New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Dontaku 2017
May 3, 2017
Fukuoka Convention Center
Fukuoka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Hirai Kawato & Yoshitatsu def. Katsuya Kitamura & Tomoyuki Oka

I’m probably not the first person to ask this, but why is Yoshitatsu still wearing that ridiculous “Bullet Club Hunter” gear? At least it makes sense when he’s in a match against The Bullet Club, but in matches like this? It’s gotten tiresome.

Anyway, he teamed with Hira Kawato here to defeat Katsuya Kitamura and Tomoyuki Oka in this pre-show match. This was by no means a bad match, but it was ok for what it was. All three young lions were solid, while Yoshitatsu wasn’t totally offensive to watch which, for him, is (I guess) a good thing. Yoshitatsu would end up scoring the submission victory over Kitamura in this harmless pre-show tag team encounter. *3/4

CHAOS (Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI) def. The Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi)

The event officially got under way with an entertaining tag team opener that would be the first of three Bullet Club vs. CHAOS matches on this card. Yujiro was….well….Yujiro, but the other three participants all had strong moments at various. Ospreay didn’t do as much flying as he usually does, but we still got to see some fun things from him, which included some nice exchanges with Chase Owens.

Owens is a guy that’s really grown on me in the last few years. He never does anything major in New Japan, and you know that he’ll be the guy from Bullet Club eating the pin whenever he’s in a situation like this (especially now that Bone Soldier is nowhere to be found), but you can always count on him to deliver a solid performance. He even busted out some unique moves in this one, specifically a spinebuster into the ropes that turned into a Death Valley Driver. It’s not reinventing the wheel or anything, but it was a fun little moment that I thought was pretty cool. YOSHI-HASHI would get the win for his team after making Owens tap out to his Butterfly Lock. It was slightly odd to see YOSHI-HASHI pick up the win here, since Ospreay has been scoring a number of falls in tag team matches lately (in the run-up to the Best of The Super Juniors Tournament), but it did help establish that Butterfly Lock as a move that can win matches, which is important, especially since the G1 Climax is only two months away. ***

Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W & Togi Makabe def. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi

Seeing Tiger Mask W was just a reminder that I need to catch up on the anime. I watched the first seven episodes a month or two ago, and haven’t gotten back to it since (while I’m on the subject, be sure to check out the Tiger Mask W episode reviews on the site by Kelly Harrass!). As far as this particular match goes, it was a decent six-man tag that was a fine showcase for everyone involved. The most impressive moment (at least, in my eyes) might’ve been Tiger Mask managing to hit the Tiger Driver on Nagata, but what was easily the most surprising moment was that Makabe wasn’t a total ghost like he usually is in these multi-man tag. We soon found out why, as he would score the winning fall for his team after hitting the King Kong Knee Drop on Nakanishi. There was also a funny little post-match moment, as Liger calmly shook hands with Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W before flipping off Makabe. **1/2

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Beretta, Rocky Romero, Toru Yano, & Jado) def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, TAKA Michinoku, Taichi, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

In the most predictable move of the century, Suzuki-gun jumped CHAOS before the bell rang. These two factions are coming off exchanging titles in Hiroshima, as Suzuki defeated Goto to win the NEVER Openweight Title (with a lot of help from El Desperado), while Roppongi Vice overcame similar shenanigans to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles from Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru. This a solid ten-man tag, albeit formulaic. Of course, we got a ton of brawling on the outside during the first portion of the match, along with a smattering from both Suzuki-gun (using the ring bell hammer) and Yano (using multiple turnbuckle covers). There was a nice exchange between Goto & Suzuki towards the end, but eventually, CHAOS picked up the victory after Goto hit the GTR on TAKA Michinoku. We did get a pull apart brawl after the match between Goto & Suzuki, so it seems like a rematch between the two for the NEVER Openweight Title is an absolute certainty. ***

Cody def. David Finlay

It’s hard to believe that this is only Cody’s fourth match in New Japan, because it feels like we’ve been talking about Cody being in New Japan forever. This was essentially an exhibition match for him. I wouldn’t call it bad, but at the same time, it certainly wasn’t good. Both guys seemed to put in a good effort, but it just a very “meh” affair. A couple of highlights included Finlay taking an Alabama Slam on the floor (which looked nasty) and a counter of the Beautiful Disaster Kick that went wrong. To nobody’s surprise, Cody got the win after hitting the Cross Rhodes. **1/4

After the match, Cody called for New Japan to find him a bigger and stronger opponent. I could see him getting another “singles showcase” at Dominion, but I have no idea who that would be against, as it pertains to his challenge.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi) def. KUSHIDA & Juice Robinson

Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi are coming off successful title defenses at Wrestling Toyonokuni, and they capped off the tour with a victory over two former title challengers. The match itself was pretty solid, though it was by no means spectacular.

