Thursday, 17 November 2016

Opinion: Power Struggle, The World Tag League and the Final Steps Towards Wrestle Kingdom 11

We’re approaching the end of 2016 and things are really hotting up in the world of New Japan Pro Wrestling, feuds are being firmly set in motion, wrestlers are scrambling for their desired belts and matches are being penciled in for the massive Tokyo Dome show on January 4th. Within this piece I am hoping to get those less familiar with the Japanese product hyped for the biggest show in New Japan’s calendar so before I go into anything else, here’s how the well-known ‘Road to Wrestlemania’ lines up with the New Japan shows.

G1 Climax (August) = Royal Rumble. We began setting our sights on Wrestle Kingdom 11 way back in August when Kenny Omega overcame all opposition in the round robin tournament and in doing so became the first foreign winner of the G1 in its current incarnation. Now you may be wondering how in the world this relates to the Royal Rumble, well, the prize for winning such a tournament is a guaranteed place in the main event of the Wrestle Kingdom. However, since this is a few months before WK, much like in WWE, there are a couple of hurdles along the way.

Power Struggle/The World Tag League (October/November) = Roadblock/Fastlane. You could also throw NJPW’s Kings of Pro Wrestling event into the mix here but I don’t want to boggle the mind too much so we will focus on these 2 today. Again as occurs in WWE, usually at these PPV’s we see the other, non-main event feuds pan out and not a lot of title changes happen, but that’s not to say they aren’t worth your time, especially given that Power Struggle (which will be talked about in depth further down the page) was fantastic this year.

Wrestle Kingdom (January) = WrestleMania. This is the big one. The showcase of the immortals. The show of all shows. Just like Mania, Wrestle Kingdom is the largest show in the Japanese version of the sport and fans flock from across the globe in order to see it in person at the famous Tokyo Dome. If you haven’t seen them already I would recommend checking out the highly acclaimed Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10 events, they both have insane matches that can be enjoyed even without storyline context and way after their broadcast date. I think AJ Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura from 10 might be my most watched match this year so please treat yourself if you haven’t already.

Did you digest of that? I certainly hope so because now you’ve had your appetiser I’m about to head into the main course of this article; a review of the most important matches from Power Struggle and an overview and prediction for the World Tag League tournament and don’t worry, there will be a desert too!

Power Struggle Review

On 5th November, NJPW treated us to their annual Power Struggle event and before we go any further let me say this was a truly enjoyable show. Usually this event can suffer from being right before Wrestle Kingdom meaning nothing too important happens but the company pulled out something really special for us viewers, especially given the injury to scheduled main eventer, Michael Elgin. So here are my views on the most important matches from the night, 4 of which feature members of the Los Ingobernables De Japon group which I talked about at length last month, right here: 

Match #1 – IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title - Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa (Donny Marlow)) (C) versus CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI)

Tonga and Loa, A.K.A The Guerrillas of Destiny have engaged in a number of simply terrible matches this year. Their tangles with The Briscoes (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe) over the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles were muting fans and leaving everyone wondering whether the newly introduced Loa was the worst member to every join the highly-saturated Bullet Club.

Their pathway looked bleak and many groaned when they regained their straps but lo and behold, they had a very good match with Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI! Wrestling Jesus must have been smiling down on them because the match was very slick and the sequences between Tonga and YOSHI-HASHI were both especially impressive, including the mesmerising finish which saw Tonga reverse a pump handle slam into his cutter.

The pace slowed massively whenever Loa hit the ring but he is clearly improving and if the pair can get a few more solid matches under their wings during the Tag League they can perhaps soar higher and bring much needed prestige back to the floundering Heavyweight tag belts.

Match #2 – Super Junior Tag Team Tournament Final - Roppongi Vice (Berreta (Trent Barreta) and Rocky Romero) versus ACH and Taiji Ishimori

Roppongi Vice took on ACH and Ishimori in the final match of the Super Juniors Tag Tournament with the winner gaining, you guessed it, a shot at the Junior Heavyweight straps versus The Young Bucks at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Overall the tournament has been very fun this year with the action being fast paced and exciting from the first round to the last.

This finale was the best collision in the entire bracket too. Growing tension between Beretta and Romero was showcased, but the twosome overcame their differences and managed to achieve the win with a whole host of impressive tag team manoeuvres that played into the fact that Romero is the most experienced of the foursome. The tale of wise veterans versus young up-and-coming being perfectly displayed ad in the end the right team won; ACH and Ishimori will have their time but the biggest Junior Tag match available is Young Bucks versus Roppongi Vice.

Move of the match was undoubtedly ACH hitting a Shooting Star Press from standing on the mat, over the top rope, to the outside – I was stunned. If we see this match again down the road I would be all for it though, everyone knew what the crowd wanted and played to it wonderfully. All in all, a great end to an enjoyable tourney.

Match #3 – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title - BUSHI (C) versus KUSHIDA

The first match involving an LIJ member was this one, as BUSHI and KUSHIDA faced off once again for the Junior Heavyweight Championship, this time though, it was personal. BUSHI had essentially stolen the belt from KUSHIDA and the former champ was gunning for revenge from the off. He charged his foe and nailed him with strikes before heading to the outside for a horrible looking piledriver to the floor. It was nasty stuff from the babyface.
With a start like this the match was clearly going to be of different taste to their previous affairs and that thankfully continued as we saw many more submission based attacks being thrown in the mix alongside their usual supplement of suicide dives, (they look so much more vicious in Japan) top rope moves and finisher attempts.

After hitting 2 codebreakers and his MX, BUSHI was somehow unable to put his challenger away and in retaliation we saw another heelish move from KUSHIDA as he tore at the mask of BUSHI; will there be a hair v mask match down the line? I would be all over that! Following the tear KUSHIDA managed to lock in his hoverboard lock for what seemed like an eternity – BUSHI was forced to tap of have his arm broken and thus he relinquished his belt.

The result was certainly a shock and the whole contest was tremendous viewing; the chemistry between the two is off the charts. As KUSHIDA celebrated though, the New Japan time bomb counter hit zero and bursting from the shade in a quite insane jacket was Kamatitachi who had been over in CMLL and ROH on learning excursions. I don’t think too many could have predicted the bomb would have been him but the bout is now set for WK as KUSHIDA will be forced to defend his belt against the returning man in a match that could well steal the show at the Dome.

Match #4 – NEVER Openweight Title - Katsuyori Shibata (C) versus EVIL (Takaaki Watanabe)

Shocking moments from the night didn’t end at the Junior match either as the second Los Ingobernables de Japon member to compete was EVIL who against all odds and predictions defeated the fan favourite Katsuyori Shibata and took home the NEVER Openweight Championship!

This was easily the stiffest contest of the PPV as EVIL and Shibata beat the crap out of each other throughout. Watch this one and listen for the sounds of the elbows and kicks, they are truly disgusting; combine those noises with the sight of Shibata’s sleeper suplex and EVIL’s targeting of the champion’s injured shoulder with chair shots and you’ve got a match that makes you wince and entraps you within its grasp. Seriously, the stiffness is so intense that you cannot possibly look away.

EVIL’s victory was one via cheating, obviously. He chucked the ref out of the ring before nailing Katsuyori with the belt, a chair and finished off with a brainbsuter onto the chair and his STO finisher to get the win in a shocking finish. Shibata however has recaptured the belt in the main event of the recent New Japan event in Singapore, so it looks like he will still be going to the Tokyo Dome with the title, which many fans will likely be very happy to see.

Match #5 – Hiroshi Tanahashi versus SANADA (Seiya Sanada)

Ever since the G1, NJPW’s top man, Hiroshi Tanahashi, has been struggling to regain momentum as he has hit a roadblock in the form of LIJ and most notably, SANADA, who got the better of Tanahashi on the first night of said tournament. Clearly then this contest has been a long time coming and the animosity between them finally boiled over at Power Struggle.

Their first meeting at the G1 was marvelous and this one followed suit; both took big risks and little reward was forthcoming as they each missed top rope moves which allowed their foe to get back into the contest. Standout moves were surely Tana’s slingblade on the apron, Hi Fly Flo from the top to the outside and SANADA’s missed moonsault which blew out his knee.

SANADA attempted his dragon sleeper submission a ton of times but he could not get past NJPW’s A+ player. Having managed to avoid the move that destroyed him previously Tanahashi rose to the top as he has done many a time in his career and nailed SANADA with a couple of Hi Fly Flos, finally seeing off the man who has caused him such misery within the year. Both wrestlers had what I believed to be their best match since they last met and I hope they both go on to better things in the next few months as they as incredible competitors – with Tanahashi especially moving forward faster than you might think…

Match #6 – IWGP Intercontinental Title - Tetsuya Naito (C) versus Jay Lethal

Jay Lethal was ushered into the main event for Power Struggle as the mighty Michael Elgin suffered an eye injury in a tag match meaning that he was unable to attempt to win back the Intercontinental Championship from the Ingobernables leader. This would be the first main event match of Lethal’s NJPW tenure and after this strong performance maybe he will find himself in this position again sometime in 2017.

Naito kicked Lethal out of LIJ on an ROH show earlier this year and as former partners they clearly know one another very well, a factor which played heavily into the bout as they continuously countered each other’s offence. The challenger hit a number of lovely moves including a combo of back suplexes and later, Elgin’s classic bucklebomb and Elginbomb, but he couldn’t put away Naito who battled back with a beautiful set of corner dropkicks, a tornado DDT from the Lethal Injection before finally finishing Lethal with a Destino from another Lethal Injection attempt.

