NJPW Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall

Arnold Furious: June 11, 2017. We’re in Osaka at Osaka-Jo Hall. The English language commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis. I’m reasonably happy with this team. It’s panning out better than any other combination they’ve used to date. Got to be better than Matt Striker right? Perhaps Steve Corino was a little better than Callis but Don makes this feel like a unique team, not just ‘let’s get ROH guys to do it’. Highlights today should include KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Goto vs. Mi-Su in a lumberjack death match, Naito-Tanahashi and Okada-Omega II.

 

Jushin Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tiger Mask W, Yuji Nagata, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask IV
The Dads division is in full force here. Plus several wild animals. It’s pretty wild that NJPW are still treating Tiger Mask W like he’s some new wrestler that belongs in opening matches, after battling Okada at the Anniversary show. These guys wrestle each other all the time so it’s an easy match to put together, apart from Makabe failing to get in position for a Nakanishi spear and the big man having to run the ropes again. It causes a chuckle amongst the crowd who know exactly what happened but it’s fairly embarrassing. Togi hits the King Kong Kneedrop on the big man to get the W. Not Tiger Mask, but the Win. This was fine. It always is.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

NEVER Openweight Championship Gauntlet
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI)
The New Japan cameraman is virtually gynaecological in trying to get a shot of Yujiro’s lady. The camera can barely find Fale for his introduction because it’s too busy gawking. “Don’t be such a perve” sayeth Kelly when Callis attempts the same. The match is ok, like the opener, with everything ticking over nicely at a decent speed. There are a lot of different characters and styles involved and it being the first match in a gauntlet series it has to be fast-paced. Yano pulls out the win by cheating. The Sublime Master Thief!

 

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi)
Sabre pins Yano with superior grappling and SKG advance in a matter of seconds.

 

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi) vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson)
Taguchi Japan do a lot of goofy sports stuff to pop the Japanese commentary team. Sabre organises similar abuse and the crowd refuse to pop the heels. Quite right too. I’m proud of you, Osaka. I’m quite happy to see Sabre wrestle any of these guys and whenever he’s in there it’s a solid match. He wrestles most of it, which is fine by me. He should never tag out. They work in a really, really obvious ‘grab the ref’ spot but SKG f*ck up and Juice hits Pulp Friction for the pin. Sabre punishes Juice for this infraction, softening him up for LIJ.

 

Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
LIJ are the incumbent champions so this should be the last match. Ricochet does some very cool stuff with kicks in the early going. Young Rico then gets f*ck*d up attempting to add a powerbomb to a Tower of Doom spot. Sometimes you get what you deserve, Mr Fancypants. The match continues at a fantastic pace with BUSHI isolated as the weak link in the LIJ team. This backfires because LIJ are a far superior team. Taguchi is triple teamed and the MX finishes.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (c) vs. The Young Bucks
The Bucks are going for their sixth IWGP junior championships. The Bucks look to eliminate Romero, with an assortment of abuse on the apron (it’s the hardest part of the ring) before relying on double teams to dismantle Trent. The Bucks continually destroy Rocky on the outside so Beretta has no one to tag. The match is a procession of Bucks offence, leaving Beretta with a series of desperation kick-outs. It’s bizarre to see the Bucks have an old school tag match, based entirely around heat and storyline. With a few less flips it’s the structure of a match from the 1980s. Romero finally returns for Strong Zero only for Nick to kill Beretta in the pin with a Swanton Bomb. It’s one the best ‘break up a pin’ spots you’ll ever see. The work on Romero’s back helps to set up some lovely near finishes. It’s a well-planned match and Romero’s crowd support allows them to tell this story. His heroic comebacks are interspersed with the Bucks killing him again. Eventually Romero, trapped in the Sharpshooter, taps out. This was one of the most logical, smartly worked Young Bucks matches you’ll ever see. It was tremendous work throughout.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
I’ve been somewhat critical of how companies book War Machine. It’s a simple process; they dominate and the other team makes them look good. Then when they eventually do lose it means something. You get over on them by cheating. This is so simple. It doesn’t happen here. GOD work heat and it’s all badly planned. Tanga especially as he tries to no sell. Tanga wants to be more important than he is. He’s not a star. He never will be. There are moments where they get the match right, with War Machine looking dominant but it’s almost immediately followed by Tanga doing something awful and nonsensical. Tama on the other hand is all sneaky in how he attacks and his stuff makes sense. I’m fine with it. He also knows when to take a thrashing off the champs. Tanga looks confused at times, lost at others and can’t match the standard set by everyone else. It ends up being a match where Tama Tonga has to carry everything and cover for his brothers ineptitude. As a team they are nowhere near as good as War Machine but Tama has some awesome ideas, like catching a Gun Stun in the middle of a double team. Most of the action is fine but the booking sucks. Guerrilla Warfare finishes after a bullshit referee bump and a chair shot. That might have been a forced change if New Japan aren’t using War Machine again but Gedo’s style of booking a tag division is to continually switch the belts.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

