New Japan Pro Wrestling
POWER STRUGGLE 2020
November 7, 2020
EDION Arena Osaka
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers
J Michael: Instead of watching election results pour in, I am watching episodes of Nozaki-kun with my wife, who is fucking fed up and refuses to watch anything else. If you’re interested in retweets about Despy, cows, fencing (the sport), Japanese art-punk, and manga about pirates, by all means look @ryugu_jo.
John Carroll: Unlike my colleague, I absolutely HAVE been stupid enough to do nothing but refresh voting results over and over again, which is why I took so long to do this. Follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you would like to party with me when Donny boy goes down. Also obviously check out my podcast @wrestleomakase and our Patreon for daily coverage of the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors & World Tag League (plus the DDT D-ou too!).
Provisional KOPW2020 No Corner Pads Match
Toru Yano © vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
J Michael: May I delineate the use of arpeggiated phrases in Philip Glass opera? I might have to, to save any credibility after this confession: I liked the KOPW nonsense this summer and I like the concept. Maybe it was Despy and Taichi debating Sumo and Fire Pro stipulations when Okada announced this thing. We assumed it was a vanity project, but he really just wanted to give his senpai another 3-4 year gimmick. Another thing he can carry to the ring, with the DVDs and the repulsive meat patty in a fucking pouch.
This title is oddly procedural; the stips are less match types and more modifications. The eternally gotten-to Sabre is a perfect Yano opponent, even if they messed up the entire concept again and Sabre just accepted the initial stip. I can’t imagine anyone ever holding this title besides Yano, and Zack has the World Tag League coming anyway. I think YTR might make it through the year, which technically means he could carry the 2020 KOPW trophy around forever. Prediction: Toru Yano
John: I don’t understand why we didn’t have to have a vote over the stip here, but frankly I’m sick of looking at vote totals anyway so I guess it was a good thing. Look, I don’t know what this stupid KOPW thing is supposed to be, and I don’t think anyone really has a great read on it so far. When it was first introduced there were all sorts of dark Twitter rumblings about it being VERY IMPORTANT and not something to be overlooked, and then we found out the prize was a little league-ass trophy and Toru Yano became the first champion. At this point it’s firmly in the “who cares” category until proven otherwise. But as for this match, it could actually be really good! I maintain Yano vs. Zack from the G1 was an honest-to-god four-star match, and I don’t care if you think that makes me sound insane. It ruled! I don’t think this will be as good, both because post-G1 rematches rarely are in general and because the stip will probably overwhelm it, but I’m sure it will be fun at a minimum. Zack is simply a great straight man for Yano’s schtick. If you just hate Yano’s schtick I can’t really help you, just skip the match! Prediction: Toru Yano
NEVER Openweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki © vs. Shingo Takagi
J Michael: Suzuki-gun is the KOPW of backstage comments, completely dismantling notions of form and dignity beyond anything we’ve seen. After the G1 Final, they invaded CHAOS’ comments. ZSJ seemingly did the same when human microphone Yano’s unruliness backstage continually interrupted Taichi’s post-match speech, though for some reason we didn’t get to see it on video. For this feud, we’ve seen quite a bit backstage, all of it exhilarating. On 23 October, Suzuki led Shingo down the Korakuen steps in a headlock, followed by a legitimate conversation peppered with forearms, slaps, and choking, until they fought out the door. On 2 November, Suzuki’s post-beatdown prostrate promo was interrupted by a maniacal chair attack from Suzuki. I know he’s been in One Piece, but I’m starting to think Suzuki actually thinks this is the One Piece world.
These two have very strong cases to be the NJPW candidate for 2020’s Most Outstanding, and I anticipate that this will be the match of the show, removed from any G1 constraints and in what will assuredly be a raucous EDION crowd. I’m not sure where Suzuki goes after this if he loses, but there surely must be a reason he has been so detached from the exploits of his underlines. Beyond that, I believe there is more juice to squeeze out of a Shingo NEVER reign.
I’d also like to point out that Naito, Hiromu, and Ibushi have all recently, and independently, noted how unbelievably intense Shingo is in real life, constantly talking no matter if someone is in the room with him or not. Shingo Takagi might be the most genuine professional wrestler alive. Prediction: Shingo Takagi
John: Shingo and Suzuki had one awesome match back at Summer Struggle and then one really good but not quite as awesome match at the G1, so the only question here will be where this one lands. I would guess closer to Summer Struggle, especially if we get a hot Osaka crowd (well, for the COVID era….) to help put it over the top. As far as a winner goes, I would agree with Michael that Shingo probably takes his belt back, but there’s two things giving me a bit of pause: 1) He beat Suzuki in the last match, so maybe Suzuki gets his win back here and THIS FEUD MUST CONTINUE to the Dome somehow (Shingo pins Suzuki again in the WTL?) & 2) I don’t really see any obvious Wrestle Kingdom NEVER challengers for Shingo. Maybe there’s just someone obvious I’m not thinking of, but all the usual suspects seem pretty busy to me. You know what? I just talked myself into it. Suzuki pulls off the shocker and retains, and we have to do this one more time at Wrestle Kingdom, where Shingo finally pulls it off and starts his second NEVER reign. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki
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Kazuchika Okada vs. Great-O-Khan
J Michael: The limits of my Okada Defense Impulse are really being strained here. Remember when Ric Flair attacked 4 or 5 NWO guys, cleaned house, put one of them in the figure four, and then got absolutely pummelled because his submission renders him immobile so why the fuck would you use it when attacking an entire crew? Well, I don’t, because it would be incredibly stupid, so even late 90’s WCW didn’t do that. And yet that’s what Okada did on 2 November with his Money Clip, and thanks to that we got another scene of Will Ospreay shouting his feelings at his former senpai. And you know they mean business because they’re from his diaphragm, bro. Deep voice. Fuck you, bro. And put that fucking pig away, are you kidding me right now?
O-Khan seems to like screaming chops and moves that drop people flat on their front. It’s worked well in tags thus far; the interest here is how Oka will look in a full singles match. The outcome is not in question, but I’m picking chalk the rest of this card, so for this one I’ll side with the power of story-influenced nonsense and the percolating inner fury of an otaku fighting for the honor of his pillow. Prediction: Great O-Khan will not tap, he will not nap, he will not be clipped.
John: As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, the Great O-Khan is really fighting for the honor of his waifu. I would like to say that O-Khan’s innate desire for revenge will drive him to victory, but sadly I just don’t see it. This screams “Okada beats Will’s new bodyguard and challenges Will for Wrestle Kingdom” unless they’re introducing some new Empire member and/or someone is turning on Okada to join them here. I wouldn’t write off that possibility, but for now, I think Okada pulls it out. Nothing would shock me as far as match quality goes here though- Okada has obviously been extremely hit-or-miss during the Money Clip era (how awful was that new shirt by the way??) and O-Khan, as much as I love my fellow otaku, still looks like he’s working the kinks out of the gimmick in New Japan. But I think he’s shown some flashes too, so if they manage to put together a great match here it wouldn’t surprise me either. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
IWGP US Heavyweight Right to Challenge Contract
KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
J Michael: Thus far, KENTA has taunted Tanahashi with air-bass and, most recently, air-violin. Like, full on dude-from-Dixie-Dregs Live at Montreux air-violin. Since then, I’ve put most of my brain energy into figuring out the top 5 air-instruments with which I want people to provoke Tana:
- Air Clarinet (cliche, but playing the opening glissando from Rhapsody in Blue)
- Air Marimba (has to be marimba; not vibraphone, xylophone, etc.)
- Air Alphorn (A tribute to his old friend Claudio Castagnoli, who retired in 2019)
- Air Bass Trombone
- Air Hammered Dulcimer (shout-out to the Dorothy Carter stans out there. Make a Joyful Sound!)
Now that KENTA’s backstage comments J-Drama shoujo is between seasons after a Hi Score Girl-esque romantic-interest-moves-away cliffhanger, he has returned to actually talking about his opponents in backstage comments, and it’s not even a question that he is the Best on Interviews this year. His 2 November backstage comment was consummate: he is very, very, very, very galled by Tanahshi’s dishonorable destruction of his briefcase, but he also made it clear how badly he wants to face Moxley. Unfortunately, I think they’ll want Tanahashi in that spot, if it’s going to happen in January. Doesn’t matter, though; KENTA knows he’s playing with house money at this point in his career and everything he does totally rules. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
John: KENTA and Tanahashi had an awesome match in the G1, and whether or not they can do it one more time will go a long way toward determining how good this Power Struggle card can be. I’m not worried at all about the semi-main and the main event is one of those matches that no matter how good or bad it is people will have made their minds up on it before it even starts, so this is the real question mark here for me. Both these guys are clearly held together with duct tape and all that, but they’re also two of the best to ever do this. I’d agree that Tanahashi is the favorite to win for sure, as Tanahashi-Moxley is a top-level Wrestle Kingdom match if they can get Mox into the country and KENTA-Moxley is, well, a midcard Wrestle Kingdom match. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Double Championships Right to Challenge Contract
Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White
J Michael: One thing stood out to me above everything else on the Road to Power Struggle tour. On Night 7, after KENTA had finished slapping around Yota Tsuji in a post-match tantrum, Jay White came storming around the ring corner. When KENTA pantomimed his hair being pulled, Jay became incensed and really put the boots to Tsuji in response. He held so much residual anger that the next night he tossed Tsuji into the ring and bullied him with the rest of Bullet Club for the entirety of the introductions.
