The Summer Struggle tour kicks off in Sapporo as Taiji Ishimori challenges El Desperado for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship!
Master Wato pinned Yuya Uemura in 9:09 (**¼)
EVIL & Dick Togo submitted YOH & Tomohiro Ishii in 11:37 (**¾)
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi pinned Yujro Takahashi, El Phantasmo & KENTA in 15:00 (***)
Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan pinned SHO & Kazuchika Okada in 11:41 (***)
Shingo Takagi, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI pinned DOUKI, Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr. & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 13:39 (***)
El Desperado pinned Taiji Ishimori in 28:54 to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (***½)
We’re at the Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena in Hokkaido for the start of the Summer Struggle tour – a tour that’s got no less than 25 stops in various cities in Japan. There’s live English commentary for this one too, from Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton, but first… Hiromu Takahashi backstage.
He makes it to the ring for the now-usual pre-show hype, running down the card as I wolfed down my breakfast…
Yuya Uemura vs. Master Wato
There was a late card change here, with Kota Ibushi’s adverse reaction to his Covid vaccine seeing him taken off the card.
Commentary mentions how this is an extremely winnable match for Uemura. I cackle. Respectfully. Uemura takes Wato down in a waistlock early, but Wato manages to get free for a leglock. They trade takedowns and escapes, before Uemura came back with a side headlock as he took Wato to the mat. Wato pushes free, but takes a shoulder tackle for some two-counts, before a kick took Uemura down. A key lock from Wato looks to follow, but Uemura scrambles into the ropes for a break, before a dropkick took down Wato as he came off the ropes. A leaping forearm from Uemura sees him build some momentum, as did a corner dropkick and a back suplex, which draws a two-count for the Young Lion.
Uemura rolls Wato over into a half crab, but that ends in the ropes… so Uemura pulls up Wato for a Kanuki suplex. It’s fought out of, but Uemura’s right back with an armdrag, then a sweet, bridging German suplex for a near-fall. Wato comes close with a roll-up, then dropped Uemura with a head kick, following up with Recientemente and RPP for the win. A solid outing, but Wato took a lot of offence, and that’ll not do much to silence his critics. **¼
EVIL’s music hits… then stops. Hiromu’s on commentary, not the sound desk, by the way.
Bullet Club (EVIL & Dick Togo) vs. Tomohiro Ishii & YOH
EVIL doesn’t want the NEVER trios titles… just Ishii… and apparently it’s to get EVIL back on track to winning some sort of singles gold.
Ishii jumps EVIL and takes him outside at the bell, chucking EVIL into and over the guard rails while YOH thought he’d do the same to Dick Togo. EVIL and Ishii hit the ring for some choking, before tags brought in YOH and Togo. A wristlock has Togo on the defensive, and on the mat, before YOH got thrown into an exposed corner. We’re back outside, where EVIL uses Ishii to charge down the timekeeper, who fell from his chair like a tree. Timberrr! Meanwhile in the ring, Togo stretches YOH, then tagged in EVIL who lands a slam for a two-count. YOH’s flung into the exposed corner again, before an attempted comeback on Togo ended with him missing a dropkick.
YOH manages to hit a suplex moments later, then brought Ishii in to charge down Togo. Forearms and chops pin Togo into the corner, before EVIL tripped Ishii in the ropes. That sets up for some double-teaming and a Fisherman suplex from EVIL for a two-count. Ishii avoids a whip, but charges into the exposed corner… but with little effect as he just hits a back suplex on EVIL. A tag brings YOH back in, making a beeline for EVIL with a leaping forearm and a half-hatch suplex for a near-fall. EVIL escapes a Falcon arrow as things begin to break down, with Ishii running in… and getting thrown outside for Togo to take into the barriers. That leaves YOH alone as more interference from Togo takes YOH down for a Darkness Scorpion.
