The road to Power Struggle completed, as the Super Junior Tag League came to a head.

There was a slight reshuffle on the morning of the show as an injury to Taiji Ishimori (picked up in Wednesday match) saw him pulled from the card – the Bullet Club OG tandem were due to face Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura, with the latter also making way in the reshuffle. We’re in Shizuoka for this, as Roppongi 3K looked to see if they could complicate things for Saturday’s Power Struggle show – as a win for them would force a coin toss to decide who’d make up the finals. Good news: we’ve got multiple cameras and commentary, with Kevin Kelly and… Lanny Poffo, who remarked “the Bone Soldier has a bone problem.” Oh God.

Yota Tsuji vs. Robbie Eagles
This was Eagles’ one-on-one debut in New Japan (he was in a three-way in February against Will Ospreay and Cody)… and this is probably a gimme win for him.

The larger Tsuji started by going for the arm, but while Eagles was up to it, Tsuji was able to match the Australian early on. A shoulder tackle knocks Eagles down, before he slipped out of a slam and lands a low dropkick as he went on to collect a near-fall, with Tsuji clearly having done some damage to the knee. Eagles chops Tsuji in the corner, then charges in with a leaping double knee strike, before an enziguiri has Tsuji back on the mat. Of course, Tsuji fires up like only a Young Lion can, clocking Eagles with a dropkick, before a Stinger splash in the corner and a hiptoss out leads Tsuji into a Boston crab attempt.

Eagles gets to the ropes though, and it’s not long before he gets the win with a backpack falcon arrow. Decent enough stuff, especially considering how late a change this was. Not a dominant win, but with the size difference I wasn’t expecting a squash either. ***

In a curious aesthetic choice, the video screen is showing footage of the hard cam during the matches, rather than any logo. That hard cam, by the way, is pointed at the screen. Wacky picture-in-picture time then!

Volador Jr., Soberano Jr. & Ren Narita vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Tomoaki Honma
Speaking of odd choices, Shizuoka is one of those venues where you can see the New Japan tour buses in the background!

Honma, Liger and Tiger is such an odd trio, but for a “house show” stop, we’ll let it pass. Like Kevin Kelly, who plays up to Lanny’s remarks much better than Mavs Gillis did earlier. Tiger Mask and Soberano start, with the latter landing a lucha armdrag before running into a tiltawhirl backbreaker. They pause, then tag out as Volador and Liger come in, but there’s more pausing as they played to the crowd. Volador lands the first ‘rana, but gets lifted onto the apron, where he’s able to rebound with a gamengiri… before Liger shoves him to the outside for a faked out dive.

Narita and Honma complete the tags, with the pair starting off with forearms and chops that rang out around the arena. A double chop takes Narita down as Lanny again tells us he’s left his Kokeshi doll in the hotel. Tiger Mask tags in as Narita found himself isolated, and battered with kicks, before Liger comes in and pulls the Young Lion into a Romero special. Liger switches that into a chinlock as everyone continues the revolving door against Narita, who’s desperate for a tag out… and he eventually gets it to Volador, and my feed buffers as we seem to enter dive season, with Soberano hitting a Sasuke special into Liger and Tiger, before Volador hit a tope con giro.

Back in the ring, Tiger Mask looked for a Tiger Driver, which turned into more of a butterfly suplex that was lost on the way, before Honma and Narita tag back in. A big suplex from Narita almost gets the win, but he goes for a Boston crab, which rarely ends well… and it’s quickly broken up by Liger and Tiger… with Liger slapping Honma out of disgust as well. There’s a Shotei to Narita, before Honma drops onto Narita with a Kokeshi, only for that pin to be broken up.

Honma looks for a Fire Thunder driver, but Narita escapes with a roll-up for a near-fall, before he ran into a clothesline as a STF earned Honma a rare submission victory. This was okay, but again felt very rough in places – particularly those early feeling-out spells. It’s probably not a match you’ll be rushing back to anytime soon! **½

ACH & Shota Umino vs. Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
Aw, ACH looks so lost playing rugby by himself!

