New Japan gets the show going again, with a mystery card acting as the curtain raiser to the rescheduled New Japan Cup.
Before the coronavirus interrupted everyone’s year, we were days away from New Japan’s 48th anniversary show. Of course, that never happened, and the New Japan Cup was cancelled. Until last week’s announcement, that is. The New Japan Cup starts tomorrow, but first, a mystery show!
Yota Tsuji submitted Gabriel Kidd in 8:30 (***¼)
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru submitted Yuya Uemura & Tomohiro Ishii in 13:00 (***)
Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori, Gedo & Jado pinned Tomoaki Honma, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI in 13:00 (**¾)
Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan submitted BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA in 13:30 (***¼)
Togi Makabe, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi & Yuji Nagata pinned DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi in 13:00 (***½)
Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi & Shingo Takagi pinned YOH, SHO & Kazuchika Okada in 14:00 (***½)
Commentary on these shows live will be only in Japanese – English commentary for this entire tour will come from the extremely capable Kevin Kelly, added at a later date. We open with the New Japan “home team” coming to the ring for pre-show photos. Curiously, the ringside cameramen aren’t decked out in hazmat suits, like we’ve seen in DDT. Hiroshi Tanahashi says a few words, and then it’s time to see the card.
Gabriel Kidd vs. Yota Tsuji
It’s Gabriel Kidd who breaks the drought, being the first man out after 110 days.
We start with Kidd taking Tsuji down at the bell, but they quickly get to the ropes as Tsuji broke cleanly. Another tie-up puts Kidd ahead with a wristlock, but Tsuji counters with one of his own before Kidd took him down with an armbar. Tsuji clings on to avoid Kidd getting the full extension, but luckily he was right by the ropes when that came.
Wash, rinse and repeat as Kidd comes in with a side headlock, but he’s pushed away as Tsuji returned with a shoulder tackle, before he started to build. A slam gets a one-count, before taking Kidd into the corner for some chops. A hiptoss out of it gets Tsuji a two-count, before he caught Kidd in a camel clutch.
Back to their feet, Tsuji wallops Kidd with forearms, before Kidd escaped a second slam and delivered one of his own. More shoulder tackles follow before they exchange elbows, but it’s Kidd who edges ahead with a dropkick that almost won the match. Tsuji’s forced to kick away as Kidd went for a Boston crab, but to no avail as Kidd spat out his gumshield as he wrenched on a half crab.
Of course, Tsuji makes it to the ropes, so Kidd slaps him… only to run into a back body drop! Tsuji pushes on with a suplex for a two-count, but Kidd neatly counters a Boston crab with a roll through before it’s back to the elbows. Brilliant stuff here from the Young Lions, as they trade fire… but it’s a palm strike that slaps the taste out of Kidd, before a spear from Tsuji drew another near-fall. From there, it’s the obligatory Boston crab from Tsuji, but once he pulls Kidd away from the ropes, it’s elementary. I’ve missed this so much. ***¼
Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Yuya Eemura
Holy New Japan Cup Previews!
Uemura hits first, showing off his lockdown physique (in a good way), and it’s Suzuki-gun who are jumped before the bell. They quickly turn it around, but they focus on Ishii, combining to hit a dropkick-assisted back suplex early on. They then turn their focus to Uemura, but the Young Lion fought back… until Kanemaru raked the eyes. A dropkick from Uemura turned it back around though, as he proceeded to whale away on Kanemaru… who again goes back to the eyes. Time. After time. After time. Desperado tags in and takes a cheapshot at Ishii, before elbowing Uemura in the neck. A slap waits for Uemura too, before Ishii came in and tried to take out Desperado.
Of course, Ishii wasn’t legal, and it’s still Uemura who gets worn down as he ran into our second back body drop of the evening. Kanemaru stays on top of him with a slam as Desperado returned to help with a wishbone leg splitter and… yet more eye raking. The former junior tag team champions keep the pressure on with a camel clutch as Desperado pulled Ishii off the apron, restraining him as Uemura scrambled to the ropes. Uemura tries to fight back, but misses a dropkick… only to hit it at the second attempt as he finally crawled over and made the tag out to Ishii. After an early stutter, Ishii bounced out of the corner to charge through Kanemaru, who replied with more eye rakes. A kick to the back from Desperado just gets him suplexed into the ring as Ishii was handling both halves of Suzuki-gun at the same time.
A powerslam to Kanemaru finally gets rid of both men, but Ishii can’t capitalise, so he has to go for a second suplex, only to get stopped as Kanemaru escaped. Kanemaru uses the ref as a distraction as a low dropkick allowed him to bring Desperado in to work over the shockingly un-taped knee of Ishii. Despy tries for the Numero Dos, but can’t quite work Ishii’s leg around, so he instead stands him up for a shinbreaker instead.
