JANUARY 19, 2021

Watch: NJPW World

This January 19 show is the final leg of this run of shows, and the last broadcast event before that Shadow Marquee Event on the 23rd, where Suzuki-gun will defend the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, includes a classic New Japan elimination match, and presents the return of Hiroyoshi Tenzan in that red hot United Empire vs. Tencozy feud. Quite frankly, it seems like the roster took last night off, because this show had considerably higher alacrity and vigor.

To begin, I would like to acknowledge that it took 45 seconds until we saw the first El Desperado Bear.


Thankfully, Will Ospreay did not continue the B.E.T. thing he introduced after Night 1, but Great-O-Khan was feeling particularly sportive in the backstage comments after Night 2. Having already squared off with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, O-Khan took aim at Tetsuya Naito, essentially challenging Naito to insert himself into the Empire vs. Tencozy campaign.  O-Khan mocked Naito’s phrasing, derisively noting that Naito was no occupado. O-Khan is going to have some sort of animus with literally the entire roster by summer.

Although it can be mind-numbing, a fun aspect of following multiple shows on a Road To tour is to trace the minuscule variations between shows. In this case, after two straight days of being on the receiving end of the United Empire’s scurrilous pre-bell attack, this time Kojima and Tsuji were ready for it, heading the Empire off at the point of ambush with some exquisitely timed stop hits.

Tsuji worked much better in this environment than Uemura. Part of the reason was that Uemura was offered a very spartan match. He only truly proffered two sequences of offense, whereas Tsuji was significantly more active throughout this match. It also appeared that Tsuji, as a heavyweight, fit better into this match. The crowd seemed a bit more lively for this one than yesterday’s show, rallying behind Tsuji a bit more fervently, and the heat on Tsuji seemed to be much shorter, which certainly helped.

Ospreay appears to be truly evolving his wrestling. When he hit the Pip Pip Cheerio, it became apparent to me that Ospreay has stored away the Ospreay Formula. This was the distinct sequence of signature moves that Ospreay would perform with airtight, repetitive reliability. The same order, without fail. Never countered unless he was against Okada or Hiromu. But when he hit that flying forearm, I realized that he has more sparingly delivered the moves from that formula since the formation of the Empire.

Ospreay actually won with the Oscutter, so I guess it’ll be a while until the Oscutter 2-counts go in the dustbin. After the match, O-Khan cut his micless promo and the United Empire flashed their hand signal to Flip Gordon. ***1/4


First of all, let’s just start with the most important part: there was a healthy amount of El Desperado merchandise shown during his entrance. I counted a banner, two signs, and three towels, as well as someone wearing the old all-white mask.

Related to Will Ospreay: selling. Any time a match structures itself around limb selling, I can feel synapse-corrosive discourse gather momentum. What this program will hopefully rekindle: you can sell the fucking gut, and it’s way easier! Bas Rutten once again proves prophetic: MANGLE THE LIVER! When I see El Phantasmo throw that loaded boot liberally into abdomens, I keep hearing Emmanuel Stewart yelling, “GO TO THE BODY!” during Gatti-Ward I.

Despy and ELP have been circling each other in the backstage comments, so it appears the pairings in this unit rivalry might be more fluid. Consider what we have here. El Desperado and Taiji Ishimori had a brilliant match in the Best of the Super Juniors; it is, to date, their only match. There is so much still to mine in the interaction between these two endearing scoundrels. Ishimori and Yoshinobu Kanemaru have 15 years of history and 172 entries on Cagematch. El Phantasmo has never faced Kanemaru, and has only faced El Desperado once, before ELP’s move to New Japan. Even in the realm of tag teams, these teams have only faced each other once. These are very fresh match-ups between four very different types of heelish miscreants.

