Thursday, April 27, 2017

NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku Review

NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku
April 27th, 2017 | Hiroshima Green Arena in Hiroshima, Japan

This is the first of three big NJPW shows this week. The shows get progressively bigger, though the middle one has what looks like the best card on paper by a long shot. It’s New Japan’s thing of having a singles title headline each show. This one has the NEVER Title, the next one gets the Intercontinental and the last one gets the Heavyweight. Of note, Takashi Iizuka is off the tour with a fracture ankle.

Hirai Kawato, Jushin Thunder Liger and Tomoyuki Oka vs. Katsuya Kitamura, Syota Umino and Tiger Mask IV
The junior dads kicked this off against one another. I enjoy these matches because it really feels like a take your kids to work day. Wild Kawato came in and promptly got his ass kicked. He’s so good at it. Umino and Kitamura worked some quick tags on him before Tomoyuki got the tag. We got another small tease at he and Kitamura going at it. I swear that’s a future NJPW main event. Oka locked Umino in the crab and his partners held back the rest of the team. Umino fought and nearly escaped but got pulled to the middle of the ring, where he gave up at 8.32. Typical NJPW opener but made a bit more fun by the young lions getting all the shine and bringing energy. Liger and Tiger Mask really took a backseat. [**½]

El Desperado and TAKA Michinoku vs. Toru Yano and Will Ospreay
I never like to hear someone is hurt but Iizuka’s ankle injury made this a regular tag as Jado was pulled from it too and no Jado is always a good thing. Plus, Yano and Ospreay could be a wacky fun team. Desperado and Ospreay started and had some fun interactions. I got a kick out of Yano doing Ospreay’s signature pose with him. Once Yano got the tag, he got in all his shenanigans, which I mostly enjoy. He hit TAKA with a low blow and tagged Ospreay, who finished him with the Oscutter at 5:06. Short and to the point. They got their shit in and like I said, Yano was entertaining. Ospreay continues to win tags heading into the BOTSJ, which he won last year. [**¼]

Chase Owens and the Guerrillas of Destiny vs. David Finlay and TenKoji
This helps set up the three-way Tag Title match at Wrestling Dontaku involving the Guerrillas and TenKoji (as well as champions War Machine). Bullet Club did the pre-match attack to get us started. It quickly backfired as TenKoji took turns battering Tama Tonga. After some brawling outside, the most interesting part of the match happened. The Bullet Club guys stole Kojima’s trademark chops and offense. THOSE BASTARDS! Kojima came in and did it to all three of them. Tenzan grew tired of the Bullet Club’s shit and eventually put Owens down with the Anaconda Vice at 6:57. More fun than I expected. Owens and Finlay had some solid interactions and the Guerrillas stealing TenKoji’s stuff adds fuel to the upcoming title match. [**½]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Taichi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru (c) vs. Roppongi Vice
RPG Vice won a surprisingly good match at Wrestle Kingdom to become champions before dropping them to this dreadful team. As expected, we got the underhanded Taichi and Kanemaru stuff. Taichi’s lady got in a cheap shot, he went after the ring bell, they beat up RPG Vice outside, etc. You know the drill by now. El Desperado was also at ringside and got in some shots until Jado and Gedo showed up to even things out a bit. That signaled a turn of the tides. Beretta avoided some of Taichi’s attempts to cheat and Romero came in with his FOREVER clotheslines. The challengers nearly won it only for Taichi to pull the referee out before he counted three. The teams did a tower of doom spot, which I feel like I haven’t seen in NJPW for a while. They all went back and forth for a while until RPG Vice won back the titles with Strong Zero at 16:53. It went too long as the stuff down the stretch wasn’t as engaging as they probably hoped. Still, it was the best Taichi & Kanemaru match since their return to NJPW. The Gedo and Jado part made sense and the babyfaces overcoming the cheating was a good move. [**¾]

