Wrestling Review: NJPW Power Struggle (2021)

With the G1 Climax 31 in the rear view mirror, the competitors of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) look forward to Wrestle Kingdom on January 4. But the first stop on that kingly road is Power Struggle, where results from the G1 Climax tournament matches are payed off. In the main event, the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi, faces the man who defeated him in a shock upset, Zack Sabre, Jr. If the same result plays out tonight, and Sabre slays The Dragon of New Japan, he will surely cement himself as the best technical wrestler in the world. But it all hinges on that one word: if. In the semi main, the winner of the G1 Climax 31, Kazuchika Okada, must defend the Challenge Rights Certificate against the only man who defeated him in that tournament, the Bullet Club’s Tama Tonga. Hiroshi Tanahashi must also face a man who beat him in the G1 Climax, as Tanahashi defends his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against the ever-dangerous KENTA.

Meanwhile, ahead of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, Robbie Eagles defends the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against the former title holder, El Desperado. The winner of the BOSJ will earn a title match at Wrestle Kingdom against whoever the Junior Heavyweight Champion might be, so both men will look to gain momentum before the round robin tournament begins. The NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team gold will also be on the line, when the trio of Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI face the newly formed Bullet Club offshoot team of EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi and SHO, collectively the House of Torture. Toru Yano will also be in action, as he defends the provisional King of Pro Wrestling trophy against Great-O-Khan in an Amateur Rules match. Three tag matches will also take place in the undercard, including wrestlers from Log Ingobernables de Japon, Bullet Club, and the young lions.

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When NJPW puts a match in the main event slot, 99 times out of 100 it will be the best match on the show. This was no exception.

+ Shingo Takagi (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr. (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship): holy smokes, this was absolutely phenomenal. I’m a sucker for Shingo and his opponent bumping meat (think Ishii, Cobb, Suzuki, Nagata) but something about his matches with Sabre are just ridiculously good – I say ‘something’ but the obvious answer is that Sabre is just fantastic, and clearly Shingo is too. This was full of stiff strikes, sudden movements and technical wizardry, and I loved it
+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tama Tonga (Match for Tokyo Dome Challenge Rights Certificate): it’s always a gamble doing a ‘big match’ as a rematch of a very recent contest, but when Okada is involved you can rest assured that the match will be great. That is not to discount Tama, who believe it or not was almost the preferred wrestler to the live crowd. There were a few things here I didn’t like, but overall it was a really good match, soon after another very good match
+ Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs KENTA (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): there is one big moment here that most people will remember, but this was a really good match all around. I know I write this often, but KENTA is such a scumbag that he works perfectly as the foil for the beloved Tanahashi. This was great
+ Robbie Eagles (c) vs El Desperado (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): this was really good. This was perhaps not quite as good as their match from Wrestle Grand Slam, but Desperado is such a solid worker in any situation, and Eagles is a fantastic underdog champion that it was very easy to become completed invested in this match
+ Toru Yano (c) vs Great-O-Khan (Amateur Rules Match for the provisional KOPW 2021 Trophy): this match was contested with two three minute periods with amateur scoring rules, as explained by Yuji Nagata before the match. This was genuinely quite exciting, and the live crowd was absolutely into it as the match got going. This was unique, interesting, and overall a success

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) (c) vs HOUSE OF TORTURE (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & SHO) (NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships): hell yeah for anything Ishii or SHO related, but not to much for any other combination here. There were a lot of ways this could go coming out of the CHAOS trios’ objective failures in the G1 this year, and I don’t know if this is what I would have done
Six or Nine (Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi) & Yuji Nagata vs Los Ingobernables de JapĆ³n (Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI & SANADA): two things stood out for me in the very beginning here: Wato’s hair is horrible, and Hiromu’s new gear is a huge downgrade. This was another very short, unimportand and uninteresting tag team match that had little thought behind it
Tiger Mask & Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs Bullet Club (Tanga Loa, Jado & Gedo): I don’t have an official time, but this felt so short I honestly can’t remember a single thing about it. Frankly, that’s not good
Ryohei Oiwa & Kosei Fujita vs Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI): this was as standard as you can get, even for a Young Lion match. I don’t know if DOUKI did anything outside of a double stomp? It was what it was

> the main caveat I would put on all NJPW main events is that having a (relatively) short time limit in 30 minutes for G1 almost guarantees the matches don’t overstay their welcome. I’m not saying any did on this show, but when the time limit is 30 minutes, it could end any time; when it’s 60, I always feel they are guaranteed to go 35+

Should you watch this event: Those first three tag matches were rough, and further proof that more match does not automatically mean a better show. I may have been unfair on the NEVER 6-Man tag team match, only because it just felt too similar to all of the matches that came before it, but from that point on the show was a very easy watch; basically, just go from after the intermission. The top five matches were all great, and well worth seeking out.

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