New Japan Pro Wrestling
Destruction in Ryogoku 2023
October 9, 2023
Ryogoku Kokugikan
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW WORLD

Meet our previewers:

J Michael: J. Michael usually babbles about completely irrelevant nonsense in these introductions, but he actually has something pertinent to address here, and something critical to modern conditions: pan fried gnocchi is fucking NONSENSE. I feel like Q-Tip telling Hammer to cease calling rap pop music: if you’re throwing your gnocchi in a pan, then go fuck off to Karakalpakstan.

J. Michael’s not playing around here. Anything else besides boiling is inauthentic, sacrilegious, and unforgivable. What are you avoiding, washing an extra pot? What are you scared of, the delicate timing of a boil cook? What are you chasing, texture? These are not things people in the real world consider. J. Michael is boiling his gnocchi, and he’s not using salted water, either. Can you handle that, Scott Conant? Have I upended your sensibilities?

Because it’s him and his coterie, controlling every morsel of airtime on Food Network, that have propagated this nonsense. And don’t even get J. michael started on this obsession with spices, and seasoning, and whatever the fuck people rub, sprinkle, and smear over their food. Does anyone in this country even know what chicken actually tastes like anymore? It’s time to federally mandate gruel. Just force the citizenship to eat gruel once a week.

Anyway, enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo

Warren: Warren Hayes believes the height of culinary convenience are guacamole Doritos. All the taste and creamy spiciness without rushing to eat all the guac because stupid avocados oxidize so quickly. Now you can keep your tortillas chips with all that great taste for days. Man over nature, we win again. And he wins every week at the Mr. Warren Hayes Show podcast, where he breaks down the week of wrestling with pithy analysis and brute force analogies. You can find it on your favorite podcast app or on youtube.com/MrWarrenHayes. He’s also on BlueSky.

Frontier Zone Match
Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, YOH, Toru Yano, and YOSHI-HASHI vs. Takeshi Masada, Kazuma Sumi, Kengo, Jun Masoka, and Takahiro Katori

J. Michael:  At this point in my life, I can handle two companies, although anyone who reads the coverage of New Japan on this website probably assumes I only watch one, hence a five-part, 25,000 word series published over the course of a month, on the G1 Climax, which ended weeks before Part I even saw daylight.

But, I do follow DDT, even after they NOAH’d themselves and took the title off Higuchi earlier this year. They put the title on Yuki Iino, who is still great, but shouldn’t have had the title, didn;t need the title, and definitely had no business taking the title of Higuchi. Especially right before their Wrestlemania shows. Just a total fucking disaster. Iino’s reign was completely meaningless, which really hurt Chris Brookes big win. That should have been a much bigger moment, and would have been if it came against Higuchi.

Anyway, New Japan has had essentially zero interaction with DDT, even though they had a fecund relationship in the recent past, and could feasibly partner with them as an aside to the Cyberfight interactions. They sent El Desperado to face Daisuke Sasaki at Peter Pan back in July, and Hiromu Takahashi is heading to DDT to face his old friend Kazuki Hirata (the best and most entertaining wrestler alive) at the November Sumo Hall show.

In these dealings, New Japan has been a silently inauspicious element. Clearly, they are approving of these bookings. And it’s not like they are sending Young Lions; NOAH can get the Young Lions, DDT has been getting prominent dates with the top two juniors in the company, two guys pasted over nearly every bit of promotional material the company promulgates. And yet, it’s been presented with a veneer of unofficial flair.

And yes, there’s a couple guys from Freedoms here, but it’s the DDT guys that interest me the most here. You have Kazuma Sumi, a minute, very young, and ebullient speedster who dropped out of the Dragongate dojo (which, of course, they’ll make sure to let you know about). Sumi’s been around for about a year, and he’s only 20. He’s small, even by DDT standards, but quick. He’s slowly gaining sharpness, but in DDT he’s got time.

Takeshi Masada is an interesting one, because he represents what New Japan and Asahi brass yearn for in talent development. Or, at least, what they say they want and don’t actually deliver upon. Masada tore through the dojo, debuting after only three months of training, at age 21. He won the D-Generations Cup earlier this year, and looks to be a very bright prospect with a super high ceiling. The idea that they’ve found their next Takeshita, with a kid that literally fucking looks him, is very prominent. Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI pins a Freedoms dude.

