|Osaka-Jo Hall - 7.5.15|
The 2015 Dominion PPV was the first NJPW show I truly anticipated as a fan, after initially diving into the product with WrestleKingdom 9. Between January and July 2015 I perused their back catalogue and watched the big matches from New Beginning, Invasion Attack and Wrestling Dontaku. But Dominion was the first stacked New Japan show after WK9, and I made it a point to sit down and view it from start to finish, on the day it aired. Another bit of trivia for you, Dominion 2015 was the first NJPW show I wrote a predictions column for (I went 8 for 9). If WrestleKingdom 9 converted me into a New Japan fan, Dominion 2015 vaulted New Japan ahead of WWE on my list of wrestling priorities, and I haven't looked back.
This show was the culmination of a year-long arc for the company's rising Ace, Kazuchika Okada, who'd been unseated for the IWGP Title by AJ Styles (partly due to Bullet Club shenanigans), and spent the intervening months trying to climb back up the mountain (with a heartbreaking loss to Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom 9). Okada's road to Dominion had been a troubled one, with a couple losses to Bad Luck Fale before a big win at Invasion Attack that ended that feud and set the stage for a rematch with AJ at the second-biggest show of the year. Such was the central story of Dominion 2015.
But first the undercard...
The show opened with a wild, fast-paced offering from the Jr. Heavyweight Tag division, as The Young Bucks defended their Titles against reDRagon and RPG Vice. The Bucks took a lot of abuse early in the match from both teams but managed to outmaneuver Fish and O'Reilly on the outside, leaving Romero and Beretta to flatten reDRagon with planchas meant for Matt and Nick. From there the Bucks staged a walkout which prompted RPG Vice to give chase, and Matt and Nick superkicked them both on the ramp before running back into the ring. RPG Vice nearly got counted out but just made it back in. After lots of wild exchanges, Kyle O'Reilly took out both RPG Vice members with a rebound lariat, and Fish hit a top rope Falcon Arrow on Romero for a nearfall. But the Bucks came back, knocking reDRagon out of the match with twin superkicks, Matt superkicked Beretta out of the ring, and the Bucks hit More Bang for Your Buck on Romero to retain the belts. A super fun opener with the type of Jr. action you'd expect from these three teams. ***3/4
Next up was one of only two "forgettable" matches of the night; Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi vs. Tomoaki Honma and Tetsuya Naito. This match was historically significant, as it marked more or less the beginning of Tetsuya Naito becoming the Ingobernable we all know and love today. Honma was ambushed by the heels at the opening bell, and Naito sauntered down to the ring, in no hurry to help out his partner. The opening few minutes consisted of Fale and Takahashi pounding Honma, and every time Honma escaped to his corner Naito refused to tag in. Finally Naito agreed to do some work, leveling both heels with a dive to the outside and offering his signature pose back in the ring. Naito locked Fale in a Figure Four but ran into some trouble and tagged Honma back in, taking a powder on the outside. Honma flattened Takahashi with a running headbutt, and Naito detained Fale long enough for Honma to hit a top rope headbutt for the win; this was during a time when Honma lost basically always, so the crowd was jubilant at his success here. Naito bailed after the bell and left Honma to his celebration. The rest of course is history; Naito would soon become one of the company's top draws thanks to his transformation into an anti-hero. A decent match with nice character development, but not a standout on a show like this. **1/2
The really stacked portion of the card began next with the Katsuyori Shibata-Kazushi Sakuraba fight. And I mean FIGHT. This was one of the best simulated MMA bouts I've ever seen and I'd rank it right up there with Sakuraba-Nakamura from WK7. The grappling looked totally convincing and snug, and Shibata's strikes were brutal. Sakuraba mostly relied on submission holds, repeatedly locking in guillotine chokes and armbars, while Shibata fought back with sickening forearms, palm strikes, and a pair of stiff-as-hell corner dropkicks. The most memorable moment came when Sakuraba locked a rear naked choke on a standing Shibata. Shibata inched toward the ropes with Sakuraba on his back like a spider monkey, but as he reached out, Sakuraba converted the hold into a double butterfly lock to trap both Shibata's arms; Shibata had to resort to reaching the ropes with his teeth to break the hold. Shibata spun Sakuraba around with a lariat but got caught in another choke that nearly passed him out. Shibata escaped and locked in his own choke, which he released just long enough to score a match-ending Penalty Kick. This was fantastically brutal and different from anything else on the show. ***3/4
