Hiromu Takahashi made his comeback after 17 months out as the road to WrestleKingdom neared its end.
We’re taken into the Korakuen Hall a good 15 minutes before bell time, as the ring announcer was walking the crowd through how to put on a coloured lens for their phone’s flash lights… because we’ve the Masked Horse is back for another year! He’s still willingly whipping his arse, and giving out some Christmas presents.
Once we get the 2019 highlights video, which reminds everyone that we’ve forgotten a LOT about this past year… like Takashi Iizuka retiring and the endless SANADA matches to name just two. Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton are on commentary for the first of three shows from Korakuen Hall….
Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Ryusuke Taguchi & Rocky Romero
This was the first of Liger’s retirement matches (sniff), and curiously Makabe and Honma have found their NEVER trios title belts…
Honma and Tsuji start us off, and it’s Tsuji who hits the first blow, but we’re in the business of cycling through tags, and after they couldn’t find an advantage, we go to Tiger Mask and Ryusuke Taguchi. Tiger Mask kicks Taguchis’s arse for a bit, then ate a hip attack, before he ran into another boot to the arse.
Liger comes in to keep the arse kicking going, with Yuya Uemura holding Taguchi on the outside for a baseball slide dropkick. Back inside, Taguchi’s pulled into a Romero special while the Young Lions clubbed away on his midsection. When Taguchi got free, he landed a hip attack and got the tag out to Makabe, who cleared house, and worked in with the mounted punches to Liger.
Tags get us to Uemura and Rocky, but Romero’s instantly avoiding a dropkick before coming right in with Forever clotheslines, only to get caught with a dropkick from Rocky out of the corner. Uemura follows up with uppercuts and shoulder tackles on his way to a near-fall. Taguchi tries to help, but the double-team hip attack fails as Uemura’s dropkicks find their mark as Honma had to make the save from a belly-to-belly on Romero.
Uemura tosses Honma outside, but walked into a leaping knee as the ring filled, then emptied as Makabe hits some clotheslines. Liger takes a Kokeshi by the ropes, before Uemura caught a ‘rana from Rocky, only to get rolled up for a near-fall. Rocky’s back with a tornado DDT for a two-count, before a cross armbreaker from Rocky forced the submission. A perfectly fine opener, and I’m guessing if Liger’s going to get (or take) one more fall in Korakuen, it’ll be on Saturday… **½
Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Toa Henare vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
Fin-Juice are weeks away from getting their tag title shot at WrestleKingdom, and it looks like Juice’s eyebrow injury has healed.
We get a jump start as Fale swarmed Henare, while the tag team champions and their challengers went at it. Fale grabs the ref to hide a Kendo stick shot from Jado, like they needed the advantage, and there’s the opening as Tama Tonga (that famous, erm, Samoan, according to some) came in with all the back rakes for Henare.
On the outside, there’s another Kendo stick shot from Jado to Henare, which kept the Kiwi in trouble for a spell… finally he gets free and makes the tag to Juice, who clears house as he and Juice built up to some stereo bulldogs. Juice stalks Tanga Loa for some Dusty punches, but Tama’s in to stop it with a facebuster before he got speared by Finlay. Henare tags back in, as does Fale… an attempt to haul Fale into a Fireman’s carry goes south as the big man’s just too big, and it gives him a clear run at Henare as a big splash got a near-fall. One Grenade later, and we’re done… and to me, even with just background watching this one, this felt way too short, even if the story was “has Finlay reinjured his shoulder on that spear?”. **
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi)
We’re on the march to SANADA’s inevitable Rev Pro title win on January 5…
SANADA and Sabre start us off, trading holds as Sabre tried to escape a full nelson, but couldn’t quite get away from SANADA’s clutches. A dropkick took Sabre outside, but the dive’s faked out as Sabre threw a fit on the outside. Taichi comes in and almost gets caught in a Paradise Lock, but he’s saved by Sabre, who proceeded to wring SANADA’s arm endlessly.
Heading down commentary row, Sabre stomps on SANADA as we heard the English commentary moaning about EVIL and Taichi brawling by them. Back in the ring, Taichi keeps up on SANADA, throwing him into the corner… before EVIL managed to get in and charge his way through with shoulder tackles. A clothesline traps Taichi in the corner ahead of a Bronco buster, but Taichi then gets in with a page out of EVIL’s book, throwing EVIL’s leg to the ref ahead of a thrust kick.
