KUSHIDA’s last week in New Japan began as we returned to Korakuen Hall for the Road to the New Beginning.

With the New Beginning in Sapporo happening this Saturday and Sunday (along with some similar shows in the States, that have become a trainwreck of sorts), we’re getting a lot of the warm-ups streamed, including tomorrow’s show, which features KUSHIDA’s final match under the auspices of New Japan. Anyway, we’ve English commentary with Kevin Kelly and Andy Boy Simmonz. What the actual hell is going on in wrestling these days?

Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Ren Narita
Uemura and Narita start us off as they scramble on the mat, looking for an advantage… but none’s forthcoming as the appreciative Korakuen crowd applaud.

Tags take us to Nakanishi and Tsuji, with the latter taking the veteran into the ropes for some chops. Uh oh. Nakanishi hits back with a shoulder tackle Uemura’s back in and fares even worse as Nakanishi lands a chop before he brings in Uemura again, as those two go back to chopping the hell out of each other.

A slam keeps Uemura down, as Nakanishi returned to help with a wishbone leg splitter… yeah, it’s not a good night to be Yuya Uemura! He does at least avoid a knee drop from Nakanishi, as Tsuji comes back in to light up Nakanishi with forearms in the corner, ahead of a big slam that saw him fall to his feet too! Tags bring us back to Narita and Uemura m with Narita getting thrown skyward with a big back body drop ahead of a Boston crab as Yota Tsuji played guard to stop Nakanishi making a save…

…but Uemura lost the Boston crab as Narita got a hand to the rope!

Tsuji and Uemura go to work with a double suplex to Narita, but they can’t get it off on Nakanishi, as a release double Northern lights sent them to the outside. Narita takes advantage, leaping into Uemura in the corner before a thunderous shoulder tackle takes him down for a near-fall. An overhead belly-to-belly from Narita also comes close to ending the match, as Tsuji broke up the cover… and gets chopped in half by Nakanishi, as Narita’s able to finish off Uemura with a Boston crab for the eventual submission. A hell of an opener, and my word, I’ve missed these Young Lions matches. ***

Post-match Andy Simmonz talks himself into a belly-busting breakfast…

Shota Umino & Ayato Yoshida vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toa Henare
Andy Boy remembers Shota Umino… as the first victim of the Great O-Kharn. Oh America, you’ve got this coming your way this week!

We open with Umino and Tenzan exchanging arm wringers, before Tenzan withstood some shoulder tackles… only for Umino to finally knock him down! A bodyslam’s blocked though, as Tenzan busts out Mongolian chops for fun, which in turn led to both men tagging out as Henare and Yoshida exchanged some more orthodox chops.

Henare blocks a slam from Yoshida, but ends up running into one as Yoshida put some boots to him. A shoulder tackle out of the corner puts Henare on top though, as a tag to Tenzan exposes Yoshida for… Mongolian chops! They land a pair of shoulder tackles before a Kokeshi from Tenzan and a falling chop gets a two-count on Yoshida, who takes more of a kicking from Tenzan as the K-Dojo trainee continued to take the pasting.

Henare’s back with an arm wringer en route to another pinning attempt, as Umino had to make the save… but it just led to Tenzan coming back in for more chops. Yoshida finally hits back with a hanging clothesline, as Umino gets a tag in… and actually takes down Tenzan with a running forearm! Henare gets a similar treatment, along with a low dropkick, before a missile dropkick gets Umino a near-fall on Tenzan.

Another tag brings Henare in as both he and Umino tried to wear each other down with chops… and despite having been weakened, Umino’s able to surprise with a suplex! Yoshida’s brought back in for forearms before he boots Tenzan off the apron… and there’s a big boot for Henare too ahead of a PK to the back as he almost picks up the win. Yoshida tries to get the win with a rear naked choke, but Henare gets a foot to the rope… only for a diving kick to keep him in trouble.

A headbutt from Henare offered some instant response, ahead of a spear takedown for a near-fall. Yoshida tries again with a roll-up, before a uranage gets the win for Henare. That fall surprised me given Henare’s usual role is pin-eater, but that was a solid outing which saw Henare having to do the lion’s share of the work for his team. **¾

Ryusuke Taguchi, Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe & Toru Yano vs. Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa), Chase Owens & Taiji Ishimori)
This is a bit of a weird match – Togi Makabe with partners past and present, preparing a little for a NEVER trios title match on Wednesday.

