New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Wrestling Dontaku – Night 7
April 19, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

On paper, this appeared to be an easy tour to skip, and yet, in an odd wrinkle, the shows have been implausibly watchable, and pretty fun. The matches have been kept short and the permutations of worker combinations have worked well together.

The attendance numbers are dire, including this show’s abysmal 306, but it’s been that way since Night 2 of the Road to New Beginning Tour back in January. While it’s an indicator of the effects of the State of Emergency (or the de facto State of Emergency), and a testament to just how miserably they have incinerated Korakuen Hall, immolating it as a bleak offering to the pandemic conditions, not much more can be ascertained outside of that (though I would contend those are still substantive issues to examine). Quite simply, nothing will draw people to these weekday shows. Those that have attended, though, have been treated to some enjoyable Road To level work.

Several things have emerged, to varying degrees of either “critical building blocks for the future” or “wonderful, and please never do it again after this tour.” For instance:

  • KENTA’s lavender hair makes him look like something out of Fruits Basket. Actually, if you know the series then you know exactly who I am talking about.
  • YOH still doesn’t seem much different but has exhibited considerable explosiveness and breakneck velocity in his execution than ever
  • Henare has a prosaic finisher but is also moving at a fleet-footed pace as well, and working quite sharply
  • DOUKI is the glue and the catalyst for all that is good and decent in this world. He has single-handedly resurrected the Tekkers-GOD program. Everyone else in those matches are considerably better thanks to DOUKI Diffusion.
  • Tanahashi and Yano are a fun Road To combination
  • Tanahashi and Gedo are also a fun Road To combination
  • Things are ok for one tour without Ibushi, White, or Okada

This show was New Japan’s fourth Korakuen in six days, but this one at least had a novel hook: three singles matches in anticipation of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Championship match tomorrow. At this point, that title might as well be re-christened the IWGP Korakuen Championship, if we’re so intent on accuracy of title names in this company.

The singles matches presented here were a fine bit of pre-battle posturing, each one increasingly better than the previous. They exhibited two distinct aspects of current New Japan, which will be elaborated upon later:

  • The Juniors are being protected due to the skeletal crew with which New Japan is left to run, and the division itself has been booked fairly well
  • KENTA is the most charismatic, captivating, idiosyncratic bastard. He has gotten a fancy stick over, and drew the loudest reactions of the night with his post-show address. 306 people sounded like the full pandemic-limit 700.

Also, Yujiro showed up to his match.

Tomoaki Honma, Toru Yano, and Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Gedo, Dick Togo, and EVIL

I’m not sure what is the bigger blow to Japan’s self-determination, their vaccine rollout or Yano’s stipulation beating EVIL’s in the KOPW poll.

Tanahashi wore a grim expression as he scaled the ropes and looked out onto the Korakuen seating during his entrance pose, but he had as much fun in this match as he has had all tour. Considering what he said in his 1972 interview series about Yano and Yano’s martinet demeanor in the dojo, let alone the obliteration Yano administered in the impromptu thumb wrestling contest during the Tanahashi-Ibushi talk show last year, seeing these two yuck it up together has been a delight.

Unfortunately, something was off about this one. Looking at the past week’s line-ups, the deficiency here was Dick Togo, and possibly a bit of Honma. Even though the Tana/Yano vs. Gedo/Togo tag match was serviceable, for some reason adding EVIL and Honma into the mix vitiated the chemistry. This match was bereft of the charm last week’s matches exuded.

Thankfully, tomorrow’s card extracts those two, resulting in a simple Tana/Yano vs. EVIL/Gedo match. This is something I anticipate because Gedo and Tanahashi’s interactions have been wonderful. They represent different spectrums in the wrestling persona landscape. Tanahashi is the hero, slightly insincere but still inspiring. Gedo, on the other hand, is a thoroughly authentic and genuine fuckface. Both inhabit the more cartoonish side of the good vs. evil dichotomy. Gedo evokes the goofier side of Tanahashi. Never was this more evident than the closed loop hair-pulling sequence from the April 15 show. I’m at the mercy of NJPW World’s Twitter to proffer these things, with their crackdowns and all, so imagine this one with EVIL instead of Dick Togo, closing the loop:

Another aspect of this match: the participants are so old that they are very careful with this work, and so in many cases the kicks delivered only imply fake contact. That is, they don’t imply regular contact, like normal wrestling. Or, you could say, the foundational aspect of wrestling. They are one step removed from that; seeing Dick Togo kick someone reminds you of what a fake wrestling kick to the face would look like if he pulled the strike a little closer, where it would then remind you of what a real kick to the face would look like.

Yano assaulted six testes to win this match, though two were repeated so I’m not sure what the final tally would officially be. **1/2

The Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, and Will Ospreay) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, and Shingo Takagi)

This exact match has happened on five out of seven Road to Wrestling Dontaku shows; on the other two cards, the teams were split into two regular tag matches. When lamenting the No Limit Soldier depth of BULLET CLUB and CHAOS, remember the degree of monotony when two of the more sparse factions are married for an entire tour.

Ospreay certainly has an innate ability to hone in and exploit the most aggravating facets of himself, internal and external. In this case, the obnoxious way he carries both belts to the ring. As I derided in my review of the April 10 show, in an effort to look even more preposterous than Ibushi’s comic fumbling with two belts, Ospreay has elected to wear the British one around his neck. It’s another example of something that will generate real heat in some corners, and real-life exasperation in others. He looks one step away from wearing a horse’s feed bag to the ring.

306 people were in attendance, wearing roughly 73946 of those pyonsuke things on their shoulders, all of them LIJ. LIJ hats, LIJ towels, LIJ shirts… literally every person in this crowd was draped in this unit’s merchandise. Often, there is a healthy competition, with LIJ and Naito in the clear lead, but others with noticeable representation. With Ibushi, Okada, and White absent from the tour, and Suzuki-gun (especially Desperado) absent from this show, it was an LIJ party. As Naito pointed out in his backstage comments, there was one Great-O-Khan shirt.

That is to say, this was one of the more pedestrian affairs between these units. Cobb and BUSHI have shown good chemistry, but also some miscommunication. Sometimes this results in some awkward exchanges. Other times it results in Cobb executing an awesome running Tour of the Islands on the 13th Korakuen show. Henare and SANADA have been athletic but simple. Ospreay and Shingo have been complex but repetitive.

Naito is just fucking around, but he has found a lively adversary in O-Khan, who rolls with every one of Naito’s jabs and returns fire. Besides KENTA’s nonsense, or Taichi obliterating Kenta Sato, the highlight of this tour has been Naito and O-Khan relentlessly deriding each other in the backstage comments. Naito has taunted O-Khan as the unpaid United Empire PR man and ridiculed his social media, while O-Khan has dubbed Naito “Captain Adachi” and mercilessly skewered Naito’s education level. It’s been glorious. Even if you aren’t watching the shows, the backstage comments are appointment viewing. Do not skip them.

After this match, Naito continued the new routine which which he is smitten: pretending to work at one of those random, unoccupied laptops along the entrance paths after his match. O-Khan left the ring to confront him at the table. I don’t know what O-Khan said to him, but it broke Naito, who started cracking up along with the crowd. They didn’t even fight… O-Khan just popped the crowd and left Naito to continue the laptop bit.

O-Khan started yelling at the announce team on his way out, and mid-way through his first sentence he was nice enough to crouch down a bit so he was yelling into the plastic screens. Good lad, he is. ***

Tomohiro Ishii def. Yujiro Takahashi

In many ways, it is unfair to censure poor Yujiro. He may look disconnected and maddeningly nonchalant, but he does tries enough to be competent. He may be frustratingly banal, but he is a fifth-string pineater whose determined ceiling is to distract a top guy for 2-3 months every half-decade or so.

He may move at a glacially measured pace for the first 85% of every one of his singles matches, but his main purpose is to eat up time in multi-man tags. It’s certainly unfair to defame Yujiro for accomplishing what he is intended to be. Of course, that hasn’t mitigated Ishii’s acerbic nightly remarks.

“You’ll always be where you’re currently at, for the rest of your life.”

Hilariously, Yujiro’s entrance entrance was the only one, of every entrance throughout this night,  that didn’t cut to the crowd in some way during his music. That includes LIJ, who were all introduced separately. Every single person received this courtesy besides Yujiro. They couldn’t even cut to someone with a generic BULLET CLUB towel. It was just a wide shot, then that blurry and slanted screenshot they often do, and then his emergence from the back.

While it is proper to point out that while he does perfectly enact what he is asked to do, as an audience we simply don’t care and aren’t engaged. How do I know? The dead fucking silence every time he delivered those innocuous, wind-up running front kicks. He does so many of those goddamn kicks and they never produce a smidgen of tone. That was on full display in this match.

And, in one-off singles matches, he needs a solid ten minutes of dilatory, languidly paced action to get warmed up. Thankfully, the crowd was invested in Ishii, and reacted to a lot of Yujiro’s control. Except, of course, any time he did one of those bloody kicks.

Marty Asami is utter trash and a waste of fictional human flesh.  Again, this might be a bit unsporting, callously lambasting the poor guy for executing the gameplan laid out for him, one that requires him to appear loathsome and reprehensibly defective. And yet, he still sucks at it. Once again, I cite the ludicrous ref bump in the Wato-DOUKI BOSJ match.

The biggest heels in this company are these dopey refs. We saw well-timed cheating spots in the elimination matches last week. Why did this one see Yujiro cheating by simply pushing Asami backwards to steal back his cane and hit Ishii with it? It’s a minuscule part of the match, but disproportionally annoying.

Equally annoying are the captious coterie out there deriding Ishii for allegedly having the same eternal match every time. Usually, this critical pestilence is contained to roughly the last 2/3rds of the G1 Climax, since that is just about the only time Ishii has singles matches anymore, but with this match the feculent soil of this balderdash talking point was tilled.

There certainly can be a degree of monotony, if you tire of sensational effort, mesmerizing pace, and exquisitely constructed sequencing. Maybe it takes examination that is too granular and microscopic, but Ishii is constantly playing around with form and refashioning his formula. In this match, Ishii did significantly less no-selling than usual. In fact, the moment that stood out the most to me was Ishii’s selling on Yujiro’s DDT. What was interesting was that he sold his shoulder, rather than his neck and crown. I could feel the idea of the neck pain shooting down and settling in that shoulder, unfortunately.

One does have to wonder about the result. In this match, Yujiro pulled out a lot of pretty cool stuff (once his period of enforced, tortuous moving repose ended): a nasty looking german suplex into the corner, a reverse Pimp Juice, a textbook DDT administered after some smooth transition reversals… all of it was excellent.

And yet, Ishii got up, delivered a headbutt plus lariat combo, and put him away with the brainbuster. Eat that, fuckface. Eat that after weeks of Ishii literally questioning your human value in backstage comments, calling for you to be replaced with the pitiful Dick Togo. Eat that after taking 90% of this match. Continue eating that after your teammates won their matches in succession after your failure.

Of course, one ignorant of this backstory would not be able to piece it together from simply watching the match. Yujiro’s lukewarm insouciance in the backstage comments unfortunately carried over here, and he showed little fire or indignation over Ishii’s prolonged dismissal of his worth.

This certainly could be setting things up for Yujiro to exact revenge in the title match. If not… at least he proved that it is worthwhile to watch his matches past the ten-minute mark. Unless it’s Okada on the other side, of course. ***1/2

Taiji Ishimori def. Hirooki Goto

Leading into this one, Ishimori attained two falls over Goto, leading to a sequence of backstage comments where Ishimori, in his resplendent Discount KENTA persona, delivered some excellent material on the satisfaction he gained from beating a heavyweight. Goto was stoically insecure and focused on exacting revenge on the little pest. It seemed self-evident that this was leading to a Goto redemption victory at this show.

And then Ishimori got a clean fall after controlling almost the entire match.


It seems pretty obvious at this point that traditional distinctions are being massaged a bit right now, and the Junior division is the clear benefactor. New Japan is keeping the Juniors credible, mainly because they have been reduced to such an emaciated crew that they have no other choice. Not counting the dads, they have nine Junior heavyweights at the moment. Ryusuke Taguchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru account for two of those slots.

Ishimori scoring three falls on Goto is the most striking example of this, but others exist. Looking at the main feud of this tour gives an indication of how deep this goes. BUSHI is the clear pineater for LIJ, as normal. But while not unusual, the fact that he is taking the top finishers from the Empire boys to put him down stands out to me, particularly Ospreay using the Storm Breaker on him. Again, not unprecedented, it happens often, but coupled with BUSHI’s win over Wato months back and scoring a fall on SHO on March 10 (returning the favor twice, but neither time broadcast), tells me that they realize how valuable BUSHI is right now. We are one Desperado strain from BUSHI winning the title by default.

Ishimori has been superb for at least 18 months now and the perspective that he inconsistent and lissome at times seems antiquated. His matches with Hiromu in 2020 were lively, and at Jingu he arguably outperformed the superstar of the division. Ishimori was excellent throughout the Best of the Super Juniors, and has continued to refine his backstage persona. Sure, it’s a facsimile of KENTA’s backstage tenor, minus the extreme range of comedic nonsense KENTA indulges in, but it works. He’s managed to find a sweet spot between his sniveling, cachinnating scamp character and his forthright, pragmatic character.

I’d make the case that, weighing matches and promos, Ishimori is amongst the top of the heap from this company since the pandemic conditions set it. Certainly, this is helped by the contracted roster and baffling decisions regarding several of the tip-top talent, but Ishimori’s output would also stand on its own.

He also is making better choices, like when he chose to leave at home the fake mane that he clips to the back of his head in big matches recently. He also went for the arm early on in this match, and that essentially became the match itself. Ishimori clinically dismantled the smoldering Goto’s arm, and cut off any Goto flourishes by returning to it. And, just as Goto appeared to be making a breakthrough, Ishimori caught him in a backslide for a quick pinfall.

After the match, there was a long period of lingering on Goto, as he slowly left the ring with Ishii. As with the Yujiro match, this would suggest some kind of story payoff for the title match on the 20th. And yet, those two potential payoffs are in direct contradiction. One has more than enough ammunition to lambaste this company for shoddy and incomprehensible booking at the top, but credit should also be dispensed for their handling of the Junior division and the undercard, especially these absolutely inconsequential belts.

For that reason, I actually trust that the arsenal of intrigue, farmed through this week of interactions between the six competitors in the title match on the 20th, will indeed pay off. I might look foolish the the review of that show, but I have faith that these singles matches will be paid off somehow in the finish of the title match. ***1/2


As if the most charismatic wrestler in the world would falter in this match.

KENTA wasn’t going to, either.

Sure, KENTA is the potentate of character work these days, but this is YOSHI-HASHI’s demesne. As I pointed out in my review on April 10, my initial proclamation of YOSHI-HASHI as the King of Korakuen was inaccurate; he is the King of Kanto.

The audience, humble in number as they were, paid homage to his majesty with a consistently raucous clap-crowd reaction. Scoff if you’d like, but I happen to have developed a unique method for determining whether a clap-crowd is more into a match than other ones. It’s called the DO THEY SOUND LOUDER? Technique. It’s fairly self-evident.

For instance, in this match, I asked myself: DO THEY SOUND LOUDER?? Interpreting the video and using my expertise in hearing things through the physiology of my ear system, I was able to determine the answer: yes, they were.

KENTA has an otherworldly capability to provoke antipathy, and YOSHI-HASHI has a preternatural ability to evoke sympathy (in Kanto). This was in full display here. When KENTA DDT’d YOSHI on the floor besides the entrance path commentary tables, there were audible gasps. In fact, two quick waves of them.

The match itself was well constructed. KENTA allows far too much empty space, which fits his character but yields a less satisfying middle of these matches, and while this does create a ceiling bt there is also a floor to his matches. He managed to employ the stalling technique at the beginning of the match in equal measure to Jay White. Different, but equally adroit.

While the main thrust of this conflict has been possession of YOSHI-HASHI’s ornate bo staff, there was an underlying element as well. As cruel as Ishii has been to Yujiro, there has been something overwhelmingly mean about KENTA’s backstage comments about YOSHI-HASHI. They have centered upon KENTA’s assertion on YOSHI-HASHI’s supposed ugliness, the malevolence masked by the foolish bo-staff stuff.

I’m sure it’s been a nice life looking exactly like Gaz Coomes from Supergrass your whole life, KENTA, literally sharing eerie similarities at every stage of their lives, from their shaggy twenties to their softer forties. Did you really have to mime insults towards YOSHI-HASHI through a sliver of wood?

Unlike Yujiro, YOSHI-HASHI presented exactly the kind of choleric wrath one should expect from a person repeatedly labelled grotesque for weeks on end. And boy, was the yellow bile flowing in this one from the King of Kanto. He was screaming even more than usual, and the crowd sounded bewitched. At one point you could even hear people clapping during the bump and feed of a YOSHI’s comeback, then the full crowd release when it was over.

At 26 minutes, this one was twice the length of Yujiro-Ishii, and felt half as long. Obviously the energy plays the critical role, but it also comes down to styles. YOSHI-HASHI has developed a real knack for stringing together offense, which contrasted nicely against KENTA’s modern repertoire of staccato moves and strikes. This itself mimicked the personality incongruity, with YOSHI-HASHI’s perpetual ferocity controverted by KENTA’s frosty dismissiveness.

The ref bumps will assuredly lower the evaluation of many, and they did seem superfluous as it took three ref bumps to get to a… clean finish. That said, the crowd were responsive.  They started to murmur, in defiance of the ominous Fourth Wave that is imminent, when KENTA used one of those ref bumps to go under the ring and bring Bo-chan into the proceedings. This bastard has actually gotten this absurd thing over. You can hear that pumping on your stereo, indeed.

Aside from the balderdash, the finish was very well executed. KENTA cut off YOSHI-HASHI’s final comeback by tossing him headfirst into an exposed turnbuckle, nailed him with a busaikyu knee, and hit a decent looking Go 2 Sleep. It looked like it was going to be yet another G2S miss, but YOSHI-HASHI saved it by taking the knee right on the fucking button. ****

After the match, KENTA performed a full five minutes of scene work, introducing Bo-chan to the crowd as his girlfriend I can’t accurately portray the tenor of this farse, but, as usual, KENTA was a maelstrom. At one point, he delivered his trademark “sincerity out of fucking nowhere” technique, shifting gears to talk about his upcoming 21st anniversary in wrestling, before reminding everyone that we are still caught within a pandemic and demanding that the crowd go home immediately.

The guy’s pretty much babyfaced himself, and we’ll see that once crowds return in 2024. Hey just in time for the Olympics! In Paris!


Because of the purposeful monotony of most Road To tours, cards like this one with multiple singles matches retain a novelty to them, but these matches are worth watching collectively on their own merits. The collective aspect is crucial, though. Severed from this NEVER 6-Man connection, they are skippable. If they were G1 Climax matches, they would be instantly forgotten. But the confluence of circumstances make them more valuable than they normally would be. Hey, just like several members of the Junior division!