Another crack at Numero Dos sort-of comes off, but Ishii’s able to get to the ropes… Despy goes for a waistlock, but Ishii back suplexes free as Uemura returned to try and clean house. He’s instantly pulled outside as he has to reverse an Irish whip from Kanemaru. Back in the ring, a suplex gets Uemura a two-count, before he went for a Boston crab, rolling Desperado over only for Kanemaru to try and kick it away. It doesn’t immediately work, as Kanemaru just annoys Uemura, who ultimately fell to an enziguiri, before he’s; thrown into a spinebuster from Desperado. That gets a two-count as Suzuki-gun snatches control, and with Kanemaru restraining Ishii on the outside, Desperado has to slap Uemura silly before going for Pinche Loco.
Ishii’s in to block it, as Uemura tried his luck with an O’Connor roll, but to no avail as some misdirection and a spear catches out Uemura, before a Stretch Muffler gets the submission. Solid stuff here, with Uemura looking mighty impressive – but in the end Uemura took too much offence and ended up coming up short. ***
Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori, Gedo & Jado) vs. Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Tomoaki Honma & YOSHI-HASHI
Ah, our throwaway Bullet Club midcard tag. This is just like every Korakuen Hall show…
We get going with Yujiro and Goto, as Yujiro got an early lead with a side headlock that he clung onto despite Goto’s attempts at escape. Hitting the ropes was a bad idea as Yujiro’s bulled down, then taken into the corner as Goto laid in some forearms before Yujiro came back and teased the Pimp Juice DDT. That’s escaped as Goto looked for an ushigoroshi, prompting Yujiro to scramble away to the outside.
Cue empty arena yelling, as tags bring in Jado and Yano. Of course, Yano goes for the turnbuckles… so Jado just gets his Kendo stick. We’ve a stand-off, which Yano blinked first in… and of course Jado didn’t throw his Kendo stick away. At first. A tag brings in Gedo to rake Yano’s eye on the ropes, before a whip led to Yano grabbing the ropes as he nonchalantly tagged in YOSHI-HASHI.
YOSHI-HASHI gets double-teamed by Gedo and Jado, albeit briefly as he hung up Gedo in the ropes for a dropkick to the back. A chop catches Jado before Ishimori ran in and took a Bunker Buster as YOSHI’s CHAOS mates just stood on and watched. Jado’s back in control as he took YOSHI-HASHI into the exposed corner for chops, before Yujiro Takahashi returned with elbow drops and headbutts for a two-count. The Bullet Club quartet keep YOSHI-HASHI cornered, cycling through until Ishimori returned to chop and snapmare YOSHI to the mat. A neck twist gets a near-fall, before YOSHI caught a handspring attempt and eventually fought back with a Head Hunter running Blockbuster. Goto gets the tag in to clothesline Ishimori, but it’s the Bullet Club who again try to take over as a handspring enziguiri knocked down Goto.
Gedo’s back to throw some Dusty punches, but he too eats a clothesline before Honma tagged in and looked to put away Gedo. An eye rake stops that briefly, as Honma ends up coming back with a bulldog out of the corner and… of course, a missed Kokeshi. Never change, Honma. Yujiro tags back on and goes for Honma with a running front kick, only to get a suplex reversed as the CHAOS lads flood the ring to gang up on Yujiro in the corner. It leads to a Kokeshi from Honma, that lands, but it only gets him a two-count… so he slams Yujiro and teases a Kokeshi off the top.
Which misses. Honma keeps fighting, but gets cracked in the back with a Kendo stick as a Fisherman buster from Yujiro nearly wins the match… Goto makes the save, but gets taken outside as Yujiro promptly puts Honma down with the Pimp Juice short DDT for the win. Standard stuff, but for me this perhaps went a bit long given those involved. It got all the tropes in, at least. **¾
They run a vignette for the Grand Master. “We will overcome… we will climb to new heights…” we will see Hirai Kawato in a new gimmick. Soon! Then, there’s a brief interval as the ringside area gets disinfected… they really are wiping down every single bar of the barricades.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, EVIL) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
Ah it’s been a while since we checked in on BUSHI… and the rest of LIJ.
SANADA and Taguchi start off, somewhat tentatively, as a waistlock from SANADA became an armbar from Taguchi as the two scrambled on the mat, trading headlocks and hammerlocks for fun. SANADA seemed to edge ahead, but then falls for a fist bump from Taguchi, who kicks him low ahead of a roll through into… a Paradise Lock attempt? We can tell Taguchi never learned during quarantine.
