New Japan Pro Wrestling
Dominion 2016
Osaka-jo Hall
Osaka, Japan
June 19, 2016

Watch: NJPW World

NJPW Dominion 2016 kicked off with an incredible video package showcasing each match on the card. This show had five championships change hands out of six title matches and also served as the continuation of the CHAOS vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón feud. CHAOS swept the series tonight (3-0) and look to finally be vindicated after the loss of Shinsuke Nakamura.

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, & Hangman Page) def. Bullet Club Hunters (Yoshitatsu & Captain New Japan) & Togi Makabe

This match was a vehicle to get Hangman Page over as the newest Bullet Club to the NJPW audience. Page starts off the match right way by hanging Yoshitatsu over the top rope with his noose showing the audience why his name isn’t “Adam” anymore.

Unfortunate for Page there was a, rare, camera gaffe and the production team completely missed his Shooting Star Shoulder Block off the apron. (They did recover with a replay later in the match) The only thing the crowd really got behind were the nearfalls of CNJ trying to steal a win. Page was finally able to put CNJ away with the Right of Passage piledriver. **

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA & BUSHI)

The CHAOS vs. LIdJ feud has been the feud of the year in all of pro wrestling. This match was centered around YOSHI-HASHI and SANADA’s individual beef. Y-H has been critical of SANADA for bailing on his NJPW career after failing in one tryout. Y-H stated that he, himself, failed three tryouts before earning his spot in the NJPW dojo, but his perseverance showed respect for the NJPW system as opposed to the route that SANADA took.

This was another hot match between these factions and it culminated in an incredible moment of Y-H reversing out of SANADA’s Skull End, that has forced him unconscious in so many past matches. The move that Y-H refused to tap out to, because he is not a quitter. Y-H then slapped on a submission hold of his own to SANADA who was trapped. BUSHI tried to break up the hold with a dropkick, but the never-say-die Y-H didn’t let go. Ishii thwarted BUSHI with a rear naked choke and SANADA, the quitter, gave up as the referee dove on top of them to break up the hold that felt like the ending to a UFC fight.

Not only was this an important win for Y-H’s career, but it was an important win for CHAOS who has been losing this faction war hand-over-fist. ***½

Hirooki Goto def. EVIL

These two have a great chemistry with each other and wrested this like a G1 styled sprint. Prior to the match Goto vowed to remove the evil from EVIL and bring back Takaaki Watanabe. At points during this match it appeared that Goto was going to physically find a way to do just that. Goto has been going through a roller coaster journey this year and might not have looked any better all year than when he definitively nailed EVIL with a GTR that EVIL sold like a million bucks collapsing into a crash test dummy-like state. CHAOS is up 2-0 in the series tonight with the big battle left to go. ***½

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IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – Four Way Tag Team Elimination Match
Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) def. Matt Sydal & Ricochet ©, reDRagon (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish), and Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Berretta)

  • Roppongi VICE elim 8:18 via over the top rope
  • reDRagon elim 9:25 via over the top rope
  • Sydal/Ricochet elim 17:21 via pinfall

The first two eliminations of this match served virtually no purpose. reDRagon is clearly a protected act in NJPW and rarely, if ever, take a pinfall loss. So, the over the top rope stipulation served to continue that protection, but this match didn’t pick up until the first teams got out of the way. This did nothing, but perpetuate the narrative that this should have just been two separate two vs. two matches.

This was an entertaining match towards the end, but didn’t serve to build any team up any further than they already were. The Young Bucks won here for their record fifth reign of the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles. They even celebrate by mimicking their old adversary, Booker T, with his “FIVE TIME!” taunt. This could have been a crowning moment for the Bucks NJPW career, but the titles have been so watered down through their hot potato process that it didn’t mean as much as it should have. ***

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IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA © def. Will Ospreay

Ospreay came out sporting new gear with short trunks similar to Okada as opposed to his AJ Styles inspired attire he normally wears. It would be kind of neat to see Ospreay start to wear different gear for NJPW as he does in the Euro-indie scene. It could create a nice distinction of the two different branches of where his career is at presently.

