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    Monday, August 31, 2020

    #CafePuro: The Top 5 Moments From NJPW Summer Struggle in Jingu

    Last Saturday was a day of unexpected title changes, surprise wins and a short show for New Japan standards.

    New Japan Pro Wrestling held its first outdoor show in 21 years in Meiji Jingu Stadium. The company last held an outdoor show in 1999 also in Jingu Stadium featuring a main event of The Great Muta vs The Great Nita in a violent No Rope Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. (Warning: NSFW)

    A young fan seated in the stands in 1999 would main event the second Jingu Stadium show 21 years later and become IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champion once again. Here are the top five moments from Summer Struggle in Jingu 2020:

    5. No god here

    Kota Ibushi kicks TAICHI's chest into oblivion. (Image from NJPW World)

    After all the build-up from the last few weeks, I was hopeful that Golden Ace would find a way to reclaim their IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team titles. ZSJ and TAICHI's chemistry was simply too much for the Golden Star and the Once in a Century Talent to overcome, as Ibushi and Tanahashi have only been teaming for a few months and are mostly known as singles competitors in NJPW. ZSJ and TAICHI have built chemistry as stablemates in Suzukgun and competing in last year's World Tag League.

    Tanahashi, on the other hand, struggled to keep up with the likes of Ibushi, ZSJ, and TAICHI during the tour. He may not be the Ace that we once knew, but Tanahashi tried his best to show the Golden Star that he can still wrestle at the high level required by NJPW main event wrestlers. We even got some shōnen anime moments between the two as part of the buildup to this title match.

    Sadly, Tanahashi's efforts were not enough as he showed off too much and hit one too many High Fly Flows before losing to Dangerous Tekkers.

    I'm happy that ZSJ and TAICHI get to keep the belts a little longer, but I don't know what other team can compete with Dangerous Tekkers when the roster doesn't have that many tag teams at the moment.

    4. Murder Grandpa Delivers

    Minoru Suzuki delivers a Gotch Piledriver to Shingo Takagi. (Image from NJPW World)

    Shingo Takagi and Minoru Suzuki delivered as expected. We got a hard-hitting and physical brawl until Suzuki hit the Gotch-style Piledriver for the win and became NEVER Openweight Champion for the second time. It's not the deathmatch that Shingo has been pushing for, but it was definitely the most brutal match of the night. 

    Most wrestlers of Minoru Suzuki's age are usually slowing down and wrestling in the opening tag matches to train the younger generation. Suzuki is one of the anomalies in wrestling because he's still wrestling at a high rate at 52 years old.

    I can't wait to see who will attempt to take on our favorite Murder Grandpa.

    3. The Bone Soldier defuses The Time Bomb

    After Shingo Takagi lost the NEVER Openweight belt to Minoru Suzuki, I began to doubt the possibility of LIJ having a winning record that night. There's usually a pattern to Gedo's booking—case in point is Wrestle Kingdom 13. Everyone in The Elite lost their match because they were leaving for AEW. The seeds of doubt were planted even deeper after Taiji Ishimori made Hiromu Takahashi tap out to the Bone Lock.

    Hiromu was removed from the Summer Struggle tour early on due to a left shoulder injury that sidelined him for several weeks. He would make his return on the second to last week of the tour, so we didn't get to have that much in-ring buildup prior to the match. At least we got some interesting taunts via social media:

    Hiromu mocked Ishimori's shredded abs by saying he could achieve Taiji Ishimori's figure in 10 days.

    As part of his research on Hiromu Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori started reading up on UFOs and conspiracy theories.

    Nevertheless, I was hyped for the match since this would be Hiromu and Ishimori's first meeting in a long time. I can confidently say that this match for the Junior Heavyweight belt delivered. Some fans might have forgotten how good Taiji Ishimori truly is; after all, he was the Junior Ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH for a while before entering New Japan. His Jr. Tag run with El Phantasmo did not do him any favors by playing second fiddle when he should be the main junior of Bullet Club. 

    I was shocked to see Hiromu lose to Ishimori, but I hope this means Ishimori will get a better second reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. He had excellent feuds with Ryusuke Taguchi and Jushin Liger. I can't wait to see what's next for the Bone Soldier.

    2. The REAL King of Pro-Wrestling

    Yano won the KOPW Trophy after a lowblow. (Image from NJPW World)

    The stipulations of the KOPW match were confusing at first; Okada introduced the contest in such a convoluted way that even devoted NJPW fans were confused. To sum up the rules, wrestlers would propose a match type and fans will vote which stipulation wins. The winners of those matches would proceed to Jingu Stadium for a four-way match that will decide who wins the KOPW trophy. Whoever wins at Jingu Stadium would have to defend their adorable trophy until the end of the year before the tournament repeats the next year. 

    I was expecting Okada to win just so he could be kept busy before returning to the main event scene. What I wasn't expecting was the true Ace of NJPW to conquer the Rainmaker and win the trophy out of nowhere. The fact that serious contenders like Okada, SANDA and El Desperado were in the match makes you forget how Toru Yano tends to find ways to win against the biggest competitors. We've seen him do it before by tying Jon Moxley to Shota Umino in last year's G1 Climax and win via countout.

    If I were to sum up my thoughts on this match, I would say it one sentence. I'm glad that Yano won for the laughs.

