NJPW Wrestling Dontaku: Okada vs. Naito, Tanahashi vs. Ishii, Jay White returns, Juice Robinson joins Bullet Club
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestling Dontaku 2022 from 1st May 2022. The Wrestling Dontaku show in Fukuoka has been an annual New Japan tradition since 2009. This show was the first time that New Japan has used the Fukuoka Dome since 2001. It was also the first time that Dontaku has been a single show since 2017. That decision was designed to maximize the show’s attendance. This event was attended by 8,162 fans, the highest attendance for a New Japan shows in Fukuoka since their last Fukuoka Dome show in 2001. For context, before COVID New Japan was drawing crowds of up to 6,300 in Fukuoka. It was also the largest New Japan attendance for a non-Tokyo Dome show since New Beginning in Osaka 2020.
New Japan’s plans were hampered due to Will Ospreay and Tatsumi Fujinami pulling out due to COVID. Despite that, this was a show full of singles matches, title matches, and post-match angles.
1 Shingo Takagi, BUSHI & X vs Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku – A decent, basic opener
2 Hiromu Takahashi vs YOH – A good, compact bomb fest hampered by Yoh’s lack of charisma – BORDERLINE RECOMMENDED
3 Tanga Loa vs Yujiro Takahashi – Decent, especially when the dynamic Loa was in control
4 IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato (c) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Douki – Decent. Fun and functional but nothing special
5 IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Jeff Cobb & Great O-Khan (c) vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto vs Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens – A fun and chaotic tag team match full of double teams and action
6 NEVER Openweight Championship: EVIL (c) vs Tama Tonga – A good EVIL formula thanks to a hot crowd and Tonga working well in the structure. Do not skip the post-match – BORDERLINE RECOMMENDED
7 IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado (c) vs Taiji Ishimori – A very good, compact technical match with body part work and a submission heavy finishing stretch – RECOMMENDED
8 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Decision Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii – A fantastic battle of wills, possibly the best New Japan match this year so far – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
9 IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito – A long Naito vs Okada match, a little lifeless at times but with a big, memorable finish – BORDERLINE RECOMMENDED
Shingo Takagi, BUSHI & X vs Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku
Tatsumi Fujinami’s replacement was Shiro Koshinaka. Sabre Jr was embarrassed by Koshinaka, so he took his frustrations out on BUSHI. Takagi tagged in and cleaned house before setting Taichi up for Koshinaka’s hip attacks. Takagi nearly pinned Taichi with a ground Cobra Twist but Taichi stole the win using the Gedo clutch. Taichi then demanded a rematch for the KOPW trophy.
Taichi pinned Shingo Takagi via Gedo Clutch (10:15)
This was a decent opener, although it was basic and Koshinaka was a downgrade from Fujinami, as this match would have been much better with interactions between Sabre Jr and Fujinami.
Hiromu Takahashi vs YOH
The match started with a chop exchange before they relied on speed and counters. Takahashi hit his turnbuckle DVD surprisingly early. They traded dropkicks and bombs, with Yoh avoiding the nameless Hiromu pin before getting caught with the Victoria Royal. Takahashi blocked the Five Star clutch and Yoh kicked out of a Lariat at one. Yoh caught Takahashi with a superkick and a Brainbuster on the knee, getting a nearfall with a Dragon Suplex before running into a belly-to-belly suplex into the Turnbuckles. Takahashi then hit a Lariat, the Timebomb and the Timebomb II to defeat Yoh.
Hiromu Takahashi pinned YOH via Timebomb II (9:59)
This was a good, compact match built around familiarity and big bombs. Yoh had some enthusiastic kick-outs, but the match felt flat at times, partly because I struggled to connect with Yoh. I feel like he lacks fire and charisma. Takahashi was his usual self. I will say that I was slightly uncomfortable about the turnbuckle suplex in light of Shinjiro Otani’s recent, potentially life-changing injury after a similar move.
Tanga Loa vs Yujiro Takahashi
This match was part of Loa’s quest for vengeance after the Bullet Club turned on Loa, Tama Tonga, and Jado. Takahashi attacked Loa during his entrance, but Loa quickly started running through Takahashi. Loa went for a powerbomb on the ramp, only for SHO to interfere and Takahashi hit Loa with a Fisherman buster on the ramp. Takahashi dominated Loa, who fought back with a Jackhammer and a T-bone suplex. Loa then used a 619 and a diving clothesline for a nearfall. Takahashi used dirty tricks to regain control until Loa hit a spear. There was a ref bump where SHO hit a German suplex on Loa, although Jado made the save and Loa hit a massive Powerbomb on SHO. Loa hit the Catatonic before pinning Takahashi with Apeshit.
