New Japan Pro Wrestling
Power Struggle 2015
November 7, 2015
Osaka Prefecturual Gym
Osaka, Japan


David Finlay, Jay White, Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu vs Jushin Thunder Liger, Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask

This was essentially a rematch of the King of Pro Wrestling opener, minus Juice Robinson from the young lion side and KUSHIDA from the veteran half. As I said last month, I like the idea of the lions fighting together as opposed to being split up on opposite sides, but this month’s bout lacked the juice (no pun intended) of last month’s. There was nothing wrong with this, but it was the least interesting young lion opener that I can recall in a long time, so I guess it’s pretty cool that the bar has been set to such a level that a perfectly decent opener comes off as a disappointment. The finish was the highlight of the match, with Tiger Mask using a Tiger Suplex from the top rope to put away Finlay. Liger called out Tiger Mask after the match, saying he’s coming for the NWA junior title, and that he refuses to team with Mask until after he receives his title shot. The NWA junior title serves the same purpose that the NWA World title has served in recent years, in that it gives the veteran mid carders something meaningful to do. **

Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Cody Hall vs Captain New Japan, Juice Robinson & Togi Makabe

On paper this was the worst looking major show match in a long time, not only because it was stacked with some of the weakest workers on the roster, but also because it was a completely throw away match from a story perspective, with six leftovers tossed together with not a single current set rival paired off on either side. This had absolutely zero heat (which is saying something in front of the usual hot Osaka fans) until Togi Makabe came in on a hot tag. Makabe is no ones favorite worker, but the guy is over, and can still be counted on to credibly headline small to mid sized buildings a couple of times per year (as he has this year, filling buildings vs Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi). The match picked up once Makabe entered, and ended up being a perfectly decent prelim tag. CNJ nearly scored a flash pin on Tonga with a cradle, but then missed a top rope splash and lost when Tonga hit his double underhook DDT. **

EVIL vs Hirooki Goto

Gedo has been very open about being enamored with American wrestling, and his attempts to integrate western style gimmicks into New Japan have ranged from successful (Bullet Club as a money drawing North American style heel faction), utter failures that got over like a wet fart (heel interference in IWGP Heavyweight title matches), and complete embarrassments that everybody would prefer to forget (The Kingdom, with Maria’s ass having magical hypnotizing powers over grown men who have apparently never seen a half naked woman). Takaaki Watanabe being repackaged as “The King of Darkness” EVIL is the latest attempt, with a cinematic type entrance, hooded robe, A SICKLE, and lasers emanating from his fingertips. It walked the line of hokey but didn’t quite cross it, and the key is going to be how Watanabe adjusts his work to fit the gimmick. If his matches stink, he’ll end up coming off like a goof in a Halloween costume (see: Bray Wyatt), but if he works with a vicious streak and the matches deliver, the package will all come together. The announcers were going on and on about how Watanabe was once a nice young man, but is now pure EVIL, so the idea is that he’s been brainwashed by Tetsuya Naito.

EVIL worked very methodically and controlled most of the bout until Naito did a run in, err, actually more of a casual walk in, and attacked Goto who was on the verge of winning with his modified armbar finish. Naito was killing everyone in sight, including young boys, referees, camera men, and Goto until Shibata made the save. It’s hard, and not really fair, to grade this as a match because really this was a ten minute segment with the purpose of introducing the character and getting the angle over. The angle was super over. Naito is going to head into 2016 as hot as he’s ever been in his career. **

Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson & Chase Owens vs reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) & Time Splitters (Alex Shelley& KUSHIDA)

This was a condensed version of a PWG style spotfest, which was exactly what it should have been. Tons of fun with bodies flying all over the place, without even an attempt at structure or story. Mindless, super fun eye candy, with KUSHIDA scoring the fall by tapping Owens with the hoverboard lock. KUSHIDA wants the junior title back. OMega looked right into the camera and said “I will always be champion, until I decide I want to be a heavyweight”. There is a lot going on with that statement. ***1/4

Super Junior Tag Tournament 2015 Final – Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero)

Not as good as the tremendous reDRagon vs RPG Vice semifinal match that tore down Korakuen Hall, but a nice finish to a really strong tournament (possibly the best junior tag tournament overall in many years). This had an excellent second half once they let loose, but the problem was that the first half wasn’t compelling at all, so it ended up being half of a great match. Ricochet & Sydal won it with the double SSP, and were given bad ass trophies that simply said VICTORY in giant letters. No participation trophies in New Japan, baby. Only VICTORY.

It should also be noted that Osaka loved the Ricochet/Sydal team, further burying the idea that gaijins are killing the junior division. Every building is going to be different, and in wrestling sometimes stuff doesn’t land, but the idea that the New Japan juniors aren’t over just doesn’t hold a ton of water. The division is loaded with talent, the deepest junior talent in Japan by far, but stale and/or repetitive booking will cool off any act, especially on undercards. When the juniors are doing something fresh or interesting, like this tournament was, the fans respond to the stellar work.

