The Summer Struggle tour ran back to Korakuen Hall today, with EVIL’s preparations for a shot at IWGP World Heavyweight title shot taking us through an elimination match between Bullet Club and LIJ.

Quick Results
Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata & Tiger Mask pinned Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji & Togi Makabe in 9:11 (**¾)
Ryusuke Taguchi, Master Wato & Hiroyoshi Tenzan pinned YOH, SHO & Kazuchika Okada in 10:46 (***)
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toru Yano submitted Gedo & Chase Owens in 7:58 (**¼)
Robbie Eagles, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI submitted DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi in 16:38 (***)
BUSHI was the last man standing in an Elimination Match at 22:37 (**½)

We’re back for a run of three shows in successive nights at Korakuen Hall…

Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata & Tiger Mask vs. Togi Makabe, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
Those excursions are looming… and so is Togi Makabe’s real music underneath that dubbing!

So, guess who’ll be doing the bumping for Makabe’s team? Well, we start with a big spear from Tsuji to Kojima, as Tsuji certainly wanted to leave a mark in one of his final outings hee in black trunks. A double dropkick with Uemura keeps Kojima down, but Kojima struck back on Tsuji, before Tiger Mask came in.

Nagata worked over Tsuji’s arm as the veterans weren’t giving Tsuji an inch after his outlandish start. Never spear a veteran if you’re a rookie! Tiger Mask is back to try a Tiger Driver, but Tsuji escaped and hit a dropkick… but couldn’t get the tag out to Makabe.

A bodyslam from Tsuji moments later gave him enough time to do just that. Makabe goes for Nagata with mounted punches in the corner, as did a clothesline, which drew a near-fall. Makabe takes his bump with an Exploder, before Kojima came in for Machine Gun chops. Makabe’s swivelling lariat gets him free for Uemura to come in with some leaping forearms, before a Koji Cutter proved to be the spark for a big ol’ Parade of Moves.

When things calm down, Uemura looks for a Kanuki suplex, but he just gets killed with a lariat… Uemura hits a release Kanuki seconds later for a near-fall, before he got killed with a Cozy lariat for the eventual pin. A bright start from Tsuji ultimately proved to fuel the New Japan Dads’ desires for a quick night at the office, as Kojima got this done in under ten minutes. **¾

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato vs. Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
We’re looking as a Super Junior Tag League preview here, rather than a wacky Okada/Tenzan feud in 2021…

SHO and Wato start us off, with SHO’s early shoulder tackle landing before a leaping spin kick from Wato drew in Taguchi for some double-teaming. Taguchi sets up to have SHO thrown into his arse, but SHO dropkicked it away as YOH came in to help, dropkicking Tenzan away to boot.

Kicks from SHO get a two-count on Wato, while YOH’s chinlock keeps Wato on the deck. Okada’s in to land a neckbreaker before he mocked Tenzan with a falling headbutt that seemed to affect Okada way more than he wanted it to. SHO’s back as Wato tries to fire back, but the kitchen sink knee to the gut stopped that before Wato finally found a way through with headscissors and a leg lariat.

Tags get us to Okada and Tenzan, with the latter hitting Mongolian chops and a brainbuster for a two-count. Okada tries his luck with a Money Clip, but he can’t quite get it on as Tenzan retaliates with a Mountain Bomb before making the tag to Taguchi. Arse attacks. A flapjack stops those, as YOH came in to counter another hip attack.

A dropkick takes Taguchi outside for a plancha, while a Falcon arrow followed back inside for a two-count. Taguchi blocks a Direct Drive and sparked the usual Parade of Moves, ending with a Taguchi enziguiri and a Bummer-Ye for a near-fall. YOH rolls through Dodon into a wheelbarrow roll-up, sparking back-and-forth two-counts that Taguchi snuck out a win with, catching out YOH with the Five Star Clutch for the win. Pretty decent for the time they got, but I’m wondering… how long is that main event going if the first two matches have been ten minutes? ***

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toru Yano vs. Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Gedo)
We’ve got a KOPW 2021 rematch confirmed for the MetLife Dome, so we’ll be getting this sort of tag match for another month…

Tanahashi gets sprayed in the eyes with Yano’s disinfectant – after Owens’ “gift” of the jacket that was on Yano’s old KOPW trophy proved to be enough of a distraction for Chase to get the bottle. When we get going, Chase get thrown into the corner as Yano undoes the corner pad… Chase then ran into the exposed corneras Yano undid a second pad.

Chase takes that second corner too, while Gedo got thrown into another exposed corner. The comedy here came as Chase and Gedo got out of the corner and let their partners take the exposed steel – rather than provide some cushioning. Comedy!

The reversals see Yano and Tanahashi take the corners themselves. Before Chase rolled Yano into the ring to do some… live match commentary? He tries to make Yano say I quit, so you know where they’re heading there. Yano refused to quit with a STF, so Owens just chokes him before a wishbone leg splitter kept Yano down.

Yano eventually fought back, pulling down Chase by his hair, as tags then brought in Tanahashi… who took down Owens before twisting Gedo in the ropes with a Dragon screw. A slam and a flip senton squishes Chase for a two-count, before Chase’s attempt at offence just got him slapped.

A knee strike downs Tanahashi, giving Chase time to tag in Gedo, whose superkick was blocked. Gedo rakes the eyes as Owens returned to help double-team Tanahashi… only for Yano to trip Gedo in the ropes. Yano pulls Chase to the outside too… and when Gedo’s hopeful flurry of pin attempts ended with near-falls, Tanahashi manages to slip out of a Gedo Clutch to hit a Dragon screw… then tie up Gedo in a Cloverleaf for the submission. They kept this short, and at least laid a seed for that Yano/Chase rematch, but that’s not an outing I can see many flocking to see. **¼

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Minoru Suzuki & DOUKI) vs. Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Robbie Eagles
We’re building to the NEVER trios title match on Sunday, and the ring announcer is RACING through these introductions…

Taichi tries to control the pace early on, wilfully backing into the ropes to frustrate Goto, before a quick flurry ended with a wacky stand-off between Goto/YOSHI-HASHI and Sabre/Taichi. Suzuki and Ishii come in to trade elbows, giving us something different. That “something different” continues when Robbie Eagles tried his luck with Suzuki, and didn’t get off too badly as the ring filled and cleared until Suzuki caught Ishii on the apron with a hanging armbar.

We get the usual shenanigans on the outside while Suzuki’s half crab on the apron looked to have Ishii in trouble – but of course, it doesn’t count there. Nor does all of Suzuki-gun choking Ishii with their boots… or Taichi choking with his hands, for that matter.

Eventually Ishii got free with a backdrop suplex, before tags got us to YOSHI-HASHI and ZSJ, with the latter kicking out of a Bunker Buster early on. Sabre comes back by stomping on YOSHI-HASHI’s taped-up arm, only to get caught with some chops before Goto ran in to try aan ushigoroshi.

Taichi makes the save, but Goto eventually gets the move off – on Taichi – before Sabre twisted Goto’s neck. YOSHI-HASHI stops Sabre with a Western lariat, before Robbie Eagles came in to keep things going on Sabre. Zack’s leaping uppercut’s countered into a backslide for a near-fall by Eagles, whose ‘rana gets turned into an ankle lock as DOUKI came in.

DOUKI’s able to land a enziguiri and a swinging Northern Lights suplex for a near-fall, before Suzuki ran in to boot Eagles into the corner to set up for a Daybreak DDT. That gets a near-fall, with DOUKI then rolling into Italian Stretch #32, with the rest of the Suzuki-gun lads blocking saves with submission attempts of their own. With the holds broken, everyone else heads outside as Eagles dropped DOUKI with a Turbo Backpack… then set up for a 450 splash to the leg as the Ron Miller Special trapped DOUKI all alone for the submission. This was a nice change of pace when we got away from the tag title feud – maybe I’m just expecting the worst, but I’m more interested in the Suzuki/Ishii portion of this feud than the feud for the heavyweight tag belts. ***

Was it me, or was Sabre telling YOSHI-HASHI to “look at my nipple” after the match?

Elimination: Bullet Club (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI)
All signs pointed to this one being a monster of a match, especially given the length of those first-half matches…

You know how these usually operate. Long opening period as everyone’s worn down, then we get the flurry of eliminations. Of course, EVIL and Shingo start us off, but EVIL just rolls under the bottom rope after he took a few elbows from Shingo. Yujiro tags in and wants to face his former partner, and gets his wish, laying in with elbows early before Naito struck back with the help of SANADA… although that whole exchange just felt weird.

BUSHI’s in to choke Yujiro with his shirt, then passed him off to SANADA, then Shingo, whose double sledge left Yujiro down. LIJ keep cycling through tags, but it eventually backfires as Yujiro rakes BUSHI’s eyes as everyone headed outside. The camera crew barely caught EVIL wiping out the ring announcer so he could choke Shingo with the mic cable, before BUSHI got thrown into a conveniently-exposed corner. Cue back rakes, and we’re back outside again with Yujiro chucking Naito over the guard rails for the fun of it.

Returning to the ring, EVIL gets some two-counts on BUSHI, before Yujiro returned with front kicks. It’s a very pedestrian pace, this, as I feel very little of note has happened in the opening ten minutes. BUSHI catches Yujiro with a back cracker and tagged in Shingo, whose offence was stopped by ELP and Ishimori running in. He quickly charges them down ahead of a double clothesline, before getting distracted by EVIL saw Shingo get caught with a reverse DDT.

A Fisherman buster’s next for a two-count, before Yujiro bit his way free of a receipt, only to get elbowed, jabbed and lariat’d. Shingo goes up top for a falling back elbow, but again gets distracted as Yujiro threw him over the top rope, onto the apron. Shingo low bridges Yujiro onto the edge of the ring with him, before a death valley driver on the edge of the ring eliminated Yujiro at 13:57. OW.

EVIL’s got a chair to distract the referee, then charged Shingo off the apron at 14:14 for the next elimination. EVIL backs away to tag in Ishimori as SANADA joined the match, leading to see-saw pins for two-counts, culminating in a Paradise Lock. ELP rakes SANADA’s back and tries a Paradise Lock of his own – rather than free Ishimori. Phantasmo asks Milano Collection AT on commentary for help, but got caught by SANADA, who eventually freed them both with low dropkicks.

SANADA has to cancel a springboard dropkick into the ring, as he got swarmed by ELP and Ishimori. An attempted elevated lungblower from Ishimori sees him thrown onto the apron, then pulls SANADA onto the edge of the ring with him as Ishimori ends up slipping out of a Skull End on the apron at 17:14… but that eliminates him too.

Phantasmo’s in to club SANADA on the apron, stomping on the foot then raking the back as SANADA fell to the floor at 17:37. Naito gave Phantasmo a taste of his own medicine, then threw him over… some Cat Skinning followed, but Ishimori and Yujiro made the save, before an inside-out Combinacion Cabron onto the apron sees ELP go at 18:15. Naito left himself in a precarious position, which EVIL tried to capitalise on… he kicks the rope into Naito as he tried to climb back inside, before Naito needed the bottom rope to save himself…but EVIL just kicks his feet off the ropes to give Naito a bumpy landing for the next elimination at 18:55.

I think we’re down to EVIL and BUSHI now… BUSHI finds a way in with a missile dropkick, before an enziguiri took EVIL back down. A trip from Dick Togo earns him a receipt as BUSHI dove into him with a tope suicida – through the ropes, so BUSHI stays in the match – before a DDT on EVIL almost gave us an upset result.

After kicking out, EVIL lands a Fisherman Buster, then Darkness Falls for a two-count, before BUSHI escaped Everything is EVIL to land one more flurry, including a Codebreaker. That drew in Dick Togo to distract the referee… BUSHI’s distracted too, and eats a low blow from it, as Shingo then pulled Togo down… distracting EVIL as BUSHI capitalised to throw EVIL out for the upset. This certainly wasn’t one of the better elimination matches I’ve seen, with the early going feeling like a trudge in the park – but the end result we’re meant to remember is Shingo playing EVIL at his own game, so there’s that, I guess. **½

We’re back tomorrow with another elimination match on top, this time with Suzuki-gun vs. CHAOS as the final build for the NEVER trios title defence.

A breezy first half helped this show fly by – even if I was having to watch it on-demand for a change. New Japan are very much definitely set into patterns when it comes to these stretches at Korakuen (either using singles matches from tag teams or elimination matches to build up bigger matches down the line – and at least judging by the crowds, it seems to be working as we’re staying away from the “reduced” Korakuen setup.