Yuya Uemura vs. Great-O-Khan to start. Khan cut the mic-less promo after the match, followed by the United Empire throwing up their unit’s hand sign, which looks like something from the New York Times article that decoded the symbols found at the invasion of the Capitol. ***


Once again, if there’s one thing you can count on if my name is at the top of the review, it’s a comprehensive examination of how much El Desperado merch is shown in the crowd during his entrance. By my count, on yesterday’s show there were three Desperado bears, eight towels/shirts/signs, and three face masks. Today, there were six towels/banners, three Desperado bears, and someone wearing the full mask.

Also, for those keeping track, and I am assuredly the only one, it took two minutes and thirty seconds before we saw our first Desperado bear on screen.

BY THE WAY, Suzuki-gun came out to Desperado’s music! It was surreal to see Minoru Suzuki come out to anything but “Kaze Ni Nare,” but that feeling was briefly held, as Suzuki-gun stormed the ring to attack Bullet Club and attempt to extract the infamous loaded boot of El Phantasmo.

I sincerely hope that anyone reading this is satisfied by the old-school conceit of a loaded boot, and favorable to it being a principal angle in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Otherwise, you are in for an exceedingly long year. I’m not sure how long they intend to have this loaded boot story propel ELP, but considering the heights to which they are going to push him, it could be very long, indeed. He will probably win the Best of the Super Juniors with the loaded boot, purloin the title from Hiromu with the loaded boot, and continue to cleave normally sane wrestling fans unable to find common ground on the parameters of good heat with the loaded boot.

If we are looking at the pairings, it appears that Kanemaru is paired off with El Phantasmo, Desperado with Ishimori, and DOUKI has carried over his feud with Jado, that began in the heavyweight tag title scene, over to the Juniors. That leaves, incredibly, Minoru Suzuki to pair off with Gedo for this tour. Suzuki’s role here is to slap these fucking juniors around with idiosyncratic menace, and he fulfilled that well, though he technically lasted all of 45 seconds in official ring time.

The ostensible purpose of these Road to shows is to provide a restrained glimpse toward future matches, and things certainly portend quite well for the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match. Though succinct, the sequence between the tag champs and Phantasmo/Kanemaru was fluid, rousing, and captivating. ELP, for the second night in a row, crumbled Desperado with a loaded boot to the abdomen, which Desperado sold with typically excessive vigor. And then, because these Suzuki-gun v. Bullet Club matches rule, he poked ELP’s eye in response, as he was still selling.

The backstage comments from the night before made it very clear that this boot business is not going to be an angle imbued with subtext. ELP went on for three goddamn minutes about his bloody shoe and the impossibility that it could contain anything other than, you know, shoey bits. Kanemaru, in some delicious irony, vowed to unveil the despicable measures of Phantasmo, while Desperadolamented, “I feel as though my insides have shifted.” I wrote a 45 page article on El Desperado’s backstage comments in the NJPW 2020 Year-In-Review Ebook. I was steadfast that I would not repeat myself in 2021, but with comments like that I don’t know if I could resist tackling Desperado’s promos again.

Desperado managed to stave off the pain caused by the redecoration of his intestinal space and trapped Gedo in Numero Dos for the submission victory. Desperado instantly clutched his gut in agony after the submission, because he’s extraordinary. Gedo implored ELP and Ishimori to avenge his ignominious forfeiture. Actually, he demanded that they, “fuck him up.” ***1/4


JAY WHITE WATCH: In his backstage comments on January 17, Hirooki Goto wondered to where the “down-and-out” Jay White had runoff. This seemed to be the beginning stages of some merciless taunting. AND YET, he followed this by stating that if White has come to him, he would have, “taught him how to keep getting back up.” This is now the second CHAOS member to provide some hard-boiled encouragement to White since his Tokyo Dome meltdown.

