Saturday, May 5, 2018
Following a subpar night one, NJPW debuts the second night of Wrestling Dontaku. On paper, this card looks stronger. KUSHIDA/Ospreay and Okada/Tanahashi are both very tired matches, but they’re typically a safe bet to deliver something very good. Plus, the show should also set the stage for whatever’s coming at Dominion.
Liger currently resides in Fukuoka. The Young Lions jumped him to boos, which was great. It makes sense since they get beat on so often, they should get their licks in where they can. Of course, the veterans responding by kicking their asses. Liger seemed to enjoy wearing Uemura out with chops and the Romero Special. Umino and Narita fared better than Uemura, but not by that much. It came down to Narita and Taguchi. Don Callis kind of ripped the Young Lion concept (and WWE in 1997) because Narita did a Cloverleaf instead of the Boston Crab. HOW DARE YOU TRY TO GET OVER? Narita countered Dodon into a rollup for two, but got pulled into the Ankle Lock and tapped at 6:34. A solid opener. Lots of fire from the Lions and the angry vets brought it to them. Taguchi gets another win heading into the BOTSJ, where he traditionally does well.
A pissed off Liger stomped on some of the Lions on their way out. I love angry Liger.
Yujiro didn’t have Tokyo Latina with him, bringing out another random girl. Don Callis was just as disappointed as I was. I never would’ve thought it in 2015, but the Yujiro/Chase tandem is actually not bad. Meanwhile, Nagata seems to have traded Manabu Nakanishi in for his younger counterpart. Despite teaming with the babyface Golden Lovers, Chase and Yujiro worked heel here. They jumped Oka and stole Nagata’s signature taunt. They isolated Oka for most of the match. When Nagata came in, he was basically unstoppable. Nagata seemed to have it won, but Oka begged for the tag. Nagata complied and his apprentice handled himself better, including a BRUTAL European uppercut. Yujiro occupied Nagata, leaving Owens to beat Oka with the Package Piledriver in 6:11. Decent enough. Chase and Yujiro had a solid strategy, while Nagata was a beast, and Oka continues to impress.
Not this again. These teams have literally put on the absolute worst collection of matches all year long. Suzuki-Gun attacked before the bell, as always. There were the usual chairs, biting, and all sorts of underhanded tactics from Suzuki-Gun. Yesterday, Gedo succeeded by having this go under three minutes. We weren’t so lucky on this night. The good guys made the comeback and won with 3K on TAKA in 6:00. They’ve won two in a row. Please, never book this again. It was atrocious each time. At least this wasn’t the worst they’ve done, so there’s that. But, this match happened about five times and never once cracked a single star.
Like the previous match, this has been featured a ton on this tour. Unlike the previous match, this one is usually good. The reason these have been so enjoyable have been the interactions between Henare and Ishii. In fact, their singles match was the second best on the “Road to” events. This saw them do battle in the highlight of the action. Yano was Yano, while Makabe put in some effort tonight. Trust me, it’s better than what we usually get from him at this point. It came down to the Ishii/Henare war, with Henare once again coming achingly close to pulling off the upset. Alas, a Brainbuster put him down at 7:12. Like everything else they’ve done on this tour, they were one of the best parts. I’m loving how well Henare has been doing lately. Another win for Ishii and Yano en route to what I assume will be a Tag Team Title shot.
Elgin challenged Goto for the NEVER Title, but Taichi also has his eyes on it. White continued to own Finlay in a recent title match, but Juice Robinson may be interested in one now. Speaking of Juice, he kind of took the heat in this one, which was unexpected. I thought that was Finlay’s role for sure. Elgin got the hot tag, making him seem legitimate heading into a NEVER Title shot. Jay White continued to not truly be a CHAOS member, refusing to partake in their usual sushi taunt. He and Juice went at it outside, while Goto and Elgin battled. With those two potential matchups setup, YOSHI-HASHI bested Finlay with Karma for the win in 11:04. Another good multi-man tag. It had good action, furthered two programs, and kept the intrigue of White’s character going.
Post-match, Taichi showed up and attacked Goto with his microphone stand. He took him to the back. Jay White convinced YOSHI-HASHI not to go after him. He snuck back in to plant Juice with the Blade Runner, but Juice escaped and sent him packing. Goto vs. Taichi/Elgin sounds super uninteresting, but I’m ALL for White/Juice.
Wrestling Dontaku returns to Fukuoka next year. I mean, it’s been there every single year.
I was going to note that it was weird how Zack Sabre Jr. was on night one, but not night two. Then I remembered he’s working Super Strong Style 16 in PROGRESS. Hilariously, Lance Archer chased Don Callis to the back, threatening to spit water on him. It’s a testament to Tetsuya Naito that he remains popular despite bad booking. Suzuki-Gun attacked quickly, leaving Naito out in the crowd and Chokeslamming Hiromu from the apron onto EVIL and SANADA outside. That put LIDJ way behind the 8-ball and BUSHI got left to take most of the beating. Naito returned and fought out Minoru, but they built the hot tag to Hiromu. He’s so explosive that the role works for him. LIDJ used that to spark a rally, capped by Destino on Kanemaru to win in 8:31 They’ve worked similar matches, but this one had a bit more energy behind it. I enjoyed the idea of LIDJ being picked apart and guys having to come in. Hiromu as the hot tag guy works well.
After the match, Tetsuya Naito remained in the ring after his buddies left. That made it clear something was gonna happen. Loud “Naito” chants. As he left, he was jumped by a fan in a BUSHI mask. The guy dropped the barricade on Naito’s head and brought him back to the ring. He removed the mask to reveal himself as CHRIS JERICHO! He hit the Codebreaker and busted Naito open with the ring bell. I’m guessing Naito/Jericho happens at Dominion. Naito refused to do the stretcher job and threw it away. Great angle, as at least this match seems important, which is something Naito hasn’t been since the loss Wrestle Kingdom.
