New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road To Wrestling Dontaku 2017: Night 5
April 27, 2017
Hiroshima Green Arena – Small Arena
Watch: NJPW World
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Hirai Kawato, & Tomoyuki Oka def. Tiger Mask, Katsuya Kitamura, & Shota Umino
The show kicked off with a Six-Man Tag that saw two legendary masked juniors leading teams of young lions. I’ve seen Kawato and Oka before, but this was actually my first time seeing Kitamura (who’s freaking massive) and Umino, who must be brand new, because he doesn’t even have a profile on Cagematch yet.
There were a couple of fun exchanges in this one, first between Liger & Tiger Mask in the opening minute or so, and later on between Oka & Kitamura, who just beat the crap out of each other. They’re certainly not your typical young lions. There was also a nice little story told between partners, as at one point, Liger actually stomped on Kawato while he was down (seemingly) in an attempt to get his head in the game. Ultimately, Oka scored the victory for his team after getting Umino to submit to a Boston Crab. **1/2
CHAOS (Will Ospreay & Toru Yano) def. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Taka Michinoku)
Now this was a match that really jumped out at me when I first saw the card. That’s not to say I was expecting this to steal the show or anything, but given the guys involved, I thought it had the chance to be very entertaining, and in the end, it was. There was some nice action from start to finish (mainly from Ospreay), and we got some comedy as well. Taka Michinoku did his usual heel shenanigans, while Yano (of course) untied some turnbuckle pads and put them to good use. Something that actually surprised me was how short this match was. It only went about five minutes or so, which meant that this was actually shorter than the opener involving the young lions. Fortunately, I don’t think that was much of a hinderance, as these four guys managed to put together a fun undercard tag team boad. Ospreay would score the win for his team after hitting El Desperado with an OsCutter. **1/2
TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) & David Finlay def. The Bullet Club (The Guerrillas of Destiny & Chase Owens)
It’s been kind of fun to follow the changing fashion of G.O.D., particularly Tama Tonga. He’s gone back in the past between military-themed gear, to whatever the hell he was wearing during most of the G1 Climax last now, to a Roman Reigns/Seth Rollins mashup on this show. Again, I’m far from a “fashion guy”, but you have to admit that Tama Tonga has made some interesting wardrobe choices in the last year. Anything, this was essentially a preview of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title Triple Threat Match at Wrestling Dontaku, sans War Machine, who currently hold those titles. This was a solid six-man tag, but given the guys involved, I was expecting this to be slightly better than it ended up being. That might be a weird critique to make about (what amounts to) a multi-man tag of zero consequence, but I stand by my remarks. Similar to the previous match, it didn’t get that much time (going just under seven minutes), and it ended up being shorter than the opener as well. There were a number of entertaining spots in this one, such as The Bullet Club taunting TenKoji by stealing their signature chops, but I think it could’ve benefitted if it had another minute or two. That might not seem like a lot, but I truly feel like that extra time would’ve helped make this six-man tag just a little better, at least enough to make more distinguishable from the two matches that preceded it. Tenzan would pick up the victory for his team after getting Chase Owens to tap out to the Anaconda Vice. **1/2
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) def. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c)
This was a rematch from New Japan’s 45th Anniversary Show, where this particular Suzuki-gun combination captured the titles from Roppongi Vice. I really wish that El Desperado was in this spot instead of Taichi, but alas, we can’t always get what we want.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Suzuki-gun title match without interference, and we did see a fair amount of involvement from El Desperado in the first half of this one. Luckily, Jado & Gedo (who Taichi & Kanemaru defeated in a title defense at Sakura Genesis) came out and chased El Desperado out of the building. However, when you’re dealing with Suzuki-gun, it’s not just outside interference you have to worry about. There’s also the threat of foreign objects, particularly from Taichi, who likes to use the hammer that goes with the ringbell. It’s always annoying when he used that in matches, but he actually did use it in a unique way at one point, as he actually taped the hammer to his right leg and kicked Beretta with it.
You would think a match with all of those shenanigans going on would be bad, but that wasn’t the case. There was enough good action in this one that they manage to (mostly) overcome those issues. Roppongi Vice are such an awesome tag team. You can always count on them to deliver, regardless of who they’re facing. Taichi was….well….Taichi, but Kanemaru had a number of good moments in this one. There were a number of close nearfalls that got some strong reactions from the crowd. In the end, Roppongi Vice was able to recapture the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles after hitting Strong Zero, proving once again that (for the most part) it’s very difficult to hold onto these titles for an extended period of time. ***1/4
After the match, Rocky Romero took the mic and called out The Young Bucks, which is a rematch from Wrestle Kingdom XI that will (presumably) take place at Dominion in June.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Ricochet, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Yoshitatsu def. Los Ingobernables de Japon
It seems like you can’t have a New Japan event in 2017 without some sort of multi-man tag (whether that be a three-on-three, four-on-four, or in this case, five-on-five) featuring Tanahashi and Friends going up against LIJ. It’s certainly a match that’s been done to death, but at the same time, it’s probably never been more relevant, as it’s helping to build up four separate matches (three of them title matches) on the two big shows on this tour. What’s so odd is that even though we’ve seen some version of this hundreds of time in the last six months, it never fails to be less than very good, and this was another perfect example of that. There was plenty of entertaining action, and a number of fun moments, throughout this one.