Post-match, Rocky Romero called out the Young Bucks for some reason. That’s stupid. You beat them at WK and took their titles. There’s nothing left to prove. Plus, that match is tired as hell. On the flip side, RPG Vice/Bucks for the thousandth time is preferable to Jado and Gedo against Taichi and Kanemaru so I should count myself somewhat lucky. Still, this division is in DIRE need of a facelift.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito) vs. Juice Robinson, YOSHITATSU and NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi
This previews Ricochet/Takahashi, EVIL/Tanahashi and Naito/Juice. Taguchi Japan was ready for LIDJ’s pre-match attack but still got beat up anyway. LIDJ looked to isolate TATSU because he’s a scrub but Taguchi was there to help. That led to BUSHI taking a bunch of attacks from the faces. He was supposed to be sent into Taguchi’s ass but TATSU got thrown instead. Taguchi celebrated since he didn’t see and ended up facing off with LIDJ. His attempt to call timeout did not work. He got worked until Ricochet was tagged and he, again, brought lots of energy and fun offense. The crowd ate it up. Tanahashi also got some shine before we got the big Juice/Naito showdown. Like he did in the build for the Elgin match, Naito focused on Juice’s knee. Naito blocked Pulp Friction, hit a tornado DDT and tagged SANADA. We got a wild series of offense from everyone before Juice and SANADA countered each other’s finisher. Juice hit a lariat and Pulp Friction to win at 12:31. This was a blast. Lots of fun and effort from mostly everyone involved. There was non-stop action, comedy spots, build for upcoming matches without giving too much away and Juice got momentum. I like it. [***½]

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Kenny Omega and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI)
Here we have build for Omega/Ishii and Fale/Okada at Wrestling Dontaku. When Okada saw Fale was starting, he hopped in. Fale basically said, “Fuck you” and tagged out but still jumped Okada to give Yujiro an advantage. After a bit of that, Ishii got the tag and took the heat for his team. Though YOSHI is the weakest guy on the team, Ishii’s great at drawing sympathy. There was a particularly nasty spot where Ishii tried to counter an Omega rana into a powerbomb and just dropped him on his head. They cut off Ishii’s hot tag at every turn. Okada got the tag and did his thing before bringing YOSHI-HASHI in. While everyone else goes at it outside, Fale puts down YOSHI with the tombstone at 13:28, gaining even more momentum. I’d say this was fine but nowhere near the levels of the other tags involving the Wrestling Dontaku pairings in recent weeks. [**½]

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki
This opened with a slow pace. They grappled a lot, trying to gain an advantage. It picked up when Suzuki went after the arm and the fight moved to the crowd, where he used a chair to his advantage. El Desperado also got in cheap shots. Goto beat the countout but was in serious trouble. Suzuki spent the next few minutes going after Goto’s arm. The champion would find a few hope spots, but it all came back to the arm. It helps that Zack Sabre Jr. worked something similar in his match with Goto, softening him up for the Suzuki-Gun leader. They progressed to trading forearms in the middle of the ring, with Suzuki getting the better until Goto pulled him to the mat. Goto escaped the sleeper and hit USHIGOROSHI! Mauro Ranallo made me pop for that move each time I see it. Goto beat up Desperado but Suzuki countered GTR. Suzuki held the referee, allowing Desperado to whack Goto with a steel chair. Suzuki then used a string of vicious strikes, a sleeper and the Gotch piledriver to win the title at 24:19. I wanted to like this a lot more. It felt like it dragged, Goto didn’t sell the arm down the stretch very much and the typical Suzuki-Gun interference bogged it down. I’ve been very disappointed in Minoru in 2017, which is a shame since I was so happy he was back. [**¾]

Overall: 5/10. One of the weaker NJPW shows I can remember. Even with this one having two title matches, I preferred the recent, lesser “Road to” shows. The main event disappointed and though the Jr. Tag Title match overachieved, it wasn’t enough. A completely skippable show as even the best match (LIDJ vs. Tanahashi and Lads) is something we’ve seen a bunch before. Still, nothing on the show is what I’d classify as outright bad so the show is a thumbs in the middle.