New Japan Pro Wrestling Dominion 2013
June 22, 2013
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, the hottest act in wrestling (with apologies to The Shield) is Prince Devitt’s Bullet Club.
Devitt’s well-crafted heel turn, teased for months on his twitter account and solidified when he attacked Apollo 55 tag team partner Ryusuke Taguchi following the team’s loss to Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA) at ‘Invasion Attack’ in April, has freshened up his stale white meat babyface persona and exposed his never before seen ability to portray the asshole heel, a role that he is so good at it’s hard to remember that not too long ago he was the cleanest of clean cut babyfaces.
Devitt has literally done all there is to do at the junior level. Six time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion. Three time IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion (a title he currently holds). Two time ‘Best of the Super Juniors’ winner, including winning this year’s version via a clean sweep, winning all ten of his matches (with some help from his Bullet Club friends, who interfere liberally in Devitt’s matches, in the face of Devitt’s wry claims that they are merely at ringside for “support & guidance”). At the conclusion of this year’s BotSJ tournament, he challenged longtime babyface ace Hiroshi Tanahashi to a singles match at Dominion, with the winner being in line for something that Devitt never sniffed as the junior ace – a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Title.
Billed as the co-main event (along with IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada’s title defense against former champion Togi Makabe), Devitt vs. Tanahashi was easily the most anticipated match of the show, which was littered with rematches and a IWGP title match where nobody was taking the challenger as a serious threat to win the title. A win over Tanahashi (who had not been pinned in a non-title or tournament match since early 2010) would instantly raise Devitt to a new level into the heavyweight main event mix. Would New Japan pull the trigger (no pun intended)?
However, what we unexpectedly ended up with was a very deep show, where Devitt vs. Tanahashi, which ended up being a very good match, was arguably the fourth or fifth best match on the show. In hindsight, this should have been no surprise, with New Japan on a legendary run of high quality major show events.
The show reportedly sold out the Osaka Bodymaker Coliseum weeks ago, long before Devitt vs. Tanahashi was announced. Considering this was minor title defense, this is a feather in the cap of Okada, who some were questioning the drawing ability of when he won the title from Tanahashi.
0. Tiger Mask & Jushin Liger vs. TAKA Michinoku & TAICHI – This was the preshow match. For whatever reason, this did not air on iPPV. At least for me. Many others reported seeing it in its entirety. All I had was a blank screen with no sound. By all accounts, a nothing match. TAICHI hit Tiger Mask with his knee brace and scored the pin.
1. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Forever Hooligans (Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov) (c) vs. Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA) – Watching this, it felt like I’d seen it before. Because I have. A lot. They really need to stay away from this match up for a while and mix up the tag title scene with some new faces. Despite this, the match was very good, and better than the title switch at Dontaku. Somebody who doesn’t watch every show probably liked it a lot better than I even did. Both teams hit all of their trademark stuff, before Romero put away KUSHIDA to retain the titles. I’m not sure where Time Splitters, or the titles, go from here. Perhaps Shelley, who lost to Devitt in the finals of the BotSJ, is in line for a singles push. ***3/4
2. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Karl Anderson, & Tama Tonga) vs. Yuji Nagata, Tomoaki Honma, & Captain New Japan – They’ve been doing versions of this match for months now, with some combination of the Bullet Club facing Captain New Japan and a random assortment of babyfaces. In this case Nagata, who is without a program now due to Kazushi Sakuraba’s arm injury (more on that later), and Honma, a late replacement for the injured Ryusuke Taguchi. My internet dropped during this match, so I missed a large chunk of it, but I saw Fale pin Captain New Japan, as he’s done on nearly every show since he returned and turned heel. I didn’t see enough of it to rate it. NO RATING
3. IWGP Tag Team Titles – Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka vs. Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr) – Three sets of champions in this one, as Yano & Iizuka are the GHC (NOAH) champions, and KES hold the NWA titles. Only the IWGP set was on the line here. This was much better than the last multi team tag title match, which ended up being a disorganized clusterfuck. Yano & Iizuka taped KES to the guardrail by the wrists at the start. This was unintentionally comical, as Archer & Smith, two huge, strapping, able-bodied men, were unable to free themselves from the athletic tape. Suzuki-gun stablemate TAKA Michinoku, frantically running back & forth between the two, was no match for the world’s strongest tape. Archer selling the magic tape was so goofy it was fantastic. The match picked up when they finally broke free. A wild brawl, with Kojima eventually pinning Archer in a bit of a surprise (KES had always gotten the better of TenKoji at every turn to this point in the feud). Yano, who does a belt-stealing gimmick, stole the IWGP belts after the finish. ***
4. NWA World Title – Rob Conway (c) vs. Manabu Nakanishi – I was worried about this one. Nakanishi is well past his prime, and Conway did not have a good match with Kojima (who is also past his prime but world’s better than Nakanishi) at Invasion Attack. Bruce Tharpe, the NWA president who comes across incredibly sleazy (in a good way) as a heel manager, did the ring introductions for Conway. Tharpe was once again awesome on the outside, rooting Conway on. No Jax Dane, the huge bodyguard from Invasion Attack, this time around. Nakanishi’s offense was slow, and Conway is clearly not good enough at this point to carry such a bad opponent. Conway worked the crowd hard, and put in a ton of effort, but this just didn’t work. It picked up a bit during the closing stretch, and the crowd did get behind Nakanishi strong. Conway won clean with the Ego Trip. It was kept short and was inoffensive thanks to the crowd staying into it. **
5. Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii – Suzuki-gun vs. CHAOS. This was good, particularly when Suzuki was in with Ishii. They are setting up a singles match between these two, and it should be great when it happens. The question with Benjamin is always his level of motivation. He worked hard here, probably because he seems to be in line for a push. The finish was good. Nakamura was setting up a Boma Ye on Benjamin, but was cut off by Suzuki. Suzuki went for a Gotch Piledriver, but it was broken up by Ishii. Ishii & Suzuki tumbled out, and Benjamin hit the paydirt/play of the day/flatliner/reverse STO/whatever he calls his variation of the world’s most overused finisher. ***3/4
Sakuraba came out (in a mask) and cut a promo. This man oozes charisma. Nagata came down and they had a brief stare down before shaking hands and exchanging the Blue Justice salute. This match will happen when Saku returns from his arm injury, which apparently will be soon.