Tanga Loa pinned Yujiro Takahashi via Apeshit (11:33)
This was a decent match. While it felt a little flat when Takahashi was on offense, Loa was dynamic, and the crowd was firmly behind him. Loa’s offense was more varied and flamboyant than when he was in the Bullet Club, and the match was at its best when he was on top. Loa is definitely a wrestler who has grown on me over the years.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato (c) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Douki
After the opening scuffles, there was a series of dives to the outside. Kanemaru and DOUKI used trickery to keep their opponents off-balance. They tried to isolate Wato, but he still tagged in Taguchi, who ran wild with hip attacks. Douki and Kanemaru attacked Taguchi’s left leg to cut off his momentum. Kanemaru hit a Moonsault, but Wato saved Taguchi, who then escaped a Brainbuster (and briefly sold the wrong leg). Douki neutralized Wato and Kanemaru tried to use the Whisky mist. Kanemaru accidentally sprayed Whisky in Douki’s face and Taguchi rolled up Kanemaru for the win.
Ryusuke Taguchi pinned Yoshinobu Kanemaru via roll-up (9:10)
This was another decent match, although there was nothing special to make this match stand out. It was fun and functional, but it lacked substance and excitement.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Jeff Cobb & Great O-Khan (c) vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto vs Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens
O-Khan’s entrance gear has been significantly upgraded since I last saw him wrestle. This was a Tornado tag, with no tags needed. The Bullet Club jumped their opponents and tried to beat Goto early. The Empire hit Goto with their Sheep killer Slam before getting a nearfall on YOSHI-HASHI. The Bullet Club teamed up on YOSHI-HASHI with an incredibly gentle double team slam. Goto came in and took out both Owens and O-Khan. Fale and Cobb went face to face, with Cobb slamming Fale to a big pop. O-Khan and YOSHI-HASHI traded Lariats before Bishamon hit the Shouto on O-Khan. Owens broke up the pin. Goto and Owens traded forearms before Owens hit a flip dive. Goto hit the Ushi-Goroshi on Cobb, but Cobb caught Goto with the Tour of the Islands. Fale broke it up and hit Cobb with a Lariat on the apron. Fale and Owens then hit a Rocket Launcher Elbow Drop on Goto to win the match.
After the match, Cobb and O-Khan asked for a title match as they were not pinned.
Chase Owens pinned Hirooki Goto via Rocket Launcher Elbow Drop (9:42)
This was a fast-paced tag match packed with double teams and fun combinations. Some of it was fun and really entertaining, like Cobb slamming Fale. This was good but scrappy and chaotic. Unfortunately, the wrong team won, although I hope that Cobb & O-Khan win the titles back soon.
The Best of the Super Junior lineup will be two blocks of ten wrestlers. Clark Connors, Ace Austin, Alex Zayne, Francesco Akira, Wheeler Yuta, and El Lindaman are making their BOSJ debuts.
NEVER Openweight Championship: EVIL (c) vs Tama Tonga
Tonga intercepted EVIL on the ramp but EVIL soon got control thanks to his usual tactics. Yes, that included throwing Tonga into the ring announcer. Tonga won a battle over a vertical suplex and used a flurry of dropkicks on EVIL. After a Tongan twist, EVIL fought back with a Lariat. Tonga blocked the EVIL and sent EVIL into Jado before hitting a rolling DVD and a top rope splash for a nearfall. EVIL blocked the Gun Stun and caused a ref bump to let Dick Togo hit Tonga in the head with a chair. Tonga kicked out of the Darkness Falls.
EVIL tried to lock in the Sharpshooter before Tonga applied a Sharpshooter of his own, only for Togo to ring the ring bell. Tonga released the hold, thinking that EVIL had tapped out. In the confusion, the House of Torture hit Tonga with a Magic Killer. Jado made the save with a kendo stick. EVIL and Tonga traded counters until Tonga leapfrogged the referee and hit EVIL with the Gun Stun for a popular win.
After the match, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson jumped Tonga and Jado. Tanga Loa made the save but Gallows took him out. Anderson then hit Tonga with the Gun Stun.
Tama Tonga pinned EVIL via Gun Stun (13:25)
This was honestly a good EVIL match. Tonga was incredibly over with the Fukuoka fans, so they were engaged and popped whenever Tonga made a comeback or Jado made the save. While we had the usual tropes it did not feel overblown, and Tonga fitted in well with the structure. Despite the usual EVIL shenanigans, this is probably worth a watch, especially for the post-match.