Warren: A little inside baseball here: I read J. Michael’s preview of this match before adding my own little thoughts here and there is no way my remedial knowledge of Freedoms and DDT can add any sliver of analysis that even comes close to what he provided for the non-NJPW guys. But, in the spirit of hard work and determination, allow me to give it the old high school try: I recently read that WWE is being broadcast on Abema TV, which is majority owned by CyberAgent, the company who owns DDT. Are we seeing the initial stages of NXT Japan being broadcast live on a NJPW show for the sole purpose of making the Bushiroad suits look like fools? This is a thing, right?

“Joking” aside, having Takeshi Masada on this show is not insignificant and is very much the highlight of this opener, filled with curtain-jerking dudes I’ve seen plenty of times. YOH working with Masada could have some spark, but that will depend on which YOH shows up: motivated or complacent. YOSHI-HASHI must be happy that he and Goto weren’t scheduled for a tag team title defense on this show. Taguchi Butt Stuff Threat Level: Orange.  Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI gets the win for his team as he’s the only NJPW guy with a title.

Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Taichi, and X) vs. House of Torture (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, SHO, and Yujiro Takahashi)

J. Michael: They managed to provide some intrigue to this utterly meaningless match, yet another zombified prelim tag resultant of these multi-event tours. They peaked the Taichi-SHO match at Kobe, in what seems like a lifetime ago, with the slow dirge between the two Destructions.

The reprehensible actions of Yoshinobu Kanemaru in Kobe left a slew of snidely coy responses, literally a numbers language-game. And just as the hopelessly desperate convinced themselves that their J4G shirts were once again valid, SANADA declared a new member would emerge at Sumo Hall. That coincided with Yuya Uemura, the most brilliantly artless poster in wrestling, attempting to provoke some kind of speculation with his farewell tweet to Impact.

Of course, any match with X in it becomes solely about X. It’s been roughly a year since Ren Narita returned at Declaration of Power (the show which took place in lieu of Destruction, and which you certainly remember by name), and Shota Umino followed a few weeks later. Following that trend, Uemura seems like a lock. But, ya know… wouldn’t Umino and especially Narita be the most robust case against bringing Uemura back for a fall re-debut?

Considering the balance of J5G, it would seem like X should be a junior heavyweight. Someone must have tipped off Taiji Ishimori that his name has popped up in strident circles, since he’s on twitter playing coy with Kinnikuman references. He’d certainly be the most entertaining choice since, like SANADA, he’ll never get credit for anything and far too many people have fervently clutched at antediluvian concepts about him (for the record, Ishimori was the best Junior of the pandemic years).

Whomever it is, for fuck’s sake please just keep Uemura in storage until Wrestle Kingdom. Prediction: I dunno… Seiki Yoshioka? I mean, Mutoh will be on commentary, maybe Nakajima?

Warren: You hear that? That’s the sound of Taka grumbling with discontent as he renews the storage space in which he’s packed the Just 4 Guys merch.

Kanemaru pulling a surprise turn on his Just 5 Guys factionmates in Kobe was unexpected. I mean, it’s hard to think that you’d leave a faction that has in its name the sum total of its members. Feels like a tremendous commitment. That took gumption. The unexpected aspect of it really amped up the interest in this match and in J5G altogether which, quite frankly, have been coming across as, well, just a group of guys. Throwing in an X-factor as the newest 5th guy has been the talk of the town and will help us endure having to watch that sack of turnips Yujiro wrestle.

I hereby throw in my own speculation:

Yuya Uemura is the odds-on favorite to join the group. With his recent departure from IMPACT, many suspect his trajectory is back to NJPW (despite months upon months of speculation he wouldn’t) to take part in the rejuvenation of the roster, the outlying theme of the promotion in 2023. It would make sense that Just 5 Guys, which previously featured three members over 40, should want to add their own young up-and-comer, just like every other faction in the company has. Every faction except for CHAOS, because Old Man Kazu just wants those damn kids to get off his lawn.

Katsuhiko Nakajima is a name that’s been thrown around ever since he announced his departure from NOAH and would fit well into this group. I, for one, would love to see what he could do in a NJPW environment, and the prospect of him in a G1 is terribly compelling for me. I also know it’s an outlier choice. The specter of him knocking out Shota Umino at the block press conference would make for compelling watching, you have to admit.

