NJPW Power Struggle 2020 Reaction by Will Hargrave

Welcome to Osaka where New Japan is offering their latest show: Power Struggle. This is the first major event since the G1 Climax which was won for the second time in the row by Kota Ibushi. The two biggest matches of the night are Kota Ibushi defending his Number One Contenders briefcase against Jay White, and once again the show is main-evented by Tetsuya Naito Versus EVIL for the IWGP and Intercontinental Titles. This is the last major event before WrestleKingdom in January so after the events of this show, the WrestleKingdom event looks much clearer.

Match 1: King of Pro Wrestling Championship: Toru Yano vs. Zack Sabre Jr. No Corner Post Match

If your unfamiliar with this championship, every match will have a unique stipulation. This time the protective padding is removed from the corners. Toru Yano normally spends most of the match trying to expose the turnbuckle, so of course, in this match, he spends most of the match trying to put it back on. Yano sets the tone of the match by promising not to through Sabre-Junior into the turnbuckles, before trying to do it immediately. Only after he takes his first hit does he attempt to put them back on. If like me, you’re entertained by Yano’s antics you’ll enjoy this match. One of the funnier spots is Yano finally getting the protection onto one of the corners, throwing Sabre-Jr into it, the unaffected Sabre-Jr throws Yano into one of the exposed corners. I’m not quite sure what Yano was expecting.

Sabre is a great opponent for Yano. He has great comedic timing when Yano does something ridiculous, however, he’s too much of a dastardly heel to fall for Yano’s tricks and constantly stops Yano’s shenanigans in their tracks. In fact, most of the match is Sabre-Jr on offence, which is always great. He comes across as really dangerous in this match, especially as the match gets into its closing stages. Zach locks in a very long leg lock on Yano which eventually ends on the outside. The submission continues on the outside with the submission locked in between the barricade. In a classic Yano moment, he pulls the win out of the bag by tying Sabre-Jr’s laces together and escapes back into the ring. Unable to move properly Sabre-Jr loses by count-out. Yano leaves gleefully whilst Zach freaks out on the outside.

Grade B: Yano retains what is basically the Yano Championship. It’s always fun to see what tricks Yano will try to pull out the bag for his matches. If you’re not a fan of comedy wrestling or his particular antics then you probably won’t like this. Zach’s offence was also on full display, and his character doesn’t lose anything by losing.

Match 2: Never Openweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki vs. Shingo Takagi.

This match is following two great matches. Back in July Minoru Suzuki defeated Takagi for the title at Summer Struggle, and then Takagi defeated Suzuki in the G1 in a non-title bout. So they’re one apiece and the next match has a lot to deliver. It builds on both of the matches and goes even further with the stiff shots.

The story of the match is that Suzuki is just too strong to be put down by Takagi. They both throw everything at each other, but most of the match has Suzuki in control. The match starts with brutal stiff strikes that end with Suzuki headbutting Takagi in the corner. They brawl some more before Suzuki takes control on the outside. Takagi gets thrown into the barricade multiple times before Suzuki chucks a chair at his back. Ouch. Suzuki is especially violent and intense in this match, and this has been a real standout year for him. He had a great G1 and this series has been fantastic, as well as matches with Moxley and Nagata. The match at Summer Struggle had an air of respect at each other’s strikes but Suzuki’s attacks are more sustained. Back in the ring, Takagi tries to fight back but every time he gets in control Suzuki hits a big boot, or an elbow or another violent shot. When Tagaki is on the attack he’s always selling the previous attacks, he limps around the ring holding his back and struggles to pull off his moves. There’s another strike off that ends with an elbow strike off that leaves both men down. There’s an incredible movie-like shot of Suzuki grinning on the floor with Tagaki grimacing in pain in the background. The match hits the next gear as both men go for their finishers and hit big moves for two counts.

