Rich Kraetsch | Jul 19, 2018 | 0
NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Full Tour Preview
This year’s NJPW Wrestling Dontaku tour takes the mantra of “spreading the wealth” to new levels. Eight shows will make tape on New Japan World, and title matches will take place on six of them. Quite simply this is one of the deepest non-tournament tours New Japan has ever run. While that has its good and bad points (some of the undercards on these shows can be criticized as quite repetitive, as you will soon find out), the fact remains that to keep up with NJPW’s major happenings on this tour you’ll be watching more shows than ever. So keep this tour preview bookmarked if you need a quick and easy way to remember which major matches are taking place on which shows (along with obviously each show’s air date and time). We’ll preview a few of the bigger shows here in more detail later, but for now this will give you a good general overview of what to expect from the upcoming tour, highlighting the main & semi-final of each show as well as any additional title matches. Of course all of these shows can be streamed live and on demand via NJPWWorld.com. Let’s get started!
Road to Wrestling Dontaku
Friday, April 13th
6:30 pm JST/5:30 am EST/2:30 am PST
Main Event: Elimination Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay, Michael Elgin & KUSHIDA
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Jay White, YOSHI-HASHI, & Will Ospreay)
The first two shows on the Road to Wrestling Dontaku tour are the most “normal” or typical Road To shows New Japan is running. They feature no major title matches or other big singles matches on top, but rather both feature a big 10-man elimination tag. These Korakuen elimination matches, featuring NJPW’s over the top rope rules, are almost always quite good, so I wouldn’t sleep on them by any stretch. On the first night we have the NJPW Sekigun taking on CHAOS, building to four title matches later on in the tour: Okada-Tana, Goto-Juice, White-Finlay & Ospreay-KUSHIDA. Elgin & YOSHI are along for the ride.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI, & Hiromu Takahashi)
Suzukigun (Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
Not the most interesting of semi-mains here, as we’ve got LIJ and Suzukigun both without their leaders in an eight-man tag, a warm-up before both units get their turn at the elimination match the following night. Obviously we’re again building up future title matches, this time for both sets of tag team titles.
The rest: Tenzan & Henare face off against Ishii & Yano, who are doing a lot of straight tag matches on this tour. Roppingi 3K and Rocky Romero team up to face Iizuka, Taichi, & TAKA from Suzukigun, which is interesting because it’s two heavyweights and a junior against three juniors. The opening three matches all feature young lions in action; of particular note is new young lion Yuya Uemura (who just debuted at LION’S PROJECT11 yesterday as I write this) making his Korakuen Hall debut against Tetsuhiro Yagi.
Road to Wrestling Dontaku
Saturday, April 14th
6:30 pm JST/5:30 am EST/2:30 am PST
Main Event: Elimination Match
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi)
Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
As mentioned above it’s LIJ and Suzukigun’s turn to face off in an elimination match, and if the crowd responses to the Naito-Suzuki feud so far are any indication they might be even louder for this than the previous night’s contest. You’re also again building up to both upcoming tag team title matches as well, as Killer Elite Squad face across the ring from EVIL & SANADA and BUSHI & Hiromu are up against Kanemaru & Desperado.
Juice Robinson, David Finlay, Michael Elgin & KUSHIDA
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Jay White, YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay)
Again in a similar manner to the previous evening, we’ve got the Sekigun and CHAOS teams from the elimination match facing off in a standard eight-man tag team match, with each unit missing their respective leaders. Okada and Tanahashi, like Naito & Suzuki the previous night, get the night off here. Probably a smart move given that they’re in for a very long tour.
The rest: Henare is across the ring from Ishii & Yano again but this time with his normal partner Makabe; the Henare-Ishii exchanges have been a fun undercard highlight, so expect them to really light into each other on both these shows. Unfortunately the rest of the card is a virtual carbon copy of the previous night’s, right down to the exact same Romero/R3K vs. Suzukigun six-man again, with the same six guys! And again the first three matches of the evening are young lion battles, but this time the opener sees the other new young lion, Yota Tsuji, making his own Korakuen debut against Ren Narita. Neither of these cards is terribly exciting, but on the upside things really pick up from here.
Road to Wrestling Dontaku
Monday, April 23rd
6:30 pm JST/5:30 am EST/2:30 am PST
Main Event: IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c)
BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi
As surprised as people were to see Kanemaru & Desperado come away with the titles in the first place, people were perhaps even more surprised to see them survive a 3-way rematch at Sakura Genesis still holding onto the belts. That match was also immensely disappointing to many and a pretty clear step down from the original 3-way match, but two of the three teams get a hell of a chance to redeem themselves here. They have the main event slot in front of a Korakuen Hall crowd that is always hot for pretty much any title match, and of course it’s a straight up tag team match to boot. Do Kanemaru & Despy continue their somewhat surprising title reign with a second successful defense here, or do Hiromu & BUSHI finally get the belts and go on to face Roppongi 3K in another straight up tag, perhaps at Dominion? Though I could see either possible outcome happening, my brain is telling me that Kanemaru & Despy are retaining and setting up another 2 vs. 2 showdown with R3K (who remember have never faced them straight up for these belts, but rather lost a non-title match to them), even though my heart is very much with LIJ here. Either way though I would be pretty surprised if this wasn’t at least a very good match.
Fun fact: this is the first time the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles have been defended at Korakuen Hall since March 3rd, 2013 (Time Splitters retain versus Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask in 11:22, third from the bottom on the Anniversary Show that year with a Tanahashi vs. Prince Devitt main event), and the first time they’ve main evented Korakuen since Apollo 55 brought the belts to a KAIENTAI DOJO show and successfully defended against Makoto Oishi and Shiori Asahi on April 17th, 2011. When’s the last time they main evented a New Japan Korakuen, you ask? Earlier that same year, Apollo 55 won the belts from the Golden☆Lovers in the main event of a Fantasticamania show on January 23rd (not the famous match between the two teams that won match of the year in the Tokyo Sports poll; that was back on October 11th, 2010, when Kenny & Kota defeated Apollo 55 for the titles at Sumo Hall).
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & SANADA)
Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr)
More hype for the Intercontiental & IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team title matches in the semi-final, as LIJ and Suzukigun clash once again. This is one of those matches where who takes the fall will actually be kind of interesting, as there isn’t really a standard issue “pin eater” on either team, nor a junior to get pinned by a heavyweight.
The rest: More six-man tag action sees Tanahashi team with Finlay and Taguchi to take on Okada, Jay White and Gedo. Unlike in the above match there isn’t much intrigue on who’s getting pinned here (probably Gedo with an outside chance of Taguchi), but it will be the final hype match before White and Finlay tangle over the US Title the following night at Korakuen. In 10-man tag action, Juice Robinson leads Makabe, Elgin, Henare, and KUSHIDA against the CHAOS team of Goto, Ishii, Yano, YOSHI-HASHI and Ospreay, in more hype for the NEVER & Junior title matches. For the third time on this tour, Rocky Romero & Roppongi 3K face the trio of Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA. Finally, the young lions and the third generation wrestlers face off in a six-man tag and Ren Narita takes on Yota Tsuji in the opener.
Road to Wrestling Dontaku
Tuesday, April 24th
6:30 pm JST/5:30 am EST/2:30 am PST
Main Event: IWGP US Heavyweight Title
Jay White (c)
By now you probably know the story of White vs. Finlay, the latest chapter of which took place back on February 5th, when the newly crowned US Champion defeated his former young lion rival in this very building. Only two and a half months later, they’re facing off again, but this time with White’s US Title on the line.
