Believe it or not, this is the last big event before Wrestle Kingdom! From here, we’ve got World Tag League and the Best of the Super Juniors tournaments, but this is our last large event before we go to the Dome in January. So tonight, our main events are Kota Ibushi vs Jay White for the title shot briefcase and (sigh) once again, EVIL vs Tetsuya Naito for the double gold!
Warning before you click – this is very long. I’ve got a bunch to recap and to say.
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
PART 1 – NJPW Power Struggle 2020
Toru Yano (C) vs Zack Sabre Jr – King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 championship match – No turnbuckle pads match
Well, this is definitely a way to start us off. ZSJ defeated Yano in the G-1 in Yano’s best match of the tournament, and this is the result. Yano’s chosen stip for this match? No turnbuckle pads. Hey, it’s Yano. That’s really a pretty tame stip considering where this could have gone.
They grapple to start, which is absolutely one of the reasons that ZSJ is a good opponent for Yano, that Yano can actually grapple. Yano goes for the first whip to the buckle, but ZSJ moves as Yano charges and Toru hits the corner. Three straight whips to the buckles by Zack and Yano rolls out in pain. Yano wants the pads back on now and gets one from the outside, but ZSJ puts a stop that type of sportsmanlike conduct.
Yano bails to the floor again to break an ankle lock and grab another pad, tossing it into the ring. ZSJ comes out and they brawl, with Yano going to the eyes with the sanitizer and ZSJ barely beating the count back in. Yano tapes a pad into the corner and avoids a charge from Zack, who crashes into the pad…..which doesn’t hurt. Okay, I get it. They’re driving it home a bit much here. ZSJ takes back over and stomps on Yano, going from limb to limb with moves.
Yano comes back with a belly-to-belly, then avoids a ZSJ charge and rolls Sabre up for two. ZSJ reverses into a heel hook, but Yano turns him over and goes to a leglock to counter, Sabre rolls back into the heel hook, Yano makes the ropes. Yano rolls out in pain and ZSJ puts him in an anklelock through the barricade, telling the ref to go count…..and Yano ties ZSJ’s shoelaces together. Zack releases the hold to get back in the ring, but his laces are tied together and he’s caught in the barricade as a result! ZSJ hops up and down, trying to free himself….but it’s not to be as Yano rolls in to win via countout. (Toru Yano over Zack Sabre Jr, countout, 12:12)
THOUGHTS: **3/4. The biggest drawback we had here was that they overplayed the stip during the match. Yano matches operate on a very specific axis when it comes to watchability – the wrestling/comedy balance has to be carefully curated, and this one wasn’t. ZSJ works well with Yano because his reactions to Yano’s nonsense are excellent, and Yano can work a wrestling match, which means that he does what ZSJ does well in the ring. So, with that in mind, when you compare their G-1 match to this one, you can see that the G-1 match didn’t have a stip as part of the story to weigh it down, whereas here it threw the whole match off. This was still fun and I enjoyed it, so I’m not slamming it. But it wasn’t on the upper end of what these two can do together.
Post-match, Uemura comes over to cut Zack free, and Zack thanks him by grabbing the scissors and chasing him to the back with them. Yes, Sabre is running with scissors. Yano’s tactics have driven him to run. With. Scissors. Think about THAT the next time you say that Yano’s antics are harmless, you enabling bastards.
Unexpectedly, the winner of the first man to the Sid vs Arn joke on the English commentary? Rocky Romero.
Minoru Suzuki (C) vs Shingo Takagi – NEVER Openweight title match
COMMENCE THE VIOLENCE. They start off by running through all the old hits, and by that I of course mean they HIT each other. Forearms, chops, headbutts, they trade back and forth beating the holy fuck out of each other. Matches like these make me believe in a higher deity that wishes for me to be happy. Suzuki puts Shingo into a front facelock choke, which Shingo suplexes out of after a few attempts. Takagi blocks the rope-assisted armbar, but goes out to the apron and Suzuki gets it anyway on the way back into the ring, then boots Takagi to the barricade. Suzuki goes out and tosses Shingo from rail to rail, working the taped-up back of Shingo. Simple story, well-told.
NASTY chairshot to the back of Shingo while the ref is occupied, and Suzuki follows that by putting Takagi into a half-crab on the floor. More punishment ensues as Suzuki continually cuts off Shingo’s comebacks until Takagi finally hits a Saito suplex to take Suzuki down. Takagi to the top, Dragon elbow for two. He hits Suzuki with the Kawada kicks, but Suzuki gets to his feet and smiles wider with each one. Uh-oh. That’s what we call a bad sign. Suzuki gives Shingo a gentlemanly, warm, almost grandfather-like smile before attempting to remove Takagi’s head from the torso with a forearm. Jee-sus.
They slug it out and exchange a few moves before Suzuki hits a headbutt to the back of the head and goes for the Gotch, which Takagi backdrops out of. Pumping Bomber attempt is countered into a Suzuki choke and he then goes for the Gotch again, but can’t get it. Takagi with a Death Valley Driver and then we this crazy awesome sequence where Suzuki pops up and hits a Penalty Kick and a big boot, Shingo pops up and hits a lariat, Suzuki pops up off that…..and both guys just collapse in opposite corners. That whole thing was beautiful as two guys were trying to prove who the tougher one was and finally they both just couldn’t do it anymore. Fabulous.