There’s one last strike off with Tagaki finally getting the better of Suzuki as he hits half-a-dozen lariats that leave Suzuki dazed on the floor. It may have been great selling, but Suzuki looked legitimately glassy-eyed at the end of that exchange, very worrying. Shingo hits the Last of The Dragon and picks up the victory to regain the Never Openweight Championship.

Grade A-: I’m at odds with this match. It was a fantastic, brutal match that told a great story. I’ve praised the violence a lot, however, the lasting image for me is Suzuki’s potential concussion. In the days after the event, I didn’t see any news about this, and he could’ve just been selling really well. But, everyone remembers the end of Katsuyori Shibata’s career. We’ve seen recently both AEW and New Japan not stopping matches where the performers have suffered concussions. Hopefully, Minoru Suzuki is okay.

Match 3 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Great O’Khan

This match is just window dressing for the feud between Will Ospreay and Okada. Great O’Khan recently returned from excursion as part of the formation of the newly turned heel Will Osperay’s faction. He has Mongolian styled ring gear and with golden robes and his face covered during his entrance (I’m getting the Mongolian influence from the internet. If anyone has any knowledge about his ring-gear please let me know in the comments.)

Anyway, this match is a huge match for Great O’Khan despite being very much third fiddle. He’s actually on offence for most of the match and gets to show off a lot of his power moves. He looks pretty impressive next to Okada and is able to dominate him. He’s not a giant by any means standing at six foot, two inches, but he holds himself well. I think he could be a solid star as he learns how to impose himself more, he reminds me a little bit of EVIL.

The most impressive sequence is when O’Khan hits a reverse-brainbuster and then busts out The Claw! It will always be a goofy move, but it makes O’Khan seem like an old-school heel which is always fun. Another way that O’Khan is booked strong is when Okada hits a dropkick only for O’Khan to roll back to his feet and hit Okada with a clothesline. He certainly isn’t being treated as a jobber.

The finish kind of comes out of nowhere when Okada reverses O’Khan and locks him into the Cobra Clutch to get the victory.

Grade C: It was an okay match, mostly meant to put over O’Khan’s moves which it did. But the match itself was quite boring and it being a showcase for O’Khan meant that Okada didn’t do that much apart from selling. The finish was also a little flat.

Post-match, newly heel Ospreay cuts a cocky heel promo about how rich and great he is and vows to end Okada’s career at Tokyo Dome, proving that he is best in the world. The content is good, but Ospreay still isn’t great at promos. He’s better suited to being a heel so he should grow into his character. Okada says that Ospreay was like a brother to him and that he is the best wrestler in the world, and accepts Ospreay’s challenge. Both of them use the phrase Best Wrestler in the World which will probably be the tag-line for this match. This has the potential to steal the show and be the best match of 2021.

Match 4: United States Title Championship rights certificate: KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

With Jon Moxley still unable to travel, the briefcase is acting as a supplementary United States Title. Travel restrictions not-with-standing the winner of this match will probably be facing Moxely at the Tokyo Dome.

The match starts with KENTA attacking Tanahashi with hair-based offence. The opening half of the match is mostly KENTA on offence with Tanahashi building sympathy. It’s quite slow, and it relies on Tanahashi’s built-up sympathy with the audience. I think it would be better watching it live. KENTA’s offence is great and crisp, and he moves with a confidence that is far-cry from his failed stint in WWE.

The match picks up in pace with a small ref bump and a tug-of-war with the briefcase. Tanahashi starts building momentum and there is a double-clothesline spot. Itami hits a corner dropkick followed by a double-stomp from the top rope and it’s incredible how quickly the speed of the match has changed. There is a great sequence of counters with Tanahashi countering the Go To Sleep with rolling-DDTs and then another slingblade counter by Tanahashi. Tanahashi hits a series of quick snappy moves before locking in the sharpshooter.

The finish of the match comes with a great spot where KENTA smoothly slips out of the sharpshooter and into a cross-face. There’s a long submission spot, with a struggle and Tanahashi slipping out before finally it being locked back in, and Tanahashi submits.

Grade B: The opening of this match was deliberately slow and quite unmemorable, but the latter half of the match more than makes up for it. KENTA whilst not feeling like a top star is a great upper-mid card heel. Tanahashi is a master at building up sympathy and when he’s on the attack he’s almost unmatched in creating excitement. A potential Tanahashi-Moxley dream match seemed like a distinct possibility, and plans for Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom look very uncertain. As for KENTA, he looks to be facing off with Jon Moxley in what should be a great, hard-hitting match.

Match 5: Tokyo Dome IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champions challenge rights certificate: Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White

This is probably the biggest match of the night and has a lot of implications for WrestleKingdom. Normally these matches feel like filler, but with how heavily New Japan like to push Jay White and he has wins over Ibushi.

It starts with some typical stalling from Jay White, he dances around with Gedo, strolls around the ring. Pretty much assume any Jay White match will start like this. Ibushi falls for it, like a dumb babyface but quickly regains control. This is probably the fastest-paced match on the show, of course, Ibushi moves twice the speed of most wrestlers, but White can keep up with him. Gedo interferes leading to a wicked bump on the apron by Ibushi. White clutches his head from behind and then swings him down, simple but great. White dominates Ibushi for the next couple of minutes, slamming him again on the apron before attacking him all over the ring, then throwing him back outside to throw him in the barricade. Whilst White is on top, Ibushi maintains a viscousness trying to land shots and batting White away, but it’s never enough.

Ibushi makes his way back into the match by throwing Gedo into the barricade and then White as well. The match picks up from here and Ibushi showcases why he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. He glides around the ring effortlessly, hitting Jay White with a standing moonsault, and then barely missing a second-rope moonsault. From here the match stays in the ring, with White attempting power-moves to finish off Ibushi, but Ibushi is always able to hit an acrobatic feat. With Ibushi on top, he hits some nasty kicks and strikes. They keep a fantastic speed across the whole match, and White hits a flurry of moves ending with a uranage that isn’t able to keep Ibushi down. White is much faster on offence than he was a year ago and his moves have always had a great weight to them, with the bulk he’s put on over quarantine, he’s continuously improving. Both men are down and exhausted when Ibushi hits a sit-out piledriver

The closing stretches of the match, signal for Ibushi to bring out his bigger moves, hitting a bomaye for a close two-count. Ibushi keeps getting closer to hitting the Kamigoe but out of nowhere, Jay White rolls Ibushi up with his foot on the ropes for the three-count. A shocking result.

Grade A-: A fantastic match, a real showcase for both men. Ibushi is arguably the best wrestler in the world, and Jay White continues to grow as a main event player. I think it’s time to ditch the Bullet Club shenanigans with White, he’s entertaining enough on his own, and he can still cheat to win his matches. I don’t think he needs a face-turn but maybe change up the heel stuff so it stops being predictable. We’ll get on to the implications for WrestleKingdom after the main event, but this is a seismic result.

Main Event: IWGP & Intercontinental Championship Match: Tetsuya Naito vs. EVIL

This again, huh? It’s probably fair to say this feud has had mixed reactions. Many (including myself) were happy to see this feud ends at Summer Struggle, it capped off a fun Summer story of the betrayal of Naito by EVIL. However, at the G1 Climax EVIL picked up a win over Naito and so the match was set for this event. Going into this the match felt like a forgone conclusion, however, with White’s victory, it could be setting up for a Bullet Club showdown.

The matches have been a mixed bag with the best of the bunch being the fun and chaotic match at Summer Struggle where Naito regained the titles. This match was closer to that rather than the awkward encounter at Dominion, and the clunky one at the G1. This one was a match of two halves, with two different stories being told. The first half was the power-house EVIL being overcome by Naito. EVIL wrestled closer to his pre-heel turn style, and the match was better for it. Dick Togo was also on the outside being a menace which gives even more for Naito to overcome. A great early spot was EVIL throwing Naito into the barricade which took out one of the Japanese commentators.

In the ring, EVIL dominates with a single Boston-leg crab and attacking a prone Naito. Naito manages to reverse a clothesline into a DDT. Naito uses his speed to evade an attack from EVIL and hit Dick Togo with a baseball slide, before hitting a hurricanrana which ups the tempo of the match. From here Naito wears EVIL down until a sick spot on the outside. EVIL sticks Naito’s head through a chair before smashing it with another chair, that had to hurt. EVIL is great on offence and just bullies his opponent until Naito hits his signature DDT using the top rope. However EVIL again uses underhand tactics to get back on top, utilizing the exposed turnbuckle to attack Naito. There’s a long sharpshooter spot which Naito survives, and then barely stays in the match until getting back on top and hitting a top-rope frankensteiner. The first of the match finishes as Naito finally overcomes this bully who’s hit him everything by hitting the Destino for the win. Or, he would’ve if Dick Togo hadn’t pulled the referee out of the ring.

This starts the second part of the match, the overbooking. First, Dick Togo comes out to choke Naito, and Yujiro Takahashi comes out to help, then Sanada comes out to even the odds taking out both Bullet Club members. Naito and EVIL brawl for a bit until there’s a ref bump. EVIL low-blows Naito who follows up with a low-blow of his own, which was quite a nice spot. Jay White comes out. He teases attacking EVIL until he attacks Naito. A furious Kota Ibushi comes out and chases Jay White out of the ring. The finish of the match comes as both battered combatants throw their last shots. EVIL tries throwing Naito into the turnbuckle but the attempt is blocked and he is thrown there instead. EVIL hits another low-blow only for Naito to kick out at two, and Naito reverses EVIL’s finisher twice before finally hitting the Destino for the win.

Grade B+: The overbooking at the end didn’t take away from the match for me, and added the story for Naito to overcome things. This feud hasn’t been a typical New Japan main event for some people, so I understand if people didn’t like it. However, I enjoyed both this match and the other match from Summer Struggle. It told a great story in the first half, and the interferences at least made sense. It finally teased Jay White turning on EVIL which is something fans have been waiting to see, and the crowd in attendance made noise for both Sanada and Ibushi’s interferences despite being forbidden. It works because actually expect Naito to lose at any moment, despite holding both the belts he doesn’t have the invincibility of Okada.

After the match, Jay White comes back out and announces he’ll face Naito on the 5th of January rather than the 4th and it’s a rematch from last year’s Intercontinental bout. An angry Ibushi comes out again to chase off White and Naito mostly looks bemused. My Japanese is far from perfect but basically Naito thanks the fans for coming and for supporting him despite the loss at Dominion (also in Osaka), he’s excited to come back next year, and the fans are in his heart. It sounds quite corny but he says it in a very cocky way and considering the chaos of the previous ten minutes it’s pretty great. (If there any better Japanese speakers than me, please chime in below).

Since the event has finished, New Japan has announced the plans for the main event. Naito will challenge Kota Ibushi on January 4th and then the winner of that match will face Jay White on the following night. It’s quite a functional choice and fits Naito’s character that he would challenge Ibushi, and for White to challenge the more tired opponent. But once again after winning the G1 Kota Ibushi feels slightly short-changed. But in any case, both matches should be great and any three of those men could be walking out with the championship in January.

Match of the Night: Kota Ibushi vs. White. A great fluid match with two wrestlers that have styles that complement each other. Also, a shocking finish which will be remembered for a long time.

Performance of the Night: Minoru Suzuki. An absolute war with Takagi where he was on offence for most of the night. He never relented from his scary persona and his intensity was on full display. To have these types of performances at 52 years old is quite staggering.

Overall, it was a pretty great show. None of the matches went that extra mile, but apart from the Okada match all of them were good to great (what a strange sentence). The event had comedy, extreme violence, shocking finishes, overbooked chaos, really everything you want in a wrestling show. If you plan to watch WrestleKingdom I heartily recommend this event.