BULLET CLUB CIVIL WAR! Marty promised to slam Fale, but instantly failed. The match progressed to see decent action, while focusing on character work. Some guys showed respect for each other, like the Bucks and GOD, while guys like Cody and Page were all about doing illegal tactics. At one point, Matt refused to attack a downed Ibushi and tagged out. Ibushi got isolated, before making the hot tag to Kenny. The two of them shined in that role. They were cut off by the Bucks in what became an awkward standoff. The fans were completely quiet for it and they kind of stood around waiting for Cody and Page to pull the Golden Lovers out. The Scurll/Fale stuff led to the finish, as Marty went for the slam again. Fale fell on top of him and got the win in 8:47. They hit a few of the story notes that you’d expect, but the match itself was nothing special.
Kenny chased Cody to the back. Owens and Yujiro arrived and the Bullet Club guys all seemed to be okay with each other, while Ibushi was awkwardly left to hang around. The Bullet Club angle has had some interesting moments and one great match (Bucks/Lovers), but like the nWo, it feels like there’s no endgame planned.
Ospreay ranks among my least favorite wrestlers in the world, but KUSHIDA usually knows how to get the best out of him. In NJPW, they met at Invasion Attack ’16 (****½), Dominion ’16 (***½), BOTSJ ’17 (****¼), and King of Pro Wrestling ’17 (***¾). Will only won that last meeting. Here, KUSHIDA remained a step ahead of his foe. One spot saw KUSHIDA move Ospreay’s head scissors over onto the referee, and then get in a kick. He also caught an Ospreay springboard into an armbar outside, keeping a slight edge. It was a little weird to see Will tap while outside so early, yet not do so later in the match. I get that he was resilient, but it was still strange. I liked the idea behind him not being able to lift KUSHIDA in his new move due to the arm work, yet there’s a logic flaw in him even attempting it. If you know your arm is damaged, why go for it? It wasn’t like he was that desperate by that point in the match. This was the usual Ospreay selling, where he yells very loudly and then forgets about it from time to time. KUSHIDA’s DDT off the apron was awesome. However, it didn’t have the effect it should’ve because Will just went back on offense like nothing happened. Down the stretch, Ospreay survived a ton, went into overkill mode (though not as bad as he did against Scull last month), and won following a top rope cutter and Storm Breaker in 23:36. I thought this was a very good match with some top notch exchanges. Will’s selling remain inconsistent and a lot of his choices during matches are just baffling, which keeps his recent stuff from being great. It didn’t help that the outcome never felt like it was in doubt.
After the match, the BONE SOLDIER vignette ran and he returned. However, he wasn’t the same BONER SOLDIER who sucked in 2016. Instead, we got Tama Tonga to distract Ospreay. Bone Soldier appeared behind him and attacked him. He then revealed himself to be TAIJI ISHIMORI. I really liked him in NOAH and he’s a great addition to the junior heavyweight division. Gedo actually did something right. Now put him and Hiromu Takahashi in the same block in the BOTSJ, please.
Before the main event, here are the ratings I’ve given every Tanahashi/Okada match that I’ve seen.
New Beginning 2012 – Okada def. Tanahashi [c] -
Dominion 2012 – Tanahashi def. Okada [c] -
Wrestle Kingdom 7 – Tanahashi [c] def. Okada -
Invasion Attack 2013 – Okada def. Tanahashi [c] -
G1 Climax 23 – Ends in a draw -
King of Pro Wrestling 2013 – Okada [c] def. Tanahashi -
Wrestle Kingdom 9 – Tanahashi [c] def. Okada -
Wrestle Kingdom 10 – Okada [c] def. Tanahashi -
G1 Climax 26 – Ends in a draw -
Hopefully, this is a big improvement on their lackluster title match the last time (WK10). Okada leads the series 4-3-2. Loud “Tanahashi” chants. I’m with you, Fukuoka. Save_Us.ACE. Early on, I was concerned this was going into the TIRED Okada formula. Never fear, Tanahashi was here. The master knows how to get the best out of Okada. When Tanahashi skinned the cat after Okada dropkicked him from the top (that in itself being a cool spot since Okada usually does that successfully), Okada turned it into a stiff DDT. From there, the champion was in control and seemed to have his fun toying with Tanahashi. This was cocky douche Okada, which is EASILY the best Okada. There was a great moment when Okada did the Rainmaker pose, only for Tanahashi to stand up right in his face. He wasn’t going down without a fight. The final stretch after that was bonkers. I absolutely adored the callback to their previous match at the 30:00 minute mark. In the G1 26, they went to a draw and as time expired, Tanahashi hit High Fly Flow. They did that exact same thing at the same time here, which was genius. Both guys brought out great counters to each other’s finishers and we even got to see Tanahashi hit his own Rainmaker. Okada stopped a High Fly Flow with a dropkick, before nailing a Rainmaker to retain in 34:36. While it wasn’t their best match, it was near the top. Okada started his reign with back to back great defenses (Marufuji and Omega), but he hadn’t quite strung together two greats in a row until now (Sabre and Tanahashi). They had so many callbacks to their history and it felt like a worthy capper. It was paced so well, avoided some of the usual tropes, had lots of drama and emotion, and played to both of their strengths. If this was the end of Tanahashi’s main event tenure, he went out in style:
Overall: This was on pace to be a similar show to the disappointment of night one. However, while that event ended on a whimper, this one ended with more of a bang. The Jericho/Naito angle was masterful, while KUSHIDA/Ospreay was a very good match. Tanahashi and Okada delivered in a big time main event that was among the best NJPW main events all year long. The rest of the show was solid, with nothing bad.