The Road to Wrestling Dontaku tour got underway in an underpopulated Korakuen Hall, as we had the return of the Elimination Match in the main event!

With Wrestling Dontaku next month, and the Wrestling Toyonokuni show this month, New Japan’s managed to spread out an entire PPV-quality show across an entire tour. It’s one way of making sure you follow the entire tour, I suppose. We’re in a rather sparsely-attended Korakuen Hall (by New Japan standards, as the bleachers facing the hard cam had plenty of empty spaces), with no Kevin Kelly or anyone to do the English call…

Don’t worry Kelly, Bea or Martina… nobody noticed you guys sneaking in!

Yuya Uemura vs. Tetsuhiro Yagi
Uemura made his debut at the Lion’s Gate Project show on Tuesday, and he enjoyed the upper hand against Yagi early on, as the pair exchanged holds. Uemura reversed around a wristlock, only to get taken down as Yagi grabbed a leg grapevine, before taking the newbie into the corner for some loud overhand chops.

A back elbow gets Yagi a near-fall, before he booted Uemura right in the gut, but the newcomer’s right back in with a dropkick and a slam, before trying to get the win with a Boston crab… ending when Yagi dragged himself to the ropes. Uemura keeps up the fight, throwing some chops before he ran into a devastating dropkick from Yagi, then a big back body drop, before Yagi took the win with the Boston crab. This was actually Yagi’s first career win… and right before his birthday! The match was decent enough, and exactly what you’d expect from this level of the Young Lions. **¼

Tomoyuki Oka vs. Manabu Nakanishi
Oka’s almost become lost in the shuffle with the Young Lions as of late, and was looking to use this match to make a statement. Some early forearm shots helped, but Nakanishi quickly barged him down with shoulder blocks, taking him outside in the process, so Oka could taste the guard rails.

Back inside, Oka managed to muscle up Nakanishi for a brainbuster, only to get taken down with a spear and a clothesline as the veteran began a comeback. Oka blocked a rack, and fired back with a belly to belly that just about got Nakanishi off the mat… but Nakanishi’s right back in with a suplex to nearly get the win, as the Argentine backbreaker racked him soon after for the submission. Pretty basic, but not a match that’ll help break Oka out of a pack that may well be weakened further soon. **¼

Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask & Shota Umino vs. Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi & Ren Narita
Trios action next, and they found the over-dub again for Makabe! We started with Taguchi trying to play matador with Tiger Mask, before shrugging off some offence with a hip attack as Tiger Mask scurried to the outside.

My feed dies a little and returns to see Umino getting decked by an elbow from Narita for a near-fall. Umino tries to slap Taguchi’s arse as he made a comeback, but that just earned him a hip attack as Taguchi took him by the ropes for some sit-out splashes which get blocked. A dropkick from Umino gives him space, but a tag to Nagata just has Taguchi mock him some more, before Nagata finally kicked him in the arse.

Father Ted would be proud.

Taguchi hit back with a hip attack as Makabe’s tagged in to take Nagata into the corner for the mounted punches. He blocks an Exploder as the pair began to trade forearms, leading to that eventual Exploder, then a scoop slam as the pair went tit for tat. Tiger Mask is back and runs into a slam, as Makabe falls for Narita’s pleas to tag in… will the Young Lion let down the veteran?

Of course he would. Despite an initial flurry, taking down Tiger Mask with a dropkick, Narita only knows a Boston crab… which gets blocked… although he did manage to counter a roll-out into a Cloverleaf before the ring filled up to break up the hold. Narita and Taguchi double-team Tiger Mask, which backfires as a double armbar almost forced Narita to tap, with Taguchi making the save, before Narita fell to some kicks and a Tiger Driver for the win. Energetic isn’t a word I could use to describe this, but it was short and enjoyable, so what more can you ask for from an undercard match? **¾

Post-match, Umino and Nagata have a bit of a staredown, but Yuji just walked off with his All-Asia tag belt.

Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH & Rocky Romero)
Of course, Suzuki-gun jumped Roppongi 3K, taking the match to the outside while Taichi just wandered around in his jacket.

When they finally get to the ring, TAKA & Taichi toy with YOH, who replied with a Dragon screw and some headscissors as he managed to take the upper hand… until Iizuka comes in with rope for choking. They head back outside into the crowd, where Iizuka smashes a chair into YOH’s back, almost forcing a count-out.