Back up and Suzuki just wallops the lower back with forearms, Shingo counters with a DDT and a sliding lariat. Shingo can’t get Suzuki up for Made in Japan, and Suzuki takes advantage and puts Shingo in a half-crab, Takagi makes the ropes. Takagi tries to come off the ropes, but Suzuki wipes him out with a dropkick, and now a full Boston Crab. Shingo manages to free one leg, but Suzuki sits down on the half-crab, Shingo dives for the ropes to force the break. Rear-naked choke by Suzuki and he goes for the Gotch, but Shingo kicks his legs in the air and manages to escape it.
Suzuki throws headbutts, and Shingo fires back with one of his own, then both guys go down after running into each other. Now comes the next crazy awesome sequence as Takagi just keeps hitting Suzuki with clotheslines and Suzuki refuses to go down, throwing his arms up and screaming to the heavens like that asshole in Creed’s Arms Wide Open video. Suzuki would whup that MFers ass. Someone write that fanfic for me, will you? Either way, we get one more slugfest as the end is near, with Shingo getting a lariat to the back of Suzuki’s head, then one to the front to bring Minoru to his knees. One more (and this is where I think some folks thought Suzuki got KO’d for real, as he just pinwheels down to the mat), and the Last of the Dragon gives the NEVER title back to Takagi. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a NEW NEVER openweight champion! (Shingo Takagi over Minoru Suzuki, pinfall, 18:56)
THOUGHTS: ****. As usual, they delivered in spades. I don’t know how much more you can really say about the dynamic between these two, because their matches are uniformly excellent. They hit hard and work a story to the match, with this one being the lower back of Takagi becoming the target for Suzuki, and Shingo powering through and winning anyway. I’m a huge mark for Suzuki but I really don’t mind him losing here – Shingo can use the title and Suzuki has enough cache that he doesn’t need a belt to be a threat in any match. Overall, exactly what the match should have been.
Both guys get helped to the back after the match although, true to form, Suzuki refuses help halfway to the back and does it himself.
Kazuchika Okada vs The Great O-Khan (w/Will Ospreay)
This is a big one for O-Khan. We all saw the Okada/Yujiro matches where Okada tried mightily but couldn’t lift him above ***, so we know that Okada can’t perform a miracle for everyone. O-Khan needs to bring the goods.
O-Khan attacks before the bell, firing off some double chops and tossing Okada to the floor, then sends him to the post as Ospreay sips champagne on the outside. Ospreay is dressed as quite the proper dickhead tonight. Suits him. Back in with a pump kick for two from O-Khan, then a head/arm choke. Okada comes back with a flapjack as Khan is just moving glacially slow.
Okada runs through the hits and DDTs Khan for two. Khan back with a sickle and he puts Okada in the Tree of Woe, then hits a sliding dropkick for two. He gets Okada up, but Okada reverses to a neckbreaker and this match is SO boring. Okada misses a dropkick and Khan goes back to the head and arm choke, Okada makes the ropes. More Mongolian chops from Khan, but he runs right into the dropkick from Okada. Tombstone and Okada goes to the Money Clip, Khan breaks that with the claw. That was neat.
Okada comes off the ropes, runs right into the pump kick from Khan. Reverse suplex from Khan. Claw slam is countered into the Money Clip as the crowd is DEAD. Like, they can’t cheer, I know, but they’re not even clapping. They’re completely checked out here. They trade moves and Okada hits a spinning Rainmaker, and it’s back to the Money Clip again, and that’s enough to put Khan out. (Kazuchika Okada over Great O-Khan, referee stoppage, 12:59)
THOUGHTS: **1/4. Yikes. I was kind of distracted when I watched this live, so I was looking forward to watching it again. This thought was a mistake. Khan looked like he was moving in concrete out there and Okada couldn’t have looked more bored if he tried. Khan may have something, but I’m not seeing it, and if you can’t show it against Okada, I don’t know where I’m going to. Match was not good.
Post-match, Ospreay lays down the challenge for the Dome.
Intermission! Take a break to ensure you can recover from that barnburner. Also, check out the matchups for the 10 nights of the Best of Super Juniors tournament, being covered here on the blog by yours truly! Same with the Super J-Cup! I love me some junior heavyweight wrestling.
KENTA vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – US title briefcase match
KENTA is the holder of the case, Tana is challenging. I would very much like to see Tana vs Mox, I have to say, but I have no idea when Mox is going to be able to do it. Mox can’t defend it in America, he can’t leave AEW for the necessary quarantine period to get to Japan while he’s still their world champion…..it’s really a mess. I would also assume that AEW doesn’t want their world champ doing jobs either, so that may end up requiring some negotiation. Honestly, it may be best for everyone to just award the title to someone at Wrestle Kingdom (to whoever has the briefcase at the end), and have Mox come back and challenge for it again later. Of course, that would be the second time Mox has had to forfeit the title which wouldn’t be good either, so…..
Oh yeah, the match. KENTA messes with the hair of Tanahashi to start, to which I say: watch yourself, motherfucker. No one dare touch the mane of glory unless they be willing to face the wrath. Tanahashi with the springboard crossbody and some air guitar, countered by KENTA with a kick to the head and some AIR BANJO. Outstanding. Tana breaks up the performance by kicking him to the floor and following with a plancha. KENTA gets hold of the briefcase and wallops Tana with it while the ref is distracted to take over.
Back in and KENTA pounds away. Knees and a kick to the face, and KENTA does a little dance right after. Neckbreaker gets two for KENTA. More shots to the back of the head, then kicks to the chest as Tana fires up. Neckbreaker puts Tana back down. More kicks, but he goes for one in the corner and Tana finally hits a dragon screw to turn the tide. Flying forearm and somersault senton gets two, and KENTA is forced to scramble to the ropes as Tana tries for the Cloverleaf.
KENTA back with a necksnap and flying clothesline as this match is very enjoyable. It’s just really good wrestling and selling from both guys. KENTA goes for the crossface, Tana makes the ropes. Powerslam gets two for KENTA. DDT from KENTA gets two, and on the kickout KENTA hits the ref. That was a good ref bump there, with KENTA able to legit claim it wasn’t on purpose. Of course, KENTA isn’t going to turn down this opportunity to behave in a nefarious fashion, so he goes and gets the briefcase. He and Tana tussle over it as the ref gets back in the ring, and KENTA ends up getting conked in the head as a result. Off the ropes. KENTA avoids the sling blade, they clothesline each other to put both guys down.
They slug it out from their knees, then to their feet. Draping DDT from KENTA. KENTA with a delayed dropkick in the corner, and he goes up, double foot stomp hits! Yikes, that was a good one. Tana blocks the GTS so KENTA unloads on him with palm strikes. Running knee gets two for KENTA, but Tana blocks the GTS again, this time with Twist and Shout. Another one. A third one, as apparently Tana is trying to kill the poor bastard. Two sling blades follow, and Tana goes up, Aces High! Instead of going up again, he puts KENTA in the cloverleaf. He yanks KENTA back to try to keep him from the ropes, and that allows KENTA to counter into the crossface. Tana tries to get the cloverleaf back on, but KENTA gets back to the crossface. Tana tries for the ropes, but KENTA cuts him off and pulls back hard, and that’s the end as Tana verbally submits. (KENTA over Hiroshi Tanahashi, submission, 19:57)
THOUGHTS: ***1/2. This was really good professional wrestling here. The pace was deliberate and they took their time, but they filled it well and Tanahashi is a master at making matches like this work, with KENTA being no slouch either. KENTA basically winning clean in the middle with the submission was a good way to go to make the hold stronger. I have zero complaints about this.
Kota Ibushi vs Jay White – Double Gold briefcase match
Ibushi is, of course, defending his briefcase won in the G-1, while Jay has laid his challenge on the fact that he defeated Kota during the G-1. White and Ibushi have met in 3 singles matches since Ibushi’s first G-1 win a year ago, with Jay winning 2 in a row after losing the G-1 Final to Ibushi.
Briefcase winners are 16-0 in defenses, by the way. Just saying.
Jay stalls to start, because he’s awesome. AWESOME. You hear that, Scott? AWESOME. He’s the….okay, fine. I’ll shut up. I promise. Please don’t pull my posting privileges, not this close to the Doomies! I’m gonna catch Tommy one of these days! I mean, I won’t recap WWE programming to do it, I’m not man enough for that torture.
Ahem. Jay walks around the ring, checking the briefcase to ensure that it’s in better shape than KENTA’s that keeps getting in the way of Tanahashi’s head. While he’s making sure that Ibushi hasn’t caused any damage to it, Kota gives chase on the outside to cover up his malfeasance in briefcase curation. Jay rolls back and, having finished his inspection, tosses the case back to Ibushi, who somehow ends up getting in the way of Jay’s fists and we’re off.
Some quick back-and-forth ends with Ibushi dropping White with a kick. Ibushi lays in kicks as GEDO screams “NO NO DON’T DO THAT!!” from the outside and I’m cracking up. GEDO as a manager, especially a heel manager, is always fun. Ibushi ends up on the apron and Jay dropkicks his knee, then drops him on the apron with the hair, then hits a front suplex onto the apron. Because, you know – it’s Ibushi and a ring apron. Some shit’s gonna go down when the two get together.
Back in and we get more beatings from Jay, including some knee lifts and shoulders in the gut. He dumps Kota and sends him to the barricade. Again, but the ref refuses to count a pin, so Jay tosses him to GEDO for some whuppins now. That goes awry as Kota sends GEDO to the steel, then White when he comes out to help. Ibushi dropkicks Jay off the apron to the floor, then hits a plancha. Back in with kicks and Ibushi gets two off a moonsault. Powerslam by Kota and he goes for the second-rope moonsault, Jay moves but not far enough as both guys take some damage.
Gutbuster as White continues to work the midsection of Ibushi. Bladebuster from Jay gets two. Ibushi blocks a uranage and slugs Jay down. German suplex, but White avoids a wild shot and hits a flatliner, then almost murders Kota with a deadlift German suplex. Spinning uranage hits for White, then more shots to the ribs and midsection. White has been working there almost the entire match, as GEDO confirms by yelling at Jay that he wants to take away Ibushi’s breath. Smart. White misses a swing, Ibushi gets him up, Bastard Driver! Good God, that move terrifies me each time I see it.
Ibushi goes for the Bomaye, White avoids it but can’t avoid the Dragon suplex, followed by a roundhouse kick. Kamigoye attempt by Ibushi, but he leaves the midsection open and White nails him with the shoulder 3 times to stop it. Ibushi gets the Bomaye and the Last Ride for two. Jay reverses to try the Blade Runner, Ibushi stops that. GEDO gets on the apron and Ibushi boots him down, then nails a charging Jay with a high knee. Ibushi with another Kamigoye attempt, White ducks it and backslides Ibushi, puts his feet on the ropes for leverage, 1, 2…….3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT? (Jay White over Kota Ibushi, pinfall, 18:48)
THOUGHTS: ****. The second time through made me really appreciate the construction of this match. Jay continually working the midsection and ribs kept Ibushi off of most of his high-flying stuff, and Jay’s control of the match genuinely looked like it was frustrating to Ibushi as a wrestler, as he couldn’t put together a lot of strong sequences and Jay kept cutting him off. The continues Kamigoye escapes from White were related to Ibushi not being able to hold White in place, which made sense with Jay’s continuous rib work to take away the breath. Overall, I really enjoyed this one a lot, and these two have excellent chemistry together; that bodes well for the future, as I expect that this won’t be the last time they face off.
