The G1 announcements – and the NEVER Openweight title – took centre stage as New Japan returned to the Korakuen for the first of three nights on the Kizuna Road!

Yuya Uemura vs. Yota Tsuji
A rematch from Wednesday’s Lion’s Gate Project show – and the latest chapter in the current dojo rivalry.

Uemura and Tsuji of course are the latest graduates from the New Japan dojo and they’re straight in with ground work as they tried to end their run of draws between them. Yuya tried to work the arm, going for wristlocks and hammerlocks, twisting on the latter as he took Tsuji to the mat… but Tsuji tried to counter by grabbing a leg, and was initially thwarted. Escaping a cross armbreaker, Tsuji’s able to go back to the leg, dropping elbows on it and using various toe-holds, before a search for a single-leg crab ended with him just grapevining it instead.

Despite Uemura getting to the ropes, Tsuji keeps up on him with chops and stomps, aiming for the leg again, only to get rocked by a back elbow as he tried to charge into the corner. Out of nowhere, Uemura goes for an armbar, then a double wristlock, but a rope break ended that as the battle of arm vs. leg continued… with a nice dropkick from Tsuji!

Keeping in with their limited arsenal, Tsuji slammed Uemura a few times for a near-fall, before another single leg crab gets a rope break. Deviate from your usual arsenal, Young Boy, and it’ll backfire! To be fair, the knee work did have an effect, as Uemura buckled as he was whipped into the ropes… he manages to muster a brief comeback with a dropkick, then a cross armbreaker as the time was beginning to run out… and just as Tsuji got to the ropes, the gong sounds. Another draw, and another decent match between these two. I didn’t feel the urgency you’d expect on this level, but these guys have less than 45 matches between them, so that’s not much of a surprise. Promising, but very early days. **¾

Shota Umino & Tomoyuki Oka vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
On Father’s day, two of New Japan’s Dads get this…

Oka’s grown a beard in an attempt to impress his dad, and he’s gotten a little enthusiasm too, as he demanded to start against Nakanishi. He did well in the early stages, resisting a shoulder charge before finally getting knocked down, as both men tagged out… giving us Umino taking Nagata into the ropes, forcing referee Kenta Sato to break them up. A dropkick from Umino gets him ahead, as do some stomps, but Nagata turned it around as he wrenches Umino in a single leg crab.

Oka tried to break it up, but Nagata easily dispatched him as the veterans went to work, isolating Umino by keeping Oka off of the apron. More stomps follow as Nakanishi’s back in with clubbing forearms and an Argentine backbreaker… which he has to break up because Oka tried to intervene again. It went the same as before. Eventually Nakanishi whiffs on a jumping knee, giving Umino a shot, as a dropkick takes Nakanishi off his feet for long enough to have Oka brought in.

A big shoulder charge from Oka took an unsteady Nakanishi off his feet, following up with a butterfly suplex for a near-fall, then a vertical suplex for another two. Nakanishi turns it back around with a spear before bringing Nagata in for some kicks to Oka, only for a belly-to-belly to put a stop to that as the Young Lion was on fine form. Umino returned for a missile dropkick and a cross armbreaker, only for Nagata to get free and catch him with a kitchen sink knee to the gut, before an Exploder and the Nagata Lock II crossface got the submission. A spirited showing from the kids, but ultimately it looked rather easy in the end. ***

Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Ren Narita
“Hey, why is Ishimori walking to the ring like someone’s doing stop motion animation on him?” “Well, he does look like an action figure, so he may as well move like one!”

I’m not sure how I feel about Ishimori already being in “throwaway Bullet Club teams” like this, but I guess you can’t start this hot out of the gate when there’s other plans. Tenzan starts against Yujiro, and we’re already in with biting as Yujiro figured he was going to have problems. A short clothesline puts him down, as do some Mongolian chops… but Yujiro decides to mock those, and you know how that goes.

Not very well, it turns out. He’s charged down and tags out as we’re taken to Narita vs. Ishimori, with Ren doing well… for like a second until the new Bone Soldier confounds him with the rope work in the corner and takes him down with a springboard seated senton. Yujiro’s back to slap the taste out of the Young Lion’s mouth, then to boot him in the ropes, before being met with a dropkick in return.

