New Japan Pro Wrestling
June 4, 2023
Watch: NJPW WORLD
Meet our previewers:
J Michael: Last month, J. Michael took a totally unnecessary shot at TJP by taking a totally necessary shot at the Los Angeles Lakers for having the gall to state that they have 17 championships. Every sane historian knows that the Los Angeles Lakers have 12. It shall remain 12.
Since he’s in a saucy mood, he’d like to take a direct shot at Suit Williams. Suit also made a very public declaration that the Miami Heat would defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in five games. Well, fuck you, Suit! It took the Heat seven games to beat the C’s. Put that in your tea and sip it! Enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo
John Carroll: John doesn’t really know anything about basketball so isn’t sure what to put here. Also, they might die in surgery by the time you read this. Is that too morbid? It’s probably too morbid. Anyway, one last preview before they go out eh? Assuming they survive you can follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla.
Suit Williams: Heat in Five. @SuitWilliams
Young Lion Hat-trick Challenge Match
Oskar Leube vs. Ryohei Oiwa, Olega Boltin, and Yuto Nakashima
Michael: On the latest Super J-Cast, hobgoblin enthusiast Joel Abraham recounted how close New Japan were to the brink of catastrophe during the pandemic years, and how New Japan President Takami Ohbari’s shrewd strategy and adaptability essentially saved the company. Joel’s point was to emphasize Ohbari’s contributions. He’s been a great there, there’s no doubt.
OR IS THERE?! Because how can Takami Ohbari be considered a great leader when we can’t see this fucking match? While the Consecutive Slapping Chomping Grilling Meat Battle from last month remains folklore, something that apparently future generations will only learn from blind bards and cuneiform tablets? The fuck is this? Prediction: Harold would have broadcast this.
John: Writing about a match that none of us can see feels like a waste of time, no? I mean, if you’re reading this and you’re attending Dominion this year then you can see it, but otherwise you can’t. Congrats by the way if you are going to the show- you’re gonna love Osaka Jo Hall if it’s your first time, it’s an amazing venue! But the rest of us won’t be seeing this match unfortunately, and that sucks ass because this is a really fun Young Lion group. Prediction: Maybe I can see it from heaven if I die in surgery?
Suit: The most frustrating thing about New Japan since January has been their complete reluctance to air these Young Lion battles. How can you put something so tantalizing on the line such as a grilled BBQ feast and not let the fans at home see it? Oskar Leube gets the chance here, as he runs the Hat Trick Challenge here in this dark match. These are three five-minute time limit matches happening consecutively. One outright win earns him 10,000 yen ($72 USD) of yakkiniku barbecue, two wins gets 50,000 ($360), and a sweep earns him the jackpot: a 200,000 yen ($1,440 USD) feast of the gods. At Dontaku, Ryohei Oiwa came up short with two draws and a loss. I think the big man Oskar will pull his best Denzel Washington impression and leave Osaka-jo with something. With all that said, why did I say all of that? This is a dark match. Prediction: Oskar wins 1 of 3 battles
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Number 1 Contender’s Tournament Final
Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer
Michael: This match flirts with the existential. The fact that their remarkable G1 match was four years ago now is proof of the universe’s callous indifference. I’m still completing thoughts from four years ago, and yet consider everything that has emerged since that match: Ospreay’s ascent to the top of the New Japan roster and the world title, Archer’s career renaissance, AEW, the pandemic… all of this happened to give the illusion that the G1 match was epochs ago.
I’ll have to defer to my colleagues, but I’m under the impression that the booker of the year has used Lance Archer minimally since Archer’s tremendous run in World Tag League 2022. The clock is ticking at he pushed fucking 50, the guy becomes instantly mesmerizing once he’s back in Japan, and he’s a legitimately impressive prescence… what the fuck is going on here? Anyway, the winner of this is not in doubt, and neither is the quality. Archer will foment mayhem and rile the Osaka crowd, and this match will be as good, if not better, than the G1 match several lifetimes ago. Prediction: Will Ospreay
John: Someday I will figure out why AEW signed Lance Archer just to do fuck all with him. Here is an amazing stat: in 2022, he worked more matches with New Japan (38) than he did in AEW (24). And 14 of those 24 AEW appearances were either on Dark or Dark: Elevation! So far in 2023 he has appeared in AEW four times- three times on Dark/Elevation, and once on Rampage in a squash match- in February. Seriously, what are we doing here? Think about some of the people who can get on AEW television on a regular basis who don’t even belong in the same conversation as Archer, one of the best big men in wrestling of the last decade, and you’re telling me they don’t have room for the Muderhawk Monster? Bizarre, to say the least.