I have to be completely honest: I can’t say I like this booking very much. Finlay getting a shot at the US Title does not feel even remotely earned; his most recent direct pinfall victory came over Gedo in a tag match at Strong Style Evolved, not exactly a major win. He “earned” this shot simply by running out at the end of White’s successful title defense over Hangman Page on the same show and attacking him, then issuing the challenge. The US belt is in kind of a precarious situation right now: it’s not at all clear what this belt is supposed to be besides “the belt that all the white guys want for no adequately explained reason” (seriously, look at who the defenses have been against: Omega defended against Juice, Beretta, and Jericho, with his only defense against a Japanese wrestler coming against YOSHI-HASHI in Chicago on an ROH show; White beat him for it and then defended against Page, and now is defending against Finlay). Originally this belt was sort of conceived of as the top title for the fledgling US brand, but if the US brand is only going to be running like 2-4 shows per year (which is actually what I would recommend to keep things special) it never needed its own title in the first place. The belt feels like a strange gaijin title and a far cry from the actual #2 belt, the Intercontinental Title, especially now that it’s out of the hands of bonafide main eventer Kenny Omega and in the hands of a guy still trying to find his way at that level in Jay White.
But, with all that said, this should be another really good match! If you’re going to book a weak challenger like Finlay then Korakuen Hall is the perfect place to do it; in front of hardcore fans who have seen these two wrestle many times before, they’ll be into the story, and as mentioned already any title match at Korakuen is going to get that crowd going. I have very little doubt White is winning this, however.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi
CHAOS (Kauzchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & Gedo)
It’s the same six-man as last night except with White & Finlay swapped out for Goto & Juice. Not sure there’s a whole lot to say here.
The rest: We get a rematch of the elimination match from 4/14 of LIJ’s Naito/EVIL/SANADA/BUSHI/Hiromu facing Suzuki/KES/Kanemaru/Desperado, except this time it’s a one fall match. In eight-man tag team action Makabe, Elgin, Henare & KUSHIDA face the CHAOS team of Ishii, Yano, YOSHI-HASHI & Ospreay. And, uh, for the fourth time (!), Rocky Romero teams up with Roppongi 3K to face Iizuka, Taichi, and TAKA. Sure, why not? I do want to pay special attention to match 2 though: it’s one of the best looking young lion matches on this entire tour, as Hiroyoshi Tenzan teams up with Shota Umino to face Yuji Nagata and Tomoyuki ‘Moe Man’ Oka in a straight up tag. That really should be quite good! Tetsuhiro Yagi and Ren Narita continue their best of 500 series in the opener.
Road to Wrestling Dontaku: Aki no Kuni Sengoku Emaki
Friday, April 27th
6:30 pm JST/5:30 am EST/2:30 am PST
Hiroshima Green Arena Sub Arena
This is the first of four televised shows that doesn’t take place at Korakuen Hall, as for the second year in a row the Hiroshima stop on the Road To tour gets its own subtitle and is clearly meant to be a bigger show than your standard Road To event (if you’re wondering what said subtitle means, it translates to something like “The Fire Country’s Warring States Imagery”, a reference to the Sengoku period of Japan from about 1467 to 1603, where prolonged civil war followed the collapse of the Ashikaga Shogunate).
Having such a show on the tour is a new yearly tradition that only began last year (there was no Hiroshima stop on the Dontaku tour at all in 2016 or 2015), on a show that was headlined by Minoru Suzuki defeating Hirooki Goto for the NEVER title and also featured Roppongi Vice winning the junior tag titles from Taichi & Kanemaru.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA
Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay
Somewhat surprisingly this tag team encounter headlines over a title match, perhaps indicating that they plan on sending them out there to try and really tear the house down. I’m not sure I agree with that decision either way though; while this is obviously a big match, I think I would always rather see the title match headline over a non-title one on a show like this. Still, I’m sure this will be quite the heat-up tag and probably well worth the main event slot. Do they go the safe route of having KUSHIDA or Ospreay pin each other, the uber-safe route in having Okada or Tanahashi pin one of the juniors, or the shocking route of Okada or Tanahashi picking up a direct fall over each other? Personally I’m expecting KUSHIDA to pin Young William here to heat up that junior title match.