This match was not as good as the stellar MOTYC that was their first encounter, but it still told a beautiful story. Ospreay has been clearly outsmarted in the majority of his matches as he is just a 23-year-old kid trying to navigate his way through the pro wrestling industry. This match showed that Ospreay is getting smarter while not necessarily being primed to be the top guy. KUSHIDA appeared to be in full control of this entire contest and that is the way it should be for the ACE of the junior division.

Despite Ospreay becoming a smarter wrestler, he still isn’t on KUSHIDA’s level and was still a step or two behind when it was most critical. Ospreay has yet to find a counter to any of KUSHIDA’s savage attacks to his arm, but he will learn. Ospreay will get it and he will be the one to finally defeat the ACE, but it won’t come without some pitfalls along the way. After the match KUSHIDA shook Ospreay’s hand to show respect to Ospreay proving that he, himself, is aware that Ospreay could take his spot one day.

This was the right move for the IWGP Junior title. KUSHIDA is the ACE and he should go to win the Super J Cup and carry the junior title to Wrestle Kingdom 11 to complete a year long reign solidifying his role as the ACE of the junior heavyweights. ***¾

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Briscoe Brothers (Jay & Mark Briscoe) def. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) ©

Once Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows left for WWE, we all were ecstatic at the possibility of a fresh IWGP tag title scene was on the way. Great Bash Heel, Tomoaki Honma and Togo Makabe—provided a glimpse of freshness with their reign— but that positive outlook came to an end when GBH’s title reign ended. Insert new champions, Guerrillas of Destiny.

It is no secret that Guerillas of Destiny are not favorites of NJPW fans as their matches always suck the excitement out of the audience providing us with boring matches. I have been patient with the debut of Tanga Loa in NJPW. It is a different style than what he is used to and maybe he needs time to adjust. Well, if this match wasn’t a perfect example of wrestlers who “get it” and guys who don’t, then I don’t know what is. The Briscoes debuted in NJPW in January to crickets, but through just a handful of appearances they have won over the audience. Tanga Loa has had similar sample size of matches in front of the same audience and is still struggling big time. I understand it’s not fair to compare the world class talented, Briscoe’s to a guy whose peak was meddling in WWE developmental, but we should be seeing a sense of “getting it” from Loa and we are not. The Briscoe’s became IWGP tag champions here and THAT is refreshing. Even when wrestling less-than-mediocre talents the Briscoe’s can pull off decent matches. **¾

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After the match Hangman Page and Yujiro returned attacking the Briscoe’s. The teaming of Page and Yujiro is interesting, but it’s nice to have Yujiro in this angle to link it to NJPW and not make it come off as a 100% ROH angle. This also means that the Guerrillas of Destiny fall down the pecking order for what could truly be a fresh era of the IWGP Tag team titles.

NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata def. Yuji Nagata ©

The fact that the NEVER title has a clear identity that separates itself from all other singles titles in NJPW is great. It doesn’t need a wonky gimmick attached to it like the U-30, Ironman, or hardcore titles we’ve seen in wrestling in the past, but the fact that you can go into a NEVER title match and know its going to be an old school Strong Style contest with no interference is awesome.

This match did not disappoint. It was truly a strong style slug fest between the cocky prick youngster vs. the old grizzled vet that wants to teach him a lesson. And it has never been that Nagata doesn’t respect Shibata, because he clearly does. Nagata respects Shibata for wrestling in pure fights. Shibata doesn’t walk around with sparkly robes and a hype man like Okada and he doesn’t rely on others to fight his battles for him like Naito. Shibata is a wrestler’s wrestler and that is the kind of guy Nagata wants to see at the top of NJPW, because that is the kind of guy Nagata was when he was at the top of NJPW. Nagata didn’t want to make it easy for Shibata, though, he had to knock some respect out of him first to make sure that ego didn’t go to his head that it has to others in the past.

The closing moment of this feud was Shibata bowing to Nagata, showing him respect. Nagata then picked Shibata up out of the bowing position and raised his hand becoming Shibata’s strongest advocate. It showed that Nagata doesn’t like the current landscape surrounding the IWGP title, but he can rejoice in knowing that Shibata is a serious threat. If the tradition of the IWGP title is in danger, Nagata can go to sleep at night knowing that help is on the way.

The story of Shibata vs. the Third Generation has been a fun ride in 2016. Shibata finally signed a proper contract with NJPW and it appears that with that gesture and the fact that Shibata has paid his dues after abandoning the promotion when they needed him, that NJPW is finally behind him. This was a great story to tell in order to build Shibata up as a main eventer. Shibata went through the legends of the promotion that will always have the respect of the NJPW faithful. Shibata is now primed and ready to be elevated above mid-card status. ****

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IWGP Intercontinental Championship  – Ladder Match
Michael Elgin def. Kenny Omega Kenny Omega ©

There was a silly video before the match explaining the rules of a ladder match. The video was two guys with cut out Omega and Elgin heads covering their own, it felt like the old Canadian kids show Angela Anaconda. Which was, in a way, fitting for a match between two Canadians in a stipulation that originated in Canada. The only thing missing was some bacon and a stack of flapjacks.

Omega came out to the ring with Hangman Page and Yujiro by his side. Anyone who watches NJPW knows that if the Bucks are on the tour and they don’t come out with Omega that means they are hiding beneath the ring. Referee Red Shoes knew this and after kicking out Yujiro and Page he checked under the ring. Sure enough the Bucks were under the ring and red shoes kicked them out as well, but not before telling them to “suck it.”

This was all for naught because Page and Yujiro return just a few minutes later only to stand around like geeks after interfering. This is a no DQ match. If they are going to interfere why aren’t they interfering throughout the entire match? What is the excuse for this? Do they have a shred of integrity? This was the first trope that annoyed me with this match.

The second Omega climbing ladders for reasons other than attempting to retrieve his championship. For a guy that I consider having sound wrestling psychology I was disappointed in this. Nearly all climbing-a-ladder spots in a ladder match should revolve around one or both guys attempting to climb the ladder for the sole purpose of retrieving the prize hanging from the rafters. If you have enough time to climb to the top of a ladder anywhere else in the ring then you had enough time to do it in the middle of the ring when it mattered. This match could have used a couple of tropey climbing spots as well. The crowd was into a lot of the major spots in the match, like the Powerbomb onto two unbreakable Japanese tables, the Powerbomb through a ladder, and the Superplex off the ladder, but I think the crowd would’ve become fully invested with a couple of climbing spots to add drama. I am not asking for a Dolph Ziggler ladder match full of nothing but climbing to the top, that gets annoying fast too, but there should be a good balance in order to create the necessary drama and this match lacked some of that.

The Bucks came out and handcuffed Elgin to the turnbuckle only for Bullet Club Hunters, Captain New Japan and Yoshitatsu to come to Elgin’s aide which came off as pathetic when two helpless geeks are trying to fight off the gaijin army of Bullet Club. Sydal and Ricochet then came to somewhat even the odds which was really just to serve as a mass of bodies for Omega to fall into when Elgin broke the handcuffs with his own brute strength and tipped the ladder that Omega was climbing over.

Elgin winning the IC title here was a special moment for anyone who has followed Elgin’s career. Elgin always dreamed of wrestling in one country and that was Japan. Elgin instantly fit the mold of NJPW when he debuted at last year’s G1 Climax and has only improved every match since. There isn’t a gaijin wrestler in the world that truly belongs in the NJPW environment and wrestles the perfect style of the Japanese audience than #BIGMIKE. I, personally, am happy for Elgin to see how he turned his career around with a complete 180 from the rumors of him wanting to get out to pursue a, probably ill-advised, baseball career to him achieving his true dream of, not only wrestling in Japan, but achieving success in the biggest Japanese promotion today. ***½

