New Japan Pro Wrestling
Dominion 6.6 In Osaka-Jo Hall
June 7, 2021
Watch: NJPW World
If one finds themselves constantly changing their sheets this year, it is reasonable to hypothesize it’s because NJPW is constantly shitting the bed. Harsh, and not the kind of statements I’m used to making about NJPW.
It has not been a good year for them.
Creatively they have been at some of their lowest points in a long time and fan interest and intrigue is down. As a fan of NJPW since 2012 and considering it my main promotion, it’s saddening and kind of a downer. The company I’ve depended on the most for my entertainment in the wrestling industry has emptied their mug of creativity and instead of filling it back up are tilting it as far back as they can trying to remove whatever drops they have left. It’s also a lesson that in 2021 one does not, and should not, put all their wrestling fandom eggs in one company’s basket.
It would be unfair to say though that NJPW has been all negative and bad. There have been some amazing matches this year, and they’ve put on some great shows, but even the great shows and great matches don’t have the buzz, appeal, conversation they once did. While you can point at the pandemic as a huge factor in the woes of NJPW, and that would be fair, a lot of the damage has been self-afflicted, and they need to start going into repair mode. There’s no quick fix, but if one does not begin to hammer in that first nail the project is never completed.
There have been developments since the last time I wrote a review.
Due to injury, Will Ospreay has vacated the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. My known personal feelings about Ospreay aside, there is no doubt this was not the derailment NJPW needed. Months of title matches, stories, potential G1 Climax implications are all out the window now that Will’s title reign has come to a premature and unfulfilling end. Unfulfilling seems to be the theme for this title in its early days, hopefully, the next champion can lift that curse.
But you can always tell the character of something by how it responds to getting knocked on its ass. NJPW is on its ass, and now is the time to stand up and answer the ten count. NJPW has the talent and has the ability to crawl out of the hole it keeps digging. Will they begin the climb, or will Gedo with an “I know what I’m doing!” smirk dig a little deeper. I hold out hope that NJPW can find that footing once more, I feel they have earned some leeway and some time. I still plan on hoping, pandemic allowing, to see them next year. That said there’s a lot of wrestling out there, a lot of great wrestling, people are moving on, they got to stop the bleeding. Or at the very least slow it long enough until they figure out some better long-term planning.
Well anyway, let us finish up my pre-show ramblings. We got some potentially damn good matches on this show. Even in a low point of their present-day existence, NJPW can dig up some matchups with high potential to be amazing. It’s one of the things that gives me hope. Cobb/Ibushi could be a hard-hitting fun affair, Yoh/El Desperado can rock, and Shingo versus Okada is a proven commodity. Throw in the fact it’s for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, I have a sneaking suspicion that’s going to fucking rule. It’s NJPW Dominion, it’s in Osaka, and I am Jeri Evagood the magic writing girl of Voices of Wrestling as your reviewer.
Let’s do this.
Before the festivities begin Hiromu Takahashi graces us with his beautiful presence and hypes us all up. I miss Hiromu. I wish him a full recovery so he can come back and be the consistent highlight NJPW needs!
El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL def. SHO, YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & Hiroshi Tanahashi
A lot of talent in this ring…. And also BULLET CLUB. That’s not fair, there are portions of the BULLET CLUB team that are pretty damn good when they are on. This was pretty solid as an opener. As with a lot of these matches, a lot of moving parts and for the most part, they all worked. Even the likes of Yujiro and Chase Owens didn’t do too much to bring the proceedings down. There seemed to be motivation amongst everyone, and certain moves seemed to have an extra pep in their step when performed. I wouldn’t claim anyone was on fire, but a desire to showcase and put out a good match was there and they succeeded.
The final minutes of this match is all action, with everyone getting shots in on each other, and when it is all broken down and done Sho gets pinned by Ishimori which sets up a Junior Title Defense potentially. I’d like to think I could be interested in that, but my general desire to watch the junior tag division is pretty low, to begin with. Evil, Chase Owens, and Yujiro might also be challenging for the six men titles… which just sounds dreadful to me. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised? Overall though a good opener that got the show off on the correct foot. With only five matches you can’t afford any matches being too low on the totem pole of quality. So if they were willing to put this effort in an opening ten-man tag, hopefully, this is a good sign for when we get to the main courses. ***1/4
BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito def. DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi
How much higher of an opinion do we all have on DOUKI these days? I remember the negative reactions he originally got when he debuted, but through hard work, improvement, and constant and consistent effort, he’s made the most of the pandemic era and is always a welcome edition, especially in multi-people matches where I think he truly excels. People can overcome initial opinions and viewpoints, they just have to work for it and earn it.
Shirt-wearing Naito is always a sign that things won’t be going balls to the walls. The Suzuki-gun players though were pretty amped for this match and did their best both on offense and defense to make things entertaining. In truth, this was a fine match and caught more and more fire as it went on. I also appreciate that NJPW continues to set up future matches as Zack and SANADA have a nice closing stretch which has SANADA catch Zack in a pinning attempt and getting the victory. Naito/SANADA challenging for the tag titles? Hey, at least it’s a direction, and AT LEAST it’s someone other than G.O.D for crying out loud. I’ll get behind that. I think that could be quite fantastic. Solid match, a little below the opening match, but better than I was anticipating. Lady’s three coming their way.
