New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Power Struggle 2020 – Night 1
October 23, 2020
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

After the most arduous month in wrestling, we return to a sense of modified normalcy and a good old fashioned Road To show, replete with multi-man tags and their matrices of cross-pollinated storytelling and thoroughly predictable falls.

Toru Yano was on commentary. I’ve been looking at Yano’s G1 data, and man, GRAPPL does not like Yano. Makes sense, given that GRAPPL was invented in 1856 by John Stuart Mill. The show featured a lot of earnest Road To level work, a fairly responsive crowd, and a fun title defense from the increasingly hubristic YOSHI-HASHI. Here are the big takeaways from the show:

The Big Take-Aways

Big Hubris YOSHI-HASHI Wants More Gold, Challenges Dangerous Tekkers After Successful Defense

In the backstage comments, Hirooki Goto confirmed that he will be YOSHI-HASHI’s partner in his quest for an IWGP title.

The Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Is Set

Technically, Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI had not formally issued a challenge for the titles. After their match, Hiromu officially flirt-challenged El Desperado, who tsundere-accepted.

It Was Just A Show

There was some speculation leading into tonight that we might see some returns on this show. Being at Korakuen, coupled with the lack of announced cards beyond this date, led to some light conjecture. It was, alas, a normal exhibition of wrestling action

Suzuki-Shingo Is Going to Be Awesome

Someone neglected to tell these two that this was a Road To show at the beginning of a tour. Their ferocity might have actually exceeded their match last weekend. Their match at Power Struggle is going to be fantastic.

Tanahashi vs. KENTA Will Be a Smartly Worked Match, Because It Will Have to Be

There was a sense that these two will not be working frantically if there was any doubt. Their G1 match was pretty good; the good thing about them working a smart match is that they are, indeed, very smart wrestlers. At the very least, we’ll get some tremendous promos.

EVIL Does Not Feel Like a Threat

The crowd was strangely lowkey at a few points, and EVIL’s periods accounted for some of them. Their interactions and post-match did not alter the notion that this is a perfunctory title defense.

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Yuya Uemura def. Yota Tsuji

So, is this the beginning of C-Block 2020-2021, like when the Champions League ends, and qualifying matches for the next year’s Champions League begins roughly 17 minutes after the final whistle?

This match was the standard Young Lion match. Grappling. Floating over. Powering Through, Leveraging. Tsuji looked like a sour-faced prick. Uemura looked like a young knife-magnet Tanahashi. The match turned into a lot of Uemura working the arm: drags, locks, twists, and bars. Tsuji’s power turned the tide and there was a long camel clutch portion during which the crowd was noticeably supportive. Ultimately, Uemura hit a huge arm drag and put Tsuji away with the Kannuki Suplex, gaining a measure of redemption after his C-Block result. ***

The Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay def. Gabriel Kidd & Kazuchika Okada

The heels come out to Ospreay’s music, which has always been MOR nonsense, but now that he has his Empire, right to the Problematic Asian Hodgepodge sidekick, it is time for a change. John Carroll noted on Wrestling Omakase that EVIL had a new them within hours of his turn. Okada comes out and it is nice to see the Cup Noodle robe and skirt; this time, we got the pleasure of seeing Okada get jumped before the bell, still draped in glowy fabric, the glowiness of which I will never tire. I am dumb and consider it sorcery.

The match was a straightforward heel-face tag. Will is definitely bringing a measure of NXT to this mix, and by that, I mean his dreadful jibber-jabber during the match. In fact, we get the unfortunate confirmation that both Will and Bea are going to narrate their own thoughts throughout all of Will’s matches. Will’s offense looked particularly severe against Kidd, and the Korakuen crowd was quite game, rallying behind Kidd multiple times, at or beyond their levels later in the night. 

Will unfortunately is talking from his diaphragm now, adding an unwelcome timbre to his babble. The Great O-Khan, who is listed with all dashes on the NJPW as “Great-O-Khan,” like he’s a Jack-o-Lantern, not the first depressing reminder that Halloween is canceled. O-Khan nailed Kidd with the claw slam for the win. Okada assisted his little buddy out. Will and Bea laughed their way to the back, off to create original factions by collecting other wrestler’s cahhhhds. ***1/4

BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi & Shingo Takagi def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki

BUSHI reminds us once again that Halloween is canceled. Everyone is paired off in this one, headlined by the continuation of the GOAT Entrance Theme Battle between Shingo and Suzuki. On a side note, with all the talk of Oka being a huge otaku, let’s not forget that Minoru Suzuki has been animated in One Piece and made Eiichiro Oda a member of Suzuki-gun. Taichi should induct the author of Demon Slayer into Taichi-beya, when that stable finally forms. That would be a Taichi thing to do.

