New Japan returned to Korakuen Hall on Friday for their penultimate show of 2016 – a warm-up for WrestleKingdom 11.

The show ended up with two surprises – one of which was announced at the start, with Jado returning to the New Japan roster after the New Japan/NOAH partnership fell apart.

Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask & Henare vs. Yuji Nagata, Yoshitatsu & Ryusuke Taguchi
This’ll be one of Yoshitatsu’s final matches in Japan, as he’s headed to CMLL in the New Year… for some reason, Nakanishi wanted to start off against Nagata, and so they did, trading stomps and forearms in the early going.

Nakanishi speared Nagata then went for the Argentine backbreaker, nearly losing Yuji in the process, before turning it into a spin-out backbreaker that prompted Taguchi and Yoshitatsu to hit the ring. Tiger Mask nearly won it with a double underhook suplex on Yoshitatsu, before a Tiger Driver picked up another two-count.

Henare tagged in and scored a near-fall over Yoshitatsu with a bodyslam, before Nakanishi virtually imploded Yoshitatsu’s chest with a chop. Nakanishi and Nagata traded kicks, before an Irish whip was blocked, leading to Nagata taking a lariat. Another Argentine backbreaker followed, before Nagata worked out and caught Nakanishi with an Exploder as bpth men tagged out.

Henare once again came in, blasting Taguchi with a shoulder tackle and a suplex, before a Boston crab was quickly broken via the ropes. Undeterred, Henare on Taguchi and went for it again, but was rolled up for a near-fall before Taguchi caught him in an ankle lock that was broken up by Nakanishi and Tiger Mask. After an enziguiri, Henare pulled off another Argentine backbreaker, but Taguchi slipped out into another ankle lock for the eventual submission. Good stuff; Henare’s definitely improved since he made his debut earlier in the year. **¼

After the match, Nakanishi and Nagata had a pullapart, and for some reason these two are clearly no longer friendly with each other.

Chase Owens vs. Tomohiro Ishii
This isn’t going to be a squash, is it?

Owens tried a shoulder tackle early on, which hurt him more than Ishii. Wash, rinse, repeat, before Owens succeeded… only after a throat thrust weakened Ishii. The match went outside as Ishii was sent into the guard railings, before the pair ended up in the crowd, where Owens used a chair on Ishii… then tried to block the gate with it, but to no avail.

Owens continued to wear down Ishii with punches and chokes, before a backrake of doom riled up the Stone Pitbull. Ishii invited more strikes, including a knee to the head, before replying to a thumb to the eye with a powerslam. The comeback continued with a suplex for a near-fall, before Owens surprised Ishii with a slingshot Codebreaker and a neckbreaker-come-STO for a two-count for himself. A sequence of avoided strikes back and forth ended with a back suplex for Ishii, who then had to kick-out of a backslide and a roll-up, before taking a Fireman’s carry gutbuster from Owens.

Another kickout followed that, so Owens went for the Package Piledriver. Ishii backdropped free, only to take some more enziguiries, then snap back with some headbutts and lariats to Owens. Chase then ate a sliding lariat and a brainbuster, as Ishii picked up a win in a match that was a lot better than I was expecting. ***

EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & David Finlay
Tenzan replaced Ricochet in a preview for WrestleKingdom’s 6-man tag team title gauntlet… speaking of, Kojima and Finlay found their NEVER six man tag title belts, which feel like they’ve been in storage forever (along with that Jay White t-shirt that Finlay wore!)

This was short, fun, and exactly what you’d expect – Kojima and Tenzan went through their signature stuff early on, with BUSHI taking the Monglian chops and the slingshot elbow drop/headbutt combo. EVIL then tripped Tenzan in the ropes as the Ingobernables took over, as Tenzan experienced the wrath of BUSHI’s t-shirt. Tenzan continued to absorb offence, before surprising EVIL with a Mountain Bomb, only for SANADA to prevent him from making a tag out.

Eventually Tenzan tagged back out to Kojima, who lit up SANADA with rapid fire chops, interspersed with a rake of the eyes. Despite BUSHI’s interference, Kojima landed a top rope elbow, then a rolling forearm smash, before SANADA blocked a Koji Cutter and hit back with a springboard dropkick.

