January 30 marked Shinsuke Nakamura’s final match (for now) in a New Japan ring, with Korakuen Hall being the venue for his swansong. In the world of NXT spoilers, we already know that Nakamura has already sent in a video for a future episode of the show, to promote his debut on WrestleMania weekend. But first, there was the small matter of a farewell show.
Continuing New Japan’s Road to New Beginnings tour, we were presented with the usual mix of singles and multi-man matches, starting with a battle of young lions, as a Boston Crab helped David Finlay overcame Hiri Kawato in a decent, but short match between two guys who are more used to watching from outside the ring than performing inside.
Next up was another young lion, Jay White, taking on Yoshi-Hashi. As another man used to watching on in the New Japan red tracksuit, White looked impressive in defeat, with the New Zealander getting in a lot of offence, including a neat-looking sequence of submissions with a Boston Crab (Young Lion’s move of the week!) and the Rings of Saturn. However, after Yoshi-Hashi made the ropes, it wasn’t long until he hit a bridging powerbomb to secure the win.
The multi-man action kicked off with the third match, a six-man affair with Tiger Mask, Manubu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata taking on Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima. Almost a month on, the referee in this match was wearing a WrestleKingdom 10 shirt, which was only slightly more absurd than the fan cosplaying as Jushin Liger in a mask and young lion’s tracksuit. Considering that we are approaching twenty years removed from these guys’ heydays, this match wasn’t all that bad, ending with Kojima hitting a lariat on Nakanishi shortly after he’d had an enjoyable period of offence.
The Bullet Club came into action next, with the club’s C-team of Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi taking on Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano. Fale and Takahashi jumped their opponents at the start of the match, which was by far the weakest of the entire show. Fale’s presence seemed to slow down the match, even when he wasn’t involved.
Following intermission, there was yet another multi-man match, with comedy jobber Captain New Japan teaming with Ryusuke Taguchi and KUSHIDA, against the funky finger laser show of Los Ingobernables de Japon – Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI and EVIL. Throughout the match, the running joke was that nobody wanted to tag in the Captain. Early on, Taguchi did his Rikishi tribute act, which seemed to lead to EVIL deciding the best course of action would be to wrap a chair around his neck and ram it into the ring post. Alright then… except Taguchi continued on, which would have led to cries of derision had this been on, say, Raw. During the six man, the exchanges between KUSHIDA and BUSHI more than whetted my appetite for their upcoming title match, but their time together was rightly limited. Captain New Japan did make it into the match, but ended up taking the fall following a STO from EVIL, after KUSHIDA and Taguchi were wiped out of the match by the rest of the Ingobernables.
More Bullet Club action followed, as a mixture of the A, B and D teams combined with Kenny Omega, Cody Hall, and the departing duo of Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson took on the former CJ Parker (Juice Robinson), Michael Elgin, and the IWGP tag team champions Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe. As is the usual Bullet Club trope, the match started with a jump start before the bell, but unlike the group’s earlier appearance, this match wasn’t treading water. Given that this was the semi-main event on a one-man show, it wasn’t horrendous or anything, with Michael Elgin showing off numerous power spots, and the Bullet Club doing a comedy pig-pile onto Juice Robinson. As the Bullet Club took the win, it was no surprise to see Robinson take the fall as Omega continued his march to his Intercontinental title match in February.
A video package of Nakamura’s career highlights led us into the main event; Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata teaming up to take on Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada and the man everyone came to see: Shinsuke Nakamura. For the obvious reasons, this came across as a sombre celebration of one of New Japan’s leading lights, which is probably why Nakamura didn’t start the match – you’ve gotta keep the fans waiting for what they want!
For a main event six-man tag, you saw plenty of action involving guys who had already had their big match on January 4’s WrestleKingdom, but also skirmishes between guys not currently programmed together. When Nakamura did come into the match, unlike what you’d expect in the Western scene, there was no loud pop – that sort of stuff was saved for the end. The interactions between Nakamura and Shibata were enjoyable, primarily because they don’t regularly work together, but in the end it was Shibata’s last big match opponent who got the final word, with a brainbuster by Ishii giving him the win over Shibata, as the big man’s last night in ended with a victory.
Post-match: we saw the Nakamura farewell ceremony (which would have been a lot more meaningful if you knew Japanese!), and had a set-up for a future show in two weeks’ time, with Kenny Omega’s opponent for the IWGP Intercontinental title in Niigata was decided, as X was unveiled as Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Verdict: as with pretty much all of New Japan’s “non major” shows, this Korakuen show was a fun show with only one match dragging it down. Although it’ll always be remembered as the Shinsuke Nakamura farewell show, there’s a lot from this show that is worth watching, particularly if you’ve already dropped your 999 Yen for New Japan World this month!