As exciting as those prospects are, there’s always the possibility that a not-so-exciting addition is made. Like Taiji Ishimori, for example. Of course, we don’t know what his injury status is like, but it’s foreseeable that he could be thrown into the group as a way to get him out of BULLET CLUB and into something different. It’s an in-house pick, as safe as it gets, but lacks the pizazz. Which makes it entirely plausible.

Meanwhile, lovable scumbag Uncle Nabu has thrown in with a group which, again quite frankly, suits him better. Prediction: X pins that sack of turnips Yujiro.

Tanga Loa vs. Chase Owens

J. Michael: Someone almost certainly wants us to notice his 1776 shirts and respond with apoplectic indignation, and I will not provide that kindling.

The bad news: this match. The good news, though, is that they’ve returned to filming Tanga’s upstairs-downstairs combo from behind again, as opposed to the sabotage they pulled when Loa faced Okada, which exposed the business more than a quasar’s worth of RK Video shoots.

The worse news: both of these guys have been moving like Tenzan wearing Homna’s desiccated exoskeleton, for whatever reasons. Prediction: If I had to choose between having Kevin McCarthy’s week, Diane Feinstein’s week, or my week, watching this match will really make it a toss up.

Warren: This is the NJPW answer to LA Knight vs The Miz at WWE Payback. Prediction: Tanga Loa, I dunno.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Yota Tsuji, Shingo Takagi, and Tetsuya Naito) vs. The United Empire (Callum Newman, HENARE, Great-O-Khan, and Jeff Cobb)

J. Michael: One of the thrusts of my five-part G1 Climax/New Japan Evaluation (setting new records for word to reader ratios, which suits me as a shy person that prefers to be ignored) is that New Japan might not regain their 2019 footing, and that’s fine because the roster is going to be as stacked and the matches will be as exhilarating as they were pre-pandemic.

Part of that assuredness comes from the rapid growth of the young guys, and Callum Newman can already be added to the list. The United Empire, like all great empires on the verge of collapse, seem simultaneously obsessed with and indifferent to succession. Thus, they high Callum Newman, but also refer to him as their young lion, but interact with him less than TMDK did with Fujita. Newman’s been a highlight of the tour. He has his speedblitz spot, which the crowds have responded to with audible astonishment, but the more captivating aspect has been how quickly he’s acclimated.

In the opening phases of the tour, he looks shaky and restrained, like Drilla Maloney in this year’s BOSJ. His interactions with Hiromu at times looked totally disconnected and uncoordinated. But Newman has adjusted even faster than Moloney; in the Korakuen Hall shows, Newman has already expanded his arsenal. At only 21, he’s part of a third wave of guys. The first being the 30ish guys: Tsuji, Uemura, Henare, etc. The second wave being the guys in their mid-20’s: Umino, Narita, Oiwa, Kidd, etc. Now we have guys in their early 20’s: Akira, Newman, and Fujita. Prediction: Newman is pinned and BUSHI fucking sucks.

Warren: I wanted to start off my bit here by saying something to the effect of “The L.I.J. A-team vs. the United Empire B-team” and caught myself from typing that, thinking “what a preposterous notion, the U.E. is great.” Still, it is remarkable how the dropoff rate from star to schlub in Naito’s group is incredibly shallow compared to every other faction in the company. He’s flanked in this match by Takagi and Tsuji, for Pete’s sake.

The drop from Will Ospreay’s star status in the U.E. is pretty steep in comparison, which is quite a realization when all signs once pointed to Great-O-Khan having a far more golden destiny in the company. You’d think the NJPW would have a plan for the leadership of the faction if/when Ospreay leaves and you’d think O-Khan would be ready for that spot. With the youth focus guiding much of Gedo’s hand recently, one wonders what is in store for a guy a lot of us expected to be on a completely different trajectory at this point.

