New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Power Struggle 2020 – Night 8
November 2, 2020
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

The second of a two-night stint at Korakuen contained a lot of table-setting for Power Struggle and ended with another excellent YOSHI-HASHI performance. On paper, this would seem like an unremarkable card; it was the eight show on the Road to Power Struggle tour out of ten, and the third of the tour at Korakuen Hall. This show only had two things going for it, and one of those was an announcement.

But because this is the last televised night before Power Struggle, every match had significant post-match proceedings. It really was a go-home show. And thank GOD for that because every show on this tour has essentially been the same. There’d be a dearth of worthwhile material out of this show’s matches, beyond the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match, without that level of set-up. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway; the announcement, which ended up being two announcements, would have sufficed. Brace yourselves for weeks of brand logo discourse.

GABRIEL KIDD DEF. YOTA TSUJI

Lament for Yota Tsuji. Every bloody night of this tour is the same thing with slight modifications, including another three-man rotation of Young Lion matches. Tsuji has won on some of these cards, but ended up losing on all three Road To shows that were broadcast.

In a battle of Tsuji’s cocksure dismissiveness and Kidd’s high-strung brazenness, Kidd once again prevailed, though this is slightly less intriguing after the red-hot backstage comment battle between these two fizzled once the G1 started. This was a battle of wills, with strong lockups, earnest struggles over tightly leveraged headlocks, and the uppermost pace on the entire show. There was no story here, just grappling, and it’s certainly appreciated after the inexorable amount of story showered upon us recently. Kidd reversed out of a sunset flip to win. **3/4

WILL OSPREAY & THE GREAT O-KHAN DEF. YUYA UEMURA & KAZUCHIKA OKADA

It’s the eight go-around for this match, and the third at Korakuen, but the crowd was very much resonant with Uemura, so the match was respectable, though not at the standard of yesterday’s display. Uemura injected energy into every fiber of this match, whether fighting from underneath or with his sublime comeback fire. The crowd did not resonate with O-Khan, I’m afraid, but that could be fatigue.

As we see O-Khan’s offense emerge, one thing is for sure: The Great O-Khan loves moves that end with his opponent landing face-down. With Uemura this worked well, as Uemura ate it hard every time with ebullience. Okada, not so much; when O-Khan tried that face plant move from a delayed side suplex position, Okada basically landed on his knees. The crowd responded accordingly with absolute silence. There wasn’t much interaction between Ospreay and Okada, but when they did it once again exhibited a common trend with them: they play off each other’s formulas, which should make for a fun Wrestle Kingdom match. It’s needed; Ospreay’s new persona is aggressively meta, especially heavy on the old trick where you lean into shortcomings (ie, promos) to deflect criticism.

O-Khan nabbed yet another pinfall with the claw slam. After the match, Okada, instead of helping his lil’ buddy to the back like he has all tour, went into the ring and attacked O-Khan. He Money Clip’d O-Khan, a brilliant strategic maneuver when outnumbered. Okada was then clawed by O-Khan, Marufuji’d by Ospreay, and then claw slammed by O-Khan. In a final indignity, he was Traged-Uce’d by Ospreay. Traged-Uce’d is a new verb I’ve invented last week after Hell in a Cell to describe a situation where someone overtly screams their feelings, devoid of nuance or subtext, at their opponent in a wrestling ring. ***1/4

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BUSHI, HIROMU TAKAHASHI & SHINGO TAKAGI DEF. YOSHINOBU KANEMARU, EL DESPERADO & MINORU SUZUKI

It’s back to the undercard for our Juniors, for now at least. I’m still heartbroken that my beloved Hooligan Luchador Despy is still shackled to these tag belts, but this match did well to establish that his romance with Hiromu will continue, even if their husband unfortunately absent. While the camera focused on Suzuki the entire entrance, you could see that Despy went straight in the ring to taunt Hiromu. I’d also like to note the Despy bears in the crowd; if you followed his twitter, you’d know that the bastard signed a mountain of them in the New Japan offices.

