While the big stories coming out of the New Japan Cup Final and Dominion were EVIL joining Bullet Club and winning the doubles titles from Tetsuya Naito, another story that got lost in the shuffle (understandably so) following those two big shows in July was the fate of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles.

EVIL, BUSHI, and Shingo Takagi had been the titleholders since Wrestle Kingdom 14, but obviously EVIL wasn’t going to bother with those titles anymore, given that he betrayed LIJ on his way to capturing the double titles which (of course) are far more important than the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles.

At first, I thought they would just enact the Freebird Rule and slide SANADA into the team with BUSHI and Shingo, and their reign would continue. However, they decided to strip LIJ of the titles entirely, and a tournament was announced to crown new champions. In hindsight, the fact that they stripped the titles from LIJ actually fits precedent, as this wasn’t the first time New Japan has vacated this title when one member of the trio team wasn’t available (they did the same thing with Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet, and Matt Sydal in 2016). As for the tournament itself, I think everyone universally praised the announcement of this tournament. Sure, the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles are at the very bottom of the pile when it comes to titles in New Japan, but the fact that we were getting a multi-day tournament gave some much-needed juice to a Summer Struggle Tour that was in desperate need of some sort of hook for the middle-of-the-tour. Matches with stakes are always good, and it was nice to see that New Japan finally gave us something to sink our teeth into as we await the big Jingu Stadium show at the end of August.

In the interest of time, I will only be reviewing the actual tournament matches from these four Korakuen Hall shows. It’s not really worth the time breaking down every single match on the undercards of these events, though I can hit on some key points. Most of the undercard tags were pretty solid for what they were. Your standard multi-person tags on the undercard of a New Japan Korakuen shows. Most of the undercard matches involving Bullet Club are very much worth skipping, though I would recommend the LIJ/Bullet Club eight-man tag from Night 7 (mainly because Yujiro Takahashi and Jado weren’t in the match) and the Naito/BUSHI vs. EVIL/Taiji Ishimori tag from Night 8 (less so for the match quality and more so for the angle involving Hiromu at the end). If you’re someone who’s really into watching the young lions, then you’ve got some nice offerings from them on this tour. Gabriel Kidd got a singles match with Yuji Nagata on Night 5, while Yuya Uemura got singles matches with both Nagata and Taiji Ishimori. There was also a fun tag on Night 6 with TenKoji vs. Kidd and Tsuji. Unfortunately, they were involved in some of the worst matches on the tour also, as two different young lion combos took on Yujiro Takahashi and Gedo on Nights 7 and 8. You can easily skip those.

There were also some stories that were built upon during these undercard tags, but since a fair amount of them carried over to the actual tournament matches, I’ll discuss those stories there.

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NJPW Summer Struggle 2020: Night 5
August 6 2020

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – First Round
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO, & Toru Yano) def. Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Gedo, & Jado)

To say that this tournament got off to a rocky start would be an understatement. Then again, we all knew that this was the worst first-round match on paper, so the fact that it ended up being the worst match in the tournament when all was said and done wasn’t much of a surprise. Gedo is still a decent wrestler, but Yujiro isn’t very good and Jado can’t move. While the guys on the CHAOS side did the best they could, they obviously didn’t have much to work with. We did get a period early on where Okada took out all three members of the opposing team at once, which does help set up his chosen stipulation for the KOPW Tournament, which is a three-on-one handicap match against Yujiro, Gedo, and Jado (Okada would officially announce this after the match). Meanwhile, Gedo whipped Okada on the outside during the match, which helped to set up Yujiro’s chosen stipulation, which is a lumberjack strap match (Gedo would also whip the young lions following the previously discussed tag team encounters from Nights 7 and 8, which further set up that particular option). SHO got the win for his team after locking in a submission on Jado, which forced him to tap. Hey, at least this horrible Bullet Club team got knocked out of this thing almost immediately. Nothing to see here, really. *3/4

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – First Round – Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, & Shingo Takagi) def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, & DOUKI)

Now this was more like it! Nobody wanted to see that horrible Bullet Club team in this tourney, but the silver lining was that they got eliminated right out of the gate, which meant that we could finally get into the good stuff without having to worry about Bullet Club shenanigans. The second first round match to take place on Night 5 saw the LIJ trio score the victory over Suzuki-gun after SANADA got DOUKI to tap out to the Skull End. A predictable result, but the match was still very good, with solid action throughout (particularly in the closing stretch) and a couple of fun trios maneuvers thrown in for good measure. At just under fourteen minutes, they didn’t go overly long either, which was also a plus. However, the real story here was the interaction between Shingo Takagi and Minoru Suzuki. They were going after each other for a decent chunk of the bout, and their interactions would continue in a tag team match a few nights later on Night 8. A very solid build for that singles encounter across these Korakuen Hall shows, and I can’t wait to see those two go to war in Jingu Stadium with the NEVER Openweight Title on the line. As far as this match is concerned, I don’t have much else to say about it. Again, it was a ton of fun to watch, and it served as a fine main event for this section of the tour. Everyone involved had opportunities to shine and contribute. That’s all you can ask for. ***1/2

