NJPW Kizuna Road
June 17 2018
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall. There are talent announcements for G1 on this show so it’s garnered my interest amidst a sea of World Cup love. Incidentally I saw NXT Takeover Chicago II before this show and fuck me, was that ever a special night of professional wrestling. It almost always happens with Takeover but the storytelling, feud building and quality of the action were all off the charts. Outstanding work.
Yota Tsuji vs. Yuya Uemera
Tsuji is the aggressor. Which is as it should be with his face. It’s interesting that he selects an ankle hold instead of the traditional crab hold. Normally your young lions don’t have much of a move set so him having a submission or at least a focus on a body part shows wisdom beyond his experience. Or perhaps an attempt by New Japan to make him stand out. Uemera responds by going after the arm. Tsuji is the more accomplished of the two inexperienced grapplers but they both show promise, which is routine for the NJPW Doko, a production line of excellence. This ends up going to a draw, which is good for both guys who roll around selling at the bell. Fine wrestling. Not particularly exciting but everything made sense.
Final Rating: **3/4
Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tomoyuki Oka & Shota Umino
Nagata has the All Japan tag strap. Oka looks all fired up here going after old man Nakanishi. He probably feels he can hand his old ass to him. Nagata’s usual friendly dad mentality (he mentors a lot of young lions) isn’t in evidence here as he puts a beating on Umino. Oka gets a nice pop for suplexing Nakanishi. Big Nak must have had a smaller than usual breakfast this morning (only 15 courses). Nagata puts Umino through the ringer and finishes with the Nagatalock II.
Final Rating: **1/2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Ren Narita vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori
Tenzan, and his enormous head that puts Jordan Devlin to shame, has seen better days and looks blown up before the match starts. And then he has to wrestle Yujiro. Good lord. Takahashi has never been any good but he’s actively starting to deteriorate, which is shocking to me. Remember Bone Solider I and how much he stank? Yujiro is heading that way and you’ll notice Bone Solider was entirely replaced. Ishimori vs. Narita is the good part of the match as they’re actually mobile and try hard. Ren kicking out of Ishimori’s secondary finish is pretty amazing and gets a great pop but Taiji finishes him with a crossface right afterwards.
Final Rating: **
Togi Makabe, Jeff Cobb, Toa Henare, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Rocky Romero & Roppongi 3K
The presence of Jeff Cobb is weird. He was in tag league last year. They must have enjoyed his work. Taguchi has a Russia World Cup 2018 ball. KUSHIDA vs. SHO is pretty great here. The countering is great but there’s meaning to everything they do. It feels like a struggle. I dig it a lot. Roppongi 3K have a laugh too, forcing Taguchi to run the ropes until he collapses. CHAOS are at a disadvantage here as their big heavyweight dude is Yano, who everyone bowls over. Whereas the other team are blessed with hair-puncher Makabe and Big Jeffy Cobb.
Cobb almost steals the show with his freaky power moves but given the ten-man nature of the contest he’s almost lost. It’s a purposeful reminder of his range of abilities; the flying and the technical ability mixed in with the raw power. Then he murders Rocky with the Tour of the Islands.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IN: Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, Jay White,
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Juice Robinson, Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Hangman Page,
Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr, Kota Ibushi.
Los Ingobernables de Japon vs. Takashi Iizuka, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku
This match exists in the post-G1 announcements section of the show and interest is limited. We’re debating who should have been in (in various group chats). There’s a lot of loyalty shown by Gedo and Page has earned his spot. The match is nicely paced with constant changes in personnel. Kanemaru gets stuck in the Paradise Lock for ages and Taichi pulls off his stripper pants, angered about a lack of G1 spot no doubt. TAKA gets isolated and picked off with the MX for BUSHI to get the pin. This was fine, my bacon sandwich I ate during the match was much better.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs. Kazuchika Okada, Jay White & Tomohiro Ishii
G1 bound Juice is in a good mood. He impressed last year and he’s eager to improve on that. The big focus ends up being on Okada and how will he respond to losing the IWGP title after a two year run? Plus he beat everyone, including Tanahashi multiple times, where does he go from here? Logically someone steps up to challenge him on a more personal level.
Instead I get fired up by Ishii berating Tanahashi and suggesting he can’t hurt him because he’s old and shit now. I really hope they wrestle each other in G1. Like the other tags on this show it’s a good time and the pacing is solid. Ishii pins Finlay with the brainbuster.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: Jay White jumps Juice and roughs him up ahead of their US title match this summer. In particular working over the arm.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Michael Elgin (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
The new leaner, cut Big Mike (Medium Mike?) is far more agile than ever before and he demonstrates that a lot. But it’s not a detriment to his power and hard-hitting offence. It’s a career reinvention, which he desperately needed as everyone thought he was a prick. He absolutely dominates Goto here in every possible way. Considering he pinned Taichi to win Goto’s belt, he kinda needs to show Goto who’s boss. Goto has made a career getting beaten up and showing his resilience and Fighting Spirit.
The match is fine until Red Shoes gets bumped. The rash of ref bumps of late is sickening. It purely exists for Taichi to run down and interfere. You fucking lost mate. Get in the bin. Jeff Cobb runs in for the save.
Back to the actual match. Elgin shows a good understanding of Goto’s rope running spots and is finally able to keep up due to his new found agility. Elgin’s rolling forearm is bitching too. He nails Goto with it, right in the jaw. It looks sensational. After what had been a pedestrian card it’s a main event that delivers on that main event standard. Elgin battering Goto with a lariat from the apron off the top rope is stunning power. Elgin looks like one of those circus strongmen from the 1920s and his feats equal that.
Goto eventually gets back into the match because otherwise it would be a massacre. There are some interesting near falls and I love that Elgin just smashes Goto back into place with one big elbow. It reflects his dominance in the bout and how Goto has had to fight for everything. The kick-outs eliciting gasps at times (Shouten Kai, Splash Mountain). Then Goto hits the GTR out of nothing and wins. Huh. The match was going great guns until the ‘shrug’ of a finish. Maybe it’s because I don’t like Goto’s finisher but it just felt flat to me.
Final Rating: ****1/4
The undercard passed by relatively unnoticed but the G1 announcements got people talking and the speculating. The main event was worth seeing. If you skip the rest of this show don’t mis out on Elgin vs. Goto.