After one of the most fun major wrestling shows of the coronavirus era, New Japan Pro Wrestling scales things way down for two nights in Chiba. The September 5-6 New Japan Road shows feature the first four matches of a four-team tournament for the junior tag titles, plus wrestlers giving their hot takes on the upcoming G1 Climax.
🔹NEW JAPAN ROAD🔹9.6幕張大会
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) September 6, 2020
The tournament for the vacant IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
There have been years when NJPW’s junior heavyweight tag team tournament has been firing on all cylinders, providing a platform for a compact lineup of established and/or interesting teams to put on quality matches. In contrast, 2020’s four-team tournament for the tag titles vacated by Sho and Yoh gets off to a pretty skippable start.
An overarching issue with this tournament is that it just doesn’t feel like a big deal. That’s partly for structural reasons – this New Japan Road is an awkward tour between the big end-of-summer show and the G1 Climax and only four teams in a championship tournament doesn’t make a division look great, even though we all know the juniors are so depleted for real-world reasons outside of the NJPW’s control. The action is also a contributing factor. Gedo and Master Wato aren’t dragging their feet, but still, one hundred percent of the tournament matches on the competition’s first two nights feature either Gedo or Master Wato. It doesn’t help that when the two highest-powered guys in the tournament, Taiji Ishimori and Hiromu Takahashi, face off in the September 5 main event their interactions are like a lower-intensity encore of their recent, amazing Junior Heavyweight Championship match.
That being said, the tournament also has its positive aspects. It’s great to see Los Dos Pelligrosos (Bushi and Hiromu) back together as a two-man team, and their work together is as fun and impressive as it’s been as long as they’ve been a duo. You can always rely on L.I.J. to bring top-notch teamwork and combination moves. While Hiromu and Bushi’s reunion brings back one of the junior tag division’s best recent staples, the Bullet Club (Gedo and Ishimori) vs. Suzukigun (Desperado and Kanemaru) match delivers on novelty, providing a rare chance to see SZKG as babyfaces and Despy as a face in peril. Also, Gedo yells YES! YES! in a very insane way while whipping El Desperado outside the ring and it’s pretty great.
Each match in the tournament has its upsides, but none of them stood out enough for me to really recommend that anyone reading this article who didn’t watch these shows go out of their way to watch them. If you feel like watching a few hours of NJPW, both of these shows are entertaining enough, but nothing really stands out about them. What a lame thing to say in a review/recap! But these shows and this tournament are kind of lame.
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) September 7, 2020
The mystery of the Grand Master
Master Wato continues to be the weirdest feature of COVID-era NJPW, but this junior tag tournament makes it look like we might be on the path a breakthrough or explanation. He’s paired with Taguchi in a team he confusingly names “one and eight” that is so far one and one. Taguchi-and-Wato seems destined to be the latest in the line of Taguchi tag teams that are pretty good and somewhat goofy (see also: Taguchi and ACH, the Mega Coaches) but don’t rack up a lot of kayfabe achievements. Taguchi isn’t at his most powerful during this tournament, but he has some strong comedic and serious wrestling moments, while Wato continues to show potential through his high-flying and variety of kicks. He even gets redemption for the awkward way Kanemaru pinned him at Jingu Stadium.
Throughout the tournament, it continues to be kind of confusing what kind of guy Wato is supposed to be. How seriously are we supposed to take the Grandmaster gimmick, especially when he hasn’t set New Japan on fire with his return and Tenzan does most of his talking for him? Hiromu, during some extremely good in-ring and backstage promos on September 6, finally raises this question in kayfabe, and it’s comforting to hear someone say something about Wato that sounds closer to reality. Takahashi has some real talk for the Grand Master: his gimmick looks kind of lame when he’s just going along with what his senpais tell him, and he’s overall not doing great. “What did you return for?” Hiromu asks, and it’s a valid question!
It’s the type of promo it would be great to hear ahead of a Best of the Super Juniors when we know Wato could take up Hiromu’s one-on-one challenge in the near future. But whenever this feud come to pass, it could be what takes Wato to the next level and what makes his post-excursion career start really clicking, if something doesn’t do that earlier.
The NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship and other things
Everyone who isn’t in the junior tag tournament and isn’t a New Japan dad or Young Lion is basically killing time on the undercard until the G1 starts. These matches aren’t standout good or bad and overall they make up a light and inoffensive few hours of NJPW programming, but like the tournament matches, they aren’t really worth going out of your way to watch if you didn’t already feel like watching them. There are some standout moments though, like the ending of the first Home Team vs. Suzukigun eight-man, everything Ibushi does, all the Sanada-Shingo teamwork, and all the Evil vs. Shingo sequences, especially that crazy fast Dragon Screw in the match on the 6th.
