One day on from WrestleKingdom, where all the belts changed hands, it’s the start of a “new year” as New Japan returned to Korakuen Hall.
The card was announced at the top of the show, complete with the announcement that YOSHI-HASHI was back in action for the first time since his unfortunate slip at Destruction in Kobe. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton are on commentary.
Suzuki-gun (Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) & Rocky Romero
Commentary trawls up the prior match between these guys, where Tiger Hattori fast-counted Suzuki-gun… and of course, we’ve got our jump start.
YOH’s thrown into the seating decks by Davey Boy Smith Jr., while Rocky took his chance to issue some Forever clotheslines to Lance Archer, who just walked through them and ended up on the outside, where he caught a tope from Rocky and turned it to a chokeslam on the floor. Back in the ring, Archer repeatedly squashes Rocky in the corner before he unmasked Takashi Iizuka… who then comes in for, as Chris Charlton put it, the New Year Dash to the buffet. Everyone’s bitten! That doesn’t last for long as Davey Boy Smith Jr. is tagged in and almost gets a win with a legdrop on Rocky.
A rewind enziguiri from Romero finally gets him free as SHO & YOH come in… but they have similar troubles against the Bulldog. There’s an apt drop toe hold/bulldog combo as Roppongi 3K seemed to have crossed wires, and that ends up costing them as Smith evades a step-up back elbow into the corner as YOH ended up taking some triple-teaming.
SHO breaks up the cover after a slam off the middle rope by Smith… and he’s quickly obliterated by Lance Archer. A trio of leaping knees put Smith down before Rocky flew with a tope into Archer (and almost the front row too), as Smith ends up countering a double-team suplex. A tag brings in Iizuka as the crowd thought Smith was gonna roll that suplex, and instead we get more Bitey Iizuka… which costs him as YOH wheelbarrowed him up for the upset! This was a fun opener, with the crowd on fire for a lot of it… and I guess we’re getting more Roppongi 3K/Suzuki-gun hijinks? ***
Young Lions die after the match. Not literally.
The Elite (Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens) vs. Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare
I kinda feel icky calling Yujiro and Chase “The Elite”, but I guess technically they’re the last vestiges of that group here.
Commentary notes that there’s some bad blood between Henare and Honma, all centred around Makabe-based jealousy. Honma and Owens start with a lock-up, going into the ropes for a clean break, at least from Chase’s side, before he was sent into the corner as a hiptoss from Honma left him on the back foot. A slam leaves Owens down for a Kokeshi, but he rolls away from harms way, going to the floor before Honma could leave his feet. In comes Yujiro and Henare, with the latter being bitten away on before he threw a chop or two. Yujiro’s big boot just gets him knocked down as Henare fell for a distraction from Owens on the outside, allowing the sorta-Elite team to take over.
We just about catch Pieter slapping Henare on the outside, and that kinda set the tone for Henare for the next little while as they jump onto his leg by the ropes. Another slam allowed Owens to mockingly land a Kokeshi – which he connects with! That big phoney! Henare fights back against Yujiro, but he’s taken down for a low dropkick that gets a near-fall, before responding with a vertical suplex as a tag’s made out to Honma… who charges in with shots for Yujiro and Chase. A slam and some chops weaken Yujiro more, before a bulldog set up for… a missed Kokeshi! Yujiro instantly flies in with a low dropkick and a Fisherman buster for a two-count, before he ran into a back elbow as Honma finally lands Kokeshi.
Another tag brings us back to Henare and Owens, with Chase landing a kick to the gut before Henare’s flying shoulder tackle sent Chase inside out. Henare uses Chase like a Terry Funk ladder, knocking down Yujiro ahead of a Samoan drop, only for Chase to shock us all with a roll through into an ankle lock. Who knew he had THAT in his locker?!
Honma breaks it up but quickly gets sent down for a low dropkick before Henare tries to steal it with a backslide. Owens kicks out, lands a superkick, then a package piledriver as Henare found himself in a depressingly familiar position. This was decent enough, but Honma’s limitations are becoming painfully apparent – and I don’t really believe that the mooted Honma/Henare match is going to be a graduation of sorts for the Kiwi. **¾
Rocky Romero joins commentary from here on in…
Best Friends (Beretta & Chuckie T) vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
We’ve a World Tag League rematch here, so hopefully there’s no more red mist from Chuckie T…
The post-match comments after WrestleKingdom seemed to hint at a Beretta/Juice match down the line. Chris Roberts is your referee here, as we start with Finlay and Chuckie exchanging front facelocks on the mat, before Chuckie powdered to the outside. Beretta tags in and is quickly sent outside with a dropkick, meaning he had a chance to head into the stands to hug his mum.
