The relatively short Kizuna Run tour ended in Iwate on Sunday, with New Japan’s final show before the G1 Climax got underway, with the NEVER titles taking centre stage for today’s card.

Coming out of the show, there were two big take-aways, as the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team titles changed hands yet again, whilst we saw a late swap in the G1 blocks, as Satoshi Kojima gave his spot in the tournament to Hiroyoshi Tenzan, after a week of Tenzan’s unhappiness at being left out.

Chase Owens vs. David Finlay
Good to see New Japan’s Young Boys are stepping up to fill in the gap left by Jay White’s departure to ROH. Wait, it’s another guy just dropping down the card instead.

Decent stuff early as Owens took down Finlay with shoulder blocks, but a dropkick took down Owens for the first near-fall of the match. Owens took Finlay into the corner and kept wearing him down with kicks to the midsection, dropping the Young Boy with a backbreaker after yanking him off the top rope.

Finlaw used a jawbreaker to free himself of a sleeper, before trying for a Boston crab, but eventually sent Owens flying to the outside. Owens tried to go flying off the top, but was brought back in a la Ric Flair, as Finlay quickly went for a Stretch Muffler, only to have his eyes raked. Owens went for a gutbuster, but Finlay avoided it and went back to the Stretch Muffler, as Owens scrambled for the ropes.

Owens fired back with some forearms, with Finlay returning the favour, before adding in some uppercuts. Finlay rolled out of a backslide but went straight into a package piledriver attempt, rolling free and getting a near-fall in the process. Owens sent Finlay reeling into the corner with a roll through into a gutbuster, before quickly landing a package piledriver for the win. Some perfectly acceptable wrestling, but Owens feels like just a guy in his matches against Finlay, compared to what we had before with Jay White. **¾

Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero), Kazushi Sakuraba & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi
Liger and Romero get us underway, and after he almost outsmarted Romero’s fake handshake, Liger shrugged off a couple of kicks and sent Romero to the outside.

Taguchi got tagged in and started with a series of hip attacks to Sakuraba, who countered one into an armbar before taking a roll-up for a near-fall. More kicks saw Taguchi trapped in the wrong corner, with Ishii coming in to continue the beat-down, before Romero returned to the fray with a dropkick to a seated Taguchi earning him a two-count. Romero then aped Taguchi’s hip attacks, but got caught out with one, leading to Tiger Mask coming in.

Tiger Mask caught Romero in a Rings of Saturn, but was quickly broken up, allowing Romero to land a series of Forever Clotheslines that was cut-off with a Shotei from Liger, and then a Tiger Driver for a near-fall. The Iwate crowd woke up when Tenzan came in against Ishii, with a bulldog off the top rope getting Tenzan a two-count. Tenzan no-sold a brain buster, then got into a battle of headbutts with Ishii, who eventually downed the veteran with a clothesline.

An enziguiri from Beretta sent Tenzan into the corner, before Roppongi Vice decked him with dualling high knees for an eventual near-fall. Things quickly turned sour for Beretta as he quickly fell to the Anaconda Vice after a couple of corner attacks, and the match broke down into a series of dive spots, with a Taguchi plancha, a Tiger Mask tope and a dive off the apron from Liger leaving Tenzan alone in the ring with Beretta. One moonsault off the top later, and “Mr G1” secured the popular win. A better match than expected in this slot. ***½

Post-match (in Japanese), Tenzan cut a promo bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t in the G1 this year.

Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Captain New Japan & Yoshitatsu
Page tried to hang Yoshitatsu at the bell, and this was your usual Bullet Club jumpstart open. Captain New Japan tagged in… to throw Takahashi out of the ring and set up for a dive. Which just ended up being a plancha from Yoshitatsu to Page.

They did a comedy spot where Takahashi got in the wrong corner to mock the Captain into tagging him as Yoshitatsu was outside selling being thrown through the security gate. The Captain took a fair bit of punishment, including a double back suplex that needed Yoshitatsu to break the cover on at two. A missed legdrop gave an opening for Captain New Japan, but he was attacked by Page after rolling to the outside, before scurrying under the legs of Takahashi to make the tag. Yoshitatsu ran through his Triple H moves, then landed a uranage before kicking away at Takahashi and getting a two-count from it.

