New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Dontaku 2023
May 3, 2023
Fukuoka Convention Center
Watch: NJPW WORLD
Meet our previewers
J Michael: J. Michael’s introductions are usually full of mundanity, but this one was so boring we refuse to publish it. It was a pile of drivel about Google Maps’ “avoid ferries” button.
J. Michael did want to say that the Bruins can go fuck themselves, which we are happy to print, even if we’re glad they lost and that he’s mad about it. His final message is to TJP: if TJP is reading this, he’d like the Fil-Am Flash to know that only one team in the NBA has 17 championships. Stop counting the Minneapolis Lakers. Your team has 12 and that’s that. Enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo
Suit Williams: Suit Williams is rooting for a Lakers/Heat Finals, both to mute the dumb Bubble Title talk and to see Jimmy Butler get his revenge. Suit also says Go Kraken. Follow Suit on Twitter @SuitWilliams, and check out his ROH television reviews at F4WOnline.
Ryohei Oiwa Hattrick Challenge
Yuto Nakashima vs. Oskar Leube vs. Ryohei Oiwa vs. Oleg Boltin
J Michael: I don’t know what this is, but let’s talk about Oleg Boltin. This absolute dreadnought, this Brobdingnagian behemoth, this elephantine UNIT. In the ring with other Young Lions, he’s comically larger. Even against Bishamon at Satsuma no Kuni, he looked like a tank amongst Fiats. These guys were the tag team champs just weeks ago, and even them getting a fall on him seems weird.
“Before the NJPW World broadcast starts in Fukuoka, Ryohei Oiwa will attempt to run the gauntlet of Yuto Nakashima, Boltin Oleg and Oskar Leube. If he can win one, two or all three of the five minute matches, he could come away with some delicious prizes of yakkiniku barbecue, with the grand prize of 200,000 Yen’s worth of meat and an NJPW World TV title shot if he scores all three victories!”
It will not air on World. DDT booked an entire goddamn match, card, and weeks long story about the idea of Fish v. Meat, but this coterie of cowards at New Japan won’t even air this match. Oiwa is fighting for his meat; that’s an important part of a man’s life and we deserve to see it. Prediction: Watch the DDT “Fish Meat Decisive Battle” 15 minutes before Dontaku Starts, and pretend that it’s Match #1
Suit: What the fuck? What is the point of a streaming service if you aren’t going to show me a man fighting his training partners for $1500 worth of barbecue? My day has been ruined. Prediction: Oiwa wins, drowns in sauce
CHAOS (YOH, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, and Hirooki Goto) v. House of Torture (EVIL, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi, and Dick Togo)
J Michael: Both Bishamon and HOT emerged at Satsuma no Kuni on April 30 to challenge Aussie Open for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
Congratulations to New Japan on their Henare-esque level of self-control in holding back on a three-way tag team title match for over a year. I’m sure, with Dominion and the AEW nonsense coming up, we’re about to get an effusive stream of them now. A Henare-esque retention inevitably ends in a Henare-esque release.
As usual, House of Torture will make a run in the lead-up and fail in the end. The one consolation: this process usually yields a fervid Korakuen Hall crowd that wills the HOT balderdash to legitimacy. But this one will probably end in Osaka at Dominion. Other venues are inconsistent. As shown on April 30, some crowds have transferred the “Go Home!” chants from Taichi to HOT. Some places watch and envelop the ring in their silence. And three-way match dynamics tends to stifle HOT’s strengths.
On a side note: YOH’s new impudent, bratty brazenness is working really well. Like SANADA, I think his day is actually going to come eventually. I’m sure the plan is for Wato to dethrone Hiromu, but I would be in favor of YOH. Prediction: House of Torture (EVIL, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi, and Dick Togo)
Suit: EVIL and Huge Yuj have interjected themselves in Bishamon’s title challenge of Aussie Open, so this match may get one of those teams out of the way. Knowing New Japan, the possibility of a three-way match for the tag titles is always there. But my guess is that the House of Torture shenanigans will win out. While I’m higher on the House now that fans can actually boo them, I’m never going to co-sign a feature Yujiro match. Those Aussie Open boys better have their working boots on. Prediction: House of Torture
TMDK (Kosei Fujita, Shane Haste, and Mikey Nicholls) v. The United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Kyle Fletcher, and Mark Davis
J Michael: Most of the time, checking in on the house shows prior to a big event works in favor of richer appreciation of a match (and analysis, in the hands of better minds and writers). In the case of TMDK vs. Aussie Open on April 27, it might have been a burden.
