The Summer Struggle continues in Sapporo, with Suzuki-gun’s Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. defending their tag titles against SANADA & Tetsuya Naito in the main event.

Quick Results
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado pinned Yuya Uemura & SHO in 12:03 (***)
Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tomohiro Ishii pinned El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & EVIL in 13:10 (***¼)
Yujiro Takahashi & KENTA pinned Yota Tsuji & Hiroshi Tanahashi in 10:40 (***)
Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan pinned YOH & Kazuchika Okada in 12:40 (***½)
Shingo Takagi pinned Master Wato in 14:50 (***¼)
Tetsuya Naito & SANADA pinned Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi in 36:57 to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (***½)

We’re back at the Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena in Hokkaido… and we’ve another card change with Kota Ibushi again being pulled from the card due to the side effects from his covid jab. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton are back on the English call, having way too much fun pronouncing “Sekisui Heim”.

Hiromu Takahashi opens the show once again, wearing a shirt that once again I can best describe as “wild.”

SHO & Yuya Uemura vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
After a successful defence last night, Desperado’s in the opener as we wait for Robbie Eagles to hit Japan…

Uemura and Kanemaru start us off, with a side headlock being countered into a roll-up on the mat by Uemura. Kanemaru gets the headlock back, but Uemura escapes before he got thrown to the outside for the obligatory trips to the guard rails. Desperado tags in to slam Uemura for a two-count… then brought Kanemaru right back in as the former junior tag champions kept the momentum going. Another slam on Uemura led to a modified camel clutch… before Uemura finally got himself free and brought in SHO to clear house.

A suplex drops Desperado for a two-count, but he struck back with an eye rake and a forearm to drop SHO… who got back up and worked over Despy’s taped-up arm, pulling him into a cross armbar that almost instantly ended in the ropes. Kanemaru kicks SHO in the ropes as Desperado came in with a spear… that’s quickly replied to in kind with a double spear from SHO. Uemura’s back in to charge down Kanemaru, then land a running forearm as Kanemaru tried to evade the Young Lion. SHO’s in to help with double-teams as a back suplex drew a two-count for Uemura, before a Boston crab ended with no submission. Kanemaru escaped a Capture suplex, and found a way through with a dropkick before Uemura tried to snatch the win with roll-ups.

Kanemaru stops all that with a neckbreaker for a near-fall, before Kanemaru scaled the ropes and put Uemura away with the Deep Impact DDT off the top. A solid opener, as they teased – and shut the door – on SHO perhaps jumping the queue for a title shot. ***

Bullet Club (EVIL, El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Ryusuke Taguchi & Rocky Romero
With EVIL/Ishii having already been outlined as a direction, I do wonder what this match will point us…

Only Rocky got an entrance announcement as Ishii went right for EVIL, taking him outside to choke him with a t-shirt while hip attacks from Rocky and Taguchi were blocked in the ring. A turnaround sees EVIL throw Ishii into the rails as Chris Charlton talked about ruined buttholes. Ishimori’s cravat restrained Rocky as EVIL came in to put the boots to him, before they went outside and celebrated ring announcer Kimihiko Ozaki by… charging Rocky into him. Back rakes follow on the inside before a rewind kick from Rocky got him free to tag in Taguchi. Hip attacks for almost-all are stopped by EVIL, who then chucked Taguchi into the exposed corner.

Chops drop Taguchi to the deck as Ishimori came in to score a neck twist for a near-fall. A frog splash back rake from ELP is next, but Taguchi gets free to bring in Ishii… who put the brakes on as EVIL was waiting to crack him with a chair in the ropes. Instead, it’s Dick Togo who interferes… but it eventually backfires as Ishii reversed a whip to take Togo into the rails. Back inside, Ishii’s backed into the exposed corner before EVIL misses a charge there. Ishii escapes a Magic Killer from an unwilling referee, before Rocky Romero flew in with headscissors to ELP. Forever clotheslines trap ELP, who then swung for a Sudden Death… Rocky avoids it and kicked out of a roll-up, before Taguchi mounted the ropes and had ELP’s head thrown into his arse.