Yoshitatsu caught Takahashi in a reverse figure-four, but was broken up by Page. After blocking a Pedigree, Takahashi pushed the referee into the ropes to unsight him from a mule-kick, before tagging in Adam Page who twice went for the Rite of Passage (back-to-belly piledriver). After fighting it off, Yoshitatsu took out both members of the Bullet Club with a dropkick, then tagged Captain New Japan back in.

The Captain was able to get a couple of near-falls on Page, including a swandive headbutt that needed the cover to be broken up by Takahashi, but in the end the numbers game got too much as Takahashi took out Yoshitatsu on the outside, leaving the Captain alone to take a scary-looking Rite of Passage for the win. And when I say scary, I mean “Captain New Japan was spiked onto his head”. A decent enough outing, but I really can’t get into Adam/Hangman Page as a lower-level Bullet Club guy. ***¼

After hanging Captain New Japan, Page cut a promo in English, setting up for a tag title shot with the Briscoe Brothers next month.

Togi Makabe & Juice Robinson vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
Okay, this seems a little weird – with his regular tag partner getting a shot at the NEVER title in the main event, Makabe’s tagging with a virtual young boy in Juice Robinson? Given the four involved, “one of these things is not like the other”, and I think the former CJ Parker is taking the fall here.

Makabe and Nagata start us off with the basic goodness, including headlocks and shoulderblocks, before a big boot from Nagata rocks Makabe. Robinson got a tag in and took a Marty Scurll-like “Just Kidding”… dropkick to the knee. That is probably the first time anyone’s compared Scurll to Nagata, I believe.

Nakanishi and Robinson ran through their usual routine, with Nakanishi booting Robinson out of a test of strength, before dumping him on the mat with a bodyslam. Juice dropped Nakanishi with a back suplex, before landing a vertical suplex, only to be caught on the top rope as the veteran Nakanishi narrowly avoided a nosebleed and sent Robinson flying with a superplex for a near-fall.

A double shoulder-tackle from Nakanishi and Nagata decked Robinson, and Nakanishi went flying again with a cross body block off the top rope onto that crash test dummy called Juice. Robinson’s choice to fight back with forearms was ill-advised, but he finally took down Nakanishi with a clothesline before making the tag to Makabe… who walked straight into a boot from Nagata.

Makabe at least made a comeback, doing the corner punches on Nakanishi, who replied with a staggered back body drop, as we then got Nagata and Makabe exchanging forearms. After losing that battle, Makabe brought Robinson back in, who drilled Nagata with a cannonball in the corner, then a gutbuster for a one-count as Nakanishi made the save. Unfortunately, after Makabe cleared the ring, it was only a matter of time before Nagata landed an overhead belly-to-belly, before Nakanishi returned to add in a chop off the top rope to an enziguiri from Nagata. One backdrop hold later, and Juice Robinson added another L to his career record. A fun match, with more entertaining exchanges between Robinson and Nakanishi – although I doubt it’d parlay well into a singles feud. ***¼

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles: Satoshi Kojima, Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks (Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson) (c)
The ongoing New Day/Elite feud continued with the Elite’s entrance featuring them decked out in New Day merch, whilst Kenny Omega played his broom like a trombone. Nick Jackson did the Big E gyrations, which I guess means that Matt was Kofi by default?

Fast-paced action to begin with as you’d guess, with the two IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team challengers, and it was Ricochet who faked the first dive before having to fend off the Young Bucks with dropkicks. Matt Jackson found himself being pinballed amongst the challengers, before a double standing moonsault only got them a two-count, despite Sydal helping to stack up Matt, who then escaped a super hurricanrana attempt to make the tag out.

The first dive of the match came courtesy of triple topes from the Elite, before their attempt at singling out Sydal was short lived. Nick hit a ripcord elbow on Sydal, who countered with a dropkick before finally tagging in Ricochet, who hit a couple of bicycle kicks before taking down both of the Young Bucks by himself. Kenny Omega cut off Ricochet for a while, until he turned a diving clothesline into a tiltawhirl backbreaker, before bringing in Kojima for his rapid fire chops that are always good times. Unless you’re taking them.