But anyway, he’s back here in New Japan, a promotion that actually knows how to book him properly, and he’s facing one of his career best opponents. It’s interesting that they are putting this match on first. Is it just to try and get a bit of a live buzz going in the West at an hour people might actually be watching, or is there some kind of angle alert here? Maybe there’s a reason why this has to go on before the G1 announcements? Insert chin-stroking here. But I won’t overthink the winner- Ospreay likely takes it and heads to Forbidden Door for the big rematch with Omega. Prediction: Will Ospreay
Suit: While this match is interesting on paper, the result isn’t in doubt. With the winner all but confirmed to be challenging Kenny Omega for the title at Forbidden Door, the likelihood of AEW and New Japan running back the instant classic from Wrestle Kingdom is as close to a sure thing as you’ll find in wrestling. These two had a great match from the G1 opening night in Dallas back in 2019, and I expect both men to want to kick this show off with a bang. It’s good to see Lance Archer, but he’ll be eating a Hidden Blade here to set up the most anticipated rematch in wrestling. Prediction: Will Ospreay
Just 5 Guys (Taka Michinoku, DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Taichi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Titan, BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, and Tetsuya Naito)
J. Michael: Is there some sort of omnibus bill that passed through the Japanese National Diet that stipulates, buried deep within subheadings and mangled clauses, that New Japan Professional Wrestling’s Dominion event must be nine matches? Why does this match exist, when the Young Lion barbecue brawl remains some sort of high-level national security secret? Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon
John: Well, to answer J. Michael’s question, the reason why this match exists is presumably because Japanese fans would be unhappy not to see Tetsuya Naito at Dominion, but he’s not in a feud right now. So here we are with the only multi-man tag of the show (not counting the NEVER 6-man title match of course). I’m sure it will be fine, and I have nothing else to say about it. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Suit: A tour ending 8-man here from two units that have been feuding since the New Japan Cup tour. Taichi and Shingo may continue their eternal rivalry over the KOPW Title, or Naito could get a win to set him up for the G1. But I think they’ll give Titan a tour-ending win after his tremendous performance in the Super Junior finals. He’s really become a star on this tour, so I expect Llave Inmortal to make TAKA Just Tap Out. Prediction: LIJ
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Intergalactic Jet Setters (Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA) (C) vs. Catch 2/2 (Francesco Akira and TJP)
J. Michael: The Jet Setters did not exactly subjugate the Best of the Super Juniors field. Knight ended up with six points; that’s not bad for a guy that came in with roughly 30 total singles matches under his belt. KUSHIDA ended up with 2 points; disheartening for the former ace of the division, and for those of us that followed his run being confronted with the morose notion that six years ago is, indeed, a long time ago and we are officially ancient. Of course, the performance of tag champions in the BOSJ is inconsistent. Six or Nine, Wato and Taguchi, were the champions in 2022 and only put up Six and Eight points. SHO and YOH put up 10 and 12 points in 2019, and look where that got them: one is Marty Feldman and the other is Daffy Duck.
