New Japan wrapped up their “main shows” for 2017 with one more stop at Korakuen Hall on their road to the Tokyo Dome!

There’s only one more show left this year from the company, in the form of Thursday’s Lion’s Gate Project event, where the Young Lion Cup will be resolved. Speaking of…

Young Lion Cup: Ren Narita vs. Shota Umino
With this being the penultimate match in the cup, this was pretty much a dead rubber as Narita was eliminated and Umino would have been out on tie-breakers, but that doesn’t stop this from starting brightly as both Lions had something to prove.

Narita actually enjoyed the upper hand for a spell, and almost got the win with a belly-to-belly before going for that Standard Issue Submission… but Umino makes it to the ropes and fought on, despite Narita going for his taped-up knee some more. Still, Umino’s able to get off a missile dropkick before connecting with a back elbow off the top rope, leading to the Standard Issue Submission as Umino’s Boston crab gets him the win! That’s two wins now for Umino, who’s doing relatively well in the tournament… Narita’s still on zero, and faces a wooden spoon race with Tetsuhiro Yagi on Thursday. **

Young Lion Cup: Tomoyuki Oka vs. Tetsuhiro Yagi
Yagi opted against the Road Warrior Animal look, and shaved off the rest of his hair after Minoru Suzuki scalped him on Sunday…

It’s a scrappy start as both men look to grab a body part, and it’s the newly-shorn Yagi who looked to be comfortable early, grabbing a heel hook to force Oka into the ropes. That didn’t work on Oka yesterday, and I doubt it’ll work better this time… Still, Yagi stomps away on Oka’s leg, driving his knee into the mat, but Oka makes the ropes from another submission attempt and tries to launch a comeback… which Yagi sidesteps. A bodyslam looked to be troublesome, but nearly gets the win, as Oka’s forced to resist another Standard Issue Submission.

There’s some nasty welts on Oka’s back which became noticeable as he fired into the lead, slamming Yagi before turning him over as that Standard Issue Submission claims another victim. That Boston crab sure is effective against black trunks, eh? **¼

Oka’s now on six points, but with one match more than Kitamura and Kawato, who have the same points going into the final match of the round.

Young Lion Cup: Katsuya Kitamura vs. Hirai Kawato
Kitamura clearly had his caffeine going into this one, charging into Kawato from the off with a thunderous shoulder block, before sending him careering into the corner with a chop.

Kawato tries to fight back, but he just earns himself a hiptoss as the Korakuen crowd struggled to decide which of their favourite Young Lions they wanted to win… although you sensed they perhaps didn’t believe it’d be Kawato as they fell silent when he struggled for a cross armbreaker. Kitamura powerbombed himself out of it and looked for a Jackhammer… but nearly falls to a roll-up as Kawato tried for flash pins… only for one to get countered into said Jackhammer for the win. Brief but a hell of a sprint – it will likely go down to Oka vs. Kitamura on Thursday – if Oka wins, he’ll take the cup on tie-breakers. ***

Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, KUSHIDA & Masked Horse vs. Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku)
He’s back! The Masked Horse, who definitely isn’t Ryusuke Taguchi… even though he’s using his music.

Meanwhile, Taichi’s, erm, nymph, has figured it’s Christmas… so out comes the red and white garb… and the piss-poor lip syncing. At least they could have added sleigh bells jingling to Taichi’s music! Still, they did have Taichi whip the horse, so… we’ll leave it at that!

Taichi’s fed up of the goofiness and almost unmasks the horse… but he managed to loosen the mask so much that a simple punch to the gut revealed the true identity. Yup, it’s Taguchi! A Taguchi who seemed conflicted at having to keep the mask on, and so quickly tags out as Liger gets his turn, dumping Taichi with the tiltawhirl backbreaker. The match descends into the usual Suzuki-gun shenanigans with everyone spilling outside… it calmed down somewhat when KUSHIDA single-handedly took down Taichi and TAKA, before using a neat Euro clutch x German suplex to get a near-fall on Kanemaru and Desperado at the same time.

Kanemaru rebounds with a spiking DDT though as the Suzuki-gun quartet tried to edge ahead, only for Desperado to eat a butterfly superplex and a Tiger driver. That’s broken up as he was too close to the Suzuki-gun corner, and it’s back to the shenanigans until the Masked Horse busted out a few hip attacks and a Dodon facebuster for another broken-up pin.

Eventually, the Masked Horse has enough of the cover, and revealed himself before blasting TAKA with the Bummer-ye hip attack for the win. Short enough for what they did, but the whole Masked Horse deal could have been a LOT worse than what it ended being… at least until he got whipped by Taichi’s valet at the end. **½

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs. Togi Makabe & Henare
Neither of these guys have anything to do at the Tokyo Dome, so we’re churning out matches with guys who were in World Tag League…

Makabe doesn’t have time for Yano’s “break” routine, so he tags out to Henare… whose choice to go for Ishii is quickly proven to be a very bad one, as he’s whipped into the rails so hard that Henare ends up in the crowd! In the meantime, Yano’s removed a turnbuckle pad, so Henare’s time doesn’t pick up back in the ring.