Tenzan gets the tag in to give those Mongolian chops right back to Yujiro, then a suplex, before a leg sweep took him down as the Bullet Club pair looked to take over again. A release Fisherman’s suplex leaves Tenzan laying, but a spinning heel kick restores parity as Tenzan made his way to the corner… where Narita’s back in with a hiptoss out of the corner to Ishimori for a near-fall. The Standard Issue Submission follows, but Ishimori quickly scrambles to the ropes, and hits back with a tombstone gutbuster for a near-fall. A trapped-arm crossface is next as Narita’s forced to claw his way towards the ropes, but in the end he taps as Ishimori came away with the win. Solid stuff, but the result was exactly as you’d expect. **¾

Toru Yano, YOSH-HASHI, Rocky Romero & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Jeff Cobb, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi, Toa Henare & Togi Makabe
Oh hello, surprise Jeffrey Cobb in New Japan! Not counting yesterday’s tour opener in Tokorozawa, this was his return here, six months after debuting in the 2017 World Tag League.

We start with SHO and KUSHIDA, a call back to last year’s Pro Wrestling World Cup, back when SHO had a surname, as the two grappled on the mat. A hiptoss into a cross armbreaker almost surprises SHO, but he reverses it as the pair looked for the other’s arms, before escaping a swe’re taken to YOH and Taguchi dancing around the ring. Eventually Taguchi’s in with a hip attack, sending YOH to the outside as he couldn’t quite skin the cat, but he is able to tire out Taguchi as all of Roppongi 3K make him run the ropes until he’s exhausted. I think they call that beasting in the army…

Somehow Taguchi’s able to kick out at two, as YOSHI-HASHI comes in and gets isolated, taking a corner clothesline from Jeff Cobb as the newest iteration of Taguchi Japan ran wild… finishing with Cobb giving KUSHIDA a piggyback en-route to squashing YOSHI-HASHI. What a geek. Toa Henare keeps up the pressure with a falling chop to the throat for a near-fall, before everyone spills to the outside for… nothing? We see Taguchi had been thrown into a chair, but this was very weak in comparison to even those overdone Suzuki-gun crowd brawls.

Yano and Henare trade blows next, with Henare reversing a suplex, before he brought Makabe in to clear house. Hey, Cobb’s not done much in this yet… Makabe’s caught by YOSHI-HASHI, but like the geek he is, YOSHI’s taken into the corner as Makabe and Taguchi do the mounted punches. Makabe and Taguchi dish out hip attacks to Yano, before a Northern Lights suplex almost got Makabe the win…

Cobb’s finally tagged in as he went face-to-face with Rocky Romero… shrugging off Rocky’s offence before catching a springboard headscissors attempt, only to get dropped with a trio of leaping knees from Roppongi 3K. That cornered Cobb for some Forever lariats, but a splash into the corner’s caught and turned into an overhead belly-to-belly. A standing moonsault almost gets Cobb the win, before the Tour of the Islands wowed Korakuen for the win. A good way to get Cobb back into the picture, but a lot of this match felt like a whole load of nothing. **¾

Now we get the G1 announcements. The block announcements follow on Monday’s show, while Tuesday sees the reveal of the headline matches for the show. Every show in this year’s G1 will be live on New Japan World with English commentary, and you’ll be treated to these 20 names: Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, Jay White, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Juice Robinson, Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Hangman Page, Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Kota Ibushi.

Interestingly, there’s no outsiders, after some had held out hopes for WALTER or perhaps Daisuke Sekimoto or Jeff Cobb, who was right there! Cody is yet again conspicuous by his absence. There’s G1 debuts for Jay White and Hangman Page, for those keeping score…

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
With El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi main eventing on Monday, these two took centre stage… and guess what? We had a jump start.

Suzuki-gun did the usual crowd-brawl, shaming the woeful effort from the prior match, as we settled down to EVIL overcoming TAKA and Kanemaru by suplexing them onto each other. Kanemaru continues to take a battering as Naito and BUSHI combined, before Desperado’s attempt to make a save just earned him a shotgun dropkick. Standard. Also standard, was Taichi’s interference as he whacked Naito with the mic stand, and we’re back to the crowd brawling, with Naito getting whipped into the railings so hard he went into the crowd… while Desperado’s busy killing Hiromu with a chair. The new IWGP junior champion gets a Brookes’ing, as Suzuki-gun seem to be happy to try and take a count-out win. It wasn’t happening.

Iizuka’s in to bite on Naito as Suzuki-gun go through all of their cheapshots on the Ingobernables leader… I’ll be honest, I tuned out of this one for a spell as it was a bunch of eye rakes and little else. SANADA tags in to make things interesting, going to town with dropkicks before tying up Kanemaru in a Paradise Lock. Rather than help his friend, Taichi tried to sucker SANADA, and gets a double leapfrog dropkick for good measure, before a dropkick set Kanemaru free.

Taichi’s back to rip off his trousers, before he backed SANADA into a corner to escape Skull End as Iizuka… bit SANADA’s mohawk? Finally tags take us to Desperado and Hiromu for a preview of tomorrow, with a spot of rope running ending when Desperado speared Hiromu. Corner-to-corner clotheslines are next, with Takahashi catching Despy with the belly-to-belly into the buckles, before tags take us to TAKA and BUSHI.

BUSHI blocks a poke to the eye as Suzuki-gun flooded the ring, isolating BUSHI in the corner, before Naito returned to help turn the tables, with a lungblower from BUSHI getting a near-fall ahead of the inevitable MX to win the match. This was alright by the end, but that death spot in the middle really killed the match for me. At least Desperado vs. Hiromu tomorrow will be all kinds of awesome. **¼

After the match there’s a brief staredown between Desperado and Hiromu, before Tetsuya Naito continued his path of destruction on the Best of the Super Juniors trophy, dropkicking it so hard more of the wings came off. Naito, why can’t Hiromu have nice things?!

Juice Robinson, Hiroshi Tanahashi & David Finlay vs. Jay White, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii
After nearly two years, it’s so weird to see Okada as “just a guy” in undercard tags. Yep, with the IWGP title on ice until after the G1, this is his lot for now!

We start with White and Robinson exchanging holds ahead of their clash at the G1 Special in San Francisco in a few weeks, with Switchblade eventually raking the eyes after using the referee to unsight Juice. A brief double-team with David Finlay turns things around, with Finlay enjoying some rather rare offence on White, who comes back with a hair-assisted thrown to the mat, before bringing in Okada… who found himself again up against Hiroshi Tanahashi after we’d had a tag out.

Tanahashi’s on the ascent early with a slam, but Okada gets up to avoid the flip senton as he recovered with a flapjack as everyone ended up outside… and largely into the crowd barriers. Okada’s still in the ring as he set up Tanahashi for a slingshot senton, before bringing in Ishii to laugh off some chops from he Ace. Well, he would if he laughed. The pair exchange headbutts, with Ishii coming out on top as White returned to trap Tanahashi in a Muta lock!

With Switchblade’s chest exposed, Juice comes into to chop it apart, but the hold’s quickly reapplied. Okada’s back to try and pick at the pieces, but Tanahashi gets in a Dragon screw to him… then to Ishii, after he hit the ring, as Tanahashi finally got the tag back out to Juice, who gleefully laid into White with clotheslines. Dusty punches follow, then chops, before he crashed and burned on a crossbody as White retaliates with a back suplex.

Both men tagged out again as we got to Ishii and Finlay, with young David getting the early upper hand with a diving uppercut, then a dropkick and finally a back suplex, but Ishii’s right back in with a chop. Finlay thought he’s escaped a back suplex as the ring filled up for a mini Parade of Moves, ending with Tanahashi decking his partner. The ring stays full as a German suplex took White into the corner for a cannonball, before things clear out, with Finlay’s Stunner being blocked before he tried to nick a win with a roll-up.

Another roll-up doesn’t work, so Finlay teases a suplex… but Ishii reverses it and comes back in with a lariat. He blocks another Stunner and turned that into a back suplex, before dumping Finlay with another clothesline for a near-fall as the intensity was turned up big time… ending with a brainbuster out of Ishii for the win. This was the best thing on the show so far, with Ishii getting the win over Finlay perhaps the most obvious result since they’re kinda protecting White/Finlay for another go around. ***¼

Post-match, Jay White jumped Juice in the aisle as he tried to help Finlay to the back… bringing his next title challenger back to ringside so he could post him, then throw him into the guard railings amid a torrent of Kiwi-accented swearing, as he trapped Juice’s hand in a chair for a conchairto… it’s avoided, but Juice ends up punching a chair into White’s face, as the story seemed to be “has Juice broken his hand?”

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto vs. Michael Elgin (c)
Having lost the belt at Dominion without having been pinned, Goto gets an instant rematch…

The slimmed-down Elgin’s got another set of new gear, and I swear it’s the same design I used to give my create-a-wrestlers on WWF Attitude back in the day. Goto starts by going for the arm as the opening sequence ended in a bit of a stalemate, before Elgin slowly took control, blocking a hiptoss and swinging for a lariat as we headed to the Newton’s cradle of shoulder blocks.

A snap back suplex dumped Goto and sent him to the outside, where he was caught with a flying double stomp off the Elgin from Medium Mike. Another slingshot stomp back into the ring’s good for a near-fall, as Elgin tries to finish it early with a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb, but the latter’s countered into an ushigoroshi instead. Goto’s back in with a sleeper, but Elgin escapes and comes in with a variety of suplexes, before Elgin starts a chop battle… which looked to go badly for him, so he just throws a dropkick instead.

Elgin’s back with a stalling suplex for a near-fall, then a nonchalant back senton off the middle rope as Goto was really struggling to even look for a gear to get into. Of course, just as I say that, he ducks a lariat and hits one of his own, before a back suplex earned him near-fall too. Another ushigoroshi’s avoided as Goto’s taken into the corner, ahead of a press slam into a powerslam as Elgin started to rack up the near-falls again.

Elgin gets a little too cocksure and runs into an ushigoroshi though, before we get a ref bump as he charged Goto into Red Shoes. A Falcon arrow’s next, but in comes Taichi to drill Elgin with the mic stand, as he’s still butthurt over being pinned at Dominion… but there’s a shot for Goto too, as I’ve a feeling this three-way deal is continuing after today whether we like it or not. Except Jeff Cobb’s in to make the save, sending him packing with a German suplex… and I guess he’s here to save his brief tag partner who badmouthed him on social media?

The ref’s still down as Goto and Elgin exchange shots as they fought back to their feet, with Goto finally edging ahead with a German suplex… but Elgin unleashes with boots and an enziguiri to send Goto back down as the match remained rather finely poised. Elgin teased superplexing Goto from the ring to the floor, but instead they end up on the apron, where Goto knocked Elgin down with a forearm ahead of a PK that was caught and turned into a release Fisherman’s suplex on the floor.

Back inside, Elgin goes up top and connects with a big splash, only getting a near-fall out of it, as the two go back to exchanging clotheslines and forearms… with Elgin’s having much more behind them, before a discus forearm sent Goto to his knees. A wacky chokeslam gets Elgin a near-fall, as he tried to set up for what may well have been a Burning Hammer… instead, he just lariat’d Goto out of the ropes, before taking him up for a Splash Mountain… which Goto elbows out of to save himself.

Third time was the charm though, albeit in Goto’s favour, as he hit an avalanche Code Red that got him oh so close to victory! Goto looked for the GTR, but Elgin rolled him up for a near-fall as we seemed to be entering the final furlongs, with Goto coming close again with the Shouten Kai! A kick from Goto’s easily caught as Elgin decks him with another elbow, but instead Goto manages to come back once more, locking in a sleeperhold, only to get flipped over.

Elgin’s back with more lariats, decking and flipping Goto, before another sitout powerbomb drew a near-fall. Goto rebounds after a buckle bomb, throwing some lariats, before we counter, counter and counter, with a Burning Hammer slipped out of as Goto hits a PK instead. From there, with Elgin spent, a GTR’s countered, but turned into a GYR from Goto before the GTR finally connects… and Goto has his belt back! Yeah, I get people may not like Elgin as a person, but this was an absolute war – a hell of a match, which makes me wonder… why do the title change last week? ****¼

After the match, Jeff Cobb returned to check on Michael Elgin, before challenging Goto for the NEVER title. Oh hey, unexpected title challenges always get my attention, especially when it’s a new match!

The second night of the Kizuna Road was pretty much a one-match show, but would have drawn a lot more eyeballs on it for the G1 announcements. Let’s be honest, more people than usual are caring about these shows just for those G1 spots… but aside from that, it was an archetypal Korakuen show with a really good main event, albeit one that people will be able to take or leave based on their personal feelings.