Title changes were all the rage – along with uncomfortable landings – as New Japan hit a proverbial home run at Osaka-Jo Hall.
A year ago, we had the best of three-falls match where Kenny Omega finally unseated Kazuchika Okada as IWGP champion. This time around, we’ve got a really good-looking line-up from top to bottom, and we’ve got the A line-up of Kevin Kelly, Don Callis and Chris Charlton on commentary. Can we just call him Cyrus Callis to keep the alliteration up?
Shota Umino vs. Jon Moxley
Moxley’s sticking around after he won the US Championship on Wednesday, and I’ll be damned if his “through the crowd” Shield-like entrance makes him stick out like a star.
Umino leapt onto Moxley before the bell, sensing that a jump start may be his only chance… but that hope was quickly snuffed out as Shota was quickly on the defensive. A Regal Stretch (or is it a Sugar-Free Hold?) eventually has Shota dragging himself to the ropes… where Moxley threw in a few cheapshots before the break. Nice touches. A dropkick and a German suplex gets Shota a near-fall, but an X-Plex nearly puts him away, before the Death Rider double-arm DDT did it. Exactly the kind of squash you expected, and this was glorious. I feel like Jon Moxley’s done a lot in these opening two matches in New Japan to shed the proverbial shackles of his past. Is he a “perfect fit” for New Japan? No, but that’s what makes this great. ***
Post-match, Moxley announced that he wanted to be a part of the G1. That’s going to be a big test… and one he perhaps helped himself with as he carried Umino to the back. Start your “master/student” relationship speculation now!
Shingo Takagi vs. Satoshi Kojima
Shingo’s looking to rebuild a winning run after he lost the BOSJ finals to Will Ospreay during the week. So why not start against one of the New Japan Dads who has his own killer lariat?
Shingo – technically the junior – chops Kojima in the ropes, and yeah, he doesn’t like that. Problem was, Shingo was more than matching him, especially as they traded forearms on the outside as they got so wrapped up and nearly fell to a double count-out. Back inside, a missed charge opens up for some machine gun chops from Kojima, who ends up taking an apron death valley driver. Oof. Kojima’s having to be wily as he sweeps the leg and DDTs Shingo on the apron. Shingo lands the first lariat of sorts, and with Kojima looking woozy, Shingo looks for the finish. Noshigami’s blocked since Kojima’s a heavyweight, before Kojima swats away a Pumping Bomber. The Cozy lariat is also avoided, but Kojima’s brainbuster gets a two-count.
Pumping Bombers barely faze Kojima, then only get him a one-count as we’re seeing the step up that comes with the move to heavyweight. The Made In Japan pumphandle driver nearly does it for Shingo, before the Pumping Bomber puts Kojima down, before Last of the Dragon got the win. This was exactly what it needed to be: Shingo picking up a win, with a comfortable, not blowaway win over a heavyweight, as Shingo is having to find his feet at this level. ***½
We get a post-match promo as Shingo all but declares his desire to only fight heavyweights now and says he wants in the G1 Climax. Ooh!
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & YOSHI-HASHI
We continue the hype train to the eventual Suzuki/Liger match here, and yeah, we’ve a jump start as the match begins with a brawl.
A big part of me is hoping that whatever Sabre/YOSHI-HASHI singles match is kept off of the London show, but all thought of that’s quelled while Suzuki buried Liger under guard railings. A clunking elbow decks YOSHI-HASHI, who’s getting stretched and beaten here, to the point where Liger came in and got in YOSHI-HASHI’s face for sucking so much here. YOSHI-HASHI’s desperation chop just annoyed Suzuki more than anything, but it gets him free as Liger tagged in. They both have their shots at each other, but a brainbuster from Liger led to both men tagging out again. This time around, YOSHI-HASHI seemed more motivated, and was more productive against Sabre, as he survived a series of submissions and snatched with a shock roll-up as YOSHI-HASHI got the win out of nothing. OH NO. OH NO. ***¼
Bullet Club (Jay White, Taiji Ishimori & Chase Owens) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi
Juice was limping a little here, but he’s letting out his anger on Owens in the opening stages.