Michael Elgin vs. Cody Rhodes
Cody does a lot of posing and basic heel stuff while Elgin meets him with raw power. My main issue with this match is that Cody has so many fresh matches in Japan and they keep booking him against other gaijin. I don’t know if that’s just an issue with Cody not being able to communicate with the Japanese talent or wanting to ease himself into the promotion or what. Cody is particularly good at giving stuff room to breathe, which comes from working in WWE. He knows when to stop and pose. He perhaps does this too often, although he is working heel so it’s his job to control the pace. Is lack of drive in that department hurts the reactions though and Elgin doesn’t get those same massive pops that he usually receives. Elgin throws Cody around with his effortless power. Pound for pound he’s probably the strongest man in NJPW. Elgin’s dead lift superplex from off the apron is unreal. Cody picks up the big shock win with Crossroads. Looks like New Japan are very serious about pushing Rhodes as a top talent in their promotion, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Gedo likes Western wrestling. “Okada…let him know” says Cody to the English commentary.
Final Rating: ***

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Hiromu beat KUSHIDA in less than two minutes the last time they wrestled but KUSHIDA has gone through Best of the Super Juniors to claim another title shot and gained a new finisher. But then Hiromu has a new entrance, inspired by Rey Mysterio. The intensity of this battle is there from the opening bell and KUSHIDA outdoes his previous performance. Hiromu has a delightfully violent and dangerous style, which results in KUSHIDA getting thrown around. Hiromu’s ‘antics’ over the course of the week have got in KUSHIDA’s head! KUSHIDA’s response is a Sabu-esque chair assisted dropkick that puts Hiromu through a rail. It’s a vicious spot and it helps KUSHIDA on his path of chasing Hiromu’s arm to get the submission. KUSHIDA once again does something completely sick with the Hoverboard Lock off the top takedown. However Hiromu refuses to give up and instead murders KUSHIDA with a sunset bomb to the floor. This match is insane. Hiromu has been on a tear this year and KUSHIDA’s BOSJ performance was fantastic. Now they’re having this sick match. Which features the Back to the Future off the top, Hiromu not killing himself with the bump as much as Ospreay did but it still causing a lengthy double knock down. KUSHIDA gets a lot of heat for a) punching and b) stomping on Hiromu’s face. Hey, he’s been met with dangerous and he has to respond with violence. That’s all there is to  it. KUSHIDA brutalises Hiromu’s arm, bending the wrist back, and Takahashi has no choice but to tap out. This was amazing. The crazy high spots, the psychology, the revenge, the catharsis, the potential for another match! The Junior division has been solid ever since KUSHIDA rose to the top of it and Hiromu has taken the standard even higher. This was all kinds of great.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

Post-match: KUSHIDA gets a Mexican wave going and BUSHI jumps him from behind.

