New Japan Pro Wrestling has been firing on all cylinders lately. Their whirlwind few weeks has involved arguably the finest Best of the Super Juniors tournament ever, and one of their best pay-per-views ever in Dominion (which contained arguably the greatest match of all time in Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Omega). That all sounds like a lot of hyperbole, yet all of it is warranted and accurate. With this in mind, you could have forgiven them for taking their foot off the pedal a bit with their current Kizuna Road tour. Often a precursor to their big summer G1 Climax tournament, Kizuna Road often builds up to the G1 whilst simultaneously allowing their top stars to rest up before the tournament.
Nonetheless, however, sometimes big matches are planted into the tour, and this year was no different with two big title matches. One of these matches, pitting Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado in a rematch of one of the most acclaimed matches from Best of the Super Juniors (as detailed here) for Takahashi’s recently won IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, continued along the lines of that encounter, with a great match that ended with Takahashi retaining his title. The other big match of the tour had Michael Elgin defending his newly won NEVER Openweight Championship against the man he took the title from, Hirooki Goto, after a three-way match involving both men and Taichi at Dominion. This was expected to be an all-out hoss war between two of NJPW’s toughest men, and it did not disappoint.
The first portion of the match consisted of both men locking up and testing their strength against one other. Elgin finally took control, however, after a side Saito suplex on his opponent. He followed this up with consecutive flying double stomps to the back of Goto’s head, and his chest respectively, for the two count. He then quickly hit the buckle bomb, and set up for the Elgin Bomb in a mirror image of the conclusion to the Dominion title match. It was too much, too early, however, and Goto managed to lift Elgin onto his shoulders for the Ushigoroshi. Goto then took proceedings into his own hands, hitting a series of strikes and kicks on Elgin, after which he locked in a sleeper hold. Despite this, Elgin managed to counter the hold into a German suplex, followed by an exploder suplex.
The match soon devolved into a chop war, with both men smacking the everlasting shit out of each other’s chests. The last blow in this particular exchange fell Elgin’s way, as he hit a huge dropkick to Goto’s head for the two count. After this, Elgin landed a vertical suplex, having kept Goto lifted for over 10 seconds, before getting a two count. He did not let up, however, hitting a flying forearm in the corner and a senton for yet another two count. He continued the attack with more strikes; this did not put off a fired-up Goto, who invited further attacks from his opponent, only for him to drop Elgin with a side leg sweep. Goto then followed up with a clothesline in one corner, after which he hit a spinning heel kick in the other corner, followed by a side suplex for a two count of his own.
Elgin got himself back into the match after a big clothesline in the corner to his opponent. He then continued with several stiff strikes and chops on Goto in the same corner, followed by a powerslam for the two count. The stiff strikes did not let up, and it looked like Goto was close to being knocked out. One final lariat attempt by Elgin, however, was countered into yet another Ushigoroshi by Goto. Goto looked to be attempting another high impact move, but Elgin quickly shoved him into the corner – this caused Red Shoes, who was in both men’s way, to get knocked out from the impact. Elgin looked to take advantage by hitting the Falcon Arrow. This ref bump allowed Taichi, who faced both men in the aforementioned three-way at Dominion, to interfere in the match, assaulting both competitors with his trusty microphone stand. Jeff Cobb came out to even the score, however, and sent Taichi scurrying back to the locker room.
Back in the ring, the bombs thrown by Elgin and Goto at each other seemed to have taken their toll, with both men tiredly exchanging strikes while on their knees. These strikes seemed to fire up each other, however, as the two men continuing bombarding each other as they slowly rose to their feet. An incredible sequence followed whereby both men dodged each other’s strikes, ultimately ending with Goto hitting a German suplex on Elgin. Goto looked to capitalise by hitting a series of moves with the aim of finishing off his opponent, only for Elgin to come back with a number of devastating kicks to his opponent’s face and neck. He followed up with a scoop slam, after which he looked to go to the top rope, only for Goto to leap up the turnbuckle and drop him to the outside with several brutal forearm strikes. Goto then tried to suplex Elgin back into the ring, only for Elgin to counter and almost suplex Goto to the outside, which Goto fought out of to lariat Elgin off the apron.
Goto looked to follow up with a stiff kick on Elgin, who promptly grabbed his opponent’s foot, and deadlifted him into a fisherman buster onto the floor. Elgin then followed up by climbing to the top rope, and promptly hit a splash on Goto for the two count. He looked to follow up with a buckle bomb, which Goto backdropped out of, only for the two men to exchange several lariats, which Elgin got the better of in the end, allowing him to hit a one-armed powerslam on his opponent for yet another two count. Looking to finish off matters, he dragged Goto to the top rope, only to knock him right back onto the canvas with a brutal lariat. Elgin then took things back to the top rope once again, hitting Goto with several more strikes, only for Goto to flip Elgin over and into an incredible top-rope Code Red for the two count.
Sensing victory, Goto went his finisher (the GTR). Elgin, however, had other ideas, and managed to roll up Goto for the two count. After another GTR attempt was countered, Goto realised he needed to pull something extra out of the bag – and something extra he did pull out, hitting Elgin with his old finisher, the Shouten Kai. This would incredibly still not be enough, however, as Elgin kicked out right before the ref’s hand crashed down on the mat for a third time. Goto could barely stay on his feet at this point, and Elgin sensed this, grabbing Goto’s foot after a kick attempt, and firmly smacking him back down onto the mat. After being hoisted onto his opponent’s shoulders, however, Goto managed to slip out, and lock in a sleeper hold. It was Elgin’s turn to have his resolve tested, and he ultimately proved he had the required tenacity by fighting out of the sleeper hold and slamming Goto to the ground.
Elgin then followed up with two huge lariats on his opponent, and promptly went for the Elgin Bomb. It looked like the match was over, but Goto unbelievably kicked out at two. The frustration on Elgin’s face was there for all to see, and he knew he needed to hit one more Elgin Bomb to finish the match off. He attempted to set this up with a buckle bomb, but Goto immediately no sold it and hit two huge lariats on Elgin, sandwiched by a headbutt, which Elgin kicked out of at two. Goto once again went for the GTR to finish the match, but Elgin promptly countered to hoist his opponent up on his shoulder’s for the Burning Hammer. Not to be outdone, however, Goto managed to wriggle himself free, knee his opponent in the face, and, after a brief struggle and several strikes, hit two successive GTRs to pick up the victory, and win back his NEVER Openweight Championship.
An intense, gruelling encounter, and one of the better matches you’ll see from either man. Both their styles complemented each other perfectly here, and they did not pull any punches. This match style has become somewhat synonymous with the NEVER Openweight Title over the past few years, and with a Goto vs. Cobb match being announced for NJPW’s G1 Special at the Cow Palace on July 7, this kind of match should be expected to continue in the near future. I, personally, am all for it. Worth a watch.