NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2017
May 3, 2017
Fukuoka Kokusai Center
Fukuoka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: John has spent the past week or so doing a million guest spots on the VOW podcast network. Okay, actually it was two guest spots, but you know, artistic license and such. Hear them on Burning Spirits talking Champion Carnival and on Music of the Mat talking Dragon Gate heel unit themes! And, as always, you can follow their Twitter @toshanshuinla if you really like bad, bad things.

Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place. The place being Voices of Wrestling, of course. Follow him on Twitter @VoicesWrestling.

Joe Lanza: Hello. I’m Joe Lanza. You may know me as the pundit the BBC turns to when they need the straight dope from the most compelling voice in wrestling media for their worldwide audience. You may also know me as the host of the greatest three show run in podcast history, Lanza Unfiltered. Don’t follow me @JoeMLanza, unless you reeeaalllly like Reds baseball.

Hirai Kawato and Yoshitatsu vs. Katsuya Kitamura and Tomoyuki Oka

John Carroll: What is up with Yoshitatsu getting thrown in here and ruining the perfect little groove of young lion openers we had going lately? Like would anyone really not rather see Kawato team up with Red Shoes’ kid against Kitamura & Oka? We haven’t seen a legit big vs. little young lions tag like that yet, as it’s always been Oka & Kawato vs. Kitamura & Umino (on the televised shows at least, unless I’m forgetting one). Anyway. Screw Yoshitatsu mucking this up! I guess he’s gonna pin one of the big boys here, but he can go back to Mexico for all I care because I’m already sick of him again. Prediction: Kawato & Yoshitatsu

Rich Kraetsch: On last week’s Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast, Joe and I came up with a wild scenario in which Yoshitatsu, who ditched out of CMLL because he didn’t want to piss in a bucket (that’s a shoot), would be punished by losing to one of the young lions. It’s not going to happen, but IMAGINE. Prediction: Kawato & Yoshitatsu

Joe Lanza: I’ve spoken at length about how high I am on the latest group of lions, so I won’t waste more space on that here. I have a morbid curiosity of how low Yoshitatsu can sink in the booking tank. He’s gone from a big surprise return, feuding with AJ Styles and teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi, to the lame Bullet Club Hunter gimmick and teaming with Captain New Japan, to working a 50/50 feud with BONE SOLDIER, to now working openers with young lions. Is it possible he loses this match? Is it possible he eats the fall?! Prediction: Kawato & Yoshitatsu

Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI

John Carroll: Ospreay has been picking up falls like crazy on NJPW shows as of late, which is a nice little way to remind people that he’s going to be a threat to win it again in the upcoming Best of the Super Junior tournament. BOSJ will kick off exactly two weeks after Dontaku on May 17th (in fact, we will probably find out the blocks and participants during the intermission of this show!) and even though Young William really hasn’t done much of anything since winning last year’s tournament and then going on to lose to KUSHIDA again at Dominion last year, they clearly are trying to remind people that he’s going to be a force again this year in his quest to repeat. Owens will probably be part of that tournament as well, continuing his quiet run as an underappreciated BULLET CLUB lower rung guy. Expect him to take another fall to Ospreay here as we continue the build to BOSJ. Prediction: Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI

Rich Kraetsch: Oh, hey, remember Will Ospreay? Apparently Gedo just did. In anticipation of Best of the Super Juniors—a tournament which Ospreay won last year in heroic fashion kicking off what should have been his year of New Japan superstardom—Ospreay has started picking up falls left and right. Does this mean Ospreay is a sure-fire favorite to repeat as Best of the Super Juniors champion? Probably not. It does however put him into contention. The real issue though is that Ospreay picking up a few wins is seen as some radical reaction to an upcoming tournament and not par for the course. Gedo gets the benefit of the doubt from most of us at Voices of Wrestling but he’s not skating by this one. The use of Will Ospreay in the last year has been completely unacceptable. He’s a worldwide star, signed to your company, who got a mega push upon arrival and has floundered since, seemingly by no fault of his own. It’s inexplicable. Let’s hope this year’s BOSJ is a wakeup call to Gedo and New Japan because once that deal is up, Will won’t be hanging around. Prediction: Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI

Joe Lanza: Will Ospreay, whose lack of push I wrote at length about in my Wrestling Toyonokuni review, has been scoring pins like a madman lately. I think he’s winning back to back Best of the Super Juniors, but his string of winning falls may be an indications that he’ll be a force in the tournament at minimum. He’ll likely pin Chase Owens here. In a bit of trivia, Owens upset Ospreay on the opening night of the 2016 BOSJ. Prediction: Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI

Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W & Togi Makabe

John Carroll: Hey so this is, uh, certainly a match. I guess we’re going to keep getting Ibushi-as-TMW until at least when the anime’s run comes to an end, but I’m not sure what the point is if he’s just going to be another guy in a pointless six-man undercard match. Like, you have Kota friggin’ Ibushi on your show and THIS is the best way you can use him?! Okay, sure. Anyway, with that said there’s not going to be anything WRONG with this match, per say. The 3rd Generation guys always work hard, Liger and TMIV always pop the crowd, and Togi Makabe is gonna say “HEH-HEH” at some point which I swear to god has never once failed to make me laugh. Prediction: Two Tigers & Makabe

Rich Kraetsch: I’ll never get over 2017 Kota Ibushi toiling away on New Japan undercard tags while wearing an oversized tiger mask. Last year, Ibushi bet on himself and won, he was a superstar all across the world. The apple of WWE’s eye. The biggest free agent in Japan. Now, a year later, he’s teaming with Tiger Mask and a likely-to-be-comatose Togi Makabe. My eye will be on Jushin Thunder Liger, who earlier this week announced that the 2017 Best of the Super Juniors would be his last. If booked properly, Liger’s run through the tournament he created could be special. Look for this to be a bit of a warm up as Liger shakes off the rust and gets ready for his 27th Best of the Super Juniors. Let’s even get wild and have Liger get the pinfall on Tiger Mask (not W). Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata

Joe Lanza: I always pick the Tiger Mask W side in these matches, but at Sakura Genesis the TMW side was inexplicably upset by a Bullet Club B-team. At any rate, Kota Ibushi’s random presence on these undercard multi-man tags adds much needed juice to what can often be an endless string of meaningless, **½ affairs. It really doesn’t matter who wins this match unless they shoot an angle to start a feud. I’ll go with Rich’s theory that Liger scores a fall in front of his final BOSJ run. Prediction: Liger, Nakanishi, Nagata

CHAOS (Beretta, Hirooki Goto, Jado, Rocky Romero & Toru Yano) vs. Suzukigun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, Yoshinobu Kanemura)

John Carroll: Wow, it’s a 10-man tag on the undercard and it DOESN’T involve LIJ? That’s pretty shocking at this point, honestly. Goto-Suzuki has heated up a little bit since Suzuki took the NEVER title from him last week in Hiroshima, as their exchanges on Saturday’s show had a bit more juice than they had going into that title match. Would expect that we’re getting a rematch at Dominion, which is fine, as their first title match was pretty good. This match, on the other hand, will probably just be a match. It doesn’t really matter who wins it, so let’s just say Suzukigun takes it to keep Minoru’s momentum rolling. Prediction: Suzukigun

Rich Kraetsch: The leftovers. I can waste your time writing 100 words about this match but who cares? Yano will take a turnbuckle pad off, Rocky Romero will scream forever and Suzukigun will win by nefarious means. Word Count: 35 Prediction: Suzukigun

Joe Lanza: Poor Suzuki. His heavyweight pals are dropping like flies. Lance Archer is rehabbing from back surgery. Takashi Iizuka suffered a leg injury on this tour. Zack Sabre Jr lost to Goto and hasn’t been seen since. Davey Boy Smith Jr lost his tag partner, and seemingly his spot. That leaves Suzuki to team with a collection of juniors, one of which is surely eating a fall as we build back up to a likely Suzuki/Goto rematch. Smart money is on TAKA, to protect the other three dudes for BOSJ, and also because TAKA always eats the fall. Prediction: SZG