Obviously, the match was great, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that:
- The World Tag League 2022 match was slightly better, in part because there were less stakes; with Aussie Open unlikely to lose the titles in the rematch, it dampened things a bit
- They were a bit sharper in the road to shows
This match is the typical New Japan holdover, an essentially meaningless match that was booked solely to fill a card and breed uncertainty about a mid-tour title match. If anything, this match’s utility is to highlight just how great Kosei Fujita has been all tour. He is a vehement pupil of his TMDK stablemates, and that dynamic makes every TMDK match, on any show, a recommended contest.
Anyway, the United Empire does not have pin eaters. Prediction: The United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Kyle Fletcher, and Mark Davis)
Suit: O-Khan submits Fujita, Aussie Open and House of Torture run an angle, on to the next one. Expect a tidy six minutes. Prediction: United Empire
The Intergalactic Jet Setters (Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA) and Shota Umino vs. The United Empire (Francesco Akira, TJP, and Aaron Henare)
J Michael: On one side, we have WWE, a company that will do anything feasible to nourish and protect the length of a title reign, pertinaciously chasing numbers. Being the one company that does professional wrestling properly, they are exempt from criticism. It may be a bit of Cartesian circle here, but if they do it, that’s the way it should be done. Actually, I guess that’s the definition of a Cartesian circle.
And if all else fails, crudely slap your logo on a meaningless trinket and pretend it’s equally prestigious.
On the other side, we have New Japan, who had an organic-feeling title reign with Catch 2/2, one that was on the cusp of breaking the record for the longest Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reign. In fact, a mere 37 days from breaking that record. Their reign ended on a Road To show at the Hiroshima Sun Plaza to a nascent team with a still-developing talent. It would be like Roman Reigns losing the title on day 983 in Corpus Christi to some NXT dude with a name like Eddy Thorpe or something.
The United Empire seem set to lose this one, considering Shota is arbitrarily on the other side, but I wonder if Henare snags a fall on Two Jackz here to set up something. Prediction: The United Empire (Francesco Akira, TJP, and Aaron Henare)
Suit: While I wonder if they’ll set up a return match for the titles here, my guess is that one of the heavyweights get the win here in the undercard. I’ll flip a coin. Prediction: Umino & Intergalactic Jet Setters
Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) Vs. Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
J. Michael: The old adage in wrestling is to get the most out of the least. Old wrestlers promulgate this like a modern-day mantra. Somewhat-old wrestlers from the ’90s who were once young wrestlers were demeaned with it relentlessly are now browbeating young wrestlers with it. Misery fetishist fans that post nothing but old match bills from the 60’s espouse it.
These two groups have, as Suit notes, spent roughly two months imbibing this fundamental concept. Their elimination match on April 30th might be the pinnacle of getting ridiculously engaged crowds while half-heartedly running through the script. I swear, whenever wrestling fans complain about critics in the medium, I wonder if they’d have a flash embolism if they read even a smidgen of opera criticism. James Jordan would effortlessly make these people disintegrate.
Anyway, if I was in the building, I’d probably admire these groups for their ability to get so much juice from the squeeze, but I’m at home and they aired six shows from this tour. I lost my patience by April 29. But it is cool how popular these groups are, especially since the company needs J5G to catch on.
And do yourself a favor: watch a minute or two of the celebration backstage for Taichi’s KOPW win. The goofy, amiable, endearing friend energy of late-era Suzuki-gun has been inherited by J5G. The crowds already dig the act. It’s a good time to like things, in New Japan at least. Also: BUSHI fucking sucks. Prediction: Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Suit: These two units have been feuding since New Japan Cup, and they split two feature matches on this tour. With Super Juniors coming up, and one of the LIJ heavyweights set up to make a title challenge (more on that later), my expectation is BUSHI counting the lights as either Kanemaru or Douki finish the tour strong. Prediction: Just 5 Guys
Strong Openweight Championship
KENTA (c) vs. Hikuleo
J. Michael: Two important things about KENTA:
- He has stipulated that if he loses this match, he will cut his hair. However, if he wins, he will also cut his hair. KENTA’s backstage comment gimmick this tour has been his unruly haircut (My Self-Awareness also is tackling whether it’s ok for him to fat shame in 2023).
