Hi, and welcome the Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall review. Yesterday we saw EVIL, one of the founding members of Los Ingobernables de Jápon, along with Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI, defeat Kazuchika Okada to win the New Japan Cup and in doing so, turn on his squad and join the Bullet Club. A squad that is in desperate need of fresh blood, especially with KENTA, GoD, Jay White & Bad Luck Fale stuck overseas. Today, EVIL challenges Naito for both his Intercontinental and Heavyweight championships. Along with this, Taichi & his friend take on Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi for the tag-team championships and Shingo Takagi puts his NEVER Openweight Championship on the line against one half of the Jr Heavyweight Tag-Team Champions, SHO. Let’s find out how it went:

Results:

Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Togi Makabe, Gabriel Kidd & Tomoaki Honma // Submission (Nagata applied a Crossface on Kidd)

Los Ingobernables de Jápon (Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI & SANADA) def. CHAOS (Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii) & Yota Tsuji // Submission (H.Takahashi applied a Boston Crab on Tsuji) Side-note: During this match, Hiromu had written ‘why?’ all over his wrist-tape.

Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, EL Desperado & DOUKI) def. Master WATO, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yuya Uemura // Pinfall (Desperado hit Pinche Loco double underhook slam on Uemura)

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori) def. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & Kazuchika Okada) // Pinfall (Y.Takahashi hit Pimp Juice DDT on Goto)

NEVER Openweight Championship: SHO vs Shingo Takagi (c)

Going into this match, SHO and Shingo were 1-1 with SHO having eliminated Shingo from the New Japan Cup before falling to his team-mate, SANADA. Their prior two matches were both very good but lacked that certain vigour required to shift from good into ‘banger’ territory. While this was certainly violent enough to push it further into ‘banger’ land, it still felt somewhat lacking. 

If you just want to watch two medium-big lads batter each other, this match has everything you’re looking for, and it delivered in spaces with violent, competitive combat between two men desperate to win but fully respectful of the other’s abilities. But it still felt like a match of excess over storytelling. Beyond both of them wanting to hold the championship, why are they fighting, what do they have to prove? It never felt entirely clear.

That said, as a match, it was very good fun with Takagai especially showing his ability to evoke a response from an audience and at 20 minutes, it didn’t feel like it went on too much longer than it needed to. Overall I’d say a solid but we’re getting closer to the classic that these two have in them. Takagi retained after hitting Last of the Dragon pump-handle slam on SHO.

Winner: Shingo Takagi

Post-Match: Shingo was celebrating at the top of the ramp when Desperado popped up to clock him on the chin. He would then knock him out with a shot from his own belt. Is it too early to let off the banger alert?

IWGP Tag-Team Championships: Suzuki-Gun (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr) vs Golden Aces (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi) (c)

This really didn’t need to go 28 minutes. Now, I get why it did but it didn’t need to. And really, that’s mostly down to the fact that the last 15 minutes of this match was good, invariably great, but you had to get through 13 minutes lacking in tag flow to get there. Proceedings started well with Tanahashi and Ibushi working some smooth tag work, especially as it showcased the greatest running joke in NJPW, Zack thinking he can hang with Ibushi as a striker.

Then it broke down into two singles brawls outside the ring and stuck with that for about ten minutes. Taichi, for his credit, really held this one together, working a Dangerous T-style match, even coming close to matching Ibushi for kicks, and melding it with the Holy Emperor schtick by bringing back Takashi Lizuka’s iron claw. Tanahashi and Ibushi are both very good at working from above or below so those two taking turns to be punished and save each other was a lot of fun. Taichi held Tanahashi in place, treating him to about five minutes of just dragon screws that was both excruciating and very effective.

The thing is that for every good stretch of the match, there was often a longer one without much to appeal. But it’s nice to see a tag-team championship match given some focus at a time other than around tag league season and hopefully, if they can carry this spirit onwards, we might see an actual division built again instead of just a Guerillas of Destiny-feeder system. At this point, Ibushi is only the NEVER trios title, the US title and the Heavyweight title away from holding every active championship in NJPW. Let’s see if he gets there. Suzuki-Gun got the pin off a Holy Zack Driver Michinoku-superkick combo.

Winner: Suzuki-Gun – NEW CHAMPIONS!

IWGP Intercontinental Championship/Heavyweight Championship: EVIL vs Tetsuya Naito (c)

This was only the second singles match between these two former compatriots, the first going to Naito during the 2017 G1 Climax.  I was concerned about how this one would go when EVIL immediately went for Bullet Club stalling tactics but soon Naito would hit a wrecking ball dropkick and kick things into gear. From here on, the match saw some brutal back-and-forth, including the heartbreaking moment where EVIL snapped Milano Collection AT’s glowing toy scythe in half, threw it back at him and then threw Milano into a barricade.

There were many great touches to this match, from having the Bullet Club gang walk out with EVIL, including Naito’s former tag-partner Yujiro Takahashi, to the way that Red Shoes Unno tried to stop EVIL using a chair by holding half a table up to protect Naito. I forgot to mention, by the way, Naito was dropped with a kneebreaker, knee-first through a table, the man hates every part of him that isn’t his face or beautiful hair (You can’t stop me saying that bit, Laura – Joe: NJPW Ed.). For the most part, Naito and EVIL maintained an intensity and animosity befitting the epic structure, helping keep the storytelling clean and maintain interest, something very important considering it was 38 MINUTES!

Of course, towards the end, we got the typical Bullet Club overbooking. EVIL whipped Naito into lariating Red Shoes and this led to the previously sent to the back Jado and Ishimori coming out, Hiromu would come out to send them packing but then after EVIL tried the old low blow into an EVIL Russian leg sweep method to no effect, out would come a mysterious Pareja, dressed in a mask and LIJ baseball shirt who would then clock and choke out Naito, opening a window for EVIL to hit another EVIL for the pin. Did this need to be 38 minutes? Probably not, was I engaged for the entire time? Once again, probably not but the epic format did work well here considering the importance of the match and the history between EVIL and Naito. While not perfect, this was a fitting main event and a fascinating start to what is sure to be a controversial move for NJPW.

I, for one, am happy for EVIL, he has been great for so many years and treated only like SANADA’s tag-partner. But here, he proved he is a main event talent and a worthy one at that. That said, f*ck Bullet Club and everything they stand for. Now Naito has lost both his championships and one of his closest friends. I am excited to see where this goes. Unless it leads to SANADA winning the G1 Climax this year. Anything but that, please.

Winner: EVIL – NEW CHAMPION!

Post-Match: The mysterious Pareja was revealed to be Dick Togo! Yes, that Dick Togo. Michinoku Pro’s Dick Togo. Former IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag-Team Champion (along with TAKA Michinoku) Dick Togo. Dick ‘f*cking’ Togo! Dick and EVIL continued to beat on Naito till Hiromu ran them off calling out EVIL for a match for one or both of EVIL’s championships. To which EVIL, well he didn’t “no” but he didn’t say “yes”.

Conclusion:

It took Taichi 20 minutes to take his trousers off. For this reason, I can’t in all good faith give this show a merit-grade but I can at least give it a strong pass with three solid-to-great championship matches. Everything is EVIL now, let’s see how things go living in it.

All media courtesy of NJPW1972.com