David Finlay vs. Cody

John Carroll: David Finlay seems like he has kind of plateaued in New Japan, right? He had his weird “graduation” from young lion status where he didn’t go on any kind of excursion or anything, he just suddenly had tights that said PRINCE on them. He got to step in for Matt ‘4/20’ Sydal and hold the NEVER six-man tag titles for a little while, but here’s a fun fact for him: he still only has one win against a non-young lion in a singles match in NJPW, the huge upset over Gedo in last year’s BOSJ. He’s really just a job guy in NJPW, pretty much the same as he was as a young lion, except now with wackier tights. I can’t say that I can recall a performance of his that’s stood out to me of late either, so I wonder if he’s battling issues of motivation too. He’s still fine in the ring, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely remember him standing out more often in his young lion days. Anyway, he’s obviously here to put over Cody, making another one of his little New Japan cameos. If you like Cody I’m sure you’ll be pleased, but personally I’m still holding out hope he isn’t going to take up a spot in the G1 this year. Prediction: Cody

Rich Kraetsch: What a strange, oddly-interesting match this is. Finlay, who has been spinning his wheels in NJPW as of late, against the vaunted Cody R~! On paper, it’s not very exciting but because singles matches, particularly, random singles matches like this, are so rare in New Japan, you almost have to get perversely excited to see what they have up their sleeve. Finlay is in desperate need of a big moment and great match to break out of his malaise. And Cody, well, Cody may be the literal definition of malaise. This will be Cody’s first NJPW proper match since Wrestle Kingdom, some four months ago. To say he’s been a complete afterthoughts to NJPW would be an understatement. I’m hopeful these guys both realize the tremendous spot their in and kill it. I’m not holding my breath. Prediction: Cody

Joe Lanza: Finlay is spinning his wheels after Matt Sydal’s airport mishap resulted in the first push of his NJPW career. Like Juice Robinson at Wrestle Kingdom, Finlay’s job is to do the honors for Cody, while making him look like a million bucks in the process. Are you fired up for G1 Cody!?!? Me neither. Prediction: Cody

Hiromu Takahashi & Tetsuya Naito vs. Juice Robinson & KUSHIDA

John Carroll: The big story of this match is of course KUSHIDA’s return to the ring, as this is his first match in New Japan since the stunning 1:56 loss to Hiromu Takahashi at Sakura Genesis last month. KUSHIDA wrestled for Rev Pro in the UK on April 13th, four days after Sakura Genesis, losing a British heavyweight title challenge to Zack Sabre Jr. in the main event. But he’s been out ever since 4/13, so this is his first match anywhere in nearly a month. Will definitely be interesting to see how his interactions with Hiromu, the man who basically humiliated him in the ring, go here. Naito-Juice is just kind of a postscript to their title match on the other hand, since it’s already been made clear that the IC title direction for Dominion is Naito-Tanahashi again. I expect Naito & Hiromu to win here, probably with Naito pinning KUSHIDA (but Hiromu could certainly pin him again too!). Prediction: LIJ

Rich Kraetsch: With Juice firmly in Naito’s rearview, this match seems booked entirely to help rekindle the Takahashi/KUSHIDA feud. As mentioned by John above, KUSHIDA was decimated by Hiromu weeks ago, losing in less than two minutes. How KUSHIDA responds will be fascinating to watch? Will he be the same cool, calm, collected KUSHIDA or could we see some of the evil KUSHIDA we saw at points last year. The only person to truly tap into KUSHIDA’s aggression has been Hiromu. Will the Time Splitter come completely undone? Prediction: LIJ

Joe Lanza: This is the official Gedo Complain Match, because no matter who drops the fall, there will be copious complaining about the booking. Naito losing makes no sense, because he has Tanahashi in front of him. Hiromu is red hot, and there’s really no reason for him to lose a fall this close to BOSJ where you can build contenders in a better setting. People will be annoyed if KUSHIDA returns from selling his squash beating and loses AGAIN. That leaves Juice, who is probably getting pinned again by Naito, which may frustrate some people, but I think at this stage of his elevation, definitively losing a feud to a guy at Naito’s level is just fine, especially since he did manage to score one fall on him in a tag. Juice losing won’t be indicative of any sort of loss of faith or stalled push. Prediction: Naito & Hiromu

IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (c) vs. Guerillas of Destiny vs. Tencozy

John Carroll: Yikes, fourth from the top for the IWGP heavyweight tag titles, below the NEVER six-man belts. That’s an interesting decision but one that I largely agree with. Other than the historical value of the two sets of titles, who could honestly say that they care more about this match than the one that follows it? It’s yet another stupid 3-way tag for these belts. It will probably be fine, but this is seriously the worst booked division in all of wrestling. Anyway, War Machine’s reign just started, I would guess they’re holding them at least until Dominion. Prediction: War Machine

Rich Kraetsch: There will be tons of grunts. Lots of swearing and War Machine will look great in the process. We know this. Still, I can’t shake the feeling of anger. I don’t want three-way tag matches. Look, even if these three teams are capable of making it work—which they are—it’s a handicap and a trope that Gedo has too easily fallen back on. For so long, the Junior Heavyweight Tag belts worked in spite of the multi-team matches. Now, it seems it’s the heavyweight’s turn. After a while, the junior matches stopped feeling special, stopped feeling important and despite being well worked affairs, we threw our hands up and said who cares. The heavyweight division got a nice boost with the debut of War Machine. Don’t screw this up, let them shine on their own. Prediction: War Machine

Joe Lanza: There was no reason to shoehorn G.O.D. into this bout when a War Machine/TenKoji rematch was a perfectly fine story. In fact, I was genuinely excited about the prospect of a rematch after seeing how well Rowe & Kojima worked together and the cool post title switch angle centered around War Machine’s respect for the veteran team. The wrestlers always work hard and deliver, but I’m just as sick of this lame three way match tag title booking as John & Rich are. Enough already. Prediction: War Machine

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship
Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet & Ryusuke Taguchi) © vs. LIJ (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)

John Carroll: Taguchi Japan started as a wacky little thing Ryusuke came up with in his post-match promos, taking on the persona of a football (soccer, not the American sport that plays in 70 second bursts between 10-minute commercial breaks) manager leading his squad to victory. This got over more than it really had any right to, thanks in large part to Tanahashi and others playing along with it (but also because Ryusuke Taguchi is hilarious and awesome, let’s be clear), and now what started as another Taguchi joke has grown into possibly the 2nd most popular unit (even if it’s only a quasi-unit) in New Japan. Tell me you don’t want a Taguchi Japan towel and I’ll tell you that you have no soul. Here the trio of Tanahashi, Ricochet, and Taguchi will defend their six-man tag titles against the LIJ trio they beat for the belts. I have no idea if they’ll succeed or not (these belts change hands basically every time you blink), but I really want them to, so I’m gonna pick them as the winners and hope for the best. Prediction: Taguchi Japan

Rich Kraetsch: The NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Titles have changed a total of 12 times since debuting in January 2016. Only one unit (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) has defended the title successfully twice. At the time of this writing, Taguchi Japan has the 7th longest title reign (24 days). Since it’s inception, we’ve argued that the titles don’t matter and they should be changed on a whim, bounced around and used however New Japan wants. This time, this defense, this team is different. Taguchi Japan needs to not only retain the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships at Wrestling Dontaku. They need to hold these belts for a long time. Taguchi Japan has become my favorite non-stable unit in New Japan, a random collection of talent rallying around Ryusuke Taguchi’s ass to battle the evil, dastardly Los Ingobernables. I’m not advocating for a year-long reign or anything but let these guys have the titles for awhile, let them build something with the titles, let them become a unit we remember for more than a few minutes. These guys are too special to be thrown away on quickie title reigns. Taguchi Japan 4 life. Prediction: Taguchi Japan

Joe Lanza: Never, ever, predict the Openweight Six-Man champions to retain their titles. Prediction: LIJ

Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii

John Carroll: This is the blow-off to the fun little Omega-Ishii mini-feud that’s been going on ever since Ishii upset Omega in the 1st round of the New Japan Cup. Omega got his win back in a tag match at Sakura Genesis, but clearly wasn’t satisfied with just pinning Ishii in a tag, and wants to return the favor in a singles match as well. If these two can manage to top their already fantastic NJ Cup match, we actually could be talking about this one as a legit Match of the Year candidate here. Kenny seems destined for the win as he probably will be Okada’s next challenger at Dominion (where he very well could win the title!), but I can pretty much guarantee you that if you watch this match unspoiled, you’ll think Ishii has it won multiple times throughout. These two men are good at professional wrestling, everybody. Prediction: Kenny Omega

Rich Kraetsch: Can these guys possibly follow up their Match of the Year contender from this year’s New Japan Cup? Yeah. Yeah, they can. Are you really going to doubt Tomohiro Ishii and Kenny Omega? You’re a fool. This is going to be great and a welcome return of serious tights Kenny Omega. I’m keeping my expectations in check because I want to be wowed. Far too often I go into a match so hyped and so ready for it to be amazing that I’m left ultimately disappointed. I don’t want that here. I want these guys to absolutely kill it, I want to be running all over my house, I want to jump off my couch, I want to wonder how these guys are constantly top what they’ve done before. I’m doing it again… deep breath, Rich. It’s been far too long since Kenny Omega has been the talk of the pro wrestling world. That ends here. Take notice, everyone, he’s back. Prediction: Kenny Omega

Joe Lanza: Shockingly little buzz going around for a rematch of a Match of the Year contender level bout at New Japan Cup. Kenny Omega will win here, win his feud with Ishii, and then very well could win the IWGP Heavyweight title at Dominion. Start getting hyped for Okada/Omega II. Prediction: Kenny Omega

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada © vs. Bad Luck Fale

John Carroll: Look, I really just have to come out and say it: I do not understand the grousing from certain corners of the internet when this was announced as Okada’s next title match. If you think Fale is a bad professional wrestler I think you need to stop prejudging everyone over 6’3 as “bad”, because he plays his role about as well as anyone in this company. He’s supposed to stand there and look intimidating (check), have offense that looks like it can kill you (fucking CHECK; the Tombstone as a new alternate finisher gives him THREE lethal death moves!), and have the psychology to hold up his end in the ring (again, check; Fale has had many very good matches in NJPW, including against Okada!). I legitimately have no idea what more you could want from him, unless you really just can’t accept anyone in pro wrestling who doesn’t do a 450.

As far as “well, why does he need this title shot though”, uh. Why not? Fale is the perfect kind of dude for a title shot like this: he’s got a legitimate claim (he pinned Okada last year but never got a title shot), he’s a big monster who rarely ever loses and can easily be built up as a legitimate contender, but at the same time as much as I like him it’s not like you feel like you’re “wasting” a major title match by putting in on Dontaku. Bottom line: Fale-Okada is a more than reasonable B-show title match, and everyone who complained about it is silly. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Rich Kraetsch: Those bearish on this main event are nuts. Fale is one of the best monsters in wrestling today and Okada is other worldly this year. In a vacuum, this match has all the makings of a great main event. Thankfully, we don’t live in a vacuum (I feel like that would suck) and we have examples, plenty of them that these two have tremendous chemistry together. This will be the third non-tournament match between the two and both prior bouts: Invasion Attack 2015 and Destruction in Hiroshima 2016, were awesome. Given Okada’s batting average this year, we should expect greatness. I can’t wait, even if the result is in little doubt. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada 

Joe Lanza: John said everything I wanted to say about my main man Fale. This is the perfect title defense for a show like Dontaku, and gives Okada a chance to have yet another diverse big time singles match this year. If Okada delivers another MOTY level performance (which isn’t totally out of the question, as he’s had good matches with Fale many times), with the Omega match and the G1 still in front of him,  you might as well start engraving his Wrestler of the Year trophy. He’s lapping the field in what to this point is easily the best year of his already impressive career. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada