NJPW Power Struggle 2016

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November 5th, 17:00 from Edion Arena, Osaka

Today’s sold out show sees all four members of Los Ingobernables de Japón compete in singles matches at the top of the card with the Intercontinental title defence headlining this event for the third year running. Elsewhere, the Super Jr. Tag Tournament final features NOAH representatives ACH and Taiji Ishimori against the quarrelling Roppongi Vice, and a top-line Bullet Club team of Omega, Cole and the Bucks faces off with Okada’s CHAOS team.

Here we go…

Ángel de Oro, Fuego, Ryusuke Taguchi & Titán vs. David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet & Tiger Mask IV

Here are most of the Super Jr. Tag Tournament teams that didn’t get to the final, divided into CMLL (plus Taguchi) vs. NJPW. Note: the replacement music used for the lucha team was nightmarish. This was a real crowd pleaser. We got crisp high-flying, moments of comedy and an impressively swift pace. Fuego succumbed to a Finlay Roll and Shooting Star Press (from Ricochet) and Finlay covered for the three-count. I only wish it had been longer. ***

Bullet Club (Bone Soldier, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Yoshi Tatsu

What’s the opposite of a crowd pleaser? Well, this is. Bone Soldier (formerly Captain New Japan) and Yoshi Tatsu have been soiling the undercards of the tour shows with their presence in multi-man tag matches and the feud, loathe as I am to call it that, has been genuinely awful. Also, this is surely the weakest collection of wrestlers ever to bear the name Bullet Club and they came out to silence. Makabe and Honma are over, however, so while the latter was imperilled the crowd got into it. Tatsu actually demonstrated some intensity, but was overcome by a flurry of finishers from the BC Z-team and pinned by Takahashi, with Honma and Makabe nowhere to be seen. *1/2

IWGP Tag Team Championship

Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi)

GOD gained the titles from the Briscoes at King of Pro-Wrestling in a match that was lacking in crowd heat but not effort. On paper, the team of Yoshi-Hashi and Ishii made total sense, and pleasingly that translated to the ring here. They recently teamed as a pair at Dominion, but that was before Yoshi-Hashi had his breakout performances in the G1. Since then something seems to have clicked with him and there are few better in the company at garnering sympathy. Combine that with Ishii as the badass hot tag guy and, baby, you got a stew going.

As you might expect, after some initial success Yoshi-Hashi was at the mercy of GOD, who were palpably improved by being more vocal and upping the pace of their beatdown. Ishii also found himself outmuscled before a second hot tag was made and all hell broke loose. Yoshi-Hashi’s double knees to Tonga earned a near-fall, as did a Swanton, and the crowd were way into it, then Loa broke up the Butterfly Lock and strikes put all four men to the mat. A combo diving headbutt/splash and reverse Guerrilla Warfare nearly got the job done, then Yoshi-Hashi’s lariat brought a strong near-fall, but Karma was reversed mid-air to a Gun Stun and Guerrilla Warfare followed for the three-count. Not the result I’d hoped for, but I’m up for a Tokyo Dome rematch because this was by far GOD’s best performance and the best tag title match for at least six months. ****

Up next, the final of the Super Jr. Tag Tournament that’s been running at the Road to Power Struggle events. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets:

Quarter Finals

  • Roppongi Vice defeated Ángel de Oro & Titán (***1/4)
  • Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi defeated Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV (***)
  • ACH & Taiji Ishimori defeated The Young Bucks (****)
  • Ricochet & David Finlay defeated Will Ospreay & Gedo (NR – this took place on an unbroadcast tour show due to Ricochet’s visa issues)

Semi Finals

  • Roppongi Vice defeated Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi (***)
  • ACH and Taiji Ishimori defeated Ricochet & David Finlay (***1/2)

2016 Super Junior Tag Tournament Final

ACH and Taiji Ishimori vs. Roppongi Vice (Baretta and Rocky Romero)

ACH and Ishimori have impressed in their two tournament matches, upsetting the current Junior Tag champions The Young Bucks and the most recent challengers to those belts, Ricochet and David Finlay, on the way to the final. Roppongi Vice have been quarrelling throughout, with Baretta sick of Romero letting the side down. So far they’ve managed to keep it together and the crowds have responded well; the pair are more over now than they have been in a couple of years.

