5th July 2015.
We’re in Osaka, Japan. Dominion has a stacked card, the biggest since Wrestle Kingdom with the main event being the unpredictable AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada contest. Without further ado, because this is a five hour show, let’s get down to business.
Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Mascara Dorada & Sho Tanaka vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
Taguchi looks like an absolute tool with his yellow t-shirt and his sparkly green sunglasses. He pisses Nakanishi off a treat by not doing the pre-match chest bashing and instead doing his Funky Weapon pose. If you could read Nakanishi’s thoughts it’d basically be “fuck you Taguchi”. Nakanishi looks like he genuinely hates Taguchi, which makes me like him more than usual. I love Tanaka’s aggression as he wants to start the match and ushers everyone else out of the ring. His personality is starting to come together, albeit as a largely generic Young Boy. Given the ten participants they all get to insert a few trademarks and not much else. Tenzan’s Mongolian chops get a lot of love, as does Kojima’s crappy chop rush. The star of the match is the evergreen Nagata, which makes me wonder why they keep putting him in the opening match when he shows no signs of slowing down like every other veteran in this contest. The match is tremendous fun with each wrestler getting to switch the pace accordingly with their tags. It’s the kind of match where I could quite easily watch for 20 minutes as they’re able to keep the action incredibly fresh. Mascara Dorada picks off Komatsu for the win. This sort of thing is nothing new but I am a sucker for the multiple person throwaway openers.
Final Rating: ***
IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice vs. reDRagon
This is rapidly becoming the new Bucks vs. Time Splitters vs. Forever Hooligans. Sadly Rock Singer announcer is back and he is as hard to understand as ever. When the Japanese announcer is easier to understand than the English language one that’s a problem. The Bucks have adopted Cody Hall in a Masterblaster piece of business. “He’s just a boy”. More pre-match goodness sees Beretta try to intimidate Matt, who completely ignores him. The Bucks have taken over this division. Making the matches about their quirky heel antics and insane moves. The matches have skewed toward comedy, although not when reDRagon are in there. They don’t do the funny. They only time they do anything funny it’s because they’re being serious and no one else is. The story of the match is how manipulative the Bucks are and how desperate they are to hold on to the belts. Frequently they make blind tags and tag out when it suits them. They play the rules, which they’re very familiar with, in their favour. When it’s a fair match reDRagon destroy everyone with their hard-hitting offence but more often than not the Bucks manage to position the other two teams for their benefit. There are plenty of high spots and exciting double teams. The one big surprise, for me anyway, is how over Rocky Romero is now. He’s been getting that way for a while but he has serious love in Japan. There’s a Superkick Party and More Bang For Your Buck allows the Bucks to retain. Given the tactics they employed, it’s not a surprise. On their way out the Bucks yell “what’s up Finn, great match last night” as a shout out to former Bullet Club leader Prince Devitt. Increasingly the Bucks just do whatever the hell they want. It works in small doses.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Tetsuya Naito & Tomoaki Honma
The build up to this one has seen Naito act like a complete dick. He’s had issues with the Osaka crowd in the past so chances are they will not like him during this match. I honestly thought they were going to try and rebuild Naito as a blue-eye and had been going that way since his failed Wrestle Kingdom 8 main event. With CHAOS having drifted into babyface territory, not that they were ever evil heels, the bad guy side of the roster is perhaps a little lacking, so I can understand the turn. Naito leaves Honma to get his ass kicked in this match, which is what happens in most Honma matches anyway. He is the ultimate underdog. When Naito finally does take a tag the crowd HATE him and he’s working against Bullet Club, who are the top heels in the promotion. He doesn’t even eliminate his flashy offence. He just inserts more posing in between. His whole demeanour says ‘I cannot be bothered with entertaining you, Osaka’. He seems indifferent to everything. It’s so effective that the crowd cheer Fale over him. However the structure of the match makes no sense with Naito playing the plucky babyface role and still getting heat. It needed to be better structured. There’s one moment that totally wins me over; Honma finally hits a Kokeshi, with assistance from Naito, and Tetsuya just sits there in the ring with the pinfall going down. He looks bored out of his mind. Honma hits the Super Kokeshi to get the pin and Naito, having done the bare minimum to help, just walks off. An odd match, given Naito’s circumstances. Not sure where he’s going with this act. At least he’s going somewhere.
Final Rating: **1/4
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Laughter7 explode! These two were tag team partners when they came into New Japan from the world of MMA a few years back but took different paths. The crowd seem happier with Shibata, who’s adapted to strongstyle and become a crowd favourite in the process, whereas Sakuraba was more popular when he first arrived. Some of the lustre has come off him in the past two years. One thing you know you’re going to get from these guys is mat excellence. It’s shoot-style done with just enough puroresu thrown in to make it entertaining. The great thing about this match is Shibata takes it really personally and hammers Saku with almost every spot, including a pair of vicious hanging shotgun dropkicks in the corner. The emotion is there, which is a rarity for Shibata. What I really dig about Shibata is he doesn’t make little slap noises on his thigh when he kicks someone, he makes those noises by kicking the crap out of people. As they kick the hell out of each other I’m absolutely riveted. The balance between puroresu and MMA is perfect and makes for an enthralling contest, better than Saku vs. Suzuki from Wrestle Kingdom 9. While Shibata is better at striking, Sakuraba frequently catches him on submissions. The one that Shibata breaks by biting the rope is amazing. The fact that he’s continually caught in submissions reflects why Shibata had such a poor MMA record. The fact he’s able to escape shows why he’s such a showman. It’s a belter of a contest, one that surpasses my already high expectations for atmosphere alone. Shibata’s short strikes often draw a reaction from me and for a jaded old bastard like myself that’s impressive. Shibata ends up using his weight to lean on Saku during a sleeper, a rare opportunity for him to showcase his wrestling skill, and with Sakuraba going out Shibata pelts him with the PK for the win. Great fucking match, I hope they do it again.
Final Rating: ****1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.
You have to love a man who takes his inspiration from wrestling and Back to the Future. This match is all about KUSHIDA and his boyhood dream coming to fruition, finally getting the chance to challenge for the junior title on a big show. (Ignoring his brief 2014 run with the belt that was completely unmemorable, defeating Kota Ibushi at Kizuna Road and losing in his first defence to Taguchi). He’s watched a lot of other guys come through the junior division and get shots ahead of him but now he’s earned his moment. Will The Cleaner oblige by losing to him? KUSHIDA was the outstanding performer in the Super Juniors tournament and indeed captured victory in it. There’s a feeling it’s now or never for KUSHIDA. Kenny Omega’s habit of marching to the ring with a broom makes him look like an even bigger doofus. His character needs a personality tweak before he becomes a joke.
KUSHIDA is one of the best technical wrestlers in the junior division, mixing submissions into his flying and strongstyle. It makes him a great all-rounder. Compared to most junior guys. The Young Bucks are ringside to aid the champion and do so by banging out the Terminator theme music, which Omega uses to turn into a cyborg killing machine…who does topes. KUSHIDA has a taped up knee, which Omega targets with the kind of ruthlessness he rarely displays. I’m generally not keen on limb work as the selling of it is a forgotten art. It used to be that if you worked the leg then the guy getting his leg worked would be screwed. Now it’s just an exercise in killing time before a comeback that usually involves a Shooting Star Press and cartwheel dives. The idea behind Omega destroying KUSHIDA’s legs is to limit his offence but also it gives KUSHIDA even more of an underdog position as he struggles around on one leg. KUSHIDA does try to sell the leg, using the ropes as support and his immobile legs as weapons. But what’s his next move? A fucking springboard dropkick. So, as per usual, the limb work was just a way of killing time that achieved nothing. I’m used to it by now but I expect more of top technicians like KUSHIDA. The second half of the match, after the leg stuff has gone nowhere, would be pretty good as a stand-alone. They do far better work on Omega’s arm, which KUSHIDA focuses on. At least this leads to genuine submission attempts as KUSHIDA’s finish is the kimura but why not just do leg vs. arm? Why include a bunch of flying spots after the knee has been worked over? It doesn’t make any sense to me. The one moment where it does resurface is on a dragon suplex where KUSHIDA can’t hold the bridge because of his knee. Omega goes for the One Winged Angel but is countered into the Kimura and KUSHIDA wins the title. The title switch was almost inevitable and I was pulling for KUSHIDA to get the win but the knee stuff was frustrating. They barely paid lip service to it in the second half of the match. KUSHIDA winning is a feel good moment but they had a much better match in them than this. With minimal changes required.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship
Togi Makabe (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Being a big Ishii fan, I was disappointed NJPW chose to job him out to Togi not once but twice in the first half of 2015. Will it be third time a charm for the Stone Pitbull? Spastic ring announcer goes completely nuts over Togi. It’s possibly the worst ring announcement in the entire history of wrestling. Ishii means business and hits a lariat from the bell and follows up with a senton to the floor, which hits Togi with a glancing blow. It’s a ridiculous bump for a guy with a permanently injured shoulder to take. Ishii’s aggressive start is a marked contrast to the last two matches. As if he came in with a very deliberate game plan, to eliminate Makabe as a threat from the start. It’s a powerful showing from Ishii, who bullies the champion. It’s a shame they go from there to trading, where Togi’s awful gimmicked punches all miss. Here’s a hint; if you’re aiming punches at someone, aim below the top of their head. The lack of good strikes from Togi is the principle reason why the Makabe-Ishii matches can’t live up to the other great Ishii contests. Honma springs to mind. As per usual Ishii brings legendary selling. The kind where I’m convinced this is the match where he’s broken something and will be sidelined for six months to recover. Only for Ishii to pop back up and start into another elbow duel. When they’re battering each other with lariats and elbows it’s a much better match. A regular war of attrition. They have a few timing issues, which is disappointing. It seems mainly due to poor communication. Togi gets a big run up for one spot only to find Ishii bent over double and in no position for any spot he has in mind. The match works better when it’s purely about the striking. Ishii takes a few big bumps, including the Spider German and the King Kong Kneedrop finishes. This wasn’t quite as good as the previous matches and with the same disappointing outcome. Ishii’s insistence at selling the bejesus out of his neck/shoulder made it convincing at the very least.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Video Control takes us to the official announcements of the Blocks for G1. Excited!
Bad Luck Fale
Interesting to see the CHAOS overload in Block B. Elgin is a surprise, seeing as he’d basically been overlooked by NJPW to this point. It’s a big role for him. The lack of Suzuki-gun confirms they’re staying in NOAH for a while. Block A has four potential winners in Shibata, Ibushi, Tanahashi and AJ. It’s really strong. Glad to see Honma getting in to the G1 without someone else getting injured first. If I had to pick now I’m going with AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals. Nakamura to win. It’s the biggest match out there that’s not been done as yet. Nakamura vs. Okada in the group stage takes place on 15th August, right at the end of the block matches so you’d better believe that will be the decider in Block B.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Kingdom (Michael Bennett & Matt Taven) (c) vs. Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows)
After the six-person tag back at Dontaku both Maria Kanellis and Amber Gallows are at ringside. Earlier they had a video package where Anderson’s machine gun entrance played over Maria firing kisses at the camera. Top production work. Karl seems to have gotten over being smitten with ROH’s first lady of wrestling. The Magic Killer on Maria at Dontaku suggested as much. The Kingdom’s initial tag title win was a big upset but served to show how few actual tag teams are in NJPW at the moment. As per usual the NJPW cameramen have no shame whatsoever and film Maria’s ass like it’s a long lost species, thought to be extinct. This is not a match that interested me when it was announced but seeing as it’s a title match on a stacked card I felt I should pay attention to it. That said, the NJPW guys pay more attention to Maria and her surprised facial expressions. At one point they give up on the ring and shoot the action over Maria’s shoulder, with the camera aimed low enough to capture her moneymaker. The crowd even chant her name. She’s definitely left an impression on the Japanese audience. A beautiful butt shaped one. Both ladies interfere but unfortunately Gallows clocking Maria for her role comes off camera. It must have been bad because she’s got a medic holding ice on her neck. Bennett gets all chivalrous, gets laid out and Taven eats the Magic Killer for Bullet Club to get their straps back. Michael Bennett is pissed off and swears revenge. Specifically he tells Doc “I’ll fucking kill you”.
Final Rating: **
Toru Yano vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
This is a break from all the seriousness as Yano is incapable of having a serious match. He’s pretty much in the G1 to provide a rest night for the participants in his Block. His role here is to allow Tanahashi to appear on a PPV and do very little. Yano’s idea of working hard is hiding in the ropes and screaming “BREAK, BREAK, BREEAAAAAAAAKK” at every opportunity or removing the turnbuckle pad. It allows them to tell an easy story and preserve Tanahashi’s broken body. He needs to be healthy for a busy G1 where he’ll be forced to compete with the likes of AJ and Shibata. No one ever accused Yano of being a good wrestler but he’s entertaining and a welcome break in the show’s intensity. Tanahashi plays along and sells a shot to the groin for longer than usual, eager to not allow Yano to monopolise the laughs. To give you an idea of the seriousness, and lack thereof, there’s a ref bump in this match. It goes a lot longer than I was expecting (12 minutes, about 7 minutes longer than expected), featuring much Yano cheating and several of his patented cheeky roll up’s. Tanahashi finishes with the Slingblade and the High Fly Flow to put this feud to bed before G1 kicks off.