Semi-Final: NEVER Openweight Title
Hirooki Goto (c)
In 2017, Hirooki Goto started his year by winning the NEVER Openweight Title from Katsuyori Shibata at the Tokyo Dome. He successfully defended it against Juice Robinson at New Beginning in Sapporo and against big gaijin Punishment Martinez at the Honor Rising show, before losing the belt to Minoru Suzuki on the Road to Wrestling Dontaku show in Hiroshima. In 2018, Hirooki Goto started his year by winning the NEVER Openweight Title from Minoru Suzuki at the Tokyo Dome. He successfully defended it against EVIL at New Beginning in Osaka and against big gaijin Beer City Bruiser at the Honor Rising show. Goto had better hope that’s where history repeating itself ends, because if it doesn’t he’ll be losing the title to Juice in Hiroshima!
Now, granted, I cheated a little there and left out Goto’s one additional successful defense from 2017 against Zack Sabre Jr. at Sakura Genesis, but still. That’s either kind of eerie or I suppose just kind of lazy booking. Does Goto lose this title in Hiroshima for the second year in a row? Time will of course tell, but I do think yet another failed title challenge for Juice Robinson (he’s failed to win the NEVER, IC, and US titles already, all within the last year) would probably not be the greatest of ideas. To be a little crude for a moment, it sort of feels like it’s time to shit or get off the pot with ‘ol Juice here, and I think they’re gonna shit. That’s gross, I’m sorry.
The rest: If you liked ten-man tags between LIJ and Suzukigun you’re gonna get your third one here, with the exact same ten guys as the last two times facing off in another one fall contest. There’s another 8-man tag between Sekigun and CHAOS as Finlay/Makabe/Elgin/Henare face White/Ishii/Yano/YOSHI-HASHI. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rocky Romero teams up with SHO & YOH to face Takashi Iizuka, Taichi, and TAKA Michinoku. Another young lion/old person six-man and a Yagi vs. Narita match round out the rest of the card.
Wrestling Hi No Kuni
Sunday, April 29th
3 pm JST/2 am EST/11 pm PST (Sat)
Grand Messe Kumamoto
Wrestling Hi No Kuni (literally “Fire Country”) returns to the Dontaku schedule for the first time since 2015, again taking place in Kumamoto, the third biggest city on the far southwest island of Kyushu (the two bigger cities on the island are Fukuoka and Kitakyushu, if you were wondering!). In 2015 the show was headlined by Togi Makabe defeating Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight title; the card also featured Steve Anthony successfully defending his NWA World Junior Heavyweight title against Jushin Liger, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan defending the NWA World Heavyweight title against the man, the myth, the legend: Big Daddy Yum Yum.
There was no Hi No Kuni show or anything remotely equivalent in 2016 (rumors that they had originally booked the building but had to cancel when the fans demanded no less than the return of Yum Yum and the promotion couldn’t deliver cannot be confirmed), but last year there was Wrestling Toyo No Kuni from another city on Kyushu island, Beppu, headlined by Naito successfully defending the IC title against Juice Robinson. The show also featured Tanahashi getting his win back over EVIL after EVIL had beaten him in the New Japan Cup and Hiromu Takahashi defeating Ricochet to retain the Junior title. The return of Hi No Kuni replaces Toyo this year, as Beppu is left out in the cold.
Main Event: IWGP Intercontinental Title
Minoru Suzuki (c)
Last year on the equivalent show of this tour Naito was defending his Intercontinental Title against Juice Robinson and lamenting the fact that he was unable to sellout the Beppu Beacon Plaza, which greatly disappointed him (and lead him to remark, in typical Naito fashion, that it might be “even harder to sell out than the Tokyo Dome”). Though he once again finds himself main eventing for the IC Title this year, it’s as challenger instead of champion, and he won’t get the second chance to sell out Beppu he asked for. Instead, he’ll try to put a bigger crowd into the Grand Messe Kumamoto than the estimated 2,460 who came to see Makabe triumph over Ishii in 2015, which honestly probably won’t be a difficult task.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Tetsuya Naito has been a hot feud since basically the moment it started, with Suzuki becoming increasingly infuriated by Naito’s behavior (specifically the way he was completely ignoring him) and finding himself in a strange new role of demanding to face his own challenger. Naito of course had no real use for the IC belt when he had it in the first place, but finally broke his silence on the subject of Suzuki at Sakura Genesis, where he noted that the belt probably had more worth when he was “throwing it around” than it does now that Suzuki holds it.
