Korakuen Hall filled out for the latest stop on the Road to the New Beginning – as New Japan bid farewell to KUSHIDA.

We’ve got Kevin Kelly and Andy Boy Simmonz on the English commentary again…

Yuya Uemura vs. Ren Narita
We open with some Young Lion action as Ren Narita was the early aggressor, taking Uemura down to the mat as he looked to work over the legs in the opening stages.

A toe hold from Narita led to Uemura snatching at a small package for a near-fall… and Narita hits back instantly with a Boston crab as he had his fellow Young Lion in deep trouble. Uemura’s able to get to the rope, but Narita just wrenched back on the hold some more… which kinda prompted Uemura to blast him in the corner with a dropkick for a near-fall.

From there, Uemura busted out a nice back body drop before he caught Narita in a Lion Tamer-like Boston crab, which eventually ends in the ropes as Narita powered up and dragged himself to safety. Clutching his back in agony, Narita tried to fight back, swapping forearms with Uemura before an overhead belly-to-belly from Uemura almost led to the win!

We’re back to the forearms, before Narita just kills Uemura with a sweet bridging Northern Lights… and that’s the win! Well, that Young Lions clash lived up to the hype we keep giving them – and while this was a little brief, it was keenly contested. Good opener! **¾

Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi
Yoshida and Umino were rather up for this match, choosing to poke the proverbial bears before the bell.

Umino and Nakanishi get us going, with the Young Lion chopping Nakanishi in the ropes… and yeah, it doesn’t go well. Tenzan and Yoshida are in next, trading shoulder tackles as Yoshida manages to edge ahead, at least until Tenzan busted out some Mongolian chops. A splash from Nakanishi almos tends things early, with Umino making the save… and getting turfed to the outside as Yosida gets held in the ropes by Tenzan for some more chops.

Man, did someone try and steal some of Nakanishi’s breakfast?!

Yoshida tries to fight back with chops, but it’s an enziguiri that worked best before Umino tagged in and found an Irish whip wasn’t going anywhere. Umino’s plan B of a bodyslam didn’t quite work at first, but he eventually slammed the big guy for a near-fall as Korakuen started to get behind Shota.

A spear from Nakanishi stops Umino in his tracks, as tags take us back to Tenzan and Yoshida, with a hanging clothesline from Yoshida giving us the latest shot of an upset. Kicks to Tenzan follow, but a Mountain Bomb cuts off the K-DOJO trainee as the veterans looked to get back into gear, sending Yoshida into the corner, only for him to evade their onslaught.

If anything, the tables turned as Tenzan ate some double-teaming, which almost led to the win… and then we get a modified version of a 3D on Yoshida for a near-fall. From there, Umino’s racked by Nakanishi, while Yoshida’s dropped with a uranage into an Anaconda Vise for the submission. Well, they had a valiant effort, but in the end it was a familiar defeat as Yoshida and Umino came the closest they had yet to a W. **¾

Ryusuke Taguchi & Toa Henare vs. Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi)
Andy Simmonz had to be schooled in Taguchi’s love of the number 69…

We start off with Ishimori working over the arm of Taguchi as the pair traded barbs early on, leading to a hip attack from Taguchi that led to a faked out dive from Taguchi. He mocked a dance routine from Ishimori’s distant past from the old old Toryumon promotion, which led to the pair tagging out with Henare schooling Yujiro with armdrags and slams.

Yujiro bites back (literally), as Henare quickly found himself knocked down and in the ropes ahead of a big boot that almost ended things. Henare’s back with a flash Samoan drop, before Taguchi tagged in and went wild with hip attacks, taking Ishimori outside for a step-up body press to the floor. A springboard hip attacks awaits Ishimori back inside, but the junior heavyweight champion’s back with his springboard attack moments later, only for a sequence to end with Taguchi rolling through into an ankle lock.

Ishimori escapes that and comes back with a handspring enziguiri to Taguchi. Henare’s back with another Samoan drop to Yujiro, as Taguchi comes in with his rugby ball… which distracted Yujiro en route to a spear from Henare for a near-fall. Mixed sports metaphors led us to Taguchi whacking Ishimori with the ball outside as the match broke down a little, before some back-and-forth with Henare led to a Fisherman buster from Yujiro for another near-fall. One Pimp Juice DDT later, and that’s the win for Yujiro, as the Bullet Club pair continue to pick up wins over Taguchi. ***

Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Tomoaki Honma vs. Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Chase Owens)
No, people still aren’t really buying Tama Tonga as a good guy, and we open with Makabe against Tanga Loa, who has no problems landing shoulder tackles.

