The road to the Tokyo Dome reaches its last major stop, and coming off a massive King of Pro Wrestling show the pressure was on for Power Struggle to deliver. A sold out Osaka crowd was on hand to see Wrestle Kingdom start to take shape as titles changed hands, challenges thrown down and rivalries escalated. So let’s break down what went down.
Tranquilo Tanahashi, Naito Accepts
It’s unfortunate that the winner of the main event was never in doubt. There was no way Naito was dropping the title to Jay Lethal, who was only here in the first place to fill in for an injured Michael Elgin. What we got was a decent enough match between the two with some nice spots, but the match failed to stand out when it was all said and done. A clear cut winner, a long night and a somewhat unfamiliar wrestler for the audience meant the crowd didn’t really get into the main event until it was over.
That’s when it got interesting. The expectation was that New Japan’s once in a century talent Hiroshi Tanahashi would challenge Naito for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestle Kingdom, but it didn’t make it any less exciting. There was a great bit of interaction between the two to set up the semi-main event for January 4, and honestly I’m more excited for Naito/Tanahashi than I am Okada/Omega.
Tanahashi is the Legend, But Sanada is the Future
Yep Tanahashi was a busy guy at Power Struggle. Not only did he put forth a challenge to the Los Ingobernables leader, he also put down another member of the stable. Sanada has been positioned well in the company since he arrived, and the crowning moment thus far was defeating Hiroshi on night one of the G1 Climax. Here the two would face off again to see if it was a fluke or not.
This was match of the night for me, in what was a great and measured display of wrestling by both combatants. The early going saw the two of them playing some mind games with each other, until Tanahashi started to work on the leg with his array of dragon screw leg whips. This eventually proved the difference, with Sanada unable to take advantage of a few opportunities because of the damaged leg, and Tanahashi put him down with a series of High Fly Flows. Again, not a surprising result given the expectation Tanahashi would move on to Naito, but even in defeat Sanada looked like a top tier talent for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Never say Never, EVIL is the NEVER Champion
Speaking of unsurprising results, this wasn’t one of them. Evil has quickly grown on me over the year, but I’ll admit I was looking past him to who Katsuyori Shibata might be defending against at Wrestle Kingdom. As it turns out, he won’t be defending against anyone, because Evil claimed his first ever championship in NJPW with a big time victory over Shibata.
Even in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where disqualifications almost never end a match, Evil probably should have been disqualified here. He took Shibata out with a chair multiple times in the match in between shoving the referee around like a schoolyard bully. But if we look past that aspect, we got a pretty fantastic and hard hitting match. Evil is at his best working with strong style guys, so it made sense this delivered. Hopefully after Wrestle Kingdom Shibata moves on from the NEVER Openweight scene and onto bigger and better things, and Evil is a great choice to continue the tradition of brutal matches for this title.
Omega Pins Okada Clean!
Normally when Juniors and Heavyweights are in tag matches with each other, the Juniors take the pinfall. When Gedo is in a match, this expectation doubles (even though Ospreay took the pin at the last show). So when the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion and New Japan Ace Kazuchika Okada is the one who is pinned, it’s time to take notice.
Kenny’s been getting some big victories of late, but the end of this match went a long way to establishing him as a real threat to the title. He got in several big moves against Okada, and the ring was more or less cleared out towards the end so it was just The Rainmaker and The Cleaner. This was huge for Kenny, and I would say he needed it to really build him up as a legitimate contender, but it is surprising that considering the gravity of the final decision that the rest of the match wasn’t more serious.
3/4s of this match felt more like a comedy match, and while it was well executed and a lot of fun, it might have made more sense to ease up on the humour in order to sell the importance of the Wrestle Kingdom main event. That being said, from the Gedo beard pulls, the brilliant four man Terminator spot where the crowd initiated the clap, to one of the Young Bucks singing the Nelly song ‘Hot in Here’, the comedy was great and it resulted in a damn fun match.
Young Bucks/Bullet Club superkick counter: 18! That’s one hell of a superkick party.
Kushida is Champ Again, Time Bomb is Revealed
I had either Minoru Suzuki or Kamaitachi as the Time Bomb, and when it was clear the time bomb would be going off at the end of the Junior Heavyweight Title match, the latter seemed all but guaranteed. Kamaitachi is back from his excursion, and he’s back with his Young Lion name of Himoru Takahashi, bringing with him a new style but hopefully the same skill he demonstrated against Dragon Lee throughout the year.
He came out to challenge Kushida at Wrestle Kingdom, who managed to regain his Junior Heavyweight Title against his arch rival Bushi. The Los Ingobernables member has had Kushida’s number in singles matches, but the Time Splitter came out with a newfound aggression that even earned him some boos from the very pro LIJ crowd. It was a good match, not their best confrontation but also not their worst. I liked Kushida ripping Bushi’s mask towards the end, and his Hoverboard Lock at the end looked particularly painful. That being said, I’ll be happy to see him move on from this feud, and Takahashi should make for a great challenger.
Roppongi Vice are the Super Junior Tag Tourney Winners
It’s been a challenging few weeks for Rocky Romero and Trent Baretta, who have been arguing almost non stop leading into and through the Super Junior Tag Tournament. But they put aside their frustrations and managed to overcome the exciting NOAH tag team of ACH and Taiji Ishimori. This was pretty standard Junior Tag affair, but it also felt like there was a bit of focus on Rocky, who has appeared as a bit of a weak link for the team. He was the MVP, coming through with the goods when it counted to bring his team to victory.
After the match, Roppongi Vice called out the current Super Junior Tag Champions: The Young Bucks, and challenged them for a match at the Tokyo Dome come January 4. Surprisingly, no other teams joined them in the ring to make continue the recent tradition of four team madness to open the show. Now, it wouldn’t be the first time teams have been added to a match in New Japan after a show, but it seems we might actually be getting a straight up team versus team. The Junior tag division is a little shallow at the moment (especially if ReDragon aren’t in the division) so going this route is by far the best option.
Bullet (Club) Points:
– G.O.D continue to show some improvement in their title defense against Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi. I’m seeing a lot of praise for this match, but personally I wasn’t that enthralled (I think their match with the Briscoes at King of Pro Wrestling was better). This match worked overtime to make Tanga Loa look good, presenting him as an to the Stone Pitbull Ishii (HaHaHaHaHaHa good joke New Japan). Highlight of the match was Tama Tonga’s Gun Stun on Yoshi-Hashi, who had the crowd firmly behind him all night.
– In his post match press conference, Tetsuya Naito announced that he “Had something big for the upcoming World Tag League”. Presumably this means the mystery fifth man of Los Ingobernables will be with Naito while Sanada teams with the new NEVER Openweight Champion Evil.
– Will Ospreay is currently looking like the odd man out when it comes to Wrestle Kingdom (if my assumptions of Goto and Ishii teaming up to face G.O.D come to fruition). It seems unlikely they wouldn’t use a popular young up and coming talent on their biggest show of the year, but right now what is there for him to do?
– I still couldn’t care less about the Bone Soldier/Yoshi Tatsu rivalry, and honestly nor should you, but this was their best their feud has been.