But, back to the match: L.I.J. multi-men are always a lot of fun, this should be no exception, and will likely set up some stuff for tag league. Shingo and Huge Tsuj? The return of Cobb/GOK? Prediction: Naito gets the pin.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
BULLET CLUB (Drilla Moloney and Clark Connors)  (C) vs. Intergalactic Jet Setters (Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA)

J. Michael: If the Tanga Loa vs. Chase Owens match seems like baffling card filler, this match makes even less sense. The Intergalactic Jet Setters won the titles in April, lost them in their first defense back to Catch 2/2 in June, and both Knight and KUSHIDA disappeared from New Japan in the interim. That’s not unusual, being Juniors on the outside of G1 Climax season, but it’s a bit of a habit at this point.

Kevin Knight should conquer the world, but they have to get him more reps. Even on this tour, he’s gaffed several times. But then, he also did this cool thing where he went for a dropkick, his opponent held onto the ropes, and instead of falling on his back like Okada does, he fucking backflipped out of it. That might not sound impressive on paper in 2023, but the thing is, it wasn’t a straight backflip; he waited, saw his opponent hold the ropes, then turned it into a backflip. Because this motherfucker can just hang in the air.

There really needs to be a more sustained campaign for Knight.  They’ve done a good job getting him work, at Impact and other places I don’t watch, but the stop-start dynamics of the New Japan schedule, exacerbated for juniors, is not propitious for his growth right now. Maybe an actual faction, where he could find a more distinct identity, and more distinct programs, would help.

Of course, he also has the fucking flu, so we’ll see if this match even happens. As a lame duck title defense before Super Junior Tag League, and what should be a spectacular one at that, it’s hard to shake the notion that this one is completely irrelevant. Prediction: My Dogs 4 Real

Warren: At the time of this writing, the show has the potential of being decimated by a case of the flu, which in a post-COVID world means you are packed onto a ferry and shipped off to a flu colony, keeping you away from the beautiful healthy people of the mainland.

This is one of the matches that has the potential of being affected, as Kevin Knight has apparently been stricken. Which is a shame, because Knight has been on a terrific roll over the past few months, including  a terrific match with Mike Bailey at the American All-Star Jr. Festival and flexing some rudo ways at CMLL’s 90th Anniversary show. He’s a guy with a tremendous amount of upside and you can tell NJPW recognizes that as he continues to put together the pieces to what will unquestionably amount to a successful career. Hopefully, he heals up in time.

I, too, find it strange that we’re immediately revisiting the Intergalactic Jet Setters as challengers for Connors and Drilla. Makes me wonder just how deep those LA Dojo ties are… I smell a snake. Prediction: The War Dogs will dangle those titles because they’re like their penises, get it?

Best of 7 Series Final
Master Wato, Shota Umino, and Yuji Nagata vs. Strong Style (El Desperado, Ren Narita and Minoru Suzuki)

J. Michael: At publication, we are five matches into the Whatever It Takes to Get Narita and Umino Over series, and they are tied: two matches apiece, with one time limit draw. At times, the series has stolen the show and at times it’s come across perfunctory at best.

Thankfully, Narita and Umino have looked great at points on this tour. The bad part: their best exchanges have come in multi-man tags outside the series. They were totally misaligned in match #1, then came storming back in match #2… but even then, by the finish they had disappeared. They’ve been overshadowed by Suzuki and Nagata’s sequences, which harken back to the early pandemic days when they carried the empty venue shows by beating the bejesus out of each other.

Thus far:

  • Despy has pinned Wato
  • Wato has pinned Despy
  • Nagata has pinned Suzuki
  • Narita has pinned Umino

You’d think Umino and Suzuki get their wins back, and the series ends 3-3-1, but maybe they actually try and get someone over here. Narita desperately needs it, as does alleged sub-unit Strong Style. They certainly seem more like an actual faction during this series, but to truly seem like a cohesive entity, and an admirable one, Narita desperately needs to improve his backstage comments. On paper, he says interesting things, but the wearisome, dreary, monotonous, ungainly way he delivers them is embarrassing. They are trying to present Strong Style as some kind of flat hierarchy, but Desperado is outshining Narita even when he’s clearly trying to restrain himself. Suzuki’s lapping the kid just for fun.

Match #4, at Korakuen on September 30th, was clearly the best match thus far, with a hot and engaged crowd, sharp action, and an unexpected finish. Narita and Umino were the highlight of the match, but yet again Suzuki vs. Nagata felt more compelling.  This series has been a nice diversion for all six guys (although, to be clear, even with their pinfalls Desperado and Wato have been complete third wheels the whole time… remember when Wato tore the house down at Wrestle Kingdom nine months ago?).