The attention returns to the NEVER heavies, and they definitely seemed like a couple of sadistic SOBs coming out of a day off; there was a noticeable snap to their exchanges. Suzuki seems intent on crab-based offense, only letting go of the full Boston Crab he had on BUSHI after a vicious enzuilariato from Shingo. This match was a bit unkempt; any time it seemed to take shape it would devolve into a brawl, and it was probably better for it.

The end came when they played on expectations a bit. The last time we saw this match on screen, Shingo put away Kanemaru with a simple Pumping Bomber. This time, Kanemaru kicked out, which was awesome and the crowd answered. Shingo then incrementally deadlifted Kanemaru into the Made in Japan, which was even more awesome, and that was the end.

The post-match was hectic. Suzuki attacked Shingo and hit him with the Gotch Piledriver, followed by a half crab, which made Shingo tap! Kidd and Tsuji, whose night was, unfortunately, just beginning, ate forearms for the efforts in trying to break it up. Suzuki returned to Shingo with an elevated half crab, more tapping from Shingo, and some hilarious maniacal laughter from Suzuki. I need to point out Suzuki’s One Piece fandom once again. At one point in my notes, I described Suzuki’s exaggerated facial expressions as looking like something from a One Piece antagonist. Now I legitimately wonder if he thinks he is literally in One Piece. As Suzuki left we saw Despy further taunting Hiromu, presumably for five straight minutes. ***1/2

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: BEST OF THE SUPER JUNIOR ENTRANTS

What many were waiting for came at intermission. As expected, the 2020 Best of the Super Junior (BOSJ) tournament will be a single block of ten competitors, without many surprises.

The ten entrants:

  • Ryusuke Taguchi, in his 17th BOSJ and 15th consecutive
  • Master Wato, debuting
  • SHO, in his third BOSJ, all consecutive
  • Robbie Eagles! Eagles returns for his second BOSJ, all consecutive
  • Hiromu Takahashi, returning for his fifth BOSJ
  • BUSHI, in his eight BOSJ and fifth consecutive
  • El Desperado, returning after missing last year due to a case of the old Kasai jaw, for his fourth BOSJ
  • Yoshinobu Kanemaru, in his fourth BOSJ, all consecutive
  • DOUKI, in his second BOSJ, all consecutive
  • Taiji Ishimori, in his fourth BOSJ, third consecutive, and first as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion

It’s a satisfactory field with a lot of anticipation. There will certainly be disappointment over who is not in the field, but this is going to be a really great BOSJ.

BUT THE ANNOUNCEMENT CONTINUED. We were presented with the field for the 2020 Super J Cup, which will be held on December 12 in the United States.

The field, with home promotions highlighted during the announcement:

  • TJP (Freelancer)
  • ACH (Freelancer)
  • Lio Rush!!! (Freelancer)
  • Chris Bey (Impact)
  • Rey Horus (ROH)
  • Blake Christian (GCW)
  • Clark Connors (NJPW: LA Dojo)
  • ELP (NJPW: Bullet Club)

The sheer surrealism of a GCW logo appearing on a New Japan broadcast was overshadowed by the unfathomable instance of an Impact logo appearing on a New Japan broadcast. Let the door-related discourse commence. But goddamn, what a lineup!

CHASE OWENS, KENTA &  JAY WHITE DEF. TOMOAKI HONMA, HIROSHI TANAHASHI & KOTA IBUSHI

Yota Tsuji’s very unfortunate day continues, as KENTA and Jay White were still quite cross that he allegedly pulled KENTA’s hair the day before. They force Tsuji into the ring and mercilessly bully him. KENTA must have had nostalgic flashbacks to the old NOAH days because he seemed to be particularly relishing the sequence. They bullied Tsuji through the entire Hontai entrance, then offered to give him the Down Low 2 Sweet. Tsuji shamefully hesitated and got a knee to the gut and tossed out of the ring.

Jay faked out Tanahashi with an aborted ab exhibition, which would probably work on Tanahashi twelve times out of ten. Bullet Club worked on Honma a lot and the crowd was into it. KENTA mocked Tanahashi with air-violin; if KENTA closes a show one day with an extended air-violin version of Tanahashi’s air-guitar sequence, I think he has to go into the WON HOF.

