Another week of NJPW shows another single-elimination tournament. However, far from being deja-vu, we’re in slightly uncharted territory here as the Summer Struggle tour continues to pick up the pieces of EVIL’s defection from Los Ingobernables de Japon to Bullet Club. With the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championships vacant as a result of EVIL’s double-cross, this tournament featuring teams from across the five factions of NJPW will determine the future champions.
Yuji Nagata defeated Gabriel Kidd
Gabriel Kidd continues his journey towards a singles match with Togi Makabe by taking on one of the toughest men on the NJPW roster in Yugi Nagata. Gabriel Kidd has proven again and again that he is able to hang with the veterans and this match was no exception. After some solid mat work and eating some stiff forearm shots, Kidd went for the Boston Crab but to no avail. Despite Kidd getting the crowd behind him, Blue Justice’s stiff high kick, Exploder suplex and Nagata Lock II put the youngster away. However, Kidd continues to hone his craft in these short opening matches and it’s surely only a matter of time before he can move up to the main roster.
Master Wato and Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeated Yota Tsuji and Ryusuke Taguchi
While many detractors view Master Wato’s debut back in NJPW fresh from excursion to CMLL as a bit hit or miss, it’s difficult to argue with how exciting he is to watch in the ring. In recent comments, Wato has stated that he feels he has filled a gap in NJPW’s Hontai faction as a Junior Heavyweight and rightly so. His athleticism and unabashed earnestness in the ring make him a perfect foil for the likes of the unpredictable Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi, which is ultimately where his journey in NJPW is headed.
This match, then, was an opportunity to showcase those talents against one of the greatest NJPW Junior Heavyweights in Ryusuke Taguchi and against the hungry Young Lion Yota Tsuji. Tsuji was an absolute beast in places and he moved around the ring like a man possessed. Perhaps seeing his LA Dojo counterpart Karl Fredericks move up to the main roster has spurred him on.
Wato’s impressive arsenal of martial arts kicks and high flying offence was the difference-maker and he ultimately picked up the win with his RPP twisting top rope senton finisher which is a thing of beauty.
Chaos (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto) defeated GBH (Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe) and Satoshi Kojima
Given the names of the two teams, this was exactly what you would probably expect. Ishii and Kojima had yet another exchange of hard strikes while YOSHI-HASHI blazed a trail through the opposition. As a preview match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship Tournament, this did just what it needed to with plenty of quick tags and a nifty roll-up finish from the often underrated Hirooki Goto.
Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi) defeated Yuya Uemura and Golden☆Ace (Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi)
The savage targeting of Tanahashi’s knee by Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. continued which, alongside Ibushi’s growing frustration with the Ace, makes for a pretty uncertain future for the Golden☆Ace team. This may well be the build-up to Ibushi eventually turning on Tanahashi but it’s difficult to envisage Ibushi as an outright heel. Either way, the uncertainty around Tana and Ibushi’s partnership makes for compelling viewing in the run up to the Jingu Stadium show at the end of the month.
Uemura put on yet another great display here, working well with Junior heavyweight veteran Kanemaru. However, Kanemaru also put the screws on the Young Lion, scoring the win with his Deep Impact DDT from the top rope.
Chaos (SHO, Toru Yano and Kazuchika Okada) defeated Bullet Club (Jado, Gedo and Yujiro Takahashi) to advance to the next round of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship Tournament
Chaos have two pretty solid teams in the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship Tournament and it’s quite interesting how each of them gels together given how disparate their individual styles are. Maybe that’s what makes the chemistry work. In effect, this was a match of three parts. The first was Yano’s usual sneaky shenanigans but this time with Gedo’s weasly heel to play off against; the second was Okada sticking the boot to Yujiro who cost Okada the New Japan Cup and the third was SHO just beating the hell out of everyone and eventually picking up the win with a double wrist lock.
After the match, Okada got on the mic and challenged Yujiro as part of the King of Pro Wrestling tournament which plays out over two days on 26th August at Korakuen Hall and 29th August at Summer Struggle at Jingu Stadium. The KOPW tournament will play out with wrestlers choosing their own stipulations and a fan vote to decide which stipulation is chosen. Okada’s first round stip is a handicap match with the Rainmaker set to take on Yujiro and two partners of his choosing. Whoa!
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA and Shingo Takagi) defeated Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, El Desperado and Minoru Suzuki) to advance to the next round of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship Tournament
Shingo and Suzuki took the spotlight in the main event, with the two making a beeline for each other as the resident hardmen of their respective teams. Suzuki’s facial expressions throughout the match, screwing up his face as Shingo dismantled Suzuki’s underlings in the ring was expertly conveyed, as always, by The King of Pro Wrestling while he was on the outside. Suzuki and Shingo had a couple of dynamic spots with several clotheslines, ducks and go-behinds in the build-up to the Dragon hitting his Pumping Bomber running lariat.
After SANADA picked up the win with his Skull End submission, Suzuki taunted Shingo by picking up the NEVER Openweight Championship belt and threatening to walk away with it, echoing the actions of El Desperado from just a couple of weeks ago. While Despe is certainly hard as nails, Suzuki is a different breed and, in my estimation, the title match between Shingo and Suzuki at Jingu Stadium will be a real turning point in establishing Shingo as even more of a contender in the heavyweight division.
This was a solid event, building up the NEVER Openweight 6-Man division which has, in a company packed with title belts, needed a bit of a revamp over the last year or so. The NEVER Openweight Championship picture also continues its riveting run with Shingo as a champion who will seemingly defend it against all-comers which is just what the title has needed for a while. It seems as though, finally, the title has gained the unpredictability with which it should be synonymous and, given the IWGP Heavyweight Championship picture at the moment, unpredictability is NJPW’s watchword of 2020.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!