I can’t help but to point out that Omega has lost some steam since his red hot start to the year. After defeating Nakamura, taking out AJ Styles, and defeating Tanahashi, Omega was off to the moon with a jet pack full of important victories fueling his galactic journey. Since then he has cooled off and I can’t help but to think it’s because of how he carries himself on the smaller spot shows between the big dances. Omega is always playing to his comedic whims of his DDT past with his silly fringe pants on the smaller shows only to show up for the important shows adorning his black tights trying to take things more seriously. Bullet Club has over gone a lot of changes since its inception, but one thing has always remained constant and that was that the leader of Bullet Club took things seriously and was a threat to their enemies. No matter what the other members of Bullet Club were doing, Devitt or Styles were the serious threat in the core of the group that made them a threat to the whole promotion. Omega has lost that for Bullet Club and it has turned the once important faction into a joke. Bullet Club has been the target of scrutiny since the exodus of Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows, and with any team oriented training you will hear that the success and failure is the number one responsibility of the leader.

Omega is the leader of Bullet Club and he deserves the brunt of the scrutiny. Omega is talented enough to right this ship and to make Bullet Club great again, but it’ll be interesting to see if he has the desire and the amount of time to do it.

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IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada def. Tetsuya Naito ©

The video package prior to the match did a great job playing out the relationship Naito has had with the Osaka crowd over the last couple of years. It included Naito’s promo telling the Osaka faithful that the next time they see him he will be the IWGP Champion, which was well received by Osaka. That was until Naito lost to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 8 and Naito had to return to Osaka with egg on his face to a chorus of boos. Once the video was done playing the Osaka crowd started a loud “OKADA! OKADA!” chant.

Okada made his entrance by himself sans Gedo. This fit in perfectly with Okada’s desire to wrestle Naito in classic IWGP Championship match with no interference. In contrast, Naito comes to the ring with all of his troops. During his entrance Naito found Kidani and offered to shake hands. Kidani reluctantly shook Naito’s hand and the crowd gasped.

Before the bell rings Okada asked Naito one more time to make this a fair fight. One-on-one without anyone from either faction ringside. Naito finally obliged and sends the troops packing.

Okada worked this match with the same cockiness he has always harnessed, but with a better sense of urgency. As if Okada has matured and is taking this match 100% seriously. As if Okada is bearing the responsibility of the whole promotion on his shoulders. As if Okada is taking seriously that he is now the ACE of New Japan after Tanahashi passed the torch to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Naito hung with Okada hold-for-hold, move-for-move until Okada finally pulled out the big guns. Naito kicked out of the first Rain Maker that Okada hit him with which was symbolic of Naito’s status in New Japan. The only man to ever kick out of the Rainmaker prior to this match was Tanahashi. Okada then went in for the kill. Okada hit Naito with three more Rainmakers to finish the job and to finally take down the ultimate super villain of New Japan. Kidani’s prized fighter has made his dreams come true by ending the nightmare of Los Ingobernables.

Since Okada came back from excursion in 2011 the only guy to really defeat him in a fair IWGP title match was Tanahashi and Okada vanquished him at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Naito couldn’t defeat Okada in a fair fight today and that proves that Okada is the man. Okada is the king. Okada is the ACE of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

When Okada hit Naito with the second, and third, and then the fourth Rainmaker you knew this match was over. The result was shocking as the expectation was for Okada to lose today, win the G1 in August, and challenge Naito for a second time at the Tokyo Dome in January. The result may be shocking today, and maybe even cringey to some, but in hindsight when we look back at Dominion 2016, we will all agree that this was the right move. ****½

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Final Thoughts:

NJPW Dominion 2016 was a really solid show, but didn’t quite live up to the overall quality of the last two year’s Dominion shows. The main event was excellent and NJPW is on a clear path to continued greatness. In a post Nakamura/Tanahashi world we have Okada/Naito and dare I say the latter pair will provide us with a better era of NJPW.