New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Wrestling Dontaku – Night 8
April 20, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Minoru Suzuki) def. SHO, YOH, and Tomoaki Honma

In the review of the April 19 show, I noted how the booking of Juniors, even when they are not the focal point, especially when they are not the focal point, reveals a clear strategy of mitigation. The company is down to 6-7 usable Juniors, a few dads, and whatever function Taguchi is amenable towards. Because of this, they are booking Juniors more carefully. And so, whereas BUSHI, who fucking sucks but has been a bit more nimble lately, might have perhaps been put away by an Oscutter or something on at least one of these shows, he ate the full Stormbreaker. Minor, perhaps, but indicative of something. It is a slight modification, barely noticeable but amplified by the conditions.

The same goes with the Junior tag titles. At one point in recent history, this title existed for bantam gaijin to bounce around, delivering hot openers and almost never approaching even a hint of a chance at the singles title. Some didn’t even take part in the Best of the Super Juniors. There were boundaries between the divisions, which was fine until the notion of four teams having a scramble every month and trading the titles liberally became a sterile concept and the lil gaijin fucked off, first by killing a year-long angle on a boat and then by showing us their phones on the way to Chilis. Keep your precious Michelin stars, Japan. Jiro should be dreaming of a Triple Dipper!

When Despy and Kanrmaru stabilized these titles, they took on a new tenor, one that has gradually ripened into the more extremely imbalanced situation today: the titles exist to farm interactions in support of singles feuds. Considering the sorry state of the division, at least by numbers, subjugating the tag division to the advantage of the singles division is probably the best course.

And so, when BUSHI, who fucking blows, annihilated YOH’s knee and R3K were forced to abdicate the titles, the mini round-robin tournament that was devised actually served two purposes. The ostensible purpose was to crown new champions, but the true underlying purpose was to provide multiple opportunities for the decimated Junior singles division for intercourse. In the case of Desperado and Hiromu, it was a question of how many of the definitions of that word they would check off before the finals.

That tournament was a catalyst for rekindling the Despy-Hiromu rivalry, which had been dormant for two years. This eventually resulted a match voted by Japanese fans to be the match of the year, and began the process of establishing Desperado as a legitimate commodity at the top of the card (the merch sales already supported thus, BY THE WAY).

In this program, the titles serve to orient YOH back amongst the pinnacle of the division and to cultivate emotionally venomous wedges between the champs. In fact, they both go hand-in-hand. Again, I return to the notion that the backstage comments are required viewing, even if you are actively disinvested from the promotion and an anathema to Road To shows in 2021. R3K’s comments have always been awkward, but without Rocky there to provide the bombastic sinews and hold everything together, all we are left with is the discomfort.

For instance, YOH just finishes his comments and leaves, he doesn’t even wait for SHO. SHO, for his part, is typically smoldering, with his exaggerated hunter-gatherer faces, but obviously there is dissatisfaction with the current situation for him, recaptured in a tag team he left behind and impotently sidelined as his returning partner gallop his way to a title shot.

And yet, they are probably working better as a tag team than they ever have been. If you watched Night 1 and decided to take the rest of April off, you’ve missed a few things that were exhibited here. YOH is nimbler and spryer than he has ever appeared before. Despite my infatuation with El Desperado, I was worried about his upcoming defense against YOH. Both are methodical wrestlers with a casual coolness. Despy is intense, but his ascension has been commensurate to the dexterity of his measured, intricate legwork. Considering that YOH’s defining trait is that he is too effortlessly cool for the fake world of wrestling, this portends as an excruciating match-up, where the crowd is silently engaged for 85% of the match.

But their interactions in this match shows the opposite. The sequences between the two all tour have been imbued with alacrity. It might not translate to a singles setting, but signs are encouraging. SHO, for his part, is embroiled in a quagmire with Kanemaru based around Kanemaru’s gameplan of badgering SHO’s scrotum.

Improbably, Kanemaru won clean here, which I suppose supports my theory of Junior pandemic protection. SHO has offered clean pinfalls to BUSHI (sucks) and Kanemaru in recent tours. Again, when you only have 7 guys, even the scum need to look credible.

Unfortunately, Suzuki is an afterthought without a Young Lion to bully. He was largely absent here, save for the strike exchange with Honma. This exchange proved, indisputably, that all Honma-related issues (in-ring, to be clear) can be solved if he just remains stationary and throws haymakers with other middle-aged men. ***1/4

BULLET CLUB (Jado, Tama Tonga, and Tanga Loa) def. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Taichi, and Zack Sabre Jr.)

If this was your first time seeing this match… well, it probably isn’t. Anyone watching this has had multiple opportunities to watch this match. If you watched this one, you probably watched all of them, because these are the only people left. But, let’s say you chose this show to watch, with the title match and all. If, for some reason, you actively chose to watch this match, you would have noticed something, something seeped in profundity and single-handedly explains why this match-up has been improbably successful and enjoyable to watch all tour:

DOUKI fucking rules.

DOUKI sells for roughly 75% of each match. DOUKI returns shortly after he proffers a hot tag with offense resoundedly more spectacular and exciting than anyone else in this match. He flies around the ring, he dives all over the area, and provides a fantastic model for G.O.D. to toss around and stymie. He is the injection of energy this feud needed in the ring, even if his inclusion necessitates the inclusion of Jado as well.

And thus, DOUKI is the MVP of this program, and probably of the tour because without him this ubiquitous match would be considerably less tolerable. Each night has been informed by the previous. On one night, DOUKI attempted the Daybreak, but Tama planted him. The next show, he managed to hit it, but got caught later on in another power move. And so, the next show, DOUKI makes further adjustments. Honestly, this tour is more about G.O.D. vs. DOUKI, with Tekkers relegated to the background.

It certainly hasn’t helped that Tekkers have completely ignored the tandem offense of last summer. Or Zack Sabre Jr.’s constricted offense, which lately consists of a guillotine choke, although sometimes he branches out into a modified guillotine choke. Taichi is all gimmick right now. The choking motif was amusing when he initially used it in multi-mans, but now it is no longer engaging supplementary materials; it has usurped his main materials. This is not a propitious situation.

Of course, Taichi also provided the highlight of the tour when he attacked Kenta Sato after the match on April 18, choking him with demonic ferocity and then stomping that useless, otiose imbecile.

Loa got a clean win here and then the BULLET CLUB boys returned the favor from April 18 by annihilating Suzuki-gun after the match. He then cut a long promo laying out some balderdash consequences to the upcoming Loa-ZSJ match. If Zack wins, the title match will be set. If Loa wins, Tekkers can never challenge again. Honestly, with how absolutely deteriorated this division has been since the Golden Ace vs. Tekkers stuff last summer, I’d be agreeable with getting Taichi and Zack the fuck out of there and back to singles. **3/4

Toru Yano and Hiroshi Tanahashi DEF Gedo and EVIL 

As much fun as it has been to see Tanahashi fully embrace the unyielding goofiness of Yano, this match contained little difference from the match yesterday. It was better due to the extraction of Honma and Dick Togo, but this one was anodyne this deep into the tour.

I’d suggest, if you really want to see a Tana-Yano pairing from this run, watch the Tanahashi/Yano vs. Gedo/Togo match from Night 3 on April 13. Togo actually works exponentially better when divorced from EVIL and significantly better in a straight tag match (when divorced from EVIL).

The most memorable thing about this one was the finish. Tanahashi, exasperated at the bearded fuck that ha been tormenting him in Jay White cosplay all tour, discarded subtlety and went to blast Gedo with the brass knuckles. EVIL then proceeded to obliterate both opponent’s erogenous zones with this thick triceps. When the pitiful Marty Asami turned around, he saw the carnage. Almost certainly, he would have made the count anyway, but Gedo hit Tanahashi with the brass knux anyway. That was enough for Asami to call for the DQ. **1/2

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

I reviewed this exact same match for the April 19 show. There’s nothing more to say besides, “I refer to my previous statement.”

Actually, one thing of note is the development of Naito vs. O-Khan. For the duration of this tour, this has been quite a battle of wills. Naito’s casual, cavalier insouciance has found a natural foil in  O-Khan’s peremptory, patronizing assertiveness. That conflict continues throughout this match, but after a post-match staredown the camera held on Naito as he froze in stride on the way to the back, during O-Khan’s normal post-match screaming.

