New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Castle Attack – Night 2
February 15, 2021February 15, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World (JPN)

Carl Sandburg, who had the hair Hiroshi Tanahashi dreams of having and the haircut SHO thinks he has (not even close), famously wrote, “Sometime they’ll give a war and no one will come.”

It took 85 years, but New Japan proved the old sentimental bastard correct: they gave a Castle Attack, and no one came. New Japan ended up with an unintentional empty arena show.

A confluence of circumstances led to a house of 331 on February 15:

  • A State of Emergency curfew
  • A show on a Monday
  • The second show in a four-night stretch at the same venue
  • The second night of a tour that proceeded exactly four days after the previous one
  • The 11th show in 30 days at one specific venue
  • An underwhelming card that lacked distinction from the one previous or the ones subsequent

Unfortunately, this is not an inspirational fable or uplifting parable: this show matched the atmosphere.

It would be preferable to say New Japan is polarized, some things working brilliantly and other being miserable catastrophes, but it is more nuanced than that. Some things are working splendidly, without question. The less resoundingly successful programs are puzzling; several key elements of the company right now work on reflexively procedural level, flirting with meta-narrative, but are ambiguous as earnest professional wrestling. The result: some are left delighted, some are left confused, some are left frustrated.

Keep in mind, none of this matters. These Road To shows are the definition of perfunctory, and who gives a fuck? Have you seen the Castle Attack Night 2 card?

YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Yuya Uemura def. Bullet Club (Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga & Jado)

This match was extracted from the February 14 elimination tag to make February 15 a five-match card. Unfortunately, this one retained the lack of urgency of the previous night’s main event.

Fortunately, Yuya Uemura was here to make up for it. Whenever Uemura was in the match, there was a noticeably intensified keenness from the crowd. They didn’t have the manpower to achieve zeal, but they did manage to marshal enthusiasm. The crowd was also thoroughly amused by Uemura attempts to contribute to that back drumming thing CHAOS has been doing as their comedy spot in multi-mans. Without Uemura, this would have been a rough one.

If we’re looking at portends for the match-ups ahead, this match confirms what was initially anticipated. King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI and Tanga Loa are going to beat the fucking stuffing out of each other. YOSHI-HASHI will yell in his tonal squawk, and Tanga will growl while administering his usual trash talk with benevolent undertones.

Goto and Tama will have several sequences that are absolutely mesmerizing. The bountiful misdirections and the gradually elevated velocity will enthrall you. That is, if you haven’t already been rendered comatose by the languid material bookending those sequences.

And that is what plagued this match. Too much languorous strolling around the ring by BULLET CLUB when they were working on Uemura. When Tama dialed it up against the young man? It RULED. Just breakneck pace and breathtaking action. That was an outlier sequence.

CHAOS thwarted BULLET CLUB in their subterfuge, allowing YOSHI-HASHI to assert his sovereignty over his realm, improbably coercing Jado to tap to the butterfly lock. Honestly, Jado might have been the most equipped to withstand that hold. After the match, G.O.D. bickered with CHAOS, completely ignoring Taichi, who was right behind them on commentary. **3/4

The United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay) def. Yota Tsuji, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hiroshi Tanahashi

We swap out Kojima for Tenzan in this one, and this is one of the few times in 2021 where that is a positive! This match was centered around relentless and ruthless derision of Tenzan by the Empire, each member employing the Mongolian chop against him. Cobb’s was a bit tricky due to his remarkable width, and Ospreay’s body was momentarily inhabited by El Phantasmo’s spirit during his chops, but it was an amusing bit of mischief from the unit.

The crowd seemed into Tanahashi and O-Khan the most. They worked well together yet again; hopefully, they are that much closer to putting it together for a full 15 minutes. I thought their Wrestle Kingdom match was successful, actually, I just want them to Daryl Dawkins dunk on the ones out there imbued with mind-boggling stubbornness that still don’t see it with O-Khan.

Jeff Cobb continues to receive a bit of rehabilitation, once again scoring the fall after a fun sequence with Tsuji. O-Khan, for his part, looks like the actual leader of the group, especially when he cut his micless promo before the group pose. I’m pretty sure NJPW better be careful once they can work with ROH again, lest Flip Gordon sees the Empire’s logo and hand sign together and instinctively storms from the back in full camo and breaches every ringside barricade.  ***

BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi & SANADA def. El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi

With the jacket, ELP’s entrance is orders of magnitude less interesting, and really highlights the tenuous nature of this persona. Taichi, to his credit, did not respond in any way when ELP tried to interact with him. I mean, not even a flinch. So much still needs to be elucidated before we can assess whether ELP is successful or not. Phantasmo might be in the cohort of EVIL, SANADA, etc., characters that seem like inadequate rubbish to many, yet the domestic audience is infatuated. We’ve seen ELP merch out there on some shows, and the crowds seem to respond to him, but the best sign for ELP thus far came on the previous tour: the full (limited capacity) house at Ota Gym on January 23,with him on top in the Junior Tag Team Championship contest.

As my Road To Warrior partner Neil David pointed out yesterday, and I alluded to in the intro here, there’s a theatrical ostentatiousness to ELP’s act that might have a payoff, but also might obliterate engagement. The purpose is to annoy the audience and the viewer with cartoonish buffoonery, but in this case the frustration is overwhelmingly caused not by the actions but by the degree of idiocy.

It is demonstratively performative. The heelish action in this match was not a backrake, but the four jumping jacks, three pushups, two breakdancing windmills, and two standing spins before the backrake. It was Ishimori, the adorable scamp trying his best to align himself with this folly, doing an elaborate backrake off a second-rope jump.

Neither move induced a peep from the audience.