SANADA’s right back up and tries for his own hold, but ends up being pushed away as Taguchi returned fire with a hip attack. Taguchi draws in SANADA for a low dropkick, rolling away in time as Taguchi kept going with hip attacks, before Tenzan came in and kept it going. SANADA tries to chop back but Tenzan replies in kind, before he finally busted out some Mongolian chops. Kojima’s in to help as SANADA’s double-teamed,leading to the slingshot elbow/falling headbutt combo for a two-count. A splash traps SANADA in the corner ahead of a brainbuster that gets Tenzan a delayed two-count, before a trip from EVIL helped LIJ finally force their way in as a low dropkick caught Tenzan in the ropes.
Taguchi and Kojima gets laid out on the outside as LIJ try to pull ahead, triple-teaming Tenzan as BUSHI tried to snatch the cheap win. Cue t-shirt choking as referee Marty Asami got distracted, but at least the official refuses to count the pin. EVIL’s in to take over, but Tenzan blocks a suplex and ends up catching EVIL with a spinning heel kick instead. Kojima tags in and clears house before taking EVIL to the corner for Machine Gun chops, following up with the forearm and an elbow off the top for a near-fall. EVIL rakes the eyes to force a way back in, before handing off Kojima’s leg to the ref for a superkick. A clothesline in the corner and a Fisherman buster out of it keeps EVIL ahead, but he can’t quite get Darkness Falls off as Kojima came back with a Koji cutter instead.
Tags get us back to Taguchi and SANADA, as it’s hip attacks for (almost) all. It backfires in the end as Taguchi leapt into an atomic drop, but he catches SANADA with a roll-up for a near-fall. SANADA brings BUSHI back in for the home stretch, with BUSHI landing a missile dropkick as LIJ again swarm the ring to go for Taguchi, trapping him in the corner before a back cracker from BUSHI just about landed for a near-fall. A swinging Fisherman suplex from BUSHI comes to nought as Taguchi takes the masked man into the ropes for a hip attack… Oh My Garankle follows, with BUSHI clinging on, only for SANADA to break it up. The ring fills, then clears, as EVIL ate a TenKoji Cutter, before BUSHI went for a backslide… only to eat a hip attack and another ankle lock as he was forced to tap. Perfectly decent trios stuff, with LIJ shockingly on defence for a large portion of it. ***¼
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr & DOUKI) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Togi Makabe
It’s been way too long since we had our Minoru Suzuki. Yeah, I’ll take his lads’ tropes for now…
In among the New Japan Cup teases, we’ve got the IWGP tag title feud ongoing here, with Tanahashi and Ibushi looking set to defend against ZSJ and Taichi at some point. Of course, there’s a jump start from the Suzuki-gun lads, as just about everyone heads outside and into the disinfected guard rails, while Suzuki teased an early finish over Nagata, who back body drops out of a Gotch piledriver. Kicks from Nagata take Suzuki into the corner, but our Murder Grandpa elbows out of an Exploder before proceeding to PK through Nagata. It doesn’t get a pin as Nagata popped up and began to trade elbows with Suzuki, and yes, they still make that goddamn clonking sound. That was worth digging out the headset for.
Suzuki takes Nagata into his own corner, as Kota Ibushi tagged in ZSJ had also tagged in too, so the grandads keep scrapping, not caring that they weren’t legal in the match anymore. Sabre runs for Ibushi, who eventually found a way through with a mid kick, so Sabre responds with uppercuts as the pair kept this physical. A shoulder tackle from Sabre finds nothing, so he just pulls down an Ibushi leapfrog as we all go back outside again, with those guard rails again taking a beating. Suzuki’s got a chair to jab Nagata with, while Ibushi gets caught in a submission on the outside as Sabre cheerfully asked if Kota “missed me, darling?”. Yes.
Zack stays on Ibushi, wrapping his leg around the barricades before Nagata got thrown back into the railings. Things settle down back in the ring as Taichi throttled Ibushi, tagging Suzuki back in as the tag champion found himself cornered. More murderous elbows greet Ibushi, who was taken outside as Taichi jabs a chair into him, before DOUKI took over with a slam. A running stomp squishes Kota for a two-count, and it only gets worse as the Suzuki-gun quartet just cycled tags as they continued to wear down Ibushi.
Sabre looks for a Zack Driver, but Ibushi escapes and hits a Pele kick to ZSJ and Taichi, then dove across to tag in Tanahashi who cleared the decks. Taichi’s slammed and met with a flip senton off the middle rope, getting Tanahashi a two-count, before Tanahashi hit the ropes and… almost ran into a Saito suplex. He elbows free and trades forearms instead, only to get caught in the corner with an enziguiri as Taichi refused to fall too far behind. Tanahashi counters a buzzsaw kick into a Dragon screw to get himself free, as tags bring in Makabe… who promptly clotheslines Taichi and followed in with mounted punches. Suzuki broke those up, but it just draws in Nagata for another scrap before Taichi caught Makabe with an axe bomber. DOUKI’s back to clothesline Makabe ahead of a low dropkick, before he tied up Makabe in a leg tie that quickly gets broken in the ropes.
Makabe’s back on his feet to clothesline through DOUKI for a delayed two-count, with Sabre breaking up the pin to spark a mighty Parade of Moves. With the referee distracted, DOUKI catches Makabe with a pipe shot, before getting a two-count with a roll-up… but a second clothesline dumps DOUKI as Makabe promptly puts away the masked man with a King Kong knee drop. Hey, we even get the Immigrant Song undubbed afterwards! Decent stuff bell-to-bell, but the stuff that built up matches worked really well. Suzuki/Nagata in two days! ***½
Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & Hiromu Takahashi)
Okada’s still got his black-light robe that debuted about a billion years ago at WrestleKingdom. It’s been a long year. Hiromu, on the other hand, had a lot of pent up energy…
Of course, we’ve got SHO vs. Shingo in the first round of the New Japan Cup, which will be a goddamn delight. Especially since SHO looks to be paying tribute to Shingo with his new hair. Okada and Naito start, circling each other before they headed to the corner. After the break, Naito’s out with a chinlock to Okada, but Okada counters into a side headlock as they go back and forth on the mat, trading headlocks, headscissors and escapes until the stand-off.
Tags bring us SHO and Shingo, and the first moment of the night where I’ve really missed having a crowd to gee things up. They lock-up and head into the ropes, where the referee forces the break… where SHO ducks a chop before we got shoulder tackle attempts. Neither man budges, so they trade elbows instead before SHO cornered Shingo with a clothesline, only for Shingo to strike back. See-saw shoulder tackles finally take Shingo down, as Hiromu runs in and finds himself caught with a double-team from Roppongi 3K, who were clearing house with dropkicks. After settling down, SHO snapmares Shingo and kicks him in the back, but clotheslines just serve to annoy Shingo who elbows and suckerpunches his way in, before dumping SHO with a clothesline of his own.
The action spills outside as YOH got charged into the guard rails by Naito, while Hiromu took care of SHO in the corner with chops. Shingo’s back for more chops, before a suplex dropped SHO for a two-count as Naito wandered into the ring to prevent a run-in. Naito stays there and apparently becomes legal as he works over SHO with a toe hold, which quickly ends in the ropes, so SHO just get stomped on as Hiromu tagged back in to keep wearing him down.
A snapmare and a low dropkick gets Hiromu a two-count, with YOH breaking up the pin, before SHO found a way through with a spear… and a suplex as Okada gets the tag in. A running back elbow from Okada decks Hiromu, who then took a DDT for a two-count, before a slam led to Okada heading up top for an elbow drop…
But Hiromu avoids it and ends up running into a tombstone attempt, which he escaped in order to hit a German suplex on Okada. Naito returns to pick apart the former champion, drilling him in the corner with elbows before lifting Okada up top for a superplex… only for Okada to slip out as he teased a neckbreaker slam. Instead, Okada gets elbowed again before finally landing the neckbreaker slam.
YOH tags in next and leaps into Naito with a twisting forearm, before he slipped going up top en route for a missile dropkick. That gets YOH a surprising two-count, as another dropkick took Naito into the corner… but YOH misses the follow-up as LIJ double-teamed him with a Pumping Bomber and a Naito roll-up for a near-fall. SHO hits a lariat of his own to Shingo as the ring fills and clears, before Naito tried for a Destino and nearly got beaten with a simple roll-up from YOH.
YOH keeps going with a suplex attempt, but Naito’s back with an enziguiri and a flip stunner not too much unlike Darby Allin and Metehan. From there, a more orthodox Destino follows and that’s it. This match had the most of that proverbial ring rust on show in the entire card, but a thoroughly decent trios main event to bring the first night back to a close. ***½
It’s been way too long. It’s been over 100 days since the last time I wrote up a New Japan show – the Manabu Nakanishi retirement show – and while the wider world has changed, it seems New Japan has remained, for better or for worse, reliably the same. Same spots. Same line-ups. It’s not been like WWE where nothing changed at first – there were a few slight changes – and perhaps the undercard was a touch on the long side, scraping in at just under 15 minutes… which seems to be the limit in the no-fan era, but we’ll see when the New Japan Cup starts whether they tweak the format as they go.