New Japan begins to wind up their 2022 with the first of two Korakuen Hall shows – featuring the United Empire in singles matches, and the beginning of the end for Suzuki-gun.

Quick Results
Francesco Akira pinned Kosei Fujita in 8:04 (**¾)
Aaron Henare submitted Yuto Nakashima in 9:23 (***)
Great O-Khan submitted Ryohei Oiwa in 8:43 (**¾)
Jeff Cobb pinned Tomoaki Honma in 8:53 (**¾)
Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito pinned Togi Makabe, Shota Umino & Satoshi Kojima in 11:51 (***)
Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. pinned Jado & Ren Narita in 10:41 (***¼)
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru pinned Gedo & Taiji Ishimori, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi and Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato in 8:48 (***)
YOH, Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer in 20:51 (***½)

We’re at Korakuen Hall as New Japan is winding down their 2022 – with these two warm-up shows for Wrestle Kingdom… and with these being the pre-Christmas shows, sponsored by the Japan Racing Association, you know what that means… MASKED HORSE and the Ryusuke Taguchi-ish Christmas theme for some pre-show shenanigans.

We’ve got a super-long highlight VTR to open these shows, so if you’re watching on-demand, get the fast-forward button ready!

Kosei Fujita vs. Francesco Akira
Akira’s got a Tokyo Dome date with TJP against Lio Rush and YOH – so here’s a warm-up of sorts!

Akira looked to control things early, working over Fujita’s arm before the Young Lion hit back… prompting the Italian to go to the eyes. Fujita’s comeback ended quickly by way of a dropkick, which got Akira a one-count, while a grounded chinlock and a clothesline kept the junior tag champion on the front foot.

Fujita’s taken into the corner as Akira charged his shoulder into the lower back, but Fujita’s able to get free as he returned with a clothesline off the ropes. That’s added to with a bodyslam and a Boston crab, but Akira’s able to get to the ropes almost instantly to break it up. Second time’s the charm, at least as far as avoiding an instant rope break, but Akira crawls to the ropes to force the break.

A wild palm strike from Fujita earns him a superkick in response, then a neckbreaker as Akira looked to end things… prompting a roll-up from Fujita, then a snap Dragon suplex from Akira that nearly won it. Seconds later, the Speedfire gets the win as Akira made pretty light work of things here. **¾

Yuto Nakashima vs. Aaron Henare
We’re up for more of the same here, although Henare as it stands will be twiddling his thumbs in the Tokyo Dome (or being in the Ranbo…)

Both men started by looking to land strikes, before the pair locked up into the ropes, with Henare swinging for a kick on the break. Wash, rinse, repeat, this time with Nakashima ducking a cheapshot as he then double leg’d Henare to the mat, where he looked to grab a leg lock… but Henare’s right by the ropes.

Shoulder tackles follow between the pair, but it’s Henare who pulled ahead as he proceeded to kick Nakashima back down to the mat. Nakashima’s attempts to fight back ended with him taking a snapmare and a kick to the back for a two-count, before Henare stretched Nakashima in the ropes for some crossface punches.

Nakashima finally elbows free from Henare’s grasp, then took down the Empire member with some more elbow strikes. A hiptoss out of the corner has Henare down, while a mid kick earned the Young Lion a two-count en route to the traditional Boston crab… which Henare kicked his way free of.

Henare looks for a Rampage, but Nakashima blocked it as he finally found his way back to the Boston crab. The ropes save Henare, who quickly hits back with a Rampage… but Nakashima’s up at two?! Henare responds with the Ultima, which was enough for the stoppage. ***

Ryohei Oiwa vs. Great O-Khan
It’s a quick return to action for O-Khan after he won the Rev Pro title this past weekend in London… and now he has… a sword?! O-Khan tossed the Rev Pro belt aside with some disdain before the bell, which probably is going to lead to something in the rematch…

Anyway, we got started with O-Khan taking Oiwa to the mat, focusing on the neck as Oiwa got rolled down for a one-count. The grappling continued as O-Khan focused on the left arm of Oiwa, barring it as he looked for a submission. The ropes saved Oiwa as O-Khan had him in a face claw on the mat, before Oiwa tried his luck in pulling O-Khan down to the mat.

