They might have made their way around 90% of Japan and put on enough shows to challenge the most devoted of fans, but New Japan have finally made it. Wrestling Dontaku. Sure, it’s taking place over two nights, so we’re not actually done, but at least we’re in the vicinity of it.
Tomoaki Honma, Shota Umino and Ren Narita defeated Toa Henare, Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura
We kick off with a straight rematch of the opener from Hi no Kuni and, unsurprisingly, it was of a similar standard. While the long tour might have drained some in the fanbase, it will go down as invaluable experience for the cubs, particularly Uemura and Tsuji. As someone who doesn’t bother with the Road To shows, they appear to have leapt forward in ability every time I tune in, adding a few new moves or tweaking the way they work. It’s the little things, but the little things are quite a big deal. Narita got the win with his beautiful Bridging Suplex to cap off a decent start to the show.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taka Michinoku, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask and YOSHI-HASHI
One of the few buzzworthy things to come out of this never-ending tour has been Liger vs Suzuki. It turns out that those two hate each other, and there is a decent chance that one of them will have to die so the other can live. Place your bets now.
Anyway, this was not a rematch from Hi no Kuni, but it was damn close. Cobb and Taichi have dropped out, a change that did little to alter the style of match-up. You got Suzuki-gun antics, Taguchi antics and the already mentioned Liger vs Suzuki. It was fun, with Jushin and Minoru providing an obvious highlight, but the real surprise was Taka getting the win and strapping on those working boots to do so. He had a surprisingly good final sequence with Tiger Mask before sealing the three with the Michinoku Driver. When was the last time Taka picked up a fall? 1999?
If you watched Hi no Kuni, you could happily skip this. It was decent, but nothing you need to see.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Will Ospreay defeated Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa) and HIKULEO
GOD annoy me a lot less when they’re doing comedy with Yano. Maybe that’s what they are? A comedy team. It’s also only fair to point out that their ‘wee’ brother continues to improve. Let’s not pretend HIKULEO is a super worker, but I wrote him off fairly quickly, and I was probably harsh. If he can fill out a bit, work on his in-ring and get to a decent level, he’ll be just fine. The rest of the match existed.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) and Kota Ibushi defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi and BUSHI)
We’re once again building to Naito vs Ibushi, and while you could argue they’ve got to that well one time too many this year, it’s fucking Naito vs Ibushi! Why the hell would you complain about that?
A similar thing could be said for the amount of SHO vs Shingo we’ve received recently. Those two have spent a lot of time in the ring together for two guys who haven’t had a straight-up match yet. Thankfully, it’s always great, and this was no exception. They have stunning chemistry and watching them beat on each other never stops being fun.
These five world-class wrestlers and BUSHI were the best things about the show so far as they burst out an entertaining match without even trying. Even BUSHI played his role well, taking a knee to the face from beautiful Kota like a champ. Lovely stuff.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Juice Robinson, Hirooki Goto and Mikey Nicholls defeated The Bullet Club (Jay White, Chase Owens and Bad Luck Fale)
Three of the singles feuds from this tour were smushed into one match. I wish they hadn’t bothered. Mikey Nicholls being worked over by Bullet Club was horrendously dull. It felt like a group of guys who knew they’d done their work and were now taking it easy.
The final minutes picked up a bit as Chase vs Juice provided something that resembled people trying. Owens has been working his arse off recently, presumably in an attempt to benefit from this rare chance to shine. Hopefully, Gedo’s taken notice because my boy deserves all the love. On this day, though, he took the pin. That closing stretch dragged this from poor to okay.
Post-match we got a knife-based video package in what seemed to be a direct challenge for Juice at the Super Junior finals. Is Gedo married? I hope his wife likes knives because he does. The current theory is that it’s Chris Brookes, but I’m not so sure. He doesn’t strike me as an NJPW style wrestler and I don’t think he’d be a heavyweight. Anyway, I’m sure we shall see.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL and SANADA) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii) after a referee stoppage
EVIL and Ishii are having my favourite kind of feud. It’s the type where two big fuckers hate each other, so they spend their time pummelling each other. Their peers become mere obstacles who stand in their way, preventing them from going back to elbowing their enemy in the face. It’s a style that Ishii excels at having had similar encounters with Nagata and Henare recently. Some might say it’s a bit formulaic. To them, I say shut up.
It stands in direct contrast to Okada and SANADA who are as classy as it comes. Their feud is built on counters not brute force, they wrestle, fighting to find the move that gives them the upper edge and with it the victory. The New Japan Cup Final showed how little stands between them, and that story has continued into this tour.
The finish was fantastic. EVIL got ISHII in the Scorpion Death Lock (which is some mind games from the big goth as Ishii’s mentor is Riki Choshu who popularised the move) while SANADA had Okada in the Skull End. With both men trapped in the centre of the ring, Marty Assami was left with no choice but to end the match as Ishii was never going to tap. Perfect.
After a show packed with nothing tags, this was a perfect example of how to do a preview tag team match. It planted all the right seeds for tomorrow’s show and made me ten times more excited for those two bouts. I can’t wait to see these men do their thing.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Taichi defeated Jeff Cobb to win the NEVER Openweight Title
The sight of the Suzuki-gun trolls (and Miho Abe) making their way to the ring with Taichi got an audible groan from me. It was a clear sign that bullshit was coming, and I was proven right. The start of this match was classic Taichi and fuck was it dull.
Now, this is the bit where I go on to shit on Taichi. To complain about him missing yet another chance to prove he can do it at this level. However, I’m not going to do that. For after that initial period, this became an entertaining match. Taichi ditched the crap and fell back on that bruiser style he’s been cultivating. Suddenly, we had a fight on our hands.
And Cobb was a perfect opponent for him. It was two big boys beating on each other and hitting suplexes. There was even an awesome spot where having hit two Gutwrench Suplexes Cobb hoisted Taichi up for what looked to be a third only to spike him on his head with a Piledriver instead. That was amazing.
Sadly, there was to be one final flaw. In the closing stretch, Taichi couldn’t help himself, hitting a low blow before sliding into the Gedo Clutch. It wasn’t the finish, but a few seconds later he hoisted Cobb up for Black Mephisto and got the pin. While I’m not going to claim it ruined that moment, it did cheapen it and was ultimately pointless.
Still, this was a good match, that could have been very good if they’d resisted the bullshit. Taichi continues to prove he might belong at this level, but he needs to stick with it if he’s to win me over once and for all.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Dragon Lee defeated Taiji Ishimori to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
It’s not often that two New Japan Juniors get to headline one of the bigger shows. Dontaku might not be Dominion or the Dome, but it’s a decent sized event in the NJPW calender, and this was an opportunity for Dragon Lee and Taiji Ishimori to prove they deserve to do this more often.
Yet, I’m going to start by being a bit negative, but it’s merely a prelude to all the lovely things I want to say. While I thought this was a great match, it was not an incredible one. A big part of that comes down to the length. Juniors not headlining shows means they often don’t get twenty plus minute match times to play with and some people are, understandably, frustrated with that. However, I don’t necessarily believe that meant Dragon Lee and Ishimori had to go for an epic. They are wrestlers who thrive on speed while there were as a handful of minutes in this match where things needed to slow down because they couldn’t keep up that pace. It’s nit-picking rather than a genuine issue, but if they’d knocked five minutes off their time that would have allowed them to stay in top gear for longer.
Now, time for the good stuff. These two complimented each other brilliantly. On one side of the ring, you had Ishimori. His plan was to slow Dragon Lee down. He wanted to work strikes and suplexes, dropping Lee onto his neck to set him up for the Yes Lock. Lee, meanwhile, was all about those explosions of speed. He wanted to blast through Ishimori, going high impact as quickly as possible to dish out maximum damage.
What’s outstanding about these two, is they can both play in the other’s world. Ishimori is just as happy to fly around around the ring and leap from the ropes while Lee will stand and trade strikes with the best of them. They had a fantastic forearm exchange with both men throwing everything into their blow in an attempt to come out on top.
When you combine all of that with some stunning sequences and a few holy shit moments (Lee’s leap from inside the ring to Hurricanrana Ishimori off the apron being the highlight of those), you have a great wrestling match. My complaints are splitting hairs, an attempt to make something special even better. This was fantastic, and you should be watching it.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
If you’ve watched any other night on this tour, you can skip the undercard. It was a re-run of what they’ve already done, and not worthy of your time. Still, it picked up towards the end, with the final three matches all delivering. Ishimori vs Lee is the crown jewel, though, and if you’re picking one bout to watch, it’s not even up for debate.
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