The tension between Romero and Baretta provided a stronger throughline than is usually the case with matches in this division and in an interesting reversal it was Baretta who spent much of the early going being beaten down. The pair from NOAH were their usual confident selves and they used a few nice double-teams – not yet seen in the tournament – to earn near-falls. Roppongi eventually hit a reverse Death Valley Driver/diving knee combo to get back into it, but Romero managed only two Forever Clotheslines before being dumped outside, and ACH followed with a Fosbury Flop. The stereo 450s both hit the knees, then ACH and Romero went at it before Baretta interjected and Strong Zero connected to give Roppongi Vice the win and the tournament. To refresh a longstanding tag team in the way they did was a very smart bit of booking, while ACH and Ishimori losing means any loose threads regarding NOAH are tied. ***1/2

Post-match, Romero challenged the Young Bucks for the titles at Wrestle Kingdom and the challenge was accepted.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

BUSHI (c) vs. KUSHIDA

At King of Pro-Wrestling Bushi attacked Kushida to the extent that he needed a stretcher, something that’s rarely seen in New Japan. This being their fourth match in 2016, you have to believe this will be the end of the feud.

Kushida wasted no time in going after Bushi, delivering a piledriver on the floor, ripping at his mask, and drawing noticeable boos from the male LIJ fan contingent. Back in the ring, Bushi managed a rope-hung lungblower to buy himself some recovery time and took control with a t-shirt choke (illegal) and a guillotine choke (legal). Despite the issues with his own arm, Kushida found a way to take aim at Bushi’s and landed a gorgeous rolling cross-armbreaker from the top-rope. Bushi made the ropes and returned to the guillotine choke before hitting a Codebreaker for two. Middle-rope Codebreaker for another two-count, then the top-rope version was ducked and Kushida resorted to a straight punch to more boos. Slaps and a Canadian Destroyer from Bushi, but Kushida countered to a Codebreaker of his own before cinching in the Hoverboard Lock. He rolled Bushi to the middle of the ring, twisted the wrist, and Bushi was forced to submit. ***1/4

Just as I was wondering who could possibly challenge next we got the final moments of the Time Bomb countdown that’s been running since August. And it was revealed to be… Kamaitachi! Or rather Hiromu Takahashi, as he’ll once again be known. He came to the ring, licked the title belt and challenged Kushida for a title match at the Tokyo Dome. Oh yes.

***INTERMISSION***

Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks & Adam Cole) vs. CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay)

Ospreay’s entrance gear looks like something one of the women from Blake’s 7 would wear (niche enough for you?). He’s plenty over though, and the crowd loved his trolling of the Bucks early on. It looked like we might get a preview of Omega and Okada, but Cole was tagged instead, then in came “Gedo BAYBAY” who was on the wrong end of a superkick party. A tremendous quadruple suicide dive to CHAOS led to Gedo getting his beard worked over, the poor bastard, but thanks to the Bullet Club’s cockiness he was eventually able to make the tag to Goto. Ospreay landed the Sasuke Special to the Bucks, then we finally got a little Okada/Omega before the match broke down. Quadruple superkick to Okada, but the pin was broken up. Omega met The Dropkick, but avoided the Rainmaker and hit the V-Trigger knee strike before pinning Okada with the One-Winged Angel! A big win for Omega ahead of the January 4th face-off, this was whole lotta fun. ***1/2

NEVER Openweight Championship

Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. EVIL

Since King of Pro-Wrestling, Shibata has defeated Go Shiozaki in NOAH and, never one to take it easy, this match marks his third title defence in under seven weeks. EVIL earned the shot by beating Shibata on the final B Block show of the G1 Climax. It was at Power Struggle last year that he had his first match back with the company and, to my mind, the G1 victory was his best match since returning.

Evil changed up his usual routine with the chair and clamped it around Shibata’s taped shoulder before sending him into the ring post. He continued to target the shoulder, and Shibata asked for more despite the pain, before fighting back with kicks and the corner dropkick. Half hatch suplex for two, then the Cobra Twist, but Evil got in some elbow strikes and a rolling lariat. They egged each other on until Evil nailed a lariat, a backdrop and Darkness Falls for a near-fall, then Shibata reversed the STO to one of his own and both men were down. Big time elbow battle, and Shibata grabbed the sleeper before dumping Evil with a sleeper suplex. Evil had had enough of playing fair and threw the referee to the ground in order to smack Shibata with the ringbell, and now it was time for the usual chair routine. A fisherman buster onto the chair was only enough for two, but an STO put Shibata down for the three-count! Good stuff from both men. An upset for sure, as I anticipated Shibata would make amends for the G1 loss. A title defence too far for The Wrestler perhaps. ***3/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA

Tanahashi lost to SANADA in a surprising result on the first show of the G1 Climax tournament in the summer, and despite recovering to make a charge for the block, a draw against Okada on Day 17 meant it was not to be for the Ace of the Century. As he looks to get back into the singles title mix, Tanahashi needs the win.

Some tidy matwork to start, with a funny double fake-out on a handshake. Just as Tanahashi looked to launch a High Fly Flow crossbody to the floor, Sanada walked away, and a couple of moments of feigned politeness later Sanada was in control after the leapfrog dropkick and a ‘rana on the ramp. He stayed on top with a neck/armlock, but Tanahashi eventually succeeded in connecting with a Dragon Screw over the middle-rope. A Sling Blade on the apron put Sanada on the floor and this time the High Fly Flow crossbody from the top to the floor connected. Back in, Sanada’s speed allowed him to nail the springboard dropkick and a TKO for two, then a lovely Tiger suplex earned a near-fall and the Dragon Sleeper was applied. Sanada then opted for the moonsault, which missed, and Tanahashi opted for the High Fly Flow, which also missed. A second moonsault attempt left Sanada with a tweaked knee, so Tanahashi went after it before applying the Cloverleaf from which Sanada made the ropes. Another High Fly Flow hit the knees, which did neither man any good, and they fought up from the mat, laying in the elbows and slaps. Tanahashi desperately countered the Dragon Sleeper several times, ultimately into a Dragon suplex, and finally the High Fly Flow connected – twice – to give Tanahashi the much-needed win. Even in loss, Sanada came out of this looking like someone who can hang with main eventers, and Tanahashi still delivers every time. A job well done. ****1/4

IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Jay Lethal

Michael Elgin had been due to challenge today, but unfortunately he broke his orbital bone during a tag match at King of Pro-Wrestling, so Naito faces Jay Lethal instead. In story terms it makes plenty of sense; Lethal was made an honorary member of Los Ingobernables earlier in the year, but was turned on at a Ring of Honor show and he also recently pinned Naito in a singles match.

This just didn’t work out. I wrote plenty of play-by-play notes, but the crux of it is that at no point in this 25-minute match did it feel like Lethal might win. The crowd had no interest in him, and in LIJ country even Michael Elgin would’ve struggled for support. It’s been a rough gig for Lethal, but I’ve never been sold on him in New Japan and it was soon clear that this was too big a leap for him. Naito needs opponents to provide fire and intensity to counter his aloof arrogance and Lethal demonstrated none of that here. It’s hard to imagine him anywhere near this level again. Naito won with Destino. **1/2

Post-match, Tanahashi challenged Naito to a match for the Intercontinental title at the Tokyo Dome. Challenge accepted!

Promo from Naito, the confetti falls, and we’re out.

Final thoughts: The main event was a wash, yes, but the rest of the show was very enjoyable. Wrestle Kingdom’s shaping up nicely and the undercard in particular is of much more interest than was the case at the same time last year. Tanahashi/Sanada and the tag title match were the best bouts of the show, five others ranged from decent to very good, and the Time Bomb reveal delivered. Let’s just pretend that main event didn’t happen.

Up next is the World Tag League which begins on November 18th. I’ll be back to review the Finals on December 10th. See you then.