Previously on NJPW: Hiromu won Best of the Super Juniors and our hearts, El Desperado vowed to show us how handsome Dragon Lee is, and Kenny and Kazu planned a tiebreaker.
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And now, the Best and Worst of Dominion 2018.
Worst: Nice To Meij You
Dominion opened with a video of new NJPW president Harold Meij naked in the shower. And also doing other things, like getting dressed and staring at the camera and walking slowly to guitar music and eating with chopsticks and drinking cola in the back of a car. Oh, and talks about his history working and living in Japan and being a big pro wrestling fan. But my main takeaway here is why did we see this regular businessman-type in the shower?
Anyway, Meij was the mastermind behind the popular L.I.J. teddybears, and his speech to the audience didn’t raise any red flags. My standards for corporate public speaking are super low right now due to E3, but I’m pretty sure this guy’s will hold up. Backstage, Meij seems to have a good grasp on NJPW’s wide variety of fans, and I’m definitely interested to what we get out of the plan to provide more English-language content.
Best: Here To Sho The World
Despite all Yoh and Sho’s progress as singles competitors during Best of the Super Juniors, El Desperado and Kanemaru open the show by beating them in under ten minutes. It doesn’t feel like a squash though, as Roppongi 3K anticipates their opponents’ pre-bell attack and hits them with a double tope con hilo. Sho, like during BOSJ, looks stronger and smarter throughout, with a great deadlift German suplex at one point and a clever dodge of the Suntory Surprise.
Still, our shiny babyfaces are not yet masters of Sneaky Style, and once again are defeated by being cheated. After the match, Yoh seems to have given up hope, but Rocky and Sho want to try again. Where does this team go from here? Where do Yoh and especially Sho go from here? Kizuna Road could give us the answers, or put them in a another filler match loop.
Best: Juice Is On The Loose
Don Callis opens the next match with the age-old question, “How can he be married and hang out with Juice Robinson?” I’m not sure, but I’m glad he does, because FinJuice is still a really fun tag team.
Everyone in this match except Yoshi Hashi, who confidence continues to be shot and Kevin Kelly says is “on the bubble for the G1,” looks well-rested and ready to rumble after five weeks off. They effectively further the storyline for Jay White vs. Juice Robinson at the G1 Special in San Francisco, with Jay attacking before the bell and Juice hamming it up/”involving the people.” Juice looks strong not only as an entertainer here but as a wrestler, and lands a nice double cannonball on White and Yoshi-Hashi by manuevering YH into the Tree of Woe position. It’s actually such a definitive win for Juice that it seems like something has to go wrong for him soon, especially after the lengthy posing with the championship belt.
Best: Meanwhile, In RevPro
Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano pit not only two of the toughest wrestlers in the business against each other, but also the ultimate galaxy brain wrestler vs. the man who “fights with [his] brain and an underlying hatred of the British conservative party.” So this is really a dream match on every level.
This match furthered feuds that will culminate at the RevPro/NJPW Strong Style Evolved UK show later this month. There are a lot of Suzukigun vs. Chaos matches on that card, and Suzuki and Ishii will try to forearm each other to death for the British Heavyweight Championship. But before then, Suzuki and Ishii have to be kept apart by the ref and ZSJ so the bell doesn’t ring on them choking each other. (Again, Suzuki, the Pitbull has no neck! You need a new strategy!)
Suzuki and ZSJ are a great tag team, and both hate Yano more than anything in the world except Young Lions and Morrissey[‘s political opinions] respectively. Yano is brutally tortured by Sabre Jr., who doesn’t even give enough ground for a low blow.
Suzukigun wins with submission holds on both opponents, and then the real best part of the match begins. Suzuki and Ishii just don’t care that it’s over, and have a chair-swordfight in the dang ring before fighting to the back. Suzuki can’t find Ishii in the back somehow, so of course he beats up a bunch of Young lions instead. Ishii says they better fight one-on-one before the G1 in case they’re not in the same block. SSE UK has been effectively sold to this New Japan viewer.
Worst: No Time For Sinister Laughing
The video clip above shows the most entertaining part of the Goto vs. Elgin vs. Taichi NEVER Openweight Championship match, which was not surprising because the Holy Emperor was also the best part of the build. Goto and Elgin tried to have a serious babyface warrior feud, but Taichi Gazorpazorpfielded himself into their title match. He and Miho Abe interject some fun heel shenanigans throughout, and earn some dueling “Let’s go Taichi”/”Go home, Taichi” chants.