The logical choice here would be for Catch 2/2 to regain their titles. The obvious question to counter that line of thinking: why take the belts of Catch 2/2 in the first place, ending a year-long title reign that revitalized the division? And to that I say: I dunno, do you remember the mind-melding fuckery this company did with the heavyweight tag championship at the same time last year? The best thing for everyone is that these apprenticeships continue, but while Kevin Knight is still in the refinement phase, Francesco Akira’s learning to lead the entire division. After his showing against Desperado in the Super Juniors, that might come sooner than later. Prediction: Catch 2/2
John: Sometimes you book a title change just to set up a rematch and maybe establish someone new as a legitimate threat- I assume that was the case when it came to KUSHIDA & Knight’s title win. But as J. Michael said, watching KUSHIDA go from ace to jobber in the BOSJ this year was made all the more shocking given he was coming off that junior tag title victory. I think the transition would have seemed much smoother if KUSHIDA had been in New Japan all along- Ryusuke Taguchi obviously struggled mightily in this year’s BOSJ too, but he didn’t disappear into the central Florida vortex for the better part of four years so it wasn’t as jarring. There’s simply too many good young wrestlers in this division to be protecting guys like KUSHIDA & Taguchi at this stage of their careers, even though both men showed throughout the tournament that they can still go. Time waits for no man. Anyway, I assume Catch 2/2 regains their titles here. Prediction: Catch 2/2
Suit: Catch 2/2 get a return match for the titles here against the Jet Setters, who beat them for the titles on the Wrestling Dontaku tour. My suspicion was that Clark Connors and Taiji Ishimori were going to challenge for these titles on this show, but the neck injury suffered by Ishimori on the Super Juniors tour put the kibosh on those plans. These two had a quality match the first time around – you can read my review of it here – and I think, as always in New Japan, they’ll build on it to make this rematch better. I don’t see any point in putting the titles back on Catch 2/2 this quickly, as they would’ve broken the record for longest title reign if they had won that first match. Mark this down as a successful V1 for KUSHIDA and Knight. Prediction: Intergalactic Jet Setters
NJPW World Television Championship
Zack Sabre Jr (C) vs. Jeff Cobb
J. Michael: This is a belaboured point, but let’s revisit the introduction of this, the most literally rigid of all of the dozens of New Japan titles. Two foundational elements were presented: youth and pace. The reality: a 35-year old acerbic Brit’s hegemony over the 14.5 Minute Title.
But because Sabre has such a fidgety, frenetic style, it’s worked. The issue here is an extension of what John explicated: they went to a draw in their last match, which was the story they had very explicitly set the table for in the weeks leading up to it, and this match… has zero story. Both were absent from the Super Junior’s finale shows. Any conceit or armature to this match will have to be a continuation of their previous encounter.
I expect the same dynamic: the slipperiness of Sabre vs. the unfathomable power of Cobb, all framed by the amusingly cavalier attitude both project in the ring. In this case, I believe Polynesian cool will prevail over Anglican acrimony. I actually like the idea of ZSJ and Danielson doing a 15-minute draw, but the belt complicates things too much. Prediction: Jeff Cobb
John: Instead of the old trope with television champions where they simply do anything to stall and end their match within the 15-minute time limit, Zack Sabre Jr. has been the exact opposite- he looks at the 15-minute time limit as a challenge to himself, to finish off his opponent before that time expires. After a run of matches where he only barely got the win before the 15-minute mark, he finally went full time with Jeff Cobb back at Dontaku, and I loved his reaction- again, rather than the cowardly heel who’s happy just to escape with his title intact, Zack treated it more like a loss, and immediately challenged Cobb to a rematch at Dominion. This will likely end up being his fatal mistake, as I would expect Cobb to get the job done this time and become the second ever TV champion. Zack likely has a major match with Bryan Danielson waiting for him at Forbidden Door, and it would kind of make no sense to put a 15-minute time limit on that match (nor would it make any sense for Danielson not to challenge for the title if Zack still has it). Prediction: Jeff Cobb
Suit: A rematch of their draw from Dontaku, I expect this to be both a higher-level version of their first encounter and the spot where the title changes hands. Sabre spent the majority of his title run using his tekkers to control the clock and score submission wins late. That changed against Cobb, who used his power advantage to dominate the first match, with Sabre working off the back foot for the first time in one of these title matches. I think Cobb will get the win here, finally getting this TV Title onto a youngster as intended. That is, of course, if Sabre survives the challenge of one Action Andretti this Friday on Rampage! Prediction: Jeff Cobb
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team and Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship Three-Way Match
Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto) vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Yujiro Takahashi and EVIL) vs. United Empire (Great-O-Khan and Aaron Henare)
J. Michael: Two weeks ago, Warren Hayes wrote an article about how it’s time to belt up EVIL. We have no editorial power, we could only watch helplessly, payalyzed by our own weakness as Warren published his screed. Make no mistake, we printed out a copy and Fed-Ex’d it immediately to The Hague, where they presumably lie on docket. It pays to be married to a Dutch national.
Warren had the right idea, but we’re not sure about the reasoning. HOUSE OF TORTURE bomb in as many buildings as they kill. Korakuen Hall is staunch HOT territory; they play along and vociferously caterwaul the fuck out of the group. Other venues like, say, Akita (BOSJ Night 4)… not so much. It’s a higher percentage than before, but the progression is glacial.
