Wednesday, July 9, 2014

NJPW Dominion 2014 Review

The Bullet Club celebrates following one of New Japan's best PPVs this year
New Japan Pro Wrestling's last big PPV before the the G1 Climax delivered a lot more than most were expecting. The card didn't inspire much enthusiasm going into the show what with all three of the main events featuring the less than reliable Bullet Club and the World Champion wrestling in a tag team match. But despite some of the more questionable choices the company has made recently, it ended up being one of their best shows this year, both in terms of match quality and booking. Let's take a look at the show match by match to see where the company succeeded and where they might need some work.

1) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship) The Young Bucks (c) vs Time Splitters:
Firstly, I would like point out that Alex Shelley has, for some reason, grown a really gammy rat's tail, à la Lance Storm in 1997. So... yeah look out for that in this match and shake your head accordingly. Anyway, this was a great opener with the usual spectacular athleticism that you would expect from these two teams but with some absolutely spot on timing that makes all the cool stuff they did even more effective. There was a great spot where Shelley rolled towards Kushida with the intention of tagging him in but Nick Jackson was there a microsecond earlier to yank his partner of the apron. Just perfect execution of a really simple move that the crowed gasped for. In the end, Time Splitters regained the belts which are, as of writing, one of only two championships not held by the Bullet Club. More on that later.

2) Tetsuya Naito vs Tama Tonga:
This match was five minutes of nothingness and sorta indicative of Naito's whole direction after coming back. The guy was so damn popular before he got injured but for whatever reason the crowd just didn't latch onto him like they did the first time around. Perhaps it was because they had him feud against arguably the two hottest stars at the time, Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii and simply couldn't compete with their popularity. Anyway, regardless of why the crowd isn't so into him I think a heel turn would be the best way to go. There's too many baby faces in the main event scene at the moment and we could probably do with some bad guys who aren't in the Bullet Club. Until that happens though, he's stuck in boring filler matches like this.

3) Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibita vs Yuji Nagata and Tomoaki Honma:
Welcome to Potatoville, ladies and gentlemen. Keep your limbs inside the vehicle or they're likely to be ripped off. This was a gloriously stiff brawl featuring the four toughest shit-kickers in the company. I like how they're utilizing Honma, I mean if he's never going to be pushed and win matches than you may as well use him like the first boss in a video game. Let him be beaten by everyone that you like. He can put up a hell of a convincing fight and always make someone looking better leaving than they did coming in. Similarly, Goto and Shibita are about as legit as you get wrestling, and if Goto's window of opportunity to win the heavyweight title has passed then New Japan should very seriously consider putting the belt on Shibita. He is approaching 35 but the crowd totally buys into him. I would go as far to say that he's a dark horse candidate to win the G1 Climax.

4) (NWA World Tag Team Championship) TenKoji (c) vs Killer Elite Squad:
Last year the remnants of the post-NWA Hollywood version of the National Wrestling Alliance "invaded" New Japan which was only slightly less pathetic than the WWF "invasion" from 1998. Basically what it meant was we got to see Rob Conway in a bunch of shitty matches defending a title that couldn't possibly mean less. And in addition to the oh so prestigious World Title featured on New Japan cards, the tag titles were thrown in to mix too, currently held by the long running tag team of Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima.

The match surprised me because it was actually pretty good. We've seen these two teams face off a bunch of times and the pairing never amounted to much since KES kinda need to be ring with smaller, faster paced guys and Tenzan is well past his prime. But here they managed to pull off a fairly exciting match with quick action and some good near-falls. We got to see a title change to boot. This marks the first time I've ever enjoyed a NWA match on a NJPW show.

5) (NJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship) Kota Ibushi (c) vs Ricochet:
This was the big payoff to the less-than-stellar Best of the Super Juniors tournament from last month and God damn it was awesome. It was an absolutely stellar match that had the fans completely hooked. Ricochet does get on my nerves sometimes, but here I had no complaints about anything he did. Ibushi on the other hand I am convinced is one of he most exciting wrestlers in the world to watch. A lot like Hiroshi Tanahashi, there's almost never a singles match he has where I'm not enthralled. Unfortunately, I guess he's at the end of his current short stint with the company as he recently lost the title to Kushida. Irrespective of who actually holds the title though, the juniors division is certainly night and day compared to last year.

