June was a stellar month of matches, some of which be will definitely make MOTY lists. New Japan Pro Wrestling dominated the top five by owning four of the spots, three of which occurred on the same show! This was a great kick off to what is sure to be another unreal summer of pro wrestling.
NJPW – Dominion 2016
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. Kazuchika Okada
6/19 – Won H2H 78.6%
The Build: Seventy days prior to this match at April’s Invasion Attack, Naito defeated the newly crowned ACE of NJPW, Okada, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. NJPW was then spun into turmoil as the office questioned the ethics of the fans cheering for Naito while their golden boy, Okada, was dealing with the fact that he lost his coveted championship. Leading up to this match Naito questioned the integrity of the match makers for allowing Okada to get another show at him. Naito was making ludicrous demands such as telling Okada that he should run to the ring during his entrance like a young lion if he wants a title shot. Okada made demands of his own, wanting Naito to fight him 1 on 1 without their stablemates, CHAOS and Los Ingobernables de Japon being ringside to prevent the constant interference Naito relied on during his ascension.
The Match: This was another incredible match between the two guys that will carry NJPW through the next generation, but more important than workrate, this match had incredible storytelling. Okada came to the ring completely alone for the first time since becoming the Rainmaker. Even Okada’s hypeman, Gedo stayed backstage. Once the bell rang, Okada then asked Naito one more time to fight 1 on 1 and to send the rest of LIdJ back to the back. Naito obliged and we had an old school IWGP Heavyweight title match without any interference. This was such a good way to solidify Okada as the ACE of New Japan by showing he win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on his own. It solidified Okada as the top babyface of the company. It solidified Okada as the true leader of CHAOS, which was integral in a post-Shinsuke Nakamura world. It solidified Okada as THE MAN. This match will be memorable for a number of years. NJPW, year-in-and-year-out has the most extensive catalog of big matches that deliver that unfortunately there are a lot of great matches that get lost in the shuffle. This match won’t fall into that category. This was a match that will be a pillar of Okada’s legacy and we will look back on it often and fondly.
The Voting: This match wasn’t as definitive of a MOTM as we have seen in previous months, but I still would’ve been surprised if it didn’t win. It was the biggest match in wrestling for the month of June and it managed to deliver despite being at the end of an overall great show in Dominion.
The rest of the top 5:
NJPW – The Best of the Super Juniors Finals
Will Ospreay vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
6/7 – Won H2H 75%
The Build: Ospreay entered into his first BOSJ tournament and started off cold with three losses. The 23 year old then managed to make a comeback that needed a lot of other match results to fall into place for him to, somewhat miraculously, sneak into the finals. That was the story being told, from a workrate perspective, we witness Ospreay wrestle a slew of different styles of matches against a variety of opponents. Ospreay managed to surprise the world, yet again, with his performance throughout the tournament. Taguchi, on the other hand, was surprising people by shaking off the stench of his comedic act and proving to people that deep down he still had the ability to pull off great matches.
The Match: Taguchi had the full support of his hometown fans at the beginning of the match. By the end of the match, like so many wrestling fans from around the world, the crowd turned the way of Ospreay. At such a young age, Ospreay has already found a way to garner fans’ respect through his relentless hard work and never-say-die attitude to his matches. This meshed perfectly with Taguchi playing the role of the cocky veteran who was toying with the young up-and-comer. Ospreay was finally able to minimize his mistakes and overcome a truly established veteran of the junior heavyweights.
The Voting: It is hard to judge the voting pool in this format. Not knowing the key demographic of voters, as far as what kind of wrestling they’re into, makes it hard to tell certain things. In this case, Ospreay continues to become super popular and with that comes the inevitable polarization amongst wrestling fans. A wrestler gets a lot of hype, so unfortunately that brings about fans that feel the need to be contrarians by crapping on said wrestler.
With that in some sort of consideration, Ospreay continues to kill these MOTM polls. He has all year. This match and a ton more will be splattered all over the VOW MOTY poll.
