We’ve a monster card in Osaka as Power Struggle gives us the Shingo Takagi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. rematch for the title.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI submitted Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa in 4:33 (**)
Tanga Loa, Gedo & Gedo pinned Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask in 5:08 (**)
SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI pinned Ryusuke Taguchi, Master Wato & Yuji Nagata in 7:05 (**¾)
EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi pinned YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii in 13:47 to win the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship (**¾)
Toru Yano defeated Great-O-Khan by 6 points to 5 after 6:00 in an amateur rules match to retain the Provisional KOPW 2021 (***)
El Desperado submitted Robbie Eagles in 18:18 to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (***¾)
KENTA pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi in 23:44 to win the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship (***½)
Kazuchika Okada pinned Tama Tonga in 25:12 to retain the Right to Challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (***½)
Shingo Takagi pinned Zack Sabre Jr. in 30:27 to retain the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (***¾)
Holy hell, a NINE MATCH CARD. New Japan weren’t kidding about that expanded card, as we’re at the Edion Arena in Osaka. There’s no live English commentary for this one, so if you’re looking for your fix of Kevin Kelly, you’ll need to wait for the VOD to drop.
Ryohei Oiwa & Kosei Fujita vs. Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
We’d a jumping start from Oiwa, who ends up being slammed and stomped on by DOUKI before Kanemaru came in and got shoulder tackled.
Fujita’s in as a double-team shoulder tackle knocked him down, before the pair softed up Kanemaru for a Boston crab. That ends up in the ropes, as Kanemaru fought back, avoiding a dropkick before he slammed Fujita for a Boston crab of his own for the submission. Very short, which makes me wonder – are they trying to shoehorn 9 matches into the “old” length, or is this telegraphing longer matches down the straight? **
Bullet Club (Tanga Loa, Gedo & Jado) vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Tiger Mask
Enjoy a World Tag League preview, I guess? Oh, and the return of Makabe’s dub theme…
Gedo instantly went for Tiger Mask’s eyes, but falls to a series of armdrags as he went outside and bailed on a dive… because Jado and Tanga Loa rushed the ring to attack Tiger Mask from behind. Tiger Mask avoids some triple-teaming to kick away Tanga, then hit a TIger Driver on Gedo before he tagged in Togi Makabe. Corner clotheslines lead to a double clothesline from Makabe, who brings Honma in to land a Kokeshi… but a quick fight-back ends with Tanga Loa coming in to counter Honma’s brainbuster into an Apeshit to end the match. So far this undercard is squashy, but very quantity over quality. **
Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI) vs. Yuji Nagata, Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato
Hiromu running laps around the ring to SANADA’s ring music is perhaps the most amped up anyone’s gotten to that music lately…
Hiromu and Taguchi start us off, trading Mongolian chops before Master Wato came in to help trip up Hiromu ahead of a dropkick. Mid kicks from Wato earn him a receipt as BUSHI helped out, while LIJ cleared the apron ahead of some more double-teaming. An eye rake from BUSHI took things into the corner, while Wato escaped a Fisherman’s screw to hit a kick. Tags bring us to SANADA and Nagata, with the former coming close on an Exploder suplex before Hiromu’s Mongolian chops earned him a trip to the Kitchen Sink. Nagata tries to add to it with a stuttering dropkick, but then tagged out to Taguchi for his cavalcade of hip attacks. A missed hip attack sparks a Parade of Moves to delay SANADA’s Skull End, before a Bummer-Ye from Taguchi almost put SANADA away.
Taguchi tries to make sure with Oh My Garankle, but SANADA escaped and took Taguchi to the ropes with an O’Connor roll, bridging back on the pin for the win. This one had a bit more substance, but was largely skippable if you’re pushed for time. **¾
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: House of Torture (EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI (c)
The champions come in on the back of 454 days with the titles – belts that they won after EVIL binned off the titles to join Bullet Club, yet recently has developed an unhealthy fixation with regaining them.