Kojima powered through an EVIL lariat and followed with a Koji Cutter, before bringing in Finlay to run wild on EVIL and BUSHI for a spell. The tables once again turned when Finlay was sent chest-first into the turnbuckles, which almost led to the end of the match after a combination of moves, ending with a lariat from EVIL. An STO was countered as Kojima and Tenzan came in to even the odds, leading to Finlay getting a uranage backbreaker on EVIL for a near-fall.

In the end, Finlay took some mist from BUSHI before EVIL’s STO secured the win. It may be because I’ve sat through a load of World Tag League matches, but this was a lot better than that I’ve seen as of late. ***¼

Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Juice Robinson vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Bone Soldier
An awkwardly-placed Boner ruins things again…

We had our usual Bullet Club jump start, with the WrestleKingdom opponents immediately taking each other outside as Juice and not-quite-Cody remained in the ring. The Boner stomped and choked over Juice, who quickly became trapped in the wrong corner, before countering a Tama Tonga suplex and turning it almost into YOSHI-HASHI’s Bunker Buster.

Tomoaki Honma tagged in and ran wild on Tonga, at least until he whiffed on a Kokeshi, which led to a back suplex from Tanga Loa, and some headbutts from a surprisingly effective Boner. A choked-out Honma dead-weighted the Boner, so he tagged Loa back in, but it was a ruse as Honma quickly fired back and actually connected with a Kokeshi.

Makabe came in and landed a few shoulder tackles between Loa and Boner, as Juice Robinson came in to help dish out some mounted punches in the turnbuckles. Robinson would tag back in and give Tama Tonga an early Christmas present in the form of some Dusty punches, before a reversed Roll of the Dice took Juice back down.

That led to Juice taking the Fireman’s carry spinning neckbreaker combo, but Honma made the save. Once the Boner dispatched him, Tonga again stalked Juice, only for a Gun Stun to be blocked… then hit at the second attempt after an impressively long rope-running sequence. With Juice down, the Guerrillas went for their elevated DDT, but the bell rang out of nowhere… and oh sweet Jesus, Toru Yano’s back from NOAH to ring the bell.

After shrugging off Yano’s distraction, Makabe flattened the Guerrillas with clotheslines, before Honma blocked a Gun Stun and hit a leaping Kokeshi, allowing Juice Robinson to finish off Tama Tonga with the Pulp Friction. That had to be Juice’s biggest pin to date – and will go some way to build up some credibility ahead of his match with Cody. Good stuff, but my God, do we need Yano again? ***¼

After the match, Yano snuck into the ring and delivered low blows to Makabe and Honma. Robinson was kicked low, before Loa and the Boner took low blows as well. He then cut a promo and inserted himself into the IWGP tag title picture, with a mystery partner. I can wait…

Hirooki Goto & Jado vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Jushin “Thunder” Liger
Well, this is an interesting pairing… We started with Shibata trying to get a full nelson on Goto, before giving up and going for a snapmare and a rear chinlock instead. Goto escaped and applied a lo-o-ong headlock, before Shibata forced him into the corner for a tag to Jado.

Liger and Jado blocked shoulder tackles before going to the outside, where Liger was whipped into the crowd barriers. Jado did his best Ric Flair impression after some chops, before rubbing Liger’s eyes against the top rope. Which he sold, despite WEARING A MASK THAT COVERS HIS EYES. What am I watching here?!

Liger got held in a chinlock briefly, as Goto and Jado swapped tags, before firing back with a double DDT to the CHAOS pairing. Shibata tagged back in and upped the intensity by going after Gedo in the corner with punches, stopping only to drill Jado with some kicks as he tried to break it up. An abdominal stretch to Goto followed, who then took several kicks after making a rope break, before catching one and rushing into Shibata with a spinning heel kick.

A back suplex gets Goto a near-fall, and he uses that again to counter a sleeperhold. Undeterred, Shibata popped up and landed a German, then an STO as both men crashed to the mat, before Shibata made the tag out to Liger, who landed a top rope ‘rana for a near-fall. All four men were briefly in the ring, until Shibata was wiped out with an over-the-knee backbreaker, before Liger almost won it with an O’Connor roll. Goto hit back with an ushigoroshi to Liger, then to Shibata, before Liger took a GTR as Goto and Jado won. There were some brief flashes of decent wrestling here, but aside from that… this was pure fast-forward territory. Or “click past it on the scrobbler”… *¾

Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI & Gedo
You know the drill – we had the Bullet Club jump start, before settling down to Omega vs. Okada, with Gedo threatening to kill the IWGP title challenger in the early going. Good to see someone in wrestling wants retribution for an attack!