Chuckie gets jealous at that, shoving Beretta on the outside as Fin-Juice took the upper hand, scoring with duelling planchas as they tried to take a page out of the Best Friends’ book. Juice gets thrown into the guard rails – missed by the production crew – as Chuckie then draped Finlay over some railings for a flying stomp off the apron by Beretta. Ow. Back in the ring, Chuckie keeps up the pressure on Finlay, crashing into him with a dropkick before Beretta’s bridging Northern Lights suplex almost put David away. A back elbow keeps Finlay down, before he countered a back suplex with one of his own as a tag’s made out to Juice.
Juice steams in as he tries for a leg lariat to Beretta, but instead we get back and forth chops before some Dusty punches ended with Beretta hitting a half-nelson suplex. A tornado DDT’s shoved away by Juice, who nails a big shotgun dropkick into the corner ahead of his cannonball. Beretta tries for a Dudebuster, but Juice escaped, only to take an enziguiri… he responds with the Left Hand of God, then pulled Beretta for a Pulp Friction, only to get met with a Gob Stopper instead. Finlay’s back in, and lands a uranage backbreaker on Beretta for a near-fall, but then in comes Chuckie T with a chair, and there’s the instant DQ. Chairshots lay out Finlay, who’s then slammed onto the chair as Chuckie goes out for more of them… this was fine, but the finish was very ehh as we continue to build to a Best Friends split-up. ***
Post-match, Juice tries to make a save, but he gets into a shoving match with Beretta, meaning that Chuckie can throw a chair at the US champion. Everyone thought Chuckie had calmed down, but he rushes back in to piledrive Finlay onto a chair.
Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii
With Kota Ibushi out with concussion, it’s former IWGP junior champion KUSHIDA who’s providing the proxy here, I guess.
Ospreay and KUSHIDA start us out, working on the mat as KUSHIDA looked to keep hold of his wrist… but instead a dropkick puts him down as some triple-teaming set up for a running shooting star press for a near-fall. Ishii tags in to chop his way through KUSHIDA, but much like they did when they faced in Ireland for OTT, Ishii’s not got it all his own way. Some kicks from KUSHIDA just earn him a single-leg crab, but Yuji Nagata comes in to break it up… and that just riles up Ishii, who exchanges forearms with him from the apron. A headbutt knocked Nagata to the floor, before Goto tagged in to keep on putting the boots to KUSHIDA. There’s a hiptoss from Goto for a near-fall, and KUSHIDA’s pretty much down and out as he’s nowhere near getting a tag.
There’s a back elbow from Goto for another near-fall, but KUSHIDA finds some fire as he fought back briefly, only to get met with a Goto forearm. An overhead kick from KUSHIDA finally gives him an opening, only for Ospreay and Ishii to close the door as nobody was on the apron for KUSHIDA to tag out to. Moments later, after a handspring back elbow, KUSHIDA tags out to Nagata, who’s got plenty of kicks ready for Ishii, focusing on the arm that Zack Sabre Jr. targeted the night before.
They quickly upgrade to clonking elbows, with Nagata surprisingly coming out on top as he sent Ishii down with a palm strike. More kicks keep him there as some ground and pound almost led to a stoppage… but instead Nagata pulled him into a Shirome armbar! Stupidly, Ospreay comes in with a chop to break it up, and he’s quickly low bridged to the apron before he springboarded into an Exploder suplex! Ishii finally made a comeback, catching Nagata with a powerslam before tagging in Goto, who instantly was caught a low dropkick. Cobb tags in to complete the set, as he charged through the former NEVER champion with a shoulder tackle. A leaping uppercut into the corner catches Goto, who tries to counter into a GTR as the two just end up running each other over with clotheslines!
KUSHIDA and Ospreay tag in to take us back to the start… KUSHIDA looked for a cartwheel dropkick and eventually gets it after Ospreay tried to counter out. An enziguiri by the ropes sets up Ospreay for an over-the-top 619 then a springboard forearm. Cobb comes in to catch an OsCutter, and turn it to an athletic plex, before providing a base as he sent KUSHIDA moonsaulting into Ospreay for a near-fall. An arm breaker followed from KUSHIDA, who then spiked Ospreay with a DDT before a Back to the Future’s switched into a Stundog Millionaire. Ishii’s back with a sliding lariat before kneeling for a corkscrew moonsault off of his back from Ospreay, who then went for a hook kick and a Storm Breaker to KUSHIDA… and that’s all folks! A hell of a trios match, even if this looked to be another nail in the KUSHIDA coffin – and weirdly, the one match called out at the presser yesterday (Cobb/Goto) was the least interesting thing they build to here. ****
Post-match, Nagata and Ishii got into it. Where do I sign up for that match?
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: Taguchi Japan (Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi) vs. Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Taiji Ishimori) (c)
The spoils from last night’s pre-show were this trios title match, as the Guerrillas of Destiny tried to avoid dropping their second set of titles in as many days.
We start with Makabe and Tanga Loa trading shoulder tackles, before Toru Yano pleaded to be tagged in. He gets it, but instantly gets confused by Ryusuke Taguchi’s playbook, allowing Tama Tonga to attack him from behind. Still, Yano shrugs that off and manages to undo a turnbuckle pad, before some shenanigans led to him putting on the brakes while Jado threatened to whack him from the floor. Tanga Loa’s back in to keep up the pressure on Yano, whipping him into the exposed corner before he put the boots to Yano. Tama’s back in with a headbutt to Yano’s ribs, before he whips Yano… into the protected corner. The crowd liked that. A suplex is good for a near-fall on Yano, as the former IWGP tag champions seemed to be on different pages regarding sportsmanship.
Meanwhile, Yano had no such issues throwing Tama into that exposed corner, before he pulled Tama down by the hair twice as he rolled out to tag in Taguchi. Ishimori’s in too, but he runs into hip attacks before he was left in the ropes for some more of them. Taguchi’s gear is still falling apart, as he faked out the Bummer-ye, drawing Ishimori in for a low dropkick… but rolling away in time. Rolling suplexes come next from Taguchi, who then gets whacked with the Kendo stick by Jado from the floor… but he’s back quickly with an ankle lock. Ishimori gets to the ropes and quickly counters Dodon into a wheelbarrow roll-up for a near-fall, as he adds to that with a handspring enziguiri to turn the match around. Tanga Loa’s back in now, catching Taguchi in an atomic drop before he ate a hip attack. Makabe’s in with mounted punches to Tanga, who then ran into a clothesline… my feed stutters as Makabe drop toe holds Tanga into the ropes, where Yano jabs him with a chair for a near-fall, thanks to Taiji Ishimori pulling out the referee.
Jado tried to catch Makabe with a Kendo stick shot in the ring, but a low blow from Yano puts paid to that as Makabe instead has to wipe out the Guerrillas with a double-team clothesline. There’s a slam to Tanga, but Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens come out to stop Makabe hitting the King Kong Knee, pushing him off before a package piledriver from Chase leaves Makabe down, as Apeshit from Tanga Loa secured the win. This had some moments, but this was a fairly run-of-the-mill trios match. ***¼
I guess that’s the end of the “Elite” as the Honorary Tongan Chase Owens and his buddy returned to the Bullet Club fold. It was worth not shedding that ring gear then…
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi)
We’ve got a lot of gold on show here, with everyone in LIJ carrying something shiny. Even if Naito’s still dragging his belt like a child drags a teddy bear behind it…
We have… not a jump start before the bell, as Taichi whacks a chair at Naito’s head, breaking it in two! The bell rings as Taichi forcibly disrobes Naito while the other eight men in the match brawled around the ringside area. Taichi looked for a powerbomb, but Shingo shoves him away as Shingo acted as a human shield so Naito could make a tag out to BUSHI.
There’s some double-teaming on El Desperado, at least until Kanemaru makes a save as once again the fight spills to the outside. SANADA’s thrown into the guard rails by Suzuki, who took him into the crowd, while EVIL’s restrained by Zack Sabre Jr. We pick up SANADA getting throttled by a guard rail by Suzuki as the referee lost all control. It’s one of those “way too much is happening” brawls, but the focus was clearing on Taichi and Naito, who was getting choked with a chair as things vaguely calmed down. Desperado distracts the referee as Sabre and Suzuki wrench away on BUSHI’s legs. BUSHI tries to fight back, but Suzuki’s forearm just decks him as Desperado came in and tried to unmask BUSHI, continuing that never-ending rivalry. Kanemaru comes in with a Boston crab as the production crew seemingly gives up on the outside-the-ring shenanigans, at least until we got to see Taichi attacking Naito once again in the crowd.
Eventually BUSHI fought back with a ‘rana to Desperado before making the tag to SANADA… who just ran into Suzuki’s boot as those two went at it. Kanemaru tries to make a save, but he’s put into a Paradise Lock, and freed as SANADA teases doing the same ot Suzuki… but it’s caught and turned into a cross armbar instead! Suzuki puts on the brakes as SANADA did his double-leapfrog, but a rear naked choke/Gotch piledriver effort is stopped with a back body drop, before Suzuki reapplied it. In comes Sabre to keep up the holds, using a cravat to snapmare SANADA… who instantly hit back with a Dragon screw! EVIL’s in to hit a thrust kick and a back senton to Sabre, only for Zack to get right back in with a Cobra twist.
