The Best And Worst Of NJPW: New Japan Road, Oct. 7, 2019

Previously on NJPW: The Rock ‘N’ Roll ‘N’ Tanahashi Express blessed America’s East Coast and Evil turned New York City into Darkness World.

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And now, the best and worst of the New Japan Road show at Korakuen Hall from October 7, 2019.

Best: Prelude To A Murder

The return of New Japan Pro Wrestling after what felt like at least a month but was really just the busiest week for American wrestling in decades is also the return of its best feud, Minoru Suzuki vs. Jushin Thunder Liger in an old man fight to possibly the actual death. There’s no Kishin Liger and attempted stabbings, but their interactions during the match are still heated. Kanemaru and Tiger Mask look fresh and speedier than usual here too, not half-assing this match at all even though they must have known everyone would just remember their partners.

And getting back to their partners, Liger is ultimately the one who gets disqualified, prompting a great, shocked “Liger-san!” from Milano on commentary. Things turn into another solid post-match brawl between Liger and Suzuki until Suzuki gets on the mic and brings SHOOT NAMES into it and takes things to the next, way more murderous level. Suzuki cut a promo a while back in which he asked for Liger to show “the real you” and then Kishin Liger came out and it seemed like that’s who he was talking about, but considering all that stuff Suzuki said even earlier trashing Liger’s choice of ring gear, it makes even more sense that he was apparently calling out the real real guy all along!

Suzuki’s promo game is amazing, as always, but Liger’s continues to be as good or better here, as it has been throughout this feud. His promise that “I will absolutely have his head” after an apology to wrestling fans is both extremely badass and ties the whole angle together. Backstage, he recalls his earlier statements about Suzuki, that anyone can street fight and it’s important for the wrestling ring to be where people show their hard-earned wrestling skills. Liger looks like the more dominant half of this feud right now, but he realizes he’s lost the ideological battle he started in the first place. Suzuki’s gotten him so fired up that he’s down for a fight to the death, and that’s what he believes has to happen.

Wrestling stories don’t have to be very complicated to be effective, but it’s cool when people actually do pull off something with a little more depth, especially when they make their angle feel badass and authentic at the same time. Obviously, this isn’t that deep, but the Liger-Suzuki feud as it stands right now could be the plot of a quality action movie going into its third act, and the special type of connection pro wrestling has with its audience as a live medium, with characters people follow basically in real time, makes it feel more significant than that. These two have done a great job of getting everyone hyped to see whatever they do to each other at King of Pro Wrestling and making it feel like it’s going to be important as well as definitely crazy.

Best: Products Of Japanese Engineering

You could tell in advance that a highlight of this show was going to be the battle of OLD-TIMEY WARRIORS and ALL-AROUND TOUGH GUYS that was the Toa Henare vs. Shingo Takagi 20-minute time limit singles match, and it did not disappoint!

The intensity is there from the lockup and it’s quickly apparent they these two have really good chemistry. The sequence outside the ring near the beginning of the match adds some creativity to one of these types of matches and all their straightforward one-on-one stuff looks fantastic. Before Henare falls to the Made In Japan (he’s not leveled up high enough to get the real finisher yet, apparently) the crowd is most behind him they’ve been in a long time, possibly ever, and he’s totally earned it by bringing his A-game in this sympathetic position.

Henare continues to put all his potential on display backstage when he absolutely kills it in a promo in which he ties together the name of the move that put him away, his status as the only foreigner on the tour, his obvious national pride as a New Zealander, and his history as a New Japan dojo graduate. The contrast of the matchmaking Henare declare that he is SHOOT WILLING TO DIE EVERY DAY IN THE RING with Takagi clearly respecting his ability but having way less personal stake in this match is a good selling point for a rematch, if New Japan wanted to book one, in addition to the wrestling they did here. You could fantasy book a NEVER Openweight Championship feud based on this match.

Worst, But Not Really Bad: In Multi-Man Tag Match News

There are a few matches on this show that aren’t bad but aren’t as strong as the rest of the card. The Chaos (Goto, Ishii, Roppongi 3K) vs. Bullet Club (Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, Gedo, Jado) (feat. Pieter) eight-man tag is a fun combination of people, but not that memorable or significant besides Goto calling out Jay White after pinning Gedo.

The NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship match is a lighthearted comedy match but not laugh-out-loud funny, which feels like an even more subjective evaluation of a match than usual in this column! But basically, there are some cute moments like the missed double Kokeshi and the Makabe-Yano-Taguchi team continues to have solid tag team finishes, but the match is more just watchable than memorable.

Best: Rocky Roads To The Tokyo Dome

Sandwiching the trios title match are two tag team matches featuring L.I.J. guys with Wrestle Kingdom dreams. First, Tetsuya Naito and Bushi take on Taichi and Douki in an entertaining match that features a lot of Naito in peril and some really nice work between Bushi and Douki. It also seems like it might revive the feud between Naito and Taichi, especially based on the backstage comments.

This match’s backstage segment effectively sums up that things are looking bleak for our ungovernable hero, but that he hasn’t given up his pragmatic, blank-faced version of hope. Naito acknowledges that he didn’t make the G1 final and now has lost the Intercontinental Championship, but says he meant it when he promised to do what had never been done before and just has to figure out how to get there. “How can I best show Tetsuya Naito’s great comeback story?… I can’t see my path quite yet, but if I can’t see any roads, I should just make my own path,” is exactly what a sucker like me who found Tetsuya Naito’s great comeback story like the best arc in wrestling up through Wrestle Kingdom 12 wants to hear. I am hooked and hopeful and prepared to be really sad at the same time. Most importantly for New Japan, though, I am hooked (so presumably so are a lot of other people too.)

The show’s main event, Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi vs. Evil and Sanada, previews matches with clear Wrestle Kingdom consequences, Okada vs. Sanada for Okada’s heavyweight championship and Evil vs. Ibushi for Ibushi’s rights certificate. The guys in that first match show more personality together in the ring than they have in a lot of their tag matches throughout this year, maybe inspired by that contract signing they had before the show.

Almost all of what you need to take away from this segment you can get from the costume design. Okada looks like a respectable, young, successful champion while Sanada flexes on everybody by hearing highlighter-yellow pants and somehow still looking great. His flashier outfit fits his whole thing about how he wants to be a different kind of face of the company, “the one to lead New Japan… to lead all of pro wrestling into the future.” In the future, no one wears socks, obviously!

The tag match still makes Evil vs. Ibushi look a lot more exciting though, with their clear power guy vs. high flyer dynamic and some great aggression when they trade strikes. Aside from Evil killing it (that finisher to Okada!) and Okada and Ibushi completely eating it when they try a double dropkick, a nice thing about this match is that the more experienced tag team, the one with all the tag moves and strategy, beats the pair of high-level singles guys. I think this is something everyone who writes editorials for With Spandex talks about sometimes, but we agree on it because it really is a satisfying thing to see, especially when you watch a ton of wrestling!

With another tag team win over Ibushi, Evil looks like he’ll definitely come out of King of Pro Wrestling looking strong even if he loses (and he’ll almost definitely lose) and, like in New York, his mic performance helps him look more like a star. Him challenging Sanada, “Let’s fight at the Tokyo Dome” is a really nice touch, building their tag team friendship a little further and fitting that L.I.J. spirit of internal competition.

With all this going for them, though, the odds are still clearly against our boys from Los Ingos at KOPW. I’ll see you back here to talk about that show, at which Liger and/or Suzuki might DIE, next week.