NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
WRESTLING DONTAKU 2022
MAY 1, 2022
FUKUOKA PAYPAY DOME
Watch: NJPW World
On the ninth anniversary of Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga joining forces with Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale to form the Bullet Club, New Japan used this show to re-establish the group’s dominance. From winning titles to introducing members both old and new, Wrestling Dontaku was where Bullet Club reclaimed the spotlight for themselves in front of the largest crowd since February 2020 (excluding the two January 4th events). Whether this is another full steam ahead push for the group, or the final stand before a much-rumored “BC Civil War” tears the unit apart is yet to be known. What is known is that the buzz surrounding this promotion is rising once again. Between the announced Best of the Super Juniors field, and this newsworthy event, New Japan feels a few steps closer to the promotion that we all knew and loved just a few short years ago.
MEET OUR REVIEWERS
John Carroll: Hey, remember me? Whatever happened to me anyway? Well, I haven’t done anything for this website since I closed up shop on Wrestling Omakase back in January, so I figured it was time to finally come out of semi-retirement. This also happens to have been the first full NJPW show I’ve watched since Wrestle Kingdom (I saw some matches here or there, most notably the last Okada/Naito title match from February which was an absolute classic), and it ended up being a great jumping back in point!
Speaking of that, I want to give a special shout out to the English commentary team of Kevin Kelly & Chris Charlton, as they did an excellent job throughout the show making someone who has barely watched any NJPW in 2022 (like me!) feel like they were caught up with everything going on. The sound mixing was a lot better than I remember it being in the past on these remote English commentary shows too, with the noise from the show still coming in loud and clear, so just a great job all around.
Anyway, you can follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you want mostly hockey tweets at this point. Both my teams are in the playoffs this year, which I honestly never would have guessed would happen when the season started. Should be a fun ride.
Suit Williams: I said it back at the New Japan Cup, but the buzz around New Japan is growing more and more. Check me out on Twitter @SuitWilliams and check out my Brock Lesnar retrospective series The Brockumentary!
SUZUKI-GUN (TAICHI, TAKA MICHINOKU & ZACK SABRE JR.) DEF. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (BUSHI & SHINGO TAKAGI) & SHIRO KOSHINAKA
John Carroll: Shiro Koshinaka was replacing Tatsumi Fujinami here, who unfortunately got himself a case of the ‘ol rona. This was a perfectly fine little opener, really nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about either. The main focus (besides Shiro Koshinaka’s hips) was on the Shingo/Taichi KOPW feud, as Taichi pinned Shingo with the Gedo clutch afterward to set up a rematch for the trophy. As he held Shingo down well after the 3 count I briefly thought this was some kind of rib on Hideki Suzuki’s hilarious extended pinfall burial of Katsuhiko Nakajima in NOAH recently, but then I remembered they had done a 30-count match for the KOPW trophy last time. So it was actually a reference to that. But I guess you could just say there’s a lot of holding people down after 3 counts going around. ***
Suit Williams: Shiro Koshinaka was a fine replacement for Tatsumi Fujinami, moving around well at the age of 63. This match served to set up a Shingo/Taichi rematch for the KOPW trophy, which Shingo won in a 30-count match on April 25th that I personally went 4 stars on. Taichi used the Gedo Clutch to pin Shingo for about an 8-count, which certainly would’ve gotten a nod of approval from Hideki Suzuki. **1/2
HIROMU TAKAHASHI DEF. YOH
John Carroll: This was a little preview bout ahead of the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors tournament, and in fact, it was a rematch of last year’s BOSJ finals. Hiromu has been needling YOH for supposedly not showing enough fire or passion lately, so with that setup you’d think YOH was going to win this, but uh….he lost in just under ten minutes instead. Okay then. I assume this story will continue into the actual BOSJ tournament, where Hiromu and YOH are in the same BOSJ block and will meet in the main event of the 5/25 Korakuen show. It was still an interesting decision here though, with Hiromu saying YOH had no heart and then seemingly proving it. Either way, this was a damn fun ten minute match, and I’m always in favor of juniors getting a chance to have non-title singles matches for a change. And man, how stacked is that BOSJ lineup this year? I think we all kind of knew that once the Japanese border was open again things were really going to improve quickly for New Japan, especially when it came to things like the major tournament lineups, but it’s still nice to see it actually happen finally. ***1/2