Off come the trousers as Taichi misses a buzzsaw kick, with both men teasing finishes… until EVIL used the ref for an accidental Magic Killer. Tags get us back to Sabre and SANADA, with the latter yanking Sabre’s leg with a Dragon screw, before a Figure Four’s countered with an inside cradle. Sabre adds a PK for good effect, but it hurt him just as much as it hurt SANADA, and we’re in with a Parade of Moves as Sabre and SANADA tried to snatch the win with a roll-up… only for Sabre to eke it out with his roll-up. Some decent stuff here, but going by the usual playbook, that Sabre win only points to the divisive result at the Tokyo Dome next month…. ***
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Bullet Club (KENTA, Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo)
We’re mixing matches here, but this kinda just highlights how little Tomohiro Ishii’s got to do this WrestleKingdom season…
Ishimori and Phantasmo are out with Roppongi 3K’s Super Junior Tag League trophies that they stole after the finals. It’s SHO and Ishimori that start us off, but SHO lands a quick spear as ELP came in and socked him in the mouth, only for Roppongi 3K to hit some double-teams to get rid of him. YOH’s in to keep on Ishimori in the corner, but a Dragon Screw’s avoided as Ishimori hit back with a nice handspring enziguiri. Things spill outside briefly, then return as YOH continued to be worked over, with all the back rakes. That’s becoming a Bullet Club staple, is it not? KENTA comes in to just pelt YOH with kicks, which wound up Goto, and the pace continues to grind to a halt as the Junior tag champions went back to the back rakes.
Eventually tags got us to Goto and KENTA, with Goto coming close from a spinning heel kick in the corner, before KENTA rakes the eyes to avoid an ushigoroshi. A right hand from KENTA helps him drop Goto ahead of a teased Go 2 Sleep, before a simple clothesline dropped a running KENTA. Yujiro comes in to blast Goto with a front boot, but Goto gets free as Ishii tagged in and absorbed some forearms. He looks thrilled at what’s going on, and just decks Yujiro with a forearm of his own.
He out-cheats Yujiro with an eye rake, but Yujiro returns with biting and a reverse DDT, before a Fisherman buster drew a near-fall. Things pick up with a brief Parade of Moves as the ring filled, then cleared, with Goto teasing another ushigoroshi to KENTA, before we got it in stereo, with Ishii hitting it on Yujiro too as a sheer drop brainbuster gets the win. This was fine, but this show so far has felt strangely lack-lustre. Is everyone saving themselves for Hiromu? **¾
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi) vs. Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi
They’re teasing a potential match for January 5 here, but you’d have to think this wouldn’t be the third-place play-off, right?
Korakuen’s chanting loudly for Naito at the bell, and we start with him taking Ibushi into the ropes for the Okada-like clean break. With added spit. Shingo’s in to help out, but Ibushi got rid of him as a dropkick waited for Naito, before Tanahashi tagged in to throw some forearms. Another dropkick waits for Naito in the corner, as does a slam and a flip senton, but Naito rolled away and made a beeline for Ibushi on the outside, whipping him into the guard rails.
Back inside, LIJ focused on Tanahashi some more, with Shingo’s suplex getting a near-fall before Naito crashed into Tanahashi with a low dropkick. Forearms from Tanahashi just earned him a double-handed chop from Shingo, before he found more luck with a Dragon screw leg whip. Ibushi tags in to land a standing moonsault on Naito for a near-fall, only to get caught with a ‘rana as Naito kept up with him. A reverse neckbreaker from Naito led to a submission attempt, but it ends in the ropes as the referee needed to separate the pair of them. Ibushi’s back with a German suplex, but Naito swiftly cuts him off with a dropkick as Shingo tagged back in… and quickly runs into another Ibushi ‘rana.
Tanahash’s back in with a back senton for a near-fall on Shingo,before some right hands between the pair of them led to a Twist and Shout. A Slingblade is added for a near-fall, but a High Fly Flow’s blocked with Shingo’s knees, right as Naito returned as double-teaming took Tanahashi into a Noshigami that almost ended things. A head kick from Ibushi took care of Naito, but he’s quickly flipped inside out with a release German suplex as Shingo tried to push on for the biggest win of his New Japan career to date… laying out Tanahashi with a Pumping Bomber before Tanahashi countered out of Last of the Dragon to win with a Victory roll! A cracker of a match, with Shingo coming achingly close to a win, but in the end it was Shingo’s search for the big move that cost him. ***½
Bullet Club (Jay White & Chase Owens) vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI
Another tease for the second half of WrestleKingdom – would they really give us a WrestleKingdom 13 rematch?
Okada and White look to start us off, but of course it’s a ruse as Chase Owens got tagged in and capitalised on an early distraction, throwing some rights and raking the eyes of Okada. There’s a quick turnaround as Okada slams and hit a slingshot senton to Chase, while Chris Charlton threw out a random as hell Sid Waddell reference. For the darts fans.
YOSHI-HASHI’s in to hit a baseball slide dropkick after Chase had been pulled off the ropes, and we’re back to the guard rail spots with Chase getting thrown into the barriers. White distracts but gets thrown in again before he found his way through Okada, tossing him into those railings for good measure. Chase Owens stomps over a fan’s Naoru doll in the crowd as they fought back to ringside, but the momentum remained unchanged as White continued to work over a cornered YOSHI-HASHI. The beating continued as YOSHI-HASHI’s morale remained unchanged…
A palm strike from Chase has YOSHI down, but a quick Bunker Buster got him back in, as Okada tagged back and took down Chase with a back elbow. Jay White threatens again, but Okada ignores as Chase ends up getting spiked with a DDT for a near-fall, only for Chase to hit back by throwing Okada into the corner. Of course, Jay White wants back in now, swearing on the way to a running uppercut and a Blade Buster for a near-fall.
Okada’s back with a dropkick, then whiffs on a second as the pair proceed to tease their finishers, only for Okada to hit a dropkick in the end. YOSHI-HASHI’s back, catching White with a Butterfly Lock as Okada restrained Owens briefly… Chase gets free and breaks it up. A Western Lariat from YOSHI-HASHI finds its mark, but again he can’t get Karma as a White grabs the referee to mask some failed interference from Gedo… but it doesn’t matter as White hits Blade Runner straight away for the win. This was fine, but as good as White’s character has been, his in-ring on these endless warm-up tags is leaving me stone cold. ***
They show a video before the main event, fading away on the moment Hiromu broke his neck on July 7, 2018. He’s in a laundrette, washing his old ring jacket, then in a spa with Daryl and Naoru… before we cut to his return at Power Struggle, showing a LOT of misty eyes in the crowd. Butts. Luckily-placed Daryls…. And a new ring jacket?!
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI) vs. Birds of Prey (Will Ospreay & Robbie Eagles)
Let’s be fair, this is probably the reason we all tuned in. After over 500 days on the shelf, HIROMU IS BACK! Would he tone things down though? If Power Struggle’s return was anything to go by, probably not…
We start with Hiromu and Ospreay charging at each other, trading rights… told you! It’s too quick to call as they fake-out and counter stuff on the way to the obligatory stand-off, and I think Hiromu’s gonna be just fine. Tags get us to BUSHI and Eagles, but it’s the Aussie who snuck ahead with ‘ranas while Ospreay charged at Hiromu, sending him outside and repeatedly tossing him into the guard rails. Did you not see what he did at Power Struggle, Will?
A chop has Hiromu on all fours, while Ospreay returned to sandwich BUSHI in PKs for a near-fall. Hiromu races back as he teased a sunset bomb to the floor, before instead opting for a pop-up apron bomb on Ospreay, before a lap of honor led to Ospreay getting dropkicked over the rails and into the front row. Still doubting Hiromu?
Ospreay and Hiromu head into the bleachers, where Will gets close to that West sign. BUSHI and Eagles went the other way, before returning to the ring as Eagles was forced to kick out at two. A STF forces Eagles to drag himself to the ropes, eventually doing so as I tried to figure out what the hell he’d written on his wrist tape. Hiromu’s back in to hit a low dropkick on Eagles for a two-count, before Ospreay came in and found himself dropkicked again. Eagles tries to throw some forearms at Hiromu, but they barely seem to harm a fly as Eagles had to use a dropkick to get himself free again. Ospreay’s back in to throw more forearms before Hiromu found himself in the path of a handspring enziguiri for a near-fall.
That springboard forearm connects on the second attempt as Ospreay began to build momentum, before he bloodied Hiromu with a kick… only to get hurled into the corner with an overhead belly-to-belly! Ospreay bounced off the turnbuckles then fell head-first as LIJ took over, only to get caught with a handspring backflip kick. BUSHI recovers with a missile dropkick to Eagles, only for the Aussie to hit back with one of his own as the Birds of Prey monkey flipped BUSHI into a kick… while Ospreay hit a casual Sasuke special into Hiromu on the outside.
Hiromu tries to fight back, but got kicked down by Eagles… who recovered to hit a Turbo backpack on BUSHI as all four men were laid out. Eagles looked to get caught on the top rope, but he headbutts BUSHI down before a 450 splash to the knee followed, then a Ron Miller Special, but Hiromu makes a save as he countered an Octopus special before powerbombing Ospreay onto his own man.
A tag brings Hiromu back in, but he’s caught in the corner with a double Cheeky Nando’s, before a pair of running enziguiri looked to set up for Red Wing. BUSHI makes a save, and helps as a double-team Burning Hammer on Eagles drew a near-fall. Ospreay’s back with a hook kick, but Hiromu pancakes himself to avoid a Hidden Blade as he then tossed Ospreay to the floor… a death valley driver awaited Eagles in the corner as Hiromu looked for a Dynamite Plunger, but Eagles countered with a roll-up out of nowhere to steal the win! Well, Hiromu looked A-OK on his return – even if his comeback didn’t start with a fairytale-like win… but he’ll be looking to WrestleKingdom for *that*. Hiromu didn’t look like he’d missed a beat, despite all that time off. ***½
Post-match, Hiromu sat almost shellshocked in the ring as Ospreay mocked him with Belto-san. Hiromu then walked off, despondent… he’s got two more warm-ups before the Tokyo Dome.
The Road to Tokyo Dome was an aggressively fine show – and one that perhaps was characterised by Hiromu’s return. A return that somehow sailed below everyone’s radars, but one that’s well worth your time to watch back. We’ve two more stops on this mini-tour, which contain Jushin Thunder Liger’s final two Korakuen Hall matches… and no doubt a lot more emotion.