On the same night where Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio clashed in their much-anticipated superfight, NJPW held its annual Wrestling Dontaku event in Fukuoka, Japan.
At first glance, the card looked fun, yet a little rough around the edges. It felt like the must-see attractions were overshadowed with those that lacked oomph or scraps we’ve seen time and time again. On the flip side, there were two title changes, not to mention a huge contingent of NJPW’s roster present for this show. Did the card live up to expectations on a night where the main focus was a boxing bout on the other side of the world? Here are some of the highlights:
Hirooki Goto’s Unexpected Rise & Shinsuke Nakamura’s Future
Before Hirooki Goto’s Intercontinental Championship triumph, it was unlikely anyone was touted to be the guy to best Shinsuke Nakamura, who had become one of the most popular wrestlers in all of the business.
It just didn’t feel right for anyone to take the “King of Strong Style’s” title without a compelling story, but the main event did more than deliver. When it comes to Goto’s persona, his straightforward approach comes off as dynamic when matched with the right opponent. His pragmatic style clashed with Nakamura’s systematical in-ring methodology, which resulted in a highly entertaining main event where the pace was great and the last five minutes were even greater. It may not have been one for the ages when we look back few years from now, but it served its purpose and more importantly, put Goto over properly.
At the end of the day, Goto was someone who held the Intercontinental Championship before, yet he was in need of a next step after his three New Japan Cup wins and G1 Climax triumph in 2008. Still holding out for the big one, Goto has become one of the most successful NJPW wrestlers in the past decade, hoisting four titles apart from multiple tournament wins, including the Young Lion Cup in 2005 and World Tag League wins in 2012 and 2014.
When it comes to Nakamura, this was the best-case scenario when looking at the big picture. With the G1 Climax around the corner, all fingers point to the former Intercontinental champ as the favorite. It felt like he needed to relinquish his championship so he could not only partake in the prestigious summer tournament (which will be the longest in G1 Climax history with 19 shows), but also avenge his loss in the finals last year and add some more silverware from the tournament, after winning it in 2011. There is room to continue the Goto vs. Nakamura tussles; it doesn’t feel necessary, either.
Kenny Omega’s Junior Heavyweight Supremacy
After re-entering the fray not too long ago, Kenny Omega has served his purpose as the “Cleaner” in Japan, fending off Ryusuke Taguchi, Mascara Dorada and Alex Shelley as the Junior Heavyweight Champion. Not only is he perfect for the Bullet Club, the Canadian could be the best junior heavyweight on the planet right now.
As a matter of fact, he is, yet the road to supremacy felt like it was missing something.
His win was a tad bittersweet, too, considering he won’t be partaking in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, which is around the corner. On the flip side, it makes sense for him to await the winner. Who could that be?
Unless NJPW wants to bring in another gaijin like Ricochet, last year’s winner, all roads lead to a duel against the other half of The Time Splitters.
Kushida lost in last year’s final and what better way to get revenge for his partner, who lost to Omega over the weekend and got swept away? With Shelley receiving his singles opportunity, it only makes sense for the rising youngster to get a chance at winning the Junior Heavyweight Championship for the second time.
Mid-Card Feuds Take A Turn For The Best
In my previous Highs & Lows column, I was quick to criticize the ongoing feud between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Toru Yanu, stating the lack of singles contests between the two had made their quarrel exhaustive. Ever since the CHAOS member eliminated the promotion’s premiere rock star in the first round of the New Japan Cup by using dirty tactics, they were relegated to continuing their beef in tag team matches, where Yanu kept tormenting Tanahashi with his tricks up until this past weekend.
In a six-man tag match that saw Togi Makabe focus on Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata tussle with Kazushi Sakuraba, Tanahashi earned the victory for his team when he stole some plays out of Yanu’s book. This shouldn’t be the end of what has turned out to be an entertaining feud, considering NJPW’s top face felt he had no choice but to play dirty himself. This is nothing new for Tanahashi, who even flirted with playing heel in previous contests against Kazuchika Okada.