A tornado DDT’s next, with Rocky pushing off of Taguchi’s cheeks for a near-fall. ELP kicks Rocky’s arm with the Sudden Death boot… but a CR2 attempt gets countered into a ‘rana as Rocky snatches the win. I mean, they reunited the Mega Coaches for a reason, and that pin would suggest something… ***¼

Post-match, Rocky called out Ishimori and ELP for a junior tag title shot, and were promptly told where to go by Phantasmo. I mean, at least we’re not just going back to Roppongi 3K or Suzuki-gun for those junior titles…

Bullet Club (KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yota Tsuji
It’s clear we’re going for KENTA & Tanahashi as a match later in the tour… but I guess the big question is where.

KENTA jumps Tanahashi before the bell, but Tanahashi found back as they traded mounted punches on the mat, before a crossbody out of the corner gave Tanahashi some breathing space. Yota Tsuji’s in to help with a double shoulder block, then a double elbow drop for a two-count, before things headed outside with Tsuji getting hurled into the rails. Back inside, Tsuji’s kept cornered as Yujiro took over with a swift legdrop for a two-count. Yujiro followed up with Jeff Jarrett’s Stroke for a two-count, before KENTA measured up Tsuji for some kicks. Tsuji’s kept isolated, with Yujiro’s front kick adding another two-count, before a dropkick bought Tsuji time as he finally tagged out to Tanahashi.

A leaping forearm drops KENTA, while Dragon screws waited for KENTA and Yujiro… a slam and a flip senton lands on KENTA for a two-count. KENTA tries to hit a Go 2 Sleep, but instead we descend into back-and-forth strikes before a backfist from KENTA left both men laying. Tanahashi manages to land a Twist and Shout before making the tag out to Tsuji, who launched into Yujiro with right hands ahead of a ‘rana. WHAT? A leaping forearm in the corner and a slam leaves Yujiro down for a flip senton and the Mount Tsuji splash for a two-count, before a Slingblade from Tanahashi left Yujiro open for a Boston crab.

KENTA tries to make the save, but a Cloverleaf from Tanahashi stopped him. Yujiro gets to the ropes, then came back, pulling Tsuji into an Incolle slam for a near-fall. An inside cradle and roll-ups from Tsuji provide a scare, but in the end a Pimp Juice DDT shuts the door as Yujiro escaped with the win. Some decent fare here, as we wait to see when they’re giving us that KENTA/Tanahashi singles match. ***

United Empire (Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb) vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOH
If Jeff Cobb is the Imperial Unit, then who’s the Metric Unit?

Cobb and Okada start, with Cobb shoving Okada into the corner early on as Kevin Kelly noted that New Japan outdrew the Olympics this year. That’s a sore point. YOH and O-Khan are in next, with O-Khan’s suplex throwing YOH across the ring before a Mongolian chop drew a two-count. A head and arm choke on the mat ends with YOH in the ropes, before YOH was sat on in the corner. Cobb tags in to throw YOH back into the corner, before some standing backbreakers saw Cobb just ragdoll YOH like he were nothing. O-Khan’s back with Mongolian chops, before a backflip kick from YOH gave him some breathing room.

Okada’s able to tag in, dropping O-Khan with a DDT for a two-count, before a tombstone attempt ended with O-Khan ripping at Okada’s ear. A modified Final Cut – dubbed the Sheep Killer – drops Okada, but O-Khan doesn’t go for a cover and instead tagged in Cobb, who charges Okada to the corners ahead of an Oklahoma Stampede for a two-count. Okada elbows out of a Spin Cycle attempt and returned with a flapjack as YOH tagged back to try and make the most… and saw his crossbody get caught. Cobb misses a charge into the corner as YOH countered with a neckbreaker for nary a one-count. A missile dropkick gets a two-count for YOH, only for O-Khan to come in and stop him in his tracks with some Mongolian chops.