It wasn’t anywhere close to the Elgin/Naito amazingness we got treated to previously but it was still really fun to watch and a worthy main event of a wonderful Power Struggle card. The crowd were super into Naito and hung on every move in the match and every word of his very interesting promo that followed his victory.

During the promo a challenger arrived upon the ramp, and of course, it was TANAHASHI! Almost all NJPW fans have been predicting and wanting this match for months and it we will get to witness it at the Tokyo Dome this year. I’m excited and you should be too as when Naito and Tanahashi meet at last for the IC belt it will surely be one of the finest matches of the year. Do not miss it people!

World Tag League Preview

So that was the most interesting stuff that Power Struggle had to offer and it was truly wonderful watching material; now we have just one stop left before Wrestle Kingdom and that will be the World Tag League whereby the winners will be granted a title match on the January card, likely against current champions Guerrillas of Destiny . It seems fitting then that I have a quick bullet point look at the tag teams taking part and let you know how I think each will perform, so lets go!

Block A

  • Hiroshi Tanahashi and Juice Robinson: Tanahashi already has a match set for Wrestle Kingdom so there’s no way these two will be winning. But I like the pairing, Robinson will surely benefit from working with a seasoned pro and be able to take pins for Tanahashi.

  • TenKoji (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan): TenCozy have been in the business for longer than I have been alive and have done it all, now they are winding down and Kojima has other commitments with Ricochet and David Finlay. Might make the final in a happy moment for the fans.

  • BULLET CLUB (Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page (Adam Page)): 2 Bullet Club whipping boys with zero chance of doing anything of note.

  • Manabu Nakanishi and Henare: Another combination of a young lion with a longtime wrestler, Nakanishi will hopefully be able to tutor Henare along and let the upstart show off too. No threat to the title though.

  • War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe): War Machine are the only ROH team taking part and will surely follow Michael Elgin’s suit in getting over fast in NJPW as they are powerful gaijins. Given the weakness of the block they might well make the final and are a dark horse to be the ones competing at Wrestle Kingdom.

  • Leland Race (Jason Jones) and Brian Breaker: I have no idea who these guys are and won’t pretend to – they might be good, or they might do very little, most likely the latter.

  • Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa): The Bullet Club boys are already the champions so they almost certainly will not be winning the block but will likely come in a close second to keep them strong as champions. As mentioned, I hope they manage to put together a few decent matches.

  • Tetsuya Naito and A Mystery Partner: Naito said he would be bringing something special for the Tag League and hopefully his mystery man is someone interesting. A partner from the UK indie scene much like CHAOS’ Will Ospreay would be awesome, Marty Scurll anyone?!

Block B

  • Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma): GBH won last year’s Tag League and won the belts from BULLET CLUB's Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Since then they have been pretty anonymous and another league win would be surprising but beneficial for them. I don’t see it happening though.

  • Katsuyori Shibata and Yuji Nagata: I actually had to re-write this part after Shibata won his NEVER Openweight title back from EVIL, before that I thought these two could go very far but instead they will likely just have solid matches and come up short of the finals.

  • CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI): Hashi has massively improved this year and pairing him with Okada again may be unwise as he needs more protection than he did in 2015. No way they will win, watch their matches though, they will be entertaining.

  • CHAOS (Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii): This pair is my pick to win. Both are already big names in NJPW and can easily be the ones to bring prestige to the Heavyweight tag titles by having great matches each and every month. Plus, neither have anything set for WK yet and there’s no chance they won’t be appearing on the card.

  • Yoshitatsu (Naofumi Yamamoto) and Billy Gunn: Tatsu and Gunn? Yea, I don’t understand it either. They will probably be there for comedy purposes. No hope.

  • Kenny Omega and Chase Owens: Owens will likely be taking a bunch of pins for the team as they won’t be winning the block. Omega is ready for the main event at the Dome and nothing else.

  • BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale and BONE SOLDIER (Captain New Japan)) : Fale and Boner, are you having a laugh?! Fale might win a couple of matches to keep him strong, other than that, they’ll be losing a lot.

  • Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA and EVIL): In my opinion, these are the only guys who might top Goto and Ishii, especially since EVIL doesn’t have his NEVER Openweight title. Both LIJ have been in high profile matches towards the end of the year and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the twosome advance to the Dome. 1st or 2nd place inbound.
So the winners of the Tag League will almost certainly come from Block B with Goto/Ishii or SANADA/EVIL the pairings most likely to gain victory over all others and win the straps at Wrestle Kingdom. I would say Ishii and Goto have the best chance also because they would be babyface challengers to the heel Guerrillas of Destiny.

And that’s it done, Power Struggle was a blast, the Tag League should be a fun watch and we have 4 matches already set for the mighty Wrestle Kingdom 11 show on January 4th. So go and check out New Japan Pro Wrestling and get yourself ready for what might well be the finest PPV of 2017 – let us know what you think will happen and what you think of the current New Japan product, we would love to have your views.

Images - Thomas Brady & James Marston
Editor - James Marston 

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