New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Dominion – Night 2
June 2, 2021
Watch: NJPW World
World-withdrawl and world-decay can never be undone.
Heidegger wasn’t talking about New Japan World when he wrote that lament, but he was talking about the diminishment of art, though mainly in the sense of a work of art losing its work-being-ness by being removed from its original state, its original self-subsistence, to be presented to us in an exhibition. So sure, its actually entirely different and I shouldn’t have explained anything at all. It’s just a quote I pulled out of a bunch of Heidegger babble about thing-concepts, matter-forms, the thinginess of things, the workly character of a work, and the equipmental quality of equipment. All to find the origin of art, its essence.
The essence of New Japan at the moment, it’s essence, it’s pandemic-reactionary nature, is propelled by desperation, and thus I come across the above quote and instead of pondering continental philosophical drivel, I disengage Heidegger and contemplate the short and long term effects of this strategy of volume. Volume of shows, a large volume at that, to arrive at a volume of total attendees over the year. That strategy has always been inherently risky, and several of their talent paid the price, particular El Desperado, who thanked the “staff and nurses of Tokyo” in his Corona Revelation posts.
New Japan ran five Korakuen Hall events in the last 10 days. The attendance numbers are brutal: 280-274-329-293-447. But in Aichi on May 22nd, they drew 937 to the Nagoya International Conference Hall. Considering numbers like that, and comparing pandemic draws to the Most Recent High Draw for the venues they have run, and the oddly consistent range of percentages that yields, it seems apparent that New Japan will draw healthily at some point. If only they had a rogue, outlandishly brazen prefecture they could run out of, one that allows them to fervently annunciate their commitment to social responsibility and virtue while still enthusiastically exploiting the conditions.
That is why the World aspect of that totally malapropos quote is key. World-withdrawl… World-decay… these are worrisome notions for New Japan’s foothold in the Western consciousness. If they exist, that is. Certainly, there are people who say they’ve canceled World, and strident ones who claim that they will, they definitely are saying that, they are. Eventually, World-decay will be undone, but with a fashionable Western option the World-withdrawl might take longer to recover.
Of course, there’s also the notion that every single thing that happened in the past 12 months, up to and including the EVIL stuff, would have been orders of magnitude more tolerable, and possibly enjoyable, with actual crowds. That neglects a barrage of dubious booking decisions outside of EVIL, and evades the pandemic scheduling strategy, but one thing is clear:
When forced to revert to less shows, as was the case this week, and when circumstances necessitate that these goddamn Korakuen’s include matches with actual stakes and enchantment, they can still deliver. For that one match, at least.
Our Match Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the New Japan Undercard
June 1 2021
- BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens, and EVIL) def. Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, Tomoaki Honma, and Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Roppongi 3K (Sho and YOH) and Ryusuke Taguchi def. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, El Desperado, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
- Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre. Jr, Taichi) def. BULLET CLUB (Gedo, Tanga Loa, and Tama Tonga)
- The United Empire (Great-O-Khan and Jeff Cobb) def. Kota Ibushi and Master Wato
What To Look For
A Phenomenal Pull-Apart Between Cobb and Ibushi, Who Threw BOMBS, FOLKS /StephenQuadros
- Once again being deprived of DOUKI vs. Jado, our non-title marquee match-up is Kota Ibushi vs. Jeff Cobb. The program has endured through the mini-shutdown in May, and came through on the other side as the most substantive feud to culminate at Dominion. Okada vs. Shingo has backstory, but not build. There was a one-match preview, yesterday’s CHAOS-LIJ multi-man. That’s it. YOH and Desperado goes further back, with the Junior Tag Team Championship matches providing some undergirding to the singles title match, but that match seems more like a specter, the Bucciarati of New Japan, having long since died and yet improbably persisting.
- Cobb and Ibushi have been aggressively cordial to each other. On June 1, they engaged in Ibushi’s favored tactic: the seated conversation. No such courtesies today. In their final interaction before Dominion, they beat the fuck out of each other.
- Or, at least, they made it seem like they were trying to. Ibushi got too close for Cobb’s sensibilities, so Cobb grabbed Ibushi by the threat and backed him up. Ibushi offered up a sort of inner arm block prophesied in “Chinese Bombs” and slapped Cobb. Hard. Then they exploded, throwing haymakers and exhibiting a ferocity with the kind of believability that you only see in New Japan when Despy and Hiromu want you to believe they’ve stopped cooperating in a match. It was kickboxer v. wrestler, and it ruled.
- This was an exceptional pull-apart brawl. Sure, they lost steam after that initial barrage, but it was mesmerizing to watch. Great-O-Khan presented a pure “LIJ Watching Naito being Annihilated, Not Smartened Up and Totally Befuddled On How to Respond” energy, which added to the whole scenario considerably. The only thing he could think to do was to stomp Tsuji and Uemura, who no-sold, wisely aware that their assignment was to hold back Ibushi. Just great stuff all around, punctuated by Cobb maniacally slapping himself, cholerically screaming about the ineffectiveness of Ibushi’s initial slap.
- What this feud was missing: sanguinary bitterness. Ibushi did not call out nor denigrate Cobb. Cobb did not cost Ibushi the title. Cobb simply attacked Ibushi at Ibushi’s nadir, after the loss to Ospreay at Sakura Genesis. All year, there has been a pleasant decorum to Ibushi’s battles over the belt (and, unfortunately, battle with the belt itself). If Ibushi is going to break through, revitalize his image and resurrect his credibility, he’s going to have to show a measure of bellicose truculence. Not ruthlessness… that would corrode the essence of Ibushi. The one thing Ibushi can never mitigate is his sincerity. That is what humanizes a person of preternatural ability. But Ibushi does need to channel that ferocity a bit more. That was in full display here. And Cobb, who may have found his perfect opponent in the Golden Star, might be the perfect foil for Ibushi right now.
- I know That the Bald Juniors Booking Syndicate has lost a lot of favor, but give the credit to them here: this is a situation where both wrestlers are facing exactly who they need to face, at mutually critical points.
Road to DOMINION June.2 2021 Backstage comments!
6/2(水)Road to DOMINION のBSコメントを #新日本プロレスワールド で無料公開中❗️
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) June 3, 2021
I Know This So I Point at Q-Tip and He States, “Dearth is Dearth”
- Sure, literally this was an entirely different card from the June 1 show. Miniscule change is still change (ask Rob van Winkle, or Suge Knight hanging Rob van Winkle from a balcony). But it certainly didn’t feel like a different card. None of these shows do. The Korakuens from mid-May, the fabled Road to Wrestle Grand Slam, a harrowing momento mori of a tour that, technically, will perpetually and eternally hang in limbo, never finding culmination, forever inchoate… those shows were indistinguishable from each other and indistinguishable from these shows, which are indistinguishable from each other. Roster dearth an inescapable reality.
- Instead of teaming with Yota Tsuji, Ibushi got a nominal upgrade in Master Wato. Wato and Ibushi are, conceptually, a great team, considering the training Wato has done at the Ibushi Pro Wrestling Research Institute (both a Lars Mikkelsen-esque mindscape and the shed in the backyard of one of Ibushi’s buddies, to which only the Golden Star has the key). Wato’s kicks have always been his strongest trait, so logically Ibushi’s handiwork in Wato’s progression should have been self-evident, in retrospect. Unfortunately, while Wato’s kicks have the vigor they do not yet have the oomph to register anything on wrestlers the size of O-Khan and Cobb.
.@RealJeffCobb "Cobb Hammer🔨"
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) June 2, 2021
- The opening match was fun, with a charming contrast between the old vets) Tanahashi and Honma) and the ebullient youngsters (Tsuji and Uemura). Of course, the BULLET CLUB side is the exact same as the previous night, and they didn’t have Taguchi around this time, which certainly hurt considering that roughly 85% of what they did on June 1 was a satirical burlesque of Taguchi’s stuff.
- All of this is normal, excessively normal. Everything in the last year has been. But in a world and a context that has been involuntarily saturated in monotony and paralytic confinement, New Japan’s trademark sober booking style is anathema, less a release from the arduous nature of our living pandemic torment and more of an emphatic confirmation of it. The clap crowds and wilted roster both exacerbate this.
- By the way, when Despy came out there were five towels, two bears, and a sign. Glad he survived being a casualty of the company’s pandemic scheduling to see it.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto) (c) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito)
Either Tomohiro Ishii doesn’t give a fuck anymore, has attained unprecedented stature amongst his peers, or has entered a phase of his character where he is growing increasingly, exponentially, invincible with age, because goddamn… Tomohiro Ishii was damn near invincible in this match.
If I had to offer one recommendation, it would be related to that aspect of the match: if you are one of the unfortunate sorts that have grown dyspeptic over Ishii’s “formula,” do not watch this match. On three separate occasions, he single-handedly overwhelms all three members of LIJ, often from a starting base of vulnerability. Almost literally, the only thing that worked on Ishii in this match was Naito’s single leg dropkicks.
At a certain point, it was comical. Near the beginning of the match, Ishii sold an eye rake from Naito, but then immediately no-sold being thrown into the barricade. Naito had to throw him over the barricade and choke him with the barricade door to finally put him down for a few seconds.
Side note: of the screen time Ishii has had in 2021, what percentage of it has involved Ishii being choked by something? It was the entire basis of the Jay White feud, so much so that the satellite feuds around it also adopted choking gimmicks. At the time, I thought that BULLET CLUB were strangulation perverts. This match has changed the science; maybe Ishii emits some sort of pheromone or something during a match that encourages this.
Like the June 1 main event, the length of this contest is going to be a considerable hurdle for many to even attempt to watch the match, let alone enjoy it. These titles, under the reign of these champions, has garnered that criticism before. This one is different, though, worthy of the duration, for one simple reason: BUSHI fucking sucks.
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) June 2, 2021
This is where we should examine the defenses made by this CHAOS triumvirate, as this was indeed a record-breaking defense. The first two defenses took place in 2020, first against the other members of CHAOS, and the second against the Suzuki-gun team of DOUKI, Taichi, and Zack Sabre Jr., seemingly the last time that triad faced anyone besides Jado and G.O.D.
The other two defenses, both in 2021 and both in opposition to BULLET CLUB squadrons, were slightly less captivating. The first, against the team of Jay White and G.O.D. was fun but felt even longer than its 27-minute runtime (which, as it stands now, is only the third-longest defense out of five). The second defense of 2021 saw CHAOS vanquish the BULLET CLUB team of KENTA, Taiji Ishimori, and Yujiro Takahashi. This program will be eternalized as the Bo-Chan Saga, where KENTA cemented his status as the most singular genius of backstage comments we have ever seen.
Why were the first two so invigorating, the second two less so, and why does this defense against LIJ align itself more closely with the former two defenses?
Because BUSHI FUCKING SUCKS, and that is why this match worked.
A pattern has emerged in the better defenses: a denouement in the form of an extended sequence between YOSHI-HASHI and the weakest link of the opposing side, someone very much like YOSHI-HASHI, an undercard wrestler that has a level of credibility commensurate with these previously pitiful titles. The splendor of this title reign has been watching two wrestlers, YOSHI-HASHI and a YOSHI-HASHI, earnestly battle for a title that most in the company feel is beneath them. To the YOSHI-HASHI’s, there is value to this dopey championship, and through their sincerity that value has been slowly transferred to the title itself.