The crowd has been molten for every single one of their encounters, to the point that this almost feels like too big of a main event for a B-show tour stop. These two have never wrestled in a singles match outside of the G1, where they last met in two straight years, 2013 & 2014. Naito defeated Suzuki in 2013 in Osaka, but Suzuki beat him the following year in Nagoya, leaving the score between them even. Now, nearly four years later, they’ll break that tie with the Intercontinental title on the line. Even on a tour with some big matches still to come, don’t be surprised if Naito vs. Suzuki ends up being the best match of them all.
Semi-Final: IWGP Tag Team Title
EVIL & SANADA (c)
Killer Elite Squad
It makes sense to pair up the other LIJ vs. Suzukigun title match here, and these two teams get a pretty big semi-final slot as a result. The belts of late have been little more than decoration for SANADA, who walked around with both of them while EVIL was out with injury, but even after he came back they didn’t rush back into a title match, instead building up KES as challengers by giving them some wins. At the end of the day this feels like a bigger tag team title match than we’ve had in quite a while, with KES having run through most of the division for months and now set to face the champions. Personally I hope that the EVIL & SANADA reign continues a little while longer at least, but I expect KES to regain the belts here. Hopefully they just continue defending them against Japanese teams instead of going right back to gaijin vs. gaijin…..
The rest: Six days after their IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title match, Hiromu & BUSHI face off with Kanemaru & Desperado in two singles matches here (Hiromu vs. Kanemaru and BUSHI vs. Desperado), an example of a weird feature of these spread out tours: hype matches that come after the title match. Goto and Juice will also be on opposite sides again just a couple days after their NEVER title match, as it’s Tanahashi/Juice/Elgin/KUSHIDA taking on CHAOS’ Okada/Goto/YOSHI-HASHI/Ospreay. The Golden☆Lovers join the tour for the first time in another 8-man tag, as Omega & Ibushi team with Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens to face the Suzukigun foursome of Zack Sabre Jr. (another guy joining the tour here), Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA. Yes, that trio gets to wrestle someone other than Roppongi 3K! Speaking of R3K, they team with Rocky & Jay White to face David Finlay, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi. Makabe & Henare vs. Ishii & Yano and Nagata & Yagi vs. Oka & Umino round out the card.
Wrestling Dontaku (Night 1)
Thursday, May 3rd
5 pm JST/4 am EST/1 am PST
Fukuoka Convention Center
Yes, we’ve finally made it. Seven shows in and we’ve made it to Fukuoka, site of Wrestling Dontaku 2018. For the first time ever, Dontaku will be split up into two separate nights at the Fukuoka Convention Center. Interestingly enough Night 1 is counting on two singles matches in the ongoing BULLET CLUB split storyline to draw a decent crowd in the large building (it can hold 15,000, though NJPW shows there tend to draw more in the 5-6k range), which seems like a risky proposition. I think I would have felt more secure running Naito-Suzuki and Okada-Tanahashi on back to back nights but it’s possible the availability of Cody & Page (neither of whom are on the Hi No Kuni event) forced their hand here.
Here’s what the previous years’ Dontaku main events have looked like, starting with 2017: Okada defended the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Bad Luck Fale, Naito made his only successful Heavyweight defense against Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Title, AJ Styles defeated Kazuchika Okada for the Heavyweight belt (his first reign) after Yujiro betrayed CHAOS and joined the BULLET CLUB, Okada defended the Heavyweight title against Minoru Suzuki, Okada again defended the Heavyweight title against Goto, Tanahashi defended the Heavyweight title against Nakamura, and Togi Makabe defeated Nakamura to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title in 2010. There’s been some really big matches on this show over the years, and Okada vs. Tanahashi is clearly going to add to that legacy. The Night 1 main event, on the other hand….
This is, quite frankly, a weird choice for a main event. Omega and Page meet here with no title on the line, nor title shot, just a regular ‘ol singles match (with a 60 minute time limit, however, unusual for an NJPW non-title singles match as they usually have 30 minute time limits).
Throwing out the anniversary show, which has a history of non-title main events (usually heavyweights vs. juniors), you have to go back quite a ways to find a major show like this headlined by a non-title, non-tournament, non-G1 briefcase singles match: December 14th, 2008, when Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Togi Makabe in 21:03 in front of a claimed 5,000 fans at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on a show called NJPW Fight For Existence II. You can actually draw a lot of parallels between these two shows: it was part of a two-day event, with Fight For Existence I taking place a day earlier in Nagoya (also headlined by a non-title singles match, Tanahashi vs. Giant Bernard), and the other big matches on the show were also non-title singles matches (Shinsuke Nakamura over Toru Yano in the semi-main and Bernard over Hirooki Goto third from the top). If you’re wondering if there’s ever been a Wrestling Dontaku show headlined by a non-title singles match specifically, you have to go even further back to May 1st, 1994, where an announced 53,500 fans came to the Fukuoka Dome to see Antonio Inoki defeat The Great Muta in a pretty famous match.
Back to the match at hand here. Booking wise it was a strange announcement, especially coming when it did. The card for this show came out before Kenny vs. Cody happened at ROH Supercard of Honor this past weekend, and booking this double main event as well as another match on the undercard we’ll get to in a second pretty much gave away that the BULLET CLUB civil war storyline was not coming to an end in New Orleans. Thus I assumed Cody was defeating Kenny in NOLA all along, which did indeed happen; what surprised me though was that Hangman Page, the guy wrestling Kenny here, was not involved in the finish at all. Instead Page was on the undercard losing to Kenny’s
friend lover Kota Ibushi. So in a way it feels like this match is happening for no real reason, other than the fact that Page continues to be Cody’s right-hand man and things between Kenny and Cody are clearly not over. I think it’s time to come to terms with the fact that Kenny’s match at Dominion this year might be a rematch with Cody, for better or worse.
But booking aside, there’s really no good reason why Omega and Page can’t tear the house down here. Kenny is Kenny of course, and if you’re not on the Adam Page bandwagon yet I’m not really sure what you’re waiting for. The dude has been outstanding for quite a while now, and he proved it yet again when he and Ibushi had what was quite easily the match of the night (and, to be frank, a match better than anything on the entire Wrestlemania card). Kenny and Page have never met in a singles match before either, so you’re seeing a first time ever matchup as well. It’s hard to think Kenny won’t come out on top, but it should be an outstanding contest.
Another special singles match sees us go back to how this entire BULLET CLUB civil war started: Cody couldn’t leave Kota alone. It’s hard to believe now, but everything can be traced back to Cody walking up to Ibushi moments after he had failed to win the Intercontinental title from Hiroshi Tanahashi at Power Struggle last November; his statement that “Kenny said to leave you alone” at the time ending up being quite the bit of foreshadowing. They haven’t met in a singles match since they put on an almost shockingly great match at Wrestle Kingdom in January, but they’ll tangle again here at Dontaku. Is Ibushi going to pick up the win again, or will Cody continue the roll he’s been on and pin both Golden☆Lovers in back-to-back singles matches?
Match 5: NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Titles
BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale & Guerrillas of Destiny)
BULLET CLUB (The Young Bucks & Marty Scurll)
The only title match on the show also features the ongoing BC civil war storyline, this time with the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag titles on the line. The belts have been held by the trio of Fale & GOD since New Year Dash, when they defeated the CHAOS trio of Beretta, Ishii & Yano to end their one day reign. Though the Tongan faction they represent haven’t expressed absolute fidelity to Kenny’s leadership since this whole storyline began, Tanga Loa did make it clear back at Strong Style Evolved that they certainly were not on Cody’s side, literally saying in fact that if they’re on anyone’s team it’s definitely not Cody’s. On the other hand, when it comes to the challenger trio it’s less clear than ever where they stand: the Young Bucks clearly meant to superkick Cody during his match with Kenny at Supercard of Honor, only to accidentally strike Omega instead when Cody ducked. As seen on the 100th episode of Being the Elite, the team tried to immediately apologize to Kenny and make it clear they were on his side, only for Kenny to angrily reject them and claim the Elite is history. So does that make them Team Cody by default now? Not necessarily, given that they walked out on Cody’s celebration later in the show. But whatever team they might be on, here at Dontaku they’re teaming with Marty Scurll (good to see he was able to get time off from his busy music schedule) with a chance to win some gold.
The rest: We get a rematch from the Hiroshima main event third from the top here, as Tanahashi & KUSHIDA face off against Okada & Ospreay once again, 24 hours before their respective title matches. Another 10-man tag between LIJ and Suzukigun takes place though the Suzukigun team is a little different this time, as Minoru Suzuki, Desperado and Kanemaru team with Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi. Sekigun and CHAOS get into the 10-man tag fun as Juice/Finlay/Makabe/Elgin/Henare take on Goto/White/Ishii/Yano/YOSHI-HASHI. Rocky Romero and Roppongi 3K once again face Suzukigun in a 6-man tag match, though thankfully this time it’s the trio of Killer Elite Squad & Takashi Iizuka for a change. Finally the show opens with a typical old guy/young lion six-man and the team of Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens facing Shota Umino & Ren Narita.
Wrestling Dontaku (Night 2)
Friday, May 4th
5 pm JST/4 am EST/1 am PST
Fukuoka Convention Center
Night 2 of Dontaku brings us one of the most legendary rivalries in New Japan history, a main event more typical for the show over the years than last year’s Okada-Fale encounter. Keeping with that theme we also get a major junior heavyweight title rivalry reignited as well.
Main Event: IWGP Heavyweight Title
January 31st, 2010, Tanahashi defeated a young lion named Okada in 13:26 at Differ Ariake. February 12th, 2012, very much not a young lion Okada defeated Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title at New Beginning in Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. June 16th, 2012, Tanahshi defeated Okada for the title at Dominion in Bodymaker Colosseum. January 4th, 2013, Tanahashi retained the title at Wrestle Kingdom 7. April 7th, 2013, Okada defeated Tanahashi for the title at Invasion Attack in Sumo Hall. August 10th, 2013, the two of them went to a time limit draw in the G1, again at Ryogoku. October 14th, 2013, Okada retained the title against Tanahashi at King of Pro Wrestling in Sumo Hall. January 4th, 2015, Tanahashi retained the title against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 9 (probably the most shocking result in a wrestling match I’ve ever seen up until the double blow of Okada over Naito and Lesnar over Reigns this year). January 4th, 2016, Okada retained the title against Tanahashi at Wrestle Kindom 10. And August 12th, 2016, Okada and Tanahashi fought to a 30 minute time limit draw in the G1 Climax at Sumo Hall.
Nearly 21 months after their last meeting in a singles match, Okada and Tanahashi will find themselves face to face once again. The record stands at 4 wins for Tanahashi, 4 wins for Okada, and two draws; if you throw out the match where Okada was a young lion, then Okada has a 1 win advantage. And oh yeah, Okada is trying to break Tanahashi’s record for the most title defenses in a single IWGP Heavyweight Title reign; Okada’s reign, which dates back to Dominion in June of 2016, has seen him defeat 11 challengers until this point. That is tied with Tanahashi’s reign from 2011-2012, where he also defended his title 11 times. Who was the person who stopped him from making defense number twelve, you ask? Kazuchika Okada, in their first “real” (i.e. non young lion) singles meeting. Can Tanahashi repay the favor more than six years later and stop Okada from making defense number twelve? Will Okada march on to sole ownership of this record and head into Dominion having been IWGP Heavyweight Champion for a full two years? I don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be, but I will say that this feels like the first time a title change has felt possible since the Tokyo Dome. We’ll just have to wait and see!
Semi-Final: IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title
Will Ospreay (c)
While obviously not the epic six-year rivalry of the main event, the semi-final contest for the Junior title still features two men who know each other quite well. It all started back on April 10th, 2016, when Ospreay was brought in as the handpicked challenger and new CHAOS member by Kazuchika Okada, who had scouted him by facing Ospreay himself on a brief tour of the UK the previous October. Many thought the young upstart was going to beat KUSHIDA on his very first night, but KUSHIDA pulled out the victory to retain his title. They met again in June at Dominion after Ospreay won the 2016 Best of the Super Junior tournament, but KUSHIDA again proved to be the better man. The following year the two would meet again, this time in the 2017 BOSJ finals, but KUSHIDA would again come out on top (in an outstanding match). His dominance of Ospreay even extended into Will’s own home country, where KUSHIDA defeated him in the finals of the Pro Wrestling World Cup in Newcastle in August. Finally, after losing to him four straight times, Ospreay challenged KUSHIDA again at King of Pro Wrestling last October, where he was able to break that streak and get the monkey off his back, defeating him for the juinor title.
Ospreay’s title reign was quickly upended by another longtime rival who has gotten the better of him repeatedly, as Marty Scurll beat him for the title in a somewhat shocking result at Power Struggle just a month later. But Ospreay won the title back in a 4-way at Wrestle Kingdom 12 and has gone on to have a pretty great reign so far, beating Hiromu Takahashi at New Beginning in Osaka in February and then getting revenge on Scurll and beating him at Sakura Genesis (albeit almost killing himself on the ring apron in the process). Following that match, and with a giant gash still on his noggin, he immediately turned to KUSHIDA at ringside where he was doing commentary and challenged him to another junior title match, wanting to prove his one win after four straight losses was not a fluke. And so here we are again: KUSHIDA and Ospreay with the junior title at stake. Can Ospreay continue to roll as junior champion, or will KUSHIDA do what he’s done so many times before and put Will down?
The rest: The BULLET CLUB civil war goes third from the top here in a 10-man tag, as Omega & Ibushi team with Fale & GOD to take on the team of Cody, Page, Scurll and the Young Bucks. For the fourth time on this tour, LIJ faces the Suzukigun team of Suzuki, KES, and Kanemaru & Despearado in a match that I’m sure we’ll all be pretty damn sick of by now. In trios action, Juice Robinson teams with David Finlay and Michael Elgin to face CHAOS’ Hirooki Goto, Jay White and YOSHI-HASHI. Makabe & Henare take on Ishii & Yano once again and- speaking of matches we’ll all be pretty sick of- Rocky Romero teams with Roppongi 3K to face Iizuka, Taichi, and TAKA Michinoku! Yes, for the SIXTH TIME! Yujiro & Chase Owens face Yuji Nagata & Tetsuhiro Yagi and the show opens with Liger, Tiger Mask and Ryusuke Taguchi facing the all young lion trio of Tomoyuki Oka, Shota Umino and Ren Narita.
And that, folks, is your Wrestling Dontaku tour in full. I for one will be very interested in seeing how this experiment plays out. There’s more title matches and other major contests spread out over a longer period of time than ever, which should make NJPW fans happy on one hand. But the downside to that is getting booking on the undercard that reaches unheard of levels of repeitiveness for a Japanese promotion; having the exact same six-man tag match make air six times is almost disgraceful. So what do you prefer: spread out major matches and repetitive undercards or having all these big matches on just one or two shows? Let me know on Twitter @toshanshuinla or on the VOW forums! Until then, enjoy the tour!