Power Struggle is the last major New Japan show of the year, leading up the WrestleKingdom on January 4th. After this it’s just the Tag League, a tag team tournament through November and December. After Power Struggle, the card for WrestleKingdom should be mostly clear, and since I don’t have anything else to write about, a review it is. On the card is the finals of the Jr Heavyweight Tag Tournament, and four title matches. And even better, the real selling point of the card is four Los Ingobernables singles matches.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & Juice Robinson vs Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, & Teruaki Kanemitsu
Kanemitsu is one of the newest crop of Young Lions in New Japan. This past year has seen the graduation of four Lions, and so far, no one has risen up to take their place. Kanemitsu is the best of the new crop so far. Meanwhile, Juice Robinson has improved so much working in Japan this year. He’s gone from very awkward and not fitting in at all to right at home in the New Japan ring. His little mini-feud with Nakanishi has made the big Japanese man more interesting by proxy, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Anyways, Juice gets the pinfall on Kanemitsu fairly quickly with a Killswitch/Unprettier. Very interesting that Juice gets the pin and not one of his more experienced partners. Could be there are some things in store for Juice in 2017? **1/2
Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ricochet, & David Finlay vs Ryusuke Taguchi, Angel de Oro, Titan, & Fuego
These are four different teams that competed in the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Tournament. Taguchi is the only New Japan guy on his team, the rest are luchadors from CMLL, including the always entertaining Fuego. That dude is just fun, and even makes Taguchi’s antics tolerable. Finlay had to replace Matt Sydal as Ricochet’s partner a few months ago due to legal issues, and the dynamic of that team has drastically changed, but it’s still very good.
This match has all the flippy shit that we wish the Cruiserweights on Raw were doing. The CMLL guys are so good, and really makes me wish I had time to watch even more wrestling, cause I’d love to check them out more. If nothing else, they make me excited for the FantasticaMania tour in January. Finlay and Ricochet win with a rolling senton to shooting star press combo. After the match, all the Jr’s raise each other’s hands. This is the kind of match we should be getting on Raw every week. ***
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, & Yoshitatsu vs Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens, & BONE SOLDIER
Oh man. Yoshitatsu vs Bone Soldier may be the worst feud of the year. Mere words don’t even do it justice. Bone is the former Captain New Japan, and Yoshi and him made the worst faction in wrestling. When Yoshi finally kicked out the Captain, he joined the Bullet Club and became BONE SOLIDER. Full of bad wrestling, bullshit finishes, and most importantly, no one giving a shit, this feud hasn’t even been worth the time I’ve dedicated to it so far. Takahashi, Owens, and BONE aren’t even the Bullet Club C-team. These guys are the lowest rung possible. Fortunately, Takahashi has some extremely fine looking ladies with him in his knock off Godfather cosplay, so this isn’t a complete waste of time.
This match is actually better then it had any right being. Honma and Owens were quite good here, and Takahashi wasn’t terrible. The Bullet Club wins when BONE hits a full nelson slam on Yoshitatsu, and Takahashi finishes him off with a DDT. Later, Yoshi would announce that his tag partner for the Tag League will be… Billy Gunn. That’s so ridiculous I don’t even know how to respond. **1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa (champions) vs Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
The Guerilla’s of Destiny have been underwhelming as tag team champions, and much of that falls on Tanga Roa’s shoulders. He’s just not very good, but he has been improving at using his size and being a bruiser. When a guy needs to improve as much as he does though, thrusting him directly into the title picture is never a good idea. He shows his improvement early in this match, going toe to toe with Ishii and throwing the smaller YOSHI-HASHI around. It’s noteworthy to see that this title match is so far down the card.
This was actually really good, in large part thanks to the energy provided from YOSHI and Ishii. This is easily the best Guerilla’s of Destiny match yet, and Roa is really starting to get it. One awesome sequence had him power out of Ishii’s grapple and break up a submission attempt while Ishii clung to his back. Tama reversed YOSHI’s finisher into an insanely cool Gun Stun before GoD finished him with an assisted DDT. The last five minutes or so really pushed this over the edge. ****
Super Jr Tag Team Tournament Finals: Rocky Romero & Beretta vs Taiji Ishimori & ACH
Roppongi Vice has been teasing dissention for a while now, and it’s only a matter of time before they go their separate ways. Meanwhile, Ishimori and ACH are an extremely entertaining tag team from Pro Wrestling NOAH. While the winner of this tournament is necessarily promised a title shot, it usually happens in some form. Ishimori and ACH defeated the champions The Young Bucks in the first round of the tournament.
The reason Roppongi Vice has been on the ropes lately has been Romero losing their matches, leaving Baretta to feel like he has to win their matches by himself. Here, Romero takes a big beating but will not stay down, continuing to fight back and not let himself be defeated. Ishimori and ACH go for dual 450 splashes, but RPG Vice gets their knees up in a cool spot. Romero is in this match a looong time, but eventually gets the win with an assisted reverse piledriver. This was fine, but was more of a story match then a showcase of wrestling skill. RPG Vice challenges the Young Bucks for the titles at WrestleKingdom, and the Bucks accept. ***
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: BUSHI (champion) vs KUSHIDA
BUSHI has been after KUSHIDA and the title all year, and finally beat him with some help from his Los Ingobernables brothers. This is his first title defense, and a chance for KUSHIDA to get the belt back that he is synonymous with. These two had a great match back in February. It must also be noted the BUSHI has the absolute coolest masks. In a faction of the coolest dudes in New Japan, BUSHI might be the coolest. KUSHIDA attacks right at the bell, and there are some very prominent booing. LIJ really are the most popular guys. KUSHIDA embraces it though, piledriving BUSHI on the mat and ripping at his mask.
It’s weird watching KUSHIDA work heelish. He goes after the mask several times. It makes sense, given how he has been screwed over in the past, but it’s earning him boo’s from the crowd and giving me a general disconnect from the match. Both guys are working intense and using dirty tricks. It’s weird watching KUSHIDA sink to that level. KUSHIDA locked in a deep Hoverboard Lock (a kimura) and rolled with BUSHI as he tried to escape, eventually making the champion tap out. This was a good match, but a little off for me. KUSHIDA was able to win when there was no interference, as I assume the rest of LIJ is preparing for their own matches. ***1/2
As KUSHIDA celebrates his title win, a countdown appears on the big screen. For weeks, NJPW has been advertising a “Time Bomb” going off. Speculation has ranged from Minoru Susuki to Cody Rhodes to the announcement of an international tour. Now it’s time, as Hiromu Takahashi comes out. Formerly known as Kamaitaichi, he had some insanely good matches in CMLL the last two years. Back in January, I gave his match against Dragon Lee at Fantasticamania the full five stars. He challenges KUSHIDA for the Jr belt at WrestleKingdom. There’s going to be some high expectations for that one.
Kenny Omega, Adam Cole, & The Young Bucks vs Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, & Gedo
This continues the Bullet Club vs CHAOS feud, with both groups bringing their heavy hitters. The big story here is the WrestleKingdom main event, Okada defending the IWGP Championship against Omega at the Tokyo Dome. I have weird feelings about that one. When Omega is at his best, there’s no doubt he’s one of the best in the world. But so very often he’s a slapstick comedy villain, and it’s his serious efforts, like the G1 finals, that seem out of place. The Japanese crowd loves it though, so what do I know? Just seems like a weird choice to main event your biggest show of the year. The crowd also loves shouting along with “ADAM COLE, BEY-BEY!” so I’m not sure their judgement can be trusted either.
This match is a perfect example of the disconnect I have with Omega. The Elite hit a gorgeous, perfectly timed quadruple suicide dive to CHAOS, and they follow it up by… working Gedo’s beard like it’s an arm. Cause it’s funny. I don’t know. Anyways, Kenny Omega pins the champ with One-Winged Angel. ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (champion) vs EVIL
Shibata is becoming one of my favorite wrestlers. The NEVER title suits him perfectly, and him as a champion that just kicks the shit out of challengers is great. He had a really fun story earlier this year against the New Japan Dad’s, earning the respect of the older generation, and has since been kicking the ass of the younger generation. EVIL always seems like the odd man out in Los Ingobernables, but has improved remarkably the past year, and looks right at home mixing it up with the Ishii’s and Goto’s of the world.
EVIL dominates the match early, really tearing at Shibata’s taped up arm, including using his patented chair-fu against him. Every time they exchange stiff strikes, EVIL’s kicks and slaps find Shibata’s shoulder. This comes into play when Shibata struggles to lock in his sleeper hold, eventually transitioning to a killer suplex that drops EVIL right on his head. EVIL eventually wins after several chair strikes and smashing Shibata with his finisher, EVIL. This was a dominant performance for the LIJ member. Shibata was on the defensive almost the whole match, and EVIL looked smart and vicious attacking Shibata’s injured limbs. ***1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs SANADA
This is a rematch from night 1 of the G1 Tournament. These two had an excellent match, and SANADA made the Ace of New Japan tap out to his Skull’s End dragon sleeper for a huge upset. Tanahashi is not only looking to avenge his loss in the G1, but to make a statement against Los Ingobernables while he’s at it. In a way, this match feels like a test for SANADA, to see if he can work the New Japan main event style. It’s very evenly matched, though SANADA has the upper hand in the early going, until SANADA reverses a dragon screw attempt into a, well, a reverse armbar? Whatever it was, it looked like the most comfortable, least painful submission hold ever. I’m not sure it was intentional even, but they ran with it.
Tanahashi strikes back, with a Slingblade on the apron, then a High Fly Flow to the outside. SANADA has yet to really expand his moveset, but adds a sweet Tiger Suplex here, which is appreciated. SANADA does the leg injury deal after missing a moonsault, and Tanahashi is ruthless attacking it. I thought SANADA might have been playing possum, but if it wasn’t injured before, it is now after Tanahashi locks him in a cloverleaf. SANADA blocks the High Fly Flow with his knees, which I guess is better then getting hit by it, but still has to hurt. SANADA keeps going for the dragon sleeper, but Tanahashi keeps escaping. Tanahashi eventually wins with two High Fly Flows. ****
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (champion) vs Jay Lethal
This is an unfortunate match up for such a big show. Michael Elgin was originally slotted for this spot, but literally broke his face. So we get Lethal instead. The Ring of Honor former champion has a few wins over Naito after he was dismissed from LIJ. Lethal has yet to impress in a New Japan ring, and this is probably the biggest match of his career.
This match is hurt mostly by no one thinking Jay Lethal has any chance of winning. Not even Naito is able to pretend Jay Lethal has a chance of winning. Lethal tries, but everyone is here to watch Naito win. Lethal does throw out all the stops, including a Elgin Bomb that Naito kicks out of. Lethal’s finisher is the Lethal Injection, and it’s a dumb move with too much set up, so Naito is easily able to counter it to Destino for the win. ***
Final Thoughts: This wasn’t a stellar show, but it was well worth watching. WrestleKingdom is coming along nicely, with Okada vs Omega, Naito vs Tanahashi, KUSHIDA vs Takahashi, & The Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice ready to go. Maybe a Shibata/EVIL rematch as well, I guess we’ll see.