Friday, January 27, 2017

NJPW Road to the New Beginning Review

NJPW Road to The New Beginning
January 27th, 2017 | Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan

With New Japan’s New Beginning events coming up in the next two weeks, things got started with a “Road to” show here. The show also marks the start of a busy wrestling weekend that will include Evolve events, TakeOver and the Royal Rumble. This isn’t a major NJPW event but it’s meant to build to the New Beginning shows.

Yuji Nagata def. Tomoyuki Oka in 7:41
I’m almost certain this is the first Korakuen match, at least televised, involving Oka. He’s a young lion. He also happens to be one of the bigger ones I’ve seen. I’d say his build reminds me of Manabu Nakanishi. Nagata struggled with his size as Oka would give back his strikes as much as he took them at times. Oka applied the young lion special (Boston crab) but Nagata survived. They exchanged strikes until Nagata hit an exploder. He slapped on a crossface and Oka eventually submitted. Fine start for Oka, who looked good. There’s potential there. Some hard hitting fun involving a new wrestler and a legend to start us off. **½

Tiger Mask IV and YOSHITATSU def. Henare and Jushin Thunder Liger in 9:01
Another young lion! Next month, Tatsu heads to CMLL so I won’t have to deal with his shitty matches anymore. Henare did early work with Tiger Mask and none of it was impressive. Henare hasn’t looked bad in his run, but Tiger Mask is so bland. Tatsu busted out a plancha in his lone highlight. Tiger Mask and Liger renewed their friendly rivalry for a bit here too. They worked the hot tag to Henare, who ran over Tiger Mask. There were a few close calls before our resident Triple H cosplayer won with a lame looking Pedigree. Henare brought effort and Liger looked alright. That’s about it.

CHAOS (Jado, Gedo and YOSHI-HASHI) def. Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado, Takashi Iizuka and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) via disqualification in 8:20
Iizuka is still playing the lunatic gimmick, attacking a commentator and ripping his shirt up. SHIRT RIPPER! Like all heel factions in NJPW, Suzuki-Gun attacked before the bell and it led to a brawl outside. There are clear patterns in Gedo’s booking that are overused and that’s one of them. This was mostly the bottom of the barrel of both stables except for YOSHI-HASHI. Tacos was the clear star here and hopefully is given the chance to do more going forward. Just as YOSHI got going, Iizuka hit him with a chair, resulting in the DQ. The match itself wasn’t good, but there were a few wacky antics that were a bit fun. 

Killer Elite Squad def. TenKoji in 12:13
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. These teams met a bunch during the original Suzuki-Gun run in NJPW. Archer towers over nearly everyone in New Japan, while Smith looks to be in the best shape of his life. Smith and Kojima had some fun exchanges, reminding me of their good G1 Climax match in 2013. I hope Smith and Archer are in the G1 again this year. Kojima ended up taking the heat for most of the match. The crowd was into everything and loved the hot tag to Tenzan. The finishing stretch saw several near falls and close calls before Kojima went down to the Killer Bomb. Good stuff from two teams that know each other well. The crowd was hot and the work was strong. **¾

During intermission, Yuji Nagata gave the commentator a new shirt.

Great Bash Heel, Juice Robinson and RPW British Heavyweight Champion Katsuyori Shibata def. CHAOS (NEVER Openweight Champion Hirooki Goto, IWGP Tag Team Champions Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano and RPW British Cruiserweight Champion Will Ospreay) in 14:00
This sets up three matches for the New Beginning shows (the tag teams are involved in a title match, Ospreay faces Shibata and Juice takes on Goto). I love the Ishii/Yano dynamic. Yano carries both titles and Ishii is content to let him do it as long as he gets to kick someone’s ass. Ospreay and Shibata started and went right after one another. They instantly did a great job of showing that Ospreay is a threat to Shibata’s title, despite being a junior heavyweight. If their interactions here are any indication, they could have the best match on the New Beginning shows. The tag guys did well together, especially the Honma/Ishii interactions. The preview of Goto/Juice was rather fun as well. There was a barrage of offense from everyone in the closing minutes, making for a frantic pace. It ended with a Honma Kokeshi on Yano, to cap the most fun I had all show. Great work and it made me more excited for the NEVER and RPW Title matches on the upcoming shows. ***½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito) def. NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA and Michael Elgin in 12:58
Being the fool that he is, Taguchi came out dressed like EVIL. Nakanishi wore shades and I loved it. Taguchi also mimicked BUSHI for a bit before the match. This set up Naito/Elgin at New Beginning, but also reminded us that EVIL, BUSHI and SANADA will probably get a NEVER Tag Title rematch soon and KUSHIDA/Takahashi II is coming at some point. Taguchi had fun early before we got a bit more serious. KUSHIDA took the heat for team and had his arm worked on. Elgin and Naito showed off their great chemistry before he started tossing everyone around. Nakanishi got a relatively hot tag near the end and the good guys looked like they would win at several points. SANADA and Nakanishi traded the rack and dragon sleeper until BUSHI spit mist at Nakanishi. SANADA put him in the dragon sleeper and won. Again, nobody does the multi-man tag quite like LIDJ. Lots of intensity and close calls down the stretch, while setting up future matches and angles. ***½

Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi and TAKA Michinoku) def. CHAOS (IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Roppongi Vice) in 16:43
Just hearing Suzuki’s theme again is awesome. While I love Minoru, I hate Taichi. TAKA is kind of just there. This was all about reminding people that Minoru Suzuki is one bad dude. He wrapped Okada up in an armbar and beat him in the crowd with a chair. It was just abuse. He even choked Okada with the Heavyweight Title. The junior tag teams handled most of the in-ring action, which was fine. Taichi went for a cheap win with a title belt shot but it was broken up. Okada beat up the juniors until big bad Suzuki returned. Suzuki put him in the sleeper, while TAKA had Beretta in a submission, allowing Taichi to pin Rocky with a powerbomb. Good main event with some intensity throughout. I’m still not pumped for the Jr. Tag Title match but Okada/Suzuki is something I’m truly looking forward to. This did a great job of showing how much of a threat Suzuki is. ***

Overall: 6.5/10. About what I’ve come to expect from “Road to” shows. Some easy to skip stuff early on (though Nagata/Oka was solid) before the big stars bring the fun in multi-man tags. They did a great job of hyping New Beginning as I’m more invested in Suzuki/Okada, Juice/Goto and Shibata/Ospreay after this show. I also got reminded of the chemistry between Elgin and Naito, making me look forward to their upcoming match. They also set up a future NEVER Six Man Tag Title match and KUSHIDA/Takahashi in an entertaining two and a half hours.