Imp is back diving into Japan with this column posted shortly after NJPW’s Summer Struggle in Jingu has come to a close!
New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to our screens with a bang, well technically lots of bangs given the fireworks display at the end of the night, but ‘New Japan Pro Wrestling returns with lots of bangs’ isn’t a very good opening bit.
NJPW running their first baseball stadium show since 1999 is huge enough as it is, never mind the added context of the pandemic. The crowd spaced out, equipped with buttons to chant and cheer in the stead of their own voices. A momentous moment for New Japan, but also one showing the signs of our time.
The card itself looking to launch the promotion forwards with speed into their prestigious G1 Climax tournament, a fancy stadium show with lots of titles on the line and absolutely no down time. Seriously, the pace of this show was insane. 6 matches in total and half the card was done within the first hour! As a guy who covers WWE every week in video podcast form for Wrestling Headlines, can you imagine the dream! Payback this Sunday with no build will be longer than Summer Struggle with 2 months of revenge to reap.
And I mean that as a major positive, it’s one of the biggest positives about NXT TakeOvers. 5 to 6 matches with next to no down time creates one hell of a fluid viewing. Boy was this a tough one to keep up notes for!
So with that all said, how was the Summer Struggle in Jingu? Did the matches deliver or progress the state of play nicely? I’ll be talking all the title matches from this show (sorry, Wato) but first of all: how did that King of Pro Wrestling thing turn out?
KOPW 2020 Finals 4-Way Match
El Desperado vs Toru Yano vs SANADA vs Kazuchika Okada
Four way matches are extremely rare in NJPW, to the point where in my entire six years following the promotion I’ve only seen one.
The King Of Pro Wrestling has certainly been a divisive idea, something that hasn’t exactly gripped the NJPW fans at large. Hey, nothing wrong with having a bit of a crack and mixing things up, the different match types popping up were interesting enough. I wouldn’t say this inaugural run has exactly set that strong a precedent for the idea though.
This second match on the card was really just a wee bit of fun, the winner of the thing exemplifying that fact. Kevin Kelly’s stream going out as Yano’s arm swung into Okada’s dick, with the Rainmaker locking in his new choke on El Desperado and soon finding the cheeky jokester swinging a home run for the trophy.
Yano’s sure going to be an interesting initial champion of a title all about wrestling through a whole array of different gimmick matches!
Match wise, really the only thing of note was seeing SANADA & Okada teaming for a tad at the start of the match, it didn’t last long but New Japan love their little bits of foreshadowing. Be it another match between the two or unlikely partnership down the line.
Not really that much more to say, for me this was unfortunately forgettable. Great to see Despy continued to be elevated, more interaction between Okada & SANADA is always welcome, but this was second on the card and felt it. Even the star power couldn’t erase that for me.
Does take us nicely into the G1 however, so not entirely a grumpy Brit on this. Plus I love Yano, so I ain’t complaining about getting to see a cheeky title run from that man!
NEVER Openweight Championship
Shingo Takagi vs Minoru Suzuki
Talk about a tone shift from the last match! Two strong lads throwing big boy fists, lariats, headbutts, what have you. A true war and we expected nothing less, these two men throwing everything at each other just to ground them.
Shingo taking the fight to Suzuki on the outside, the LIJ man knowing how the veteran legend likes to play and trying to take the initiative. The number that have tried that far far outweighs those who have succeeded.
Shingo soon finding himself in the ring and in a tough as hell back n’ forth, Suzuki throwing just as strong as the NEVER Champion, but with seemingly a bit more composure. The Suzuki-Gun leader playing very smart, an almost counter style in parts, lying in wait for Takagi to launch in with something rather than throwing it himself.
Obviously that tactic comes with its own risks, Suzuki was clobbered a few times and only just survived. The LIJ man nailing multiple lariats and even nailing the Made In Japan for a damn close near fall. Then the latter stages becoming extremely back and forth with momentum quickly swinging again and again after single strikes or lariats.
The perfect showcase for that strong NEVER style, stiff lariats and near falls as both men edge closer to that win. It’s just a style that becomes so unpredictable in the later stages, a match can swing in an instant with men flat out powering through pain.
In the end Suzuki did just that in the face of a charging champion, he was able to duck around and drop Takagi down with a Gotch Style Piledriver for the win! Shingo’s amazing NEVER run comes to an end in Jingu
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi vs Taiji Ishimori
Two fantastic matches in a row, the Los Ingobernables de Japon champions delivering in spades throughout this card. This time bringing the fast pace of the Junior style, but with the nice surprise of the Bullet Club Ishimori genuinely wrestling with a fire lit under him. No shenanigans, the challenger really rose up on this night with a mighty performance.
This honestly felt like one Ishimori’s best matches of his NJPW run, really pulling out the stops against Hiromu. A few damn great spots really showing the Bone Soldier’s athleticism, halting Hiromu’s attempts of something devastating right in the tracks.
Ishimori really did have a strong stretch in this match, his counters really stealing the early part of this match. The most impressive easily being jumping out of a Powerbomb off the apron, then later using the momentum of an attempted Suplex to the corner to stop himself flipping and instead land feet first on Bret’s rope.
Hiromu’s resilience was on full display however, with the challenger in peak form he was finding himself countered at every turn and forcing him to quickly reverse back. Leading to such an incredible pace, both men at times struggling with the other bursting forward with signature move one after the other. They both knew they couldn’t rest, Hiromu trying Time Bombs, Ishimori Bloody Crosses.
The Bullet Club man eventually grounding the LIJ Junior, locking in the Yes Lock and really targeting the neck. Hiromu showed the heart of a champion once again, able to power out and swing right back in. Even nailing the Time Bomb but it just wasn’t enough, Ishimori was on absolute fire the entire match and the finale was no different.
Takahashi going to drive the challenger down once again, suddenly found himself lifted and dropped high with an Inverted Bloody Cross! Ooof! What an adaption from Ishimori, that looked like pure pain for Hiromu. Ishimori showing no hesitation immediately went back to the Yes Lock and wrenched back hard! The champion stuck, with the wind driven out of him and additional damage to the neck there was no way out.
Hiromu tapped to the submission and that made it three out of three losses for Los Ingobernables de Japon, leading to the main event where they’ll either end in total defeat or rise at the last. Damn you NJPW, building the rest of the card to really add the drama to the main event. A world that ties together and damn well builds the tension.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & TAICHI) vs Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi
“That’s not baseball, that’s cricket, darling!” – Zack Sabre Jr., 2020.
These two teams are having quite the rivalry this Summer, both besting the other with matches that swing so wildly there’s no way of predicting the winner during the flow. This match no exception, as much as the heels had control you were ready for our heroes to jump in and stop the momentum at any moment.
Dangerous Tekkers indeed once again controlled a large portion of this match, Tanahashi especially in the position of having to fight back. Early on landing high directly on the top of his noggin after TAICHI released him with a Suplex that sent the Ace into a scary rather vertical fall.
For two thirds of the match it felt like there was only one face up at a time, those dirt Suzuki-Gun heels working their magic to have the challengers constantly fighting the odds. It’s what they did in the last match between these two teams: take one down and then work double over the other. Tanahashi really felt the brunt of the Sabre Jr submissions, in latter stages the Brit wrapped all round him whilst Ibushi was busy having to deal with the cheek of TAICHI.
Kota eventually fought past that barrier, entering his badass zone to save his teammate from the Sabre Jr trappings. The damage was done though, with the match still under that Suzuki-Gun influence even when Ibushi & Tanahashi had control. There was still only one man properly fit and ready to fight, once Ibushi was down again Tanahashi tried to secure the rewards and ended up crashing hard into the mat after missing a Frog Splash.