We’ve a jump start as the match spilled outside almost instantly. YOSHI-HASHI grabbed Dick Togo and rolled him in for the war drum treatment, before Yujiro came in and threw Goto into a conveniently-exposed corner. Cue more bedlam as the cameras miss EVIL wiping out the timekeeper, while EVIL then tried to choke out Goto with a CHAOS towel. SHO comes in to rake Goto’s eyes, but Goto gets free and hit a clothesline… only to get jumped by Yujiro. Goto avoids being sent into the corner as a backdrop suplex bought him time to tag in Ishii, who went right after SHO with a shoulder tackle. SHO’s boot chokes Ishii into the corner, only for Ishii to aim for the throat with retaliatory chops.
SHO tries for a spear, but Ishii blocked it as SHO then went back to the eyes and eventually connected with the spear. EVIL’s in, but his misdirection kick is countered with a German suplex as YOSHI-HASHI returns to hit a top rope Head Hunter for a near-fall. YOSHI-HASHI avoids running into a Pimp Cane shot, but gets tripped up anyway as Goto’s attempt to save ended with him being pushed into the exposed corner. YOSHI-HASHI’s teamed up on in the corner as a Fisherman suplex from Yujiro led to Darkness Falls from EVIL for a two-count. An eye rake to YOSHI-HASHI leads to EVIL knocking the ref aside so Dick Togo could help on a Magic Killer for a near-fall, before YOSHI-HASHI took EVIL to the exposed corner… then shoved him into Togo on the apron as a roll-up drew a near-fall.
The ring’s full as Ishii and Goto hit dualling ushigoroshi, before a Western Lariat from YOSHI-HASHI, then a Kumagoroshi almost put EVIL away. Karma looks to follow, but Dick Togo choked YOSHI-HASHI with the garotte, only to get punched down as Yujiro’s Pimp Cane shot was also dealt with. SHO’s pounced away as he came in with a chair, only for YOSHI-HASHI to accidentally lariat Ishii. Goto gets involved for a superkick-assisted ushigoroshi, but Togo pulls out the ref to keep the match alive. Cue low blows from SHO and Yujiro as we’re ankle-deep in bullshit, rising to the waist as the garotte returned, choking out Ishii before SHO cracked YOSHI-HASHI with a spanner. All that’s left from there is for EVIL to pull up YOSHI-HASHI for Everything is EVIL, and that’s the end of the longest NEVER trios title reign. The match itself was fine, helped by being relatively sprint-y, but the last few minutes of shenanigans really dragged it down. Such is life. Well, there goes New Japan’s ability to have good matches in Korakuen with those titles for a while… **¾
Post-match, the House of Torture looked to use the spanner again, but YOH ran out to make the save, going right after SHO as the new champions bailed.
Amateur Wrestling Rules for Provisional KOPW 2021: Great-O-Khan vs. Toru Yano (h)
The rules for this – two, three-minute rounds with judging in the event of a tie. The judge? Yuji Nagata… who explains the rules and scoring to the crowd. I’m going to wager that a lot of the Western audience is going to have this go over their heads until we get the English commentary track.
Commentary lost their mind as O-Khan came out in a singlet, as did Toru Yano, and we get going with a live shot of the in-stadium scoreboard that had been rigged up to keep track here.
Round 1: O-Khan backed Yano into the ropes to block a takedown, which led to the clock stopping as we reset… another takedown ends in the ropes as Yano’s awarded a point, before he stuffed another takedown attempt. When O-Khan did get it, a waistlock takedown got him two points ahead of a rope break, which earned O-Khan another two points as the round ended with O-Khan having a 4-1 advantage.
Round 2: Yano’s going for takedowns, and gets a point as O-Khan needed the ropes to block it. O-Khan returns the favour and gets another point as Nagata began to look annoyed at O-Khan’s bid to wind down the clock. Yano manages to hit a belly-to-belly suplex to give him four points – and put him ahead as we hit the final thirty seconds… which Yano rode out as he won the match by a point. This was a totally refreshing change of pace and – if New Japan educate the fanbase by doing this sporadically – this could be something in their arsenal for matches going forward. ***
Post-match, Aaron Henare hit the ring as Yano gets double-teamed, leading to an Eliminator from O-Khan as Yuji Nagata made the save. Unless they defend the KOPW again on the Tag League/BOSJ tour (or the pre-Tokyo Dome tour), I think this may be the last defence for Yano in 2021.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado vs. Robbie Eagles (c)
Desperado’s looking to regain some hardware, having lost the junior tag titles at Korakuen Hall last month…
We’re taken outside in the early going as Desperado tried to post Eagles, only for the champion to block… and find himself eating a tope con giro instead. Now Eagles gets posted, then took some chops back inside ahead of a suplex for a two-count. Desperado stands on Eagles’ knee before rolling him into a trapped-arm chinlock. Desperado tries to stay on the knee, but a kneebreaker’s escaped as Eagles returned with a ‘rana and a dropkick… but there’s already damage done to the knee. A sliding clothesline to the back of the neck of Desperado took him outside for a tope con giro, with a springboard missile dropkick to the knee then leading to the Ron Miller Special from the champion.
The ropes save Desperado, who’s met with knees in the corner before he took a 619 to the back of the knee. Eagles throws more running double knees his way, before cheerleading himself in Osaka ahead of an attempted Asai DDT. Desperado blocks it and returned with a spinebuster for a near-fall, following immediately with Numero Dos. Eagles gets to the rope, but is instantly met with a Dragon Screw, before he countered Pinche Loco into an Asai DDT. A thrust kick keeps Desperado down as Eagles goes back up top for a 450 splash to the leg… only to land in the knees of his challenger. The pair get back to their feet and trade right hands, before going back to each other’s knees.
A reverse ‘rana from Eagles cleared the way, with a diving kick dropping Desperado for a near-fall. Turbo Backpack is blocked by Desperado, who ends up getting wheelbarrowed… but Eagles can’t convert it into a Ron Miller Special. Instead, Eagles escapes a Gory special, then cradled out of another Numero Dos for near-falls, only to get elbow’d down to the mat. Desperado followed that up with the Guitarra Del Muerte – a Gory Special/Angle Slam hybrid – for a near-fall, before Eagles went right back to the knee. Eagles keeps going for the Ron Miller though, and gets tied up in a Numero Dos, grabbing both wrists as Eagles was left with no choice but to submit. A good little match that saw Desperado target Eagles from the off, and while the Aussie had a similar game plan, Despy’s killer instinct was the difference here… now cue all the predictions of Hiromu winning Best of the Super Junior to set up that obvious match ahead of a rubber match here. ***¾
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)
At this show last year, KENTA beat Tanahashi to retain his “right to challenge” for the US heavyweight title… 12 months on, he’s still gunning for the belt, albeit against a different challenger.
KENTA rolls outside as Tanahashi looked to get the crowd clapping, as the challenger was hell-bent on frustration it seemed. Instead, KENTA offered some, erm, air violin, before Tanahashi grabbed a side headlock leading to him meeting KENTA on the outside with a plancha. Tanahashi shows off by skinning the cat to get back into the ring, which prompted KENTA to grab the US title belt and walk off with it. KENTA’s stopped in the aisle, but he catches Tanahashi with a slam onto the ramp, then went back to the ring with the belt in hand – since titles do change on countouts in New Japan.
Of course, Tanahashi beats the count, so KENTA goes for more dirty tricks – removing a corner pad to throw Tanahashi into the exposed turnbuckles. Some figure four headscissors from KENTA end in the ropes, so KENTA stays on Tanahashi with a chinlock that’s elbowed out of. Kicks take Tanahashi back to the corner though, from where he springs back out with a crossbody. Leaping forearms keep Tanahashi ahead, as did a flip senton out of the corner, before KENTA caught him with a scoop slam off the ropes. A tornado stun gun follows for KENTA, then a flying clothesline, only for Tanahashi to recover with a Dragon screw through the ropes.
On the outside, KENTA takes Tanahashi into the guard rails before booting him into the crowd. That bought KENTA time to set up a table at ringside, which he used to tease maybe a Go 2 Sleep off the apron, before Tanahashi teased something else through it. Instead, Tanahashi’s pulled through the ropes for a Green Killer DDT, following up with a hesitation dropkick into the corner for good measure. Heading back up top, KENTA lands a stomp for a near-fall… then teased another to Tanahashi on the floor… instead opting to leapt off the apron instead of the top rope. Tanahashi counters a whip into the rails with a Slingblade as he proceeded to put KENTA onto the table… and after eventually vaulting to the top rope, we get a High Fly Flow through the table, which thankfully gave way.
Picking up the pieces, Tanahashi takes things back inside for another Slingblade, following up with Ace’s High before a second High Fly Flow landed in KENTA’s knees. KENTA tries to follow up with Game Over, but it’s right by the ropes for an immediate break, so KENTA throws in a Busaiku knee as well for a two-count. A Dragon screw from Tanahashi led to a Cloverleaf, which KENTA escaped by pushing Tanahashi into the exposed corner, before another knee added another near-fall. Tanahashi countered a Go 2 Sleep into a Slingblade, only to get thrown back into the exposed corner as the Go 2 Sleep finally won KENTA the US title. A decent enough match, if not a touch on the long side, and you’d expect that KENTA’ll be the guy who’s criss-crossing to and from the States to defend that on Strong. ***½
Right to Challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Tama Tonga vs. Kazuchika Okada (h)
Tama only had Jado with him as he looked to repeat the upset birthday win he had over Okada in the G1 and really throw everyone’s fantasy booking for WrestleKingdom into disarray.
Tama jumps Okada at the bell, looking for an early Gun Stun, but Okada controls the early pace instead with a strait-jacket before Tama got free… and hit a stun gun on the ropes to knock Okada to the outside. A suplex followed on the outside, but Tama stays ahead with a slam and elbow drops as Okada beat the count-out. A sleeperhold’s fought out of by Okada, but Tama just reapplies that before Okada again escaped, this time booting him down. Okada builds up with a back elbow off the ropes as we cross the ten minute mark, with a flapjack following on Tama. We’ve a dropkick to knock Tama from the top rope to the floor next, leading to a DDT as Okada seemed to be adopting a more methodical approach.
Back inside, Okada’s shotgun dropkick off the top bounced Tama into the ropes, as we then go to the Money Clip… but Tama breaks it in the ropes, and ends up recovering with a Tongan Twist in the aisle as Okada was made to pay for going away from his usual gameplan. Tama picks up steam back inside with a splash in the corner for a near-fall, before a second Tongan Twist got him a little closer, but Okada’s able to find a way in with another Money Clip, even if it was broken up in the corner. It’s reapplied, but Tama breaks in the ropes, so Okada opts to hit a slam then head up top for an elbow drop. Cue the Rainmaker zoom, before Tama escaped a neckbreaker slam out of the corner and hit an Alabama Slam in return.
A death valley driver plants Okada as Tama went up for a Supreme Flow splash, getting a near-fall out of that, before Okada blocked more Gun Stuns, only to eat a Bloody Sunday as we crossed the 20-minute marker. Okada still blocks a Gun Stun, returning with a dropkick instead, before he missed a charge into the corner. Okada avoids one from Tama as he then looked for a tombstone, eventually landing a shotgun dropkick instead as another crack at the tombstone’s blocked. When Okada does scoop up Tama, the tombstone’s reversed, with a dropkick following from Tama as he looked to make it a second upset in as many months.
