New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Castle Attack – Night 4
February 17, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World (JPN)

1:27:37 into the 2/16 VOD, Tetsuya Naito winces in pain and grabs his knee after executing his signature rope-kick swinging DDT. In hindsight, this involuntary reaction is significantly more relevant than it appeared at the time. Sure, Naito had absolutely no reason to sell his knee at that moment, so maybe that should have inspired concern, but Kota Ibushi took that DDT square on the crown of his fucking head.  That commanded the attention.

There was reason to speculate, no doubt, even at the moment, but time nullified those concerns. Four minutes prior to that DDT on Ibushi, Naito and Yuji Nagata executed a sequence that appears to be the origin of this injury. It began with Naito whipping Nagata into the ropes. Nagata was supposed to forward-roll past Naito on the return, but instead, Nagata rolled straight into Naito’s right leg, distorting the joint in a way that indisputably looked worrisome, even in real-time.

And yet, besides that brief wince mentioned above, Naito betrayed no indication of impairment. There was no immediate reaction, nor any signals that his knee was causing him any discomfort. That’s why the incongruous knee-grab seemed innocuous. It’s Naito, sometimes he just sells for no reason. And yet, we severely underestimated the state of Naito’s knees. Apologize to Dave. I’ll start.

In fact, Naito was ambulatory enough to elaborately ridicule Ibushi’s knee selling in the post-match interim. It came across as overt foreshadowing for the 2/28 main event, with Ibushi unable to walk to the back and needing thorough icing from the Young Lions just to leave the ring apron, the effect of LIJ’s relentless leg work on him during the match.

Never one to take chances that a storyline development might not be conspicuous enough, Naito engaged an extended and farcical performance in derision of Ibushi’s affliction. It was a layered, incremental multi-step sequence:

  1. Clutch the icebag from a consternated Gabriel Kidd
  2. Ice Ibushi’s leg with demonstrative benevolence
  3. Vault Kidd into the barricade and proceed to assault Ibushi’s knee with elbows, in that convulsive way Naito attacks things. You know the phrase, “no wasted movement,” to describe graceful athletes? And how Naito is often the opposite of that, feverishly working every limb, joint, and ballast into his actions? That was in regal display here.
  4. Roll into the ring, grab hat, and get hand raised for the result announcement.
  5. Instantly grasp knee and fall to the mat like an implosion, writhing and rolling on the mat in effusively exaggerated pain
  6. Demand that Yuya Uemura enter the ring to ice his knee.
  7. Demand that Shingo relieve Uemura in knee icing duties (laughing the whole time, perhaps due to the idiosyncratic seriousness that Shingo accepted the function)
  8. Hobble around the ring like Kerri Strug, imploring Shingo to assist him in walking to the back.
  9. Ignore the injury for a few moments to mock Nagata’s salute pose hand gesture thing, intensely delineating with Shingo the proper way to mockingly do the pose.
  10. Roll out of the ring and badger ring announcer Makoto Abe into helping walk to the back.
  11. Sandbag Abe, push him to the ground, and walk to the back with the self-assured equanimity that sells enough towels to blanket Jupiter.

And it turns out, Naito is actually injured! He came out to start this show and addressed the fans in attendance, all 471 of them (same configuration as yesterday with the screens and curtains across from the camera). He apologized for his inability to perform before sliding into a stream of babble scolding Ibushi for being too nebulous about the word “unify” or something. A very clever move to assuage disappointment with some clinical linguistics. Good work, Wittgenstein. Go wave your poker at Honma or something.

All of this is a bit implausible considering just how much of an excessive wanker Naito was in faking this exact injury the night before. However, beyond the opening speech there was no culminating moment that would have confirmed any trickery. The semi-main moved to the main event, SANADA and Nagata were re-booked into a last-minute singles match, and neither Naito nor Ibushi were mentioned again. Naito has subsequently been removed from the two remaining non-Korakuen (and not broadcast) shows on the tour: 2/19 in Iwate, and 2/20 in Yamagata. In backstage comments, Naito and Ibushi both hinted that this might not be as quick a recuperation as it seemed from the in-ring comments Naito made, which. We’ll see in a week, I guess.

But, to summarize: while faking an injury to his knee, to mock Ibushi’s equally fake but scripted knee injury, Tetsuya Naito actually had a goddamn knee injury.

