While I haven’t been really recapping the Summer Struggle events (there’s only so many ways to review multiple 6 or 8-man tags over and over again on the same show, you know?), this one seemed important enough to get down, because tonight, it’s the 4 qualifying matches for the King of Pro Wrestling match! Wacky stips abound, which is certainly a bit unusual for a New Japan show, and we might as well get ready for the big show at Jingu on Saturday by dipping our toes back into the New Japan water proper.
So let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
Yuji Nagata/Yuya Uemura/Yota Tsuji vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI/Tomohiro Ishii/Hirooki Goto)
As usual, the biggest intrigue is “which Young Lion will do the job?”, but the match itself is fun. I like to make fun of YOSHI a bunch, but man, he looked SO happy when he got his first title winning the NEVER 6-Man belts that I just don’t have the heart right now. Never mind that the NEVER 6-Man belts have all the prestige of the TV title that Jim Duggan found in the trash, which makes it a perfect belt for YOSHI!
Hmmm, maybe I do have the heart for it. Or maybe I truly lack one.
Anyway, match is fine and a bit too long (10 minutes? It’s a Young Lion involved tag opener. Everyone get your shit in for a minute and then pin one of the guys in black trunks), but Uemura and Tsuji both get some shine before YOSHI submits Yuya with the Butterfly Lock. (CHAOS over Yuji Nagata/Yuya Uemura/Yota Tsuji, submission, 10:37)
Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI/Yoshinobu Kanemaru/Taichi/Zack Sabre Jr) vs Golden Aces (Kota Ibushi/Hiroshi Tanahashi)/Master Wato/Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Ibushi is JACKED. This whole storyline between him and Tanahashi, the student who idolizes the teacher who thinks that his time may be coming to an end but is seeing a future in the man who idolized him becoming what Tana used to be…..man. The next time someone tries to pretend that NJPW doesn’t have characters or stories and is just a workrate fed to me, I’m gonna dick punch them and run away depending on whether or not I can use my Judo training in any way to defend myself. If I cannot, it’s crotch shot and take off. But it’s SO great and I love it very much and if GEDO is listening somewhere out there in the big world, all I want is a G-1 Final of Ibushi vs Tanahashi. Normally, I wouldn’t want it because Ibushi just won last year, Jay White exists and I adore his scumbagginess, but this year, I want Tana and Ibushi to do the damn thing. This year is the time.
Oh yeah, there’s a match here too. Wato is much better than his stupid gimmick is going to allow, I think. We’re basically dealing with 2 matches, as there’s Aces vs ZSJ/Taichi and Wato/Tenzan vs DOUKI/Kanemaru as far as the issues go between the teams. Taichi still sucks and I still don’t get where any love for the guy comes from, as he uses his usual chokes and eye rakes on Tenzan. Tanahashi ends up face-in-peril (shocker, I know) and he takes a bunch of punishment, but Ibushi saves him from the champs’ finisher and Hiroshi ends up finishing off DOUKI with a High Fly Flow. Very entertaining match, as you’d probably expect, but this was mostly groundwork for Saturday. (Golden Aces/Master Wato/Hiroyoshi Tenzan over Suzuki-Gun, pinfall, 10:06)
Post-match, the Aces and Suzuki-Gun have words, with Tanahashi telling them ‘3 days’ while pointing at the tag belts.
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. Or, barring that, the weird stuff.
El Desperado vs Satoshi Kojima – King of Pro Wrestling Qualifier – Stipulation: Finishers are banned
Well, this could be interesting. Despy has been on a hot streak recently, turning in excellent performances in the New Japan Cup against Ishii and another against Shingo Takagi for the NEVER openweight title. Kojima is one of my favorite ‘older’ workers in New Japan.
Desperado tries to slug it out to start, but that goes quite badly for him, so he stomps on Kojima’s foot and tries shoulderblocks. That doesn’t go much better. So he goes to Kojima’s knee instead, kicking at it and sending him to the barricade on the outside. Back in and he stands on Kojima’s knee and taunts him. What a dickhead. More punishment including Despy splashing the knee and tying it up to force Kojima to make the ropes.
