New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Dominion – Night 1
June 1, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

New Japan has suffered a torrent of calamities in the last few weeks:

  • Another State of Emergency was declared in several prefectures, including Tokyo, in an attempt to quell the virus numbers before the very necessary 2021 Summer Olympiad.
  • Shows on May 8, May 10 and May 11, all naturally scheduled for Korakuen Hall, were canceled due to the State of Emergency
  • A few wrestlers presented feverish symptoms on May 4, forcing significant changes to Wrestling Dontaku Night 2
  • Two wrestlers tested positive for COVID
  • Several more wrestlers contracted COVID
  • Without any way to properly run them, both Wrestle Grand Slam shows were postponed
  • Due to injury, Will Ospreay relinquished the newly-minted IWGP World Heavyweight Championship after one defense
  • A maelstrom of reports emerged depicting a fraught locker room, with discontent blossoming amongst both foreign and domestic talent
  • El Desperado befriended Chris Brookes
  • The government extended the State of Emergency in many prefectures
  • The company drew an average of 294 people on a three-show run at Korakuen, the “Road to Wrestling Grand Slam”
  • The company was linked to WWE
  • The June 4 Ota Ward Gym show was canceled

New Japan’s pandemic plan has a clear, simple objective: to hit a number of total attendees, no matter the cost. After reading through El Desperado’s harrowing recount of the symptoms he endured after contracting COVID a few weeks ago at Wrestling Dontaku, one has to feel grateful the cost has remained low. There’s no fucking around when someone is approaching 40 Celsius.

So many aspects of New Japan’s pandemic product strategy have generated an ennui in the Western fanbase staggering in its breadth. Critically, the company has flatlined.  The causation is simply diagnosed: a pernicious amalgamation of self-inflicted booking wounds and inescapable, unwinnable circumstances.

The inevitable result is desperation, one that culminates in a company policy of slithering through any crevice, cavity, or fissure that allows them to run a show, any show, to any audience, of any number.

And thus, an unbearable, exhausting string of cards at Korakuen Hall, the reliable citadel where anyone can seemingly run anytime regardless of regulations. The Florida of Bunkyo. Out of the 69 shows that New Japan has run thus far in 2021, 29 have emanated from Korakuen Hall, with steep ticket prices to offset the stunningly low numbers. Remember, the pandemic limit for Korakuen, right up through January of this year, was 696. Today’s show, with the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, drew 293. At a certain point, you have to take a second from emphasizing the mitigating factors, you have to put aside all that understanding you conspicuously flaunt, just look at the evidence, and holy fuck that number is brutal.

Even here, the disillusionment is evident. New Japan has broadcast 56 shows on World thus far in 2021. 29 of them have been broadcast from Korakuen Hall (that is, every single card run from Korakuen Hall this year). We have covered 50 of those shows (please do not check how many I have done, or how many words). The first shows we missed were the Korakuen Hall shows in mid-April. No one even offered to cover the three shows last week. This was once the website derided as NJPWMecca, and now no one gives a fuck. I’m started to doubt myself… I made a nearly identical statement about this place being NJPW Mecca in my Satsuma no Kuni review and I’ve already forgotten it. That was only a month ago.

It makes sense that New Japan has checked the temperature of the water with WWE and found it Not Hot. No company is more desperate than WWE, for any litany of dehumanizing rubbish reasons, austere utilitarianism executed by oligarchs. New Japan at least looks like the more appealing choice in comparison, even now. While New Japan’s corporate desperation is sad, it is merely pitiful, an unfortunately necessary (though not necessarily correct) reaction to a confluence of balderdash. WWE, on the other hand, ran a sponsored zombie match to lustfully grasp a cool million dollars, a whole 0.1% of their 2020 revenue. WWE’s corporate desperation isn’t pitiful, it’s pathetic.

Incredibly, there is a remote possibility that we could approach the intersection of these two curves of self-manufactured anguish.

