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Pantoja’s NJPW Dominion 2023 Review

June 4, 2023 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NJPW Dominion Image Credit: NJPW
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Pantoja’s NJPW Dominion 2023 Review  

NJPW Dominion

June 4th, 2023 | Osaka-Jo Hall in Osaka, Japan | Attendance: 7,040

After a strong Best of the Super Juniors, New Japan is back a week later with one of their biggest shows of the year. Plus, we get the G1 lineup.

#1 Contender’s Tournament Finals: Lance Archer vs. Will Ospreay

I’ve seen these two meet in the New Japan Cup (***) and G1 Climax (***¾) both in 2019, splitting the results. The winner gets Kenny Omega, which is all you really need to know about the outcome to be honest. Archer was out in a mask and spent some time tossing Young Lions aside. He was quick to attack Will before the bell and get this off to a hot start. That set the tone for a match packed with action in a short time. We got stuff like an Oscutter, attempted chokeslam through a table, dives, and stiff shots all within the first couple of minutes. Even Archer decided to bust out a somersault off the apron. It was a bit odd to see Will play the face here because he’s been such an unlikable heel in recent years. It mostly worked though especially after gaining some sympathy in the Tokyo Dome (I still say they should’ve played up how that loss hurt him more), his injuries, and because Archer is a monster. Willy hit the Hidden Blade but Archer kicked out at one so he went and delivered three more to win in 8:01. I absolutely love sub-10 minute bangers. That was the wild sprint it needed to be. [****]

Post-match, Will directed a promo at Kenny Omega and said he should’ve killed him when he had the chance. He’s coming for revenge and said he’d walk into Canada to fight Kenny, which sounds a lot like Forbidden Door II.

BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito and Titán vs. DOUKI, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru

We’ve had a lot of LIJ vs. Just 5 Guys matches lately though Titán being in there switches things up a bit. Plus, he’s coming off of a hell of a BOSJ run. This was your standard multi-man tag on a big show undercard. There wasn’t anything bad about it but it also wasn’t going to stand out in any conceivable way. The biggest surprise was that DOUKI didn’t give us a CHOUKI despite the return of Gino Gambino on commentary. It was right there, guys. There’s a lot to cover on this show so I won’t say too much about this one because it was pretty basic. Titán continued his momentum by scoring a win over TAKA with Llave Immortal in 9:24. That was exactly what it was supposed to be. [***]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: The Intergalactic Jet Setters [c] vs. Catch-22

Titles are on the line the rest of the way. They’ve met in the Super Jr. Tag League last year (***) and Road to Wrestling Dontaku this year (***¾). Dan Moloney cornered his United Empire buddies here. The champions got off to a hot start and had a cool spot where KUSHIDA launched Knight onto the three men outside. However, their momentum was cut off when Knight took a shot to the knee and the challengers got going. The story I basically pulled from this was that Catch-22 learned from previous matches and knew what to expect from the champs at various points. That was especially true against KUSHIDA, continuing the story from the BOSJ of him being overmatched by his younger counterparts. The closing stretch saw the champions get something going but Catch-22 was too much for them. As Knight went up for a super rana, he got caught with the Leaning Tower and we had new champions after 10:38. Just some really damn good junior heavyweight tag wrestling. [***½]

Clark Connors came out to seemingly challenge for the tag titles but Taiji Ishimori is hurt. So, Dan Moloney jumped TJP and Akira from behind, joining Bullet Club. This didn’t hit much as a turn since Dan only just joined but it gives the division another team and I think they can complement each other well.

NJPW Television Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. [c] vs. Jeff Cobb

Their match at Wrestling Dontaku went to a time limit draw (***¾). So, a lot of ZSJ defenses so far has seen him kind of play with his food. He knows he doesn’t have to win but he just can’t lose in 15 minutes so he plays it cool. Given the previous bout ended in a draw, it made sense that he came out more aggressive than usual here. That meant this was a lot like the opener in that it was an action-packed sprint. It was a battle of Cobb bringing the stiff shots and hard strikes, using his power to toss ZSJ around, and the champs responding with plenty of submission attempts. ZSJ knew that all he had to do was catch Cobb once and he could end it with one of his great holds. That made for the kind of struggle you want from two guys like this. Cobb hit the Spin Cycle and lined up the Tour of the Islands only for ZSJ to counter that into a crucifix to snatch the win in 8:46 and retain the ugliest belt in pro wrestling. Like the Dontaku match, I really liked this though it was just shy of greatness. [***¾]

IWGP Tag Team & NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship: Aaron Henare & The Great-O-Khan vs. Bishamon vs. EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi

House of the Torture are here to ruin a surprisingly good tag division this year. Damn shame about Aussie Open. Anyway, EVIL and Yujiro added one thing to the match and that was crowd involvement. The fact that NOBODY wants to see them as champion gave this a sense of desperation because you were dying to see anyone else walk out with the gold. Kevin Kelly helped sell that too. The United Empire and Bishamon actually took turns at times beating on the House of Torture because everyone hates them. Henare and O-Khan showed off some good tandem moves and nearly beat EVIL with an assisted powerbomb spot. Dick Togo got involved and we were treated to typical House of Torture shenanigans though having more moving parts kind of helped negate that a bit. SHO also interfered only for YOH to arrive and even the score by using a skateboard. Ah, so I see they’re gonna book YOH vs. Darby in a match that mimics the skateboard video going around from Fight Forever. Each team came close in a dramatic final few minutes before Bishamon won it all with Shoto in 13:15. That was better than I expected. [***]

The celebration was cut short by the arrival of Bullet Club’s “War Dogs,” which turned out to be Alex Coughlin and Gabriel Kidd. Ugh, another really good prospect thrown into this stable that is beyond tired. Hopefully we get some good matches out of this but I’m so over everyone just joining this stable.

Time for the G1 Climax 33 announcements.

  • Kazuchika Okada
  • Tetsuya Naito
  • Will Ospreay
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi
  • David Finlay
  • Shota Umino
  • Shingo Takagi
  • Tomohiro Ishii
  • Tama Tonga
  • Tanga Loa
  • Hirooki Goto
  • Toru Yano
  • Zack Sabre Jr.
  • Taichi
  • Eddie Kingston (FUCK YES)
  • El Phantasmo
  • Ren Narita (YES)
  • EVIL
  • Chase Owens
  • Jeff Cobb
  • Great-O-Khan
  • Aaron Henare
  • Gabriel Kidd
  • Alex Coughlin
  • Shane Haste
  • Mikey Nicholls
  • Yota Tsuji
  • Kaito Kiyomiya (!!!)

Some interesting names with Kiyomiya and Kingston standing out. Some less interesting names as well. I don’t like the four block format but with so many G1 debuts, you can expect a lot of dudes to try and bring it, which is needed.

NEVER Openweight Championship: David Finlay [c] vs. El Phantasmo

The crowd was pretty into ELP. These two met in last year’s G1 (***½). ELP’s confidence could’ve been a bit shaken early as Finlay strolled out with all the new members of Bullet Club, stacking the odds. Commentary did note that this new iteration of the BC hasn’t been doing a lot of interference lately. Alas, ELP started with a dive over the barricade and had Finlay reeling a bit. The BC boys cut off a second one and that gave Finlay the advantage. He proceeded to spend the match picking ELP apart similar to what he did to Tama Tonga when he won the title. That’s a fine theory but as I said in that match, Finlay is still working out the kinks to make that a compelling story and it had a few snags here where his work was kind of dull. ELP’s hope spots had fire and he’s a better babyface than I expected since he was such a smarmy little shit as a heel. He rallied with Sudden Death but more distractions got the best of him. Finlay retained with Oblivion in 18:51, capping an early chapter in what feels like a longer story. The match dragged at points but was mostly good. [***¼]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Master Wato

