It’s the start of a new tour – and some truncated cards – as New Japan heads in some new directions (and some old!)

Quick Results
Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay pinned Yota Tsuji & Satoshi Kojima in 8:38 (***¼)
El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Gedo & Jado pinned DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 9:24 (**¾)
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada pinned Dick Togo, EVIL & Yujiro Takahshi in 10:13 (**½)
Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & SANADA pinned Tomoaki Honma, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi in 13:06 (***)
Master Wato & SHO pinned BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi in 17:52 (***)

Hope you like early starts and Korakuen Hall – because we’ve got a lot of them! The current state of emergency that’s been declared in Japan has led to a lot of upcoming New Japan shows starting a little earlier than usual, and with shorter cards, as virtually every show on this Road to tour has been cut to five matches (with the exception of the February 1 and 2 Korakuens, which will be just four matches deep, headlined with an Elimination match on each night). Kevin Kelly’s running solo on commentary and we’re starting on the button…

United Empire (Will Ospreay & Great-O-Khan) vs. Satoshi Kojima & Yota Tsuji
We’re building to Ospreay/Kojima later in the tour… and of course Tenzan/O-Khan…

Ospreay and Kojima lock up, but it quickly breaks down into elbows going back-and-forth before Kojima charged Ospreay down. Boots take Ospreay into the corner as tags bring in Tsuji and O-Khan, with those two going at it. Tsuji chops O-Khan into the corner, but O-Khan blocks a hiptoss out and instantly takes down Tsuji with a grounded head and arm choke. Tsuji breaks it in the ropes as Kojima was thrown into the railings on the outside, but Tsuji can’t avoid being ragdolled as waistlock takedowns kept the Young Lion down for a two-count. Charging him chest-first into the corner, O-Khan sits on Tsuji, then tagged in Ospreay as we got some double-teaming in the corner.

A BIG back body drop from Tsuji nearly sends Ospreay into the ropes, before Kojima tagged in for some Machine Gun chops. He followed that up with a top rope elbow for a two-count, then went back to the elbow strikes. Ospreay’s shot to the gut cuts him off, before a rolling elbow and a suplex dropped Kojima. O-Khan’s back for Mongolian chops, only to get cut off with a Koji Cutter. Tsuji tags back in to try and build on it, landing a series of elbows before landing some shoulder tackles. Finally knocking down O-Khan, Tsuji got some more help from Kojima as a slam led to a big splash as Tsuji gets another two-count. Ospreay dispatches of Kojima with a hook kick, and that looked to open the door for O-Khan… but his Mongolian chop is deftly countered into a roll-up for a near-fall. From there, O-Khan catches him at the second attempt before an Eliminator got the win. A great, fired-up opener – with Tsuji more than holding his own here. There’s a lot to be said for a motivated and pissed-off Kojima here. ***¼

Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, El Phantasmo, Gedo & Jado) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
I sure hope you love this combination – because you’re getting it for three shows in a row!

We can’t kaze-ni-nare, but we can get a jump start as the Bullet Club attacked at the bell… to mixed fortunes. Of course, the junior tag team champions and their next challengers paired off, while Gedo had a go at Suzuki. Which led to him getting dropped with an elbow almost instantly as a Fujiwara armbar needed to be broken up by Jado. Gedo’s beaten around as Kanemaru tagged in, but his scooping reverse DDT was stopped as ELP’s loaded boot kicked out the back of the knee. More stomps to the knee follow as ELP then goes in with back rakes… as go the rest of the Bullet Club, with Ishimori leaping off the middle one to rake Kanemaru’s back, before Jado elbowed Kanemaru in the head… only for Suzuki to distract the referee with a chair. Hey, if it works, it works.

Phantasmo finally knocks down Suzuki, which ensures doom for him later on. Jado does the back rake too, then tagged in Gedo to complete the set… eventually pissing off Kanemaru to fire back, but an eye rake stopped him in his tracks. Ishimori hits running double knees, but misses a PK as Kanemaru finally lands some offence, buying him some time as Desperado gets a tag in. Despy clears the apron, then caught a handspring, turning it into a back suplex on Ishimori for a two-count before going in for Numero Dos. The rest of Suzuki-gun flood the ring to prevent a save as Ishimori needed to claw his way to the ropes to save himself. ELP tags in and backflips out of the corner, then took down Desperado with a superkick to the gut. Loading the boot took too long as Kanemaru gomes in to try and disarm him, but ELP pushes him to the outside as Suzuki and DOUKI cane in to double-team the Canadian.

