The road to WrestleKingdom got a little clearer as a big surprise greeted us all in Osaka…

We’re back to Osaka, as the larger Edion Arena played host to a card that, among other things, would see the finals of the Super Junior Tag League. Commentary comes from the three-man booth of Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton.

Volador Jr., Titan, TJP & Clark Connors vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi & Yuya Uemura
Liger’s farewell continued with this opener, featuring a LOT of guys who didn’t quite make it in the Super Junior Tag League.

Clark Connors and Yuya Uemura looked to start us off, but instead it was Clark and Liger! We start in the ropes, but Connors’ not-clean break annoyed Liger, who chopped back, then swatted the youngster with a palm strike as we began the merry go round of tags. Tiger Mask and Volador are next in, with Volador handspringing off the ropes before he got lifted outside… from where he returned before we began to chuckle at the prospect of a dive from Tiger Mask. Titan tags in, and he quickly peppers Tiger Mask with kicks before running into a tiltawhirl backbreaker. Taguchi’s next for hip attacks as he looked to get revenge on the elimination that Titan and Volador gave them on Friday. Eventually those arses knock down Titan, as Uemura and TJP tag in, but the ring fills… then clears as Uemura evaded everyone. Even the wild charges from the luchadors, who spilled badly to the outside, before TJP simply dumped Uemura with a back suplex.

Liger and Tiger come in to break up the pin, as things get a little too loose for my liking. Taguchi misses a backslide as Uemura began to catch TJP with flash pin attempts, only for a springboard forearm from TJP to cut him off ahead of a Detonation kick for the win. An enjoyable, pacey opener, but that last flurry at the end almost derailed things. **¾

Uemura sold that Detonation kick like a champ, then shook TJP’s hand – in contrast to Clark Connors who just buggered off to the back.

Rocky Romero & Robbie Eagles vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)
The IWGP junior tag champs being second in the card sure suggests this isn’t all they’re doing, eh…

Rocky tries to play-call like he’s Taguchi, and we start with Eagles and Ishimori. Robbie’s quick with headscissors to Ishimori, before he sent ELP back outside as some double-teaming to Ishimori kept the Bullet Club on the back foot. More headscissors snuff out ELP’s interference… and as my feed dies, we come back as Eagles gets hung upside down in a Tree of Woe for the Gas Pedal. Phantasmo tweaks Eagles’ fingers, then bites them as he prepared for some rope-walking, only to be threatened as Rocky went for a springboard… but he stopped to pick up Romero in the corner and walk with him some more ahead of an avalanche death valley driver. ELP, you crazy son of a…

There’s a turnaround as Rocky comes in to dish out Forever clotheslines to ELP and Ishimori, before he followed up by hanging ELP in the ropes for a missile dropkick. That’s good for a near-fall, before Eagles took out Ishimori with a tope con giro to the outside. A standing Sliced Bread nearly gets Rocky the win, so he goes for a Shiranui out of the corner, only for ELP to counter with a whirlibird neckbreaker for a near-fall. That move’s not the same without Andy Q’s high-pitched call….

Eagles broke up that pin and began to unload with kicks, only to run into a tombstone gutbuster from Ishimori, before a Bloody Cross on Rocky led to ELP’s CR2 for the win. A really solid tag match, but that ELP rope-walk wackiness is what’ll stick in the memory here. Retire rope-walking – nobody’s topping that. ***

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Lance Archer) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA & Shingo Takagi)
Minoru Suzuki not getting music and entrance here (they instead came out to Lance Archer’s music) kinda tells you where he’s standing here. That also tells me they’re setting up Archer’s next challenger here…

EVIL was back after missing a few shows with an ankle injury, but commentary flat out calls BS on that. We’ve a jump start as Archer went after EVIL, so there’s your answer. The pair clatter into each other with shoulder tackles, before EVIL tried to hoist him up with a Fisherman suplex, only for Archer to get free and land a crossbody instead. Meanwhile, Suzuki tries to bury Shingo under a chair, while Zack Sabre Jr. displayed an armbar up close and personal to Kevin Kelly. Back in the ring, Suzuki swats around EVIL, prompting some chops that he laughed off… before he just slapped EVIL for the hell of it. Archer tags in to try and steal the pin, but EVIL kicks out at two, before Archer teased a suplex… and took so long, EVIL just hit his own instead.

Shingo comes in to charge at Sabre and Suzuki for a bit, following in with a suplex as Suzuki thought he’d locked in a front facelock. Suzuki and Shingo trade chops next, prompting Shingo to remove the tape from his bicep so he could get more into his strikes. I love how the Osaka crowd mutually fell silent so they could hear those sickening elbows. Suzuki looks for a Gotch piledriver, but Shingo back body drops free and came in with a clothesline as tags took us to Sabre and SANADA. They turn up the pace as SANADA lands a low dropkick to take out Sabre, only for Zack to climb around into a Cobra Twist that’s easily countered out of. The Paradise Lock’s next, but Sabre counters mid-move, before we got shenanigans as Shingo pulled Suzuki outside to stop some interference.

Back-and-forth sunset flips troll the ref, and eventually led to the finish as SANADA rolled back and snatched the three-count. Oh God, we’re getting Sabre/SANADA for the Rev Pro belt. At least if SANADA wins, he’s already worked the Cockpit… but that’s at the back of the mind for now as Shingo and Suzuki just lay into each other at the back of the room, while Sabre tried to break Kenta Sato’s arm with a Kimura. ***¼

On English commentary, Lance Archer challenges David Finlay to a US title match on next weekend’s US tour…

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI
“What of WrestleKingdom for Tanahashi”. It’d better not be bloody YOSHI-HASHI.

Okada and Ibushi start us off rather tentatively… at least until Ibushi broke from the ropes with a series of kicks before a dropkick took Okada outside. Heading up the ramp, Okada avoids a dive as Kota just backflips for the fun of it, before tags bring in YOSHI-HASHI to try and chop through Tanahashi in the corner. YOSHI-HASHI took Tanahashi outside and into the guard rails, before Okada tagged in… and took Tanahashi back outside so YOSHI could throw him into the rails some more.

A slam and a slingshot senton’s next from Okada, as Tanahashi was getting double-teamed, with YOSHI-HASHI slingshotting him in for a DDT. Eventually Tanahashi got free and tagged in Ibushi, who instantly went for Okada with kicks and a standing corkscrew moonsault for a near-fall. Okada’s flapjack stops Ibushi before a tag brings YOSHI back in, but a dropkick stops YOSHI as Tanahashi built-up to the tag. Tanahashi comes back with a forearm, an elbow drop and a wild standing flip senton for a near-fall, before he countered a superkick with a series of Dragon screws. The Cloverleaf follows, only for Okada to come in and break it apart, before he dropkicked both opponents away, as YOSHI-HASHI looked for the biggest win of his career.

A Western lariat drops Tanahashi, ahead of a kumagoroshi… but Tanahashi kicks out at the last possible moment! Thank Christ. They had me going there. In the end, a Slingblade drops YOSHI-HASHI ahead of a High Fly Flow, and New Japan’s answer to Gil Gunderson loses again. Don’t scare us like that, Tana! ***¼

Tanahashi stays in the ring as the lights go out… we get a video of someone cosplaying as him and getting beaten up… and it’s Chris Jericho who did the deed. He’s coming to the Tokyo Dome on January 5th to get his dream match, and there’s another piece of WrestleKingdom weekend slotted.

Taichi vs. Tetsuya Naito
These two feel like they’ve been inseparable as of late – which has left the build for this match very cold among a lot of pundits. It’s an unofficial number one contender’s match for the Intercontinental champion, so you’d have to expect whomever wins is doing… whatever that title tournament deal at WrestleKingdom ends up being.

Thankfully, we’re not getting T-shirt Naito, as he strips before getting to the ring, and charged right at Taichi at the bell, trading right hands before the ref got shoved down. Marty Asami deals with his heartburt as the match continued with a savate kick from Taichi, who threw Naito outside for the obligatory guard rail spots. Taichi wrecks the monitor, then got thrown into the English commentary desk, as the pair proceeded to go into the crowd where a Brookesing wiped out a fan!

They head back towards ringside as Naito got thrown into the ring post, but back in the ring, Naito found a second wind with some elbows to Taichi, following in with a low dropkick for good measure. Another dropkick awaits Taichi in the corner, but a top rope ‘rana from Naito’s turned into an avalanche powerbomb that almost ended things right there. Naito looked to be out on his feet after that, then again after an elbow and a Saito suplex after Naito teased a fightback. Another Saito suplex drops Naito on his head for a near-fall, as did an enziguiri before a Last Ride powerbomb was escaped. Taichi’s Axe bomber drops Naito again as now it was time for the Last Ride, complete with a folding pin for a near-fall. From there, it’s time once again for Taichi to rip off his trousers, but his superkick’s caught and turned into a Dragon suplex, before Naito’s Koppo kick and a running Destino drew a near-fall.

Taichi’s straight back up and on jelly legs, before a Northern Lights bomb properly spiked Taichi for another two-count. Another Destino looked to be countered, but Naito escapes the Black Memphisto before he hit one of his own, following up with a Destino for the win. This was a LOT better than I expected from those interminable undercard tags – they didn’t outstay their welcome, and I’m always for condensed versions of singles matches that have been good before. ***¾

Super Junior Tag League 2019 – Final: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
We’ve a jump start as Desperado and Kanemaru jumped Roppongi 3K in the aisle, mid-entrance. They one-upped themselves.

A back suplex drops SHO onto the ramp as YOH got thrown into the railings off-camera… and yeah, this is only solidifying my prediction of a 3K win. YOH’s having to fight back on his own as SHO was laid out on the ramp, but he did well early on with a double Dragon screw, before a pescado wiped out Kanemaru on the floor. As SHO was on all fours on the ramp, YOH took Kanemaru back inside, and was doing quite well, all things considered, choking Kanemaru with his boot before Desperado interfered as a boot took YOH down. The guard rails await YOH, as did a slicing legdrop, before SHO got back to his feet… and tasted the guard rails. I really think that SHO cosplayer in the front row may have been more effective thus far.

Back in the ring, YOH was having to fight back from underneath as Desperado and Kanemaru continued to isolate him… with Kanemaru stopping to take time to throw SHO back into the railings. YOH finally got back in with a DDT as SHO miraculously got to the apron for a tag… and got it! SHO’s already clutching his back walking into the ring, but he peppers Kanemaru with forearms before trying to deadlift Kanemaru into a German suplex. It’s stopped, before a referee distraction allowed Desperado to hit SHO in the back with a chair… following up with a spear and a dropkick-assisted sidewalk slam for a near-fall.

Numero Dos follows, before the Suntory surprise looked to keep SHO in trouble… but somehow YOH broke free from Kanemaru to break it all up. SHO back body drops out of Pinche Loco, before an attempt at the 3K Dominator/backbreaker was stopped again by Kanemaru. Desperado tries to capitalise, but ends up getting ragdolled by SHO’s deadlift German suplex, following up with a Power Breaker. Ow. Kanemaru runs in to buy some time, setting up SHO for Deep Impact… but SHO ducks it as Kanemaru turned around into the 3K… and it looks elementary from here. Except Desperado avoids the 3K and threw SHO into YOH before Guitarra de le Angel almost snatched the win for the masked one.

Desperado and SHO trade rights until a lariat decked Despy. A headbutt counters Shock Arrow, but Desperado can’t avoid the 3K… and what do you know, the good guys overcome all of the odds (say it again, shaking your fist), and presumably earn a shot at the IWGP Junior tag titles in the near future. This was good, and a hell of a way to cap off a great Super Junior Tag League, but I couldn’t get past the inevitability of the result knowing what was waiting for them. Beyond that trophy, I mean. ***¾

That’s three years in a row Roppongi 3K have won this tournament, by the way… and of course, ELP and Taiji Ishimori are out to ruin the fun. By which I mean, “punch SHO in the dick” before a Doomsday Belt Strike set up the WrestleKingdom defence. Phantasmo and Ishimori even steal the trophies, and now I want him to go full Owen Hart with that thing.

NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii vs. KENTA (c)
Twenty-three years ago yesterday, Ishii made his wrestling debut… will he mark it by regaining the title he lost at Royal Quest?

We start with a lock-up, and KENTA slapping Ishii in the ropes. Of course, Ishii doesn’t let it lie as this quickly escalates, from chops, to forearms, to boots, before Ishii just bulldozed through KENTA. Despite trying to powder outside, KENTA’s thrown back in as Ishii pounded away on him, but KENTA turns the tables as he began to unload with kicks to Ishii. A boot took Ishii into the corner for some slaps, but Ishii turns the other cheek and fired back, only for KENTA to dish out a couple of tooth-loosening slaps to take Ishii to the deck. A neckbreaker follows for a two-count as KENTA busted out that back heel, before an attempt to take Ishii down just ended with a suplex.

Ishii builds up some offence, chopping KENTA into the corner… picking him up so he could throw some more ahead of a scoop slam. KENTA tries to fight back, and finds some luck with a kitchen sink knee to the gut, before a spiking DDT drew a sickening, guttural moan out of Ishii. More kicks from KENTA have Ishii on all fours, but he’s back to his feet to chop KENTA right in the throat as the momentum swung in a heartbeat there. More chops to the throat await KENTA in the corner, hauling him up for a superplex that nearly ended the contest. German suplexes fold KENTA, who’s straight back in as he looked for a Lebell lock in the middle of the ring, but eventually Ishii gets his feet to the ropes to force the break. Another German suplex quickly follows, this time from KENTA, but the follow-up PK’s caught as Ishii ended up getting kicked away anyway.

The Busaiku knee’s’ next, but Ishii’s right back up to take another… then another… but he still kicks out at two from it all. Ishii zombies up and walks through a bunch of forearms, before he absolutely leathered KENTA with a single forearm, as Ishii looked to build up to a brainbuster… but KENTA got free, and ate some more clotheslines. Out of nowhere, KENTA lands a Falcon arrow, then a discus lariat after absorbing more elbows from Ishii. The PK connected, before a Go 2 Sleep was attempted… Ishii slips out, but can’t avoid a small package that nearly ends the contest. KENTA keeps up the pressure with a Go 2 Sleep, but he doesn’t go for the cover, instead pulling down the knee pad so he could hit a second, which hits Ishii flush… and that’s all folks. An emphatic, shenanigans-free win for KENTA, solidifying his spot as champion in a match that felt like their London match, just without the unfortunate KO. ****¼

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: BUSHI vs. Will Ospreay (c)
This one was set up during the tour, in particular on the dates where BUSHI replaced EVIL in those undercard tags… but it wasn’t until Friday’s Super Junior Tag League matches where Ospreay named a date for the match, after BUSHI cost him a spot in the finals. I wouldn’t complain – it got you higher up the card!

Ospreay shot out of the gates with a shotgun dropkick and a pescado as BUSHI was caught on the hop, but there’s a turnaround courtesy of a flying ‘rana and a dropkick before BUSHI hung Ospreay on the guard rails with a hanging neckbreaker. BUSHI takes Ospreay back inside for some t-shirt choking, then a STF in the middle of the ring, but Ospreay gets to the ropes just in time. Ospreay responds with a massive pancake on BUSHI, before a handspring enziguiri found its mark for a near-fall. Will heads outside to try and gee up the crowd, landing a springboard forearm for a near-fall in the process. A step-up enziguiri’s next, taking BUSHI outside as Will prepares to dive… but the Sasuke special’s blocked on the apron as a slingshot hanging DDT caught Ospreay on the edge of the ring.

BUSHI takes Ospreay back inside, whipping him from corner to corner before a missile dropkick and a BUSH-a-roonie… as a swinging Fisherman suplex lands for a near-fall. The MX is avoided, but Ospreay gets lifted onto the ropes as BUSHI looked for a top rope ‘rana… but Will lands on his feet, and quickly responds. A snap Dragon suplex takes BUSHI outside for a Sasuke special, before Ospreay found a sweet counter to the BUSHI mist… he swallows it and sprays it back himself, before BUSHI pulled Red Shoes Unno into the path of an OsCutter. Damn. With no referee, what’s next?

On the outside, Ospreay stops himself from being thrown into the barriers before hitting a springboard dropkick as BUSHI went inside… a shooting star press followed, but BUSHI got the knees up, then sprayed the remnants of the mist back at Ospreay. Marty Asami’s out to check on Red Shoes as a Destroyer nearly got the win for BUSHI, before Ospreay kicked away an MX attempt. Oof. Ospreay’s back up as he hook kicked BUSHI to death, then teed up for the Hidden Blade… it’s ducked as BUSHI spikes Ospreay with a ‘rana for a near-fall. A one-man Spanish Fly almost went awry as Ospreay pushed back though, before Storm Breaker was countered into a folding backslide that almost led to a new champ! A goddamn lungblower spikes Ospreay next, before BUSHI heads up for the MX… folding him in half, but it’s still not enough!

BUSHI heads back up, but leaps into an OsCutter as the tide turned for good, with a Hidden Blade obliterating BUSHI. A top rope OsCutter’s next, then a Storm Breaker, and the BUSHI resistance is over. A goddamned war, and a match that surely underscores Ospreay’s wrestler of the year campaign, if he wasn’t already in the top two of your ballots already? ****½

After the match, BUSHI was quickly carted away as Ospreay stayed behind to celebrate… asking for a microphone to boot. Commentary was going heavy on how Ospreay had “done it all”. Will asks if there’s “anyone else” for a shot, because “there’s no-one left”. There was…

The old Time Bomb videos played, saying that the “Time Bomb” will blow up in 62 days. That’s January 4… But we don’t have to wait until then! HIROMU IS HERE! He runs himself into the guard rails to “test” himself, and my God, I’ve missed that crazy bastard. He promised to make the junior division a lot “more fun”, then promised he’s “going to show us”… a big leaping back bump a la Shibata… and a lot more drills before he challenged Ospreay for WrestleKingdom. Hiromu wants Belto-san back!