NJPW Summer Struggle 2020: Night 6
August 7, 2020

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – First Round – CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI) def. GBH (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) & Ryusuke Taguchi

This was the only first-round matchup that didn’t feature a heel team. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this one going into it, but when the dust settled, these two teams ended up having a very solid trios match. The team representing CHAOS was probably the best all-around team on paper, so it’s no shock that they would have a good match here. We also saw them starting to develop some trios offense, which we would see more of as the tournament progressed. While the CHAOS team was as good as expected, I have to give credit to the Hontai team also, as they more than held up their end of the bargain. All six guys put for the effort (as you would expect), and they managed to pack in a ton of action into the eleven or so minutes that this bout lasted. That was probably my favorite aspect of the whole match, to be honest. I will never complain about eleven-minute matches that feature a lot of action in the ring. YOSHI-HASHI ultimately got the win for his side after getting Honma to submit to the Butterfly Lock. We all know that submission sucks, but it’s nice to see that it gets a win every so often, just to remind us that it can win matches. ***1/2

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – First Round – Golden Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi) & Master Wato with Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr., & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

After doing so much to establish the relationship between Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Master Wato, I was honestly a little surprised that we didn’t get a TenKoji and Wato trio in this tournament. I’m sure most would’ve preferred seeing that team in the tournament over Bullet Club, but alas, we got what we got. There were two main stories going into this first round matchup. The secondary story involved the simmering feud between Master Wato and Yoshinobu Kanemaru (we now know those two will be facing off in a singles match at Jingu Stadium). The main story involved the relationship between Tanahashi and Ibushi, which seemed to be deteriorating coming into this bout. In the shows leading up to this one, Tanahashi had been trying way too hard in the multi-person tags he was involved in, despite the fact that he was clearly not 100%. Tanahashi’s desire to overcompensate for his injuries would either result in his team losing the advantage in a match, or it would play a role in his side losing the bout altogether. There were various points where Tanahashi refused to tag out to Ibushi (or anyone else on his side), and it was getting so bad that Dangerous Tekkers were making overtures to Ibushi to turn on Tanahashi and join them in Suzuki-gun.

That story culminated during the first part of this match. Tanahashi insisted on starting for his team, and (much like the previous shows on this tour) he quickly started getting picked apart by the heels. It got to a point where Taichi and Sabre called Ibushi into the ring, and held Tanahashi so that Ibushi could take him out. It looked as though Tanahashi was about to get hit with the Kamigoye, but Ibushi then attacked the Suzuki-gun team, revealing that he still believed in his partner, despite their recent struggles. Ibushi finally got the tag and cleaned house. Once that storyline element had been resolved, the action really picked up down the stretch. Tanahashi, and the Golden Aces in general, were back on form in the closing stages, and they ultimately scored the victory after Tanahashi caught Taichi in a rollup. Not only did the Tanahashi/Ibushi/Master Wato team advance to the next round of this NEVER Six-Man Title Tournament, but Tanahashi getting the pin on Taichi ensured that Golden Aces would indeed be getting a rematch for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, which we now know will be a Jingu Stadium. As for this match, it was on par with some of the other first-round bouts in terms of action, though it was the one that had the most storyline stuff that played out in it. ***1/2




NJPW Summer Struggle 2020: Night 7
August 8, 2020

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – Semifinals
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO, & Toru Yano) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, & Shingo Takagi)

I’m really thankful that all of the heel teams got eliminated in the first round. I understand that Suzuki-gun doesn’t do nearly as much heel shenanigans nowadays compared to Bullet Club, but still, it was nice to see that all the teams that advanced to the semifinals were face teams or face leaning teams. Anyway, the CHAOS trio of Okada, Sho, and Yano managed to pick up the win here over LIJ in what I would consider to be a mild upset. On paper, it certainly seemed like LIJ was one of the favorites to go all the way, especially considering that they were the ones who got stripped in the first place. If you did have LIJ making it to the finals, you can thank Toru Yano for busting your bracket, as the CHAOS side won by count out after Yano used the laces on the back of BUSHI’s mask to tie him to the guardrail. A very typical Yano finish for sure. While I didn’t mind how this ended, it also took this match down a little, in my eyes anyway. The action throughout was pretty solid, and we got some fun exchanges in the form of Shingo vs. Okada (imagine if those guys are in the same G1 block this year) and SANADA vs. SHO (which continued the build for their KOPW match). A good match as a whole, but a slight notch below most of the first round bouts. ***1/4