NJPW’s domestic audience is secure. That much was confirmed by this audience’s insistently clap-clamorous responses to the main event. But things are tight, and things are precarious. Things aren’t bad, but bad things are happening. Kayfabe-swaying podcasts with co-hosts that go out of their way to save their sources from the podcast’s acrimonious namesake, these things might attempt mollification, but logical analysis leans towards the silent (or the ones that speak through their famous dads). The scheduling will remain preposterous as long as the country’s situation is equally preposterous.

Considering that Japan has moved glacially and is concentrating on the 100% mandatory 2021 Summer Olympiad, Japanese wrestling is short-term fucked, and will only look worse in contrast to the American companies as Jacksonville and Orlando engage on the Our Most Fucked Up States 2021 Tour. And yet, we’ve probably reached the nadir already.


Because Miho Abe is back. She’s back with a high-low dress, voluminously layered in lace. More importantly: She babyfaces everything. Taichi, Lance Archer, and, now, the entire company.

Our Match Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the New Japan Undercard, June 1 2021

  • Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. Roppongi 3K (Sho and YOH) and Yuya Uemura
  • BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens, and EVIL) def. Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, Tomoaki Honma, and Hiroshi Tanahashi
  • The United Empire (Great-O-Khan and Jeff Cobb) def. Kota Ibushi and Yota Tsuji
  • CHAOS (YSOHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and Kazuchika Okada) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, and Shingo Takagi)

What To Look For

The Return of the Inevitable Casualties of New Japan’s Pandemic Strategy

  • Returning on this show were several wrestlers, some of whom have either confirmed that they contracted COVID or are highly suspected to have been part of that unfortunate wave. A wave that was, as noted, a fait accompli considering New Japan’s pandemic objective. Taking stock of them:
    • Minoru Suzuki: logically assessing his schedule, particularly his dates outside New Japan, he missed shows but probably did not contract the thing. He looked sharp. As far as wrestlers to whom you could offer a ceremonial title reign at this uniquely innocuous and unfathomable epoch, Suzuki was a strong choice. Today’s match exhibited his distinctively captivating aura; seeing him in motion, even on a Road To opener, one can easily imagine a fleeting yet intense run at the top for the legend.

    • El Desperado: Considering what he went through it’s reassuring just to see him in the ring. He was the watched most fervently, in an attempt to decipher any signs of the fatigue one would assume he carried into this match. Desperado looked capable and showed no signs of enervation, but there were a couple of points that looked awkward, both on Irish whips. On the first, he hesitated on a reversal and nearly Enzo’d YOH. Imagine the strife of Japanese YouTubers if that did happen, and a future Desperado shoot interview would be inescapable, the most recommended of the recommended videos. The second gaff was a weird one; Uemura bumped into him, Desperado moved laterally in response, and Uemura had to change angles to spear him. Desperado also was shouting after the match and appeared aggravated, storming off before his hand could be raised.
      • By the way, in the brief flash of audience shown during Desperado’s entrance, we saw a thick population of five Despy towels, and then one more during the wide shot that, inexplicably, someone had draped on their lap during Desperado’s entrance.
    • YOH: May or may not have contracted. Looked as good as he has since returning, which for those that have not been paying attention (the entirety of the Western world), is sharp, crisp, and brimming with alacrity.
    • SHO: May or may not have contracted. Per usual for SHO’s 2021, he was lost in the shuffle. The high point of the match for him was being on the receiving end of a rare hanging kneebar from Suzuki, and then being caught in a kneebar yet again by Suzuki, which turned into a kneebar + heelhook when Uemura came to the rescue and Suzuki trapped his leg.
    • Yoshinobu Kanemaru: May or may not have contracted. Looked impossibly insouciant and nonplussed, as normal. Continues to use worked alcoholism to mask his breathtakingly aloof disinterest.
    • Taichi: Caught it and fucked around with his new PS5 through a dreadful fever. He looked like the old Taichi, someone we haven’t observed since last year’s G1, over seven months ago. More explanation below.
    • Kazuchika Okada: Caught it, might be New Japan patient zero, apparently unfazed and so he was the one to break the ice on the COVID revelations last week. Okada looked sprightly, moving at a gear slightly asynchronous with his opponents, compensating with excessive goofiness and extravagant mannerisms. He looked fully engaged at points, almost literally dragged by Shingo to the amplified ferocity Takagi appears incapable of inhibiting.