Extending logically from that, Naito knew he had fucked up his knee, but was so committed to trolling his old friend publicly that he layered a kayfabe injury onto a shoot injury, just because he wanted to make Ibushi look like a fool and to lean into his dismissively ironic persona once more, while he had a pure babyface to work off of. That’s how dedicated Naito was to being portraying a dickhead.

Just in case you’re wondering how we can write so many words about so many meaningless Road To Shows, there is your answer.

Thank God for all this bluster, because there’s nothing else worth noting on this show.

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

Tenzan and Kojima are rotating into the dad slot of this match, and this was less captivating than the match Tenzan participated in on 2/15, largely because The Empire actually attempt to modify their multi-mans and make them distinguishable from each other, the scoundrels. This variety is mostly a refreshing attribute, but sometimes it leaves you bereft of things you would want to see. For instance, they barely used any Mongolian Chops, utilized in the previous encounter to thoroughly taunt Tenzan, whose brain still wants to use them. That was the highlight of the 2/15 match and was largely absent here.

Tenzan, to his credit, has been working hard on these shows. Shows, you may have noticed, that are completely Wato-free. Unfortunately, Tenzan still moves like he’s a still-frame animation panel being moved around a background layout. It’s like Poochie being lifted up out of frame, except moving horizontally.

O-Khan and Tanahashi continue to develop legitimate chemistry. Having O-Khan work Tanahashi so much will certainly foment generous rewards in the future, but already we are seeing nuanced growth. There is a familiarity between these two that I do not believe was manifest two months ago. The sagacity of their output in these multi-mans continues to be the archetype of meaningful restraint. They have been seasoning their exchanges beautifully, so that unlike the absence of the Mongolian Chops, their segments do not leave one sullen. When O-Khan locked in a Tazmission and transferred to a released flip back suplex, it was a sublime treat.

Cobb picked up yet another pinfall here. I wonder whether he should beat the Young Lions with a secondary move a bit more, as Shingo does later, but these sorts of things are usually scrupulously planned. You would have to presume that all these pinfalls are specifically establishing the Tour of the Islands for something greater.

After the match, O-Khan did his pose with his back to Tanahashi, who had a look of sober exasperation only he can exhibit.

Will Ospreay was a participant in this match. He is a founding member of The United Empire, and when he’s not wrestling, he comes to ringside dressed like a cavalier, cosmopolitan early 20th Century Egyptologist that is seconds away from his face melting off. ***1/4

CHAOS (Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) vs. BULLET CLUB (Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga, Chase Owens & Jay White) – NO CONTEST

Jay White’s new troll etiquette is to stand several feet outside the barricade and goad his opponents to follow him, leveraging a catastrophic pandemic to such degree that he might as well build a podium out there and deliver a press conference declaring Orlando an essential business and disparage those goddamn frozen wind turbines.

White’s current leitmotif is complaining to the referee. Relentlessly and constantly, with indefatigably choleric bleating. He never stops, not for one second. He forms syllables in this precious, often wasted inhalation moments. If Naito is a physical maximalist, White is a verbal one.

There’s an element of underhandedness, for sure; Jay White’s character thrives on the nutrition of his own hypocrisy. But there is also a substantial element of White’s persona that simply wants to complain, to narrate the ceaseless torrent of grievances and internalized victimization within his thoughts. Sure, he gripes to the ref when he is trying to cheat, but he does it even more times simply to preclude perceived threats. Someone entering the ring to jump him when he has a submission locked in: a threat. His opponents not holding the tag rope: a threat. Ishii being within 50 feet of him before a match: definitely a threat. It is an extension of his paranoia.

This one was insipid, but there were tremendous moments that hint at deeper truths. At the start of the match, Tama Tonga and Hirooki Goto were about to lock up, but Tama used that circumstance as a pretense to sneak-attack YOSHI-HASHI and knock him off the mat. In direct response, Goto attempted the same thing to Tanga Loa, but it was so telegraphed that Tanga simply jumped off the apron to elude Goto’s wild gesticulation. Jay White then grasped Goto, allowing Tama to unload some punches into Goto’s midsection and take control of the match.

This is a quintessential Hirooki Goto moment, fruitless labor and thwarted justice. Keep this in mind: this whole tour’s conceit is enveloped in imagery of burning castles and samurai warriors, the very Sengoku/Tokugawa historicism that Goto is supposed to embody, with his spiritually resonant preparatory training regimen and Bushido code balderdash. Shouldn’t Goto be given a bit more on this tour?