O-Khan sat on that attempt for a two-count, but Oiwa’s back with a roll-up and a dropkick for some two-counts, before O-Khan went back to the side headlock. Oiwa manages to break free with a spinebuster takedown, as he looked to wear through O-Khan with strikes. A gutwrench attempt was blocked by O-Khan, who returned with Mongolian chops only to get knocked into the ropes as Oiwa finally hit that gutwrench suplex.

O-Khan kicks out from the cover, but gets rolled into a Boston crab… which he eventually rolled out of, before diving in with a head and arm choke on the mat for the eventual submission. Oiwa proved a tougher test than you’d expect here, but O-Khan’s seemingly adding more to his arsenal, and I’m not just talking swords. **¾

Tomoaki Honma vs. Jeff Cobb
Honma subbed for Oskar Leube here, after Oskar was pulled from the show as a precautionary measure with a fever…

Cobb overpowered Honma from the opening lock-ups, throwing Honma aside before taking Honma to the ropes for a patronising pat on the head. Retaliating, Honma sparked an exchange of elbows, but Cobb knocked him aside before a shoulder tackle took Honma down.

A playful Cobb continued to mock Honma, pretending he’d tapped out before throwing Honma into the corner for chops and clotheslines. Cobb holds up Honma for a stalling suplex after that, as he then “surfed” on Honma’s back before Honma fought out of a slam… only for his attempt at one to get blocked.

Honma avoids a leaping elbow into the corner as he finally slammed Cobb to the mat, but couldn’t immediately follow up. When he did, Cobb rolled away from a Kokeshi, only to miss one of his own as Honma connected on his second try. Honma keeps plugging away as he looked for the upset, slamming Cobb down ahead of an avalanche Kokeshi… and you knew right away that was never going to happen.

Cobb caught Honma on the top rope, but the suplex off was avoided as Honma slipped out, only to get pulled into an Athletic-plex for a near-fall. A standing moonsault adds another two-count for Cobb, before Honma tried to chip away with clotheslines… only to get stopped as a Tour of the Islands made it a clean sweep for the United Empire here. **¾

We then had a video of the KOPW trophy history, with all the wacky matches it’s had… because that’s now going to be replaced with a title belt going into 2023. Good luck stomping that thing to pieces.

Shota Umino, Togi Makabe & Satoshi Kojima vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & SANADA)
This was Shota’s first match in Korakuen since September 2019, following his excursion to Rev Pro, which came with many-a-missed fist bump. Why yes, I am projecting…

Umino and Naito start us off… except SANADA tagged in as Naito had no desire to engage. So it’s Makabe and SANADA starting us off looking for a hold, as a headlock takedown and a quick escape led to a stalemate. Makabe tries for a Paradise Lock, but of course there’s no way as SANADA pushed free… only to get charged down as Kojima tagged in.

SANADA and Kojima exchange chops and elbows, before Kojima just charged through SANADA. Umino charges in to knock Naito off the apron as SANADA got cornered for some Machine Gun chops, then the leaping forearm into the corner before his trip up top was stopped by Shingo Takagi press slamming Kojima to the mat.

Naito and SANADA clear the apron as the match spills outside, with everyone getting a taste of the guard rails as Naito finally focused on Shota, taking him into the ring announcer’s table. Back in the ring, SANADA stomped away on Kojima, then brought in Shingo to land some suplexes for a two-count.

Naito’s in to stay on Kojima, whipping him corner-to-corner ahead of a Combinacion Cabron… complete with a detour to knock Umino off the apron. SANADA’s back, but Kojima broke free with a DDT as Umino tagged in and took out SANADA with a ‘rana. Shingo’s met with an armdrag for his troubles, then a dropkick, before Naito took a hiptoss and a low dropkick ahead of a running flip senton.