Hah, Tama Tonga’s seriously going by the nickname “the good guy”? We’ll see when he unclears that block list on Twitter… Taguchi and Ishimori go nose-to-nose (ish) before the bell as we had some staggered entrances here before we start with Tanga Loa running into Makabe with clotheslines, as the pair trade off on each other ahead of an eventual short lariat from Makabe that took Tanga down.

A tag brings in Toru Yano, along with Tama Tonga, who wants a handshake. Yano doesn’t fall for it, calling him “bad guy”, before he went for the turnbuckle pad… which he removes, so Tama tries to put it back on. That’s stopped by Yano, who puts some boots to the former tag team champion before Chase Owens makes a save, putting the turnbuckle pad in place as Tama was whipped into it.

He removes it as Yano sent himself into the corner, as the match then degenerated… yep, we’re all in the crowd. In Ishimori and Taguchi’s case, legitimately, as they fought amongst the bleachers for a spell. Owens uses the turnbuckle pad to whack Yano on the floor as he tried to help his team to a count-out victory, but Yano beats the count and ends up getting whipped back into that exposed corner by Owens.

Tanga Loa’s back as Tama Tonga’s beside himself at the rule breaking his partners are freely doing. So much so, that when he tagged in, Tama whipped Yano into the protected corner, as his partners turned his back on him. Oh man. When he did get talked into rule breaking, Yano reverses the whip and sends Tama into the exposed corner, before some hair-pulling from Yano led to tags… with Taguchi going hog wild with hip attacks to Ishimori and Owens.

After those hip attacks, Taguchi trips Ishimori for an ankle lock, but Ishimori rolls through and sent Taguchi into the referee. Chase Owens come in as Marty Asami composed himself… and we get a sliding flatliner on Taguchi for a near-fall out of Chase. There’s a springboard hip attack for Chase, as tags take us to Honma against Owens, with the latter getting taken into the corner ahead of a bulldog and a Kokeshi. Yeah, Honma misses.

Tanga Loa tags in to try and finish off Honma, who gets caught with a series of avalanches in the corner before a back suplex/neckbreaker, then a PK drew a near-fall. Taguchi makes a save, but gets wiped out as a Parade of Moves broke out, calming down when Honma tried to lariat Tanga Loa, only to have to slip out of Apeshit as he then got cracked in the back by Jado’s Kendo stick. From there, we get the Apeshit, and that’s enough for the Bullet Club to win the wild tag match. ***

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI
We’re apparently getting Fale vs. Okada during the New Beginnings, while Andy Simmonz poked fun at YOSHI-HASHI’s accident last year.

Okada and Fale start us off, with the latter easily pushing Okada down to the mat from the lock-up. A punch to the gut’s followed as Fale’s taking a more measured approach to an ask to “not punch Okada in the face”, before he whipped Okada hard into the corner. Yujiro comes in next and keeps up the beating on Okada, who takes a chance to knock Fale off the apron before booting Takahashi to the mat.

A drop toe hold and a back senton helps set things up for YOSHI-HASHI, who seemingly wanted to do that old sushi pose… but Okada wasn’t playing ball. Did the sponsorship stop? Chops from YOSHI-HASHI looked to set up for a Bunker Buster, but Yujiro bites his way free before Fale gets involved with a clothesline from the apron as the match again descended into chaos.

On the outside, Fale chokes Okada with a camera cable while Yujiro took down YOSHI-HASHI on the other side of the ring. Fale keeps up the pressure back in the ring with a slam and some clubbing forearms to Okada’s chest for a two-count, before YOSHI-HASHI came back in and… predictably was beaten down on some more. Eventually YOSHI-HASHI manages to break free and avoid a charge from Fale in the corner, but he takes too long to drag into the corner as he’s stopped from tagging out.

YOSHI-HASHI does cut off Yujiro’s interference with a Bunker Buster before he finally tagged in Okada, who makes a beeline for Fale with right hands. A sliding back elbow knocks Fale into the ropes ahead of a DDT as Okada impressively kips up from that, before he tries for a slam… which he gets at the second attempt! Okada tries to keep up the pace, but he runs into a Samoan drop as the Bullet Club again took control, with a Yujiro Fisherman’s buster and a diving dropkick getting him a near-fall as YOSHI-HASHI had to make a desperate save. Yeah, YOSHI’s tossed to the outside pretty soon afterwards, before Yujiro rolled back the years with an Incolle Slam (Angle Slam) for a near-fall. Fale tries to interfere, but Okada clotheslined him to the outside before he waylaid Yujiro with a dropkick…

From there, it’s the small matter of a top rope elbow drop, a Rainmaker pose, and then the move of the same name as Okada left with a W. Solid stuff, but that early going with Fale didn’t set my world on fire. Okada does tend to pull it out of the bag against him in singles action, so you never know… ***

Post-match, Okada’s dragged out of the ring as Fale became a one-man wrecking crew, teasing a Bad Luck Fall on the outside, only for the Young Lions to make a save as they tried to drag Fale away.

