Bullet Club was the theme of the first half of this year’s Wrestling Dontaku, as they defended the Never trios titles against… themselves, while the “Civil War” continued with a pair of matches that sadly under-delivered.

We’re in the Fukuoka Convention Center (not literally), with Kevin Kelly back on the English call with Don Callis, and right from the off, Don’s got some verbal juggling to do.

Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Shota Umino & Yota Tsuji
Owens and Yujiro were wearing special robes to celebrate the Bullet Club’s 5th anniversary, but they were caught by the Young Lions at the bell, before they shrugged off a throw into the guard rails.

Tsuji looked impressive early on against Yujiro, slapping him like there was no tomorrow, before he ran into a big boot as Takahashi slowly took over. Chase tags in to land a backbreaker on Tsuji, before running into a dropkick as both men were in need of a tag out. Shota Umino gets his, while Owens stood and waited… so the son of Red Shoes took him down with a running elbow. A missile dropkick followed for a near-fall, but Chase quickly hits back with the Jewel Heist trapped lariat, before clocking Umino with a superkick. A roll-through into a fireman’s carry gutbuster comes next from Owens, and it’s elementary as a package piledriver spiked Umino for the win. Barely over five minutes, but this was your usual opening match – a Bullet Club win on their anniversary… but it’ll not be all smiles by the end of the night. **½

Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yuji Nagata, Tomoyuki Oka & Ren Narita
A familiar match from the Dontaku tour, as Yuji Nagata and his dojo kids take on some veterans, including a Tiger Mask who came close to doing a Titus O’Neil while scaling the ropes…

We started with Liger and Oka, with Oka taking the veteran into the ropes and sneaking in a chop, as Don Callis outed Oka on commentary as having been the victim of a show-long squatting regiment after a bad match. It seemed to have worked, as Oka had the upper hand before running into a Shotei as Tiger Mask came in to try and get the win with a cross armbar.

Ren Narita broke that up, but was quickly taken out and into the guard rails by Liger, while Taguchi hit some sit-down splashes on Oka for a near-fall. Finally, Oka reverses a suplex as he got some breathing space from Tiger Mask, tagging in Yuji Nagata to help his team actually get some offence in.

Nagata tries for a Backdrop Hold, but it’s escaped as a Tiger Bomb left him laying, only for some kicks to turn it back around as Taguchi came in to try some hip attacks. Ren Narita begged to come in, and Nagata granted him his wish as the two Young Lions charged into Taguchi in the corner. Once the ring cleared, Narita had a little bit of success, but was quickly swatted down with a hip attack for a near-fall, before Taguchi finished him off with Dodon. That was another by-the-numbers outing… and it seems we’re blasting through these prelims. Good! **¼

Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.) & Takashi Iizuka)
It may not be THAT match… but rest assured, we’re getting it tomorrow as Takashi Iizuka gets some new partners tonight to try and get some revenge after his Iron Fingers were used on him.

Rocky’s instantly taken outside by his throat as the match pretty much starts on the outside, as Roppongi 3K were taken into the crowd. Things settled down back in the ring, as Iizuka bit away on SHO, before going after the ref… SHO capitalises with a roll-up, and that’s the win! Thank GOD they kept this short.

Poor Yuya Uemura gets chokeslammed after the match.

Juice Robinson, Togi Makabe, David Finlay, Michael Elgin & Toa Henare vs. Hirooki Goto, Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI
The focus here was again on the NEVER title, with Michael Elgin looking to stake his claim for a shot at Goto’s belt… and it’s those two who start, with Elgin taking Goto into the ropes from the off.

Shoulder blocks just send the other man into the ropes as Elgin ends up falling to a hiptoss, as Tomohiro Ishii came in… and guess who wanted the tag on the other side? Instead, we get Makabe and Ishii bulling into each other with shoulder and chops… and it’s Ishii who wins out, even more so when Finlay tried his luck, as CHAOS really targeted him.

Yano removed the turnbuckle pads and sent Finlay into the exposed corner, as Jay White wanted to come in… dumping Finlay with a Saito suplex for a near-fall as CHAOS just cycled through tags as they wore down Finlay. Eventually there’s a tag out to Juice, who nails a leg lariat to Goto before dishing out Dusty punches to YOSHI-HASHI, only to have to deal with a diversion from Ishii instead.

We’re in the revolving door stage of things here, with Juice dropping Yano with a spinebuster before he finally nailed that cannonball to YOSHI-HASHI for a near-fall. The ring fills briefly as I had to check if I was watching *insert indy group here*, before Henare came in and charged into White with a shoulder tackle and a clothesline, before heading up top for a flying tackle.

White barely kicks out from that as Henare called for reinforcements, with Finlay and Makabe offering support as they triple-team White, leading to Henare coming close with a near-fall, before his uranage almost got countered into a Blade Runner. Henare escaped, but earns himself a Downward Spiral, a German suplex and finally the Blade Runner as White gets the W. All these individual entrances and falls are sure making you think they’ve got something big planned for Switchblade… and I wouldn’t be too shocked if he were next in line for an IWGP title shot, even if it is a “throwaway” 13th defence… A good match, but with nothing much set in stone, this had to fight to avoid being a flat undercard match. ***

NEVER Six-Man Championships: Bullet Club (Marty Scurll & Young Bucks (Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson))) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
The latest round of the Bullet Club war saw the “new age” Bullet Club take on the “OGs” for those NEVER trios titles. Remember those?

It’s worth noting that only the “OGs” had the ceremonial robes here, although all six guys shook hands, as we looked to be setting up for a clean fight. Marty tried to attack Fale before the bell, which went as well as you’d expect… but Marty can’t even tag out as the Bucks dropped off the apron. Eventually he does as Tama Tonga and Nick Jackson head in, with the latter eating a Tama dropkick, before the Guerrillas double-teamed Nick with elbow drops.

Matt Jackson comes in to save his brother from a suplex, before being popped up into a dropkick… as Fale ends up getting triple-teamed, to little avail as he shrugged off Scurll and the Bucks, before missing a charge in the corner. It’s slow, deliberate stuff, with the Bucks trying to put down the giant while still slipping in their “Greatest Hits” playbook.

On the outside, the Guerrillas get squashed with planchas from the Bucks, before Scurll got cocky and tried to slam Fale. Not happening. The champions remained in control, with Fale nonchalantly standing on Scurll in the ropes, before Tanga Loa came in and easily dropped Marty with a slam and a legdrop for a near-fall. Nick Jackson finally gets the tag in and clears house on the GOD with kicks, before bringing Matt back in to try for some double-teams, featuring a pair of sunset flips into Sharpshooters.

Fale wanders into break that up as Matt’s back seemed to have largely healed up, but Marty’s in to snap some fingers as Fale went for a Grenade. Superkicks follow, as Tanga Loa’s squashed with some standing moonsaults and a big splash, with that triple-team attack only garnering the challengers a near-fall.

Loa escapes an Indytaker, and drops Matt with a lariat for a near-fall, but a Magic Killer and a big splash still doesn’t get it done as the challengers are all about those superkicks, dropping Tanga while Nick flips into Tama and Fale on the outside. That got the crowd going, as Tanga eats More Bang For Your Buck, and we have new champions! A good, even match, but this felt a little flat in parts – the entire Bullet Club feud has been between Kenny and Cody, and while everyone here has been involved in some degree, the crowd didn’t seem to know who to cheer for in this battle of the peripheral players. ***¼

More Bone Soldier threats…

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Los Ingobernable de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi)
Zack Sabre Jr’s here, despite being two days away from competing for PROGRESS’ Super Strong Style 16. I smell incoming jetlag! If only PROGRESS could book TAKA to be his hype man?

Naito didn’t come out with his Intercontinental title belt, going back to his old beliefs that there’s too many belts in New Japan. Yeah, we had a jump start as the ring cleared out at the bell, with El Desperado being left behind in the ring as LIJ tried to pick him apart.

Suzuki charges in to stop Naito from the slingshot dropkick to Desperado as it seemed the Suzuki-gun leader was still a little salty about what happened on Sunday in Kumamoto, burying Naito under guard rails and throwing chairs on top of him. It didn’t get much better for Naito as all of Suzuki-gun tore him apart in the corner, with Sabre being particularly adept at working the knee, as the referee offered precious little protection to Naito.