EVIL reverses the hold, but Sabre slips out and stomps on EVIL’s wrist. An attempted Fisherman buster from EVIL’s countered with an overhead kick to the arm, then a mounted key lock, before EVIL finally got free and landed that Fisherman buster. Somehow Naito’s back to his feet, and gets the tag in as Taichi stormed the ring, but Naito was still able to go through him with a low dropkick. Taichi elbows away from a neckbreaker, but can’t avoid the tornado DDT, nor a delayed ‘rana out of the corner from Naito. There’s a retaliatory head kick and a pair of Axe Bombers, but Naito’s able to kick out, so TAKA slips in the Intercontinental title for Taichi, who eventually lays out Naito with the belt before an Air Raid Crash gets the unlikeliest of wins for Taichi. Oh God, he’s gone from laying goose eggs as NEVER champion to challenging for the Intercontinental belt hasn’t he… This was fine, with perhaps a little too much of your Suzuki-gun shenanigans. ***¼
Post-match, Suzuki-gun continue the beatdown as Zack Sabre Jr. perhaps wondered if 30 hours was enough to get from Tokyo to the London Cockpit. Taichi gets the mic and tells Naito that he beat him better than Chris Jericho did… and since Naito doesn’t want the belt, he’ll take it.
Bullet Club (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale & Gedo) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI
Our main event was the comeback match for YOSHI-HASHI, and despite three months off, his shoulder is still taped up!
Okada wants to start this one, up against Jay White, but Gedo attacks Okada from behind as Tanahashi and Okada worked together briefly. YOSHI-HASHI’s quickly tagged in to score with a low dropkick for just a one-count on White, before he chopped the Bullet Club leader in the ropes. Gedo trips YOSHI-HASHI and drags him to the outside as we get some brawling on the floor from all six men. In the crowd, Gedo jabs YOSHI-HASHI in the shoulder with a chair, which instantly put him in peril, not helped when Gedo throws YOSHI-HASHI to the outside so Fale and White could charge him between the ring apron and the crowd barriers. Back in the ring, Fale just stands on YOSHI-HASHI, before Gedo came in and ate a rear spin kick to the gut, allowing Okada to tag in and make a beeline for Jay White!
Gedo’s still legal though, so we get a staredown there… and a poke to the eye from Gedo, who ends up taking a back elbow instead. There’s a DDT for Gedo too, who then gets slammed before Okada went for the top rope elbow, having to drop down as Gedo then sent him into the ropes for a kick to the back from Fale. Fale’s back in, taking Okada down with a back body drop for a two-count, before Okada dropkicks away from a Grenade. A slam’s attempted again, but we’ve got to wait for the One Bump General’s bump (that’s on Fale’s shirt now) as he instead took a Dragon screw! Tanahashi tags in next, squaring off with White, who throws chops before he’s caught with a Dragon screw as well, only for White to come back in with a Saito suplex.
A Slingblade from Tanahashi acts as a desperation takedown, allowing him to tag YOSHI-HASHI back in. He takes White into the corner for a chop, before a Bunker Buster is fought out of… so YOSHI-HASHI lands a Head Hunter running blockbuster instead. White blocks a Fisherman’s buster, but instead takes a chop before scoring with a big uranage. Okada breaks up a Blade Runner as the ring filled for a Parade of Moves, ending with Tanahashi countering a Blade Runner into a Twist and Shout. YOSHI-HASHI tries to capitalise with a Western lariat, before he almost put away White with a modified brainbuster. White grabs hold of the referee to avoid Karma, before he countered into another Saito suplex and eventually a Blade Runner as YOSHI-HASHI’s return saw him take a familiar loss. ***½
Post-match, White challenged Tanahashi for his title, calling him an “old man” who could “barely get through the ropes”. Except it was a ploy for Gedo and Fale to return to attack him. Okada makes a save, but eats a Grenade from Fale, before a Blade Runner left Tanahashi laying. Jay White promised to capture the IWGP title as the show came to a close as he once again racked up a win over the New Japan Dream Team.
This was a really good show from New Japan, again delivering up and down the card while setting up matches for the future. However, this was a show that lacked the “massive shock” that people have become accustomed to with prior New Year Dash shows. Truth be told, it’s a case of “it’s not a surprise if you’re expecting it”, but with New Japan having announced a calendar of shows that could best be described as ambitious, there is a lot of work to be done. With no sign of the Elite on this show, and the last remnants of that group having rolled back into the Bullet Club, we can safely say that the likes of Kenny Omega, Cody, Hangman Page and the Bucks are done for now. Add in the changes at junior level, with Ospreay having moved up, KUSHIDA’s expected departure and the continued loss of Hiromu Takahashi, and the one burgeoning New Japan junior division is beginning to look a little threadbare.