Monday, June 10, 2019

NJPW Dominion 2019: Ospreay Steals the Show, Ibushi Almost Dies

Welp, Dominion 2019 was definitely not on the level of 2018, or 2017, or 2015.  But then those three editions are three of the best PPVs I've ever seen.  Still I have to consider this show, very good though it may have been, as a mild disappointment.  I've come to expect Dominion to automatically be a Show of the Year contender, and this wasn't that.  Fortunately it was a sellout and set up some cool stuff for the future, but I was expecting a grand slam and they only hit a triple.

Before we get to Dominion though, I wanted to talk a little about the three big matches from the Best of the Super Juniors finals, because that show concluded with a trilogy of superb stuff.

Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi had a pretty excellent little match, where the returning but still very much hurting Tana muscled through and still managed to deliver.  White concentrated on Tana's surgically repaired elbow for much of the bout and played the asshole to a tee.  Side note: I love White's new facial hair, it somehow makes him look much more like a main event heel.  At one point Gedo distracted the referee allowing White to hit a low blow, but it backfired as Tana hit a low blow of his own and rolled him up for a very close nearfall.  Tana went for the Cloverleaf but White grabbed the injured arm and converted it into a cradle for the three-count.  This was maybe the best match these two have had so far and they did a great job of masking Tana's limitations while letting their characters drive the action.  Oddly Tana's injuries are somehow *less* exposed in a singles bout than in a six-man.  More on that later.  Damn good match.  ****

Even better was Jon Moxley's US Championship debut against Juice Robinson.  These two guys had a rugged, ugly, austere fight, where Moxley busted up Juice's eyebrow early on, using punches and biting to draw some blood.  They used tables and brawled a lot on the outside to evoke a Terry Funk-type vibe, and this was the hardest I've seen Moxley work in quite some time.  He really did come off like a man freed of WWE's creative constraints and seemed to be having the time of his life.  Juice, his dreadlocks shorn (I'm not sure how I feel about this), has reinvented himself as a more serious, tough babyface and dished out just as much punishment as he took.  The match culminated with a series of reversals, and Moxley hit his signature DDT, but Juice kicked out and the place went wild.  Moxley then hit another DDT but this time with elevation, to capture the US Title.  Moxley is now the only man to hold both the WWE and IWGP US Championships, and the first debuting star to win a New Japan title since AJ Styles five years ago.  This was exactly the kind of debut match I wanted to see from Moxley and I can't wait to see him in the G1 tournament.  Helluva fight.  ****1/2

Not to be outdone, by anyone, Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi blew the motherfuckin' roof off the place with their BOSJ final.  Ospreay, who has emerged as NJPW's newest breakout star, and Shingo, who has absolutely crushed it since debuting with the company last fall, pulled out all the stops in a 33-minute war that felt like 18.  I won't even try to recap everything they did, but a few of the really memorable moments included Ospreay hitting a 630 senton on Shingo's back, followed by a shooting star press, an apron OsCutter, a Shingo Last of the Dragon that looked absolutely crippling, Ospreay kicking out after two Pumping Bombers, and finally the top rope OsCutter followed by the Stormbreaker to hand Shingo his first New Japan defeat.  Just a fucking incredible battle that nothing on the Dominion show could possibly have followed.  Ospreay then announced that he is moving to Japan and will wrestle in both the Jr. and Heavyweight divisions.  This guy has to be a top G1 finisher, and should probably win next year's tournament.  Goddamn, this was insane.  *****

BOSJ had three awesome top matches, each one totally different and better than the last.  Had the undercard featured more memorable stuff this would have to be in consideration for best show of the year.

