NJPW Wrestling Toyo No Kuni

This being Japan’s “Golden Week”, NJPW is running three significant shows, concluding with Wrestling Dontaku on Wednesday. For that reason, I’ve decided to make this a two-in-one review, covering the main matches that took place on Thursday’s Road to Wrestling Dontaku and today’s Wrestling Toyo No Kuni. Between the two we have the Junior tag titles defended, Goto vs. Suzuki for the NEVER title, Hiromu vs. Ricochet for the Junior title, Tanahashi and EVIL in a special singles match, and Naito vs. Juice Robinson for the Intercontinental title. Let’s get to it.

Here we go…

Road to Wrestling Dontaku

April 27th, 18:30 from Hiroshima Green Sub Arena, Hiroshima

  • Tomoyuki Oka, Hirai Kawato & Jushin Thunder Liger defeated Syota Umino, Katsuya Kitamura & Tiger Mask IV **3/4
  • CHAOS (Will Ospreay & Toru Yano) defeated Suzuki-gun (TAKA Michinoku & El Desperado) **1/2
  • David Finlay, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeated Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga) **1/2

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship

Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Baretta)

Roppongi Vice lost the titles to their opponents (in typically underhanded fashion) at the 45th Anniversary show in March. Since then, their stablemates Jado & Gedo failed to regain the belts for CHAOS, so now they get their rematch. Taichi was accompanied by ladyfriend Miho Abe, and El Desperado was at ringside too.

Shenanigans to start while Taichi distracted the ref, but Romero and Baretta replied with some double-team offence, rewarding themselves with a high-five. Double dropkicks led to a tope con hilo from Baretta, but Taichi hid behind Miho before sneaking an advantage, and after a beatdown on the outside, Baretta was imperilled in the ring. He hit a tornado DDT to free himself, but Romero was pulled from the apron, so cue Jado and Gedo to chase off El Desperado. Meanwhile, Taichi missed with the ringbell hammer and Baretta’s superkick enabled the hot tag. Springboard crossbody and a hurricanrana from Romero, and it was time for the Forever Clothesline to both opponents. A series of kicks earned a two-count, but the attempted double-team follow-up was blocked, and Taichi’s high kick drew a near-fall. Roppongi Vice got it together and the Contract Killer connected, but Taichi dragged the referee from the ring then succeeded in using the ringbell hammer, taping it to his shin before kicking Baretta right in the head. Moonsault from Kanemaru – two-count only! Romero blocked Suzuki-gun’s double-team in the corner and we got a good old Tower of Doom to bring everyone down to the mat. Taichi and Romero spilled out to the outside, leaving Baretta and Kanemaru to slug it out in the ring. Baretta was dumped with a German suplex and Kanemaru nailed the tilt-a-whirl DDT for 2.9! Kanemaru set himself up top, but Romero brought him down with a springboard ‘rana, dived into Taichi, then Roppongi Vice connected with Strong Zero for the three-count and the titles! This was much better than I was expecting, with Suzuki-gun’s usual shenanigans made meaningful by their lively and popular opponents. Strong effort all round, good near-falls and a hot finish, with the crowd invested in seeing the bad guys get their comeuppance. This was a lot of fun. ***1/2

Post-match promo from Romero calling out The Young Bucks.

  • Taguchi Japan (Yoshi Tatsu, Ricochet, Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Juice Robinson) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japón (Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito) – This was thoroughly entertaining, as these TJ/LIJ tags tend to be. Taguchi fruitlessly requested a time-out when surrounded by LIJ, Ricochet looked like the best high-flyer in the world in his hot tag sequence, and Juice and Sanada had very nice closing exchange leading to Pulp Friction for the win. ***3/4
  • Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale) defeated CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada) – A solid match, but no more, which further set-up Wrestling Dontaku’s top two matches, Ishii vs. Omega and Fale vs. Okada. Yoshi-Hashi had some success against the big man in the final minutes, but inevitably fell to Fale’s new Okada-baiting/beating finisher, the tombstone piledriver. **3/4

NEVER Openweight Championship

Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki (w/ El Desperado)

Suzuki’s interference during Goto’s title match with Zack Sabre Jr. at Sakura Genesis did not go to plan, and the champion retained. Displeased by this, Suzuki attacked post-match and now attempts to get the job done himself.

Some tentative grappling ended when Goto chopped Suzuki on a rope-break, then a quick exchange of strikes and a shoulder block allowed Goto to apply a headscissors. Suzuki drew him to the apron, however, applying the rope-aided armbar before dragging the fight out into the crowd. Desperado pitched in, and Goto made it back to the ring at 19. Suzuki repeated the trick, then returned to the ring to start working on the arm with hard kicks. Goto threw elbows to fight back, finally downing Suzuki with a clothesline. Spinning heel kick and a backdrop for two, then Goto applied a front necklock, forcing Suzuki to the ropes.

