One more stop on the Road to Castle Attack, and we’ve a junior tag title defence as El Phantasmo and Taiji ishimori take on the new Suzuki-gun challengers of Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado.

Quick Results
Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay pinned Yota Tsuji, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Satoshi Kojima in 8:25 (**¾)
Toru Yano, SHO & Kazuchika Okada pinned Dick Togo, Chase Owens & EVIL in 1:25 (NR)
Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii pinned Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Jay White in 10:00 (**½)
Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & SANADA pinned Tomoaki Honma, Kota Ibushi & Yuji Nagata in 15:30 (**½)
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru pinned Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in 19:55 (***½)

After Hiromu Takahashi’s torn pectoral ruled him out of action for six months, we’ve got an enforced change to tonight’s main event – as the former champions El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru get a shot at the titles they dropped at the end of January.

Speaking of Hiromu, he’s out to open the show, telling us he picked up the injury last Friday in Iwate, before handing over Belto-san once more. Hiromu asked for BUSHI to take his place in the match on Sunday, but for now, the title’s now vacant again. They’ve opened up Korakuen Hall a bit more here – taking back to the “original” configuration without having to block off all of the back wall…

United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Will Ospreay & Jeff Cobb) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Satoshi Kojima & Yota Tsuji
For once, we’ve no jump start here, as O-Khan waited for Tanahashi to get in his face before attacking him.

We’ve the early visual of O-Khan standing over Tanahashi, holding the NEVER openweight title, but Tanahashi’s able to get on top, albeit with the help of Tsuji and Kojima. Well, for a moment, as O-Khan sidesteps a charge from Tanahashi, who just crashes into Tsuji in the corner.

Mongolian chops from O-Khan have Tanahashi down, before the standing head-and-arm choke took the Ace down. Cobb tags in and lifts Tanahashi into a backbreaker, stretching him over the knee before charging Tanahashi back into the Empire’s corner. Tanahashi manages to break free with a Dragon screw, before bringing in Kojima, who unloads with Machine Gun chops to Ospreay.

The top rope elbow drop followed, as it was one of those days where Kojima doesn’t get cut off, but he doesn’t get the win from it. A springboard forearm from Ospreay offers a way back in, but a Koji Cutter resets things as tags bring us to Tsuji and Cobb. Tsuji has some luck with a jumping elbow, but Cobb slips out of a slam before running into a bodyslam. The Mount Tsuji splash followed for a two-count, before Tsuji flipped his way into a sunset flip… opting to keep on rollin’ for the Boston Crab on Cobb.

Ospreay’s quickly in to kick that apart, but Tsuji back body drops him… only for Cobb to catch Ospreay, then throw him back at Tsuji for an OsCutter, before a Tour of the Islands gets Cobb the win. A nice finishing stretch, with Cobb again racking up a win as we head into the New Japan Cup next month. **¾

Post-match, O-Khan worked over Tanahashi’s leg at ringside… before taking a seat so he could laugh at him.

Bullet Club (EVIL, Chase Owens & Dick Togo) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano & SHO
So we’ve got a “YTR-style Texas Strap Match”, which I believe is “touch all four corners” or “remove all four corners”. Not sure how that’ll work halfway through when corners have been removed…

We’ve got a jump start as Chase Owens goes after Yano, while Togo attacked SHO at the bell. It quickly distils down to Yano low bridging Owens to the outside, before SHO came in to hit a leaping knee on Togo, who gets rolled up for the pin. Good job I paused this when the postman came…

After the match, EVIL and Okada have some of the fight they’d have had had the match actually gone longer.

Bullet Club (Jay White & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI
A rematch from the New Beginning in Hiroshima just two weeks ago – but this time those NEVER trios titles aren’t on the line…

Jay White’s already bleating about fairness and distance before the bell, almost petrified of Ishii charging at him. YOSHI-HASHI and Tanga Loa start us off, but Tama Tonga runs in and gets dealt with by YOSHI-HASHI and Goto… before those two took down Tanga Loa as YOSHI-HASHI gets hiptossed onto him.