Considering Wato’s hot tournament (especially at the end) there’s a lot of potential here. Past meetings include the 2020 BOSJ (***¼) and 2021 BOSJ (***¾) so this is relatively fresh. For the first time in a LONG TIME, it feels like the landscape of this company is shifting and with a guy like SANADA at the top, someone like Wato could step up now and dethrone the staple of his division. Early on, Hiromu took it to his challenger and even got in some offense on the ramp. Wato weathered the storm and started to take control which worked because a lot of his offense focuses on the neck, which is an area Hiromu has had major issues with. It was when the Recietemente near fall came that it felt like the match took the next step up. The crowd was way into it by then and by the time Wato hit the Tsutenkaku German, they believed it was over. Hell, I did too. Hiromu is the top dog for a reason though and he was able to kick out. Wato got his own big kick out when he got up from Time Bomb but that was when Hiromu took it up another notch and hit Time Bomb II to retain in 19:50. I thought tonight would be the night for Wato but I like the idea that he still isn’t quite there yet. Hiromu is on his Okada 2016-2018 run where he’s trying to establish himself as the GOAT junior heavyweight. Wato brought it and is almost there but Hiromu remains the ace. [****¼]

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. Claudio Castagnoli, Jon Moxley & Shota Umino

Easily my most anticipated match on this card. Apparently, Claudio’s flight was delayed so this got pushed down the card a bit. There were so many intertwining stories here from Okada and Shooter having recent issues to Ishii’s epic G1 match with Moxley in 2019 to Claudio’s first New Japan match to Shooter’s dad as the referee to Tanahashi and Moxley having faced off for the AEW Title last year. Right off the bat, this was special. Just seeing Tanahashi vs. Claudio was great. Shooter came in and immediately called out Okada, who got annoyed again. I’m loving angry Okada and we better get him against Kiyomiya again in the G1. I dug Umino not backing down and even doing the Moxley walk after beating up Okada. I also liked Okada taking the heat but still kicking ass as soon as an opening came. Tanahashi came in and fucking LAID OUT Shooter harder than Okada ever has. I was just floored watching Claudio battle Ishii for a bit and then we got Ishii/Moxley, which remains one of my favorite G1 matches ever. The last big tag moment came when Okada entered and got his hands on Shooter once more. He was in no mood, beating him like someone he hated and Shooter had to do his best to give it right back. Claudio doing the swing to Okada like he was some random WWE midcarder was fantastic and the same goes for Okada taking a Shield powerbomb. It came down to Okada and Umino and Okada put the brash youngster down with the Rainmaker after 20:37. Putting Okada in this team was the best decision ever. Let them have bangers for a year and keep him away from the top title. He’s an asshole here and it’s great. Everyone brought it here with Shooter even stepping up to be nearly as good as five of the best on the planet. [****½]

After the match, an angry Jon Moxley got on the microphone to say that the BCC are the best in the world because they train with the undisputed best wrestler in the world. They sent it to a message from Bryan Danielson calling out Kazuchika Okada. My god. The legit greatest to ever step in the ring against the top guy in Japan for the past decade. Okada accepted and it’s likely for Forbidden Door.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: SANADA [c] vs. Yota Tsuji

New Japan hasn’t had best recent luck in pushing returning Young Lions immediately. Jay White took a bit to find his footing and Shooter flopped in his first big main event for example. Yota aligned with LIJ ahead of the show. The idea here was that Yota showed up, went after SANADA, and then went back to Mexico to give away no hints to SANADA coming into this. He wowed the crowd by cutting off a SANADA leap frog with a Spear and then hitting a Fosbury Flop. I wouldn’t call this a great match by any stretch but what I can say is that this got the reaction the company was hoping for. The crowd was totally in on Yota, popping for everything he did. SANADA was desperate early on, made clear by his first real offensive move being Skull End. Things evened out after a bit but the stuff Yota did always got a reaction and he came across like an unknown monster at points. His release Falcon Arrow and Spanish Fly were both impressive. The entire time, he seemed totally in control and SANADA had to fight like a man who had no idea what hit him. The thing SANADA did well was avoid the Spear, managing to not get hit again after the opening sequence. He was resilient throughout and weathered the storm before going into his main offense, capped by Deadfall to retain in 17:01. Like I said, not a great match but a highly intriguing one that was boosted by a molten crowd and a strong performance from Yota. [***½]

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
That was another great major show from a company that hadn’t been doing that for a while. I’m enjoying a lot of what they’re doing because it’s fresh (I know I’m a broken record at this point with that). The show featured nothing bad with everything getting at least ***, three matches at ****+ and three just under while also setting up big stuff going forward.

article topics :

NJPW Dominion, Kevin Pantoja