Now, what did I think about the angle itself? I have more to say about that later.
Ibushi looks completely shell-shocked on the mat as White taunts him with the briefcase.
Tetsuya Naito (C) vs EVIL (w/Dick Togo) – IWGP Double title match
And once again, here we are. Y’all know the story by now – EVIL is a rat bastard traitor to LIJ, turning and joining Bullet Club after winning the New Japan Cup. He defeated Naito for the titles at Dominion but lost them back at the stadium show in Jingu. He won their 3rd meeting during the G-1, leaving him in line for another shot at the straps. This is their fourth meeting since we returned from the pandemic, which is a lot, to say the least.
Slow to start as both guys are tentative to lock up. They finally trade headlocks and go to the mat, then back to their feet and EVIL drops him with a shoulder. Naito comes back with an armdrag and a seated dropkick. Naito with a cravat, EVIL goes to the ropes to break as the announcers wax philosophic on Naito’s journey from rudo to technico over the course of his last few years. To the floor and EVIL tosses Naito into the barricade so hard that the ring announcer goes FLYING backwards. Like, that was the best bump of the match so far!
Back in with EVIL in control. EVIL tosses him and throws Naito into the barricade and knocks over the ring announcer AGAIN. The ref checks on him, allowing Togo to whack Naito with a chair. EVIL back in with a half-crab. Naito escapes and blocks a Fisherman’s Buster, and they exchange counters into a neckbreaker from Naito. ‘Rana from Naito leads to the legsweep/dropkick combo in the corner. Crucifix submission from Naito, but Togo distracts enough for EVIL to clothesline Naito to the floor. Togo takes the ref for an absurdly long time (I’m pretty sure they were doing an audio recording of ‘Ulysses’ together), and EVIL sets up the chair baseball swing shot. He even stops to admire his work after the swing.
Back in and EVIL goes to work. Fisherman’s Buster gets two. Reversal from Naito into a tornado DDT puts both guys down. Top rope ‘rana attempt is countered by EVIL as he drops Naito face-first onto the buckle, then hits a backbreaker. Naito is selling this beating really well – sometimes, I don’t think he gets credit for how good he is at selling accumulated damage. Or he’s just hurt himself so badly that he’s barely selling and really is in that much pain. Hey, I saw the Ibushi matches. Superplex from EVIL hits, and it’s time for the Scorpion Deathlock from EVIL.
Naito makes the ropes, EVIL hoists him up, Darkness Falls! 1, 2, no! Everything is Evil is stopped by a Naito German suplex, and he follows that with a spinebuster to put both guys down. Naito puts EVIL on the top, ‘rana off the top! Gloria by Naito! 1, 2, no! Destino attempt, EVIL with a German, Everything is Evil attempt, enzuigiri by Naito! Flying forearm by Naito and he nails Togo on the apron, Destino to EVIL! He picks EVIL up, another one!! 1, 2, Togo pulls the ref out! That can only mean it’s time to cue the bullshit!
Togo comes into the ring with the garotte, and here comes Yujiro! Cane to the midsection of Naito! Oh fuck, here comes Yujiro! What did I do? Pimp Juice to Naito! Yujiro is pleased, but here comes SANADA! He is PIMPIN’ in all-white and runs wild on the heels, tossing them to the floor and wiping out both guys with a plancha, then he escorts both of them from ringside, Togo over his shoulder! FINALLY SOMEONE IN NAITO’S STABLE HAS COME TO HELP HIM IN THESE SITUATIONS. And yes, I know, I know, that’s a thing that LIJ does, they are aligned but don’t help each other, blah, blah. They should all want to screw EVIL as much as possible and it feels good to finally see them at least do it.
Naito and EVIL slug it out from their knees. To their feet and they start hitting harder in what turns into a really good series. Naito goes for a kick, but EVIL catches it and swings it….taking out the ref again. Low blow from EVIL now, which Naito returns in kind as EVIL comes off the ropes, with both guys now down. And here comes Jay White. White stands in between them…..but who will he choose? EVIL! It’s gonna be EVIL! He hoists EVIL into Bladerunner position….but stands him up in the corner instead, then hits the sleeper suplex on Naito! Bladerunner attempt on Naito, Ibushi runs in and saves Naito! He chases Jay to the back and it’s back down to Naito and EVIL again.
Naito back to his feet, elbows to the back of the head of EVIL. EVIL manages to buy some time by running Naito into the exposed buckle, but Naito returns in kind, with more elbows and now EVIL goes to the corner! Valentia attempt, but EVIL escapes and hits another low blow! HUGE lariat by EVIL! 1, 2, NO!! Back up and we trade finisher attempts, palm strike by Naito! Valencia hits! Naito traps the arm, Destino hits! 1, 2, 3!! Naito retains! (Tetsuya Naito over EVIL, pinfall, 33:08)
THOUGHTS: ***1/2. The best match the two have had together. A few things here. The outside interference was too much, to be sure. But the biggest key difference here was that the babyface had some friends that, by hook or crook, came out to even the score. One of the reasons that the Bullet Club interference was getting SO tiresome was that no one bothered to help anyone, they just let the heels beat the shit out of the faces and do whatever they want. So you had a situation where the bad guys not only were taking the ref whenever the spirit moved them, they weren’t facing many repercussions for their behavior. Remember when Hiromu finally stepped in on the last night of B Block? The moment tonight where SANADA came out to save Naito, where Ibushi came out to save him (although that was more about getting at Jay) added to the story of the match in a way that lifted it up instead of letting it be dragged down into the same morass again. The work between the two was good and this felt like a definitive end to the feud, as when it came down to strictly one on one at the end, Naito was the victor. I liked this and was happy that they did a good job with it.