There was a big brawl through the crowd, but once they got back in the ring, it turned into an enjoyable tag team encounter. While the match itself was good, the big story here is that Hiromu pinned KUSHIDA for (at least) the third time on a major show in 2017, proving once again that he has the former champion’s number. He’s clearly become the dominant force in the junior’s division since Wrestle Kingdom, and it’ll be interesting to see how KUSHIDA recovers, especially after this particular loss, since it wasn’t even a title match. That’s the thing that sticks out to me the most. The fact that KUSHIDA got pinned by Hiromu in a tag team match buried in the middle of the card just shows how serious New Japan is about making Hiromu a huge star. I’m sure KUSHIDA will bounce back eventually, but right now, the juniors division clearly belongs to Hiromu Takahashi as we get closer to Best of the Super Juniors. ***1/4

Speaking of the Best of the Super Juniors, New Japan officially revealed the participants and the blocks for this year’s tournament, which starts in a couple of weeks. Rich Kraetsch already wrote an extensive preview breaking down the participants and the blocks, so I would encourage everyone to go check that out.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – Three-Way Match
War Machine (c) def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima and The Guerrillas of Destiny

War Machine added some cool gladiator helmets to their entrance gear. One of the most common complaints about New Japan in recent years is that they do these multi-team matches for both sets of tag team titles far too often. However, nine times out of ten, they always prove to be very good matches, and that was the case here.

This only went about eleven minutes or so, but all three teams put forth good efforts here, and there was some entertaining action throughout. TenKoji were solid, as they always are in tag team title matches, as were G.O.D., who are so much better now than they were around this time last year. As for War Machine, it’s really cool to see them get a title run in New Japan. During my reviews of last year’s World Tag League, I mentioned that they were a perfect fit for the heavyweight tag team division in New Japan, and they’ve certainly proved that to be true. Not only have they been putting on very good matches (no surprise there), but they’ve also won over the Japanese audience, as they got a number of big reactions during this one. War Machine eventually retained their titles after hitting Fallout on Tenzan. They might not be in New Japan for the long term, but it’s still good to see them here getting a run as IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. ***1/2

After the match, The Guerrillas of Destiny (who weren’t pinned) attacked War Machine, and made it clear that they’re the next challengers. That’s another title bout that will probably take place at Dominion next month, and it would actually be a rubber match, as G.O.D. beat War Machine during the World Tag League, while War Machine evened the score during this year’s Honor Rising events in February.

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet & Ryusuke Taguchi (c)

While these titles seem tailor-made for this particular LIJ trio, they’ve really had a hard time holding onto them.

Ever since Wrestle Kingdom XI, the belts have been bouncing and forth between LIJ and the group that’s become known as “Taguchi Japan” (who now have matching jackets). This match continued that hot potato trend, as the LIJ contingent of BUSHI, EVIL, and SANADA became the first trio to win these titles three times (Tanahashi and Ricochet are both three-time champions, but they’ve had a number of different partners). For the most part, this was incredibly entertaining from start to finish. There was never really a dull moment, as there was some exciting back and forth action, particularly in the closing stages, with bits of comedy (mainly from Taguchi) thrown in.

While everyone involved did a very good job, I’m going to give a special shoutout to Ricochet, who’s been such a difference maker whenever he’s involved in this particular division. He’s an incredible performer that just adds so much energy to these trios matches. A bout like this would’ve definitely lost something if he wasn’t involved. Of course, it wouldn’t be an LIJ trios match without BUSHI spraying green mist in someone’s face, and this time, it happened to Taguchi after the referee got taken out. While that would normally take away from match, it actually added slightly to it. BUSHI hit his finisher, MX, on Taguchi after he got misted, but Ricochet & Tanahashi broke up the pin attempt, which got a MASSIVE reaction from the crowd in Fukuoka. However, EVIL & SANADA took out Ricochet & Tanahashi shortly thereafter, which allowed BUSHI to hit another MX on Taguchi to bring the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles back to LIJ. ***3/4

Kenny Omega def. Tomohiro Ishii

Back in March, Ishii defeated Omega in the 1st Round of the New Japan Cup. Omega scored a measure of revenge when he pinned Ishii in a tag team match at Sakura Genesis, but this was his chance to get complete revenge in a one-on-one setting. Going in, I knew this was probably going to be the Match of the Night, but it completely exceeded my expectations.

