We’re back to Korakuen Hall for the start of a new tour as we see the beginning of a pair of Young Lion singles gauntlets.

Quick Results
Minoru Suzuki submitted Yuya Uemura in 13:55 (**¾)
Hiroshi Tanahashi submitted Yota Tsuji in 13:36 (***¼)
Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii pinned Jado, Dick Togo, EVIL & Yujiro in 12:29 (**½)
Kazuchika Okada, SHO & YOH submitted Gedo, El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori in 11:44 (***)
Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI pinned Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi in 16:48 (***)

After a week off, New Japan hits the road again for a twelve-stop Kizuna Road tour – a tour without a “big event” at the end of it, as we fill in the gaps between Dominion and next month’s Summer Struggle.

Yuya Uemura vs. Minoru Suzuki
Both of New Japan’s home-grown Young Lions have been thrown into a gauntlet on this Kizuna Road tour, with a LOT of high profile singles matches on their to-do lists. Assuming Uemura doesn’t get pulverized as he gets his long-standing wish of Minoru Suzuki today.

We had a brief shoving match before the bell, but got going with Uemura trying to restrain Suzuki in a side headlock. Suzuki manages to escape with a wristlock as he had Uemura down on his knees, then flipped to the mat before the Young Lion went back to the side headlock.

A double-leg takedown from Suzuki gets him free as he began to tie up the legs, before hammerlocks and headscissors had Uemura in trouble. Uemura gets free and took Suzuki into the ropes, but a swinging punch misses as Suzuki ducked… more wild shots eventually land as Suzuki’s backed into the corner, before he got knocked down with a leaping forearm for just a one-count.

Out of nowhere, Suzuki catches out Uemura with an armbar in the ropes… and then it’s to the outside as the guard rails came into play. Suzuki rolls Uemura down for another keylock on the floor, with the referee frantically issuing a five count… for reasons. The guard rails aren’t ropes, you know!

Back inside, a grounded abdominal stretch from Suzuki wore out Uemura, before he rolled him back to the mat in a key lock that Uemura tried to escape by pinching Suzuki’s leg. Rolling around doesn’t get Uemura free, as Uemura needed to scoot towards the ropes to get that break. A kick keeps Uemura in the corner, but he recovers with a running dropkick to cut off Suzuki. Uemura keeps going with a back suplex, before he rolled out of an armbar attempt to catch Suzuki in a Boston crab… but Suzuki rolled free and began to target Uemura with a single, clonking elbow. He’s down. A second one follows, but the referee doesn’t call the match as Uemura instead fired back with elbows of his own.

Suzuki tries for a rear naked choke, but Uemura avoids it and begins to go for some flash pins, only to get clobbered with a dropkick. A half crab’s next from Suzuki, who really sits down on the hold to force a verbal submission. Not exactly the balls-to-the-walls match I was expecting given how much Uemura’s been poking at Suzuki, but this was as dominant as you’d expect given the gulf in experience. **¾

Yota Tsuji vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Tsuji’s first gauntlet match is against someone he’s idolised and cheered for from the sidelines… but will that just add pressure today?

From the opening lock-up, Tsuji’s taken to the ropes for a clean break… except he slapped and laughed at Tanahashi for doing so. A leg lock from Tsuji’s quickly broken as Tanahashi went for a scissored armbar, but a side headlock from Tsuji gets him free as the pair stayed on the mat.

Tanahashi ties up the legs for a bow-and-arrow hold, but Tsuji flips out quickly into a one-count on Tanahashi before he looked to wring the arm. A trip from Tanahashi looks to take him in for a Muta lock, eventually bridging back as Tsuji needed the ropes to force a break.