Jado trips YOSHI-HASHI in the ropes, then gets caught with a dropkick through the ropes as Jay White pulls him outside for some payback. The guard rails come into play as they do, before things returned to the ring as Tanga Loa dumped YOSHI-HASHI with an Oklahoma Stampede.

The camera crew cuts away from Jay White catching Ishii in the ropes, so we could see the Guerrillas target YOSHI-HASHI once more on the floor. Back inside, a neckbreaker on YOSHI-HASHI gets White a two-count, before an eye rake took YOSHI-HASHI back into the corner. Tama Tonga tags in to beat on YOSHI-HASHI with crossface punches, while White returned to stretch YOSHI-HASHI in a chinlock.

Finally YOSHI-HASHI got free and tagged out to Ishii… White bails, but gets thrown back in and manages to find a way through with uppercuts before he literally went “F this” and tried to run. He’s back in for more ducking and diving before Ishii knocks him down, with an attempted brainbuster giving White a way to tag out to Tama Tonga.

Tama takes that suplex as Goto tags in next, but that just sparks a big ol’ Parade of Moves, leading to Tama taking a superkick-assisted ushigoroshi, a sliding lariat, then a running double knees before a GYW gets Goto the clear victory. This was okay, but I just couldn’t get into large swathes of the match – Jay White’s game of chicken is entertaining, but really took any sting out of the contest. **½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Shingo Takagi) vs. Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma
This was Naito’s first match since last Tuesday, having missed a few dates due to a knee injury.

Naito and Ibushi start the match off slowly, with Naito working wristlocks for Ibushi to escape, before a side headlock ended in the ropes. Ibushi mounts Naito on the mat for an overhead wristlock, before we go back to a side headlock… with Naito countering with a hammerlock until they made it to the ropes. Slow-paced stuff to confound those who still somehow expect these two to do nothing but land on their heads.

Tags bring in SANADA and Honma, with those two keeping the wristlocks going before Nagata came in to help charge SANADA down for a moment. We reset with Shingo tagging in to start trading chops with Nagata, before Naito and SANADA came in to triple-team Nagata briefly. SANADA’s back in as he catches a kick from Nagata, before backflipping into a Dragon Sleeper, pulling Nagata away from the ropes before a… Magic Screw, I guess? That took down SANADA. We get back to Naito and Ibushi, with those two turning up the pace, before a low dropkick from Naito led to a deathlock attempt that Honma, then Nagata tried to break up.

A rear spin kick from Ibushi earns him a low dropkick… but Ibushi takes down Naito with a high kick. Tags get us back to Honma and Shingo, but Honma misses a Kokeshi before recovering with a suplex. Nagata returns to help out, but Honma’s overwhelmed with a double-team suplex from SANADA and Shingo, before a barrage of double-teams led to a sliding lariat from Shingo for a near-fall.

From there, Shingo goes for Last of the Dragon, but Nagata breaks it up as we hit the Parade of Moves, ending with Ibushi getting German suplex by Shingo before Honma’s clotheslines to Shingo earned him some elbows. A Honma headbutt is shrugged off as Shingo dumps him with a Pumping Bomber for a near-fall, before Last of the Dragon gets Shingo the victory. A pretty straightforward match for Naito to test the knee out in here, but there was precious little here to sink your teeth into. **½

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) (c)
Of course I screwed up – this isn’t a WrestleKingdom rematch – it’s a rematch from the Road to the New Beginning from a month ago!

We’ve a jump start as Desperado and Kanemaru went after the champions before the bell, focusing on Phantasmo in the early going. An eye rake from Kanemaru in the corner keeps ELP down as the challengers were having the best of things in those opening minutes. Some rope choking from Desperado doesn’t last long as ELP ends up using the referee as a human shield… before Ishimori low bridges Despy to the outside.

