New Japan Pro Wrestling 
Power Struggle 2016
November 5, 2016
EDION ARENA – Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

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

The working shoes were on here as the dark match set the tone for the rest of the night.

I’m a deep man. Sometimes I ponder the unexplainable. Is there a god? Why do we fall in love? What is the meaning of life? Why do Manabu Nakanishi and Juice Robinson have such great chemistry together? Look, some questions just don’t have answers.

Robinson is one of the most improved wrestlers of 2016, and was the clear standout here in a match that didn’t lack effort from every person involved. He’s working with confidence and flair, and there is a real snap to everything he’s doing. He’s also receiving a bit of a prelim push. He pinned Kojima on a Road To show during this tour (which is more significant than you might think), and he picked up the fall here (putting away Kanemitsu with his Pulp Friction finish), when that easily could have been deferred to one of his two third generation senior partners. The Juice is loose. Now give us the Juice Robinson vs Manabu Nakanishi Lion’s Gate match we all want to see. **3/4

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ricochet, David Finlay def. Ryusuke Taguchi, Titan, Feugo, Angel de Oro

This was high energy, exactly what you want out of an opener, and a good showcase for the CMLL talent. If CMLL isn’t going to do anything with Feugo, I’d love to see him here as the regular partner of Taguchi. Feugo is always over, and the perfect wrestler to work openers to heat up a crowd. Plus it would give the directionless Taguchi something to do, aside from being a random body in multi man tags.

The finish here was fantastic, with ridiculous timing on a Finlay Roll/Ricochet shooting star press combo, allowing Finlay to pick up the win. Ricochet & Matt Sydal may have been more dynamic, but the Ricochet/Finlay pairing has shown excellent chemistry and may ultimately end up being the better team. ***1/4

Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens, BONE SOLDIER def. Yoshitatsu, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma

This wasn’t bad! I swear!

Even with GBH taking the night off, leaving the match to be carried by the likes of Yujiro, Yoshitatsu, and BONE SOLDIER (who looked extra indie on this night, sporting white pants to go along with his ill fitting t-shirt and cheap Halloween mask that looks like a dollar store knockoff of The Predator), the work here was good, the pacing up tempo, and on a tour loaded with cringe BONE SOLDIER disqualifications, the finish was clean and well executed, with Yoshitatsu’s Pedigree attempt on Yujiro broken up by a BONE SOLDIER…Bone Soldier (yes, this is what he calls his full nelson slam), leading to Yujiro’s Pimp Juice (yes, this is what he calls his DDT) and pin.

This was the best Yoshitatsu has looked in a NJPW ring since his return (he worked with real fire, and was super smooth with moves like this excellent knee strike), and Yujiro is perfectly acceptable when in this role of a charismatic prelim level wrestler. BONE SOLDIER is horrendous, maybe the worst major league wrestler in the business not named Mahabali Shera, but he didn’t really have a chance to drag this down, as he was barely noticeable until the finish. This was by far the best match of the debacle of a feud full of DUD’s between Yoshitatsu & DA BONE, which may not be high praise, but I can’t recommend skipping this. It’s actually worth a watch. **3/4

IWGP Tag Team Titles – Guerrillas of Destiny (c) def. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI

On a night where just about everything over delivered and a match with BONE SOLDIER was actually good, this may have been the biggest surprise, as the much maligned Guerrillas of Destiny were involved in the match of the night, one of the best tag team matches of the year, and perhaps the best IWGP heavyweight tag team title bout in over a decade. Seriously. I went back and looked, and couldn’t find a match I thought was better than this one, before giving up around 2007.

Make no mistake, as great as Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI were here (and YOSHI-HASHI was simply incredible, cementing his status as one of the top tag workers in the world), this was a complete effort from all four men involved. In a match where the outcome was not realistically in doubt, they had me leaping off of my couch and buying into near falls for both sides, which to me is the ultimate sign of a great match. I though YOSHI-HASHI had this one won about three different times, the most convincing of which were a perfectly timed Loose Explosion top rope senton, a running knee strike where Loa came up short on the save (which left Loa in no man’s land, as he comically and sheepishly slithered backwards out of the ring after Tonga kicked out on his own, in what was the only minor glitch of the match), and later a butterfly lock on Tonga while Ishii choked out Loa, which was a callback to a dramatic finish from earlier this year when Y-H scored a huge submission win over SANADA. Y-H had several dramatic kickouts of his own, Ishii was his usual awesome self, and G.O.D.’s work should not be overlooked, as they seem to be finally gelling as a team as Loa begins to look more and more comfortable in a New Japan ring. After a disastrous start, their progression has been slow but steady, and hopefully this was not an aberration.