Suzuki withstood elbows and snapmared Goto to hit the Penalty Kick for a two-count, then proceeded to wrench Goto’s arm and fingers sickeningly with a Fujiwara armbar, forcing a desperate rope-break. A series of kicks to Goto’s arm had the champ fighting back, but his elbow strikes were weak, and Suzuki punished him in return. Main Event Elbow Battle, with the disturbed Suzuki grinning as he was smacked repeatedly in the jaw. Goto pulled the challenger down over his knee, then locked in Shoryu Kekkai (a modified seated armbar) until Suzuki reached the ropes. Headbutt from Suzuki, headbutt from Goto, and he followed with an elbow drop for two. The Ushigoroshi was countered to a guillotine choke, then to the Sleeper, but Goto powered out of the attempted piledriver. Sleeper again, this time countered to the Ushigoroshi! Goto got rid of Desperado, but couldn’t hit Suzuki with the GTR and was downed with a dropkick. Straight punches from Suzuki now, and with the referee pulled aside, Desperado was back for a chairshot right to Goto’s head. Slaps from Suzuki, Sleeper, Gotch-style Piledriver! One, two, three! Minoru Suzuki is the new NEVER Openweight Champion. As a fan of Suzuki’s I’m most pleased by this development and feel he’s a good fit for the belt. Believe it or not, this is his first singles title in New Japan. This was a decent main event but at no point did it threaten to get beyond that. Suzuki brought it, but Goto did not, all but surrendering the belt to the superior effort of his opponent. Not unlike the man himself, Goto’s reign as NEVER champion was a little underwhelming, and this was the right time to get the belt on someone else. ***1/4

Post-match promo from Suzuki, drawing plenty of boos, and confetti falls to close the show.

Wrestling Toyo No Kuni

April 29th, 17:00 from Beppu B-Con Plaza, Oita

  • Tomoyuki Oka, Hirai Kawato & Jushin Thunder Liger defeated Syota Umino, Katsuya Kitamura & Tiger Mask IV **1/4
  • Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Baretta) defeated Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) **3/4
  • Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI & SANADA) defeated Taguchi Japan (Yoshi Tatsu & Ryusuke Taguchi) **
  • Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga) defeated David Finlay, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan **3/4
  • CHAOS (Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) vs. Suzuki-gun (TAKA Michinoku, Taichi & Minoru Suzuki) ***
  • CHAOS (Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada defeated Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale) – The crowd loved this. A step up from Thursday, with Omega using exchanges with Yano and Ishii to show off both sides of his character, and Okada, though he again failed to lift Fale for a tombstone, showing an increased aggression toward his Dontaku challenger. Despite the win, Okada was left laying after the match. ***1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ricochet

After demolishing KUSHIDA in under two minutes at Sakura Genesis, Hiromu issued an open challenge and it was Ricochet who responded. Hiromu’s infatuation with the title has manifested itself in some very strange behaviour, in the case of this feud he’s been play-fighting with two wooden mannequins named Hiromu and Ricochet. Whatever floats your boat. We got a very good video package to hype the match.

Ricochet sent Hiromu outside immediately and landed a suicide dive, springboard dropkick, twisting plancha and springboard 450 in quick succession for a two-count! Hiromu blocked King’s Landing and the Benadryller and connected with a German suplex to finally claim some respite. Outside, Hiromu sent Ricochet crashing into the guardrail with a running apron dropkick, rolling him back in for two, then a Dragon Screw preceded a modified figure-four. Ricochet made the ropes and blocked a charge, hitting a rolling dropkick and following with the 619 and springboard uppercut. Nicely done. Hiromu then blocked a springboard and went for the sunset flip powerbomb to the floor, but Ricochet countered to a hurricanrana! With both men up top, Ricochet reversed the Victory Roll Driver to a diving facebuster for a two-count, but out on the apron was promptly dumped with a Death Valley Driver. Hiromu failed to take advantage though, and Ricochet caught the attempted apron senton and turned it into the combination Northern Lights and brainbuster! Both men scrambled back into the ring at 19.

They slapped, elbowed and chopped each other up from the knees, enzuigiri from Ricochet, suplex combo blocked, and double German suplexes from Hiromu earned two. Leg-hook Michinoku Driver from Ricochet for a near-fall! He headed up top, but the Shooting Star Press hit the knees, then Hiromu belly-to-belly’d him into the turnbuckle and followed with a modified DVD for two. DVD into the buckle, Time Bomb blocked, but a victory roll got another two-count. Benadryller 2point from Ricochet for 2.9! The 630 Senton attempt hit nothing but mat and Hiromu spiked him with a DDT Destroyer for two. DVD into the buckle, Time Bomb, one, two, three! Hiromu retains and Ricochet is still yet to win this title. A breathless sprint of a spotfest and then some. I loved that the opening played off Sakura Genesis, and that frisson carried through for the remainder of the match. I did feel they went past the natural peak, but that’s a very minor complaint. Hiromu’s character work since returning has been excellent and he delivers big every time he defends the belt. Great stuff. ****1/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL

EVIL earned a surprise victory over Tanahashi in the first round of the New Japan Cup in March, but their issues stretch back to New Year Dash on January 5th. Tanahashi badly needs to stop the rot, and a win here is essential in halting his slide into insignificance.