Blind charge misses from Desperado and Kojima gets the chops, then hits a cutter. He splashes Despy in the corner and goes up, which would have probably resulted in something interesting, but Desperado just rolls to the other corner. He hangs Kojima’s knee up and dropkicks the bad leg, but Satoshi throws a lariat that misses Despy. Desperado rightfully wants Kojima DQ’d for this illegal maneuver, but Japanese refs suck as a rule and the match continue with a DDT by Kojima.
Out to the apron and there’s an apron DDT by Kojima. Back in and Kojima goes up again (LUCHA KOJIMA!) and hits a flying elbow for two. Desperado ducks a shot and hits a spear, then a spinning pumphandle bomb for two into the Stretch Muffler. Apparently, they each only have one ‘finisher’ that counts in this match – Desperado has the Pinche Loco, Kojima has the lariat. Kojima makes the ropes to escape and cuts Desperado off at the top to hit a second-rope cutter. 1, 2, no! Kojima is on auto-pilot now and goes for the lariat to finish, but remembers just in time and stops short, allowing Despy to poke him in the eye and roll him up for two. Kojima with a brainbuster for two. Kojima with the Kawada Koroshi, but Desperado makes the ropes.
Kojima goes for it again, but the ref gets bumped. Desperado taps but there’s no referee, and Kojima breaks like a fool to check on him. Desperado drops him with a right and goes for Pinche Loco with the ref still down, but nothing doing as Satoshi backdrops out. Desperado hits Kojima with a lariat, taunts him, then does it again. He goes for a third, but now Kojima has had it and DROPS Desperado with a lariat….only to be seen by the referee who is now on his feet. (El Desperado over Satoshi Kojima, DQ, 14:14)
THOUGHTS: ***1/2. I kind of thought this was tremendous, honestly. They played the story of the match perfectly, and Kojima came to play tonight as he sold really well for Despy. Finish was exactly what it probably should have been, and the ref bump was played in a way where you can hardly blame Desperado – he was flailing around and trying to escape an armbar and ended up grabbing the ref. Obviously, he’s evil so his intent was to take the ref down, but a bit of ambiguity isn’t a bad thing. Overall, I really enjoyed this match a lot.
Kojima sells the loss really well, staying in the ring for a few moments with a ‘shit, I can’t BELIEVE I did that’ look on his face.
Time to clean the ring and take a break!
Toru Yano vs BUSHI – King of Pro Wrestling Qualifier – Stipulation: 2 counts win
Well, this should be interesting. They trade roll-ups for one and Yano takes a walk. Back in and he goes for the turnbuckle pad and gets it off on the second try. BUSHI charges and hits the steel! Yano with roll-up, 1, NO! Yano keeps covering, which makes complete sense – BUSHI may go to muscle memory or something and forget that he has to kick out at one, plus it makes him work for it. Also, who gives a fuck about the psychology of this match and why am I doing it?
They roll out and fight on the floor, where Yano gets his trusty roll of tape. BUSHI avoids getting his legs tied together to send Yano the barricade, then follow that with a tope to drop Yano. And now the cruel hand of fate intervenes as BUSHI gets Chekov’s athletic tape and tapes Yano’s legs together. BUSHI rolls Yano back in and goes for La Magistral, but Yano leans back on it and keeps BUSHI down for 2 to win the match! (Toru Yano over BUSHI, pinfall at 2, 4:44)
THOUGHTS: **3/4. It was dumb, but it was a comedy match, it was funny, and it was under 5 minutes. Fine with me.
SHO vs SANADA – King of Pro Wrestling Qualifier – Stipulation: Submissions only
OH YEAH. Let’s go. I may not love SANADA, but I don’t hate him and I sure love SHO. The canned crowd noise, I do not love. They go to the mat immediately and start working holds and reversals. 2 minutes later, we finally have a standoff after some very solid grappling. Back at it with more reversals off monkey flips into a SHO armbar, so SANADA makes the ropes. Sho to an armbar as we see his ears have more cauliflower than a Whole Foods. They reverse off that and Sho gets a headscissors on the mat. Both guys are playing the story very well so far, trying to cinch a hold to get the sub and ignoring everything else.
SANADA escapes into a Dragon Screw legwhip, then goes for another but SHO catches him and snaps his arm on the top rope. SHO with more arm work, then to a hammerlock on the mat. He sends SANADA to the buckle arm first after dropping him arm first onto it. SANADA tries a moonsault, but lands in an kimura. This shit is like catnip for me. SHO transitions into a seated keylock and rolls through it a few times to increase the torque on the arm. Finally, SANADA musters up just enough strength to suplex SHO to break the hold.