Best match on the show. Go out of your way to see this. ****1/4

Super Junior Tag Tournament Final – Roppongi Vice def. ACH & Taiji Ishimori

How do you possibly follow GOD?

These guys were put in a very difficult position, especially since the heavyweight title bout was worked at such an upbeat, frenetic, junior style pace, so they were smart to slow things down and work a more controlled, deliberate speed. It took a while to all come together, but by the end of this it felt like a satisfying, substantial, story driven tournament final between a team in peril and on the verge of breakup, and the new hotshots in town, fresh off winning a similar tournament in NOAH earlier this summer.

As someone who watched ACH grow up and cut his teeth in the lopsided, rickety ring of a gritty outdoor venue called The Mohawk in Austin Texas, it was surreal watching him on a sold out New Japan show in front of thousands, now a complete performer, looking motivated and happy with his trademark enthusiasm, nailing his big offense and selling his ass off. This was a world class talent in a world class match on a world class show, and as a tumultuous, uneven four year ROH stint winds to a close, I have a feeling the best of ACH is very clearly in front of him.

As for RPG Vice, all is well (for now), as the rechristened Dountonbori Vice got the knees up on the double 450, which had put away so many great teams from Kenoh & Ohara to Momo No Seishun to The Young Bucks, nailed the Strong Zero assisted Dudebuster, and are now on their way to challenging The Bucks for the IWGP Junior tag team titles. ***3/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title – KUSHIDA (c) def. BUSHI

A great match that easily topped the shenanigans heavy BUSHI title win in September.

This was a nasty fight, with great atmosphere and a big time grudge feel. Osaka booed KUSHIDA to start, but eventually settled in to 50/50 support. They worked slow, and they worked nasty. Missile like topes were landed and masks were ripped, giving Osaka an Arena Mexico like feel along with the dueling chants.

KUSHIDA kicked out of one MX, and deftly avoided a second before landing his trademark straight right hand, which was met with a chorus of boos. The mixed crowd was a great backdrop, and wrestling needs more of that. Next was the mask ripping, with a frustrated KUSHIDA tearing and gnawing at BUSHI’s forehead. BUSHI used a Canadian Destroyer (!!), an overused move in Mexico, but shocking to see here as it wowed Osaka and popped the announcers. KUSHIDA finally sunk in the Hovernboard lock, and as BUSHI nearly wormed out of it, KUSHIDA doubled down and used a wristlock to wrench it in super deep and produce the tap.

This was an intense, hard fought match where everything felt earned. No mist spitting, no LIJ shenanigans, no nonsense. This was man vs man, settling a grudge, with a definitive blowoff feel. KUSHIDA proved to be the better fighter, the better man, as his championship story moves forward and BUSHI’s resets. ****

Then, the Time Bomb went off.

Kamataichi is dead, Hiromu Takahashi is back, and we’ve got ourselves one bad ass Tokyo Dome junior title match coming up on January 4th.

Kenny Omega, Young Bucks, Adam Cole def. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, Gedo

Basically a hot Dragon Gate match where everything clicks, and I mean that as the highest compliment. If you’re looking for next level tag psychology or southern style cutoff spots, move along. This was the amped up version the hot Korakuen six man these two sides produced a few days earlier (with the added additions of Goto & Cole), with the added punch of the big Osaka crowd and Omega beating the champ clean in the middle with the One Winged Angel. That was a good move, and if it were up to me, Omega would be pinning Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, too. Omega is on the cusp of superstardom. There can be no stronger push that winning the big title on the big show. The timing is right to go all the way with him and see what they have. ****

NEVER Openweight Title – EVIL def. Katsuyori Shibata (c)

This was a result that surprised a lot of people, and while I ultimately thought Shibata would retain, I can totally see the logic behind the change, and coming in I thought it was a real possibility.

Shibata losing here opens up a ton of possible Wrestle Kingdom scenarios (including a rematch with EVIL), and the NEVER belt is one that he really doesn’t need. For EVIL, the title win represents a clear elevation, and he works the rugged style that has become synonymous withe the championship.

And rugged is exactly what this match was, a vicious dichotomy of the match it followed, with Shibata tossing EVIL on his head with a disgusting sleeper suplex, and a violent finish where EVIL nearly decapitated Shibata with a pair of chairs before capturing the title with his STO finish. EVIL becomes the latest New Japan wrestler to find himself in a totally different place before and after the January defections, which speaks to the tremendous job the company has done in elevating talent over the last ten months. ****

Hiroshi Tanahashi def. SANADA

The SANADA G1 win over Tanahashi, a great match that will work its way on to MOTY lists, set the stage not only for this bout, but for what will surely be a series of bouts, designed to get SANADA over as the next potential long term rival of Kazuchika Okada.

It’s impossible to watch these two men wrestle without seeing it as Tanahashi facing himself from a decade previous. Both are Mutoh disciples, with SANADA wanting to prove he’s in the same class. The similarities run deeper than that.

SANADA has “Ace” written all over him, not only in the way he carries himself (despite a somewhat restrictive gimmick), not only with matinee idol looks that modern New Japan has emphasized in its main eventers, but also in the way he moves, the way he works. SANADA doesn’t move so much as he glides, effortlessly smooth, always in the right place, but always natural, never appearing as though he’s thinking his way through things.

That is scarily reminiscent of his opponent, a wrestler gifted with the dual ability to look the part of the handsome, graceful hero, while at the same time bringing the fight that will knock you the fuck out. His fights with Satoshi Kojima and Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata gave him that edge. SANADA will get there. These Tanahashi bouts are part of that path.

In the G1 match, SANADA took advantage of a weakened Tanahashi shoulder, as the two fought even before SANADA eventually scored the shocking tap with the Skull End dragon sleeper. There was no such injury advantage for SANADA here. The healthy Tanahashi was dominant from the start, one step ahead at every turn, SANADA visibly frustrated. Like the first match, Tanahashi worked over the knee, but this time, reminiscent of Mutoh, he was a maniacal psychopath, attempting to rip the entire leg from his opponents hip. If there is a better wrestler on Earth at dissecting an appendage and crippling an opponent in such convincing fashion, I haven’t seen one. Tanahashi was also ready for the moonsaults, the same moonsaults that SANADA learned from Mutoh, the same moonsaults SANADA used the first time around to stun Tanahashi to set him up for the Skull End. Tanahashi deftly avoided, and when SANADA whiffed on those moonsaults, and whiffed again and tried to land on his feet, the knee that had been so viciously torn apart with stomps and yanks and dragon whips and cloverleafs finally gave out on him, leaving him vulnerable for the High Fly Flow that he had so cleverly countered in July. This was Tanahashi executing a gameplan, exacting revenge, asserting his dominance, and showing his mirror image that he may have bested him once, while fresh off of an injury, but like Okada before him, you were never going to beat him twice the same way.

I am the Ace of the Universe! You have to out think me before you can even think about being me.

This was a humbling, but it wasn’t the end. These men will face each other again, and there will be more layers added to this story, a story that will eventually end with SANADA figuring out a way to become the man he sees across the ring. ****1/4 

IWGP Intercontinental Title – Tetsuya Naito (c) def. Jay Lethal

This was the biggest match of Jay Lethal’s career. He had a chance to prove himself after several lackluster NJPW performances, but he had a lot working against him before the show even began, working as an injury replacement for Michael Elgin, in a match built on the back of a cold ROH based feud. Six killer matches preceding him on a four plus hour show added to the uphill battle.

When the dust settled, this was by far the best Lethal NJPW performance, but for whatever reason, probably a combination of the above plus Naito’s propensity to work long main events, none of it clicked. The crowd was never fully invested in the match beyond their playful boos of Naito (who has a special connection to the Osaka crowd dating back to 2013), and whatever level of charisma Lethal has in the United Stats just never seems to translate in Japan. I have nothing negative to say about the technical work, which was sound, but this did not feel like a grudge and did not come off at all like heated rivals wanting to desperately beat one another. I can’t call a match this sound bad, but I can’t recommend it either. A very hard match to rate. ***1/4

This, of course, sets up Naito defending the IC title against Tanahashi at Wrestle Kindgom.

Final Thoughts

A great show, and a definite Show of the Year contender that may have wrapped up the award had the main event delivered. I feel bad for Lethal, who worked very hard, but had far too much working against him.

The overall booking was superb and sets up interesting directions, the Time Bomb delivered, and it even had a few pleasant surprises. For the first time in ages, New Japan feels like they have some positive momentum heading into World Tag League, which is traditionally the least anticipated tour of the year. The near five hour run time is daunting, but set aside a couple of nights to bang out this entire show. Oddly, the only match I can call entirely skippable is the main event.