A snapmare and PK from Suzuki, then a double stomp from DOUKI gets a two-count. Ishimori interferes to delay Daybreak, as DOUKI then springboards into a superkick… and that’s your lot. The loaded superkick KO’s DOUKI, leading to Phantasmo doing the Undertaker pin for the win. This was fine, but don’t worry if it wasn’t to your taste, they’ve got two more goes at it – so I hope you like loaded boot teases… **¾

Bullet Club (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & Dick Togo) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii
EVIL and Okada aren’t doing much on this tour, but seem to be paired off against each other due to them being former champions. Yeah, I’m stretching.

EVIL stalls before the bell like Larry Zbyszko as we instead start with Goto and Yujiro. A side headlock from Yujiro is broken up as Goto then clubbed away on him, eventually going for a suplex, only for Yujiro to bite himself free. A shoulder tackle has Yujiro down as tags bring in Ishii and Togo, but Ishii just charges him down before some right hands from Togo aggravated Ishii some more. A brief exchange between those two led to nought, before EVIL’s distraction allowed Togo to hit Ishii from behind. Goto and Okada makes the save, with Yujiro being the odd man out to take a beating. EVIL trips Ishii in the ropes as the Bullet Club do their thing on the outside, using the guard rails as a landing place for Ishii and Okada.

Out come some chairs as EVIL jabs Okada in the gut, while back inside Yujiro’s combination of falling strikes got a two-count on Ishii. The turnbuckle pad comes off in the corner, just in time for Ishii to get thrown into it, as EVIL returned to keep Ishii under his boot before Ishii got thrown back into the exposed corner. Ishii’s back is marked up badly from those ropes as he tries to make this all mean something. He sidesteps a charge from EVIL, with the former double champion running into the corner ahead of a suplex as Okada was begging for a tag. He gets it too, and makes a beeline for EVIL, leading to the back elbow in the corner and a DDT out of it for a two-count.

Okada’s kick is redirected to the ref so EVIL could hit a thrust kick… and the comeback continues there with a clothesline. A Fisherman buster is blocked, but Okada just gets tripped in the ropes by Togo. The comeback from Okada sees him flapjack Togo, before Goto tagged in and caught Togo with a spinning heel kick in the corner. Togo escapes an ushigoroshi as EVIL returned to clothesline him, following in with a Fisherman buster for a two-count. The Spoiler choker’s next from Togo, but Okada breaks it up as the ring filled up for a Parade of Moves, culminating in Togo running into an ushigoroshi, before a GTR swiftly put the spoiler away. This one picked up by the end, but as a match it was really spinning its wheels for far too long – feeling way longer than the ten minutes it actually went. **½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma
We’re dealing with SANADA vs. Ibushi next month, and a rather belt-less Naito here…

Shingo and Tanahashi start us off, teasing their NEVER title match later in the tour. We have a tie-up, then a side headlock from Tanahashi that’s clung onto, before they engaged in shoulder tackles, with neither man coming up trumps. Back elbows from Shingo offered hope, but Tanahashi springs out of the corner with a crossbody before clearing the LIJ apron. Naito and Honma attack their opponents in the ropes before Honma helped knock down Shingo… but dual Kokeshi fail. The ring clears from there as we get trips to the guard rails, with Naito almost slipping on the floor, before Shingo stood on Tanahashi by the ropes. A slam easily dumps Tanahashi as SANADA tagged in to tie up Tanahashi in a Paradise Lock… with Shingo holding him there ahead of the dropkick to unlock it.

Naito’s in to tie up Tanahashi with a cravat, but Tanahashi fights free and had enough time to slap away Shingo. Of course, that pissed off the NEVER champion, who tags in to get him some, eventually blocking a Dragon screw… only to miss his own as Tanahashi finally landed the move. Tags get us to SANADA and Ibushi, with the latter landing a big boot, before kicks and a standing moonsault got the double champion a two-count. A low dropkick from SANADA has Ibushi down and to the outside ahead of a plancha, before they returned to the ring, with SANADA’s springboard dropkick being aborted as Ibushi came back with a mid kick.