As stated in the introduction, this entire stretch of matches, with an entrenched Bullet Club team facing off against Kazuchika Okada and a rotation of the CHAOS six-man tag champions, is utterly pointless. At the earliest, Okada and EVIL would face each other at Castle Attack, six weeks and three major events away from this run of shows. Okada has challenged EVIL in the backstage comments, but unless there is a major swerve in the scheduling, these matches are nebulous previews at best.

Okada seemed to have robust support; the very sensible people with Desperado merch in the previous match now excitedly displayed Okada merch. Okada came out wearing the shiny robe and skirt with the new pattern that he unveiled at Wrestle Kingdom. I do not care how puerile this makes me appear to be, I will never tire of seeing the camera cut to a wide shot where Okada’s entrance gear is glowing in the light. It gets me every single time. It doesn’t matter the venue, the context, whatever. I could be engulfed in the throes of a cluster headache… I truly believe that Okada’s glowy fabric clothes are a panacea and I embrace them wholeheartedly.

This match had the highest level of fan engagement of the entire night. And no wonder: King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI was in the large portion of the match. It’s easy to pinpoint the source of these things when we have so many fixed points in a series of matches in the same building. YOSHI-HASHI can easily be ascertained as a legitimate resource for crowd energy and commitment. When examining the differences between this match and the night before, he is the biggest factor. His genuine fervor evoked the first spontaneous crowd clapping of the night.  Conversely, when Ishii gets the crowd fired up and the crowd goes dead fucking silent when Yujiro Takahashi cuts him off, that itself is another substantive expose.

Okada nearly dropkicked above Dick Togo, and then, improbably, forced him to tap with the Money Clip. The ending was frenetic, and the entire match had a good pace. This was the one match on this card that generated the proper conditions for some post-match interplay, but unfortunately it was also the one with absolutely no rational justification for it. ***1/2


We need to have a talk abut Honma. Last night, he looked very much out of it, and because there’s already a sense of unease surrounding him since his return, when something like that happens it’s naturally amplified. From what I could determine, the trouble began near the end of the match. LIJ did the gauntlet of corner runs, like every other stable in every other match. It looked to me like Shingo really walloped Honma on his turn. Subsequently, Honma and Naito looked very much out of rhythm. Naito did a snap mare on him and Honma looked like he was struggling just to sit up. It was dire. Honma looked adequate tonight. His stulted movement is no better or worse than normal since his return. But even at his best, his reaction speed is severely diminished, his steps are short and choppy, and he has trouble twisting and manipulating. You could say I have no right to say this, considering that I have never been in the ring. That’s fair. Also fair: this is all being performed so that people like me can observe, and I don’t want to fucking see it.

Seeing Ibushi come out with the championships is still mind-boggling. Kota Ibushi is anchored to one place. Just ruminate on that. Kota Ibushi, tied to one place. Kota Ibushi is the pinnacle of this company, the apex of professional wrestling, the champion of champions. It’s also refreshing to see someone actually handle the championship belts like they are worth a fuck. Ibushi carries both belts with august deference. Note the ebullient look he gave each one as he handed them off to the Young Lion before the match. Not for a second did they even come close to touching the floor. Sure, this is all character work. And it’s delightful that the one holding the titles has a character that doesn’t denigrate them. Stuff the sourness and watch Ibushi’s relentlessly busy and supportive apron-work. The beaming joy emanating from Ibushi as he watched Hiromu and SHO batter each other to start the match is pure healing energy. SHO and Ibushi’s buoyantly supportive relationship is the wholesome content we don’t deserve and we should all be actively grateful for it.