This time there was no way back in the odds were too great for Tanahashi, the wearing down over the match creating the weak point exacerbated by splatting onto the mat. Zack Sabre Jr simply wrapped him up again and TAICHI held off Ibushi for the win, a damn strong night for Suzuki-Gun Jingu Stadium.
Not a great night to be an NJPW good guy.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
EVIL w/Dick Togo vs Tetsuya Naito
Everything. Is. Dark now.
The outdoor stadium giving such an awesome, unique feel with the setting sun. The main event fittingly covered in darkness, the sky pitch black as the King of Darkness made his entrance amongst the lights and smoke.
Naito immediately throwing Dick Togo out, the LIJ leader having clearly learnt his lesson from their previous match. However that’s exactly why he’s there, because if you’re doing that then you’re not focused on EVIL. The Tranquilo One paying that price in the early going, finding himself on the end of chair shots and forced to fight back in regardless of his efforts to even things out.
Naito seemingly out-wrestled the champion, but EVIL out-smarted the challenger. The tricks and shenanigans were able to ground Naito quickly, but the counters back in were as successful as ever. It came down to whether EVIL was able to slam enough energy out of his former stablemate before that fight back initiated, the further the match went on the stronger the force behind the offence.
Escalating to top rope suplexes and following up with Darkness Falls, none working but each time able to halt any comeback by utilising an exposed turnbuckle. That turnbuckle played it’s part throughout this match, EVIL stopping Naito and damaging the man’s back again and again. Dammit Red Shoes, tie the pad back on, ref!
The story from earlier continued to play, Naito out-wrestling with EVIL & Togo attempting shenanigans. Like Hiromu last month, Naito entered a state of fire and shook off a chair shot in a pure ride of momentum. Something he soon may have regretted after the tricks found a mark, Togo able to succeed for once and EVIL fully capitalising.
The full run of pain coming after the champion pushed the referee into the exposed turnbuckle, cue interferences galore! First Togo, fought off by the LIJ men finally having enough with BUSHI running out, Gedo attempting to stop him, but he was completely stopped by SANADA who cleaned up shop. Both the LIJ amigos taking out the trash and for the first time in EVIL’s reign we had a true one on one contest.
Maybe too desperate to ride the momentum, Naito hit a Running Destino, a variation that never scores the win. He soon found himself in a back and forth with the champion, Naito able to kick out again and again from some stiff as hell counters. But the match had completely swung, EVIL was the one countering after all. The flow of the match more and more in Naito’s favour as the King of Darkness’ light began to fade.
A sequence of counters and reversals, more in the vein of EVIL trying to survive in a match he was increasingly losing hold of. In the end Naito was able to knock all the energy out of him with a mighty Gloria and followed up with the Destinoooo for the win!
EVIL’s reign has ended, I heard Kevin Kelly make that call for the first time in months, everything is right again. Everything. Is. Tranquiloooo.
Visually such a great show, ending the night with an unforgettable image as fireworks exploded high in the background and Naito posed in the ring. The entrances as well really benefitting from the setting sun and eventual darkness, the pure open sky from the baseball stadium giving such a unique feeling.
The card absolutely flew by too, at a tight two and a half hours it rattled on like a bullet train. The four title matches after the KOPW Final especially were incredibly strong, with LIJ man falling one after the other, nothing but pain on the road to the feel good ending. Suzuki and Ishimori looked especially great tonight, both walking out with the gold after some top tier wrestling.
Summer Struggle ended sending us all home happy for the G1 Climax next month. With the dual championships back on Tetsuya Naito, the direction we were likely headed before lockdown seemingly back on track. EVIL made a mark, but now he finds himself in the waters of a gruelling tournament with everyone else.
Plenty of title changes, but the field is now set for next month and the question shifts focus to January and Wrestle Kingdom: who is winning the G1 Climax and challenging Naito for those belts on New Japan’s grandest stage?
Comment below, rate and click an emoji too. I’ll be here to reply and chat this weird wrestling world.
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