NJPW Power Struggle 2015
Arnold Furious: 7th November 2015. This is my first full New Japan show since G1, on account of a) how incredibly burnt out you get watching one promotion almost constantly for a month and b) book deadlines kicking in elsewhere in the History of Wrestling offices caused me to miss a few shows. For the past three months my time has been severely limited. But fear not, gentle reader, I’m back in the world of New Japan on…uh, New Japan World for this PPV extravaganza. As per usual with a stand-alone New Japan show it is ridiculously long. We’re looking at four hours. The one saving grace of a WWE PPV is they have to stick to a three hour time window. New Japan don’t, can’t and couldn’t care less about time limits. They’re putting on a show and you will watch!
We’re in Osaka, Japan at the Prefectural Gymnasium.
Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Ryusuke Taguchi & Mascara Dorada vs. Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka, Jay White & David Finlay
All the Young Lions are tagging together tonight, like an army of black trunked soldiers. Rumour has it at least two of them, the Japanese duo, are about to head out on an excursion to the Americas. I’m not sure either one of them needs a learning excursion, as they’re wrestling in one of the best promotions on the planet and are developing extremely well in this environment. But it’s a tried and tested tradition so that’s happening. It’s a pity for Komatsu especially as his ring presence is coming on leaps and bounds. His positioning, his timing and his confidence are all pretty sensational for a guy of his limited experience. The New Japan dojo is one of the best ways to learn the business. The Young Lions as a team look organised and disciplined. The veterans tend to excel more in one on one although they get their ducks in a row down the stretch and Tiger Mask IV picks off Finlay for the win. This crop of Young Lions are going to be great wrestlers. They’re already pretty darn good. Liger grabs the microphone after the victory and tells Tiger Mask IV he wants a piece of his sweet NWA Junior Heavyweight championship strap. I get the feeling they’ve wanted to have a big time match between those two for a while. It’s looking like Wrestle Kingdom for that contest.
Final Rating: **3/4
Bullet Club (Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Cody Hall) vs. Togi Makabe, Captain New Japan & Juice Robinson
The very definition of filler. Come on, guys, the show is four hours long! Do you really need to put this on? Given my ‘highlights’ approach to watching shows of late this is my first look at Juice Robinson in a New Japan ring so it’s not a total loss. He should steal one of those coloured boxes from Dragon Gate, bash people over the head with it on the sly and call his finish “the Juice Box”. I would describe his current offence as ‘punch and prance’. It’s Tatanka-esque. As per usual, on matches that seem to serve no purpose, everyone is game to bust their asses to make sure the match isn’t a total bust. Even given the people involved, it’s still a solid contest. They have a few laughs at Captain New Japan’s expense and then a possible win for the good Captain. Naturally, because it’s Captain New Japan, that doesn’t last and Tama beats him clean with the Headshrinker DDT. Fun but still total filler.
Final Rating: **1/4
EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto
EVIL is the former Takaaki Watanabe (who’s been on loan with ROH for two years) and a demonstration of how the Young Lion going on excursion is supposed to work. He went away a young boy and came back as the King of Darkness, having had a few years to grow out his hair and change his appearance, as well as hone his skill. He’s returned as part of Tetsuya Naito’s Los Ingobernables stable but comes to the ring dressed as Death, complete with scythe. It’s good theatre. The very title of this match; Hirooki Goto vs. EVIL sounds like a horror movie. One I would totally watch. Can you imagine Goto as a Ronin, a masterless samurai, travelling throughout feudal Japan, fighting the undead? Fifty million stars! If you’re reading, Gedo, feel free to use that one. New Japan needs a film division. I’m not really as invested in EVIL just yet. He has a strong ring style, a combination of stiff strikes and grating wear-down holds, but it’s not as polished as the majority of the roster and Goto looks weak for putting up with it. The crowd seem unusually distant as well, not quite sure what to make of EVIL and end up just going with ‘fuck him’ and cheering for Goto’s strikes. Normally interference and DQ’s are not something that happens in Japan, especially in New Japan, but Tetsuya Naito doesn’t care about that and just walks in to attack Goto and hit Destino. Tiger Hattori isn’t quite sure what to do. A disqualification? How very American. Shibata makes the save, making it pleasingly clear that he’s not done with Naito. Not by a long shot. Meiyu Tag vs. Ingobernables going forward would be pretty sweet. This wasn’t the best of re-debuts from EVIL though.
Final Rating: **
Bullet Club (The Young Bucks, Chase Owens & Kenny Omega) vs. Time Splitters (KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley) & reDRagon (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish)
Owens was added to the Bullet Club to allow them to enter two teams into the junior tag tournament. They both failed to make the finals though. Kenny singing his own entrance music into a broom is a highlight of this show and also how sleazy Chase Owens looks as a Bullet Club guy. The reDRagon guys are the junior tag champs so logically they couldn’t win the tournament or they’d have to wrestle themselves at Wrestle Kingdom. It’s a rarity in Japan to have a match where there are seven Americans involved. The match features a lot of wrestlers who excel at double teams (Splitters, Bucks, reDRagon) so they keep the pace quick with frequent tags and the Jacksons bring a lot of the PWG-esque fun stuff. Especially the AMAZING Kenny Omega Terminator dive spot. They’re having a good time, doing the grappling. It’s frantic, almost non-stop action. If you dig the junior style and the multi-person cluterfudges, you’ll dig this. Chase doesn’t do much but doesn’t look out of place helping to hold a few spots together. The choreography on setting up dives and transitioning from one crazy sequence to the next is all kinds of great. Eventually Owens gets trapped in the Hoverboard Lock and taps out to KUSHIDA. The match was enormous fun and even when mistakes were made, like Fish dropping someone when he was supposed to be holding them in place, they improvised and kept going. It worked throughout and was tremendously entertaining.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Omega cuts a promo directly into camera saying he wants to be a “heavyweight superstar”, which is an interesting comment. He’ll need to bulk up a bit if he wants to leave the junior division behind but he is one of the larger junior heavyweights. It’s not unthinkable he could graduate to the heavyweight ranks. After all his former partner Kota Ibushi did.
Super Junior Tag Tournament Final
Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent Beretta) vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal
This is an odd choice to follow the last match as both were guaranteed to be junior tag spotfests. Why not split them up a bit? The impact of the early spots in this is lessened considerably by this booking snafu. They can flip all they want but it feels like a lesser match because there are less people involved, less planning and it’s less crazy. The match would probably be more fun viewed in a vacuum away from the previous contest. Not that it’s not good but everything seems underwhelming thanks to the card positioning. Thankfully the crowd don’t feel the same as me and get right into the match from early in, enjoying the junior tag team action. It’s a tidy mixture of trademark spots and innovative counters. Sydal is especially good, showing how far he’s come since returning to the Indies. He’s not only a lot smoother and cleaner than last year but his big spots are getting more inventive. His partner Ricochet is an enormous show-off so he throws in spots like SSP’s to the floor as total throwaways. It’s this mentality that gets the match going into a higher gear. A few things go wrong. Sydal falls off the apron at one point and Beretta blows the bump on a reverse rana. These things happen when you attempt difficult spots. The finish sees Sydal and Ricochet hit stereo SSP’s to win. This got better as it went on but it was difficult to live up to the spot-crazy match it followed.
The winners challenge reDRagon to a match for the junior tag straps, which is going to be pretty damn cool. Roppongi Vice also lay claim to a shot, having beaten reDRagon in Korakuen Hall and the Bucks join us to claim a title shot too. The junior tag division always ends up as a cluster of multiple teams. Four-way at Wrestle Kingdom? Probably. Again. Although the Bucks didn’t beat anyone to actually get in that match. They’re just the Bucks. They turn up whenever the junior belts are on the line.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Bullet Club (AJ Styles & Bad Luck Fale) vs. CHAOS (Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI)
There are still two hours left on this show. Before anything has even happened Yano is in the ropes. BREEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKK! BREEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAKK. Break, break, break, break, break, break, break. He knows the rope break rule, he’s got that one nailed down. The way Yano transitioned from heel to face has been hugely entertaining and arguably Yano is operating at a career high for entertainment now. I figured this match would be a total waste of AJ until YOSHI-HASHI decides he’s going to step up and show AJ a thing or two. One would hope it wasn’t the Loose Explosion he has emblazoned across the buttocks of his ring gear. AJ is a class apart from everyone, including Y-H, and barely needs to hit second gear. Yano keeps himself amused by doing the corner spots and pointing to himself. It makes me chuckle. AJ finds himself alone with YOSHI-HASHI and finishes him with the Pele Kick, Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash. This match was just filler, same as the earlier Bullet Club tag. Yano amusements aside there was nothing to see here.
Final Rating: *3/4
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Tomoaki Honma
This is a re-match from a NEVER title match earlier in the year at New Beginning in Sendai where the belt was vacant. Ishii won that contest, in a ***** MOTYC with the best near falls of the entire year, and they did a re-match during G1 that Honma won. I had that at ****1/2. This is the rubber match with Honma coming after the belt again. I honestly thought they’d save this for Wrestle Kingdom but considering the repeat matches in NJPW, they might be saving the re-match for Wrestle Kingdom. I can tell in the first couple of seconds this match is going to be good because they wail on each other and the crowd responds to everything. The pacing isn’t quite as blistering as it was during the New Beginning match, which makes me think they might be shooting for a longer more epic match (which it isn’t, it’s actually seven minutes shorter). I am pleased to see early Kokeshi attempts result in Ishii rolling out of the way. Honma landed way too many of those during G1.
As per usual the strike-duels are golden. They’re what draw me in to the story they’re telling. Ishii is clearly the superior striker but Honma just cannot accept that and keeps trying to match him. It’s a familiar story and one that saw Honma lose earlier in the year. I admire his commitment, even if it shows he’s not that bright. Where he is successful is in changing tactics and catching Ishii off guard with DDT’s and the like. As if his main tactic of going to war is just a cover for a sneakier secondary tactic. Although he’s batshit crazy still and does the SUPER KOKESHI TO THE FLOOR!!! Just thinking about doing that is completely insane and he’s done this before. He knows what it’ll do and he does it anyway. Unlike during their 2014 match (Dontaku ****1/4), where Honma employed the same tactic, he’s a bigger star now and that moment is a game-changer. It’s not even his most insane Kokeshi in the match as a couple of his torpedo Kokeshi’s are completely mad, to the point where both guys are nuts for even thinking about the spots.
Ishii does a magnificent job of selling the destructive power of Honma’s work so all that insanity doesn’t go to waste. This isn’t the normal ‘grab the shoulder’ Ishii selling, this is google-eyed disorientation. The suggestion being that tonight is Honma’s night. Ishii isn’t lying down and going away though, otherwise all this would mean nothing and at one point his own insanity involves headbutting Honma out of the air. Who thinks of that? That guy is in mid-air, this would be an excellent opportunity for a headbutt? No one thinks that! The whole match is full of headbutts that normal, logical human beings would never consider in their lifetime. God bless these two gentlemen for destroying their skulls for my amusement. I love this match. At one point Honma goes for a flying Kokeshi, Ishii side-steps and whacks the back of Honma’s head with a lariat. Brainbuster!! Ishii beats Honma again and the dream of Honma’s crashes and burns for a third time going after Ishii’s NEVER title. This is the midcard version of Misawa-Kawada (or Tanahashi-Okada for that matter) and I fucking love it.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba
Another clash between Tana and Okada on the road to the Dome but look at the supporting cast! I’ve been raving about Shibata for years, wondering out loud (repeatedly) as to what the heck was NJPW’s plan for him? I realise he wasn’t full time with the promotion and his lack of commitment was perhaps an issue but he’s working more dates now so it’s time to give him something truly meaningful; like battering Nakamura for the IC belt. For example. A feud with Sakuraba, Laughter 7 explode!, would make sense given their positions on the card, history and skill level. Plus Shibata punting Sakuraba into defeat would give him the win to go with the reputation he already has. Despite loving everyone in this match, yes even Tana, it never quite clicks with me. Only Shibata looks at all motivated, because he’s always motivated, and the others look like they’re taking it easy. It’s Shibata who forces the pace, forces Okada into different situations and pushes the match forward. Naturally the issue between Tanahashi and Okada is what drives the match, with fans anxious to see them clash. At the moment it feels like they’re figuring out spots for the Dome. That match should be great but the build up is built more on history than current issues. They have a few nice spots worked out here like the Rainmaker being countered into the Slingblade but it’s all a bit casual. Saku gets mashed at the end with the High Fly Flow and GTS putting him down. Shibata getting the deserved pinfall after having worked his socks off while everyone else took it easy. Sakuraba is in danger of becoming an afterthought in NJPW.