The real reason to belt up EVIL is because HOT are totally futile, and have been for ages. When was the last time they picked up a substantive win? At one point, EVIL at least threatened capability, scaring everyone into thinking that he might win a G1 Climax or New Japan Cup. Now, they just lose. At a certain point, they have to win something or the stable will become too feeble to function.
So yes, it’s time to belt up EVIL. With the tag belts. Prediction: HOUSE OF TORTURE
John: I am an unabashed House of Torture fan and refuse to apologize for it. They get so much shit for being a cheating/interference stable in New Japan, as if NJPW hasn’t had one of those for literally the last decade. Meanwhile the same people who will complain endlessly about House of Torture doing their (actually entertaining, in my opinion!) schtick on one single match on a New Japan show will happily sit by while fifteen people run in on 7 out of 8 matches on an AEW PPV card, which is just lazy booking. I’ll never understand any of it.
All I know is that EVIL is the most entertaining heel that New Japan has had in ages, and it is indeed time to give him another title. Given the inexplicable vitriol so many Western fans have for the House, I can only imagine the reaction they would get walking into Toronto as IWGP Tag Team Champions. Don’t be cowards, and as Batista would say, give me what I want. Prediction: The House
Suit: With Aussie Open going down, the Holy Semen Army (credit to Joel of the Super J-Cast) take their place as United Empire representatives in this three-way for the Heavyweight Tag Titles. As J Michael and John have already said, the House of Torture is indeed Actually Good now. They’re slotted in a tolerable spot on the card for their shenanigans, their shenanigans get the intended reactions now, and EVIL is a good worker underneath it all. Yujiro is…Yujiro. Anyway, I think they’ll get the titles here to justify G1 spots for both men, and to set up the Aussie Open return match down the line (Forbidden Door?). Prediction: House of Torture
Entrants of G1 Climax 33 Announcement
J. Michael: I’ve heard the 32-entrant rumblings, which would assuage but not solve the disastrous issues from G1 Climax 32. Running with a 28-man field was bizarre, especially considering that it was G1 Climax 32, but manageable. The critical error was the godawful scheduling. Please, for fuck’s sake, run either single or double block nights, but not this one-match-per-block bunkum.
As far as dream entrants, I honestly wonder if they could pass Mike Bailey off as an Openweight guy and let him go the G1 Climax as well. What a superlative BOSJ he had. I’m guessing we see Tom Lawlor, maybe Fred Rosser, and hopefully Bad Dude Tito. I would advise everyone to brace yourself for another year of Yujiro and Fale.
One thing I won’t bother predicting: AEW involvement. I don’t care about the most recent American show, the booker of the year does not grant AEW talent to New Japan shows as often as people seem to think. Or, really, much at all.
John: Even on a card that’s packed with potentially great matches and intriguing storylines, this is still up there for my most anticipated moments of the show. There’s all sorts of rumors flying around out there (32 participants in 4 blocks of 8? Claudio Castagnoli competes in his first G1??) and we’re only days away from finding out the answers on all of them. Again, not to be too morbid here, but if I do die in surgery tomorrow I hope someone whips out the ‘ol Oujia board and tells me how it all worked out.
Suit: Ah, the G1 announcement pops. How I’ve missed you so! Since Fale is Australia’s problem now, my biggest hope is that Toru Yano takes a page out of Ryusuke Taguchi’s playbook and plays this G1 straight laced. Or he just takes the tour off. That would also be nice. Expect the expected, with an interesting name or two from America, be it from the STRONG roster or Ring of Honor.
NEVER Openweight Championship
David Finlay (C) vs. El Phantasmo
J. Michael: I concur with everything John said. Finlay, like Tama Tonga, is someone whose work demands attention. It’s entirely reliant on the build, and Finlay’s build’s are usually great. In this new persona, he is barbarous, vicious, and captivating. He doesn’t have the piercing charisma of Tama, nor the vibrant athleticism. He has charisma and athleticism, but in a smoldering way.
ELP has a new persona which apparently will involve new gear, new music, everything. He also has started to making amends to those that he’s slighted in the past. If this is the beginning stages of babyface champion ELP, it would make sense that he would succeed right away. Even if the pandemic prolonged things, he was in the Junior division for three years and he’s entering his late-30’s. Strike now.