Makabe returns the favour, before tags bring in Tama and Honma… who again, raspily shouts “bad guy” at Tama, before he accepted a handshake and a hug. The hell? Chase Owens and Tanga Loa come in to attack his opponents, which left Tama all apologetic, at least until he suplexed Honma for a quick two-count.

Chase Owens returns as quick tags gave Honma little chance to escape some stomps, but somehow the pace of the match slowed down badly here until Tanga Loa ran in and blasted Honma with some clotheslines. A headbutt stops that as Honma lands a lariat of his own, before a tag brought in Yano… who of course goes for the turnbuckle padding.

Tanga Loa tries to reattach it, but all Yano does is remove a second pad as he tried to bring Tama back to his old self. A hair pull followed as Makabe tagged back in to keep up on Tama, taking him into the corner for some mounted punches before a Northern Lights suplex gets a near-fall. Jado trips Makabe as the Bullet Club turned the tables, before a back suplex/neckbreaker combo and a running knee almost brought the match to an end. We get a ref bump as Makabe’s shoved into Marty Asami, and while Tama Tonga’s “caring” for the ref things break down again.

Jado cracks Honma with a Kendo stick as Honma went for a Kokeshi… and then we get Jado in to try a draping DDT as we got a callback to how Honma broke his neck. Luckily we’re saved from that uneasiness as Makabe ends up taking down Owens for a King Kong Knee drop for the win. Decent stuff, even if there were some eggy parts. Makabe and Yano leave with a win over Bullet Club ahead of their shot at the trios title tomorrow. ***

Bullet Club (Jay White & Bad Luck Fale) vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI
Fale’s now being called the “Rogue General”, which is better than whatever that “one bump general” he used to be known as…

We start out hot as the match spills outside, with Okada slipping out of a Bad Luck Fall before he’s whipped hard into the guard rails by Fale. He’d not even gotten out of his entrance gear, as Jay White chops the hell out of YOSHI-HASHI by the commentary table. Kindly, Fale disrobes Okada as YOSHI-HASHI’s set into the railings once more, before we return to the ring as White continued with more of the same.

A suplex took YOSHI-HASHI awkwardly into the corner as Fale comes in and continued to isolate the weak link of the team. At least in terms of weak by “how much tape he’s wearing”, and that’s a situation not helped when White rams YOSHI-HASHI between the barriers and the ring apron.

Finally Okada comes in to help… but he chokes Fale as he was standing on YOSHI-HASHI, which was a bit dumb. White elbows out of a Bunker Buster as YOSHI-HASHI showed a brief sign of life, before a rear spin kick finally took down the Kiwi. A tag’s eventually made to Okada, who storms in with a sliding back elbow to White… but going after Fale seemed to make things worse. At least until Fale ran in and accidentally caught White as he tried to get his own back on Okada.

There’s a flapjack to White for a near-fall, who responds with a snap Saito suplex that dumped Okada in half… and in comes Fale to make it worse. Okada lands some elbows but gets caught with a forearm and a back body drop that almost had Okada landing on his head. Oof.

Fale tries to charge at Okada in the corner, before Okada tries to counter a bodyslam into a small package. It doesn’t quite go to plan as Fale just drops him, then an elbow, for a near-fall, before tags brought YOSHI-HASHI back in. There’s a Head Hunter for Fale, then a Blockbuster off the top… but White just comes in and tries for a Blade Runner, only for Okada’s dropkick to stop all that.

Fale single-handedly stops the CHAOS comeback, nearly finishing off YOSHI-HASHI with a big splash. YOSHI tries to come back with some clotheslines, only for Fale to land one of his own as a Grenade gets the win. Pretty much as you’d expect, with Okada and White having good exchanges among each other… but I’m still not sold on the Okada/Fale match. ***

Post-match, Young Lions stop Fale from dishing out a Bad Luck Fall, before Yuya Uemura ate a Grenade for his part.