 

Lumberjack Death Match
NEVER Openweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Having a lumberjack match means that CHAOS can actually offset the standard SKG interference. I normally don’t care for lumberjack matches, because they’re meaningless unless a guy keeps getting counted out during a feud, but at least it keeps the interference as part of the match. The match struggles along until Suzuki goes after Liger, who’s on commentary, and they almost get into a fight. Suzuki matches are generally great, because of his intensity, but Goto is a flat, bland character so this one falls flat. It’s not a bad match but it lacks the passion and excitement of the previous match. Goto very rarely gets the crowd fired up. In a match designed to eliminate SKG interference they still manage to insert a ref bump and have Suzuki-gun run in. Only to get single-handedly beaten down by YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI! That’s how shit SKG are. Goto has it won clean with GTR but Taichi pulls the ref out. Suzuki then hits the Gotch Piledriver to retain. Typical ‘big match’ failure from Goto. Horrible match choice, bad structure, two pointless ref bumps and Taichi is the finish. At least YOSHI-HASHI looked like a total badass during this. So while this was a poor match at least it gets us to Suzuki vs. YOSHI-HASHI.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Osaka hated Naito as a babyface. Now he’s a heel the crowd are cheering for him. Such is life. Nice guys finish last. With Naito in his plum suit and Tanahashi in his robes, it’s like a battle of a supervillain and hero. As Naito starts to get some heat he comes to life. Naito is fun as a heel who people cheer but when he gets heat and gets angry about it, that’s peak Ingobernable. Tana comes in with a torn bicep, the latest in a string of injuries for the former ace. Naito, predictably, works the arm and illicits a very strong response from Osaka. It’s the best building for Naito because they always react strongly toward him. Tanahashi, when triggered, can become a total dick and Naito has a habit of triggering people. Naito’s latest way to irritate people is his treatment of the IC title but it has a specific purpose. Naito thinks there are too many belts and want New Japan to ditch it so he’s literally destroying the title belt to make it worthless. Naito comes in with a sneakily taped up knee, which Tana goes after when Naito is so relentless at working his injured arm. Thus is becomes a battle of injured limbs and Tanahashi is hurt worse.

It’s tough to watch because there’s a fine line between Tanahashi rolling around selling and Tanahashi being legitimately hurt. Tana’s injury means his bumps are a little awkward at times, which is a concern. The tornado DDT looks downright dangerous. The match starts to get really heated when they just f*ck off the injury angles and start popping off the big spots, leaving the crowd in a constantly unsettled state (like a lucha crowd). The finish is really weird as Tanahashi fails to score three of the High Fly Flow and switches to a high Cloverleaf until Naito simply taps out.

It’s a curious finish as it felt like a rest hold prior to the actual finishing stretch. But it does make logical sense as Tana spent the whole match working the leg. There was a nice tip of the hat to Nakamura right before the High Fly Flow. He promised Shinsuke he’d become the IC ace and here he is.
Final Rating: ****

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
This is a much hyped re-match to Wrestle Kingdom’s *****(*) contest. That match went north of 45 minutes and there is a possibility of a 60 minute draw. This looks like a possibility from the opening exchanges, which are slow and deliberate. Commentary chooses to make this about match quality and how Omega was responsible for the six star match, not Okada, causing Kevin Kelly to read out Dave Meltzer’s star ratings history for both men, suggesting Okada has had more high calibre matches. What is happening?

The storyline kicks in with Okada “tweaking the knee”. Commentary bashes me over the head with that by telling us about it before the spot even happens. Omega works it over and that’s the focus of the match. I’d rather they didn’t do that, seeing as almost every Tanahashi main event has had that leg story. At least Omega is vicious about it and throws Okada onto the announce table knee first. Tonight has seen a lot of submissions so it’s interesting that Okada, in his defensive moveset, busts out Red Ink to wear Kenny down. There’s just a slight inkling that he might tap, given the other results. Okada does a decent job of paying tribute to that leg work, without letting it dominate the match. He’s hesitant to put weight on it and is slow to follow up on moves as he gingerly recovers from spots. The legwork is slowly forgotten as they move into bigger and bigger spots, and it’s clear that Okada is landing more successfully than during the first match; hitting Heavy Rain on the apron and his savage Shotgun dropkick into the rail. Also he busts out a table, clearly wanting to avenge the table spot from WK. As we get about thirty minutes into the match it becomes apparent this is a long-haul contest. Even more so than WK. Each big bump is greeted by a substantial period of selling. Although the spots are worth selling. For example; Omega countering Okada’s magnificent dropkick into a sit-out powerbomb in mid-move. That’s sensational work. The table comes into play for Okada dropping the elbow through it, leaving Omega a mess at ringside. I like how big spots genuinely turn the tide of the match for large periods of the action. It makes big spots mean something. Plus the storytelling ties in to Okada’s big match tropes. Omega becomes scared as soon as Okada gets wrist control because he knows what that means. The Bullet Club arrive in full force and Cody Rhodes tries to throw the towel in as Omega is finished. The Bullet Club then becomes Kenny’s cheering squad as he mounts his comeback. The match then becomes about the One Winged Angel. The only thing Kenny didn’t do to Okada at WK and the one move nobody kicks out of, ever. He hits it and Okada, showing incredible ring positioning, gets his foot on the rope.

