NJPW follows up the superb WrestleKingdom 11 with a similarly structured Dominion, complete with four rematches from that show....
In a year when the company, especially its top champion, was churning out classics like a five-star match assembly line, NJPW Dominion 2017 was yet another homerun for the world's greatest current wrestling promotion. Its nine-match lineup included nary a misstep; the matches ranged from "entertaining opening match fluff" to "pretty good" to "goddamn awesome" to "transcendent." By my calculations the show included four ****+ matches, the last of which served as an in-ring Godfather 2 to its predecessor. Five months after Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega lit the wrestling world ablaze with their epic Tokyo Dome main event for the ages, they did it a second time.
First though, let's look at the undercard.
The opening 8-man tag was quick, energetic and inoffensive. Nothing much at stake but everyone got a little time to warm up the crowd, and team Tiger Mask won after Togi Makabe landed the King Kong Knee Drop on Nakanishi. I believe this was Kota Ibushi's final Tiger Mask W appearance, thank god. **1/4
Next up was the 6-Man Title gauntlet match, which was slightly better than its WK counterpart but ultimately entertaining without being terribly memorable. The first and last segments were probably the strongest, but I find gauntlet six-man tags kind of a slog to sit through. I'd have preferred a simple six-man tag for the titles. Team Chaos won the first fall after Toru Yano hit a low blow on Yujiro Takahashi. He tried to do the same in the second fall to Taichi and Kanemaru but Zack Sabre Jr. rolled him up in a bridging cradle to make short work of Chaos. Taguchi, Juice and Ricochet were next and had a bit of baseball-themed fun, where Taguchi trapped Taichi in the corner and acted as a catcher, Ricochet wound up and threw an air pitch, and Juice acted as a ball, cannonballing Taichi. Juice ended up pinning Taichi with Pulp Friction after Kanemaru accidentally whiskey-sprayed him. Zack Sabre then trapped Juice in an Octopus Hold after the bell, until Evil, Sanada and Bushi entered. Los Ingobernables retained in the end after Bushi hit a second-rope codebreaker on Taguchi. Like I said, this was fine but too long for its spot and importance. **
The show really got underway with the third match, RPG Vice vs. The Young Bucks for the Jr. Tag belts. This was easily superior to the WK match (which itself was quite good), as Matt and Nick showed a much more prominent mean streak than they have in the past. In addition to their flashy heel moves they sprinkled some ruthlessness into the match, telling a much stronger story. At one point Beretta had Matt pinned after a Strong Zero, and Nick made the save with a swanton onto Beretta's back. Just brutal-looking. The Bucks captured their sixth title after hitting an IndyTaker on Rocky Romero, followed by Nick locking in a sharpshooter for the tap. This was one of the better Jr. Tag matches in recent memory. ****
The other set of tag belts was up next, as War Machine faced former champs Guerillas of Destiny in a blazing eleven-minute brawl. Everyone looked pretty great here and the action was furious. This reminded me of a Road Warriors-Samoan Swat Team match except with much better athleticism. Hanson and Rowe are incredibly agile for their size and they showed that off plenty here. This match was nonstop action until the finish, which came after Tama Tonga counter a powerbomb with a stun gun, the referee got knocked down, Tonga went to use a chair but Rowe blocked the shot and took it away, only for Tanga Loa to whack him from behind. GOD hit Guerilla Warfare to regain the titles. Aside from a flat finish this was really good. ***1/2
The middle slot went to Cody Rhodes and Michael Elgin, who put together a nice little Cody showcase to further build him up as a top gaijin star. It's interesting considering what a major star he is now, to go back and see him just beginning to earn his stripes outside WWE. These meshed well together and I liked this match better than Cody-Juice from WrestleKingdom 11. Elgin's power dominated most of the match but Cody held on and delivered CrossRhodes for a clean win. Not bad at all. ***
