Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The History of NJPW Dominion (2018)

Okada-Omega IV.  The new wrestling yardstick.  The 60+-minute epic that made everything else feel obsolete.  The culmination of an 18-month rivalry that ranks among the greatest in the history of the business.  Oh, plus a bunch of other good stuff.....


2018's PPV of the Year may primarily be remembered for its main event, but it was anything but a one-match show.  In addition to the 6-star classic (or 7, or 8, however many snowflakes you wanna give it), this show boasted three other ****+ matches by my count, and while it took a few matches to really get going, this edition of Dominion ranks among the finest.

The opener was a short but entertaining Jr. Tag Title match, with Roppongi 3K challenging El Desperado & Kanemaru, hoping to regain the straps.  The heels took advantage of a slight ref bump and Kanemaru used a whiskey bottle on SHO for the win.  It's a shame these guys only got nine minutes for a title opener and even stranger that RPG3K didn't win.  Nothing spectacular in this opener, it was fine.  **

Next up was Jay White & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay in another short bout.  This was all about setting up White vs. Robinson, which it did nicely.  Robinson got the pin on White with Pulp Friction, and these two would deliver a fantastic US Title match at the G1 Special in San Francisco a month later.  This however was just a quick 7-minute match.  **

A third undercard tag match pitted Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano against Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.  This was the best of the three openers, mostly due to the Ishii-Suzuki interaction (Who doesn't love watching these two maniacs pummel each other?).  Sabre got the win for his team by tapping out Yano, but after the match Ishii and Suzuki brawled into the back.  Another fun little match.  **1/4

The first really noteworthy bout was the NEVER Openweight triple threat.  Hirooki Goto and Michael Elgin carried most of the weight here while Taichi played the chickenshit heel who picked his spots and tried to stay out of danger.  After some nice three-way spots and some good powerbrokering from Goto and Elgin, Elgin won by buckle bombing Taichi into Goto and then Elgin-bombing Taichi for the pin.  This match wasn't your usual NEVER slugfest, and leaving Taichi out of it would've been a major improvement, but it had some clever spots and was well worked.  ***1/2

Here's where the show really started to take off.  The Young Bucks, freshly moved up to the heavyweight tag division, challenged Evil & Sanada in an energetic, dramatic bout where both Bucks sold injuries - Matt's back became an issue again, and Nick missed a kick on the apron and whacked his foot on the post.  Both injuries played into multiple spots and the Bucks were in peril for much of the bout.  This can be considered the match where Matt and Nick Jackson successfully transitioned from spotfest wrestlers to really great storytellers, and it felt markedly different than their Jr. division stuff.  After multiple exciting false finishes, the Bucks took the match and the straps with More Bang for Your Buck.  One of the best heavyweight tag title matches I've seen in NJPW.  Seven months later the Bucks would drop the titles back to Evil & Sanada and make their New Japan exit, but this bout served as an historic template for their work in AEW.  ****1/2


The special attraction match was next as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Thunder Liger and Rey Mysterio teamed up against Cody, Hangman Page and Marty Scurll.  This was a fast-paced, fun encounter, with Rey and Scurll doing some nice Jr. spots and Cody further establishing his dominance as a budding main event heel.  Cody recovered from a Liger hurricanrana and nailed CrossRhodes for the win.  Nothing epic here, just a romp of a six-man tag (Three years later, only Tanahashi is still an active member of the NJPW roster).  ***

The final trilogy of bouts, as often happens with NJPW shows, is what Dominion 2018 is remembered for.  Will Ospreay defended the Jr. Title against Hiromu Takahashi in a breathtakingly fantastic 20-minute match that had the requisite high spots but made use of them where they really meant something.  The tone of the match was set early with an Ospreay 450 plancha off the entrance ramp that drew gasps from the crowd.  Both guys took a cringe-inducing bump or two but there wasn't anything as worrying as Ospreay's near-death Spanish fly spot against Marty Scurll.  Ospreay at one point countered a triangle hold with a twisting powerbomb move that looked like it legit murdered Takahashi, and later Takahashi hit a butterfly piledriver (This has to be the most dangerous variation), dumping Ospreay right on his head.  The match ended after a Takahashi corner suplex followed by a Time Bomb.  I could watch these two mix it up all day long.  A crisply worked, excellent tertiary main event.  ****3/4


