The latter half of September has been a busy time for New Japan Pro Wrestling, who’ve taken their annual Destruction tour on the road to Beppu, Kagoshima and Kobe, stopping off along the way for ‘Road To…’ events in major locations such as Kyoto, Osaka and of course Tokyo. Though relatively low-key, the Destruction shows marks the post-G1 Climax transition towards Wrestle Kingdom, placing us firmly on the road to the Tokyo Dome. As such, plenty of groundwork has been laid these past few weeks. Let’s take a look at the major events of this year’s Destruction tour.
The triumphant return of Kishin Liger
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) September 22, 2019
Who in the world is Kishin Liger, you may be asking? Move over, Finn Balor, because the original Demon is back in the house. The soon-to-retire Jushin Thunder Liger willingly unmasked himself at Destruction in Kobe, pushed to the very edge by rival Minoru Suzuki. Just days earlier, Suzuki had unmasked Liger in the ring, demanding to see the ‘real Liger’. Be careful what you wish for, Boss.
This is only the fourth time the world has seen Kishin Liger, who made his debut against The Great Muta in 1996; clearly Liger is not going to go gently into that metaphorical good night, and if his all-out attack on Suzuki is anything to go by, he’s determined to drag the Suzuki-Gun leader down with him. The date for their final showdown has not yet been set, but it’s going to be a must-see.
The first gaijin winner of the Young Lions Cup is crowned
Facing off against runaway favourite Shota ‘Shooter’ Umino, LA Dojo hopeful Karl Fredericks took his homegrown rival out with an elevated Boston Crab for a decisive victory. The two had been tied at the top of the tournament table along with fellow shining star Ren Narita, each on an impressive 10 points. But a loss to Clark Connors saw victory snatched from Narita’s hands, an insult compounded by Fredericks’ clean win. With twelve points, Fredericks claimed his rightful place as winner of the Young Lions Cup – the first gaijin in New Japan history to claim the coveted prize since its inception in 1985.
The Switchblade breathes again
It’s hard to be a Tetsuya Naito fan. His very first defence of the IWGP Intercontinental Title ended in a resounding defeat. It’s a pattern that has dogged Naito throughout his career, as the LIJ leader has never successfully defended his title at Destruction in Kobe. Jay White, meanwhile, joins the elite league of NJPW Triple Crown Champions, an accolade held by only one other person: the legendary Kenny Omega.
It’s bad news for fan favourite Naito, whose road to redemption always seems to fizzle out before it ever truly begins. We can only speculate on what might be next for Naito, but Jay White’s next step has already been decided. Post-match, and post-gloat, Hirooki Goto made his way to the ring, issuing a challenge to the Switchblade. Jay White may consider himself above the likes of Goto, but the CHAOS veteran holds a notable win over White from this year’s G1. It’s a safe bet we’ll see the two of them clash again in the not too distant future.
It’s Coming Home
Following his shock title victory at NJPW’s Royal Quest show in London, Hiroshi Tanahashi set out to prove that his win was no fluke as he once again took on the windy man, Zack Sabre Jr, at Destruction in Beppu. In a gruelling bout spanning the best part of half an hour, the two fought fiercely to grind one another down, but ultimately ZSJ’s bone-bending repertoire proved too much for the Ace of New Japan. Tanahashi tapped out to a cobra twist, and Zack Sabre Jr reclaimed his British Heavyweight Championship, proving that not even Boris Johnson can keep him down for long.
SHO and YOH save the day
In what is quite clearly the most important development of the entire Destruction tour, everyone’s favourite Shiny Good Boys Roppongi 3k took out the much bigger, much meaner Guerillas of Destiny – not once, but twice. Securing pinfall victories over both Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga, this may well prove scene-setting for Roppongi 3k, whose reigns as Jr Heavyweight Tag Champs have been underwhelming, but who remain one of the most exciting tag teams on the Junior scene. Two consecutive clean wins over the current Heavyweight Tag Champs must surely be significant going forward, with both the Jr Tag League and its heavyweight equivalent due to take place towards the end of the year. Could the Roppongi boys be ready to follow in the footsteps of Shingo Takagi and Will Ospreay and step up to the heavyweights?
We’re well and truly on the road to Wrestle Kingdom now, and with a few months to go before we hit the hallowed Tokyo Dome, there’s plenty of ground still to cover, and plenty of time for new and surprising twists. Let’s see how many of these storylines come to fruition as 2019 comes to a slow close.