Tokyo’s Sumo Hall saw a new United States champion crowned on a slightly-tweaked card.

Travel issues caused by typhoon Hagibis caused a few late changes to the card – with Zack Sabre Jr. missing out, while Jon Moxley also couldn’t make the show. That led to New Japan stripping him of the US title, with Lance Archer substituting in a match for the vacated belt. We opened with the announcements of the card changes, with Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton and Gino Gambino on commentary.

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
This was El Desperado’s comeback match – and he’s wearing the shirt he wore on the night he broke his jaw earlier this year. Blood spatters and all.

Of course, we’ve a jump start as Desperado’s first act back was… to smack YOH’s arse. SHO’s taken into the guard rails, before he returned as some double-teaming left Despy on all fours. Kicks from SHO sting Desperado, as do forearms which had Desperado grab his jaw… and of course it’s a ploy as Kanemaru attacked SHO from behind and took him into the guard rails for a slicing leg drop.

SHO barely breaks the count, but he’s spiked with a DDT by Kanemaru for a near-fall, before some rapid-fire tags led to a struggle for a reverse DDT as Suzuki-gun retained the advantage. A Boston crab forces SHO to the ropes, but he’s quickly back, reversing a suplex to leave Kanemaru laying.

YOH tags in to clear house, but some hair pulling from Kanemaru stopped the momentum ahead of a low dropkick. Desperado’s back, raking the eyes to stop a Dragon screw before a Guitarra de Angel was blocked… and he’s got to fight out of some double-teaming before eating a pair of leaping knees. Kanemaru makes a save to prevent a 3K, but he couldn’t stop a deadlift German suplex on Despy that almost ended things.

The end comes when Desperado countered out of Shock Arrow and backed into the referee, masking some whiskey mist from Kanemaru, before Pinche Loco got the win. A good opener and a solid return for Desperado after six months out. They’ll go back at it again on Wednesday as the Super Junior Tag League begins… ***

Togi Makabe & Toru Yano vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma
Hiroshi Tanahashi’s been having a series of matches to celebrate his 20th anniversary – this is the last of them. Wataru Inoue also made an appearance here, as he also debuted on the same show as Tanahashi – but had to retire five years ago due to injury.

Tanahashi and Makabe start off with shoulder tackles, before a blind tag from Yano almost surprised Makabe. Honma’s in too, but Yano’s all about removing the turnbuckle pads… which he struggled to do. Honma wasn’t willing to sing Yano’s greatest hits today, taking Yano down for a Kokeshi… but Makabe hits his regular partner from behind before Tanahashi came in… and indulged in a pair of missed Kokeshi.

A brief spell outside turned the tables as Yano and Makabe took over, swapping fairly-frequent tags as Honma got thrown into the exposed corner. Tanahashi tries to make a save, but just runs into the exposed corner before Honma and Makabe exchanged shoulder tackles… which led to Honma edging ahead.

Tanahashi tags in and goes hog wild with Dragon screws, before a flip senton on Makabe led to a near-fall. Makabe blocks a Slingblade, before he brought in Yano, who went back-and-forth on atomic drops with Tanahashi. Yano teases a low blow, but Honma stops him after Chris Charlton brought in a bit of blue… and we almost finish off with double Kokeshi on Yano.

More Kokeshi gets rid of Makabe, before a roll-up almost snatched the win for Yano… but Tanahashi kicked out and quickly put him away with a High Fly Flow. This was okay, but I honestly thought it was on half speed for good chunks of the match. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Taichi & DOUKI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi)
On the last few New Japan shows, they’ve sort-of been teasing Naito/Taichi…

Naito and DOUKI start us off, and Naito’s instantly going after the hair and mask of DOUKI, wrenching back on him before Shingo added some knee drops for the hell of it. DOUKI’s back with a clothesline before the match spilled outside, as Naito’s tossed into the guard rails, while DOUKI choked away on Shingo with his pipe. Taichi adds to Shingo’s woes by jabbing him with a chair, but both Shingo and DOUKI make it back inside, continuing to go back and forth before Taichi and Naito took over.

Taichi continued to edge ahead, knocking down Naito with a buzzsaw kick before the trousers got ripped off, only for Naito to hit back with a tornado DDT. We’re back to DOUKI and Shingo, but it’s Shingo who powered through, planting DOUKI with a DDT for a near-fall, before a Noshigami forced Taichi in to break up a pin.

On the outside, Naito’s taken into the guard rails by Taichi, while Shingo’s Pumping Bomber left DOUKI laying… Last of the Dragon looked to follow, but Taichi’s in with the mic stand for the obvious DQ. The ref’s laid out too, while Naito avoided a similar fate, only to get dumped on his head with a Saito suplex. The post match did way more for me than most of the match, to be honest. ***

After laying out Naito with a Last Ride powerbomb, Taichi told Naito he “couldn’t get it done”. Oh God, they’re teasing Taichi in the unannounced champions’ tournament….

Minoru Suzuki vs. Jushin Thunder Liger
So after Kishin Liger appeared at Destruction in Kobe, regular Jushin Thunder Liger was back at the New Japan Road show we didn’t cover last week. I don’t think we’re going close to the one-hour time limit here…

Liger’s dug deep into his wardrobe to pull out his “Battle Liger” gear, but I honestly think that’s just a way to make us all jealous. He’s in his 50s and looks like that?!

The pair circle each other before Liger went to the mat, almost begging Suzuki to approach. A scramble on the mat led to nothing, before Suzuki grabbed a Kimura, ending in the ropes before Suzuki reciprocated, offering Liger the guard… and this time it’s Liger who grabs a triangle choke that forces Suzuki to scramble.

On the outside, Liger whips Suzuki chest-first into the guard rails, before Liger grabbed a chair… the ref tries to stop him, but Suzuki just boots Liger into the official, which opened it up for Suzuki to use weapons. First, a chair, which he bounces off Liger, as the seat pad popped out, before Suzuki throttled the referee. There’s no DQ as Suzuki tries to rip off Liger’s mask, eventually settling for an armbar in the ropes.

Suzuki stays on top of Liger, throwing palm strikes to the chest before a big boot took Liger into the corner. Liger tries to fight back, but Suzuki shrugs it off until he’s caught with a Shotei. A rear naked choke has Liger down and out, as Suzuki lets go before he turned into a Gotch piledriver… but Liger’s faked it out, and traps Suzuki in a double armbar, only for Suzuki to roll into the ropes after a struggle.

Liger goes back to the arm, jarring it with an armbreaker, only for Liger to get caught out of nowhere with another rear naked choke. Suzuki clings on despite Liger trying to roll out, only for Liger to back body drop free from a Gotch piledriver. A Thesz press nearly nicks it for Liger too, before he dumped Suzuki with a brainbuster… but he couldn’t finish him off, and Suzuki’s right back in it with a dropkick.

Palm strikes from Liger just get laughed off as Suzuki found his second wind, seemingly knocking the stuffing out of Liger… who found his second wind too, only to get caught with a stalling Gotch piledriver for the win. Just like that! Liger tried to switch it up, but despite having his moments, Battle Liger was damn near blown away here. So… Kishin? ***½

After the bell, Liger grabs a chair, then showed mercy… instead bowing to Liger on the mat in what could well be Suzuki’s final act in New Japan if you believe the rumours. Suzuki stormed off, almost embarrassed by showing emotion, before Liger got the mic and said “thank you”.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay (c)
In the aftermath of the typhoon, ELP seemed to show that he was turning another leaf, promising fair play and a clean match. Yeah… By the way, Elevated is back!

Phantasmo, backing up his words, sent Taiji Ishimori away before the bell as he wanted to keep this one-on-one, before a handshake was brushed off by Ospreay. They start in the ropes, with Ospreay giving a clean break, getting one moments later before the pair raced into a sequence that led to so many counters and escapes before Ospreay faked out a head kick.

Phantasmo switches it up with a knuckle lock, going for a Test of Strength that went back and forth, leading to duelling neck bridges that ELP slapped away. Those slaps quickly intensify, which seemed to lead to an errant poke to the eye that forced Ospreay to beg off… and then our regularly scheduled ELP returns, as he raked the eyes and began to go to his usual bag of tricks.

