After a topsy-turvy couple of months that followed the G1 Climax 25, NJPW hit back hard with NJPW Power Struggle 2015 from inside Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka. The main event featured Shinsuke Nakamura defending his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against the Bullet Club’s Karl Anderson, as well as other notable matches featuring Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma for the NEVER Openweight title and a tag team affair pitting Roppongi Vice against Ricochet & Matt Sydal in the Super Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team tournament final.
Without much to be disappointed about, here are some highs and lows from this past weekend:
The Perfect Storm
Power Struggle wasn’t NJPW’s best card of the year, nor will it be remembered down the road as a classic four-hour spectacle that belongs in a “greatest card of all-time” column. It was, however, the year’s best card of the year in terms of storylines, and perhaps the most important card weeks out from Wrestle Kingdom 10.
The co-main event’s conclusion was featured the best post-match brawl of the year, as Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi went at it to promote their seventh and final match, which takes place at the Tokyo Dome on January 4 for Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Whether Tanahashi merits the heel role after some pesky moves in the match, or it belongs to Okada for kicking away his counterpart’s briefcase and later attacking him with it, its made this match highly intriguing for many reasons.
Ever since Okada was flustered with tears while unable to bring himself to the back one year ago while Tanahashi mocked his manhood and maturity, Okada quietly rose from the ashes to defeat AJ Styles for the coveted title, all the while Tanahashi – who couldn’t beat Styles late last year – recovered from a torrid NJPW Cup 2015 tournament by making his way to the G1 Climax Final, and ultimately won the tournament. This storyline, or more so rivalry, has been a year in the making ever since the conclusion of their previous contest. It’s tough to say where this measures up in the greatest rivalries of wrestling history, yet these two have already flirted with playing both the good and bad guy, that it’s tough to ignore the beautiful stories they’ve provided us over the years.
The ship continues to sail to Tokyo with a dream match for Nakamura’s belt, as he and Styles will finally lock up for the first time in match that was bound to happen one way or another. Nakamura, who cemented himself as the company’s top star after beating Kota Ibushi last year, had a year of ups and downs, too, losing the title he put on the map to Hirooki Goto (he’s since won it back) and coming up short in the G1 Climax while battling through serious injury. The stage is set for Nakamura to defend his territory as the King of Strong Style, and just when you thought there was nobody left for the Michael Jackson of wrestling to step up to, in comes one of the company’s top draws and a red-hot star that will undoubtedly raise awareness in his homeland for this epic encounter.
This is how you build a show – by stacking the card with some awesome matches, while building something much larger altogether.
Ishii vs. Honma Is the Stuff Tears Are Made Out Of
Just when you thought the revolving door of Ishii, Honma & Togi Makabe was enough to put you in the morgue, fans were treated to another chapter in the Ishii vs. Honma saga. It was the most emotional one yet.
This isn’t exactly dedicated to the cries and concerns of those who want to talk about how these performers will be feeling in a decade or so, or in other words, safety and concussion issues. My goal isn’t to sound insensitive or disrespectful, and because I’m not an athlete, I will never understand the life of a wrestler because I’m not a wrestler. Maybe one day we’ll all lend a helping hand to wrestlers that need some help via a Go Fund Me page or some other way of generating a little income to deal with severe injuries. On the flip side, wrestlers know what they’re getting themselves into when trying to meet their individual aspirations. It reminds me of a series of tweets published by William Regal when addressing the massive scar on his neck just a few weeks ago:
I'm not one for sympathy so please no need to tell me Best wishes and the like.Its just part of the life I've choose and wouldn't change….
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) October 30, 2015
Change a thing.No need to tell me you're praying for me as it would be a wasted prayer.Save that for people who need real help if that's….
