New Japan Pro Wrestling
Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-Jo Hall
June 9, 2018
Osaka-Jo Hall

Watch: NJPW World

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) def. Roppongi 3K

Roppongi 3K have found a groove with YOH as the face in peril and SHO as the hot tag, a formula that works well with YOH’s great selling and SHO’s fire, both of which were on excellent display here. Style wise that all jives with this grimy SZG combination to perfection, with the veteran Kanemaru and much improved Despy specializing in dirty heel tactics. It all meshed well here and made for a perfect opener at just the right length, with Despy flipping out of the Shock Arrow, forcing a ref bump, and allowing Kanemaru to spit the whiskey in SHO’s face leading to the rollup finish. I expected a title change here, but was pleasantly surprised to see Kanemaru & Despy retain. They’ve got good momentum and are on a cool run. R3K has plenty of years ahead of them to rack up title reigns, and I like the story of the vets constantly schooling the younger team. ***1/4

Juice Robinson & David Finlay def. Jay White & YOSHI-HASHI

A perfectly good match, yet arguably the “worst” of of a loaded show. Finlay works well above his push, but he comes off like a guy slotted just right. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about his persona that doesn’t quite work above the mid card level. His best bet might be as a no nonsense heel or super intense babyface. Juice beat White clean with the Pulp Friction, but not before White laid out Finlay with the Switchblade. Juice taunted White with the title belt in the post match. Everyone worked hard. ***

Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr vs Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

The RevPro offer match, as Ishii and Suzuki are headed to a showdown for the Rev Pro title. This should’ve been for the RevPro tag titles, since SZG was going over anyway. Why not?

ZSJ was over as fuck, a good sign since he’d worked only four house show matches since his Sakura Genesis loss to Okada. The highlights here were the intense Suzuki/Ishii exchanges, the nasty post match Suzuki/Ishii brawl, and Zack blocking a Yano low blow and countering it into one of his wacky submissions for the finish. They’ve been very careful in how they present Sabre Jr since his shocking New Japan Cup run. His G1 run will be one of the most fascinating to watch play out, as we’ll be well past his post title challenge loss “cool down” period and ready for another push. Ishii vs Suzuki back in the U.K. should rock. ***¼

NEVER Openweight Title
Michael Elgin def. Hirooki Goto (c) & Taichi

There was nothing wrong with this, but any combination of one-on-one probably would’ve made for a better match. The chaos of the menage a trois did open things up for Taichi shenanigans, whacking dudes with the mic stand and trying to steal the title with the Gedo clutch, but the best stuff was Elgin tossing people around and Goto squaring off with (less) Big Mike, who dropped 40 pounds.

Contending for the NEVER is a nice introduction to the heavyweight scene for Taichi, but with his taking the pin, it looks like this will transition to Elgin vs. Goto (who technically didn’t lose) for the title moving forward, which is the best possible combination of the three when it comes to potential match quality. ***

IWGP Tag Team Titles
Young Bucks def. EVIL & SANADA (c)

This was fantastic, easily the best recent vintage IWGP tag title match that I can remember. All four dudes here were awesome, always right where they needed to be at all of the right times, in a match loaded with intricate sequences, tricky spots, and wild action. That’s nothing new to the Bucks—who are full effort every time out and never have a bad match—but it was great to see the sometimes deliberate EVIL & SANADA not only work the Bucks frenetic pace, but keep up just fine.

The Bucks are having their best year yet, and it’s because their matches have been loaded with great selling and old school psychology somehow folded into their usual highspot heavy style.

Matt’s long running bad back story continued here, and Nick, who’s been picking up the pieces for Matt all year, injured his foot when he whiffed on a kick and caught the post. From there it became a game of survival, with the Bucks barely escaping big moves and Nick’s offense curtailed by the injured foot (with the two key spots being landing an enzuigiri but unable to make a cover, and his foot giving out as he attempted to springboard into a Meltzer Driver). There were so many escapes, counters, and saves down the stretch that I gave up taking notes, and it was all executed with incredible precision. With two teams that almost never work together, this was a very ambitious match. So much could’ve gone wrong, but nothing did, and the escalation of the drama was icing. When the Bucks won, it felt like they earned it. This was worked at the pace of an indie spotfest but was far from it. The best tag team match I’ve seen all year. ****½

It’s time to start talking about the Bucks as an all-time great tag team. They’ve been teaming for 15 years, so on sheer volume alone have a lot of great teams beat. They are icons in PWG & ROH, arguably the most important and influential indie act of the last decade, and while some won’t want to hear it, they’re well on their way to being one of the greatest teams ever in the history of the biggest promotion in Japan. I’d argue they already are. They haven’t had a bad match in years, and more often than not are the best match and most over act on a given show. They’ve become self made superstars and draws, carved a path that others will surely attempt to follow, and Nick is still two years short of 30. There is an entire second act ahead, and even today I’m not sure if I can definitively name ten tag teams that have had better overall runs. When they eventually hit the Hall of Fame ballot, I’m checking the box with zero hesitation.

Cody, Hangman Page, Marty Scurll def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Rey Mysterio Jr

How many trios teams ever can match the icon combination of Tanahashi, Liger, and Mysterio in sheer star power? I’m sure there’s a few, especially when older luchadores team up, but I can’t recall many off the top of my head.

The highlights here were Marty Scurll having the time of his life bumping, flying around, and making Rey look like a million bucks. I was worried about Rey coming off a bad arm injury, but he looked as crisp as I’ve seen him in recent years. Liger, who probably had to be dragged kicking and screaming into an actual storyline, gleefully ate the fall for Cody, who incidentally is your next IWGP title challenger. I wanted this to be longer. ***1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Hiromu Takahashi def. Will Ospreay (c)

This was the third of five title changes on the show. We’ve heard for years that too many title changes on a single show is bad. We’ve all repeated it. Why? I’ve never understood that. It’s just shit people say, and I’m not sure they really know why they say it. It’s one of those things we’re supposed to think for some reason.

Ospreay wasted no time, blitzing Hiromu immediately. They spilled to the outside, and within one minute of the bell Ospreay was sprinting down the ramp and flip diving to the floor. INSANE, the spot of the night, followed up by Will shouting “FUCK YOU, YA CUNT!”.

Ospreay pulled up the mats and tried a Stormbreaker on the exposed floor, but it was too early in the match and he couldn’t get Hiromu up. This would play into the match later, when Ospreay was sunset bombed on the same exposed spot of the floor (that was the idea anyway, but they missed the mark by a foot or so).

Something that stands out watching both of these guys, especially against each other, is not just the creative and unique offense, but the unique bumps that turn a move you’ve seen a million times in to something fresh, and new counters and reversals of signature holds that add layers of cool psychology as they continually “learn” each other. Ospreay could never quite hit the Stormbreaker, with constant counters thwarting his attempts, including Hiromu somehow reversing it into a Code Red, and later transitioning a Stormbreaker attempt into a “D” triangle choke. While Hiromu has used a triangle choke for a couple of years now, it was seemingly rechristened the “D” not only to specifically target the perpetually injured neck of Ospreay, but to crawl into Will’s head in the process. Will had the answers, escaping with one armed powerbombs and such, including a slick D escape during the closing stretch, but it was the old standby of the Death Valley Driver into the corner followed by the Timebomb, set up by a double underhook piledriver, that did Ospreay in.

This was pretty great, and it feels like Hiromu is fully back from the post title loss slump of 2017 when he shouldn’t have ever lost the title to begin with. It came at the expense of one of the best junior title reigns ever, and it felt too soon for Ospreay to lose, but something had to give, and ending a great run while it still feels strong is a better alternative than putting a tired one out of its misery. Ospreay’s reign was so good, that this may have been my least favorite match of the run, and it was a shade below MOTY caliber level. ****½

IWGP Intercontinental Title
Chris Jericho def. Tetsuya Naito (c)

This was beautiful violence.

The visual of Naito, ravaged and battered and beaten and abused, tattered three piece suit hanging from his limp body while blood trickled out of his eye socket and cheek, refusing to die and slowly fighting back from the dead, at the hands of the deranged Jericho, will be the lasting images of this match, more than any move or the finish or Naito’s valiant comeback.

A comeback that came up short, not because Naito wasn’t good enough, not because Naito was unable to overcome Jericho’s dirty, vicious, and violent blitz, but because Jericho, reinvented and reborn yet again, this time as an unstable masochist, was going to do whatever it took to embarrass him. Jericho doesn’t care whether you think his win was cheapened by forcing a ref bump or using a low blow to set up the Codebreaker or even that he won Naito’s title, all Jericho cares about is that he threw Naito a beating and embarrassed him, just like he said he would.

There was an awkward moment where the two men weren’t on the same page on a Destino attempt, but does it matter? It’d be like picking apart a sloppy suplex in a great deathmatch or critiquing a blood filled lucha brawl because one of the chair shots looked a little soft. This was a manic, brutal attack by a manic, insane outsider, creating a atmosphere completely different than anything else we see on modern New Japan shows. Even Alpha vs. Omega was more of a plunder match. This was a street attack. ****½

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kenny Omega (c) vs Kazuchika Okada

Some say this was the culmination of an 18-month story for Kenny Omega.

I say this story began in late-2014 when Kenny Omega left a comfortable position in DDT in pursuit of becoming not only a star, but an international game changer. He impatiently bided his time as a New Japan junior and Bullet Club underling, blatantly fucking off with imaginary chainsaws and shoving flagpoles up Ryusuke Taguchi’s asshole in matches that he very clearly did not care all that much about. In New Japan, where the stories are laid out sometimes years in advance and are often set in stone to be seen through to the end, you wait your turn. Tanahashi passing the torch to Okada still had to play out. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles were still around.