Aiming for the knees, Tanahashi took Tsuji into the corner but ended up eating a dropkick as Tsuji gave himself some hope. A leaping forearm meets Tanahashi in the corner ahead of a slam… which leads to the running flip senton and the Mount Tsuji splash. Another deathlock, this time from Tsuji, has Tanahashi in trouble, but again the ropes save the day as Tanahashi’s able to return with a Cloverleaf…

Out of nowhere, Tsuji teases a Vertebreaker… don’t worry, it’s just a Gory stretch… but Tanahashi sits up into an Electric Chair that he’s dropped out of ahead of a suplex from Tsuji. A Giant Swing follows, then a spear, but it’s not enough to put away Tanahashi… so it’s back to the Boston crab. The ropes save Tanahashi again, so Tsuji slammed him as he figured out what to do next… which was a trip up top for a splash. Tanahashi rolls away, and it’s curtains for Tsuji from there.

Or so you thought as he hit a forearm before a ripcord Slingblade from Tanahashi earned a two-count… before a Cloverleaf forced the stoppage. There was never a chance of Tsuji winning here, but he looked excellent – and not as overawed or outclassed as you’d expect, and on another night, might even have snuck out the motherlode of upsets. He’s still missing that big win, but let’s be realistic, that’s never coming this side of graduation. ***¼

Bullet Club (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi, Dick Togo & Jado) vs. Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI & Toru Yano
We’re building up to the NEVER trios title match next week… with added Jado and Yano for good measure.

Ishii and Togo start us off, trading shoulder blocks before Ishii got crucifixed for a two-count. He’s quickly back to try a sliding lariat ahead of a stand-off before tags brought in Yujiro and YOSHI-HASHI. Hair pulling from Yujiro stops YOSHI-HASHI, but Goto comes in to help double-team as the Bullet Club’s attempt to make the save earned them the war drum forearms.

YOSHI-HASHI chops Yujiro into the corner after that all calmed down, but EVIL just kicks YOSHI-HASHI in the ropes to try and get the upper hand. It sort of worked as YOSHI-HASHI gets hung up in the ropes by Yujiro before everything spilled outside for the obligatory trips to the guard railings, featuring another attempt at EVIL killing the ring announcer.

Back inside, YOSHI-HASHI gets caught with a diving kick from Yujiro for a two-count, before Jado raked YOSHI-HASHI’s eye across the top rope. A headlock with punches followed, as Jado began to build up some momentum. EVIL tags in as YOSHI-HASHI meekly tries to hit some forearms, only to get thrown into the exposed corner.

Toru Yano comes in for a save, but got pushed into the same corner, before YOSHI-HASHI finally got some revenge and gave EVIL a taste of his own medicine. A tag brings in Hirooki Goto to clear house, bulldogging EVIL out of the corner for a two-count, before EVIL clawed the eyes to get free of an ushigoroshi.

EVIL tries to return with a Fisherman suplex, but instead both Goto and EVIL get tripped as Ishii and Togo briefly went at it. Goto’s eventually back with an ushigoroshi as we passed the ten minute mark. Yano’s back to undo a turnbuckle pad, before he stopped himself running into a Kendo stick shot from Jado. He gets it anyway as EVIL took Yano into the ropes, allowing Jado to tag in and hit a double back suplex with Yujiro.

Togo’s back senton adds to that for a two-count, before a Parade of Moves sorta broke out, featuring Togo choking out Ishii with the garotte wire, before Yano blocked another Kendo stick shot and rolled up Jado for the pin. Exactly the sort of match you’d have expected, complete with the shenanigans that haven’t at all grown old. Not at all. Nope. **½

Post-match there’s more fun with weapons as the Bullet Club trio left the NEVER trios champions laying.

Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, El Phantasmo & Gedo) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) & Kazuchika Okada
We’re building up to El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori challenging Roppongi 3K for the junior tag titles next Wednesday in Korakuen…

ELP and YOH start us off, with the pair going to ground before they broke free and tried to play to the crowd. An early attempt at the Star Gazer from YOH’s avoided as ELP instead went to the arm, only for YOH to cartwheel his way free as SHO came in to help with a low dropkick on Phantasmo.

Ishimori gets similar treatment before Gedo gets pulled into the fray and knocked down. Things recover with a springboard Quebrada from ELP on SHO for a two-count, before Ishimori came in and held SHO for some back rakes. You know what’s next. Ever more extravagant back rakes. Ishimori comes in with an old school shoulderbreaker for a two-count, but a missed charge into the corner almost opened it up for a German suplex from SHO… who instead responds with a spear. YOH’s back to elbow down Ishimori but he’s stopped as Phantasmo snuck in for back rakes.

