REN NARITA vs. YUYA UEMURA - 6.5/10
The bell rings for the opening contest... and we immediately cut away to look at the announcers. WHY?! The match was very good for the time it got. It's the sort of match that makes you wonder why NJPW wastes time sticking guys like Iizuka in matches instead of the Young Lions.
AYATO YOSHIDA & SHOTA UMINO vs. TOA HENARE & MANABU NAKANISHI - 6.5/10
HIROYOSHI TENZAN & TIGER MASK IV vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Takashi Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku) - DUD!
Suzuki-Gun jump the bell on their opponents, but this time it might have actually been warranted as Tenzan cut a promo on Iizuka before the match that caused Iizuka to charge into the ring and attack him. He proceeded to choke Tenzan with the microphone cord right in front of the referee, which was not a DQ. They then spilled to the outside and brawled there forever. This included the standard Suzuki-Gun crap where the heel hits the babyface with a weapon several times and isn't disqualified for it, then the heels gets back into the ring and the referee suddenly starts following the previously-ignored count-out rule so we can have a big count-out tease spot that no one ever bites on because they never actually have anyone get counted out this way. This time it was so pathetic that Tenzan just casually strolled back to the ring, making no effort at all to add any sort of drama to the situation. This wasn't part of the story; it was just a spot they do to waste time.
Suzuki-Gun proceeded to spend most of the rest of the next few minutes engaged in various forms of cheating. Eye-raking, eye-gouging, biting etc. and they were not disqualified. Then, finally, after TWO chairshots in the ring by Iizuka, we finally got a f*cking DQ. Well... why now? What, from a kayfabe point of view, made this chairshot different from the one six minutes ago? Or any of the other illegal things Suzuki-Gun did right in front of the referee? Any time your match makes me ask a question to which the only possible answer is "because the finish was supposed to be X and not Y," you have failed.
And from a non-kayfabe point of view, did they really have to go nine minutes before giving us the f*cking DQ? It's Tenzan & Tiger Mask IV vs. Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku in 2019. You couldn't have accomplished the same thing in five minutes?
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - TAKA & Iizuka attacked Tenzan after the match and he got laid out with the Iron Fingers. There was a point in time when I would have been into this, but it's 2019 and I've seen YEARS of these guys (and especially Iizuka and TAKA) doing things that never lead to anything or being engaged in feuds that keep going around in circles, so I really can't bring myself to care about this right now.
TOMOAKI HONMA, TOGI MAKABE, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, & CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI & Toru Yano) vs. BULLET CLUB (Guerrillas of Destiny, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, & Chase Owens) (w/Jado) - 4/10
There were several minutes of stalling between the time the second team got to the ring and the time the match actually started.
Bullet Club worked over Honma's head and neck. Meanwhile, Tama Tonga now appears to hate cheating all of a sudden and complains when his teammates do it. We then cycled through a bunch of match-ups, with Taguchi vs. Ishimori being the only one that was remotely interesting. The referee pretty clearly saw Jado holding Makabe in full nelson but didn't call for the DQ. The babyfaces won soon after when Yano used a low blow and a roll-up while the referee was distracted. This was a painfully dull sixteen minutes of wrestling.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, & BUSHI) vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, & Taichi) (w/Miho Abe) - 6.5/10
Two thirds of Suzuki-Gun jumped the bell on their opponents. Taichi, on the other hand, just stared at Naito, apparently having learned his lesson from his failed attempt to jump the bell on Naito at Road to New Beginning 2019: Day 3.
Stuff happened, they brawled on the outside, babyfaces got taken out. This resulted in Shingo being isolated in the ring with the heels choking him and stomping on him and stuff... and while that certainly works to tell the story of him being worked over, I found this part of the match severely lacking in drama because there no nearfalls/submissions that put the match in danger of ending and the fact that Naito and BUSHI were still down in the crowd meant that there was no one for Shingo to make a hot tag to, so they couldn't tease that, either. Even a spot where Shingo fights his way free only for there to be no one for him to tag so the heels get the advantage on him again would have added something to the drama, but we didn't even get that, so this was just a bunch of stomping and choking, plus one teased weapon shot that didn't happen only because Taichi randomly changed his mind and decided not to use the weapon for some reason.
Anyway, we got the hot tag, babyface comeback, then the heels won because they're the challengers. This was the usual soulless Suzuki-Gun/LIJ paint by numbers "Road to..." match.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - El Desperado ripped off BUSHI's mask and gave it to Miho Abe, who hopped around in it like she was a child playing with a toy mask. I would say this was good if I had any faith that this was building to some sort of mask vs. mask match, but I don't. Also, Taichi threw Naito's title belt, and as we all know, treating a title belt like you don't give a sh*t about it a completely heelish thing to do. Isn't that right, Naito?
SANADA vs. MINORU SUZUKI - DUD!
Same old bullsh*t. Suzuki can do whatever he wants, including shoving the referee down and hitting Sanada with all kind of weapons right in front of the referee's face and right after the referee has explicitly ordered him not to do so, and somehow Suzuki still doesn't get DQed. Meanwhile, they're on the outside for several minutes without the referee trying to count them out. But G-d damn it once Suzuki gets back into the ring, that particular rule goes into effect again just so we can get the Big Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Bites On Because No One Ever Actually Gets Counted Out When They Do This Spot".
Now that we've spent several minutes making a joke out of the rules, they start to have a wrestling match that I'm somehow supposed to give a sh*t about. The Kimura spot was a great spot, but maybe if you had spent the past few minutes with Suzuki working Sanada's arm via submission holds instead of having him do a million things that should have resulted in a DQ but weren't because G-d forbid we have a DQ (even though we had one earlier in the show), maybe I'd actually find some drama in this instead of wondering why the referee isn't counting a pinfall right now. I mean, sure Sanada's shoulders aren't down, but if you're going to ignore the rules that says that attacking a referee is a disqualification or the rule that says that hitting someone with a weapon is a disqualification then why not ignore the rule that says that someone's shoulders have to be down to count a pinfall, too? What makes that rule so f*cking sacred?
Anyway, Sanada broke the hold by getting to the rope, so Suzuki, who has gotten away with physically abusing the referee as well as hitting Sanada with several weapons... breaks cleanly, right away. How does that make any f*cking sense?!
Sanada made his comeback and finally got Suzuki in the Skull End... but then, like Suzuki often does, gave up a perfectly good air choke in order to try to hit a different move, and like often happens with Suzuki's Gotch-style Piledriver, his opponent countered the move. What a moron. This mistake allowed Suzuki to take control of the match until he made the exact same f*cking mistake. Fortunately for Suzuki he was quickly able to turn a Sanada roll-up attempt into the sleeper hold again... and then HE MADE THE SAME F*CKING MISTAKE A SECOND TIME! Actually, it was even worse than before because he didn't have Sanada in the hold for anywhere near as long as he did the first time. Suzuki is even dumber than Sanada! Then Suzuki managed to reverse Skull End and a got the sleeper hold a THIRD TIME and this onehad the thold even for even less time before going for the Gotch-Style Piledriver, and I guess G-d was getting as sick of this match as I was so Suzuki was inexplicably able to hit the move this time for the finish.
This thing was just a total disaster of storytelling. You can't do ten minutes of I Can't Believe It's Not A No DQs Match and then all of a sudden start having a totally clean professional wrestling match! I also cannot accept the idea that Suzuki used a whole bunch of weapons on Sanada and now Sanada is just content to do the calm "let's see who is the toughest" generic puroresu exchange of chops. The guy tried to maim you! This should be well beyond "a sporting contest" and should be a f*cking FIGHT at this point. Combine that with the idiocy of these guys giving up their holds over and over again just to try to hit a different move and failing several times but still doing it, and you've got a completely stupid fake wrestling entertainment match, which completely flies in the face of what makes Suzuki compelling.
EVIL vs. ZACK SABRE JR. (w/TAKA Michinoku) - 7.75/10
Other than the "on the outside forever without being counted out so we can do our big spot" spot, there was nothing in here that I didn't like, but the match never quite felt like it hit that next level, which is a little shocking for a match that went twenty-two minutes. They told their story (that Zack had counters for Everything Is EVIL and that EVIL had proven susceptible to Zack's roll-ups in the past) very well, but the match just didn't feel like the big storyline culmination that it was supposed to be.
Yes, that last sentence means that EVIL finally got the monkey off of his back and beat Zack, which I thought was a total waste here. If you're going to do it, why not have EVIL finally beat Zack in tomorrow night's tag title match (you know... the match that actually matters)? Or even better, why not give Zack the win here and keep the story alive past that (if LIJ are retaining then have Sanada get the fall; if they're dropping the belts, have Zack beat EVIL again) so you can blow it off in an even bigger spot when you're ready to give EVIL a singles push (like in the New Japan Cup finals or a key match late in the G1 that EVIL needs to win to send him to the finals)?
One last thing: There was a spot where TAKA looked like he was putting something in Zack's hand, and they cut away from it in the middle. What actually happened, as Kevin Kelly explained, was TAKA getting Zack's wrist tape off to release some of the pressure on Zack's wrist, but either way, TAKA is clearly doing something that has some sort of importance (or else he wouldn't be doing it) so why the hell would you cut away from it? Is it just me, or have producers/directors/whatever in pro wrestling gotten substantially worse in the past five years?
HIROSHI TANAHASHI & KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale & Jay White) (w/Gedo) - 8.5/10
Once again, we start off with a good match and then go brawl on the outside forever just for the sake of doing it. Why does everyone in New Japan insist on doing this? After that point, though, this turned into a darn excellent tag team wrestling match with a wonderful finishing sequence that gave our heels a strong but heelish win going into White's IWGP Heavyweight Title shot against Tanahashi later in this tour.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - GREAT! White kept the hold in much longer than necessary, then posed with Tanahashi's belt and cut an excellent heel promo saying he would win the IWGP Heavyweight Title from that quitter Tanahashi. This went on long enough that Tanahashi was able to get back up and try to attack White but he was immediately restrained by Fale and nailed with a Blade Runner.
This was a rather strange show from New Japan. Just looking at the card, this was really just a "Road to..." show, and I'm not sure why they called it anything else. For a supposedly big (or even medium-sized) show, there was absolutely nothing of any major consequence here, with many of the match-ups seeming more focused on previewing the big match-ups later in the tour than having any meaning of their own.
That being said, this was a model of what a "Road to..." show should be. Instead of giving us a bunch of random big tags with paint-by-numbers angles afterwards, give us some finishes that feel like they actually build to the PPV and match-ups that feel exciting and worthwhile on their own, even if nothing is actually on the line.
STUPID ANNOUNCER QUOTES:
1. Kevin Kelly- "a veteran move there, shoving the referee into the path."
It's not a "veteran move," Kevin. IT'S F*CKING CHEATING! A heel cheated! You should be outraged, not validating it!