Jay and Kota looked like they were moving at light-speed compared to the rest of the match, and unlike the tour opener, the crowd was fully invested and clamorously clapping. Ibushi seems to have their full support. There’s a lot of back and forth tandem stuff, and eventually White pulled a flash Blade Runner on Homna for the win.

This was all a prelude to one of the best post-match confrontations on record, and I’ll put it up against anything. The briefcase-driven match participants meet each other in the center of the ring for a face-off. The Bullet Club team hold the cases, and the bedlam began when Jay clocked Ibushi with Ibushi’s customized briefcase. Being smashed with a personalized briefcase is a true dishonor that thankfully very few people in life experience. KENTA concurred and bashed his briefcase over Tanahashi’s bulbous head, which caused the briefcase’s front to nearly disintegrate. KENTA was inconsolable at Tanhashi’s unforgivably ignominious behavior. This was followed by several minutes of Jay smugly taunting Ibushi and KENTA shifting wildly between despair over his broken briefcase and rage at Tanahashi for causing the problem. They both left, with Jay finally stealing Ibushi’s briefcase after multiple opportunities. Gabe Kidd held Ibushi back from… trying to retrieve his stolen property? ***1/4

SANADA & TETUSYA NAITO DEF. YUJIRO TAKAHASHI & EVIL

Bloody hell, there is absolutely no juice to this match. Notice how my review is much longer than the opening night, mainly because there were so many post-match interactions that are clearly meant to be the last thing people remember before Power Struggle? Well, there was no post-match interaction after this one. And this is your main event.

The crowd was active for the beginning of this one, and they were behind SANADA the whole way. I’ve been told that there is a sense that the Japan audience would rather see SANADA in EVIL’s spot, which might be true because he was the only one that got a consistent reaction in this match. Naito somehow got a busted lip, which looked pretty uncomfortable, and his a very flat Destino for the win.

Considering the way 2020 has gone in this company, I am now officially nervous. They’ve lulled us enough times that I am worried for what Power Struggle holds for us. **½



IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
ZACK SABRE JR. & TAICHI © DEF. YOSHI-HASHI AND HIROOKI GOTO

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

Very clearly, YOSHI-HASHI is Mr. Korakuen at the moment. Did you notice the Turn It Around scarves? Actually, did you also notice the Holy Emperor scarves? This confirms the obvious: akin to what MSG was for WWE, Korakuen is the barometer for the New Japan fanbase and the booking should follow it faithfully.

This was quite long, in the same vein as the NEVER Openweight Six-Man tag Title match that opened the tour.  There was a lot of choking, to the point that I thought Taichi was going for something similar to the infamous Leg Kick Match with Ibushi. He de-pantsed very early in the match, and I mean very early because this match ended up going THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES.

Although this seemed at times like a Taichi v. YOSHI-HASHI singles match, the glue of the match was Zack Sabre Jr. Sabre carried the match. The frenetic energy he infused into the match made the match move much more smoothly considering its length, and his exchanges with both members of CHAOS were excellent.

The crowd was into this throughout but definitely amped up with some well-placed no-selling. The first was Goto no-selling a Dangerous Backdrop, and then they really got fired up after YOSHI-HASHI no-sold an Axe Bomber. Of course, no matter how much the people love YOSHI-HASHI they have zero interest in the butterfly lock, which brought the match to a halt. The match went tornado after that, with relentless action at points including a Dangerous Driver and some phenomenal YOSHI-HASHI fire.

The Zack Mephisto finished things. After the match, we had a jarring sea change as Toru Yano got up from the commentary booth and huffily removed every turnbuckle cushion, to spite Zack who had thwarted his attempts to do so recently. This led to the confirmation of the Yano vs. Sabre Power Struggle KOPW stipulation of a No Turnbuckle Pad Match, once AGAIN created in complete ignorance to the KOPW challenge format. Taichi cut a typically vicious promo to close. ****¼

Final Thoughts

While the two-part announcement is the biggest story-making element of this show, every match on the card provided the final, essential building blocks to Power Struggle. For that, it is a show that should be watched. At the very least, make time to watch the post-match interactions, which were universally great.