NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
DESTRUCTION IN KOBE
SEPTEMBER 24, 2023
KOBE WORLD HALL
KOBE, HYOGO, JAPAN

Watch: NJPW World

MEET YOUR REVIEWERS:

Suit Williams: I’ve been dying for some big time New Japan post-G1, and we’ve finally got it. The autumn rush to the Tokyo Dome begins now. You can follow me on Twitter/all Twitter variants @SuitWilliams, and you can read more of my work at F4WOnline.com, where I review ROH weekly TV and AEW Collision.

Sean Sedor: Special thanks to Suit for letting me hop on this review! The top half of this card looked pretty solid on paper, with Will Ospreay vs. Yota Tsuji being a match that I had circled ever since it got announced, so I was really looking forward to it. You can find me on Twitter @SASedor2994. If you’re interested in some of my other escapades, you can watch me play the Formula 1 games on YouTube (just search my name), and you can also go to the Be The Booker forums if you’d like to check out my EWR Diary, where I play as WCW (started in 1998, currently in February of 2002).

TALES FROM THE UNDERCARD – NAMES IN BOLD INVOLVED IN THE FALL:

  • Clark Connors & Drilla Moloney def. Kevin Knight & Tiger Mask – Moloney pinned Tiger Mask after he and Connors hit the Full Clip. Knight and KUSHIDA challenge Connors & Moloney at Destruction in Ryogoku on October 9.
  • Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, SANADA & TAKA Michinoku) def. House Of Torture (Dick Togo, EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi) – That’s right, TAKA Michinoku got himself a fall here, pinning Dick Togo with the Michinoku Driver. EVIL escaped with the IWGP World Title, which he’ll have a chance to actually win at Destruction in Ryogoku.
  • Guerrillas Of Destiny (El Phantasmo, Hikuleo, Jado, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) def. BULLET CLUB (Alex Coughlin, Chase Owens, David Finlay, Gabe Kidd & Gedo) – Tama Tonga pinned Gedo with the Gun Stun. At Destruction in Ryogoku, Tama challenges David Finlay for the NEVER Title, while ELP & Hikuleo challenge Coughlin & Kidd for the STRONG Tag Titles.
  • Lio Rush & YOH vs. BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi – Rush pinned Bushi with the Final Hour. Rush and Speedball Mike Bailey will challenge Takahashi for the IWGP Jr. Title at Destruction at Ryogoku.
  • Bad Dude Tito & Zack Sabre Jr. def. Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii – Sabre pinned Ishii with a European Clutch. Alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi, Okada and Ishii will defend their NEVER Six-Man Titles against Josh Alexander & The Motor City Machine Guns at Destruction at Ryogoku. Meanwhile, Sabre has a standing challenge out to Will Ospreay for Royal Quest III on October 14.

NJPW KING OF PRO-WRESTLING TITLE NO TIME LIMIT, SECONDS HANDCUFFED MATCH
SHO DEF. TAICHI (C)

Suit: Taichi loses the KOPW Title in his first defense.

The match sucked, but the match isn’t the important part here. The important part here is the turn of Yoshinobu Kanemaru, who had feigned suffering a knee injury during the tour to nullify the numbers advantage of Just 5 Guys over House of Torture. As the other members of the units were handcuffed to each other at ringside, Kanemaru came out seemingly to save Taichi from a wrench attack from SHO. But Kanemaru instead spat the whiskey in Taichi’s eyes before drilling him with the whiskey bottle, leaving Taichi prone to a Shock Arrow. 

Kanemaru had been having a hell of a year before his phantom injury, having great matches for both the Jr. Tag Titles (w/ Douki against Catch 2/2) and for the Jr. Title against Hiromu. This caught the Kobe crowd offguard too, as they booed Kanemaru out of the building for his actions. SHO is the new KOPW Champion, and House of Torture has a big advantage leading to EVIL’s title challenge in Ryogoku. Speaking of which, now that House of Torture had the numbers, EVIL decided to accept SANADA’s request to have their title match be a Lumberjack match. **

Sean: The stipulation that won the fan vote saw members of the House Of Torture handcuffed to different members of Just 5 Guys (SANADA was handcuffed to EVIL, DOUKI was handcuffed to Yujiro Takahashi, and Taka Michinoku was handcuffed to Dick Togo). While the idea seemed like a good way to neutralize House Of Torture, it definitely didn’t work out that way. There were a number of points where SHO was still able to gain control after House Of Torture got involved, and we did eventually get a referee bump after Yujiro threw in his cane as a distraction.

