New Japan Pro Wrestling
Power Struggle 2016
November 5, 2016
Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium – Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Rich Kraetsch: Founder of Voices of Wrestling, co-host of the Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast. Hater of Yoshitatsu. Follow them and the website on Twitter @voiceswrestling.
  • John Carroll: For some reason they’re on all of these damn things. Except WWE ones I guess, but who can blame them. Follow their trash Twitter @toshanshuinla.
  • Andrew Rich: Contributing author for VOW and still coming off the high of seeing ARW in concert (that’s Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman, all three formerly of the band Yes), Andrew is ready for what Power Struggle has to offer. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewTRich.
  • Matt MacLean:  Resident VOW legal beagle (who is oh so regal), you can follow Matt on his angry twitter crusade @shining_wiz13. An avowed beer drinker, Matt imbibed a Main Beer Company Peeper, a Ballast Point Sculpin and a Dogfish Head 90 Minute before turning his cloudy mind to the next NJPW offering.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Juice Robinson and Satoshi Kojima vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Teruaki Kanemitsu and Yuji Nagata

Rich Kraetsch: If you aren’t already on the Juice Robinson bandwagon, it’s time to jump aboard before it passes you by. Juice was solely responsible from preventing an all-time awful match on this week’s Road to Power Struggle show and is finally garnering genuine reactions from the Japanese audience. Best of all, his work has progressed quite a bit in the last year. It was a longshot that Juice could resurrect his career in Japan but damn if he hasn’t done it. Credit to him for taking the plunge and credit New Japan for allowing him the outlet. He won’t get the pinfall here, but look for him to be a featured member of the TenKoji +1 team. Kanemitsu is a young lion to keep your eye on as well, he’ll take the pinfall here and he’s not of the Komatsu, Tanaka, White, Finlay young lion level but he shows promise. This will be his biggest test to date. Prediction: Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Juice Robinson and Satoshi Kojima

John Carroll: Juice Robinson should get some love for Most Improved in the Observer awards this year. He’s gone from a guy who was just there to a guy who is a huge standout in often dull and listless NJPW undercards. I would totally be on board with a bigger push for him in 2017. This should be a fine little opening six-man: you’ve got the dads, the better of the two young boys (and just the fact that he has a spot on this PPV at all tells you the office thinks Kanemitsu is finally progressing), and Juice. At worst this should be inoffensive, at best it could be a pretty fun match. Prediction: TenKoji & Juice

Andrew Rich: A pair of New Japan dads are squaring off against another pair of New Japan dads… and they’ve brought their sons with them. Juice Robinson has come a long way since he came to the company. He’s put in a lot of effort to build a rapport with the audience and improve as a wrestler; you can tell that he’s invested. Even in these meaningless tags, he works hard. Kanemitsu is obviously still in the early stages of his Young Lion phase, but again it’s these types of prelim matches where he can cut his teeth with the veterans that will certainly help him in the long run. Experience, experience, experience. I expect him to eat a Koji Lariat, or if the gods are favorable, a Ten-Koji Cutter. I do love me a good Ten-Koji Cutter. Prediction: Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Juice Robinson and Satoshi Kojima

Matt MacLean:  Like Rich said, are you on the Juice train yet?  If not, you should be. Mix a little juice with some warring dads (my dad is Kojima, and I bet he can beat up your dad), sprinkle in a young lion, and Bob’s your uncle. No, this won’t be a five star classic, but this is legitimately one of the most fun looking openers to a big card in a while. Prediction: TenKozy and Juice

Ángel de Oro, Fuego, Ryusuke Taguchi and Titán vs. David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet and Tiger Mask

Rich Kraetsch: Look, I’m happy so long as we get Fuego and Taguchi dancing. The big question will be: how does Liger react? On commentary during Road to Power Struggle, Liger was seen dancing and enjoying the entrance of Fuego/Taguchi. Now he has to stand on the other side of the ring with him. Worst of all, Tiger Mask, the grumpy old bastard who usually riles Liger up will be there too. Can Liger resist the temptation to dance? Oh yeah, the match… expect flips. Lots and lots of flips. Prediction: David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet and Tiger Mask

