The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
Dominion (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
June 10th, 2017, Osaka, Japan
Thousands of new viewers subscribed to NJPW World on June 10th alone—so boasted the English language announce team of Kevin Kelly and Don Callis during that night’s broadcast. While the self-aggrandizing chatter of wrestling announcers typically shouldn’t be taken as gospel, I absolutely believe it, because this was the day that Kazuchika Okada would defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Kenny Omega for the first time since their universally acclaimed match at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. Okada/Omega I was a match that Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer (to many, the only critic who matters) called possibly the greatest wrestling match of all time, and drew greater attention for New Japan among American viewers.
NJPW (arguably the second-largest pro wrestling company in the world) has been gradually increasing its investment in North America for the past decade, launching its NJPW World streaming service and offering English commentary on their major events, maintaining partnerships with Ring of Honor in the US and CMLL in Mexico, and is now introducing an IWGP United States Championship. The next major NJPW event after Dominion will be the G1 Special in Long Beach, California, where the first US Champion will be crowned. Night 1 of the event will even be carried live on American TV, albeit on fledgling cable channel AXS. The promotion is positioning itself to become a present threat to WWE’s dominance over pro wrestling in America, maybe to even start poaching top talent from Vince McMahon instead of the other way around.
Can you imagine the pressure, trying to create a satisfying sequel to the most celebrated match of the year, with the opportunity to sink your teeth into a new set of fans at a crucial time? Kazuchika and Kenny had a monumental task ahead of them, and they certainly delivered a match that will be talked about for weeks, probably until lists season in December. Like its predecessor, the Dominion match (and the entire event) is a Must See.
But like most sequels, Okada/Omega II doesn’t quite top the original. It seems the goal here was to make The Godfather Part II of wrestling matches: a longer, more complex, even more morally ambiguous story with a deliberately unsatisfying ending—Okada and Omega fought to a sixty-minute draw.
And it was a dramatic hour indeed, the kind of story that you can split pretty cleanly into three acts:
ACT ONE, in which Omega savagely works Okada’s left knee, at one point landing an astonishing targeted dropkick. Omega’s aggression helped to signal him as the heel of this match, but this soon stopped being a battle between good and evil and became one between two proud forces of nature. Okada rallied through the pain in his knee, but then forgot about it shortly thereafter—my single biggest gripe with the match—and began to match Omega’s offense.
ACT TWO, in which the two are full-on raging, taking the fight to the outside, trading impressive spots like Omega’s beautiful moonsault from the top rope and Okada’s running dropkick to knock Kenny clear out of the ring. Throughout the match, Omega tried to land his finisher—One Winged Angel—on Okada, which he failed to do in their Wrestle Kingdom classic. When he finally does, Okada’s limp arm falls under the bottom rope and out of the ring, breaking the pin and Kenny’s heart with it. Act Two ends with the exclamation point of Omega getting driven through a table, never fully recovering.
ACT THREE, in which a worn-down Omega impotently swats at the champion’s chest from his knees. Omega’s Bullet Club cohorts arrive at ringside and Cody Rhodes tries to throw in the towel on his behalf, but Omega refuses to yield. The distraction does permit Omega some time to recover, as well as extra motivation to do so (to shut up Cody), and it becomes a match again, albeit a much much slower, breathier one. It’s frustrating to watch both men fail to capitalize over and over again—Omega failing to land a One Winged Angel, Okada hitting Rainmakers but being too slow to cover his opponent—and I think that’s what we’re supposed to feel. It’s a fine example of performers projecting their exhaustion onto the audience.
Was the draw a memorable ending? Absolutely. Was it a satisfying one? Not entirely. Their Wrestle Kingdom match already served to prove just how evenly matched these two competitors are, and this de facto iron man match certainly reinforced it in dramatic fashion, but now it’s just a matter of drawing things out before their third contest (probably not until WK 12 at the earliest), which Omega absolutely, positively, has to win. Omega demonstrated the fighting spirit of a babyface champion, even after one of his own heel stablemates gave up on him. As a character, he has absolutely earned a place at the top.
Any unfavorable appraisal of the match isn’t really fair, it’s being held to an impossible standard, with a result more akin to The Dark Knight Rises than The Empire Strikes Back. I was thrilled throughout most of the match, and it’s only in hindsight that I’m a little let down. I’m still real glad I spent my 999￥, and I hope other newcomers are, too.
Extra High Spots: Like a lot of other marks online I’ve been talking a lot about the main event, but this card was insanely stacked. It’s all worth watching, but damn Hiroshi Tanahashi challenging IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito for the title belt that Naito has been slowly destroying since September was spectacular. Tanahashi punishing Naito for his disrespect for the belt while Naito wails on his wrapped-up arm was bell-to-bell riveting. I’m also loving the hell out of War Machine, whose IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title match against the Guerillas of Destiny was freakin’ wild.
– Dylan Roth
BUSTIN’ BUSTIN’ BUSTIN’ BUSTIN’ OPEN MAKES ME FEEL GOOD
Tournament of Death 16 (CZW)
June 10th, 2017, Townsend, Delaware
When it comes to gimmicky wrestling matches, deathmatches are often derided for being gory messes of bad wrestling full of broken light tubes, tables, thumbtacks, staples, and really whatever else you can find in a hardware store. For sixteen years now CZW has been celebrating this divisive art form with a yearly event called Tournament of Death, which takes place on a farm, in the balmy June heat. Normally this type of event wouldn’t really interest me, but as a new CZW fan and attendee, I figured it was pretty much a rite of passage to at least see one of these shows in person.
This year’s show featured a notable lineup of new and returning entrants including three-time Tournament of Death champion, Masada, former Progress champion, Jimmy Havoc, and last year’s winner, Rickey Shane Page. The tournament itself was built in a standard single-elimination style with four first round matches (3 singles matches & 1 three-way) leading into the semi-finals and final match. However, the execution of each match was anything but standard. Each match was given a unique set of weapons and obstacles, though the finishes would be determined by pinfall or submission. These stipulations included panes of glass, cinder blocks and light tubes, wooden doors, a trampoline frame with a barbed wire web instead of a canvas, more light tubes, and a ring set-up that included two sides of barbed wire instead of ropes with no ring canvas and a barbed wire filled coffin. There was a lot of blood.
Now that you have a scene, let me get the biggest negative out of the way. That previous anecdote about the actual wrestling part of deathmatches being less of a focus is mostly true. When you’re focusing on big weapon spots, there isn’t really a lot of time to pull off crazy moves and as the more skilled competitors like Jimmy Havoc and Masada advanced, they clearly had to slow down a bit as they accumulated all manner of bruises and lacerations. Despite this, the show didn’t suffer too badly for it and there were plenty of exciting moments in between some botches.
Normally this column is for discussing a single outstanding match, but I don’t know if I could pick just one. It was a hot day, the crowd was rowdy, and it was hard to focus on the specifics of each match, so I’ll give you a couple.
The three-way first round match between Jimmy Havoc, Rickey Shane Page, and John Wayne Murdoch was probably the best paced overall and maybe the one I enjoyed the most. Watching panes of glass explode out into the crowd was a sight to behold and Jimmy was moving at 100% in this match, hitting both of his larger opponents with Essex Destroyers. There was also a great comedy spot where RSP and Murdoch slammed into a panel that didn’t shatter and just slid down with their faces pressed to it, leaving a bloody smear on the way down.
I was also really into the match between Masada and Shlak. These two guys are seriously intimidating looking and willing to do some nasty things to their bodies. Masada is also a pretty good wrestler in his own right and definitely one of the most prolific figures in the deathmatch scene. His signature spot involves pounding a handful of BBQ skewers into his opponent’s head so they stick in their scalp. He also threw a bunch into the crowd, tipped in Shlak’s blood, which people scooped up as morbid souvenirs. The ending of this match was probably my favorite, with Shlak climbing to the top rope and setting his elbow pad on fire before crashing down through a table.
This was a long show, so by the end of the day, the crowd was tired, overheated, and all over the place in terms of reactions, but they mostly came around at the end after the big final barbed wire coffin spot. While this wasn’t the most technical or athletic show I’ve attended, I had a ton of fun because it was just such a unique spectacle. There really isn’t anything like Tournament of Death, and if you ever get the chance, it’s worth the experience.
Extra High Spots: I got to see Masada pissing into a farmer’s field while waiting in line for over-priced tacos. Another competitor sunk his truck in a snake-filled swamp trying to cut the line of traffic. Wrestlers, they’re just like us!
– Kyle Herr
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