New Japan Pro Wrestling is finishing February in style with five shows in Korakuen Hall that will include four Championship matches. It will also include the retirement of former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Manabu Nakanishi.
Four of those shows will take place consecutively, starting on Wednesday 19th February and ending on Saturday 22nd February. With the fifth show set for 26th February. In addition, during these New Japan Road shows the participants for this year’s New Japan Cup will be confirmed.
For now, I’m taking a look at the biggest matches that will take place over the next week. Where we will see titans clash and tricksters work their magic.
Thursday 20th February
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (C) vs The Mega Coaches (Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi)
Despite this being their fourth reign as Champions, Roppongi 3K have only ever successfully defended these titles twice. The first and only defence of their current run came less than two weeks ago when they toppled El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru at The New Beginning. Now SHO & YOH will be looking to prove themselves and defend the titles successfully for a second time against the savvy veterans of the Junior division in Taguchi and Rocky, and they cannot be taken lightly. Rocky Romero is the winningest Junior Tag Champion of all time with a record eight reigns and is the original mastermind behind the creation of Roppongi 3K, handing over the mantle of his previous Roppongi Vice team.
Taguchi is no stranger to the titles, having won them seven times. He also holds the record for most defences in a single reign during his time with Prince Devitt as Apollo 55. For all the fun that will be had during this match, which is always the case when Taguchi is in the ring, this has the potential to be a wrestling clinic while also being one of those matches that reminds us just how deep the talented New Japan roster is. The Mega Coaches picked up a win over R3K during the Super Junior Tag League – will we get a repeat in Korakuen?
NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii vs Shingo Takagi (C)
I’ll take one serving of New Japan’s hardest hitters with a side of fighting spirit please, and one of the best venues in the world for dessert. With Ishii and Shingo in the ring, my plate will be overflowing, my appetite will be filled, and my mind will be blown. There is a queue of wrestlers wanting to get their hands on the newly crowned NEVER Openweight Champion, but the first to get that privilege is Ishii, and I am so happy it is! Shingo and Ishii battered each other during the G1 Climax last year, their only prior meeting and it ended with Shingo standing tall.
Now the Stone Pitbull is back to take a chunk out of the Dragon and take away his gold. Neither man will willingly take a knee in this war of attrition. No signs of weakness will be shown no matter how hard a shot is delivered. Shingo has said he intends to raise the prestige of the title and be a fighting champion, and there is perhaps no bigger test of his resolve then squaring up with Ishii. With the raucous Korakuen faithful behind this match, it has all the makings of a classic.
- Yota Tsuji vs Gabriel Kidd
- Yuya Uemura, Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto vs Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Taichi & Minoru Suzuki)
- Colt Cabana, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada vs Toa Henare, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe
- Tiger Mask, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, EVIL & Tetsuya Naito)
- David Finlay, Juice Robinson, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi vs BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Jay White, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga)
- Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (C) vs The Mega Coaches (Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
- Tomohiro Ishii vs Shingo Takagi (C) – NEVER Openweight Championship
Friday 21st February
CHAOS (Rocky Romero, Will Ospreay & Kazuchika Okada) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
With this much talent in the ring, something special is certain to happen. Will Ospreay will be competing as a Heavyweight moving forward, fresh off becoming the British Heavyweight Champion, a title that SANADA unsuccessfully challenged for at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
Hiromu seemed upset at Ospreay taking the jump, “Congratulations Will Ospreay! But you don’t want me anymore?”; perhaps Hiromu will be looking to remind Ospreay why he believes the Juniors are the best in the world. Of course the intrigue here is Naito and Okada being across from each other in the ring after the Double Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 14. For Okada this is a chance to get back on the path to regaining his lost Championship. For Naito? Tranquillo.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano & Colt Cabana vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & Shingo Takagi) (C)
It’s almost unfair to have so much pure wrestling talent on one team, as Yano and Taguchi have drafted Colt Cabana into their trios team and I fear that nothing on this planet can stop them. For all the talent that they have (all of the comedic talent that is) each member of this unique line-up has the ability to win big. Yano has consistently defeated champions throughout his New Japan tenure, especially during the G1 Climax, and Taguchi has held gold numerous times. For Cabana, this offers him the chance to hold a New Japan title for the first time.
The current champs have intentions of giving the 6-Man Championships more recognition, but that worth won’t amount to much if they cannot defend the titles. They are a united front that few can break down having already conquered the Chaos invaders a few weeks ago to mark their first defence. All it takes is a bit of trickery from Cabana, Yano or Taguchi and the ambitions of LIJ to bring appreciation to titles that have been an after-thought will vanish through their fingers.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships: Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (C)
This is the type of match up the Heavyweight Tag Team division needs. It’s no secret that the division often feels a bit neglected – G.O.D have been the rulers for years now. But the core issue has been fresh competition for the champs. Thankfully, FinJuice not only won the World Tag League but they also won the titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14… only to lose them in their first defence to, yup, G.O.D. But now we get the glorious team of The Golden Aces? The Ace Stars? 2 Handsome Boys? Ibushi and Tanahashi!
The difficulty for them will be forming a cohesive team against one of the greatest tag teams in New Japan history. There are few men greater in all of wrestling than Tanahashi and pairing him with the supremely talented Ibushi is wild, but they are going up against a team who have the joint record for most title reigns at six. In singles action, it may be a foregone conclusion, but in a tag team match against New Japan’s proven best? The Golden Aces go into this one as the underdogs.
- Gabriel Kidd & Tiger Mask vs Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji
- SHO, YOH, David Finlay & Juice Robinson vs Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Taichi & Minoru Suzuki)
- Toa Henare, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii)
- Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi vs BULLET CLUB (Jado, Gedo, Bad Luck Fale & Jay White)
- CHAOS (Rocky Romero, Will Ospreay & Kazuchika Okada) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
- Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano & Colt Cabana vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & Shingo Takagi) – NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships
- Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) – IWGP Tag Team Championships
Saturday 22nd February
Manabu Nakanishi Retirement Match: Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi vs Hirooki Goto, Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
Unfortunately I became a fan of New Japan after the days that Nakanishi and his teammates were headlining shows, but the English commentary do a fantastic job of letting you know the importance that these men have paid in carving the history of New Japan. Nakanishi will be making his retirement in Korakuen Hall, the same venue he won his first and only IWGP Heavyweight Championship. And the man he defeated for that title will be stood across the ring from him, Tanahashi.
This match has the Third Generation (New Japan Dads) taking on the current generation in what will be a special send-off for the former Champion and Olympian. The joy of New Japan is the pride they place on their past and even though I may not have seen any of the Third Generation in their prime I have a respect for what they have done. Without them we might not have this superstar team of Okada, Ibushi, Tanahashi and Goto. For one more night, let’s enjoy hearing Nakanishi’s iconic entrance, “seize the tactticz”!
- Gabriel Kidd & Tiger Mask vs Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji
- Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi, Colt Cabana & Toru Yano vs Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Taichi & Minoru Suzuki)
- SHO, YOH & Toa Henare vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi & SANADA)
- Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe, David Finlay & Juice Robinson vs BULLET CLUB (Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale & Jay White)
- CHAOS (Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (EVIL, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito)
- Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi vs Hirooki Goto, Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.