It’s the last stop on the road to King of Pro-Wrestling where Kazuchika Okada will defend the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against SANADA, Kota Ibushi will defend the IWGP Heavyweight Championship Right to Challenge Contract against EVIL, Will Ospreay will defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against El Phantasmo, Jon Moxley will defend the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against Juice Robinson in a No Disqualification match, and Kishin Liger will probably attempt to shoot murder Minoru Suzuki…
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & Yuya Uemura def. Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, & Yota Tsuji via submission @ 10:25 with a Tenzan Anaconda Vice on Tsuji
Some early pushing and shoving by the Young Lions which is good to see. Nagata and Tenzan start the match at their usual Old Man Pace before bringing in the Lions to amp up the intensity tenfold but they quickly get nerfed by the old dudes for a while. Uemura and Tsuji are two of my favorite Young Lions in part because of their intensity and the moments they have together in the ring are great, as usual, but they are too few and far between. All the other Old Dudes stuff looks the way it sounds—like Old Dudes wrestling.
It’s not exactly bad but it’s slow and awkward and very little of it looks particularly good. I get that the veterans are fan favorites and it’s not like they’re in a prominent spot or anything so ultimately it’s a good way to warm up the crowd—I just can’t really get into it. Both Lions get to look pretty good toward the end but ultimately Tsuji gets caught in a 3D and tapped out with a Tenzan Anaconda Vice.
Shingo Takagi def. Toa Henare via pinfall @ 9:43 with Made In Japan
Kind of an odd choice here pairing these two, especially as it highlights how Shingo is essentially directionless after his loss to Goto, which is disappointing. Not sure how much this helps either guy because Shingo is facing what seems to be a pretty clearly inferior opponent and also doesn’t really have the status to elevate him by being in the ring with him.
Based on Shingo’s performance in the Best of Super Juniors and the G1, he should probably dominate Henare—and he does for a while but the match is more competitive than I feel it should be. It’s entertaining as hell, sure, but it also feels like a little bit of a step backward for the Shingo Takagi character to have Henare kicking out of a Noshigami and a Pumping Bomber and shrugging off multiple rapid-fire elbows to the head.
Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Jyushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask via disqualification @ 10:43
Suzuki-gun gets the jump on Team Liger, predictably (not in a bad way), and immediately Suzuki and Liger take it into the crowd. Suzuki is typically great, trying to stab Liger in the throat with an umbrella before throwing him back in the ring to try to remove the mask—which, at first glance, seems like a pretty terrible idea but it seems pretty obvious that Suzuki *wants* Kishin Liger and that this was his plan all along.
Once the match is back in the ring, it’s mostly pretty standard stuff. Suzuki no-sells Liger’s strikes which is very cool and then Liger no-sells Kanemaru. No-selling is tricky stuff to me but it works here. Suzuki and Liger’s actual wrestling exchanges are excellent as well.
Tiger Mask gets some time to look like the badass he is which I definitely appreciate; that leg bar hold looked sick. Even Kanemaru gets some moments to shine which you don’t see a lot of. But, of course, Suzuki and Liger are the story here, as they should be. Their climactic exchange off the hot tag that spills to the outside and the ensuing chair duel that culminates with Liger getting disqualified for hitting the ref with a chair followed by both men screaming at each other and trying to rip each other’s faces off as their teammates and Young Lions try to pull them apart is…just *beautifully* done. GOD I can’t wait for this match.
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, SHO, & YOH def. Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, Jado, & Gedo via pinfall @ 11:53 with a Goto GTR on Gedo
Interesting to see Ishimori here without ELP considering some of the things he said on the Road to Destruction tour about how much he misses having Robbie Eagles as his partner—definitely would not be opposed to a Ishimori/ELP break-up angle that results in Ishimori leaving Bullet Club—or it could be just as cool if he stays and they just hate each other as stable-mates. That’s something you never really see.
