New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Dontaku 2019 Night 1
May 3, 2019
Fukuoka Convention Center

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • John Carroll: I was really enjoying this tour for the most part…..and then Hi No Kuni happened. Yikes. Well, it was no worse than last year’s version I guess. Follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla for very serious tweets about proper etiquette for foreigners in Japanese crowds. Or just follow my podcast @wrestleomakase instead, you’ll probably like that better honestly.
  • Gerard Di Trolio: I’m in Champion Carnival withdrawal mode, so why not treat that with some more wrestling previews? I also just watched Hi No Kuni, and didn’t think it was quite as bad as John and some others did, so I’m just really excited about wrestling right now, especially because my beloved Raptors royally fucked up last night and I need distractions. Anyway, I’m on Twitter at @GerardDiTrolio
  • Paul Völsch: I’m exactly a month away from going to Japan so I am beyond excited. I thought Hi No Kuni was an ok show but I do wish New Japan would do some crossover with Bandai so we can get NJPW Ni No Kuni where you catch wrestlers instead of monsters. Don’t follow me on Twitter.

Tomoaki Honma, Shota Umino & Ren Narita vs. Toa Henare, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

John: This is a straight up rematch of Hi No Kuni’s opener, but that actually ended up being one of the better tags of the show so I’m not really complaining too much about it. It’s tough to figure out new ways to write “this is a really good crop of young lions” or “will Umino and/or Narita head out on excursion soon?” every time, but they are, and uh…..will they? Anyway let’s say Henare pins Narita here after he watched his team lose last time around. Prediction: Henare & Tsuji & Uemura

Gerard: This was a fun opener on Hi No Kuni, and I’m expecting the same thing here. Anyway, John is correct here that while these matches are good, it’s impossible to always come up with new things to say about the Young Lions. So I will just say that I expect the team that lost at Hi No Kuni to win here. Prediction: Henare & Tsuji & Uemura

Paul: Here we go again as we are repeating the opening match of Ni No Kuni. This will be your usual fired up young lion opener. I’m not sure it is possible but right now every subsequent generation of young lions seems to top their predecessors and I expect good things out of this match. However, the result ultimately will be of little consequence. Prediction: Henare, Tsuji & Uemura

YOSHI-HASHI, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & TAKA Michinoku)

John: The Suzuki vs. Liger feud continues chugging along, with the highlight from the Hi No Kuni tag being Liger arming himself with a fan’s chair as a weapon…..but only after asking them in the most respectful manner possible. These two seem destined for a singles encounter that will take place after the Dontaku tour is over, whether it’s at Dominion in Osaka or maybe even the BOSJ finals in Ryogoku. Speaking of the Best of the Super Juniors, that’s what five of our eight competitors in this match will be doing just ten days after this show. I for one am unreasonably excited for the return of TAKA Michinoku to this tournament after he took a year off. His heel antics and smooth wrestling stands out in a good way, and he’ll make the 8-minute first block match of each night more enjoyable as a result. Oh, YOSHI-HASHI is here too by the way. Yeah. Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI & Liger & TMIV & Taguchi

Gerard: From what I gather, this Liger vs. Suzuki feud was not planned, but was an organic outgrowth of a hot exchange they had in a tag match. That’s cool that New Japan is seizing the momentum from that here. At least I’m confident they won’t screw up an organic angle like the WWE and insert a third person to make it a Triple Threat match at Dominion or wherever it Liger vs. Suzuki is going to happen. All of the Liger vs. Suzuki multi-man tags have been heated and lots of fun and that will happen again here, especially because this is a big show. Prediction: Suzukigun

Paul: Liger vs Suzuki is the best feud going in wrestling right now. Two all time greats going at it in the twilight of their respective careers. Given that the BOSJ final is in Sumo Hall this year I expect the blow off to happen there and I could even see it being the semi-main. Aside from those two and YOSHI-HASHI everyone else in this match is a participant in said BOSJ so we will get a mini preview of the tournament. As the blocks have not been announced we don’t know which of these men will face each other in the tournament, but I expect the match to deliver based on the Liger/Suzuki feud alone. Prediction: Liger, YOSHI-HASHI, Tiger Mask & Taguchi followed by a Suzuki beatdown of Liger

Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Will Ospreay vs. BULLET CLUB (Guerrillas of Destiny & Hikuleo)

John: It’s weird watching Ospreay just be a guy on this tour with nothing to do, given how much of a focus he’s been since he came back in December, but I’m also really not complaining. I had severe Ospreay fatigue from his heavyweight run (which, admittedly, many of you have enjoyed much more than I have this year) so it’s nice just seeing him be a guy in the crowd again. Perhaps a return to the junior division in the BOSJ tournament will do him some good with me as well. Meanwhile GOD, having successfully vanquished the Most Violent Players reunion team without much trouble at Hi No Kuni, prepare to head back to the US for ROH’s War of the Worlds tour where they will finally confront the Briscoes (on May 12th in Chicago). This match meanwhile…..will technically take place, I guess. Hikuleo can have fun taking yet another fall. Prediction: Makabe & Yano & Ospreay

Gerard: I don’t necessarily agree that Ospreay doesn’t have much to do. He only joined on the backend of the tour which I think helps make a wrestler look less like they have no direction. The time between the MSG show and BOSJ is a relatively short interregnum for Ospreay, because I think there’s a very good chance of him making the BOSJ finals and being in the G1. I actually didn’t mind the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team title match at Hi No Kuni. It was mostly what I expected, though you could make a case it went a couple minutes too long. Anyway what I’m trying to say his I don’t have anything against this match, and think it could be fun. I might be going crazy because I swear Hikuleo is looking a little bit better every time I see him. But yeah, he’s probably taking the fall here. Prediction: Makabe & Yano & Ospreay

Paul: After taking a bit of a step back since losing the Never Title to Jeff Cobb, I expect Ospreay to get most of the spotlight here in preparation for his run in BOSJ. Depending on the layout of the brackets he is a strong candidate to make it to the final. With him also likely being in G1 this could become a banner year for Young Will. Otherwise this match serves to tie up loose ends from the GOD vs MVP feud and we’ll see if Makabe and Yano will stick together as a team going forward or not. I get that Hikuleo is technically a young lion, but it is still funny to see him as the world tallest jobber, which I expect him to continue being in this match. Prediction: Makabe, Yano & Ospreay

Kota Ibushi & Roppongi 3K vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)

John: With the other two members of LIJ busy on both shows, this exact same match is actually taking place on back-to-back nights, a very rare occurrence on New Japan cards. That makes this a hard match to predict, obviously: do they have each team win one night, or will one of the two teams sweep both nights? On the surface perhaps you’d think there’s few ramifications here beyond more hype for the upcoming Naito-Ibushi IC title match (presumably at Dominion), as Shingo/BUSHI-R3K’s junior tag title feud presumably ended with R3K’s clean win last week in Hiroshima. But in actuality the Shingo vs. SHO feud is still going strong, and both men seem on a collision course for Best of the Super Juniors. Will they be in the same block, or will they end up meeting in the finals? One or the other seems inevitable. Anyway, this match should be good, but on Night 2 they’re higher up the card (third from the top vs. fifth here) so they might go a little more all out there. Let’s say Naito pins either SHO or YOH again to to continue LIJ’s tag dominance on this tour, and perhaps set up Ibushi & R3K to finally get their big win on the final night. Prediction: LIJ

Gerard: I’ve already predicted that inserting Kota Ibushi into these CHAOS vs. LIJ multi-man tags was a great idea and will these matches to another level. And so far on this tour, I’ve been proven correct. This will be neck and neck with Okada & Ishii vs. EVIL & SANADA as best match on the undercard. While I said, I think Ospreay has a good chance of making the BOSJ finals, I think there’s also a pretty good chance we’re getting a SHO vs. Takagi final, because their rivalry has been hyped up more than any other match in the Jr. division, even more than Jr. title matches, which is rare these days in New Japan. We’ll have to wait and see until the blocks are released, which is probably on one of the Dontaku shows. Prediction: Ibushi & Roppongi 3K

Paul: Right behind Suzuki/Liger, Shingo vs SHO is the second best built feud in wrestling right now. These two are likely going to end up in the same block and will face of for the top spot on the final night of it. Otherwise I have high expectations for this just based on who is involved. These are five of the best wrestlers in the company and BUSHI is ok too. This has the potential to be match of the night if everyone is motivated and should continue the build to the Ibushi vs Naito rematch rather nicely. Prediction: Ibushi & Roppongi 3k

Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson & Mikey Nicholls vs. BULLET CLUB (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens)

John: So Jay White beat Hirooki ‘Geek’ Goto yet again at Hi No Kuni, making you wonder what the point of him pinning Goto in a random tag the week before was. I get it, they don’t care about Goto (which seems misguided to me given how great he can still be), but it feels like they’re just going out of their way to bury the poor guy at this point. Even if he finally gets his win back in the G1, which isn’t a guarantee anyway, it will feel like too little, too late for him. Anyway. I’ve increasingly accepted the fact that we’re getting Okada vs. White yet again as the Dominion main because there’s really nowhere else for them to go, but I’m not happy about it. The rest of the guys in this match have been feuding with each other all tour but are probably just killing time after their singles matches at Hi No Kuni, and there hasn’t really even been any hint as to who US Champion Juice Robinson’s next challenger will be. It wouldn’t surprise me if something happens here to set up Juice vs. Nicholls as the next direction, though I would also view that as a huge mistake given how little the crowd seems to care about Mikey so far. It just makes sense for their booking pattern with this title, where the only people who ever get to challenge for it are foreigners, so it very well could be Mikey’s turn. Chase is probably eating a pin from somebody here, regardless. Prediction: Goto & Juice & Nicholls

Gerard: I think this match will be fine. There’s plenty of talent that can work around the limitations of Fale, and while I think Nicholls has been disappointing in New Japan so far, he sometimes looks decent in tag matches. I agree with John that we’re probably getting Juice vs. Nicholls for the U.S. title next, especially given that only foreigners challenge for the belt. Given that Fale just pinned Nicholls (in a match that only makes Juice even more amazing for what he managed to get out of Fale in their U.S. title match), I think Nicholls will pin Owens here and make a friendly challenge to Juice. Oh and I’m just going to add that I thought White vs. Goto was actually good, though not as high as I thought either guy could potentially hit in match quality. Prediction: Goto & Juice & Nicholls

Paul: My hopes for this match are rather low. Mikey Nicholls’ run in New Japan has sucked so far. He has not adapted well to the wrestling style yet and crowds are largely indifferent when is in the ring. I’m not excited about the prospect of the likely Juice vs Nicholls US title match, since that is likely happening while I’m in Japan. On the other side of the ring we have Bad Luck Fale who is hell bent on defending his title as New Japan’s worst wrestler. Even though Juice dragged him kicking and screaming to a passable match, before he stunk up the joint again against Nicholls. This has the potential to be the worst match of the night and I hope at least White and Goto can string together some watchable sequences. Prediction: Goto, Juice & Nicholls

Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL & SANADA

John: We’re finally into the meat of this card, starting with one of the bigger hype tags you can book. Of course these four men will headline the top two singles matches on the following night, and they’ve been at each other’s throats for the entire tour. EVIL and Ishii have been hitting each other very hard as you’d expect, but I really like the slower and more subtle build for Okada and SANADA’s title match. There’s no real personal issue here and they didn’t try to force one, but they’ve done a good job building it up over the course of the entire tour. Okada is showing a more subdued and quiet confidence than the bombastically cocky Rainmaker of the end of his title reign, which is welcome character development for him. Basically he comes off as a bit humbled by his ten months away from the IWGP Heavyweight Title, a little more modest than the “I am completely unbeatable” stuff toward the end of his last reign, which I think both makes sense and makes him much more likable in the role of babyface ace. SANADA on the other hand isn’t making grand proclamations about how he’s going to win (which I guess is good since he almost certainly isn’t going to) but instead also feels quietly confident in his own abilities. He also kind of seems amazed at times by how much the crowds in Japan are behind him, something few of his Western critics ever give him enough credit for. Overall I like the dynamic here, but I also understand if it’s a little TOO subtle and subdued for some of you. Not everything needs to be a blood feud, though! Anyway, let’s say EVIL & SANADA win the last hype match, because why not. Prediction: EVIL & SANADA

Gerard: I agree with John on the evolution of Okada’s personality now that he’s the champ again. Not much else to say other than they’ve done a good job building to the singles matches featuring these guys on Dontaku Night 2. While I think Ishii is doing the job here, I think SANADA pinning or submitting Okada here could add some spice to their title match because the result is already a foregone conclusion and show why SANADA deserved IWGP Heavyweight title shot after being defeated by Okada not long ago. Prediction EVIL & SANADA

Paul: Four of the best wrestlers in the world right facing off. This could be one hell of a match, if everyone has their working boots on. Ishii has found a soulmate in EVIL as these men like to hit each other hard, very very hard. I didn’t expect the company to go back to SANADA vs Okada so soon after their New Japan Cup final but it should be a compelling match nonetheless. A win here would do wonders for SANDA to built some credibility before his title challenge. Prediction: EVIL & SANDA

NEVER Openweight Championship
Jeff Cobb © vs. Taichi

John: I know people are aware that I am very biased toward Taichi, so let me give you some Cold Hard Stats™. Taichi vs. Will Ospreay, World Tag League finals (12/9/18): 7.50 Cagemach rating (remember they do out of 10 vs. out of 5 in the star/Grappl scale), ****¼ Meltzer rating, 3.78 Grappl rating. Taichi vs. Naito, New Beginning in Sapporo (2/3/19): 7.22 Cagematch, ***¾ Meltzer, 3.42 Grappl (this one is really low imo, but that’s still pretty good!). Taichi vs. Ishii, New Japan Cup 2nd Round (3/13/19): 8.14 Cagematch, **** Meltzer rating, 4.01 Grappl. People who treat Taichi like he’s still some kind of wacky meme that people on Twitter pretend to like as a lark are frankly just behind the times on this one, because three of his last four singles matches have all received strong reviews from all across the internet. If you still think he sucks that’s fine I guess, but I think it’s a stretch to say that’s the consensus opinion at this point. Anyway! I think this will be at least solid, and if they really click together it could be even better than that. Cobb has come up big in spots like these in the US of late, so hopefully he and Taichi can have another banger here. This is also a match where I could really see either guy winning. Cobb could be a long-term NEVER champion heading into a spot in the G1 this year, or he could just be a way to transition the belt back to Taichi, who is undoubtedly over enough with crowds to carry the title. Since I think it’s kind of a toss-up anyway, I’ll side with what I want to happen: Taichi outrageously cheating his way to the title over the poor “piglet”. Prediction: Taichi

Gerard: I appreciate John’s use of Cold Hard Stats™ and I think even a couple months ago they were worth busting out on Taichi. But at this point, I think most people have turned the corner on Taichi to at least say he’s good, and those that are going to put in the effort to loudly denounce him are just trolls. I turned the corner on Taichi late last year, though I never hated him like some people did who thought he shouldn’t be in the company. I thought he was a passable heel in those Suzukigun tags but he’s clearly stepped up his work since moving up to heavyweight. Also, I could never truly hate the last student of Toshiaki Kawada. As for the result here, I actually think Cobb is retaining. I think there’s a good shot he will be in the G1 and why not keep a new foreign entrant strong before the tournament starts? Also I expect this match to be great. Even if you in fact hate Taichi (and are a troll) you have to admit that it has been a long time since Cobb failed to deliver a good, if not great singles match. He even managed to have a **** affair with Shane Taylor this year (though to be fair to Taylor, he’s also been looking a bit better this year in some of his other matches). Prediction: Jeff Cobb

Paul: I’m not entirely sure if the styles of these two really mesh well together. But as my co-authors have said these two have largely delivered this year. Therefore, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Taichi’s role within Suzukigun has clearly increased since the beginning of the year, with him and Sabre now being Suzuki’s deputies. I could easily see them do a title switch here as I would consider Taichi to be more of a draw than Cobb. But holding the title for a bit could do wonders for Cobb’s stock in the company. While he has been with New Japan for a while now he has done very little of note prior to winning the Never title. If they want to built him up properly as a New Japan guy he should keep the title here and maybe even through G1. Prediction: Jeff Cobb

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Dragon Lee © vs. Taiji Ishimori

John: Let’s just get this out of the way first- no, I don’t think Hiromu Takahashi is walking out at the end of this. I’ve seen that theory thrown around a lot ever since this was announced as the main event of the show, and while I understand where it’s coming from, having Hiromu make his big return here would be a weird overshadowing of the Best of the Super Junior tournament that’s about to take place and that he’s very much not going to be in. If Hiromu is making a surprise return any time soon, it’s at the BOSJ finals at Ryogoku (though at this point I think they may just wait until after the G1 anyway). So with that said, let’s turn our attention to the two wrestlers who are actually here. The build here was relatively simple- Taiji Ishimori lost the junior title at MSG without being pinned, which he (rightly) complained about as bullshit, so here’s your one-on-one title match. I know some people hate that trope, but honestly losing your title without being involved in the decision is dumb and should never happen, so I have no problem with Taiji’s character being offended by it. Anyway, let’s talk a bit about what a big main event this is for the juniors. This is the first time the junior heavyweight title has main evented a building other than Korakuen Hall since BUSHI defeated KUSHIDA to win the title at Ota Ward Gym (Destruction in Tokyo) on September 17th, 2016. I strongly doubt that this show will sell out- last year, the first time they split Dontaku into two shows, didn’t sell out Night 1 with an Omega-Page/Ibushi-Cody double main event, doing 4,066 fans vs. the Night 2 sellout of 6,307. I would still be pretty surprised if they don’t top the 2,803 from Destruction in Tokyo in 2016, though. So this will be the biggest crowd to see a junior title match in the main event in quite some time, probably since October 28th, 2007, when Ryusuke Taguchi successfully retained against Koji Kanemoto in the main event at Kobe World Hall. But given the state NJPW was in at the time, who knows if they actually had more than 2,803 in the building (the claim was 7,000 of course!). Either way, this is a huge spot for the junior heavyweights, but I’m quite confident Lee and Taiji will make the most of the opportunity. This is another one where neither result would really surprise me, but I think (and hope) they didn’t give the junior title to Lee just to take it right off him in a month. Prediction: Dragon Lee

Gerard: From this point on, I’m putting a moratorium on Hiromu talk. I don’t think he’s appearing here and frankly there’s little point in continuing to speculate. What I do hope is that Hiromu returns when we’re least expecting it, because I think that would fit in well with his character. While I feel most of the attention has been on SHO vs. Takagi in the Jr. division, the build towards this match on this tour was still really good. These guys got put into multiman tags on this tour where they single handedly made them into good matches. I’ve got big expectations for this match. I think it will end up being one of the best on this tour, especially since they are main eventing a big show and will be given plenty of time. Dragon Lee has always been over in New Japan, but since becoming the Jr. champ, I think he’s managed to get an even deeper connection to the crowd. While I think most people think Ishimori is good, I sometimes think people don’t quite recognize just how good. He’s one of the few Jrs. in this company that is capable of having a MOTYC which he did against Hiromu in last year’s BOSJ finals. Given just how insanely good the Jr. three way was in MSG at only nine minutes, I would not be surprised if these guys put together something here that ends up on everyone’s 2019 Top Ten Matches list. Anyway, I’m going with Dragon Lee here. He’s full time in New Japan for a couple of months, and why take the title away from him so fast, especially just to give it back to the guy who just lost it. The whole point of this match is to show that Dragon Lee is in fact capable of pinning the previous champion. Given this match’s position of the main event of Night 1 of Dontaku and the fact that BOSJ finals are in Sumo Hall, I think we will be getting more IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title main events of shows. Prediction: Dragon Lee

Paul: People will talk about Hiromu’s imminent return until he finally walks out or until the earth gets swallowed by the sun, whichever happens first. As for this match, I have very high expectations. Their three way match with Bandido didn’t get a lot of time on the MSG show, but they managed to cram in a lot in that time. The main event spot on this show is a huge opportunity for both men and shows the confidence the company has in them as draws. Dragon Lee has proven time and time again that he can deliver on the highest level and Ishimori has been on a tear this when given the chance. While there are a number of matches on this card have the potential to be match of the night this has to be the clear frontrunner for that. If both men click as well in a singles match as they did in the three way this could even be a dark horse for a MOTYC. But I don’t think the outcome is in any doubt as switching the title this close to BOSJ doesn’t make a lot of sense. Prediction: Dragon Lee