New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
Jay White def. David Finlay
David Finlay’s balcony banner reads KING OF UPPERCUT, while White’s reads YOUNG LION OF BLUE EYES. Some nifty mat wrestling to started things off, as they grappled to a stalwart. I’m hardly a grappling buff, but all of it looked great. White put the boots to young David in the corner and sassed a bit, drawing the ire of a few scant fans who have picked up on his more aggressive style as of late. This is followed by White in control and working over Finlay’s leg in savage fashion, before Finlay gained brief control with a big dropkick and an uppercut that earned a two count. White took the meat of the rest of this, with the occasional counter or hope spot from Finlay (including a gorgeous German suplex that nearly won him the match, and a crab hold that White had to fight with every fiber of his being to make the ropes to break), before White hit a gorgeous high dropkick of his own that nearly took Finlay’s head off which set up the match ending deep Lion Tamer style standing crab (after Finlay valiantly fought off standard single leg and traditional style crabs). White has now defeated Finlay six straight times (6-1 overall).
I am going 4-stars on this. It was that good. I’m now comfortable stating that the Finlay/White matches have eclipsed the great Komatsu/Tanaka bouts, which is no small feat. I feel bad for the next gen of young lions that have to follow what these four have done, as the bar has been set impossibly high for these openers. This match today would not have looked out of place as the semi main event on a loaded EVOLVE show and would have been the best match on several WWE PPV’s over the last twelve months. A minor gripe would be Finlay not selling the leg damage from the first third of the bout during the middle third, but in terms of crisp work, snug looking offense, sense of struggle, and getting over a consistent match to match story (one guy being a hair better than the other), this was as good as it gets. ****
Roppongi Vice & YOSHI-HASHI def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask & Captain New Japan
This was a rare chance to see a YOSHI-HASHI match ending LOOSE EXPLOSION (copyright us, and it looks like it has stuck), but he put away The Cap’n with a crucifix style submission instead. Total bullshit!
There was a weird little sub plot here where Captain New Japan wasn’t getting along with his partners. This, of course, ultimately led to his demise, and then they hand waved his attempts at reconciliation in post match.
For whatever reason, Roppongi seems to be using a funky techo jam instead of their self produced rap song as their ring walk music. What happened there? **3/4
Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson & KUSHIDA def. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Jushin Thunder Liger
Shibata choked out Nakanishi (which took a surprising amount of effort), and then kicked Nagata off the apron on his way to the match ending PK in what was a great finish. Nagata stormed the ring in the post match and got choked out for his trouble (creating an incredible visual), all while KUSHIDA and Liger engaged in a pull apart outside the ring. A wild scene to cap off a fun match, one that saw Juice Robinson and Nakanishi of all people show surprising charisma together.
Liger & Nagata looked old and defeated by the end of all this, which sets the stage for the uphill battle facing the veterans as they challenge for major titles for perhaps the final time at Dontaku. ***
SANADA & BUSHI def. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo
This was one heck of a tag match, which I knew it would be based on the caliber of the participants. The key takeaway here was the chemistry between Okada and SANADA, which appears to be excellent. They did some counters that have me giddy as fuck and looking forward to the singles match at Dontaku. It should be no shock to the people who read/listen to me regularly, but if Gedo wanted to be, he could be one of the top workers around, and this match showed off why. He’s a fun sleazy heel, but is equally great garnering sympathy as the over matched veteran babyface being bullied by asshole heels. He always gets the crowd behind him in those situations, and did here, surviving all of SANADA’s big offense until succumbing to the Dragon Sleeper. This was packed with action down the stretch and built nicely with progressive pacing.
Worth nothing that SANADA had reversed a Rainmaker into a Dragon Sleeper earlier in the match, and Okada needed to be saved by Gedo. Combined with SANADA eliminating Okada from the elimination match the day prior, they’ve done a great job putting over the idea that SANADA can hang with Okada. ***3/4
Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii def. Tetsuya Naito & EVIL
Every time I watch Tomohiro Ishii, I’m reminded that he’s the best wrestler in the world. Ishii and Naito have a had great matches together in the past, so there is no reason to expect the Dontaku main event to be anything less than great unless it’s bogged down by a heavy amount of Los Ingobernables shenanigans.
There are hot crowds, and then there are hot crowds, and this was a hot crowd. That’s become the trend when it comes to Naito matches, New Japan’s top merchandise seller and the man who helped produce only the third non G1 Sumo Hall sellout in the Okada era. New Japan has successfully replaced one of the lost stars, as the likes of Ishii, Kenny Omega, Shibata, and Michael Elgin jockey for the other vacant positions previously occupied by Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and Kota Ibushi. But make no mistake, one of those spots is officially filled.
EVIL, despite being put away by an Ishii brainbuster, continues to show improvement after a rocky start upon return to Japan, thanks in part to impressive hoss battles against the likes of Ishii and Goto where he more than holds up his end of the bouts. This was no exception. His offense looks powerful and his wobbly selling when being battered stands out. He no longer looks awkward in the EVIL role, and he appears to be well on his way to challenging for a upper midcard slot.
Like the previous match, this built and peaked nicely. Replace counters and technique with bruising physicality, and you had the same basic template. The crowd was slightly hotter for this one. ***3/4
Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi & Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa
Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yoshitatsu & Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
As the Intercontinental title challenger, Mike Elgin was introduced last for his side. We should be used to crazy, surreal, unpredictable things in our 2016 pro wrestling, but Michael Elgin getting preferred billing over Hiroshi Tanahashi on a Korakuen Hall New Japan show has to rank near the top in terms of things we didn’t ever expect to see.
Tanga Loa was eliminated first, followed quickly by Makabe, Tonga, and Honma. That took care of the IWGP tag title match participants. Tanahashi was gone next, tossed over the top by Fale, holding on, but finished off when is skin the cat attempt was thwarted by Fale & Yujiro. Elgin immediately dumped Fale, then pinned Yujiro with a sit out powerbomb. This left Elgin & Yoshitatsu vs Omega, but Yoshitatsu had been knocked out earlier and was still selling on the floor. Omega used the aerosol can to blind Elgin and dump him out, and thought he had the match won, but Tatsu was still technically alive. Kenny teased the Styles Clash, but Tatsu continues to avoid it. Kenny eventually put him away with the One Winged Angel.
A fun match, but not as good as the previous nights elimination bout. ***
I wasn’t as hyped for this show on paper as I was for the 4/23 show, but it delivered just the same. Two straight nights of fun, energetic teasers for Wrestling Dontaku, as New Japan continues their string of good to great shows on New Japan World in 2016. Both nights are easy watches, don’t skip anything.