Imp’s NJPW Adventure
Bloody ‘ell, fair to say it was one hell of a show, this past Sunday’s show in Osaka Jo Hall?
Dominion is New Japan’s 2nd biggest show of the year, often compared to SummerSlam for Western viewers. The perfect complement to Wrestle Kingdom’s main course 6 months prior, often cooking up a second go around of January’s biggest matches or collisions set in motion over the ‘New Period’ of New Year’s Dash and New Beginning.
This year however, things were a little different. As suddenly New Japan had a massive show in Madison Square Garden, where arguably all of the feuds that would have seen their major clashes in June instead collided 2 months earlier. Were the April show Sakura Genesis like in the past, Okada might still have beaten Jay White to reclaim his throne, but would we have seen Naito versus Ibushi so close to their New Japan Cup bout? Would the NEVER Openweight Championship have jumped from Ospreay to Cobb to TAICHI within a month?
Sakura Genesis was always a strong show with the New Japan Cup winner’s title shot, but Madison Square Garden was arguably up there with Dominion in terms of importance. So this year’s feuds heading into Dominion were set up a lot more short term: Naito getting his rematch from losing the title in April, Ishii after TAICHI beat Jeff Cobb at Wrestling Dontaku in May and Jericho’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship challenge after The Rainmaker’s first defence at that same show.
For example, last year we had Jericho facing Naito after attacking the LIJ man at New Year’s Dash and the fourth and final classic in the Okada/Omega feud of the era. But was this year still able to step up and deliver an incredible show, in spite of the relatively short builds not creating that same level of gravitas going in?
Yes. Well aside from one, I’ll get to that. First off though, let’s quickly bash through the rest of the matches/announcements!
NJPW Dominion 2019
I’ll put Jon Moxley and Shingo Takagi’s singles matches together, as they were both essentially building to the same ‘Climax’ reveal. With the Deathrider starting his new buddy cop movie with Young Lion Shota Umino and the Dragon being granted the heavyweight test he’s been asking for in Satoshi Kojima, both men got in a nice little aftermath showcase of sorts coming out the Best of the Super Juniors Final.
After their respective matches came the important bit, both men declared their intentions to compete in next month’s annual G1 Climax tournament. Shingo’s announcement was semi suspected, as there was a feeling both BOSJ finalists would be getting the call this year. Moxley however? Bloody hell I was not expecting that one!
Who would have thought at the start of 2019, that half way through it Dean Ambrose would be confirmed to be competing in NJPW’s G1 Climax? The amount of Western interest that’s going to drive is insane, one of the three pillars set to build the modern era of the biggest wrestling promotion in the world around. And now he’s about to enter New Japan’s most prestigious tournament just a few months before debuting on TV for the biggest competition WWE have had since WCW closed.
Not forgetting AEW’s contracts allow certain wrestlers to work other promotions in their time off if they so wish, so don’t write off the possibility of a Jon Moxley Wrestle Kingdom booking.
Such a fascinating era we’re entering over the second half of this year.
Second up is a quick note for the NEVER Openweight Championship match between TAICHI and Tomohiro Ishii. An affair that carried out pretty much exactly as I expected, with a sloooow first half, quicker third quarter and a great back n’ forth to end the match. AKA another TAICHI match I’m very unlikely to remember after posting this column. As much as I love his character and presence, the pace of his matches really don’t draw me in. I’m so absent for that first half, it’s the same with every one of his matches no matter the opponent.
Bright side is the bald lad won so we’re now guaranteed a return to Super Strong Style Land, the stiffest fun park around!
Penultimate quick note for Guerrillas of Destiny vs SANADA & EVIL, oddly another one with a really slow first half and momentum building second. GoD dominated much more than I thought I did, however the real story coming out was the LIJ aftermath in result of the interference heavy loss. With SANADA leaving the arena on his tod whilst EVIL sat there sulking in the ring, I won’t call it LOJ descent but there’s at least a chance of the two fellas questioning their effectiveness as a team.
SANADA & EVIL’s awesome singles runs for 2020 confirmed!