Post-match, Naito celebrates…..and here comes Jay. He ‘apologizes’ for earlier and tells Naito it’s down to just the two of them. Ibushi failed. EVIL, even with his help, failed. So let him tell you what’s going to happen at Wrestle Kingdom. Night 1, he’s taking the night off! He’s doing nothing. Nada. Naito can do whatever he wants. Night 2, Jay is challenging Naito and taking those belts from him. Naito mocks him as Jay tells him that on January 5th, Jay becomes the double champ, because it’s his Destino!
And here comes Ibushi, but Jay tells him not to come out here, he doesn’t have the briefcase any more, Jay does! Ibushi strolls to the ring as he’s gone full serial killer Ibushi, complete with lovely blank look in his eyes. Dexter Lumis wishes he could be as scary as the Ibushi-1000. Jay taunts him, telling him he has nothing, but decides that he better run for his life instead as Ibushi gives chase to the back.
Naito cuts his promo and we’re done.
I know I stopped doing them during the G-1 due to time constraints, but I’ve got time right now. As always, my comments are in bold. Ladies and gentlemen, the scrum:
Zack Sabre Jr: He wants a check for 13 Euros to replace his laces! What a ridiculous way to start an event! He puts his head in his hands, and says that Yano really is the King of Pro-Wrestling! Zack was just going to throw that trophy in the bin, but now he really wants it! (HEE!! ZSJ and his stuff with Yano always makes me laugh) Zack should be the king of pro-wrestling! (Dude, if Suzuki hears that, you may die.) Yano is a cheating bastard, Zack is the most proficient technical wrestler in the world! He lists off all the times he’s encountered Yano this year and begs New Japan to keep Yano away from him.
Toru Yano: Young Zack Sabre Jr, you can’t take the KOPW trophy that easily! He kept calling me an idiot, but he’s the idiot! And then he walks off. (Yano is a man of few words)
Shingo Takagi: Shingo is helped to the interview area. That was touch from the jump. He’s never gone into a title match so beat up. His back is shot, but a wrestler must always fight, regardless of what state they’re in, and even in this state, he got his title back. He’s the man to elevate the title. New Japan, you decided to put this match second on the card, then follow it with a singles match and a contract defense match? (Yeah, what’s up with that? Dicks.) That’s not something Shingo can accept. As champion, he will make this title worthy again, and he’ll elevate his own status as well! He doesn’t care about Suzuki and has no intention to follow him, but it’s important to have a mantra. He calls himself king of pro-wrestling, well Shingo is king of the dragons!
Back to the ring for Ospreay’s challenge to Okada. Okada accepts.
The Great O-Khan: He didn’t tap out! At this point, O-Khan collapses to the ground, then staggers back to his feet and walks off. (Okay, that was tremendous, I gotta give him that)
Will Ospreay: Says he’ll beat Okada and that he’s got a 3rd man coming in. (Spoiler alert – you can find out who it is if you look hard enough.)
Kazuchika Okada: That suit really costs 3,000 pounds? And the champagne and the watch? It’s obvious that you don’t carry that look really well. Wrestle Kingdom? That’s the match that Okada has been waiting for. Just like O-Khan, like Jay before him, all the young ones are after Okada. They’re mistaken if they think Okada can be beaten. Ospreay wants to end his career? Just try, punk. He can’t touch what Okada has already accomplished! (Well, that’s true) This isn’t going to be a brother fight, how long have you felt this way? We don’t even need a preview match, he’s ready to fight. See you at the Dome!
Hiroshi Tanahashi: Collapses onto the floor in the interview area. This sucks. Losing always sucks. Worse, he couldn’t make any kind of impact. So where should he look now? He gets to a sitting position. He wants to get to the Dome, he wants to wrestle there. Time is ticking away, he has to figure it out, he has to come up with a plan. It’s not like him to be this down, is it? With that, he ruefully smiles and walks away. (I cannot emphasize how thoroughly Tanahashi breaks my heart with interviews like this. He’s incredible.)
KENTA: Sits down after getting a bottle of refreshing Zima. Tanahashi, you still have to pay for his briefcase that you broke with your head. Also, you broke the back today? What the hell is wrong with you? KENTA wants it fixed and returned to him. He has to say, he really enjoyed this tour, a lot of the G-1 excitement carried over for him. And he’ll not forget the New Japan World camera crew, he can feel the love there! On this tour, he was able to battle Tanahashi, it’s funny that they fought now. People fantasize about what would have happened if they faced off 10-15 years ago (Over here, KENTA! Over here! That’s me!). But he thinks it’s interesting that they faced off at this point in their careers. Let him tell you a story about when he was with WWE – he wrestled in Taiwan and Tana happened to be in town, KENTA was on the tour with Nakamura and Asuka. After the show, they all went out to dinner, and there KENTA was, feeling like he couldn’t hang amongst those stars. It was upsetting, but he knew he had to keep going – that moment motivated him. And now he’s here – is he shining brightly? He comes alive when he steps into the ring now. If he went out with them again, he’d have no reason to feel ashamed. As for this tour: all’s well that ends well. (Fun story there, with some decent insight into how KENTA’s character sees himself.)
