Spit in my eye and call me Shirley because New Japan Pro Wrestling has done it again. This was one hell of an event, and I’d go as far as saying Dominion might be the best show I’ve seen from them yet. If you like wrestling and aren’t watching NJPW right now, you are doing it wrong. It’s like loving rock music but only listening to Shinedown. Sure, it has guitars, but you’re just punishing yourself. With that in mind, here are ten things we picked up on at Dominion.
English Commentary Is Heading In The Right Direction
In the past, the team of Kevin Kelly and Don Callis has left us a bit cold. They didn’t seem to gel, and there was a spark missing in comparison to Kelly’s previous partnership with Steve Corino. However, with every show they work together they improve, and this was their best yet. I could use a little less talk of ‘kayfabe’ and ‘getting over’ but their work during the main event was exquisite, and they sold the war that Okada and Omega went through. If Kelly and Callis keep improving, then there will be no complaints with them continuing in that spot (although we’ll take Mauro Ranallo as well).
Young Lion Power
New Japan has put together a tasty little pride of Young Lions, all of whom are building their spot on the card. There’s Hirai Kawato with his beautiful dropkick and fiery energy, the beast that is Katsuya Kitamura and the slightly unusual charisma of the surprisingly young Tomoyuki Oka. And they’re just the obvious highlights. The odds of all of these guys going onto big things are small but their opening matches are quickly becoming a highlight of New Japan’s shows, and that alone is an achievement.
Six-Man Titles Miracle!
In a move that will shock the ages, Los Ingobernables De Japon defended the Never Openweight Six-Man Titles. It was a feat that they said couldn’t be done, yet those brave men, Bushi, Sanada and EVIL, pulled it off. God bless them. Alright, enough of that, the Six-Man Titles mean nothing at the moment, but still, this made a change from the usual flip flopping. It’s going to take a hell of a lot more defences to make the titles worth something, and I’m sure they’ll lose them at the next possible opportunity, but in the here and now, this was a start.
Tag Divisions Impress
Both the Heavyweight Tag match and the Junior Tag match were a hell of a lot of fun. The Young Bucks and Roppongi Vice have brilliant chemistry and crafted a convincing story with the Bucks taking out Romero and isolating Baretta in the ring. Matt and Nick get a hell of a lot of shit, but I’ve never watched a match of theirs that I haven’t enjoyed so quite frankly those people can fuck off. Elsewhere, War Machine carried GoD to the best match that I’ve seen from them. Hanson and Rowe have made that division interesting again, and they are a perfect fit for NJPW, so it’s sad to see them lose the belts. Fingers crossed it doesn’t see them disappear from the company.
Cody… Not Quite So Much
To give Cody his credit, his fight with Michael Elgin was his best match yet in New Japan. However, it still failed to register on the excitement log. His over the top heelish antics feel out of place, and he’s yet to show that he can keep up with NJPW’s best in the ring. Elgin is one of wrestling’s great workers, but it felt like Cody was dragging him down more than he was dragging Cody up. I hope (particularly in light of what is coming next, more on which later) that Cody can find his spark in Japan because I like the man behind the gimmick, he seems a good dude, but so far, we haven’t seen it in the ring.
KUSHIDA and Takahashi Out Stiff Suzuki and Goto
If you’d done a survey of New Japan fans pre-show about what was likely to be the stiffest encounter on the show, I’m pretty sure 100% would have come back saying Suzuki vs. Goto. Well, KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi had something to say about that. Those two men went out there and tried to kill each other. It was a gloriously hard-hitting battle which showed KUSHIDA’s desperation to get one over his mortal enemy. Meanwhile, Goto and Suzuki put on a classic Suzuki-gun match just with a few CHAOS people around as well. I loved the idea of their feud but it ultimately failed to blossom, and hopefully, YOSHI-HASHI will have a better run with the living embodiment of rage Suzuki.
If you didn’t figure it out above, KUSHIDA and Takahashi had a brutal and brilliant match. On any other card, it would have been the show stealer. Christ, in any other year it could have been a match of the year contender. It also allowed KUSHIDA to come full circle. While I agree with those that say it has come around too fast, it has still been a lovingly told story as he’s reached down inside and brought out an aggression that was at times shocking. I could watch these two fight forever, and when round four comes around, it will be one hell of a brawl.
Tanahashi The King
How the hell did Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestle this match? The man had every right to be at home with his feet up, resting that arm and instead he was out putting on another clinic with Naito. These two had a back and forth contest where Naito did everything in his power to dissect that arm and Tanahashi fought through it all. While I don’t think it was quite on the same level as their Wrestle Kingdom match, it was still one hell of a fight. It’s easy to expect outstanding wrestling from these two and be unsurprised when they deliver it, but to do it when Tanahashi was carrying that injury? That’s incredible.
God Bless Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada
Holy shit. Excuse me, because I’m about to start gushing. For one hour, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada went at each other like men possessed and it was unbelievable. This is why we love professional wrestling. For its ability to tell a story in a way nothing else can. We have the arrogant champion who is beginning to crack but will do everything in his power to hold onto his belt. Before him is the desperate challenger, a man who with something to prove to the world. Wrap that story up in feats of jaw-dropping athleticism and mother of God just give them all the stars. Okada is having a year comparable to Flair in 1989, and every time he’s put in this position he pushes himself to another level. No one in the world can touch him right now. Except, of course, Kenny Omega who might not do it every week but when it comes to the big matches is the best there is. If you like wrestling, then you need to see this match. In fact, scrap that, if you like life, you need to see this match.
But What Next?
What a show. The only card that compares this year is Wrestle Kingdom (possibly because it was nearly identical) and I think that this might have been better; although it’s worth nothing I haven’t watched any of the Wrestle Kingdom matches in a while, and I saw this yesterday. However, I’m worried about what it set up. At Long Beach, it looks like we are getting Cody Rhodes vs. Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Billy Gunn… It feels like New Japan think they need to change to enter America and in reality, they need to do the opposite. Give the American crowd Japanese wrestling, not American wrestling with a Japanese twist. Maybe Gunn and Rhodes will prove me wrong (and damn, you couldn’t hand them better dance partners) but of all the options available to New Japan, these might be the least inspiring.