Three days before Power Struggle in Osaka, New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to Korakuen Hall for the second of two Road to Power Struggle iPPV shows, centered around the semi-finals and finals of the 2013 Super Jr. Tag Tournament.
The story of this tournament has been the much needed freshening up of the junior tag team scene, which for seemingly forever has featured the same small handful of teams facing each other over and over. The Young Bucks, arguably the top team on the U.S. indie scene, were brought in and attached to the Bullet Club, which immediately made them the odds on favorites to win. But thanks to an injury to Alex Shelley (one half of the Time Splitters with KUSHIDA) and some first round upsets which eliminated IWGP Junior Tag champs TAKA Michinoku & Taichi and stalwart veteran team Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask, the Bucks were not the only fresh face remaining in the field.
Gedo & Jado, who are hardly fresh faces but are so far removed from anything resembling a push that a this point they feel fresh, joined CMLL’s Valiente & (sort of CMLL’s) BUSHI as new blood in the semis. The only “stale” team to advance was the Forever Hooligans, Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov. With three new teams to work with, their presence was fine.
The rest of the card featured the usual collection of multi-man tag team matches with the singles stars, used to set up the big singles matches in Osaka. Curiously mixed in were two singles matches, the more intriguing of which was Tomoaki Honma, a very good worker who was given the task to lead Bad Luck Fale through a rare singles match, where Fale would not be able to hide behind tag team partners. It seems like this was sort of a test run to see if Fale has progressed enough to trust in singles matches in a promotion where the standard of quality for singles matches might be higher than anywhere in the world right now. The other single was Yuji Nagata vs Takashi Iizuka, something I was hoping would be short & inoffensive.
1. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Semi-Final: Gedo & Jado vs. Matt & Nick Jackson – This matchup was like something that nerds like me would put together in Fire Pro Wrestling. Who would have thought these two teams would have ever faced each other? I was hyped for this probably more than I should of been, considering it was an opener and a virtual lock to be short, but it delivered in the ways I though it would. The old men outsmarted the cocky kids at every turn, and while Jado is clearly slowing down he was still as grimy as ever. Gedo is a guy I’ve been watching a lot of lately, including a couple of live matches when New Japan sent talent to Texas. It’s pretty clear he can still go and could easily keep up with this roster if he ever felt like pushing himself, which neither he nor Jado have ever shown an inclination to do and likely never will. The veterans dominated nearly the entire match until the Bucks nailed dual super kicks and then a double-super kick on Gedo that really popped the crowd. They hit a springboard spike piledriver for the win, likely saving More Bang for Your Buck for the finals. I enjoyed the hell out of this. **1/2
2. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Semi-Final: Valiente & BUSHI vs. Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov – Good thing the weight limit is a work, because Valiente is a husky fella. I have no idea if Valiente & BUSHI are are a regular team in Mexico, but they had matching gear and had good chemistry together. The Hooligans did some fun comedy spots, which usually annoy me because I’m a curmudgeon, but I like their wackiness for some reason. At one point, they teased a fist fight but then hugged it out. BUSHI & Valiente did some impressive flying, including Valiente doing what I will badly describe as a running springboard moonsault to the outside, but it was something more impressive than that. The crowd ate it up and Valiente has some real charisma. I hope he comes back for Fantastica Mania. The Hooligans ultimately advanced when they hit the Contract Killer on Valiente. Fun match. ***
3. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Captain New Japan & KUSHIDA vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV – This was just a bunch of guys in a completely meaningless match and if I wasn’t being paid big bucks by Rich (Editor’s Note: Damn right!) to do these reviews I would have skipped it. Captain New Japan sold forever — like he does in all of these types of matches. Hot tag was to Tenzan, who missed a top rope head butt and nearly tapped to a Tiger Mask arm bar. He eventually hit the head butt and locked in the Anaconda Vice for the tap. This was a nothing match. Satoshi Kojima hit the ring and they cut a promo talking about the double tag title match in Osaka. **
