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    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    NJPW Dominion 2016: The Smark Henry Preview

    This Sunday, New Japan returns to the iconic Osaka Castle Hall for the last major event before this year's G1 Climax Tournament, Dominion 2016. The event is highlighted by the main event: Okada vs. Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. With huge implications for the rest of the year, the card is very much stacked, with notable championship bouts to look forward to. What matches will make the most impression this time around? Which matches will get your inner puro fan excited? This year's preview will help get you started.

    Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, and Hangman Page) vs. the team of Togi MakabeYoshitatsu, and Captain New Japan

    The night's opener's primary purpose is to introduce fans to the newest member of Bullet Club, Ring of Honor's Adam Page, who has recently adapted his Hangman Page persona during the recently concluded NJPW United States Tour. This very purpose gives new life to the dynamic of Fale and Takahashi, and should make for an interesting bout as they face a solid veteran team in Makabe, Yoshitatsu, and perennial loser Captain New Japan.

    CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI and SANADA)

    In the surface, it is the continuation of the war between the two clashing factions that has been going on since early this year. But the real underlying story of the match is the animosity between YOSHI-HASHI and SANADA, with the former having nothing but disdain for the latter. During the Best of the Super Juniors tour, Tacos continued to be the target of LIJ assaults, particularly with SANADA getting some damage during that time. With YOSHI-HASHI wanting to get some revenge, the narrative between the two wrestlers should make for an interesting encounter under a tag format for now. Don't be surprised if a singles match will come along in the future.

    Hirooki Goto vs. EVIL

    At Invasion Attack 2016, EVIL managed to pick up the upset win against the struggling Hirooki Goto, who continued to have a disappointing 2016 after a string of losses and a wasted IWGP Heavyweight Championship opportunity early this year.  A win against EVIL, who is already getting much momentum being associated with Naito's LIJ, will allow Goto to get his groove back, while a second win for the King of Darkness will improve his stock even more as a promising heavyweight star. No matter who wins, expect this bout to perhaps surpass their previous encounters given the stakes involved.

    Aerial Dogfight (c) vs. reDRagon vs. RPG Vice vs. The Young Bucks in a 4-Way Elimination Match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship

    Matt Sydal, Ricochet, Rocky Romero, Beretta, Kyle O'Reilly, and Bobby Fish were very busy individuals during the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, to say the least. These guys had interacted with one another during the tour, more than enough time to reacquaint themselves in the title mix, especially when both reDRagon and RPG Vice made their intentions known that they want a shot at Sydal and Ricochet's recently-won championships. That would have been well and fine, that is, until The Young Bucks made their presence felt via a video message.

    The Bucks did not participate in the tournament due to their respective injuries, but they did want to get back into the mix and even made a challenge themselves: to raise the stakes and make their impending encounter  an elimination-style match to finally prove who is the undisputed best tag team in the division.

    While the initially impression to the four-way practically screams "again?" the inclusion of an elimination-style stipulation brings a healthy amount of interest, and should make for an exhilarating match up.

    KUSHIDA (c) vs. Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

    The Aerial Assassin will get another opportunity at KUSHIDA's championship and top-dog status by virtue of his recent win in the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, not only becoming the youngest winner and the first Brit to win the whole thing, but also capturing the attention of worldwide media following his much-discussed match with Ricochet.

    The last time they fought, KUSHIDA managed to outlast Ospreay by making use of his skills and experience, toppling down the young challenger at Invasion Attack. Since then, fans have gotten to know Ospreay more as a competitor, leading up to his eye-popping performances at the BOSJ. A win against Ryusuke Taguchi at the Finals of the tournament validated  why New Japan management decided to sign Ospreay to a long-term contract.

    While the match is really anyone's ballgame, don't be surprised if the sequel outperforms the first encounter by a significant margin.

    The Guerillas of Destiny (c) vs. The Briscoes for the IWGP Tag Team Championship

    This brothers vs. brothers battle was made possible when #DemBoys managed to secure a direct win over the GoD during the US tour of NJPW some time ago. Thus, the match was made and it was made official that this would happen in Dominion 2016.

    Since debuting in Wrestle Kingdom 10, the Briscoes wowed Japanese fans with their high impact offense, showing everyone why they are one of the most celebrated championship tandems in the history of Ring of Honor. On the other hand, since Invasion Attack, the Tongan brothers immediately gained championship gold on their first attempt against GBH, becoming Bullet Club's spiritual successors to Anderson and Gallows (who may very well win their first titles as well at Money in the Bank next week).

    A GoD win will put the spotlight even more on the new tandem, solidifying their presence in the division post-Anderson and Gallows. On the other hand, a Briscoes win will open up new opportunities and match ups in both NJPW and ROH, shaking up the tag scene of both companies in the process. One thing is for sure: there will be a fight.

    Yuji Nagata (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Championship

    At Wrestling Dontaku 2016, Nagata pulled off a surprising victory over Shibata in a hard fought battle to become the oldest NEVER Openweight Champion in history (at 48 years old), a satisfying win for the Third Generation of New Japan since the war started in the beginning of the year. The rematch was immediately set after the conclusion of the match, to be conducted at this year's Dominion 2016, and sparks are expected to fly.

    That's just one side of the story, however. In the eyes of Blue Justice, he felt that they can help remind fans of what Strong Style is, given the departure of Shinsuke Nakamura, who adapted the King of Strong Style moniker. With the void left by Nakamura, Nagata felt that he and Shibata can help remind fans of what Strong Style is, which is best represented by their encounter at Wrestling Dontaku, and why Strong Style is done best within the confines of NJPW.

    With this much significance, this may very well be the most important NEVER title match to date, one that should make fans feel more emotionally invested than usual.

    Kenny Omega (c) vs. Michael Elgin for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in a Ladder Match

    Originally, this match should have been Omega vs. Tanahashi for the title. Unfortunately, due to Tanahashi's injury bug, he was told that he is unable to compete by the time of Dominion this year and has to rest up. Taking his place will be a man who has proven to be a solid player in the company and more than deserving to take the spot, Michael Elgin, who also has his share of problems with Bullet Club as a whole.

    All things considered, this is history in the making. Not only will this be the first-ever one-on-one ladder match in company history, but this will be the first time that two Canadians will face each other in a main event-level situation. And in many ways, this match seems to be in favor of Omega due to his experiences in companies like DDT Pro Wrestling as well as his BFF's, the Bucks, surely being in ringside. However, as proven recently by a direct pinfall win by Elgin to Omega, anything can happen, including a ladder match win.

    If the past months are of any indication, expect the match to be full of spot-filled craziness that is more reminiscent of DDT than NJPW.

    Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

    This is a story told on two fronts: the rivalry between CHAOS and LIJ, and in effect, Naito finally becoming the man in the company, and the ongoing animosity between Naito and NJPW and Bushiroad Chairman, Takaaki Kidani.

    Naito finally avenged his Wrestle Kingdom 8 loss to Okada by winning the belt back in Invasion Attack 2016 (with some help by the debuting SANADA).And since then, he continued to show the same apathetic attitude towards the title he won, which is of no surprise because we're talking about Naito. And when Ishii failed to win the title from Naito for CHAOS, Okada wanted a rematch against the champion, and the match was set for Dominion 2016.

    And this brings us to the second situation: that of Naito and Kidani. It is no secret at this point that right now, Naito is the most popular man in the company, a case very reminiscent of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. By doing seemingly less, he has gained significantly more in terms of fan support and prestige. Naito called out Kidani and his Y200M project to make Okada the next major star in pro wrestling and continued to harass the chairman for his support of Okada, to the point where Naito even showed up in an anime convention in Singapore to mess with the NJPW boss even more. He invited the chairman to show up personally at Dominion 2016 to see what he will do to Okada.

    To say the least, Naito turned NJPW upside down, and has become the most prominent figure in the company today, a complete turnaround from his previous situation when fans hated the former Stardust Genius.

    Okada wants to win back his title and come into the G1 Climax as the reigning champion. But the question though is whether or not Naito losing the belt at this juncture is best for the company's long term business. Despite all the uncertainties of the match, this bout will at least definitely answer some of the questions lingering on everyone's minds. Oh, and the match is going to be good, that much we can be assured of.

    What matches are you most looking forward to? Sound off in the comments!

    Images from NJPW


    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: NJPW Dominion 2016: The Smark Henry Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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