NJPW DOMINION 2024 REPORT (6/9) – Lansdell’s recap and analysis of Depserado vs Ishimori, Moxley vs Evil, Shingo vs Henare, and more!

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch.com contributor


JUNE 9, 2024

Announcers: Walker Stewart and Chris Charlton

The problem with making plans is that sometimes life gets in the way. My apologies for not being able to keep up with the round-robin section of the tournament this year. Too much wrestling in too little time. I throw myself at the mercy of the court.


I don’t want to be melodramatic, but this match as the opening contest is pretty much the epitome of what’s wrong with NJPW right now. One of the only recognizable stars in the company, and he started the night against a young talent who is not ready for this sort of elevation.

Newman decided to make it his goal to prove me wrong there, hitting a running boot on Naito while Naito was entering the ring. Newman followed up with a triangle moonsault to the floor and a dropkick. Newman got back into the ring and the referee called for the bell.

Back in the ring, Naito escaped a tiger suplex attempt and connected with an arm drag. Naito hit a back elbow, and with both men on the apron Naito dropped Newman on his neck on the hardest part of the ring. As he was still fully clothed in his entrance gear, Naito took this opportunity to slowly remove his gear…and of course choke Newman with his pants. As you would.

Back inside again, Naito hit an armdrag into a snap mare and a basement dropkick for a two-count. He applied a cravate, but Newman was able to squirm out. Newman ducked a clothesline and shifted to sport mode, picking up ridiculous speed and hitting a running boot. A running PK got a two-count for Newman. He tried a tiger suplex again, Naito backed him into a corner and then hit an inverted atomic drop at the five-minute mark.

Naito perched Newman on the top and hit a Frankensteiner. Newman sidestepped a clothesline and turned a second attempt into a Spanish fly. He finally connected with the tiger suplex, and the bridge got him another two-count. Naito ducked under an Os-Cutter, Newman countered a Tornado DDT with a roaring elbow, but Naito hit Destino Corriendo! 1…2…no!

Naito rang up the arm to set up for Destino, but Newman collapsed. Newman tried a couple of elbows with all the force of a sickly grandmother, Naito just shrugged them off and maintained wrist control. He laid in a couple of trademark elbows to the side of Newman’s head. Newman exploded with a flurry of forearms, but his big whirlwind kick caught nothing but air. Destino by Naito! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Tetsuya Naito via pinfall in 9:00 (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Yeah OK, that did some work in making Newman look good. It does kind of seem like he jumped the queue here, which is part of my issue with the matchmaking. Newman hasn’t really worked his way up through the lesser names before this. That said, he is kind of still a Young Lion and as such he might not be ready for a slow ascent yet. Either way this was a fun opener. Newman got enough offence that it never felt like a squash, but it also didn’t have the AEW issue of “why is this main eventer taking so long to put away this undercard guy?” A fine line to walk. )

(2) TMDK (Robbie Eagles & Kosei Fujita & Zack Sabre Jr) vs. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Clark Connors & Drilla Moloney) & LJ CLEARY

The result of this match was pretty much telegraphed before anyone entered the ring. Fujita and Eagles will be challenging Connors and Moloney on the next show for the Junior Heavyweight tag titles. Cleary is visiting from NOAH, where he is part of Jake Lee’s Good Looking Guys faction. Jake Lee is the guy who cost Naito his match against Moloney about a month ago. With ZSJ in the match and Cleary not being a contracted wrestler, there was little doubt going in who would be beating whom.

All six men brawled to start the match. Connors and Fujita were the two left in the ring, and an early snap powerslam from Connors gained the upper hand. Connors went for the spear, Fujita sidestepped and rolled Connors up with the European Clutch for a near fall. Moloney broke up the cover and went for Drilla Killa, but his ongoing arm injury gave Fujita an opening to escape and tag Eagles.

Eagles hit a springboard dropkick to Connors and Moloney. He tagged in ZSJ, who went to work on the arm of Connors. TMDK worked a series of quick tags to work over Connors’ arm, then all three men applied a different hold to a different limb of poor Clark. As things settled, Connors and Eagles were left in the ring. Moloney grabbed at Eagles’ foot, distracting him long enough for Connors to connect with the Jeep Flip tackle. Moloney hit a high boot on Fujita and ZSJ on the apron, and Bullet Club were on top.

Cleary tagged in and hit a running kick in the corner. He taunted ZSJ, which let Eagles recover briefly. However the recovery did little good as Cleary avoided a charging attack and hit a springboard double stomp to the back that looked very good. He tagged in Moloney, who still looks like Great Value Khal Drogo. Moloney invited Eagles to hit him, which of course backfired as Eagles picked the leg and went for the Ron Miller Special. Moloney fought it off and hit a spinebuster into a double stomp and elbow drop combo.