Also can’t say I’m wild about both ELP and Will Ospreay being absent on the last show before their Jr. Heavyweight title match at KOPW. The match itself is fun if largely without stakes or really any purpose. It works fine as a placeholder sort of match for the guys who don’t really have much to do at the moment and aren’t key players for KOPW but there’s not a whole lot here to get especially excited about. Seems like that’s becoming a theme with this show…
Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI def. Taichi & DOUKI via pinfall @ 9:44 with a BUSHI MX on DOUKI
Another odd pairing of guys who don’t really have a lot going for them at the moment—and the fact that Naito falls in that category is truly infuriating. BUSHI’s Totally Not Venom mask is pretty awesome, though, as is Naito’s LIJ sports jacket. There is some history here between Naito and Taichi and they have a fun exchange before the match but this is largely another entertaining but meaningless match which is growing very tiresome. I don’t even know what else to say about this because the wrestling was fine and nothing remotely of consequence happened and it’s hard to analyze when nothing noteworthy happens.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships
Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Toru Yano (c) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yoshi-Hashi, & Tomoaki Honma via pinfall @ 14:44 with a Yano schoolboy on Honma
I gotta be honest, I completely forgot the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag titles existed and the fact that they’re being defended in the *second-to-last* match of a Road To show kinda illustrates why. This match, once again, feels like a placeholder or a filler match. It’s a title match and yet it feels as low-stakes as anything else on the card minus the Suzuki/Liger stuff.
It does everything you expect it to—and Toru Yano is always.always.always entertaining—but there’s just nothing very interesting going on here. Nothing being built, no stories being told, nothing. The crowd is obviously into it so I guess there’s nothing exactly *wrong* with that, it just does nothing for me. It’s a real shame because it’s a very entertaining match, especially toward the end. It’s not that I wasn’t entertained, I just didn’t really *care* about why any of this was happening because there’s no real work put in here to *make* me care.
SANADA & EVIL def. Kazuchika Okada & Kota Ibushi via pinfall @ 19:25 with an EVIL Everything Is Evil on Ibushi
Finally we come to the main event and the only match with any real stories being built—and, admittedly, I’m a little bit done with this show at this point. I’m hoping this match will bring me back in and having Ibushi and EVIL start the match is a good start. Okada and SANADA enter the match with Okada seemingly very eager to hook up but then they just work the crowd to see who’s getting cheered more which I’m not really in the mood for, especially considering how many times we’ve seen this before. But then they start wrestling and Okada starts the match by trying and failing to hit several dropkicks which continues their story where it left off and I like that a lot.
The rest of the moments between Okada and SANADA in the match largely play out pretty much the same everything else the two have done and the energy (and my interest level) goes way up when Ibushi and EVIL are in the ring together. Even Ibushi and SANADA being in the ring together feels a bit more lackluster than expected. Things get significantly more exciting toward the end of the match but it’s hard to shake the feeling that SANADA in particular is kinda going through the motions. Hopefully he and Okada are saving everything for the 14th.
It’s clearly the right call to have Ibushi and EVIL finish the match because the energy between them is noticeably higher than Okada/SANADA. Their last few minutes together leading into the stellar finish are by FAR the most exciting thing on this show outside of Suzuki/Liger with even Okada and SANADA looking more energized as supplemental players in their showdown. Having EVIL absolutely NAIL both Okada and Ibushi with Everything Is Evil to win the match is a great decision considering no one really thinks EVIL is going to win the briefcase—showing that he can not only beat Ibushi but potentially Okada as well. It also helps immensely that both men crawl to the back like they just got hit by a car.
This might honestly be the least I’ve ever enjoyed a NJPW show. Granted, I’ve only watched a handful of Road To shows but it seems like they are pretty consistently more story-driven than this and feature more actual interesting things happening than this. I feel bad that this review is so negative because we here at FightBoothPW strive to be as positive as we can be but I really felt strongly that there was very little to sink my teeth into on this show. I still can’t wait for King of Pro-Wrestling because the card is absolutely unreal but this show did VERY little to increase my excitement level.