New Japan packed Korakuen Hall with 1,696 in attendance to see the fallout of the monumental show that was Dominion. Tonight is headlined by a NEVER Openweight title match between Michael Elgin and Hirooki Goto but more importantly, for the first time in two years, Kazuchika Okada walks into Korakuen Hall not holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The tides feel like they are turning, let’s see how this next chapter will begin to play out.
Yota Tsuji vs Yuya Uemura – 10 Minute Draw – **1/4
We are currently in a golden age of young lions. For their experience level, these two shouldn’t be capable of such an engaging finish sequence. They’ve both picked up on wrestling so quick that it’s startling. Rather than blow everything off at the jump with teases, Tsuji and Uemura built a really strong foundation the first half of the match and the final five minutes was great. Tsuji turned an Uemura armbreaker into an attempted Boston Crab which Uemura turned back into an armbreaker before Tsuji was able to lock in the Crab. The bell rang a second after Tsuji got to the ropes and afterwards, Uemura shoved his fellow young lion out of the ring. This duo is great already.
Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi def. Shota Umino & Tomoyuki Oka @ 9:04 via Nagata Lock II on Umino – **1/2
This was some of Umino and Oka’s best work we’ve seen outside of Lion’s Gate. Umino laid in on some chops that came off great and Oka’s surprise brainbuster on Nakanishi will never get old. Both showed a lot of fire by cutting off the veterans signature holds multiple times before Umino was ultimately caught in the Nagata Lock. Umino and Oka have grown exponentially but with a new crop of lions on their heels, they better not let up or else they will be passed up at the rate Uemura and Tsuji are growing.
Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Ren Narita @ 7:15 via Ishimori YES Lock on Narita – *3/4
In 2018 we saw a tag match that consisted primarily of Tenzan and Yujiro. Didn’t see that coming. The match was used to remind everyone that Ishimori still exists and that he’s a heel. He spent his time on the apron pulling the ropes away from Narita. Once he got the tag from Yujiro, Narita locked in a Boston Crab but Ishimori made quick work of the young lion, hitting him with a combination handspring enziguri and double knee gutbuster before locking in the crossface. Taiji Ishimori is one bad dude, don’t you forget.
Makabe, Cobb, Henare, KUSHIDA & Taguchi def. Yano, Y-H, Romero, YOH & SHO @ 11:03 via Cobb Tour of the Islands on Romero – **3/4
Fun goofball match where everyone got their time to shine. My favorite moment was KUSHIDA piggybacking on Cobb as he ran in for a corner lariat. The finishing sequence saw Cobb catching Romero’s springboard Hurricanrana attempt but Romero fought out of Cobb’s grasp. Romero followed up with the Forever clotheslines but Cobb catching the third and transitioned into a belly-to-belly suplex + standing moonsault combination before finishing Romero with Tour of the Islands. Cobb was the standout here and the reasoning for this made sense by the show’s end. Nice goofball comedy helped give the show some extra flavor.
The G1 Climax participants were then announced.
Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, Jay White (G1 Debut), Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Juice Robinson, Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Hangman Page (G1 Debut), Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Kota Ibushi
Everyone but Yuji Nagata and the injured Satoshi Kojima return from last year’s tournament.
Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu & BUSHI def. Iizuka, Taichi, Desperado, Kanemaru & TAKA @ 10:16 via BUSHI MX TAKA – **1/2
Since the purpose was to highlight tomorrow’s title match between Hiromu and Desperado, Desperado took the spotlight early by dumping Hiromu over the top rope before the bell. Both EVIL and SANADA hossed out all members of Suzuki-Gun with big boy lariats and dropkicks. Naito on the other hand, struggled to gain much momentum. Taichi would constantly rake at the injured eye and if that wasn’t enough, Iizuka would bite the eye as well. Hiromu and Desperado spent most the match brawling with chairs on the outside. BUSHI struk when the time was right, hitting TAKA with the MX and scoring the win for his team. Afterwards, Hiromu tells Desperado he has a surprise for him tomorrow. This causes Desperado to charge the ring with a chair but he’s pulled back by young lions. Hiromu demands that Naito take this opportunity to apologize to the BOSJ trophy he broke during the finals. Instead, Naito dropkicks the trophy and laugh’s at Hiromu’s reaction. Last month’s match between Hiromu and Desperado currently sits inside my top ten of the year so this is a rematch I’m eager to see tomorrow.
Okada, White & Ishii def. Tanahashi, Juice & Finlay @ 13:14 via Ishii Brainbuster on Finlay – ***1/4
What a bizarre scene seeing Okada come out to someone else’s music. Since he’s no longer champion, Jay White’s music is what played when Chaos made their way to the ring. Such a surreal feeling. Everyone got a little time to shine. Juice feels like the ultimate underdog baby face right now. He always has Korakuen in the palm of his hands. Finlay mixing it up with Ishii was some of my favorite stuff in this match. I feel these two could have a really great match. Of course, Ishii could have a great match with the Invisible Man. Jay White’s character work continues to grow and the man has transformed into something scary. His post-match assault on Juice was fantastic. It’s a shame that their title match won’t be at Korakuen. Getting back to the match though it was weird seeing Okada without the belt. He still looked focused and didn’t allow Tanahashi any opportunities to strike. Ishii is so next level even in these tag matches he can’t help but to be an excellent performer. He mixed it up nicely with Tanahashi before focusing on Finlay. He struggled for a bit, getting caught in a few roll up attempts but finally managed to hit the brainbuster for the win. I loved everything in this match, from seeing how Okada would present himself to White becoming even more unhinged as time has gone on. He attacked Juice with chairs after the match but Juice fought back by punching a chair into White’s face, possibly injuring his hand in the process. Definitely recommend taking the time to watch this one.
NEVER Openweight Championship Match
Hirooki Goto def. Michael Elgin (c) @ 30:57 via GTR – ****1/4
Let me start off by saying that this is my favorite Hirooki Goto match in years. We rarely get to see him pushed to this level so have whatever feelings you will about Michael Elgin, he brought out the best in Goto here. This is the style of match that has made the NEVER title to popular amongst western wrestling fans. When we picture Japanese wrestling, this is what comes to mind. Chops and lariats, chops and lariats, power bomb, suplex, chops and lariats. At one point, the referee got smashed between Goto and the turnbuckle and collapsed. This gave Taichi a chance to run in and hit both with his microphone stand before being chased off by Jeff Cobb. The ghost of Goto’s former self came out for a visit as we got both the Kaiten and Shouten Kai for some heartwarming callbacks to his glory days. Back when the people still believed in Hirooki Goto. The finishing sequence was one of my favorites of the year. Goto slid off Elgin’s shoulders and applied the sleeper. After about thirty second, Elgin Hulk’d up and tossed Goto over his shoulder and turned Goto inside out with a lariat, followed up by a Black Tiger Bomb. Elgin throws Goto into the corner with a buckle bomb but Goto shoots back up and levels Elgin with a lariat, immediately followed by a huge headbutt and grounding Elgin with a running lariat. Goto’s GTR is countered into powerbomb position but Goto slides behind for another sleeper. Elgin hoists him into Burning Hammer position and yet again, Goto slides out, hitting a brutal PK. Although Elgin manages to counter the GTR one more time, he has no answer for the reverse GTR which leads right into the finishing GTR. Outstanding match. You can think about Elgin however you will but this performance was next level. Post-match, Jeff Cobb comes out and proclaims himself the next challenger for the title. Sign me up for that one! Goto ends the show by telling the crowd that he will elevate the NEVER title. With this match and the next against Jeff Cobb, there’s no doubt in my mind we’re seeing an elevation in the making.
This had to be without a doubt one of the easiest New Japan shows to sit through this year. Top to bottom, everything delivered. Sure, we had to witness Yujiro and Tenzan but they only went seven minutes and we got some Ishimori sprinkled in so no real harm. So many little interesting stories throughout the show, starting with the young lions and ending in what was one of Goto’s career performances. Michael Elgin now sits alone as the shortest reigning NEVER champion in the title’s history. I’m sure that’s a bright spot for some people out there. I really wish that the title match between White and Juice would have instead taken place in Japan. On the bright side, I may end up going to the Cow Palace show and see it live. No huge G1 surprises which may disappoint some but just like every year we’re for sure going to see many great matches because the G1 Climax is the most magically time of the year. Get ready.
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