However, though both are babyfaces are impressive athletes, they just aren’t an exciting mix. Elgin’s tope con hilo onto both his opponents and his powerbomb of Goto (who was setting up Taichi for a superplex, so they both get hurt) were cool moments, but I get not joy from watching him wrestle. Anyway, now he’s the NEVER champ and he and Goto will have a one-on-one rematch on Kizuna Road because RESPECT.
Worst: Crony Commentary
Best: The Possibility of Evil
Evil and Sanada vs. the Young Bucks for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship was a very good match hurt by overwhelmingly bad commentary.
Evil was the surprise star of this match, strategically pulling Nick out of the ring to break up an Indytaker, and instigating one of the coolest spots in the match: double powerbombing the Bucks while they set up Sanada for a double superplex, hurting everyone. Everyone came out of this match looking good, and I’m looking forward to seeing these teams go again in San Fran.
But the way Kevin Kelly and Don Callis framed this match did not work. Early on, Callis tells us that he is a credited producer on episodes of Being The Elite, then talks about how rich the Jacksons are. When L.I.J. is focusing on just beating up the Bucks (who are not brawlers, and whose big moves could be thwarted by them being injured), commentary frames this as “roughing up a coupe of pretty boys.” This is absolutely not how the Bucks are portrayed, and also they are in the ring with Sanada, a wrestler for whom handsomeness is a part of his character.
This situation gets even worse after the Bucks win the match, with the “Somehow, some way, they have done it!” “Under some of the most challenging circumstances you can imagine!” The Young Bucks were absolutely not underdogs in this match; they were fighting to become double tag champions after winning belts from their stablemates and then challenging for these during the same show. Matt Jackson hops on the commentary mic to say, “Everyone said we couldn’t do it, and here we are,” and for their incredible careers overall, this is true. But for anything in kayfabe recently? No. The same characters can’t purport to “rule the wrestling world” as part of an elite group and be underdogs.
At least Don Callis is All In now, and can keep making money with these guys! I bet that’ll actually be a really good part of All In, but after this match it felt like the cherry on top of this sundae of cronyism.
Best: International Dream Team Vs. American Nightmares
I was hesitant about this legends vs. jerks six man tag match on paper. It felt extremely ROH War of the Worlds tour to me, and in NJPW/ROH shows based in ROH the absence of weight classes makes everything feel non-canon and weird. But this match was really entertaining, and included so much still I’d like to see followed up on.
I fully marked out seeing my childhood wrestling hero Rey Mysterio in my favorite promotion, and he looks like he’s still in great shape. The sharp contrast of Cody’s theme and American flag-heavy, extremely Foreign Heel entrance after the parade of international legends was extremely effective. This and the Team Cody entrance from Dontaku shows how Bullet Club ROH is now full disgusto. They have perfected the vibe of the guys who, when you’re out bar hopping with your friends (at least for a group of all female friends), prompt you to hop to the next bar after spending like two minutes in the same establishment as them. The backstage promo drives this home even more.
Cody vs. Tanahashi, Page vs. Tanahashi, and Scurll vs. Liger all looked like cool potential feuds from this match. I’m not sure where things go besides another legends tag for Rey Mysterio from here, but that double 619 on Scurll and Page was rad, and he got to be the hero and save Liger from Cody’s post-match beatdown.
Best: The Two Best Friends That Anyone Could Have
In case anyone didn’t believe that Hiromu Takahashi is a bonafide superstar yet, this match proved it. He wins the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Will Ospreay, who does not give it up easily.
Before I talk about our new champ, I’ll do some Ospreay appreciation. He very naturally plays the heel here, as hinted from his promos at the end of BOSJ. Normally his arrogance is played as cockiness and cheekiness, but he’s the Sky King here and there’s no way he’s dropping his title to this loser. Ospreay has been a babyface fighting champion, but in this match he works so that crowd get even more invested in what will be Hiromu’s heroic victory. Also, he call him a c*nt.