6) Takashi Iizuka and Minoru Suzuki vs Toru Yano and Kazushi Sakuraba:
This was another match in the interminable Chaos vs Suzukigun feud which has expanded to now include Sakuraba who really has plummeted since his return in 2012. I had such high hopes for the guy after his incredible match at WrestleKingdom 7 but then again he was wrestling Shinsuke Nakamura, who probably carried him like a baby in a pram. At least he isn't having horrid faux-MMA style matches against the Gracie Family any more. As for the other three competitors, Takashi Iizuka has routinely been one of my least favourite aspects of any show he's been apart since I started watching puroresu, and Suzuki and Yano are basically the Japanese Kofi Kingsotn and Dolph Ziggler. They've been feuding for what feels like forever. It's not that they're not talented (Suzuki has received a five star rating from Meltzer) but they have no chemistry and will not stop wrestling each other.

The match itself was garbage but I expected no less. Just endless choking and flailing around with no attempt to add drama or tell a story. I suppose it's a good thing though that all the worst aspects of any New Japan show were all compacted into one match.

7) Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada vs Yujiro Takahashi and AJ Styles:
AJ Styles isn't over and that's a serious problem. He's the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and one of the heads of the most important stable in Japanese wrestling today. The crowd just don't react to him like they should. I'm beginning to warm up to the Bullet Club, but Styles is no Prince Devitt, neither in popularity or skill, in my opinion. And when considering the amount of tickets they sold to the last PPV at the Yokohama arena, he's not real draw either. But with that said, this was a really fun tag match even if the crowd didn't fully buy into the heels. Ishii and Okada, despite losing their belts (Ishii lost the Never Openweight title to Takahashi soon afterwards) are both still red hot and had no problem getting the fans into the action. However, the deflated finish with Takahashi pinning Ishii out of nowhere was kinda disappointing.

8) (IWGP Tag Team Championship) Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe vs Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows (c):
A great match that made me realize that I don't still have channel changing hate the Bullet Club. Sure they're still 50% composed of TNA rejects but they're having good matches and they act like fucking dickheads just enough to make me want to see them lose. That's a success, right? And what's more, they're the best kind of heels in that they can win clean if they really want to but prefer to cheat if the going gets tough. That's superb booking. Gedo and Jado deserve a lot of credit for the fine line they've walked with this group with only a few failures so far like the aforementioned Styles. Gallows and Anderson won clean as a whistle in the second of a trifecta of victories for da' club.

9) (IWGP Intercontinental Championship) Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Bad Luck Fale:
Isn't it fascinating how if you treat a championship like it's important the fans will react to it like it's important? The Intercontinental Championship was introduced during the NJPW excursion to the states a few years ago and after a bunch of stellar title defenses involving Nakamura, it's now treated as almost as important as the world title, hell it even main-evented last years WrestleKingdom.

I've yet to really make my mind up on Fale. New Japan really wants him to be the next gaijin monster, like Vader or Stan Hansen, but I just don't see that kind of potential in him. Regardless, however of how talented I think he is, the company is determined to make the guy a star and lo and behold here he is beating Shinsuke Nakamura, clean to win the IC title. The match was great as one can only expect from Nakamura who sold Fale's should-probably-look-like-it-hurts-more offense like he was getting hit with grenades and lost clean in the end. Afterwards The Bullet Club celebrated their most successful night in the company so far.

That about wraps up this review. In closing, the highlights of the show were definitely the juniors matches which really makes me happy to know that division has gotten back on track. As for the main events, they belonged entirely to The Bullet Club who decisively won a string of mostly exciting back to back matches. The next PPV will be the first day of the 2014 G1 Climax. The card for that show looks pretty bloody great although if you're a newcomer to puro it might not be the best place to start. In the meantime though Dominion 2014 gets an easy recommendation from me.