New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to New Beginning Night Five
January 23, 2021
Ota City Gymnasium
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: njpwworld.com

The road goes ever on and on, and we take a stop at the Ota City Gymnasium for one of the bigger shows of the tour.  While every show has been good so far, we were definitely ready for a shake up.  With a few straight tag matches and a title match topping the card, it certainly looked promising, but a few booking missteps and a descent into shenanigan based purgatory made this show immensely skippable.

Minoru Suzuki & DOUKI def. World Class Tag Team (Gedo & Jado)

Gedo has been entering the ring under ensanguined skies, and it hints at an unfolding story rarely told in wrestling.  Jay White, in his fantastic promo after Wrestle Kingdom, realized that his nefarious, bridge-burning methods were never going to work.  There’s something stunningly heartbreaking about someone looking in the mirror and realizing they’ve become a person they don’t like.  Gedo seems to know he played a part in this, and the opening exchange has a hint of self-flagellation.  He lets Suzuki pound him in the corner with nary a hint of resistance.  The signature screams are missing, and it hinted at the pieces being placed for two very interesting redemption stories.

As an aside, I think they’ve been clever with the Jay White story.  If he decides to stay, the journey into the light is an obvious but potentially captivating story.  If he leaves, then it seems that he wasn’t happy being a small fish in the proverbial biggest pond.  

When he is in the ring, there’s a quieter Gedo.  Whether it’s in movies, literature or wrestling, the immediate temptation when telling stories is to fill a silence.  Writers feel if they fill voids with noise, the audience will connect with the story being told.  Often, however, the most powerful noise is the silence of self-reflection.  This felt like Gedo’s version of Exposure.  This wasn’t the big battle, but the quiet moment in between.  His face after the pin, after grabbing the brass knuckles, was the epitome of a man who didn’t know where he was going anymore.

The work was fine, but Jado is broken.  **¼

Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI def. Yujiro Takahashi, EVIL & Dick Togo

No man ever steps in the same river twice.  It’s not the same river and you’re not the same man.  At least that’s what I told myself as the six men took to the ring to build nothing in particular.  The idea of a feud between EVIL and Okada makes sense.  Both men are on the back burner until their next spotlight program, but I can’t help but wish this was a straight tag just to mix things up a bit.

The opening exchange between Togo and Ishii was fantastic.  They belied their age with dodges and counters, kinetically generating much more interest than Okada and EVIL, but unfortunately, there was little else to think about here.

Obviously, the Bullet Club boys weren’t big or clever.  They were a bunch of very naughty boys who removed turnbuckle pads, double-teamed their opponents and poked them in the eyes.

If Ishii wasn’t involved, this match would have been swimming in molasses.  A slingshot into a DDT was so slow I checked my emails halfway through.  I understand that these are preliminary shows and I don’t expect anybody to risk life and limb. That being said, I don’t expect to phase out.  **¼

UNITED EMPIRE (Will Ospreay & Great-O-Khan) def. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroshi Tenzan (DQ)

Of all the stories being told in New Japan on this tour, the rise of UNITED EMPIRE is the most captivating.  The level of respect shown to the veterans on the roster has allowed Ospreay’s naughty boy routine to have a real impact, and gives O-Khan relentless opportunities to establish himself as the true Dominator.  The Empire taking on Kojima and a series of Young Lions has been a highlight of this tour so far, as Kojima fights to defend the honor of his fallen comrade.

Now, the fallen comrade is back to exact his own measure of revenge.  It is perhaps a testament to the quality of the story so far, but I completely forgot just how broken Tenzan is. Pristeley’s chair shot and O-Khan’s neck work were necessarily gentle, and it smashes the fourth wall that should sit behind you in a great wrestling match.  Kojima can play the slighted veteran incredibly well, because there’s always a hint of that devastating clothesline evening the odds.  Tenzan can barely walk.  Too often, his shoulders slumped with that horrendous mixture of fatigue and pain.

That in itself, like many things in wrestling, is not necessarily a problem.  Another extended beating would have worked to further add fuel to Kojima’s fire.  Unfortunately, they presented Tenzan as an equal, enacting a mild, toothless revenge with a chairshot leading to the DQ.  

Perhaps the silence of the crowd highlighted the awkward pace, but it’s becoming ever clearer that it’s time for Tenzan to retire.

It wasn’t all bad: the Kojima/Ospreay battles were as captivating as you’d expect and O-Khan bad-mouthing Tenzan as he attempted to steal the power of the Mongolian chop was interesting enough. Unfortunately, Tenzan was so outclassed it broke kayfabe.  **3/4

Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, SHO, Master Wato & Tomoaki Honma def. Los Ingobernables De Japon (SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito)

It’s interesting how similar the stories for SHO/Hiromu and Ibushi/SANDA are.  Putting them side by side highlights the difference in success.  It’s a wonderfully simple tale; each respective champion wants to prove their dominance by facing the most salient challenger.  

Hiromu and SHO have been telling their story with fire and passion.  It’s unfortunate to say this, but the best thing that has happened to SHO was being set free from YOH.  As good as YOH is, he was always the weaker of the two and SHO is grabbing the opportunity to shine and not letting it go.  He understands that this programme with Hiromu is his opportunity to establish himself in a division overflowing with talent, and that cognizance permeates his work.

SANADA and Ibushi, on the other hand, just look at each other.  In this match, just like on the preceding stops of this tour, there are too many moments where they lock up and do nothing in particular.  The match ends, and they look at each other and nod.  This last year has really highlighted the limitations of SANADA, and it feels like they are holding back so much because he hasn’t got much to save for the big match.

There’s often a temptation to avoid definitive pins (or eliminations in this case) between two wrestlers who are building to a match, so it was refreshing to see Tanahashi eliminate Shingo.  Shingo’s story, like the two others being built in this match, is the quest of validation.  Being eliminated by Tanahashi will only add fuel to that fire.

In fact, Tanahashi was the star of this match.  His brand of high energy was exactly what was needed after a Wato/BUSHI section threatened to drag it into the doldrums.  

Honma gets his moment to shine, in as much as Honma can shine these days, by eliminating Naito to win for his time.  It was a nice moment for him and the framing of the elimination as an upset doesn’t damage anyone.  However, like Tenzan and Jado before him, Honma is a wrestler who is so far past his prime he becomes a detriment to anything he is involved in.

This was fine.  ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori def. Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) ©

In my coverage of RevPro, I often enjoyed El Phantasmo.  He wasn’t the cocky heel we have today, but the cocky blue eye.  He played the role well, and his likeable charisma was the perfect cover for his occasional awkwardness.  Unfortunately, his deep-dive into irony wrestling doesn’t really work.

I understand the immediate appeal of the weighted boot and the silly back rakes, but this match swam in absolute nonsense.  The multitude of ref bumps looked terrible to the point of bad comedy.  Red Shoes took a feather of a boot to the chest, and a Young Lion doubled down on the bad joke by giving him a piggyback into the locker room.  Replacement referees were dispatched with similarly tender mock-violence and even the consummate worker Kanemaru didn’t seem able to fill the void of time it created as we waited for a replacement.  Everything about the closing stretch of the match was gentle and half-hearted.  It stunk of “we’ll just do this” rather than any forethought of how all the cogs they made were going to work together.  Nothing they did in the closing few minutes added anything of consequence, and its predictability nullified the opening.

El Desperado and Kanemaru losing is an example of that wonderful “losing up” that is so unique to pro wrestling.  Desperado has always been good, but his work in 2020 hinted at bigger plans in store.  He was by far the standout wrestler here, especially during the repeated wrenching of Ishimori’s leg in the Numero Dos.  

The junior tag titles are, in a promotion swimming in gold, languishing at the bottom.  I expect an overbooked ELP run, alongside the invisible Ishimori, to maintain this unfortunate tradition.  That being said, hopefully, El Desperado can breathe a slight breath of fresh air and start building towards an interesting singles program.  **1/2

Final Thoughts

Perhaps it was a victim of expectations, but this was not a good show even with the “it’s just a Road To” caveat.  The conveyor belt of cookie-cutter Korakuens were fun watches, but this was average at best.  It’s my job to think of something clever and pithy to say here, but the sooner this show is forgotten the better.  Skip.