Moving on to Dominion, this show kicked off with a Jon Moxley showcase, as he made short work of Shota Umino.  I get why this went under four minutes but I would've liked to see more from these two.  That said, this was a very good four-minute squash, with Moxley taunting Umino during a series of Umino forearms; the veteran toying with the rookie.  Moxley finished Umino with his double-arm DDT and then helped him up post-match, giving Umino his endorsement before announcing his intention to enter the G1.  Ya know what though?  I want to see Umino in there as well.  Have the kid earn a ton of stripes by losing pretty much every match.  This was fine for what it was.  **3/4

From Moxley's first appearance as US Champion we moved onto Shingo Takagi's first as a division crossover star, as he and Satoshi Kojima beat the tar out of each other.  As a Junior, Shingo has been able to bully and overpower every opponent, but heavyweight Kojima wasn't standing for it and gave it all right back.  These guys had some sick forearm and lariat exchanges and built to a strong finish, with Shingo hitting a Pumping Bomber and Last of the Dragon to get his first heavyweight singles win.  As I said before, I can't wait to see this guy in the G1.  This was an excellent little fight, particularly for its place on the card.  ***3/4

The first of two mongrel tag matches was next, as Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre faced Yoshi-Hashi and Jushin Thunder Liger.  These four paired off for most of the bout, Suzuki building to a future match with Liger and Yoshi proving himself as a British Heavyweight Championship challenger for Zack.  Suzuki and Liger's exchanges were fun, while Yoshi's probably not the most credible opponent for Sabre.  But he stole a win here with a magistral cradle.  This was a garden variety undercard tag match.  **1/2

The weakest match on the card was the six-man tag pitting Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Jay White, Chase Owens and Taiji Ishimori.  As I said earlier, somehow Tanahashi is able to hide his physical limitations in a singles match, but he wasn't able to do so here.  Tana looked so beat up and tired, his offense wasn't nearly as crisp as usual and I don't like his new finisher at all.  The final cut is a lame move to begin with, but his execution looked really bad here.  Taguchi's story during this match was his inability to hit the Funky Weapon hip attack.  Ishimori didn't do much in this match, leaving Owens, Juice and White to carry most of it.  It was mostly just sad to see Tana in such bad shape; he desperately needs an extended break.  **

Things picked up with the NEVER Openweight Championship, as Taichi had one of his best matches ever against Tomohiro Ishi, who had what was for him a middling encounter.  This was very solid stuff, with Taichi actually fighting for a change, begging the question, both from the announcers and myself, "Why aren't all of his matches like this?"  After some early stalling and usual Taichi antics, the second half of this match became a more typical Ishii fight, with traded strikes, suplexes and some Taichi submission attempts.  Ishii eventually won with a sliding lariat (after multiple missed attempts) and a brainbuster to recapture the NEVER Title.  Alright, now that we've had like nine title changes in the past year, can Ishii please keep this till at least January?  This match was very good, a step below Shingo-Kojima.  ***1/2

The Tag Titles were next as GOD faced Evil & Sanada in a pretty standard tag match.  There was some good action but nothing terribly noteworthy.  Jado interfered liberally, hitting Evil with a kendo stick from the outside, and later pulling the referee out of the ring to stop him from seeing Tama Tonga tapping to Evil's Scorpion Deathlock.  After a ref bump Jado came in with the stick again but Bushi appeared, spraying black mist into his face and knocking him out with a tope.  Evil & Sanada went for the Magic Killer but Tama broke it up and rolled up Evil, hooking the tights for the cheap win.  This was fine but not much else.  ***

The real meat of the show, as expected, was the final three bouts, starting with an incredible Dragon Lee-Will Opsreay match.  Ospreay stated a few days ago he and Lee intended to steal the show here, and they did just that, with an epic 20-minute Juniors match.  After several minutes of thrilling back-and-forth, Lee propped Ospreay on the outside railing and hit a stunning tope, knocking both guys over the railing and the Japanese announce table.  Absolutely wild spot that was actually safer than it looked.  Ospreay later hit a gorgeous corkscrew moonsault to the floor.  One of my favorite spots, incredibly simple though it was, involved Dragon Lee attempting to run away from Ospreay but getting cut off by a hook kick.  Such a basic but brilliant moment.  Another great exchange saw Ospreay take a reverse rana but counter a Lee running charge with a Spanish Fly out of nowhere.  And of course they did the spot where Ospreay appears to take a top rope rana but lands on his feet and both guys sell the magnitude of that reversal.  Ospreay repeated his finish from the other day, putting away Dragon with a top rope OsCutter/Stormbreaker sequence to once again capture the Jr. Title.  Ospreay is firing on all cylinders right now - just a spectacular performance by both men.  ****3/4