When it was rumored that Anderson & Gallows were returning, I felt that they did not add anything to New Japan. This show did not change my mind. Karl Anderson can have good singles matches but I remember Doc Gallow’s performances in previous G1 Climaxes. I seriously hope that New Japan do not give him a G1 spot. I would rather watch a G1 block containing SANADA, EVIL, KENTA, and Bad Luck Fale.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado (c) vs Taiji Ishimori
Early on, Ishimori dropped Desperado gut first on the guardrail and controlled Desperado with submissions, so Desperado fought back by attacking Ishimori’s leg. Ishimori kept attacking Desperado’s midsection, although he kept doing damage to his own leg in the process. Desperado earned a nearfall with the Guitarra del Angel. When Ishimori looked to have an advantage, Desperado used a desperate punch to the face.
Ishimori used La Mistica into the Bone Lock crossface, but Desperado escaped and locked in the Numero Dos Submission. Somehow Ishimori countered that hold into an Octopus Stretch but Desperado countered it with an Axe Guillotine Driver for a nearfall. Desperado hit the Pinche Loco, but Ishimori countered a second Pinche Loco into the Bone Lock, forcing Desperado to clamber for the ropes. Ishimori rolled Desperado back to the centre of the ring and Desperado tapped out, to the shock of the crowd.
Taiji Ishimori submitted El Desperado via Bone Lock (14:40)
This was a very good, compact match based around working a body part. It stood out from everything that preceded it and the finish was a genuine shock to the fans in attendance. The finishing stretch was very submission focussed and they told a good story, although I feel like Desperado has had better title matches during this reign and feel like they are cutting this reign short.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Decision Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii
Will Ospreay was originally meant to be part of this match designed to crown the new US Heavyweight Champion, but he recently contracted COVID and Ishii was chosen as Ospreay’s replacement.
When Tanahashi got cocky playing air guitar, Ishii took exception and they started trading forearms until Ishii outlasted Tanahashi. Ishii trapped Tanahashi in the corner and unleashed a flurry of chops. Tanahashi fought back using a flying forearm and a Dragon Screw. Ishii’s response was to use a Dragon Screw of his own, although Tanahashi stopped Ishii from applying a Sasorigatame. Ishii stared a hole in Tanahashi and kept walking through Tanahashi’s forearms, smashing Tanahashi with one of his own. Tanahashi fought back by Dragon screwing Ishii off the top rope and locking in the Texas Cloverhold, although Ishii reached the ropes.
Ishii caught Tanahashi with a Powerslam but was unable to capitalize. He absorbed Tanahashi’s slaps and somehow got to his feet after a Dragon Suplex, which led to a no-sell sequence ending with a Sling Blade nearfall for Tanahashi. The Ace nearly beat Ishii with the Daruma style German Suplex before Ishii charged into Tanahashi to stop a High Fly Flow. Ishii then hit a top rope superplex for a nearfall. Tanahashi countered a Brainbuster into the Twist and Shout, before hitting a Dragon Suplex for another nearfall. Ishii avoided a High Fly Flow and nearly won with a La Magistral cradle which got a loud pop from the crowd. Ishii absorbed multiple Lariats from Tanahashi and hit an Enziguri before running through Tanahashi with a Lariat of his own. Tanahashi kicked out at one, but Ishii hit a second Lariat and a Brainbuster, only for Tanahashi to kick out. Ishii looked for the Steiner Screwdriver, but Tanahashi hit a reverse Sling Blade. Ishii and Tanahashi used desperate headbutts before Ishii used a Sling Blade of his own, only for Tanahashi to hit a Brainbuster. Ishii kicked out of a Sling Blade at one before Tanahashi hit two High Fly Flows to defeat Ishii.
Afterward, Chase Owens challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi only for a mystery wrestler in a Bullet Club jacket to attack Tanahashi. The mystery wrestler was Juice Robinson, who laid out Tanahashi and stole the US Heavyweight Title.
Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned Tomohiro Ishii via High Fly Flow (23:20)
This was fantastic, easily the match of the night, and probably my favorite New Japan match this year. Tanahashi and Ishii have incredible chemistry with each other, and they just went for it. The match did not go too long and was centered around two proud wrestlers refusing to back down. While Ishii showed some signs of age catching up with him, the finishing stretch felt vicious and visceral with both wrestlers trying everything to win. I appreciated things like the Steiner Screwdriver call back (the move that Ishii used in his first victory over Tanahashi) and using each other’s signature moves. This was the kind of match that New Japan can always rely on to remind you just how good they can be, and I firmly expect it to be in the MOTY discussions at the end of the year.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
This was the third Okada vs Naito singles match in 71 days. Naito started disrespectfully and Okada took exception. Okada used his speed and an early DDT, forcing Naito to try and buy some time on the outside. Naito worked over Okada’s neck, with Okada eventually fighting back with a big boot. Okada followed up with a flapjack and a reverse neckbreaker before dropkicking Naito off the top rope and onto the floor. Okada then hit his signature running crossbody on the floor.