In fact: Literature teachers and professors, stop assigning sociograms to inspire your students to spatially unravel the latent subtextual homoeroticism of A Separate Peace or to desperately peel back the abstruse layers of The Stranger or to try to keep track of the opulently athletic fucking in Great Gatsby. No, please assign them sociograms that display the delicious matrix of captivating possibilities right now in the New Japan Junior division right now. There are so many interconnected rivalries and match-ups. And this is without Ryu Lee, ACH, Lio Rush, etc. I know people scoff at the notion of an ascendent Junior division, standing slightly below the Heavyweights with Hiromu Takahashi at the apex, but if they wanted to, it would work.

There are so many emotions being exposed as Minoru Suzuki has spent the last three days as a babyface hot tag. The prevailing one is giddiness. Giddiness when watching this sanguinary old bastard storm the Bullet Club corner in apoplectic fury because he has had enough of Jado trolling him and, to ratchet up the giddiness, because they were demeaning DOUKI. I am all aboard the idea of Tanahashi assuming the mentorship of Wato, and I am even more on board with Suzuki doing the same for DOUKI, calling him over for double-teams and such.

And DOUKI fucking rules. This was the closest we came to the resurrection of the Prince of Korakuen. DOUKI caught the ELP Superkick when attempting the Daybreak on Night 1, but he hit it here and the crowd was electricrified. A very small voltage, but enough that you could feel it. Unfortunately, as DOUKI brought the crowd to a zenith he ate another loaded Superkick.

JAY WHITE WATCH: after the match, El Phantasmo made sure the camera caught his appeal to Jay White to respond to the Whatsapp, because Gedo needed to talk to him. Trust the J-Cast, people. ***3/4

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As I was watching these shows and taking notes for these reviews, I ended up with six tabs, three for the NJPW WORLD videos of these Korakuen shows, and three for the results. Realizing that these shows are immaculately similar, I decided to see just how similar. Each video starts at about the 8:00 mark, and obviously, all proceed in the same pattern. The CHAOS vs. Bullet Club match here, the only difference being a rotation of Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and YOSHI-HASHI, have the following bell times on the video:

  • Night 1 – 42:06
  • Night 2 – 41:03
  • Night 3 – 42:19

That is to say, this match was a predictably nice Road To six-man, and once again provoked the most consistent fan response of the night (though not the apex of the night, without question the match with the most sustained zeal), but not particularly distinctive.

The sequences where Goto and KING OF KORAKUEN YOSHI-HASHI ran a gauntlet of their tandem offense were the highlights of the match, and suggests something unfathomable as soon as six months ago: YOSHI-HASHI should hold an IWGP title. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI should be the ones to dethrone G.O.D.

How good are CHAOS at six-man tags? The sections of the match with Okada engaged with Yujiro, I am convinced, received more avid response than all of their 2020 matches combined. Of course, special attention must be given to the King of Korakuen, as he woke the crowd up from any sleepiness they felt during the soporific portions of the match.

Unlike Nights 1 and 2, Bullet Club attacked pre-bell. This should have been a clue. For the first time all tour, Togo successfully distracted pitiful imbecile Marty Asami, allowing EVIL to exterminate YOSHI-HASHI’s scrotum. EVIL EVIL and a pinfall was subsequent. ***1/2


As I draft this review out, the Biden inauguration is starting to fill out and the intoxicating excitement of the VIPs slowly pouring in, Bernie Sanders aimlessly wandering around with his seat ticket and Ted Cruz resplendent in his trademark Wasting-Oxygen-Better-Served-for-Actual-People-and-Not-Cretinous-Sub-Human-Fuckfaces-That-Secrete-Expired-Mousse-and-Rancid-Sherry-Vinegar routine, always a crowd-pleaser. This inauguration, coupled with Ibushi coming out with those titles, wearing that sparkling grin that just undergirds the feeling of Ibushi’s sincerity, makes me wonder if 2021 might be a gift after all. Comparatively.

