The Best And Worst Of NJPW: Road To Power Struggle/Super Jr. Tag League 2019, Oct. 16-17

Previously on NJPW: Ibushi and Okada earned the right to definitely main event one night of Wrestle Kingdom and El Desperado returned from the injury he got while being cool.

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And now, the best and worst of the first two nights of the Road to Power Struggle/Super Junior Tag League tour from October 16-17, 2019, at Korakuen Hall.

Worst: World Tag League, Short Kings Edition

Before we get into the specific things that have happened on this tour so far, let’s talk about the state of the tour itself. Attendance is visibly not as good as other NJPW Korakuen shows, down from last year and most of the year in attendance reports, and Kevin Kelly seems to allude to this by calling Super Junior Tag League “the best kept secret in great wrestling action.” In past years, I would say this might be true because it has been kind of an underrated NJPW tour, but, though wrestling can obviously be great without selling out a building, I get why fewer people are showing up this year.

Past iterations of Super Junior Tag League/Tournament had a lot more established teams and felt more like a legit, top-tier tag tournament and exhibition of high quality wrestling than World Tag League, which features so many thrown-together teams. Past SJTL lineups, especially 2012-2015 and then 2017-2018 have been stacked, but in 2019, we have six out of eight tag teams that haven’t been in it before. Four have been in the tag title scene this year, but two of those teams were created this summer. Yeah, you’re probably going to see some matches on the Road to Power Struggle/Super Junior Tag League tour, but you can see good matches all year round in New Japan and other companies, and a lot of these don’t have a star power or novelty/dream match hook. I get why people are skipping out on this one.

Best: How About That Road To Power Struggle, Though?

That being said, though there is almost nothing I would actually recommend from these shows if someone didn’t already feel like watching them, they definitely have some upsides. One of those is the strong undercard, the Road to Power Struggle part of the tour. The faction vs. faction multi-man tags are all fun and make the Power Struggle matches their promoting look entertaining and meaningful.

In the second matches on these cards, the L.I.J. (Bushi got the tour off with no tournament partner but all the heavyweights are working the whole thing) vs. Suzukigun are back at it again, folks. Taichi vs. Naito are picking up where they left off and have all the good kinds of chemistry. It looks like Sanada and ZSJ are going to twist each other up in knots again in the near future too. A fresher pairing gets some spotlight when Suzuki calls out Shingo on the 16th and works over his injured arm so much that it is wrapped in a full half-sleeve of athletic tape on the 17th. Please give them a singles match, ASAP, obviously! With these dynamics, the tag teamwork, and the teams switching up how the matches play out each night, these eight-mans are a good undercard time.

The highlights of the Bullet Club vs. Mostly Chaos six-man tags are everything between Kenta and Ishii. In the ring, they look as good or better than they looked in the pre-head-trauma section of their Royal Quest match. Just outside of the ring, Kenta uses Ishii to knock Milano over and steps on the beloved commentary/Evil stan. Could Milano getting pushed around this much be a sign he’s coming out of retirement? Almost definitely not, but it leads to a good bit on the 17th where Milano does really loud “Ishii!” chants on Japanese commentary.

The most standout aspect of this feud so far is Kenta’s backstage promos, in which he has decided to run with his line about Ishii being a babe and AGONIZE about how dreamy ~Tomo~ is. Kenta’s NJPW run so far has been hit or miss with the weird crowd reception and issues to do with injury and age and the presentation of wrestlers with physical limitations, but since he’s joined Bullet Club his character work has only gotten better and helped elevate his whole act.

Not So Super: The Trainee Part Of Tag League

Meanwhile, in Super Junior Tag League, while with every match you can say that yep, there is some good wrestling in there, some matches feel pretty skippable. It’s not shocking that so far these have been the matches with the half-Young Lion teams. Uemura and Connors do well and so do Tiger Mask and TJP when they’re in the ring – especially TJP when he’s working with Volador Jr. – but, you know, everyone knows they’re losing and we just had a whole Young Lion tournament.

The trainee tag team matches do give the CMLL team of Titán and Volador Jr. chances to shine though, and to earn four points when in previous years the luchadors in the tournament would have probably be knocked out in the first round or barely win anything. Their tag team offense looks even better than Titán’s modified jean jacket, and El Inmortal especially stands out as a versatile, freak athlete.