Some swift trips into the guard rails have the champions back on level pegging, especially as Ishimori throws Desperado shoulder-first into the ring post while ELP choked Kanemaru around the ring post with a shirt. Back inside… back rakes! Ishimori works over an armbar as he levers back Desperado’s left arm, while I assume Phantasmo challenged Desperado to a duel by… slapping him with a glove. Et tu. More back rakes follow, before ELP hung up Desperado in a Tree of Woe ahead of a baseball slide and the Gas Pedal.

On the outside, Ishimori reverses a reversal as he flung Kanemaru into the guard rails, then returned to the ring as the champions kept working over Desperado by clawing away around his shoulder blade. Eventually Desperado fought back, slapping his way out of a nipple twist before a dive out to Kanemaru came to nought, with Ishimori pulling Kanemaru off the apron in time.

More back rakes, but finally Kanemaru comes in and clears away Ishimori with a dropkick before a low dropkick makes ELP face plant. That’s a mighty impressive bump… A scooping reverse DDT from Kanemaru gets a two-count as he then traps Phantasmo in a Figure Four. Ishimori tries a PK to break it up, but Kanemaru leans back as Desperado drags him outside, while ELP eventually rolled into the ropes to break the hold.

A suplex from Phantasmo counters Kanemaru’s tiltawhirl DDT as the NJPW World feed begins it usual buffering trick. A backdrop suplex from Desperado gets a two-count before he moved to Numero Dos on Ishimori, but Ishimori countered out into the Yes Lock… before an attempt to switch out of that just gave Desperado another chance at the Numero Dos before they both broke free.

Kanemaru runs back in to help with a dropkick on Desperado’s back suplex for a near-fall, and from there’s it’s back to Numero Dos… with a Cobra Twist from Kanemaru restraining ELP. Eventually ELP just throws Kanemaru onto the pile with almost a death valley driver to break it up, as the Bullet Club tandem pushed on.

Phantasmo goes all Chris Brookes, pushing his Lykos into an elevated Codebreaker on Desperado for a near-fall, before Ishimori’s springboard knee triggers a whirlibird neckbreaker from ELP for a near-fall. A 450 from Ishimori is next for a near-fall, before Phantasmo and Ishimori combine for a double-team Cipher UTAKI… bleeding into a big splash from ELP on Desperado that almost wins it.

ELP “loads” his boot, but Kanemaru comes in to misdirect the Sudden Death into Ishimori, before a tiltawhirl DDT planted Phantasmo. Ishimori’s still legal, remember, and still out too as Desperado staggered to his feet for Pinche Loco… and with Kanemaru restraining ELP, that’s plenty for the former champions to regain their titles. This was much better than their last match, which I enjoyed in spite of it being a “who can cheat the most” outing, and likely opens the door for ELP to trade the tag team gold for singles hardware this weekend. As for the junior tag division, well, that’s always been thin on the ground… ***½

After the match, Desperado seemed to throw his name into Sunday’s match for the vacated IWGP Junior Heavyweight title… that drew out BUSHI, as ELP superkicks Desperado… BUSHI hits the lungblower to ELP, and left.

That’s it for the Road to Castle Attack – there’s a day off before the two shows in Osaka – Saturday has the KOPW title match and a bunch of special singles matches, including EVIL vs. Okada, while Sunday has that three-way to crown a new junior heavyweight champion. Saturday is a 2am ET/7am GMT start, while Sunday is a delightful two hours earlier – 5am Sunday morning for those of us in the UK.

This was a so-so show to end a tour that hasn’t exactly gone to plan. These Road to Castle Attack shows have felt somewhat cursed at times, with injuries forcing major reshuffles. Hiromu’s pectoral injury kinda deleted the only things I was looking forward to from those big cards; and if you throw in the other controversy that’s doing the rounds about New Japan’s US arm, and it’s an exceedingly-precarious time for the product among Western fans.