    1. EVIL's Rental Period is Over

    Tetsuya Naito does his trademark pose as fireworks go off in the background of Jingu Stadium. 
    (Image from NJPW World)

    I guess I was wrong about EVIL having a decent title reign. Naito was right about his prediction that EVIL was just like Naito himself in 2016. The first pareja of LIJ got too confident with the double title and ended up losing the belts to the now experienced Naito. 

    EVIL's title defense in Jingu might have been his best championship match. His work as double champion just hasn't been very convincing. Unlike Okada and Naito, EVIL can't seem to hit that second gear that the likes of Naito, Okada, Ibushi and even Jay White can hit. I can see the former Takaaki Watanabe being a main eventer after that showing in Jingu, but he's still not on the premier level that the big four of New Japan are in. The aforementioned four wrestlers have been part of the penultimate and main event matches for the past few Wrestle Kingdom shows. 

    I've rambled enough about EVIL's position in the company. The match itself was better because of the shortened running time. Most NJPW matches would utilize the 60-minute time limit and spread out the action, but the match in Jingu felt like it had a faster pace. I don't know if the outdoor conditions or COVID-19 was the reason for the two-and-a-half-hour show when I'm so used to seeing a four-hour New Japan show. 

    EVIL didn't have to do the usual Bullet Club tactics of delaying the match by leaving the ring and waiting for the right opportunity to strike. EVIL attacked Naito straight up and we were on our way to Naito regaining the double gold.

    One of the running themes of the feud was the fact that Bullet Club always had EVIL's back. From Dick Togo using the piano wire to Gedo interfering in any way he could, there was someone from the BC looking out for the King of Darkness.

    This begs the question of why LIJ wouldn't help out Naito. We rarely saw members of LIJ interfere for any championship matches and if we did see an interference, it would only be one member coming out to help. Bullet Club always had the numbers advantage. I was elated to see BUSHI and SANADA save the day to make things even so Naito could finally wrestle EVIL on an equal playing field.

    Naito would defeat EVIL after hitting one final Destino in the middle of the ring to regain the double gold. The best part about Naito regaining the belts is the fact that we finally got the LIJ roll call in a large venue. If you recall Wrestle Kingdom this year, you would remember that KENTA interrupted Naito's big roll call and solidified himself as one of the top heels in NJPW.

    What I loved about this roll call was Naito's message of hope. Even if we all have to endure the covid pandemic a little longer, he believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel where we can all shout "Los Ingobernables de Japonout loud once again.

    Naito sends a message of hope amidst these trying times. (Image from NJPW YouTube)

    Naito's win in Jingu Stadium is significant because of his history as a wrestling fan. He was seated in the stands during the last Jingu Stadium show in 1999. From watching as a fan to wrestling in the same stadium 21 years later, it's a major achievement for Tetsuya Naito to close out NJPW's second show in that arena.

    I'll be the first to admit that I didn't want to see Naito winning the belt back so soon, but I'm reminded by how EVIL is now going through the same challenge that Naito did back in 2016 so I'll let this win pass. 

    I was glad to see Naito win back the double belts and be proven wrong. Here's to a longer reign and defending the Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts separately. 

    The Fallout

    Tetsuya Naito talking to the press in the Summer Struggle in Jingu Post-Event press conference
    (Image from NJPW1972)

    Speaking of the title belt situation, New Japan held a post-event press conference earlier today for the media. The highlights included Tetsuya Naito talking about his victory and the double belt situation. SHO, with written permission from YOH, officially relinquished the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts and that we were getting a tournament to crown the new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions.

    A four-team tournament will be held during the New Japan Road tour to determine the new Jr. Tag Champions with the following teams:
    • Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato (I'd like to call them Team Booty Masters)
    • Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI
    • El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
    • Taiji Ishimori and GEDO (the pin taker)
    I'll be honest, I think New Japan should just merge the Junior belts with the Heavyweight belts to have one tag team division instead. The four teams mentioned above are a clear sign that the division isn't deep enough with or without foreign competitors. Combine the tag belts and give us fun openweight tag contests.

    As for Tetsuya Naito, he proposed holding an annual outdoor show, saying he would love to see NJPW hold more outdoor shows after the coronavirus situation in Japan settles down. He wants it to become a new annual tradition so that New Japan would be featured more prominently in news publications. He mentioned how the Jingu Stadium show landed on the front page of Tokyo Sports newspaper when NJPW is usually featured on the front page when the G1 Climax or Wrestle Kingdom concludes. Whether it's holding an annual show in Jingu stadium or somewhere else, there are many baseball stadiums in Japan where they can hold an outdoor show.

    Now that Naito has both Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts again, he mentioned that NJPW could be treating the belts as a single title. If so, he proposes that the company makes a new unified belt to symbolize that the two titles are now one. 
    "I want NJPW, and the chairman, Sugabayashi, to make his call. Are these unified or not?"
    Naito would rather defend both belts separately even if it means having to wrestle twice on the same night. All he wants now is a clarification from NJPW and Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi to settle the deal with the double belts. He concluded the press conference by saying he will go to an interview with pro-wrestling journalist and friend Okayama at a fine-dining family restaurant. 

    That's it for our top five and press conference recap of Summer Struggle in Jingu. What did you think of the event? Do you want to see New Japan hold more outdoor shows? Share your thoughts below!

    Steven Maxwell Tan is data encoder by day and podcaster/writer by night for The Geeky Juans. He loves reading comic books and most types of puroresu. You can find him ranting about those topics, the NHL and more on his Twitter @steviesaidyup.
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: The Top 5 Moments From NJPW Summer Struggle in Jingu Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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