June 9 2018
We’re in Osaka, Japan at Osaka-Jo Hall. We open up with a mysterious video of Kidani ringing someone in New York before the show. It’s a way to introduce this man:
Harold George Meij. The first gaijin president of New Japan. He’s worked in Japan for years, boosting their toy industry. He knows his shit. The New Japan bears were his idea and we know how good they were for the merch business. Dominion is New Japan Pro Wrestling going to the next level. Meij is here to make an appearance. Hosts on the English commentary are Kevin Kelly and Don Callis. Kevin stops off to put Harold over at length, probably aware he’s about to pay his wages.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (c) vs. Roppongi 3K
These belts change hands all the time. Roppongi 3K are already two-time champions and come the end of the year you’ll struggle to name Kanemaru & Despy as champs at all. That said they’ve actually managed a rare two successful defences. Suzuki-gun attempt pre-match bullshit but thankfully Roppongi 3K have learned from their previous encounters and block it. I like it when people learn shit. If you fall for the same moves again and again you just look like an idiot. The match is hampered by timing issues. YOH especially. SHO has far better aggression and it’s telling he’s the hot tag.
SHO is someone I can get behind. He’s got that fire in his eyes that YOH doesn’t have. Suzuki-gun have issues. They’re just not good as a team. They do weird things too like Despy selling the Suntory Mist when he’s got a mask on that, in theory, should have blocked most of it. SHO is a motherfucker here. I love him. Sadly he gets clonked in the dome with the whisky bottle and Despy wins with a roll up. All in for the big SHO singles push. All out for the Suzuki-gun bullshit.
Final Rating: **3/4
Jay White & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
“That’s me. That’s baby me. That’s a mini-Finny”. Good grief. Juice is a bit sweary here yelling “eat shit motherfucker” after connecting on a spin kick. Jay White is starting to come into his own as Switchblade. He’s a twat and he’s embracing that. It helps that he’s so slick at executing moves. Because he’s such a nice young man it’s taken time for him to get into the character. Kelly does a good job here suggesting YOSHI-HASHI might be out of the G1 because he’s done nothing of note in the past year. He’s defacto heel here, thanks to that Kiwi shithead, but he doesn’t embrace it and is devoid of charisma as a heel as he is as a face. When you look at how much everyone else in this match has grown over the last year it makes YOSHI-HASHI look even less interesting. I would literally put all three of them in G1 over Tacos. Even though this match means next to nothing Juice Robinson is out there busting his ass. He wants people to remember him every day. White looks as if he’s got it wrapped up after wiping out perennial rival Finlay with Bladerunner but Juice socks him in the jaw and hits Pulp Friction to win. Surely Juice is in line for a US title shot based on that! Juice was the stand-out guy in this match. His effort levels amaze me. He dragged me into this contest, kicking and screaming.
Final Rating: ***
Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano
I’m almost giddy with excitement as NJPW seem intent at building storylines for Rev Pro and an eventual showdown between Suzuki and Ishii. Or maybe they’re just going to do it in G1.
Before we even get underway Ishii and Suzuki are at each other. Sabre gets over very quickly here with his gifted submissions and fluid transitions. Japan have come to reappreciate his style. The match has different little sections. Ishii and MiSu trying to kill each other. Sabre’s submissions and Yano’s daft comedy. They all mesh nicely together. The Suzuki-Ishii war is the main storyline and I’m certain they’re building to some sort of singles match. You’d think it’d be for a title but not necessarily. They fucking smack each other in this. Ishii is especially great in taking stuff and staring at Suzuki. And MiSu hits about as hard as anyone on the planet. Their little strike duel, perfect length, culminates in a double slap KO. I love it. I also love ZSJ cutting off all of Yano’s antics, tying him up before he can scurry into the corner to undo a buckle pad. Yano attempts cheeky roll ups but gets wrestled out of them. The low blow block with the knees is inspired.
Sabre ends up having too much for Yano and Toru submits. I loved this! What a great little match this was. But it’s not over! Ishii goes after MiSu on the ramp and they fight with chairs. SLAP DUEL AT RINGSIDE! They have to be pulled apart and my god, this was so great. Real recognising real. Love it.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Michael Elgin vs. Taichi
Goto won this at Wrestle Kingdom. As per usual with Goto it felt like a big breakthrough moment and he’s done little of consequence since. The match against Juice Robinson at the Dontaku tour was ace though.
This is one of those rare moments where Goto is my favourite guy by some distance. Elgin is looking cut. He’s dropped size and exchanged it for tone. He looks incredible. He’s still a bell end but at least he’s taking his body seriously. I can’t say the three-way match does anything for me. It’s hard to construct and only Elgin has the necessary experience in these type of matches to drive the action. He introduces a new flying aspect to his character, possible due to his weight loss. Sadly the match suffers from all the usual multi-man issues. One guy has to lie around selling while the other two wrestle. The spots are often good but the very nature of the match scuppers it. My lack of investment in any of the wrestlers contributes to the issues and I find my eyelids very heavy. Goto has Elgin beaten so Taichi uses Miho Abe as a distraction and batters everyone with his mic stand. Taichi then focuses solely on Goto though, can’t beat him and Elgin bucklebombs him into oblivion to win the NEVER belt, which nobody cares about. Congrats. This was a nice, serviceable storyline match.
Everyone played their part and presumably Goto gets a re-match because he wasn’t even pinned.
Final Rating: ***
IWGP Tag Team Championship
EVIL & SANADA (c) vs. The Young Bucks
LIJ won the belts from KES at Wrestle Kingdom. I had wiped any memory of that KES run! Instead of a streak of disappointing matches and aimless title changes Gedo has been largely ignoring the tag division until this match, the most intriguing he had up his sleeve. I’m interested to see how the Bucks cope with an upgrade to heavyweight, although they’ve been working that way in the US for years.
The match immediately posits some interesting questions about how heavyweights will struggle with the Bucks speed and inventiveness. Not to mention their slick double teaming and sense of compassion for each other. Where the match surprises is that EVIL & SANADA go toe to toe and try to keep pace with the Bucks, which makes for a thrilling ride. The Bucks get into trouble when Matt’s back injury flares up and Nick accidentally kicks the ring post. Selling an injured foot is a big ask but Nick does a decent job of it. He has to throw his bad foot as a strike because he can’t stand on it, which sends him down into a heap holding that injured foot. Matt’s back selling earlier in this year was phenomenal. Now it’s Nick’s time to shine. Toppling off the ropes attempting the Indietaker is pure gold. Kudos, sir. The Bucks biggest strength is the tag teaming. With that gone, it’s an uphill battle. I love how Nick overcomes the injury by basically just doing superkicks. The impact hurts but he doesn’t have to put weight on that foot. Because Nick man’s up and powers through his injury the Bucks are able to come through on More Bang For Your Buck! The Young Bucks are the heavyweight tag team champions! This was great. Legit loved the selling in this and the breakneck pacing. Perhaps the Bucks will be the team to finally save the NJPW tag titles. They did a bang up job of being the best of the juniors.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: Don Callis gets booked for All In because the Bucks are in such a good mood.
Cody, Hangman Page & Marty Scurll vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Liger & Rey Mysterio Jr
As per usual Rey has his ‘just happy to be here’ face on. Kelly claims he’s never wrestled in New Japan but I’m certain that’s inaccurate. This is certainly an intriguing ‘dream team’ of Tana, Liger and Rey though. The sheer star power on display is great fun to witness. And with a band of heroes, what better opponents than a bunch of villains? For those who missed it in Rev Pro; Rey vs. Scurll was actually a great match. They show flashes of that here but the main story is Liger getting revenge on Marty, via his famous mates. Scurll trying to take down the legend of Liger is a nice storyline as it gives the aging Liger something to do now he doesn’t wrestle in tournaments or for titles. It helps the match that Scurll makes Rey look like a million fucking bucks. I bet Rey wants to come and wrestle British guys for the rest of his career. There’s also a smaller story where Page goes after Tana. I dig Hangman Page’s development this year and he’s going to be given a big singles match at some point. Hell, he might even squeak into G1. They keep this brisk and entertaining with three legends on the babyface side delivering the hits. Cody ends up picking off Liger with Cross Rhodes and the supreme dickhead that is Cody stands tall. This was wall to wall fun with everyone playing their role beautifully.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Ospreay has held this title since Wrestle Kingdom. You could argue he’s been the division’s banner star since taking the title from KUSHIDA at King of Pro Wrestling last October.
Meanwhile Hiromu is one of the hottest acts in the company. His performances throughout BOSJ were stunning and he deserved the win and subsequent title shot here. Will comes in with a bad neck, courtesy of that errant Spanish Fly off the apron in the match with Scurll at Sakura Genesis. It starts wild. Hiromu is nuts so Ospreay feels the urge to go more nuts with a dive off the ramp that’s pure Hiromu level of madness. It’s interesting to me that Ospreay starts out strong, wanting to put Hiromu in his place and that Takahashi’s start is slow due to his big weekend one week ago; two lengthy bouts (vs. KUSHIDA and Ishimori) tiring him out. This title shot has come very soon after all that effort. Will gets a bit sweary when Hiromu starts to chop him. “Fuck you, you little cunt”. Hiromu shows some smarts in occasionally working Ospreay’s neck, in the midst of a bunch of his usual madness. More often than not Hiromu uses his own body as a weapon and has no regard of his own wellbeing.
My favourite development of Ospreay is his slowly selling strikes going into a no sell and violent retort. It’s pure Japan. Obviously there are a bunch of head drops. Ospreay winning the reverse rana battle 2-0.
Ospreay breaks out the power lifting here, jacking Hiromu off the apron and into a superplex to set up the SSP on the ropes. That’s an insane range of skills required to do that. Kudos to Hiromu’s thought process too; the Canadian Destroyer leads right into D, with him hauling Ospreay down into it while Will is stood up out of his feet from the Destroyer. Ospreay’s escape, where he twists Hiromu over and basically dumps him on his head is as amazing as it is terrifying. This match lives on the brutal edge of pro-wrestling. I like how they go back to the exposed floor, exposed earlier by Ospreay but not used, for the Sunsetbomb. From that they go back to trading and Ospreay catches Hiromu square across the face with a roundhouse that looks devastating. This match has made me think someone was genuinely hurt many times. Hiromu drops Will bang on his head with that crazy piledriver he’s started using and the Timebomb finishes. I’m a little shocked here because I figured Ospreay had already got a defence against Ishimori lined up but Hiromu is the most over guy in the junior division. This was scary to watch but what a match.
Final Rating: ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Chris Jericho
Naito doesn’t even bother carrying this belt around with him so it’d be easy to forget he held it. He beat Minoru Suzuki for it, in a booking decision that still seems weird to me. MiSu was doing something with the belt and had a wonderful crowning moment in beating Tanahashi.
You don’t half look a cunt, Chris mate. Jericho wants to create a feeling that he’s shooting so he dumps Naito on the floor and kicks the shit out of him. He wants to recreate that ‘dangerous gaijin’ vibe that’s gone a little since the days of Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody. He just kills Naito here. Jericho puts Naito through one table before driving him into the Japanese announce table with a DDT. Naito is just dismantled. I love that Jericho knows he can’t compete with the top guys in Japan for in-ring and needs to take this match in a ridiculously overly aggressive fashion. Every now and again he just wants to remind everyone of his skill too; hence the Lionsault. He can still do that but like Naito himself, he’s switched gears on his character to ensure he stands out.
The only flaw of this opening sequence is that Jericho loudly keeps shouting instructions to both Naito and Red Shoes about what should be happening, which is what happens when something isn’t pre-planned. While Jericho’s work felt intense as hell and ‘real’ it leaves Naito with blood in his eye and the match lacking in structure.
There are pros and cons to Jericho’s approach. It’s refreshingly different to see a match start with a wild brawl in New Japan (without interference). The crowd in Osaka, who traditionally hate Naito, turn on the leader of LIJ and loudly boo as he gives Jericho a bunch of receipts. What staggers me is that Jericho is capable of this level of performance in 2018, when he should be a washed up vet. He can’t hit everything and he waits in position several times for far too long but what a showing from the old man! Considering his back was so fucked he almost retired.
Jericho keeps going after the Walls of Jericho in the hopes that Naito with just quit but it’s not a proven finish in NJPW (it’s the young boys finish) and there’s never a feeling that he’ll quit. When the match threatens to come off the rails, with Jericho simply not able to take Naito’s spots and not in position for them they do a couple of miraculous recoveries. It’s a mess at times but the fact they find a way out without looking like a couple of twats is astonishing. This lack of timing leads to Naito getting his cheek mashed and he’s busted open again. This allows Naito to show incredible fire with blood pouring from his face. This has certainly been stiff. Jericho pushes Red Shoes, hoofs Naito in the balls and hits the Codebreaker to win. Incidentally I’d forgotten there was a belt involved but he’s won that too. Naito took a beating here and what a story they told. Holy shit. It’s only the occasional miscue that stopped it heading into MOTY territory.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Post Match: Jericho continues the abuse. First with his fists. Then with the title belt. Then with his own belt. EVIL comes down to put a pay to that! This whole thing was stunning. New Japan Jericho has been a revelation. His stuff with Kenny Omega was good but the sheer viciousness of the stuff with Naito has taken him to another level. Wow.
Two Out of Three Falls
No Time Limit
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Okada is the record breaker. Every IWGP title record belongs to him (bar number of times held, and total defences). He’s sitting on 720 days as champion, having beaten Naito for the belt in June 2016. Almost a two year reign, dating back to Dominion 2016. This reign is the longest ever in history. He also has the most days combined at 1515 and the most successful defences in one reign.
