Cheap Heat: Jeff Jarrett: Let It Rain – A Review of Dominion 7.5 By Jacob Fox
On July 5 in Osaka, Japan, 11,400 fans witnessed New Japan Pro Wrestling put on the best super card of the year at the Osaka-jo Hall. Supplemented by an under card that had 5 championships on the line, the main event was the culmination of the over year long journey of Kazuchika Okada back to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. 2015 has been a strong year for major wrestling cards and Dominion 7.5 ranks as a perfect 10 among the best of them.
For readers who haven’t watched much New Japan wrestling, it works a bit differently than American wrestling. Whereas the majority of American companies give fans a weekly show with a monthly super card, NJPW does not have a regular weekly show. Rather there are several events each month, sometimes on an almost daily basis. Although there is some storytelling, it is not nearly as omnipresent as in American wrestling. It is possible to not see all of the events and still follow the flow of the action perfectly.
In an answer to the WWE Network, NJPW released their own video network (for 999 yen a month) that broadcasts all of their events. I mention this not as a free advertisement for New Japan, but for fans who have not had exposure to the project, NJPW World is the easiest and most affordable way to watch it.
The last thing I’ll mention before reviewing Dominion is the language barrier. I do speak almost fluent Japanese, but that is in no way a necessity for enjoying Japanese wrestling. In addition to schooling, I learned the language by watching Japanese wrestling. While a viewer might not understand exactly what the commentators are saying, it will not rob him of enjoyment of the match. NJPW matches are very fast paced and teeming with action and fans will find themselves so enrapt that they often won’t notice the language difference. The Japanese commentators are also very well regarded by many as the best in the business and their enthusiasm is infectious even when fans cannot understand what they are talking about.
The main conflict in NJPW right now is the Bullet Club versus… well, technically it’s the Bullet Club versus pretty much everyone else. In fact, the nefarious stable was represented in five out of the six Dominion title matches. For those unfamiliar with the club, it’s a cross promotional faction that mainly exists in NJPW but often appears in Ring of Honor as well. There are plenty of comparisons between the Bullet Club and the NWO, so much that WWE has even tried to trademark the NWO hand gesture while in use by the Bullet Club. Kevin Nash has stated that he feels they are a much more athletic version of the NWO.
Going into Dominion 7.5, AJ Styles was sitting atop the Bullet Club and NJPW as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. His challenger was Kazuchika Okada, a man Styles defeated for his first reign over a year before. With the exception of one match in 2014’s G1 Climax tournament, Styles had completely dominated Okada, taking three out of their four previous encounters.
To arrive at the main event, however, viewers had to traverse one of the strongest under cards in wrestling history. The following is my scoring of the entire card.
The opening match at Dominion 7.5 was a three way tag team match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The Young Bucks were the defending champions and they faced both reDRagon and Roppongi Vice. This was a rather thrilling tag match which was not marred but the Bucks’ overuse of their high pitched “suck it” screeching. There were plenty of high impact moves and the action never let up, moving in and out of the ring, In the end, the Young Bucks were successful in their first title defense. Match score: ***
The next match was an interesting encounter between the team of Tetsuya Naito and Tomoaki Honma and the Bullet Club’s Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi. The most captivating thing about this match was the utilization of Naito’s new heel character. It’s well known that Osaka crowds already have deep disdain for Naito and this was only exacerbated by his change of attitude. A former babyface, Naito now appeared to be completely indifferent to everything that happened around him. He strolled slowly to the ring while his partner was got double teamed. He refused to put his arm out for a tag when Honma needed assistance. When he was in the ring, he continued to seem completely disinterested in the match. He did, however, execute every move absolutely flawlessly. When Honma won the match for the troubled tag team, Naito refused to have his hand raised and left the ring. Match score: ***
The third match featured Katsuyori Shibata taking on Kazushi Sakuraba. This was another fast paced and fun match. For much of the first quarter of the encounter, the men traded off on kicking each other down to the mat. The pace picked up, though, and even showed me something I had never seen before in 30 years of watching wrestling. Kazushi had Shibata in a painful double arm bar and in order to break the hold, Shibata had to bite the middle rope. This was a physical match that saw Shibata with his arm raised in the end. Match score: *** 1/2
After winning the round robin tournament Best of the Super Juniors, Kushida became the number one contender for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. In order to get the belt, though, he had to defeat Bullet Club representative Kenny Omega. Kushida made the most of his title shot against champion Omega. Accompanied by the Young Bucks, Omega dominated Kushida at first, viciously attacking Kushida’s injured knee. This was a well rounded match, a fast paced combination of mat wrestling and aerial moves that saw Kushida defeat Omega soundly. Match score: ****
The excitement of the preceding lightweight match was deeply contrasted by the following encounter. It was an all out punching match between Tomohiro Isshi and Togi Makabe for Makabe’s Never Openweight Championship. There is no way to really describe this match other than two behemoths standing toe to toe and punching the hell out of each other. The best part was that it ended rather abruptly and unexpectedly. It may have been the weakest match of the card, but it still was fun to watch. Match score: ***
Next the IWGP tag team champions Matt Taven and Michael Bennett defended against Bullet Club members Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson. This match was pretty typical tag team fare. There were some good spots, but nothing that hasn’t been seen in many tag team title matches before. Anderson and Gallows captured the titles, making the Bullet Club two for three in championship matches at this point. Match score: ***
The following encounter saw former 7 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi take on Toru Yano. This match was mostly fun due to Yano’s constant rule breaking attempts. For much of the match, Tanahashi was subjected to several low blows and other dirty tactics. When he had finally had enough, the notoriously fair Tanahashi resorted to a low blow of his own. In typical Tanahashi style, however, he won the match clean and hopefully put an end to his feud with Yano. Match score: ***
The penultimate match saw former IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura wrestle current champion Hirooki Goto. For fans who have never seen Nakamura compete, he alone is worth the price of any admission. He is a sound grappler with a killer arsenal of inventive moves. His style is very reminiscent of Shawn Michaels in his early heel days and early heel DX days; very cocky and flamboyant yet amazing in the ring. Nakamura came to the ring in an outfit completely laden with sequins and put on a spectacular effort against Goto. Although Nakamura was cleanly defeated, he will hope to fare better in the upcoming G1 Climax tournament. Match score: ****
Finally, in four hours worth of wrestling that flew by, it was time for the main event. Kazuchika Okada was accompanied to the ring by his mentor, Gedo. Styles was flanked by the Bullet Club, of course. The match was officiated by “Red Shoes” Unno, likely the most entertaining referee on Earth.
Throughout their feud, Styles has frequently referred to Okada as just a ‘boy’ that was unable to stand toe to toe with him. Although calling Okada a boy was silly, Styles proved over and over that, at least in title matches, he was more than a match for Okada. The only victory Okada had gotten over Styles was in a round robin tournament match.
On July 5, 2015, however, Okada proved Styles wrong. From the very beginning of the match, Okada’s moves were crisp and he was focused. Styles was unable to get the drop on his challenger until he was able to twice distract Red Shoes, giving the Bullet Club the chance to beat down on Okada. This culminated in an exciting moment in which Red Shoes finally had his fill of the Bullet Club’s two years worth rule breaking and ejected the entire faction.
Finally, after an amazing match that went back and forth, Kazuchika Okada was finally able to put his demon to rest. In the fourth title encounter between the two men, Okada defeated Styles and captured his third IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In a year full of possible match of the year candidates, Okada and Styles added yet another into the mix. With many near falls, inventive maneuvers and baited breath, this main event was decisively the best match on the card. Match score: *****
Although grading a super card is not particularly my style of writing, I found it impossible to refrain from doing so after Dominion 7.5. There have been a slew of great wrestling matches this year and this card added many more to the mix. Going into the biggest tournament in Japan, New Japan Pro Wrestling once again showed why they are the strongest wrestling promotion in the world.