Sunday, June 11, 2017
NJPW Dominion Review
So here it is. Wrestle Kingdom 11 2.0. Gedo booked his second biggest show to be a near carbon-copy of the biggest show of the year. I’ve made my thoughts clear on this booking strategy, so no point in going further into it. I dislike it, most people let it slide. It’s done. This show features the biggest names in New Japan in some big matches, setting the stage for the upcoming G1 Climax.
David Finlay seemed to enjoy playing the older brother of sorts to the new crop of young lions. Commentary tried putting over how he’s grown in 2017, but he had a much better 2016. Umino and Yagi, the most unknown lions, went to war at the start, getting a chance to showcase themselves. Finlay got some shine but again, the highlight was Oka vs. Kitamura. Yagi nearly upset Finlay with the crab, but it was broken up. Finlay eventually hit him with the Stunner to win at 7:37. Fun little pre-show stuff here. The lions brought it and Finlay fit right in.
Post-match, wild man Hirai Kawato went after David Finlay and they brawled.
It’s Tiger Mask W and all the dads. I’ll never get over how weird Kota Ibushi is. Dude was on the verge of being a massive star a few years ago and now he’s an anime character. And I don’t think he’d want it any other way. This was your typical NJPW multi-man tag. Everyone got their signature stuff in, Tiger Mask W was fun and the match moved along briskly. Makabe had some awkward moments, including not getting in position for a Nakanishi spear, which got a chuckle from the crowd. It was Togi who picked up the win with the King Kong Knee Drop on Nakanishi at 7:01. Like I said, this was fine.
It’s the first of our “this basically happened at Wrestle Kingdom” matches. This gauntlet is bigger though. The Bullet Club trio (and the lovely Tokyo Latina) started against the CHAOS guys. It was basically every Bullet Club/CHAOS battle ever. It moved quickly, YOSHI got isolated and Yano was Yano. Speaking of, it was Yano who rolled up Yujiro to steal it at 6:01. Next in was the Suzuki-Gun guys. Imagine not booking El Desperado on this show after his run in the BOTSJ. Yano was no match for Sabre, who beat him in 0:43 by wrapping him in a pin. Taguchi Japan was next. When they did their series of corner attacks, they added a baseball parody trick to them. Suzuki-Gun tried cheating a bunch, but it was never enough. Juice won via Pulp Friction at around 4:53. Sabre slapped him in a submission just before our final entrants, LIDJ, came out. They took advantage, but Taguchi Japan are a resilient group. Ricochet was his usual great self, but nearly got injured trying to add a powerbomb to a tower of doom spot. In the end, BUSHI hit MX on Taguchi to retain at a grand total of 18:39. I enjoyed this a bit more than the WK one. Sabre looked great, nothing overstayed its welcome and everyone played their roles. I’m glad the titles didn’t change hands either.
RPG Vice took the titles from the Bucks at WK11, lost them to Suzuki-Gun, won them back and then inexplicably challenged the Bucks again. Their WK match was better than expected. The Bucks had a smart game plan, taking Rocky Romero out and isolating Beretta. That made for good TV, because Beretta has been one of the best tag babyfaces in 2017. From NJPW matches to a particularly great tag in PWG. Just when he was about to make the tag, Romero was taken out again by a powerbomb on the ramp. Beretta survived a ton and when Rocky came in, he was nearly just as good. From firing up to hope spots, he did great. In a nice twist, the Bucks won via Sharpshooter in 14:14. It was a great way to play off the back work on Rocky and I appreciate that the Bucks (who I’ve called one-dimensional on multiple occasions) worked a different style of match. My biggest gripe is the title switch. Like every Jr. Tag Title switch since I started watching NJPW, it was just there for the sake of it and meant nothing. Anyway, I’ll take logically worked tag match Bucks over their typical stuff any day.