SANADA now with a dropkick to the knee to send SHO to the floor, then a plancha. Back in and they exchange reversals until SHO gets a suplex. He grabs the arm and lays in kicks, but SANADA catches one and dragon screws him, although the arm is too hurt to follow up for a second. More knee punishment by SANADA, but he goes for a figure-four and SHO rolls through it into the Hoverboard Lock. SANADA escapes that only for SHO to dropkick his arm. SHO reverses a SANADA suplex and hits double knees, which in hindsight is not the best plan, as he’s hurt almost as badly as SANADA is.
Shock Arrow is blocked by SANADA and he drops SHO on the mat, knees-first. SANADA goes up, but SHO is ready and puts his knees up on the moonsault. SHO’s selling is simply magnificent. Both guys struggle to their feet and slug it out, with SANADA dropkicking the knee. SHO gives as good as he gets and reverses into a Shock Arrow, then Germans into a cross-armbreaker. SANADA lifts him out like he’s going to powerbomb him, but at the last second just drops him into a cutter. SANADA back up, moonsault hits! And now, the figure-four is going on and SHO is in trouble. He gives it his best, rolling it over, but SANADA rolls it back and cuts SHO off from the ropes, and there’s just nowhere to go. (SANADA over SHO, submission, 19:37)
THOUGHTS: ****. Let me start by saying that your mileage will most assuredly vary here. I was deeply into this most of the way, as SHO’s selling especially was off-the-charts fantastic. There was very little lying around, which to me is the bane of submission-based matches; they were always moving, reversing, selling, every little thing that you could do to keep the crowd while you’re in a hold, they did it. I thought this was a hell of a match with a good story, even if SANADA’s off and on with the arm was driving me a bit nuts at some points in the match. SHO got a lot of shine here while SANADA went over, so everyone was pretty much a winnner. I dug this, but if two guys trading holds isn’t the type of wrestling you like (and that’s not a judgment, just a statement of fact) stay far away from this match.
Kazuchika Okada vs Yujiro Takahashi/GEDO/JADO – King of Pro Wrestling Qualifier – Stipulation: 1 vs 3 Handicap match
Okay, so the working theory here is that Okada figures that GEDO and the like are gonna get involved in the match anyway, so why not have them be in peril to take the pin in that case? I won’t lie; based on the Okada/Gedo and the Okada/Yujiro matches of late, I don’t have much of any hope that this match is going to pass ‘watchable’ at best. But we’ll see.
Okada and Yujiro start, with Okada dominating until Takahashi bites his way out of a chinlock. Yujiro takes the ref so GEDO can whip Okada with his belt, then send him outside for JADO to whip him to the barricade. More belt whuppins from GEDO, who tosses him back in to a seated dropkick for two from Yujiro. More beatings from the heels, as Okada gets his eyes raked by GEDO and then gets sent into the exposed turnbuckle.
Okada tries a comeback, but gets cut off and Yujiro gets a big boot for two. GEDO in for more beats, but Okada finally drops him and in comes JADO for Okada to mount his comeback. Dear GOD, this match sucks. Okada with the DDT on JADO for two, then the Cobra Clutch, but GEDO and Yujiro ride to the rescue. Okada off the ropes, but JADO cracks him with the kendo stick and Takahashi covers for two. Okada regains the initiative and we’re back to the Clutch, Okada breaks to put GEDO and JADO down, then back to the clutch. They come back and he’s forced to break again, allowing Yujiro to get a throw for two.
They triple team Okada now, setting him up for Yujiro to powerbomb him off the second rope for two. That looked like it almost went wrong. Yujiro with a slam and GEDO comes off the top with a frog splash for two. Okada with the comeback and he clears the ring, but walks into the GEDO clutch for two. GEDO goes for a superkick, but Okada catches it, hits a Tombstone, and puts GEDO in the Cobra Clutch for the tapout. (Kazuchika Okada over Yujiro Takahashi/GEDO/JADO, submission, 15:27)
THOUGHTS: **. I thought this was the drizzling shits and I’m really, REALLY hoping that the Yujiro/Okada thing and the GEDO/Okada thing are both DONE for a long time. This was so boring in every way, from the pedestrian heel beatdown to the inevitable Okada comeback, you’ve seen all of it before. There’s nothing about Yujiro that makes me think he’s even remotely in the same league as Okada, and he’s been working with him for the last several shows.
And yes, I enjoyed the Yano/BUSHI match more than the main and I won’t apologize for it.
Okada gets the mic to cut his show-ending promo and we’re done.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I liked this show a lot but you can turn it off before the main event for sure. The SHO/SANADA match won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was great, and the Desperado/Kojima match was better than it had any right to be. Overall, for a quick show on the tour, this was fun. Thumbs up.
As promised, from now on, we’ll tackle the post-match interviews.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Scrum:
Yuji Nagata: gives Tsuji advice about fighting harder, saying that if you’re going to fight, you have to let it all out. Tsuji agrees.
Yota Tsuji: He prefers singles matches to tags, but admits that when he and Uemura team together, they are better than they are as singles, which comes from their time in the Dojo. IF they ever became a full-time tag team, they’d be unstoppable. (You know, with Yoh hurt, there ARE some junior heavyweight tag belts out there. Just saying.)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru: tells Wato he’s still green and he’ll end him at Jingu.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi: Tana says they had impeccable timing in the ring today. (at this point, ZSJ and Taichi storm the press area and they argue back and forth, with ZSJ claiming that it was just ‘one last victory’ before they lose on Saturday.)
Taichi: We never even agreed to this match, get on your knees and beg us for it.
Ibushi: It’s already set.
Taichi: We might just end you tomorrow.
Tanahashi: Enjoy your last 3 days with the belts.
Taichi: (tosses the belts at the feet of Tana and Ibushi) How can we enjoy it when trash like you get to challenge for it? Polish those up and bring them back to us tomorrow where we end you. (ZSJ and Taichi stalk away)
Ibushi: They want us to polish the titles for them.
Tanahashi: (big ass grin on face) I’m trying to keep my anger in check right now. We gave it our all to get this title shot. Today, I didn’t tag in Ibushi to show that I can handle it, that I’m truly back. I wanted him to see that.
Ibushi: I tell just by looking at your physique. (they walk off holding the tag belts.)
(This whole thing was just tremendous. This has been such a great feud to watch.)
Master Wato: Don’t mess with me! He tells Kanemaru that he’ll crush him in Jingu.
Tenzan: Tells Wato that he’s doing great. Kanemaru has no idea what’s in store for him.
Satoshi Kojima: Says to never mock the signature move of a pro wrestler. That’s all he has to say.
El Desperado: (rolls into the interview area still in pain.) That was tough as hell. Isn’t he foolish, though? I knew he couldn’t contain himself, because he’s a moron. He probably thinks the war continues even though he lost a battle. I didn’t want to get hit by him and I feel sick right now. He got rattled when I went for that suplex, I’ve been studying Bill Robinson’s Double Arm suplex. I couldn’t pull it off, but who cheated at the end, using an illegal move right in front of the ref? (A member of Suzuki-Gun saying this is the funniest thing I’ve heard in ages) I just defeated a member of the 3rd Generation, so there’s 2 more to go…..but I really don’t want to face them. I don’t need to. Don’t make that match! (This was awesome.)
BUSHI: is sure his shoulder was up before two!
Toru Yano: (Still with his leg taped together! Man, sell that one, Yano) Today, I was glad to ride the elevator! (Yano rolls through the door to leave.)
SHO: You were stronger than me today, SANADA, That’s it.
Back to Okada in the ring now: Okada tries to lead the people to clap his name in unison without using their voices. He thanks everyone, explains the KOPW title, says they’ll be back tomorrow. Most of his backstage promo is pretty much the same, although he does go into greater detail talking a bit about the IWGP history with gimmick matches, etc. He also talks about thinking the match would be easier if JADO and GEDO were in it, but it didn’t turn out that way, and that they’ll possibly try some different ways for fans to vote on stipulations in the future.
Yujiro Takahashi: If my stipulation, lumberjacks with leather belts, would have been chosen, I would have won for sure! (Good lord, stop pushing this man.)
That’s it from me, everyone! I’ll see all of you for the big show this weekend in Jingu!
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter
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