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) October 30, 2015
While the wrestlers get a buzz from the fans whenever they walk through the curtain, it’s unlikely they’re living the type of life they do primarily for the fans. It begs us to ask that maybe the wrestlers don’t exactly live the life they do for the fans, and whatever goals they may have in the business, has nothing to do with the fans. Supporters are truly the backbone of every promotion, and without them, there’s not much you can do if you haven’t filled up the arena or gymnasium. I really think the fans are what keep the guys and gals going, yet the additional support isn’t greater than the individual whose dream it is to stand above his peers on top of the throne. My point is wrestlers know this job can last a lifetime, but it’s a short one. They aren’t looking for our sympathy when lacing their opponent with six consecutive headbutts. A part of why they do it is to bring us the purest form of joy while entertaining us.
When it comes to the trilogy bout between these two NEVER warriors, matches like these are why you find yourself laughing hysterically at 4:30 a.m. (North America) or 10:30 a.m. (Europe), for reasons that can’t be explained (a.k.a. Honma). Following the great match these two had at New Beginning in Sendai and in the G1 Climax, adults cry tears of joy while watching scraps like this one because it triggers emotions that can only be brought by wrestling. Now it doesn’t compare to the crying one did when witnessing Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi matches, or having to sit through a bloody Yugi Nagata defy the odds in chasing victory, but watching two men, especially top shooters like Ishii and Honma tear away at each other while continuing a year-long rivalry, is why we can’t explain the glamour or mystique of this sport – and it’s why we keep on coming back, no matter how hard it is to watch after you’ve seen a guy belly-flop from the top turnbuckle onto the floor.
Again, there’s not too much to dislike here, but approximately a week ago at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo at Road to Power Struggle (Night 8), Roppongi Vice defeated reDRagon to advance to the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team tournament final, beating the almost-perfect Fish & O’Reilly in a spectacular match, finding redemption for their bout that was cut short at King of Pro-Wrestling 2015.
The team of Rocky Romero and Berretta, possibly the most over tag team in Japan at the moment, would clash against the gaijin team of Ricochet & Matt Sydal in a great match, and one that the latter team would ultimately win. This comfortably set up a presumably first-time offering of Ricochet and Sydal against Fish and O’Reilly, yet with Roppongi Vice staying in the ring and the inclusion of the Young Bucks, this teased a four-way contest for the belts (which reDRagon have) at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
Now, that match will probably be exhilarating, yet this overshadowed what could have been a spectacular two-on-two match, which isn’t guaranteed to happen. Aren’t these tournaments built for the winners to earn title shots? Ricochet and Sydal will now have to compete against two teams they beat, which sort of puts a dent in their trophy victory. On top of that, the English post-match promo did nothing but confuse the audience, including the broadcasters that, in this case, had to put two and two together. In the last Highs & Lows, I asked for something slightly different in the junior tag league, and after almost getting it without really looking too much into the booking, I can’t help but think this four-way comes at the most inopportune time. While it’s a joy to see these four teams clash in any ring, let’s hope somehow, someway, the Team That Won’t Be Ignored get what they deserve.
In other junior news, it looks like Kenny Omega and KUSHIDA will resume their rivalry, with all fingers pointing to the Tokyo Dome. It may be something we’ve seen before, but this is a perfect opportunity for KUSHIDA to win the big one on the grandest stage of them all, while Omega, based on his post-match words, should make a long-awaited transition to heavyweight and hopefully one that leads to the G1 next summer.
New Day Rising
All in all, this show capped off a few months of strange booking, and seamlessly tied everything together. Almost every title now has a new challenger (including the NWA Junior Heavyweight strap with Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask), and the usually lackluster World Tag League is looking like a must-watch not only to determine the next challengers for Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows, but also the inclusion of Ring of Honor competitors and Tetsuya Naito, in some shape of form. Speaking of Anderson, he may be in a packed house of challengers to ever experience true title triumphs, but the Bullet Club co-leader proved he could be a main-eventer anywhere in the world.
This event had something for everybody, and more importantly, put NJPW back on the map for mandatory viewing as the year comes to a close. It’s looking up for the promotion, too, considering the allies they’ve made in ROH and Revolution Pro, the company can make even more noise than they have this past year, considering the notable tours and U.S. television deals (NJPW on AXS TV).
As for the ups and downs, the view never changes, and we may be on the cusp of witnessing NJPW take over.