This year’s Power Struggle got off to a confusing start, at least for me. NJPW indicated a 1am start time EST, but I guess they couldn’t figure out how to indicate that they meant the second 1am of the evening, as the show started right at the end of daylight savings time. I time my substance abuse precisely for an optimal viewing experience, and New Japan has burned me twice now with their delays: I was also at the Hammerstein show the night of the infamous ambulance delay. By my count, they owe me two weed gummies and at least one overpriced Hammerstein beer. That said, I tried to go into NJPW’s last major show before Wrestle Kingdom with an open mind.
[Ed Note: EST is the second 1 AM. EDT would have been the first. We as a nation need to abolish this entire thing and move to permanent DST. Contact your senator and congressperson today.- Hunktears]
YUYA UEMURA, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, TIGER MASK & JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER vs CLARK CONNORS, TJP, TITÁN & VOLADOR JR
Power Struggle opens the way all wrestling shows would open if wrestlers were in charge: with a guy dressed as Spider-Man. Why does every wrestler want to be fucking Spider-Man now? I guess when you’re Volador Jr and you’re fighting people dressed as literal anime characters, it’s OK to take the opportunity to cosplay. This match is a formulaic opener, which isn’t to say it’s bad. It’s fun! Titán takes a stupid apron bump! Commentator Gino Gambino calls Uemura an “absolute unit!” Everyone hugs at the end! A fun time had by all, but it’s skippable.
ROBBIE EAGLES & ROCKY ROMERO vs TAIJI ISHIMORI & EL PHANTASMO
Neither of these tag teams seems especially cohesive.. For Romero and Eagles, that makes sense— they’re a one night only team (apparently, Rocky and his tag league partner Taguchi had a falling out because Taguchi won’t download Rocky’s new rap album. I’m with Coach). As junior tag champs, though, you’d think ELP and Ishimori would gel more. They’re both clear heels, but their styles are so different: Ishimori is quick and ruthless, while ELP is a cocky showboater.
ELP engages in an extended ropewalking sequence that, while physically impressive (at one point, he hoists Rocky onto his back), was tedious. The self indulgence is probably a character choice, so credit where it’s due: I kinda hate the guy. It doesn’t help that he looks like if PlentyOfFish were a person. He pins Rocky with a CRII. It’s fine. Skip it.
SANADA, EVIL & SHINGO TAKAGI vs ZACK SABRE JR, MINORU SUZUKI & LANCE ARCHER
This match is structured to further the rivalries between Takagi/Suzuki and ZSJ/SANADA, and while it does so effectively, it seems a bit like a double date with fifth and sixth wheels in Archer and EVIL. EVIL’s back from injury, time off which commentary speculates may have been strategic, but the idea is dismissed because EVIL would never willingly miss Halloween, right? WRONG! Every day is Halloween in Darkness World. The sequences between he and Archer are pretty rote, but I do like that NJPW’s cameras shoot Archer from dramatic low angles, making even a simple crossbody on EVIL look devastating.
There are some mid match promos into the commentary mic, which I love. Taking time out of kicking someone’s ass to talk about how you’re gonna kick their ass kicks ass. ZSJ actually multitasks, tying SANADA up in the barricade, bragging that he still has a free hand for the mic. I like this pair— ZSJ’s good with anyone, but SANADA needs the right opponent. His dim witted hunkiness is a great complement to Zack’s cerebral sadism.
The real fun is between Shingo and Suzuki. You know what you’re getting— it’s Suzuki, so it’s a strike battle as always— but the two have great chemistry. There’s a riveting sequence late in the match where the men are trading blows while making crazed, grinning eye contact with one another. It gave me chills.
SANADA steals a pin from ZSJ while they’re doing that stupid rolling one count thing, earning a shot at Zack’s title. Zack and Suzuki naturally decide to take out their frustration on their rivals after the match, while Archer and EVIL sheepishly wait on the entrance ramp for their teammates like the exasperated girlfriends of guys who are always starting bar fights. The post-match brawl is formulaic but fun, just like the rest of it. Watch if you have extra time.
KOTA IBUSHI & HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs KAZUCHIKA OKADA & YOSHI-HASHI
I know this match has three of the biggest stars in the company, including the guys who will main event Wrestle Kingdom, but I can only think of YOSHI-HASHI. Imagine being him! Every other person in this match is a superstar for the ages, and you’re most notable for braining yourself doing a run in. Tanahashi eventually pins good ol Y-H with a single high fly flow, which, if you know Tanahashi, you know is incredibly insulting. Y-H should change his catchphrase to “You hate to see it.” This match is not important for anyone’s storyline, and everyone does what they always do. Skip it.
Don’t skip the post-match though, because the Painmaker is BACK, BABY!!!! Jericho is here (well, on video) to challenge Tanahashi at WK! I think this could be really great. Jericho and Tanahashi have responded to their diminishing in ring ability in drastically different ways. I think their match together could be a cool exploration of how one chooses to face the ravages of time. Or Jericho could do a bunch of goofy mean shit to Tanahashi. That’d be cool too.
TETSUYA NAITO vs TAICHI
The less wrestling there is in a Taichi match, the better it is. He’s not bad, but I’m here for the nonsense. If I wanted moves, I’d watch Ibushi. Luckily, Naito loves being a brat almost as much as Taichi does. At one point, just when I was starting to lose interest (too many actual moves), Taichi wheels around and windmills his open palm straight into Naito’s face. Naito hits the destino to win. This didn’t exactly live up to my high expectations for shenanigans, but watch it if you like crowd brawls and spitting.
SUPER JUNIOR TAG LEAGUE FINAL: EL DESPERADO & YOSHINOBU KANEMARU vs ROPPONGI 3K
This match is all about SHO and his injured back, and man, SHO is so good. After an entrance ramp ambush by SZG, he spends the first few minutes of the match crawling back to ringside like a baby sea turtle trying to get to the ocean. When he finally arrives, Despy rewards him by throwing him into a barricade and mocking the terrified child sitting behind it. SHO suffers and suffers and suffers, and it’s riveting. The match ends after Desperado gives SHO a shocking headbutt, then SHO and YOH hit their finisher on him and SHO gets the pin. After the match, the junior tag champs come out to further punish their new number one contenders, and man did I get worked. How dare those jerks ruin SHO and YOH’s special moment and steal their trophies!!! This was the match of the night for me.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: KENTA (c) vs TOMOHIRO ISHII
This is match is about ethics in beard grooming. Babyface Ishii has a meticulously manicured chin strap, while heel Kenta has the kind of lank, patchy chaos beard you see often at wrestling shows, but rarely on wrestlers. Watching Ishii beat Kenta til he crumbles, then prop him up and continue turning his chest into veal milanese, it occurred to me that I’d love to watch Ishii knead pizza dough. When Kenta DDTs him, he goes nowhere, balanced on his wide, square head, in a way that turns my stomach more than any over the top selling would. Ishii counters with some evil looking strikes to Kenta’s windpipe, after which Kenta begins to bleed from the mouth. Kenta gives Ishii two GTS’s to retain the title Ishii had held for over a year. Watch this one if you like a good old fashioned meat slap.
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: WILL OSPREAY (c) vs BUSHI
BUSHI enters in a war bonnet, which we don’t have time to get into. I’ve chosen to pretend he’s cosplaying the kid in Parasite. Will Ospreay enters with a fucking katana, because of course he does. This match is good but I can’t bring myself to care about it. I recognize that he’s immensely talented and constantly improving, but Ospreay just doesn’t do it for me. He either needs to not have a goofy name for each of his moves, or he needs to stop doing all of them in a row, because I’m only reminded of what a geek he is when Kevin Kelly calls a “Hidden Blade” after a “Stormbreaker” after an “OsCutter”. The best part of this is when Ospreay sucks the mist out of BUSHI’s mouth and sprays it on him. Wrestling needs more snowballing. Ospreay wins by doing every single move he knows in a row on BUSHI. Dude, it’s BUSHI. You don’t need to do that. Watch this if you like Will Ospreay, but I don’t.
THANK YOU MEOW
After the match, Ospreay talks about how he’s beaten all the juniors. There’s no one left! Is there anyone backstage who could possibly challenge him? Ok, so he’s not subtle about it. But who cares? Hiromu Takahashi is BACK!!!! After an incredible titantron featuring a bunch of dancing Daryls that looks to take place in the same universe as Tayne, our boy is back, and he’s here to lick belts and challenge Ospreay at Wrestle Kingdom. He mocks the idea that his injury is going to cause him to adopt a safer style, demonstrating his commitment to bodily harm by hurling himself into barricades and turnbuckles, balancing on his neck in a bridge while he taunts Ospreay. The whole thing is joyful and funny and and a little bit frightening, all the things that make Hiromu one of the most magnetic presences in wrestling. I don’t want the guy to break his neck again, but he’s been off for more than a year, and if he’s decided he’d still like to wrestle the way he’s always wrestled, more power to him. I’ll be glued to my TV watching him do it.
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: JAY WHITE (c) vs HIROOKI GOTO
It’s mean to have a match after Hiromu’s return. That was clearly the show’s climax. This didn’t have a chance. Despite their talent (I’d watch Goto hit ushiguroshis all day), I find both Goto and Jay White matches to be a bit plodding if they don’t have a storyline to buoy them. That seems especially true following a flippy juniors match. The whole exercise seems perfunctory— Goto is obviously not going to win, and there was no need for this to go 30 minutes, especially when Power Struggle ended up clocking in at over 4 hours. My favorite part is when Gedo pulls the ref out of the ring by his ankles and hurls him up the ramp, which leads to several successive run ins, culminating with KENTA beating up Shibata again while commentary screams “HE’S NOT MEDICALLY CLEARED!” The fact that the most exciting parts of this match do not involve either Jay or Goto should probably tell you all you need to know.
After the match, Naito enters, presumably to challenge Jay. Naito’s thinking bigger, however: he wants to compete for both the IC belt and the IWGP belt at Wrestle Kingdom. He calls Ibushi and Okada to the ring. Okada mocks him by suggesting they have a fan vote, calling back to Naito’s humiliating loss of the Wrestle Kingdom main event to just such a vote in 2013. They leave the entire matter unresolved, and it feels like an odd note to end on.
The idea of a double champion seems pointless in a promotion like NJPW, where title match booking follows an established set of rules. If you earn a title shot against a guy with two belts, why would you challenge for the less prestigious one? I’d much rather they do Okada’s idea— I want to see Naito get humiliated in a fan vote again, get so pissed he murders Jay White, and then challenge Okada for being such an asshole. He can beat Okada and then die in the ring with Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 2021 by disintegrating his neck bones. Naito’s been languishing so long, I want to see him hit rock bottom before that slow burn redemption arc.
All in all, the show set up some exciting prospects for Wrestle Kingdom: Tanahashi vs Jericho, ELP/Ishimori vs Roppongi 3K, Hiromu vs Ospreay, and maybe even Shibata vs KENTA are all things to look forward to. As someone who hasn’t been keeping up with NJPW much lately, this was a great place to jump back in and start getting excited for January 4th (and 5th!). My complaints are the same complaints I always have about New Japan: predictable booking and an overly long main event. They’re small prices to pay to see Hiromu again.