EVIL clings on as YOH got to the ropes quickly… before Togo’s attempt to interject again got cut off by Ishii. A quick turnaround leads to an Ishii German suplex and a Falcon Arrow by YOH for a near-fall on EVIL… but EVIL’s quickly back with a lariat for a two-count, before the Darkness Scorpion led to the submission as Dick Togo held Ishii in a crossface to prevent the save. I don’t know whether it’s just the mixing on the English feed, but I’m barely even hearing the clap crowds, which is really hurting the atmosphere. **¾
Post-match, Ishii tries to fight back on EVIL, but he just couldn’t get anything going before he chased them to the back.
Bullet Club (KENTA, El Phantasmo & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi & Rocky Romero
We’ve some Japanese returns here – this was Rocky’s first match in Japan since New Year Dash!! and KENTA’s back after falling in love with YOSHI-HASHI’s stick last time out.
KENTA and Tanahashi start us off… but KENTA just circles the Ace and tagged out to El Phantasmo. Taguchi tags in as the pair promote their new t-shirts by taking them off… which just allowed ELP to choke Taguchi with his own tee. Taguchi shrugs it off and directs ELP for some endless rope running, then was given a taste of his own medicine… until Taguchi tripped over Phantasmo’s drop down. My feed drops, returning with Tanahashi, Taguchi and Romero triple-teaming ELP by… having Tanahashi doing all the work. There’s disagreements between Rocky and Taguchi over who should do what next, so they doe-see-doe before Phantasmo sidestepped Taguchi in the corner, before Yujiro tagged in to wear down Taguchi in the corner.
In the background, KENTA’s choking away on Tanahashi by the rails, before he began to kick Taguchi in the arse. KENTA rolls Taguchi back in for a two-count, before Yujiro’s back suplex added another two-count. KENTA’s back in for some more arse kicking, before Phantasmo’s side headlock kept Taguchi on the deck. Taguchi tries a hip attack, but it’s countered into an atomic drop as Phantasmo lands hip attacks of his own… and missed one. Rocky tags in to catch ELP with some Forever clotheslines… before landing a nice tornado DDT out of the corner for a near-fall. A running Shiranui’s next for a near-fall, but ELP comes back with a back rake before eating a leaping knee from Rocky.
A stomp to the foot stops Rocky briefly, as tags get us back to KENTA and Tanahashi… Taguchi distracts KENTA, only to get knocked off the apron by Tanahashi. KENTA’s taken down with a Dragon Screw, with a flip senton off the middle rope following for a near-fall. KENTA tries his luck with a Go 2 Sleep, but Tanahashi escapes as the pair begin to trade strikes.
Tanahashi’s caught with a knee to the gut as he went for a Slingblade… with KENTA then tagging in Yujiro. A Phantasmo head kick and a Fisherman buster from Yujiro almost wins it, before an Incolle slam from Yujiro took him a little closer to an unlikely win. Pimp Juice looks to get the win, but Tanahashi escapes and eventually countered with a Twist and Shout. A Slingblade’s next, but the cover’s broken as the ring filled and cleared, allowing Tanahashi to head up and land the High Fly Flow on Yujiro for the win. This started off a little holiday-camp-y, but once they got going it was a pretty solid trios match as it looks like we’re getting KENTA/Tanahashi and Rocky/Taguchi going for the junior tag titles this summer. ***
Especially since KENTA ran back out after the match to attack Tanahashi…
United Empire (Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb) vs. Kazuchika Okada & SHO
After the United Empire missed Kizuna Road, they’re back – and it looks like we’re teasing Cobb/Okada here, even though there’s already been a blatant tease for another match at the Tokyo Dome with Okada.
O-Khan and SHO start us off, with O-Khan looking to take SHO into the ropes with palm strikes early on. Grabbing the ears give O-Khan some headway, but SHO’s dropkick has O-Khan down, drawing in Cobb and Okada for some double-teaming as Cobb’s tripped into Okada’s boots. A chop from O-Khan takes SHO down, as did a gutwrench facebuster, before SHO got charged into the corner so O-Khan could have a seat. A million miles away from SHO’s recent victory in GLEAT, eh? No squashing in the corner there for him…
Cobb’s in, keeping SHO cornered with Irish whips. Standing knees and a toss have SHO deeper in trouble. SHO kicks out of a cover, but gets dropped with a Mongolian chop from O-Khan who then tried to have SHO lick his boot. I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole. SHO tries to fight free, and eventually does, sidestepping O-Khan in the corner before landing a spear as a tag finally brings in Okada. A DDT drops O-Khan for a quick two-count, before O-Khan escaped the over-the-knee neckbreaker to come back with a Judo toss. Cobb’s back next to land an uppercut to a cornered Okada, following up with a Spin Cycle for a two-count, before Okada avoided a Tour of the Islands.
Okada comes back with a Money Clip, but it’s quickly broken up as he ends up landing the over-the-knee neckbreaker instead. SHO’s back in, kicking away on Cobb ahead of a low dropkick for a two-count, before Cobb pulled SHO in for a back suplex. Some more kicks have SHO down for another two-count, which Okada breaks up… before SHO countered a Tour of the Islands into an inside cradle for a near-fall. Okada’s back to dropkick Cobb away, giving SHO a fresh opening for a massive deadlift German suplex, but Cobb wriggles free before catching SHO with a Tour of the Islands for the win. Your standard undercard tag, as they look to set up stuff for the remainder of the tour. ***
Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr., Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
We’ve got the tag title match tomorrow, so this is the obvious undercard tag…
Eventually we get going with a jump start that cleared the ring. Naito wraps Taichi’s arm around the guard rails while SANADA had Sabre on the floor. In the ring, SANADA and Naito double-team Taichi, who’s kept isolated as BUSHI, then Shingo worked over the arm, before hammerlocks kept Taichi in the corner. SANADA wrings the arm, then trips Taichi for a Paradise Lock, only for Sabre to make the save as the champions swarmed the ring. We’re back on the floor with the Suzuki-gun lads taking LIJ into the rails, before Taichi choked SANADA into the corner. Kanemaru tags in to hit a hammerlock’d bodyslam, while DOUKI and Sabre joined the fray, with Zack staying on SANADA’s wrist.
Taichi stomps on SANADA’s arm as he was getting stretched, before an arm whip dumped SANADA on his shoulder. Kanemaru’s back, as is DOUKI, but SANADA gets free with a ‘rana on DOUKI, giving him time to roll across to tag in Naito, who single-handedly cleared house. BUSHI’s back to capitalise on Naito’s low dropkick on Kanemaru, following in with a missile dropkick before an enziguiri caught BUSHI off guard. DOUKI’s back to hit a slam and a leaping stomp to the gut for a near-fall, as BUSHI finds himself triple-teamed ahead of a Patriot Missile from DOUKI for a near-fall. From the cover, DOUKI rolls BUSHI into a DOUKI CHOKIE, complete with Kevin Kelly’s best impression of Teddy from Bob’s Burgers…
Suplex de la Luna looks to follow from DOUKI, but BUSHI escaped and hit a dropkick in the ropes as Shingo tagged back in. A clothesline traps DOUKI in the corner, but an enziguiri frees him before Shingo popped him up into a death valley driver for a near-fall. Last of the Dragon looks to follow, but it’s escaped as we began a Parade of Moves, featuring Sabre tying up SANADA and Naito in two submissions at the same time. Shingo slams Kanemaru onto the pile to break it up, before going back to DOUKI… who nearly wins with a roll-up. A back elbow, jab and lariat stopped DOUKI in his tracks, before a Pumping Bomber put him away. That pop-up death valley driver on DOUKI earlier looked to have taken a lot out of him, and the Pumping Bomber just made things elementary as LIJ go into tomorrow’s title match with the slight upper hand. ***
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs. El Desperado (c)
Ishimori’s looking to regain the title he dropped six months ago… and bring us back to having a dual junior champion.
We’ve a measured start, with Ishimori and Desperado trading holds as I get distracted by that big bruise on Despy’s back. Desperado heads through the ropes to tie up Ishimori’s arm, only for the challenger to come back with an armbar on the mat. Elbows take Desperado to the corner, before Desperado had to powder to the outside as Ishimori tried to roll him into a Yes Lock. Ishimori follows Desperado on the outside to kick the arm into the railings, before he could wrap it around the ring post. Referee Red Shoes Unno stops Ishimori from using a chair… but Ishimori just grabs a second one from under the ring and used it quickly as the ref’s back was turned.
Back in the ring, Ishimori rips off a turnbuckle pad, before cranking Desperado’s neck for a two-count. Desperado’s thrown shoulder-first into the exposed corner as Ishimori clearly was softening him up for the Yes Lock, following up with a levering armbar as he tried to pop the shoulder out. The ring post follows again for Desperado, as did an old-school shoulder breaker, which drew a two-count in the middle of the ring. My feed dropped, and recovers with Desperado throwing Ishimori into the barriers, before he wrapped the leg around the ring post as the champion looked to borrow the challenger’s own tactics. That chair from earlier’s used on Ishimori’s knee, as they then returned to the ring as Desperado used a leg spreader to exacerbate things.
Getting free, Ishimori manages to turn things around, taking Desperado into the corner for a baseball slide German suplex, before a Bloody Cross onto the barriers left Desperado in a heap on the floor. Desperado beats the count, but is quickly met with a springboard 450 as Ishimori followed in with an attempt at the Yes Lock, but Desperado blocked it and grabbed the ropes. Desperado’s left arm’s clearly causing problems – he can’t even grip the ropes to prevent an Irish whip – but Ishimori decided to go after it some more. An attempt at Guitarra de Angel’s blocked as Ishimori pushes Desperado away – causing him to squash the referee in the exposed corner. So with no ref, the pair trade low blows, then right hands as the ref got back to his feet.
A spinebuster from Desperado ends that sequence for a near-fall, with a Numero Dos following… but Ishimori cradles Desperado for a near-fall before he looked to land La Mistica. Guitarra de Angel lands instead as Desperado came close, before Ishimori charged Desperado into the exposed corner to avoid Pinche Loco. La Mistica followed, as did the Yes Lock… but Desperado escapes and went into Numero Dos… rolling through Ishimori’s attempt to escape before El Phantasmo pulled out the referee. A Sudden Death winds Desperado, as Yoshinobu Kanemaru came out to level things, faceplanting ELP with a low dropkick before the pair brawled to the back.
We reset with a spinning back suplex from Desperado, who then went for Pinche Loco… but Ishimori ‘rana’s free for a near-fall, before eventually muscling Desperado into a Cipher UTAKI. Desperado tries to snatch victory with El Es Claro, before Ishimori spun out of Pinche Loco and into the Bone Lock… rolling Desperado back into the middle of the ring, before a crack at a Bloody Cross was blocked. Ishimori tries to throw Desperado into the exposed corner, but it’s reversed as Desperado then punched out the challenger… before Desperado rolled together a pair of Pinches Loco for the emphatic win. This followed the usual patterns – going a little too long to “justify” the main event spot, and dragging as a result as this sure does feel like we’re killing time for Hiromu’s return. ***½
The lights go out after the match as… we get a video from the man who wants the next shot at El Desperado’s title. ROBBIE EAGLES. That’s a million times better than the scenario I was thinking of, with Eagles looking to make his first outing in New Japan since December.
We’re back tomorrow – nice and early with a 6am start in the UK – for the second half of the weekender in Hokkaido, with Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi defending the IWGP tag titles against Tetsuya Naito & SANADA in the main event.
You can safely skip through the undercard here, as the long, LONG Summer Struggle tour kicked off with a lot of matches that looked to set up for stuff later in the tour. Not helped by the crowd micing and iffy acoustics (at least for the English feed), this felt like we were back in the real empty arena era. Perhaps don’t watch the entirety of the show if you’re even the slightest bit grumpy about wrestling right now…