Taguchi’s in and immediately mocks Ishimori’s Sailor Boys stuff from earlier in the year. He’s quickly kicked, but hip attacks follow, which led to the obvious whiff as Taguchi’s on the defensive. White takes care of Taguchi outside, charging him between guard rails and ring apron before getting a two-count as there’s, pardon the pun, very little obvious juice in this match. Tanahashi manages to come in as commentary had spent the opening stages of the match questioning if he’s finally realised “he’s old”. Not in those words, obviously. Triple-teaming weakens the former Ace, who finally lands a Slingblade, albeit at the expense of his own arm. Taguchi continues to whiff on hip attacks as his team looked to make the save, before Chase Owens’ Jewel Heist lariat almost led to a package piledriver on Tanahashi.
A Parade of Moves breaks out before an awkward sleeperhold into an ugly-ish reverse DDT gets Tanahashi the win. Yeah, this is either the usual “I’m injured going into the G1” or Tanahashi really did come back way too soon here. **¾
NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi (c)
Apparently it was Taichi issued this challenge, and not the other way around, which could well bite him in the rear.
Taichi, whose hair looks like someone spraypainted him from behind, slides outside at the bell to do his usual “get in Ishii’s’ head” trick. Ishii lays down and invited Taichi to stomp on him. It happened, but Ishii isn’t fazed, as a kick/chop battle broke out… leading to Taichi just booting Ishii into the corner. It’s methodical stuff from Taichi, but there’s not much messing around, which is appreciated here. The trousers get whipped off as Taichi eventually took Ishii down with a barrage of kicks, following up with an Axe bomber to the back of the head and an enziguiri. Chris Charlton wails when Ishii’s dropped on his head with a Saito suplex, but Ishii has a response… and I buffer. Yay.
When we’re back, the ref’s down as Taichi’d apparently used him as a human shield, but clotheslines from Ishii led to a near-fall. Taichi’s back to nearly steal it with a Gedo clutch, before another Axe Bomber dropped Ishii, ahead of the Stretch Plum, which led to the ref lifting and dropping the arm seemingly a dozen times.
There’s no stoppage though, and Ishii’s able to rebound… into a head kick as Taichi almost put him away with a Last Ride. More missed kicks led to an enziguiri from Ishii, then some quick-fire elbows and a lariat for a near-fall for the challenger. Elbows from Taichi just earn him a powerbomb and a sliding lariat, before a sheer drop brainbuster gives Ishii the gold. Well, if Taichi can be this focused all the time (or even more than these big matches), he’d be a LOT more palatable. Big Tom’s back as champion, and given how much this title changes hands, I wouldn’t get too comfortable seeing him with the hardware. ****
They’re doing a New Beginning show in Osaka-Jo Hall next year. Dominion will be June 14 next year, with New Beginning on February 9.
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
For the uninitiated, the big knock on New Japan’s tag divisions is that the field is pretty shallow… so many rematches…
The challengers look to get the upper hand early, at least until Jado cracked EVIL in the back with a Kendo stick. This turns into a brawl around the ringside area, before they returned, keeping the pace low as Tama Tonga dropped EVIL with a suplex. Eventually EVIL’s back in as he redirects a boot and lands a thrust kick, before SANADA came in and went plancha crazy. Well, that at least brought some energy to this sluggish match.
The Guerillas quickly overwhelm SANADA, but EVIL’s back in with a superplex to Tama, bringing him down hard as a standing moonsault from SANADA, then EVIL’s Scorpion Deathlock looked to end things. It did not. SANADA flips into a Skull End on Tanga Loa, while EVIL traps Tama in a Scorpion Deathlock, but Jado pulls out the ref and jabs the challengers with the Kendo stick. Very lightly. BUSHI comes out and makes the save, misting Jado before whacking him with a tope suicida, but the match quickly rushes to an end when Tama rolled up EVIL with a handful of tights. This was about the only “big match” on the card with no build, and it shows. New Japan’s tag divisions are their Achilles’ heel right now. I feel like I’ve seen this match way too much, and it’s those sort of matches that suck any kind of enthusiasm out before the bell even rings. Sorry lads, this was an uphill struggle from the start. **½
Next up… Katsuyori Shibata’s music hits. He’s not alone… he’s got KENTA! Even bigger news, KENTA is in the G1! Man, on the same day as Pro Wrestling NOAH did their annual Misawa tribute show as well, that felt more symbolic than anything.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay vs. Dragon Lee (c)
After slaying one Dragon, Ospreay’s looking to do it again – and he started by flipping out of a snapmare. Then headscissors, but Dragon Lee’s wise to it, and an OsCutter as we’re in “start by teasing our finishers” territory.
Things finally slow down when Ospreay took Dragon Lee out with a plancha, before he felled him with a chop at ringside. Back inside, Ospreay’s flurry is stopped when a springboard forearm’s converted into a STO. Ospreay hit back with a handspring enziguiri as this somehow felt like a lull… but not for long as a Sasuke Special came up short, with Ospreay landing in a bicycle knee before Dragon Lee put him on the guard rails for a MASSIVE tope that wiped out everyone.
— Italo Santana (@BulletClubIta) June 9, 2019
Including Milano. Who got chants as the two guys in the match picked themselves up. Back in the ring, Ospreay sits up to avoid the Del Rio stomp, before an up kick sent Dragon Lee to the floor, where he’s met with a corkscrew moonsault! A lifting reverse DDT’s good for a near-fall, before a Storm Breaker was countered into a spinning DDT. Dragon Lee tries to Desnucadora out of it, but just gets a Stundog Millionaire as this was descending into bouts of frenetic flurries.
— Allan (@allan_cheapshot) June 9, 2019
Another flurry ends with Ospreay flipping out of a flying ‘rana to the floor, surprising Dragon Lee (and everyone) as the two-time BOSJ winner continued to confound. A bicycle knee swats away an OsCutter, before we got the Del Rio stomp onto the apron after Ospreay had his leg swiped away on the top rope.
Dragon Lee’s grinning like a maniac because he thinks Ospreay’s not going to beat the count. He was wrong. Ospreay got back in and caught him with a head kick, before a Ligerbomb was countered into a goddamn Destroyer. Another headkick followed, but Ospreay’s got some of those too, along with a Hidden Blade, before an OsCutter off the top rolled into a Storm Breaker, and that was that. My jaw was on the floor for large swathes of this match, and it’s this kind of action that’ll draw non-fans in. Some of those sequences, while high-risk, were undoubtedly high-reward… or to put it another way, it takes a LOT for me to shriek and leap out of my chair during matches this often. Hats off, we’re looking at perhaps the best (regular) wrestler in the world today. *****
After the match, Ospreay issued a challenge to Robbie Eagles via the English commentary table. I guess that means Phantasmo gets his crack at Royal Quest?
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi (c)
Christ, Osaka is LOUD for Naito. At least until Ibushi appears…
If you thought they were going to start slow… then nah. A quick-fire exchange ended with a kick to the chest from Ibushi, only for Naito to slow the pace down as he used some headscissors to torque away on Ibushi’s neck on the mat. A delayed Combinacion Cabron fakes out Ibushi, as Osaka again turned on Naito, booing him for eye rakes as he leant into their hate. Naito tries to slide under a leapfrog, but comes up short and eats a double stomp instead, ahead of a corkscrew plancha to the outside. This is worryingly sedate, as far as in “Ibushi hasn’t landed, or tried to land on his head yet”…
The crowd swings on Naito as a diving dropkick gives us our first head drop of the night, with Ibushi folding awkwardly. They tease an apron death valley driver, but Ibushi slips free, only to have to cling onto the top rope… but he took a German suplex to the floor anyway, with his head snapping in at a hideous angle as he caught the edge of the apron. That looked BAD.
— Italo Santana (@BulletClubIta) June 9, 2019
Ibushi narrowly beats the count, but he’s out on his feet and is quickly down on his head again with a top rope poison ‘rana. He kicks out and somehow blocks Destino, spiking Naito with a Gotch tombstone, before it’s back to forearms… and quite honestly, this isn’t too far from the Goldberg/Undertaker realm of being uncomfortable to watch.
Kota’s lariat drops Naito, before he Yeah-Ows and misses a Bomaye. Naito rushes in with a Destino, but it’s not enough! A second Destino’s stopped and blocked with a knee, but the Last Ride can’t do it either, before Naito’s swinging reverse DDT out of the corner led to yet another nasty landing. Yeah. Can we go back to the sedate? A pop-up reverse ‘rana needed steadying as Kota continues to loathe his neck, and all vertebrae starting with a C… especially with that landing on a Destino… and we have another new champion! My God in Heaven, this was uncomfortable to watch at times. Don’t get me wrong, I like high risk, but there were way too many head drops to the point where it just took me out of the match. It’s a double edged sword, but I don’t particularly like watching my favourites stagger and collapse to the floor. Not after Shibata. ****½
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Chris Jericho vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
So New Japan lost the rights to “Judas”, which means Jericho gets an overdub theme as he busted out a Y2J-like entrance. With more of the wacky goth makeup.
Okada gets the Okada-bucks entrance, which makes me worry… he had that last year when Kenny Omega unseated him. In my own head canon, Okada points and laughs at Jericho’s makeup, as we started out thankfully more methodically… with Jericho poking Okada in the eye.
We’ve got a Benny Hill chase from Jericho and Okada, which ended with a big boot back in the ring. A dropkick takes Okada into the timekeeper’s area, before a DDT put Okada through the table without fully breaking it. Back inside, Jericho gets annoyed because the ref won’t count a cocky pin… so he just keeps up on Okada, until he ran into a flapjack. Elbows from Okada take Jericho down, as… we’re getting more and more crowd shots. Hmm. Okada takes Jericho into the crowd for the running crossbody, but it’s clumsily caught with a Codebreaker that Okada… didn’t bump for?
Back in the ring the pair reverse tombstones until they go “sod it” with Jericho rolling through into a Lion Tamer, but Okada gets to the ropes as Jericho seemed to think he’d tapped out. Okada comes back with a tombstone, before a Rainmaker’s countered into a Tiger driver for a near-fall. This is really feeling slow-motion… A dropkick from Jericho puts Okada on the apron, and I buffer. We’re back with the pair trading chops and forearms, before a missed Okada dropkick left him down for a Lionsault. Okada replies with a shotgun dropkick and some boots as he kicked Jericho to the corner. Jericho gets back with a Codebreaker before he removes a turnbuckle pad, while I laugh at Red Shoes Unno shaking his head in disapproval at Jericho’s trash talking.
Okada lands a Codebreaker of his own, and after more buffering, we go to the finish – Jericho misses the Judas Effect elbow, ducks a Rainmaker, only to fall to a roll-up as Okada blocked a Codebreaker. That felt horribly low-key, but kinda befitting for a match that never really felt special. ***½
Post-match, Jericho attacked Okada with a chair then threw him into the ring post with it, a la EVIL until Hiroshi Tanahashi leapt from the Japanese commentary desk to make the save. Jericho, deluded, claimed that the “Painmaker never loses” before his meandering rambling ended with him saying he’d see Okada later. Huh. The crowd boos loudly as the show came to an end with Okada having been helped to the back.
So, weird finish aside, Dominion was a hell of a show, with a really good stretch of matches towards the end. Yeah, Ibushi/Naito was hard to watch at times, but the crowd remained into it, while Ospreay/Dragon Lee did not disappoint one bit. It’s just a shame that the choice to have an unconventional finish took the wind out of so many people’s sails…