The first of four iPPV events over the next 28 days, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Road to Power Struggle” featured an eclectic lineup of junior tags, a singles squash, and the usual array of rank and file multi-man tags that generally litter basic tour cards and the $15 price point iPPV’s.
The four junior tags were part of the Junior Tag League, a single elimination tournament featuring the debut of The Young Bucks, the return of (Trent) Barreta, Brian Kendrick, & Valiente, and established teams like Forever Hooligans, Tiger Mask & Jushin Liger, Jado & Gedo, and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champions, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi.
An interesting sub plot coming into the tournament, was some choice words concerning the fledgling New Japan junior division from KUSHIDA, who in the absence of regular partner Alex Shelley teamed here with young lion Yohei Komatsu. KUSHIDA, fresh from a trip to the U.S. where he oddly appeared on an NWA show in Ohio as opposed to the Texas swing the rest of the New Japan crew took part in, had this to say concering the state of the juniors, and in particular this tournament, courtesy of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
Kushida was critical of the junior heavyweight tag team tournament that will be the focus of the 10/25 iPPV show from Korakuen Hall. He felt the tournament was weak, and particularly complained that the two biggest stars that should be in the junior heavyweight division, Prince Devitt and Kota Ibushi, are not in the tournament. He said the company has dropped the ball on the junior heavyweight division, which, dating back to the late 70s, was almost always a major focal point of the company. He noted that the IWGP jr. heavyweight title has been largely forgotten the past few months, and the tag team title, which is on almost every PPV, is now relegated to a prelim position. He said he’d like to see things go back to the days when the Best of the Super Junior tournament finals could be held at Sumo Hall instead of Korakuen Hall.
Devitt hasn’t defended the junior title in months. Ryusuke Taguchi is hurt. Devitt & Ibushi were not part of this tournament, instead booked in random multi-man matches placed higher on the card, but essentially meaningless in the big picture. The same three teams have faced each other for the junior tag titles for seemingly the last year. So KUSHIDA has valid points. The division is dry, something I haven’t been shy to point out myself in these reviews.
Perhaps help is on the way in the form of the Young Bucks. The Bucks, on their very first New Japan tour, have been booked in every main event of every house show leading up to Power Struggle on 11/9. They are also part of Devitt’s heavily pushed Bullet Club heel faction. So it appears there may be long term plans for what is arguably the best tag team based in the United States not named The Shield.
New Japan returns with another $15 Korakuen show in roughly two weeks on 11/6, featuring the semi finals and finals of the Junior Tag League. Nothing else has been announced, but I would expect another round of throwaway 6 and 8 man tags, featuring Power Struggle opponents on opposite sides. These shows are a lot like the New Japan version of Monday Night RAW, in the sense that they are used to set up the bigger PPV’s, the match quality is generally lower overall, and they shoot more angles. This is why they are free in Japan, and discounted internationally.
1. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Round 1: KUSHIDA & Yohei Komatsu vs. Valiente & BUSHI – Valiente really pushes the limits of being a junior. He’s a husky fella. BUSHI was sporting a new look that made him resemble Mistico. KUSHIDA started things off with Valiente, who was showboating and appealing to the crowd. Send him to NXT to work on hip tosses. One of my favorite things in wresting is young lions showing fire. Komatsu showed plenty, and the crowd got behind him. Valiente pulled KUSHIDA off the apron to stop a springboard move, but then missed a dive. KUSHIDA recovered to hit a moonsault on BUSHI for two. Komatsu tagged in and had BUSHI on the ropes, including a cross arm breaker that people bought as a finish. Things broke down, and Valiente took out KUSHIDA. This isolated Komatsu, who was pinned by BUSHI. Good match. **1/2
2. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Round 1: Brian Kendrick & Baretta vs. Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson – As soon as the Bucks came out, you just had the vibe that they were winning this whole tournament. They fit right in with the Bullet Club, who came to the ring with them. Devitt handled their ring introduction as well. Kendrick is no longer doing whatever it was he was doing at Best of the Super Juniors, with the mirror & the robe. BC beat down Baretta & Kendrick right at the bell. The early part of this was like a thousand RAW tags you’ve seen, with Kendrick the babyface in peril and the Bucks using every heel tag team trope around. Things picked up when Baretta suplexed Matt off of the top rope, to the outside of the ring, onto the waiting Nick & Kendrick. This was a crazy looking spot. From there the pace was faster and this more resembled what you would expect to see from these four guys. The Bucks busted out their cavalcade of super kicks, and eventually hit More Bang For Your Buck on Kendrick for the win. There was no BC interference once the match started. I’d also like to mention that I always love Kendrick’s selling, and it really stood out here. The way he flops his body around when he takes a beating comes off pretty unique. The Bucks got over and the match was good. ***1/4
3. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Round 1: Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Jado & Gedo – Between his two matches in Texas last week, and this, Gedo is my favorite wrestler at this very moment. Nobody does the crafty heel veteran like this guy. The finish here was fun because they fooled everybody. Jado is holding up Tiger Mask from the apron for Gedo, who charges. Like every single instance in wrestling history where this is done, Tiger Mask ducks, and Gedo lays out Jado to the floor. As Gedo is hanging over the ropes in shock, Tiger Mask goes for a cradle, which at this point in the match combined with circumstance is surely the finish. Gedo unexpectedly rolls through the cradle, applies the Gedo clutch, and gets the pin. Now here’s the thing. Tiger Mask badly (and I mean badly) botched the cradle attempt, to the point that a lot of people thought Gedo called a quick audible and went to the Gedo Clutch to cover for him. It did kinda look like everybody was confused, so it’s not impossible, but I doubt he’d change the booking on the fly in a split second in that manner. Either way, it turned a predictable paint-by-numbers match into a cool little upset. **
4. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Round 1: Rocky Romero & Alex Koslov vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – TAKA & Taichi defeated the Hooligans for the junior titles on the last iPPV, by nefarious means, so Romero grabbed the mic and demanded to make this a title match. TAKA said sure, but in exchange he wanted Kozlov to sing the Russian anthem. The Hooligans quickly agreed, but were ambushed by the second note. Heh. So I guess that meant no title match. TAKA was a lot of fun here, mocking the Romero corner clothesline spot, and other wacky comedy. He’s really carried this team since the Taichi car accident. TAKA & Taichi went for the low blows that helped win them the titles, but the Hooligans no sold. Kozlov then used a Gedo Clutch on Taichi to win the match. The Hooligans revealed that they were wearing cups. Crowd popped for this. It was just goofy enough to be clever without being stupid. The back to back Gedo Clutch finishes added fuel to the Gedo audible fire. Fire the agents! **1/2
Intermission. Very short. Maybe ten minutes, and USTREAM did not show the promos or commercials this time.