Of course, as I’m sure most of you are aware by now, the big moment of the match saw the surprising appearance of Yoshinobu Kanemaru (who had been taken off the tour with an apparent knee injury). It appeared as though he was out to help Taichi, but then he turned on Just 5 Guys and helped SHO capture the KOPW Title, revealing himself to be the newest member of House Of Torture in the process. Firstly, a very nice swerve they pulled with Kanemaru with removing him from the tour with a fake injury. With regards to the turn itself, my immediate thought was wondering whether or not Kanemaru was pulled a Frankie Kazarian here (he joined Bullet Club for a brief period in 2017 in ROH, only to reveal a few weeks later that it was all a ruse to help Christopher Daniels win the ROH World Title). Though in thinking about it, I don’t know if Just 5 Guys (in kayfabe) would willingly sacrifice a title that one of their members holds in order to pull off such a ruse (unless they really don’t give a crap about the KOPW Title). I guess we’ll see where it goes, but Kanemaru turning here does add a new wrinkle to this feud. Will (I guess) Just 4 Guys have to find a new fifth member? I guess time will tell there.

The stipulation had some promise, but it was killed immediately when the House Of Torture members continuously got involved. I don’t even really have much thoughts on the match itself, as it just felt like they were killing time until the referee bump and the angle. A good angle, make no mistake about it, but in terms of the match itself, there was almost nothing there. I’m also left here wondering why they haven’t just officially split off House Of Torture from the rest of Bullet Club at this point. They’re in their own little universe anyway. Might as well just solidify that split at this stage. Skip to the Kanemaru turn, because that’s all you need to see. *1/2 

IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
BISHAMON (HIROOKI GOTO & YOSHI-HASHI) (C) DEF. TMDK (MIKEY NICHOLLS & SHANE HASTE)

Suit: This match was so odd to me. Bishamon never had much of an offensive flurry, as TMDK controlled the lion’s share of this one. They got a nearfall with the Highway To Hell before laying out Goto with the Tankbuster. They went to hit YOSHI-HASHI with the Tankbuster off of the ropes, but Goto held onto Haste from the outside. That allowed YOSHI-HASHI to hit a Crucifix Bomb and get a surprising three count to retain the titles. 

I wasn’t surprised that Bishamon retained. In fact, my steadfast belief in Bishamon retaining kept me from getting much into this one. I was surprised at how out-of-nowhere the finish felt though, as it felt like they were just starting the closing stretch of the match. This was a good match. But good was about it, which is surprising when you talk about a Bishamon match. (Since I wrote the review for this match, New Japan announced Goto missing the rest of the Destruction tour due to injury. It could be that he never fully healed from the rib injury in the G1, or that he re-injured it. Either way, the injury makes everything else make sense.) ***1/4

Sean: This is the third time this year that Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls have challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. They came up short against Bishamon during the New Beginning Tour in early February, and were unsuccessful again in late April against Aussie Open at Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni. Would the third time prove to be the charm for the Australian duo? Unfortunately, the answer was no, as Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI retained the titles after YOSHI-HASHI pinned Nicholls with the crucifix bomb (the same one he started using during the G1 Climax). These two teams had a really solid back-and-forth match with some good action throughout. TMDK came close to winning on a few occasions (including a double-team that saw Nicholls launch Haste to the top rope so he could hit a superplex on YOSHI-HASHI). While I enjoyed the match for the twelve minutes or so that it lasted, I’m not sure I like the idea of having TMDK lose yet another title match. 

As I mentioned above, this was their third time challenging for these titles in the last seven/eight months, and they lost each time. If New Japan has no plans on putting the titles on Haste and Nicholls, that’s totally fine, but I feel like having them lose so many title challenges in such a short period of time (twice to the same team) doesn’t serve much of a purpose. ***1/2 

SHINGO TAKAGI DEF. GREAT-O-KHAN

Suit: This was a solid G1 style match, and a showcase win for Shingo in Kobe World Hall. These two had a terrible MMA-style match back on the New Beginning tour because no one has learned from Inokiism, but this was a traditional style match that was much better. O-Khan still works his unique style to start these matches, but he’s improving on the traditional New Japan closing stretches. It helps that he’s in the ring with one of the best wrestlers of his generation in Shingo Takagi, but O-Khan is starting to make the improvements that will help him move up the card in the future. Shingo wins with Last of the Dragon. ***3/4