Final Rating: *1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
This match is perhaps the most intriguing on the show. If Nakamura wins it says a lot about the long term ambitions regarding Goto and indeed about where the IC title belt is going. Nakamura has made it a legitimate top belt. But do they want him involved with the actual IWGP title going forward? Nakamura comes out here dressed as a sparkly red ninja. There are few human beings on the planet that could pull the look off. Nakamura has a presence that few human beings on the planet have. Goto imposes himself in the early going, keen to prove his title win was no fluke and he’s capable of dominating a big star. Hirooki has a history of coming up short so perception of him will not change overnight, just because he won one big match. There’s a feeling this match isn’t as important as the first one, as it sits beneath the IWGP title match on the card. The way they’d been doing PPV’s suggested a parity between the two main belts but as soon as Goto gets the secondary one it’s no longer a headline belt. That’s the way the crowd react too. Remaining quiet and detached, especially with Goto controlling the pace. When Nakamura takes over, with knees and theatrics, the match gains a sense of importance that Goto cannot provide. Instead Goto gets his thrills from countering big Nakamura spots. The action gets more violent as the match builds and that’s when Nakamura takes over. His strikes are sharper, his ideas are brighter. They have some killer sequences down the stretch where the counters get more animated. Goto finally steps up to the plate and meets Nakamura head on, literally at times. This is the proving ground. After blocking with a headbutt he hits Shouten Kai to retain. I’m still not convinced by Goto as a champion, and although it’ll take time to accept him as such, back to back wins over Nakamura will go a long way to building his reputation. Goto goes into G1 as the secondary champion. He’s having a big year.
Final Rating: ****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
“He will be an icon…when I’m done” – AJ Styles, of Okada. AJ certainly has the advantage in their matches to date and has beaten Okada several times with the belt on the line including ending the Rainmaker’s year long run with the big strap in 2014. Previous AJ-Okada contests have been blighted by outside interference, usually by Yujiro Takahashi, and AJ doesn’t help matters by bringing out the Bullet Club to support him. It doesn’t fill me with confidence that today will be any different. They start out with basic counters but done at speed. It helps to establish parity. Okada is on the championship level, something you could have argued against during his crisis of confidence post-Wrestle Kingdom. He’s as cocksure as ever in this match. AJ’s advantage, besides his champion’s advantage, is the numbers game and it doesn’t take long for that to play into proceedings. When Okada gets in charge Bullet Club simply distract and interfere. It’s the same crushing over-reliance on interference that ruined previous contests between them. There’s potential, in their interactions, for a brilliant match between AJ and Okada. One day we’ll see it. My frustration with AJ having this kind of support is that he simply doesn’t need it. After a while Red Shoes gets sick of the interference, tells AJ to “suck it” and ejects Bullet Club from ringside. Quite why they let them out here to begin with is a mystery. Anyway, with that bullshit sorted out we can have an actual match.
Some of AJ’s execution in this match is flawless. The quebrada inverted DDT is the cleanest and most fluid I’ve ever seen him hit it and his dropsault is perfection. Which makes it all the more frustrating that they killed so much time with the Bullet Club angle. Okada seems to be on his game too and when they run the AJ springboard elbow smash spot Okada nails him in mid-move with the dropkick. It’s beautiful.
The countering continues out of the top draw, showcasing both men’s incredible talent. It’s really hard to make a cooperative situation look like a struggle but several times they absolutely nail it. AJ looks especially impressive when he’s pounding Okada with elbows. He’s developed a pure style for Japan and he’s exceptional at it. The fight over the Tombstone is great, as they pull out four counters before it’s delivered. This leads right into AJ’s springboard 450 Splash. It’s a message from AJ. He’ll pull out all the stops to retain this title and he’s not just about a numbers game. Okada steps it up too with a ridiculous DVD out of the ring onto the apron and a precision missile dropkick across the ring, where he seems to injure himself on landing. Tombstone! But AJ ducks the Rainmaker and hits the Pele Kick. They’re really hitting a top groove at this point and I’m still steaming over the misuse of the opening ten minutes because this is so good. Okada kneeing out of the Bloody Sunday is one fine example. They continue to counter and roll through stuff and AJ gets planted with the RAINMAKER! Okada doesn’t pin, goes for another, gets countered but it’s countered back again and Okada belts AJ with another RAINMAKER! Okada wins the title! Skip the first ten minutes and this is pushing for MOTY territory. Everything after the Bullet Club were ejected was solid gold. The counters in the finishing sequence are so incredible that it makes Okada and AJ look like the best in the world. Just sensational wrestling. There are three NJPW matches I like better than this already this year but regardless this was great storytelling and execution. Very high recommendation.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Summary: Great show from New Japan. The only big discrepancy between my thoughts and everyone else’s is that most people seem more prepared to forgive the selling in the KUSHIDA title win. Mainly because there are subtle bits of selling in the second half. I just didn’t dig it as much. If you take all the persistent leg work out of the first half it’s a top match. Even with me not liking that match as much there are still three matches at **** or higher and they’re all different. The main event has a wonderful big match feel, Nakamura & Goto just worked their socks off and Shibata & Sakuraba had one of the most technically proficient matches you’ll see all year. It probably falls short of Wrestle Kingdom 9, thanks to that card finishing with two ***** matches, but it’s a solid second for best show of the year. Strong recommendation to check this out and to subscribe to New Japan World immediately because G1 Climax 25 is coming and you’re about to buried under an avalanche of snowflakes.