In the backstage comments, the Juniors have been puffing their chests and proclaiming their intent to conquer the heavyweight division. Whereas Hiromu was more coquettish about challenging Ibushi outright, as that would obviously undermine his stablemate’s credibility as a challenger, SHO was typically forthright. He specifically pined for an Anniversary Show contest with his new mentor, connected through Kagoshima, Kota Ibushi.

Just think about this: in six weeks, we are possibly going to see a wrestling exhibition between Kota Ibushi and Hiromu Takahashi. That will get you through the winter.

Naito is just amusing himself. He took over 90 seconds to come out to his entrance theme. Even Ishii would have told him to get a move on. He then proceeded to have a page 1 Spanish textbook conversation with Kevin Kelly. When in the ring, he started pointing to his wrist, telling SANADA to hurry up his entrance. SANADA, for what it’s worth, has really evolved into a hodgepodge of several Kubrick films.

Ibushi and SANADA had more great stretches, and even though I know that Big Match Ibushi treats title matches like actual prize fights, replete with 2-3 rounds of extreme caution and knowledge-gathering feints… how great would it be if they just went out there and went absolutely mental for 8-10 straight minutes?

This match was fine, but once again Honma looks very stulted and microns away from disaster, though the headbutts still look good. Naito was particularly vicious on him, probably because he finds it funny in some way.

After the match, Ibushi and SANADA continued their wholesome courtship, which appears like they are renewing their vows to fight for the title and explicating daily affirmations of what a professional wrestling match is and what it means to fight for a championship. In particular, two championships. SANADA also did the earthing he does. This led to him also doing the scale-hands thing, which Red Shoes does for some reason when a crowd is divided between babyfaces. Of course, Red Shoes then inserted himself into the scene and, predictably, did the hand scales thing. ***1/4


The story emerging here: Tanahashi is trying to convince himself that he can jumpstart his career through the NEVER Openweight Title, though he still seems a bit lost when considering his placement in the pecking order of the company. Shingo has seen right through this and has questioned Tanahashi’s commitment to the match and the title.

This was very similar to the CHAOS-Bullet Club six-man, following similar beats but reaching a slightly higher intensity of reactions. People really love SHO; if you are looking for evidence that this Junior division is stacked right now, and that Korakuen Hall is this division’s shrine, take stock of all the Junior merch in the crowd. Some people are clearly cycling through. They weren’t rewarded tonight. If there is one thing in which Night 2 was superior to the other ones, it was the interactions between SHO and Hiromu. They were a bit ferocious on Night 2, but fairly jejune here.

In a callback to Night 1, Shingo slipped out of a dragon screw in the same way that Tanahashi slipped out from his, though I can’t quite figure out how the mechanics of this works. Is it some sort of timing thing? Obviously, there must be a point in the dragon screw where you loosen your grip on the heel and shift your attention to the twisting action, but in both cases on this tour the receiver simply held firm. They didn’t provide counter-torsion, they just stood there, steadfast.

This does not matter. Tanahashi vs. Shingo is going to be a phenomenal match. Based on their clashes on this run of shows, I am confident in the following proclamation: in front of regular crowds, the floor for Shingo Takagi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi would be 4.75 stars. The polarity of their personalities, their innate sense of dramatic build, their shared understanding of the importance of burst in a wrestling match… I cannot wait for this match. It is a legitimate dream match.

As much as I like SHO and Master Wato, I found myself rooting for Shingo to obliterate those two nerds. I don’t even see them as nerds but when they are in there with Shingo that’s how they come across. Not geeks, in the Alvarez sense. Just nerds for Shingo to vaporize with Pumping Bombers. This one ended gloriously. Shingo caught Wato’s spinning roundhouse kick thing, then just gradually lifted him up into the Last of the Dragon position and put him away. So good. ***1/2


Though nothing consequential happened on this show, if you are choosing one show from this leg of the Road to New Beginning tour to watch, this would be the one. Better than Night 2 but slightly inferior to Night 1, with which it is interchangeable, this does have the distinction of being the final leg of the tour, and thus it is blessed with a minute amount of consequence lacking on the other cards.