I can’t lie, I’m sitting here weeping tears of joy – it’ll be eighteen months after that gruesome neck injury when Hiromu finally gets back in the ring, and it’ll be a heck of a sight.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hirooki Goto vs. Jay White (c)
Good luck following that moment, lads…

Katsuyori Shibata’s joined the Japanese commentary for this one, and we start with Jay White rolling outside as he’s want to do. Goto shrugs that off though, and when he got his hands on White, he began to throw elbows to the back before they headed outside. Gedo proves a distraction, allowing White to jab Goto in the back with a chair, then threw Goto into the guard rails, hurling him there with a butterfly suplex right in front of Shibata on commentary. Gotta say, I dig the WordArt upgrade on his t-shirt…

A Boston crab followed in the ring, with Goto being forced to crawl to the ropes for a break, while Gedo removed one of the turnbuckle pads. Yep, Goto’s whipped into the exposed corner, as White continued to wear him down, battering him with forearms and uppercuts before Goto just waffled him with a forearm of his own. Goto’s quickly back on the defensive as he’s lifted to the outside, but he reverses an Irish whip into the railings, then clotheslined White into the crowd. More guard rails await White, as does a spinning heel kick and a back suplex back in the ring, as Goto began to edge ahead. An ushigoroshi attempt ended with White pulling himself onto the apron, before he hung up Goto on the top rope as the defending champion quickly drew himself back in.

Some rope-running ended with Goto getting dropped with a Flatliner, then a deadlift German suplex… but Goto hits one of his own, then a lariat as both men ended up on the mat. They’re back up, but Goto’s forearms drop White, before the Kiwi attempted to fight back… only for Goto to stay upright after a series of clotheslines. A single lariat drops White though, before Jay tried to lift Goto outside once more, eventually succeeding as Goto caught the apron on the way down. Back inside, a uranage drops Goto, as does a Kiwi Krusher, but Goto comes back by pulling White over his knee, only for White to pull ahead again as we crossed the 20-minute mark. White lifts Goto up top, eventually bringing him down with a superplex. An ushigoroshi lands, almost out of desperation, before the struggle for a GTR ended with White kneeing his way free, before a Blade Runner attempt was stopped with a hair pull.

Goto keeps hold of the hair as Gedo popped up on the apron, distracting the ref from a low blow. A headbutt puts Goto back in it though… and he keeps hold of the wrist too, pulling White in for an ushigoroshi. There’s another headbutt, then a reverse GTR out of Goto, before a Shouten Kai almost led to the win. Gedo appears again, but he’s knocked off the apron as Goto teased finishers with White, only to fall to a sleeper suplex. Except Goto’s right back up with a PK, sending White into the ropes for the GTW (think a modified death valley driver) for a near-fall. The GTR’s next, but Goto pulls out the ref, slinging him deep into the aisle. I’m impressed. Gedo’s back in the ring with the brass knuckles, but Shibata leaves commentary to make the save, choking out Gedo at ringside before KENTA ran in to boot Goto.

A Go 2 Sleep awaits for Goto as Shibata’s booted off the apron… KENTA stays on top of Shibata, whipping him into the railings, while White picked apart the bones of Goto, pulling him up for the Blade Runner… and that’s all. This was alright, but had the unenviable task of following Hiromu’s return… and only sort-of got the crowd when Shibata got involved at the end. ***¾

After the match, White crowed over putting away Goto, called himself the “Last Rock ‘n’ Rolla” and promised to be a dual champion. Yep, they’re still pushing the two-titles thing without fleshing out how they’re gonna get there. Until now – White challenged Ibushi or Okada for the IWGP title on January 5’s WrestleKingdom show. White called out Okada and Ibushi, but instead got Tetsuya Naito… who challenged for the Intercontinental title that he lost back in September. Except Kota Ibushi appears, as did Kazuchika Okada… but Okada seemed to be less than thrilled at the whole thing. He’s previously said he’s got the “gold medal” and doesn’t want to “add the silver”, before he suggested asking the fans what they want to see. There’s flashbacks for Naito there, as Okada walks away… The show closed as White refused Naito his rematch, then demanded to get his music and confetti to end the show, all while Naito was still on the stage… looking forlornly on as his dreams of gold at the Tokyo Dome seemed to be on ice. For now.

Power Struggle was something of a return to form for New Japan, after a watered-down Destruction and a King of Pro Wrestling that at times flattered to deceive. Starting out slowly and blossoming throughout the evening, Power Struggle delivered a tonne, as New Japan began to set the table nicely for WrestleKingdom, with the Jericho/Tanahashi tease, and of course… HIROMU. Excuse me, I’ll be sitting over there wiping the tears of joy from my face…