Tanahashi flattened Evil with a plancha before the bell, twice whipped him into the guardrail, then continued to stomp away until Evil clotheslined him onto the apron. Outside, he sent Tanahashi over the barrier and used the chairs in customary fashion to keep the former Ace out until 18. The surfboard stomp and arrogant cover got two before a senton quelled Tanahashi’s attempted fightback. Evil cinched in the cravat, but Tanahashi came back with a crossbody out of the corner and a Dragon Screw, capitalising with an elbow drop and senton for a two-count. Evil used the ref to land a side kick and followed with the diving clothesline for two, then two blatant eye rakes were met by one from Tanahashi, then he skinned the cat and dragged Evil to the floor. He ran up top and the High Fly Flow crossbody to the outside landed!

Back in, Evil eventually scored with a fisherman buster, then a rope-running sequence culminated in the Evil’s lariat, earning a two-count. Tanahashi failed to counter with a Dragon Screw, but did manage to make the ropes from Evil’s hammerlock crossface. The STO was blocked, and the swinging neckbreaker and Sling Blade from Tanahashi connected. He headed up top, but here were Bushi and Sanada to take out the referee and batter poor Tanahashi. He ducked the mist, however, and Taguchi turned up to drag the LIJ boys to the back! Dragon Suplex from Tanahashi, but no referee to count it. Up top again, the High Fly Flow hit the knees, German suplex from Evil. Darkness Falls – two-count only. The STO was signalled but blocked, and Tanahashi floored Evil with a sort of hip toss thing. High Fly Flow crossbody, High Fly Flow, three-count. Though decent, the match was a notch below the New Japan Cup effort, I felt. There were occasions where it lulled and although I’m no great fan of interference it did undoubtedly add heat to the closing minutes. Still, a vital win for Tanahashi. ***1/4

IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Juice Robinson

After several months of being accosted by the Los Ingobernables leader, Juice finally pinned Naito in a tag match at Sakura Genesis earlier this month, scoring the biggest win of his career and earning this shot at Naito’s title.

Juice tried to psyche-out Naito, but the LIJ leader was soon reclining in the middle of the ring to frustrate the challenger. Naito stalled until he was damn well ready, but Juice caught him with a couple of armdrags before launching him off the apron and into the guardrail. Naito was sent into the ringpost and headbutted, but replied by trapping Juice’s leg in the rail and slamming the barrier door on it. He trapped Juice’s leg again, this time dropkicking it from the apron. Back in, Naito punished Juice’s leg, transitioning an reverse figure-four into an Indian deathlock until Juice got the rope-break. Shinbreaker, low dropkick and this time the modified figure-four was locked in. Juice failed to club himself free, but did catch the slingshot corner dropkick, turning it into a gutbuster. He was finally able to land some chops and punches, then dumped Naito with a spinebuster, but the cannonball missed the mark.

The slingshot dropkick from Naito connected second time around, the top-rope frankensteiner did not, and Juice just about connected with a crescent kick to send Naito out. A running lariat from the apron followed, but Naito went straight back to the low dropkick. Both men were out on the apron, and Naito attempted a German suplex to the floor, but Juice held firm and planted Naito onto the apron with a spinebuster! He then whipped Naito into the barrier and followed with a cannonball! Back in, Naito blocked a suplex and nailed the tornado DDT to put both men down. Elbows back-and-forth, big right hands from Juice, but Naito cut him off with more blows to the knee and cinched in the scissored kneebar. Juice eventually, desperately grabbed the bottom rope. Naito lifted Juice up top, but the frankensteiner was countered to a powerbomb! Falling powerbomb – two-count only! Pulp Friction blocked, koppu kick from Naito, lariat from Juice. Another near-fall. Pulp Friction blocked again, and Juice’s attempted gutbuster was countered to Destino! Spitwad from Naito, tilt-a-whirl Destino, 2.9! What?! Rollup from Juice for two. Pulp Friction countered to a jackknife cover for two. Backbreaker and a haymaker from Juice. Pulp Friction blocked one more time and finally the Destino from Naito gets the three-count!

A really strong effort by both men, with a tremendous closing stretch. The crowds outside Tokyo are yet to fully buy into Juice and that meant the response was slow in coming, but it got there eventually and I thought he acquitted himself well in what was undoubtedly the biggest match of his career to date. That said, it’s the right call to keep the belt on Naito. He’s simply one of the best characters in the wrestling world right now. ****

Tanahashi came out to confront Naito, and the champ handed him the mic. Tanahashi hates what Naito does to the belt and wants another shot. “Tranquilo” said Naito, and after Tanahashi headed to the back Naito closed the show in his usual style.

Final thoughts: The significant matches from both shows delivered by and large, though some were a little below the level I had hoped for. The Junior title match was the best of both shows and got me in the mood for the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors tournament, while Naito and Juice worked their tails off to deliver a strong main event which was the best singles match of Robinson’s career.

I’ll be back on Wednesday for Wrestling Dontaku. See you then.