But let me drag out some basic pedagogy here: has the series met the objective? Not yet, but wrestling is dumb and can’t be evaluated like real things. Even with how inconsistent Umino and Narita been through this, undulating between good, great, and inconspicuous, the only thing that matters is this match. If they perform against each other like they did in match#4, it pleasantly obfuscates everything else that happened this past month. Just like in the G1 Climax, they’re going to have to prove themselves on a big stage against each other. And if they do (as they did in the G1 Climax), dig in for a pretty sweet future. Prediction: Whichever team doesn’t win on October 7th.

Warren: As pointed out by my astute collaborator, most of this showcase for two thirds of the Reiwa Three has been living under the work of Nagata and Suzuki, who have been tremendous in this series. The entertainment value of these two old puro guys just beating the hell out of each other is tough to match. I’m a simple man. However, something clicked in match #4 of the series and now it feels like we have a rivalry and, more importantly, we’re setting up a compelling showdown.

Narita is the member of the three musketeers who has the most to gain out of all this, as Umino and Tsuji are flying quite well on their own (even if they’re not soaring at the same altitude). Ever since Narita’s flat-as-God’s-green-Earth performance at this year’s G1 Climax, the impetus has been on him to prove that he is indeed one of the anointed tasked with carrying NJPW into the next decade, or if he’s just, as accused, just a nice little package of cosplay.  Prediction: Gotta be Strong Style, with Narita getting a clear pin.

STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championship
BULLET CLUB (Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin) (C) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny ( El Phantasmo and Hikuleo)

J. Michael: Three-quarters of this match has the fucking flu. And, as with the Junior Tag Championship, this match feels immaterial. They’ve interacted enough in the three Korakuen Hall shows last week to suggest a decent to good match is assured. Whether the crowd will respond at all is hard to gauge. On the final Korakuen, the main event was a massive 12-man elimination match between BULLET CLUB and G.O.D., and the crowd, a Korakuen crowd, only truly reacted to Tama Tonga. Incredibly, it was a banal, insipid match with a comatose crowd until a fucking bearhug from Coughlin on Tama stirred the crowd. I fucking pray that no one on the booking crew took note of that. We’re already saturated in anachronistic booking patterns as Gedo & Co. chase the heat, a few more successful bearhug spots and they might start literally rerunning WWF, starting in 1982 (in which case, 2025 is looking pretty sweet).

ELP turns 37 this month. While I like the idea of him slowly ingratiating himself as a babyface, with a earnestly forthright unit like G.O.D., this is starting to feel like another case of New Japan’s glacial pacing, debilitatingly conservative booking, and agonizing fastidiousness is attempting to claim another career. If we’re comparing this to Kenny Omega, Omega was 33 when he faced Okada at the Tokyo Dome. Shortly after turning 37, he won the AEW World title. I don’t think this is an unfair comparison, because I’m not comparing ELP and Omega… I’m comparing the way New Japan booked both. This isn’t on ELP; having done everything the exact same way, he should be approaching his first world title right now.

By the way, it’s only been 237 days since Hikuleo evicted Jay White from Japan. And here we are. On the plus side, ELP and Hikuleo displayed some tandem offense on the tour, so you can assume they’ll be inWorld Tag League. Again, fine if they were both 32, but only one of them is.

On the other end, Coughlin was a true highlight of the elimination match. He’s about to hit 30, and started late, but so did Despy and look at how he made several great leaps in his late-30’s. Coughlin had a rough G1 Climax, but he looks very comfortable in multi-man situations. It’s hard for him to stand out, being the seething, mostly silent foil to his partner’s hegemonic monopolization of the viewer’s attention, but there will be chances for him to toss Hikuleo around and impress the crowd. Prediction: My Other Dogs 4 Real

Warren: To think that earlier this year there was a generalized feeling that Hikuleo would be finishing up his time in Japan and heading to the pastures of a leading North American sports entertainment outfit. Yet one loser leaves town match, a short run with the STRONG title  and a surprisingly successful G1 Climax run combined to keep Hikuleo in the conversation as the year continues to chug along.