Eagles fought off a double-team attempt and got a pair of rollups for a near fall. Eagles escaped another Drilla Killa attempt and hit an enzuigiri, leaving both men down at the five-minute mark. Fujita and Connors both tagged in, and Fujita hit a running chop and a springboard missile dropkick for a near fall. He clamped on a guillotine, but Connors countered with a northern lights suplex and tagged in Cleary. Fujita leveled him with a series of chops, but Cleary came back with a kick to the gut. Again Cleary slapped ZSJ on the apron, he went for a back suplex but Fujita slipped out the back and tagged in ZSJ.

Tired of the taunting, ZSJ beat the daylights out of Cleary with European uppercuts. He hit the magic head screw, then countered an attempted lucha armdrag into an armbar. Connors and Moloney broke the hold, stomping on ZSJ until Eagles and Fujita evened the sides. The two tag teams brawled on the floor, but some awful camera work made sure we saw none of it. Instead we watched ZSJ and Cleary stand up.

Cleary used a series of intricate rollups for near falls, holding his own technically against ZSJ. He reversed a Zack Driver into a victory roll for a near fall. A flurry of kicks from Cleary put ZSJ in position for a Beautiful Disaster kick, but ZSJ caught the foot and applied an ankle lock. Because he is ZSJ, that somehow became a German suplex. Good grief. A PK and a Zack Driver later, and the expected result was achieved.

WINNERS: TMDK via pinfall in 10:00 (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: The intent of this match was almost certainly to build the title shot for Eagles and Fujita. That was badly damaged by the cameras steadfastly refusing to film anything in the crowd. Cleary did get a solid showcase of his technical ability, though it did look a little rushed in application. I’ll put that down to nerves. A real shame that the goal was not reached due to production issues here.)

(3) YUYA UEMURA (C) vs. GREAT-O-KHAN – Storm Catch Rules match for the 2024 KOPW Provisional Championship

“But Chris, what the heck are Storm Catch Rules?” Great question. They are very similar to ROH Pure rules. No strikes (at all, not just to the face), only two rope breaks, and only submissions and throws allowed. Unlike in Pure rules, the third rope break is an instant loss. Chris Charlton referred to Great-O-Khan as “the best Khan in professional wrestling” before mocking Tony Khan, and I for one want to see that match at Forbidden Door.

O-Khan removed his entrance gear to reveal shorts (replete with sponsor logos) and grappling shoes. Interesting. Right at the bell, Uemura hit a flying armbar and transitioned it to a back suplex for a two-count. He went right back to the cross armbreaker, forcing O-Khan to use his first rope break. Uemura went back to the arm, but O-Khan went with the classic wrestling move of biting to break the hold. O-Khan locked in a head and arm choke, maintaining the hold even through a hip toss by Uemura. O-Khan tried to prevent Uemura from reaching the ropes, but could not. Each man had one break left.

O-Khan clamped on his Dominator claw hold, but Uemura was able to leverage his way free with a snap mare. Uemura reversed a whip attempt into a lucha take down, and snapped back on O-Khan’s arm. He followed up with a hammerlock slam for a near fall. A second bite stopped Uemura’s momentum, which seems rather against the spirit of the contest. These rules just have no teeth. Sensing that he needed to fight fire with fire, Uemura returned the biting favour at the five-minute mark.

Both men grappled for position. Uemura looked to be going for an enzuigiri but pulled out of it at the last minute. O-Khan popped his hips and threw Uemura halfway across the ring, but Uemura rolled him up with a crucifix for a near fall. They grappled again, and Uemura dumped O-Khan over the top to the apron. Apparently that counted as a rope break since it was an escape. Weird but I get it.

Back inside, Uemura continued to work the arm. While in an armlock, O-Khan backed Uemura into the ropes and hip tossed him, which surely should have counted as a rope break? O-Khan connected with a strong uranage suplex for a two-count, and then went back to a head and arm choke from the rear this time. He transitioned into a claw hold, but his attempted Eliminator was countered into a cross armbreaker! O-Khan teased reaching for the ropes, then bridged out of the hold and stacked up Uemura for a two-count.

Uemura went back to the well with a deep arm drag and tried to follow up with the Deadbolt suplex. O-Khan reversed it into a belly-to-belly suplex, then clamped on the Dominator. Uemura went after the arm to block the move but O-Khan had the counter and connected with a snap GFO suplex. Tree Slam by O-Khan! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Great-O-Khan via pinfall in 11:00 to win the KOPW 2024 provisional championship (***1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: The rules made sense on paper, but there was that one weird part where it seemed like O-Khan should have lost due to his third rope break. It was an enjoyable contest, and O-Khan’s victory suggests that we will see more of his nonsense with that bet. Seems like a waste of his talents to me. That said, Uemura has significant upside in a New Japan environment, and needed to be shuffled out of this division. With the directive that each title needs a defined group of contenders, it makes sense to have Uemura lose and challenge for a less comedy-centered title.)

(4) HIROSHI TANAHASHI & TORU YANO & BOLTIN OLEG (C) vs. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Yota Tsuji & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi) – Never Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship match

Chris Charlton told us that LIJ have held the Six-Man titles 4 times, and Bushi was part of all four teams. Hiromu has never held the title, and Tsuji has never held any title. It blows my mind that Yuya Uemura was the first of that group of four young stars (Shota Umino, Ren Narita, Uemura, and Tsuji) to win a singles title, and that it was the KOPW title.

I thought hearing a mashup of Toru Yano and Hiroshi Tanahashi’s themes would be the most jarring thing of the whole show. Then I saw the new looks for the defending champs and…oh my. I was not ready. All three men came out in Gunther-esque trench coats, with Tanahashi sporting a new hairstyle that has to be seen to be understood. Like Tenzan and Sindel (from Mortal Kombat) had a hairstyle baby.

Tsuji demanded to start the match and called out Tanahashi to join him. There is history between them, as Tanahashi was the man who encouraged Tsuji to get into pro wrestling. They grappled briefly, and Tsuji tagged in Bushi. Nobody wanted that. Tanahashi tagged Yano, and a few people might have wanted that. Right away Yano removed a corner pad, and Yano hijinks ensued. Bushi and Hiromu overcame the nonsense and Bsuhi went to work on Yano’s arm.

LIJ went through a series of quick tags, continuing to attack Yano’s arm. Hiromu hit a basement dropkick, then Tsuji slammed him onto Yano for a two-count. Yano caught a charging Hiromu with an inverted atomic drop and tagged in Oleg. He leveld Tsuji and Bushi with shoulder tackles, then hit a massive splash on Tsuji for a two-count. Oleg hit his alternating gutwrenches into a slam, but was waylaid by Bushi and Hiromu. That went about as well as you might expect as Oleg suplexed them both at the same time. To make sure Tsuji didn’t feel slighted, there was a suplex for him too.

Oleg charged Tsuji in the corner and tried for Kamikaze, but Tsuji blocked and connected with a combination of moves that ended in a curb stomp. A Falcon Arrow got a near fall. The two big boys exchanged blows mid-ring, with Oleg coming out on top after a shotgun dropkick. He tagged in President Tanahashi, who cleaned out all of LIJ. He slammed Tsuji and hit a second-rope somersault senton for a two-count.

Another strike exchange, this time between Tanahashi and Tsuji, ended with a stiff headbutt from Tsuji that leveled Tanahashi. He set up for Gene Blaster but Yano grabbed Tsuji’s leg and stopped the momentum. That gave Tanahashi time to recover and hit a Slingblade. Oleg obliterated Bushi and took him to the floor, allowing Tanahashi to go up for the High Fly Flow…Tsuji moved! Gene Blaster! New champs!

WINNERS: LIJ via pinfall in 9:00 to win the Never Openweight Six-Man Tag Team championship. (**3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: There is a difference between building stars and giving titles. You can do the first by doing the second, but they can each exist independently of the other. With the young generation in New Japan, the booking has done very little of the latter, and yet they have built a swell of support behind Tsuji, Umino, and to a lesser extent Uemura. Tsuji of course has his New Japan Cup win and two solid showings in world title matches. Umino has looked great against Moxley and Ospreay. They might not be winning the big matches, but they are at least getting the crowd behind them. This match did nothing to progress or set back that plan, although the teased Oleg vs Tsuji match certainly will not hurt either of them. It was a fine contest but certainly nothing special.)

The announcers told us that there would be a major announcement about the G1 after the next match. My guess is that at least one of the blocks will be in AEW.

(5) JEFF COBB (C) vs. TOMOHIRO ISHII – NJPW World TV Championship match

As you might expect, they started by just running into each other like two rhinos trying to assert dominance. Cobb won that first exchange with a bigger shoulder tackle than Ishii could muster. They ran the ropes again, and again Cobb came out on top with a crossbody. He taunted Ishii by surfing on his back, which I’m sure will not enrage Ishii at all. That is on the list of things I would try to avoid doing at all costs.

Indeed, Ishii came out of the corner with a pair of shoulder tackles that flattened Cobb. Ishii tried a suplex but Cobb put the brakes on and again went to the shoulder tackle strategy. Ishii laid in some chops, which did not seem to faze Cobb. After a brief exchange Cobb pushed Ishii towards the corner and absolutely destroyed him with a leaping European uppercut. Ishii looked legitimately shaken by that, as he turned into the strike and it caught him flush.

