Art imitates life, and that is certainly the case in New Japan Pro Wrestling at the moment.
As a cloud of darkness descended over the New Japan Cup final, with EVIL defecting to Bullet Club and betraying former Los Ingobernables de Japon stablemate Tetsuya Naito, the status quo has shifted in favour of the forces of EVIL. This might sound dramatic, but while Naito made history as the first man to hold the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships simultaneously, EVIL looked to run roughshod over his old pareja in a winner takes all main event at Dominion.
Ryusuke Taguchi, Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima defeated GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) and Gabriel Kidd
Another solid showing from Gabriel Kidd here, after going toe-to-toe with Kojima in a tag match the previous night. This time he got to stand across from his trainer Katsuyori Shibata’s former opponent Yuji Nagata so they could pound the heck out of each other. Kidd also grappled with Ryusuke Taguchi in a reminder of the breadth of Taguchi’s talents as he’s a great mat wrestler as well as an entertaining comedy act. As is customary, Young Lion Kidd was submitted by the Nagata Lock II.
Kidd has adapted to the New Japan Strong Style extremely quickly, as LA Dojo trainer Shibata keeps churning out future star after future star. With that in mind, Lion’s Break Collision is a new weekly show on NJPW World which showcases the best up and coming talent through New Japan’s Young Lion training programme and comes recommended.
BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi and SANADA defeated Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii and Yota Tsuji
With Los Ingobernables still reeling from EVIL’s double-cross last night, the group will be buoyed by their success here with Hiromu continuing his penchant for tapping out Young Lions with a Boston Crab. I’m sure the irony of submitting the trainees with their own finisher is not lost on him either. Hiromu picked up the win comfortably, setting up his challenge to EVIL after the main event.
DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado defeated Yuya Uemura, Master Wato and Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Master Wato’s triumphant first match against DOUKI last night was somewhat marred by this defeat but continues to set up Wato’s feud against Suzuki-gun. Wato’s high-flying moveset will stand him in good stead in the junior division. This is no surprise given Wato was on excursion at CMLL in Mexico. It leaves the question of whether his style might also serve to fill the gap left by the injured YOH in the junior division. He might even join Chaos given that he seems to have caught the attention of Rocky Romero.
El Desperado looked good here, too, picking up the win with his Pinche Loco double underhook facebuster finisher.
Taiji Ishimori and Yujiro Takahashi defeated Hirooki Goto and Kazuchika Okada
After frustrating Okada by interfering in the New Japan Cup final, a riled up Rainmaker was thirsty for some measure of revenge. Alas, Gedo lived up to his role as the perennial thorn in Okada’s side, running interference with a spanner and beating down Okada on the outside of the ring. Between this and Goto getting his lip split open, the match was a pretty brutal affair as Yujiro picked up the win over a bloody Goto with a short DDT. Given the lack of resolution for Okada, we can probably expect to see the Bullet Club and Chaos feud heat up over the summer.
Shingo Takagi defeated SHO to retain the NEVER Openweight Championship
As predicted, this was an absolute belter of a match. SHO, known for his tag team partnership with YOH as Roppongi 3K, has gone from strength to strength as a singles competitor and will no doubt be gunning for the Junior Heavyweight Championship at some point and quite rightly so. Speaking of strength, Shingo’s ability to remain an absolute beast in the ring while making SHO look great serves to strengthen the breadth and depth of the New Japan roster. An impassioned El Desperado jumped the triumphant Shingo on his exit from the arena, setting up a future challenge.
This was everything you’d expect it to be with lots of lariats, big suplexes and great pacing throughout. We can only hope that SHO and Shingo get to meet again in the future.
Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
This match was really about building up Taichi and it served its purpose with Dangerous T throwing it all against the Golden Aces. The ending was probably predictable as Taichi used the Iron Fingers left behind by the retired Iizuka last year to smash Tanahashi in the face. After some nifty double team moves, the titles changed hands.
Unfortunately, this probably spells the end of the Golden Aces but, on the plus side, it releases Tanahashi and Ibushi back into circulation as singles competitors which throws the Heavyweight and Intercontinental title pictures wide open again which is an exciting prospect.
EVIL defeated Tetsuya Naito to win the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships
The thing that makes New Japan the number one wrestling promotion is the depth of the storytelling, using callbacks to the past while also driving things forward and not isolating new fans. Given Okada’s shock win against then IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tanahashi in Osaka in 2012, it makes sense that if a shock result was going to happen anywhere, it would happen at Dominion in Osaka Jo-Hall.
With EVIL showing off a fantastic new Bullet Club entrance theme and new ring gear, it was clear that this was no simple defection from one faction to another. EVIL was all-in on his transition from much-loved babyface to outright heel. Being accompanied by other Bullet Club members who were quickly dismissed by referee Red Shoes and with Naito flying solo, it was easy to see that outside interference was inevitable.
Things got off to a quick start with Naito abandoning his usual ‘tranquilo’ attitude to baseball slide into EVIL as he played for time outside the ring. After turning on long-time fan and NJPW commentator Milano Collection A.T. on the outside, it didn’t take long before a table was set up at ringside. Like Chekhov’s gun, it was clearly going to be used at some point.
From there, things went back and forth with Naito’s bandaged knees an obvious target for EVIL. As Naito tried to put EVIL through the table, the tables were turned against the champion and he was unceremoniously dumped through it himself.
The drama was truly palpable after attempted interference from Bullet Club’s Taiji Ishimori when Hiromu came to his stablemate Naito’s aid. But the real genius move was the use of a debuting Dick Togo dressed up as BUSHI to turn on Naito before unmasking. Togo is a staple of Japanese wrestling, his matches in promotions such as Michinoku Pro being legendary.
Despite Naito throwing everything at EVIL, it was Naito getting blasted in the head by a chair that proved the final straw as EVIL picked up the win.
It’s clear that EVIL’s heel turn has probably been in the works for a while and it serves to push along the character-based storytelling that NJPW really excels at. One of the main issues with a double champion is how you arrest one of the titles from him without undermining his reign and New Japan have managed it here by having EVIL cheat his way to victory and become one of the most hated men in the promotion. This is long overdue given the stability of LIJ’s membership and EVIL’s emergence as a fantastic talent over the last few years.
With a large chunk of the North American roster effectively out of the running for the forseeable, the breadth and depth of talent on New Japan’s roster means it’s no sweat to build up a future star.
What is clear is that EVIL’s push throws the entire title picture on its head and builds up a multitude of options going into NJPW’s summer tour. Will we get a Naito redemption arc? Will LIJ unravel further? What will happen when Hiromu challenges for the titles at New Japan Road on 20th July? Whilst the answers are opaque, it’s going to be a hell of a ride finding them out.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!