The babyface team were on fire early on, with a DDT, corkscrew neckbreaker and Flatliner sending the Bullet Club trio packing. Of course, the action spilled to the outside, where Fale trash-talked Makabe for some reason as we got more Omega ripping into Okada once more, almost leading to a count-out, only for YOSHI-HASHI to make it back just-in-time.

YOSHI-HASHI was kept in there for a long time, and was forced to kick out of a sit-down pin from Fale, before landing a left-arm lariat to knock down the big guy. We briefly got Okada and Omega again, with the champion picking up a near-fall from a swinging neckbreaker, before Omega dropped Okada with a Finlay roll and a moonsault for a near-fall of his own. Omega teased a One Winged Angel, before landing a leg lariat to the back of Okada, then tagged out to Takahashi, who ate a neckbreaker slam.

Gedo came in and peppered Takahashi with Dusty punches, before Takahashi recovered with a diving dropkick as Fale squashed Gedo for a near-fall. A Pimp Juice DDT was cut-off by YOSHI-HASHI, before Gedo came in and rolled-up Yujiro for a near-fall that was cut-off by a knee strike from Omega. Another parade of finisher attempts followed, ending with Omega blasting Okada with a bicycle knee, as Takahashi finally drilled Gedo with the Pimp Juice for the win. A decent tag, but nothing much to write home about. ***

Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA vs. Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi
Not counting the Fantasticamania show, this was Hiromu’s first match in New Japan since June 2013. Three and a half years is a long-arse excursion by anybody’s standards! Speaking of the former Kamaitachi, clearly his gear wasn’t ready in time (he admitted so later), as he wrestled in torn jeans and sneakers. Heck, the gear looked suitably dingy, as did the wrist tape that looked like a last minute rush job.

The match started incredibly slowly as the Ingobernables baited their opponents, which ended with Takahashi running into the ring, flying over the top rope and delivering a sunset flip powerbomb to KUSHIDA off the apron. Well… it’s certainly different to the usual way matches start here!

With KUSHIDA out of the picture, Takahashi dropped Tanahashi with a running dropkick that saw him leap over the guard rails, and resulted in Hiroshi narrowly beating the count-out. The Ingobernables pair worked over Tanahashi’s knees, with Naito using a figure four whilst Hiromu stood in the way of Tanahashi and the ropes. This pattern continued as Tanahashi largely fended off a 2-on-1- attack, before finally tagging KUSHIDA back in for a comeback that ended with a hiptoss into a cross armbreaker attempt on the former Kamaitachi.

Hiromu turned a ‘rana attempt from KUSHIDA into a sit-out powerbomb, before Naito threw in his outside-in dropkick to the junior heavyweight champion, and finally tying him up with a Koji clutch. Tanahashi’s attempt to break it up ended at the hands of a ‘rana from Takahashi (this is going to get confusing, isn’t it), allowing the Ingobernables to continue to pepper KUSHIDA with attacks.

KUSHIDA managed to get some breathing room after a Pele kick to Naito, before tagging Tanahashi in to remind again that those two are facing off at the Tokyo Dome too. A Dragon screw set up Tanahashi for a cloverleaf that Naito easily broke via the ropes, only for Naito to return with a low dropkick to the Ace’s knee.

A parade of moves followed as all four men were left laying, before Takahashi and KUSHIDA went toe-to-toe once more, ending with a superkick for a near-fall for Hiromu. KUSHIDA hit back with a Hoverboard lock, before a Tanahashi slingblade to Hiromu was met with German suplexes to both faces. Takahashi ran KUSHIDA into the turnbuckles with a death valley driver, then ended things with the Time Bomb – a Fireman’s carry into a sit-out side-slam. A fine, fine match that served its purpose of re-establishing Takahashi with the New Japan crowd after many years away. ***¼

All in, this was a show that was easy-to-watch, yet ultra skippable. If you’ve got a free two-hours, this is worth a watch, otherwise save your time for Saturday’s Korakuen Hall show.