The Super Coach team of Rocky Romero and Ryusuke Taguchi still seems like a wild card pick for the finals and their matches so far pretty much confirm it’s worthwhile to look forward to their matches with other teams, especially if the TJP-Connors match is more of an indication of what their team is going to be like than the Uemura-Tiger Mask one that mostly sees the veterans take turns wresting Uemura. NJPW’s top coaches could have landed a few different places on the serious-to-comedy wrestling spectrum, and so far they’ve kept things more technical with a few gags like Taguchi drawing a complicated play that ends up to mean “crawl to the ropes.” I could see them switching this up in the future, but so far I think what they’re doing is working well.

Closer To Super: The More Obvious Contenders

So far, the more notable Super Junior Tag League matches have been between the more notable tag teams, if you can imagine that. The October 16 show is main-evented and semi-main-evented by revisiting recent tag title feuds with El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Roppongi 3K followed by Birds of Prey vs. El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori. First, Suzukigun beats Sho and Yoh for the second time in three days, with El Desperado once again getting the pin. It is not a bad match, but doesn’t really bring anything new to a matchup NJPW fans have seen many times over the past two years, often in higher-stakes situation.

The night’s other lower-stakes rematch, ELP and Ishimori vs. Ospreay and Eagles, the next installment of the feud for straight men who say “workrate” unironically, absolutely feels like the non-title version of their most recent match, but it’s not bad. The Birds of Prey’s new gear color scheme makes them look less ren-fair-in-a-bad-way (they’re back to that with the green tights the next night though) and Korakuen is pretty into the stuff they do.

Bullet Club looks more like a team than two singles guys through together here than in any of their previous matches, not just doing bigger tag moves together, but also interacting more throughout the match. Moments like the a knee from Ishimori activating ELP’s airplane spin is a tag move for the sake of the match being entertaining and making wrestling fun rather than Look At This Move, which makes it more enjoyable to look at their Moves. In other moves news, ELP trying to do a One-Winged Angel still seems like a bad choice because it just highlights how he’s not as good at any part of wrestling as Kenny Omega, and it doesn’t even pop the crowd. If it’s supposed to generate, like, BC vs. Elite buzz, it’s a dumb choice for that too because nobody cares if El Phantasmo takes shots at this guys; he joined Bullet Club after they all left and also like four and a half months ago.

Overall, this match is alright and ends when a CRII puts Eagles away, so the Birds of Prey won’t be getting another shot against the champs unless the win the whole league.

The bigger matches on October 17 change things up, with a heel-on-heel bout followed by Chaos-on-Chaos. Ospreay and Eagles dominate for a while at the beginning, followed by some longer one-on-one exchanges. There’s a part where Ospreay decides he is going to be a Dominant Threat and does Kawada kicks to Sho’s head for about two minutes, which leads to one of the worst wrestling acting moments of the year, at least, when I think he’s supposed to be scared of how High Voltage Sho is starting to get. I don’t know. It doesn’t impact the match at all and it looks very dumb. Anyway, eventually Roppongi 3K gets tag team offense for like thirty second and then Yoh beat Robbie on his own with the Five Star Clutch. R3K is on the board while BOP has zero points so far and both teams still have potential finalist vibes about them.

The semi-main event, Desperado and Kanemaru vs. ELP and Ishimori is alright, pretty slow with a few fun moments like that Doomsday codebreaker right into a moonsault from the BC team. Its highlight, for me, is probably when what looks like it’s going to be a normal screwy finish devolves into one hundred percent shenanigans, a combination of low blows, using a tag belt as a weapon, and whiskey mist. Despy picks up another win and a title shot for Suzukigun, and though I bet that’ll probably be in a three or four-way just because of how New Japan tends to book the junior tag title picture, I’m not opposed to seeing the higher stakes two-on-two rematch of this.

After the first two nights of Super Junior Tag League action, Suzukigun has earned a title shot and the points look like this:

4 points – 2-0 – Desperado and Kanemaru, Romero and Taguchi, Titán and Volador Jr.
2 points – 1-1 – ELP and Ishimori, Roppongi 3K
0 points – 0-2 – Birds of Prey, Tiger Mask and Uemura, TJP and Connors

I’ll see you back here later this month to break down this tournament and the Road to Power Struggle as it continues.