Ishii recovered and did his Terminator impression, walking through a series of Cobb forearms and dropping Cobb with a brainbuster. Cobb blocked a lariat, Ishii avoided a dropkick, Cobb ducked a sliding lariat and then dropped Ishii on his lack-of-neck with a German suplex at the five-minute mark. Cobb perched Ishii on the top turnbuckle and hit a superplex that sounded very loud. Ishii briefly sold his neck then pulled a Taylor Swift and shook it off. He blocked a Cobb clothesline and hit a German suplex of his own, leaving both men down.

Ishii fired up and ducked under another clothesline to hit a back drop driver. He ran right into a high-angle belly-to-belly from Cobb, but again gritted his teeth and fired back with a clothesline. Cobb absorbed it and returned fire with an even bigger lariat for a near fall. He dropped Ishii with a single headbutt, then hit a standing moonsault for another near fall. A Tour of the Islands attempt was countered with a clothesline and a dropkick, then a lariat for…a one-count! It was Cobb’s turn to fire up, catching Ishii charging and dropping him with a uranage slam. He dropped a forearm and covered for another one-count.

Ishii caught a kick and crumpled Cobb with a single stiff forearm. A sliding lariat finally got a two-count. A series of counters ended with a dropkick from Cobb as we hit the ten-minute milestone. F-5000 by Cobb! They exchanged strikes, but Cobb hit a superkick and Spin Cycle! Tour of the…headbutt by Ishii! Huracanrana by Ishii!!!! No you did not read that wrong. Lariat! 1…2…Cobb kicked out! Vertical Drop Brainbuster…countered! Pop-up Tour of the Islands by Cobb! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Jeff Cobb via pinfall in 12:00 to retain the NJPW World TV Championship. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: These two bulls managed to compress a 25-minute Never Openweight title match into half the time. It did not suffer as a result. Far from the best match either man has had, but the chemistry was there and the tension was believable. Maybe a touch repetitive? That’s a minor gripe though, and I want to see these two go at it again.)

We got a hype video for G1 Climax 34. We will have two blocks of ten men each, with 18 of the 20 names being announced in Sapporo. The last two names will be determined by a qualifying tournament, with the finals happening on July 5. The tournament starts July 20 in Osaka. The top 3 from each group will advance, with the top points-getter from each group going directly to the semifinals. The others will compete to face them, with the finals happening on August 18.

(6) HIKULEO & EL PHANTASMO vs. BULLET CLUB (Kenta & Chase Owens) vs. BISHAMON (Yoshi-Hashi & Hirooki Goto) vs. TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) – IWGP & NJPW Strong Tag Team Championships Tornado Elimination match

Despite my continued assertion that nobody wanted to see a Kenta/Chase Owens team in the year of our Lord 2024, here we continue to be. They have been doing a tour of the US Indies as a team, getting in some reps and winning titles, which would suggest a plan to keep them together.

The rules here are essentially “Chaos reigns.” Not the faction. All eight men are legal, and when a team is pinned or submitted they are eliminated. Last team standing would be the dual champions.

TMDK started in the ring with ELP and Hikuleo while the other teams fought on the floor. TMDK tried a series of double-team moves on ELP, only for Hikuleo to break them up. Hikuleo dropped Nicholls with a DDT, then hit a side slam on Haste. ELP came off the middle rope with an elbow drop, and they posed for the fans. Bishamon blindsided them, sending Hikuleo to the floor and hitting a series of tandem moves on ELP.

TMDK took their turn in the driver’s seat, hitting a back suplex-neckbreaker combo on Goto and then a fist drop-moonsault combo on Yoshi-Hashi. Bullet Club blindsided THEM and covered Yoshi-Hashi for a two-count. They continued keeping people out of the ring as they focused on one person. They hit a powerbomb-neckbreaker combo on ELP for a two-count as the commentators talked about wrestlers being confused about the rules. They were not alone.

Hikuelo came out of nowhere to level Bullet Club with a double lariat. Bishamon fared no better. Nicholls ate a back elbow and an elbow drop. Shane Haste got starched by a headbutt at the five-minute mark. Hikuleo hit a powerslam, ELP followed up with a springboard senton and a Lionsault and then flew to the outside with a moonsault on to a crowd.

Back in the ring, ELP set for Sudden Death…connected on Haste! Hikuleo set for the Godsend, but Haste countered with a DDT. I will admit to struggling to follow this. Haste moved out of the way of Sudden Death, causing ELP to connect with Hikuleo instead. Tankbuster to Hikuleo! 1…2…3! ELP and Hikuleo were eliminated first, thanks to a mix-up. I wonder if that will lead to anything.