Ibushi looks for a powerbomb, but SANADA sandbags as he countered around into a backflipping Skull End. It’s escaped as a head kick from Ibushi took SANADA down. Honma tags in to try his luck on SANADA with elbows, following up with a bulldog as another Kokeshi misses. A tag brings in Naito to try and capitalise, with an elbow and a low dropkick before a neckbreaker and some headscissors had Honma in trouble. Eventually Honma squirms his way towards the ropes, but Tanahashi stomps the hold apart. Naito looks for Destino, but it’s blocked as the pair stumble towards the corner… Tanahashi comes in with a Slingblade as Honma finally followed up with a Kokeshi.

Honma then goes too far and teases a top rope Kokeshi, which comes up short… and LIJ instantly swarm on him. A reverse DDT just about lands, as Honma ate a pair of low dropkicks for a near-fall, before a Destino put Honma out of his misery. A rough night at the office for Honma, particularly on some exchanges. Decent enough build for the two title matches, but we’ve a ways to go here. ***

SHO & Master Wato vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
Looking ahead at the cards tells me that after Hiromu’s done with SHO, he may be paired with a Grandmaster…

BUSHI and Wato start us off, but Wato instantly goes after Hiromu, booting him off the apron before catching BUSHI with a rear spin kick. That takes him outside, but Hiromu trips Wato before he could do himself any harm, before nailing a sunset bomb on SHO. Back inside, Hiromu tagged in to put the boots to Wato in the corner, before BUSHI returned with a STF that ended in the ropes. Hiromu’s back to chop away on Wato, before a clothesline in the corner and a low dropkick had him down for a two-count. BUSHI keeps the quick tags going, coming in for a back suplex that gets another two-count, before Wato hits a dropkick… but with SHO still down on the floor it felt like it was for nought, particularly since Hiromu tagged back in to put the boots to Wato again.

A double-team hiptoss/facebuster has Wato down for a two-count, but he pushes away Hiromu with some kicks before a chop took him back to the corner. SHO’s back to his feet, but Wato can’t roll through to make a tag… and needed to hit another dropkick to Hiromu before getting enough time to make the tag. SHO’s in to charge down Hiromu, before he peppered him with a series of kicks. A PK gets SHO a two-count, as does a spear. He works over Hiromu’s arm before a deadlift suplex had the junior champion down for a two-count. Hiromu counters a cross armbreaker with a roll-up before an attempted tied-up Dragon screw was slapped away.

Hiromu goes for a ‘rana, but SHO blocks it… only to find his spear getting caught as Hiromu eventually retaliated with a superkick. A Dynamite Plunger’s avoided as SHO and Hiromu trade elbows… knocking SHO into the ropes before he knocked down Hiromu. Clotheslines follow, leaving both men down, before tags got us to Wato and BUSHI. BUSHI’s taken into the corner, where he lifts Wato onto the apron… only for Wato to return with a springboard uppercut for a near-fall. Recientemente’s blocked by BUSHI, who gets kicked before he caught Wato with a DDT. A running Codebreaker’s blocked as Wato returned with a leaping Slingblade, taking BUSHI down as Wato then went up top in search of RPP.

Except Hiromu threw Wato off the top, allowing BUSHI to hang him in the ropes for a missile dropkick. Hiromu runs back in to knock SHO off the apron, as BUSHI nails a see-saw DDT onto the apron before SHO broke up a double-team, which then took us back to BUSHI and Wato. A Destroyer from BUSHI lands for a near-fall, before Hiromu and SHO traded more clotheslines en route to a sunset flip-assisted German suplex on SHO. Wato’s suplexed into a powerbomb for a near-fall, before he countered some sort of crucifix by BUSHI (tagged as the Terrible after the match) into a jack-knifed pin for the win. A win out of nowhere in a match that had some bright spots, but ultimately went a little too long – and instilled some dread for a potential Wato title chase in the not-too-distant future. ***

This was your run-of-the-mill road-to show, but at least they started out nice and hot with the Kojima/United Empire match. With just about every stop of this tour being streamed, this is going to feel like a long road – particularly with the shallow roster on the tour and the number of similar matches, but unless they’ve thrown away their own playbook, the big matches will at least feel big by the time we get there.