NJPW – Dominion 2016
NEVER Openweight Championship
Yuji Nagata © vs. Katsuyori Shibata
6/19 – Won H2H 68.8%
The Build: If we are judging on what match in June had the best build, then this would be the definitive number one for me. Shibata has had an interesting career in NJPW. He started off as a young lion in a group people were referring to as the “New Three Musketeers.” Shibata was supposed to be one of the new pillars of the next generation, but instead decided to pursue a career in MMA. This happened at a time when NJPW needed Shibata the most, when business was suffering. Shibata then returned when his MMA career wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped and was met with tepid reactions from the fans and his fellow wrestlers alike. Shibata has been working his butt off to prove, not only his loyalty, but also his talent for the last four years since returning. Leading up to this match Shibata was proving to the “Third Generation” that he was ready. Shibata was doing this disrespectfully as to way that he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, but if the Third Generation was going to get in his way then he would take them all out. Shibata successfully defended his NEVER Openweight title against Third Generation veterans, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima, but fell short by losing his title to Yuji Nagata at Wrestling Dontaku in May. This was the rematch. This was the match that Shibata entered with the intentions of earning the Third Generation’s respect, while also showing them that he, now, respected them.
The Match: This was in incredible throwback strong style match to the old classic IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches. That was how Nagata described the NEVER Openweight Championship leading up to this match and this match was a great example of that claim. The story in this match wasn’t about Nagata proving that he was better than Shibata. It was about Nagata teaching Shibata that he needs to respect the generation before him and about Nagata giving Shibata his vote of confidence going forward. After the match the Third Generation all shook Shibata’s hand and sent Shibata off to great heights in NJPW as a representative of the way THEY know puroresu. It was a great moment when Shibata bowed to Nagata and Nagata physically lifted Shibata out of the bowing position as to tell him, “we are equals now.”
The Voting: This match didn’t carry the weight of the matches in the number 1 and 2 spots. It wasn’t a big time main event, so it wasn’t going to cover much ground outside of fans that, at least, loosely follow NJPW. With that said, it still needs to be watched by anyone who considers themselves a fan of pro wrestling, because it had such great storytelling.
NXT Takeover: The End
NXT Tag Team Championships
American Alpha © vs. The Revival
6/8 – Won H2H 67.3%
The Build: American Alpha had their crowning moment in Dallas at the last Takeover special by finally winning the NXT Tag Team Championships. I say “finally”, and some might think it odd since these two have been teaming together for less than a year. To those I say, go watch the promo Jason Jordan cut backstage after winning the titles. Jordan has been in the WWE developmental system since 2011 and struggled to find his footing as a pro wrestler. It wasn’t until he teamed with Olympic amateur wrestler, Gable, that he finally clicked. The tears streaming from Jordan’s eyes as he holds the first significant wrestling championship he’s ever won just shows the tough journey this guy has been on. So, it might’ve not been a long struggle if you’ve only known of Jason Jordan since the American Alpha’s inception, but to know the back history was great.
This match was then the rematch to see if American Alpha could retain their newly won titles.
The Match: These two teams have set the bar for tag team wrestling high in a similar way the NXT women did in 2015. The throwback style of the Revival meshes beautifully with the technical prowess of the amateur wrestling duo of American Alpha.
This was the best match between these two teams and was more well executed than any of their previous encounters. The previous match in Dallas was stellar and had a hotter crowd, but this one was just pure magic.
The Voting: I was kind of surprised that this match managed to sneak into the top 5. I thought the people that really enjoyed it were inside the bubble.
NJPW Dominion 2016
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Kenny Omega © vs. Michael Elgin
6/19 – Won H2H 65.7%
The Build: Kenny Omega won the vacant Intercontinental Championship in February by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi. This was going to be the big rematch, but with the flavor of American pro wrestling that Omega is forcing down the throats of the native Japanese audience. Tanahashi was recovering from his shoulder injury, so it was only natural that his Unbreakable Aces tag team partner, Elgin take his place. In the build up Elgin grabbed the bull by the horns and owned his opportunity to shine.
The Match: This match was a good ladder match, but had too many ill-conceived spot that I couldn’t shrug my shoulder at is. There were plenty of dangerous spots and ladder match tropes if you’re into that kind of thing. Elgin winning was a great moment for a guy who always dreamed of wrestling in Japan. It was made even better when he tooks to Twitter to dedicate it it.
The Voting: I reviewed this entire show for the website and I was very critical of it. At the time I thought I was on an island as it appeared to receive instant praise from most everyone. As the week following Dominion wore on it became very polarizing. I rated it at ***½ stars and that’s not to take anything away from the effort of these two men. It’s just my opinion that both men have had way better matches this year than this match.
MVP: Will Ospreay
Ospreay had three matches finish in the top ten. A feat not to be taken lately. Ospreay has been the MVP in all of wrestling for the first ½ of 2016 and Opsreay’s run through the Best of Super Juniors certainly helped him in that department.