Ospreay performs some amazing athletic feats too. The spring to a flip dive off the ramp, and then holy carp that sequence where he powers Hiromu off the apron into a superplex and hits him with two increasingly impressive shooting star presses. Dear Will Ospreay, please, please chill during the G1. You deserve it and your body probably needs it!
Hiromu also wrestles a great match after getting his ass kicked for a while. The John Woo dropkick into the barricade speeds the match up. Later he smoothly grabs Ospreay out of an Oscutter into a German suplex, but is too hurt to capitalize. I think my favorite move of his this match was that sunset flip powerbomb/Code Red out of the Stormbreaker.
Hiromu finally pins Ospreay after a Time Bomb set up with one of those butterfly piledrivers that have been working so well as a pre-finisher for him lately. It takes him a second to believe he really did it, and his face journey took me on an emotional journey.
And then, AND THEN, he is REUNITED WITH MR. BELT after SO LONG and no human being has ever been this happy about anything ever!
Hiromu has two best friends now and he holds them both and yells at the sky and laughs like a maniac. And there are so many good title feuds that can happen now!
The first will be with El Desperado during Kizuna Road. Desperado shows up backstage to be like, “This is one of your rivalries where we’re toxically in love with each other, right?” and Hiromu immediately challenger-zones him and then presses their faces really close together and it’s so good. NJPW is truly the one stop shop for theatrical violence and romance right now.
Best: Welcome To Jericho’s Twisted Mind
Before this match, I would not have associated Chris Jericho’s unique combination of insane (clown? posse?) makeup, a fedora, and leather jacket with… corset lacing??? on the back with nutso ultraviolence, but I definitely will from now. The corporate shackles are off Jericho, so he’s out here buying out Hot Topic and DDTing people on their heads on tables and becoming the IWGP Intercontinental Champion!
The first part of this match isn’t even officially part of the match, because Jericho attacks Tetsuya Naito during his entrance and just beats the living tranquilo out of him. He powerbombs Naito through the table while the L.I.J. leader is still in full suite and cape! He throws a commentary mic at Kevin Kelly! And all while wearing such ridiculously tight pleather pants! Naito gets about three strikes in in the first ten minutes of the match
Naito finally starts to put the hurt on Jericho, but only once he himself is so hurt that everything is very hard for him. But after he hit the neckbreaker on the floor and started to strip, it finally felt like our Naito was back. He fully DGAF while choking Jericho with his pants and getting some boos for it, the opposite attitude that lost him the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event.
The crowd is fully back on Naito’s side when he grabs a chunk of destroyed table and just nails Jericho in the head with it. The subsequent piledriver onto the same table Jericho used earlier is probably Naito’s best moment of actual wrestling the whole match. But back in the ring, by the time Naito hits his first Destino, he’s so exhausted he can’t capitalize until Jericho is close to the ropes. Jericho is exhausted too, but cheats by pushing the ref to block another Destino and low blowing Naito before hitting a Codebreaker for the win.
Jericho whips Naito with his belt (his regular belt) after the match, and Evil’s momentum from the tag match earlier in the night pays off. While the rest of L.I.J. is presumably looking after the concussed as heck Hiromu, Evil saves their leader and gets in a brief fight with Jericho. He looks like a badass and a hero, and I have to presume Jericho’s first challenger for whenever he’s back in NJPW.
As for Tetsuya Naito, things are looking worse for New Japan’s biggest hero than they have since after WK12. But now he’s in the very special position where he could win the G1 two years in a row and somehow be a believable underdog both times. This is skipping ahead a little bit, but I could see Naito winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Kenny Omega. They already started setting this up by Omega mocking his catchphrase/lifestyle (to gasps from the crowd), and putting everything fans like about him down again in that very colonial-if-not-racist-sounding promo at the post-Dominion press conference. That sounds like a potential Wrestle Kingdom 13 main event to me.
Best: The Tiebreaker
After a rivalry spanning over a year, three of the most acclaimed pro wrestling matches ever, and an epic, hour plus, two out of three falls match, Kenny Omega defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. These two wrestlers are unquestionably some of the best in the world, and some of the few who can perform at such a high level technically and keep people extremely engaged for over an hour.
Okada goes into this match having accomplished everything a champion could possibly want, and Omega goes into it having lost everything. Having lost everything he originally abandoned all his values for, even. But the one thing he does have, besides incredible wrestling ability, is true love with Kota Ibushi, who supports him from ringside, something different from all his previous bouts with Okada.