War Machine has been great and a breath of fresh air in the dreadful heavyweight tag division. This was structured so strangely. GOD jumped War Machine before the bell and then dominated at times. If I’m booking War Machine, that’s not the route I go. When War Machine was in control and doing their thing, the match was fine. If GOD was on offense, the match suffered. Especially whenever Tanga Roa did anything. Tama Tonga had the best moment, countering a popup double team move with the Gun Stun. A ref bump, chair shot and Guerrilla Warfare gave us another title switch at 10:43. A few fun moments in this sprint, but it was structured in a way that killed things. The finish was lame too. It’s hard to get invested in Gedo’s tag matches when the booking is largely the same.
Hey, it’s Cody Rhodes against a fellow gaijin. So, like Wrestle Kingdom again. As a fan of Cody, it’s painful to know how lackluster his post-WWE run has been, especially in NJPW. I wonder if there’s an issue with the language, since Cody hasn’t worked anyone but gaijins. Cody got in control and did a lot of posing in between offense. It led to a great moment where Elgin mocked him. Elgin tossed Cody around with ease, but I thought Cody showing his power by lifting Elgin a few times was great. I’m not sure why, but Cody’s moonsault looked off tonight. It’s usually almost Angle levels of perfect. Cody must’ve watched Naito against Elgin, because he similarly went after the knee. The finish was wisely done. Cody slipped free of the deadlift superplex, kicked Elgin’s leg and hit the Cross Rhodes at 11:53. Certainly the best work of Cody’s NJPW run. The leg work was smart and they drew the crowd in.
After the match, Cody told the English commentary team that he was coming for Daniels and the ROH Title, but also made sure to call out Okada.
It’s another WK rematch. On that night, Hiromu took the title from KUSHIDA (****¼) and then Hiromu squashed him in under two minutes at Sakura Genesis. Hiromu (2017’s wrestler of the year) got a Rey Mysterio like “JUMPING OUT THE SKY) entrance. Hiromu’s in KUSHIDA’s head and that was kind of the story here. His antics made KUSHIDA aggressive, which pulled KUSHIDA into his style. From battling with strikes to a Sabu like springboard dropkick off a chair, KUSHIDA was ready to get just as wild as the champion. KUSHIDA targeted the arm, because though he has a new finisher, he still utilizes the Hoverboard Lock. They went at a crazy pace with some awesome spots throughout. KUSHIDA took a particularly nasty bump on the sunset flip bomb. KUSHIDA hit a super Back to the Future, like he did against Ospreay, but was too hurt to cover. That led to a great battle of strikes, before KUSHIDA stomped on Hiromu’s head a bunch. That drew boos, most likely since LIDJ is so over in Osaka. A wicked twist on the Hoverboard Lock made Hiromu tap at 19:12. Better than their WK outing. I hate that Hiromu lost, because it seems like his entire (incredible) run was just to put KUSHIDA over even more. That being said, it was a great story. Hiromu broke him in every single way and he had to dig way deep to overcome him. KUSHIDA did things he usually doesn’t do, bending the rules just enough in order to win. Hiromu’s WOTY resume continues growing.
Post-match, Hiromu seemed to motion for a rematch. KUSHIDA got on the microphone and gave a speech. BUSHI interrupted to mist him and set up the next challenger. Again, my main issue with Gedo’s booking is that it’s so repetitive. He just HAS to continue the LIDJ/Taguchi Japan stuff, so that means KUSHIDA/BUSHI for the fifth or sixth time in two years. I love both guys, but it’s too much. Shit, give KUSHIDA a friendly rivalry for a bit. He could still be part of the LIDJ/TJ matches, while setting up a tiebreaker with Ricochet.