4. Yuji Nagata vs. Takashi Iizuka – I’ve just about had my fill of Yuji Nagata and this was not the opponent to restore my hunger. That previous sentence is so bad, that I have no idea why I typed it, but I’m leaving it in for posterity. Lots of brawlin’ and fightin’ here… I was bored. Yano came in with a chair as Nagata was on the verge of winning so we got a DQ finish. Iizuka used the Iron Fingers and they taped Nagata to the ropes while he made silly faces. *
5. Tomoaki Honma vs. Bad Luck Fale – I was really looking forward to this to see if Honma could lead Fale through a decent match. This was basically a squash, similar to a RAW match with somebody like Kofi Kingston losing to a new monster heel and getting almost nothing. Lots of old school power spots like stonewalling shoulder blocks, and catching high cross bodies and turning them into slams. Fale even used a NERVE HOLD (!) at one point. He hit the Thumb of Doom but picked Honma up at two. He lifted him for a splash mountain, and tossed him high in the air & half way across the ring. This looked great and they did a KO finish. Post match he tried to do it again, this time onto a pile of chairs, but Togi Makabe made the save. This was very effective in getting Fale over as a monster. *1/2
6. Shinsuke Nakamura, Brian Kendrick & Barreta vs. Minoru Suzuki, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – New Japan spells Barreta/Baretta/Barrata about 19 different ways. I’ll just go with Trent. Kendrick had the stupid mirror again, but was also doing THE Brian Kendrick mannerisms, so now he’s just combining gimmicks. Nak. & Suzuki started things — much to the delight of the people. They exchanged some ground holds, and Suzuki tagged out. That was flat. Kendrick & Trent dominated the junior tag champs for a few minutes, this was a fun stretch. I should note that this is the best I’ve seen of Trent since he was cut from WWE and went freelance. He’s been a bit of a disappointment, but was good here. Taichi sure is lazy. He’s the worst guy in just about every match he’s in and at one point he took a clothesline and instead of bumping over the top, he took an awkward bump under the bottom rope. Trent did a great Tope Con Hilo. For the finish, Trent did a swinging DDT but accidentally kicked Kendrick and took him out of the match. The ref prevented Nak. from going for a Bome Ye on a prone Suzuki, leaving Suzuki in with Trent. You know how that went. Suzuki grabbed a choke and hit the Gotch Piledriver for the win. Good match. Post match Nak. & Suzuki brawled after Nak. teased putting on a Suzuki-gun shirt. If Nak. loses to Suzuki in Osaka, he loses the IC title and also must join Suzuki-gun. ***
7. Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Kota Ibushi vs. Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi – Too bad this wasn’t a Survivor Series match, because I love me some elimination matches. This was fine, the crowd ate up all of the big stars but it did nothing for me. Tanahashi largely stayed out of the way and with the extent that he is banged up, that’s fine in matches like this, especially with a super physical match with Ishii coming up. He may have legit hurt himself landing on his arm after a slingblade. Makabe pinned Yujiro following a King Kong Kneedrop. Ibushi really shined and post-match cut a promo challenging for the IWGP Junior Title. **3/4
8. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI vs. “The Machine Gun” Karl Anderson & Prince Devitt – Gee, I wonder who’s eating the pin here. Okada in with Anderson was the best stuff here, and it really made me look forward to the title match in Osaka. Okada is the most compelling wrestler in the world right now. YOSHI was getting the better of Devitt when Anderson flew in out of nowhere with a Gun Stun. Devitt then hit a Bloody Sunday DDT for good measure for the win. This was good action and the best match to this point. ***1/4
9. Super Jr. Tag Tournament 2013 – Final Match – Young Bucks vs Forever Hooligans – This was as good as you are going to get for the amount of crazy interference and ref bumps they did. The Bullet Club & CHAOS were both at ringside. CHAOS doesn’t even pretend to be heels anymore. Bucks tried the springboard spike piledriver again, but the pin was broken up. Hooligans tried a Contract Killer but Romero ate a spear as he came off the ropes in what was a really cool spot. Red Shoes got superkicked for ref bump #1 when Kozlov ducked. Hooligans scored a visual pin while he was out then all hell broke loose. Fale came in to thumb Kozlov, but Gedo saved with a chair. Fale was killing everybody, until Okada hit the ring and cleared house. Hooligans hit the Contract Killer but the new ref got pulled out of the ring by Devitt at two for ref bump #2. More chaos. Bucks finally hit More Bang for your Buck for the win. This was a crazy riot that fans were into it. Devitt proclaimed the Bucks #1 contenders for the junior titles, and they announced the Bucks vs TAKA & Taichi for Osaka. Ibushi came out and Devitt told him he isn’t the #1 contender, and that there isn’t a #1 contender, period. Then Fale beat him down. ***1/2