Monday, June 11, 2018

New Japan Pro Wrestling: Dominion 2018

Another war, this time with a different ending
Photo Credit:
New Japan Pro Wrestling put on their annual Dominion show last Saturday, in the bright lights of Osaka-Jo Hall. Consider this to be their SummerSlam — the second-biggest show of the year where notable stuff tends to happen. There were a few undercard matches, one of which included Michael Elgin winning a title (NJPW is insufficiently woke, unfortunately). But let's talk about the big ones that mattered.

The Young Bucks vs. EVIL and SANADA (IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship)
After a few years in the Junior Heavyweight Division, and after becoming arguably the most popular tag team in the world, the Bucks finally moved up to the Heavyweight Division, and it took them exactly one attempt to capture the tag belts. Maybe it's the surprise success of All In that has NJPW bestowing such honors upon them and putting them in such a spot, but like they always do, the Bucks proved that they deserve every bit of their success by going toe-to-toe with EVIL and SANADA in a match that zoomed by in a delirious blur.

Rey Mysterio Jr., Hiroshi Tanahashi and Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Cody, Marty Scurll and Hangman Page
There isn't much to report from this one, honestly, but it was Mysterio's first match in NJPW and that's yet another wonderful thumb in the strangely wet eye of Vince McMahon, so we should all be happy about that. The Bullet Club took the win with some post-match shenanigans, and Mysterio didn't even get to hit a 619 in the match, so it looks like they're planting seeds for him to come back.

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
Having just won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, in which both he and Ospreay abused their bodies like maniacs, Hiromu Takahashi challenged Ospreay for the Junior Heavyweight Championship five days after taking the trophy. Despite this short rest time, both men did Juniors of the past proud by not taking it easy at all and throwing bombs at each other with abandon. Ospreay continues to be one of the best wrestlers on the planet, no matter what quirks of his Wrestling Twitter wants to harp on, and Takahashi continues to also be one of the best wrestlers on the planet, unanimously loved by Wrestling Twitter.

Chris Jericho vs. Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship)
We knew this match would be crazy from the moment Jericho stepped onto the ramp, looking like a confused Clockwork Orange cosplayer who put on the Droog makeup from hazy memory and thought they wore fedoras, not bowlers. Jericho jumped Naito before he could even get his suit off, and it was a pretty intense brawl from there. Most of the match was dominated by Jericho, putting Naito firmly in the role of the babyface, but his complicated history with the city of Osaka, combined with Jericho's superstardom, led the crowd to rain down a few boos on him. This lack of faith did nothing to help Naito, and he ultimately fell victim to Jericho's nuttiness (as well as a shot to the nuts). Chris Jericho is holding a major NJPW title in 2018. We're living in The Zone now, folks.

After the match, as Jericho needlessly assaulted Naito, fellow Los Ingobernables de Japon member EVIL came out for the save. Whenever this match does happen, it will mean yet another NJPW match from Chris Jericho, and again, this is all making Vince McMahon real pissed, and that can only be a good thing.

Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (IWGP Heavyweight Championship, 2 out of 3 falls, no time limit)
The type of thing that should make McMahon pissed is the fact that NJPW is clearly head and shoulders above WWE in all areas of the in-ring product. It just isn't close. That fact was most recently, and most definitively, reinforced at Dominion when Kenny Omega challenged Kazuchika Okada for the Heavyweight Championship in a two-out-of-three falls match with no time limit. The lack of a time limit was a nod to their match at last year's Dominion, where they went to a 60-minute time limit draw. They were pretty obviously signaling that this match would eclipse that one's length, so only serious viewers would be accepted. No lightweight casuals allowed.

The match was everything it needed to be, clocking in at just under 69 minutes (THE NICEST) including the two-minute breaks that occurred between falls. Of course there were rest spots and some tomfoolery outside the ring, but that stuff really was kept to a minimum. Omega and Okada worked their asses off to justify the length of this match, making sure it never became an exercise in egotism or indulgence.

They called back to previous spots in their 2017 matches, most notably toward the end when Okada reared back to deliver his Rainmaker clothesline. At last year's Dominion, Okada went for the Rainmaker at one point, yet Omega was so spent that he fell to his knees before he could even get hit. In this match, Okada was about to hit Omega with the Rainmaker, when he collapsed in the process and merely grazed Omega on his way down to the mat. It was such a simple idea, yet it was used to such incredible effect.

After an hour-plus of unbelievable pro wrestling, Omega emerged victorious. He finally conquered his great white whale, ending Okada's unprecedented two-year run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. It was almost surreal to see Okada being led to the back by the young lions, collapsing under the weight of his rare failure.

And then the Young Bucks came out to meet Omega and Kota Ibushi, who had stood in his partner's corner. They put aside their differences, all four embraced, and pro wrestling once again taught us that it's okay to feel feelings, even if they're related to the feelings men have for each other, either romantic or otherwise. We struggle together, we fight together, and sometimes, we win together.