John Carroll: How the hell is this match below the one that’s following it? Well, whatever I guess. The luchadores add so much depth to these undercards, letting NJPW book an all-junior 8-man tag that should be another fun undercard match. Hey, two straight matches on the bottom of an NJPW card that might not be complete wastes of time is a pretty good streak! Prediction:  David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet and Tiger Mask

Andrew Rich: I wish Fuego was sticking around a lot longer because whenever he shows up in New Japan, I know a good time will be had by all. Seriously, it’s impossible to not smile when Fuego is around. He dances the dance of life. And besides, a Fuego/Taguchi tag team could add a little bit of depth to the Jr. tag division. Oh well. This match should be a fun one, given the participants involved. You’ve got dancing, lucha flips, dancing, Ricochet, more dancing, and New Japan’s resident Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon with Liger and Tiger Mask. Who could ask for more? Prediction: David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet and Tiger Mask

Matt MacLean:  The lucha interlopers and the modern day ass man taking on the resident junior masked legends, the most graceful flyer in wrestling and David Finlay. I have no cute nickname or shorthand for Finlay; he’s just plain good. Honestly, he has become one of the most pleasurable wrestlers to watch as he is just so smooth and skilled. The step up from young lion hasn’t been without hiccups, but he seems to be making the most of it. Something tells me the young german gets the win over a CMLL star to end what should be an absolutely fun match. Prediction: Finlay, Liger, Ricochet. & Tiger Mask

Bullet Club (Bone Soldier, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma and Yoshitatsu

Rich Kraetsch: Christ. I can’t believe we’re still doing this Bone Soldier thing. My VOW flagship co-host Joe Lanza called the ongoing…thing…. Between Bone Soldier and Yoshitatsu: so bad, it’s good. I disagree. It’s so bad, it’s infuriating. It serves no purpose. It’s awful. It’s not well worked. It’s not liked by the crowd. It’s so bad and it shows no signs of going away. I don’t know what NJPW is thinking and I don’t know what we, as fans, have done to deserve it. On the bright side, at least Honma will be in this match to get the crowd to make some type of noise. Let’s also hope if they are going to do a shitty DQ finish—like they did at Road to Power Struggle—it’s only a minute or two into the match and not seven. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma and Yoshitatsu

John Carroll: Yeah I’m gonna have to concur with Rich on this one, sorry Joe: sometimes things are so bad they’re good, but sometimes they’re so bad they’re just fucking bad. Bone Soldier vs. Yoshitatsu definitely falls into the latter of those two categories. I really don’t understand what the point of ‘ol Boney is even supposed to be. When the heel turn first happened I figured he was going back to his pre-Captain roots; you may have forgotten about this or never even knew since it was so long ago, but way back in 2011 when CHAOS was actually a heel unit he came back from an excursion in Puerto Rico as Hideo Saito, an out-of-control caveman looking heel fighter. I’m not going to sit here and claim to you he was, like, GOOD or anything; in fact, how bad he was in the ring was a major reason why they kicked him out and he ended up as the lovable ‘ol Cap for the past 5 years. But are you really gonna sit here and tell me you wouldn’t rather see him looking like a wild caveman again than….whatever the hell BONE SOLDIER is supposed to be? A guy in a hideous mask, a t-shirt, and workout pants? “Well, John, it’s supposed to look indie” you might be saying right now, but lemme tell you: I watch PLENTY of Japanese indies, and the bone man looks worse than pretty much everyone on every roster. He would get laughed out of DOVE PRO or 666 with that look, okay? Tell me who on this 666 poster looks worse than BONE SOLDIER. The answer is none of them!

I have probably ranted about this fucking boner enough, but holy crap. Why does he exist? Why does he look like that? Why isn’t he just Hideo Saito again? These are all questions that are sorely lacking in answers. Now pair him up with Yoshitatsu, a dude who is currently making Kenzo Suzuki look like Mitsuharu Misawa, and of course this feud is awful. It’s the shits. I hate it so much. Maybe the point of all this is to make me thankful when Yujiro Takahashi tags in, I dunno. Please do yourself a favor and skip this match. Prediction: GBH & Yoshitatsu

