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Imp’s NJPW Adventure
Let’s Just Bask In How Great NJPW Is
Wow, talk about anticipation. Some amazing matches have taken place over this last week, with the purpose of setting up potentially even greater matches for the next month. The awesome feeling of being rewarded for investment is something New Japan manage to execute time and time again, I can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with the promotion over the past 4 years.
Dominion is just a month away, one of NJPW’s biggest shows on the calendar. Most years you’re able to theorise where the promotion has been building to via the shows over the months prior, with the New Japan Cup acting as a nice way to elevate someone without forcing them into a big main event storyline. In 2017 we got 3 huge rematches from Wrestle Kingdom in Hiromu Tanahashi vs KUSHIDA, Naito vs Tanahashi and all 6 stars of the Okada vs Omega II instant classic. However in 2018, things have been a hell of a lot more unpredictable.
With some of the biggest storylines that I had assumed were going to take place at Dominion, instead happened this past week over the Wrestling Dontaku events. With three of the biggest being: Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA, Minoru Suzuki vs Tetsuya Naito and the renewed legendary feud between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Those matches happening now left June wide open for possibilities, who would step up to challenge Okada next? When his most popular rivalry was revisited this week and Naito’s the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion?
During the Wrestling Dontaku shows we got most of our answers, and bloody hell things are looking exciting for New Japan’s near future! A surprise return, debut of a new Bullet Club soldier and the announcement of a highly anticipated fourth bout in a 6 star feud. I’ll get to all of those moments, but first I’ve got to talk about what led to them. All three top ends of Wrestling Dontaku’s cards delivered in spades, a perfect way to build hype for one of the biggest shows of the year.
Quick note: If you’re unfamiliar with the rivalry behind Friday’s Wrestling Dontaku main event, I highly recommend you read my column on Kazuchika Okada’s story. The piece covers the history of the Rainmaker up to his latest Wrestle Kingdom main event against Naito, as well as his feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Los Ingobernables de Japon vs Suzuki Gun
Tetsuya Naito had to show fight and determination, to overcome what he couldn’t when Zack Sabre Jr made him submit during the New Japan Cup. But the LIJ leader was able to beat super villain Minoru Suzuki for the Intercontinental Championship at Hi No Kuni last Sunday in Kumamoto. Winning back the title he infamously took out his frustrations on last year, as he despised everything it represented to him. But this time things are different. This time Naito is fighting for respect.
The Los Ingobernables feud with CHAOS is my favourite kind of slow build, a big clash that has spiralling consequences that have to be overcome before the battle resumes. CHAOS may hold the throne, but LIJ are slowly garnering more and more respect and momentum to try and topple the King once again.
The bouts at Wrestle Kingdom and Wrestling Dontaku created hurdles for the anti-hero stable, the biggest being in the form of Suzuki Gun. A legitimately despised heel stable, themselves looking to make a statement after taking a hit of loses at Wrestle Kingdom. Suzuki stole the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi (the same with Killer Elite Squad and Desperado & Kanemaru with the two tag titles), Sabre Jr made everyone tap out on the climb to his star making New Japan Cup victory and even TAICHI started beating the crap out of folk.
Suzuki Gun made a hefty statement over the early months of 2018, one hell of a hurdle for LIJ to jump. However, Wrestling Dontaku saw the heel stable’s fall and the ungovernable ones took back their momentum. EVIL & SANADA are back on top of the tag world and Naito is once again Intercontinental Champion, however this year instead of hating the title for it was he’s holding it for what he wants it to represent. Tetsuya Naito is the next in line to be king and he’s going to use that championship to prove it.
Which brings to the surprise return of the week! After LIJ’s multi-man match with Suzuki Gun on Friday, none other than Chris Jericho pulled the old Sin Cara mask trick on Naito! Attacking from the crowd and viciously beating the champ until he was wearing his own mask of the crimson variety. A bout teased the night after Wrestle Kingdom that I thought to be dead after Y2J popped back up in WWE, especially as he was the final entrant in the Greatest Royal Rumble just one week prior!
Oh yeah, and the best part of the whole attack, Jericho’s shirt had “List Ingobernables de Jericho” written on it with little list pictures on it. Brilliant little touch, that man’s so good at merch!
CODY vs Kenny Omega
“Can’t I be more likeable this season?”
“No. Sorry Cody, you’re just too good at being a bad guy.”
How fantastic has this CODY vs Omega Bullet Club feud been? Slowly building in such a brilliant manner, with their epic clash at Supercard of Honor acting more as a reinvigorating spark than a battle to end a war. And like with Okada vs Naito, there’s that sense of heat continuing to build towards one more clash, even if the two aren’t directly involved with one another.
With the aftermath taking its shape, the Bullet Club’s members have their own decisions to make. With CODY leading over The ELITE side of the Club and Omega aligning with the Tongans/BC originals, the club was seemingly being split it two. That was until Friday, where The Elite fought the Tongans and every member aside from Omega and Cody seemingly made peace. For the first time in a while, a mass Too Sweet as a sign of unity. No matter what happens with Omega and Cody, the rest of the club is together.
On the other hand, there is still that rift. Omega’s reunion with fellow Golden Lover Kota Ibushi is evidently rubbing a couple of members the wrong way, in particular Cody and his close ally Hangman Page. With Ibushi and Cody having one hell of a physical war, with the latter using the former to get to Kenny. Everything Cody does seems to have the purpose of effecting the current Bullet Club leader, with the easiest means of doing so being through the Golden Star. Whilst Kenny seems to be in a state if ‘rise above’ since the bout on ‘Mania weekend, defending his friends and his honor whilst he starts to move on.