This whole program would be lukewarm at best and unwatchable at worst if not for the Tanga Loa-YOSHI-HASHI sequences waking the crowd up, and the Ishii-White sequence whipping them up. Yano, who is so goddamn loud he sometimes overpowers the commentators speaking into their bloody headsets, went berserk and attacked Chase with the strap to draw a completely underwhelming No Contest.

This also led to yet another sequence of people choking each other. Yano strangled Chase while the BULLET CLUB guys meandered around the ring, not even trying to prevent it. White choked Ishii with his fresh new towel design, and Ishii sold it like they were Orton and Edge at Wrestlemania accidentally paying tribute to someone. Thankfully, this whole program is outlandish enough to be comical, but why are BULLET CLUB such strangulation perverts? Straps, garotte wires, towels, etc. What’s next, a defenestration theme?

A hat-tip to Gedo, who sold the CHAOS back-drumming thing like a piano landed on top of him. **1/2

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Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI , Hiromu Takahashi & Shingo Takagi) def. BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi)

Sometimes I watch these Korakuen shows with my laptop facing north, so that the Korakuen signs that say East and West are actually to my east and west… I mean, that’s what I am left to expound upon with this match. The work was fine but the match itself was skeletal. It went 8:47, and it seemed even shorter. Not because it was a breeze, but because they did not do anything substantive.

Watching El Phantasmo and Hiromu work, it is apparent that they will not falter on 2/28 from a lack of ideas. That might be the singular fault of the Hiromu-SHO match, in combination with the exhausting and entirely inappropriate match length. These issues should be irrelevant when Hiromu faces ELP. Their interactions, as shown in this match, have a vibrancy to them that is self-evident.

Shingo won with a Pumping Bomber on Yujiro, which is definitely cool; I love it when these guys win with some of their secondary moves on the house shows. But with four juniors and Yujiro flanking him, Shingo looked entirely out of place. **1/2

SANADA def. Yuji Nagata

You can’t disdain SANADA for a sterile and dispassionate performance; this is a match where his persona correctly aligns with the conditions.

I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit, but it was an arid match, no doubt. A few minutes into this one, I considered breaking out a technique anathema to the Voices of Wrestling Style Guide, Vol 7, and doing straight play-by-play on the match. Something, anything to present from this basic, admissible match. As a last-minute pairing it was, accordingly, a professionally sufficient match that was, at the very least, very well worked. Except for one aspect…

The initial grappling was pleasant, and then SANADA went to work on Nagata’s right leg, administering several low dropkicks and a figure-four. This was all well committed and an agreeable progression. Then Nagata just stopped selling the leg, almost immediately when he made his comeback. And by God, he never even hinted at any issues with his leg for the remainder of the match. They just went right on ahead with forearm exchanges and suplex variants, kicks with the bad leg, etc. Then again, who gives a fuck, this match exists only to exist.

The crowd was engaged the entire match. In particular, they attempted to rally Nagata when he was trapped in the Skull End. Believe it or not, SANADA did not bother trying to swing Nagata around in the Skull End hold. He simply locked it on, pushed through the claps for Nagata, and nailed the moonsault for the win. The crowd was profoundly silent for the finish. What can I say, it’s a Nagata singles match; of course, you should watch it. ***1/4

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & SHO) def. BULLET CLUB (EVIL & Dick Togo)

Due to technical errors, this match is not included in the VOD, and I did not get to see it live. There is ample picture evidence that this match occurred, but no gifs from any of the NJPW accounts.

From the pictures, things happened. SHO took the heat, SHO kimura’d Togo several times, EVIL badgered Okada, and Okada eventually succeeded in incapacitating EVIL which allowed SHO to wrench Togo’s arm for the win.

Ok, actually I typed that all out before I looked at the pictures. Add in a tombstone by Okada on EVIL?


Jeff Cobb, Shingo Takagi, SANADA, and SHO all pick up rehabilitative falls, and it certainly appears that a primary objective of this tour is to provide them with the opportunity to rack up some wins. This show was an easy watch, but much of the work was seeped in banality and, in consequence, it was inferior to the 2/16 show. It is worth watching the Nagata-SANADA match, just to see Nagata keep up with SANADA and SANADA, in turn, adroitly tempering his pace for the sake of the match.