Kanemaru and Desperado are looking to get some sort of retribution, having lost to ACH and Taguchi in the tournament… and let’s just say, with Shota Umino on the other side, this is probably only going one way. Umino and Kanemaru start off the match, but it’s Umino on top early with a hammerlock before a headlock’s shoved off… only for Umino to score with a shoulder tackle. After throwing some forearms, Umino’s caught with a Kanemaru dropkick as Suzuki-gun proceed to take the match outside, with both ACH and Umino becoming rather acquainted with the crowd barriers.

Back in the ring, Desperado tags in and keeps up on Umino, scooping him up for a slam, while a suplex from Kanemaru gets a near-fall. A camel clutch from Kanemaru keeps Umino down, but there’s a rope break, only for Desperado to come back and keep up on Umino as ACH was left a virtual spectator on the apron. Finally Umino gets in a missile dropkick as he got enough time to tag in ACH, who unloaded on Kanemaru with forearms… ahead of a leg sweep and a double stomp as his fire led to a plancha onto Desperado on the floor.

ACH keeps up on Kanemaru, cracking into him with a thrust hip attack for a near-fall, before he ran into a big boot and enziguiri from Kanemaru. Desperado tags back in to stay on ACH, but he runs into a sit-down splash as ACH tagged in Umino… which probably wasn’t such a good idea given the form book here. Umino does launch into Desperado with a running forearm, but Kanemaru quickly hits the ring… only for his interference to backfire as he ends up being whipped into the guard rails. There’s some double-teaming on Desperado, who’s cornered for a spell, then caught with a missile dropkick as Umino looked for a Boston crab. Despite being pulled into the middle of the ring, Desperado’s able to make it to the ropes, before he’s forced to kick out of a small package as Umino rattled through some pinning attempts. In the end though, Umino runs into a big spinebuster before Desperado catches him with the Numero Dos (Stretch Muffler) for the submission. This was pretty good, with Umino shining through on offence and defence – but there was only ever going to be one winner in this one. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Ayato Yoshida
With LIJ finishing their league campaign with a share of the top spot, they’ve got a fairly easy match here… and Tetsuya Naito’s out with them again since he’s aggrieved with not being booked on this part of the tour.

Taguchi found some people in the crowd to pass the ball to… but throwing the ball to Naito proved to be a bad idea as the LIJ leader just tossed the ball into the crowd. Fair enough. Taguchi and BUSHI get us going, with the latter being tricked into rope running… he stops himself, only to run into a hip attack as Yoshida comes in for a spell of double-teaming, with Taguchi directing traffic. Yoshida gets an impromptu workout as he repeatedly charges into BUSHI in the corner, and yeah, he ends up being sent into Taguchi’s backside as his inexperience shone through.

We get the comedy from Taguchi, who tries to join LIJ to save his skin, but it doesn’t work as Lanny Poffo brings out a new story. Hey, I’m grabbing anything that’s different after his earlier work… meanwhile, Yoshida pelts Shingo in the back with a PK, and that gets the expected response as the pair exchange a chop battle, which sees Shingo bring a lot of fire to the show. Shingo keeps up the offence with a suplex as the focus was squarely on the sorta-Young Lion. Things looked a little brighter for Yoshida when BUSHI comes in, as he scores a kick to the chest before bringing Taguchi back in, and he’s all about the hip attacks as BUSHI and Shingo were resting in the ropes. “More butt wrestling,” as Lanny actually said. There’s even a spot of flying from Taguchi, but a springboard hip attack whiffs as he has to instead try the Three Amigos on BUSHI.

Those three suplexes come off for a near-fall, before Taguchi set up for a Bummer-ye… only to get dropkicked in the arse. Shingo tags in to try and finish him off, landing an atomic drop before spanking Taguchi… only to take a hip attack in the end. Yoshida’s brought back in against Shingo as they tee off with forearms and clotheslines, before Yoshida went slam-happy.

Shingo blocks another slam, but ends up taking a clothesliner/neckbreaker combo, before a Side Effect left Takagi on the mat. A PK’s next from Ayato for a two-count, but Yoshida can’t quite follow up with a back suplex, as Shingo gets free and corners Yoshida for some more double-teaming. The spinebuster/back cracker combo’s next to Yoshida, but Taguchi broke up the cover. Yoshida tries to hit back with a hiptoss knee, but ends up taking a Pumping Bomber and a Gory Bomb for a near-fall, before Shingo put him away with a second Pumping Bomber. This was fun! I always said that Shingo would take time to settle in, but it’s probably going to be the Best of the Super Juniors before we really find him hit his stride in singles action. ***¼

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Rocky Romero
It’s the last stop ahead of Suzuki vs. Ishii 3 – with the Rev Pro title on the line again in Osaka.