There’s biting from Iizuka, but the match feels rather flat since Roppongi 3K weren’t allowed to get into any gear as TAKA had control, but YOH finally mounted a comeback and tagged in Romero, who flew in like a luchador with a springboard dropkick. Rocky made a beeline for Taichi, going after him and TAKA with Forever lariats, but TAKA cuts him off with a poke to the eye before countering headscissors into a brief crossface.

Finally the former junior tag champs come in and are able to work together, but SHO’s bridging German suplex to Taichi gets broken up, before a back cracker and a dropkick kept Taichi down. Rocky, and his nasty shoulder welt, takes out TAKA on the outside with a tope, before Taichi grabbed the ref, providing a distraction for an Iizuka chairshot that nearly won the match, as a Last Ride powerbomb puts away SHO. This was fine, albeit flat, and I guess they’re going the long way around rebuilding the former junior champs, as they barely had a sniff here. **¾

Four matches down in an hour, eh? New Japan are keeping up their commitment to efficient wrestling after the bloat in New Orleans!

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toa Henare
When Zack and Suzuki return, I think all of the Rev Pro belts will be in New Japan, save for the women’s title… yes, Ishii came out with his newly-won strap, which was more impressive than that Yano DVD.

As usual, Henare only had eyes for Ishii, but he had to wait as Tenzan and Yano got us underway. Tenzan tried to Mongolian chop Yano in the ropes, but it doesn’t work as Yano escaped and tried to use the ref as a shield, as his usual shtick got underway. Break! Yeah, Tenzan wasn’t playing ball…

Ishii and Henare made tags in, so we got their next flurry, featuring thunderclap-like shoulder tackles and forearms, which Ishii took the upper hand with, before he nonchalantly kicked Henare out of the ring like he was booting some rubbish away from his path. My feed went a little funny again, as I missed Yano removing the turnbuckle pad (which didn’t surprise me), but not much happens as Henare gets whipped into the exposed corner… before rebounding with a shoulder tackle of his own!

Tenzan tags in next, going after Yano with a suplex for a near-fall, but Yano’s back to make fun of the Mongolian chops, earning him some boos. The real thing follows next, before Tenzan’s pulled down by the hair. Ishii’s in, but he walks into a spinning heel kick as Henare tagged back in, and ran into more forearms before he scored with a flying shoulder tackle of his own.

Henare tries to fly, with a shoulder tackle off the top for a near-fall, but Yano comes in for some double-teaming, taking Henare into the corner before Ishii’s backdrop suplex almost ended things. Yano’s taken Tenzan outside, but we don’t see what goes on with those two… although Tenzan’s back to clothesline Ishii… as is Henare as a lariat almost earned him the win.

A shot to the midsection looked to rock Ishii, as he walked into the path of a spear for a near-fall (on the second try), before he was forced to kick out from a wild Ishii clothesline. The sheer-drop brainbuster’s next, and that’s all she wrote for Henare as Ishii took the pin. A spirited effort, but in the end Ishii’s experience and hard-hitting were far too much for the plucky Kiwi. ***

Before the next match, a trailer was played…

OH JOY.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. Suzuki-gun (Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.), Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
Booking-wise, this eight-man tag made sense – mashing up the junior and heavyweight tag title matches into one easy bite.

Yeah, it’s another Suzuki-gun jump start, and this one instantly spilled to the outside, except for SANADA and Archer, who stayed in the ring. We’re quickly into SANADA’s greatest hits as the double leapfrog dropkick takes down Archer after a ‘rana was stuffed, and yes… we get a Paradise Lock tease as well, only for Kanemaru to break it up and get one of his own.

Before SANADA could free Kanemaru, Archer pounced him into the ropes, then just rolled Kanemaru free. Ah man, the one gag they had and they blew it! Meanwhile, SANADA’s taken into the crowd as Lance Archer bullied another kid… before being taken back to the ring as Davey Boy tried to make him tap. To nothing.

Smith keeps SANADA on the mat, wrenching away in a rear chinlock, before Desperado tried to follow suit… but SANADA gets free for a bit, before scoring with a low dropkick as the Ingobernables finally got a foothold in the match. Hiromu’s headscissors take out Despy, before they dealt with an invading Kanemaru, as more dropkicks took Desperado down for a near-fall.

Desperado hit back with a big spinebuster to Hiromu, but he quickly runs into a superkick as EVIL tagged in… who went up against Smith with a back senton, before laying in with clotheslines. A knee to the gut turns it back around, but EVIL and SANADA teased wins with a duelling Banshee Muzzle/Skull End on Archer and Smith… who broke free and hit a sidewalk slam/splash combo for a near-fall. The Hart Attack misses, as we’re back to Kanemaru and BUSHI… the latter of which scores with a missile dropkick to Kanemaru and Desperado as the momentum built.

BUSHI went for a MX on Kanemaru… but ends up missing as Desperado spears him, as a Parade of Moves broke out, ending with a side slam/dropkick combo and a Deep Impact DDT off the top to BUSHI… but somehow BUSHI kicked out, and quickly cradled Kanemaru for the win! A sneaky finish which was instantly met with a post-match beatdown, but that’s first blood for the junior challengers. ***½

Post-match we had the beatdown, before Archer dumped Ren Narita with a uranage for good measure.

Elimination Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay, Michael Elgin & KUSHIDA vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Jay White, YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay
These are like a battle royal with tags and pins, as we mash up some more feuds. Will Ospreay tried motioning to KUSHIDA to “stay away from my neck”, after the insane schedule he’s had of late.

There’s staggered entrances for all, as these are all title feuds… save for Elgin/YOSHI-HASHI, who came out with Tanahashi and Okada separately. Good.

We’re not going to go move-move-move in this one, but the first elimination attempt saw Juice need his partners to rush the ring as Goto tried to throw him over the top. The ring fills again as everyone went after Jay White, with Tanahashi directing traffic a la Taguchi… wearing the coach’s armband and all!

The CHAOS quartet, minus White, beat down Ospreay and built up to that sushi pose… White just wandered past them and onto the apron, wanting no parts of their promoting shenanigans. CHAOS keep up on Finlay, with Okada staring a hole at Tanahashi while doing so. Tanahashi eventually ends in and clears house, before he blocks an Okada flapjack and returns fire with a neckbreaker.

The flapjack quickly followed as Okada tagged out, leading to the pace increasing as KUSHIDA looked to catch Ospreay in a cross armbreaker, before doing exactly what he was asked not to: go for the neck. An enziguiri and over-the-top 619 follows as Ospreay fought back, only to leap into a cross armbreaker, which Ospreay tried to break with some headscissors that almost eliminated the pair of them as they went over the top rope and onto the apron… where Ospreay teased another Spanish Fly, before getting caught in a Hoverboard Lock… which he countered into a suplex onto the apron as both men fell to the mat for a pair of eliminations. That was a nice little series, drawing out the elimination tease for a while.

Elgin gets dropped with a Western lariat from YOSHI-HASHI for a near-fall, before Elgin threatened to powerbomb YOSHI-HASHI to the outside… as Mike scores the elimination by back body dropping him to the floor from a powerbomb attempt. He nearly tosses Goto next, then teases a Falcon arrow to the floor, but instead a spinning heel kick takes Elgin off the apron and out.

Juice and Goto tease next, with the latter landing an ushigoroshi, before Juice pushed him off the top rope and onto the apron as a series of clothesline knock Goto to the floor! Okada quickly gets rid of Juice after he lifts him to the floor, then comes close to dumping Tanahashi… who recovers with a Cloverleaf that Jay White eventually breaks up. A charge from Tanahashi sees him lifted onto the top rope for a dropkick, forcing him to skin the cat… which he does so again when White tries throwing him out,.

Finlay lifts Okada onto the apron too, as Tanahashi and Okada trade forearms on the edge of the ring, before they get knocked to the floor by White and Finlay respectively. That surprised me… David Finlay with a technical W over Okada?! Finlay almost wins the whole thing outright when he tried to throw out White, before opting for a uranage for a near-fall, before his Stunner attempt is blocked and met with a Flatliner and a German suplex as Switchblade came close.

Eventually, White snaps as he throws Finlay into the turnbuckles, then out onto the apron as he tried to win the match, following him out as he teases a German suplex. Finlay holds on to the middle rope, then takes White back inside for a slingshot into a German suplex, before nailing a Stunner and a clothesline over the top as David Finlay was our sole survivor! Technically that breaks the streak over White, I guess, but he’ll want to leave with the gold when they face off later on the tour. A really good match to end the show with, as these Elimination affairs usually are. ***¾

The opening night of the Road to Wrestling Dontaku show was a fun, quick-paced affair – even if it did start out pretty flat. Empty seats inside Korakuen are a rarity, especially on the scale we saw today, which I’d hope isn’t the sign of burnout and rather a sign of the crowd not being so thrilled on a watered down tour (as opposed to the traditional tour with one big finale).