The crowded top of the card cleared up in January 2016. Okada put Tanahashi in the rearview at Wrestle Kingdom. One night later, Omega, who 24 hours earlier lost the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title to KUSHIDA, leaving not only the belt but also his junior days behind him, beat Shinsuke Nakamura and symbolically destroyed AJ Styles in the same night. The message was clear. He was not just moving up to heavyweight, he was moving into the main event picture.

Okada would need new foils. Naito was up first, but it would be short lived and designed to set the deck for later. Omega was busy with Tanahashi, his third big scalp after dispatching Nakamura and Styles. Omega’s G1 win, just eight months after moving up to heavyweight, was the proof that New Japan knew what they had all along. It was also validation for Omega that he made the right choice.

The Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event proved Omega could be a star. The Okada matches proved what those who were paying attention to all along already knew, that Omega was arguably the best wrestler in the world. The 18-month Okada odyssey gave Omega the high profile rivalry that will ultimately define his career, in the same way that the Tanahashi matches will define Okada’s.

The match was a masterpiece in pro wrestling storytelling and a dichotomous combination of both frenetic and deliberate drama. The first fall was a stand alone ****1/4 match, building to Kenny evading the Rainmaker with a sunset flip, only for Okada to drop straight down and score the fall. Omega wasn’t outworked or outwrestled, he was outsmarted.

The second fall was a parade of callbacks and the most brilliant display of match to match psychology I’ve ever seen. They teased the first fall finish. They teased finishes from their previous matches. They teased false finishes from their previous matches. This was tremendous pro wrestling and stunning performance art for the casual fan or a curious lurker just dropping in, but it was an utter mindfuck with incredible payoffs for anyone who paid close attention to the series. Both men emptied the tank, setting the stage for the final fall.

The third fall is what will resonate forever. Gedo stalled and pleaded as Okada was dead behind the eyes from the One Winged Angel that ended the second fall. Kenny pounced at the bell. V-Trigger. One Winged Angel, but Okada escaped and countered with a Rainmaker. He was too tired to cover though. Both men are barely able to move, both men have nothing left to give, both men are beyond the point of exhaustion.

An Omega Styles Clash was not enough. A Phoenix Splash was not enough. Omega was too tired to deliver a third One Winged Angel, his legs collapsing under the weight. Okada’s 720th day was shaping up to be a lot like 12 of the previous, where he somehow took everything the other guy had, survived, and moved on. But this was his toughest opponent, the one that already pinned him twice, the one he failed to beat in two of his three previous tries. And Okada, battered into bleary eyed subconsciousness with V-Trigger after V-Trigger, had nothing left. A Rainmaker had so little behind it, that he collapsed upon impact. The body language alone told a better story than most matches can match.

The closing stretch was a slow motion encapsulation of the four battles. Rainmaker. Wrist control. Kenny, so good at evading the wrist control, didn’t escape it this time. But he evaded the second Rainmaker, and hit two German suplexes. Okada reversed the third. Omega ducked a Rainmaker. Another German, and a reverse rana. It’s big bombs until someone dies. Okada with a desperation dropkick. Here he comes, we’ve seen this before. Rainmaker, but Kenny reverses on the gather and hits the One Winged Angel. But no cover. Okada is a horror movie monster that won’t die, he can’t be beaten, he must be destroyed. The V-Trigger to end all V-Triggers. A stunning visual.

One more One Winged Angel to throw the dirt on the corpse. It’s over. It’s finally over. Okada has been defeated.

For Okada, the greatest title reign in modern pro wrestling history comes to an end, and at the age of 30, the second half of his career begins, as does a new era. Okada is not only New Japan’s generational star, he is the bridge from Tanahashi & Nakamura to Omega & Naito.

For New Japan, the controversial decision at Wrestle Kingdom has now proven to be the correct one. If Naito wins, there is no record breaking Okada vs Tanahashi defense. There is no culmination of the Omega story. Business never dipped. Naito’s popularity never wavered. The increasingly scant arguments against Okada over Naito now ring hollow, what remains is the screeching sound of stubborn heels being dragged to an obvious truth. Gedo’s booking wins again. For Naito fans, I would suggest taking Naito’s advice. Tranquillo. His time will come. And there is a new story to tell, as Naito and Omega now sit 1-1, both of those vital G1 contests. I suspect the third match is coming soon and will carry similar if not bigger stakes, and I suspect Naito isn’t finished with Okada, either.

This is the easiest and most obvious match rating I’ve ever given. A perfectly executed story and match that can only happen once or twice per decade. This is what modern New Japan does better than anybody else. *****