Kota Ibushi: He can’t get any words out, just stands there with his head bowed for a minute. Finally, he says that he never could have imagined this. This was his time. He can’t believe this is happening to him. But the ref counted to 3. Is that it for him? He can’t believe this is really happening. It can’t end like this. (Stay tuned, Kota.)
Jay White: GEDO wants to know why you punks aren’t applauding. There’s a saying, says Jay, that people never learn…I told you so! He told them all that Ibushi wasn’t the real winner, Jay White was! He told us that Ibushi wasn’t going to challenge for the double titles at WK, he told you! He told you all that he would win the briefcase and go to WK to challenge for the titles, and not just challenge, but he’s going there to take them! And we’re about to find out from who? Can EVIL do what he says he’s going to do? We’ll find out! Time is running down!
Back to the ring for Jay’s promo at the end of the show. Naito cuts his promo right after.
Jay looks like he’s going to give some more comments in the back, but it’s clear that Ibushi the terminator is still coming towards him, so he grabs a Zima and beats a hasty retreat as Kota strolls in. Ibushi turns to everyone and says “He cheated, didn’t he?” (Oh, sweet, sweet, stupid Ibushi. Of course he did.) He used the ropes, he didn’t really beat Ibushi. Go ahead and check for yourself. Check. It wasn’t a real pin. He’s not giving up!
Tetsuya Naito: He takes a knee with his belts. Now it’s official, he will be main-eventing the Dome! What did Jay say in the ring? Naito doesn’t speak English, he didn’t study it in school. He’s better at Spanish. Jay was talking about January 5th, right? Funny exchange follows as he asks one of the reporters how to say it in Spanish, then is incredulous that the reporter doesn’t know. Isn’t he in TV? Anyway, Naito will have to read online later what Jay said. But Naito has secured his spot in the main event of the Dome, and this is exciting for him, as he’s never had a champion’s entrance before. He knows he sounds like a fan, but he’s excited. He’ll walk down the ramp as champion, how can he not be excited? He’s already excited about it, but he’s too tired to keep talking. He’s really not like Okada or Tanahashi, but there’ll probably be a press conference coming up, and he’ll talk there and take some questions. But right now, he needs to lay down. He’ll see you all there! Adios!
FINAL THOUGHTS: With a shocking upset and two 4-star matches, this one is close to an auto-recommend. It is longer than the normal NJPW show with six matches clocking in at 3 and a half hours, but I can live with that. With Naito/EVIL put to bed, we can move on to the Dome with the hopeful knowledge that we don’t have another match between the two looming now. The Dome will come into focus more over the next month or so with the BOSJ and World Tag League starting to help fill out the undercard. Overall, a good show but not a great one here.
PART 2: The Wrestle Kingdom Press Conference!
If you’ve watched this in previous years, you’ve probably seen all the wrestlers come in and sit down, but due to COVID this year is going to be different by necessity.
Jay is up first, and he clearly went shopping for his outfit at the Douchebag shoppe on Douchebag Lane in the capital city of Douchebagginess in the country of Dickhead:
“Something’s not working for me here. Is it the white turtleneck? The sunglasses? The carefully unkempt but actually quite styled facial hair? What am I missing?”
“What if you added a gold chain?”
Anyway, Jay asks if he made them wait too long? Well, it doesn’t matter, because they’ll wait for him if that’s what he wants. If he wanted to, he could go down and get a coffee right now. Especially now that he has the briefcase, officially. He makes a big deal of the briefcase, then reiterates that he is not going to wrestle on day one, he’s taking the night off, like he should have been able to do last year. Remember last year? He had to defend the IC title against Naito, ironically, and that shouldn’t have happened. Naito shouldn’t have been there. Just like Ibushi this year. What was the point of Ibushi coming down last night? He has no place any more, just like Naito shouldn’t have had last year. (Interesting to bridge Jay’s match with Naito from last year into this. I like it.)
But on the 5th, day two, he’s going to challenge for both titles. And now that he has the contract, no one can bully him like they did last year! In fact, this has been a long time coming – go back to Madison Square Garden. Jay never got his rematch with Okada. Who came out and tried to say they were next in line? Tanahashi? Jay beat him, but who was supposedly next? Chris Jericho? How did he get to the front of the line? His outdated name? So up next, it’s the G-1, still talking about last year, by the way, and Jay had to prove what he already knew – that he was the number one contender. And who did he face? Ibushi. And the ref was even against him, throwing out GEDO and the Bullet Club and putting his hands on Jay!
So then, Jay overcomes and wins the IC title from Naito. And then, although he should have had the night off, Naito somehow gets to challenge again?! Because he beat Taichi? And somehow Naito ends up walking away with both belts? So here we are now, and he’s got the briefcase, and he was up next after KENTA for the shot…..and then the world stopped. But like he’s said all along, he didn’t even need to win the G-1, or the J-1 as he calls it, and here he is with the briefcase. He takes the contract out and tosses “Ibushi’s briefcase” to the floor below because it isn’t up to his standards. He shows the contract to the press, says that’s the one for Ibushi and rips it up. It’s a bunch of Japanese crap and he wants another one, in English, with his name on it, night one off, challenging on night two. He wants his own briefcase, he says that GEDO already ordered one for him, in fact he ordered it before he even won the match.
Naito, he tried to tell you last night. You can play around, but Jay knows you aren’t dumb. He knows that Naito got the message. Jay is getting what’s rightfully his. It’s his Destino. Their paths seem to just be interlocked. And before questions, he has one other thing to say: Jay is 28 years old, look at what he’s accomplished. IWGP US Champion. IWGP IC Champion. IWGP Heavyweight Champion. And now, the first man to take away the G-1 contract! He told you so! God he loves saying that! You think he’s just sitting here, spewing garbage, you think it’s empty words? NO! He always follows through and he warned Ibushi, and he did it. And at Wrestle Kingdom, he will be left standing with both belts.
Then, in a hilarious moment, the translator says that she has to translate everything Jay just said, so White just spends the next several minutes stroking his beard and preening for the cameras.
Jay applauds her when she’s done, but wants to make sure that she got it all, so he recaps several points just to be an asshole. Finally, he opens the floor to questions.
Ibushi is protesting the finish last night, claiming it was illegal. What does Jay think about that? (Great, GEDO is stealing booking ideas from our elections now.) Jay thinks that of course Ibushi is mad, he lost. He fought so hard in the G-1, but he lost to Jay! Of course he’s going to be upset. What did he say, something about ropes? The ref counted 1, 2, 3, and Jay won. Take it up with the ref, whatever his name is, but Jay is the winner, fair and square.
What are his thoughts on EVIL losing to Naito last night? Jay wouldn’t say that he wanted to face EVIL, per se, just that he was interested to see if their fates were aligned. There seems to be some sort of animosity building between them, but EVIL couldn’t get it done even with Jay’s help, and Jay did his part in taking the briefcase. Could have been an all-Bullet Club main event, but EVIL just couldn’t do it. (Jeez, now that was a masterful toss under the bus by Jay right there.)
All done? All done, says Jay, and he walks off.
Moving on, here’s Naito.
Hola, buenes tardes! For a few years now, we’ve had this system of the G-1 winner holding the right to challenge contract. The holder of the contract should have his wishes respected. Wrestle Kingdom will once again be two nights, so when the challenger gets his title match shouldn’t matter, so Naito will have no issues with facing Jay on night 2 of WK. But, if it’s two nights, Naito wants to wrestle both nights. He wants two main events, two title matches.
So on night one, Naito will face an opponent of his choosing, and since Jay is getting his title match on night two, he should have no issues with it. Naito will be worn out, wrestling two main events in a row, but it’s on him to show the world what he can do right now. So he wants two title matches, and he will have two title matches. On night one, he wants to face……Kota Ibushi! Yes, Ibushi put his contract on the line and lost to Jay White. So he shouldn’t have a right to a title match at the Dome. Naito gets that.
But they were both in the G-1 and Ibushi won it, not Naito. In fact, Ibushi has won it two years in a row. That’s really hard for Naito to accept. That frustration is fueling his desire, so he will need to wrestle Ibushi to put it out of his head, then he’ll be satisified going into his match with Jay. He’ll beat Ibushi night one and face Jay on night two. to be honest, the man he really wants to face right now is Ibushi, not White. So his official request is to face Ibushi on night one.
He wants NJPW to carefully consider this – if he gets what he wants, what does that say about the contract concept? Sure we don’t need a contract next year? That may be how this plays out, so he wants the company carefully, but quickly, to take everything into consideration. At the same time, it’d be nice to listen to what Naito has to say. They’ve passed him over so many times that if they do it again, he may just boycott both days of Wrestle Kingdom. You know the name of his faction, right? Los Ingobernables. Get it? Know what that phrase means before you decide.
Naito came expecting a ton of questions. That was what he thought would happen. Is this because of COVID? He expected a huge auditorium full of press, but that isn’t what happened. He was especially looking forward to talking to Tokyo Sports, but if he’s not here, then it’s not worth sticking around. He’ll have his own banquet by himself. Of course, he’ll hold it at a family restaurant. So this is where he’ll make his exit – he’ll see you again some time. Adios.
And Naito leaves after taking no questions. They wrap it up with the chairman saying that they expected to announce some of the card today, but they’ll take yesterday’s results into account before doing so. He then announces that since July 11th, NJPW has had 54 live events, in front of 72,706 fans, and thanks to their guidelines and the fans following them, they’ve had zero cases of COVID-19 arising from any of their shows. They conduct temperature checks, as the crowd not to shout, and he wants to deeply thank the fans, staff and wrestlers for this. They will continue to follow all regulations developed in guidance with the Sports Authority and invite everyone to join them. And we’re done.
PART 3: My analysis of all this main event bullshit! (This is probably the part you can skip, considering how bloated this post has become.)
So, I should be frank in saying that I’ve had some, shall we say, issues with GEDO’s booking over the last few months. Even taking into account the obvious hurdles that the pandemic has placed in front of him, he’s still given us EVIL in the main event with FOUR Naito matches, a LOT of Bullet Club tension that may or may not lead anywhere, Okada’s feud with Yujiro, Yujiro in the G-1, hell, just Yujiro. Overall, he hasn’t done a BAD job, but things have seemed to drag a bit in areas. And I’ve seen a lot said about what happened on Power Struggle with the Jay and Ibushi match specifically, and a lot of that was negative. So I thought about it, I really did.
And those people are wrong. This whole thing is brilliant.
Let’s start by accepting the theory that GEDO books a year or even more in advance. So he knew for a long time that this is where he wanted to end up. That’s why during the press conference, Jay was able to lay out the last two years worth of booking in a coherent way that allowed a story to unfold; it was clearly planned from the jump. While the pandemic has surely played a role in the booking of NJPW, I still believe that this was the ending that GEDO wanted.
With that in mind, why are we here? Doesn’t this devalue the G-1 completely? The answer is no. In fact, the way that the story has played out required both the G-1 to go the way it did AND Ibushi had to be the first to lose the briefcase as well. The briefcase the fulcrum on which the storyline played out, because it’s what allowed us to get to a second challenger for the second night of Wrestle Kingdom.
Jay White had no standing to challenge for the belts. He lost the G-1 Block Final, even though he DID beat Ibushi in the tournament. Therefore, he did have standing to challenge Ibushi. But that challenge was pedestrian, right? The briefcase had been successfully defended every single time. It was a fait accompli.
Well, GEDO just blew that up. Now, there’s always going to be a chance that the briefcase holder loses. We restore some tension to these defenses as a result, which was sorely needed. But also more to the point, Jay’s character needed to win it this way. He is a scumbag dipshit who will do anything to get ahead. Him winning the G-1 tournament isn’t as resonant to him as a heel than it is for him to cheat Ibushi out of the briefcase. I truly think that this was far more effective for Jay to win it THIS way, to really put the screws to Ibushi, who did everything right and still lost to a cheating bastard.
And with that in mind, we come to Ibushi, who just went back-to-back in G1 wins. A long time ago when I wrote my first G-1 preview, it was pointed out to me in the comments that winning the G-1 is about more than the title shot, it’s about the prestige of winning the G-1. And the prestige of winning back-to-back G-1s? That’s something that Ibushi will have forever now. But I want to point out that his character had started to gain ultra-confidence over the last several months, leaving his tag team with Tanahashi behind and seemingly pseudo-blaming Tana for the losses before declaring that he would ‘become a God’. And now, he’s been brought back to earth a bit to find a new foe to conquer, as he’s now lost 3 matches in a row to Jay White. 3! That’s a lot to lose in a row in NJPW.
So Ibushi, the man who would become a God, has lost control of the situation. Cue Tetsuya Naito, who comes in with the proclamation that he wants to face Ibushi because Ibushi won 2 straight G-1s, something that Naito has never done. And that’s a key to this – Naito’s character has always been about reaching towards the next thing that he hasn’t done. Remember his Intercontinental title run where he destroyed the belt by tossing it around, because he didn’t give a shit about it and wanted the Heavyweight title? And how he went from that to actually wanting the IC title back so he could be the first to win the double gold? Well, Ibushi just beat him to winning two G-1s in a row. So Naito must beat him. Never mind that it could certainly be argued that Ibushi saved his title by running in to save Naito from the Bladerunner in the main event tonight. This was presented more as Naito’s character wanting to take out the guy who did something that Naito himself hadn’t done yet, which he has consistently done all through his New Japan career. This makes sense! Naito would want to do that!
And that’s the important thing here – it all makes sense for each character! White is more than willing to cheat to get where he needs to go, because that’s who he is. Ibushi did everything right and got cheated out of what was rightfully his, because Kota wouldn’t think of someone doing something so scurrilous, because that’s who he is. And Naito has consistently wanted to do the things that no one else has done or to only compete at the top and ignore everything underneath him, because that’s who he is. This is consistent characterization and it can happen when things are developed well over time. Everyone’s motivations make sense, everyone’s actions make sense.
Remember, it’s not like New Japan is FORCING Naito to face Ibushi. And they’re not going to force Jay to wrestle night 1 as ‘equal treatment’ at this point either. This is what the wrestlers themselves want and those desires are being met for reasons inherent to each of their characters.
So now, when we examine what may happen, we see a rich tapestry that could come about from any result:
Ibushi wins night 1, goes on to face Jay on night 2 and avenge his losses to end up with all the gold.
Ibushi wins night 1, goes on to face Jay on night 2 and loses through nefarious means to cement Jay as the biggest heel in the promotion.
Naito wins night 1, goes on to face Jay on night 2 and wins, thus backing up everything he said and keeping him top face in the company.
Naito wins night 1, goes on to face Jay on night 2 and loses through nefarious means to cement Jay as the biggest heel in the promotion.
Not to mention, if Jay loses, what happens to Bullet Club now? Both he and EVIL will have lost their shots. Will it splinter the faction? What will happen if he wins? Will THAT splinter the faction as EVIL wants another taste of the gold?
Will Ibushi win both matches after losing both of his matches last year at the big show? Will it lead us to Ibushi/Tanahashi at some point this year as the latter seems to be as far down as he’s ever been?
Everything is intriguing in the main event scene. You could book any of these results and have them make sense and have storylines grow from them. There’s a lot to mine here.
“But what about SANADA? He beat Naito in the G-1, why shouldn’t he get a shot at Naito on night 1 instead of Ibushi, who lost?” An excellent question, and this is where I think the pandemic came into play. I’m pretty sure that SANADA was supposed to get the shot at King of Pro-Wrestling, but with that event cancelled, GEDO had a decision to make, and I think that decision was to nuke the SANADA match for now and stick with where he wanted to go. It’s a hole, but not a big one and it can be rectified with a SANADA title shot next year.
To wrap it up, I think that there are legit criticisms about GEDO’s booking this year, but I think he nailed this one.
Alright, it’s time to go. This has been far too long. If you read all of it…..why? But I do appreciate it! So leave me a comment below and tell me what you think.
I will see you again this weekend as the Best of the Super Junior tournament begins, my favorite tourney of the year! I’ll be joined by Michael Bradley, who will be covering World Tag League this year, as the tournaments are running concurrently. Can’t wait!
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter
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