New Japan hits Osaka as we get some warm-up matches for this weekend’s IWGP tag title match, with Tetsuya Naito vs. Taichi headlining tonight.

Quick Results
El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI pinned YOH, SHO & Robbie Eagles in 12:20 (***)
Hiroshi Tanahashi, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii pinned Yujiro Takahashi, KENTA & EVIL in 12:40 (**½)
Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan pinned Hirooki Goto & Kazuchika Okada in 10:06 (***¼)
Shingo Takagi & BUSHI pinned Master Wato & Tomoaki Honma in 10:27 (**¾)
SANADA and Zack Sabre Jr. ended in a double pin at 24:21 (***¾)
Taichi pinned Tetsuya Naito in 26:36 (***½)

We’re at the Edion Arena in Osaka for the first of two nights on the Summer Struggle tour. There’s no English commentary live on this part of the tour, with Kevin Kelly filling in the blanks on-demand…

Robbie Eagles & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
We’re building to the title match on Sunday…

Eagles starts by working Desperado’s wrist, only to get taken down as as the pair went hold-for-hold, looking for an advantage. Desperado finds one, wrapping Eagle’s arm around the ropes, before the Aussie came back with headscissors and a spinning heel kick. Tags bring in DOUKI and YOH, with YOH enjoying some early success before DOUKI found himself double-teamed.

At least until Kanemaru and Desperado pulled SHO and YOH outside for their timetabled trips to the guard rails. Eagles gets posted by Desperado among all this, while a suplex from Kanemaru drew a two-count on SHO back inside. DOUKI’s back to rake SHO’s eyes, whiloe Kanemaru did the same, following up with a scooping reverse DDT for a two-count.

A half crab from Kanemaru ends in the ropes, before DOUKI snuck in a kick to SHO… who fought back with a spear. There’s nobody for SHO to tag to though just yet, although we get back to Desperado and Eagles, with the latter hitting a diving kick to the knee. A clothesline drops Despy too, who’s taken to the corner for some running double knees that almost get the win.

Desperado tries to return with a back suplex, but found more luck with a brainbuster for a near-fall, before rolling Eagles into Numero Dos. The ropes save Eagles, as an exchange of strikes left both men laying, but its Eagles who’s able to tag out… sparking a brief Parade of Moves.

YOH stops that with a superkick to Desperado, following up with a Falcon arrow for a near-fall, before Desperado shoved YOH into the referee to break free from a Direct Drive. From there, a punch and a Pinche Loco finish the job, as Desperado leaves with a win – a perfectly fine opener, with exactly what you’d expect from this sextet. ***

Bullet Club (KENTA, EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
We’ve Tanahashi vs. KENTA and EVIL vs. Ishii in Nagoya on Saturday… so prepare for more of this… and no, that screencap isn’t indicative of my reaction!

EVIL rolls outside at the bell, not wanting a piece of Ishii… so instead we have YOSHI-HASHI and Tanahashi working over Yujiro, then KENTA, before EVIL pulled out YOSHI-HASHI to throw him into the guard rails. Ishii becomes a human weapon as EVIL charged him into the ring announcer, before getting thrown back inside for a two-count.

Yujiro takes over on Ishii with a diving kick, before the elbow drop, leg drop and headbutt trio led to a two-count. KENTA’s in next to rake Ishii’s eyes, before EVIL and Yujiro cleared the apron for some triple-team stomping on Ishii. A front kick from KENTA’s next, while Tanahashi quickly found himself meeting a similar fate as he tried to make the save.

A Fisherman suplex from EVIL gets a two-count on Ishii, before Ishii finally found an opening and landed a brainbuster to get free. YOSHI-HASHI gets the tag in and kept the charge up, chopping EVIL in the ropes ahead of a dropkick to the back. EVIL recovers with the inadvertent help of the referee to land a thrust kick on YOSHI-HASHI, then brought in KENTA… who ran right after Tanahashi to boot him off the apron.

KENTA’s DDT nearly puts away YOSHI-HASHI, as my feed dropped out. It recovers with Tanahashi running wild on KENTA, dragging him down with a Dragon screw ahead of a Cloverleaf attempt that KENTA counteed with an inside cradle. A tornado Stun Gun hung up Tanahashi on the ropes ahead of the Kane clothesline, before a strike exchange left both men on the deck.

Yujiro tags in with a front kick and a clothesline to Tanahashi for a two-count, following up with a reverse DDT. He then distracts the referee with his Pimp Cane as EVIL and KENTA tried to intervene with a chair… it backfires as we break into a Parade of Moves, leading to a Slingblade from Tanahashi, before he put away Yujiro with a High Fly Flow for the win. This one dragged badly in the early going, proof that Bullet Club shenanigans can dampen enthusiasm for any match! **½

Post-match, EVIL and Dick Togo try to attack, but just had Ishii kick the rope into their balls as they tried to sneak in.

United Empire (Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan) vs. Kazuchika Okada & Hirooki Goto
We’ve Okada/Cobb at the Tokyo Dome… and I guess O-Khan may end up in the handcuff Ranbo?

Okada and Goto jump-start proceedings, as we quickly settle down to Okada and Cobb, with the former landing a series of elbows into the corner. Cobb caught a running back elbow from Okada and countered into an Oklahoma Stampede, before taking things outside to just stand on Okada for a bit.

Of course, Okada beats the count-out, but was quickly choked in the corner by O-Khan, whose slam earned him a nonchalant two-count. Okada returns with a neckbreaker, but there’s no Goto to tag out to, having been knocked down earlier… so O-Khan’s right back with Mongolian chops to wear down Okada some more.

Cobb’s back to headbutt Okada into the corner, but Okada escapes a splash and returned with a DDT instead. O-Khan tags in but eats a flapjack (not the sticky kind), as Goto finally got the tag in, landing a clothesline for a quick two-count on O-Khan. Pulling O-Khan up by his braid, Goto starts exchanging rights with O-Khan, leading to a spinning heel kick in the corner and a bulldog out of it… which O-Khan blocked ahead of the standing head-and-arm choke.

O-Khan turned that into almost a Final Cut as Cobb returned to land a running back suplex for a near-fall. Goto tries to fight back on Cobb and O-Khan, but got outnumbered and sandwiched with superkicks for a near-fall, before Okada and Cobb traded dropkicks. From there, Goto and Cobb look for a suplex, but it breaks down into a series of reversals, ending in a hurry when Cobb went “eff it” and pulled Goto into a Tour of the Islands for the win. A fun sprint at the end, as Cobb builds up steam going into Sunday. ***¼

Tomoaki Honma & Master Wato vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
This was meant to be Kota Ibushi’s first match in quite a while, having dropped off of three shows on the Summer Struggle tour… but he then got pulled from this run of shows with aspiration pneumonia. He’s been replaced by Tomoaki Honma for this triplicated set of tags…

Wato and BUSHI start us off, with Wato pulling ahead early with a dropkick before my feed dropped out. We’re back with Shingo and Honma, and a whole lotta buffering. When things recover stream-wise, Shingo’s charging Honma into the corner, before BUSHI took over with some stomped to the downed Honma.

A missile dropkick from BUSHI follows, but Honma manages to fight back with a DDT/Flatliner combo as Shingo tried to intervene. Wato tags back in, and took BUSHI outside for a Tornillo, following up with some kicks before BUSHI snuck back in with a Fisherman screw neckbreaker.

Shingo’s back to help double-team Wato with a spinebuster/back cracker combo, as a sliding lariat almost gets Shingo the win. The IWGP champion keeps pushing on, with Honma looking to try his luck next… and he actually managed to make some headway too, only for Shingo to clobber him and Wato with a double clothesline.

A noshigami from Shingo gets a two-count on Wato, who then replied with a pop-up ‘rana for a near-fall. More roll-ups ensue, then a head kick, before a spinning backfist from Wato earned him a Pumping Bomber seconds later for the win. Likely because of the stream, I struggled to get into this, but this was a fine warm-up for Shingo ahead of whatever happens on Sunday – be it against Ibushi or A N Other opponent. **¾

Post-match, Shingo does a few box jumps from the floor to the ring apron. Easy.

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA
These two have split three wins apiece in their prior singles outings, but all of SANADA’s wins have been in G1 matches, so who knows how this’ll go.

We open with a handshake as both men start tentatively, with Sabre’s attempt at a uppercut being tripped up before he came in with a cravat on SANADA. An attempted armdrag’s avoided by Sabre, who then grounds SANADA in a strait-jacket hold, only for an attempted whip into the corner to go awry as Sabre had to rescue things with a Cobra twist.

SANADA hiptosses free, as we then broke into back-and-forth pinning attempts… but ref Red Shoes Unno knew it was too early and just waiting fo rhythm to tire themselves out before he even teased the idea of counting. A wristlock from Sabre’s cartwheeled out of as the pair traded armdrags and counters, with Sabre eventually grounding SANADA in headscissors.

Body scissors from SANADA give Sabre a conundrum, so he rolls back to try and pin SANADA, before a low dropkick ended Sabre’s resurgence.

Things spills outside as Sabre’s taken into the rails, before a shinbreaker form SANADA led to him rolling up and tying up the Brit’s legs. After freeing himself, Sabre’s back outside, but this time it’s SANADA in the rails, but he beats the count-out and rollback into Sabre’s assault, by way of a stomp to the elbow.

Sabre works an armbar that’s almost instantly broken in the ropes, but he goes back to the arm, stretching SANADA in the middle of the ring. A hammerlock keeps SANADA down, before his counter got quickly countered, with Sabre takings things back to the ground, only for SANADA to get up and charge Sabre to the outside.

Rolling back inside, SANADA gets a two-count, before an exchange saw Sabre counter a Paradise Lock with an arm twist. With both men back to their feet, Sabre torques the arm some more, but misses a stomp to the elbow as SANADA returned with a Dragon screw. Sabre’s quickly back with another armbar though, but that also ends in the ropes.

SANADA heads to the apron where he took an overhead kick, but responded with a Dragon screw in the ropes… he tries a Figure Four, but Sabre scrambles to the ropes as they resume strikes. An attempted Zack Driver’s escaped, as was a Japanese leg clutch as Sabre came close with a Euro clutch, before they raced through more clutch counters for near-falls.

A small package nearly wins it for Sabre, who then saw his PK get caught by SANADA, who came back with another Dragon screw. SANADA follows with a moonsault to Sabre’s back, but Zack quickly came back up for another Euro clutch… only for SANADA to manipulate Sabre’s shoulders to the mat as well as the match ended in a double pin. This was a nice, competitive match, with an unusual (for the era) finish as they kept their even records intact. ZSJ had no luck convincing the referee to use VAR afterwards, for what it’s worth… ***¾

Afterwards, Sabre and SANADA go for an inside cradle, rolling back and forth as Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura separated them… then again as Zack was desperate to get a three-count somehow before they argued over who should take the winner’s route to the back.

Taichi vs. Tetsuya Naito
Like the last match, both Naito and Taichi have split four wins apiece in their prior singles outings, although the first three of those eight matches came when Naito was a Young Lion and habitually losing matches. In more recent times, Naito is 4-1, with a loss in 2019’s G1 being the only blot on his copybook.

Once both had taken off their oodles of entrance gear, we got going with buffering. A quick refresh gets us back in as Naito tried to choke Taichi into the ropes, before Taichi returned the favour. Naito fakes out a fake-out on a dive, to hit a baseball slide to Taichi on the floor, before taking Taichi into the guard railings.

Taichi beats the count-out, but gets grounded with an inverted cravat before he got free and met Naito in the corner with an enziguiri. Back on the outside, Naito’s chucked into the railings, then choked with some camera cabling, before more throttling awaited Naito back inside.

Kicks to the back wear down Naito, before Naito ran into another choke… eventually hitting back with an atomic drop and a neckbreaker to buy him some time. A whip takes Taichi to the corner for Combinacion Cabron, before he grounded Taichi in the headscissors. He taunts Taichi to get to the ropes, which Taichi eventually does, before an attempt at Gloria was blocked, with Taichi instead coming back with a thrust kick.

More kicks from Taichi leave Naito laying, as he eventually kicks Naito’s leg out of his leg. Naito returns by lifting Taichi to the top rope, but his attempt at a ‘rana’s caught, before Naito eventually countered the powerbomb with it, only to get caught with another enziguiri. An Axe Bomber dumps Naito for a near-fall, before the Holy Emperor Cross Mausoleum looked to force a submission.

Taichi lets go of the hold, but can only get a two-count on Naito, before a Last Ride was escaped, with Naito instead countering with a swinging DDT. The top rope ‘rana follows, but Taichi snapped back with an Alabama Slam, before he ripped off his trousers… just in time for Naito to come back with a satellite Destino for a near-fall. A regular Destino looks to follow, but Taichi pushes away and eats an enziguiri,

Naito tries to go for Esperanza out of the corner, but a leaping enziguiri from Taichi stopped that, as he then pulled Naito out of the corner looking for Black Mephisto. Instead, Naito countered into a sorta-Destino for a near-fall, before landing a Valentina (a Snow Plow kinda move). Destino followed… but Taichi countered into Black Mephisto for a near-fall.

Naito shrugs off some front kicks as he then had to block a Dangerous backdrop driver… before a trading of swipes led to a forearm smash from Taichi out of a sumo stance. Then comes the Dangerous backdrop driver for a near-fall, before an Axe Bomber and Black Mephisto finally got Taichi the win. A win and a draw for the challengers tonight then, as they close out with a long-earned win… but we’ll be doing this all over again tomorrow. ***½

We’re back early (6am UK/1am EST) tomorrow in Osaka for the “other” matches in the tag team singles warm-ups, with SANADA vs. Taichi in the semi-main, while ZSJ takes on Tetsuya Naito in the main event.

This was a solid stop on the tour, with the Sabre/SANADA outing likely to get underrated and underviewed. With New Japan feeling as cold as it does now, it’s hard to see what could spark a revival – at least on “home turf” – but for those who are staying for the ride, New Japan’s at least turning out consistently solid shows.