Laughter Is Not a Panacea

  • I really can’t say, I guess I laugh to keep from crying/So much going on, people killing, people dying
  • I’m afraid that even Kamaal would find himself digging deep into his abstract toolbag to ameliorate the nonsense presented in the Hontai-Buller Club eight-man. One should immediately take a defensive stance once they see EVIL and Taguchi on opposite sides of a multi-man. Someone is either getting assaulted by a vas deferens, or getting their assaulted, depending on their allegiances.

  • And so, Taguchi liberally badgered Bullet Club with his coccyx, throwing it from different angles like he’s Brandon Woodruff playing around with release points. He did the train thing, which ELP then satirized with the backraking bollocks. . It was all harmless fun. The Japanese crowds absorb this stuff, so it would be presumptuous to completely scoff at it. But when a promotion is as fucked as New Japan is fucked, attempts at humor and lightheartedness are almost more grueling to endure, even on a Road To.
  • This is also compounded by the participants, particularly Tanahashi and Ishimori. Tanahashi, in this case, is paired off with EVIL; even HARASHIMA wouldn’t wish that upon the Ace. Ishimori would be paired off with… Tiger Mask, I guess? Poor Ishimori has been patiently waiting to get his hands on Desperado, and he’s likely going to have significantly more time to wait. One can’t imagine ELP is over there just to fuck around with the middle-aged Juniors.

T-Shirt Naito (involuntarily) Takes the Night Off

  • One would have assumed that, given Naito’s tendency to project a clinically precise level of dignity commensurate to the dignity of the stakes involved in a match, Naito was going to phone this one in, with trademark panache. It was only a few months ago that Naito was firmly in the mid-card lined up against Honma; in proportion to that, Naito spent most of his time pestering the ring crew and refusing to break pinfalls on Honma until he reached a 30-count.
  • King of Kanto YOSHI-HASHI, however, is martinet monarch and as exhibited in this match he will enforce his particular dress code by any means. And so, in a spontaneous flourish of rancor, YOSHI-HASHI alleviated years of aggravation from Naito non-believers and ripped the fucking shirt off the bastard. He didn’t even use it against Naito, whether to choke him or distract him or whatever. He simply reinstated propriety and tossed the damn thing aside to chop those bare pecs.

  • The de-clothing and exposure of his torso was merely the prelude to a firmly game Naito performance. This was highlighted by a tremendous exchange with Ishii, who trapped Naito in the CHAOS corner and no-sold thirteen straight Naito forearms.
  • Where this is demonstratively different: Naito did not inject any theatrical irony into the sequence. Those expecting a smirk, an overexaggerated response, any idiosyncratic Road To Naito mannerism to emerge, they were left bereft. Naito earnestly delivered forearm after forearm in a vain attempt to penetrate the stout, ossified shell of his long-standing rival, and then dropped like a sack of potatoes at Ishii’s single forearm retort.
  • And so, we learn more about the laws of the YOSHI-HASHI demesne:
    • One must never engage in combat with a torso covered
    • One must treat the NEVER 6-man title with deference
    • One must refrain from anthropomorphizing the staff
    • One must sell the butterfly lock, but never tap out to it
    • If one violates one of these precepts, an Ishii drone will appear and enact the established snuffing out procedure.

SANADA was a participant, as the result proves

  • Those that watched the entirety of this card might be stunned by the flagrant error in the listed results which lists SANADA as the person taking the fall in the CHAOS-LIJ semi-main. At first glance, this is an ignominious error, made on both the Japanese and even in the building during the match?
  • Certainly, it was strangely inexplicable that SANADA had a full entrance before the match and then immediately departed Korakuen Hall, walking out into the street in full gear and gimmick, but that does fit within SANADA’s demurely pococurante idiom. SANADA peaks with his entrance anyway; perhaps New Japan has used these conditions to evaluate the status quo, like many of us have been doing for the variant status quos in our lives, and realized the status quo didn’t need to return after all (they did not decide this, by the way. Evidence: see who the champion is on June 8th).
  • And yet, it turns out that our assumptions were incorrect. I reviewed the tape, and SANADA does indeed make a brief cameo appearance in the last 45 seconds or so of the match. The fall provides history with irrefutable confirmation that SANADA engaged in professional wrestling on this night. Just long enough to get pinned.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) def. Guerrillas of Destiny (c) (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)

Assuredly, there will be a sizeable number of people that see the match time and either skip this match entirely or watch it with gritted teeth, white knuckles, and mouth brimming with bile. Both options are deficient and wrong, because this match, the 24th time these teams have opposed each other in some manner in 2021, and into the seventh month of the program, was an absolute blast. I hope wrestling’s version of Voltaire doesn’t exist (and that we don’t find the need to invent one), because there’s only one thing to say: this was the best of all possible matches between these two teams.

Yes, it went 26 minutes, but the structure was impeccable. At every five-minute call, it was astounding to consider how effortlessly the time had elapsed. Every time, the previous five minutes seemed to ethereally float by, and the more deeply one examines the segments, the more impressive the construction of the match appears.

There was a string of ideas, expertly spaced and exquisitely paced, which dissolved time and managed to produce a smoothly captivating match. The first five minutes seemed bizarrely abrupt, consisting of a 20-count tease and Tama Tonga using Miho as bait to distract Taichi within the first 2-3 minutes of the match (holding her and forcing her to watch helplessly as they assaulted Taichi, to her histrionic dismay, because we need more of that in this company). You’d expect that spot to emerge later, after Tekkers had established momentum; Miho Abe exists in that sense as a catalyst for the heels to terminate Tekkers’ momentum. So, why do it before Dangerous Tekkers had done much of anything? To get that hogwash out of the way, and to provide momentum to the match itself from the outset. It does not make sense out of context, but in the full context of the match, it is a commendable choice.

The next phase began with a chinlock, right after the initially perplexing 20-count spot. That set the stage for the next five-minute phase, based around Taichi getting a hot tag to Sabre. The crowd was emphatically supportive of Tekkers throughout the entire match, and carried this portion.

The 15-20 minute phase was galvanized by the interference spots, as Jado returned from the back, which itself was a bit of subterfuge to allow Gedo to tease a brass knuckle spot. DOUKI… well, DOUKI tried to thwart this. He tripped up on the ropes as he tried to springboard in, yes, but he landed on his feet and recovered well. This poor guy carried this feud for months; we can allow him a very minor flub. It was the only balderdash all night and was briskly accomplished. We can allow the bald junior bookers that one indulgence, under those circumstances.

From the twenty-minute mark onwards, the match followed the best precedents of the typical New Japan tornado breakdown, replete with a spate of big moves, beautifully timed cut-offs, and increasingly climactic kick-outs. Oddly, the Japanese crowds remain flat for G.O.D.’s big moments, which is unfortunate when they bust out a diving headbutt/frogsplash delayed combo sequence from opposite corners. Even further, this flatness meant that the crowd actually became more invigorated when G.O.D. kicked out at 2, emboldened by Tekkers’ momentum and encouraging them to propel beyond.

The point here is simple: this was not the archetypal G.O.D. or G.O.D. vs. Dangerous Tekkers match. It was absent the long periods of dead space, the ghastly voids that pepper many G.O.D. matches. It was absent the foofaraw, the rubbish, the dream fatuity that has been unfortunately imbued in this program from the very start. Back in fucking 2020! This match made sense, everything felt like an organic progression, liberated from not just the nonsense but also lame limb work. It was a fight and a contest in equal measures, often simultaneously, and while you certainly could not call the action relentless, it was coherent, sensible, and consequential.

It would be malfeasance if I did not acknowledge the appreciation that the crowd showed for Miho Abe’s unexpected return. Abe presented a new look, discarding the trashiness of the fishnets and cut-off shorts for the aforementioned high-low dress, a bit of gothic elegance. Essentially, she has evolved from a tacky version of the Phantom’s Christine to a tenebrous version of Carmen’s Micaëla. I guess that would make Taichi wrestling’s Roberto Alagna, which makes far too much sense. Imagine Gedo telling Taichi, “The Iron Fingers are going on, with or without you.”

On the subject of Taichi, this was the first time since the G1 Climax back in October 2020 that Taichi seemed like the Taichi that could formidably undergird a secondary division, and compellingly challenge for the top title (against Ibushi, at least). Since then, Taichi has been embroiled in the tag division, submerged in this specific fucking program, and engulfed in daffy bunkum. The Iron Fingers, the choking drivel, the meager and taciturn backstage comments. All of that hogwash dissipated as Taichi threw blistering kicks with both legs, fired the fuck up, ripped his pants off at a precisely accurate moment, like there’s a meter only he can see that filled up and started glowing, and comported himself with the deliciously acerbic, caustically acrid demeanor that brings his character together. This is the Taichi that, Miho aside, babyfaced himself.

That’s why Miho returning felt so gratifying. She embodies the delicate reasons why Suzuki-gun has morphed into one of the more beloved units, especially on social media. Crowds appreciate sincerity and devotion. Although they are sincerely fuckfaces, and devoted towards fucking with people and laughing at the miserable conditions they sire, Suzuki-gun is essentially harmless scamps led by an adorable psychopath grandpa with Billy Robinson brain. They are devoted to the unit, and resolutely support each other. With just a slight tweak in the presentation, if you consider Taichi stroking Desperado’s vanquished face subtle, they are now charming fuckfaces.

This one ended on a peak, a rarity for tag matches in pandemic-era New Japan. Taichi and Zack were ecstatic in victory, even though they did not receive a press table and Zima’s in the back. An appalled Zack used his time to sideswipe Weezer and their intolerable discography. He also delivered a distinctive morsel of Zack Sabre Jr. irreverence, proclaiming that “This company is a bloody mess.” Naturally, Dangerous Tekkers will be the ones to redeem and revive their promotion.

Matches like this remains New Japan’s most formidable weapon. The booking might be detrimental as it is distorted beyond recognition by the demonic scheduling, but at least their kept their tag champs together. ****

Final Thoughts

Art Criticism follows several paths, assessing artistic worth of a work, determining the historical value of the work, evaluating a work’s execution of a medium’s concepts/philosophies/techniques, etc. It also attempts to decipher, for a discerning audience, which works are worth one’s time and which ones are not.

And so, this show proffers the viewer a measure of predictability and a measure of surprise. Predictably, the undercard is not worth your time. They are not even worth skip-watching. One is better off watching the backstage comments; the undercard do not even provide any meaningful advancement of development of the few matches confirmed for Dominion.

  • Desperado stormed off without even acknowledging YOH after their match (and blabbing about Monster Hunter in his backstage comment)
  • Cobb and Ibushi engaged in the Polite Mid-ring Conference, Ibushi’s favored method of build-up in 2021
  • Shingo and Okada engaged in some goofiness wherein Okada jumped onto the apron when Shingo dropped to the floor, then Okada dropped to the floor when Shingo jumped up on the apron. Shingo disengaged from this foolishness fairly quickly. Keep in mind, this is the last time we will see these two until the main event of Dominion.

Unpredictably, the tag team title main event, a match-up that excites no one, including the participants, was a resoundingly fun and breezy affair, well worked, well-constructed, and well-executed. That one is worth seeking out. Hopefully, we will never see it again.

You know, after they face off in a six-man tomorrow.