Tomorrow New Japan Pro-Wrestling present one of their biggest shows of the year, as the promotion heads to Osaka Castle Hall for the first time in 21 years for DOMINION 7.5. The card is stacked with seven title matches and two highly anticipated grudge matches, plus the venue is all but sold-out with just a few standing tickets left available. Osaka is always one of NJPW’s loudest and most vocal audiences and, with the move back to a bigger arena, they should be in good voice for the show. So, without further ado, let’s run through the card;
0. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask & Yohei Komatsu vs Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Mascara Dorada & Sho Tanaka
A typically throw-away 10-man tag for the pre-show here. Everyone will likely get a moment to shine. Keep an eye out for Mascara Dorada’s always-impressive high flying ability and for young lions Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka, who have been improving exponentially over the past year or two. Also of interest is Yuji Nagata’s inclusion. Nagata (one of the most beloved New Japan stars of the past twenty years) is known as ‘Mr. Anti-Ageing’, but it seems as if time’s catching up with him as he’s relegated once more to the pre-show. Nagata has expressed his dismay at the situation on a number of occasions and seems to be questioning whether or not his time in the ring is coming to a close.
1. IWGP Jr. Tag Titles: The Young Bucks (c) vs RPG Vice vs reDRagon
Opening the show proper is the IWGP Jr. Tag Title match. The titles have been passed back-and-forth like a hot potato in recent months, with all three teams in this match having held the belts at some point in 2015. The current champions, The Young Bucks of Nick & Matt Jackson, are in the midst of their third title reign and many are hoping they retain here to give a bit of stability to the division. However, reDRagon of Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly have impressed a lot during their New Japan tenure, while RPG Vice of Rocky Romero & Trent Barretta are proving to be a very popular team with the NJPW crowd, so it’s really anyone’s game. The Jr. tag title matches always provide a level of excitement that makes for a great opening match and there’s little doubt that all three teams will deliver on the big stage.
2. Tetsuya Naito & Tomoaki Honma vs Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi
In his recent trip to CMLL in Mexico, Tetsuya Naito found a new attitude and some new friends in Rush & La Sombra, becoming their newest team member in Los Ingobernables (The Ungovernables). Rush, in particular, took it upon himself to bring out Naito’s arrogrant side and with Naito now back in Japan it seems the arrogance is still very present in his demeanour. But there also seems to be a degree of disatisfaction from Naito, disatisfaction at his standing in New Japan and the same old routine, which has seen him lash out at team-mates and officials alike. Here he teams with Tomoaki Honma against the Bullet Club of Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi. Honma and Naito have teamed a lot over the past year, but while the Naito of a few months ago was willing to accept Honma’s short comings as a tag team partner, today Naito might not be so forgiving.
3. Special Singles Match: Katsuyori Shibata vs Kazushi Sakuraba
This is one of those matches that sells itself. The build has been largely unremarkable, but it didn’t need to be anything more. Katsuyori Shibata & Kazushi Sakuraba returned to NJPW in 2012, teaming together as Laughter7 and kicking up a fuss by declaring their shoot style wrestling superior to the New Japan style. However, that storyline kind of fizzled out and Shibata & Sakuraba went their separate ways. Fast forward to late 2014 and the two meet again. Shibata was now one-half of a new fan favourite tag team with his long-time friend and rival Hirooki Goto. Meanwhile, Sakuraba has made an unlikely friendship with the ‘Sublime Master Thief’ Toru Yano, due to a shared dislike for Minoru Suzuki. The two teams met in the World Tag League and Yano & Sakuraba would steal an early win over Goto & Shibata, although Goto & Shibata would eventually go on to win the tournament. That sparked the rivalry between the mentor Sakuraba and the pupil Shibata and now the two meet in singles competition for the first time. Sure to be unlike anything else on the card, this is a match that certainly promises to me a memorable encounter.
4. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Kenny Omega (c) vs KUSHIDA
Kenny Omega made a big splash when he signed for New Japan Pro-Wrestling in late 2014. All smiles, the former tag partner of Kota Ibushi professed his pride at becoming a member of the NJPW roster, only to shock everyone by joining the Bullet Club as an anime super villain come to life, ‘The Cleaner’ Kenny Omega. Winning the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title in his first match, Omega has since gone on to defend the title a further five times and has vowed to “clean up” the NJPW Jr. Heavyweight division. The next challenger may be his toughest yet, however, as Best of the Super Jr’s winner KUSHIDA is on something of a roll and has the momentum and the crowd behind him. But with the Bullet Club never far from ringside, it remains to be seen whether this will be a fair fight or if the numbers game will come into the play. Also, adding some further excitement to the mix is the surprise return of Ricochet, who showed up at yesterday’s Korakuen Hall show to challenge the winner of tomorrow’s title match. Ricochet has defeated both Omega & KUSHIDA in the past and that will undoubtedly be in the back of the minds of both competitors.
5. NEVER Openweight Title: Togi Makabe (c) vs Tomohiro Ishii
After years of toiling away in the undercard, Tomohiro Ishii finally got his due in 2014 when he became NEVER Openweight Champion. He proceeded to make the belt his own, dominating the competition and, to date, there has only been one major thorn in his side: former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Togi Makabe. The two faced off in the Tokyo Dome at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom and Makabe was victorious, but a bout of influenza forced him to drop the title shortly after. Ishii reclaimed the belt after defeating Tomoaki Honma in a match to determine the new champion, but when Makabe returned he again bested Ishii and became new NEVER Openweight Champion. Now, for the third time, Ishii & Makabe lock horns to do battle for the title and, if their previous two encounters are anything to go by, this will be a very hard-hitting affair that sees both men battered and bruised in search of championship gold.
6. IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles: The Kingdom (c) vs The Bullet Club
After a 365-day title reign, The Bullet Club of Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows lost the titles to Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata) but, much to the shock of everyone, they reclaimed the titles just 38 days later. However, their second reign with the belts was destined to be far shorter than a year as Karl Anderson’s infatuation with Maria Kannelis caused them to lose the titles to The Kingdom of Matt Taven & Michael Bennett. Doc brought his wife Amber Gallows to Japan as an equaliser and we’ve seen Amber & Maria go at it on a couple of occasions, but it hasn’t been enough to stop Karl from losing focus. Whether Anderson can keep his cool and Bullet Club can retain the tag gold remains to be seen, but they’ll be hoping Amber can keep Maria at bay long enough for a Bullet Club win.
7. Special Singles Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Toru Yano
Tanahashi & Yano have quite the rivalry, one not based on them being equals in the ring (far from it), but one based on a mutual dislike for the other and Yano’s insatiable urge to make Tanahashi look foolish at every turn. This will be the nineteenth singles match between the two in twelve years and, barring a handful of occasions, Tanahashi’s come out on top most of the time (13-3-2 in Tanahashi’s favour). Most notably, when Tanahashi beat Yano in a hair vs hair match five years ago, forcing ‘The Mad Barber of CHAOS’ to have his head shaved. This time, however, the feud sparked up when Yano used typically-mischievous tactics to roll-up Tanahashi for the win in under three minutes, knocking Tanahashi out of the 1st round of the New Japan Cup. Yano continued to infuriate Tanahashi at every turn and now they’ll try and settle things (for now) with another singles match.
8. IWGP Intercontinental Title: Hirooki Goto (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
Since losing the IWGP Intercontinental title to Hirooki Goto at Wrestling Dontaku, Shinsuke Nakamura has continued to treat Goto contemptuously, calling him “invisible” and seeing the loss at Dontaku as nothing more than a blip in the continued Intercontinental reign of Shinsuke Nakamura. To Goto, someone who has struggled to find lasting success as a main eventer, this match is a chance to cement his status and start to build his own legacy with the Intercontinental belt. Goto, typically all-business, has no time for Nakamura’s derision but shouldn’t mistake his opponents attitude for complacency, as the often-eccentric Nakamura remains one of the most dangerous competitors in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Incidentally, this will be the fifteenth singles encounter between Goto & Nakamura since 2003 – the record currently stands at seven wins for Goto, seven wins for Nakamura, making this match a tie-breaker of sorts.
9. IWGP Heavyweight Title: AJ Styles (c) vs Kazuchika Okada
‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles made a huge impact when he débuted for New Japan Pro-Wrestling by defeating Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestling Dontaku 2014 and, for over a year now, ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada has been struggling to get his title back. Okada’s journey has had its ups and downs, after falling to Styles again in the rematch (thanks to some Bullet Club interference) Okada looked set to reclaim IWGP gold when he won the 2014 G1 Climax, defeating Styles on the opening night. However, Tanahashi was an obstacle Okada hadn’t expected to be placed in his path. Styles lost the title to Tanahashi at King of Pro-Wrestling and Okada, with his G1 winner’s contract for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 9, expected to waltz into the Tokyo Dome and defeat Tanahashi as he had done two years previously. But Tanahashi not only defended his title that night, he trounced Okada, embarrassed him and showed him that he still had a long way to go to be the “Ace of New Japan”.
Even though he’d bested Okada, Tanahashi soon dropped the title back to the man he’d won it from, AJ Styles. Okada, still owed a title shot at AJ after their match in the 2014 G1, now had his sights set firmly on the new champion and the match was made for this Sunday at Dominion. This is a hugely important title match for a number of reasons, but mostly because it will set the tone for the impending 2015 G1 Climax Tournament and could possibly give us one-half of the main event for Wrestle Kingdom 10. Styles, his Bullet Club cohorts never far from his side, will be looking to make a statement by entering his second G1 tournament as champion. Okada, walking the path of redemption, will be looking to place himself once more at the top of the mountain and proclaim himself to be the Ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The stage is set in Osaka Castle Hall for a classic IWGP title match that will undoubtedly have big ramifications for the rest of the year.
Okada vs Styles is part of the larger story of Okada trying to replace Tanahashi as the ‘top guy’ in New Japan. Much of that rests on him not only defeating Tanahashi, but doing so on the grandest stage of them all at Wrestle Kingdom. Whether this year or the next, Tanahashi and Okada will face off in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom once again and, for that reason, I’m predicting that Okada will win tomorrow. I’m definitely not discounting the possibility of Styles retaining and I think he’d make a great choice for the WK10 main event, but my gut says it’ll be Okada. For the Intercontinental title match I’m going with Goto, he needs this win in a big way. On the other hand, if Nakamura wins it could point to a strong G1 for him, which is a possibility many fans are favouring. As for the other title matches on the card, I’d like to see the Bucks retain the Jr. Tag Titles as I think the division needs some stability. I think the Kingdom retain the Heavyweight Tag Titles, perhaps sowing some dissent amongst the Bullet Club ranks. Ishii should really recapture the NEVER title, but although many fans want KUSHIDA to win the Jr. Heavyweight Title from Kenny Omega, I’m predicting that Omega retains with the help of the Bullet Club and then Ricochet makes the save to set-up a 3-way title match, probably at the G1 finals. Lastly, in the grudge matches I’m predicting Tanahashi wins to put the feud with Yano to bed (although it’s never really over) and Shibata to beat Sakuraba, earning his mentor’s respect and so on.
All in all, Dominion looks to be a great show on paper and shouldn’t fail to disappoint. It starts tomorrow morning at 8AM UK time and can be viewed live with a subscription to http://njpwworld.com