O-Khan popped YOH up into a boot-assisted brainbuster as Cobb nearly gets the win… before Cobb then caught Okada’s dropkick to turn it into a Spin Cycle. NICE! From there, YOH’s just thrown into a Tour of the Islands, and that’s enough as Cobb continues to impress for the Empire. ***½

Master Wato vs. Shingo Takagi
With Ibushi pulled from the show as a precaution, his near-namesake BUSHI was forced to drop out as well as I guess we weren’t getting BUSHI vs. Wato in the semi main on this night.

Wato locks up with Shingo but gets taken to the ropes before a side headlock’s pushed off. Shingo charges him down, but Wato’s back with a leapfrog and some kicks to take him outside… but Wato recovers and takes Shingo outside for a tornillo. Back inside, Wato lays into Shingo as he tried to wear down the champion… but a slam’s easily blocked as Shingo hits one of his own. A back senton squashes Wato, who’s then clotheslined to the outside before Shingo gave Hiromu Takahashi on commentary a front row view of the beating.

Shingo takes it back to the ring for a slingshot stomp, before he kept Wato grounded with a side chinlock. Wato’s able to escape, but gets lifted onto the apron as he returns with a springboard uppercut, before an attempt at Recientemente was blocked, with Shingo instead pulling his way free. The back elbow, jab and lariat dumps Wato to the mat, but Wato’s able to escape a sliding lariat and lands a head kick on Shingo. Wato tries to strike back, landing some palm strikes before he ate a tonne of elbows from Shingo. A backfist stuns Shingo briefly, who ends up taking Recientemente for a near-fall, before Wato landed a sorta-Tenzan Tombstone Driver … only to whiff on an RPP attempt.

From there, Shingo blasts though Wato with a clothesline, before a pop-up powerbomb and a STF almost forced a stoppage, with Wato being rolled back in on himself. That doesn’t get the stoppage, so Shingo pulls up Wato… only for a crucifix to counter Last of the Dragons for a near-fall, while a pop-up ‘rana kept the near-falls coming… only for a sliding elbow from Shingo to stop Wato as the Pumping Bomber gets a two-count for Shingo. You know, considering that it’s a) Master Wato, b) a lower card junior and c) IT’S MASTER WATO, someone’s gotten way too much offence in here. A Last of the Dragon does it, and that’s way more than Wato should have had here. ***¼

El Desperado wanders out to ringside for the main event – he’s joining commentary as we’ve a Suzuki-gun and LIJ man on the packed commentary desk.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & SANADA) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) (c)
The Naito & SANADA pairing were dubbed an “all-star” team on commentary, as Naito looked to win his second IWGP tag title – over a decade after losing his last with Yujiro.

Everyone got separate entrances, so we get Miho Abe back with Taichi… Sabre and Naito start us off… but instead we get tags before Sabre and SANADA lock up. Those early skirmishes lead nowhere, as the pair then trade strangleholds, then headscissors before we hit a stalemate. Sabre grabs a wristlock, but SANADA escapes and grabbed one of his own before tagging in Naito… who still couldn’t get hold of Sabre, who rolled away to tag out to Taichi. Naito manages to take a swing at Sabre, then threw Taichi outside before faking out a dive. When we resume Sabre finally tags in… but now Naito wants no part of Sabre, as a tag brought in SANADA to renew those acquaintances.

Naito trips Sabre ahead of a low dropkick from SANADA, before Naito got the tag in and trapped Sabre with some grounded headscissors. A tag brings SANADA in to make a free stomp on Sabre, before a cravat and an elbow drop drew SANADA just a one-count. Naito goes back to the cravat, but Sabre finally spins free and lands a kick, before Taichi nipped in to kick Naito away ahead of making the tag in himself. A hook kick from Taichi dropped Naito, who’s then taken outside and into the guard rails, giving Sabre something to focus on as the champions looked to make the most of the situation. Some choking from Taichi in the corner leaves Naito in trouble, as did some more in the middle of the ring, which drew in SANADA to get a taste as well.