And finally I end with the seemingly out of nowhere surprise of the night, with Katsuyori Shibata walking out in a full suit and introducing non other than mother flippin’ KENTA! The former pillar of NOAH/Hideo Itami announced he’s also going to be taking part in this year’s G1 Climax! Sending both the live crowd and the internet into an immediate realisation of how damn stacked this year’s tournament is looking.
Moxley, Shingo and KENTA all announced in one night?! Don’t forget, that’s on top of the likes of: Okada, Naito, Ibushi, Tanahashi, Jay White, Ishii, Zack Sabre Jr, SANADA, EVIL, Suzuki and the retiring Jushin Thunder Liger. It’s also not out of the question that Will Ospreay will be added within the next week after his absolutely incredible run so far this year.
Speaking of, I think it’s time I move on to the three main events of the night!
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
Dragon Lee (c) vs (BOSJ Winner) Will Ospreay
AKA THE Suicide Dive
Did Will Ospreay just have one of the greatest months in wrestling? An incredible run of consistent matches of the tournament in Best of the Super Juniors, followed by a classic with Shingo in the final and now this barnburner against the young Mexican champion. This man feels like a superstar right now.
As for the man who walked in as champion, there’s a question he’s been possibly overshadowed by others in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. It was something that always seemed a likely possibility, with most (including me) seeing a Shingo dominance written in the stars. That was always going to come at the cost of dimming the current IWGP Jr Champion’s light, with arguably having an Ospreay level run being the only thing that could avoid.
Well Dragon Lee didn’t have an Ospreay level run and in effect going into this match the outcome felt an almost certainty. Both the Dragon and the Dragonslayer came out of the Best of the Super Juniors feeling like absolute stars, it didn’t really matter who won, either one would have had all the momentum in the world going in to their title match at Dominion.
So it was great to see Dragon Lee take to Ospreay as if he knew that, proving he could wrestle with just as much spirit as the man the Englishman had had to surpass to get here. The Mexican really took it to the challenger in the early portion of the match, peaking with an absolutely incredible and equally as mad suicide dive with no remorse. The champion flew through the ropes with no regard for his own body, cleaning out a prone, sitting on top the barricade, Ospreay and clattering the poor lad who failed to get out the way behind them.
That was the moment though, a key moment of the match where it became clear that Dragon Lee wasn’t going to back down; the momentum of the challenger was surmountable. However there was one thing the champion seemed more shaken by than Shingo had on Wednesday: what do you do when Will Ospreay just simply counters every attempt at a finisher? LIJ Dragon’s had the composure to never lose focus and get on with the clattering, arguably this was where the Junior champion faltered.
Perhaps it was the fact of Dragon Lee being such a young champion finally coming into play, a fantastic achievement, but what happens when that man comes up against someone coming into the peak of their powers? He was able to step up to Ospreay, assert himself as champion, but when Ospreay started kicking out of his strongest offence he was frozen in awe. Compared to when Dragon Lee also shocked his opponent, Ospreay showed no sign of stutter and instead went in for the kill.
Arguably the 3 years advantage in favour of the Ariel Assassin played their part. There was no room for hesitance in Ospreay’s game, as if his match with Shingo Takagi had systematically removed emotion from his offence. When he sensed the opportunity he went after the champion with no remorse, like it wasn’t even a question to use the Super OsCutter to set up the Stormbreaker.
Dragon Lee was almost there, having incorporated the running knee to set up his own finisher, however he made the mistake of going for the pin instead of the kill. Ospreay did not make that error and the champion payed the price, eating two match winning moves in succession was too much. With that the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship is once again around the Sword of Essex, sheathed in the blood of not one but two dragons.
Ospreay has since been announced to be participating in the Super J Cup, but somewhat surprisingly not the G1 Climax alongside his BOSJ final opponent. To be fair, the line-up is already incredibly stacked, where would Ospreay slot in? With the latest announcement being Lance Archer, maybe there’s a chance NJPW will try fill out the lower side of the Blocks. But Jesus Christ is that tournament shaping up nicely, even if it comes at the detriment of Ospreay missing out.
