New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Power Struggle
October 21, 2016
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
Watch: NJPW World
The Road to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Power Struggle is upon us.
NJPW Power Struggle, in my mind, marks the official “Road to Wrestle Kingdom”. This tour has the extra touch of having the 2016 Super Junior Tag Tournament, featuring acts such as the Young Bucks, ACH & Taiji Ishimori, and Gedo & Will Ospreay. The tournament concludes at Power Struggle with the winners more than likely getting a shot at the Junior Tag Titles at Wrestle Kingdom.
Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, & Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. Tomoaki Honma, Hirai Kawato, & Teruaki Kanemitsu
The New Japan Dads disowning Tomoaki Honma as if he hasn’t spent over a decade busting his ass to prove that he’s above the Young Lion level was a treat. All that went out the window as TenCozy & Nagata, as expected, put on a brutal exhibition of submissions and strikes to the youngsters. It’s not that Honma didn’t also feel their wrath, it’s just that he was often attacked on the apron. Both Kawato and Kanemitsu were eager to attack the veterans, and although their offense was very basic, they both looked better here than I had seen in previous outings. Nagata submitted one of the Young Lions with a brutal Boston Crab. **1/2
YOSHITATSU & Manabu Nakanishi def. BONE SOLDIER & Yujiro Takahashi
This reminds me of WWE’s No Mercy pay-per view a few weeks ago when AJ Styles wrestled John Cena and Dean Ambrose in the opener. That was the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, yet it went on first. This was clearly the main event, a clash between the former Bullet Club Hunters; surely this had to have been inspired by Gabe Sapolsky and his infamous “impromptu” booking.
In all seriousness, this was a bad match. Painless, sure, but eight minutes of Nakanishi stumbling around and YOSHITATSU trading strikes with BONE SOLDIER, only to end in a DQ was a rough way of go about things. Nakanishi, to his credit, is trying really hard. He did much more here than both Kojima and Tenzan did in the opening match. It just so happens that these are arguably the four worst wrestlers on the roster, and even though all four of them, to their credit, worked hard, this was just bad professional wrestling. The good guys won via DQ after BONE SOLDIER choked out YOSHITATSU with his rope. I give this a generous one star. *
Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI def. Kenny Omega, Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa & Chase Owens
We got the slightest glimpse of Omega vs. Okada in this match, which made me smile from ear to ear. Until we get past the Tokyo Dome, I don’t know if we’ll ever see these two in a match without one another. Here, Omega played cat-and-mouse with Okada, trying to avoid him for as long as possible, or at least until another member of the Bullet Club could distract the champion, so Omega could get some easy offense in. Chase Owens was the perfect pawn in Omega’s plan, as besides eating the pin, the only Owens action of note was smashing a broom over the back of Okada. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Gedo & Okada team up to wrestle Omega & Owens before we hit the Tokyo Dome in January.
Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI are challenging GoD, Roa & Tonga, for the IWGP Tag Team Championships at Power Struggle, which means we saw a brief glimpse of that here. Roa & Tonga have been abnormally bad this year, to a point that I’d buy into the argument that Roa is the worst major league wrestler currently lacing up the boots. New Japan’s tag division over the past half decade hasn’t been something to be proud of, but GoD has brought the division to all new lows. I must give them credit where credit is due, however, and note that both of the brothers looked perfectly acceptable in this match. Perhaps their title defense at Power Struggle won’t be a complete mess, as they’ll have charisma machine YOSHI-HASHI and legitimate player Tomohiro Ishii to help get the crowd invested in the match.
Goto felt like a non-factor here. I get that New Japan wants to get everyone on the card, but Goto did nothing of note, even less than Chase Owens did, or Honma in the opener. Speaking of Owens, as noted earlier, he at the pin when YOSHI-HASHI pinned him with the Karma, his new finisher that is very similar to Matt Sydal’s Here It Is Driver. This was fine, but nothing worth going out of your way to see unless you need to get a quick fix of Okada vs. Omega. ***
Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, & BUSHI def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Katsuyori Shibata, & Juice Robinson
There are a few things to note from this match, but the most important thing, the thing that if I didn’t mention first, I wouldn’t be doing my journalistic duties – Togi Makabe worked harder than anyone else on his team. Makabe, a man that I have seen literally take [read: Enzo Amore voice] ZERO BUMPS in multi-man matches, worked harder than Tanahashi, Shibata, and even Juice Robinson.
Shibata kicked things off hot with EVIL in a prelude to their NEVER Openweight Title match at Power Struggle. EVIL is a tremendous brawler, and I have no doubt that he will hang with Shibata and the two will produce an Ishii vs. Shibata-like match en route to Shibata vs. Shiozaki at the Dome.
Tanahashi cherry picked his spots with SANADA, but considering it was Tanahashi working a multi-man match, those interactions were few and far between. Those two will also meet at Power Struggle in a singles match. Juice Robinson, who is sporting noticeably shorter hair, ate the pin as Tetsuya Naito dropped him with the Destino. ***1/4
Will Ospreay def. David Finlay
This was a delight. Finlay has officially been elevated from a Young Lion to an official roster member, and because his partner, Ricochet, couldn’t get into the country due to visa issues, Finlay found himself across the ring with the hottest prospect in wrestling. Ospreay is now sporting a bleach blonde haircut, similar to what YOSHI-HASHI has going for him. It’s not a bad look. Finlay was the aggressor in this match. Ospreay was forced to react to the strength and power of Finlay, and of course, he eventually adapted and conquered. This was enjoyable, back-and-forth professional wrestling, displaying both men’s greatest strengths. Ospreay came out the victor in the end. Very fun match. ***1/4
Super Junior Tag Tournament
Beretta & Rocky Romero def. Titan & Angel de Oro
It was very obvious in this match that Rocky Romero spent a large chunk of his career working in Mexico. His chemistry with both CMLL luchadores was top notch. Both Titan and de Oro wowed the crowd, and me especially, with their high-octane offense that the two New Japan mainstays struggled to counter. This match was much less about Romero and Beretta arguing, and more about Titan and de Oro showing off their incredible array of offense. Titan, especially, looked great. I want him over in Japan for a year, much like Mascara Dorada; I just want him to be pushed, which wasn’t the case with the now Gran Metalik. Beretta ended up scoring the pinfall, which I think is a mistake. I really wanted to see the CMLL lads advance to the next round. Regardless, this was the MOTN up to this point. ***1/2
Super Junior Tag Tournament
Ryusuke Taguchi & Fuego def. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
I hate myself for laughing out loud during this match.
Fuego & Taguchi are a wacky, ass-shaking teaming that makes me thankful for the New Japan/CMLL relationship. Fuego worked hard, but more importantly, brought the comedy. His work with Liger in this match made me laugh way more than I’d like to admit. Korakuen loved it, Fuego seemed to be having the time of his life, and this match was just so much fun. Taguchi can get old, but I really didn’t mind him here. He picked his spots, and eventually his offense led to the finish, but this was more about Fuego having his moment in front of a very receptive crowd. The finish, which did involve Taguchi, was very interesting. Taguchi locked Liger in his dreaded Ankle Lock in the middle of the ring, and shockingly, Liger tapped out. I was not expecting Liger to take the fall. I mean, hell, that’s why he teams with Tiger Mask! Tiger Mask should always take the fall! Not here. Because of that, I’d be shocked if Taguchi & Fuego don’t at least make it to the finals. ***1/4
Super Junior Tag Tournament
ACH & Taiji Ishimori def. Young Bucks
This is the Bucks’ fourth Super Junior Tag Tournament. The brothers debuted in New Japan during the 2013 incarnation of the tournament (look at those teams) and proceeded to win the entire thing, defeating Forever Hooligans in the finals, which still might be the best match of their entire New Japan run. ACH and Ishimori are NOAH’s newest junior tag team and the victors of their junior tag tournament earlier in the year. Sans an appearance at the finals of the Super J Cup, this is their first New Japan appearance.
This was the Young Bucks that I’ve missed so much. I think when they’re on, they have as much talent as anyone in wrestling, and I also think the same about Kenny Omega. The problem is that when they’ve been saddled alongside each other, they’ve become too goofy. The Young Bucks, for basically half of the calendar year, have had go-away heat with me. I thought they had run their course in New Japan and ROH and I was ready to see them move on. Man, I was wrong. They’ve looked revitalized since BOLA weekend in late August and seem more focused now, than ever before, to put on a tremendous show.
I can’t neglect to mention ACH, and how now that he’s finally on the big stage in Japan, he’s killing it. ACH looked like a million bucks here, whether it be his early mirror spots with Nick Jackson, or his timing later on in the match when it came to breaking up pinfalls or executing moves at the exact moment they needed to be. ACH took a beating, but he dished one out as well. He is a special talent, and someone that comes across even better in-person than he does on-camera. I hope he returns to Korakuen soon because he seems like a made man in that building.
After a nearly 20 minute battle, the Bucks found themselves with their backs flat against the mat with ACH and Ishimori propelling towards them with tandem 450 Splashes. Leave it to Nick Jackson to create a beautiful moment that had me howling as I watched it. ****1/2
I can’t recommend the main event enough. The first half of this show is completely skippable, but once Ospreay vs. Finlay hits, this becomes an insanely fun show full of hot, junior action. Pick and choose, but be sure to watch the main event.