Dick Togo Wears A White Suit: NJPW Sengoku Lord 2020 Review

Give Shingo Takagi the Oscar for knee-selling

The main event of NJPW‘s Sengoku Lord in Nagoya was set up with betrayal, shock, and screaming over blasting organ music. But despite the dramatic hook and high stakes for Evil vs. Hiromu, the July 25 event is one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s weaker big shows. There are highlights, but those are mostly outside of the matches themselves. However, there are some strong matches and wrestling moments, including:

Taiji Ishimori def. Yuya Uemura

Ishimori and Uemura typically work well together and this opening match is no exception. It’s about eight minutes of solid wrestling that makes Uemura look like he has a bright future and Ishimori look like he’ll be the next challenger for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, something that’s confirmed at the end of the show. The only real downside to this match is a very weird transition into the winning Yes Lock when Uemura is laying on the ground and Ishimori starts to lightly go for a pin and then just kind of lets go and moves on to the submission. Either they missed something or I really missed something because I rewatched this like three times trying to figure out what was going on.

Along with their in-ring confrontations, Uemura and Ishimori’s rivalry has included truly balls to the wall promos in which Ishimori has promised to buy Uemura ice cream. And crucially, while desserts are not mentioned here, Ishimori keeps that same energy by asking if Uemura will “stay a good boy” or “have the guts to be reborn.” It’s possible we might soon see a more divided Bullet Club than ever before, with BC Japan, BC International, and BC Taiji Ishimori’s Good Boys Who Deserve A Treat.

Togi Makabe, Satoshi Kojima, and Ryusuke Taguchi def. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, and Gabriel Kidd

The highlight of this six-man tag (that was an eight-man tag before someone Tsuji and Honma were on a TV show with tested positive for COVID-19) is Taguchi’s comedic moment in the spotlight towards the beginning. The focus of this six-man tag is what is now firmly a serious feud between Gabriel Kidd and Togi Makabe.

Kidd is trying to bring out 2010 badass Makabe and it looks like he succeeds for a moment, but until that happens this angle is just not that interesting. Kidd is still clearly the worst Young Lion and all he’s showing in this angle is that he has the ability to be extremely annoying. This is could be good for him in the long run because New Japan seems to deeply love annoying white people, but really it just feels like Kidd shouldn’t be in singles match angles right now. But if we get 2010-tier Makabe feuding with an actual person after this, it’ll all be worth it! Or if Kidd has some kind of breakthrough soon and I have to eat my words.

Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, and Bushi def. Hirooki Goto, Yoshi-Hashi, and Sho

The L.I.J. vs. Chaos six-man tag contains no feuds (except maybe the beginning of Sho vs. Sanada judging from the backstage promos) and feels the most like filler out of anything on Sengoku Lord. The most memorable moment of this match is afterward when Naito twists the referee’s arm, Sanada follows this with a dropkick, and Los Ingos all point and laugh at the man who did nothing to deserve this and was just doing his job. These are our main heroes here in New Japan Pro Wrestling and we love them.

Tanahashi is a beautiful genius. (NJPW World)

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Master Wato def. Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr., Minoru Suzuki, Douki, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Everyone in the Suzukigun-Hontai eight-man tag has beef with at least one person on the other team and they all wrestle like it. It’s the most chaotic match on the show and while nothing about it is standout bad, everything I could say about it either also happened on another show recently or happened outside of the match.

Tenzan supports Wato more than anyone else on earth, Wato and Kanemaru want to have a Master battle, and Nagata and Suzuki are eagerly awaiting for their next singles match. Dangerous Tekkers refuse to give Golden Ace a rematch and tell Ibushi he should get another partner, but Tanahashi is determined to prove that he’s not washed up despite having knees held together by Elmer’s glue by pinning one of the tag champs to earn their rematch. Tanahashi and Ibushi continue to be adorable together and Tanahashi reminds us that he is not only beautiful but also a genius by pioneering the social distance fan hug. All these feuds are promising or at least interesting, so hopefully NJPW will start progressing them a little faster soon.

Kazuchika Okada def. Yujiro Takahashi

Okada vs. Yujiro is a match of two 2004 debuts whose careers veered in wildly different directions, and match that is less than wild. The build posited the question “Will Yujiro step up or will he drag Okada down?” and the answer turns out to be that… Yujiro probably stepped up a little?

The Tokyo Pimp’s best in-ring work is still very much back in No Limit, but this is a better match than people might have expected. It’s basic, but it’s not boring. Both Okada and Takahashi always wrestle like they’re trying to win, so despite the lack of exciting spots, there’s a momentum that keeps the match engaging. I would not recommend anyone go out of their way to watch this if they don’t feel like it, but it wasn’t a bad viewing experience as part of watching Sengoku Lord.

The most interesting thing attached to this match is Okada’s promo afterward in which he says he has no interest in pursuing a double or triple championship (the same attitude as back when he was IWGP Heavyweight Champion going into the Double Gold Dash), but he has an idea for something else, something that older fans and wrestlers might find controversial. My immediate theory was that this could have something to do with Okada pretending to call out Antonio Inoki at the beginning of the year and then doing a magazine interview with him this summer, but I really have no clue what it is and I’m excited to find out.

The double title situation

After Evil won the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, Hiromu challenged for either one or both, and he got both. The titles are still meant to be two distinct entities rather than one achievement with a trophy split into two parts, but ever since Naito won them they’ve been defended at the same time, even though Naito said he wanted to defend separately. Does this mean the titles, especially the Heavyweight, have been devalued like Okada says?

Though the situation was murky for a while, partly because of the hiatus and the pandemic’s other impacts, coming out of Sengoku Lord, I’d say it hasn’t been. The circumstances under which Evil became double champ pulled all the focus from the titles; the takeaway was less “Evil is champion now” and more “Bullet Club Dick Togo????” But Naito’s challenge and Okada’s promo brings the value of the belts back into the story.

