New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Dontaku 2021 Night 1
May 3, 2021
Fukoka Convention Center
Watch: NJPW World
Guess who’s back? Back again? Jeri’s back, tell a friend. I know, you are probably asking. Where is J. Michael Mastro? That is a fair and reasonable question one must ask whenever he’s not doing these reviews. He is the best around. I am asking that right now in all honesty. The truth is despite rumors to the contrary, there are others of us in Voices of Wrestling still latching on with the thinnest of threads to NJPW fandom and have slight, with a capital S, interest in the product. We are clinging and grasping at flimsy, flimsy straws as we continue to tune in and do our best not to tune out. NJPW for us is in a grace period. A chunk of time given to them to get their ship straight, their house in order, and their panties out of a bunch due to all the years of critical quality they have given us. This grace period doesn’t last forever though and it is hopeful they figure things out and start making changes, decisions, and actions in a positive direction. Western interest has put its hand upon its hips and has dipped, it’s dipped, it’s dipped.
It’s easy to see why.
NJPW is going through the equivalent of having to deal with a menstrual cycle with no central heat in your house during the dead of winter in the midwest. What I’m saying is this is a cold period. If you look in your freezer, in the very back beyond those leftovers we both know you’ll never thaw out and eat, you’ll see NJPW’s booking on ice. Is it all bad? No, in fact, I wouldn’t classify all of it as bad. It is bland, boring, uninteresting, like sugarless vanilla ice cream. They have fallen off the top of the mountain creatively and need to grab a ledge and begin their crawl back up. Wrestling needs this, I need this, these reviews need this. NJPW is not dead, it is not dying, but it’s taken some fair lumps (not all of it their fault) and something must be done.
…I don’t know if having two nights of Dontaku is what must be done. These splits show really cause some uneven events. One show usually outweighs critically the other. This show starts off with several multi-man tags and then gives us G.O.D and Dangerous Tekkers in single matches that could be fun, or could be disasters. I hope there is no middle ground as I feel like that’s what we’ve been getting a lot of lately with NJPW. The final match of the evening is a pairing that has never done anything for me in Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the NEVER Championship. With that said I love Tanahashi, and Jay White is someone I always have the most fun rooting against. I’m always willing to give this match up a chance, but every time I do it does nothing for me. Maybe this will be the one? I sincerely hope. I sincerely hope with their talents combine they summon captain 4 star plus and wow me. I really need that more often from NJPW. I need to be wowed, and they STILL Have the ability to do that. Just in smaller dosages than before. I’m being very pessimistic right now, but I am here, I am your NJPW reviewer, this is night one of Wrestling Dontaku, and we are going to find out if this show exceeded my near-the-bottom expectations.
Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL def. Masto Wato, Tiger Mask, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toru Yano
Wow, if any combination of talent will ever grab me and scream, this will end up being skippable, here it is in all its um, er, glory? I do enjoy some of these wrestlers. I enjoy Tenzan, Ishimori, and… and….I believe EVIL can still be good, he just hasn’t been. There I said it. I’ll go one step further, EVIL should be doing better matches. I’m not saying he’s great or impressive, but his booking has been atrocious. It’s been bad, awful, negligent. He is a former double champion and no matter how that makes you feel he shouldn’t be doing bullshit WMOTYC against the likes of Yano. Yet here we are, this is where we are at in the current NJPW. EVIL is a joke now, and not a funny one. He’s a worn-out meme that no one laughs at but everyone repeats over and over again because it’s the thing to do. That’s not the ROLE Evil should be in and it’s a damn shame. I remember how much many of us praised him, and thought he was very good. Maybe not great, but very good. He could’ve been great. I quite enjoyed his match at WrestleKingdom against SANADA if I remember correctly. This is a perfect example of NJPW booking flat-out being atrocious. Oh the match itself, better than I thought, still not something you need to seek out. Ishimori was the best part, and I did love his interactions with Master Wato. **3/4
SHO, YOH & Kazuchika Okada def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki
Does it sound callous to say that YOH coming back was the worse thing to happen to SHO? It very well might be, but it took SHO away from developing as a singles wrestler and put him back in the boring uninteresting world of junior tag. Shame. We appear to be getting a possibly Okada/Suzuki matchup in the near future. I did enjoy their interactions this match. Who knows? Maybe Suzuki will get a victory over Okada. This Fangirl has been craving, predicting it, demanding it forever! I got to get it… right…. RIGHT? “sighs”. We ended up with the Desperado/YOH interactions naturally to hype us up for their match tomorrow. Not sure it worked on me, but I have no doubt it’ll be a pretty good, borderline great match. YOH gets the victory to give him the momentum going into tomorrow’s title challenge, which is the predictable but correct call. This was good. Lower case g good which is still good all the same. Okada/Suzuki interactions were the highlight of the match and if they are being built up toward another match-up, let us have it! I wasn’t impressed with the G-1 match but that is an anomaly as usually, I’m all for them hitting and grappling each other. No need to go out of your way to end up watching this match, but I didn’t feel a raging disdain for taking my time to view it either. With current NJPW undercards, that’s a W. Not sure that’s a positive. ***
BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi def. Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Great O-Khan & Will Ospreay
First, BUSHI’s mask game is on point tonight. **** flat. Good job BUSHI. The necessary Shingo/Ospreay interactions happen in this match to hype their big main event the next day. I hate I have zero interest in what is potentially going to be a high-end, top-caliber match. The kind of match I will give four stars plus to and gnash and grind my teeth at every star I type out. So glad I’m not reviewing it honestly. This match was a lot of fun. Henare, new attitude, new stablemates, new personality, newfound confidence, old ability to lose the majority of his matches. “Sighs” unfortunate. He looked great here, in fact, everyone looked good and the motivation and spirit to put together a fun effort were there. As you can possibly figure out Henare took the fall, to SANADA who also beat him in singles. I hope you enjoyed your pinfall against SANADA a while back Henare, seems like you aren’t getting another one for a period of time. Maybe the G1? Be a good time to finally give it to him. They clicked really well together overall which is a positive. Back to the overall match, this was by far the best thing of the first half of the show, but still not something you need to go out of your way to see. I’m giving it a generous three and a half when it’s all said and done, but it’s a low-end three and a half. A half step slower it would’ve easily settled into three and a quarter territory. Overall, the first half of the show was inoffensive but you don’t have to go see it. ***1/2
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Zack Sabre Jr. def. Tanga Loa
If Zack Sabre Jr. loses, Dangerous Tekkers never get another tag title shot. I appreciate this match having legit stakes, really helps with me being into it. I need it because while the matches have been good, my interest level in the G.O.D versus Dangerous Tekkers feuding has nearly been depleted as I feel it’s been driven into the ground. All that said I was interested in seeing how this match went with Tanga Loa in a singles role. Tanga Loa isn’t an incredible singles wrestler revelation or anything, but he still has managed to spring miles ahead of whatever it is Tama Tonga offers. Tanga Loa has shown the ability to improve, grow, adapt, and be better than he initially perceived which I respect and applaud while Tama Tonga continues to be the model of a modern major general of mediocrity. That might be being too nice for him. I don’t think he’s even capable of hitting mediocre in a singles competition. I don’t know if Tanga Loa has overly impressed in many singles outings, but he’s gotten closer than his counterpart.
All that said going into this paragraph this was pretty damn good but doesn’t approach great. That’s not a knock. That’s just my attempt to not overstate the quality. The match is good, it’s not the highlight of the week, or even the highlight of the show good. if this was the best match of your show, your show is in serious trouble. It is good though, with Tanga Loa working hard to show he can cut it in singles action. He may not always make the grade, BUT OCCASIONALLY HE DOES MAKE IT. Needless to say, being in there with Zack Sabre Jr. helps this endeavor. Sabre is talented enough to enhance lesser talent in the ring with him. Lesser, in this case, doesn’t mean bad, but Tanga Loa is definitely not on Zack’s level, but if he can continue to wrestler the Zack Sabre Jr’s of the world he could get a few levels closer to him. Tanga has charisma and can wrestle in a competent fashion. All of this could feel like faint praise, but they are seeds of better things to come if he continues to find ways to grow and branch out. I don’t think Tanga Loa could ever be a major force in singles, but I think he could be a solid hand. A decent B-level mid-card singles player you could put in the middle of the card. I’m willing to entertain him earning to be more than that, but he’s going to need more single outings to do it. .and his single outings will not always be against the Zack Sabre Jr. of the world. For now, he’s a damn good tag wrestler, who is managing to remove his floaties in the singles swimming pool and is daring to head to deeper waters. Respect. ***1/2
Iron Finger From Hell Ladder Match
Taichi def. Tama Tonga
Do you want to know a sure-fire sign your show is in trouble? This is your semi-main event. Nothing against Taichi, Taichi rules, but this match does not scream “place me in this position” to me at all. Oh, this is a ladder match. The prize? The iron fingers. Yes, the iron fingers are up for grabs in this ladder match. We should count our blessings that Russo and Gedo haven’t melded together (Gedusso) and given us a pole match. Then again, at least that might of been so bad it’s silly territory and I could type up two paragraphs laughing about it. This was not silly shit. This was zero silly and an overload of shit. As even a bigger slap to my wrestling reviewing face, they made sure to go twenty-seven minutes. TWENTY-SEVEN MINUTES OF TAICHI VERSUS TAMA TONGA! Holy shit, my tits found a way to be even less interested and more deflated. Never mind Taichi, let’s remove him from the equation. I come back to review NJPW for the first time in over a month and you have the AUDACITY TO GIVE ME A TWENTY SEVEN MINUTE TAMA TONGA MATCH? Why do you hurt me when all I want to do is love you?
“ahem”, Tama Tonga is awful. I know he’s a favorite to some readers, they love him, enjoy his Twitter game, this his tag team work is fine and dandy. Look, I try not to be blunt and get on people’s cases for what they like. We all have our particular interests and desires when it comes to wrestling. So I don’t say or express this light. If you enjoyed this match, I sincerely have no idea what you want out of wrestling, because this isn’t good. This is the shit NJPW needs to be avoiding all in a twenty-seven-minute display of everything that is wrong. This isn’t the worst match of the year territory, that’s sewn up by Yano/EVIL, but this is flat-out awful. A long-drawn-out affair that I eventually stopped waiting to get better because I realized it never would. I could go on and on to let you know how much I did not enjoy this match, except the ending. Tonga goes for the Stun Gun off the ladders on for Taichi to block it and send him crashing through a table. That rule I loved that, it saves it from D.U.D level. I feel like The Grinch. hate, hate, hate hate, LOATHE ENTIRELY this match. Taichi is great, but his greatness could not drag out anything worthwhile out of the tedious, tepid, troubling terribleness that is Tama Tonga. Probably because when it comes to singles wrestling I doubt it exists. I hate being this negative. I’m going to stop now. Let move on now so I can drag myself out of it . . .hopefully. *
The iron fingers got retirement after this match. May the WON Hall of Fame arguments commence.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Jay White def. Hiroshi Tanahashi (C)
The main event. Two great wrestlers who have never clicked with me in their single matches. I hoped as I went into this, it would be the one that succeeded in sucking me in and wowing me. If you know me, you know how this review is going to start. Let get it out of my system. “deep breath’ the abs are fantastic. Okay, I did that as quickly as possible. We’ll move on to the actual review.
This was a great twenty-minute match, that nearly approached 40 minutes. The star rating and quality were watered down by needlessly going overly long to the point that I had to start detracting points. If this match had gone twenty minutes, or slightly above, this is four and a half easily. An instant classic I’d be touting to everyone and anyone. They clicked, they were in synch. They worked hard, worked beautifully and they had me hooked. This was awesome pro-wrestling and the match of the show no matter the rant I’m about to go on. I’m going to give it a flat-four, a flat-four that could’ve been higher if they shaved significant time off. The crowd was into it, I was into it, they build their drama and their heat. It was smooth, it was crisp I loved it, and then it kept going. It just kept going, I got to the looking at the clock type mentality I tried to avoid. This did not need to go nearly forty minutes. I’m not sure it needed to go nearly thirty. Not every main event has to be an overly long epic.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love long matches. I do. Long songs, long albums, long movies, long wrestling matches? If the quality is there and calls for it I’m all for it. I will defend and support it. There are times length is called for and can work to a match’s advantage. Whenever there’s a two out of three falls stipulation, for example, I rather have three well-thought-out falls with time to tell their separate stories than to speed through the first two so far you wonder why we even had the stipulation. Sometimes matches need breathing room, room to expand and express themselves. It DOESN’T ALWAYS NEED TO BE THAT. I rather have a four and a half to five-star fifteen-minute affair than a four-star or less bloated extravaganza that did itself a disservice because it simply didn’t know when to go home. My money’s worth isn’t how much wrestling you give me, but how great the wrestling you do give me is.
Anywho, I’m getting into “writing an inadvertent column” territory. I’ll move on before my editor yells at me. This match is great, but it could’ve been tremendous. It could’ve been truly special. I feel for the first time they have that in them with each other. I won’t dismiss this match flat out, it does a disservice to the incredible work both men were able to achieve, and they did achieve quite I’ll even be nice and say if they kept it a crisp thirty minutes I would’ve stayed in the four and a half range. Call me burned out, call me negative, call me not the fan I once was, but I was not impressed with this wanting to be a long epic. I was impressed by the work, the drama, the story, the psychology, but it all could’ve been achieved in less time. The long epic was not needed. Not every title defense needs to be that. When every title match is that it loses its uniqueness, it loses its aurora. You begin to no longer be interested in such business, and everything suffers as a result. Great match, but what could’ve been, what could’ve been. ****
Unlike the main event, I’ll try not to go too long. The main event, despite my length criticism, was the match of the night. Excellent work that could’ve been truly special if it was a tighter package. Tanga Loa’s best singles match to date is on this show, so go ahead and watch that as well. Everything else you may skip, in fact, you be doing yourself a major service if you don’t even think about Tama Tonga/Taichi ever again. If we try hard enough and collectively do our best to forget about it, maybe it’ll erase itself. Dare to dream, dare to dream.