Monday, June 26, 2017

NJPW Kizuna Road Review

NJPW Kizuna Road
June 26th, 2017 | Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 1,305

We’re at that point between Dominion and the G1 Climax. NJPW has their “A” shows (Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion, King of Pro Wrestling, the G1 Finals, Sakura Genesis and New Beginning), their “B” shows (Power Struggle, New Japan Cup, Wrestling Dontaku, Destruction, etc.) 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, Kizuna Roads tend to give other titles besides the Heavyweight and Intercontinental, a chance to shine. On this set of three shows, the NEVER Six Man Tag, NEVER Openweight and Jr. Heavyweight Titles close out shows.

Shota Umino vs. Tetsuhiro Yagi
Two of the newer Young Lions met in the opener. Though they’re juniors, they brought some hard strikes in the early goings. Both guys went after the arm, which surprised me since they typically use a Boston crab as a finish. Umino was the aggressor, meaning Yagi had to make the fiery comebacks. Despite that, Umino reaching the ropes to survive the crab got a very positive reaction. You could tell the crowd was into this. The resilient Yagi went back to the crab and time expired at 10:00 before Umino could give up. That was fun. A lot of energy and a hot crowd helped this be one of the finer openers in NJPW this year. [***]

On these shows, NJPW have been doing some backstage interviews. Suzuki-Gun got one, but I couldn’t understand it.

Katsuya Kitamura vs. Tomoyuki Oka
The big brothers of the Young Lions now got their shine. I’ve said it before, but this screams future main event feud. They wrestled this like the heavyweight fight I was hoping for. I got to see them trade chops like their names were Ishii and Honma. Kitamura used his strength to gain control, but Oka escaped the crab. From there, Oka began his comeback and ran a bit wild. The final stretch saw more chops, some suplexes and some extra aggression from both guys. Oka took Kitamura down, hit a slam and then time expired at 10:00. I was very surprised to see them do two straight draws, but it worked well. They’ve been playing these two as evenly matched and it showed here again. Good exchanges, a hot crowd again and their chemistry impressed. I didn’t see the draw coming in either match, which is good because they’re typically easy to spot. [***¼]

YOSHI-HASHI was interviewed backstage.

Hirai Kawato, Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask IV vs. Taichi, TAKA Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru
I love when Liger and Kawato team, because Liger gets sick of his shit quickly. While Oka and Kitamura are future stars, wild man Kawato has the best crowd connection of the Young Lions so far. He started the match and that was fine. When Liger came in and took the heat, things went downhill. The Suzuki-Gun guys are just so bland and unoriginal. There was brawling outside and a bell hammer spot. As always. Tiger Mask got a hot tag and then Kawato got one as well. Kawato nearly won a few times, causing the crowd to come alive. They bit on every single one. Kanemaru hit a sloppy Deep Impact to put him away at 8:56. The SG heat segment was painful and the finish was sloppy, but Kawato saved this from being a bad match. [**]

Hirooki Goto, Jado, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano vs. Manabu Nakanishi, TenKoji and Yuji Nagata
The New Japan Dads vs. CHAOS. Despite involving Jado, this was a fun tag match. Almost everyone brought some sort of energy. Tenzan had his usual nice moment of attempting Kokeshi in honor of Tomoaki Honma, while the guys set for the G1 (Nagata, Ishii, Kojima, Yano and Goto) all brought it. There were some exchanges between Kojima and Goto that would make you think they had a rivalry going. Same for Nagata and Ishii. Yano had fun exchanges with Nakanishi, before the dads used a trio of submissions in a good spot. Nakanishi accidentally hit Nagata, allowing Yano to roll up the big man at 9:44. Things moved quickly and had a fair amount of action. [**¾]

During intermission, the blocks for the G1 Climax were announced.

A Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Bad Luck Fale, Yuji Nagata, Zack Sabre Jr., Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi.

B Block: Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega, Toru Yano, Satoshi Kojima, Juice Robinson, EVIL, SANADA, Tama Tonga, Michael Elgin and Minoru Suzuki.

I have mixed feelings. The blocks probably could’ve been split a bit better. My main issue is the amount of rematches. I’ve seen Tanahashi vs. Makabe, Fale and Goto more in the G1 than I’d like. I also didn’t need Naito/Tana a third time this year. I also wouldn’t have done Okada/Omega III already. The B block should be consistently stronger, though the A Block will probably have better main event stuff. I’m looking forward to most Ibushi matches (mainly against Naito, Ishii and Tanahashi). I was hoping Omega dethroned Okada at Dominion, Naito won the G1 and we got Naito/Omega at WK. With Omega and Ibushi in different blocks, I can see that as the finals, with Naito getting shafted again. Still, the tournament should be a blast.

Davey Boy Smith Jr. and El Desperado vs. Gedo and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada
With Minoru having such a weak year in the ring, I’d say DBS and Desperado are my favorite Suzuki-Gun guys right now. Even so, they aren’t immure from the tired pre-match attack, which is what we got here. That led to the expected heat segment on Gedo. Okada’s hot tag was basic as you could tell it was a night off before the G1 for him, which is fine. Surprisingly, it was Desperado who got the win for his guys when he hit Gedo with Angel’s Wings at 9:39. Despite my enjoyment of Desperado and DBS, this fell flat. Gedo did a bulk of the work for his guys and the Suzuki-Gun offense never fully clicked with me. [**¼]

David Finlay, IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Tetsuya Naito and NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA
I got a kick out of Togi not being interested in some of the Taguchi Japan antics. LIDJ is the best stable in wrestling and I’ll take them over the rest of the ones in NJPW combined, but even they use the pre-match attack too often, which they did here. Speaking of Makabe and Taguchi Japan antics, the crowd loved when he used a Taguchi style ass attack on Naito. They also did a spot where he got left alone with a few LIDJ members. Typically, that happens to Taguchi, who begs off, but Makabe dared them to bring the fight. It was a nice small twist. Tanahashi came in hot down the stretch and hit a goddamn dragon screw on both SANADA and EVIL at the same time. I didn’t even know that was possible. The highlight might’ve been the interactions between Juice and SANADA, who I expect to have an awesome G1 match. There was a great flurry of exchanges down the stretch, which surprisingly saw LIDJ have the upper hand for the most part. Finlay got left alone and fought hard, but submitted to EVIL at 12:30. LIDJ against Taguchi Japan will never not be fun. They keep moving things around so it becomes different. Togi was an interesting addition and this was the most I’ve enjoyed him since Honma got hurt. [***½]

NEVER Openweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki (c) w/ Suzuki-Gun vs. YOSHI-HASHI w/ CHAOS
Like the lumberjack match at Dominion, both guys had their respective stables at ringside. A rare chance for YOSHI-HASHI to main event. You could tell this was going to go rather long by the slow paced start. Suzuki took things outside and beat on YOSHI with chairs. He put the focus on the leg, like he did against Okada back in February. We got the typical tropes from Suzuki-Gun matches, with countout teases, cheating and interference. The CHAOS guys were pretty bad teammates outside. It took forever before their impact would be felt. Once they reached the closing stretch, the match finally started picking up. YOSHI got some near falls that the fans bit on, including a great false finish with the butterfly lock. Suzuki faded to the point where you thought it could be over. Suzuki got pissed late, slapping the piss out of YOSHI, hitting a bunch of strikes, locking in a sleeper and hitting the Gotch Piledriver. That got the win at 26:13. Similar to his match with Goto on “Road to Wrestling Dontaku”, there were elements of a good Suzuki match here. However, it was overshadowed by the standard nonsense we’ve come to expect from his matches. It also went a bit too long as 20+ minute matches isn’t a YOSHI strong suit. [**½]

Overall: 5/10. Definitely on the weaker side of NJPW shows this year. It’s a relatively easy watch due to the length, but most of the show is an easy skip. The main event needed to deliver to put this show over the edge (that was the case with Evolve 86) but it lacked and fell way short. Though the runtime is short, only check out the LIDJ tag and the Young Lions. They were the only real highlights.