Previously on NJPW: Everyone wondered if Sho wants Shingo Takagi more than the tag titles, we learned Kota Ibushi wants to be NJPW 4 Life, and Suzuki ruined Liger’s 30th anniversary by being too dramatic about MMA.
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And now, the best and worst of Road to Wrestling Dontaku – Aki no Kuni SENGOKU EMAKI on April 26 in Hiroshima and Wrestling Hi no Kuni on April 29 in Kumamoto.
Best: Chaos and Ko
I’m going to kick this off talking about my two favorite matches from these shows, starting with my actual favorite, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match between Roppongi 3K and the team of Bushi and Shingo Takagi. The big question going into this match was whether Sho would ruin things for his team by focusing too much on his goal of pinning Takagi, but that had never seemed to cause him to lose a match on this tour before, so it really wasn’t that concerning of a question for our shiny EDM boys.
The facts that both these pairs are great at tag teamwork, that there is so much aggression behind the fight for these titles, and that everyone involved has a distinct, individual personality all combine to make this an entertainingly passionate match. Sho and Takagi are especially good when they’re in the ring together, Sho trying to get that elusive win over the undefeated Dragon while proving that he can be exactly as tough as this veteran junior powerhouse in the same way, aka being extremely Manly and throwing lots of very motivated clotheslines.
Sho ultimately puts the needs of the tag team over the needs of the one (he doesn’t just go rogue and never tag out), but also doesn’t have to sacrifice much. Even when he saves Yoh from a Pumping Bomber it ultimately shows how badass he is to both Shingo and the audience. So while part of this match is in service of what will almost definitely be one of the most anticipated matches of Best of the Super Juniors, but that part isn’t elevated that above the tag titles. Yay for these not being used like the 6-man championships!
What’s interesting about this individual feud though is that, in a promo that would have felt like the post-credits scene in a Marvel movie if it had been placed at the end of the post-match comments, Takagi now seems like its more obsessed half. He’s shocked his nemesis wasn’t completely consumed by his need to pin him and thinks Sho has “awoken” something in him while Sho comes off like a level-headed, driven athlete backstage. This hasn’t produced anything dramatic at this point, but it makes the competitors feel more evenly matched and makes the already compelling feud just a little bit more interesting.
While the power guys are clear standouts in this match, it’s Yoh that pins Bushi after a Dragon Suplex – obviously not the R3K finisher, but also not Yoh’s usual singles finisher. Most recently brought back to finisher status in NJPW by Tanahashi, it joins the Dragon Screw leg whip in Yoh’s growing arsenal of Ace moves. Along with a personality that seems to sincerely fit a pure babyface type of character not everyone can pull off, picking up an old-school finisher like this points to an interesting individual future for Yoh as well as his more intense partner.
The other really good match on this show is Evil, Sanada, and Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada, and Kota Ibushi. The crowd is extremely psyched for even the announcement something that features three out of the four most beloved guys in the company and remains psyched throughout, which makes sense because all these wrestlers kill it. It’s the most powerful type of match in the preview tag genre, both a really good tag team match in itself and one that showcases all the feuds involved, making them all look exciting. All the pairs of rivals in the match show that they have different physical dynamics too and will deliver different kinds of singles matches.
The wrestlers involved in the best parts of the April 26 show reunite at Wrestling Hi no Kuni for another ten-man tag, the first match the live audience for this event is really into. It understandably does not bang as hard as either of the matches on the previous show, but it has good energy and is overall fun to watch. The Skull End that ends Sho is one of the dumber-looking ones we’ve seen recently but maybe Sanada’s gag of putting a piece of tape with [name of city] on his shirt to try and get local babyface heat everywhere without sacrificing his cool image makes up for it. (It does not; that submission looks very dumb sometimes.)