TMDK were busy gloating when Bullet Club came up behind them with schoolboy rollups for a pair of two-counts. Owens and Kenta beat down on TMDK while Hikuleo had a tantrum on the outside. Jado tried to calm the big man down but he left on his own. Drama! Back in the ring, Kenta cut off a brief rally from Haste with a DDT. We got a shot of Jado walking up the ramp without ELP, which is even more intriguing.

Owens and Kenta continued to beat on Nicholls, with Kenta hitting a hesitation basement dropkick in the corner and a double stomp. Yoshi-Hashi tried to intervene but only managed to earn himself a Death Valley Driver from Owens. Goto’s aid was to no avail as Buller Club copied the Bishamon clubbing forearm spot. Owens hit a back leg trip and a senton on Goto, but Goto countered the package piledriver with a back drop. Owens came back with a strong enzuigiri, and a C-Trigger…blocked by Goto! Yoshi-Hashi hit a superkick from the blindside, which led to Violent Flash on Kenta on top of Owens. Shoto to Owens! 1…2…3! Bullet Club were eliminated, meaning both champions coming in were done.

TMDK and Bishamon squared off in the middle of the ring, beating on each other. Yoshi-Hashi and Nicholls ended up on the outside while Haste and Goto battled in the ring. Goto hit a spinning heel kick in the corner and a back suplex for a two-count. Haste fought out of an ushigoroshi attempt, but Yoshi-Hashi came charging in with a corner clothesline to retain control. Goto went to the top…Nicholls interrupted! TMDK threw Yoshi-Hashi to the floor, then hit the Olivia Newton-Bomb superplex on Goto! 1…2…no! Yoshi-Hashi broke it up.

Nicholls and Goto traded slaps and forearms, but Haste turned the tide for his team. Yoshi-Hashi escaped Highway to Hell, Goto returned to the ring and hit a Northern lariat on Nicholls. Shoto on Nicholls…Haste broke it up! Haste and Goto fought as the 15-minute call was made. Goto ran into a GORGEOUS dropkick from Haste. Goto escaped the Tankbuster…Power Bottom to Goto! Yoshi-Hashi disrupted the cover! Tankbuster to Yoshi-Hashi! 1…2…no!!! I don’t think anyone had kicked out of that before. SUPER Tankbuster! 1…2…3! TMDK did it!

WINNERS: TMDK via pinfall in 17:00, last eliminating Bishamon, to win the IWGP and New Japan Strong Tag Team Championships. (***1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: That was very hard to follow, although the final two teams really amped up the excitement. I am glad to see TMDK finally shake the label of chokers, and even happier to see that Kenta and Owens have no titles any more. The tease of the ELP-Hikuleo split could be interesting if it pans out, especially if both men are sticking around.)

(7) SHINGO TAKAGI (c) vs. HENARE – Never Openweight Championship match

There was never a chance this would be anything other than a brutal smashmouth slugfest. The fact that Henare is still alive after that head wound, let alone still wrestling, is something of a minor miracle. He has come so far since the white-meat babyface that was in Hontai, and he deserves a push as a result. On the other hand, Shingo continues to put on fantastic physical matches despite being unable to get back to the top of the card where, arguably, he would be more valuable.

The crowd was behind Henare to start the match. They started as they meant to continue, with stiff forearms. They traded shoulder tackles, then Shingo blistered Henare with a chop and a shot in the corner. He peppered Henare with jabs but seemed to hurt his wrist, allowing Henare to lay in some heavy round kicks to the chest. They ran into each other like rhinos, then started trading headbutts. That cannot be a wise course of action.

Henare got the better of the concussion trade, and snap mared Shingo over. He planted two stiff kicks to the spine of Shingo, then a running PK to the chest. Shingo rolled back to absorb the blow and popped up with a shoulder tackle. They again traded headbutts, and again Henare won the trade with a jumping headbutt. Henare went for a running knee lift in the corner, but Shingo caught him and hit a powerbomb! Sliding lariat! Henare rolled through the impact and connected with a short busaiku knee.

Henare went for Rampage but Shingo blocked it and hit some knee lifts, a couple of jabs, and a DDT. Shingo charged…and ran right into Rampage! Henare was slow to recover, but was able to stagger Shingo with a big round kick. Again they squared off, trading knife-edge chops for round kicks. You would expect the kicks to win out, and Shingo perhaps knew that as he switched to lariats. The exchange went on a shade too long in my mind, but Henare did indeed get the upper hand with a series of unanswered kicks.

Shingo ducked a lariat and hit a Northern lariat, but then Henare ducked the follow-up and hit a springboard kick of the second turnbuckle to level Shingo. In turn Shingo popped up and flattened Henare with a Pumping Bomber. Both men made it to their feet, but it was Shingo who got control with a big left-arm clothesline. Henare fought off two Last of the Dragon attempts and was finally able to connect with Streets of Rage to leave both men down at the ten-minute mark.