Yeah, we have a jump start of sorts, with Suzuki almost wrecking the guard rails as Ishii threw him into it… and we’re all about the chops as Suzuki got an up close and personal view of the English commentary team. There’s an evil eye for Lanny Poffo… perhaps someone told him about the Gollum line?

Meanwhile in the ring, TAKA and Rocky trade elbows until TAKA poked him in the eye. There’s some headscissors from Rocky, which took TAKA towards a corner, but Suzuki gets involved as he drags Rocky into the ropes for a hanging armbar. Ishii makes the save as those two brawl again, with Ishii getting taken into the railings, then into the crowd as he threw whatever he could Ishii’s way. There’s a random Sha Samuels shout-out here, as Suzuki got back to the ring as he began to pepper Rocky with kicks. Romero hits back, but he’s just laughed off as Suzuki hit back harder. We’re back outside again as Ishii and Suzuki familiarise themselves with the guard rails again, which just served to keep Rocky in the match for longer. TAKA’s back with a step-up knee in the corner for a near-fall, before Rocky finally hit back with a leaping knee as Ishii’s brought into the match.

There’s a tag for Suzuki too, as we get a barrage of elbows from both men, but Ishii finally edges ahead… until Suzuki just goes all zombie-like and resumes those clonking elbows. A headbutt finally staggers Suzuki, but some slaps just anger him some more… and after we get that sadistic smirk, it’s time for MORE ELBOWS. My God, the sound those things make… Suzuki has Ishii on jelly legs, as it’s time for a rear naked choke that almost put Ishii away. He hauls him up for a Gotch piledriver, but Ishii counters out and lands a Saito suplex as we crossed the ten minute mark. Ishii tags out to Rocky, who tries to pepper Suzuki, only for a Sliced Bread to be easily stopped as TAKA tags back in and continues the offence. A PK from Suzuki, then TAKA is good for a near-fall as Ishii makes the save… and yes, Ishii and Suzuki head back out for more brawling.

In the ring, there’s a thrust kick from TAKA for a near-fall on Rocky, who then avoids a Michinoku Driver and scores a backslide for a near-fall, before Rocky’s ‘rana is countered… but he’s able to roll up TAKA with a La Magistral for the win! Well, you know what “my graps” are… and that endless barrage of elbows from Suzuki and Ishii made this very much my kind of wrestling match. I can’t wait for Saturday after this! ***½

Post-match, Suzuki and Ishii went at each other again, following this not-exactly-loving embrace.

The Elite (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare
So apparently the Bullet Club Elite are no longer a thing, with the Young Bucks and co dropping the Bullet Club part of things, and simply rebranding themselves as The Elite. Interesting…

We start with Tanahashi and Owens, and a lot of stalling before the opening tie-up. We get to the ropes, and a clean break from Owens… but not from Yujiro, who grabs Tanahashi by the hair in the ropes before Chase used the hai to grab a headlock. It’s all about the hair, and how you pull it! A springboard crossbody from Tanahashi gets him ahead, as both men end up tagging out, with Yujiro shoving away the New Zealander, before trying his luck with shoulder charges. Some biting’s a little more successful, but Henare finds his way as Tanahashi comes in to help with duelling shoulder tackles and… a spot of the Haka?!

Chase tries to stop that… and succeeds as the Elite pair combine to hotshot Henare in the ropes, with all four men heading outside. The ring mic goes flying as Henare’s shoved into the guard rails, before Owens rolled him back into the ring – and into the path of a cover as Yujiro nearly ends the match there and then. Takahashi keeps up on Henare with a slam, before Owens comes in and gets a near-fall of his own with a backbreaker on Henare.

Owens head up top, but nearly leaps into a boot… he stops himself, only to miss an elbow drop as he overcomplicated things, while Yujiro charges into a low bridge as Henare looked to tag out, only for Tanahashi to be pulled off the apron. There’s a back body drop from Henare to Chase, before the Kiwi again lost a tag as Yujiro again pulls Tanahashi off the apron. Yujiro’s back to throw some forearms, but his offence comes to a halt when Henare suplexes away, and now here comes Tanahashi! A flying forearm takes down Yujiro, before Tanahashi has to overcome more double-teaming, taking down Yujiro with a Dragon screw as a High Fly Flow-like plancha saw him wipe out Chase and Yujiro on the outside. Back in the ring, Yujiro boots away Tanahashi, before scoring with a Fisherman buster… but there’s no pin as he instead tags in Chase to keep up the beating.

Owens rolls Tanahashi into the path of a running knee for a near-fall, before Tanahashi counters a neckbreaker into Twist and Shout. Henare’s tagged back in to take down Owens with a leaping shoulder tackle off the middle rope… but Yujiro barely breaks the cover to keep the match alive. Chase tries to end it with a package piledriver, but Henare counters out… only to take some more double-teaming as a back suplex/neckbreaker combo gets a near-fall… and then it’s package piledriver time as Henare was finally put down for the count. This was okay, but it felt a little bit of a throwaway match with Tanahashi not really being able to lock horns with anything close to a proxy for Kenny Omega here. ***

Chase Owens joins commentary as the “Chase Always Politics” story finally pays off.

Super Junior Tag League: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Chris Sabin & KUSHIDA
With no clear plan for “what happens if Roppongi 3K make it to ten points”, something tells me we’ll be getting an upset here – unless New Japan have a ready made plan B?

We start with KUSHIDA and SHO grappling on the mat during a cagey opening spell that almost resembled Inoki/Ali at times. Tags brought in Sabin and YOH, who weren’t anywhere near as tentative, as Sabin grabs a chin bar before he rolled up YOH for an early two-count. YOH responds with a flying forearm, as Chase and Kevin seemed to do their damndest to confuse Lanny on commentary.

The Time Machine team worked together as KUSHIDA kicks away YOH’s arm, and there’s suddenly a weak spot on YOH, which Sabin and KUSHIDA target that arm. Frequent tags and arm wringers don’t help YOH’s cause… but he is able to make the tag out to SHO, who unloads with forearms before he’s caught with a handspring back elbow as KUSHIDA tried to ground him some more. KUSHIDA builds up to a stomp on SHO’s elbow, as it seemed that the Time Machine duo were looking to go after anybody’s left arm. Chris Sabin starts to focus on that arm, before throwing SHO outside, where KUSHIDA hits a slam onto the floor… seemingly looking for a count-out victory.

Back in the ring, Sabin and KUSHIDA double-team SHO for a spell, cornering him for a pair of forearms, but SHO mounts a comeback, blocking a tornado DDT and turning it into a slam on Sabin. YOH tags back in as he dropkicks himself into the match as he looked to be a one-man wrecking crew… with some success. Sabin sidesteps a charge into the corner, but he ends up taking a slingshot stomp as YOH nearly put him away.

SHO and YOH try some double-teams next, launching into a cornered Sabin, seemingly weakening him for the 3K, only for Sabin to counter into a swinging DDT. KUSHIDA hits one of his own too, before a Doomsday Dropkick put YOH down for a near-fall… there’s a cartwheel dropkick from KUSHIDA as the junior heavyweight champion looked to finish things off… but SHO stops a neckbreaker/moonsault combo as we looked to head towards the finish line, with countered backslides and German suplexes seemingly being the order of the day. KUSHIDA tries to stop Sabin from being suplexed, before they passed SHO into referee Red Shoes Unno as they hit duelling kicks to the arms of SHO… leaving him on the outside as the moonsault from KUSHIDA misses. SHO’s back with a spear as a Parade of Moves broke out to leave all four men flat on the mat.

SHO and YOH try to get back into it, but Sabin fights them off on his own, before he runs into the 3K… and that’s the win! In terms of the league table that’s not an upset, but I’m very much surprised as we now have to figure out who goes through to the finals! This was a really good match, with some good work from KUSHIDA and Sabin… even if the arm work came to nought. The match did suffer a little from the usual “dead crowd on tour” feeling, which brought it down a little. ***¾

Nevermind… they announce that it’s going to be a three-way match on Saturday, and all three teams come out for the obligatory staredown, along with some mocking mic work from Desperado.

For those who care, here’s how the Super Junior Tag League finished:

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi); Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH); Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (5-2; 10pts)
Bullet Club OG (Robbie Eagles & Taiji Ishimori); Chris Sabin & KUSHIDA; ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi (3-4; 6pts)
Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask; Soberano Jr. & Volador Jr. (2-5; 4pts)

Not exactly a great showing from the CMLL team, eh?

Bullet Club OG (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, Gedo & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta)
I think Lanny Poffo’s fallen asleep, as he kinda disappeared during that last match… hopefully this main event will awaken him.

Okada’s entrance was so long here his theme looped, and we start with a brave Yano wanting to open the match. The bell goes… and he turns around into Bad Luck Fale. Oops. Yano goofs around like he’s done before against Fale, and after taking one forearm he tags out to Goto so he can save his own skin. Goto’s instantly targeted, but he charges through Tama Tonga with a shoulder tackle, only for Tanga Loa to hit from behind as the Guerrillas of Destiny found themselves outsmarted. Beretta tags in and lands a double axehandle sledge to Tama’s arm, before a dropkick put an end to any ideas of misdirection from the tag team champion.

Chuckie T tags in to keep up the offence, then clear the Bullet Club apron as planchas ensured the match went outside briefly. Jado uses a Kendo stick to catch Beretta in the ropes as the match broke down, with Okada getting thrown into the guard railings by Jay White as those two paired off amid the obligatory ringside and crowd brawl. Returning to the ring, Tama scores a Stinger splash on Beretta for a one-count, before Tanga Loa lands a delayed back suplex. Fale’s in next to stand on Beretta, before White tags in and looked to sap what energy he could from Beretta with a chinlock. The pace slowed down a little as Gedo comes in to keep up on Beretta with a rake of the eyes, but eventually a big back body drop (and an accompanying shriek) wakes me up as Beretta dumps Tama Tonga.

Tanga Loa dives on Beretta to stop a tag out, but after Gedo gets Rocket Launched onto Beretta’s knees, Beretta flips out of a back suplex before landing a tornado DDT… and now he’s able to tag in Okada! He comes face to face with Gedo, before elbowing White off the apron so he could knock down Gedo uninterrupted. Fale comes in… and takes a Dragon screw as they play up the new Okada/Tanahashi alliance. There’s a DDT to Gedo that gets a near-fall, with White having to break up the cover… and White lands a DDT of his own before tagging in properly. Okada and White trade forearms in the middle of the ring, before a twisting suplex nearly gets Switchblade the win as Okada barely got a shoulder up.

A missed dropkick from Okada’s nearly pounced on as White goes for a Blade Runner, before Okada looked to hit back with a neckbreaker slam… eventually getting the move off. Chuckie T tags back in to charge at White in the corners with clotheslines, before an Asai DDT nearly led to the upset. There’s a tope con giro from Chuckie to the Guerrillas on the outside as he tried to snuff out interference, and it kind of works as Beretta came back to help double-team White with a Sole Food/half-nelson suplex for a near-fall.

Chuckie T calls for a piledriver, but Tama Tonga sneaks in with a Tongan Twist as a PArade of Moves broke out, ending with Okada hitting the Andre slam to Fale, then a dropkick to White! Chuckie T’s still legal, as he tries to capitalise with a moonsault to White, but he overshot it anyway, before nearly snatching victory with a roll-up. The piledriver’s next, but there’s a distraction as Gedo comes in to knock out Chuckie with brass knuckles, as White gets the win with a Blade Runner. Decent, by-the-numbers stuff, but they’re continuing to set the course well for White/Okada at WrestleKingdom – I just wonder if they’ll risk playing it out even more over World Tag League? ***½

Another solid show from New Japan, with Lanny Poffo not being quite as bad as he was last weekend (although that may be me being used to it)… although he really did disappear into the background when Chase Owens came out to join commentary. The tour’s done a good job of building where it could for Power Struggle on Saturday, while keeping things simmering for WrestleKingdom.

…and that’s it! Power Struggle is this Saturday (8am in the UK, 4am Eastern Time, since the States don’t leave daylight savings until the Saturday evening). At time of writing, the match order hasn’t been locked down, but we’ve three title matches: Taichi vs. Goto (“one more time, one more chance”), Jericho vs. EVIL and Ishii vs. Suzuki, along with some other tantalising matches. It’s one of the last big stops on the road to WrestleKingdom, so come along and expect some surprises!