Okada backdrops Tama away and sits down on a sunset flip attempt for a near-fall, then threw in a dropkick for good measure. Another Gun Stun’s blocked as Okada hit a German suplex, then threw Tama away before countering Veleno into a landslide tombstone. From there, a Rainmaker lands, and that’s enough for Okada to retain the right to challenge at the Tokyo Dome. This was good, but I much preferred the G1 outing over this – Tama held his own and came close, but I struggled throughout buying that they’d do two upsets in a row. ***½
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Shingo Takagi (c)
Sabre got this shot by way of his win over Shingo during the G1, and that’s apparently earned Zack a new entrance video…
We go to ground early, with Sabre and Shingo exchanging holds, ending with Shingo taking Sabre into the ropes. Sabre ducks an attempted swing on the break, then grabbed a cravat before things exploded with another exchange that ended with Shingo charging Sabre away. In the corner, Shingo kicked at Sabre’s leg as it was hung up in the ropes, only to get caught with a leglock as Sabre looked to close the distance. Shingo countered out with a Fujiwara armbar, but Sabre’s right by the ropes to force a break. He rolls outside as Shingo baited him back in for a Test of Strength… which Sabre rolled back on to counter, only to pull himself to the apron as he escaped a death valley driver, ultimately returning with an Octopus stretch through the ropes. Kicks on the apron lead to Sabre having his arm hung up in the ropes… but he’s right back with a mounted rear naked choke in the ropes that eventually dropped Shingo to the floor.
An apron PK keeps Shingo on the outside, before a neck twist between the legs put Shingo down for barely a two-count. Shingo suplexes out of a guillotine next, then caught Sabre with a DDT for a near-fall, before Sabre got back in with another neck twist to make sure Shingo couldn’t pull too far ahead. Sabre’s armbar ends in the ropes, but Shingo’s able to strike back, throwing clotheslines before he traded suplexes with Sabre. A Mistica has Shingo down briefly, before a PK ended that flurry to leave both men laying. Shingo picks up steam with a Dragon screw, having trapped Sabre in the ropes, before a backslide allowed Shingo to finally give Sabre a taste of his own medicine as a neck twist left the challenger laying.
A folding powerbomb gets a near-fall as Shingo goes right in with a STF, rolling Sabre away from the ropes as he morphed the hold into a crossface. Sabre gets to the ropes and escaped a wheelbarrow attempt, quickly building up for a Zack Driver before a cross armbar was rolled out of, with Shingo returning in with a sliding elbow to the side of the head. Sabre’s roll-up nearly surprises Shingo as the challenger tried to snatch the win, but a Euro clutch was stopped with a rear naked choke before Sabre ended up eating a Made in Japan anyway. Shingo followed up with a Pumping Bomber to knock Sabre into the ropes, but couldn’t follow up with any pinning attempts… so ended up lifting Sabre onto his shoulders for what looked like an avalanche death valley driver. Sabre fights out, only to get knocked to the mat… where he recovered to pop up with a throw off the top as he went back to the cross armbreaker. Sabre morphs the hold into a triangle armbar, but they roll into the ropes again as Sabre ends up charging in with another PK, then a Zack Driver as he came agonisingly close to the win.
Some Danielson elbows look to wear down Shingo some more, before a rear naked choke ended with Shingo going up top and back bumping free… but Sabre stays right on him with another triangle armbar that nearly forced a ref stoppage… only to be the cue for Shingo to power up into a Last of the Dragons. Sabre has another flurry of shots after kicking out, but a sliding lariat drops Sabre in his tracks. He blocked another Last of the Dragon, then flipped Shingo into a Euro clutch for a near-fall, before a noshigami left both men laying as we headed towards the half-hour marker. Another Last of the Dragons is escaped as Sabre applied a Dragon sleeper… only for Shingo to counter that with a GTR… before a Last of the Dragons finally secured Shingo the win. Another good match, but either I need to badly learn to shut my brain off from the booking tropes and thinking “there’s no way they’re doing that” in terms of booking, or these later-year defences need to not be so predictable in terms of results. I was one of the low-men on their G1 match, but that felt much more open than this… ***¾
After the match, Okada came out with his old IWGP title over his shoulder to challenge Shingo for a match at the Tokyo Dome on January 4… and that awkward-ish ending leads to the WrestleKingdom music playing us out as the two stared at each other, belts in hand as we now have our first Tokyo Dome main event set in stone.
It’s safe to say those early matches didn’t need to be on this card, as the expansion back to the “old ways” added bloat and nothing else. Take the bottom three matches out and you’re left with a pretty decent (for the era) New Japan card, even if the usual issues remain exposed. Oh, and if you were wondering, no, there weren’t any announcements for the World Tag League/Best of Super Junior dual tour that begins next week…