NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
WRESTLING DONTAKU NIGHT 1
MAY 3, 2019
FUKUOKA CONVENTION CENTER
FUKUOKA JAPAN

Watch: NJPW World

TOMOAKI HONMA, SHOTA UMINO & REN NARITA DEF. TOA HENARE, YOTA TSUJI & YUYA UEMURA

You’ve seen this match before, but as an opener, it always delivers.

Tsuji played the man in peril for a large chunk of this match and did it quite well, and sold everything wonderfully. Tsuji and Umino’s forearm battles are always a highlight, and I’m sure that is something they will be doing to each other in matches for years to come.

While the match slowed down for a bit while Tsuji was being worked over, things picked up when Henare and Umino went at it. The finish came down to Narita vs. Uemura, and as usual, these two killed it. Uemura had a sequence where he tried to lock Narita into a Fujiwara Armbar that was great.

Narita got the win with his bridging overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Can never go wrong with a combination of these guys. ***1/4

MINORU SUZUKI, YOSHINOBU KANEMARU, EL DESPERADO & TAKA MICHINOKU DEF. JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER, YOSHI-HASHI, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI & TIGER MASK

Can you believe that Suzukigun attacked before the bell? But seriously, this started off as a formulaic Suzukigun multiman tag.

The main point of this match is building towards the inevitable Suzuki vs. Liger exchange and that part of that match does not let down. Suzuki puts Liger in a vicious looking Cross Arm Breaker and the referee had to pull Suzuki off after Liger made it to the ropes. The crowd seems to be getting hotter and hotter each night these guys work tags against one another.

The finish sees TAKA pin Tiger Mask with a Michinoku Driver II. This is the first pinfall victory I’ve seen TAKA get in ages. But it’s BOSJ season, so it’s time to heat everyone up. Not a bad match, but really nothing to it beyond Liger vs. Suzuki. By the end of it, I even forgot YOSHI-HASHI was in it because he was a total non-factor outside briefly being tagged in near the beginning. ***1/4

WILL OSPREAY, TOGI MAKABE & TORU YANO DEF. TAMA TONGA, TANGA LOA & HIKULEO

All the Bullet Club members on this show were wearing robes commemorating the sixth anniversary of their formation as a unit, and probably at this point one of wrestling’s longest lasting stables, other than CHAOS.

The match starts with Yano doing his usual stuff and going right for the turnbuckle guard. If you watched the MVP vs. GOD IWGP tag title match from Wrestling Hi No Kuni, you can imagine some of the stuff that happened here.

What finally made this match cool was when it came down to Ospreay vs. Hikuleo. This was the best part of the match. Now Ospreay can make most wrestlers look pretty damn good, and he did the same here with Hikuleo, but I really do believe there’s some potential in him. Ospreay won with an Os Cutter on Hikuleo. ***



KOTA IBUSHI, SHO & YOH DEF. TETSUYA NAITO, SHINGO TAKAGI & BUSHI

Not sure what else to say about multiman tag featuring these guys at this point other than they could probably have a 6 man blindfold match that still manages to hit ***.

SHO and Takagi squaring off again was, of course, one of the top highlights of this match. I also felt Naito was being more of a cocky prick than usual towards Ibushi too.

One of my favorite spots was when Takagi was working over Ibushi. Takagi is firmly in control and Ibushi is one the ground. Takagi still takes the time to charge at SHO who was standing on the apron, and knock him off of it, before going back to work over Ibushi. Little spots like that really have helped to make this feud.

The ending was formulaic. Ring got cleared by R3K who held the other members of LIJ at bay on the outside, and Ibushi got the win over BUSHI with a Kamigoye. However, what really made this match was all the interactions between SHO and Takagi, as well as Ibushi and Naito. ***1/2

JUICE ROBINSON, HIROKI GOTO & MIKEY NICHOLLS DEF. JAY WHITE, BAD LUCK FALE & MIKEY NICHOLLS

Though it didn’t debut just yesterday, I must say that I quite like Juice’s new-ish entrance video.

This match was really nothing for a while. Nicholls played the whipping boy. Now Fale slowly worked over Nicholls for a bit. But even when Jay White got tagged in, he looked like he was going through the motions, and even immediately slapped on a rest hold on Nicholls.

White did try a little harder when Goto got tagged in and they seemed to be continuing their feud.

Nicholls did nothing in this match except for take moves and hit a DDT so he could make a hot tag.

Match came down to Juice and Owens who managed to save this. These guys can pretty much save any New Japan multiman tag at this point with their wrestling. Juice pinned Owens with the Pulp Friction. After the match were treated to a teaser video of a wrestler who seems to be targeting Juice and will be debuting at the BOSJ Finals at Sumo Hall. This wrestler seems to be a British biker with a knife. Though there haven’t been any real rumors about who it is, I’m going to guess it’s Chris Brookes from Rev Pro. ***

EVIL & SANADA DEF. KAZUCHIKA OKADA & TOMOHIRO ISHII

Well, my first reaction to this match was, “Damn, I can’t wait for EVIL vs. Ishii.” These guys did a tremendous job from their first interaction in this match to the finish to help build for their match on Wrestling Dontaku Night 2. EVIL and Ishii just laid into each other in this match. They could literally do the forearm strike version of the Kobashi vs. Sasaki chop battle if they wanted to I think.

Okada and SANADA were good but not great. They did their usual, reversal heavy interactions, but I felt they couldn’t match the bomb-throwing of the other two. I will say that SANADA increased his effort as the match went on. And it feels weird to type this, but Okada felt like as much as an afterthought as Okada could be in a match like this. That didn’t mean he was completely forgettable here, just that the match didn’t revolve around him like many of these kinds of tag matches building to big singles matches do.

The finish was awesome. EVIL and SANADA hit a Magic Killer on Ishii. Soon after that, EVIL slapped on a Scorpion Deathlock/Sharpshooter (sorry, I’m Canadian so I have to legally call it that) on Ishii. Ishii was in the hold for what felt like several minutes.

Okada tried to save Ishii but SANADA got him with a Skull End, that this time was actually locked in well. With Ishii in the Scorpion Deathlock in the middle of the ring, and Okada trapped in a hold too, referee Marty Asami eventually stopped the match because he realized that Stone Cold Steve Ishii was never going to tap out. ***3/4





NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
TAICHI DEF. JEFF COBB ©

I have been a Taichi defender so far this year. There were points in this match where I was going to throw in the towel on continuing to be.

Taichi not only came out with the lovely Miho Abe, but also TAKA and Kanemaru, which immediately set off alarm bells. Taichi hasn’t had anyone else other than Miho out with him during his singles matches lately.

Taichi started with stalling. And some more stalling that involved leaving the ring. At least when Miho distracted Cobb and Taichi sneaked up behind him, Cobb no-sold Taichi’s attack from behind. That was kind of cool for a change. Then there were some wrestling moves between them and it was good!

But then Taichi got knocked out of the ring, and used Miho as a human shield to prevent a Cobb dive. Once Cobb left the ring, Taichi’s Suzukigun stablemates got in their shots.

I hated the match up to this point and it brought back all the old negative memories of way too many shenanigans in Taichi matches of the past.

Now once these guys got back in the ring and actually began wrestling I thought this was not bad at all. Cobb worked hard. There was an incredible spot from Cobb that involved a deadlift gut wrench suplex, Cobb maintaining waist control, and then followed up with another deadlift into a piledriver!

Taichi also worked hard in this match… eventually.

I also don’t mind Taichi’s more subtle heel work like eye rakes and using illegal holds and releasing them before the referee’s five count. That’s the kind of heel I think Taichi needs to be if he’s going to be a singles champion in New Japan. The other stuff, like what we saw at the beginning of this match needs to go.

Finish saw Taichi managing to low blow Cobb when the referee was distracted. Taichi tried a Gedo Clutch for a 2.9 count. Then a Buzzsaw Kick and an impressive looking Black Mephisto from Taichi on Cobb got the three count.

If you already hate Taichi, I doubt you’ll like this match. While not a Taichi superfan, I still enjoyed this match after the nonsense near the beginning, and I hope this is not a trend in this NEVER Title matches going forward. I would have had no hesitation in going higher on my rating of this match if the early stuff was excised and even the low blow was kept in.

But I have to deduct some marks here. When I watched this match, my gut reaction was one of infuriation when I saw the early match BS even though I thought there was some good stuff later on in it. ***1/4

IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
DRAGON LEE © DEF. TAIJI ISHIMORI

These guys were given an opportunity at the main event and didn’t squander it.

Putting the IWGP Jr. Title on Dragon Lee was a great idea. He is over with the Japanese fans. Kevin Kelly even mentioned his meet and greets in Japan have seen huge lines of fans. And of course, most importantly of all, he’s building to the inevitable return of Hiromu Takahashi. Lee even brought out Hiromu’s old Kamaitachi mask with him and placed it on the red turnbuckle in this match. It was a very nice touch.

They started off in typical Jr. Heavyweight style with plenty of chain wrestling and reversals.

After a hot opening, these guys really showed why they are some of the best Juniors in the world.

This match would go for nearly 26 minutes. It certainly didn’t feel like it went that long. They did not go balls out with flips the entire time, but kept the crowd’s attention and built too big, but also very smart spots. It wasn’t always flips for the sake of flips.

They even played off of the 2018 BOSJ Finals with Ishimori and Lee trading forearm strikes while on their knees, just like Ishimori and Hiromu did. This also acted as the signal that the match was about to go into overdrive.

After what was building into a hot finishing sequence, Ishimori gets Lee into the Crossface for an extended period. Lee eventually makes the ropes. Ishimori hit a Lungblower for a 2.9 count. Lee then fought back and landed a running knee for a 2.9 count of his own followed up by the Desnucadora for the win. This was a good but not great ending for a Jr. match. But I thought the rest of the match was great, and probably the best Jr. singles match in New Japan since the 2018 BOSJ Finals. ****1/4

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite adding more big shows to their annual schedule and losing some big-name talent like Kenny Omega, who main evented Wrestling Dontaku Night 1 2018, this show had an attendance of 4011. That’s only 55 less than last year. And apparently, Night 2 is already sold out, which will mean a crowd of over 6000 (Night 2 last year did 6307).

That has to be considered a success for New Japan. Many have been critical that these shows like Wrestling Hi No Kuni for example, were pretty thin booking wise. Wrestling Hi No Kuni was even down around in attendance around 700 compared to last year, but after examining these Dontaku numbers, it seems like just a hiccup. Looks like the New Japan brand is still strong.

And with the Jr. main event coming across so well and having lots of heat, I think this will help fill some seats on the BOSJ tour. I really think they’ll come close to selling out Sumo Hall and apparently they are going for the maximum seating. That show will be the next big test to see just how hot New Japan is, and if they are elevating the Jr. division into something that can not only have more main events, but draw on a bigger scale than it has probably since the 1990s.

As for the show itself, I thought it was pretty good but was a fair bit below greatness. That is in part due to how big matches are now spread out. And the Taichi match is going to probably be an issue on how people rank this show, even overall, as it was the semi-main event.