Bullet Club (Jay White & Gedo) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA
This was the last time we’ll KUSHIDA in a tag match here, ahead of his (rearranged) farewell appearance tomorrow at Korakuen.

Tanahashi and White start us off, but there’s an early forearm from White who was spending the early part of this match declaring that he was the “real champ”. A wristlock’s countered into a delayed armdrag by Tanahashi, who kept White down as the pair eventually reached a bit of a stalemate. KUSHIDA tags in to keep working on White’s left arm, grounding him with a hammerlock that turned into a double armbar of sorts that he then snapped down on.

Tanahashi’s back as they exchange frequent tags… prompting White to use the referee as a human shield of sorts, pushing him into KUSHIDA for a distraction. That gave White enough time to tag out to Gedo, but KUSHIDA just hits the pair with handspring elbows before an attempted trip from White led to all four men on the outside, where Tanahashi takes a hard Irish whip into the barriers.

White uses Yota Tsuji as a human weapon, slamming him onto Tanahashi while Gedo jabbed a chair into KUSHIDA on the other side of the ring. Back inside, Gedo keeps up on KUSHIDA… and throws him right back out into the awaiting White, who tosses KUSHIDA between the ring apron and the guard rails as the soon-to-be-departing star was clearly the focal point. White knocks Tanahashi off the apron, depriving KUSHIDA of a partner to tag out to, before Gedo came back to stop the tag as KUSHIDA had to deal with him with a hiptoss and a cartwheel dropkick before he finally got the tag out. In comes Tanahashi, who’s right on top of White with a leaping forearm before he ran through some chops. A Saito suplex from White takes Tanahashi down though, only for Tanahashi to return with a Twist and Shout neckbreaker… only for a Slingblade to get countered into a Blade Runner attempt as White instead has to make do with a uranage.

Gedo’s tagged back in, this time with him clearing KUSHIDA off the apron before a superkick to Tanahashi’s caught and slapped away. A small package nearly snatches it for Gedo, who then lands those superkicks for a two-count before he went to his ring jacket and pulled out some brass knuckles. The referee catches him as Jay White tried to come in with a chair… KUSHIDA instead dropkicks the chair away before he punched out Gedo. A plancha takes care of White on the outside as Gedo ends up taking the Slingblade and a High Fly Flow for the win. Pretty by-the-numbers, but really the main focus was on KUSHIDA’s farewell tomorrow. Bring the Kleenex everyone. ***¼

Elimination Match: Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi)
Hours after another rumble, we’ve got the New Japan Elimination match, where folks can be eliminated by pinfall, submission, DQ or by being thrown over the top. These are usually good…

Taichi holds the ropes open for Naito, and it’s still a ruse as Taichi blasted through Naito with an Axe Bomber as the match spills outside from the off. No eliminations yet as we spill into the crowd, with Naito getting thrown into a wall before he has a chair jabbed into his jaw. Ow. Meanwhile in the ring, Desperado tries to unmask BUSHI before going for an over-the-top elimination, but BUSHI stops himself as Shingo Takagi tries to make a save. Oh yeah, and Naito gets thrown into the commentary table that seemed to wind Andy Boy pretty badly for a while.

Back in the ring, Suzuki’s roughing up BUSHI, trapping him in the ropes with a hanging armbar. Kanemaru comes in as BUSHI’s forced to duck a double-team lariat before landing a dual ‘rana… and Naito’s back on the apron as Taichi wanders in to spit on him. That earns Taichi an enziguiri from BUSHI… before Naito came in and took Taichi down with a low dropkick. Things spill outside again as Simmonz seemed to be a little petrified at the prospect of folks brawling around him, but fortunately Suzuki’s just whacking SANADA with a chair. There’s far too much for the camera crews to keep up with, so we’re all over the place until we see Suzuki-gun just mugging Naito, as Sabre and Suzuki practise their tag team submissions. Desperado and Kanemaru focus on Naito as the melee continued, with a low dropkick from Kanemaru almost eliminating the LIJ leader.

