New Japan began a hattrick of shows at Korakuen with a NEVER trios title match as the road to Wrestling Dontaku continued.

Kevin Kelly is on the English call, alongside Chris Charlton… who’s recovered from “Skiveitis” (copyright Tom from the Sengoku Lord show) only to have a broken mic!

Ren Narita, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Satoshi Kojima, Tomoaki Honma & Yuji Nagata
You know what you’re going to get here – the result’ll not be in doubt, but it’s all about the heart the Young Lions show. Commentary tells us early on that we’ve had a change of cards as we’re getting Ibushi & Naito on opposite sides of the ring for the remainder of the tour.

Tsuji puts some boots through Honma early as we’re told of his dream to open Wrestle Kingdom next year, but things turned around when tags took us to Uemura and Nagata, as Nagata worked over the rookie’s arm. A single leg crab from Kojima looked to have Uemura in trouble, only for Tsuji to break it up… but the rookie couldn’t capitalise as Honma’s back to stomp away.

We even get a Kokeshi as Uemura finally fought back with a dropkick to Nagata, as Narita finally comes into play. Narita nearly took the win with a belly-to-belly on Nagata, who replied with one of his own before Kojima’s machine gun chops were put to a rather unexpected stop. A spear from Tsuji stops Honma in his tracks as the Young Lions looked for the W, but in the end a Strong Arm lariat from Kojima’s enough to put Tsuji away. Some good effort here in the opener, even if the result went to plan. ***

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Shota Umino & Tiger Mask
Building up to Liger’s 30th anniversary match, which is pretty much this match with a change, Liger threw his entrance gear at Suzuki before the mandated jump start.

Desperado and Kanemaru focus on Liger early on, but of course Liger comes in with Shoteis before he got caught in the ropes by Suzuki… then dragged into the crowd as Suzuki began to use a chair on his fellow veteran. The focus of this remains on Liger, as Desperado again tries to unmask him, before Suzuki hands in an armbar off the apron as the prospects of a tag out looked bleak. Eventually it comes, as Tiger Mask had to provide the fightback, nearly pinning Kanemaru with a crucifix, then with a Tiger Driver… before tags saw Shota Umino almost get killed at the hands of Suzuki. He recovers as Suzuki’s triple-teamed, which led to him almost putting away Suzuki with a small package… only for a rear naked choke and a delayed Gotch piledriver to get the win. Some good stuff here, as Suzuki and Liger remain on a collision course. ***

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, TAKA Michinoku & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Rocky Romero, YOSHI-HASHI & Toa Henare
Since ZSJ’s had his big match, Taichi’s next in line as he prepares for a shot at NEVER champion Jeff Cobb… but it’s TAKA and Rocky Romero who were in the initial skirmishes as we had the obligatory Suzuki-gun jump start.

Forever lariats backfire on Rocky, as we went back outside with Taichi ruining Henare with a chairshot. A sleeperhold on the mat keeps Rocky on the defensive, but he’s able to get free as we have the weird sight (at least when it comes to pecking order) of Zack Sabre Jr. needing Taichi to help as Henare broke up a submission attempt on YOSHI-HASHI… who had been enjoying some offence until then.

Taichi takes a rear spin kick from YOSHI-HASHI, to relative silence as Henare comes in to try his luck on the NEVER challenger, hauling him up with a deadlift suplex. A spear attempt’s sidestepped as Henare quickly becomes triple-teamed, which led to Taichi ripping off the trousers ahead of a buzzsaw kick for a near-fall. A back body drop from Henare gets him a second wind, but it did him no good as Taichi caught him in a Stretch Plum for the eventual submission. This lacked a lot of the pace and urgency of the opening bouts, but the result was pretty much expected: a win for Taichi as he motors into a title shot. **½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) & Kota Ibushi
This was the first of the mis-matched outings that came about from Naito and Ibushi’s desire to be up against each other for the remainder of the tour – but instead it’s EVIL and Ishii who get us going with their usual hard hitting struggle.

You know the drill here: EVIL and Ishii can’t find a way through, so we get tags through to SHO and Shingo, who have their own ongoing feud… and of course, they pelt each other with elbows like they were running out of time. The match spills outside into the customary brawl as you have the expected pairings, with EVIL chopping Ishii through the damned gate! EVIL continues to take Ishii deeper into the crowd, as he got a close look at the WEST sign inside Korakuen. We settle down somewhat as BUSHI (and his nice, new camouflage gear) chokes away on SHO with his t-shirt, as LIJ began to pick apart the proverbial golden bones of SHO. YOH tries to make a save, but he’s just dumped with a DDT by BUSHI, before Shingo took SHO back down with a double-handed chop.

SHO finally struck back with a suplex, as we finally got a taster of Naito and Ibushi… with the latter quickly moonsaulting into some knees as Naito mounted some offence, only to leap into a half-nelson suplex. He’s back with a diving boot as both men were left laying, tagging out as we rolled into SANADA and Okada, with Okada easing ahead with a neckbreaker slam before SANADA flipped out of a tombstone… and ran into a dropkick.

A back suplex from SANADA proved a worthy counter to a Rainmaker as the ring filled up to isolate SANADA… who took a running knee, a running lariat and some forearms as everyone but Okada teamed up on him. YOH nearly gets an upset with a Falcon arrow, but the ring fills… then clears as a Parade of Moves broke out, featuring a murderous lariat from Shingo to SHO, before YOH countered a Skull End with a small package… only to get thrown into a lungblower from BUSHI as a second, swinging, Skull End forces the submission. Wonderful stuff here with the mash-up of big matches making for some excellent stretches – and yeah, we should have smelled a rat when we all saw “listless, nothing-to-do Naito” earlier on the tour. Carve out quarter of an hour or so and get this watched! ***¾

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens) vs. Juice Robinson & Mikey Nicholls
Juice came up against his last two challengers here, as he started off against Chase Owens, who picked up where Fale left off on Saturday by targeting the lower back.