The oddball big man/smaller guy pairing has some teeth to it, if only because El Phantasmo is a talented and creative pro wrestler who understands what needs to be done to make this team work while working around his partner’s more noticeable flaws. On that note, if we’re getting serious about the ELP push, the time is now. He’s not getting any younger and his association with Guerillas of Destiny, arguably the most uncool faction in NJPW, isn’t doing him any favors. But who knows what his contract status is like…

I’m a big fan of the raving madness of Gabe Kidd. Alex Coughlin is always better when he lets Kidd’s fierceness imprint on him. If these guys can survive the carnage of the flu outbreak, it should be a fun little setup for World Tag League, as surely both teams will have a role to play. Prediction: Alex Coughlin throws ELP into a pin.

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Tomohiro Ishii (C) vs. Josh Alexander and the Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley)

J. Michael: Someone alert the authorities, USGS or NASA or someone, because we’re getting to the point where Tanahashi’s feeble attempts at running and/or moving in the ring are going to slow the Earth’s rotation and kill us all. The match between the champions and the Mesoproterozoic team of Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Togi Makabe, and Tiger Mask was a genuine memento mori, beyond any still life of Holbein-ian easter eggs in art history. That match was a harrowing 18 minutes, permeated with sadness and the notion that, while the dad system generally works, there’s an uneasiness when watching a match like this and realizing just how desperately both wrestler and company cling to each other.

It’s mind blowing to consider where New Japan and Impact where just a few years ago, with New Japan choosing self-sabotage, almost to the point of malfeasance, to avoid working with this company, and now we have this match on the October Sumo Hall show. I’ve picked all the champions to retain, so I’ll go with the Impact guys with the hope that win here assures that the MCMG’s enter World Tag League. Prediction: Team Impact

Warren: As much as we like to herald the relationship between AEW and NJPW, the IMPACT simpatico has been notable, pulling their own cross-promoted shows outside the gaze of Overseer Khan and sharing talent like a Friday night at the swinger’s club.

Remember a couple of months ago, when Mox and Claudio showed up for a 6-man tag match with the exact same people? Maybe someone at IMPACT saw this and told Gedo “We can send our top fan favorite workers, too, you know.” Which I am all for. Team IMPACT is a combination of excellent workers which ramps up the potential for this to be an excellent match. And you need top guys to work for the titles these days, because the champions are top guys.

This run of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team titles by Okada, Tanahashi and Ishii has been tremendous. It’s been a great way to keep Okada in the mix with a title while keeping Tanahashi busy without having him carry singles matches as his injuries and age catch up with him. He can come in, play the hits, and send the crowd home happy. In fact, you can even extend this to Wrestle Kingdom if you really wanted to. You get Tana on the card with a little smoke and mirroring as well as Okada while leaving some of the top spots open for other guys. It’s for this reason I don’t think the 6-man titles will be changing hands and this trend of having top tier wrestlers compete for them because they’re held by top tier wrestlers will continue. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for this match. Prediction: Kazu, Tana and Tom retain

NEVER Openweight Championship
David Finlay (C) vs. Tama Tonga

J. Michael: The Super J Cast floated the idea that BULLET CLUB and G.O.D being embroiled in such a long program is detrimental to both, and they are 100% correct. It just further amplifies the feeling of disconnect. When was the last time Tama was in a program with a native Japanese wrestler in New Japan? He’s bounced from the absentee champion Jay White to the amoral husk of Karl Anderson to ELP to David Finlay to… David Finlay. That’s his year, October 2022 to October 2023. Even as a gauntlet of white guys, it’s not that impressive, and it’s stymied his momentum.

Warren: As strong as David Finlay’s kickoff to his BULLET CLUB leadership stint was, it feels like things have dwindled a little and he doesn’t feel quite as hot. Clearly, NJPW see value in him as the top gaijin heel and should be pressing on the gas to get him to that spot, especially under the auspice of Will Ospreay’s time in the promotion coming to an end. But his feuds have all been flat and his matches still don’t feel next-level. Is this by design and we need more time for this to simmer into a roiling boil? Or has this experiment lost traction? I know we often book long term, but sometimes Gedo loses focus on certain projects to zero in on new ones, and it’s hard to know which path we’re on until we reach the destination. And right now, the trajectory of both guys in this match feels murky. Your guess is as good as to what happens next, and frankly I’m hard pressed to care. Which sucks because I like both these guys. Prediction: Finlay, maybe? I guess?

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (C) vs. Lio Rush vs. Mike Bailey

J. Michael: Once again, a match with a motherfucker with the motherfucking flu. Which is funny, because the narrative for this match has gone through three stages. In the first half of the tour, the story consisted entirely of Hiromu spasmodically lamenting the absence of both of his opponents, and stridently defending the three-way match concept. In the second half of the tour, Hiromu and Rush engaged in typical one-upmanship, with some genuinely ludicrous misdirection sequences and reversal chains. As the tour concluded, both lamented the absence of the Bailey.

Bailey gave a characteristically charming but anodyne interview with 1972 which didn’t add much to the story. Because, ultimately, it’s a simple one: Hiromu lost to both of these guys in the Best of the Super Juniors, and October is really the first time any Super Juniors residual animus can be settled. And thus, here we are.

Whatever Hiromu says backstage, the three-way concept is outdated, unwelcome, and a complete drag… except these three are so preternaturally gifted that they’ll pull it off, in ways that couldn’t be done back in 2018. Or, at least, this time there are three wrestlers capable of pulling it off. It should be a total detonation, replete with seamless transition work and brazen ambition.

At this point, I’m confused by Hiromu’s reign. After he beat Wato at Dominion, it seemed as if they really were going to have him break Tanaka’s defense record. And yet, here we are, four months later, and he hasn’t defended the belt since that day. And fine, it was G1 Climax season, but Hiromu’s been all over the place. The conditions have never been more propitious, with New Japan circuits in American and Oceania, for a wrestler to wrack up title defenses in traditionally slow periods of the year. But Hiromu’s been stuck on five defenses for nearly as long as it took for him to reach five defenses.

Rush pinned Hiromu on September 30th in the main event at Korakuen Hall. Thankfully, New Japan plays these finishes both ways, it could just as easily support Rush winning the title as Hiromu dropping a fall to build intrigue. Bailey is so conspicuously inconspicuous, it’s very conducive to overthinking things and considering if he swoops in and somehow nabs an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title reign.

But, ultimately, the best result here is for Rush to win the title and take it into Wrestle Kingdom. As we said in our BOSJ wrap-up, this guy and Japan are like hand in glove. Stay on its arm, you little charmer. Prediction: Lio Rush

Warren: When both Mike Bailey and Lio Rush challenged Hiromu for the Jr. Heavyweight title, I was ecstatic. The vision I saw was a Destruction tour that punctuated its two big shows with two big, high-octane junior matches, each with the potential to tear the house down. Imagine my utter dismay at this being transformed into a three-way match. I’m sure this is how Coppola felt when he lost Best Director at the Oscars to Bob Fosse in 1973.

Call me old school, but I like my title matches to be champion vs. challenger. Multi-man matches have been used and abused in North America for so long, I can’t bring myself to not groan audibly. However, I will concede that the deep talent within this match is undeniable and is exciting to ponder. Three dynamic, fearless and creative men, world-class athletes on top of that, are about to share a ring for one night with the unsung objective to steal the show. My inherent grumpiness can’t be sustained in this circumstance.

All three men have been having a banner year so far: Hiromu has an arguable case as WOTY, Bailey’s output in both volume and quality is practically unmatched, and Rush has been reinvigorated to top form and delivering matches that reminded us how great he was in the first place. For the first time in a long time, we’re talking about Lio Rush and an upward trajectory, punctuated with success, as he finally seems to be living up to the potential we’ve seen him exhibit for years. Here’s hoping this flu thing doesn’t keep him away from what could quite possibly be a crowning moment for him. Prediction: Lio Rush in a stellar affair.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match
Lumberjack Match
SANADA (C) vs. EVIL (C?)

J. Michael: If I can return volley, Warren wrote his preview of this match before I wrote mine. I’m almost impressed by the nihilistic glee, but if I can bring my work into things, let’s talk about curation. Curation is not merely about sculpting and crafting, but also conservation. You are also a conservator of the objects, and in that sense you uphold, confirm, and sustain a dignity to them. The Wrestle Kingdom main event is not the place for EVIL’s drivel. He’s a loser, surrounded by losers, losing. He exists as a specter, a ghoulish archetype, forever threatening pertinence, terrifying us by plausible projecting a galling future, but always falling short.