Eventually Henare’s able to knock down Yano with a flying forearm, before making the tag to Makabe who goes straight for the mounted punches to Yano. The momentum swung back after more tags when Ishii plants Henare with a trio of back suplex, prompting the Kiwi to slap back with some venom… but Ishii’s got those chops in his back pocket, and Henare’s getting plenty of them. A spear from Henare nearly produces a massive shock, as does a Samoan drop, but Ishii hits back with a thunderous lariat and the trademark brainbuster for the win. Another short match, but plenty of fun for the time they had – Henare showed some good fight, but he’s got a ways to go after missing a huge chunk of 2017 with injury. ***

After this match they’re shown lifting up the canvas… New Japan’s doing Big Japan death matches now?! Nah, it looks like there’s a loose board or two, so we’ve got some awkward dead air as they fixed the ring.

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA)
Fale won the NEVER six man tag titles last night, and he’s back to rub it in the faces of the World Tag League winners. The belt is a new weapon as Fale’s throwing it at people who say his name. Like ring announcers.

EVIL and Fale start with the good ol’ shoulder blocks, but it’s the ref who accidentally helps as EVIL knocks the big man down with a superkick. They try for a double-team suplex to Fale, but that’s not happening yet, and Fale takes over from there for a spell, as EVIL’s taken into the crowd for the usual fun and games.

Yujiro tags in and keeps up the beatdown on EVIL as the pace becomes rather tedious, but at least SANADA tries to turn it up with an attempted standing moonsault to Yujiro after he’d kicked the rope into Fale as the big man’d tried to wander in. Yujiro finds himself tied in the Paradise Lock, but after he’s dropkicked free, Fale’s back in and nearly squashes SANADA in the corner.

The tables turn after Fale’s thrown into the guard rails… allowing the Ingobernables to double-team Yujiro… and even triple-team him as a big splash from Fale misses. A lariat from EVIL sent Fale outside, and had Milano Collection AT short-circuiting into saying his name a bunch of times, before a Magic Killer puts away Yujiro. Short, and by the numbers = especially with one of these teams slated for something big in two and a bit weeks – but this felt a little plodding in the middle. **¾

Bullet Club (Leo Tonga & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & Kota Ibushi
With (now ex-ROH champion) Cody not here, Kota’s got to find Bullet Club substitutes to build for his match at the Tokyo Dome… and he’s got three Tongans here to do it. After getting bemused at Ibushi popping up from a shoulder tackle, Tama takes over as Kota’s cornered… briefly at least, as an overhead kick took out both of the Guerrillas of Destiny early.

Leo Tonga comes in and finds himself on the back foot against Tenzan and Kojima, at least until Tama trips Tenzan and everyone ends up on the outside, where Tama uses a fan’s handbag to beat Tenzan with. Eh, whatever works…

Back in the ring, Tanga Loa keeps Tenzan cornered, before Tama apes some Mongolian chops… and finds that he can’t really headbutt Tenzan. He just hurt his head doing that, and also when he took a spill from a Mountain Bomb as Kojima’s back in for… the machine gun chops! Tanga Loa gets some too, as does Leo Tonga, before Kojima manages to sneak in a Koji Cutter to leave everyone laying.

Tags take us back to Kota and Leo, but Ibushi’s able to overcome a potential three-on-one assault, wiping out Tama with a Golden Triangle moonsault before Leo took a missile dropkick for a near-fall. Leo’s dropkick wipes out Ibushi (and then some), before the uranage flatliner prompted the ring to fill to break up that cover. Tama takes the TenKoji Cutter after mocking some Mongolian chops, but Tanga Loa helps clear the ring as Ibushi kicked away at Leo before finishing him off with a swift Kamigoye knee. Perfectly acceptable wrestling, and the only result you’d have expected given the names in this match. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI
A rematch from the first night of the World Tag League a month ago, when the Suzuki/Goto stuff first started to stir…

There’s chaos from the off as Suzuki jumped Goto in the aisle and threatened to shave his head, but instead we’ve just got the usual brawling around ringside. Goto and Suzuki started when the bell rang, with Suzuki throwing plenty of kicks, prompting a tag out as YOSHI-HASHI willingly (I hope) threw himself in the line of fire.