6. Tetsuya Naito vs. Yujiro Takahashi – This was Naito’s return match from knee surgery. Takahashi, his former tag partner, is the one who injured him (kayfabe) and put him out of action. The played a great video package that made all of this very clear. I liked this match a lot and the story they told, but I do have a bit of a gripe. I hate to go all DVDVR here, but the story was Takahashi going after the injured knee right from the start. In addition, while Naito did sell the knee and did not completely ignore it, it’s hard to suspend disbelief when he’s doing hard rope running and flying moves as part of his comebacks, in between token limping. He probably shouldn’t have won the match with the Stardust Press, either. It just bugged me, more than it probably should have, but there are ways to work a match like this, and even do flying, without compromising the selling of the injury the way Naito did. ***1/4
7. Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata – This was the rematch from the double KO finish, a match that I did not like. This time, I loved it. This was brutal. Just brutal. Stiff as fuck and intense. Goto showed the kind of fire that makes you believe that maybe one day he can finally reach the next level and fulfill his potential as an ace. One great sequence saw Goto no sell a backdrop driver, hit one of his own which was no sold by Shibata, who hit another on Goto, who sold this one a little more but mustered enough energy to hit a lariat to the back of Shibata’s head, who on the way down from the lariat managed to land desperation a kick to the back of Goto’s skull, sending both men down to the mat to tease another double KO. Awesome stuff. They did a series of hard slaps at one point that had me cringing. Then they exchanged hard forearms. This reminded me of some of the ultra-stiff NOAH matches with people like KENTA, Sugiura, & Morishima. The most memorable spot saw Goto deliver a standing headbutt, staggering Shibata, who returned the favor with a headbutt so nasty that I think it dropped Goto legit:
Shibata was finally able to finish him off with a choke followed by a stiff kick to the chest. This is a must-see match worth going out of your way to see. ****1/4
8. Prince Devitt vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – I had a feeling this wasn’t going to go long, because they worked it like a sprint from the early going. They only went 15:00. Devitt cheated his way to the Super Junior title, and he cheated his way into the biggest pinfall of his career. With the ref distracted, Fale hit his thumb thrust on Tanahashi, who appeared to be setting up for the High Fly Flow. Devitt hit the Bloody Sunday, and scored the win. The thing about Devitt and his cheating, is he does it in a cheeky sort of way to where you don’t think he even needs to do it, but chooses to just because he’s an asshole. However, in this match, he was on the verge of losing, so he needed the interference. Wish it was longer, but with that said, they didn’t need a ton of time to get the story across that they did. You get the feeling that Tanahashi is putting together these short semi main events in order to give Okada a chance to shine on top. ***3/4
9. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Togi Makabe – Even though he’s a former champion, nobody was taking Makabe seriously as a challenger. So to me, this was a real test for Okada, to see if he could put together a high caliber main event to the high standards of recent New Japan title matches, in a match where the outcome wasn’t really in doubt. Well, this match more than delivered. Like Dontaku in May, the crowd was a major theme of the night. But unlike Dontaku, the Osaka crowd was a major positive. They treated Makabe like a real threat, and stayed hot for the match. Makabe hit a dragon suplex late that even had me popping out of my chair at the 2.999 count, thinking he had shocked the world. The fans went crazy for this. Fantastic spot that was the climax of a great match. Okada hit a tombstone, which he had been working for the entire match, then the Rainmaker for the pin. Much better than I thought it would be. Worth seeking out. ****
Post-match, Devitt came out on Fale’s shoulders for the challenge. Okada told Devitt that if he can get through Gedo, then he could get a title shot. He also said he would give Gedo a shot if he beats Devitt, which drew an enormous pop and had Gedo smiling, shaking his head, and waving his hand as if to say, “No thanks champ”. But Devitt accepted, so it looks like we’re getting Devitt vs. Gedo, with the winner, which will almost surely be Devitt, facing Okada for the title.