Suit Williams: This match wasn’t originally set for this show, but came about after Hiromu challenged YOH’s passion for wrestling. After watching YOH walk to the ring for a featured singles match in the Fukuoka Dome with as much passion as I have when I bring in the trash cans, I’m siding with Hiromu. I don’t need him to have three poses on the ramp like an NXT trainee, but would it kill the guy to maybe glance at the crowd when making an entrance? Now YOH did show some fire in the body of the match, so he is capable of showing the emotion when needed. He just needs to find that energy outside of the ring and convey a little star power. This match ended with Hiromu kinda punking YOH out. He hit the Time Bomb and didn’t go for the pin, instead opting to hit Time Bomb 2 before pinning him and finally leaving last year’s Super Juniors trophy in the ring. Well, they’re probably using the same trophy this year, but you know what I mean. Spoiler alert: they’re in the same block of Super Juniors this year, so I expect YOH to either get his win back or at least give Hiromu more of a fight. ***1/4
TANGA LOA (W/JADO) DEF. YUJIRO TAKAHASHI
John Carroll: This was the only bad match of the night. Eleven and a half minutes was just too long for what they were going for here, which was your standard House of Torture three-ring circus. I don’t know what there is left to say about the interference crap- there’s seemingly no true major league promotion on earth that is interested in not having interference featured somewhere on the card, so I just count my lucky stars that there were no run-ins to speak of in the top three matches (which, not coincidentally, were all excellent) and resign myself to having to put up with it on the undercard. On the upside, I think both members of GOD are surprisingly effective babyfaces, and in hindsight, their runs in last year’s G1 Climax (where both guys wrestled cleanly throughout and looked good in the process) was either a rehearsal or foreshadowing, depending on how you want to look at it. Anyway, Tanga was the first of two wrestlers to pick up a NEVER six-man belt on this show, but unlike Karl Anderson, he actually meant to do it. So GOD and a partner, whether it’s Jado or someone else from Hontai, look to be your next challengers there. **
Suit Williams: I’ll tell you what, I am into babyface GOD. I was into Jado chasing Gedo over the New Japan Cup tour before finally tapping him out on the final night of the tour. I was into GOD being overjoyed at earning the New Japan Army t-shirts that Tanahashi gave them. I enjoyed the match between Tama Tonga and EVIL later in the night. This did not need to be here. I don’t need Yujiro singles matches on big shows anymore, this is not 2014. Loa gets the win and stood with the NEVER six-man title, so we’ll see who they get for a partner. **
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
SIX OR NINE (MASTER WATO & RYUSUKE TAGUCHI) (C) DEF. SUZUKI-GUN (DOUKI & YOSHINOBU KANEMARU)
John Carroll: Lots of butt-based action here if that’s what you’re into. Mostly a lot of comedy. I’m not saying it was bad or anything, but I think I’ve seen about all of Ryusuke Taguchi’s ass that I need to see in my lifetime. Hopefully, the new influx of foreign juniors that we just talked about for BOSJ lets this division go in a more exciting direction than toward Taguchi’s posterior. **3/4
Suit Williams: When Taguchi came out with his underwear in his hands, I knew exactly what this was going to be. It wasn’t as much ass comedy as I was expecting, but we got enough of it. Wato and Taguchi retain as I struggle too hard to fill this part of the review. **1/2
IWGP TAG TEAM TITLE THREE WAY MATCH
BULLET CLUB (BAD LUCK FALE & CHASE OWENS) DEF. UNITED EMPIRE (GREAT-O-KHAN & JEFF COBB) (C) AND BISHAMON (HIROOKI GOTO & YOSHI-HASHI)
John Carroll: I would put both of the next two matches down as mild pleasant surprises, as I wasn’t expecting much out of either but they both delivered some good fun. Don’t get me wrong- there’s nothing here that you absolutely have to see either, but for a less than ten minute three-way tag sprint, it was pretty enjoyable. A lot of folks are unhappy that Fale & Owens won the tag belts here, which I certainly get, but it was in the theme of it being a big night for Bullet Club on their ninth anniversary, something you kind of have to assume will happen going in (as long as the BC continues to exist, they’re always going to be a big deal at Wrestling Dontaku at the very least). Chase & Fale are already set for a straight up 2v2 rematch with Cobb & O-Khan at Dominion next month, and it would not surprise me in the least to see the United Empire team get their belts back that quickly. ***1/4
Suit Williams: Surprisingly quick action here packed into just the right amount of time. This was a heavyweight version of those three-way junior tags from years ago, where it’s guys getting their shit in. The Bullet Club team wins to kick off a trend for the night, pinning Goto (who had already taken a Tour of the Islands) with a Rocket Launcher. The United Empire team stared them down post-match, and that rematch is set for Dominion. The tag titles don’t mean that much here, so having Fale and Owens win the belts for the show-closing photo op doesn’t bother me that much. ***1/2
BEST OF THE SUPER JUNIORS FIELD ANNOUNCEMENT
Suit Williams: Best of the Super Juniors is back in its usual time frame, kicking off on May 15th in Nagoya and ending on June 2nd in Budokan Hall. We’re back to a 20-man, 2-block field, with a couple of dual block nights toward the back-end of the tournament. New names filling out the field include AEW’s Wheeler Yuta, Clark Connors from the LA Dojo, Impact X-Division Champion Ace Austin, and GLEAT G-Rex Champion El Lindaman. Fresh names for Super Juniors means we’re most likely getting fresh names for the G1. All of that means we’re one step closer to New Japan feeling whole again.