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – Semifinals
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Golden Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi) & Master Wato with Hiroyoshi Tenzan

The story involving Tanahashi and Ibushi reminded me a lot of SHO’s run during the New Japan Cup, in that the story was pretty much completed in the earlier round of the tournament, so there was no need for them to progress further. In the New Japan Cup, SHO’s story at that point was getting that elusive win over Shingo, and that was it. He didn’t need to go any deeper once he got that win. In the case of Tanahashi and Ibushi, the story was them getting back on the same page and getting a win over Dangerous Tekkers to set up their rematch. Their story in this tournament was done, so they didn’t necessarily need to go any further. CHAOS eventually got the win in this main event encounter after YOSHI-HASHI hit Master Wato with Karma. This was a great match from start-to-finish that was packed with action throughout. Again, it was so nice to see a straight up trios match with no shenanigans. Ibushi and Ishii had some brutal exchanges during this one (which conjured up memories of their insane G1 clash from a few years ago), and as a whole, everyone involved worked pretty hard. The closing stretch was predictably awesome, and we also saw one of Master Wato’s new moves, which is some kind of crucifix slam….thing. I honestly don’t know what to call it. Anyway, YOSHI-HASHI once again got the victory for his team, and set up an all CHAOS final. ****

NJPW Summer Struggle 2020: Night 8
August 9, 2020

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament – Finals
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI) def. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO, & Toru Yano)

I’m not sure if I would’ve predicted an all CHAOS final when this tournament was announced, but it was pretty cool to see that they went down this route. Tournaments are really the only chance we have to see CHAOS vs CHAOS matches, and this NEVER Openweight Six-Man Title Tournament is probably the only time we will ever see the CHAOS guys face off in a multi-person tag. Well, when the dust settled, this ended up being an awesome tournament final, with all six guys getting chances to shine, as you would expect. They gave this one a ton of time (almost twenty-five minutes), and that allowed for so much great action. The team of Goto, Ishii, and YOSHI-HASHI showed off more of their improving triple team offense, which just showed how they’re really starting to gel as a trio. Meanwhile, Okada and SHO both had some standout moments as well (while Yano was just….typical Yano lol). Okada had a few nice exchanges with YOSHI-HASHI (which was cool to see, considering their history together), while SHO had an awesome closing stretch with Ishii to finish off the match. If SHO ends up filling one of the open spots in the G1 Climax this year, I hope he’s in the same block as Ishii, because those two would have an absolute banger. Ishii scored the victory for his side after hitting SHO with the vertical drop brainbuster. The finals of this tournament proved to be the best match of the tournament.

An awesome trios match between these two sides, and honestly, I don’t think we’ll see a matchup for these titles that’s this good for a long time. ****1/4

Afterward, both CHAOS teams come together to celebrate, and the celebration specifically revolves around YOSHI-HASHI, who captured his first-ever championship in New Japan. It’s fitting that, after scoring the win for his team in their first two tournament bouts, YOSHI-HASHI doesn’t even score the pin or submission for his side in the match where he finally captures his first title. In all seriousness, it was a nice moment for YOSHI-HASHI, and a cool way to close out this whole tournament.

Final Thoughts

I mentioned this earlier, but it was great to see New Japan give these Korakuen Hall events some juice.

We’ll take anything with stakes at this point, and even though this was a tournament that involved the least important titles in New Japan, it was certainly something that everyone was happy to see. Again, I understand that the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles are a bit of a joke to some, but to give New Japan credit, they actually told some nice stories in this tourney. Some of it directly involved the tournament itself (YOSHI-HASHI finally winning his first title), while other stories helped set up matches for the upcoming Jingu Stadium show (such as Shingo vs. Suzuki and Golden Aces vs. Dangerous Tekkers). With regards to the in-ring quality of the tournament, CHAOS/Bullet Club was really the only bad match of note. Most of the matches were pretty solid, with two great matches to close out the tournament. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised that the bouts in this tournament that were great involved the eventual winners of the tournament, and (arguably) the best trio out of the bunch. Finally, this is something I mentioned earlier, but it was awesome to see that (for the most part) we got straight wrestling matches with no shenanigans, particularly once we got by the first round.

Overall, this was a relatively fun tournament that proved to be a good way to fill out these Korakuen Hall shows while also giving some prominence to a championship that often gets forgotten about.