Sean: I always enjoy seeing these occasional heavyweight singles matches on New Japan tours that don’t involve a championship. In this case, Shingo Takagi emerged victorious over Great O-Khan in the first of three LIJ vs. United Empire bouts on this card. This was only eleven minutes or so, but they made the most of the time they were given. In particular, the second half saw some super entertaining exchanges. O-Khan got a close nearfall after hitting one of the best Eliminators he’s ever delivered, but when he tried for it again, Shingo pulled off an amazing DDT counter. Ultimately, Shingo was able to hit the Pumping Bomber before putting O-Khan away with Last Of The Dragon. Suit described this as a G1 style match, and I would absolutely agree with that assessment. You could’ve easily thrown this in the middle of one of the eight match G1 cards we got for most of this year’s tournament, and it wouldn’t have felt out of place at all. I’ll be curious to see if Shingo’s win here sets the stage for a title shot coming up before the end of the year. ***3/4 

IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE #1 CONTENDERSHIP MATCH
TETSUYA NAITO DEF. JEFF COBB

Suit: There’s a decent chance that you reading this will have enjoyed this match more than I did. And it’s not like I thought this match was bad or anything. This was a combination of two guys I’m not personally invested in and a match that had zero doubt in the outcome. The fact that they didn’t bother to announce that Naito’s G1 Title shot was on the line until the day before didn’t help. Naito’s tranquilo attitude never makes me excited to watch him, even though I’m fully aware that he’s a world class pro wrestler. I know he’s probably going to have a notebook match, but I don’t get excited when I see him making his entrance with the Tokyo Dome World Title match contract in a Target tote bag.

Meanwhile, Jeff Cobb is Jeff Cobb. His strength is impressive, but his singles matches feel samey. Outside of the excellent hoss fight he had against Shingo a few Wrestle Kingdoms ago, I have the “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” feeling with him. Put those together, and you’ve got a match that I’m never gonna think about again. Naito wins, see you at the Dome. ***1/2

Sean: Jeff Cobb picked up a win over Tetsuya Naito on the second night of this year’s G1 Climax tournament, and after Naito wound up winning the tournament in the end, it only made sense that Cobb would issue a challenge for Naito’s Tokyo Dome title shot. Obviously, the result was extremely predictable, but that didn’t stop these two from having a really solid semi-main event. I’d say it was on par with their G1 match back in July, and on par with the match between Great O-Khan and Shingo Takagi that came before it. Cobb controlled things early on, and even managed to hit his own version of the Combination Cabron (love that a bit Cobb’s done in his matches with Naito this year is stealing some of Naito’s moves). Naito would target the neck at points, but the pace picked up in a big way after Cobb connected with a delayed vertical superplex. The closing stretch was very strong on the whole (with a number of cool spots), though there were a few weak points in the form of some flash pin attempts from Naito (they certainly didn’t look great). In hindsight, those moments probably prevented me from going notebook, but regardless, this was still a very solid match, despite having a result that everyone saw coming. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see, but enjoyable for what it was. ***3/4 

IWGP UNITED STATES HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
WILL OSPREAY (C) DEF. YOTA TSUJI

Suit: If there were any questions about Yota Tsuji and his ceiling in New Japan, they were answered here. This man, four months returned from excursion, went step-for-step with one of the best wrestlers on Earth for nearly thirty minutes with a raucous Kobe crowd pulling for him by the end of it. This guy has everything you would want from a New Japan main event capital-S Superstar. His aura, his look, his work, his crowd connection. It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal. From the first spot of his first match, where he speared SANADA before flying to the floor with a Fosbury Flop, the crowd have bought him at the level New Japan slotted him in. Tsuji has the main event presence, greater than either of his Reiwa Musketeer counterparts in Shota Umino and Ren Narita. I would go so far as to say it’s greater than that of Kazuchika Okada when he got his megapush in 2012. Okada grew into the role of course, but Tsuji is already there. He’s got the swagger and the feel of a headliner already.

Then there’s the work, and my god was he working here. The unique combination of explosive power and lucha spots a guy his size shouldn’t be able to pull off fit like a glove with Will Ospreay, who has much of the same ability. These two pulled off some wild stuff here, with Ospreay hitting an Oscutter from the corner post to the floor for the countout tease. Tsuji came back with an incredible stunner counter to the Stormbreaker before hitting the Gene Blaster spear for a loud nearfall. Later on, Tsuji teased a double jump Oscutter before doing an insane double jump curb stomp that led to him hitting Ospreay with a Stormbreaker for a close nearfall. Tsuji went for the spear to finish it, but ran right into a jumping Hidden Blade. Ospreay hit a spear that only got one, and the Storm Driver only got a two count. Tsuji gave one last roar and smiled in Ospreay’s face, but another Hidden Blade followed by a Stormbreaker finished the job and gave Ospreay the win.