Speaking of stale and/or repetitive booking, as Ricochet was making his challenge to reDRagon and setting up an awesome sounding tag title match, RPG Vice and The Young Bucks crashed the ring and made their cases for the next title shot, setting up a (BARF) potential four way for the belts. OK, so doesn’t this totally devalue the Ricochet/Sydal win, now that they have to go through two teams they already beat, plus the champs, to claim the titles? And from a non kayfabe perspective, NOBODY WANTS ANOTHER FOUR WAY JUNIOR TAG AT THE DOME. NOBODY. We’ll watch it, it’ll be 10 minutes, it’ll be fun, but Ricochet & Sydal coming off this great tournament challenging the dominant reDRagon championship team is a super fresh match with real juice and a chance to be something great. Hopefully that’s what we ultimately get. ***1/4

AJ Styles & Bad Luck Fale vs Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI

This was short, to the point, and all action, with each man doing what he does best. Yano brought the sneaky sleaze, Fale was tossing bodies around and being a monster, YOSHI-HASHI was exploding loosely, and AJ was AJ, all business and putting away Y-H with the Styles Clash. This screams “skip” on paper, but it’s well worth a watch. ***

NEVER Openweight Title – Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Tomoaki Honma

A great match, and completely different than the bout they had earlier this year that many see as a Match of the Year contender. This was worked around headbutts, lots of headbutts, diving headbutts, flying headbutts, Kokeshi headbutts, and headbutt exchanges. People fixated with wrestler safety and concussion issues will probably be turned off by a lot of what they did, but this was one hell of a match with some creative stuff. Ishii dominated the first third of the bout, until Honma landed a top rope Kokeshi to the floor. Yes, TO THE FLOOR. This led to the headbutt exchange, which was completely mental. Ishii countered a Honma flying headbutt with a headbutt to the shoulder. I swear I’m not being paid for each mention of “headbutt”. Ishii then used a powerbomb and sliding lariat to get a two count, and then tried a brainbuster. Honma countered it with a knee to the skull, hit his own brainbuster, another flying headbutt, and a standing Kokeshi for a two count. Honma then went to the top and hit the Kokeshi, but Ishii had rolled over so it landed on his back. SO CLOSE. He went for another flying headbutt, but it was one too many, as Ishii countered with a PUNCH IN THE HEAD while Honma was in mid air, which looked awesome. Moments later Ishii hit the brainbuster for the win. This match ruled and you should watch it immediately. ****1/4

Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & Katsuyori Shibata

Watching this made me think about what an underrated tag worker Okada is. He’s had a great year in trios matches, including some dark horse MOTY level stuff, and has been a really good tag team worker with a variety of partners (Gedo, YOSHI-HASHI, Sakuraba). His signature moves, particularly the dropkick, lend themselves very well to hot tags, which could have a lot to do with it. Okada’s tag work really stands out in a promotion where the major stars often treat tag team matches like a night off, which Okada very rarely ever does.

On the flip side, Tanahashi is notorious for dogging it in tags. Not here. Tanahashi worked this match with a cocky, heelish edge, sort of like he when he worked DDT earlier this year vs HARASHIMA. If this is how he works the Dome match, we’re in for something completely different than they’ve ever done in the Tanahashi/Okada series, a series of matches that always manages to not only deliver at elite levels, but also a series where each match has brought something different to the table.

Everyone had the working shoes on in this one, and the finish was a shockingly definitive loss for Sakuraba, who ate a High Fly Flow and a Go 2 Sleep. Tanahashi decided to talk some shit in the post match over the house mic, and Okada was having none of it. Okada charged back into the ring, where the young boys, the referees, Tony Garea, and Blackjack Lanza pulled them apart. The brawl spilled to the floor, where Okada decked Tanahashi with the briefcase. Every time they separated, they found a way to charge back at each other, including Tanahashi running after Okada half way up the aisle. This was a red hot angle, reminiscent of Okada DDT’ing Tanahashi on the floor last December, but with more intensity coming from both sides. If you weren’t excited for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom while watching this, New Japan just might not be your thing. ***

IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Karl Anderson

This was a good match with a great finish, but it felt like one of those endless strings of WWE RAW or PPV matches with competent workers who have a competent match where it’s hard to get overly invested for whatever reason. The reason here was probably due to the 100% locked in finish, because Nak wasn’t losing this unless he died on the floor and got counted out, and even then I feel like they would’ve rolled his body back into the ring before 20. For the finish, Nak countered Gun Stun with a cross arm breaker in mid air (which looked flat out awesome), and a few moments later hit the Boma Ye for the academic result. Anderson has some of the coolest offense around, and is one of the best in the business at working an exciting final stretch, even in a situation like this where it was impossible to buy him as a threat to win. Nakamura is unique in the sense that in a promotion where finishers are super protected, neither of his finishes are instant death, so there is a different kind of drama at the end of his matches, because a Boma Ye or cross arm breaker doesn’t always mean the end.

I suspected all along that we were all working ourselves into a shoot with the outsider challenge, and indeed we did, as they went chalk with AJ Styles making the post match Tokyo Some challenge. This is really the best match for business, a first time bout that will provide super strong support underneath Okada vs Tanahashi. ***3/4

Final Thoughts

One great match, a few very good ones, and a couple of tremendous angles. Power Struggle won’t be cracking any Show of the Year lists, but this was an enjoyable show from start to finish, with some key storyline advancements as we head for the home stretch of 2015 and towards Wrestle Kingdom 10. For the first time in years, the upcoming World Tag League tour has some intrigue, with a field that will include The Addiction, plus the possible entries of other fresh teams like Tanahashi & Michael Elgin, The Briscoes, Makabe & Honma, and some combination of Los Ingobernables.