The semi-main event was one of those matches I have to reluctantly give a very high rating to.  I'm convinced Ibushi and Naito have a suicide pact.  I don't know what these guys are thinking when they get together, but they spend so much time in their matches dropping each other on their heads and I can't imagine what their endgame is.  This match was slower paced than their previous ones but the second half featured so many piledrivers, reverse ranas, and other spiking moves it became really uncomfortable to watch.  And don't get me started on that apron German suplex spot.  Like, obviously the plan was for Naito to flip Ibushi all the way over so he landed on the floor on his stomach (ridiculously dangerous as it is), but Ibushi didn't clear the apron and the side of his head caught the edge on the way down, which looked like it folded his head into his shoulder at a 45-degree angle.  Jeezus fucking Christ.  I spent the rest of this match saying "What the fuck are you doing??"  That Ibushi was even able to get up after that, let alone finish a match full of crazy high spots is baffling.  And from a workrate standpoint this match was pretty great.  But I don't wanna see these two wrestle each other ever again.  Stop trying to kill each other!  Naito kicked out of a Last Ride and countered the Kamigoye with a DDT that Ibushi took like Rob Van Dam.  Naito finished him with Destino to recapture the I-C Title.  Post-match I noticed Ibushi had a huge potato on his eyebrow, likely from the apron spot.  Fuckin' hell, guys.  I want to see you continue to wrestle for at least another five years.  Tone it down.  ****1/4 for the mechanics of the match, but zero stars for the common sense displayed in getting there.

The main event, following two spectacular matches, left me feeling a little underwhelmed truth be told, but there was plenty of good stuff here.  Okada and Jericho worked a very unusual style for New Japan, with Jericho playing the Terry Funk-type heel and Okada altering his usual main event style to match.  Jericho subverted several of Okada's usual spots, such as the clean rope break at the beginning, where Jericho answered Okada's pat on the chest with an eye poke.  Then later Okada tossed Jericho over the barricade and went for his high cross body but Jericho countered with a Codebreaker.   Late in the match Jericho attemped to steal the Rainmaker but Okada ducked and hit the Codebreaker for a nearfall.  Okada avoided Jericho's new Judas Effect and countered another Codebreaker by throwing Jericho over his head.  Jericho went for a sunset flip but Okada sat on top and got a quick pin, echoing the first fall with Kenny Omega last year.  Jericho was pissed and attacked Okada after the bell, using a chair and hitting the Judas Effect.  Guest commentator Tanahashi came to Okada's rescue, setting up a dream match with Jericho, perhaps at next year's Dome.  The story of this match really seemed to be Jericho robbing the fans of a typical Okada main event, with multiple signature spots broken up, a slower-than-usual pace, and an out-of-nowhere finish.  Okada never even hit the Rainmaker and certainly didn't get a post-match promo.  For what they were going for this was very well-done, it just left me slightly vexxed because it wasn't the match I expected.  I'd like to watch it again and see if it grows on me.  On balance I'll give it **** because it was well-worked and accomplished what it set out to accomplish.  Arch-villain Chris Jericho pissed off the New Japan faithful and was protected in a loss.

So yeah, Dominion 2019 was certainly not the instant classic show we've come to expect from the annual June PPV, but it was very far from a bad show too.  On the contrary, a show like this on WWE's calendar would be considered one of their best of the year.  For New Japan though it was just good.  I'm really excited for the G1, with loads of new faces involved - Moxley, Cobb, Shingo, Ospreay, and the debuting KENTA.  This tourney is gonna be a lot of fun.

Best Match: Dragon Lee vs. Will Ospreay
Worst Match: The six-man
What I'd Change: Tell Ibushi and Naito to stop trying to die.  Tell Tanahashi to take time off until WrestleKingdom.  Tell Ospreay he's the new top gaijin.
Most Disappointing Match: As good as it was, Ibushi-Naito was really difficult to watch.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Taichi can actually deliver a good NEVER match when he wants to.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Alright, bring on the G1 Climax!  Thanks for reading - follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Mix, Facebook and YouTube!


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