Naito had a pensive, perturbed look n his face, which he held for most of O-Khan speech. I’m not sure where this came from; nothing foreshadowed this emotional sea change, even the post-match confrontation. I’d say that this is something to pay attention to, but the camera held on Naito for such a peculiar amount of time, it’s pretty self-evident that this was meant to be some kind of consequential moment. ***1/4

Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and  YOSHI-HASHI DEF Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori, and KENTA

They played the 6-man tag title placard song, and it is gloriously accurate. Banal, trite guitar riffs, probably on a click track. It’s fantastic.

In the review from the April 19 show, I speculated that the company would deliver on at least one of the two stories established from the singles matches on that show:

  • Hirooki Goto, his pride dismantled by two pinfall losses to the diminutive Taiji Ishimori, found himself once again on the losing end to the featherweight on April 19, and it was perfectly clean. Unless there are levels of Goto-ness previously ascertained to be unattainable, even by Goto, he would attain some measure of revenge by defeating his grating nuisance.
  • Yujiro Takahashi, derided and condescended by a thoroughly dismissive Tomohiro Ishii, lost the singles match on April 19. Unless he is beyond saving, just utterly vapid and worthless, he would attain some measure of revenge by taking the belts off his tormentor.

Obviously, some must have been skeptical, but New Japan has generally booked the undercard well, even in the pandemic. Now, whether or not the ideas have been tasteful is another concern; the booking itself has been fine. And in this case, they followed through, in the best possible manner.

Goto achieved reprisal over someone half his size, and Yujiro is a fucking loser. My God, what a one-sided feud:

  • Ishii, who rarely offers backstage comments at all, delivered several on this tour that disdainfully rejected Yujiro’s human presence.
  • Then he beat the guy by popping up and hitting his finisher after selling for 85% of the match.
  • After the singles victory, Ishii offered a backstage comment that was essentially, “See, I told you he’s a worthless fuck,” and then his team won the big blowoff! Awesome!

This match was the standard CHAOS multi-man fare. I am consistently amazed at the complexity of the timing and sequencing they demonstrate in these matches. There was one spot in this match where Goto and YOSHI-HASHI turn the tables and start double-teaming Ishimori, and Ishii bolts into the ring at the exact right moment to join the action. It’s like the best Tribe Called Quest songs, with Tip and Phife fluently and masterfully trading off within verses.

It’s those little things that make these 6-man matches so joyful to watch since these three took the straps, and probably why the best matches of this run were the CHAOS inter-faction ones. And, of course, the DOUKI vs. YOSHI show-down. Of course, this has also been accompanied by long matches. The last two defenses went 27 and 32 minutes long. This one? A taut 20:14! This style is not reminiscent of a whale!

This also provided the denouement of the Bo Staff Saga. Once again, KENTA is the greatest living wrestler, as the conclusion to this one included KENTA using the staff on his opponents and then getting caught in a honest-to-God Lesnar vs. Roman tug-o-war over is with YOSHI. After the match, KENTA grabbed the staff and was going to make off with it, but then hilariously backed up into the apron, leaving it raised into the only possible position in the entire hall where YOSHI-HASHI could have nabbed it from him. Awesome.

Even more awesome? One day after literally professing his love of this inanimate object to the world, he accosts YOSHI-HASHI in the back for anthropomorphizing the thing:

This match was centered around Goto and Ishimori, who both took most of the match. They both held up well. Goto sold wonderfully for such extended periods of time, and Ishimori continued the otherworldly senses he has displayed in-ring for the last two years, always being in the exactly correct position and offering tremendous execution and touch. There was a fun moment when he teamed up with KENTA, and the NOAH boys smoothly kicked the bejesus out of people.

The night ended when Hiromu, who had tricked everyone a few days previous by disguising himself as part of the disinfection crew, spontaneously emerged from behind Abe after the final address and literally said goodbye to everyone in attendance as they departed. Pretty easy with 366 people there. ***3/4


A one-match show. We are so deep into the tour that the undercard has exhausted itself days ago, and so pretty much everything is skippable besides the main event, which itself is one of the weaker defenses from these champions. Several conflicts were seemingly resolved with this title match, and while several other were continued, nothing happened here that was relevant enough to seek out.

The pacing of these Road To tours lately has been almost too well balanced. It’s one of those things, like how if you walked up Olympus Mons you wouldn’t realize the climb because the incline is so slight. I don’t think we’ll be reaching such heights by the end.