Andrew Rich: The feud between Yoshitatsu and Bone Soldier is like if someone made a wish with the monkey’s paw. Or ran afoul of the Djinn from the Wishmaster movies. Oh, we jokingly wished for a Captain New Japan/Yoshitatsu feud. We laughed about it. Giggled and guffawed with our schoolyard chums. “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if…” But now that wish has come true, manifesting itself in the most twisted and vile of forms. The joke’s on us. No one is laughing. Laughter is the farthest thing from any match that features Bone Soldier and Yoshitatsu. Instead, there is only misery. Pain. Fear for what comes next. This feud has been a nightmare, rivaled only by the most frightening of stygian terrors. When the end times come and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse drag me by the neck to the pits of despair, the soldiers of the underworld will unsheath their flaming barbed-wire swords and run me through from top to toe. The carnal beasts will gnaw on my flesh, tear me apart from limb to limb like a dog with a chew toy. Infernal roasters will rake me over their coals for a thousand years and then, when my body is nothing but a charred hunk of ash, they will restore my flesh… only to do it all over again. And then, when Satan himself asks, “Have you had enough, you foolish mortal? Will you beg for an end to your eternal suffering now?” I will look the devil right in the eye and say, “I have witnessed Bone Soldier and Yoshitatsu. Do your worst, you son of a bitch.” And the Devil will cry… for he has been one-upped. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Yoshitatsu (and hopefully NOT via DQ)

Matt MacLean:  Why? Seriously….I’m all for giving low and mid carders something to do on cards, but Jesus…..seriously?  This is a whole lot of suck in one match. Yoshitatsu does not appear that he will ever fully recover from the broken neck, and let’s be honest, he was below NJPW quality even before the injury. Makabe in a six man is going to do his best HG Wells and become the invisible man. Honma is Honma, and he will work super hard here, so he is the saving grace of the match. On the other side, Bone Soldier now has a look to match his in ring ability, Yujiro’s existence is the only thing keeping Bone Soldier from being the personification of NJPW loyalty, and hopefully Chase Owens spends most of his time in the ring in this one. Even still, this will not be pretty. Prediction: GBH & Yoshitatsu win; everyone watching loses

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) (c) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI)

Rich Kraetsch: As the Chicago summer quickly transitions into the ever-so-short Chicago fall and eventually the never-ending Chicago winter, I’m often sick. This time of year, particularly around the Halloween holiday, I’m sick. Chalk it up to allergies, the changing of the seasons, who knows, I’m usually sick. (Hint: I’m sick as I type this). That could explain my recent turning of the corner for GoD. I’ve actually *cough cough* liked a lot of what they’ve been doing lately. Tama Tonga seems to be re-energized and understands that if GoD is going to survive, he has to do a lot more on his end. Tanga Roa still blows and will probably always blow but at the very least he’s been harnessing his “power” better as of late. These fevers really do cause some crazy mood swings. GoD should (unfortunately) win here as they are likely to hold the titles through the World Tag League and into Wrestle Kingdom 11. Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny

John Carroll: Rich’s cold medicine must be some real good shit, because I still couldn’t care less about the Guerrillas of Destiny. Let me let you in on a little secret about Tama Tonga, by the way: the dude apparently name searches like a you-know-what, because I recently discovered that he has me blocked on Twitter despite the fact that I have never once @ed him in my entire life. Now, granted, my Twitter is trash and you absolutely should block it, but c’mon man. You’re now a 2-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, why do you care what me and some other internet nerds are saying about your matches. Do you really need your name search results to be nothing but praise and love? With that said, Tama would probably be pretty safe if he unblocked me before this match because I think it has a pretty high chance of being decent, if not outright good. YOSHI-HASHI has been great all year long and Ishii is the perfect partner for him. If nothing else, at least this will be a heavyweight tag title match with some crowd heat for once. I can’t imagine GoD won the belts back just to drop them here immediately, especially with the World Tag League coming up. You probably want a heel team to give the WTL winners someone to challenge at the Dome, so they’re retaining here. Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny

Andrew Rich: World Tag League is right around the corner, and if history is to be trusted, GoD will retain here. The past few years have seen heel tag champs go into the tournament, not win, and then lose the belts at Wrestle Kingdom to the winning WTL team. I see that happening again this year too. Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI are a fun team–very much akin to a tough older brother/plucky younger brother duo–but they’re not getting the victory here, even if World Tag League wasn’t coming up. As much as I hate the Guerrillas of Destiny, they’re retaining their titles here. Ugh. Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny

Matt MacLean:  If this was Ishii and Goto challenging, I would be really excited. But, it is Ishii and Hashi, which is fine, but I do not think Yoshi-Hashi is good enough to make GoD believable. And while no man could make me believe in GoD, the brutal combined offense of Goto and Ishii is enough to make me consider becoming a convert. That not being the case here, Ishii & Hashi seem a little too haphazard to topple GoD from their pedestal. I assume GoD heads into the World Tag League atop the altar of the tag division. Prediction: GoD

2016 Super Jr. Tag Tournament Finals
ACH and Taiji Ishimori vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero)

Rich Kraetsch: An absolutely fascinating match that should, barring unforeseen circumstances, kick ass. If you haven’t seen ACH and Ishimori this year, you’re in for a treat. After winning Pro Wrestling NOAH’s annual Junior Heavyweight Tag League, the duo took to the skies (literally and figuratively) to reach the finals of NJPW’s Super Jr. Tag Tournament, where they no doubt will take home some new hardware. Roppongi Vice is not long for this world. The two have argued far more than usual over the last few months and it should coming to a head in these finals. Prediction: ACH and Taiji Ishimori

John Carroll: Like Rich just said, the ACH/Ishimori team is great. This is the most I’ve enjoyed Taiji in quite a long time (I still wish he’d bring back the Superstar Elbow though!), as he looks reinvigorated in his new tag team. Just his facials alone as he sits there while ACH rants and raves (in English), having no idea what his partner is saying but still looking greatly amused anyway, would be cool enough. But they’re also a fantastic team in the ring too; for whatever reason, they had almost unreal timing as a team from the first day they came together back in NOAH. I think there’s no way they’re not winning this, especially given that Roppongi Vice doesn’t seem long for this world (no idea what Rocky & Trent are doing after that ends, though). Prediction: ACH and Taiji Ishimori

Andrew Rich: Well hello there, ACH. Nice to see you in this part of town. And you’ve brought your friend Taiji Ishimori with you, how wonderful. Seriously, this team RULES. Talk about an exciting mix of charisma, energy, and wrestling ability. These guys are exactly what the Jr. tag division needs to freshen up a bit, especially with reDRagon seemingly on their way towards being heavyweights. When they beat The Young Bucks in the opening round of the tournament, the writing seemed to be on the wall: This team is going places. Give them a definitive tournament victory against an established New Japan junior team like Roppongi Vice (who very likely could be going the way of the dodo) and baby, you got a stew going. Prediction: ACH and Taiji Ishimori

Matt MacLean:  ACH and Ishimori is a breath of fresh air in the junior tag division, so I am all for them getting the shot at the Tokyo Dome. On top of that, Roppongi Vice have been getting along so well, and not arguing at all, that it is clear their break up is finally upon us. The real curiosity is what that break up means for Romero and Berretta. Romero is one of the most subtlety talented guys on the roster – he is never going to be a superstar, but he is the kind of quality depth in the mid card that a truly great promotion relies on. As for Berretta…..I don’t get him and I never have, so I have no idea what he could do outside of becoming Osprey’s partner. Moral of the story, ACH and Ishimori are here to make the junior division interesting, Romero is bound for interesting if not great things, and Berretta will continue to make stupid faces in pictures. Prediction: ACH & Ishimori





IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
BUSHI (c) vs. KUSHIDA

Rich Kraetsch: Previous encounters between these two have disappointed not because they weren’t good but because both seem capable of so much more. Sometimes guys just don’t click and that may be the case with these two. We’ll see if they can finally put together magic in what could be their last showdown in the foreseeable future. The result is in some doubt. On one hand, it makes all the sense in the world for KUSHIDA to win back the title and hold it until Wrestle Kingdom where he defends against Will Ospreay or someone of that ilk. However, BUSHI didn’t have the title long, in fact, he didn’t make one successful defense. You have to go all the way back to KUSHIDA’s first (somewhat accidental) title reign back in July 2014 to find the last Jr. Title winner to not make a single successful defense. If we remove KUSHIDA due to the circumstances of his title win, you’ll have to jump back to October 2012 and Low-Ki (!) to find the last champion with no successful defenses. It’s rare. Rare enough that you can see BUSHI retaining, even if logic says otherwise. Prediction: KUSHIDA