Everyone got a chance to shine and, at one point or another, all of the guys who are currently in feuds faced off in the ring at some point. In that regard, this ten-man tag did exactly the job it was designed to do. Additionally, even though this match has gotten stale pretty fast, having Ricochet involved does help out a great deal, and he did very well in this one. The best part of this contest, by far, was an awesome exchange in the final minute or so between Juice Robinson & SANADA, before the former pinned the latter after hitting Pulp Friction. I really hope those two are in the same block for the G1 Climax, because if that closing stretch was any indication, they could potentially have a great match. Ultimately, this was another decisive win for Juice Robinson who continues to build momentum towards his title bout with Naito, who continues to treat the IWGP Intercontinental Title like garbage. He kicked it down to the ring beforehand, and after the match, he didn’t even bother taking the title with him when he left. ***1/2
The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Kenny Omega, & Yujiro Takahashi) def. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI)
I like the fact that individual members of The Bullet Club are getting their own personalized versions of the traditional Bullet Club T-Shirt. Of course, Kenny Omega has had his own for some time, but now Bad Luck Fale & The Young Bucks have their own versions, which honestly look pretty cool. As far as this match goes, it was probably the best six-man tag on this particular show. It featured some solid action, and it continued to build up both Okada vs. Fale and Ishii vs. Omega (which I would think is a de facto #1 Contender’s Match) for Wrestling Dontaku on May 3rd. The big takeaway from this involves the closing stages of the match between Bad Luck Fale & YOSHI-HASHI. It looked like Fale was going to put YOSHI-HASHI away with the Bad Luck Fall, but instead, he busted out his new finisher, a tombstone piledriver, to secure the win for his team. They’ve done a great job building up this new move in Fale’s arsenal as an effective finisher, though in my view, it still doesn’t beat the Bad Luck Fall, which is an awesome finisher for him. Fale attacked Okada after the match and posed with the IWGP Heavyweight Title as Omega & Yujiro went after Ishii. ***
NEVER Openweight Title
Minoru Suzuki def. Hirooki Goto (C)
Back at Sakura Genesis, Hirooki Goto overcame a ton of outside interference from Suzuki-gun (which included Suzuki himself) to retain the NEVER Openweight Title against Zack Sabre Jr., and a brawl afterwards with Suzuki led to this main event encounter. As a whole, this was very good, but as a main event, it was a bit of a letdown. Despite a slow start and brawl in the crowd that saw El Desperado get involved, the second half of this match featured some really solid back and forth action. Goto controlled things in the opening minutes, but after that aforementioned brawl on the outside, Suzuki took command, and went after one of Goto’s arms for several. Goto make a number of comeback attempts that rocked Suzuki, and the fans were really pulling for him to fight back, but it seemed like he was never able to muster a truly sustained comeback where he was in total control in Suzuki.
That full recovery never came, especially after a spot late in the match where El Desperado cracked Goto with a chair shot to the head. What made that spot so ridiculous was that Goto got spun around by El Desperado right before the chair shot, and Goto just stared and did nothing for what felt like an eternity. In reality, it was only two seconds, but it was the longest two seconds you’ve ever seen. It really made Goto look like a complete chump for not doing something to react, because he had time to. Instead, he just stood there, paralyzed by the sight of El Desperado with a chair.
Anyway, that chair shot to the head allowed Suzuki to hit an insane flurry of slaps and strikes, before finally putting Goto away with a Gotch Piledriver to win the NEVER Openweight Title.
I’m fine with Suzuki getting a run with this title, and while the match was pretty good, it could’ve been so much better. The interference from El Desperado definitely took it down a couple of notches in my eyes, and that chair shot was particularly ridiculous. As soon as the match ended, my first thought was that they’re doing a rematch at Dominion. They did a similar thing last year, when Nagata had run with the title, only to lose it back to Shibata. We’re definitely getting a rematch between Goto & Suzuki, but the big question will be whether Goto regains the title, or if Suzuki keeps it. If that match does happen at Dominion, it’ll probably be a few minutes shorter, which actually might help it out a bit. Again, this initial contest was pretty good, but not that memorable in the long run, aside from the fact that the title changed hands. Hopefully the rematch will be better. ***½
NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku Night 5 was an underwhelming show, a glorified house show with two title matches.
Goto vs. Suzuki was pretty good, but ultimately left me disappointed. Aside from that, the ten-man tag was entertaining, and Roppongi Vice regaining the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in a solid tag team encounter. The show really wasn’t noteworthy aside from the two title changes, but I think the fact that two titles did change hands here is very important to note. It sets a good example for future tours that are set up like this by showing that you really can’t discount or ignore these smaller shows headlined by the lower tier titles, because you could end up seeing one or more title changes.
A complaint about New Japan recently is that they have too many titles, but it’s times like this where having so many proves to be a positive. With a large amount of titles at your disposal, you can headline smaller shows on a tour with the likes of the NEVER Openweight Title and the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. That helps takes what would be an average, run-of-the-mill house show into something a bit more meaningful, which in turns, helps draw more people. It doesn’t make sense for a company in North America to have this many titles, but with the way New Japan’s schedule is structured, it makes perfect sense to have a ton of titles, because you can do things like this.
Now, it doesn’t always mean that the shows will be good (and this event was a perfect example), but still, it’s something that works extremely well for New Japan.