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi)
All of Suzuki-gun came out to Taichi’s music, which was odd. Still, we at least found out Kevin Kelly’s a better singer!

Unlike last night, this wasn’t under elimination rules, and we have a jump start as LIJ hit first!

Naito made a beeline for Taichi, taking him outside before he chokes him with his hoodie, while EVIL and Sabre went at each other in the ring, using uppercuts and forearms to try and weaken each other. When they switch it up, EVIL misses a back senton before he shoved down Sabre with a shoulder tackle, as LIJ seemingly drew first blood.

SANADA and Suzuki tag in next, lighting each other up before a low dropkick from SANADA had Suzuki reeling. Oh SANADA, quit going for a Paradise Lock on Suzuki… it never works! Strikes were more effective, but Suzuki just shoves away a springboard dropkick as a hanging armbar had SANADA in trouble… while the rest of the match spilled outside, with Naito getting jabbed in the head with a chair as bedlam once again reigned supreme.

Christ, Suzuki bounces a chair off of SANADA and into the crowd, while Taichi throws Naito into the wall sign. Yep, it’s one of those “too much to call” brawls, which also saw Suzuki dump a guard rail and another barrier onto SANADA. Maniacal Suzuki is the most intimidating Suzuki, isn’t it?

In among that, SANADA had to beat a countout… before he’s taken back outside as Sabre and Suzuki took their turns in trying to unwind his arm from his body. The beating continues on SANADA as Suzuki returned in with a Fujiwara armbar while the brawl again sparked off on the outside. Naito and Taichi stare off from the apron as the danger facing SANADA intensified, at least until he got a foot to the rope.

Back on his feet, SANADA trades elbows with Suzuki… and manages to edge out with a Dragon screw. He can’t capitalise though, and has to hit a missile dropkick before he’s able to tag out… and yes, we get Naito and Taichi! An enziguiri’s ducked by Naito, who comes back in with the Combinacion Cabron in the corner to Taichi, who then had to grab hold of the referee to save himself from a German suplex.

Naito offers a fist-bump to Taichi, but instead he gets his eyes raked as he eventually comes back with a tornado DDT. Shino gets a tag in, but he’s instantly double-teamed by Desperado and Kanemaru… although he does overcome them, blocking a Kanemaru DDT before Shingo just chopped him silly. A pop-up from Shingo leds to an eventual vertical suplex as BUSHI comes in to keep up on Kanemaru, but again the momentum swings as a Deep Impact DDT off the top almost put paid to BUSHI, with only SANADA and Naito making the save to keep the match alive.

Undeterred, Kanemaru looks for a top rope moonsault, which he rolls through on as BUSHI comes back with a swinging Fisherman’s buster. Tags take us back to EVIL… but he goes for Sabre and drops his arm across the top rope, as EVIL then turned his attention to Kanemaru with a lariat. Darkness Falls for a two-count, before Sabre makes a save on Everything is EVIL as we burst into a big Parade of Strikes!

In the midst of it, Taichi rips off his trousers, only for Naito to spit on him and kick him low. A Destino CRUSHES Taichi, who’s then rolled outside as Shingo finished off Kanemaru with a Pumping Bomber, allowing for Everything is EVIL to get the W. A bloody enjoyable melee of a match, which was refreshingly light on Suzuki-gun shenanigans. More please! ***½

Post-match, Naito feigns helping up Taichi, before throwing him into the guard rails as he then teased breaking the mic stand over the fallen crooner.

Right, time for the Kleenex…

KUSHIDA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
As expected, KUSHIDA looked overwhelmed just coming out, as his parting gift here was a first-time-ever singles match against a man he’s frequently tagged with.

We have a tentative start as KUSHIDA tried to take out Tanahashi’s legs with a dropkick, but instead he stuffs a Tanahashi takedown attempt before they headed into the ropes. Another scramble on the mat led to a square-off, before they finally tied-up with a knuckle lock, with Tanahashi forcing KUSHIDA into a bridge…a bridge he eventually broke, before KUSHIDA rolled through and eventually grabbed a waistlock as the grappling session ended with KUSHIDA rolling to the outside.