The point is, if we do not get KENTA-White in World Tag League it will be historically unforgivable. The loyalty shown between these two amoral SOBs, having been stuck for months in the worst possible place in the worst possible country to find yourself this year while their company and their stable moved on without them… this is the essence of why faction-based promotions like NJPW appeal to outside fandoms.
On the other end, Kota Ibushi is the Platonic ideal of a professional wrestler, and I will never forgive myself for doubting his ascendency during the G1 Climax. Jay was able to saunter his way to Ibushi’s table in his green joggers and exploit good boy Ibushi’s natural hospitality, but his path ahead has an EVIL shaped detour. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
John: I really, really would not at all mind if they flipped the briefcase here. They have to do it eventually, Kota Ibushi is bulletproof (he just won back-to-back G1s!), and it would be a real great twist in his story if he has to go back to the end of the line yet again only to finally come back by winning the New Japan Cup or something next year en route to finally winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title for the first time. I also think Naito-White would be a really awesome Tokyo Dome main, as I think they have great chemistry together (not that Naito-Ibushi don’t have great chemistry and wouldn’t be an awesome Dome main too, it’s really a no-lose situation to me!). It would let them delay the inevitable White-EVIL showdown and BULLET CLUB split until after Wrestle Kingdom as well.
But after writing all that, well, I am in fact a coward- I still ultimately think Kota Ibushi is going to win this. They just don’t do these briefcase changes at the end of the day (no matter how much I really want one to finally happen!), and it would probably be too much of a kick in the proverbial balls for the Ibushi fans to handle. White also does have a very obvious Wrestle Kingdom opponent if he loses here (the aforementioned EVIL), whereas Ibushi does not. We’ll see if Ibushi just beats him clean or if there’s any kind of BULLET CLUB shenanigans. The POWER STRUGGLE name could be particularly apropos this year. As far as match quality goes, well. They’ve had two matches I loved a lot (last year’s final and this year’s G1) and one match I didn’t (Wrestle Kingdom). I like those odds, but we’ll see. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Double Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. EVIL
J Michael: I noted in my November 2 review that this match has no juice. It’s juiceless. I say that as someone favorable to the new EVIL, and tolerant of the match-disruptive mischief we’ll have to endure until they feel we, I dunno, get it? It certainly doesn’t help that Naito has explicitly derided this match choice and apologized to anyone that bought pre-sale tickets.
And this is where I am very nervous about this match. For one, Naito’s not usually that brazenly dismissive unless he’s setting us up for something. But also consider the booking decisions thus far this year, post-pandemic. When everyone thought the newly-heeled EVIL would have a next-step title challenge loss, he won the goddamn IWGP Heavyweight Championship. When Ibushi was at best a top 10 G1 Climax favorite, he broke all historical booking trends and prevailed. This would be, without question, the pinnacle of Gedo’s 2020 audaciousness. And while I’m not a Naito fan, I am an Ibushi fan and I very much want Naito v. Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom. I know there are two Dome shows, but I’ll once again choose orthodoxy and see if it fails one more time this year. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
John: As a Naito fan I’m always bracing to be disappointed, but I can’t see them having EVIL win this as Michael seemed to hint at there. For one, “EVIL beats Naito for the double titles in Osaka” would literally be a rerun from Dominion. I’m not really sure why they would do that, unless it’s somehow leading to some kind of wacky two-day Tokyo Dome scenario. It seems far more likely that this is for Naito get some more revenge on EVIL, specifically for his Osaka fans who originally saw him lose the titles to this guy (since remember, the match where he won his belts back was in Tokyo). We also just seem way too set up for both Naito-Ibushi and EVIL-White, but maybe in some kind of wacky two-day Mini Tournament 2: Electric Boogaloo situation, we’d still ultimately get both matches. Such a scenario is I guess possible and would probably involve an EVIL victory here, so I guess that’s his chance. But otherwise, I don’t really see it.
But once again, just speaking as a Naito fan, man, even if he wins it’s bad enough we just gotta do this match for a fourth damn time instead of letting him move on to something else, and I’m not even anti-EVIL or anything! Hopefully, Naito just beats him and we can move on to building a Naito vs. Ibushi match that I’m very excited for (or Naito-White! I’d be thrilled with that too!). And like I said earlier, this is a match that I’m quite sure lots of people have already made their minds up to hate even before it happens, given that a lot of Western fans really hated this whole EVIL push and don’t want to like anything he’s involved in (plus some of them inexplicably hate Naito too, presumably because he’s too cool for them I dunno). I thought they had a real good match in the G1, easily their best of the three, but lots of people just seemed to never even give it a chance. I suspect the same thing will happen here—simply put, this is a match a lot of you have probably already made your minds up on before you even watch it. Oh well! Prediction: Tetsuya Naito