These denouements don’t necessarily provide the literal conclusion, but they very much provide the armature to the ending. And sometimes, these are very much extended sequences. In this 31:15 match, the portion with YOSHI-HASHI and BUSHI, technically the closing segment, lasts an entire 10:37.
For emphasis: the final third of this match was the closing stretch and it was carried exquisitely by BUSHI and YOSHI-HASHI.
Road to DOMINION(6/2)を公開‼️
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) June 2, 2021
Of course, as with all of these closing stretches, there are several movements within the piece. Guys come in and square off, as Goto and Sanada or Ishii and Naito did here, but they never actually tag in. The legal men, for the entire final 10:37 of the match, were BUSHI and YOSHI-HASHI. The focus may be diverted for brief interludes, but the attention always reverts, usually with increasing intensity, to YOSHI-HASHI and his fellow undercard counterpart.
Their best match, prior to this one, was the defense against Suzuki-gun, because there YOSHI-HASHI found the perfect match-up for this closing stretch concept: DOUKI. DOUKI’s lovable, sympathetic sincerity is the perfect complement to YOSHI-HASHI’s, and in many ways that match was replicated here.
Because BUSHI, like DOUKI, had credible tag partners, more credible than YOSHI’s, and because BUSHI is essentially at the same level of YOSHI-HASHI, there is legitimate investment and plausibility to every near fall between the two. When BUSHI went for that cool backslide with flipping jacknife pin (Wato would vaporize if he attempted that one), and especially when BUSHI hit the MX, it was not merely believable because it was a finisher… one could also accept that BUSHI would win this way, defeating a similarly slotted opponent to break through to a championship victory. Why do we believe that? Believe somehow YOSHI-HASHI won these belts! He is the self-fulfilling narrative device a meaningless title desperately needs to inject some juice into these matches.
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) June 2, 2021
Of course, the actual construction of the finish was phenomenal, and more layered than you would think. For one, they employed some very effective deception, going back to the June 1 lead-in. Goto scored a surprising, and surprisingly clean, pinfall over SANADA in that tag. That provided some intrigue. As the match stretched to the twenty minute mark, SANADA and Goto traded near-falls, and SANADA’s were especially fervid, with the expectation of him attaining revenge of Goto. When Goto went for the Goto-Nishiki pin on SANADA, those that had seen the June 1 show certainly felt a little anxiousness. What followed was very smart: SANADA kicked out, Ishii popped up to double-team him with Goto, and then Goto went for another Goto-Nishiki. This was great; the crowd, many of whom might now have watched the previous day’s show, did not react at all to that near fall. But they did respond to the second. Just a wonderful bit of storytelling.
The actual finish was sensational. YOSHI-HASHI somehow won with that goddamn Butterfly Lock, but the really exceptional bit of business was what Ishii and Naito were doing in the lead-up to the submission. As usual, the dominant side held onto a counterpart from the other side to prevent them from breaking up the finish. Ishii went for Naito’s leg, but Naito quickly fought him off. But then Naito, against his old rival, perhaps his best rival, became to passionately transfixed, administering eight extra kicks to keep Ishii at bay. Ishii, of course, did not sell them, and thus when Naito stood up to sever the submission, Ishii picked his foot and locked in a kneebar. Naito culd only helplessly watch BUSHI submit.
And, like that, the titles that were the biggest joke in the company as recently as a year ago have become the most reliable titles in pandemic era New Japan. ****
An excellent post-match brawl between Jeff Cobb and Kota Ibushi and a wonderful title match between CHAOS and LIJ leads one to ponder… in normal times, would this not be enough to conclude that a Road To show was successful. What else do you expect from these shows? It’s very much like the split events. They split up big events years ago, and the same criticisms we have now were established from the very outset: dilution of card quality and general exhaustion. It is merely exacerbated by the conditions and New Japan’s befuddled, perplexed response.
And so, even under normal conditions, this would be considered a decent Road To show, with a hot angle and fun main event. Though, I must stress, those are the only things worth watching.