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Tanahashi decides to bitch Okada out on the mic and they get into a pull apart brawl. Where was that enthusiasm in the match? Tanahashi seems keener to sell the match than Okada, who’s probably pissed off that he can’t beat Tana. But Okada gets seriously wound up by Tanahashi’s persistence, smacks him with the Money in the Bank briefcase and totally loses his cool. Which is probably what Tanahashi was aiming for, get Okada out of his happy place and get him good and angry and unfocused. This was the kind of thing I was hoping for during the match but the post match brawl is suitably fantastic. Both guys really got into the fight eventually. Doing the whole “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m cool….I’LL KILL YOU BASTARD!” thing. I enjoyed it.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Karl Anderson
This is the usual standard between G1 and WK title defence where the belt is never going to change hands. The sole set up for it was Anderson pinning Nakamura during G1. Not that it’ll be a disappointing contest as they’ve got good chemistry and always seem to pull out a solid match when they wrestle. I don’t get the ringside business here. Karl brings the entire Bullet Club, Nakamura brings…no one. He’s in CHAOS. He’s got backup so where is it? I could understand Okada and Gedo being busy after their run in with Tanahashi but Ishii, Romero, Beretta, YOSHI-HASHI and Yano should be out here, surely. When this match, suddenly, hits a higher gear it’s insanely good and the sequences are off the charts and genuinely pop the Osaka fans like an Indie crowd. They can’t keep that level throughout but the chemistry in the rapid exchanges is beautiful. As per usual Bullet Club’s interference prevents the match from being truly great (like most of the Okada-AJ matches) and I find myself zoning out more than a few times, especially when the crowd is quiet and there’s not much happening. My favourite aspect of the match is that Anderson knows Nakamura’s sillier spots and uses his taunts against him. Otherwise Karl finds himself, by and large, not at the races. Merely attempting counters before being floored. There’s never really a danger of Shinsuke losing, even when Karl catches him with a surprise Gun Stun (off the ropes, no less). When a wrestler is using his finisher as a transition, you know he’s not going over. It doesn’t stop them creating some cool near falls, like Karl flipping into a lariat like a junior. Eventually Nak just kicks Anderson in the face and gets the pin. Predictable outcome but nevertheless a good match. Karl Anderson is great at doing the losing challenger match. He’s solid and loses nothing in defeat.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: AJ Styles strolls in there, gets in Nakamura’s face and lays down the IC title challenge! Nakamura vs. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom? Oh yes. It was a match everyone was crying out for when it might be the IWGP title match on that show. Having it for the IC belt doesn’t matter, I just want that match. Post-Post Match the CHAOS boys celebrate with some beers. Oh, wait, that’s actually Coors Light, my mistake. If I ordered a beer and someone gave me a Coors Light, I’d point out they’d got the order wrong. “We find your American beer a bit like making love in a canoe….it’s fucking close to water”.
Summary: Power Struggle looked a bit thin on paper but the big matches mostly delivered and it did a fine job of hyping the top two matches at Wrestle Kingdom(Tanahashi-Okada and Nakamura-Styles). That’s a line up that has potential to repeat last years astonishing back to back MOTYC main events. The major highlight of Power Struggle was the Ishii-Honma match. Every time they wrestle my expectations are high and they didn’t disappoint. Another showstealer, a low end MOTYC. New Japan tends to go a bit quiet after Power Struggle so get your fix before WK10 is upon us.