After a Missile dropkick, Okada locked in the Money Clip, but Naito reached the ropes. Okada hit a top rope elbow drop and did the Rainmaker pose, only for Naito to counter the Rainmaker into a Spinebuster. Naito started chaining together his signature offense. Okada fought back with a second rope sit-out Powerbomb. Naito avoided a dropkick and got a two-count with a Jackknife Cradle. Okada blocked the Destino with a short-arm clothesline, only for Naito to elbow his way out of a Rainmaker. A shotgun dropkick sent Naito sprawling, but he had enough ware withal to avoid a Tombstone Piledriver. Naito gained wrist control and repeatedly hammered away with elbows to the neck before hitting Esperanza. That was followed up by a running Destino for a nearfall. Okada reversed a Destino into a Tombstone, but Naito reversed a Rainmaker into a roll-up. Okada cut off Naito’s momentum with a dropkick and hit the sit-out Tombstone, only for Naito to counter the Rainmaker into the Destino for a nearfall. Naito slammed Okada and went for the Stardust Press, only for Okada to roll out of the way.
Okada and Naito traded forearms, with Naito coming out on top. Naito tried for the Valentina, and they fought over a Tombstone Piledriver before Okada used a German suplex. They traded slaps with Naito again winning the strike exchange. Okada came out on top of the final counter sequence, hitting an Enziguri, a Manjigatame into an Emerald Flowsion, and then a Rainmaker to put away Naito.
After Okada’s post-match speech and fireworks, Jay White’s music played. White confronted Okada and hit the Champion with the Blade Runner. The Bullet Club then appeared and celebrated their reunion before White hits Okada with another Blade Runner.
Kazuchika Okada pinned Tetsuya Naito via Rainmaker (34:12)
This was a good Naito vs Okada match, but only a good one. It might have been the number of angles on the show or the previous match’s quality, but I struggled to fully engage with this match. It felt like their match going through the motions until the final few moments. When people remember this match, all they will remember is the finish with Okada’s tribute to Antonio Inoki before hitting the final Rainmaker: Inoki was famous for the Enziguri and the Manjigatame. Aside from that sequence, I honestly struggle to recommend this match as they have had better matches and there are other matches on this card that felt fresher and more worthy of your time. Again, this was not bad, but it was just more of the same and you can get fed up with anything if you have it too frequently.
The post-match sequence felt inevitable and, while it reset the New Japan status quo it felt like déjà vu. It did not help how long it took to get to the angle and how long the Bullet Club reunion went on.
This was a fascinating show. On one hand, it felt like New Japan was heading in the right direction. It was New Japan’s largest non-Tokyo Dome attendance since February 2020. Despite wearing masks, the crowd was hot and very vocal during near falls and shocking moments. You could tell that the audience was engaged and the face turn for Tonga and Loa felt like it clicked with the fans. We even had a New Japan MOTY level match, and nothing was awful. The Best of the Super Junior lineup felt fresh compared to the last two tournaments, with a lot of fresh faces.
On the other hand, the last five matches all centered around Bullet Club either winning a title or challenging for a title. The show was designed to push the Bullet Club. That is fine if it was designed to revamp and refresh a stable that felt overblown and stale. Instead, they tried to freshen things up by relying on the past and adding to the group without trimming the fat. While the post-match angles got big reactions, the choice of individuals does not work for me.
We have seen what Juice Robinson can do, although I will give him a chance to work as a heel. Gallows and Anderson bring that nostalgia pop, but honestly, Anderson would have been just as effective on his own. Gallows brought little to New Japan when he was there the first time, trying to impress to get another WWE payday. I struggle to see him even reaching the mediocre highs of his first New Japan run. Jay White is a good wrestler, but he feels like a bad fit in the New Japan main event scene and I hope that he has learned that he does not need thirty-minute plus matches.
I wish I could be more positive about this show. In fact, without the post-match angles, I would have been more positive. Instead, it feels like New Japan is trying to refresh a stale group by going back to the past. My big hope for New Japan this year was a fresh G1 Climax with plenty of fresh faces. Now I fear that the G1 Climax will be stuffed full of wrestlers who felt like they had reached their ceiling. Time will tell.