The semi-main slot of course went to Jericho vs. Naito, in a brutal fight where it legit looked like these guys wanted to kill each other.  Jericho attacked Naito before the bell, put him through one table and DDT'd him onto another (Naito got spiked right on his head and it looked absolutely vicious), and generally beat the piss out of him for a good 7 minutes outside the ring.  Finally the action moved inside and the match started for real.  Jericho dominated the first third, taking his time and enjoying picking apart the Intercontinental Champ.  Finally Naito made a comeback, oddly drawing some boos from the crowd when he fought Jericho's heel tactics with his own.  There was one missed spot where Naito went for Destino and Jericho didn't quite catch him right, but they recovered quickly and moved on like pros.  Naito later hit Destino but Jericho got his hand on the ropes, used the ref to block a second Destino attempt, and hit a low blow and a Codebreaker to get the upset title win, becoming the first man to win the WWE and NJPW versions of the Intercontinental Title.  They would have an even better rematch at WrestleKingdom 13, but this was pretty great too.  ****1/2


Alright, now for that goddamn main event.  This match went 69 minutes if you include the two rest periods between falls, and it flew by in a way I've never felt an hour fly by in a wrestling match.  Even the best Royal Rumbles don't feel this quick.  The first fall lasted roughly 28 minutes, and with every five-minute interval announcement I said, to no one, "Wait, seriously?  It's been XX minutes already??"  Okada and Omega picked up right where they left off in the 2017 G1, cutting a wildly fast pace considering how long they had to go.  This first fall was action and drama-packed, with the wrestling spilling to the outside numerous times (At one point Omega hit a crossbody off the top rope over the barricade, and at another point Omega got knocked off the apron and crashed ribs-first into the railing), and both men hitting most of their signature moves (At one point I said, to no one, "What are these guys gonna have left for the second and third falls??").  Late in the fall Okada hit a dropkick off the top rope that sent Omega careening backwards like he'd been shot with a bazooka, one of my favorite spots in the match.  Both men went for multiple finisher attempts but neither could land them.  Finally Okada countered a sunset flip a la Davey Boy vs. Bret to take the first fall.  This was a spectacular 28-minute match, and it was only part 1.

The second fall was much slower, like the second act of a classic drama.  Okada exerted his dominance early on, actually smiling as he enjoyed his one-fall advantage. Omega made a comeback, hit a double stomp through a table, and after more traded finisher attempts on the outside, hit a reverse rana on the floor.  The back and forth exchanges toward the end of this fall were breathtaking.  Omega finally nailed two V-Triggers and the first One-Winged Angel of the match to take the second fall.  Okada sold this throughout the rest period like he was dead.  Tonally if the first fall was A New Hope, this was The Empire Strikes Back; darker, heavier and with loads of selling.

Okada looked to be totally screwed as Omega hit a V-Trigger and went for OWA, but he leveled the playing field with a Rainmaker.  From here on it was a story of both men just struggling to stay upright and finding new moves to throw at each other; Omega broke out a Styles Clash and a Phoenix Splash attempt.  My other favorite spot of the match was Okada going for a Rainmaker but being so exhausted he couldn't follow through, and collapsing mid-move (a callback to their Dominion 2017 when Omega collapsed in the middle of a Rainmaker attempt).  Late in the fall both men were on their knees throwing strikes with nothing behind them.  The fatigue being sold was palpable.  The last ten minutes were a bevy of finishers and reversals, with Omega taking multiple Rainmakers that Okada simply couldn't follow with pin attempts.  Finally Omega hit an OWA near the ropes, followed by a V-Trigger and another OWA for the win and the IWGP Heavyweight Title, ending possibly the greatest championship reign of all time.  The Young Bucks came down to celebrate with Omega, and the three embraced mid-ring, putting their emotional feud to bed.  Ibushi joined in and all was right with the newly anointed Golden Elite.  Omega would have an eventful, if slightly abbreviated title reign, culminating in another MOTY against Hiroshi Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom 13, before heading to AEW.


Anyway, like I said, this may have been the greatest wrestling match in history.  It built on everything these two had done before and took new twists and turns.  It was like an amalgam of their previous three bouts.  Like their first match, this was divided into three acts, but instead of being built around spectacle this was about drama and selling.  These two threw almost everything at each other in the first fall, sold like crazy in the second, and went for homerun swings in the third, all while fighting to maintain consciousness.  It was booked exactly the way a 2/3 Falls match realistically should be booked.  The first fall is the longest and most intricate, and each successive fall becomes more about selling the cumulative effects of the match as it wears on.  This is likely to be the defining match of this era.  Best 2/3 Falls match ever.  Best hour-plus match ever.  Probably the best match of any kind, ever.  ******  How many stars do you want, guys?  Take 'em all.

So while Dominion didn't boast as stacked an undercard as WrestleKingdom 12, it had the all-time masterpiece of a main event to catapult it to PPV of the Year status.  Change out one or two of the opening bouts with more meaningful content and you're looking at a perfect 10 show.

Best Match: Duh...
Worst Match: Probably the Jr. Tag, but that was fine.
What I'd Change: Ummmm....
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the aforementioned Jr. Tag.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Okada-Omega actually exceeded everyone's wildly high expectations.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10


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2017

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