John Carroll: I loved the KUSHIDA-BUSHI at New Beginning this year, but the other two since were nowhere near as good. For what should be the blow-off, can they get back to the quality of the first? A super-hot Osaka crowd will likely help their cause. I really wish I could predict BUSHI retaining here but I just can’t do it; KUSHIDA is probably going to be junior champion at the Dome, after all. I hope I’m wrong but I think KUSHIDA gets his belt right back here. Prediction: KUSHIDA

Andrew Rich: This will be the fourth match this year between KUSHIDA and BUSHI. KUSHIDA won the first two, BUSHI won the third, and now he has a chance to tie this series up. But does he retain? To me, it’s all about Wrestle Kingdom. If KUSHIDA wins the belt back, there are a couple of possibilities for his opponent at the Dome: Will Ospreay wanting to finally beat him, maybe Ricochet for the rubber match. If BUSHI retains, well, who does he face? Who is lined up for him? It would suck for BUSHI, a guy whose career has gone through such a rejuvenation over the past year, to lose the belt back so soon, but maybe that’s just what he’s supposed to be; a transitional champion designed to keep KUSHIDA busy until someone else comes along. Not everyone can get the nice lengthy title reign. Prediction: KUSHIDA

Matt MacLean:  If you can not have a great match with KUSHIDA on a big scale in 2016 you should be ashamed of yourself. Ergo, BUSHI should feel more than a little shame. Even still, these two have had a couple of fun matches this year, and I am sure this one will be similar. What I am not sure of is who wins. If KUSHIDA takes the title back, was there any reason for the change other than to put a +1 on KUSHIDA’s reigns?  But if Kushida loses here, is BUSHI really going to head to the Tokyo Dome as champion?  I would much rather see Ospreay take out BUSHI and head into Wrestle Kingdom as the champ defending against the man he has not been able to beat yet. However…..I do not see KUSHIDA losing two in a row with how much of an Ace he has been positioned as. Prediction; KUSHIDA

Bullet Club (Adam Cole, Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) vs. CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay)

Rich Kraetsch: The Young Bucks have been great this year, Ospreay is having one of the best years anyone can ask for, Kazuchika Okada is as good a multi-man tag worker as you’ll find in the world, Kenny Omega is as good a character as any wrestler in the world and oh, yeah, Gedo, Adam Cole and Hirooki Goto. This may appear to be a throwaway eight-man but it has every chance in the world to be a show-stealer. Don’t sleep on this match. Prediction: Bullet Club (Adam Cole, Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

John Carroll: Omega & the Bucks should just go ahead and officially announce that Adam Cole is part of the ELITE too, because he sure as hell fits in better with their Wolfpac-esque unit-within-a-unit than he does with the rest of the geeks in the BULLET CLUB. Just look at how injecting the Bucks into the Omega-Okada feud last week at Korakuen resulted in the first real hot match of their program so far. The difference between Omega teaming with the Geek Club and teaming with rock stars is just enormous, so NJPW better get more dates out of them between now and the Dome if they don’t want their IWGP Heavyweight Title program to flatline again. Anyway! This match is going to rule, like a lot. I want some Okada-Cole champion vs. champion interaction, please. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Andrew Rich: If the six-man tag from a few days ago is anything to go by (the one with The Elite dressed as Ghostbusters vs. Okada, Ospreay and Gedo), then this match should be sublime. You’ve already got those six guys here, AND you’re adding Hirooki Goto and Adam Cole BAYBAY to the mix. No doubt about it, this one’s gonna be great. Okada, Omega, Ospreay, and The Young Bucks are having A+ years and the rest are nothing to slouch at either. Bring it on. Prediction: Bullet Club (Adam Cole BAYBAY, Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

Matt MacLean: The Bullet Club is as played out as a faction gets, which I guess is the logical progression of their nWo tribute act. However, the Elite of Omega and the Bucks have been fantastically watchable this year, and Cole fits right in with them perfectly. There is more than enough talent on the other side to make this the sleeper match of the night before someone pins poor Gedo. Prediction: Bullet Club

NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. EVIL

Rich Kraetsch: Grumpy Shibata is the best Shibata and boy has he been one pissed off lad as of late. That EVIL is a mere distraction for his ongoing feud with NOAH’s Go Shiozaki only adds fuel to this match. Shibata doesn’t want to face EVIL, he’s not even sure EVIL is deserving of a shot. But, he has to, so now EVIL must die. I expect complete and utter destruction from Shibata as he sets his sights on Shiozaki and Wrestle Kingdom 11. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

John Carroll: I am so hyped for this. I love Shibata more than almost anyone, and I’ve become such a huge EVIL fan this year I even bought his t-shirt (the bad-ass black-and-purple EVERYTHING IS EVIL shirt, if you were wondering). I’m imagining this will be very similar to their G1 match: a very stiff, physical sprint between two guys who can dish it out and take it too. God I love pro wrestling. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

Andrew Rich: EVIL got this title shot when he beat Shibata in the G1, then subsequently attacked him after his match at King of Pro-Wrestling. And much like Juice Robinson, EVIL has grown a lot over the past year ever since he came back to New Japan. His strange name and even stranger entrance attire seemed to take precedence at first. But the more we saw of EVIL’s stiff, hoss-type offense, the more we understood how physically formidable this guy can be. And then there’s Shibata, who with every successful defense has made this belt mean that much more. No matter who he fights–be it Honma or Fish or O’Reilly–Shibata goes full force and defends his NEVER Title like his life depends on it. He goes to war and wins, a few more scars and bruises to his name. That’s how you make a championship seem important. This match should be yet another war for Shibata to go through. He retains, setting up a match–fingers crossed–against Go Shiozaki for the belt at Wrestle Kingdom. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

Matt MacLean:  Shibata has grabbed hold of the NEVER title and held on to it through varied challenges, having solid wins/defences over Nagata, Fish, O’Reilly, and Shiozaki. EVIL has very quietly laid stake to being one of, if not the, top young star on the roster. If you think that is hyperbole, you haven’t been watching close enough. Shibata is clearly winning here to set up some sort of defence at the Tokyo Dome (PLEASE Go rematch and not a Cody showcase), but do not be surprised to find yourself amazed at how good EVIL is right now. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA

Rich Kraetsch: These two had one of my favorite matches of the G1 tournament on Night 1 and though this feud has died down considerably since that time, it should be a nice showcase for Tanahashi who re-emerges as one of the company’s stars. Tanahashi has been laying in the weeds over the last few months but will being his annual climb back to relevance in the build towards Wrestle Kingdom. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

John Carroll: SANADA is so clearly a top star he may as well have it written on his ass, but the fact that NJPW hasn’t gotten him signed to a full-time deal yet should be concerning if you’re a shin nihon fan. Would anyone really be surprised if Tanahashi wins this, SANADA jobs out in the World Tag League, and we all wake up to find out he’s on his way to Florida? Fans in Largo would have some awesome Nakamura-SANADA matches to look forward to, but it would be sad for the rest of us. I’m probably just being paranoid here, but just how little SANADA has been focused on since the G1 and his lack of a contract have made me paranoid. Anyway. Tanahashi is winning this either way, and it should be a really great match. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Andrew Rich: We knew this rematch was coming eventually. Ever since SANADA made Tanahashi tap out on the first night of the G1 Climax with his dreaded Skull End, the seeds were sown for Tanahashi to want his revenge. And I think he will do just that, picking up the win over SANADA on his way to fight Tetsuya Naito for the IC Title at the Tokyo Dome. Is it predictable? Yes. But just because we know James Bond is going to beat the henchman on his way to fighting the top villain doesn’t make the fight scene any less enjoyable. Especially if James Bond is one of the best wrestlers in the world and the henchman is a great wrestler (and future superstar) in his own right. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi 007

Matt MacLean:  Today, in Forgone Conclusion Theatre. Tanahashi is clearly heading to the Dome to challenge Naito of the IC title (sorry to spoil my pick for the next match), so he is equally clearly winning here. The fun part about this is that these two are good enough is that even though I know that, and YOU know that, at some point about 15 minutes in, they are going to convince us that we were wrong just before Tanahashi kicks out at 2.99999, or juuuuuuuuuust before Tanahash makes it to the ropes to break the Skull End. In the end, we will say we always knew the outcome, but we will hold onto that little joy where they made us think we were wrong. Prediciton: Hiroshi Tanahashi