What did? ELP and Hiromu work incredibly well together. They are just the right mixture of athleticism and ambition, as well as vision. They also incorporate the loaded boot exceptionally well into their story. Instead of constantly referring to it, it is sagaciously mentioned. There was not a hint of suggestion to the boot until Hiromu bestially tried to rip it off. It’s the simple stuff that works, though I suppose the idiotic stuff might just be a diversion from it.

SANADA was a participant in this match. **3/4

BULLET CLUB (Dick Togo, Chase Owens, Jay White & EVIL def. CHAOS (SHO, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada)

Jay White continues to be a marvel, interacting with Taichi before the match and denouncing CHAOS for trying to fight them amongst the people, noting that there weren’t a lot of people, but some people nonetheless.

This one was a bit aimless and scattered, which is too bad because I am enjoying BULLET CLUB as currently structured. The fundamental tension between Jay and EVIL, now seemingly latent, is so fully established that it engulfs all of their collaborations; there’s no need to turn the relationship combative just yet. We get it. We were also never given the opportunity to see them aligned, anyway. Enjoy their luxuriously self-satisfied faces as they revel in other’s despair.

On the February 14 show, the participants in this match invalidated my fervent claim that every New Japan style elimination match is inherently great. This match seemed to be moving in a better direction; first with Ishii and White’s reversal fetishism, and especially when things pared down to Dick Togo and SHO (making an increasingly rare appearance with CHAOS). Those two were working strong and it was galvanizing.

Then EVIL simply strolled into the ring, broke up SHO’s armbar on Togo, and hit the Everything Is EVIL. This whole sequence took 20 seconds. The entire time, braindead imbecile Marty Asami was crouched down right next to them, checking on Togo. Literally just checking on them, not even with his back to the action. Togo just rolled over and Asami made the count. A dreadful finish to what was a fairly well-worked match.

This is another one of the meta-narratives that seem to be doing exponentially better domestically than in the West. And this one is literal. Okada’s backstage comment after the February 14 elimination match was an incensed excoriation of the tactics EVIL has used since joining BULLET CLUB, the things that have severely diminished the company’s critical reputation. Okada explicitly scolded EVIL for using run-ins, interference, cheating, etc. and frames it as something people don’t watch New Japan to see. That’s not necessarily reflexive, but the underlying notion that worldwide critics, evaluating all of this completely as a theatrical fake sport… that sure as fuck is. The problem here: Okada’s workrate chivalry may fall on deaf ears because the way they’ve booked him has diminished his critical reputation as well.

Speaking of fetishes, afterward, we had a full-on BULLET CLUB beatdown with a bizarre asphyxiation motif. Gedo and White somehow located Ishii’s neck and double-teamed his larynx with a towel as Chase Owens went full Stephen Milligan on Yano with the strap at ringside. When Gedo is watching his 70’s territory stuff, is he picking up David Carradine vibes somehow? ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi) def. Yuji Nagata & Kota Ibushi

They kicked, slapped, throttled, and clotheslined each other with resolute determination all match, just bellowing at each other while engaged in ardent assault. If there is any doubt that Shingo is an impeccable, unimpeachable wrestler right now, every sequence of this match is nullification of that doubt.

Naito is a bit of a different story; something seems just slightly off about him recently. Maybe it’s a detachment from being anchored to Honma for a month, but he’s a bit off, indeed. On February 14, there were a couple of moments between Naito and Ibushi that were either odd miscommunications or very stiff misjudgments.

In this one, Naito didn’t get up for an enzuiguiri on Nagata, barely reaching Nagata’s elbow. Then he went for that roll-up he’s been doing, the one where he goes a million miles an hour and looks downright Wato-esque in execution. This time he went so fast and sloppy that he totally whiffed on grabbing Nagata’s legs.

I don’t know, maybe Naito is finally ready to inherit the legacy of the white belt after all.

Ibushi and Naito were much more harmonious in this one. They once again began with an extended grappling sequence, which made their later exchange seem significantly more rapid. They didn’t do anything unprecedented, but their exchanges looked crisp and animated juxtaposed with the slugfest between their partners. Once again Naito targeted the knee, which will perhaps be the crucial element of their upcoming match.  ***1/4

Ibushi continues to be entirely oblivious to the people and situations around him, taking a laboriously long time to exit the ring. Naito is even more deliberate in his post-match promo. This promo was necessary to clear up some perplexing aspects of this challenge. The night before, he obscured things significantly by claiming that his goal in snatching the Intercontinental Championship away from Ibushi was… so that he could retire it himself? It was a befuddling string of illogic.

According to Naito, his plans are to beat Ibushi for that belt, go defenseless for several months, and then, presumably, decommission the championship altogether. His logic? That no one will challenge him for the belt, because the only person who cares about it is, “on the other side of the world.” He might appear to be talking about Shinsuke Nakamura, but that’s impossible. We all know that Nakamura surfed into a toxic algae bloom in 2016 and was never heard from again.

Naito clarified in his post-match here: he wants to stop Ibushi from unifying the belts, because he wants the championships defended separately… so he’s going to separate them entirely… instead of challenging for both titles and defending them the way he wants them to be defended…which he could do by having this one match be for both belts. Yup, makes perfect sense now, thank you.

The only reason any of this makes any fucking sense is if you imagine how it makes sense to these two, and even then the migraine you induce will cancel out any clarity gained.


An uninspiring show that provided little advancement to any of the programs, nor any work worth seeking out. A purely perfunctory show that’s only function is to naturalize the matchups for Castle Attack. This show had a better configuration of talent than yesterday, and nothing was offensively bad. Out of the two this would be the show to choose. But, if given full choice, you’re better off not watching either of them.