New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Dontaku 2015
May 3, 2015
Fukuoka Convention Center
Fukuoka, Japan

On the heels of a fantastic Invasion Attack show, and with the July 5 Dominion event from the 16,000 seat Osaka-jo Hall looming (not to mention four incredible looking joint shows with ROH later this month and the Best of the Super Juniors tour right around the corner), the buzz for this year’s Wrestling Dontaku had the feel of a placeholder of sorts, which has been the recent reputation of the yearly May 3 offering.

But is that reputation well earned? Shinsuke Nakamura defending the IWGP Intercontinental Title against perennial big match choker Hirooki Goto did not feel like the next must see New Japan main event on paper (especially with the mega AJ Styles IWGP Heavyweight Title defense against Kazuchika Okada clearly positioned as the next “big match”, in a building twice the size of Fukuoka, already announced for July), so this was arguably the weakest main event in the modern era of the Dontaku event (from 1993 until 2001, New Japan held five May Dontaku shows in the much larger Fukuoka Dome, dropping the event after two sub par drawing efforts in 2000 and 2001, before resuming it as an annual PPV in 2009 from the smaller Fukuoka Center).

  • 2009: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Hirooki Goto – IWGP Heavyweight
  • 2010: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Togi Makabe – IWGP Heavyweight
  • 2011: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura – IWGP Heavyweight
  • 2012: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Hirooki Goto – IWGP Heavyweight
  • 2013: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Minoru Suzuki – IWGP Heavyweight
  • 2014: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs AJ Styles – IWGP Heavyweight

While a few of those matches were clearly placeholder title defenses, each of those shows drew more fans than the year prior, which follows both the Tokyo Dome and overall company trend of steady, consistent growth in the post-Inoki era (especially so since Bushiroad purchased the company in 2012). 2001 was the last time the Dontaku main event was not an IWGP Heavyweight championship match, but AJ Styles, Kazuchika Okada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi being booked in relatively meaningless tag team matches were likely bigger factors in the overall fan malaise towards the show than a main event that featured the 1B title.

Nakamura/Goto was expected to deliver bell to bell (and ultimately it did), but the show lacked a big time supporting heavyweight singles match, with the two junior title matches easily being the most intriguing bouts on the card aside from the main event. In past years, Tomohiro Ishii’s NEVER title loss to Togi Makabe would have likely been positioned as the strong supporting match underneath, but that match was booked as the main event of the Wrestling Hinokuni show held a few days earlier, due to a new initiative this year to beef up some of the house shows and run larger buildings for at least one of the “Road to” shows on each tour. In theory, this new strategy will weaken the undercards on the tour ending PPV’s, and in the case of this Dontaku show it’s pretty clear they had a ton of faith that Nakamura’s drawing power was strong enough on its own to carry the gate. We’ll see how it plays out long term, but if they can run some bigger than usual house shows during the tours while still drawing big for the PPV’s, the strategy will be hard to argue with, much like the decision to divvy up the big matches on the New Beginning and Destruction shows into two events for each, which allows them to pull in two big gates for each of those shows instead of one.

Captain New Japan, Kushida, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi vs Jushin Thunder Liger, Máscara Dorada, Tiger Mask, Yuji Nagata: Don’t skip this. Working shoes were on, and even Nakanishi did a dive (sort of, as he awkwardly landed on the apron before gently falling onto the other seven men). Highlights were KUSHIDA blocking a Dorada flying arm drag and seamlessly converting it into a cross arm breaker (I BADLY want KUSHIDA vs Dorada on the Super Juniors tour), Nakanishi winning a chop battle against Nagata, which fired up the crowd, and a gorgeous Dorada dive that took out everybody on the floor. Nakanishi is almost completely shot at this point. Nagata pinned CNJ. Everybody worked hard. ***

Kota Ibushi & Yohei Komatsu vs. Sho Tanaka & Tetsuya Naito: This felt like the beginnings of the baby steps to elevating the lions, with the majority of the focus here on Komatsu & Tanaka. This had the usual solid work from both, with the crowd fully invested in everything they were doing. Komatsu tapped Tanaka with a single leg crab, which is somewhat significant, because in a match with stars on each side they could have easily gone chalk and had Ibushi score the fall. Instead, the stars stayed out of the way, and they even worked in spots where the lions fought them off. I think we’re finally seeing the (slow) elevation of the two excellent young lions. It should be noted that Ibushi blew off Naito’s handshake in the post match.  ***

Bad Luck Fale, Cody Hall, Tama Tonga vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Tomoaki Honma: Cody Hall is improving, but if you watch closely he is also being carefully protected. Tonga did all of the selling for the BC side, and Hall only tagged in once before the frantic closing stretch, during the heat segment on Tenzan where he looked a little lost for the 40 seconds or so he was in the ring. It’s telling that they haven’t booked him in even one singles match yet. Hall ate a Kojima lariat and a Honma Kokeshi to lose the fall. Decent match. **1/2