A Fisherman suplex adds a two-count for Umino, who’s then caught and rolled into a Paradise Lock. There’s a quick break from SANADA by way of the low dropkick, with Shingo then tagging in, only to eat an Exploder from Shingo. Makabe tagged back in to take Shingo into the corner for the mounted punches, which then led to a brief Parade of Stuff, before Makabe slammed Shingo out of the corner.

Makabe’s triple-teamed, but manages to break free with clotheslines… only for Shingo to return the favour moments later. A sliding lariat forces Kojima and Umino in to break up the cover as the ring fills… then empties… before a Last of the Dragon put Makabe away. This was a decent showing for Shota on his Korakuen return, and instantly set up a direction for him with Tetsuya Naito – presumably for the New Beginning tour in the new year? ***

Ren Narita & Jado vs. Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi)
With Suzuki-gun going the way of the Dodo tomorrow, this could be the last time we see Dangerous Tekkers for a while.

Sabre and Narita start us off with a preview of their TV title tournament final, as Narita got caught in a knuckle lock before he had to defend a triangle armbar from Sabre on the mat. Tags bring us to Taichi and Jado, who tease a sumo stance before Taichi throttled Jado to the mat… while Sabre and Narita went after each other on the outside.

Back inside, Taichi continues to throttle Jado, allowing Sabre to come in and attempt a cover, but to no avail as Jado broke free, then made the tag out to Narita, who instantly traded front kicks with Sabre. A bridging half-hatch suplex nearly gets the win for Narita, before Sabre’s attempted roll-up was sat on as the pair remained exceptionally even.

A Cobra twist from Sabre is reversed by Narita, who then slapped the taste out of Zack’s mouth. Tags bring us back to Taichi and Jado, with the latter looking to get the win with the OGK crossface… but Taichi got to the ropes to force a break. Sabre stopped a Green Killer draping DDT, but Narita breaks that up as we return to the legal pair in the ring, and my feed craps out at the worst possible time, as Taichi ended up taking the win with what they’re now calling the YOKOZUNA elbow. ***¼

Sabre and Taichi hugged afterwards, which is surely going to keep up the thought that Dangerous Tekkers are going their separate ways. Although Taichi is still running his own produce shows, with one next year featuring Takashi Iizuka. That feels like it’ll be a wild one…

6 or 9 (Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI) vs. Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & Gedo)
We’ve a four-way tag here to build up to the four-way for the IWGP junior title at WrestleKingdom…

Ishimori powdered to the outside at the bell, as all hell broke loose with Hiromu going after him, while the Suzuki-gun lads looked to go after Master Wato… who was wise to it all. Taguchi’s in to help Wato double-team Desperado with a drop toe hold and low dropkicks, before Wato got thrown outside as BUSHI and Hiromu had their shot.

BUSHI countered a hip attack into an atomic drop as Hiromu dropkicked Taguchi into the corner… following up with a clothesline and some sandwich low dropkicks for a two-count. The switcheroos continue, this time with Gedo and Ishimori focusing on Taguchi before Desperado and Kanemaru joined in on the fun. Poor Taguchi, he had neigh chance…

Wato looked to make the save, with mixed results as the ring filled, then got cleared out by Taguchi’s arse, as we had a LOT of hip attacks on show. Wato takes to the skies with a flip senton to Desperado on the outside, while Hiromu added a wild shotgun dropkick off the apron to Ishimori, sending the champion into the guard rails. Ishimori continued to play keepaway, which sparked a Parade of Moves as all eight men hit the ring… and I gave up trying to keep track of whoever was meant to be legal.

Wato’s caught in the corner by Gedo and Ishimori, with Gedo setting up for a Super Powerbomb… but Ishimori’s no Jado, as Wato ‘rana’d free instead. Taguchi tries to nick a win with a hip attack to Gedo, before the Oh My and Garankle forced the LIJ lads in to break up the hold. Taguchi misses another hip attack, allowing BUSHI to hit a Codebreaker to Gedo for the win… except they keep going? I could have sworn that was a three-count…

We keep going with everyone’s finishers, as Gedo escapes a Guitarra de Angel before Desperado ate the Cipher UTAKI for another near-fall. Ishimori distracts the referee as Gedo got hold of brass knuckles… Taguchi takes a shot, but Desperado intercepts Gedo with a punch and a Pinche Loco for the win. This fell apart a little at the end for me, but was a good preview of what looks to be an out-of-control match at the Tokyo Dome. ***

Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi & YOH vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer & DOUKI)
It’s the first of two Suzuki-gun farewell matches – the other being tomorrow’s main event… but Lance Archer still finds time in his truncated entrance to kill a Young Lion, and terrorise Milano Collection A.T. on commentary.

Suzuki demanded to start with Okada, and got his wish as we opened up with Okada taking Suzuki to the ropes for a clean break. Wash, rinse, repeat with Suzuki on top this time, before the pair traded wristlocks and reversals. A hammerlock from Suzuki’s also countered, but we quickly reach a stalemate as tags bring us to Lance Archer and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Archer locks up with Tanahashi into the corner, before Tanahashi demanded a Test of Strength… which was just out of reach at first. Of course, Archer powers Tanahashi down to his knees, before Tanahashi got free… and accidentally-on-purpose tagged in YOH. A rather playful YOH at that, who mocked Archer before DOUKI opted to tag in and try his luck with the junior tag league winner.

A drop toe hold from YOH and a low dropkick has DOUKI in trouble, but DOUKI hangs up YOH In the ropes, then cleared the apron as Suzuki-gun took control by way of throwing everyone into the guard rails. Or in YOH’s case, over the guard rails. Even a cameraman ate shit as all hell broke loose, with Suzuki trying to poke out Tanahashi’s eye with the bell hammer…

Back inside, Suzuki’s chopped by YOH… then responded with a vile elbow that knocked YOH down to the mat for a two-count. Archer’s tagged back in as he roughs up YOH, carving through him with chops in the corner, before Okada got the tag in and managed to take down Archer with a DDT. A low dropkick keeps Archer rocked, but Suzuki tagged back in and continued to take shots at Okada, with the pair trading elbow strikes and uppercuts.

Suzuki avoids a dropkick, instead booting Okada to the corner before he got caught with the neckbreaker slam. Tanahashi’s in to land a Slingblade on Suzuki, before a slam and a flip senton earned Tanahashi a near-fall. More elbows between the two of them led to the CLONKER elbow from Suzuki, which Tanahashi tried to shrug off, as he then had to Twist and Shout his way of a rear naked choke.

Suzuki cuts off Tanahashi’s comeback with a dropkick by the ropes, before he went back to a rear naked choke… but this time Tanahashi back body drops his way free of the Gotch piledriver. A Dragon screw is blocked by Suzuki, who hit one of his own, then grounded Tanahashi with a leg lock that YOH looked to break up. DOUKI took care of YOH as Suzuki went right back to the heel hook, forcing Tanahashi to drag his way to the ropes for the break.

A Slingblade from Tanahashi takes down Suzuki, as tags bring us back to YOH and DOUKI. YOH’s running forearm sends DOUKI into the corner, before DOUKI’s enziguiri earned him a dropkick as the pair went tit-for-tat. A Falcon arrow seconds later planted DOUKI for a near-fall, before the Parade of Moves saw Archer squash Tanahashi with a crossbody… then boot Okada to the outside as DOUKI measured up YOH for the Daybreak slingshot DDT for a near-fall.

DOUKI signals for the Suplex de la Luna, but YOH put on the brakes and rolled free of it, before he hit a superkick and a Direct Drive to get the win. A disappointing loss on Suzuki-gun’s penultimate night, but tomorrow is where the big farewell is going to be – as the CHAOS and hontai team ended up celebrating to close out the show. ***½

It’s been a while since I sat down and properly watched one of these Road to shows. I enjoyed this one, even with the loss of the one match I’d been looking forward to, but unfortunately the clap crowd put a ceiling on it. Thankfully the restrictions look to be changing somewhat starting with WrestleKingdom – because those crowds remain a turn-off, particularly on run-of-the-mill cards.