WHAT A LINEUP for Best of the Super Jr. 29!
And we'll be with you EVERY step of the way!
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) May 1, 2022
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
TAMA TONGA (W/JADO) DEF. EVIL (C) (W/DICK TOGO)
John Carroll: Here’s another match that I enjoyed more than I expected to going in. Look, I get it if you just cannot handle the EVIL/House of Torture shit anymore- I was pretty much at the same point before I took three months off too. But watching this with fresh eyes, I thought it was pretty fun to be quite honest with you. It helped that Tama actually overcame the odds and won the belt at the end, which at least gave this a satisfying finish instead of the usual groan-inducing EVIL victory. The actual finish of the match was pretty incredible, actually, with EVIL going to toss the referee into Tama (as we’ve seen him do many times before) but Tama leapfrogging the ref, leaping back up the moment his feet hit the mat and then delivering the Gun Stun out of nowhere for the win. It was perfectly timed and just looked cool as shit. Hell of an ending to a pretty good match. ***1/4
Afterward, the man who gave Tama the Gun Stun in the first place, Karl Anderson, hit the ring (along with Doc Gallows), our first of many “the borders are open again and quarantine is over” run-ins of the night. Karl picked up the wrong NEVER belt (the red one is the singles title, Karl picked up EVIL’s blue six-man belt in an understandable mistake since other than the color they look EXACTLY THE SAME) but other than that very minor issue, this was a great angle to set-up a NEVER title match I never saw coming. It makes a ton of sense to go to Karl vs. Tama one-on-one, since A) we already got the GOD vs. Karl & Gallows tag match in Impact this year & B) Karl vs. Tama in the battle of founding Bullet Club members is kind of where the real issue is anyway. A lot of people have a lot of complaints about NJPW’s booking nowadays, many of them very much deserved, but kudos to them for getting to a match that I didn’t see coming and didn’t know I wanted, but I’m now very much excited for at Dominion. That match could really surprise some people.
Suit Williams: For years, I wasn’t into Tama Tonga. There were seeds of impressive work there, but I never felt invested in his work. He just felt like a Bullet Club goon who would eternally be the guy who “had a ton of potential.” I’ll tell you what, this babyface turn has breathed new life into Tama Tonga. He’s always been over to both Japanese and American fans, but now he’s got the babyface fire to play off of that and get the crowds into his work. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in this role. Tama was able to fight off most of the Dick Togo shenanigans, with Blue-Eyed Babyface Jado helping out with the kendo stick, and pinned EVIL clean with the Gun Stun. But before he could even get his hand raised, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows jumped him and laid out Tama, Jado, and Tanga Loa. Anderson vs Tama Tonga is a match steeped with history in this company, and all I hope is that they get a chance to do it in front of a lively crowd. ***3/4
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
TAIJI ISHIMORI DEF. EL DESPERADO (C)
John Carroll: With all due respect to the undercard, which was fine but nothing special, this is where the show really kicked into high gear. These two went out there and did a completely different type of match than anyone else on this show, as they did some really great chain wrestling and traded submissions back and forth before Ishimori got what has to be considered a bit of an upset, tapping out Desperado with the Bone Lock. “This match was too short.” is not a complaint people often have about major NJPW matches these days, but I could have watched these two trade holds for even longer than the under-15 minutes we got here. Just excellent stuff. It also continued Taiji Ishimori’s extremely funny legacy of being the only Bullet Club member who pretty much never needs interference to win his big singles matches. Hell, the dude barely even cheats. He’s the one actually legitimate businessman who hangs out with the Mafia for some reason. ****
So Ishimori continues Bullet Club’s big night by winning his third IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title (his first reign since losing it to Hiromu at Wrestle Kingdom 15 in 2021), which really gives BOSJ a slightly more wide-open feeling. You could now easily see Desperado winning his first-ever BOSJ to set up a rematch with Ishimori (whereas before as champion you would have given him very little chance of winning), making him perhaps the co-favorite with the two-time defending BOSJ winner Hiromu. In your next tier down you have guys like SHO, Eagles and Phantasmo, and you can’t totally discount the possibility that they give the win to a newcomer like Francesco Akira or outsider like Wheeler Yuta (that would certainly help build Forbidden Door, no?). I think as of now I’d pencil in Desperado as the winner, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Suit Williams: This result stunned me, as it hadn’t dawned on me yet what the theme of the night was going to be. The work here was awesome, as both men’s selling shone through here. Despy worked on Ishimori’s leg while Ishimori went after Despy’s arm, leading to them both doing offense that they couldn’t capitalize on because it caused them pain. Then they both transitioned into their submission moves before Desperado went for the Pinche Loco. He hit it, but chose to try another one like he did in his match against Okada in the New Japan Cup. Just like Okada though, Ishimori was able to get out of it and lock on the Bone Lock for the submission. Just crisp, clean junior heavyweight wrestling. With this upset win, the Super Junior field looks unpredictable in the best way. That tournament has really good odds to continue the momentum New Japan has had over the last few months. ****
IWGP UNITED STATES HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
HIROSHI TANAHASHI DEF. TOMOHIRO ISHII
John Carroll: I really don’t know how these two even still do it. I mean, what can I even say here? Hiroshi Tanahashi is 45 years old. Tomohiro Ishii is 46. They’ve both been doing this a long time and after all the punishment they’ve both taken their bodies are likely held together by athletic tape and our collective prayers. And they still went out there and fucking tore the house down, just like they have a zillion times before this. Really, the only very minor complaint I have with this one is that the leg work from Tana on Ishii kind of went nowhere and could have easily been skipped, but other than that this was almost a perfect professional wrestling match. After missing months of New Japan and Japanese wrestling in general, these three matches in a row reminded me that it’s still the absolute best thing going. When Ishii kicked out at 1 after that Tanahashi Sling Blade and brainbuster I almost screamed. How can you not be emotional about pro wrestling? How can you not get into it? ****3/4
After the match, Chase Owens came out to remind Tanahashi that he beat him in the G1 last year and never got a shot at his US Title. Just when everyone was ready to groan, we suddenly got JUICE FRIGGIN’ ROBINSON in a Bullet Club vest. It takes a lot of work to work people in 2022, but Juice really did seem to have pretty much everyone on both sides of the Pacific convinced that his NJPW deal had expired and he was unsure if he was even going to continue in professional wrestling (this great tweet from a friend of mine confirms the Japanese fans had heard the same reports we did). If you’ve been watching New Japan for long enough, Juice turning on Tanahashi and going Bullet Club really is a pretty incredible moment- just something that never felt like it was even remotely a possibility. We’ll have to wait and see how Juice looks as a heel, but it’s pretty clear he had long since hit his ceiling as a babyface in NJPW and desperately needed this change if he was going to continue there. He showed really good fire in this angle and his first backstage promo as a heel, so the early returns are good at least and I’m excited to see where this goes from here.
Suit Williams: There will be a day where these two can’t do this anymore. The physical toll will be too much for them to bear, and they won’t be able to have high-level singles matches anymore. It’s inevitable, Father Time is undefeated. Thank God that day wasn’t May 1st. This was an absolute war. Their careers took different paths, but Tanahashi and Ishii are far more alike than different. Two men with hearts bigger than their brains, two men who don’t know the meaning of the word quit. Two men who leave everything they have in the ring because they don’t know any other way to do it. For both of these guys to be as great as they have been for as long as they have been is truly special to watch. Would the Ospreay match with Tanahashi have been this good? Almost definitely, but that would have been great in a different way. These were two all-time greats, both on the back-end of their careers, reminding all of us that they are all-time greats even though we as fans need no reminders. An incredible battle. ****1/2
The post-match angle with Juice Robinson joining Bullet Club shocked the hell out of me. I’ll admit it, they worked me. Juice was one of my favorite wrestlers for a good amount of time. His story of making his own path after the WWE run failed strongly resonated with me, and his work through the Dojo and into the G1 and championships continually impressed me. His match with Jon Moxley at the 2019 Super Junior Finals felt like it could have set him up for bigger things. Instead, he hit a ceiling that he’s lived under ever since. For better or worse, he looked and sounded like a guy who was burnt out on wrestling. But if the backstage promo that John linked is any indication, he’s got a new fire burning under him. With a fresh coat of paint and a push in Bullet Club awaiting, we’ll see if Juice can breakthrough.
IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
KAZUCHIKA OKADA (C) DEFEATS TETSUYA NAITO
John Carroll: These two guys had to follow an absolutely incredible performance out of Tanahashi & Ishii, and guess what? They pulled it off without breaking a sweat. This hit the perfect sweet spot for me of two guys kind of playing the hits without devolving into self-parody and then slowly but surely working in more and more new spots and new twists on their formula. I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to top 1/5/20 for me, which is about as close to a perfect wrestling match as I’ve ever seen (and the added emotion of it finally being Naito’s big win certainly didn’t hurt either), but in both their title matches this year they came a LOT closer than I ever would have expected.
There are few things I love more than flash pins that can actually win a major main event match, something that I feel like major league US wrestling has almost completely abandoned (except maybe if you wanted to count cheap feet on the ropes/low blow cradle finishes), but of course, since Naito won their New Japan Cup match with a flash cradle it became an incredible nearfall here. Another amazing small touch was when Naito countered the Rainmaker into the Destino and actually did his pose while pinning Okada like he was winning the match- he had me for a second with that one, but Okada of course still kicked out. Naito went up for the Stardust Press again but once again Okada rolled out of the way (yet another callback to their Tokyo Dome matches), but just when you thought “Ah, okay, Okada is winning this for sure then.”, they had Naito be the first person to survive the Landslide Tombstone without immediately getting hit by the Rainmaker. By the time they were just laying in slaps to the face with no clear winner, I was just on the absolute edge of my seat (and thanking god I managed to avoid spoilers all day Sunday before watching this). Okada finally busted out some unique 50th Anniversary offense, hitting the Inoki enzugiri and then a cobra twist into an Emerald Flowsion (!) before finally hitting the Rainmaker for the pin. As much as I obviously wanted Naito to win, it felt like Okada had more than earned that victory by the end. Just an incredibly well laid out match between two guys I could watch wrestle until the end of time. I think I very, very slightly preferred their February title match, but man was this really close. ****3/4
Afterward, we got our final big Bullet Club return of the night, as Jay White and Gedo hit the ring to attack Okada and set up the Dominion main event (which he very well might be winning). Not much to say about this angle except it was very interesting that the entire House of Torture sub-unit did not join the rest of the Bullet Club members in the ring, so we’ll have to see where things go from here with regards to that. Karl doing the roll call at the end just felt so right- he’s a guy who feels approximately 500x more like a star in New Japan than he does anywhere else, as this is just where he belongs. Let’s get Devitt back too while we’re at it.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent show. Other than the fact that you have to put up with the clap crowd still it felt about as close to pre-pandemic NJPW as anything has so far, and even THAT might be ending soon if Okada’s post-match promo is to be believed (he explicitly said that fans should be able to cheer again soon, which I doubt he would have unless they had reason to believe that restriction isn’t long for this world). This is about as good a jumping back in point for NJPW as you can get if you haven’t been paying attention, with a stacked BOSJ lineup, Dominion, and then the Forbidden Door just two weeks later.
Suit Williams: I came into this match believing there was a chance that Naito could win the title. With the Forbidden Door show with AEW coming up, the politics of having Okada as champion may have been too much to deal with for both sides. Combine that with Naito’s stated goal of walking into Wrestle Kingdom 17 as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, it would have made sense from multiple standpoints to belt him up here. Then Okada hit Naito with an Inoki-style enzuigiri and a Cobra Twist that he somehow transitioned into an Emerald Flowsion, and I realized that Naito never stood a chance. This Okada title reign, a reign that coincides with New Japan’s 50th anniversary, is seeing Okada honor the past greats while proving himself to be on their level as well. Naito is one of Okada’s greatest rivals, and he pulled out all the stops to beat him including a Stardust Press attempt. But the motivation to honor the company as champion has put Okada on another level of skill and greatness right now, which is hard to believe given his career has been almost nothing but skill and greatness. I will say that it is funny that Okada felt the need to embody the spirit of two of Japan’s greatest wrestlers just to put this cabron away. ****
After Okada’s post-match speech, we got the return of Switchblade Jay White. With the help of Gedo, he was able to lay out Okada with the Blade Runner and lay claim to the next shot at the World Title with all of Bullet Club by his side. Another relatively new face back in the mix in Japan is never a bad thing, but Switchblade has been underwhelming for me personally for a good amount of time. If anyone can get one of his good nights though, it’s Okada.
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