Henare tried for a second Streets of Rage, but Shingo blocked it. Henare connected hard with a spinning back elbow, then hit a running knee strike in the corner. He tried a running round kick but Shingo caught it! Henare connected with a flurry of big strikes to escape…Last of the Dragon connected for Shingo! Both men were down again!

Grasping hands, the men pulled each other up. Shingo landed a big flurry of shots, but Henare put a stop to it with one punch to the midsection that buckled Shingo. Spinning heel kick from Henare! Enzuigiri by Shingo! PK by Henare! They stood leaning on each other, and this time it was Henare’s turn to lay in a flurry of slaps. Shingo fired back with a forearm that dropped Henare, but he came back with a headbutt. They again traded headbutts, Shingo dropped Henare with a lariat, and Henare popped up and flattened Shingo with a battering ram headbutt!

The crowd came alive for Henare as the referee counted both men down on the mat. Henare stirred at the count of six, but neither man could get to their feet before the ten-count.

WINNER: Double KO in 15:00. Shingo retains the Never Openweight championship. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I don’t remember where I first heard the expression “damp squib” but this match was one. I love Shingo and I think he has been criminally underused recently, especially with the dearth of recognizable names at the top of the card. I also think Henare has done so much to build a character, and he has a style that meshes well with Shingo. Neither man was well served by this finish. The match leading up to it actually got to the point of discomfort for me, just too many stiff shots and mutual headbutts and not enough actual wrestling. Shingo normally does a better job interspersing the two styles, but this was more of a fight than anything and I shudder to think of the damage done to each man’s head. There’s an old adage in the business that if neither man can afford to lose, don’t book the match. We get few non-finishes like this in New Japan, and I don’t think this was the place to spend one.)

(8) JON MOXLEY (c) vs.EVIL – Lumberjack match for the IWGP World Heavyweight championship

I’m not sure if the fact that this is a lumberjack match made me more or less trepidatious for how this would play out. Evil came out first, and made a beeline for the owner of New Japan. Sho and Dick Togo held him still while Evil spraypainted his face and lovely jacket. He’s a HEEL.

Moxley’s lumberjacks were Shota Umino (naturally) and the Senior’s Circuit of Tiger Mask, Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Sho and Yujiro charged Moxley during his entrance but were summarily dispatched. Evil and the rest of the cronies attacked, and the shenanigans were underway.

When they made it to the ring, Moxley leveled Evil with a shoulder tackle. He followed up with a neckbreaker and then a series of 12-6 elbows and spine kicks. He tried to lock in a cross armbreaker but Evil blocked it and made it to the ropes. A kimmura sent Evil scurrying for the ropes again. He raked Moxley’s eyes and threw him to the outside in the midst of House of Torture. Moxley fought them off single-handedly and then threw Evil ribs-first into the barricade.

Moxley took Evil for a walk into the entranceway,sat him on a purloined chair, and laid in a flurry of elbows. He hit a big boot to knock Evil off the chair. Back in the ring, Moxley locked in the figure four. Interestingly enough, Chris Charlton was passionately defending Jon Moxley as the champ and brought up all the social media complaints by the likes of Shota Umino and Gabe Kidd. This is going somewhere, I can feel it.

Evil made it to the ropes to break the hold. Moxley whipped him to the corner and charged in behind him, but Evil lifted him up and over to the apron, then knocked him off. Moxley fell into the barricade, but was soon thrown back into the ring by House of Torture. Evil threw him out again, House of Torture descended on him but were quickly cut off by Moxley’s crew.

Evil put on a t-shirt only to tear it off and choke Moxley with it. So far this match would not be out of place in Attitude-era WWE. Evil threw Moxley to the floor again and House of Torture whipped him repeatedly with belts. It was not clear why the other lumberjacks didn’t intervene, but I guess it takes them a while to get places. With Moxley back in the ring, Evil locked in Nagata Lock One while staring at Nagata. Rude. Evil perched Moxley on the top turnbuckle and tried to superplex him down, but Moxley blocked it. He laid in some stiff right hands and headbutts, knocking Evil off the top. Evil charged to knock Moxley off as well, but Moxley jumped over him, rolled through, and connected with a forearm. Evil returned fire, and it was Mid-Ring Strike Exchange Time.

The forearms became chops, then back to forearms. After two long minutes Moxley got the better of the exchange, connecting with a series of forearms and chops without reply. He backed Evil into a corner with those strikes, but Evil was able to reverse the whip and hit a rolling forearm. He charged right into a Moxley lariat, and both men were down.