Another tie-up again has KUSHIDA down to a knee, then down for a one-count as they again head into the ropes for a keenly-contested break. KUSHIDA snatches at a leg as he took Tanahashi down to the mat, but again they swap positions as KUSHIDA looked for the first submission attempt, going for Tanahashi’s arm before a leg grapevine kept the former junior heavyweight champion on the mat.

Tanahashi teased turning the grapevine into a Muta lock, but instead he just snaps back into a deathlock until KUSHIDA got his hand into the ropes. With the knee seemingly compromised, Tanahashi stomped on the lumb some more, then went back to the mat for another leg grapevine, again ending in the ropes. The crowd boos Tanahashi as he took KUSHIDA into the corner and wrapped his legs around the ring post, which made the next move pretty obvious: except KUSHIDA’s able to fight out of a Dragon screw and catch Tanahashi with a Pele kick.

KUSHIDA keeps up the resurgence with some kicks, taking down Tanahashi with a handspring back elbow before he measured up for a Buzzsaw kick. Tanahashi ducks, but can’t avoid the hiptoss and cartwheel dropkick as KUSHIDA started to settle into a groove. Tanahashi stuffs a roll-through DDT and looks for a Cloverleaf instead, only for KUSHIDA to turn it into a small package as he rebounded further with a moonsault flip into a German suplex!

Second time was the charm for the Buzzsaw kick, which almost ended the match, but Tanahashi’s able to come back as he Dragon screws KUSHIDA’s bad knee repeatedly. KUSHIDA’s back with chops and forearms as the two Aces traded strikes, only for KUSHIDA to kick away the leg of Tanahashi as he too began to focus on a bad wheel.

An attempt at a Hoverboard Lock’s blocked in the corner as Tanahashi’s persistence led to him scoring with a Dragon screw, leaving KUSHIDA on the mat once more. Tanahashi misses a splash in the corner and ends up taking an enziguiri to the back of the head as KUSHIDA finally locked in a Hoverboard lock, but Tanahashi’s able to escape it and slip his hands into a Cloverleaf position… only for KUSHIDA to stop that and go back into a cross armbreaker-turned-Hoverbaord lock as the battle returned to the mat.

When KUSHIDA took the match back to a standing base, he saw a Back to the Future countered into a Twist and Shout, before Tanahashi scored with a Slingblade for a near-fall. A High Fly Flow’s next, first the crossbody version, then a frog splash… but KUSHIDA gets his knees up before rolling Tanahashi through for the Back to the Future! Tanahashi BARELY kicked out of that one in time as the noise inside Korakuen increased once more, sensing a possible upset.

KUSHIDA kicks out Tanahashi’s arm as he again goes for a Hoverboard Lock, this time dragging Tanahashi to the mat as the IWGP champion tried to power out. Eventually, Tanahashi slips out and drops KUSHIDA with a strait-jacket German for a near-fall out of nowhere, before KUSHIDA’s rolled over into a Cloverleaf in the middle of the ring as KUSHIDA was left with no choice but to tap.

A valiant effort on his way out, as Tanahashi’s early leg work eventually paid dividends in a match that could easily have been all about “showing what you’re going to lose” but instead ended up being a low key war. ****¼

Post-match, Jay White ruins the moment as he came out with a chair that he used on Tanahashi. Enraged Kevin Kelly sold this beautifully, as White and Gedo Pillman-ize Tanahashi’s leg. There’s even a cheeky “bye bye KUSHIDA” from White as the crowd booed his departure…

Tanahashi’s carried to the back as KUSHIDA bid his farewell, thanking Tanahashi for everything as the emotions threatened to pour of out the former IWGP junior heavyweight champion.

While this was another predictably solid card, with everything building up to this weekend in Sapporo, it wasn’t what we were here for. Make no mistake, this show was all about one thing: the farewell of KUSHIDA before he made his (expected) move to WWE. A man whose career in New Japan perhaps came to a bit of a stuttering end, with his presence in the junior division perhaps becoming something of a millstone, as it’s hard to have an Ace without them being prominently in it! As the signs in the crowd said, this was an end, but also a New Beginning for KUSHIDA, who could well be back in New Japan one day – but for now, he leaves for pastures new… and no, I’m not crying. You are!