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Jay Lethal

Rich Kraetsch: Dealt a terrible blow with the injury to Michael Elgin, NJPW scrambled for a replacement and ended up with ROH’s Jay Lethal. On paper, this doesn’t look like much of a match but for people who have followed ROH and NJPW this year, there’s real substance to this main event. Lethal briefly joined Los Ingobernables but was double-crossed months later and has vowed revenge since. Sure, the stories took place on two different continents. And yeah, there hasn’t been much transparency about the feuds and how they intercept but if you’ve followed both, you have a consistent story. I come into this match with two big questions: 1) how will the Osaka crowd respond to Naito? They’ve famously had an odd, tumultuous relationship in the past. Will Osaka now be under the spell of Mr. Ungovernable or will he still generate the same heat he did all those years ago? 2) Will Lethal deliver the type of match we know he can or will he be stuck with terrible American wrestling tropes?  Now a full-fledged face, Lethal has more of an opportunity to show off his slick in-ring work and won’t have to rely on manager interference or nefarious means. This could mean a great performance from Lethal. One way or another, my fingers are crossed that he’s learned from his disappointing big-time New Japan matches over the past year and is ready to turn a new leaf with the company. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

John Carroll: Jay Lethal’s de facto babyface turn is what Seth Rollins’ should have been. His character doesn’t feel that different from his long heel title run, but he’s pissed off and he’s not here to hit anyone with a book, that’s for sure. I get everyone being sad at losing Naito-Elgin, but I honestly have no idea how they were going to top their ****½ Destruction title match anyway, so maybe it’s for the better. Lethal and Naito had a couple fun matches in ROH these last couple years, so here’s hoping they have another gear saved up for this big title match main event. Oh, and it must be said: selling this show out pretty damn far in advance against an opponent who, realistically, means almost nothing in Japan is another feather in Naito’s cap this year, to go with his bonkers merch sald. Unless you’ve been in an NJPW crowd this year and seen 60-70% covered in LiJ shirts and hats, you can’t really comprehend just how popular this man really is. Is this the show where Osaka finally joins Tokyo and, really, most everywhere else on the LOS train? Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Andrew Rich: Tetsuya Naito is another one of those guys who is having an A+ year. In addition to winning the New Japan Cup, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, AND the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, he’s been putting on these elite level matches with guys like Okada, Ishii, Omega, and Elgin; the latter of whom should have been in this match but isn’t, thanks to an ill-timed orbital bone injury. Now Jay Lethal is in as Naito’s challenger. On paper, it makes sense for Lethal to get the title shot. Naito kicked Lethal out of Los Ingobernables de Japon and then Lethal got a measure of revenge when he beat Naito at ROH’s All Star Extravaganza in September. Now Lethal wants to take Naito’s belt to finish the feud. Like others, I’m hesitant on Lethal being in a singles match in New Japan given how disappointing his previous ones have been. But then again, those were when Lethal was a heel and he was relying on cliched heel tactics like manager interference and low blows. Now that he’s a babyface, this might be what Lethal needs to prove to the New Japan audience of what he is capable of. With Naito as his opponent, he very well might do that. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Matt MacLean:  This was supposed to be a great main event between Naiot and Big Mike Elgin. A broken orbital bone, NJPW is left trying to make something out of an ROH feud that has seen Lethal get the better of Naito twice now. While the interplay between ROH and NJPW storylines has been a nice feature this year, this one was not meant to be a focal point. A broken orbital bone later and Lethal jumps from heatless mid card match ups to a main event with the hottest heel in the company. I have no doubt these two can put on a good match. My concern is how is a ‘good’ match going to pay at the top of a card with that level of quality behind it?  If they can avoid an anti-climactic feeling to this match and Naito’s inevitable win, they will have done their job. If they make us believe, even for a second, that Lethal has a real chance of winning, we may end up looking at the topper to a sleeper card of the year contender. Prediciton: Tetsuya Naito