Moxley recovered first and hit a corner clothesline and a series of punches. A piledriver connected for a two-count, with Evil rolling to the floor on the House of Torture side. After a brief argument, Moxley hit a tope on to House of Torture. He picked up one of the discarded belts and blistered Evil with it. Moxley’s crew just watched, again. Moley decided to partake in a spot of interior decorating, retrieving a table from under the ring. He set up to powerbomb Evil through the table, but Togo threw powder in his eyes. Finally Moxley’s lumberjacks got involved, but could not stop Evil wrapping a chair around his neck and hitting it with a second chair. Back back back back…GONE.

As we went past 15 minutes, Evil taunted Moxley with the belt. They got back in the ring, where Evil connected with a corner clothesline and a superplex for a near fall. Evil clamped on the Anaconda Vice, staring at Tenzan while doing so. Rude. I guess we’ll have a King Kong kneedrop and a tiger suplex too? Moxley escaped the hold and tried for a German suplex. Evil grabbed the ref’s shirt, and the ref reared back and slapped…Moxley! Evil ducked! Moxley grabbed the ref, allowing Evil to connect with Darkness Falls for a near fall. Good for Marty Asami!

Evil stalked Moxley and set for Everything is Evil, but Moxley fought out. Evil hit a pair of lariats, Moxley staggered but absorbed them and ducked the third. He hit a modified Chaos Theory and locked in Nagata Lock Two! Narita tried to break up the hold only to be tackled by Shota. And the shenanigans ensued. Kanemaru stomped on Moxley to break the hold, Nagata beat on Kanemaru, but the ref got pushed in the way of a kick. Dick Togo choked out Moxley with the piano wire, Makabe broke that up, and Moxley’s crew locked in their submissions while Moxley hit Death Rider. Narita was however unaccounted for, and cleaned house with the reinforced bar.

Moxley confronted Narita, and Evil low-blowed him from behind. Yujiro and Narita helped Evil hit a Shield Bomb through the previously-erected table. They rolled Moxley back inside, and Evil hit Death Rider! The referee recovered just enough to make the count! 1…2…no! Everything…Is…no! Moxley elbowed his way free! Everything…Is…Moxley! Moxley grabbed the wrench and the pimp cane, but discarded them. Instead he went back under the ring and came out with a barbed wire baseball bat. What else would be under a wrestling ring? House of Torture all tried to intervene but all ate a bat shot. Evil managed to jab Moxley in the eye with a pen, but his attempted bat shot missed. Cutter by Moxley! He picked his bat up and hit a solid double to the gut, a couple more for good measure, and a curb stomp. Death Rider on top of the bat! 1…2…3! Wrestling is safe!

WINNER: Jon Moxley via pinfall in 25:00 to retain the IWGP World Heavyweight championship. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: My comment about this match being at home in WWE was not a compliment, and nothing happened after I said it to change my mind. This was not good. I get why it had to be this kind of match, but it existed in this halfway space where it was neither a hardcore match nor a wrestling one. Moxley didn’t even bleed! I feel cheated. The lack of help from Moxley’s lumberjacks and the seeming lack of plan from House of Torture hurt the match from a logic standpoint.)

After the match, Moxley took to the mic and thanked Osaka, then issued an open call for anyone to face him for the title. Nobody came out right away, which was a little awkward, but eventually Naito emerged to set up the rematch at Forbidden Door.

(9) EL DESPERADO vs. TAIJI ISHIMORI – Best of the Super Junior 31 Final

Between injuries and different paths, we have not seen much of these two facing off. Both men got special entrances on a platform that rose up through the entrance ramp, which I have not seen in New Japan before. I’ve made no secret of my lack of enthusiasm for Desperado, but I do love me some Ishimori. The crowd were clearly behind Desperado as the bell rang.

The pair exchanged hammer locks early on. Desperado got the first meaningful attack with a kneebreaker, but Ishimori went to the old eye poke. Ishimori used his speed to avoid a series of attacks before connecting with a springboard huracanrana that sent Desperado to the outside. Ishimori followed with a near-flawless triangle moonsault which was met with approval from the crowd. He picked up Desperado and ran him shoulder-first into the corner post, then removed a corner pad on the inside while the referee counted.

Desperado made it back inside at the count of 12, and was promptly whipped into the exposed corner. Ishimori got the dreaded finger-waggle of doom from Red Shoes, but was unperturbed as he wrenched on Desperado’s arm. Ishimori dropped a knee on Desperado’s elbow at the five-minute mark before applying a Money Clip. He transitioned to a crossface chicken wing, but Desperado backed him into the corner for a break. Desperado teed off with a stiff right to the jaw, but Ishimori countered a whip attempt into a hammerlock and wrenched Desperado back to the mat by the shoulder.

Desperado tried to mount a comeback, successfully countering a handspring rebound attack into a back suplex. Ishimori rolled to the outside and Desperado followed with a tope con giro. He sold the damage to his shoulder as he rolled Ishimori back inside. Desperado hit a corner clothesline and a crisp suplex for a two-count. Ishimori tried to reverse Guitarra de Angel into a Cipher Utaki, but Desperado countered with a huracanrana. Ishimori got the better of the counter exchange with a sliding German suplex in the ropes. He went to the top for a 450 splash, Desperado moved but Ishimori was able to roll through. Cipher Utaki connected! It was only enough for a near fall, though.

Desperado put the brakes on an attempted half-hatch suplex, and back body dropped his way free. Ishirmori went for a charging double knee but Desperado dodged it, sending Ishimori’s knees into the corner pad. Desperado followed up with a back suplex and a prone dragon screw. Ishimori sidestepped a charging Desperado and sent him shoulder-first into the exposed corner. Hammerlock shoulder breaker by Ishimori! Both men sold their injured limbs. Ishimori went for La Mistica, Desperado blocked and rolled through into Numero Dos, but Ishimori also rolled through into a small package for a two-count. Poison rana by Ishimori! Spinebuster by Desperado! Both men were down!

Desperado went for Guitarra de Angel again, but Ishimori raked the eyes and hit an Ospreay-style handspring twisty kicky thing. Yes that is the technical name for it. Ishimori tried for Bloody Cross, again Desperado blocked it and lifted Ishimori, crossed his legs over each other and dropped him down knees-first. Ouch. Desperado applied the Stretch Muffler but could not convert into Numero Dos. Another small package counter by Ishimori got a two-count. He held Desperado’s arm on the kickout and snapped it back, making Desperado cry out.

Ishimori floated over a La Mistica into the Bone Lock! Desperado tried to roll out but Ishimori held on! Desperado dragged himself to the ropes, Ishimori tried to roll him back to the middle but Desperado used the momentum to apply Numero Dos! Ishimori managed to prevent a full application as we passed the ten-minute mark, but was still in danger. He reached for the ropes with his free hand, Desperado stood up to reposition and Ishimori used that to turn the hold into a Canadian Destroyer. He’s not even Canadian!

Ishimori dragged Desperado to his feet, and got caught in a quick El Es Culero pinning combination for a near fall. A momentary scramble caused the referee to take evasive action, allowing Ishimori to hit his pop-up back-heel low blow for a very near fall. Desperado connected with a desperation (ha!) right hand to give himself some breathing room.

Both men crawled to the middle of the ring and started exchanging strikes from their knees. They continued hitting each other as they got to their feet. Ishimori was winning the exchange, so Desperado kicked his leg out of his leg. A solid forearm from Desperado sent Ishimori reeling, but it was short lived as Ishimori rose up with an absolutely gorgeous knee strike that was only missing a tall bald man with an eyepatch yelling “TIGER!” Angle Slam out of nowhere by Desperado! It only got a one count! Spear! Pinche Loco! 1…2…no! He tried a second Pinche Loco, Ishimori blocked it and hit…wow. An F5 Go to Sleep I guess? Either way, it was gorgeous.

Ishimori hit an inverted Bloody Sunday for an extremely near fall. Desperado blocked another Bloody Cross attempt, and ran Ishimori back into the exposed corner. Desperado went for a backslide, but held on and hit a sheer drop Tiger Driver! Pinche Loco! 1…2…3!

WINNER: El Desperado via pinfall in 24:00 to win Best of the Super Juniors 31. (****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A couple of months ago, New Japan made a big deal out of the IWGP title match between Sanada and Jack Perry not being a main event, saying it was the first time a defence of that title was not the final match on the card. Now we’re here, with a junior heavyweight match on top. Not even a title match, at that. Not that I think it was the wrong call; Evil is not exciting, and that match was medium at best. But it goes to show that the promotion is changing, and not always for the worse.

This was an excellent match. Both men targeted a body part, which always starts me off on the right foot. Or the left arm. They had a good balance of striking, aerial moves and throws. The finish made sense, if a little sudden. Desperado could not, after the punishment to the shoulder, lock in Numero Dos so he went with Plan B. Ishimori looked very strong in defeat and carried most of the match offensively. A very strong end to a tournament that otherwise failed to hold the interest of many dedicated fans, let alone a casual one.)

Final thoughts: I would be lying if I said this was a good card, or that New Japan is back. It had some good matches, and I could see the start of a plan being formed as champions start to define their titles. This in turn will lead to challengers emerging and being “assigned” to certain divisions as outlined in Tanahashi’s plan. It’s a slow way to do it, but it might stick better that way.

Tanahashi was notably absent during the title bout, having said he might be there. I’m not sure what to make of that. Hikuleo and ELP definitely seem to have split, and with rumours swirling about a move to WWE for Hikuleo we might see them have a match to send one packing. The seeds are being planted, and although this card was somewhat lacking in match quality it did give me hope for the future.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Thanks for joining us!

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