What’s weird about this one is that we’ve seen EVIL and SANADA face off five times since EVIL left LIJ in 2020, including three of the last four G1 Climaxes and a Wrestle Kingdom match. They have a Cagematch average of… 5.664. The highest being the Tokyo Dome match in 2021 (6.58), and the lowest being the G1 Climax quarter-final a few months ago (3.54!!).

Yet, I honestly believe that these two could have an awesome match right now. Both have improved, especially EVIL as a brawler. But that’s not what’s going to happen here.

SANADA just gave a charming, often funny interview with 1972, which begins with him wondering why LIJ SANADA had to essentially become a mute. And during the interview, he discusses his rationale for suggesting the lumberjack stipulation. Chris Charlton interpreted this as SANADA “humoring” EVIL, which I certainly hope is not the way this plays out. As has been definitively shown, unless a wrestler sincerely tackles EVIL, unless an opponent earnestly faces EVIL, it doesn’t work. You have to be as committed to the bit as EVIL is, and even then you’re often faced with an indifferent crowd.

Sumo Hall will not be indifferent. Hopefully, SANADA confronts EVIL on EVIL’s terms, we get the usual prosaic, rote lumberjack sequences, HOT gets chased off eventually, and SANADA puts EVIL away definitely. Prediction: SANADA

Warren: I cannot stand lumberjack matches. I’m averse to them. The results, more often than not, are frustrating and aggravating and I have enough of that with the PR interns I deal with on a daily basis. You don’t know aggravation until you’ve had to chaperone public relations interns in your firm. No, Logan, an Instagram reel is not “just as effective” as a press release.

Name me a great lumberjack match. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Oh, and I mean outside of Rollins vs Ambrose at SummerSlam 2014, because that’s always the one people always bring up (plus, it’s good, but I wouldn’t call it great). That’s right, it’s hard because there’s none. Lumberjack matches stink and I hate that this type of gimmickry is making its way into NJPW.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on this very website about how we need to belt up EVIL with the IWGP World Championship again. The gist of it was that the extent of the reactions he’s been getting since live crowds have returned could become meaningful in judging just how much a boom or bust IWGP World Heavyweight Champion EVIL is. I mean, he’s observably getting more reactions than the current champ, right? It would make sense to put your top prize on someone who gets some heat, right?

“How dare you, Warren Hayes,” you exclaim from your reading apparatus to chastise me for putting this information out into the world, but I submit that EVIL meeting Tetsuya Naito in The Dome™ is a better and more compelling option than ol’ SANADA. Outside of some sicko fantasy of wanting to see social media crumble to its knees, consider this: For all intents and purposes, conventional wisdom points to Tetsuya Naito, implacable babyface and martyr to Gedo’s booking, finally winning the big one, becoming world champion in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, and doing the L.I.J. roll call in the middle of the ring to celebrate. Who better to stand in his way and urinate into his thinly flaked corn-based breakfast cereal than a man whose history is intrinsically entwined with Naito’s? It was, after all, a freshly-back-from-excursion Watanabe Takaaki who seconded Naito in his challenge for Hiroshi Tanahashi’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 main event spot, became the Prince of Darkness and an L.I.J. original. It was this man who turned his back on Naito and defeated him at Dominion in 2020 to ignite the reign of terror of the House of Torture. In a promotion that values the history and the deep ties their wrestlers have with each other across the span of their entire careers, there seems to be no better fitting opponent for Naito’s crowning achievement than his own personal Judas (cue Depeche Mode).

It might not be the workrate spectacular that people would hope for, but what guarantee do we have that SANADA could deliver on that front? His matches have been fine, competent, good even. With a couple of opponents, those matches turned out to be great (but if you’re fighting Hiromu Takahashi who is having a banner year, should you expect less?). So pound-for-pound, if the work turns out the same, aren’t you better off going with a match with history and personal investment? We know we’re going to get Big Match Naito at WK, so adding a layer of history, like NJPW loves to do, makes it extra special.

EVIL should win. Embrace it. Look into your heart. You know it’s the way. Prediction: EVIL, both figuratively and morally.

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