The match is loaded with these little moments like Omega doing his gun taunt and Okada grabbing him for a Rainmaker out of it. At this point both guys look tired and it’s entirely believable that either of them could be pinned at any moment. They both throw out quite sensational last gasp counters to prevent this. At one point Omega collapses in mid-Rainmaker, thus saving himself by passing out. It’s utterly sensational. I’ve never seen anything like it.

It gets to the point where neither guy can lift the other so they wearily strike at each other. This is where Kenny can win because he has those heavy knees. The V-Trigger cannot set up One-Winged Angel because Kenny has no strength left. It’s such an exhausting match, both mentally for the viewer and physically for the wrestlers. Going 60 minutes is exceptionally hard and telling a story throughout that hour is even harder. This has been masterful. Inside a minute left and Okada hits the Rainmaker but can’t get a pin because he’s too tired. The time limit expires. It’s a 60 minute draw. Holy shit.

I preferred the Wrestle Kingdom match but that is in no way a criticism of this match. Just that I preferred that match to this one. This was phenomenal. They told a great story and battled through the hour switching gears and telling that long story. I love these boys. The second half of this was fantastic.
Final Rating: *****

 

Summary: With the streak of awesome main events they’re having this year, if you’re not watching New Japan you’re not watching the best professional wrestling on the planet.
Verdict: 100

RevPro Epic Encounter 2017

Arnold Furious: April 13, 2017. We’re in York Hall, Bethnal Green for RPW’s Epic Encounter show. The show that kicks off Easter bank holiday weekend with a bang. Hosts are Andy Quildan and Andy Boy Simmonz. Andy Q has given up the ring announcer spot to Steve Lynskey, allowing him to focus on commentary. This is where Progress has one up on Rev Pro. They have three promoters. One for ring announcing, one for commentary and another to hold everything together. Andy Q is spreading himself a bit thin.

 

RPW Tag Team Championship
#CCK (Chris Brookes & Travis Banks) (c) vs. Sami Callihan & Martin Stone
Callihan & Stone know each other from NXT where they wrestled as Solomon Crowe and Danny Burch. #CCK won the titles on one of the Cockpit show. Sami Callihan has a habit of winding me up by encouraging the crowd to clap. It’s not required in the UK. The crowd is already loud. I got so annoyed with him doing it at FCP I was flat-out mouthing off. This match is a strong opener with some canny planned out spots. The champs are supposed to be heel but their arrival disrupted what felt like a static tag division so the crowd love them for it. Sami’s childish sense of glee extends to running around the ring holding hands with Martin. He’s a strange boy. Brookes and Banks are shockingly good as a unit with Travis doing all of Kid Lykos’ spots only somehow with better fluidity. This is a cracking opener because they don’t bother with tags and just ramp up the spots. That’s what you need from a hot opener. Get everyone nice and feisty. The way the match flows you’d think these four had been feuding for years. It’s remarkably strong. It’s the best use of Martin Stone in ages. The way they all run near misses and accidental miscues is great. Sure, the match ignores the concept of tag team wrestling in favour of doing all the spotz but f*ck it, I love it. #CCK have the better continuity and smash Stone with the double team finish they do*. This was fiery good. One of the best Rev Pro openers in a long time.
Final Rating: ****

 

Post-match: Martin Stone grabs the mic and talks about how much he loves working here. He references WWE as “that place” before expressing his joy at building IPW:UK and his intentions at being a fixture in RPW going forward. The crowd enjoy this sentiment, which is aided by it coming on the back of a fantastic match. Sami Callihan promptly turns on Stone, in a move any wrestling fan could see coming from a million miles away. Sami seems to be upset with Stone for getting fired when he quit WWE. He claims Martin would still be scratching away in Florida if he’d not been let go.

 

Jay White vs. Angelico
It’s crazy the talent that keeps showing up on these shows. Here’s Angelico because why not? South Africa vs. New Zealand and in terms of mind-set Mexico vs. Japan. It’s a bit of a clash of styles and like most Jay White matches it’s wrestled in front of general disinterest because he has no character. Jay White’s character is that he’s a wrestler who likes wrestling. Sometimes that’s enough but with the sea of talented wrestlers available it results in a flat atmosphere during his matches. There’s nothing wrong with the work at all. It’s good solid grappling and both guys look good but the blandness of the characters is what hurts the crowd’s response. With Jay it’s going to be an issue going forward but with NJPW I’ll bet they have an idea lined up for him. Angelico could force the pace but he’s on holiday and there’s no Jack Evans around so that’s not happening. They tease Angelico hitting his Fall of the Angels finish but Jay counters out and gets the Boston crab for the Young Lions submission. He does try to do it Liontamer style but retaining a young boys finish is perhaps not the best of ideas. This was fine but a cool-down match after a hot opener. The crowd do respond to Jay after the match, suggesting that while the match wasn’t great they do love him. Which is a good spot to be in.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

Zack Gibson vs. Hirooki Goto
As if Gibson has recorded his promo to be his entrance music. That’s proper genius. Goto had been on RevPro’s NJPW wish list for a while. This is his first trip to the UK. He’s cornered by Will Ospreay because they’re both in CHAOS, which is a nice touch. Gibson tries for his promo and gets that same nuclear heat he gets in Progress, which is fantastic. Being able to generate that kind of heat is a special talent and it basically just comes from Zack talking. Goto isn’t quite sure what to make of it all. He shows deference to Gibson in Zack’s House by selling extensively. Gibson has added a deliberate botch to his moves, which is next level stuff. It’s to play off the Steven Gerrard slip abuse most Liverpool supporters have been receiving since Gerrard botched and cost Liverpool the title. Goto coasts through this, perhaps being aware that if he was in the third match in New Japan it would be considered the kind of match he could sleepwalk through. Everything he does gets popped anyway so he doesn’t need to work too hard. He leaves that to Gibson, who’s genuinely the driving force behind this contest. His only major issue is spamming the Codebreaker, which he hits three different times during the match. Gibson legitimately goes to use a car stereo as a weapon but Ospreay stops it. This is Juvi and the tequila bottle all over again (screw you, Russo). Goto comes firing back and takes it with the GTR. Nothing to write home about here for Goto but Gibson looked like a top star with his antics.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Marty Scurll
This is some Andy Q outside-the-box booking. Rev Pro are in a unique position when it comes to booking dream matches and Scurll and Hiromu is a fine mixture of weirdness. Hiromu has wrestled here before, in Portsmouth, and the contrast between then and now is massive. Hiromu is a bit of a weirdo now and licks his title belt before the match, before licking Scurll’s umbrella. This gets him belted in the face with the umbrella! Holy shit! Scurll is excellent at the moment, taking all his trademark spots, built up over many years, and combining them with whatever he’s faced with. When he’s got a talented opponent that makes it even better. Hiromu on the other hand is completely fearless and seemingly impervious to injury. He throws himself out of the ring like his bones are made of metal. Also Hiromu is having the time of his life in NJPW, having great match after great match with a variety of opponents. He has no problem getting fired up to meet Marty’s antics halfway. There’s a great spot where Scurll sees Shaz doing Hiromu cosplay and slaps her hat off. Did he have that planned or was it improvised? It’s a nice touch either way. Scurll eventually catches Hiromu in the Chickenwing. They turn it into an ‘arm drop three times’ thing. I don’t like that spot. If someone is unconscious for two seconds you should probably stop the match ref. Anyway Hiromu survives, hits the Timebomb and Scurll kicks out of that. A second Timebomb gets the job done. This was two worlds and two wacky styles colliding and it worked for the most part. Not a total blowaway match but a really good one.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Josh Bodom
Bodom is the interim champ, which means they both have belts and claims on the title. Rev Pro have been building up to this for a while with it being implied that Ospreay is ducking Bodom and Josh himself mentally building up to eventually facing Will by beating other strong contenders. Ospreay comes in hurt with back issues. These are clear as he’s had the suction cup treatment and has expansion tape all over the place. It must be worrying for Will to be this young and already nursing a host of injuries. He is developing his persona so he’s not overly reliant on silly bumps but that doesn’t stop them from happening. Case in point: he takes a back bump across the top rope from standing on the buckle. That is not a sensible bump mate. Bodom, in response, hits a ridiculous flip to the floor and nearly breaks his ribs. Lads, I appreciate the effort but let’s try not to kill each other. With Ospreay selling his back it gives Bodom a defined target for abuse and thankfully stops Will from doing a mass of flips and doing serious damage to his future. The match serves as an example of Ospreay’s ability to sell (or his back is totally destroyed and he’s in absolute agony). Bodom is able to showcase his own ability and how versatile he’s become without stealing Will’s spotlight or turning himself face. Meanwhile Will, unable to do flips, breaks out an assortment of innovation. It might not be what the fans want from Ospreay but it’s what he needs to do if he wants a long career.

For Bodom this is a coming out party. A demonstration of everything he’s learned as a professional wrestler from moves to psychology. It’s his chance to prove he can go toe-to-toe with one of the best wrestlers in the world. Some of the bumps from Will down the stretch are both upsetting and impressive. He flings himself across the ring to make sure Bodom looks credible. As Bodom clubs away on Ospreay’s injured back he must surely be aware he’s in the midst of constructing a classic match. That is until Ospreay stamps on his face. Gibson turns up to allow Will to score the visual submission and protect his heat. It’s telling that Ospreay has to pull flips out of the locker to preserve his belt only for Bodom to cut him off and hit the Blissbuster for the title. The psychology and body part work during this was damn good. The whole thing felt like a coming of age for Bodom, who’s been working his way through the Rev Pro ranks for years. Sure, he’s been here before, at the Cruiserweight title level, but now he’s done it by beating the best. Suddenly Ospreay’s run with this belt makes perfect sense.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

No Disqualification
James Castle vs. Sha Samuels
The end of the Revolutionists was Sha abandoning his protégé Castle. James comes into this with very impressive hair. Many cans of hairspray died to allow this punk rock pock phenomenon. This is a cool down match after that epic Ospreay-Bodom contest. They are allowed to break all the rules in order to stay over though. This includes various plunder shots, including a saw, and Sha hitting a moonsault to the floor like a loon. If that doesn’t turn Sha face then slapping Chris Roberts moments later certainly does. Sha actually bodyslams Roberts in a throwback to a comedy match a few years back where Chris slammed Sha. Storyline continuity lads! Castle wins by kneeing a chair into Sha’s face. This was brisk but hit every high possible.
Final Rating: ***

 

Post-match: Sha is annoyed by his loss, chair shots Castle and clips Castle’s punk rock hair off. It’s an outrage! That was one of the finest barnets in pro wrestling!

 

Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Andy Q has booked himself a technical masterpiece. He’s all fired up about it too! You could argue these are the two best technical wrestlers in the world today. The York Hall crowd are bunch of weirdos. They happily chant “Zacky Three Belts” for the heel Sabre Jr after booing him as a face.

The mat work in this is absolutely outstanding. KUSHIDA had a match against Kyle O’Reilly in Rev Pro that contained fantastic mat work but the quality here is possibly higher. The speed, difficulty level and smoothness are all off the charts. Technical wrestling isn’t just holds and counterholds. It’s all in the way it’s executed. It has to look like a struggle. Sabre is so good at that and KUSHIDA fluidity around him is magical. Sabre heels it up by being slightly dickish, posing and such, when he’s in charge. It’s just enough to turn the crowd against him although generally they watch in silence, contemplating the excellent grappling they’re being served. The match is perhaps on the long side, for modern fans, but it’s technically good enough to have me interested in where the story is going. Sabre does some astonishing work with only one arm, at one point hooking a sleeper with one arm out of use. Both guys are looking for armbars and spend the contest building to the inevitability of a submission.

Sabre in particular ties KUSHIDA into knots. When he tries to hook all his limbs in submission holds, like he did with AJ Styles, it blows a few fans minds. KUSHIDA’s escapes are a highlight of the match as he’s both creative and flashy with the basics. KUSHIDA tries to lift the cocky arms-folded pin but Sabre rolls through it and gets the pin himself in similar fashion. This was exhausting, in a good way, and if you like technical wrestling this is your jam.
Final Rating: ****1/4

 

The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) vs. Lio Rush, Shane Strickland & Ryan Smile
This is probably not the trio I’d have put against the Elite. Two of them are Americans for starters, meaning you get most of a match that could take place in the States. The only Brit is Ryan Smile, who is fine but if I was picking a trio this is not what it would be. Ricochet was due to be here, which would have been better, but he’s missing and replaced by little Lio. The crowd is very happy to see the Elite. Who knew the Bullet Club was this big of a deal? Omega has turned himself into an absolute megastar.

Shane Strickland does a fine job of not being impressed by any of this. Kenny is in a good mood thanks to the general crowd love and noise. It takes ten minutes for the entrances thanks to the Elite milking it. Hey, they’re the stars here. They sold the tickets. I specifically couldn’t go to this show because it sold out after Omega was announced. It’s weird that the guy to get over from all this is Lio Rush! This is a lot of fun. They goof around and do six missed dropkicks at the same time. The fans get a lot of joy from yelling “superkick” every time one connects and the “four boots” bit.

Lio continues to stand out with his energetic, 100mph offence but when Omega wants to he suddenly becomes the most outstanding wrestler in the match. It’s like he has an internal switch from goofball to god. Ryan Smile struggles at times to be in the right place and to time things correctly. He’s often ahead of where he’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s nerves from being in such a big match and not wanting to be out of position. Aside from that the match is a tonne of fun. It always helps when a crowd is into something and they’re into the Elite big time. The Elite do some real Three Stooges stuff, which appears in all of their matches. Three Superkicks and a double Meltzer Driver finishes. Simmonz, mark, calls it the “best wrestling match ever seen at York Hall”. It was certainly good fun and in Lio Rush a star is born but the FCP Elite-BSS match was better.
Final Rating: ****

 

Post-match: Kenny name drops AJ Styles, who apparently put over Rev Pro to him. Omega has a talent for holding a crowd in the palm of his hand during his wacky meandering promos. They’re an experience.

 

Summary: This show was great. If you’ve not seen just go and watch it. Anyone concerned about the impact of WWE on BritWres shouldn’t be. This weekend has been proof positive that the scene is thriving like never before. The sheer numbers for sold out shows (here, 3 FCP shows, OTT, ICW) is staggering. And the quality is phenomenal.
Verdict: 100

Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall (2015)

Arnold Furious: 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.

 

Dark Match:
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!

 

BLOCK A
Togi Makabe
Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Toru Yano
Doc Gallows
Bad Luck Fale
Tetsuya Naito
Katsuyori Shibata
Kota Ibushi
Hiroshi Tanahashi
AJ Styles

 

BLOCK B
Hirooki Goto
Satoshi Kojima
Yuji Nagata
Tomoaki Honma
Michael Elgin
Karl Anderson
Yujiro Takahashi
Tomohiro Ishii
Shinsuke Nakamura
Kazuchika Okada

 

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.

RAINMAKER POSE!

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.
Verdict: 91