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Roppongi Vice (c) vs. reDRagon vs. The Young Bucks: This was given a ton of time and was worked at a very deliberate pace to start, with reDRagon methodically working over Trent, and Kyle O’Reilly using hard knees to cave faces in. When it inevitably picked up, things got real crazy. IN a completely mental spot, Trent superplexed Matt Jackson from the top turnbuckle to the outside of the ring. Later, the Bucks delivered an Indytaker on the floor. Fukuoka, which had been hot for everything on the show up to this point, was indifferent to all of this complete madness for some reason. The Bucks used More Bang for Your Buck on Trent to win the titles, as these teams continue to play hot potato with the belts.  This was real good, but the odd lack of crowd heat and some early comedy that didn’t land hurt it a little. One thing to note, is that reDRagon is always protected in these matches. They haven’t lost a straight New Japan tag team match since their NJPW debut at the 2014 G1 Finals. They’re 19-2 since that match, and both loses were in three way bouts where they weren’t the team that took the fall. ***1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tile – Kenny Omega (c) vs. Alex Shelley: This was like a wacky Dragon Gate match, which would have been fine on a Dragon Gate show, but my tolerance for goofiness is short in New Japan. Liberal BC interference, and Omega brought a garbage can to the ring which ended up being a major prop in the match. The closing stretch was really great, with two or three very convincing near falls, and Omega takes some of the best bumps in the business, but things like yanking the ref out of the ring before the three count always feels out of place in New Japan. KUSHIDA eventually showed up to even the odds, and was doing crazy dives all over the place to take people out. Omega won it with the One Winged Angel after Shelley was cheated out of two sure fire three counts by the Bucks. Hard match for me to rate. They worked way too hard to bury them, but the match structure just wasn’t my thing. Omega announced that since he worked so hard on this tour and since he’s the champ and can’t challenge himself, that he’s skipping Best of the Super Juniors. ***

Amber Gallows, Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson vs Maria Kanellis, Matt Taven, Michael Bennett: The Karl Anderson/Maria storyline feels so out of place in the context of New Japan, or at least this high on New Japan cards. Western fans who watch New Japan don’t want to see this sort of stuff because they watch New Japan to see great wrestling. The Japanese fans don’t seem to want to see this sort of stuff, because the crowds don’t react to it. So what master is this serving? Maria pinned Amber with a small package to end a nothing match. Post match, Guns & Gallows gave Maria the Magic Killer, and it looked like based on his facial expressions that Anderson snapped out of his Maria infatuation. Or maybe he didn’t. Who the fuck knows? Fans were laughing at the angle, which clearly wasn’t the desired reaction to the men attacking Maria. None of this was good. DUD

Kazushi Sakuraba, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Katsuyori Shibata, Togi Makabe: This was a “Road to” six man, with everybody taking turns pairing off with the dude on the opposite team that they’re feuding with. Tanahashi, who has been getting rolled up/school boy’d/cradled by Yano all over Japan, got some revenge with an inside cradle victory of his own. I’m assuming we’ll still get a Tanahashi/Yano singles match at some point to blow this off for good. Move along, nothing to see here. **3/4

A.J. Styles & Yujiro Takahashi vs Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: YOSHI-HASHI worked his ass off here, particularly selling. He also showed some good fire when firing off on offense, so this was the bi-yearly match where he gets you excited about his future, before he becomes invisible for six months again. Okada worked with good energy and burst. He really looked focused and was super crisp in everything he did. Styles beat YOSHI-HASHI with the Styles Clash, and they did a short post match angle that ended with Okada holding up the IWGP belt. YOSHI-HASHI’s parachute pants now have the words LOOSE EXPLOSION written across the ass. ***

IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Hirooki Goto: This was the kind of match that is physical in a completely different way than the “in your face” blatant physicality of something like Ishii/Makabe, in that it was more methodical, where as the viewer you feel like you slowly took the beating along with the participants. I had a feeling Goto could win this, and the viciousness and decisiveness of the finishing sequence made this a more than worthy end to Nakamura’s IC title reign. Maybe I’m thinking too many steps ahead, but this opens the door for a Nakamura run up to the IWGP Heavyweight title, where he beats (and avenges his loss to) Okada, before ultimately losing to Ibushi. As for Goto, he could use a significant run with his new title (which has been elevated significantly since he last held it) after coming up short so many times in big title matches and following what amounted to a token tag team title run with Shibata. This particular title seems like a comfortable place for him right now. ****