With the New Beginning show looming this weekend in Nagoya, I thought it would be fun to take a brief look at some matches from the Road to the New Beginning events.
A brief explanation – the ‘road to’ shows are a series of shows that, 99% of the time, are various tag matches of different sizes and lengths, and are meant to highlight the feuds that will eventually be paid off on the main shows. As a result, a lot of the permutations of the matches are run several times, which makes reviewing the shows a little redundant. But there was some really fun stuff on these shows, so let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
Up first, let’s check out what happens when bad guys fight. Suzuki-Gun and Bullet Club were locked in battle for most of these shows, as Taiji Ishimori and tree-kicking sensei El Phantasmo had laid out a challenge for the IWGP junior heavyweight tag titles, held by El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. This led to an (admittedly odd) situation in which the Suzuki-Gun team were the de facto babyfaces, something that was more than a bit weird.
Let’s take a look at one of the 8-man tags leading up to the tag title match:
Bullet Club (GEDO, JADO, El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori) vs Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, DOUKI, El Deseprado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru) – From The Road to the New Beginning, January 18th, 2021
It feels like there’s about 30 people in Korakuen Hall for this one, as Japan’s COVID restrictions were tightened up quite a bit. Almost all of the Road to cards are 5-6 matches and very fast shows, done in less than 2 and a half hours. By the way, Kevin Kelly says Jay White’s name constantly throughout the entrances, to the point where if this isn’t an angle, they’re really going pretty far off the reservation to keep the guy’s name out there.
Suzuki-Gun lost the match the other night, and they are pissed the f--- OFF, so they just charge out to Desperado’s music and attack the Bullet Club guys. And they’re the babyfaces here! Kanemaru especially tries to get ELP’s boot off, because Phantasmo is doing a loaded boot gimmick; I can only assume that GEDO got drunk on sake with his beloved Memphis tapes one night and thought to himself “you know what angle I haven’t run yet?”.
JADO nails DOUKI with the kendo stick and we finally start this thing with DOUKI as YOUR somewhat-improved-from-last-year-tweener-in-peril, as GEDO and JADO pull out every silly heel trick in the book on him, raking his eyes on the top rope, choking him in a chinlock, etc. Meanwhile, Suzuki is the pissed-off babyface on the apron and by GOD, the idea of an angry Minoru Suzuki being on the side of a babyface hot tag makes me give a tiny shriek of delight. ELP showboats and baits Suzuki into the ring, then does a cartwheel back rake while the ref almost dies keeping Suzuki out of the ring.
More b------- from the Club, as Taiji comes in and chokes DOUKI. Despy tries to save, but gets cut off and it’s more punishment for DOUKI. JADO cuts off a tag and mocks Suzuki-Gun in the corner, but DOUKI escapes and hits a DDT. Finally, DOUKI makes the corner and it’s hot tag Desperado, who comes in with Ishimori. ELP necksnaps Despy, and now we get our title match participants in the ring as everyone trades off with Desperado taking a superkick from ELP in the gut. Despy thumbs him in the eye in response to that. ELP distracts the ref and GEDO goes for the knucks, but Suzuki cuts that off with a choke and now it’s breaking loose in Korakuen Hall, baby! GEDO is left alone with Desperado, and that doesn’t go well for the bookerman, as Despy slaps on the Stretch Muffler and GEDO screams uncle. (Suzuki-Gun over Bullet Club, submission, 9:48)
THOUGHTS: **1/2. Work was nothing here, it was all setup. The joy is watching these two factions, the most vile in NJPW, try to outcheat each other and destroy each other through dubious means. Suzuki screaming at the ref and wanting a hot tag was something else, though.
Anyway, they did several of these matches on the tour with the exact same lineups, pushing the ELP has a deadly superkick and what may or may not be a loaded boot, while Suzuki-Gun cannot believe that someone ELSE in New Japan would dare to cheat against them. And that leads us to…..
Suzuki-Gun (C) (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs Bullet Club (El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team title match – From The Road to the New Beginning, January 23rd, 2021
I’ll say more in my thoughts after the match, but I’ll say this up front – Dave Meltzer savaged this match on WOR. He HATED it. I did not.
Kanemaru goes for the boot continually to start. Cheaters know other cheaters when something’s up. ELP finally has enough and we switch to Despy and Ishimori. Fine with me. Despy fakes a clean break and thumbs Ishimori in the eye because they’re still Suzuki-Gun, for f---’s sake. They work a bit before Taiji rakes the back of Despy and tags in ELP. Who promptly rakes the back of Despy and flicks the skin at the ref. Top rope backrake from Ishimori as we are upping the workrate on those backrakes now! ELP plays along with ‘can you top this?’ by walking the top rope, doing a moonsault, and landing….into a backrake on Desperado. Tremendous. They’re playing along with the story of the match and the characters.
Desperado hits a palm strike and pokes ELP in the eyes for good measure before tagging in Kanemaru. Bullet Club tries a double team, but Kanemaru runs them together and hits a double back rake and the crowd applauds. ELP takes over with knees now, tag to Ishimori and something that briefly resembles a tag match breaks out as they cut the ring in half on Yoshinobu. Kanemaru gets tied in the tree of woe and Ishimori hits a baseball slide, then he and ELP abuse the genitals of the heel master before Despy recovers and saves.
Kanemaru dives for a tag, but Desperado gets yanked off the apron, and Kanemaru gets dragged back to the corner for more abuse. This time, Desperado sees ELP coming and knocks him down, and we finally have HOT TAG Desperado, who runs wild on Ishimori. Multiple dragon-screws in the corner and it’s Stretch Muffler time, but ELP comes in and puts his fingers in the eyes of Despy to break, ELP gets sent to the floor and we’re right back to the Muffler, but Ishimori reverses that to the crossface. Desperado back to the Muffler, but Ishimori leverages his arms out and over into a sunset flip for two. That was COOL.
Tags on both sides and Kanemaru with the advantage, going to the knee of ELP, then a figure-four. Taiji frees him with a running knee after sending Despy to the railing outside, as the ref is losing control rapidly here. Just wait. Double-team Codebreaker leads to an ELP moonsault for two. ELP and Kanemaru face off and both take turns pushing the ref towards the other guy, until Kanemaru moves out of the way of an ELP superkick and the ref takes it square in the chest. And since ELP’s superkick is lethal, he’s pretty much deceased.
(And I mean this affectionately here for once) That means it’s time to CUE THE B-------!
Kanemaru hits an inverted DDT for like a 12 count. Ishimori runs in with a belt, but Despy cuts that off with a spear and smashes ELP with it to further knock HIM silly as Tsuji carries the ref to the back. Another ref runs down to count the pin, 1, 2, Ishimori yanks him to the railing to take him out! Ishimori gets a title belt and nails Kanemaru in the back of the head, but now Despy is back in and he also has a title belt. They duel with those and Ishimori wins that, only to be nailed by Kanemaru with the whiskey bottle, but that’s a pyrrhic victory as ELP lowblows Kanemaru and hits him with the bottle now. So that puts Kanemaru down as the ref crawls back in the ring, 1, 2, no!
There’s plunder all over the ring as ELP tunes up the band…..but Kanemaru shoves it off and ELP nails the ref instead! Kanemaru with a lowblow and everyone is dead. And here comes a 3rd ref as they might as well just jam a ref’s shirt on Ishii or something, because these guys are dropping like flies. The Lions carry the 2nd ref to the back as Kanemaru tosses a title belt to ELP and tries the Eddy Guerrero finish, faking being hit, then rolling ELP up for two. Moonsault (beautiful one, too) gets two for Kanemaru. Crowd is absolutely into this. Kanemaru goes for Deep Impact, but comes off and ends up taking some Deep Impact in the balls, as the ref was distracted and didn’t see that nut shot. One El Phantasmo superkick later, and we have NEW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champions! (Bullet Club over Suzuki-Gun, pinfall, 23:07)
THOUGHTS: ****. Okay, PLEASE hear me out on this one. So this match was ALL smoke and mirrors, but the thing is, the smoke and mirrors made sense for the wrestlers involved. The match was just fun from top to bottom, as both teams cheated like nuts but they used the basic tenets of wrestling (hot tags, extended peril segments, visual pins) to augment the story of the two slimiest teams in wrestling trying to outslime the other. I cannot emphasize enough how ultimately passable, but also very staid, this match would have been had they decided to do a straight wrestling match. By leaning on the personalities of the wrestlers in question and constructing the match on that axis, it made for a good time.
Now, to be fair to Grandpa Dave, this match also contained pretty much everything that people moan about – ref bumps, low blows, foreign objects…..if those things taken to cartoonish excess are going to not be your particular shot of whiskey, then this match is not for you. You’d give it * and move on, and that’s a perfectly valid choice. Hell, I was very vocal about my annoyance with EVIL and his nonsense over the summer and fall, and while I think this match was different in a much more over the top fashion, I can understand people who see it the same and rate it as such.
The next skirmish that played out over the shows was the continuing conflict between EVIL and Kazuchika Okada, represented by the CHAOS and Bullet Club factions.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI) vs Bullet Club (EVIL, Dick Togo, Yujiro Takahashi) – From The Road to the New Beginning, January 19th, 2021
ELP joins us for commentary on the English side, and he just does generic heel nonsense most of the time. He does bury the s--- out of everyone else and their superkicks, saying that he only needs one because of his training superkicking trees to strengthen his foot. Sure. The bad guys attack to start, and Goto gets triple-teamed in the ring. He makes a hell of a go of it, though, disposing of the Bullet Club guys and then going on to beat on Takahashi. EVIL saves that and we break down again.
Back in for Yujiro and Goto, which unfortunately gives us Takahashi on offense. That’s mercifully brief as he tags in Togo, who hits a fist drop for two. EVIL in now and we get a triple abdominal stretch, with Togo hanging onto the ring barrier for leverage. Neato. EVIL then pisses me off by tagging Yujiro back in again for more ‘offense’ that looks like it wouldn’t hurt a fly. Double clothesline takes each guy down and it’s tag to Okada, who beats on Yujiro like he’s still pissed that GEDO made him sell for months against the Tokyo Pimp.
Takahashi finally gets a lariat and tags in EVIL, and here we go. EVIL with the corner foot stomp and goes to the eyes to counter an Okada comeback. EVIL looks for Darkness Falls, but Okada counters that into the Money Clip, and now it’s SURELY over, since no one escapes the mighty…..and EVIL runs him into the corner to escape. Yeah, sounds about right. Okada tags in YOSHI and he gets a few dropkicks on EVIL for two. Togo interferes so Goto comes in and it breaks down again, with Goto and YOSHI double-teaming EVIL, Bullet Club saves that. Everyone takes out everyone else and we’re down to YOSHI and EVIL, and YOSHI gets a lariat and the Butterfly Lock.
Togo gets a chair and distracts YOSHI, who drops the hold like an idiot, and that allows EVIL to hit a low blow and Everything is Evil for the pin. (Bullet Club over CHAOS, pinfall, 11:52)
THOUGHTS: **. Most of these matches weren’t all that great, although in retrospect I should have chosen one with Ishii in it, as he at least had some decent chemistry with Dick Togo. Yujiro is trash and YOSHI and Goto are just spinning their wheels right now. Okada and EVIL are the money, but they haven’t traditionally had great matches together, so I’m unsure why we’re doing this unless it’s to get a feud win for Okada before he goes after the big title again, which I’m pretty sure is happening this year. Togo and EVIL remain entertaining together, but EVIL just isn’t interesting enough as a top guy. So long as they keep him slightly on the fringe where he beats the lower guys but never quite beats the main eventers, I can live with it.
Since I haven’t been watching the matches, I don’t think I should review the Empire vs Tenzan/Kojima angles. But I’ll give the bullet points – Ospreay and O-Khan have been fighting against Tenzan and Kojima in matches that have resulted in DQs, no contests, etc, and will lead to a blowoff where Ospreay will face Kojima in a No-DQ match, while O-Khan will battle Tenzan in a match where the loser can no longer do mongolian chops.
And finally, our main events have seen combinations of champions and their challengers, as LIJ in the form of NEVER champ Shingo Takagi, Junior Heavyweight champ Hiromu Takahashi, and #1 contender SANADA battled #1 junior contender SHO, #1 NEVER contender Hiroshi Tanahashi, and IWGP double gold champ Kota Ibushi. As you might expect, most of these matches have been wonderful.
A 10-man elimination tag which didn’t hold up as well on the rewatch was my initial first choice to look at (it’s still like ***1/2 or so), but then the last night of the tour before the Nagoya show happened and we got this…..
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA) vs Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, SHO – From The Road to the New Beginning, January 25th, 2021)
That is one hell of a collection of talent in the ring, to say the least. Tana and Shingo start. They do a lockup to the ropes and Tana gives a clean break, then cuts off Takagi when he tries the cheap shot, slapping on a side headlock. Shingo yanks the hair to escape, so Hiroshi decides what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and does the same. Tags and now we get SHO and Hiromu, and it’s a mile a minute as they trade holds, miss kicks, and in general fly all over the ring. No one gets the advantage there, and now tags again, and here comes Ibushi vs SANADA.
They grapple a bit and Ibushi gets a cravat. SANADA catches a kick and elbows the knee, but comes off the ropes and eats an Ibushi dropkick. Tag to the Ace and Tana gets an elbow drop and an abdominal stretch. Tag to SHO, and he fires a kick to SANADA before going to work on the arm. SHO is so good, you guys. Like, seriously, I was worried that Hiromu was going to be without a great rival when KUSHIDA left, but between SHO, Ishimori, and Desperado, things are looking A-OK. SANADA dropkicks the knee and LIJ goes after everyone on the apron, with Takagi running Tanahashi into the barrier and throwing Tsuji into him. Shingo is 100% playing the heel in this feud, which is probably for the best.
Hiromu in legally now and he fires at SHO, leveling him with chops and a sliding dropkick for two. Shingo in now and he continues to destroy the knee of SHO, and I’m happy to see these two at it again after their stellar matches this past summer and fall. Shingo goes after Tanahashi AGAIN off an Irish whip, taking him to the floor and dropping him facefirst on the apron. SANADA in and he puts SHO in the Paradise Lock, which, whatever. I hate the move, but it’s a thing and SANADA is going to be a main event guy, so I might as well get used to it.
Tag to Takahashi, and he stomps the knee of SHO, then absolutely blasts him with a chop. SHO avoids a blind charge and hits a lungblower to get a few seconds, but can’t make the corner as SANADA tags in. He manages to drop SANADA long enough to finally make the tag to Tana, and here comes Hiroshi. Dragon-screw for you, Hiromu! Slam to SANADA, somersault senton gets two. Tag to Ibushi and he comes in and clobbers SANADA. Kevin Kelly talks about how you can see how confident Ibushi is right now, and he’s right. You can, and it’s good for his character.
SANADA comes back with a ‘rana, sending Ibushi out, and follows him out with a plancha. Back in and SANADA gets two. Skull End time, but Ibushi escapes that and hits his own ‘rana. Tag to SHO and he gets caught quickly with a Saito suplex, and tag to Hiromu. SHO gets the advantage with kicks for two. They have a hell of a battle over a deadlift suplex, finally won by SHO. A triple-team by LIJ gets the advantage back for Hiromu and he hits a Dynamite Plunger, Tana makes the save. SHO and Hiromu go back and forth now, and SHO drops Hiromu on his damn head on a German suplex, then hits a spear. Shock Arrow time, but Shingo stops that. Again, but Hiromu escapes with a back drop.
Back to their feet and they slug it out. good one, too. SHO gets a Hoverboard Lock on Takahashi off that. SHO tries to roll Hiromu back to the center of the ring, but Takahashi rolls through that and hits the DVD in the corner and both guys are down. Takahashi hits a superkick, but gets clobbered by a lariat. SHO returns that favor and charges Hiromu in the corner, but Takahashi hits the overhead throw into the buckles. Both guys roll to their corners, and it’s tags to Shingo and Tanahashi.
They beat the hell out of each other by trading forearms in the middle of the ring, and Takagi just whales on Tana in the corner as we get a 25 minute warning. This is where I started to figure out the finish, and that’s not a bad thing. Twist and Shout by Tanahashi and he comes off the ropes, but Takagi blocks the Sling Blade and returns the Twist and Shout. Shingo escapes a Dragon-screw and hits a sliding lariat, then hits Tana with a Dragon-screw before going for the figure-four.
Powerbomb by Takagi, Tana kicks out right into a half-crab and Ibushi saves that as we’re under 3 minutes left now. Trip by Tana and he hits a pair of Dragon-screws before putting on a Texas cloverleaf. Hiromu breaks that up. Tana gets a Sling Blade for two and goes up and we’re at one minute left. Aces high hits Shingo, and now everyone runs in to break up everything else until it’s Tana and Shingo on their own. Sling Blade by Tana! Shingo fires back with a lariat! 1, 2……Tana kicks out and the bell sounds! (LIJ vs Ibushi/Tanahashi/SHO, Draw, 30:00)
THOUGHTS: ****1/4. This thing went half an hour and felt like ten minutes. One of the things that set my toe a-tappin’ while I was watching this was that there was no obvious candidate to do a job here, so it made it interesting to see who would lay down, and then I thought to myself that I didn’t think any of these guys should lose, hence a draw being the right result. But the match itself was awesome, as everyone did their best few minutes against each other and the match pretty much never stopped. SHO got to be face-in-peril for the longest heat segment, but we ended correctly with Tanahashi and Shingo, as they’re the main event this weekend. This was really tremendous, mostly because everyone involved in it is an excellent professional wrestler and that naturally leads to a good match. Overall, I felt like they saved the best for last and this was the best match of the road to tour.
Post-match, everyone is so exhausted that they cut promos on each other while sitting on the mat because they’re too tired to stand to do it. Tremendous.
FINAL THOUGHTS: These Road to shows are frequently derivative, as I’ve said, but they provide a nice roadmap to where the company is going and tend to be very enjoyable. These were no exception – whether it was the pure storyline stuff like the Bullet Club/Suzuki-Gun work, or the champs vs challengers heavy workrate matches like the one we looked at last, they included a pretty wide variety of stuff for everyone to watch.
It’s a busy weekend here at the BoD, what with the Rumble and all, but I’ll squeeze in the weekend New Beginning show at some point as soon as I can. As to predictions, I think that Hiroshi beating Shingo would be interesting as Tanahashi has never held the NEVER title, but I’m not thinking that’s going to happen. I still am holding out hope that Tanahashi is going to get a shot at the big title at some point this year to pay off last year’s Golden Aces stuff, and I don’t think he’ll do that holding the NEVER belt. Shingo holding that title for a good long while will legitimize it, and he already did the ‘lose to a vet and regain it’ story with Suzuki last year.
Regardless, it should be a fun show this weekend! I’ll be back to see how fun it was.
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter