The Summer Struggle tour gives us singles matches to prepare for the upcoming IWGP Junior tag title defence.

Quick Results
Yujiro Takahashi, EVIL, KENTA & Dick Togo pinned Yota Tsujim Yuya Uemura, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomohiro Ishii in 12:56 (**¾)
Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr. & Minoru Suzuki pinned BUSHI, Tetsuya Naito & SANADA in 13:29 (***)
Robbie Eagles, SHO & YOH submitted DOUKI, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 12:55 (***¼)
Ryusuke Taguchi pinned Taiji Ishimori in 14:23 (***¼)
Rocky Romero & El Phantasmo went to a 30:00 draw (***¾)

We’re back at a solds out Korakuen Hall (which means no wonky set up opposite the hard camera), and yes, we’re running the “singles matches to build up for a tag” card here. Yep, that’s a five-match card – seemingly the new normal for Korakuen shows?

Bullet Club (KENTA, EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & Dick Togo) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
We’ve got the two singles matches out of this later in the week…

Ishii came out by himself, with the Young Lions apparently wanting to second Hiroshi Tanahashi… so of course, EVIL got jumped as the match started with brawling on the floor. EVIL and Togo double-team Ishii in the ring, but there’s a quick turnaround as Ishii charged through them before Uemura and Tsuji hit a pair of dropkicks to EVIL and Togo. KENTA and Yujiro try to get involved, but the Young Lions charge them down too, before EVIL inevitably found a way through Uemura, slamming him before throwing him into a conveniently-exposed corner. Dick Togo grounds Uemura ahead of a fist drop, while EVIL continued the momentum, again throwing Uemura into the exposed corner.

KENTA’s back to keep Uemura isolated, but a dropkick from the Young Lion finally forced an opening as Hiroshi Tanahashiu tagged in to hit a trio of dropkicks to KENTA’s knee. Tanahashi clears the Bullet Club apron ahead of a Dragon screw to KENTA, who returned with an inside cradle for a two-count, then a tornado Hot Shot in the corner…

A flying Kane clothesline from KENTA lands for a near-fall, before the pair exchanged strikes… leading to a scoop slam from KENTA. Yujiro tags in, but so does Tsuji, who landed a shoulder tackle and a slam before the running senton and Mount Tsuji splash got the Young Lion a two-count. Uemura runs in to play guard as Tsuji had a Boston crab on Yujiro… then put one on Togo too, but KENTA manages to break into the ring and dismantle the holds. Tanahashi took care of KENTA with a Twist and Shout neckbreaker, while Tsuji… ran into Yujiro’s boot. A quick spear turned it back around for a two-count, before Yujiro bit back and tried for a Pimp Juice DDT. Uemura stops it, but Yujiro’s able to recover with an Incolle Slam moments later, before he pulled up Tsuji for the Pimp Juice anyway for the win. A decent enough opener, with minimal Bullet Club bollocks to get us going – and the Young Lions did their usual thing of coming close to an unlikely win too, which is always nice. **¾

Post-match, Ishii tries to go after EVIL, but got choked out by Togo as EVIL used a chair for extra effect.

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr. & Minoru Suzuki) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI)
We’ve got some singles matches in Osaka to build for the tag title rematch… so here’s your obligatory multi-man tag!

Sabre and Naito are in the ring as the bell goes, and there’s some banter as Naito tagged out, then in, then back out as we got some comedy with SANADA standing behind Sabre like a spare part, rather than, you know, wrestle. When we do get going, Sabre charges at Naito, then tagged out to Taichi, who dove for the ropes when SANADA went for a hammerlock. Taichi keeps trying to stifle things, but instead opted to throttle SANADA into the corner, with Sabre returning to work over the wrist. Suzuki’s in next as they had fun with SANADA’s left arm, leading to a front kick from Suzuki… whose PK was then caught. A low dropkick from SANADA cut off that momentum, with BUSHI tagging in to try his luck, choking out Suzuki with a t-shirt.

You know that’s going to end badly.

Yup. Suzuki punches BUSHI… but gets choked again after the referee admonished him. In comes Naito to put the boots to Suzuki, then lands a dropkick fo his own as Suzuki rolled over to tag in Sabre, who more than happily lit up Naito with uppercuts. A neck twist has Naito down, but Naito’s back with a Manhattan drop before a Combinacion Cabron ended with him leaping into a cravat. Naito manages to hit a neckbreaker seconds later, then tagged in SANADA to hit a Dragon screw. See-saw pin attempts eventually lead to SANADA eating an uppercut, before an arm whip dumped SANADA on the mat. Taichi’s back, but got dropkicked to the outside for a plancha, before things broke down into a Parade of Moves back inside, with Naito eating a Taichi thrust kick… before SANADA dropped Taichi with a Magic Screw.

BUSHI’s in to evade a Dangerous backdrop driver as he came close to a win with a Fisherman’s neckbreaker… but Taichi’s back with an Axe bomber before the Suzuki-gun lads cleared the decks, leaving BUSHI alone as a Zack Mephisto led to the win. A solid undercard tag with the expected result – while making sure they didn’t overdo too many interactions ahead of the preview singles matches in Osaka. ***

Robbie Eagles & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
This was Eagles’ first match in Japan since last December.

Eagles and Desperado start us off, trading holds as Eagles took things to the mat… but Desperado goes out and in to wrap up Eagles’ arm in the ropes before raking the Aussie’s eye. Eagles uses the ropes for a springboard armdrag, then ran in with a ‘rana before a tag brings in YOH to keep it going. A neckbreaker lands for a two-count, but Kanemaru ends up tripping YOH in the ropes before flinging him into the railings. You know what’s next. Lotsa trips to the guard rails. Enough whips to make the Irish happy. Back inside, DOUKI’s suplex gets him a two-count on YOH, while Kanemaru came in to slam YOH and wrap him around the bottom rope with a Boston crab.

Kanemaru loses a suplex as YOH got free, eventually hitting a dropkick to Kanemaru… then a double dropkick to Despy and DOUKI before making the tag to SHO. Clearing house, SHO lifts DOUKI onto the apron ahead of a dropkick to the floor, but Kanemaru’s still legal as he gets charged down by SHO. A kick from SHO gets him a two-count, but Kanemaru’s dropkick evened things up once more. SHO looks for a Falcon arrow, but Kanemaru grabbed the ref… and got speared for his troubles. Tags get us back to Desperado and Eagles, with those two trading shots until Despy raked the eyes. Eagles comes back with a springboard missile dropkick to the knee, but had to block Guitarra de Angel as Desperado raced through his arsenal.

A roll-up from Eagles gets a two-count, but his Turbo Backpack’s blocked as Eagles ends up taking out Despy’s knee. Eagles runs into a spinebuster though as Desperado sensed danger, tagging in DOUKI to try and get a win. We’ve a swinging Northern Lights suplex from DOUKI for a nice near-fall, before he headed to the apron for Daybreak… landing the springboard DDT for a two-count, then transitioning into the DOUKI CHOKEY! My feed dropped here, returning with Roppongi 3K clearing house on Desperado and Kanemaru, as DOUKI then landed an enziguiri en route to a Suplex de la Luna.

Except he never hits that, and got rolled up for a near-fall as Eagles pushed on, rolling DOUKI into a Turbo Backpack, before he rolled DOUKI into a Ron Miller Special for the submission. Eagles being back was like a breath of fresh air – adding something different here… but with the glut of shows coming ahead, I can only hope this isn’t worn thin quickly. Welcome back, Robbie! ***¼

Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Taiji Ishimori
We’ve got the junior tag title match at the Tokyo Dome next weekend, so here’s the first part of the build… and Ishimori comes in having won all three prior singles meetings between these two.

Taguchi goes for the leg early on, but the early scramble leads to nought as Taughi then got caught with a headlock on the mat. Headscissors got Taguchi free, which Ishimori escaped from as we reset. Shoulder tackles have Ishimori down, as did a dropkick, taking him outside for a faked-out dive as Taguchi went all Rick Rude on us with hip swivels. Ishimori distracts the ref as he kicks the ropes into Taguchi’s Funky Weapons, which led to some stuff on the outside as Ishimori threw Taguchi into the railings. Taguchi rolls inside just in time, but had to fight out of a cravat before a neck twist left Taguchi on the deck. Taking things to the corner, a Tree of Woe leads to Taguchi getting stomped in the gonads with a Gas Pedal, before Taguchi manages to find his way in with a hip attack.

More hip attacks follow in the ropes for a near-fall, but Taguchi goes to the well once too often as his hip attack’s countered into an atomic drop. Taguchi fakes out running to the ropes as he snuck in a hip attack, then flew outside with a body press to Ishimori, before another hip attack back inside was countered with a roll-up. A handspring enziguiri from Ishimori drops Taguchi, who’s then taken into the ropes for a baseball slide German suplex. Ishimori followed that up with a Yes Lock, but Taguchi gets to the ropes to break it, before he pulled Ishimori into the Oh My Garankle. Ishimori manages to counter back into a Yes Lock, then rolled the pair away from the ropes… only for Taguchi to go back to the ankle.

An elbow drop to the knee grounds Ishimori as Taguchi wore on the ankle some more, but the ropes force a break. Taguchi is quickly back on the ankle though, before he countered a counter to a Dodon, rolling through despite Ishimori having grabbed a handful of tights, leaving Taguchi with a bare arse and the win! Another pretty solid match, and we get a bare-arsed Stinkface from Taguchi afterwards too. No, I’m not screen capping that. ***¼

El Phantasmo’s out to break it up, so you know what that means… HEYMAN SPECIAL!

El Phantasmo vs. Rocky Romero
Similarly, these two have had three prior meetings, but ELP’s got a 2-1 lead – although their only match in Japan was the famous BOSJ outing where Rocky almost took ELP to the 30-minute time limit.

Ah, poor Rocky doesn’t get an entrance on his return to Korakuen Hall… and the match starts with him diving onto the Bullet Club lads on the outside. Taguchi marches Ishimori to the back, as Romero puts the boots to ELP in the ring, before he unsighted the Canadian with his own t-shirt for some chops. There’s a back body drop for ELP, then some headscissors as he’s taken into the corner, before he powdered outside for some respite. Back inside, ELP elbows Romero, but rolled outside as he was almost caught in a cross armbar. Rocky followed him out eventually, throwing Phantasmo into the side of the ring before he called for a brainbuster, which ELP ended up taking on the floor.

Phantasmo gets pulled into the post, as Rocky then took him up top for some arm breakers as my feed dropped. When it returns, ELP is throwing Rocky into the corners, before he booted his title challenger in the back. Back rakes follow, as I apparently missed a backbreaker while I was refreshing my page… which explains why ELP’s chucking Rocky into the corners. Another backbreaker followed, but Rocky gets free of the follow-up stretch and whipped Phantasmo to the outside, before Rocky opened the gate and lawn-darted Phantasmo into the ring post. Back inside, Phantasmo spat his gum at Rocky, and got kicked in the ribs for it, before Rocky faked out a knee drop and racked ELP’s back in the ropes.

More kicks follow as ELP flipped the bird, leading to the springboard dropkick. There’s a turnaround on the outside as Rocky’s charged into the ring posts, before Phantasmo tried to lock Rocky outside the gates to get a count-out… but the referee took his time starting the count. Oh, and that gate wasn’t closed. Rocky beats the count, but ELP’s waiting on the top rope to come in with a back rake, before things broke down into some back-and-forth strikes. A tiltawhirl DDT from Rocky stops all that, as he then built up for some Forever clotheslines, ahead of a Diablo armbar attempt, which ELP tried to defend with all his might… eventually rolling out for an ankle lock instead. Rocky breaks it with a rewind kick, but his attempt to head up top with ELP’s stopped as ELP looked for an avalanche CR2 instead.

A headbutt stops that, with Rocky bringing ELP down ahead of a running Shiranui for a near-fall. ELP slaps Rocky, but gets some back before a Shiranui was countered into Cipher UTAKI. Someone’s learned from his tag partner! Rocky kicks out at two from that, before ELP missed the Thunder Kiss splash off the top… allowing Rocky to hit a Bummer-Ye as we were all about borrowing your partner’s moves here. The stakes got upped as Rocky went for Dodon, but ELP escaped and went back to a CR2, only for Rocky to counter into a Dudebuster for a near-fall. More Forever clotheslines follow as we hit the final five minutes of the time limit… with ELP swinging his own lariat, missing as Rocky lands a pair of lariats for a near-fall.

They head back up top as ELP raked Rocky’s back again, leading to an attempted back superplex a la Razor Ramon… but Rocky instead gets back raked and pulled into a whirlibird neckbreaker. That gets a near-fall as ELP then teased Sudden Death, only to get rolled up by Rocky for some more two-counts, with a backslide almost doing it… before a Shiranui out of the corner landed for yet another near-fall in the final two minutes.

ELP struck back with a stomp and a kick to the gut, having “loaded” that boot, and as we hit the final minute, he pulled up Rocky for the CR2… countering into a Styles Clash instead for a near-fall. There’s a weird lack of urgency mind you, as ELP then proceeded to stomp on Rocky, opting to wait to cue up for Sudden Death as Ryusuke Taguchi returned with a towel. Taguchi went to throw in the towel, but ELP caught it and threw it aside… a Sudden Death just about caught Rocky, who kicked out at two as we hit the time limit. The execution perhaps wasn’t what they were going for, but the pair continued their tradition of long matches at Korakuen with a match that – had we had an “old school” crowd – absolutely would have been molten. ***¾

Post-match, ELP went to hit Sudden Death on Taguchi, but it’s caught and turned into an ankle lock as Ishimori ran out to even things up. Taguchi cuts a promo in the ring as Rocky’s carried away, and in lieu of Japanese translations, I guess he took solace in the fact that the champions couldn’t beat them in singles matches today?

New Japan hits the road on Monday for a non-televised show in Ibaraki… and then we’re back to putting place names into the title as we close out the week with FOUR big shows. Thursday in Osaka gives us SANADA vs. Sabre and Naito vs. Taichi in “singles matches ahead of a title match”; Friday in Osaka swaps things around, with SANADA vs. Taichi and Naito vs. ZSJ… Saturday in Aichi/Nagoya has Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL and KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi… then Sunday gets us to the Tokyo Dome for the rescheduled Wrestle Grand Slam, with Shingo Takagi defending the IWGP World Heavyweight title vs. Kota Ibushi headlining a stacked card.

Oh, and if you’re worried that I’ve not said the words “Korakuen Hall” in that little preview above… they’re running the building THIRTEEN TIMES between July 27 and the end of the tour on August 27. This was a really good Korakuen show from New Japan – not at the “olden days” heights or anything, but certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the tired shows we’ve seen in the recent past with those midweek shows, that’s for sure. It’ll be a busy week for New Japan, and this run of big shows may well show if there’s any green shoots of recovery starting to blossom.