YOH recovers to hit a neckbreaker on Ishimori for a two-count, only for Ishimori to come right back with a handspring enziguiri as both men were left laying. Gedo tags in to take advantage, but his kick’s caught and turned into a Dragon screw as Okada got the tag in against his former manager. A sliding back elbow and a DDT has Gedo down for a two-count, before a Money Clip ended with ELP raking Okada’s back.

Some biting followed as ELP and Ishimori ganged up on Okada, featuring a Codebreaker and a senton bomb for a two-count as the junior tag champs made the save… then cleared the ring. A Gedo Clutch looked to be in the offing, but Okada slips free and returned with a Money Clip for the quick submission. This was largely fine, but seemed to put Okada front and centre more than the announced title match. ***

Three of our four matches today so far have ended in submission. Yano, you let the side down!

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr., El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI)
We’re building to an as-yet-unannounced Taichi & Sabre vs. SANADA & Naito tag title match here, and given how much the ring announcer’s racing through introductions, I have a feeling they may be a little behind schedule here?

Of course, we’ve shenanigans before the bell as nobody could decide who would start. Shingo takes the lead as he and Desperado get us going, heading straight into the ropes before Desperado’s attempt at a shoulder tackle came up short. Wash, rinse, repeat, as Desperado then tries for an armdrag, which is also blocked as he ends up backing into the corner for a tag out.

In come Naito and Kanemaru, as the tag champions continued to annoy their prospective challengers… so BUSHI tags in instead as he took down Kanemaru with some headscissors. An overhead kick in the corner from BUSHI lands, but Desperado interferes as everyone else spilled outside for the obligatory guard rail stuff while Taichi and Naito choked away on each other.

Back in the ring, Sabre’s headscissors ground BUSHI as the pair ended up rolling into the ropes for a break. Taichi’s in to choke away on BUSHI, which drew in Naito for a save… but he’s choked on too. Desperado and Kanemaru try to double-team BUSHI, but he slips free and lands a double ‘rana instead before a leaping enziguiri took down Despy.

Tags bring us to Sabre and SANADA, who ratchet up the pace with a quick exchange of holds and counters ahead of a SANADA dropkick… Taichi takes one too before a plancha from SANADA lead to him landing in a Cobra Twist on the outside. He countered with one of his own, but Sabre escaped and threw SANADA back inside, only to get tripped into a Paradise Lock attempt. Sabre countered by sparking some see-saw pins that nearly won the match, before Naito came in and helped SANADA drill Sabre’s knees into the mat. A deathlock’s Figure Four from Naito traps Sabre, but drew in Taichi to kick it apart, as Sabre manages to land an uppercut to take down Naito.

Taichi’s back with some Kawada-ish kicks, taking Naito into the corner for a clothesline before SANADA helped turn things around. A tag brings in Shingo, clotheslining Taichi in the corner before Taichi got free to bring in Kanemaru… who surprised the champion with a DDT. Desperado helps out with a dropkick-assisted back suplex for a two-count, before Kanemaru went up top for a Deep Impact… which is caught.

Instead, Shingo hits his elbow, jab, lariat combo, then hauled up Kanemaru for a Last of the Dragons. Sabre makes a save to spark a Parade of Moves, including a spinebuster from Desperado on Naito, before the ring cleared with a slingshot ‘rana from BUSHI to the outside as Shigno was left to clobber Kanemaru with a clothesline.

A roll-up from Kanemaru and a backslide saw him try to get a flash win, but in the end a pop-up death valley driver and a Pumping Bomber dumped Kanemaru as a Last of the Dragon gets the win just before the 17 minute mark. Decent stuff, but with the tag title match a ways off, this was more of a match to keep the teasing going. ***

A solid, but not spectacular start to this self-contained tour. A lot of folks had eyeballed those two Young Lion gauntlets as the highlight of these shows, and on tonight’s form, they may well be right.