The Jr. Heavyweight match between Kenny Omega and Kushida was unexpectedly devoted to telling a story, as Omega savagely worked Kushida's knee for much of the bout and both guys worked hard to differentiate this from the spotfest style of the opening match. It was clear both these guys wanted to change everyone's perception of Junior-style wrestling, putting on a main event-style match instead of a spotfest. Omega was accompanied by the Young Bucks, but Kushida took them out at the beginning with a double handspring kick, and the match was on. Omega took control after his signature dive and front-suplexed Kushida knees-first onto the apron, which began Kenny's all-out assault on Kushida's injured knee. Back in the ring, Omega went for a moonsault but Kushida got his knees up and both men writhed in agony. Kushida began targeting Omega's arm with multiple Hoverboard attempts, and at one point Omega had to muscle him up for a powerbomb using his one good arm. After tons of reversals Kushida finally ensnared Omega in the Hoverboard Lock, rolling through twice as Kenny reached for the ropes, and Kenny tapped out in the center of the ring. This fantastic piece of storytelling elevated both men huge - Kushida became the Jr. division's new centerpiece, while Omega announced himself as a main event talent. This was one of the first Jr. Title matches I can recall that played out like a PPV headliner. ****1/4
The midcard trilogy of great matches on this show finished next with Togi Makabe vs. Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight Title. While not at the same level as their previous two matches (at WrestleKingdom and Wrestling Hinokuni respectively), this was another vicious Strong Style war between two of the stiffest strikers in the company. Ishii knocked Makabe down with a lariat out of the gate and followed it up with a cannonball to the outside. Makabe came back and the two exchanged forearms and palm strikes until Ishii leveled him with another lariat. Ishii hit a superplex but ran into a Samoan drop that left him selling his shoulder for the rest of the match. Late in the bout Makabe scored a sick-looking Dragon suplex, followed by a series of corner lariats, and perched Ishii on the turnbuckle. Ishii fought off the Spider suplex as long as he could, but finally succumbed, and Makabe finished him with a King Kong Knee drop to retain the title. Perhaps a little longer than it needed to be, this match was nonetheless a thrilling slugfest between two tough bastards. ****
The weakest match on the show, for the IWGP Tag Titles, pitted Matt Taven and Mike Bennett against Anderson & Gallows. These two had engaged in a pretty wretched feud for a few months, centered around Anderson's infatuation with Maria Kanellis. Fortunately that stuff was kept to a minimum here and these teams put on a decent showing that on a WWE PPV would've come off as a solid affair. The Kingdom attacked at the bell and controlled the early moments, but Bullet Club took over with an assist from Amber Gallows on the outside. Seeing her team in peril, Maria attempted to distract Anderson, who chased her on the outside, running her straight into an Amber clothesline. Doc Gallows superkicked Maria (which was a little uncomfortable to see), and Mike Bennett attempted to come to her rescue only to eat a Gun Stun on the apron. This left Matt Taven alone against both heels, who overpowered him with a Gun Stun/Magic Killer sequence to regain the straps. This wasn't bad, but again, on a show like this it was definitely the low point, and the crowd wasn't that into it. **1/4