After setting up a title match against Zack Sabre Jr. for Royal Quest on October 14th, Ospreay went to the back and cut a great promo, promoting both the Royal Quest match and his upcoming six man tag at AEW WrestleDream. He even made sure to remember AEW canon, cutting a promo on Sammy Guevara and setting up a possible program there. Will Ospreay is the best wrestler on the planet. No qualifying it, no “one of the best,” none of that. Will Ospreay is the best wrestler on the planet. What’s the argument against him? His selling? What is this, 2016? His promos? I wouldn’t put him on a Moxley/Kingston tier, but I also wouldn’t have him much lower. He’s a damn fine main event promo guy, as the excellent Jericho contract signing from AEW television proved. This man has found every hole in his game and improved it while also improving on what he was already great at. Not to mention the fact that he’s had Match of the Year level matches going back nearly a decade now. 

From the traveling matches he had with Marty Scurll, to the junior heavyweight showcases he had with Hiromu and KUSHIDA, to the heavyweight epics against Shingo and Okada. This year alone, he’s had excellent matches with Kenny Omega (twice), Taichi (twice), Luke Jacobs, Leon Slater, El Phantasmo, Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, Chris Jericho, Naomichi Marufuji, and Yota Tsuji. The man has no peers. I hate to be hacky and use his catchphrase here, but it’s true. Will Ospreay is on another level to everyone else in pro wrestling, and I’m so happy we live in a time where we can basically see it all as it happens. ****3/4

Sean: From the moment that Yota Tsuji pinned Will Ospreay clean as a sheet to win a multi-man tag on the final night of this year’s G1 Climax tour, I was incredibly excited, as I knew that meant a singles match between the two was going to happen sooner rather than later. We wouldn’t have to wait very long, as the match was soon signed for this Destruction In Kobe card. A battle between (arguably) the best wrestler in the world and (unquestionably) the hottest talent to come out of New Japan’s dojo system in a number of years. I went into this hoping for an awesome match, and when the dust settled, they met my expectations and then some. This was simply an amazing match from start to finish with so much incredible action that it’s almost impossible to recap all of it. The bout was just shy of twenty-eight minutes, but it certainly didn’t feel like it, as this was packed with tremendous wrestling right from the opening bell.

Obviously we all know how fantastic Will Ospreay is. I don’t need to spend much time talking about him. However, there’s so much that can be said about Yota Tsuji. First of all, it amazes me how a guy of his size can pull off some of the lucha-inspired offense that he likes to use. It really helps him stand out from the rest of the roster in that way. Secondly, the speed with which he was working was nothing short of outstanding. This was a match where he was successfully keeping up with Will Ospreay, which is not something that many people can do. There were so many moments in this match where I just could not believe some of the stuff he was connecting with. Yes, he was going up against one of the best wrestlers in the word (if not the best), but in matches that are this excellent, it takes two to tango, and Tsuji more than held up his end of things. The crowd was electric throughout, and the closing stretch featured a number of incredibly strong exchanges. One moment in particular that stood out to me was actually a very subtle one. Tsuji connected with the spear, and when he went for the cover, he made sure to pull in Ospreay’s arms so that he couldn’t reach the ropes….but he forgot about Ospreay’s legs and he used one of those legs to get the rope break to stop the pin. Again, not a huge spot by any means, but it was a moment that stuck out to me as being super cool. Tsuji thought he had Ospreay covered (figuratively and literally), but he forgot about the leg, and that might’ve cost him.

Tsuji followed up with a super stomp off the ropes before hitting Ospreay with his version of the Stormbreaker. It didn’t put Ospreay away, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end for Tsuji. A Hidden Blade to the face, a spear, and Storm Driver (by far the safest Storm Driver we’ve seen, but a Storm Driver nonetheless), but Tsuji kicked out! Tsuji then rose to his feet, smiling, and defiantly walked towards Ospreay. However, that proved to be nothing more than Tsuji’s last gasp. Another Hidden Blade and a Stormbeaker finally put Tsuji down for the count.

Words can’t do this match justice. You need to stop what you’re doing, log onto NJPWWorld, and watch this match right now, if you haven’t seen it already. This was one of the best matches of the year, and while it’s not near the tippy top of my list, it will definitely be in my top ten come the end of the year. Another incredible outing from Will Ospreay (no surprise there), while Yota Tsuji proved once again that he is THE GUY out of this new crop of talent that’s graduated out of the New Japan dojo in recent years (still need to wait and see how Yuya Uemura does once he returns from his excursion, which might be very soon). I do think that Tsuji does need to start winning some more important matches in the coming months, but there’s no question that his future in New Japan is extremely bright. ****3/4 

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