It’s the rare, non-WK rematch on this card. Unfortunately, it features the most underwhelming rivalry of 2017. TAKA, El Desperado, Kanemaru and Sabre were the Suzuki-Gun lumberjacks, while Goto had Jado, Ishii, Yano and YOSHI. Nothing of real note happened until Minoru antagonized Jushin Liger on commentary. Liger threw a chair at him and it instantly made me wish Liger was in this match instead of Goto. He showed more fire. There was just no sense of urgency from the challenger. Then, in a match designed to combat interference, they still found a way to include a ref bump and Suzuki-Gun nonsense. That included Taichi randomly showing up and pulling the referee out when Goto had it won. Suzuki hit the Gotch piledriver shortly after and won at 16:00. I hated that. It was rather hard hitting but lacked anything to make me care. The CHAOS/Suzuki-Gun feud has been awful.
After the match, they teased YOSHI-HASHI as Minoru’s next challenger. That should be fine, but I wish it was Liger.
Ah, another WK rematch. At least this one was my MOTN (****½) in the Dome. On that night, Naito finally got his big Tokyo Dome victory. Like KUSHIDA earlier, Tanahashi got booed a bit when he jumped Naito before the bell. Throwing the IC Title in front of him was too much for Tana. Tanahashi’s wrapped arm (he partially tore his bicep) became a target, giving a nice change of pace from recent Naito outings. Of course, Tanahashi combated it by going after Naito’s leg. Some of Tanahashi’s bumps didn’t come off too well, but I chalk that up to his legitimate injury. However, he gets props for how everything he did felt desperate. Like he knew a loss here would not only cement the end of the IC Title, but his time near the top. High Fly Flow wasn’t enough, so Tanahashi went to the Cloverleaf to make Naito tap at 25:56. A high quality match, but not on par with their WK11 match. It lacked some of the drama from that one, but was possibly more intense. The finish was interesting. I like that it made the leg stuff count and it showed the Cloverleaf isn’t just a rest hold for Tana, but felt a bit anti-climactic. At least this frees up Naito to win the G1. Hopefully.
Their WK match got the infamous six stars from Dave Meltzer, but I wouldn’t call it the best match of either man’s 2017 or even the best match at WK11. You could see where this was going from the start. It was paced slower than the first match for a reason. I do like how commentary noted that more people praised Omega for the WK match. Okada’s title reign has been him trying to prove himself against everyone, so that must eat him up. Omega went after the leg and viciously attacked it. Leg work in main events are a bit tired (thanks Tanahashi). It was going well, but then they forgot about that work so they could move into bigger spots. However, they at least gave a lot of selling to each big bump, helping to draw out the match. They called back to their first match, with Okada using a table. I dug the spot where he took Omega’s gun taunt into a Rainmaker spot. The best part was Omega finally hitting the One Winged Angel, only for Okada to get his foot on the ropes. A move nobody kicks out of, so it made for a great near fall. Actually, the highlight might’ve been Omega avoiding a Rainmaker simply by falling under it from exhaustion. Time expired at 60:00 after a Rainmaker, leading to a draw. Another great match from these two, but not GOAT status. My major gripe with their first match was how the first 15 or so minutes could’ve been cut out and you’d miss nothing. Here, that wasn’t exactly the case, but they threw the leg work out the window so they could get their good shit in down the stretch. There were parts I loved (Omega avoiding the Rainmaker, the One Winged Angel spot, calling back to the first match) and I must commend them for going at the pace they did for so long. It was even more impressive in that aspect than the first match. Ignoring the first chunk of the work and overdoing it on the Rainmaker/V-Trigger stuff was too much to make this an absolute classic, though. I also don’t like the draw finish. They’ve been telling this story of Okada overdoing himself and getting worn down so Omega could beat him and he still couldn’t get it done. Like the WK match, it has flaws, but it still a great main event.
Overall: Very much like Wrestle Kingdom 11, though not quite as good. I do feel that the main event was about even with the WK11 one and some things were honestly improvements (Cody’s match and the Jr. Title match). However, a few things under delivered (IC Title match, though still great, Tag Titles and NEVER Title). In fact, the NEVER Title match was a total travesty. The big matches were mostly great, most of the undercard was solid and a few matches took away from this being a memorable show.