As promised, Omega is trying to move forward, but Cody is still clinging on. Even though he beat Omega, the American Nightmare is no closer to being the leader of the Bullet Club. Will this boil over into something next month at Dominion? Will we see a certain reference to Cody’s interference during last year’s classic? Whatever happens, I predict Cody will bring Omega back down until another fight takes place. Cody’s ambition for power knows no bounds, but would he go as far as to cost Omega the grandest prize in New Japan?
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs KUSHIDA
My oh my, Delilah. This match was bloody brilliant! Some crazy as hell spots (a mental jumping DDT off the apron being one of the most memorable), inventive submission transitions by KUSHIDA and really well done elevations to the climax. A great evolution on their past matches as well, building off of what came before marvellously. Hence the transitions from KUSHIDA feeling increasingly inventive, the man’s having to come up with counters to the original counter’s counter.
Ospreay is really building a legacy for himself, conquering foes that he’d previously fallen against. Both KUSHIDA and Marty Scurll beat the Aerial Assassin in 2017, but the champ has already proved himself and finally overcome. This match once again emphasised that, emphasising the agony Ospreay had to fight through in order to retain his championship. With the added caveat that his opponents are finding more and more ways to counter his offence, resulting in Ospreay having to innovate himself or risk falling once again. He has done exactly that and conquered the mountain of foes from the past, so what comes next? Well, the future…
OMFG, Taiji Ishimori is Bone Soldier! Western fans may recognise this remarkably in shape fellow from his recent stint in iMPACT Wrestling’s X Division, but he’s also got some pretty impressive accolades back home in Japan. Including a great run in Pro Wrestling NOAH, which is what led to his time in iMPACT thanks the partnership between the two promotions. Coincidentally, when I first gave NOAH a go, the now newest member of the Bullet Club was their Junior champion. No idea who his opponent was, but fair to say Ishimori and his abs left an impression!
With a match immediately set up between the two for Dominion, they have also been announced to be in the same Block for the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Will Ishimori shock everyone and make an immediate mark by taking down the current Jr Heavyweight Champion? Or will Ospreay once again prove that it’s going to take something truly special to bring him down? LIJ may be making great strides for towards the top of New Japan, but Bullet Club have started to make their own in every division. With Ishimori in the Juniors, the Tongans in the 6 man tag, Young Bucks in Heavyweight Tag Team contention and… well, that brings me to the main event…
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
To become the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time Okada needed to break the record of most defences in a single reign, but to do so meant defeating the very man that held that distinction: Hiroshi Tanahashi. The greatest feud of the modern era revisited one final time. Okada defending his Championship, Tanahashi defending his record.
And they went at it like two wrestlers that knew their opponent like the back of their hand. Such fluidity in their ability to counter each other out of hitting any big moves for a portion of the match. Okada has such an amazing ability to not only bring it himself, but to bring that something special out of his opponent. In a time where wrestling (WWE especially) is often criticised for being too predictable, the Rainmaker again and again makes me ignorant to his certain victory. So far this year none of his wins have ever really been in doubt, but during the matches themselves I didn’t care.
Honestly, it feels like the only wrestler anyway close to that level in WWE is Seth Rollins. That ability to get me invested in the match and totally forget the other guy was never going to win in a million years. That takes something special, we’re so lucky to have two wrestlers that are incredible at it at the same time. Which is the one aspect that makes me question whether Okada’s reign is even booked to end any time soon. If he’s a solid guarantee for an incredible main event with any opponent, why would you take him out of that slot any time soon? His momentum isn’t slowing, his reign becomes more and more incredible with every defence. If anything, New Japan are attempting to build everyone around him up, rather than taking him down a peg so he’s vulnerable to a defeat.
Which was the exact case with this latest entry into the legendary feud. Tanahashi did what he has always done and somehow managed to conjure up all the momentum towards the end, where in the past such a thing brought him victory after victory, including over Okada on multiple occasions. But this time it wasn’t enough, Okada has become stronger and stronger and all Tanahashi can do is applaud the accolades of his successor.
And then Kazuchika Okada challenged Kenny Omega. One win for Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, one time limit draw at Dominion 2017 and one win for Omega in the G1 Climax. For Okada vs Omega IV there will be no time limit and 2 out of 3 falls, we are guaranteed a winner and one epic battle of a match. They couldn’t even get one pinfall inside one hour at least year’s Dominion, this time they need two!
The score will be settled June 9th, the one man that has been able to escape defeat during this astounding two year championship reign of Okada. Like Naito today, Omega’s had his own demons to overcome, but now he’s ready to move on and is prepared for the champion. But is he truly ready? Only time will tell, all I can say is New Japan have succeeded in getting me as hyped as hell for Dominion.
Is Kenny Omega the right man to defeat Kazuchika Okada? I have no idea, but next to Okada he’s NJPW’s most consistent performer. So if the IWGP Heavyweight Championship is going to be dropped to anyone…
This Thursday I will be LIVE on LOP Radio on Perfect 10 Wrestling, I’ll be joined by LOP’s newest columnist TypeItInMaan! Talking the aftermath of WWE Backlash and all the happiness that comes with it.
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