A springboard ‘rana takes Ospreay outside, but ELP mocks Ospreay’s handspring… and got caught with a springboard forearm as ELP was playing it up too much, getting sent outside for a Sasuke special. Ospreay eyed up Gino Gambino, after the Aussie had attacked him over the weekend, and tossed ELP into him. Gino’s distractions allowed ELP to throw a chair at Will as he went for a springboard off the guard rails, before they went into the crowd, with ELP heading above an entry way… but Ospreay joins him, and my God, that platform is slanted.

Ospreay nearly slips, but recovers before he teased a Storm Breaker… only to get thrown into a railing as he eventually got stomped down to the floor underneath, where ELP joined him a big body press off the access way! Back in the ring, ELP can only get a two-count after all of that, before he took Ospreay into the corner for the gas pedal… but Ospreay hit back with a spider German suplex as ELP again played to the crowd. Will ups the ante from there with a big chop, before a dropkick caught Phantasmo, then a handspring enziguiri before Ospreay flew around the ring, springboarding into ELP with an Infra Red for a near-fall.

ELP catches Ospreay on the top rope with a gamengiri, but Ospreay’s right back in with a hook kick attempt, eventually landing a Stundog Millionaire before an OsCutter was caught and turned into a whirlibird neckbreaker. On the apron, ELP looked for a CR2, but Ospreay fought out twice, landing on the floor only to get kicked in the head as Ospreay ended up hitting a springboard cutter from the guard rails. Phantasmo barely beat the count-out, but couldn’t avoid a Coast to Coast from Ospreay, nor a HUGE shooting star press that nearly ended things. The Robinson Special’s next, as was an OsCutter, only for Taiji Ishimori to return and pull the referee out as we got our shenanigans, quickly thwarted by Robbie Eagles, whose tope con giro took Ishimori into the guard railings.

In the ring again, ELP snatches the title belt, but he’s caught with a hook kick. ELP ducks the Hidden Blade before he lands a dick punch and a belt shot, with a big splash off the top squashing Ospreay for a near-fall. Phantasmo keeps the pressure up with a Cheeky Nando’s, before a whirlibird neckbreaker off the ropes dumped Ospreay… for another two-count!

From there, ELP went for the CR2, turning it into a Styles Clash for a near-fall. Is the One Winged Angel next? Nope, it’s a V-Trigger first, then the One Winged Angel… but it’s countered into a Victory Roll for a near-fall before a standing Spanish Fly gave Ospreay some space. I buffer, returning as Ospreay heads up top, but he’s crotched as ELP knocked the ref into the ropes… and ELP tries to capitalise with a top rope ‘rana, but it’s countered into a powerbomb! A Hidden Blade’s next, which Ospreay damn near obliterates Phantasmo with, then a Storm Breaker, and that’s all folks – Ospreay returns after a heck of a match, albeit one that felt a little flat with the early shenanigans with “clean” Phantasmo. ****¼

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Bullet Club (Jay White, KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi)
This show’s already feeling a little long from where I sit, and starting with YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yujiro here isn’t helping.

At least they start a little fast-paced with a running Head Hunter Blockbuster neckbreaker, before things spilled outside. KENTA and Jay White attack Ishii as the ref lost whatever control he had… but things settled as White came in to stomp away on YOSHI-HASHI. He’s not in long as Yujiro comes back in, then KENTA… who had the misfortune of being the guy YOSHI-HASHI fought back against.

Ishii tags in and instantly decks KENTA with elbows, before trapping him in the corner with chops. KENTA switches around with some mocking kicks and a DDT, following up with a kick to the back that just seemed to fire up Ishii. He ducks a clothesline and drops KENTA with a German suplex, before tags take us to Goto and White, with the Intercontinental champion suddenly on the defensive.

White gets sent outside and into the guard rails, before they returned to the ring. Gedo’s distraction worked, as White’s able to snap back in with a DDT, which put the Bullet Club trio ahead, with Yujiro almost shocking everyone out of their slumber with a Fisherman buster. KENTA and Ishii try to spark some interest on the outside, while Goto clotheslines White… only to get caught with a reverse DDT by Yujiro.

That almost led to a win, but Yujiro just runs into an ushigoroshi before a GTR puts him away. Thank God that’s over – for me, this never got into any kind of gear and just plodded along. Complete “Road to…” show fodder that shouldn’t be this high up on a big show. **¾

There’s more scuffles after the match, but at this point I’m just living for Jay White scolding Hirooki Goto like a naughty dog.