A pre-match video shows how Omega got here. He’s left Bullet Club behind. He’s asked “what did you have to give up to get here?” “Everything”. He’s cornered by Kota Ibushi.
The great thing about these stipulations is that we will get a definitive winner. No time limits. No draws. Someone has to win here.
The crowd is very into Kenny, because he’s had a journey to get here. Okada is just a walking example of a winner. Where’s the fun in that? They start slow, laborious even, feeling each other out until Kenny forces the pace. Trying to go for One Winged Angel after five minutes doesn’t get the job done, predictably. Okada’s usually calm façade is shattered when he wings the rail attempting a crossbody into the crowd and Omega’s V-Trigger catches Okada much harder than he intended. Already Okada looks more fallible than during any of his previous title defences. They do a good job of establishing parity with both men having different strengths. Okada throwing in the odd bit of lucha. Omega being more successful from the top. Okada knowing where the ropes are and using his size. Omega pushing the pace whenever he can. They throw in little things too like Omega’s keenness to avoid wrist control. Something he’s shown flashes of before. Kenny pushes for bigger moves and that costs him. When he tries for a dragon superplex it’s countered into a Tombstone on the apron. Without the first attempt at violence there was no counter. This leads directly into Okada dropkicking Omega off the apron where he lands kidney first on the rail. That looked painful as fuck. Don Callis notes that Ibushi has the white towel. Oh no, is that the finish? My heart! It’s certainly a match altering injury. Omega, to that point neck and neck, finds himself at a major disadvantage. Worse than Okada’s earlier guardrail faux pas. I love how Omega attempts One Winged Angel, it’s countered so he switches to Kroyt’s Wrath! The match becomes a desperate game of Omega trying for his finish and Okada simply refusing to take it. They both try for that big shot but can’t get it and Okada blocks a roll up to go 1-0.
Okada plays this smart. He stays focused and goes back to the ribs/kidney area, which cost Kenny so much in the first fall. He also goes back to the Cobra Clutch, which he used a little in fall one. Omega again has to take risks but this time they pay off. The double stomp off the apron onto a table connects. Okada makes me laugh by sliding out of the “you can’t escape” Samoan splash spot. It’s been a long time coming! Do you think Kenny deliberately told everyone he was putting in that they couldn’t escape because he was saving the spot for another Okada match? Omega does some sensational selling in this.
The snap on his bumps is routinely awesome and his fatigue selling is Steamboat levels of beautiful. Okada also does a fine job with his selling, showing how tired he is and how much pain the big moves cause. Kenny at one point teases a dragon suplex off the apron through a table, which would have been way too much. Just absolute murder. Instead they hit a reversals sequence. The fact people thought Kenny might actually do that is testament to how crazy the spots have been in these matches. They repeat the first pinfall block to my pleasant surprise. Kenny getting caught again but kicking out. One Winged Angel connects and we’re at 1-1.
Okada looks to be out and this is Kenny’s chance…and he blows it. He goes for the One Winged Angel and Okada slips out and belts him with the Rainmaker. Now they’re both dead and this is where fatigue starts playing a major role. Who’s taken the most abuse? Who has the most stamina? Who’s injuries are worse? They get in another lovely little sell from Omega where he collapses on an Irish whip and Okada therefore misses a dropkick. He also can’t hold Okada up for the One Winged Angel. The exhaustion is real! Kota fires Omega up and tells him to use his move, the Phoenix Splash, which Kenny promptly misses. Oh, Ibushi, what have you done? They do some more wonderful selling with Okada unable to get the Tombstone so instead switching to a dropkick to set up the Rainmaker but then he can’t deliver, throwing a tame clothesline and collapsing under the effort of it. Okada manages to hit a few Rainmakers before its all said and done but the wrist control comes from Kenny, countering the Rainmaker into a German suplex and holding on. That’s the visual this time until Okada reverses and does the same. It’s a battle of the wrist locks.
It’s a struggle for both men to even stand but Omega digs deep and gets One Winged Angel. Kenny Omega has done it! He’s done it! New champion! Okada’s record breaking reign is over after two long years and Kenny Omega finally reaches the top of the mountain.
My god, I’m exhausted after just watching this. Fuck.
And here come the Young Bucks, who incidentally reached their own personal heavyweight mountain top tonight. Here to celebrate with Kenny Omega. As is Omega’s long-term friend Kota Ibushi.
And Kenny has one last moment of storytelling to visit. He brushes aside the title to first embrace the Bucks. Friendship being more important than the title itself.
Final Rating: *****
Show of the year? Probably. Not bad considering the last block night of BOSJ was show of the year just a week ago. This show was about taking New Japan to the next level. Well, shit, mission accomplished. Outstanding pro wrestling. Best promotion in the world.