May 4 2018
We’re in Fukuoka, Japan for the final of two days of Dontaku action. I skipped the May 3 show because it didn’t look particularly good. This is definitely the ‘good show’. Commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis.
Ren Narita, Shota Umino & Yuya Uemura vs. Jushin Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask IV
Uemura is a new Young Lion. That production line is insane. Uemura is a stern looking young man. I like him already. The veterans roughing up the kids is always good fun. I wish the UK had these asshole veterans who would put the rookies in their place more often. Tiger Mask slapping a fallen Uemura repeatedly is beautiful stuff. Umino gets in a tidy counter on Taguchi and pays for it by getting tapped out to an anklelock. This was legit good. Uemura and Umino impressed here for different reasons.
Final Rating: ***
Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens vs. Yuji Nagata & Tomoyuki Oka
Yujiro has a new valet and she’s adorable. I don’t really have much interest in the match because Takahashi is awful but Chase vs. Oka is something I’m into. The match is fine. Nagata apparently wants to wrestle until he’s 70 and I can see that. Chase looks good in this and he finishes Oka with the Package Piledriver. Oka is improving. The tutelage of Nagata paying off slowly.
Final Rating: **1/4
Suzuki-gun vs. Rocky Romero, SHO & YOH
Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs. Togi Makabe & Toa Henare
The Henare/Ishii issue continues with Toa trying to get one over on Ishii. They had a singles match on the tour, which Ishii won in commanding fashion. I like the idea of Henare trying to get by Ishii and failing repeatedly. Putting them in the tag scenario allows them to become more familiar with each other while splitting up the action with Togi punches and Yano’s antics. Henare comes close to pinning Ishii but gets overwhelmed and planted with the brainbuster. I liked this but I’m not as into Henare-Ishii as everyone else is. Maybe it’s because he’s not beaten anyone else and I really don’t want him going over Ishii any time soon.
Final Rating: **3/4
Hirooki Goto, Jay White & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Michael Elgin, Juice Robinson & David Finlay
I’m sure this is fine but if I can get away with not watching Elgin that’s a thing I’ll do.
Los Ingobernables de Japon vs. Suzuki-gun
Seeing as Zack Sabre Jr isn’t here the stable is reduced to KES and Kanemaru and I just don’t want to see that. Again, this is entirely a ‘time permitting’ decision. At least Iizuka isn’t here. The match is all about the post match assault on Naito anyway. If you just want to see Chris Jericho attack Tetsuya Naito you can watch that for free on NJPWWorld.com:
My only beef with this is that LIJ don’t realise Jericho is out here attacking Naito. Surely they’d hear the commotion and come back out here? If you can overlook that it’s a vicious beatdown with Jericho laying out young boys and clonking Naito with the ring bell.
I do like the chaotic nature of Jericho’s appearance here.
Sidenote: bad night to be a Young Lion. Jericho slaps one of them. Naito throws another into the rail. Plus there are chairs and shit flying around.
Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa vs. Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page, Marty Scurll & The Young Bucks
This was an interesting concept; that the Bullet Club had splintered in support of either Cody or Kenny. Although Fale and Tama are their own little unit within the group. It’s almost like an attempt at doing the same story that wXw did so well with RISE. Only with too much faction overtone rather than personalities driving it (like the nWo). I do like that friendships have dictated this and the feud remains Omega vs. Cody. I watched this live and it was a very personality driven match. The culmination of this being Scurll failing to slam Fale and the Bullet Club is all fine again afterwards doing a ‘Too Sweet’ to mark Bullet Club’s anniversary.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. KUSHIDA
I dig the build to this with Ospreay feeling he needs to beat KUSHIDA again to legitimise his championship credentials. Both these guys are outstanding wrestlers. Both in terms of creativity and athleticism. Will is on another level with some of the things he’s doing while KUSHIDA is one of the best technicians anywhere (second only to Sabre maybe). KUSHIDA works the arm, which has been the basis for most of their matches. However the arm being injured doesn’t stop Will’s offence. I dig Will’s selling although I’d rather he didn’t scream in agony all the time. The standard and difficulty of the wrestling is excellent. The counters are slick, the pacing is a delight and both guys nail their roles. It would be easy for Will to channel his size and get all fired up, like he does against bigger opponents and do strike duels but it’s not appropriate. He deliberately wrestles to KUSHIDA’s strengths. Ospreay’s choices in matches are excellent for the most part. Unless he’s considering a Spanish Fly off the apron, which he thinks about here but KUSHIDA blocks it. I’d rather Will considered the move and just didn’t do it at all because he hurt himself. Instead Will takes a DDT off the apron.
For someone as talented as Ospreay, he takes these crazy matches with sickening bumps over and over again. He doesn’t need to take these bumps. He’s great without them. Ospreay keeps remembering to sell here but also incorporates the kind of counters that don’t require a lot of arm/neck strength to make it seem believable. It’s a great display from him. Another after a string of great matches over Mania weekend.
This is such a great reaction shot. Will goes for the finish but the Oscutter is caught right into the kimura. Will survives that and plants KUSHIDA with the Essex Destroyer. KUSHIDA taking the bump right on the top of his head. That evens the match up. It allows them to do strike duels because they’re both fucked. I dig that. I also appreciate how KUSHIDA has to go to the arm to win it and the bump Ospreay takes on the Baseball Punch is incredible. If you look at the slow motion it shows how it did it but live it looked like KUSHIDA had knocked him out. When Ospreay first came into Japan he wrestled KUSHIDA and routinely lost because he wasn’t tough enough to survive a beating. Now he’s toughened up and begs for more when KUSHIDA is stamping on his head. KUSHIDA gets wiped out off the top and Stormbreaker finishes. I’m very glad Ospreay has a new finish. This match fucking rocked.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Bone Soldier returns, attacks Ospreay and it’s Taiji Ishimori! Unfortunately they have Tama Tonga introduce him in one of the worst promos of the year. For those who don’t follow NOAH Ishimori is one of the best juniors outside of NJPW. It’s an excellent signing. NOAH is a shambles.
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Okada has smashed every record there is for the IWGP title except one; the successful defences in one reign record. He’s currently tied for the record with….Hiroshi Tanahashi. And the one true eternal ace is here to reclaim his belt and stop Okada’s record breaking ways.
Comms talk a lot about Tanahashi’s assorted injuries, of which there are many. The thing about Tanahashi is while he may miss spells with injury when he’s called upon to be a star again (which is often) he always delivers.
If Tanahashi is too banged up to work the intense main event style he doesn’t show it at all. The crowd are very excited to see him wrestle but that excitement quickly turns to concern as Tana takes horrible bumps; like a DDT on the floor.
Okada’s response is to act like a complete bell-end. He targets Tana’s neck, warming up for the eventual lariat across the chops for maximum impact. Okada is at times almost dismissive of his former superior. When Okada does the Rainmaker Pose the ace has had enough. Tana gets right up in Okada’s face and it’s a great little moment.
They go into this great strike duel where Tana lands bigger shots and Okada tries to brush them off but loses his footing. It’s little subtle moments that make me love wrestling. And big silly ones too. Tanahashi steps it up from this point. His stretch is full of hard snapping moves, executed as quick as they are crisp. It’s a reminder that he was the best wrestler in the world 3 years ago (and for some time before that).
I remember being so excited for Okada finally getting the belt off Tanahashi, as it felt like he’d legitimately earned it and now it’s all about Tanahashi getting that one last run. Can he do it? The crowd willing him on in the process. I love that Okada’s cut off move is the John Woo dropkick. Something outside his usual offence but in line with his athletic ability.
I also love how Okada plays the role of a sneering villain while Tanahashi is the great saviour here. One High Fly Flow at a time. I’m distraught when Tana eats knees with victory just moments away. Tanahashi’s no selling, including a sensational kick-out at one and a complete no sell of Okada’s dropkick are awesome. A sign that he’s not willing to just fade away and let Okada be the man. Okada has to fucking fight for everything.
Okada tries to do the wrist control business here, as a call back to when he finally won at WK, and Tanahashi just belts him in the face until he lets go, causing a welt to grow under the champ’s eye. Just when Tanahashi gets separation Okada resorts to grabbing the trunks, and winning at any means, and belting Tanahashi with the Rainmaker to hit the magical 12th defence. And magical it was. It loses a little being seen days after the fact but it doesn’t make it any less emotional. What a career Tanahashi has had. If this was his final IWGP title shot (which, honestly, I hope it isn’t) he went out on a tremendous high.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Gedo points out that this was ‘predictable’ and no one can stop Okada. The champ lists his successes and kinda gloats about it. He notes about there being no ‘next challenger’ coming out listing off the 12 guys he’s beaten. He notes Kenny Omega being on there twice but the last time was a draw and they’re 1-1-1 so far. So he calls out Omega for a fourth decisive rubber match.
The big news here is that Okada wants “no time limit”. Omega suggests 2 out of 3 falls. My word, they’re going to wrestle for 3 hours! Probably.
I may have skipped a lot of this show but I watched six matches and got something out of all of them. The last two are the reason to drop in though. Ospreay-KUSHIDA is Will fully introducing himself as a top level, PPV headlining star. He’s capable of being a main event player for NJPW and the junior experiment is close to over. I can’t see him staying at this level for much longer. I kinda hope he’s in G1. Although I also don’t want him to break his neck on that arduous tour. Okada-Tanahashi was the opposite. Almost an end of an era. The final chapter in a long story. Okada brushing aside the man who in previous years stopped him being a champion to the point where Okada burst out crying on his way from the ring. This is not that Okada…and it’s not that Tanahashi either. A glorious goodbye to the spotlight from one of the wrestling’s all time greats. I know he’ll have matches down the line that still rock because it’s Tanahashi and that’s what he does but he’s not operating at that God Level he used to live at. Injuries being what they are. He’ll go down as an all-timer though. Another great match here.