No Disqualification for IWGP United States Championship: Lance Archer vs. Juice Robinson
We’ll be leaving with a new champion as Jon Moxley was stripped of the belt for not being able to make the booking. Archer re-instated the no-DQ stipulation before the bell, I guess because they had plunder to use…

What the hell is Juice wearing?

A low blow and a roll-up nearly gets it for Juice at the bell, before he did the Big E spear through the ropes to send Archer to the floor. Chairshots follow, with Juice jabbing Archer in the gut, before he was thrown into the guard rails, only for Juice’s run-up cannonball to get stopped with a big boot.

Archer clears things and chokeslams Juice through a table before he whacked Yuya Uemura with a chair. More chairshots in the crowd follow as Archer looks for more toys, finding some tables that he slid into the ring. Juice gets thrown through a chair as this became slower and more methodical, which didn’t help Juice, who simply wasn’t at the races here.

Some rope-walking goes badly wrong for Archer, who got crotched, as commentary relayed that Juice seemed to have dislocated his finger. Undeterred, Dusty punches follow before the Left Hand of God landed at the second attempt… following with a cannonball through a table in the corner. Archer responds by POUNCING Juice through the other table, before both men flooded the ring with chairs. It’s like old school ECW! Archer punches a chair out of Juice’s hand, sending it flying into the crowd, before an EBD Claw was countered with a Juice Box for a near-fall.

Juice stacks up chairs in the middle of the ring as he looked for Pulp Friction… but Archer counters with a full nelson slam into the stack of metal, then teased Blackout… bouncing Juice off the chairs for another near-fall. Frustrated, Archer throws Juice’s head into the chairs before the EBD Claw’s applied… and there’s the win! The substitute leaves with the gold in a match that had its high moments, but threatened to go off the tracks towards the end. Hey, New Japan actually capitalised on Archer’s good G1, even if it wasn’t the original plan! ***½

After the match, David Finlay rushes out to save Juice! He’s back from ages on the injured list… and hits a Prima Nocta on Archer before he went for a Dudley Dog to send the new champion packing!

EVIL vs. Kota Ibushi
Kota’s right to challenge for the IWGP championship at WrestleKingdom was on the line here, with EVIL having gotten the spot by beating Ibushi during the G1.

We’ve a slow start as EVIL grabs a headlock on Ibushi, but the attempts to restrain Ibushi didn’t exactly work as Ibushi quickly got free and began to fire some mid kicks to EVIL. One of those kicks was caught as EVIL handed Kota’s boot to the referee, before clotheslining the G1 winner to the outside, where the obligatory guard rail bumps followed.

Back inside, EVIL stretches back on Ibushi’s arms, but eventually Ibushi got free and suckered in EVIL for a back senton that missed. Ibushi’s right back with a powerslam and a moonsault for a near-fall, but EVIL quickly responses, stomping through Ibushi… but he didn’t follow up quickly enough, and ran into some boots as he went for a Bronco buster in the corner. Ibushi followed EVIL onto the apron and looked for a deadlift German suplex, only to get met with a hotshot. That led to the pair going outside, where EVIL looked to play a spot of baseball with some chairs, ahead of a big superplex back into the ring for a near-fall.

Ibushi throws some hammer elbows to stop EVIL ahead of a ‘rana, before he took EVIL up top for a superplex… but EVIL just swats him down to the apron, only for Ibushi to recover and land a top rope ‘rana for a near-fall. EVIL tries for a German suplex, but Ibushi flips out of it before getting caught with a clothesline for a near-fall. Darkness Falls lands for a two-count, only for Ibushi to respond with a roll-up and a Bastard Driver (package tombstone)… which he couldn’t follow-up on.

