POWER STRUGGLE in OSAKA

© NJPW Global

New Japan Pro Wrestling seeks to continue a streak of solid pay-per-view content with Power Struggle in Osaka.  We had an interesting set of matches to look forward to.  For the KOPW 2020 trophy, Toru Yano and Zack Sabre Jr. look to tear each other apart in an exposed turnbuckles match.  Minoru Suzuki and Shingo Takagi put their bodies on the line for the NEVER Openweight Championship.  Kazuchika Okada looks to deal a major blow to Will Ospreay’s new stable, Empire by defeating Great O-Khan in what looks to be an early skirmish to a major war.   Meanwhile, both KENTA and Hiroshi Tanahashi are eager for the right to be the #1 Contender for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship as they clash to determine who deserves to face Jon Moxley.  Proving victorious against SANADA in the G1 Climax, Kota Ibushi now faces Jay White for the right to challenge for the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight championships at Wrestle Kingdom.  For our main event, EVIL seeks to run it back with Tetsuya Naito and close the book to a deeply personal feud.

We begin the night with Toru Yano vs Zack Sabre Jr. in an Exposed Turnbuckle match for the KOPW 2020 Trophy.  Both wrestlers displayed some impatience as they waited for the turnbuckle cushions to be removed.  When the match begins, both men take it to the mat vying for control.  Zack quickly gains the upper hand as he takes Yano on a tour around the ring’s corners.  Yano quickly regrets the stipulation as he tries to escape and put back on the pads.  Zack follows him but eats a misting of hand sanitizer to the face.  

Regardless, he gets Yano back in the ring where Yano is subjected to Zack’s array of torturous holds.  It should be noted that during a particularly brutal submission, Toru Yano spends some time fiddling with Zack’s shoes before going for the rope break.  Zack takes Yano back out of the ring and locks him up in the barricade but Yano’s plan comes to fruition as he ties Zack’s shoes together leading to a count out loss for the Suzuki-gun wunderkind.  The final punchline of a tied up Zack Sabre Jr. laying on the floor winds up being a good metaphor for how this year has been treating a lot of us.  I don’t want to give away what happens when Zack is actually freed but it is definitely a sight to remember.

The next match is Minoru Suzuki vs Shingo Takagi for the NEVER Openweight Championship.  Both men have been frothing at the mouth to face each other and they get their wish tonight.  Before the match even begins, you can’t help but notice that Shingo’s back is taped as both men eye each other up.  When the bell rings, the sparks immediately start flying as a vicious exchange of blows kicks off the action.  

It’s a back and forth of violence where Shingo responds to devastating strikes from Suzuki with throws and reversals.  This winds up being a double edged strategy as Shingo takes heavy recoil for each reversal.  The back becomes Suzuki’s main focus as he utilizes a single leg Boston Crab to really lay on the pain.  Suzuki tries to catch Shingo in a Gotch Pile Driver but Shingo narrowly escapes.  It felt like every time Shingo was able to escape one form of pain, another quickly followed.  When he finally gets a clear advantage he eggs Suzuki on for a second helping of violence.  

The crowd’s clapping becomes an uproar as both men begin to wail on each other.  Whenever Suzuki would attempt a throw, Shingo would counter at the expense of his back.  Finally, whether through sheer force of will or a perfectly placed shot, Shingo hits the one (of many!) strikes that leaves Suzuki stunned enough for a finish.  Capitalizing on the visibly shaken veteran, Shingo lands his finishing move and gets the win.

The aftermath of the match sees a visibly stunned Minoru Suzuki being carried off by a pair of Young Lions before he quickly abandons them.  The image is chilling as we can only brace ourselves for the aftermath of this loss.  I found myself deeply enjoying this match, as the level of brutality on display works as a great reminder to just how good Minoru Suzuki and Shingo Takagi are and pitting them against each other just compounds that greatness.

Our third match for the night is between Kazuchika Okada and Great O-Khan.  This looks to be the first of many encounters between Okada and Will Ospreay’s new faction, Empire.  The match itself had the tough obligation of following the previous bout, but both wrestlers do a great job and this might become a matchup that gets revisited as time moves on.  Great O-Khan has a noticeably different style of wrestling than what Okada has faced previously and while it takes some time to get his engine going, this shift in style wasn’t enough to deter the Rainmaker.  Okada’s game plan was definitely focused on applying his Money Clip submission.  Using the hold to wear down Great O-Khan was a solid plan even if there were moments that got dicey for Okada.  He manages to force a referee stoppage as Great O-Khan passes out from the submission.  The match was entertaining but it definitely felt overshadowed by the looming presence of Will Ospreay at ringside.  Regardless, the finish made Great O-Khan look strong in defeat as it took a ref stoppage to conclude the match.

What followed after the match is likely what people were waiting for.  The next encounter between Will Ospreay and Kazuchika Okada.  Ospreay laments that he has all these wonderful material objects but the only thing he truly desires is ending Okada’s career.  This desire is granted to him as he challenges Okada to a match at Wrestle Kingdom.  We now have one of the first matchups cemented for the January event, Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay.

KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi was the first of several Bullet Club appearances tonight as both men vie for the right to challenge John Moxley for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship.  The match was slow to start as both wrestlers showed some apprehension but the pace quickly rose.  The briefcase containing the contract makes several appearances in the match, with one moment being used as a weapon to hit Tanahashi in the face seemingly without the referee or Tanahashi noticing.  The match was dictated by KENTA’s offense but Tanahashi was able to get his licks in.  Tanahashi demonstrated a slight apprehension or indecision for a Dragon Screw early in the match and faced punishment for his indecision.  This is quickly fixed as Tanahashi gets into his groove and takes those opportunities when they present themself.  There is a moment where both wrestlers are struggling with the briefcase and the referee puts a stop to this, at the expense of KENTA getting a blow to the face.  Towards the end of the match, Tanahashi displays a second wind and mounts a rapid offense, reversing several attempts from KENTA to land a Go 2 Sleep.  Sadly, this was in vain as Kenta manages to lock in his submission several times and with a final wrenching of Tanahashi’s body, forces the Ace to vocally give up.

This match took a little while to get exciting, but when it finally picks up steam, I’m quickly reminded as to why Tanahashi is considered the Ace.  It’s been interesting to see the shifts in style Tanahashi has undergone as his body ages.  KENTA continues to be an interesting wrestler and I’m just as surprised as everyone else that he managed to get Tanahashi to verbally submit.

The Right to Challenge Contract for Wrestle Kingdom was up for grabs between Kota Ibushi and Jay White.  Following one major upset, a lot of hopes were placed on the Golden Star to successfully retain his briefcase.  The match picks up pace pretty rapidly as both wrestlers mount successful attacks against each other.  It becomes a tug of war that not even Gedo can interrupt as Ibushi works to neutralize the Bullet Club threat.  Throughout the match, Jay White assails Ibushi’s midsection, looking to empty the seemingly endless stamina Ibushi can demonstrate.  This becomes a key factor for the match as it feels like Ibushi is slowing down just a bit whenever he gets the opening to attack.  In the final scramble, Ibushi tries to capitalize on any opening he can get his hands on but White is prepared or he perseveres.  Then White attempts a Bladerunner on two different occasions that Ibushi narrowly escapes from but to his dismay Ibushi is left open for a backslide pinning attempt that clinches the victory for Jay White.  His feet were on the ropes but out of sight from the referee.  Thus begins the second upset of the night.

The audience still reeling from the devastating loss Ibushi faced head towards the main event with a pensive energy.  Tetsuya Naito and EVIL look to put an end to their blood feud by any means necessary tonight.  The match fit the atmosphere of the crowd, it was sluggish to begin but picked up it’s pace rapidly.  Both wrestlers spend quite some time trying to gain the upper hand.  Naito eventually comes up the winner but EVIL escapes to outside the ring.  Overeager, Naito quickly follows and is met with an impact onto the barricade that takes out the timekeeper.  The referee, concerned for his fellow official is distracted after EVIL suplexes Naito onto the floor.  Throwing the champion back into the ring, Dick Togo proceeds to break a chair over Naito’s back.

EVIL attempts to capitalize on this damage by applying a hold that magnifies the pain Naito is already in.  Despite all this, Naito manages to work through the disadvantages and makes attempts to take Dick Togo out of the match.  Mounting an offense, Naito manages to capture EVIL in a hold but Togo recoveres from a sliding kick and distracts both the referee and Naito enough to let EVIL go.  Togo continues his distractions while EVIL pulls Naito out of the ring and performs a brutal attack with two chairs.

The match becomes a sequence of events where Naito somehow rallies a comeback only to be met by the impenetrable wall of EVIL.  There’s a moment where you think Naito has won it after landing two Destinos but Dick Togo stays true to his name and spoils the pinning predicament.  The referee is once again distracted as Dick Togo grabs Naito with the garrote wire and Yujiro Takahashi seemingly out of nowhere attacks Naito with a kendo stick.  This is cut short as SANADA runs in to save his leader.  He manages to drag Dick Togo and Yujiro away from ringside.

In the aftermath of all this, Naito, EVIL and the referee are all recovering as Champion and Challenger crawl towards the center of the ring.  They clash in a series of blows but EVIL gets the upper hand as he tries to exploit yet another distraction.  This time, throwing Naito towards the referee and landing a low blow.  He scrambles to reach his finish but Naito counters with a pop-up low blow.

Another moment of interference happens as Jay White capitalizes on a once-again stunned referee.  He approaches EVIL and there’s a moment where you’re led to believe White will attack EVIL and instead sets his sights on Naito.  The attack is cut short as Kota Ibushi runs in to chase Jay White away but not before getting the fair trade on EVIL.  This is enough to buy Naito the time it takes to regain momentum and close out this match.  Landing a definitive Destino and pinfall for the win.

After the match, Jay White returns to the ring to let Tetsuya Naito know what his intentions are leading into Wrestle Kingdom.  This is cut short as Kota Ibushi makes his way back down to the ring to scare Jay White away.  Tetsuya Naito is finally given a mic as he addresses the Osaka crowd.  He closes out the show with a wild battle cry.

Overall, I thought the PPV had it’s peaks and valleys but the valleys sadly overshadowed any high moments for me.  As a newcomer to NJPW, I found myself not confused, but definitely in search of more context for a lot of the stories being told tonight.  That isn’t to say the wrestling itself was bad, there were definitely great moments.  They were just sandwiched between moments that felt lackluster or fell short.  I won’t be calling POWER STRUGGLE the PPV of the year, but for what it is, it does a great job at being a great showcase of what New Japan Pro Wrestling has to offer to a viewer.

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