There’s also barely any new drama, just retreads of recent rivalries between Dangerous Tekkers and Golden Ace and between Los Ingobernables de Japon and Bullet Club, except for the unexpected second chapter of the Chaos vs. Chaos NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship tournament final. Those final teams, plus a dojo boy apiece, wrestle each other in the second match on each show, previewing a title bout at the end of the tour on the 11th.
In some ways, the fact that this match is happening is annoying. The trios tournament and especially its conclusion gave this championship some rare dramatic pull as its own thing, but now our inspiring champions’ first defense is against a team that didn’t earn it at all. Goto, Ishii, and Yoshi-Hashi defeated Yano, Okada, and Sho for the titles; now Yano, Okada, and Sho get a shot at them without having pinned or submitted any of the champions or even directly challenging them. It’s similar to what’s going on across the pond on NJPW Strong with Jeff Cobb getting to challenge for Kenta’s U.S. title match contract despite Kenta beating him in the same tournament in which he won those rights.
It’s always weird to see NJPW do stuff like this even though it’s not super uncommon because 1) the company can be so good at maintaining the prestige of things like the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, winning the G1 or BOSJ, and main-eventing Wrestle Kingdom, and 2) how often the company successfully uses wrestlers struggling to earn a title shot to increase the drama around its title matches and get viewers more invested in its characters (see: Tanahashi and Ibushi’s recent struggle for the tag titles or Naito’s whole deal.) In this fake sports world that NJPW has created, whenever someone just comes out and challenges for a title with a promo or attack from behind, or when too many people do this in a certain amount of time, title shots can start to feel cheaper because they aren’t really being earned. In the case of the 6-Man titles here, the team our champions defeated to become champions immediately getting to challenge feels like it takes away extra value the titles could have gained through last month’s tournament.
While it’s dumb that these Chaos challengers are getting a shot at the current Chaos champs, the positive thing about this is that these trios still work well together and go pretty hard despite being in the second-to-opener. Yano vs. Ishii stuff will probably be fun to watch until the end of time and revisiting the Sho vs. Ishii matchup, now with extra heat, is exciting. It felt like the trios tournament discovered that the best creative option left for Chaos in 2020 is to fight amongst itself, that dynamic continued in the KOPW final, and now it’s back in action on New Japan Road.
If this is steering the ten-year-old faction towards a breakup it could be a positive thing for NJPW, not just because it would force some kind of faction shake-up, but because Chaos vs. Chaos feuds might be the best options for the members of Chaos in the near future. At the very least, you know Yoh’s turning on Sho when he’s healed up.
Also, the G1 Climax starts in like two weeks!
People started talking about the G1 backstage at Jingu Stadium, and before the blocks get announced on September 9, more wrestlers give their takes on the upcoming tournament backstage on the 5th and 6th. Ibushi maintains that Golden Ace is just on hiatus while they focus on their singles careers during G1 season, Naito has his eye on Sanada and weirdly Honma in the tournament, and Tanahashi wants to show he can consistently compete at a high-level. Lots of people who weren’t in the G1 last year also have stuff to say. Suzuki was left out last year due to age, but in 2020 he’s looking and wrestling amazingly and he’s a singles champion, so what justification would NJPW have for excluding him? Meanwhile Kojima’s interested in his first G1 since 2017, Yujiro in his first since 2015, and Honma in making an extremely underdog comeback run in this year’s tournament.
Every heavyweight in NJPW should want to be in the G1 Climax, but the amount of not quite grade one competitors talking about it brings up the question of how New Japan is going to fill what looks like it’ll be a twenty-man lineup. Unless some international talent can get through, something that’s still pretty up in the air because of travel regulations and the general state of the world, NJPW will need to include lower-level heavyweights, juniors (none of whom have mentioned the G1 yet), or wrestlers from other companies (Kaito Kiyomiya, this is your chance!) It’ll be interesting to see what they go with, but no matter what the lineup, that tour schedule isn’t really as hype as the company’s making it out to be.
Nineteen touring wrestling events in a thirty-tour period, no matter the precautions, is extremely risky in most countries right now, including Japan. Hopefully nobody gets sick and nothing goes wrong, but it’s impossible to get as excited for the G1 in 2020 as in other years. The promotion of this massive tour does feel a bit like the company peeling away from the reality its entertainment is supposed to be an escape from, something that’s also happened with NJPW and other issues this summer. While New Japan has looked more responsible than many wrestling companies in regards to its pandemic response, the G1 situation feels sketchier than usual for the company.
With everything about Hiromu, Wato, and Chaos-contra-Chaos out of the way, I’ll see you back here later this week after those lucky (?) twenty G1 competitors have been announced and we get new Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.