Ibushi lands a Last Ride, but still can’t get the W, as he ends up running into a clothesline. A second one almost led to the win, only for Ibushi to slip out of Everything is EVIL and hit a strait-jacket German suplex that didn’t get any pinning attempt going. Kamigoye’s next, but EVIL avoids it and hits a release German, only for Ibushi to respond with a clothesline as they went back and forth until a Kamigoye connected for a near-fall. Undeterred, Ibushi pushed right back with another Kamigoye, and that’s enough to retain his G1 certificate. This started out almost agonisingly slowly, but picked up a lot towards the end. Commentary mentioned earlier how bad EVIL’s win-loss record was – and that kinda killed any chances I gave him of winning. With “big shows” before WrestleKingdom running out, there was no way someone with his singles record in 2019 was getting in. ***½

IWGP Championship: SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
Something tells me this’ll be an Okada special. Strap in, we’re going to beyond the top of the hour…

Okada charges out of the gates at the bell, missing a shotgun dropkick as SANADA was really avoiding dropkicks early on. Finisher teases follow ahead of two whiffed dropkicks, and then they slow down the pace, taking each other into the ropes for clean breaks before Okada grounded SANADA with a chinlock.

On the outside, SANADA’s taken into the crowd barriers, but a draping DDT back in is countered, before Okada took over back inside. My feed died here, and picked up with SANADA finally taking a dropkick as Okada sent him to the outside, where Okada took him into the crowd ahead of a running crossbody over the guard rails and into the front row.

Okada stops the ref’s count so SANADA could get back to the ring, and the momentum changed there as a dropkick took Okada outside, with a pescado following. Back inside, SANADA quickly trips Okada into a Paradise Lock, freeing him with a low dropkick for a near-fall. A shotgun dropkick put Okada right back in it, along with a hanging missile dropkick, before SANADA ducks a Rainmaker, starting another long series of finisher teases.

Okada’s tombstone tease was reversed, with SANADA spiking him ahead of a TKO, before a Skull End was used to drag Okada to the mat with. SANADA loses Okada… but regains the hold, before we washed, rinsed and repeat, as SANADA looked to weaken Okada enough for a moonsault… but Okada pushed back and almost snatched a pin. Another Skull End is teased, but Okada swats it away with a Rainmaker, picking up a near-fall out of it. SANADA’s back with uppercuts, before he flipped into a Skull End… Okada reverses it, before SANADA used the ropes for Sliced Bread… landing back into a Skull End, swinging Okada around before dragging him to the mat as they teased a ref stoppage. After what felt like aeons of time passing, with the referee looking for any kind of response, SANADA lets go to pin Okada, and gets a two-count, before a moonsault to the back landed. A regular moonsault got nothing but knees, before SANADA moonsaulted back into Skull End… but Okada uses the turnbuckles to escape and land a tombstone for good measure.

SANADA came within a hair’s breadth of winning the belt with a Euro clutch, before Okada looked to reply with a tombstone. It’s blocked as yet-another-bloody-Skull End is applied. Okada armdrags free and hits a dropkick as we cross the 35 minute mark, and let me tell you, I’m feeling everyone of those thirty five minutes. We’re still going with Rainmaker teases until Okada dropkicks SANADA away.

Another tombstone is countered into a Fire Thunder Driver as SANADA teased countering again, before one Rainmaker gets the win at 37:28. The second longest match in their run so far, and for me, an epic too far. Sure, it was a great match, but the pace of this was so plodding and unbearable that I didn’t even think about rewinding to catch up on what I missed when my feed took a bath. The house style of these Okada main events work live, but watching on VOD, I’m beyond done with this Okada/SANADA pairing at least in terms of matches I can sink my teeth into. Your mileage will probably vary. ***½

After the match, Okada talked about how the Tokyo Dome main event was decided… and he calls out Kota Ibushi. Kota comes out, congratulates Okada and reiterates how he wants to win the IWGP and Intercontinental title, if only to usurp Okada because “you’re at the top all the time”. Okada accepted, but he wanted Ibushi to challenge him first – which I guess is our first official step in that “champion’s tournament” that’s been rumoured forever.

Coming days after the typhoon, this show felt like some much needed catharsis for wrestlers and fans. While the show looked to get off to a real hot start, things slowed down badly and at points this was a bit of a slog to watch. Unlike past years, I’m really starting to see why folks skip out on New Japan after the G1, as we kill time until WrestleKingdom. Adding in tours to the US isn’t helping matters, as I really get the feeling that the promotion are spreading their big matches way too thinly.

New Japan’s got a quick turnaround as they’re back at Korakuen Hall on Wednesday for the Road to Power Struggle – a tour that’ll be characterised by the Super Junior Tag League, which’ll be running a round robin format this year. I have a feeling that by the time World Tag League rolls around, we’ll all be burned out on round robins in 2019…