June 19th, 16:00 from Osaka-Jo Hall, Osaka
Today’s show is a stacked card, with all but one of NJPW’s titles being defended. Naito vs. Okada for the IWGP title headlines, while Ospreay will once again try and claim KUSHIDA’s Junior title, Nagata and Shibata face-off for the NEVER belt, and Elgin and Omega fight for the Intercontinental title in New Japan’s first-ever ladder match. Let’s get to it.
Here we go…
The following match took place before the show started:
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Satoshi Kojima vs. David Finlay, Jay White & Juice Robinson
It was Jay White’s final appearance before his excursion to the USA. He’s grown considerably as a performer over the past year and I feel he’ll be a star in the not-to-distant future.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Captain New Japan, Togi Makabe & Yoshi Tatsu
The debutant Adam “Hangman” Page got the shine in this one, hitting a shooting star press from the apron, a slingshot lariat and pinning Captain with the Rite of Passage (kneeling belly-to-back piledriver) – a move which looks like it has very little margin for error. In case you were wondering, the Hangman part of the gimmick comes in the form a noose that he carries with him and uses to “hang” opponents over the top-rope. This was otherwise fine. Like I said, more an exhibition for Page than anything else. **
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI & SANADA)
Poor Yoshi-Hashi has been LIJ’s whipping boy over the past few months, with Sanada in particular giving him a hard time. Well, today Yoshi-Hashi got vengeance! At the end of this heated match, he put Sanada in a shoulderlock, and as Ishii took care of Bushi with a rear naked choke, Sanada tapped! New Japan excels at threading stories through its multi-man tag matches, and for regular viewers matches like this one make for a rewarding watch. ***1/4
EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto
Two for two for CHAOS, as Goto put Evil away with the Ushigoroshi and GTR after nailing a couple of vicious headbutts. They brawled on the outside from the off, which has been the running theme throughout the CHAOS/LIJ feud, before settling into a stiff back-and-forth between the ropes. This was on-par with their previous effort, and although I’m sure they could deliver more with some additional time, it was a good, hard hitting match for the spot. ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Elimination Match
Matt Sydal and Ricochet (c) vs. reDRagon vs. Roppongi Vice vs. The Young Bucks
Aside from the Bucks, who were forced to withdraw through injury, each of these competitors was part of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, and it was during the final show that this match was set. The elimination rules were pin, submission or over the top-rope.
Given the talent involved, this was a little disappointing. It felt like the eliminations harmed the flow, since these guys can work a multi-team match in this style with their eyes closed (that might not be a good thing, mind). They went 17 minutes, a decent portion of which was the mini-match at the end between the final two teams: Sydal & Ricochet and The Young Bucks. Sydal was isolated after Ricochet ate superkicks coming off the top, and after being punished with a series of double teams was pinned after the Bucks hit the Meltzer Driver. Just another multi-man Junior tag match in a division that badly needs a shake up. ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs Will Ospreay
These two had an excellent match at Invasion Attack in which Ospreay was defeated on his debut. Since then, Kushida, who has held the belt since January 4th, has defended against Jushin Liger, while Ospreay earned this rematch by winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament a few weeks ago, besting Ryusuke Taguchi in the final.
Despite Ospreay’s best efforts, Kushida found a way to go after the arm, forcing his opponent to once again use the no-hands handspring kick to start a comeback. The Cheerio springboard forearm hit the mark, followed by the corkscrew Sasuke Special to the outside, and back in, the standing corkscrew moonsault for two. Kushida blocked the Cheeky Nandos kick and went straight back to the arm. After a stiff exchange of strikes, a handspring kick sent Ospreay to the outside and Kushida followed with a flipping senton from the top. In the ring, Kushida hit the knees on a moonsault, and Ospreay fired away with kicks, leading – eventually – to crazy sequence of counters into sunset flip bomb from Kushida. As things escalated, there were a couple of awkward moments when counters didn’t come off clean, and Ospreay nearly dropped Kushida before hitting the inverted lungblower. He connected with the Red Arrow for two, then nailed the jumping corkscrew roundhouse, but the OsCutter was countered into the Hoverboard Lock, and Ospreay was forced to tap. I liked the story that both men had learned from their previous match and all the nice callbacks that led to, but this was not quite the instant classic of their first encounter. Still very good, particularly the early portion of the match, but for once they didn’t stick the landing. ****
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerillas of Destiny (c) vs. The Briscoe Brothers
Champions Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa missed the last tour entirely, while the Briscoes made a couple of appearances at the beginning of the year but haven’t been seen since. They get a shot at the title because… reasons.