The champions focus on Naito’s throat and shoulder, but Naito manages to burst free to hit an atomic drop and a neckbreaker to buy himself some time. SANADA’s ready and waiting for the tag, but Taichi runs in again and ends up taking a double leapfrog/dropkick to the outside before SANADA hit a dropkick to Sabre’s knee. A Dragon screw from SANADA traps Sabre between the ropes, and looked to give the challengers an opening as a crossbody back in off the top gave SANADA a near-fall. SANADA cartwheels past Sabre, but can’t avoid a backslide… so the pair trade see-saw near-falls before Sabre maneuvered in with a triangle armbar. SANADA tries to escape, but Sabre just dumps him with an arm whip.

Taichi’s in with some Kawada-style kicks to SANADA, before a kick to the back just seemed to wake up SANADA. The pair trade kicks and right hands until a leaping enziguiri from Taichi sunk SANADA, while Sabre had Naito tied up on the outside to prevent any possible saves. SANADA finds a second wind, but can’t quite get Skull End locked in as Taichi pushes free to hit a head kick… only for a ‘rana and a TKO to equalise as both men were left laying. Naito’s back to his feet and waited for the tag in, having thrown Sabre into the railings off-camera. A Combinacion Cabron waits for Taichi, as did a top rope ‘rana, before Taichi elbowed out at an attempt at Gloria. A second one ends with Naito getting backed into the corner, as SANADA and Sabre hit the ring, but those two take care of each other as we sail past the 25 minute mark.

More leaping enziguiri from Taichi leave everyone laying. Taichi’s back up but can’t avoid a swinging DDT… he’s right back up, and plants Naito with a Dangerous backdrop driver as we’re back to the mat. Taichi’s the first to make a tag out, with Sabre poking his boot at Naito before a series of uppercuts led to Naito getting tripped in for another neck twist. SANADA’s back as some quick double-teams led to a roll-up pin from Naito for a near-fall, before an Esperanza off the top rope spiked Sabre for a near-fall. Sabre blocks a Destino and ties Naito in an Octopus stretch, while Taichi had SANADA in the Holy Emperor Cross Mausoleum to prevent a save… but somehow Naito’s able to stagger into the ropes and force the break. Sabre keeps toying with Naito on the mat, before a PK got caught as Naito found that proverbial second wind and mounted a brief comeback. A leaping forearm drops Sabre, as the ring begins to fill with all four men trying to force the match over the line.

An Axe bomber from Taichi drops Naito, before the pair looked for a Zack Mephisto. Naito escapes, but gets fed to Taichi for a Last Ride as we cross 35 minutes. Sabre’s PK is next for a two-count, before Taichi pulls off the trousers. He measures up Naito for a superkick on the way to a Zack Driver, but Naito countered with Destino on Sabre for a near-fall. SANADA’s moonsault to Sabre adds to that, while a Skull End dragged Taichi down as Naito wound up Sabre for another Destino… and that’s enough to crown new champions. Almost 37 minutes long, and yeah… this was starting to wear on me at least ten minutes from the end. Cookie cutter formats don’t work all the time. Not everyone and every pairing fits the long match format – but at least there’s a new team in the tag title mix, even if the “worst case” is this feud continues much like the Suzuki-gun/Guerrillas feud last year. ***½

The Summer Struggle tour hits the road with stops in Aomori and Akita on Tuesday and Wednesday – those are away from the NJPW World cameras… those return on Saturday for the tour’s first stop at Korakuen Hall (a show I’ll be covering on quite a delay…)

A step up on yesterday’s card, even if the larger crowd were still mostly inaudible. Clearly, this is the new normal for “big shows” – one, maybe two feature matches, and a long main event as New Japan stick to the six-match card. The “value for money” argument in terms of giving a long main event is certainly there, but there’s a lot to be said for not having anything outstay its welcome. I should know!