- Apparently the fault lies with America; and, as usual, the problem in the US originates in Florida. If you are the Sunshine State barber who fucked up KENTA’s cut, please repent.
- KENTA has been attacking Hikuleo with a kendo stick all tour. Considering how things have gone the last four years, I’m starting to get the impression that KENTA took a lot more from his WWE run then he’s letting on.
Hikuleo is a sort of Tongan Diesel, by design: the big boot, the drop into the corner, the hair flip. Hikuleo does them all, impeccably. Of course, he does way more, and Japanese crowds are responding to his stuff. Piecing them together into a full match is still elusive, at least a match that doesn’t play to all the strengths of his opponent.
For Karl Anderson, it was testing how polite a paying crowd will be to an excruciatingly boring match. For Jay White, it was adapting the structure of a Wagnerian overture to a wrestling match. A great Hikuleo match is out there, but KENTA doesn’t try to have great matches anymore. He’s actually very forthright about it. This one will be empty minutes until KENTA can knock out the ref and grab the kendo stick. It would be nice for Hikuleo to win, but I’d imagine they like the idea of KENTA holding this belt. Prediction: KENTA
Suit: The Bullet Club/G.O.D. feud continues here with Hikuleo going for the Strong Title against KENTA. I’m glad J. Michael had a lot to say about this one, because I’m already struggling. Hikuleo has a babyface fire similar to what my father has when he checks the mail after work. KENTA is beat-up and schtick-heavy. To quote Jim Ross, expect some bowling shoe tendencies with this one. KENTA wins so Bullet Club has titles to hold up on it’s 10th anniversary. Prediction: KENTA
NJPW World Television Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Jeff Cobb
J Michael: Thankfully, this one is simple and direct. After Aussie Open won the tag titles, Zack Sabre Jr. confronted them to issue a challenge on behalf of TMDK’s… TMDK. Cobb jumped in and challenged Zack for the TV title. Once again, a thorough faction v faction tour, even if this one seemed more incidental.
Their work has also been absent of any nonsense. Their chemistry is simple but prosperous: they inherently thwart each other. Cobb is orders of magnitude stronger and bigger than any of Sabre’s usual opponents, and so Sabre can’t run through his torrent of holds and misdirections. Even when he can catch Cobb in something, Cobb powers out deftly.
On the other side, Zack is more slippery and dexterous than Cobb’s usual opponents, so his grasp on the evasive Brit is always tenuous. Whenever it seems that Cobb has Zack firmly, Sabre somehow wriggles out. It would be an exercise in circular frustration if they both weren’t so cavalier.
The fun will be if either one can solve the other’s puzzle in the short time limit. Considering that this has essential been the 14.5 minute match title, I doubt they do, but Zack should retain. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
Suit: This should be a fun style clash. The preview tag that I saw had Cobb brute forcing his way out of Sabre’s attempts at submission, so the intrigue here is seeing if and how Sabre can run his offense. This screams another successful Sabre defense, as there wasn’t much build up to this. Cobb asked Sabre for the title shot, Sabre accepted it.
I don’t expect a break from the Sabre formula with these matches, so expect it to go down to the wire, ending in Sabre escaping with the title again. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
NEVER Openweight 6-ManTag Team Championship
Strong Style (Ren Narita, Minoru Suzuki, and El Desperado) (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, and Hiroshi Tanahashi
J Michael: I wish I could give some insight on why this whole program has to be so goddamn byzantine. Let’s follow the steps:
- Kazuchika Okada pinned Ren Narita in a showcase tag match on March 11.
- After Okada lost the world title to SANADA on April 8th, Narita confronted the depleted Rainmaker backstage, demanding that Okada find two partners and challenge for the the 6-Man championship.
- Okada recruited stablemate Tomohiiro Ishii, who was already feuding with Strong Style’s Narita booster El Desperado.
Unfortunately, we only get three steps in before it becomes unnecessarily complicated.
4. Okada tried to recruit stablemate Toru Yano, who refused due to his justified fear of Minoru Suzuki
5. Okada teased both Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega as the potential third man. I’m not sure how Eric Bischoff can podcast grift this, but he will somehow.
6. After the April 30th tag, Okada finally announced the third man: Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Great. It took a while, but now that Tanahashi feels good enough to go, we’ve got the match all set for..
7. Ishii, who apparently stated that he would not team with Tanahashi, storms to the back after Okada’s announcement
8. Okada says that Ishii’s concerns are meaningless and that he will have to team with Tanahashi anyway
And, once again, here we are with a match/angle/program/situation that was intended to bolster Ren Narita, and Narita is mostly obscured. He’s actually showing slight signs of improvement in the backstage comments, but miniscule compared to Shota Umino. I mean, look at how he casually strolls into a surprise attack on Ishii and throws weeeeak punches and kicks.
In the ring, he’s still having trouble matching the hot tag pop they build for him, but Okada is doing a hell of a lot to bring him along.
Okada’s character remains unchanged, even without the belt. Kids like Narita keep taking cheap shots at him, and he refuses to let anything go. All tour, he’s exploded with ferocity, storming the ring whenever Narita gets cheeky. That should be the foundational aspect of this match.
Combined with the fantastic post-match brawls between Ishii and Despy, this has been the fan favorite program outside of the SANADA/Hiromu stuff.
Since the mission is not even close to finished, and they are actually starting to feel like a real group in the backstage comments, Strong Style should retain. Prediction: Strong Style (Ren Narita, Minoru Suzuki, and El Desperado)
Suit: The NEVER Six-Man Titles are highlighted here, as Ren Narita looks for a successful defense and a bit of redemption against Kazuchika Okada. Narita and Shota Umino lost a showcase tag against Okada and Tanahashi back on the New Japan Cup tour, so Umino made a ballsy challenge to Okada to come back with some partners and try to take the Six-Man Titles from Strong Style. The intrigue here is that Ishii, loyal CHAOS member, is pissed that Okada called on Tanahashi instead of another member of CHAOS. Okada, who probably doesn’t remember what CHAOS is, is sure that everything will be fine.
It’s interesting to see Ishii, who has been slotted down in recent years as he’s aged, getting a bit of a spotlight here. If an angle is coming from this, I don’t expect it to be immediate. While there would be interest in seeing Okada hold a title that isn’t the Heavyweight Title, I expect this to be Narita’s revenge and a successful defense for Strong Style. Prediction: Strong Style
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tama Tonga (c) vs. David Finlay
J Michael: Before, I mentioned how watching the Road To build-up shows can lead to disappointment, but they also provide some gems.
Tama Tonga & Master Wato v. David Finlay and Gedo on April 30 was such a gem. Six minutes of action, a forthright battle between authentic babyfaces and scumbag fuckface heels. And, a proper showcase for the inherent contradictions between Tama and Finlay. Tama is a natural, almost effortless babyface, while Finlay is a tryhard, demonstrative heel. Their sequences in the tag matches have been a joy to watch. Their contradictions foment complements. Finlay is a slow burn guy, and Tama is an explosive fire-up guy.
That is what to expect: a traditional pro wrestling match, with all the dynamics of a 1973 house show loop, but with 2023 athleticism and fireworks. The crowd has responded well to both guys, and they both have tremendous ability to dig into their toolbox to entice a crowd, so this one should deliver in all aspects.
Tama’s reign has worked well and he feels like someone that should always walk out with a championship. But, now that Finlay has established himself as the BULLET CLUB leader, he should take a crown into the G1 Climax.
The question is whether the rest of the world, painfully stulted on embracing Finlay, will respond to him at some of the pretty big shows coming up. Prediction: David Finlay
Suit: I don’t know if this is a bigger Shin Nihon Freak Showcase match than Finlay vs. Great-O-Khan in the New Japan Cup, but it’s up there. Fans slow to return to New Japan will look at this match in awe, wondering how and why these two guys are in a semi-main event for the NEVER Title. Those of us who have stuck around not only know why but are looking forward to this match, which is drenched in BULLET CLUB history on the unit’s 10th anniversary.
Tama Tonga has been an absolute revelation as the New Japan Army white-meat babyface he’s been since getting kicked out of Bullet Club last year. He’s been a perfect midcard babyface champion, fighting off the Bullet Club members that had been chasing him and the NEVER Title. From EVIL to Karl Anderson to El Phantasmo, Tama has overcome all of his former associates to stand tall as NEVER Champion.
Now he’s come up against a man who has taken firm and complete control of BULLET CLUB in David Finlay. Promising to oust anyone who questions his lead, he’s already lived up to his word by knocking ELP out of the group at Sakura Genesis. Now, Finlay has a chance to clean up some of the old BULLET CLUB’s mess by taking the NEVER Title back from the man he beat clean in the New Japan Cup semi-finals.
I expect the title change to happen here. El Phantasmo’s rocket pack push began when Finlay knocked him out of Bullet Club. Tama has done a great job with the NEVER Title, but Finlay needs a credibility-building win and a title for ELP to chase and eventually win. Prediction: David Finlay
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
SANADA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
J Michael: LIJ and Just 5 Guys in conflict has proven to be successful in beguiling crowds. They completely slept-walk through an elimination match on April 30th, a string of long holds and totally uninspired eliminations, but the crowd was invested and boisterous the whole way through. New Japan elimination matches aren’t foolproof, but they are still panacea-esque.
It’s still a bit distressing that New Japan is layering recycled story frameworks on top of each other. Underneath, Hiromu had to defend his title in order to attain a shot at another title. They’ve done this several times in the last few years, especially in the junior division. Above that, we have a retread of the EVIL story: turn on Naito, win the world title, defeat Hiromu, and then…? If this ends in SANADA losing the title to Naito, the story… will have been finished.
Speaking of stories, Hiromu has been talking a lot about having two blemishes on his recent record: losing to Kanemaru so badly in BOSJ29, and not pinning the champion for the title at WK17. So, Ishimori winning BOSJ30, you heard it here first.
Hiromu and SANADA haven’t interacted much on this tour. Obviously, Hiromu was tied up with Kanemaru for most of it. That resulted in an excellent match, which played well off their four-minute shocker at BOSJ29. This time, Kanemaru couldn’t overwhelm Hiromu immediately and take the knee. And when he did, Hiromu persevered (and took Kanemaru’s knee eventually).
When they have wrestled, the sequences have been interesting, SANADA’s effortless athleticism juxtaposed against Hiromu’s maelstrom athleticism. We’re getting an elaborate sequence to set up the Deadfall DDT, for sure, but they have a lot of moves that work together to get to that position.
They also use space very well. Even though the outcome is a fait accompli, the audiences adore both of these guys, so expect a very hot crowd, who should appreciate and fill that space. Prediction: SANADA
Suit: This show sold out far in advance, signaling strong interest in this match and SANADA as champion. The fresh coat of paint on SANADA has benefited him already, but the question still remains: can SANADA give that New Japan main event output that fans expect? He’s certainly got the dance partner to make it happen. Hiromu is coming off of a stellar Jr. Title defense against Yoshinobu Kanemaru on the 27th – a match I reviewed – and is on his best run since breaking his neck back in 2018.
The result won’t be in doubt, as there hasn’t been a V0 World Title reign since Jay White in 2019. (Technically, Kota Ibushi never successfully defended the World Championship, but he had defended the Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles 3 times).
The points of interest here are how good the match is, and who comes out to challenge SANADA, presumably for Dominion. All signs point to Tetsuya Naito, with LIJ and Just 5 Guys being entangled since the New Japan Cup, plus Naito scoring a singles win on the tour against Douki. There’s always the dark horse option of Shingo Takagi losing up after dropping the KOPW Title. Ultimately, my money is on New Japan continuing their step-by-step redux of EVIL’s push with SANADA by having him lose the title to Naito at Dominion. But, you know, doing it well this time. Prediction: SANADA
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