Sabre’s in next to trap Naito in a cravat, before transitioning into some leg scissors and the brutal single-leg crab on top of that as he ended up rolling Naito into the ropes for a break. Suzuki takes over from there, but Naito’s able to break free and land a neckbreaker to give himself a breather, as SANADA gets a tag in… and quickly has to overcome a numbers game. Kanemaru’s tied up in a Paradise lock, then dropkicked free as EVIL comes in to help out on Sabre with a back senton as we still awaited our first elimination.

SANADA misses a dropkick after his pair of leapfrogs, but he manages to catch Suzuki with a Dragon screw instead, before another Paradise Lock was countered into a cross armbreaker as SANADA had to get to the ropes for safety. A Skull End looked to be more successful, but Suzuki slips out and locks in a rear naked choke, sinking SANADA to the mat before a Gotch piledriver was lifted out of… only for Suzuki to counter a Fireman’s carry into a guillotine choke, before both men tumbled over the top floor for a pair of eliminations.

Shingo and Desperado hit the ring as they looked to capitalise on that, but instead they broke down into chops as Shingo took the masked man down. Yeah, Suzuki and SANADA weren’t exactly going to the back quietly… Kanemaru trips Shingo to save Desperado from a Pumping Bomber, before a double team sidewalk slam/dropkick drew a near-fall on Shingo… who then had to power out of a Pinche Loco as the double-teaming resumed.

BUSHI’s back with an enziguiri to Kanemaru, before a back cracker and a lungblower leaves Kanemaru down… just as a Pumping Bomber from Shingo sent Desperado flying over the top and to the floor for the next elimination. Shingo tries to add to that by taking Kanemaru up top, but Desperado gets involved, distracting Shingo as he’s almost dropkicked to the floor, only for BUSHI to be used as a human weapon as Shingoi’s knocked off the apron for the elimination. Kanemaru tries to get a pin with a reverse DDT on BUSHI, but that’s only good for a two-count before a folding backslide from BUSHI gets the next exit. It’s Sabre and Taichi against BUSHI, EVIL and Naito now, but Sabre counters a lungblower from BUSHI, then a ‘rana attempt as an ankle lock trapped BUSHI in the ring, ahead of a STF as EVIL was nowhere to be seen… and BUSHI taps!

EVIL returns to break up the hold as he goes after Sabre with avalanche clotheslines in the corner. A Fisherman buster’s next for Sabre, then a Darkness Falls as Zack kicked out at two… meanwhile, on the floor, Naito and Taichi go at it, while Sabre elbows out of Everything is EVIL. Zack tries for a backslide, but EVIL clings on before countering Everything is EVIL into an Octopus hold before EVIL got to the ropes and tried to hiptoss Zack to the outside. An armbar in the ropes neutralises EVIL somewhat, as Zack pulls him over the top rope and onto the apron with him as an Everything is EVIL onto the apron led to another double elimination. We’re left with Taichi and Naito as the final two!

Naito throws a forearm, while Taichi responds with kicks as they continue to take shots… with Taichi looking to be making more headway with his efforts. An enziguiri-like dropkick takes Naito down as Taichi whips off his trousers… Naito avoids a thrust kick, but ends up scoring with a wheelbarrow roll-up for a near-fall, before Taichi just fell down on a Gloria for a near-fall. Not to worry, Naito plants him with a spinebuster before a Destino’s blocked. Another Destino ends with Naito being put on the apron, before Taichi throws the ref into him… but Naito stays up. That wasn’t the plan though, as Taichi tries to wipe out Naito with a belt shot, which misses.

In the end though, a foul from Taichi led to Naito getting tossed over the top, before a head kick left Naito down on the apron and in peril… one more dropkick follows, and that’s Naito down and out as Taichi’s your sole survivor! That’s a statement win for Taichi, ahead of Sunday’s main event against Naito in Sapporo. The elimination match was a little scrappy at times, but on the whole it was a pretty good main event with the Suzuki-gun vs. LIJ feud continuing to simmer – with some key victories being scored along the way. ***¾

This was a pretty solid “Road show” for New Japan, as the reshuffled cards helped to add a little more sizzle to things. For those wondering, Simmons was pretty decent on commentary, having had some chances to work on his product knowledge thanks to the Strong Style Evolved UK shows he’s done in the past. There were some ropey moments, but he was leagues better than whom everyone unanimously associates as the “low bar” for the role – and if Andy’s sticking around for the tour, then we should see some improvement.

Tomorrow’s Korakuen show’ll be an emotional affair for the obvious reason – as a packed venue bids farewell to a Time Splitter.