This is a respectful affair. Naito doesn’t really have any chance to troll anyone because his inclusion is perfunctory at best. The result: a typically perfunctory house show Naito performance. On this tour he is, by necessity, paired off with Honma. This is slightly less opprobrious than Suzuki being married to Gedo on this tour, but not by much. And after last night, I may have to reassess that evaluation. Naito was amused by the way they botched the inverted DDT spot, but I legitimately thought Honma’s legs had given out. And in the end, Naito had to do all the work on a Destino for the first time in ages. Here’s LIJ recreating the sequence that seemingly wrecked Honma the night before:

SANADA put Honma away with a thankfully adequate Skull End, followed by yet another forthright encounter between SANADA and Ibushi. They seemed to have some sort of congress about the number two, replete with earnest gesticulation and non-verbal reassurance. Ibushi, of course, was a good boy throughout, acknowledging the people wearing his merch on the way to the back. On the other side, Naito riled up Hiromu about the BOSJ trophy, which was under the ring to Hiromu’s distress. Naito blamed some bespectacled Young Lion. Bloody nerds. ***1/4

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It’s still unfathomable that Master Wato and BUSHI are the main event anchors for this stretch of Korakuen shows. They both do this thing where they hit their poses to conclude their backstage comments, requiring an astoundingly awkward pause before they break the pose and walk off camera. BUSHI actually stopped doing this a while ago, so it appears that Master Wato has inherited this bizarre, disconcerting enterprise.

Wato has changed things up a bit, darkening his color palette. Where he was once an Azure imbecile, he has now graduated into a Colbalt geek. This looks much better on him. His robe is considerably better than that strange smoking jacket he wore before, though it does seem bulky on him. The darker pants also suit him much more favorably. For someone with a good build, the light pants just didn’t work. Yesterday, Wato executed a perfect jackknife pin on BUSHI to get the fall. Considering that Wato’s biggest main event thus far concluded with a stumbly jackknife on Desperado, that successful one deserves mention. Likewise, Wato performed well in this match. There was a strange moment where it looked like he tried to deliver some kind of adjacent dropkick, but otherwise, well done. His adorably self-deprecating interplay with SHO in the post-match, each trying to leave the other with the last word, was wonderful.

Tanahashi came out sporting the blonde swoopy nonsense hair he had on night one. He looks like KENOH. Or maybe it’s KENOLD. FOLKS! He poses with Wato, whose hair is just the right amount of wetness to make me believe that he actually lost track of time and came out of the shower just before the match.

This match has some utterly bizarre juxtapositions. Master Wato/Shingo is a very unnerving pair. Tanahashi/BUSHI is an abomination; BUSHI should be forced to a count-out rather than share a ring with the Ace. To be honest, Tanahashi/Shingo itself is an outlandish coupling. The manufactured brightness of Tanahashi and the searing zeal of Shingo seem incompatible, and yet everything in this match suggested that they are going to produce something legitimately special in Nagoya. There was one breathtaking sequence that ended with Tanahashi delivering a Slingeblade and Shingo no-selling it, popping back up, and hitting a glorious Pumping Bomber.

This match ended at the peak. Tanahashi had BUSHI in a Texas Cloverleaf, so Shingo hit a strong Pumping Bomber to the back of Tanahashi’s head. When Shingo went for a regular Pumping Bomber, he met Master Wato’s excellent diving European Uppercut. Wato followed that with another well-executed tornillo, allowing Tanahashi to hit Bushi with the High Fly Flow. Great stuff. ***1/2

Post-match, Tanahashi offered Wato an air guitar, and so Wato joined the Ace in his traditional celebration. And, as expected, Wato looked very much like a robotically disjointed rhythm guitar player. Wato’s wrist and fingers appeared petrified, his strum pattern looking like a legitimate assault on his strings and pickups. In the backstage comments, Tanahashi looked like he was delivering an archetype smiling confidence promo, so I started to skip. I pressed the button once, skipping a mere tens seconds, and somehow in those ten seconds Tanahashi shifted to an ugly cry. Bawl Ace, more like.


With inferior action to Night 1 and deficient story progression, you can very comfortably skip this card. There is nothing distinct about this show to separate it from Night 1, although there are some fun pairings. Every match provided ample reason to believe that all of the major New Beginning matches are going to be excellent.