The surprise hit of the night was Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano, in a pretty goddamn entertaining brawl. Yano over the years has morphed from a violent asshole into a comedy figure, and this bout was the moment he'd hit the perfect balance between the two. Yano spent the first act outmaneuvering Tanahashi and then lowering the boom with various heel tactics when the referee wasn't looking. At one point Yano took the match to the floor and threw Tanahashi through one of the ringside barriers before whacking him with a chair. Yano went back to the ring and Tanahashi just beat the 20-count, in one of the more suspenseful near-countouts I've seen. Yano removed a turnbuckle pad and sent Tana crashing into it on multiple occasions. Tana made a short comeback as Yano swung a chair at him, countering with a Slingblade. But his Hi-Fly Flow attempt was thwarted as Yano brought the chair up, and Yano hit a low blow for a nearfall. Tana then returned the favor for a nearfall of his own, and followed up with a Slingblade and Hi-Fly Flow for the win. This match was so much more fun than it had any right to be. Easily one of the best Yano matches you'll ever see. ***1/2
The home stretch featured a pair of superb Title matches. Hirooki Goto's first Intercontinental Title defense against Shinsuke Nakamura easily topped their Wrestling Dontaku match - the early minutes featured slick, innovative grappling, while the later portion was full of crazy reversals and suspenseful nearfalls. The mat wrestling in the early moments was smooth as hell, reminding me once again how incredible Nakamura used to be. Nak took it to the outside early on, draping Goto over the railing and hitting his running knee lift. After a series of knees and a gordbuster, Nak charged for a Boma Ye but Goto attempted to counter with a lariat, only for Nak to convert that into a flying armbreaker takedown. Goto blocked the armbar and Nak switched it to a triangle choke instead. Goto escaped, and Nak went for the Boma Ye again, but this time Goto hit the lariat. Goto went for a superplex but Nak slithered out and hit a second-rope Boma Ye to level the playing field. Nak hit a sliding Boma Ye for a nearfall and went for another, but Goto caught his leg and hit the yushi guroshi, followed by a spinning facebuster for a two count. Finally Goto landed the Shouten Kai to retain the title to cap off a spectacular match. The story was Nakamura's methodical style vs. Goto's explosive brute strength, and on this occasion the power moves won. On just about any other show this would be Match of the Night. ****3/4
The IWGP Championship main event showed AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada as absolute masters of their craft. Styles had the entire Bullet Club supporting him at ringside, and they figured heavily in the first ten minutes, interfering at every opportunity before the referee ejected them (complete with a "suck it" crotch chop). After that the match settled into a wonderful example of Styles-Okada storytelling. Both guys threw every one of their signature moves at each other. Okada hit a flapjack, Styles hit his moonsault DDT and a Phenomenal Forearm from the railing to the floor. Back in the ring Okada took control again with a top rope elbow. AJ ducked the Rainmaker and went for the Styles Clash, but Okada countered with an Air Raid Crash. Okada went for the Tombstone but AJ reversed it and followed up with a 450 splash for two. Okada countered a superplex with an AA on the apron, followed by a missile dropkick. The match then culminated in one of the most amazing closing stretches I've ever seen. The counters and reversals on display were truly incredible. After twenty-six minutes Okada went for the Rainmaker, AJ ducked and hit a German suplex, but Okada held on and finally nailed The Rainmaker to regain the World Title and pay off one of the more emotional Championship quests in recent years. Just a breathtaking main event between two of the best in the world, one of the best matches of 2015, and the best AJ-Okada match in my opinion. *****
Dominion 2015 was the show that really began the tradition of New Japan's second biggest annual PPV being an instant classic. After five years of good-to-very-good Dominions, this one knocked it out of the park, with an astounding four ****+ matches and some really strong supporting bouts. The final two matches in particular were incredible, but the whole lineup solidified the unreasonably high PPV standard set by WrestleKingdom 9. So many great matches on this show, and they were all different. This is how you do a supercard.
Best Match: AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada
Worst Match: The Kingdom vs. Anderson & Gallows
What I'd Change: Not much. This show is incredible.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing
Most Pleasant Surprise: Tanahashi vs. Yano was so much better than I expected
Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - This here is a near-perfect show.
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