He bloody well deserves a place though, someone on his form would do wonders to make the Junior division feel a bigger deal ahead of the two day Wrestle Kingdom on the horizon.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Kota Ibushi (c) vs Testsuya Naito
AKA I demand the cum be called ‘Ibushi Didn’t Die’
Looking forward to the G1, if I could ask one thing, it would be for these two to not be in the same block this year. Three times in three months is highly irregular for New Japan, but really I’d just like them to actually make it to Wrestle Kingdom. That’d be nice, necks n’ all.
That seems to be the conversation coming out of this match, but don’t let that distract the fact that this match was yet another bloody fantastic outing from the two. Ibushi and Naito simply cannot have a bad match against each other, constantly upping the ante and yes that sometimes results in a nasty looking bump. These two always pull out something new that leaves you gasping, often in awe but sometimes at the madness.
In the past we’ve had top rope Poison-ranas and Bret’s rope Piledrivers, these two have constantly tested the strength of their own necks and in that department this match did not disappoint. Arguably this was the most dangerous looking of the lot, with genuine concern of Ibushi’s well-being after he landed awkwardly on the side of his neck from a Dragon Suplex on the apron. That’s some Scurll-Ospreay level of crazy right there and those two haven’t gone anywhere near that spot again!
(The two Brits did a Spanish Fly on the apron a couple years ago, it was naasty)
The rest of the match though was a building affair with the two figuring each other out, they’ve become so familiar over these past three months that you could immediately see it was going to take something new. I lost count of the counters within the first portion of the match, it was arguably like that all the way until that crazy apron spot took Ibushi out.
After that every time Ibushi kicked out it was like an incredible achievement, how was this man still going? Hell, how was he still alive? Naito did his best to capitalise, however him deciding to go for the Tranquilo woke Ibushi up. Somehow, the crowd was still amazed the Golden Star had suffered serious injury, yet alone countering finisher attempts. The Los Ingobernables de Japon leader was determined, but Ibushi was having any of it.
In fact the champion managed to snatch back pockets of momentum, hitting powerful strikes and moves of his own. Successfully slamming Naito down the Last Ride Powerbomb, completely taking him out with an incredible Lariat. The story of the match was Ibushi’s neck though. With the match building in similar fashion to past clashes, there reached a point late on were that weak point really became a deciding factor.
At one point Naito stamped Ibushi’s head down on the mat again and again, and again. “Golden stardust on the boot of the champion,” Chris Charlton amazingly described on commentary. Ibushi had bested Naito both in the New Japan Cup and in Madison Square Garden, but they’d been close affairs and either one of them not being at 100% would completely swung in the other’s favour.
That’s exactly what happened here, the longer the match went on the more damage Naito was able to inflict. Finally he was able to hit a running Tranquilo on Ibushi and there was no kicking out of that, not with all that damage already done to the neck. The second title change of the night, both steeped in a challenger zoning in and showing no remorse in the face of an opportunity.
Once again Naito is the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, a title that represents both love and hate to its new holder. Mirrored by the Osaka crowd, a city with their own love/hate relationship with the LIJ leader himself. As he walked up the ramp his emotions towards his new championship were perfectly reflected by the mix of cheers and boos from the crowd. No clear consensus on whether wining that title was something Naito is happy about, like he wants to be, but because of what it represents he just can’t.
That championship is the one constant reminder of the failure of the Stardust Genius, the one blip from his past Naito has been unable to move on from. In his biggest moments choosing to try and prove the people were wrong, that he didn’t fail, that he could win the big one ultising that version of him.
The question is, will Naito ever be able to hold the Intercontinental Championship with pride?
Also Ibushi was fine by the way, his only injury a swollen eye thanks to a Naito headbutt connecting a little more than desired. Don’t ask me how that was his only injury, rubber necks those Japanese wrestlers!
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Chris Jericho
AKA Column altered due to international copyright
One man who has been able to return to his former glory, The Rainmaker Kazuchika Okada has fully bounced back after his mid-life crisis over the Summer of last year. Madison Square Garden was his moment, he reclaimed his throne and declared the new Reiwa era his. Once again he is the man, he is the Ace of New Japan.