Powered by RedCircle
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
El Desperado © def. YOH
Now we get into the good shit of the show.
The potentially high-quality top-of-the-card matches will ultimately determine how this show is remembered and whether or not that’s a positive or negative thing. El Desperado as Junior Champion has brought me such joy, I know it’ll eventually end but I don’t want it to ever. I want him to make it to the Dome so we can get a Big Dome Match for Despy!
Do you enjoy leg work? Do you enjoy a match where both opponents target each other’s leg and try to completely destroy it? DO I HAVE THE MATCH FOR YOU! Both men decide to go the leg abuse route this match, and boy do they ever. Might not be interesting to many, and some might find it downright boring, but two good wrestlers can make it interesting and work. YOH is pretty good in his own right and El Desperado is great, especially right now. So both men had by far the tools needed to make it interesting, and I was into it. Especially since it didn’t feel pointless and that you would be rewarded for it. ..and they made sure to keep on selling it.
In truth, not the entire match is two men destroying the leg of the other, but a good chunk, especially the first portion, is focused on that. As the match goes on and the pace and speed increases a bit, they begin to incorporate other things but the legs are never forgotten both in offense and both in how it affects the other two. In particular, there are times YOH lands on his damaged leg and crumples or clearly loses a moment of action because of it. Limb work is great when it pays off/affects the rest of the match. Consequences make all the difference in the world.
Ultimately they build into a damn near great match. Doesn’t quite hit four stars for me, but they work and they work, pick up the pace bit by bit, and before I knew it I was into the match and sunk into how it would end. Desperado’s ability to target and torture YOH’s leg was a pure delight, and YOH was resilient and able to stay in the fight doing all he can against Desperado as his leg succumbed more and more. Ultimately a good but simple story, with a challenger doing all he can against a champion not ready to relinquish the title just yet. I’m not ready for him to relinquish it either. ***3/4
Kota Ibushi def. Jeff Cobb
Kota Ibushi felt like he started the year so hot, and then became lukewarm, and then almost experienced a damn freeze. Kota Ibushi is still one of the best in the world, it’s very disappointing watching his trajectory this year. Cobb, on the other hand, continues to raise his stock and importance. His match against Shingo at the Dome was flat-out awesome. Ever since he continues to work on his character, presence, abilities, and Jeff Cobb is the performer in NJPW he’s always wanted to be, I’ve always desired him to be. The hints and tidbits of chemistry we’ve gotten between him and Ibushi as of late were a good primer for this match, and this match could potentially be the lighting of the fuse Ibushi needs to explode his year back into the main event picture.
None of that would matter if this match failed to live up to high expectations. It matched them and turned into an amazing affair between two men whose full chemistry between each other was unleashed in force. Rocky comments they are going to beat the hell out of each other before the match, and while it’s such a simple prediction to make, it doesn’t change the fact it’s accurate. The confidence and attitude Cobb exudes now totally fits his role in the empire and gives him a much more menacing presence. He doesn’t have to go at a breakneck speed, he can systematically and deliberately beat down Ibushi, and you are drawn into it because everything has impact and feeling in it and Ibushi isn’t afraid to take a hit and make you believe he is hurt.
But this is Ibushi we’re talking about. As the match slowly builds and he absorbs hit by hit, you know he’s going to eventually deliver strikes of his own, and Cobb is going to feel every single one no matter how hard he tries to play it off as he’s not. Ibushi has something to prove after all. His title reign ended up being a short and forgettable engagement. Years of waiting for it and when it came, it was a whisper barely audible. Ibushi is here to remind us HE IS Kota Ibushi and as he fires back at Cobb with strikes and offense of his own, you begin to remember this reality, but more importantly, you watch this reality play out. Ibushi is energized and fired up, ready to climb back to the top of the mountain.
Ibushi and Cobb are both athletic as hell, and in a major match against a major opponent Cobb more than delivers and holds up with Ibushi. At one point Ibushi hits an impressive as hell looking springboard hurricanrana on Cobb from the top rope and it’s fantastic with Cobb getting great height. As the match builds and some of the bigger bombs are delivered to each other, you get the feel of what winning this match means to both of them, title implications at stake. Ibushi wanting to get back, Cobb wanting to be there for the first but not the last time. Cobb throws everything he can at Ibushi, he wants this win, you feel he want to win this. The final 4 or 5 minutes of this match bring the proceedings up a bit higher. The closing stretch is great, and Cobb is given a moment where if he just had a bit left in the tank he might have made a three-count pinfall. Alas, it is Ibushi’s night, but Cobb will have his one day. I know that for a fact. ****
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Shingo Takagi def. Kazuchika Okada
Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.- Thomas Edison
My disdain historically for Edison aside, this quote really applies to pro wrestling quite a bit. There’s a lot in wrestling that doesn’t work. Pushes that fizzle, gimmicks that shit the bed, title reigns that does little to move the meter. Thousands of thing in pro-wrestling has failed, even the most notable successes had their major failures before striking that oil that would fuel them to success. Sometimes you just got to go with something new, something you haven’t done yet, and see if it works. NJPW has been struggling, has been battling, they are bleeding fans. It would not be shocking, surprising, and I’d have a little argument against them if they went for the safe bet, the sure pick, the comfort zone. Kazuchika Okada is the comfort zone, the ace, the proven champion, one of the best damn wrestlers in the world. Sure, go with him once again, it’s safe and hell I’d probably argue for it as well.
They didn’t. Shingo Takagi THE BEST DAMN WRESTLER IN NJPW, and potentially making a case for wrestler of the year, is now IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in a moment that caught everyone off guard in the best damn way possible. It almost doesn’t feel right typing out HOLY SHIT CALM MY TITS in my now trademark manner. Make no mistake, my tits are razzled in the best way possible. It’s one of those moments you dream about, wish upon a star on, and speculate but don’t expect to happen. “What if Shingo Takagi defeats Okada?” Pfffttt, a great what-if scenario but you don’t give it high chances of happening, then it does, and it’s wonderful. It’s exhilarating, it makes you feel about a particular wrestling company in a way you haven’t felt about them since potentially January. Hopeful, excited, giddy, a fan.
Shingo pinning Okada is ascending to the top of NJPW is one of the top NJPW moments, nay, the best damn wrestling moments of 2021. I don’t think to feel good does it a service, as much as you sit back/lean forward and let out an exhilarating scream for a man who has been the workhorse in NPW and now has won the race. Despite what the cliches say, hard work does not always pay off, especially in pro-wrestling, so when it does and it’s with a wrestler such as Shingo, you feel a ping in your heart that warms you. It uplifts you, fills you with a glow of positivity that wrestling isn’t always known for. I want to heap. paragraph upon paragraph on just that moment, the moment Shingo achieved the three count and became champion. It is a ***** moment
The reality is this is a match review, and we have a match to discuss. The match is… great. Realistically not Match of the Year, but in the end will potentially make some lists just for what it ended up achieving in the end. I don’t blame them. I immediately at first wanted to give this the full monty, rain all the stars upon it. I reigned myself in. I’ve made that mistake before with matches I’ve rated highly. The more I thought about it the more I realize I was putting too much thought into this match to give it the full five. The first fifteen minutes aren’t the most exciting or engaging. It felt like filler at times. Felt like they were treading water until it was time to go full speed. Once Okada dropkicked Shingo off the top rope things began to proceed at a different level and we began to hit that level we want out of our IWGP main events. The match went thirty-six minutes or so. If the first fifteen minutes had a bit more meat on the bone it wouldn’t have been an issue. In the second half, the match went much further and drag way less than the first half. The match builds upon its craft, the desperation, determination, and energy would pick up more and more. I’m not criticizing or unhappy with a long match that takes its time, I’m just simply suggesting this match could’ve used some more materials to build within the first portions to help engage the audience a bit more.
No one will remember the lull though. No one will remember this match went 36 minutes. If wrestling is about moments and memories, this match is ultimately a success that deserves a high rating because, in the end, it’ll achieve both. The moment of Shingo finally winning NJPW’s top prize is the memory that’ll last with everyone else. A bold move, and in my opinion the right call. Listen to the buzz, the intrigue, the positive response! No one would’ve blamed NJPW for going the safe route, but we’ll all glad they took the other path. Shingo has been given NJPW on his back and he’s more than strong enough to carry it. NJPW is in uncertain times, and in uncertain times Shingo will navigate and cut a path forward for them. He hasn’t been given a ball to carry, he’s been given a sword to swing, and he will decapitate any and all obstacles that try to obstruct him from this moment on. Competitors make the title, and Shingo is the man who can give this title the stability, status, and lineage it deserves.
Unlike with Will Ospreay when I felt deflated, defeated, disappointed, with Shingo as champion I feel elated, exhilarated, excited. I feel reborn as an NJPW fan in 2021, and even if for a few fleeting moments, I didn’t feel like a 38-year-old reviewer at the end of this match. I felt like a young fangirl giddy at watching one of her favorites win the big one. Fidgeting with my fingers excitedly, jumping up and down off my couch, holding my hand over my mouth to muffle the over-excited squeal coming from my soul. Fuck, I’ll do anything to have wrestling make me feel like that permanently. ****1/2
Post Match: Shingo calls out Ibushi, and no doubt in my mind that match is going to be the top-shelf quality I’m going to want to sip and savor.
I’ve been long-winded the last three matches, I’ll make this quick. Wrestling is great, and so was Dominion. Top of the card delivered, future matches and feuds were set out throughout the show, and in the end, Shingo Takagi became the man, a status that we all knew he already held, but now he has the title belt strapped around his waist as the ultimate evidence. Shingo Takagi is the best damn wrestler in the world right now, and I will not be accepting counterarguments.