Fale stands on Juice’s back, with Chase getting a piggyback for extra effect, before Juice finally fought back with some Dusty punches to Owens. Chase stayed a step ahead though, hanging back to avoid a dropkick, only to take a full nelson slam before the lethargy continued with both men tagging out. Nicholls had the unenviable job of forging a path through, but managed to do so with some help from Juice as the Bullet Club pair were stacked up in the corner. A Blue Thunder bomb nearly gets Nicholls the win… but we get a ref bump which means the official can’t see a Grenade as the package piledriver gets the win. This never really got going, and struggled to get beyond first gear. **½

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: Bullet Club (Hikuleo & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe & Toru Yano (c)
Tama’s back as he’s stolen the NEVER trios belts, hiding them along with the ROH tag titles in a bag that he dragged behind him like Damien.

We’ve got a jump start as the match instantly spilled to the outside, with Yano getting thrown into a wall before he was thrown back into the ring… where he became all shticky with the challengers. Eye rakes allowed him to remove the turnbuckle pads, before Tanga Loa whipped him into the ropes… right for a Kendo stick shot from Jado on the outside. The challengers continue to wear down Yano with chops from Tanga as this was one-way traffic, with Tama pulling away on Yano’s ears for the heck of it. Yano’s getting his comeuppance for his belt thievery, but it wasn’t really generating much of a reaction from the Korakuen crowd, at least until Yano found a way free and tagged in Taguchi.

Makabe’s in too to run a series of clotheslines, perhaps forever, on Taguchi’s command, before he just stared down the “coach” and changed the play. Running hip attacks pepper Tanga Loa, who then countered the Three Amigos into a Falcon arrow. A tag brings Makabe back in for mounted punches, but a spear from Tama cuts him off before Jado came in and accidentally laid out Tama with a Kendo stick shot. I guess those Betty Boop/Bullet Club shirts really do distract.

That opened the door for Makabe to go for the win with a King Kong knee drop, but the ref’s pulled to the floor as Tanga Loa gets a hold of that Kendo stick… then Makabe’s chain, which he used for a lariat as the challengers thought they’d won. Except Taguchi dove in to break up the pin. Hikuleo’s version of a Downward Spiral nearly gets the win, before Hikuleo got triple-teamed by the champions, eventually falling to a King Kong knee drop. Another match that story-wise was fine, but this felt horribly lethargic from the get go. **¼

Post-match, Yano makes sure to get his NEVER trios titles back… then steals the IWGP tag titles again. At least he was kind enough to leave the ROH straps in the dust…

Bullet Club (Jay White & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Dragon Lee & Hirooki Goto
We’re building up to some more singles matches here, and that usually means we’re in for some fun interactions. After the last two lacklustre Bullet Club matches, we certainly need it here.

Dragon Lee’s “over-mask” bore a strong resemblance to Kamaitachi as we continue to tease Hiromu Takahashi’s return. We’ve a rather slow start as Jay White and Hirooki Goto open us up, and of course, White’s powdering outside to keep the tempo low. Shoulder tackles don’t yield any particular winner, as Goto ended up putting the boots to the former IWGP champion. White hauls Goto to the outside as we get the obligatory guard rail spots, while Ishimori tried to unmask Dragon Lee. Jay throws Goto between the guard rails and ring apron as a reward for beating the count, before Ishimori continued to target Goto’s lower back, while making sure he couldn’t get a tag out.

Eventually Goto broke free and scored with a clothesline and a backbreaker before bringing in Dragon Lee, who turned up the pace with a shotgun dropkick and a butterfly backbreaker on Ishimori. Jay White hung around to snuff him out, only to get caught with a slingshot dropkick in the corner as Ishimori then ate the Shibata-ish dropkick in the corner. A ‘rana from Ishimori countered Desnucadora for a near-fall, before some back and forth saw Ishimori land a La Mistica, only to get caught with a standing Spanish Fly for a near-fall. Dragon Lee was about to tag out, but Ishimori riled him up to stop the tag from being made. It backfired on the Bone Soldier, as he ate a rebound German suplex, then a reverse ‘rana, only to rebound with a lariat as another breathless series ended. We’re back to Goto and White, with the latter trying for a Saito suplex, only to get kicked away. Goto lands one of his own for a near-fall, only for White to retaliate with a Death Valley Driver for a near-fall.

Goto looked to fight back, but his buzzsaw kick’s ducked as White eventually caught him with a Flatliner and a German suplex. A GYR from Goto keeps the momentum even, before Gedo came in to distract as Goto was going for a GTR… it almost worked too as White tried to land a Blade Runner, only for Goto to go mad with ushigoroshis. Dragon Lee lands a nice tope con giro into Ishimori, before he threw Gedo into the ring for Goto to get him some… but Gedo grabs the ref, who couldn’t see a low blow from White, before a Blade Runner proved to be the death blow. Good stuff here to close out the show, as long as you’ve not been turned off of Switchblade! ***½

This round of the Road to Wrestling Dontaku was a fun show, but that lull in the second half really killed my buzz… those two matches aside, this was a pretty great show that hit all the right notes in building up the key matches for the bigger Dontaku stops.