With that, though, comes the target on his back. Every line of his voiced ambitions analysed and criticised, a light perfectly shone on by his Dominion opponent. Okada’s talked about showcasing what New Japan’s all about, that steeped Japanese style that’s gotten them to where they are today. There are many fans in Japan who see NJPW as becoming too influenced by the Western style, so who’s the perfect antagonist for that than Chris Jericho?
Calling himself ‘The Painmaker’, Jericho arrived steeped in only one style, bringing pain with not a single care as to whether the crowd enjoy it. He wrestled an extremely Western style, lots of brawling, plenty of posing to the crowd and soaking in the response. Not forgetting the ultimate embarrassment tapping out to the Boston Crab would be in Japanese wrestling, imagine losing the Heavyweight title to the Young Lion submission.
That said, that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoyed the match, with the slow pace, brawls and holds. The pace was especially apparent with them following Lee/Ospreay and Ibushi/Naito, I struggled to not check out during the middle portion of the match. I can appreciate what they were building to with the climax moment of the post-match beat down, but that doesn’t mean I was engrossed by it.
Even though the arc of the whole thing was Jericho’s, Okada had has own character building moments. We got to see the different ways the champion has learnt to set up The Rainmaker or make it more impactful, be it the Tombstone, Spinning Tombstone, Spinning Lariat; we saw the champion attempt them all. But with Jericho showing his veteran instincts, he was forced to resort to a different lesson. In the end the champ rolled up Jericho for a surprise pin, exactly how Omega scored the first pinfall back in their Best of 3 series from last year’s Dominion.
Okada had shown growth, taking one of his darkest periods last year and learning from it. But that doesn’t mean Jericho takes the loss all sportsman like and nods in approval as Okada celebrates in a rain of Okada Dollars. No, the Canadian was pissed. He didn’t give a shit if the champ was showing a moment of growth, he’d just gotten rolled up! So he took out his anger not just on Okada, but on the fans by refusing them of their pleasing send-off speech.
Jericho’s post-match beat down silenced the crowd, with him ready to slam Okada with a ringside table. Which was when none other than Hiroshi Tanahashi sprinted down to Okada’s aid, the super team that had formed ahead of Wrestle Kingdom last year. Jericho quickly escaped and ran up the ramp, but he’d accomplished his mission with Okada in not fit state to send the crowd off happy.
Tanahashi stared ‘The Painmaker’ down, disgust written all over him. This wasn’t the New Japan style, in Jericho there was no modicum of respect. There’s no one that breaths those two things more than ‘The Ace of the Universe’ Hiroshi Tanahashi, the embodiment of everything the promotion represents.
You can bet Jericho wouldn’t pass the opportunity to take that man down, for in essence that takes down the beating heart of New Japan itself. But after losing to Omega, Naito at Wrestle Kingdom and now Okada at Dominion, would Tanahashi be a step too far? Does Jericho even care about the perception of his New Japan career? Having successfully questioned and tested the motives his opponents?
If Jericho has been the antithesis of each one of his rivals, with Tanahashi he’s become the antithesis of New Japan itself.
The crowd booed as the announcer informed them the show has ended, Okada may have won the match, but Jericho had achieved his final word.
And now we can get hyped for the G1 Climax tournament that begins this time next month in Dallas, Texas! Kicking off the insane schedule that gets under way the following week back in Japan, with shows almost every single day all the way to the amazing 3 day climax in mid-August. Every year the G1 offers multiple MOTY nominees, the line-up this year is so highly stacked it may very well be my favourite yet.
It’s fair to say NJPW has successfully built up the hype. Y’all remember folk shooting them down back in January? We told you not to worry, this promotion actually knows how to build instead of panic short term booking. Such a great feeling, an exciting time for wrestling indeed.
Toodles chaps, assen na yo.
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Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday covering the past week of news from the wrestling world!
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Best of the Super Juniors 26 Final: Moxley’s Debut & Ospreay vs Shingo
Imp’s WWE Adventure – Saudi Arabia: Are WWE Really Promoting A Time of Change?
Imp’s AEW Adventure – Double or Nothing & Jon Moxley’s Wrestling Adventure
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe