New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2016
April 27, 2016
Juice Robinson & Jay White def. Captain New Japan & David Finlay
Finlay began the match motioning for rival young lion White and the two had a passioned but short sequence to begin the match. After tagging out, Finlay was mostly a non-factor while White and Captain New Japan worked one another over. White teased a hot tag to Robinson which actually got more reaction than Juice actually getting the hot tag. Juice ended up getting the better of the Captain locking him into the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Clutch for the victory. There was nothing wrong with this match but at a little over five minutes, it never had a chance to get going. **
Post-match as Robinson was walking to the back multiple fathers handed their children to a man named Juice Robinson. He lifted the children in the air and yelled “WOOOAH!” not unlike your uncle at a pool party. Upon completion, Robinson thankfully returned the children to their previous owners.
YOSHI-HASHI, Rocky Romero & Barreta def. Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask IV & Ryusuke Taguchi
Fun, fun, fun. A quick glance at the names in this match and it’s obvious you won’t be getting high-level work in this match but who cares you’ll have a smile on your face the entire time. This match featured Roppongi and HASHI throwing themselves at Nakanishi in an attempt to get the big man down… to avail. The rest of the match bordered on insanity as Taguchi’s ass-based offense and taunts worked their way into his teammates complete with a three-man flying ass attack from Tiger Mask, Taguchi and Nakanishi. By the way, I’m 100% in favor of Nakanishi becoming an ass-based offensive wrestler for the remainder of his career.
The most unintentionally funny moment of the match came in the closing stretch when Nakanishi took YOSHI-HASHI outside of the ring for an extended beatdown. Nakanishi grabbed YOSHI-HASHI and broke through the barricades — would he send YOSHI-HASHI flying through rows of chairs or toss him into a wall? Well, it ended up being the latter but not until he walked YOSHI-HASHI a comically far distance, past hundreds of people, past many walls. I’m not joking he held poor Tacos for at a minute before finally throwing him up against the farther wall from the ring possible.
Romero, ever the opportunists, took a swipe for Tiger Mask’s mask getting it half way off, distracting Tiger Mask enough to roll him up in the Small Package for the victory. **½
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Yoshitatsu def. Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa
Let’s have a conversation about Yoshitatsu’s Triple H cosplay act. The meaning behind it is fun and I admire Tatsu’s persistence in sticking with his now ancient Bullet Club killer persona. With that said, the act is so painfully low-rent and cringey. It’s something you expect to see on some grimey, terrible Iowa-based indie promotion (no offense, Iowa). The kind of place the recently-deceased “Even Colder” Mike Austin would ply his craft. If this were some sleazy indie promotion in Japan… whatever but this is New Japan Pro Wrestling. The top promotion in the country.
The wrist tape, the spitting of the water, it was funny the first time you saw it but now that it’s seemingly become his act, it’s become far less funny and way more cringe inducing. It doesn’t help that in trying to do all of Triple H’s moves, he fails miserably. His spinebuster (I guess you can call it that) attempting was painfully bad, his poor attempt at mimicking Triple H’s punches. It’s all so, so cringe inducing.
Speaking of cringe inducing, Yujiro Takahashi was in this match! He didn’t really do anything worth noting in this match but it’s always worth noting how worthless he is to the current roster. Seems like a nice guy though. This match… this match, well, the last few minutes were really fun as Makabe finally tagged in and ran through Tonga and Tanga before finishing off Yujiro with a Kokeshi, King Kong Knee Drop sequence. *1/2
Katsuyori Shibata & KUSHIDA def. Yuji Nagata & Jushin Thunder Liger
Words can’t even describe how pumped I am for KUSHIDA vs. Liger for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title at Wrestling Dontaku. Not only do I love both as workers, but it’s been forever since Liger even had a chance at the title he’s most synonymous with. We’re talking a little over six years since Liger’s last attempt at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title. In that match, Liger attempted to win his 12th (!) IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title against Naomichi Marufuji (!!). Marufuji would eventually lose the strap to a first-time champion, Prince Devitt.
Speaking of excite, Nagata vs. Shibata (!!!). Did I mention I’m really looking forward to Wrestling Dontaku? Onto this match, given the competitors anything less than really solid would have been a disappointment. Good news, it wasn’t a disappointment. Though there were minimal interactions between the non-Dontaku opponents (Liger/Shibata, Nagata/KUSHIDA), they weren’t necessary. The action between the opponents was varied and kept your attention almost as if both teammates existed in a separate universe from their partners.
The highlight was definitely Liger’s work on KUSHIDA’s lower half, particularly his knees. This was pissed off, dickhead Liger and he wasn’t going to let KUSHIDA out of this match without being seriously hurt. Liger kicked off his attack by merely working KUSHIDA’s legs over before taking it to another level wrapping KUSHIDA’s leg around the post and even hitting his knee with a chair. KUSHIDA continually tried to break free of Liger’s grasps and generate some momentum of his own but would collapse from pain and grab his knee.
Seemingly out of nowhere, KUSHIDA used a trick learned from his former TimeSplitters teammate Alex Shelley, rolling Liger in the Shelley Clutch for the surprisingly victory. Liger immediately questioned the referee on his count and though KUSHIDA won the match, he couldn’t stand up from the pain and needed an ice pack immediately. Liger stood over KUSHIDA as the competitors at Dontaku stared down their respective opponents. Easily the match of the night thus far. ***1/4
Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & Gedo def. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI
This was your standard Road to multi-man tag leading to the major event fare. Everyone squared off with their future opponents with a few wrinkles thrown in here and there. The Okada/SANADA interactions in particular were worth noting as SANADA seemed to have the edge on Okada throughout. It’s fun to see SANADA work so much different than we’re used to from him. It’s hard to remember this is the same guy who was such a slick worker in Wrestle-1, he’s really embrace that character and made it separate from Seiya Sanada. Whether that’s the right move in the long term, we’ll see.
Arguably the best faceoff from this match was Naito and Ishii who began hot with Ishii unleashing a fury of chops before Naito slowed the pace down to his speed. If you’re doubting for a second that these guys can main event Dontaku, go watch some of their NEVER Openweight Title matches. They were among the best matches of their respective years and were the breakout performances Naito needed after some questioned his abilities in returning from injury.
The closing stretch saw the babyfaces run in one by one and hit some of their signature moves before only Ishii and BUSHI were left in the ring. Ishii made quick work of the junior hitting him with the Brainbuster for the win. The action was really fun throughout this match and while it’s nothing to go out of your way to see, it acts as a fun preview to the big matches for Dontaku. **1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Bad Luck Fale
Welcome to your semi annual “Bad Luck Fale distracts a top star while other top stars finish out feuds” feud! Between these semi annual occurrences, I have pretty much no need for Fale, however, he always steps up in these situations and has had legitimately great matches while in one of these spots (his Invasion Attack 2015 match vs Kazuchika Okada being among the best).
It should also be noted this is also the time of year where Tanahashi tends to “take it easy”. Tanahashi doesn’t completely mail it in (don’t worry, you still got a High Fly Flow to the outside) but you certainly don’t get G1 or Wrestle Kingdom level performances from him in March or April. We’ve come to expect it at this point, people freak out, wonder if Tanahashi is finally starting to breakdown and by the time September rolls around, people have completely forgotten this period due to stellar G1 performances. The Milkman, the paperboy, evening tv, etc., etc.
Anyway, while Fale has had great matches in these spots in the past, even against this very same opponent, it didn’t really click this time around. Others may enjoy this match a lot but I’m finding myself less and less into Fale as time wears on. My biggest gripe is his offense is more “slow, fat guy” rather than monster and outside of a few clubbing, bear like blows to Tanahashi’s ears, most of his other offense seems to be slowly falling on his opponent. Tanahashi’s comeback also left a little to be desired. Tanahashi slipped out of the Bad Luck Fall (a move that’s still very over). Tanahashi followed that up with a belly-to-back suplex, a Slingblade and a High Fly Flow. Just like that, it was over. I prefer much more of the chopping the giant tree down structure to these types of matches, where this one was just Tanahashi getting beat, Tanahashi rallying in the last minute and winning. It was a fine match but these two have had much better. **3/4
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Kenny Omega (c) def. Michael Elgin
The real reason most people will watch this show is this main event tilt between Michael Elgin and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Kenny Omega. That’s a smart move because this was really, really good. It’ll likely go unnoticed being stuffed onto another otherwise lackluster show but this is a match that shouldn’t be skipped. Worked like a high-level American-style main event, this match had a few flaws (we’ll get to those in a minute) but a super hot closing stretch that had people (myself included) legitimately wondering if Elgin would in the IC Title, helped smooth over any rough spots.
The rough spots: there was a lot of weapon play, particularly with Omega using a trashcan, his broom and even setting up a table in plain sight of the referee. I was somewhat worried this sort of Attitude Era junk wrestling would permeate the entire match and drag it down. Nope! While they teased weapons throughout, the last half of the match was clean work done primarily in the ring. Even callbacks to previous points of the match, in particular Omega being powerbombed from the ring to the outside through a table he set up, all worked well here. Omega eventually won after a little over 20 minutes with the One-Winged Angel giving him a successful first defense. ****1/4
After the match, Tanahashi challenged Omega at June 19th’s Dominion. Omega responded to Tanahashi’s challenge with a “I’ll think about it” following by a low blow and a beatdown. Omega then set up a ladder over Tanahashi’s prone body and said “I don’t feel like facing you ever again.” Stay tuned.
NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku is a one-match show but it’s an elite-level match that should not be skipped.