A couple of superkicks from Matt Jackson left Kojima alone with the Elite, and he took a triple kick in the corner before a Finlay Roll from Omega and a springboard moonsault for a near-fall. Omega’s attempt at a One Winged Angel was blocked by Kojima, who responded with a Koji Cutter.

Omega blocked a flying ‘rana from Sydal and turned that into a buckle bomb, before the Young Bucks sprayed their leader with the freeze spray, allowing Sydal to land a reverse ‘rana. His follow-up shooting star press got nothing, apart from a couple of Young Bucks superkicks, and the action kept up at the usual frenetic pace you’d expect from these guys. Sydal finally hit his double flying knees for a near-fall, but got taken down with a snap German suplex from Omega, who was able to tag out (thanks to some help from the Bucks).

A rope hang into a senton bomb got the Bucks a two-count before Kojima broke things up, but nobody could save Sydal from a triple superkick… apart from himself, as he kicked out at two. Ricochet saved Sydal from a Meltzer Driver, before Kojima prevented a double Driver on the former IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions.

Kojima rushed in with a lariat that turned Omega inside out, before something similar to the Young Bucks, that left them in perfect position for stereo shooting star presses that secured them the six-man titles. A typically great match with these guys, even if it did get them a belt that is little more than a shiny prop at this stage of the game. ****

Post-match, Kojima cut a promo in broken English before Sydal and Ricochet went to the back. Then in Japanese, we heard “TENZAN!” – a cue to Hiroyoshi Tenzan to make an appearance. This is where Kojima offered his spot in the G1 – of course accepting – so block A now has a different member of Ten-Koji instead. A good storyline move, but in terms of match quality, things may have taken a slight downgrade there.

Elimination Match: EVIL, Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI
This is your standard New Japan rules match, so over-the-top eliminations count in addition to the usual pinfall/submission and DQs. Naito got a good reaction in Iwate, so clearly his losing the IWGP title hasn’t hurt him as badly as may have been feared.

We started with Naito and Okada, because of course we would, but BUSHI attacked Okada from behind allowing Naito to go for an early elimination attempt. Tags quickly led to some SANADA/YOSHI-HASHI, which quickly segued into a two-on-one as Goto came in to knock down SANADA with a shoulder tackle.

The action spread to the outside whilst SANADA choked Ospreay in the ropes, with the cameraman missing Hirooki Goto’s ritual “wear a chair into the ringpost” spot from EVIL. BUSHI came into the match and went immediately to choke Ospreay with his t-shirt, which ultimately allowed Naito to come in for his slingshot dropkick spot.

Ospreay continued to take a lot of punishment, including a back senton for a near-fall, but he finally made the tag out as Kazuchika Okada went to work on BUSHI, tying him up in the Red Ink modified STF that was only broken up by EVIL. As we missed a bunch of action on the outside it seemed, judging by the smashing of the crowd barriers. Okada and Naito resumed their dalliances in the ring, with some intervention from EVIL as an STO led to a roll-up from Naito for a near-fall. After failing with a Gloria, Naito hit an enziguiri, only for a dropkick from Okada to level him, before landing the elbow off the top rope.

Naito went for Destino, but that was blocked and turned into a tombstone attempt as Naito wriggled free onto the apron. He eventually brought Okada there with him, and after a battle of strikes and another tombstone attempt, Naito finally switched it into Destino on the apron, eliminating both men in the process.

Back in the ring, we got EVIL and Goto, with the latter scoring a near-fall from a clothesline and a bulldog out of the corner. EVIL returned the favour by dumping Goto on the top turnbuckle for a superplex, but after a battle of headbutts and strikes, EVIL ended up getting some help from SANADA before clotheslining Goto off the apron to eliminate him. Almost immediately, YOSHI-HASHI tried to level things up, but was tipped over the ropes by SANADA. YOSHI-HASHI was able to land a superkick to eliminate EVIL, before returning to the ring to take out SANADA with some headscissors.

After landing the suplex-into-a-neckbreaker, YOSHI-HASHI scored a two-count on SANADA. Some more back and forth saw SANADA go for the Skull End, before it was reversed, with the reversal leading to SANADA rolling-up YOSHI-HASHI for another elimination, leaving Will Ospreay in there one-on-two.

Some Ospreay kicks sent SANADA into the ropes, before he was nearly low bridged out of the match, but Ospreay skinned the cat and went back in… into the Skull End. Will slipped out and sent SANADA into the corner and onto the apron, where a dropkick finished SANADA’s involvement in the match. That left us with Ospreay and BUSHI, as a lungblower from BUSHI was blocked… before he turned a OsCutter (springboard stunner off the ropes) into a backcracker.

BUSHI looked to follow that up with the MX (leaping lungblower), but Ospreay countered with a spinning kick in mid-air, before resorting to forearm strikes. SANADA got involved, but ended up taking the green mist as BUSHI tried to cheat his way to win, and that signalled the involvement of everyone else eliminated to come in to save Ospreay. Okada and Goto hit a death valley driver and an ushigorishi respectively, before Ospreay landed his diving spinning kick, and then a Rainham Maker (ripcord into the Spanish Fly) for a near-fall, before ultimately landing the OsCutter to win the whole thing. Fine, fine work from all men, but I really prefer my elimination matches without the battle royal clause! ****¼

NEVER Openweight Title: Tomoaki Honma vs. Katsuyori Shibata (c)
Honma’s got his new t-shirt ready for the G1 – Honmania! I wonder if Jerry McDevitt’s watching…

Decent stuff early on, with Shibata cheapshotting during a clean break with a big boot, as Honma tried for – and failed – a bunch of Kokeshi staggering headbutts. Shibata replied by working the leg, which somehow turned into Honma almost trying for a Sharpshooter, but instead just stepping on Shibata’s throat. Not a wise move, I’m sure you’ll agree!

Shibata replied with a figure four, which Honma swiftly reversed, before being stomped out of the ring. Back inside, Shibata levelled Honma with some stiff forearms, but found himself downed by a lariat from Honma, as Honma followed up with a bulldog… then missed another Kokeshi. That let Shibata follow up with some Irish whips into the corner, rapidly followed by a jumping knee and a Yakuza kick.

At the third time of asking, Honma connected with a staggered Kokeshi after a forearm smash. Honma followed up by accepting Shibata’s invites of repeated chops, with the last one going just a little high up, sending Shibata into dry heaves. A diving Kokeshi sent Shibata onto the apron, with a second Kokeshi getting him onto the floor, before Honma actually went for – and succeeded – with a Kokeshi off the top rope to the floor. Seriously, this is up there with Taguchi spamming the hip attacks.

That led to what I think was our first big count out tease of the show, with Honma wisely throwing Shibata in first, but was only able to get a two-count for his troubles. Honma no-sells a back suplex but takes a dropkick as the pair crash to the mat again, and work their way back to their feet with forearm strikes and headbutts. Shibata caught Honma in a guillotine, with body scissors to boot, but Honma powered out into a suplex.

A Blockbuster-esque flipping neckbreaker got Honma a two-count, as did a sit-out tombstone piledriver. That set up Honma for a Kokeshi off the top rope, but Shibata rolled out of the way, and locked the challenger in a chinlock, before fighting out of a caught kick with slaps, then an uppercut. A backhand slap knocked Honma to the ground again, but he popped up with a headbutt and a diving Kokeshi… which just got caught by Shibata and turned into a rear naked choke, before releasing the hold and drilling him with penalty kick for the win.

A really good main event, even if it fell into that category of “nobody expects a title change”, but since Okada’s not about to defend his title on a house show, and whilst Michael Elgin’s out of the country, this was as good as you’d get for a title defence right now. ****¼

As a show, this was a solid affair to end the build to the G1 Climax. On paper, it was stronger than Monday’s card, and it really delivered. With the G1 just two weeks away, New Japan looks to be in a good position – now all they need is some luck to ensure that key players (*cough*Tanahashi*cough*) don’t get injured in the next six weeks.