The match that came dangerously close to stealing the show was the Jr. Heavyweight clash; Hiromu Takahashi and Kushida built on their previous two bouts and delivered an absolutely stupendous hybrid of Jr. action and pure fighting, like a cross of Juniors action and NEVER Openweight striking. These two started out simply beating the shit out of each other and gradually worked in some of their patented crowd-pleasing offense, like Hiromu's sunset flip bomb to the outside and Kushida's top rope flying Hoverboard Lock. The live audience was red hot for most of this, deservedly so. After 19 minutes of incredible, innovative action, a hyper-aggressive Kushida finally won back the Title with a series of arm trap kicks, followed by another Hoverboard Lock. This is one of the best Jr. Title matches I'd seen up to this point. ****3/4
The NEVER Openweight Title match was a wild, unruly affair with Suzuki and Goto hitting each other with stiff offense while their respective squads outside the ring brawled for most of the bout. Suzuki oddly got into an altercation with Jushin Liger at the commentators table. The finish saw Goto hit the GTR only for Taichi to pull the referee out of the ring mid-count and then hit Goto with a chair, before Suzuki choked him out and nailed the Gotch Piledriver to retain. A fun match but the Lumberjack shenanigans were a little much for my tasted. These two would easily top this match at WrestleKingdom 12. ***
The semi-main event was the Tanahashi-Naito rematch, and these guys told a great story with Naito mercilessly attacking Tanahashi's injured arm and Tana going after Naito's knee. Tanahashi attacked before the bell after Naito tossed his broken Intercontinental Title to him, waving the disrespect in Tana's face. Naito brutalized Tana's elbow throughout this match, twisting him in knots. Tana missed a High Fly Flow at one point and sold the arm like he'd been shot. Tana survived a modified Destino, hit a German suplex, sling blade and a HFF, and went for the pin but Naito kicked out at the last second. Tana slapped on a Texas Cloverleaf and held on for a long time, repeatedly dragging Naito away from the ropes until Naito finally tapped. An excellent, gritty semi-main event that equaled their WK11 bout. ****1/2
And finally there was the colossal Okada-Omega rematch, an absolutely epic example of in-ring storytelling that played out as a fitting sequel to one of the most remarkable matches of all time, while also serving as the middle episode of a 2017 trilogy. These two added numerous callbacks to the first match (teased attempts at Omega's Dragon superplex and Okada's over-the-ropes backdrop through the table) while conveying that each man knew what the other was thinking at nearly every turn. As the bout wore on both men became nearly incapacitated, ratcheting up the drama and further showing how evenly matched they are. At one point the Bullet Club all appeared at ringside and Cody teased throwing in the towel for a barely conscious Omega before The Young Bucks talked him off the ledge. Interesting choice for the heel to get that kind of sympathy moment, but it worked; the crowd was unglued for most of the last fifteen minutes as Omega mounted a gallant comeback. Maybe the best spot in the entire match was Okada pulling up an exhausted Omega for a Rainmaker, only for Omega to collapse before he could hit it. Fantastic. The battle ended when Okada hit a fifth Rainmaker with nearly a minute left, but was too exhausted to make the cover in time for the match ending bell. After sixty minutes both men lay prone and broken, capping off what has to be the best 60-minute Broadway I've ever seen.
I said earlier that this match was to the first as The Godfather 2 was to The Godfather. In both cases the first installment was essentially perfect in my eyes, while the second was an unequivocally brilliant continuation of the story. I consider Okada-Omega 1 just a shade better than 2, but both matches were herculean efforts that will almost certainly live on as essential examples of the genre. Here's how amazing the Okada-Omega four-match series was. This match was my least favorite of the four, and I still give it *****.
Dominion 2017 was simply spectacular. Perhaps a bit long overall given the 60-minute main event and the six-man gauntlet, but unlike WWE's five-hour PPVs this one didn't drag. Four matches clocking it at **** or better is Herculean, and New Japan was making it look easy by this point.
Best Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
Worst Match: The six-man gauntlet. Just too long for a throwaway kinda match.
What I'd Change: I'd just book Evil/Sanada/Bushi vs. Ishii/Yano/Yoshi-Hashi
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing on this show disappointed
Most Pleasant Surprise: How close the Jrs. match came to stealing the show
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
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