If Naito doesn’t regain the titles at Jingu Stadium, I think the question of their value could be thrown back into question, they’re clearly still very valuable going into that show. A big part of why this is is that both titles are very valuable to Naito, and even if he doesn’t regain them, that will be the template for how they can both feel valuable in the future.

Naito’s personal investment in and history with both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships did all the heavy lifting in making the Double Gold Dash gimmick something everyone could get invested in, even if they didn’t like the idea of someone being this kind of double champ in New Japan. And now, Naito doesn’t just want revenge on the man who he took under his wing after excursion and he doesn’t just want his titles back; he wants both for separate reasons that are immediately clear to anyone who’s followed his character arc.

In general, NJPW’s most successful babyface or tweener champions have not just great matches and entertaining feuds, but relationships with the titles they hold and pursue. The title-defining champions don’t just want to win a belt because of its prestige, but they want to win it to increase its prestige, for a combination of personal and professional achievement. We’ve seen this in stories like Tanahashi “carrying the company on his shoulders,” Nakamura building the value of the Intercontinental Championship, Ibushi wanting the IC title in order to rise of the level of his “gods,” and Okada’s relentless drive to cement himself at the top of New Japan.

Basically, for the double championship to feel important, the next babyface to win it will need to show a similar degree of work ethic and personal attachment that Naito has, and that these other top-notch champions have had. For someone to challenge for only the Heavyweight or Intercontinental Championship (which I would really like to see happen; I’ll defend Naito Two Belts decision but I’d really like to see these separated in the future) they also clearly need to have a specific reason for why they want just one or the other.

With all this in mind, Evil in kayfabe probably isn’t a “deserving” champion, and that’s the point. Even someone rooting for Evil’s reign to continue because they want Evil to continue to get more opportunities and more of a spotlight can see that Naito is the guy who “should” be the double champion – maybe even the only guy on the whole roster who should be double champion! So going into Naito vs. Bullet Club Evil II, it’s easy for New Japan viewers to care about who wins the titles rather than only that Naito kicks Evil’s ass or that they have a great match. The titles still feel important and someone winning or losing them is still an effective storytelling device. At this point, they haven’t really been “devalued.”

NEVER Openweight Championship match: Shingo Takagi (c) def. El Desperado

Speaking of titles and value, Shingo Takagi’s reign continues to make the NEVER Openweight Championship feel more valuable all the time. There’s even a pre-defense video now! After a long stretch of this being a zero or one defense hot potato title, now we have a champion who’s had three successful defenses and who consistently has quality title matches that also have entertaining dramatic hooks. Takagi also seems so enamored with the NEVER belt after he gets it back that it feels like he might have made out with it off-screen. “You guys lack love, sorrow, and confidence,” he tells his unsuccessful challengers. “Get the message?” No, but I guess that’s why I’m not the NEVER Openweight Champion?

As for the actual match, Takagi vs. Desperado is maybe the strongest of the show. While the main event has way higher dramatic highs, the NEVER title match is under twenty minutes with an easy-to-follow physical story. Shingo starts the match on a righteous quest to avenge the theft of his belt, but Desperado is able to take control and nearly take Takagi down by consistently attacking one of his knees in pursuit of winning with Numero Dos.

In contrast to Despy vs. Ishii, in which the quasi-luchador used the same basic strategy, this never transitions into more of a morally-neutral slugfest. Instead, it’s one of maybe three completely straightforward babyface singles performances for Takagi in his New Japan career, along with his G1 matches with Jay White and Taichi.

I think this match was a bit of a step down for both wrestlers after Desperado vs. Ishii and two Sho vs. Shingo matches, but it was solid and fun and also, crucially, Despy’s match was next level amazing, somehow even cooler than the one he debuted on the previous show.

IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Double Championship math: Evil (c) def. Hiromu Takahashi

The biggest downside to Evil vs. Hiromu Takahashi is that it is very long and it sometimes feels that way. There’s a stretch of this match when Evil is on offense and it’s fine, but it’s easier to be engaged by the idea of what could happen later in the match than by what’s actually happening. Evil had a strong streak of matches in the New Japan Cup, but the Final, his match with Naito, and now his match with Hiromu have all depended largely on the dramatic context rather than the action to keep the viewer engaged, rather than the drama and the action supporting and enhancing each other.

While I think part of this match suffers from that issue, everything from Hiromu’s comeback to the end is really exciting and compelling. Hiromu’s feral charisma is a huge part of what makes this match work as well as it does and these qualities go into overdrive when he finally starts to get in some offense. There are some nearfalls with Time Bombe and then Time Bomb 2 that are so convincing that any previous boredom and smark knowledge that we were never going to get Hiromu Three Belts evaporates. Overall, Evil vs. Hiromu is one of those main events I can’t see myself wanting to watch in the future, but that had its entertainment value at the time.

Sengoku Lord closes with the promise of a more exciting future, with Ishimori attacking and challenging Hiromu and Naito coming out to save his cat son and challenge Evil. He shows the most anger it’s possible for a man this dedicated to the tranquilo lifestyle to display, and completely sells the baseball stadium show in a few sentences.

… And that’s Sengoku Lord! It’s a show I don’t regret spending three and a half hours of my life on, but not one I’d urge anyone to go out of their way to watch unless they already feel like it. It’s a mid-level big show, and hopefully the Summer Struggle tour leads us to a better one.

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Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes about pro wrestling for Fanbyte and Deadlock. Her other bylines include With Spandex on UPROXX, Orange Crush, Mind Games Magazine, FanSided WWE, and Diva Dirt.

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