It feels like the bookers stayed patient with this one and just when it was on the cusp of being carried away, a showdown at Dominion seems perfect at this point.
Speaking of a turn of events, Karl Anderson was relegated to frantically obsessing over Maria Kanellis as of late, which became the main focus of his team (alongside Doc Gallows) clashing against The Kingdom. It was overdrawn to see the Midwest resident resorting to playful nonsense, especially when you factor his stature in the Bullet Club and his no-nonsense approach over the years.
Surprisingly, his behavior stole the show in this fairly uneventful match; the highlights being his miscue for his patented machine gun spot and starting a “Maria” chant once the bell rang. Even when he turned on the “First Lady of ROH,” the gripping glare painted on his face could have been the icing on the cake. Maybe we’re just happy these two storylines are finally coming to a close.
Unfortunately, this chimes in with some repulsive moments fans witnessed on the broadcast.
On that note, here are some lows of Wrestling Dontaku:
Oversexualization and Objectification of Women In NJPW
NJPW could possibly be the greatest wrestling promotion on earth right now. A main reason why is because it shies away from the uncomfortable storylines or the portrayal of scantily clad women.
When the promotion decided to have women compete in its ring for the first time in 13 years, misogyny was out in full force. As Amber Gallows stormed out of the curtain alongside her beau and Anderson, the cameraman zoomed in on her breasts to the point where her full figure became an afterthought.
To make matters worse, when Maria came out, the camera gave us a close-up of her chest and then immediately focused on her derriere. Michael Bennett suggested the crowd emphasize on her butt, which at that moment, the cameraman got so close to the body part that their camera hit the back of her thigh a couple of times and even lodged the camera up her crotch when she made it to the top rope later on in the match.
We’re way past the “Hot Lesbian Action” chants and “Paddle on a Pole” matches and even though those efforts were made possible by WWE, the American company has been quite supportive of change in the Divas division. The objectification of women in NJPW feels blatant and grotesque. It simply needs to stop. Maybe Maria hypnotizing Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger was comical, but this feels like her inclusion is solely due to the hyper-sexuality of her character. It isn’t needed, especially in such a respectable promotion.
Was Maria’s attack just as problematic? If we’re on the subject, maybe it’s best men don’t attack women in the ring, yet this stems a conversation about intergender wrestling and compelling ways to draw heat. I’d be more upset with the objectification, for what it’s worth.
Thankfully, Yujiro Takahashi’s valet Mao wasn’t at the show, who is usually subject to having a camera glued to her anatomy, too.
Kill The Filler
At this year’s event, draws like Okada, AJ Styles and Kota Ibushi participated in tag team action, with the spotlight taken off them for this particular show. These meaningless and redundant tag team matches are starting to get a little tiresome, though. If only the promotion mixed it up and gave us a little bit of a different showing here and there. It’s definitely a plus to have as many wrestlers as possible for these shows and even though guys like Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata and Tomoaki Honma are crowd favorites, we don’t need to see the generic four-on -four or five-on-five opener (even though the Dontaku opener was fairly good), or the habitual six-man tag involving three faces with the same Bullet Club members over and over again.
This is a recurring situation, yet it may not be a problem. It just felt like Dontaku was an extension of the style seen on NJPW house shows or even the B-shows. But we did get two title swaps and even though the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship match felt slower than usual, we can bank on those types of matches delivering more often than not (By the way, why did Roppongi Vice lose the titles so quickly with the Ring of Honor supershows up next?)
Wresting Dontaku just felt like a precursor to the promotion’s most anticipated and important season, where its two major tournaments will likely dazzle. Maybe we just hit a rough patch or we’ve grown accustomed to the major differences Puroresu has in contrast to American wrestling.
Either way, we’re still watching, even if the eyes get heavy at times.