New Japan arrived at Korakuen Hall for its final stop until Sakura Genesis. The highlighted match up tonight is the meeting between Okada and Sabre. We will see the two of them Sunday compete for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Also of note is the return of EVIL, who has been out since February due to injury. We may be surprised by other matches along the way, let’s find out.
Ren Narita vs Tetsuhiro Yagi – 15 Minute Draw – **1/4
Fantastic young lion opener, you won’t see many in a lifetime that are better than this one. Not often would I recommend a young lion match to a casual NJPW fan but I would definitely tell everyone reading this to take the time. Yagi’s strikes were next level, very hard and precise. Narita excelled in the timing of his selling. He was able to convince me multiple times that he had nothing left in the tank. If you usually skip young lion matches, make sure you spend time on this one.
Yuji Nagata def. Shota Umino @ 6:41 via Nagata Lock II – *3/4
Whenever we get to see Nagata work with the young lions it’s a pleasure. He demanded that Umino give him his best which consisted of a few really strong overhand chops a dropkicks but of course Nagata had too much power. These matches with Nagata are never bad but you know he’s going to swallow up the younger wrestler in relatively quick fashion.
Makabe, Elgin & Taguchi def. Tenzan, Nakanishi & Oka @ 8:48 via Elgin Bomb on Oka – *3/4
Great interactions here between Elgin and Oka. I know New Japan has high hopes for Kitamura and gave him a trial series but I’d be more interested in Oka having one of his own. His chemistry with fellow big man Elgin should not go understated. Big time power moves, both men selling big time for the other. This was a nice little nugget of something we hopefully see more of in the near future.
Goto, White & Ishii def. Juice, Finlay & Henare @ 11:23 via Ishii Brainbuster on Henare – **
A nice preview into two future title matches, Goto/Juice and White/Finlay. Each time Ishii and Henare are matched against one another you’re guaranteed a good time. All in all, everyone looked good here. That said, I’m still not sold on the pairing of Goto and Juice. I get what the company is trying to do with them but it just hasn’t been clicking for me. Finlay had a nice exchange with White, I’m more confident that they will deliver over Goto and Juice. Once again, Ishii and Henare stole the spotlight, they’re so much fun to watch every time they wrestle each other.
Yano & Roppongi 3K def. Tanahashi, KUSHIDA & Tiger @ 9:43 via Yano Kuro Kirishima on Tiger – *1/2
KUSHIDA feels like he’s transitioned into the Ishii role where New Japan knows he can have a great match with anybody so they send him out to do international dates. It’s nice to see him back in these tags but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for him to tear it up in the BOSJ. I’m really craving me some KUSHIDA and this match just made me want to see him in a highlighted match even more. SHO continues being the bright spot of 3K and I’m hoping YOH is able to change my tune on him during BOSJ. We’re just over a month away! This match wasn’t anything special.
Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu & BUSHI def. Suzuki, K.E.S., Kanemaru & Desperado @ 17:42 via EVIL Everything is Evil on Kanemaru – **3/4
The true main event, maybe not in terms of card placement, but definitely judging by the reaction they received from Korakuen. EVIL returned from injury to a warm reaction and picked up the win for his team. The mind games between Naito and Suzuki continue while Kevin Kelly hinted on commentary that the two may face off at Wrestling Dontaku in May. This seems like a step down for Naito, who to me, should be the top guy in the company. With that said, if this becomes a ‘if Suzuki loses, Suzuki-Gun is banished from NJPW’, I’d be all for the match. That’s me fantasy booking though so as far as how the match went, everyone looked like a star and received positive reactions from the crowd. Really enjoy LIJ in this babyface role against Suzuki-Gun.
Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi def. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI @ 17:19 via ZSJ Octopus Hold on Y-H – **3/4
Everything about this feud between Okada and Sabre has been working. The dueling promos between Gedo and TAKA have been very entertaining. Sabre has been forcing Okada to approach him differently. Every time Okada goes for a signature move, Sabre has a counter. It’s been a lot of fun watching Okada try and find new creative ways to gain an advantage on his opponent. Taichi has had some impressive outings in small doses, continuing to up his stock with the fans, even gaining a positive chant tonight. Sabre is exactly the type of fresh opponent Okada needed. You may not think it’s likely he’s the one to end Okada’s reign but with wins over Naito, Ibushi, SANADA and Tanahashi, there must at least be a little but of doubt in everyone’s mind. New Japan has done a fantastic job creating a new challenger in ZSJ. Post-match Sabre tells his plans of defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in England before the show signs off.
Solid ‘Road to’ show from New Japan. Both the semi and main events delivered some interesting winkles to look forward to on Sunday at Sakura Genesis. The opener between the young lions, Narita and Yagi, was something really special. Being able to carry a fifteen minute match with a limited moveset should be applauded. The main takeaways were Sabre looking extremely credible against Okada and also Naito and Suzuki’s feud heating up nicely.
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