This was simply an incredible contest that featured some insane action from start to finish. These two essentially threw bombs and big moves at each other for twenty minutes, and it was exciting to watch. Ishii charged Omega right at the start, making it clear that they were going to wrestle his style of match. The key for Omega was that he survived that early onslaught from Ishii, and took the fight to him later on. Both guys busted out everything in their arsenal in an attempt to put their opponents away, with Ishii using his hard-hitting offense, while Omega busted out some of his more spectacular moves, including a dive from the top rope, over the guardrail, landing on Ishii and at the concrete floor.

If the last ten minutes weren’t an excellent example of fighting spirit, then I don’t know what is. They hit each other with big move after big move (which included attempts to seal each other’s finishers), and each time one of them would kick out, the crowd’s reaction got louder and louder. The craziest, and probably most memorable, moment was easily Ishii hitting a freaking reverse rana on Omega. That’ll be an image that’s burned into my mind forever. Ultimately, Omega would emerge victorious after successfully hitting Ishii with the One Winged Angel. There are many words you could use to describe this match (physical, crazy, intense, spectacular, amazing, etc.) and all of them fit. Both men killed themselves out there, and they ended up producing one of the best New Japan matches of 2017. I wouldn’t put this ahead of Okada vs. Omega from Wrestle Kingdom XI in January, or Naito vs. Elgin from New Beginning in Osaka back in February (currently my top two matches of 2017), but in my eyes, it absolutely earned the right to be in that conversation. *****

A weakened Omega needed help to the back, while Ishii got a massive ovation from the crowd as he stumbled to the back on his own.

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Bad Luck Fale

Before the main event, New Japan put together a fantastic video package that included words from Bad Luck Fale and highlights of his career. This was actually the first time I’ve seen pictures and video of Fale as a young lion. He’s certainly changed a great deal since then. Fale actually talked about how he wants to spread the company to places like Australia & New Zealand, saying that New Japan’s style of pro-wrestling could help out troubled kids in that area.

As for the main event itself, it was about what I expected, in terms of how it played out. Fale played his role as the monster perfectly, utilizing his size and strength early on, and Okada’s selling also helped Fale look like a massive threat. The storytelling worked well, and action in the first half was solid, but this really didn’t pick up until the second half, which featured some very good near falls. Even though Fale managed to hit his new tombstone piledriver, it wasn’t enough, as Okada overcame the monster and put him down for the count with a series of moves (which included that all-important wrist control that Okada had become known for in his big matches) that concluded with a Rainmaker. I think it’s fair to say that this match ended Okada’s streak of spectacular main events. It wasn’t even the best Okada/Fale encounter we’ve seen (I would say their match from Invasion Attack 2015 was still their best), but still, this was very good, and it told the right story, so I really can’t complain. ***3/4

After the match, the rest of The Bullet Club came out to check on Fale while Okada celebrated. Then, as they were leaving, Okada took the mic and called out Kenny Omega, who came back to the ring and faced with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, clearly setting up their big rematch for Dominion in Osaka.

I should also make a quick mention of the attendance. Wrestling Dontaku 2017 had an attendance of 6,126 fans, which is up from the 5,299 fans that were in attendance for Wrestling Dontaku 2016 (a show that was headlined by Testuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii for the IWGP Heavyweight Title). That’s a net gain of 827 fans, which looks to be another feather in the cap of Okada as a main event draw.

Final Thoughts

When looking back on this card as a whole, it’s pretty clear that Ishii vs. Omega was the match that was sorely needed. If you take that away, this definitely would’ve been on the weaker side, as far as major New Japan events are concerned. Ishii vs. Omega was simply phenomenal, and will definitely be in the Match of the Year discussions at the end of 2017.

As for the rest of the show, I would actually put LIJ vs. Taguchi Japan for NEVER Six-Man Tag Team Title slightly above Okada vs. Fale for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, though both were really good in their own ways. The Three-Way Match for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles was pretty entertaining, while the rest of the undercard was….your typical New Japan undercard. You don’t need to see anything on the first half of the show, but definitely check out the second half, especially Ishii vs. Omega.