Tuesday, June 20, 2017

NJPW Kizuna Road Review

NJPW Kizuna Road
June 20th, 2017 | Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 1,258

We’re at that point in between Dominion and the G1 Climax. NJPW has their “A” shows (Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion, King of Pro Wrestling, G1 Finals, Sakura Genesis and New Beginning), their “B” shows (Power Struggle, New Japan Cup, Destruction, Wrestling Dontaku, BOTSJ Finals) and their “C” shows (Kizuna Road, World Tag League, Wrestling World, etc.). At least that’s how I see them. Though traditionally not a large event, the Kizuna Road cards allow for titles other than the Heavyweight and Intercontinental Title to headline. Indeed, on this set of Kizuna Road shows, the NEVER Six Man, NEVER Openweight and Jr. Heavyweight Titles are all closing shows out.

Tetsuhiro Yagi vs. Tomoyuki Oka
The Young Lions have produced some damn good wrestlers in recent years (White, Finlay, Komatsu, etc.) but Oka (and Kitamura) might have the highest ceiling of any of them. This played off the speed against power dynamic, and Yagi attempted to chop Oka down to size. Oka did well to sell the leg after being in the crab, which was nice to see. Oka brought big strikes and a powerslam, before winning with the crab at 5:43. I found this to be the expected solid sprint from the Young Lions. They always bring fire and effort and they did well to get the crowd invested. [**½]

El Desperado, TAKA Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Shota Umino and Tiger Mask IV
Dammit. It’s Suzuki-Gun. That meant we got them attacking the faces before the bell. The faces swung the tide until Umino got isolated. Considering his Young Lion status, that was to be expected. Credit to Umino, who showed fire like his name was Hirai Kawato. Once he tagged out and the dads got some shine, the faces took control. They nearly won when Kanemaru was hit with a Tiger Driver, only for the pin to be broken up. Eventually, Desperado made Umino tap to a stretch muffler at 7:24. Better than what I’ve come to expect from Suzuki-Gun. They weren’t as irritating or stale, while the dads brought energy and Umino threw himself around for my enjoyment. Kudos. [**½]

David Finlay and Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuya Kitamura and Manabu Nakanishi
It’s bring your kid to work day all over this card. I already miss Finlay being paired with War Machine. The dads beat the piss out of each other to start. If you missed it, they had a great match near the end of last year. Kitamura came in and showed he could hit just as hard as the old guard. Nagata had to put him in his place a few times. It was funny that Finlay’s technically higher in the packing order than Kitamura, but is younger and much smaller. There was a great moment where Kitamura got to do signature Nakanishi stuff side by side with him. He is a Young Lion though, so he had to eat the pin after taking a Backdrop Driver from Nagata at 8:39. This was a fun match, involving four guys I enjoy. Nakanishi had one of his sluggish days, but the other guys made up for it. Also, can we bring Ricochet back to team with Finlay again? [**¾]

Jado, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano vs. TenKoji and Togi Makabe
Kizuna Road ranks just above the “Road to” shows, so maybe Makabe will take a bump or two. After a rather basic start, Tenzan attempted Kokeshi. He missed and it led to a floor brawl. Makabe and Ishii fought into the stands, meaning I got more from Makabe than expected. Following that segment, Tenzan took the heat for his guys. Ishii was in the mood to kick some serious ass. Kojima got the hot tag and fires off a bunch of chops. Makabe also got a tag and did his thing. Kojima planted Jado with the Koji Cutter and Makabe hit the King Kong Knee Drop to get the win at 8:44. Solid little tag, though it was sluggish at times. I can’t get into anything Jado does, but at least Ishii and TenKoji brought it. [**¾]

During intermission, the names for the G1 Climax were announced. The names are IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Michael Elgin, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Juice Robinson, NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. and KOTA FUCKING IBUSHI! Ibushi got the biggest pop. No word on who is in which block just yet. Without Shibata, Nakajima, Marufuji and Honma, I was worried about this field. Ibushi makes up for most of that, though he’s faced pretty much everyone in the field before. I like Juice and Sabre being in. Kojima and Nagata should give great runs, while Omega and LIDJ will be awesome. YOSHI could be as good as he was last year, while Tanahashi, Okada, Ishii and Goto will do as expected most likely. Hopefully, Suzuki turns things around during the tournament.

Hirai Kawato and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hiromu Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito
This is easily the biggest spot for Kawato in his young career. He charged the ring and instantly got into a fight with LIDJ, meaning Tanahashi couldn’t milk his entrance. Kawato’s wild style got the crowd way into him. When he connected on a sweet dropkick on Naito, they erupted. The same happened when he nailed Hiromu with a rana. Even Tanahashi’s hot tag didn’t get as big of a pop. Tanahashi, Naito and Hiromu have shared the ring enough this year that everything they do is smooth and effortless. Tanahashi set Hiromu up for the Texas Cloverleaf, but Kawato desperately wanted the tag, so good guy Tanahashi gave it to him. Kawato did well, and survived a fair amount. Naito attacked Tanahashi’s arm, as Hiromu went back to his Young Lion days and beat Kawato with the crab at 9:21. That was a night touch. Kawato got a big moment and delivered. It helped that he was in there with three phenomenal wrestlers. He brought his frantic energy to this, while the other guys were their usual great selves. Also, Naito and Hiromu have tremendous chemistry. [***½]

Davey Boy Smith Jr., NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki and Taichi vs. Hirooki Goto, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI
It’s nice to have Davey Boy Smith Jr. back. This is kind of an off night for Okada, as his teammates are the ones feuding with Suzuki-Gun. I was so excited for Suzuki’s return but he has been underwhelming in 2017, while the rest of his stable has mostly sucked. At least this had a small twist on the standard formula, with YOSHI jumping Minoru before the bell. Taichi did nothing of note, but DBS looked good out there. Suzuki and YOSHI had some strong interactions, but after Suzuki and Goto impressed in tags, I learned not to believe that means the singles match will be any good. In the end, Okada stopped Taichi from using a chair, allowing YOSHI to run wild. He made Taichi submit to the Butterfly Lock at 15:58. Look at Suzuki-Gun, putting in two solid matches today. What the hell is going on? This did a good job to build Suzuki/YOSHI at the next show and made sure YOSHI looked strong, while keeping things entertaining. Side note, I wish DBS was in the G1 instead of Tama Tonga. [***]

Post-match, Suzuki-Gun tried another attack but the tables were turned and YOSHI trapped Suzuki in the Butterfly Lock.

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA (c) vs. Juice Robinson, IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA and Ryusuke Taguchi
Good on BUSHI and KUSHIDA, who are headlining two of the three Kizuna Road cards. They kicked the match off and, considering they’re coming up on their sixth singles match in a year and a half (and all their tag matches in that span), their chemistry is top notch. Surprisingly, Juice took the early heat for his guys. I expected Taguchi, but Juice was great at building sympathy. This match followed a lot of the tropes we’ve come to know from LIDJ/Taguchi Japan matches, which is fine because they’re all fun. Taguchi took the next heat and made the hot tag to KUSHIDA, who had some great interactions with SANADA. However, the real treat of the match came down the stretch. SANADA and Juice, who had a shot at meeting in the G1 Climax, had a great exchange with several counters and near falls. The one positive about these titles changing hands so often is that the fans totally buy into near falls, regardless of the challengers. Just when Juice might’ve had it won, EVIL got in a chair shot. SANADA applied Skull End, letting it go just long enough for BUSHI to hit MX, before slapping it back on. Juice tapped at 15:46. Great way to close out the show. LIDJ have easily been the best guys to hold these titles and consistently put on good to great matches. They build KUSHIDA/BUSHI and teased SANADA/Juice, which could be awesome. I’m glad the titles didn’t’ change hands wither. Lots of fun, it had a hot crowd and tons of action. [***¾]

Overall: 6.5/10. This was pretty much exactly what it had to be. It wasn’t here to be a blow away show. It set the tone for the rest of the Kizuna Road cards (by building Suzuki/YOSHI and KUSHIDA/BUSHI), continued existing feuds (Tanahashi/LIDJ, Suzuki-Gun/CHAOS) and gave the Young Lions a lot of shine. The main event delivered and, along with the LIDJ tag, is the only things worth checking out if pressed for time. If not, there are worse ways to spend two hours and fifteen minutes.