The winner of this match has to defeat their opponent twice in one match, which neither has been able to do so far over the space of three matches. We can see both men trying to out-strategize as well as outwrestle each other from the beginning. They both have all of each other’s moves scouted by now, as we see from all the countered and dodged One Winged Angels, Rainmakers, and tombstone piledrivers.
Kenny dominates most of the match before the first fall, seemingly thinking that if he does enough damage to Okada early, then his superior stamina will carry him through whatever the champion dishes out. Okada (the character) looks so bad that I found myself 100% on board with Gedo’s “Come on, Rainmaker!” chants. But then, after both men are denying and landing moves in equal measure, Okada lands a hit that plagues Omega for the rest of the match by dropkicking him into the barricade; RIP to Kenny’s ribs.
After Omega snap Germans Okada out of the Rainmaker pose (I laughed), it’s a sprint to the first fall. You get desensitized to kickouts pretty quickly as a wrestling fan, but I went from engaged to tense at those very close Okada kickouts. The 719 day champ finally lands the first fall after almost thirty minutes and a weird leg-trap pin. Now Kenny has to pin Okada twice in a row when he’s only pinned him once before in his entire career.
During the two minute break before the match restarts, Omega strategizes with his boyfriend who spent the previously night getting absolutely hammered and shooting fireworks directly into his own mouth. Omega goes back into the match extra aggressive, and Okada confident. The introduction of the table raises the stakes in a new way for this section of the match, and one of its most intense sequences is Kenny urging people to MOVE because he’s going to German suplex Okada through the table, but Okada just HANGS ON to the rope through several attempts. After some close calls, Omega scores a definitive pin after a One Winged Angel, the most protected move in pro wrestling. So now Okada has to fight on after being hit with a one hit kill.
Okada is repeatedly too exhausted to capitalize or make clever decisions during this third act. He keeps trying tombstones that don’t work, having Rainmakers dodged, and escapes a One Winged Angel by the grace of his opponent collapsing. Only that beautiful standing dropkick never abandons him. It’s not the actual end of the match, but I think the symbolic end of Okada’s championship reign was when he collapsed while throwing a Rainmaker, so the devastating move that shares his name hit and did nothing.
Meanwhile, Omega hasn’t taken quite enough damage to lose his creativity. He hits Okada with the Styles Clash (the rarely used move in his arsenal prompts an “AJ Styles” chant from the crowd), tries and misses a Phoenix Splash (Ibushi’s finisher), and busts out a headbutt at one point. His presence of mind leads him to impressively counter a Rainmaker into a OWA, then follow up with a second to win. And then he’s the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
After the match, an exhausted Kenny reunites with his best friends the Young Bucks before taking the belt that represents the culmination of his ten year career in Japan. Ibushi (“a handsome, wonderful athlete,” aww) fastens the belt around his waist, and finally, finally Kenny Omega gets a shining moment of happiness and accomplishment and he did it the right way. Backstage, he says he is no longer fueled by hate, and now the Golden Lovers and the Elite have fused to form the Golden Elite, and all four men are stronger than ever going into a new era.
What’s next for our champion? Well, we’re finally getting probably the definite Kenny vs. Cody match at the Cow Palace, it sure looked like Ibushi was eyeing the belt, and Omega lost the crowd’s support for the split second he scorned NJPW’s hero of the people. Plus, he’s speaking a lot of English, though the moment that solidified his face turn was him promising never to speak English to the Japanese fans again. (I know it made sense for him to speak English for international fans for a sec, but language choice is a big deal in NJPW: Kenny refusing to speak Japanese anymore was a huge part of his heel turn, and that fact that he’s bilingual a part of why he, as a heel, believed he should be the chosen one to carry NJPW into the future (see: the WK11 main event promo video.)) And how long can the forces of true love and t-shirt hucksterism really coexist, anyhow?
Speculation aside, Dominion was an amazingly good show with a variety of great matches. We have less than a week now until the G1 participants are announced, and a few weeks until things get super high stakes again. What do you think about what’s going on in NJPW? Sound off in the comments! I’ll see you back here some for the rundown on the Kizuna Road tour, and you’ll be able to get updates leading up to the G1 on With Spandex.