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    Thursday, July 30, 2020

    #CafePuro: NJPW Sengoku Lord Fallout

    Last weekend's Sengoku Lord was just a taste of what's to come for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Some of the matches we had that night were a little odd like Kazuchika Okada vs. Yujiro Takahashi. I mean, Yujiro has built a reputation over the years as the pin-taker of Bullet Club so it's inconceivable that he would win against Okada in the Rainmaker's hometown. It was no surprise that Okada won with his cobra clutch.

    The event only had a few talking points compared to the New Japan Cup and Dominion weekend. Here are some of the highlights from Sengoku Lord:

    Rental time is over

    Image from NJPWWorld.com

    After defeating Hiromu Takahashi in a heart-stopping match, EVIL was challenged by Tetsuya Naito in what is likely to be the main event match for the Summer Struggle in Jingu card. Like Hiromu, Naito has a bone to pick with the first pareja of LIJ. What makes this match even more interesting now is the fact that Naito doesn't seem to be as calm and collected as he usually is. Maybe it's the betrayal that hurt him or the fact that he lost in Dominion again. Nevertheless, this was the first time I've seen Naito become angry in a long time. He's always been tranquilo and just let things slide. 

    EVIL's betrayal definitely sparked something inside Naito because he rushed into the ring pretty fast unlike his normal self. It's as if we were getting hints of the Stardust Genius who was more emotional in the ring and would sometimes forget about the match like what happened in Wrestle Kingdom 12.

    The question now is if Naito can keep his emotions in check or will EVIL conquer Naito in his double belt rematch with the BC in tow?

    Everything is...lackluster?

    EVIL's match against Hiromu Takahashi is his first defense of the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts. Like many other fans, I was holding out hope that Hiromu could overthrow EVIL to become a triple champion, but he would hold the top heavyweight and junior belts as well. We will have to wait another day to see Hiromu become the top guy in New Japan. The match left me with a lingering feeling in my mind. EVIL is kind of boring when he's not paired up with the right guy. There's just something lacking in EVIL's matches, but I can't exactly pinpoint what it is.

    Hiromu carried that match. That last sequence really got me because Hiromu hit the D submission that we haven't seen since his injury. Seeing the Time Bomb unleash rarely seen moves really showed how desperate he was to win the dual titles. Sadly, another batch of Bullet Club shenanigans would ruin the moment. Dick Togo pulling off a white suit doesn't take away from the fact that the regular interference that Bullet Club does has gone stale. We don't need it anymore. However, as much as I hate to say it, we still need Bullet Club to be the thorn on LiJ's side.

    Bone Soldier vs. Time Bomb

    After Hiromu and EVIL's match, we had interference by Taiji Ishimori where he challenged Hiromu Takahashi for the IWGP Junior belt after hitting Hiromu with the Bloody Cross. The Bone Soldier would then earn his shot at Hiromu's belt by making the Time Bomb submit to his Yes Lock submission finisher during one of the Road to shows. During the post-match interview, Hiromu demanded the NJPW office to make the match official for the outdoor show. That wish was granted in the Summer Struggle in Jingu press conference

    Sadly, Hiromu injured his shoulder during one of the Road To Summer Struggle shows and will have to miss the rest of the tour to make it back for the outdoor show in August. What makes the match interesting is the fact that we still haven't seen a singles rematch between the two. Taiji Ishimori and Hiromu had an excellent match in the 2018 Best of The Super Jrs. Final. And just like what Ishimori said in the post-match interview, I wanted to see more of the two.

    Hiromu's neck injury in 2018 derailed the chances of seeing the Time Bomb and Bone Soldier's rematch so many fans have been patiently waiting for the rematch. Ishimori hitting the Bloody Cross last Sunday meant that we were finally getting that long-awaited encounter.

    Summer Struggle in Jingu

    NJPW will hold an outdoor show in Meiji Jingu Stadium on August 29 (Image from the NJPW YouTube channel)

    New Japan has traditionally held the G1 Climax from July to August to satisfy the country's desire for puroresu in the summer. However, the event was postponed to October to make way for the Tokyo Olympics which has also been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

    The company was originally supposed to tour the Hokkaido region while the Olympics were running in Tokyo. However, that tour was cancelled as well. To make up for the loss of almost four months of inactivity, NJPW announced the Summer Struggle tour which began a day after Sengoku Lord. 

    NJPW's Road to shows would be held in your usual venues such as Korakuen Hall and venues in different prefectures around the country with the main show being held outdoors in Jingu Stadium, home of Nippon Professional Baseball's Tokyo Yakult Swallows. 

    The last time NJPW an outdoor show in Jingu was in 1999's Battle of Last Summer event. The company will make its return to Jingu on August 29, 2020.

    As of this writing, we only have two guaranteed matches in the form of EVIL vs Naito for the IWGP double belts and Hiromu Takahashi vs Taiji Ishimori for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship.

    Has Okada gone mad?

    Image from the NJPW YouTube Channel

    I think someone needs to check on Okada. Ever since his return from the COVID break, he hasn't been acting like himself. He had to face the likes of Yujiro Takahashi who is usually a pin-eater for the Bullet Club. All of a sudden, he's facing the top dog in NJPW and that may have messed up with Okada's head. It's as if red balloons were floating above his head.

    During the Summer Struggle in Jingu press conference, he introduced the King of Pro-Wrestling title. There are a few things to take note of with the title:
    • It's not officially recognized by the IWGP (International Wrestling Grand Prix)
    • There will be no physical title belt.
    • Wrestlers competing for the title will determine the stipulation of the match.
    • The winning stipulation will be determined by fan vote. 
    • The title is defended annually.
    • The stipulations are unbelievably confusing.
    Here's what I  can take from that odd announcement. The KOPW title isn't officially recognized by NJPW so there is a possibility that this whole title is just a concept created by the Balloonmaker. The whole concept feels so out of place in a company like NJPW that values wrestling over entertainment. Personally, I think this is just a way to keep Okada busy and away from the IWGP title picture. There is a positive side to the title though. 

    We could see matches we don't always see in NJPW to entertain the fans. Maybe we'll get a curry eating contest with Yano and his opponent? And hey, maybe we'll get a chicken cooking contest with BUSHI. He does own a chicken shop in Tokyo after all. We could also see Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki in a chop-off. That would be amazing. 

    There have been a lot of detractors of the title, but I'd like to focus on the positive side of things and think of the potential matches we could get.

    That's about it for the Sengoku Lord event. The NEVER Openweight match was excellent as usual. Nagata and Suzuki are getting a rematch on one of the Road to shows. We all know how their match at the New Japan Cup turned out. I expect the same kind of brutality to be delivered, but this time, in front of fans.

    What do you think of last weekend's Sengoku Lord event and what do you think will happen in the Summer Struggle in Jingu? Share your thoughts below!

    Steven Maxwell Tan is a data encoder by day and blogger/podcaster by night for The Geeky Juans, a geek culture podcast. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and loves to read comics in his free time. You can find their podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other platforms.
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: NJPW Sengoku Lord Fallout Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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