5. Sho Tanaka vs. Minoru Suzuki – Suzuki twisted this kid up, slapped him around, and gave him absolutely nothing. Which was perfect. Not a hard, physical beating sort of squash, more of the “i’m toying with this little shit” sort of squash. Suzuki stretched him a bit, smiled like a lunatic, and when he got bored, used a single leg crab to make him tap. Tanaka got off a hard overhand chest slap at one point, and that ended up being a bad idea. Other than that, total squash. *
6. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Captain New Japan vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Tomoaki Honma – This was the epitome of a match with zero purpose, but that’s what you get on some of these types of shows. The most notable thing during the meat of the match was Captain New Japan taking a hot tag from Tenzan to literally zero reaction. I mean, I can’t even call it a hot tag, it was more like a frozen solid tag. Honma, who has been losing a lot lately, hit the falling headbutt from the top to pin CNJ. CNJ, the ultimate slump buster. This was just a match. Poor Tenzan has not done well with his new partners in the absence of Kojima, dropping matches to KES with Watanabe & Liger, and now this match with CNJ, with the fill in partners losing all three falls. Tenzan & Liger did manage to defeat the NWA team of Byron Wilcott & former FUW BRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPION (I love that title) Michael Tarver in San Antonio, so he managed to pick up one win and stands at 1-3 in non-TenKoji tags since the injury. **
7. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Yuji Nagata vs. Toru Yano, Takashi Iizuka & Tomohiro Ishii – This ended up being a riot style brawl. It was really two matches in one. Tanahashi & Ishii having a good singles match, interrupted periodically by the rest of the guys muddling things up. Ishii was great here and the star of the match. He went after Tanahashi on the outside with a chair and a fans umbrella. Back inside, Yano was taking off turnbuckle pads and being Yano. Eventually the ref gave up and called for the rare DQ with Tenzan hanging over the ropes with a wire around his neck at the hands of Iizuka. Makabe, like the last show, managed to not do much of anything in one of these tags. What a sly dog he is. The Tanahashi/Ishii stuff was great and made you want to see a match between the two. Nagata was taking a beating post match when Sakuraba, wearing MMA gloves, made the save. Then they did that silly little pinkie swear thing that they do. I have Team Hell No level interest in this Nagata/Saku team. For those who don’t read me often or listen to the shows, that means I no interest. **1/4
8. Tetsuya Naito & Kota Ibushi vs. Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi – This was worked at a faster pace than the Bucks vs Kendrick/Baretta match, and was probably the best match on the show. Real good stuff from all four guys, this just worked and everybody was on the same page. Tanaka beat Naito with the cane early to build heat for the singles match at Power Struggle. Yujiro continues to be one of my favorite wrestlers of 2013. Ibushi was particularly great here, both selling and with some crisp offense. Naito didn’t even annoy me. In fact, he was really good. Ibushi hit a high angle powerbomb on Yujiro, followed by a Phoenix Splash for the win. I would seek this out if you like the guys involved. ***3/4
9. Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Karl Anderson, Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale – Welp, i’ll give you one guess who ate the pin here. Correct. Young Bucks were out with BC waiving the flag and behaving like pricks. Nick sold the Karl Anderson machine gun intro by ducking like he was about to be shot. They seemed to be hinting at Nakamura/Devitt down the line. The fans were hot for the first interaction between the two.
YOSHI-HASHI got a lot of ring time here, selling for a large chunk of this but then making a furious comeback towards the end. However, Anderson cut him off and delivered a Gun Stun for the win. Then they left everybody laying and Anderson cut a promo on Okada. Decent match that served its purpose. ***
Overall, New Japan Friday Morning RAW was a decent show, with nothing offensive or bad but very few matches worth seeking out. I’d go out of your way to watch Naito/Ibushi vs Tanaka/Yujiro, and also the Bucks debut, especially if you are a fan of their work. The rest of the show is mostly skippable.
Special thanks once again to @SenotLARIATO for the gifs.