That’s not usually the story they tell. Normally, an ELP would lose small now in order to win big later. But, what the fuck does normal mean right now? Have you seen the main event for this show? I don’t foresee ELP winning, but we’ve got pretty much the same picks in this entire article, so I’ll shake it up and go with the Canuck. Prediction: El Phantasmo
John: It used to be a fact of life that New Japan was an extremely predictable promotion- if you paid attention you could almost always figure out who was winning the major matches on any given show. That has changed greatly in 2023, as what was once one of the most predictable promotions in the world has instead become one of the least. For the entire top half of the card, you could very easily make an argument that either guy should (and will) win. Here, you have David Finlay, still being established as the new leader of BULLET CLUB, coming into this match with a lot of momentum after his dominant title win over Tama Tonga last month. For a guy who started out getting lots of “dollar store Jay White” jokes (not that he really ever had much in common with Jay except being a white guy with Gedo as manager, but lazy jokes don’t have to make sense), he’s very quickly established himself as a completely different type of BC leader than what’s come before him. By focusing on “savagery” and drawing a contrast with the “T-shirt salesmen” in BC’s past (and even White often seemed focused on his PWTees store- remember those OnlyFans shirts?), he’s made it clear that things have really changed. And he’s really excelled in his role so far.
So easy call, Finlay retains? Not so fast. His opponent is debuting an entirely new look and theme song as he finally turns babyface after years of increasing popularity in Japan. He has a great argument to win here as well. In the end, I think one month in is just too soon to take the belt off of Finlay, so I gave him the nod. But an ELP victory would not shock me either, for all the reasons I just stated. Prediction: David Finlay
Suit: We’re set to see a brand new El Phantasmo as he challenges David Finlay for the NEVER Openweight Title. Free of the Bullet Club shenanigans, Phantasmo is here looking to finally kickstart the big run he’s been rumored to receive ever since coming into the promotion. He’s followed in the footsteps of Devitt and Omega as a foreign junior making waves in the junior division. Devitt was rumored to have a big babyface run in his future before his unfortunate retirement (WWE signing) in 2014, and Omega did have his babyface run in 2018 that ended with winning the IWGP World Title and starting a promotion in the US. Odds are that Phantasmo will probably end up somewhere in the middle. While I don’t think he leaves anytime soon, I also don’t see super-high level main eventer either. Maybe a good G1 will change my mind.
Either way, I think Finlay wins here. This is the start of Phantasmo’s payback tour after both Ishimori and KENTA helped Finlay kick him out of Bullet Club. I think he’ll have some more work to do before winning this title, either in the fall or at the Tokyo Dome. Finlay’s heel run has just kicked off, and I think he could use this win more right now to really establish himself as a real player instead of a transitional name. Prediction: David Finlay
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Tomohiro Ishii (C) vs. Shota Umino, Jon Moxley, and Claudio Castagnoli
J. Michael: If you skipped the undercard matches from the BOSJ30 semi-finals and finals, you made a big mistake, if only for the multi-man tags involving Shota Umino and Kazuchika Okada. The caustic, volatile relationship that has developed between these two might be the most captivating story in the company.
Thus, this rivalry was already intense enough without adding Claudio Castagnoli’s first ever New Japan match into the mix. We’re expecting the champions to lose here, probably with Castagnoli pinning Ishii; this prediction is founded in the hope that this 6-man tag match is carried through Forbidden Door, at the very least. It’s low stakes and high fervor, an easy way to use six key wrestlers without wasting match-ups, while still assuring a high level of engagement. Prediction: Umino, Moxley, Castagnoli
John: The Umino vs. Okada feud is without a shadow of a doubt my favorite thing going in wrestling right now. It’s so old-school puro- watching both Narita and Umino struggle against the older generation above them, desperately trying to break free (while also kind of being at odds with each other) feels just like watching the Three Musketeers of Chono, Mutoh and Hashimoto struggle against Antonio Inoki, or even watching Misawa and Kawada struggle against Jumbo Tsuruta in All Japan. Umino’s previous feud against Tetsuya Naito didn’t work because they tried so hard to tell you Umino was the babyface and Naito was the heel (indeed, the live crowd in Sapporo completely rejected this no matter how hard they pushed it, cheering Naito on even as he worked 100% heel in the match)- this time around, they learned their lesson and simply allowed the fans to choose who they want to support. Okada has been grumpy and heelish, but Umino has acted like a little dick too at times. It’s resulted in a super hot feud with neither of them backing down, and it’s the best thing going in professional wrestling right now. Moxley and Claudio getting involved is just the icing on the cake, and like J. Michael I assume they are winning the NEVER 6-man belts to kick off Forbidden Door season. Umino, Mox and Claudio vs. the Young Bucks & Hangman Page for these titles perhaps? Prediction: Umino, Moxley, Castagnoli
Suit: On March 11th, Okada and Tanahashi teamed up to beat the team of Shota Umino and Ren Narita. If Okada knew the headaches that match would go on to cause him, he would’ve gone fishing instead. Since the moment he lost the IWGP World Championship, Prick Okada – my frontrunner for gimmick of the year – has been dealing with these young hotshots trying to prove themselves against the top guy. Ren Narita wanted to get his win back, so he made a challenge for Okada to find two partners for a NEVER Six-Man Title challenge. Okada found his two partners and beat him. Then, a fired-up Shota Umino made a similar challenge, bringing along Jon Moxley. Okada told them both to go fuck themselves.
This is what’s great about trios titles, and trios wrestling in general. Okada feuding with Umino or Narita in a singles setting would have incredibly predictable outcomes, but in a six-man match with stakes, Umino or Narita can get a win over Okada. Plus, you get fun matchups like Moxley and Claudio against Ishii and Tanahashi to boot. This should be awesome, and I have a thought in my head of AEW running this match back at Forbidden Door. Since I think that would be fun, I’ll take the BCC. Prediction: BCC & Shooter
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (C) vs. Master Wato
J. Michael: As I noted in my Best of the Super Juniors Post-Script, Best of the Super Juniors 30 had two main objectives:
- Establish Master Wato as a top guy in the division, alongside the Hiromu-Despy-Ishimori-Eagles tetrarchy
- Reap as many future Hiromu title defenses as possible.
To address the latter: in the Sakura Genesis preview, I laid out why I believed that Hiromu’s babble about the title defense record was sincere, and the actual path ahead for the junior title in 2023. Two months and a couple of defenses later, I’m more convinced that Heat’s days in the record books are numbered. Hiromu will reach his 5th defense here, and he has Titan and Mike Bailey to look forward to, possibly on their turf? One way to rack up defenses is to send Hiromu globe-trotting while the juniors are in stasis, like during the G1 Climax.
To the former: Wato is fomenting a crowd connection that certainly puts him amongst the tops in the division. But, at the top are four guys who simply do not make mistakes (Despy, Ishimori, and Eagles… all nearly flawless technically), or whose blunders are part of his charm (Hiromu, who rarely makes actual blunders anyway). Wato still has trouble hitting everything cleanly. His lifting German is a beautiful move, the 60-70% of the time he holds the bridge.
But even that is easily overcome. One thing I noticed in a few of Wato’s matches in this year’s BOSJ30, and not coincidentally his best matches: a devilish, Cheshire Cat grin that Wato gets when he’s really comfortable with someone and knows he can let loose. I highly recommend checking out a bit of his match against High Voltage SHO during the 2020 BOSJ. Look at his facial expressions, his demeanor. That’s the Wato that will reach the upper plateau. He gains more losing a single match to Hiromu at Dominion, and then coming back at Wrestle Kingdom to finish the job. Or the story, as noted by the only company that does professional wrestling correctly. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
John: Everyone was so hard on poor Master Wato when he made his debut, apparently forgetting that Hirai Kawato had been a hell of a Young Lion. His CMLL excursion by all accounts was a complete disaster, and he did look awkward and tentative at times when he returned to New Japan. But in hindsight, everyone was way too hard on a guy who had to make his return from excursion in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic- NJPW itself has grabbed onto this as part of his narrative, using his debut to an empty Korakuen Hall in video packages to essentially say he had it quite rough. And it’s true! Having to adjust to clap crowds immediately, not having that feedback from the audience in any real form as you’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, was a completely unique challenge. You could see guys like Umino & Narita struggle with it too when they returned recently- they’ve both sort of turned the corner lately (especially Umino) but all three of them too often seemed a little lost out there when all they had to go off of was clapping. But as cheering slowly returned, Wato began to look more and more confident as he realized he had a real connection with the crowd. He’ll never be the crispest or most refined wrestler who ever lived, but he’s really started showing the babyface fire and amazing selling that made him a great Young Lion in the first place. He had a strong BOSJ run that ended with an absolutely incredible final against Titan, a match I went an honest to god five stars on. Yes, I gave five stars to a Master Wato match- and I wasn’t the only one. He’s come a long way from his awkward return from excursion, and he deserves to be in this semi-main spot in his hometown.
With all of that said, I still have his opponent winning here. As I said earlier, New Japan is far from predictable these days and it wouldn’t shock me if I get every single of these top four matches wrong, but gun to my head it just feels too soon for this Hiromu reign to end. This is probably going to end up being his signature junior title reign (after others were disrupted either by injury or pandemic) and I expect him to hold it all the way through to next year’s Wrestle Kingdom at the very least. Hiromu also did some jobs in the BOSJ that seem tailor made to set up future title challengers (Titan, Bailey, Lio), with at least a couple of them likely coming in the US this summer while the heavyweights are wrestling in the G1. So ultimately, I think he retains the junior title here. But with the whole “new generation” movement that’s been going on all year, it absolutely wouldn’t shock me if Wato just wins the belt either. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
Suit: After his Best of the Super Junior win, Master Wato rolls into his home prefecture to finish the story against Hiromu here. If you have been paying attention, Wato has been set up for a big push in the junior division throughout the year. He got a big spotlight in the Wrestle Kingdom Jr. Title match, taking both Desperado and Ishimori out before falling to Hiromu. He main evented the highly-anticipated All Star Jr Festival in a singles match and won. Winning Best of the Super Junior was second to last piece of the puzzle, and this will be the final step for him to take. Many people think Hiromu is going to win due to his goal of breaking the defense record, but the LIJ guys say a lot of things. Naito has wanted to main event every Tokyo Dome since like, 2012. Hiromu wants to hold both the Jr and Heavyweight Titles at the same time. These guys are dreamers, which is nice, but some dreams don’t come true. Sometimes, a blue-haired goof gets on a heater. Prediction: Master Wato
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match
SANADA (C) vs. Yota Tsuji
J. Michael: If you’re not paying attention to the backstage comments, you’d be unaware that SANADA is indeed speaking full sentences, and he’s a saucy motherfucker (in between Taichi’s babbling). For instance, this gem on May 26 after a Just 5 Guys vs. LIJ multi-man tag:
SANADA: I thought Tsuji might be joining LIJ, so I did a lot of prep for today. I actually heard that he had a title match in CMLL and lost.
Taichi: I heard that too. A guy like that isn’t ready to win this belt.
And there you have it: the entirety of the build for this match, post-Dontaku.
That comment was on May 26. They also ran a J5G vs. LIJ tag on the 28th at the BOSJ final. Tsuji was entirely absent. His last match in CMLL was on June 20 (his unsuccessful challenge for Gran Guerrero’s World Heavyweight Title was on the 14th). So, the question emerges: why hasn’t he been around? What are the holding back?
That’s what makes predicting this match with any assurance nearly impossible. Why now? Why him? Why at Dominion, the #2 show of the year? Are they just letting him rest? Are they trying to make his re-debut special, a singular moment enhanced by unfamiliarity? This is all really peculiar. It portends something unorthodox is about to happen.
And I would happily embrace the abnormality and brazenly predict a Tsuji win, that Tsuji will lead the company into one of its most hectic periods in recent memory, with All Together, and Forbidden Door, and the G1 Climax. But that would inherently mean embracing the idea that Tsuji is the guy, not only of this moment but of his generation. Only one gets to return with such gusto and cataclysmic panache. Am I willing to declare Tsuji that guy?
I would, if Yuya Uemura didn’t exist.
I feel like a distressed parent. I’m a bit… unnerved… by the crowd young Yuya-kun is associating with these days. His roommate seems like a nice guy; I hear he’s a waiter. But, regardless of how sucked into the Sunshine State, America’s Fucked Up Phallace, all signs point to Yuya being THE guy. Shibata predicted that Uemura was going to be a, “big, big deal.” In the dual-gauntlets that Tsuji and Uemura endured before their excursion, it was Uemura who faced the champion, Shingo Takagi. In the post-match, he grasped for the title. Both received one bonus match before leaving. Tsuji faced Tetsuya Naito. Uemura faced, ya know… Kazuchika Okada.
And you better believe Okada fucked with him as he drop-kicked the poor bastard off to America.
This isn’t meant to discount the possibility that Tsuji does win here and Uemura returns to challenge him, or something like that. But the only way to assess this match is by considering the consequences. A Tsuji win significantly diminishes Uemura’s return. And since I believe Uemura is the top of his generational pyramid, Tsuji can’t get to the top first. At least, not like this.
Let alone the idea of New Japan running with this Albrecht Durer looking motherfucker during these massive Spring/Summer shows. Yeah, Tsuji has bedroom eyes and all that, but look at SANADA. That’s who you want holding that belt on the world stage, even if it comes packaged with Kanemaru’s corrosive sneer. Prediction: SANADA
John: Honest to god, I cannot remember the last time I headed into a main event on a major show (of any promotion) with less of an idea of what is going to happen. I mean, I really have absolutely no fucking clue what is going on here. Having Yota Tsuji not show up even a single time in the pre-Dominion build and not even clarify if he’s actually in LIJ or not is one of the more perplexing decisions they’ve ever made. On one hand, it almost leads me to believe that he HAS to be winning the title here, because otherwise what was the point of keeping him out of action all this time before the big return? Would it not look kind of stupid if he comes out at Dominion in his second appearance, after all this mystery, and just……loses to SANADA?
On the other hand, SANADA as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion just looks and feels so right. I said it on Twitter weeks ago, but he’s the first person to really look good with that title belt, to the point where it already feels like “the SANADA title” to me (in the same way that the last IWGP Heavyweight design will obviously always feel like “the Okada title”). It feels like such a waste for his title reign to end already. So again, who wins this? I have no idea! There’s a strong argument to be made for both guys. Ultimately, I have to go with Tsuji here, because it just feels so strange to do all of this for him, keep him out of action for the entire month since Dontaku, and then not have him win the title. But I can’t stress enough that I’m completely guessing here, and I have no idea. Again, that’s a good feeling, and I can’t wait to watch Dominion and find out what happens for myself. Unless I die in surgery on Thursday. Which would be sad. Prediction: Yota Tsuji
Suit: Yota Tsuji is the latest in a decade-long line of big swings from the New Japan booking crew. From the Rainmaker Shock of 2012, to sticking with AJ Styles after his box office struggles in 2014, to pushing Jay White straight to the top of the promotion in 2018, Gedo has never been afraid to strap the rocket to the next big stars. This Tsuji push is particularly noteworthy because Dominion will be his first match back in New Japan as anything more than a black trunks Young Lion. Okada had the Wrestle Kingdom stinker against YOSHI-HASHI. Styles won the World Title in his first New Japan match, but he also had a decade plus of being a name-brand star in the US. White was heavily pushed from day one, but even he started at the Intercontinental/US Title level. This is the big boy belt. This is the real deal main event, where selling tickets and having world class matches is the expectation. Gedo’s got a great eye for talent, and a great track record when it comes to pushing said talent. It’ll be very interesting to see how the ticket-buying public takes to such an out-of-left field main event.
Speaking of big swings, Gedo took one earlier this year when he shook the mothballs off SANADA. Giving him a fresh coat of paint and a new unit, SANADA won the IWGP Title from Okada at Sakura Genesis, finally realizing the potential many gave up on him ever achieving. Most people saw this as a way to eventually get the title onto Naito at this show, as SANADA dumped LIJ on his journey to the top. Instead, Tsuji is the man who will look to bring the title to LIJ. That is, if he’s even in LIJ. While he raised a fist after his post-match attack at Wrestling Dontaku, the other members of LIJ have yet to acknowledge Tsuji as a member of the group. There’s a whole lot of intrigue going into this one, as the winner of this will go on to Forbidden Door and the G1 as World Champion. Knowing how Gedo likes to book. This monster will win the title here and get showcased throughout the summer’s big shows, solidifying his name as an important one worldwide. Put my name on it, this will be the Tsummer of Tsuji. Prediction: Yota Tsuji
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