For reference, the Guerrillas were wearing red camouflage combats, Briscoes were wearing green. A good weekend for the Army Surplus store in Osaka. Anyway, the match. The main thing the Briscoes brought was pace, which considering Loa’s propensity for slowing matches to a death march, was very welcome. Credit to the Guerrillas who looked a good bit more aggressive than their first couple of outings as a team, and they hit some nice double team moves, including a Doomsday Device-like Blockbuster. In the end, Jay hit a Jay Driller for two, then the Briscoes hit the actual Doomsday Device for the win and the titles. They tried, but the crowd just did not care. **1/2
Post-match, Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page attacked the Briscoes. So, yeah, feel free to keep ignoring the heavyweight tag division.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Yuji Nagata (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Nagata won the belt from Shibata at Wrestling Dontaku last month. Having beaten Tenzan and Kojima, Shibata’s loss to the last member of the 3rd Generation Old Bastard’s Club was something of a surprise and he’s been in a foul mood ever since.
They played nice for a moment, but Shibata threw elbows at the first opportunity and Nagata responded by kicking him square in the face. Shibata grabbed a short-arm scissors and tried to transition to an armbar, but Nagata made the ropes. Shibata cinched in Nagata’s own Shirome armbar (to the “Oohs” of the crowd), then continued to disrespect his elder with elbows and kicks. A knee lift stemmed the tide and Nagata did not spare the rod in kicking Shibata. ‘Please sir, I want some more’ said Shibata, who got more, before responding with hard elbows in the corner, a corner dropkick and a half-hatch suplex for two. Elbow battle (brutal), followed by a tit-for-tat sequence of suplexes that had both men down. Shibata started kicking the life out of Nagata’s left arm, before applying the Cobra Twist into a Sleeper. Shibata with a Nagata-like Backdrop Hold, but the Penalty Kick missed and Nagata locked in the Shirome armbar! Shibata just made the ropes, but Nagata absolutely laid into him with knees in the corner. Justice Knee and a spiked Backdrop for a near-fall. Nagata with a brainbuster and the Penalty Kick! He lifted Shibata, who appeared out of it, and smacked him around, but Shibata grabbed the Sleeper. Nagata tried to roll-through, but Shibata held on and nailed the Penalty Kick for the three count to reclaim the NEVER title. Great match. ****1/4
Post-match, Shibata bowed to Nagata, and the 3rd Generation guys (Tenzan, Kojima and Nakanishi) applauded the new champion. The commentator was in tears – a great moment.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Michael Elgin
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Hiroshi Tanahashi was due to compete in this match, but a serious shoulder injury has kept him from the ring. Elgin came up short in a title match against Omega on April 27th and now he has another opportunity for the belt in New Japan’s first ever ladder match. It’s worth mentioning the pre-match video explaining the rules, because it was hilarious.
The Bucks were conspicuous by their absence at the start of the match, so Red Shoes Unno checked under the apron, found them there, and sent them to the back. Elgin got the better of the early going, but as he was bringing a ladder in, Omega flew onto him. A tope con hilo followed, then Omega called for Takahashi and Page to help him. Elgin survived the assault to knock each of them down with Terry Funk helicopter spot. He thrice whipped Omega hard into the ladder, then laid him on ladder for a slingshot splash but Omega moved. Elgin curtailed Omega’s advantage to hit a senton atomic onto the Bullet Club, but after setting up a smaller ladder in the ring, was caught with a springboard sunset flip bomb and whipped face-first into the end of a ladder. Omega set up a ladder from the apron to the barrier, but was hoisted by his own petard and suplexed across it. Omega was then caught off an Asai Moonsault and lawndarted into a standing ladder.
Back in the ring, Omega was backdropped into a ladder that was leaning on the top-rope, breaking it in the process! Elgin set up a couple of garbage cans, laid the smaller ladder across them, then looked to superplex Omega through them. Instead, it was blocked, and Omega deadlift Doctor-bombed Elgin through the ladder! A battle of strikes ensued, won by Elgin who made the smart to decision to use the ladder instead of his fists, but the buckle bomb was countered to an inverted hurricanrana and Omega hit the Sling Blade much to the crowd’s annoyance. Elgin responded to this by connecting with a huge superplex off the ladder – poor Kenny! Both men climbed the ladder and fought at the top, then both lost their balance and fell to the mat. Elgin was backdropped onto the apron, and Omega set up a couple of tables and laid Elgin on top. Omega went to jump from a ladder, but this was blocked, and Elgin pulled him down through tables (which did not break). As Elgin went to climb the ladder, the Bucks attacked with cold spray and handcuffed him to the turnbuckle. Captain New Japan, Yoshi Tatsu, Matt Sydal and Ricochet all came out to help, but Kenny and the Bucks fought them off. As Omega was about to reach the belt, Elgin broke the handcuffs and pushed Omega off the top of the ladder into the mass of wrestlers on the floor below! (Big Mike killed Kenny, the bastard!) Elgin climbed the ladder, grabbed the belt, and is your NEW Intercontinental Champion at 34 minutes. That is how to overbook a match – crazy bananas. A little long, perhaps, and you wouldn’t have missed two or three of the big spots, but a sterling effort by both men. ****1/4
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
Naito and Okada’s respective stables (Los Ingobernables de Japón and CHAOS) have been at war for several months – a conflict that has not been subdued by Naito’s possession of the heavyweight title which he claimed from Okada at Invasion Attack. Okada feels that Naito has disrespected the IWGP title (he has a point), while Naito feels NJPW’s owner Takaaki Kidani shouldn’t have gone public about Okada being the Chosen One (he has a point). Add to that the significance of Osaka-Jo Hall, where a babyface Naito was booed from the building two years ago, and we have a fight on out hands.
Kidani is at ringside (sat next to MMA fighter Shinya Aoki) and Naito shook his hand on the way to the ring. Hmm. Huge boos for Naito during the introductions. Okada convinces Naito to send his finely-dressed LIJ cohorts to the back and we’re off…
After an even few minutes, Naito looked to be bailing on the match. Okada followed him, but Naito slammed him on the ramp, and followed with a huge running dropkick. From there, Naito took control in deliberate fashion, milking the crowd’s disdain. Upping the pace, he connected with a hiptoss, over-the-knee neckbreaker and seated dropkick for two. Okada earned some space with elbow strikes and a swinging neckbreaker, then a big boot knocked Naito onto his head and sent him to the outside. Up on the ramp, Naito spat at the crowd, then Okada came flying outta nowhere with a jumping dropkick of his own. Red Shoes was lenient with the count, and Okada dragged Naito back to the ring, where the latter connected with another neckbreaker, then a rope-hung neckbreaker and diving dropkick for two. Huge flapjack from Okada, followed by the DDT and jumping forearm for two. He locked in Red Ink (cross-legged STF), but Naito eventually made the ropes. The diving elbow hit the mark, but the Rainmaker was blocked and Okada was dumped with an Uranage. Outside-in slingshot dropkick, and Naito – after a couple of counters – grabbed the Pluma Blanca. Okada desperately clung on and just made the ropes.
Super frankensteiner from Naito, then a sequence of counters and blocked moves led to Okada hitting the reverse neckbreaker to put both men down. They fought up from the knees with elbows, with Naito getting the better of the exchange, but Okada came back with a series of seated dropkicks for a two-count. Jumping forearm from Naito, Destino blocked, The Dropkick from Okada! Naito blocked the tombstone, part-catching Destino out of it. The actual Destino was countered to a tombstone and then the Rainmaker connected for… two! Wow. German suplex from Okada, but the Rainmaker was countered to a roll-up from Naito for a near-fall. Rainmaker from Okada! And again! And once more! One, two, three. Okada is your NEW IWGP Heavyweight Champion at 29 minutes. They started slow, built steadily and peaked at just the right time. Great match. ****1/4
Okada gave a passionate post-match promo and the confetti fell to close the show.
Final thoughts: Hell of a show. I was disappointed to see Naito and Omega lose their belts, but I’m intrigued to see where both go from here. Los Ingobernables de Japón were comprehensively beaten by CHAOS tonight and it’s difficult to see how they’ll come back from this – might they go all in to help their leader win the G1 Climax? Elsewhere, the titles changed hands in all but one of the matches and there were four matches at ****+. The standard of New Japan’s big shows this year has been excellent and Dominion continued the trend.
The G1 Climax participants will be announced on June 27th and the tournament starts on July 18th. See you then.