A referee distraction means that he doesn’t see Takashi Iizuka whack YOSHI-HASHI with a chair, and we’re back to Goto and Suzuki brawling through Korakuen Hall, with the former being thrown into the giant WEST sign in the stands whilst Iizuka just wore down YOSHI-HASHI with a chair to the throat. When they made it back to the ring, YOSHI-HASHI’s torn in the ropes with an armbar by Suzuki as a worn-down Goto meant that it was pretty much five-on-one, thanks to Desperado, Taichi and Kanemaru being ringside to take shots as and when they could. Although with Iizuka biting away on YOSHI-HASHI, their assistance probably wasn’t needed…

YOSHI-HASHI tried a comeback, but his chop to Suzuki’s just sneered away before Goto tags back in for more of the same. A spinning heel kick in the corner almost led to an ushigoroshi, but Goto had to make do with a back suplex instead, as the pair quickly went back to laying in the forearms. Suzuki tries for the rear naked choke as some double-teaming took place, and a lot more cheating…

We’re back to the rear naked choke, but Goto has to fight through the ref doing the arm drop gimmick, fading before getting pulled into a Gotch piledriver attempt, but YOSHI-HASHI eventually makes the save. Goto’s able to rebound with an ushigoroshi and a reverse GTR… but Iizuka wanders in with his oven glove (and gets dispatched) as Goto tries for a cross armbreaker instead. With Suzuki not tapping, his goons hit the ring with a chair, but it takes the referee getting thrown outside for the match to be waved off as a DQ. Ah well. Goto’s clearly got Suzuki’s number… but will he leave the Tokyo Dome with the title? Or will he leave with a cueball? Suzuki accepts the challenge – and we’ve got a hair vs. hair match, with “no seconds” for the Tokyo Dome!

As for the match… standard Suzuki-gun fare, but we knew this was going to have to lead to something in the storyline for next month. ***

Before the main event, we had a surprise appearance from Hiroshi Tanahashi and his even more ridiculous hair. He’d been sidelined since earlier this month with a knee injury, so I’m guessing this is “what was meant to have happened” had he been on the tour? Tanahashi cuts a promo, but I’m more distracted by the perm job, as talk eventually turns to Jay White… who’s here!

They trash talk in the ring as White openly questions if Tanahashi’ll be able to make it to the Tokyo Dome… and they trade shots until White double-legs Tanahashi and lands a Dragon screw. Well, that’ll not help the knee any! White leaves Tanahashi laying, then goes back for the exclamation mark in the form of the Switchblade (the move also called Sister Abigail, and a billion other names…)

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
Trios action wraps up New Japan’s year at Korakuen Hall then – and if you want some wacky trivia, BUSHI was in the main event of New Japan’s first Korakuen Hall show of the year (where he was part of the team that lost the NEVER six man titles at New Year Dash).

The tit-for-tat started with Naito jumping Okada at the bell, and you know the score… to the outside and into the guard rails it was for the champ! A quick receipt came when Naito’s sent into the railings, then booted into the crowd, before Roppongi 3K took their shots in the ring. Things switch around as Naito took the upper hand – and took YOH into the corner as BUSHI tagged in and started his routine of choking his opponent with a t-shirt. Hiromu has a bit more offence, slapping the heck out of YOH’s chest in the corner, before BUSHI returned to try and force a submission with an STF.

YOH holds on though, and after taking down Hiromu with an enziguiri he’s able to tag in SHO who blasts through the Time Bomb… at least until BUSHI came in. We get “SHO-Time” (that’s a horrid pun, Milano) as he waffled Hiromu with a series of kicks, only to run into a pop-up powerbomb as Hiromu levelled things. We’re back to Okada and Naito, with the latter hitting the corner dropkick, but Okada slips out of a superplex and looked to turn it into a tombstone, only for the counter to a counter to lead to Naito getting caught in the cobra clutch! BUSHI comes in to break it up, but gets thrown outside quickly as Okada keeps up with a top rope elbow and… Rainmaker pose!

More back-and-forth counters see Naito edge ahead with a diving forearm, before SHO (of all people) nearly wins with a Falcon arrow to Naito. The hell?! Roppongi 3K keep up the pressure with double knees, before they tease their 3K finisher… but BUSHI and Hiromu stop it in its tracks, only before Naito dumped Okada with a German suplex to end his run of offence. Naito hits back with a sweet Arn Anderson-ish spinebuster, before busting out Gloria to YOH for a two-count, then finishing off with Destino as SHO and Okada were being restrained on the outside. 2017 ends with a Destino victory for Tetsuya Naito… will 2018 start in a similar way? If it does… he’ll be swapping out his G1 winner’s briefcase for gold!

This was easily the best thing on the card, but that’s not saying much as New Japan’s 2017 closed out with a whimper. ***¼

After the match, Naito invited Okada back into the ring and offered… a handshake? Of course it’s a ruse, and Naito jumps Okada… only to get caught in the cobra clutch one more time. Except this time Naito throws his way out of it, kicks Okada low and lands Destino to show us all… he’s figured a way out!

Ignoring the Lion’s Gate show, the next thing for New Japan just happens to be the Tokyo Dome, then New Year Dash… where things traditionally have been shaken up in the past few years. For the bulk of the roster though, it’s a well earned fortnight (or so) off, as the focus now shifts to WrestleKingdom on January 4. Hope you like early starts!