This week was “Golden Week” in Japan which means Wrestling Dontaku for NJPW, which this year was held over two days rather than one. However, since they have quite a lot of feuds brewing, primarily around LIJ fighting Suzuki-gun, CHAOS fighting the unaffiliated, and Bullet Club fighting itself, they also had a number of championship matches leading up to Dontaku rather than on the main shows themselves.
However, since both Dontaku shows were in the middle of the week and I was at work, I had to catch up. At this point I have to give some slops to NJPWWorld as a service. For one the on-demand english language versions of both Wrestling Hi no Kuni and the first day of Dontaku were slightly out of sync between audio and video, forcing me to watch with japanese commentary instead. While of course the purists prefer the japanese audio, I like the english as I think Kevin Kelly and Don Callis are doing an excellent job, and my limited japanese doesn’t allow me to really appreciate the japanese commentary beyond the visceral emotional level. The other issue with NJPWWorld for me this time was that the second day of Dontaku was very late in being uploaded so I had to basically wait another day to watch it at which point I had already inadvertently gotten spoiled (though that was also a mistake on my side going on twitter).
First on a Road to Dontaku show at Korakuen Hall Jay White defended the U.S. title against David Finlay, and it seems to me they are somewhat burying the title. Despite the great match to get the belt, I still can’t really get behind White, and it doesn’t exactly help that his challengers are guys like Finlay who are deeply entrenched in the undercard, and who has basically no claim to challenge for the title particularly since he is 1-for-10 lifetime against White since their days as Young Lions. It was still a decent match, but nothing to write home about too much.
The Sunday prior to golden week had Wrestling Hi no Kuni in Kumamoto which saw basically the high point of the LIJ vs. Suzuki-gun feud. First there were singles matches between the juniors in the teams with BUSHI vs. El Desperado, which ended in a DQ when Kanemaru came out and attacked Bushi. Hiromu soon followed to make the save as he and Kanemaru were supposed to fight next anyway. Hiromu won that one and I believe he is being prepped to go quite deep in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
Then there was the Wrestle Kingdom rematch of SANADA and EVIL vs. Killer Elite Squad. It was kind of doubtful that KES was going to take it, with Davey Boy Smith Jr. being at odds with the law at the moment, though EVIL’s recent orbital bone surgery also added some questions. This was far more even than their match at WK, though KES still seemed to be the stronger team. The LIJ duo proved resourceful though and retained the championship.
And finally Tetsuya Naito challenging Minoru Suzuki for the IWGP Intercontinental championship. And this match was odd. Good but odd. For one I don’t really get the impetus for this match. Naito rather dislikes the IC title and while he did an excellent job in goading Suzuki to give him a match, i don’t understand why he would want it. And then there was the finish. The two had been going at it for a while, though Suzuki going after Naito’s famously damaged knees seemed like he would come out on top. However, then seemingly out of nowhere Naito hit’s a Destino and wins the match. There was basically no buildup toward this or finishing sequence. Not even a Gloria running up to it unless I missed it. And while Destino should be a protected finisher, you would imagine that Suzuki would be able to muster a kick-out.
Anyway, just to finish this here, on the second Day of Dontaku itself, the whole LIJ group fight a 10-man match vs. Suzuki gun, which they also won, seemingly putting an end to the feud (though I still think Hiromu and BUSHI need to take the Jr. tag belts off of Kanemaru and Desperado). After the match a guy in a BUSHI mask jumped the barricade and attacked Naito (the rest of LIJ had already exited the hall), dragging him back into the ring where he unmasked himself. It’s Christ Jericho! He proceeds to beat Naito up, including clocking him with the bell which left Naito a bloody mess. Seems like those two are set to go at each other either at Dominion or the G1 Special in San Jose.
Day 1 of Wrestling Dontaku was highlighted by the Bullet Club Civil War. First in a rather odd matchup the Bullet Club OGs (Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale) defended their Six-Man Tag championship against The Young Bucks and Marty Scurll. While it started with a bit of “friendly faffing about”, this match escalated a bit later.
The night ended with two Singles matches. In another Wrestle Kingdom rematch, Cody fought Kota Ibushi. This match was punctuated with some nasty stuff, particularly Kota requiring two tries to stomp Cody through a table (those tables they have are quite a bit sturdier than the sheets of plywood in the WWE). In the end Cody managed to pull it out though with the use of a new finisher, a Vertaebreaker variant he calls “Din’s fire” and it looks nasty.
The main event was Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Page, which I kind of understand why they have that match though I still don’t believe Page to be even remotely on the level. Early in this match Omega was busted open on top of his head, giving him rather a bit of a crated look as the blood colored his freshly blonde-dyed hair a number of shades of red throughout the match. However Page got it probably worse when shortly before the end of the match ate a really nasty V-Trigger knee, before being put down by a One-Winged Angel.
On the second day of Dontaku there was a ten-man tag match between Cody’s side of the BC (him, Page, the Bucks and Scurll) and the Golden Lovers assisted by the Bullet Club OGs. The match was rather unremarkable by itself, though what is interesting is that after the match and Kenny chasing Cody out of the arena, the Tongan faction of BC joined by Yujiro and honorary Tongan Chase Owens shared a Too-Sweet in the ring, asking the rest to join in, which they reluctantly did while Kota just looked slightly bewildered at it from ringside and left. So Bullet Club might be fine? Dunno. All In is coming up anyhow.
The end of Dontaku was highlighted by two extraordinary singles matches.
The first is KUSHIDA challenging Will Opsreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title. Ospreay was selling a compromised neck the entire way through the match, screaming in pain at basically everything, though unfortunately that was a bit annoying. The match was still very good, though not quite equal to the BOSJ final last year. That DDT off the apron and that springboard Hurricanrana were something else, though Ospreays new finisher called Stormbreaker is also quite amazing to look at which also gave him the win.
After the match we finally got the resolution to some vignettes which had been running for a while advertising the return of Bone Soldier, which everybody kind of laughed at because Bone Soldier is a famously awful wrestler who previously also worked the Captain New Japan gimmick. The guy under those masks was fired in 2017 though. Instead Tama Tonga came out, mocked Ospreay and just distracted him until a rather chiseled guy in a skull mask entered the ring and attacked Opsreay. After that the mask was removed, revealing Taiji Ishimori. Ishimori recently left Pro Wrestling NOAH where he had worked for 12 years and where he held their Junior Heavyweight title for a record reign of 405 days and a total of more than 560 days in three reigns. Speculation was that Ishimori was bound for WWE. However, introducing him by warming over the Bone Soldier gimmick is a bit of a disservice to him.
Not sure what to make of this personally. Kind of excited to have a guy like Ishimori mixing up the Junior division, but I was really hoping that Hiromu was winning the BOSJ. Or perhaps this attack may allow Ishimori to challenge without requiring a win in the BOSJ, though that makes me wonder who gets to challenge at Dominion.
The last match of course was Hiroshi Tanahashi challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in order to protect his consecutive-defense streak which Okada would break if he won. Okada had been running out of worthwhile challengers as of late after dispatching both “Lancers” of LIJ (SANADA) and Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr.) in his last two defenses so Tanahashi was basically the only guy left who Okada hadn’t beaten in his streak. The streak being at stake here also ratcheted up the tension for this match.
Leading up to the match Tanahashi actually looked kind of weak, which is actually expected with the story of the match. While the Tanahashi-Okada feud kickstarted this new golden age for NJPW, that began six years ago and Tanahashi is over 40 now, very slowly but surely making his way down the card while Okada is literally the best wrestler in the world. Of course Tanahashi is still to be reckoned with, but Okada is clearly the favorite. While from a wrestling standpoint the match itself didn’t show much new, particularly since the guys had fought each other so often already. However this wrinkle of “Is Tanahashi even capable of doing it” added the necessary new dimension this match needed with multiple moments of resilience from Tana. However, in the end it was a single Rainmaker putting an end to it, when we have seen other challengers kick out of them in the recent past.
So yeah, an excellent match and Okada wins, breaks one of the last records Tanahashi still held, and cements himself on top of the world. But ever since Okada beat Naito and WK I also expected him to break the streak for consecutive defenses, but that also means that Okada is now more “vulnerable” form the standpoint of the meta-analysis of Wrestling than he has been in months.
So who is going to beat Okada? I guess Okada gave us the answer himself when in a moment of hubris, because he is unhappy with the only blemish in his reign (the 60-minute time limit draw from last year’s Dominion event) he calls out Kenny Omega and offers him a rematch with no time limit. Omega asks for an additional stipulation, making the match 2-out-of-3-falls and the two agree. HOLY FUCKING SHIT!