This match started with Despy and Hiromu aggressively flirting, and had a long cut-off part. I think BUSHI was in there for the first five minutes of the match.  Lots of SZG chicanery, and backs met steel railings in abundance. At one point, Despy and Hiromu started slapping chests back and forth, just to remind us that this is actually a polyamorous relationship, with Despy and Dragon Lee being sister wives to Hiromu.

Nine minutes in, we get the heavies. Suzuki no-sold a DVD, which was not a move I was expecting him to take in this match. Shingo hit an unholy Pumping Bomber on Kanemaru for the pin. After the match, Hiromu challenges Despy and Kanemaru for the Jr Heavy Tag Titles in his usual voice actor performance. Despy agrees to the match with his velvety tenor. The two tag teams meet on the outside; Despy and Hiromu’s foreheads make out for a good minute straight. ***1/4

Tomoaki Honma, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi def. Gedo, KENTA & Jay White

Briefcases are at the center of two feuds in this one. Briefcases have not meant this much to wrestlers since the waning days of the territories. Considering how they started accessorizing afterward, I really hope the history is broken this time. Ibushi actually came out with the leather contract folder.

This was a fairly lackluster affair. 2/3rds of this match are questionably mobile. We got more Gedo vs. Kokeshi than anyone would desire, and the motivation levels in this one seemed tempered. Tanahashi was looking as Randy the Ram as ever, and the Ibushi-White sequences seemed like going through the motions. The crowd weirdly died during their segments, too, and didn’t really come back. Ibushi hit the Kamigoye on Gedo to end it.

After the match, KENTA attacked Tanahashi with unusual ferocity, taking out all the Young Lions and everything. It was pretty cool. White took the contract from Ibushi, but offered it back with sardonic deference. In some delicious dramatic irony, White kept telling Ibushi that his time is over when we really know that the clock is ticking on him. **1/2

SANADA & Tetsuya Naito def. Dick Togo & EVIL

Another jejune matter. I had to double-check to make sure that Naito didn’t take his shirt off. He did not. I know Naito fans consider this a frivolous criticism, but come on. Your champion is wearing a goddamn shirt the whole match, and for what? You already have Horny Hiroshi moving merch with the sanitation break commercials. But I’m ok with it, because Dick Togo didn’t take his shirt off, either. When the junta goes down, I want to be on his good side.

The match started with EVIL and Naito. There were some crisp double-team moves from LIJ. SANADA administered a wholly perfunctory Paradise Lock. More head-scratching EVIL moments: EVIL tried to cheat at one point, turning Marty Asami several times toward SANADA, who was in his corner. The result? A double shoulder block. That is what he was trying to hide from the ref. 

Togo went for the obligatory indie HHH homage spot with a pedigree on a chair, but he was back-body dropped onto it. Togo tapped instantly to the Skull End. LIJ celebrated in a sober manner, not even having the decency to attack Asami. This one didn’t exactly foment excitement for the upcoming main event title match, and the crowd agreed; the only time they really woke up for most of the SANADA segments, and one Naito comeback. ***

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto (c) def. DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr., and Taichi

Put YOSHI-HASHI in the main event, and you will be rewarded.

This one began and ended with a long series between YOSHI-HASHI and DOUKI. All the heels dug in on these two over the years must have fractured, and I’ll be honest, I hope they were compound fractures. 

There wasn’t much story to this one, mainly because it went so long. The two stories it told were utterly diluted in the THIRTY-TWO minutes of this match. The first story was SZG working YOSHI-HASHI’s left arm, and the second was SZG working over Ishii’s taped right knee. At one point Dangerous Tekkers teased pulled a Tanahashi on Ishii’s leg. It’s always nasty and great.

DOUKI wanted a piece of YOSHI-HASHI, and that began a very long but pretty great closing stretch. Lots of cool stuff happened, including DOUKI de-shirting, hitting a huge lariat, and getting a razor-close near-fall with the Suplex de la Luna that Goto broke up at the very last instant. There were a couple of those passages in six-mans where everyone hit something, and everyone was left laying. It was well worked and structured

At one point during DOUKI and YOSHI-HASHI’s exchanges, I definitely heard the Japanese announcers say “kokoro,” and that’s all you need to know here. DOUKI v. YOSHI-HASHI is a battle of heart, of resilient spirit, of earnest perseverance. DOUKI was in the butterfly lock for a looooong time, so long that his mask was almost entirely off. If that move can’t put away the lowest ranking member of the Junior division, even with the Kimura add-on, then I’m not sure where the drama in it will ever come again. But on DOUKI’s side, he looked great and very easy to cheer. Eventually, YOSHI-HASHI put DOUKI away with the Karma.

After the match, YOSHI-HASHI grabs the tag belts and issues his challenge. Zack’s response? “NEVER is dead, just like your career!” And yet, YOSHI-HASHI’s belt lust has not been satisfied, but for now we continue on the road to Power Struggle. ****