Naito does try to chop his way back in, but he’s instantly pulled back down into a kneebar from Suzuki. A PK attempt is fairly easily blocked, before Naito laughs away some forearms as Suzuki continued his decimation from Sunday. Somehow, Naito gets in a tornado DDT off the ropes, before we finally got tags out to Sabre and SANADA, with the latter hitting his double leapfrog dropkick before putting Kanemaru in a Paradise lock.

Sabre fights out of the same hold, and runs into an Octopus hold on SANADA, as the New Japan Cup winner began to climb around SANADA in a variety of submission attempts. BUSHI’s in to take Sabre into the corner with a dropkick, but the swinging neckbreaker’s countered out and into a suplex as Suzuki-gun again took over, this time focusing on BUSHI four-on-one. Some PKs led to a near-fall on BUSHI, before EVIL came in and ran into a low dropkick from Kanemaru, as Naito returned to spark some payback, with Kanemaru taking some lop-sided offence for good measure, as the Everything is EVIL STO put away the junior tag champion. Well, this was fun in parts, but like the rest of the tour, it’s hard to keep interest going after you’ve had the pay-off. Still, at least Suzuki’s violent attacks on Naito tried to get something going… ***

The Young Bucks came out after the match, as it seemed that two-thirds of the new NEVER trios champions had an eye for some more gold. Remember, they are heavyweights now, and they challenge EVIL & SANADA for the belts. Clink go the belts, and super go the kicks as the Bucks scurried away.

Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA vs. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay
With these four men facing off for their respective titles tomorrow, we’ve got one last tag match to add a little more sizzle to the proverbial steaks.

Okada and Tanahashi got us going, with the champion instantly booting his challenger for tomorrow… but he’s sent outside for a plancha as the Ace of New Japan looked to ease ahead. It’s even stuff, with Tanahashi ducking an early Rainmaker, as they both tag out… so Ospreay and KUSHIDA could turn up the pace for a frenetic sequence that led to KUSHIDA getting dropkicked outside… but he took advantage of Will’s predictable fake-out and rushed the ring to kick him in the arm.

Will’s back with a handspring overhead kick, but the match breaks down into a spot of clubbing before Okada returned and dropped KUSHIDA with a neckbreaker for a rather cocky one-count. Ospreay’s in to hit a neckbreaker of his own, before slowing things down with a cravat as KUSHIDA was forced to fight back to his feet, ahead of a handspring elbow to both of his opponents. Okada grabbed a leg to stop KUSHIDA from tagging out, but it doesn’t work as Tanahashi comes in and goes straight for Okada, landing a leaping forearm before hitting a dropkick in the corner. The flip senton off the middle rope follows for a near-fall, before he’s propelled into the air with a flapjack as Okada turned things back around.

They headed outside as Okada teases another tombstone to Tanahashi, but that’s escaped, as was a Slingblade, as Okada gets his leg tweaked by way of a Dragon screw. More Dragon screws follow, before a Cloverleaf to Okada and a Hoverboard lock attempt to Ospreay nearly forced the submissions. KUSHIDA and Ospreay go right back at it, with a cartwheel dropkick rocking Ospreay’s head, ahead of a teased DDT.

Instead, Ospreay lifts up KUSHIDA into a Bloody Sunday attempt, which gets countered into another cravat, before KUSHIDA’s leap into the corner put him in place for a Cheeky Nando’s that Ospreay nearly stole the win with after grabbing a handful of tights. An over-the-top 619 followed from Ospreay, but KUSHIDA counters a resulting springboard into a cross armbreaker… Ospreay stands up out of it, but gets rocked with a rolling forearm and a Pele kick from his challenger tomorrow. An instant response comes with a standing Spanish fly, before Okada tags in to keep up the offence with a neckbreaker slam… a top rope elbow drop,and… Rainmaker pose!

Except Tanahashi slips in during the pose and slaps Okada, before his Slingblade’s cut-off by Ospreay, who then teased the Storm Breaker to KUSHIDA, only for it to get countered into a DDT out of the corner. KUSHIDA almost shocks Okada with a Dragon’rana, forcing a near-fall out of the champion, before a Hoverboard Lock attempt gets stuffed and countered into a tombstone.

Tanahashi hits the ring and gets met with a dropkick, leaving KUSHIDA on his lonesome as a Rainmaker gets the win. A fun fifteen minutes or-so, but with these losses KUSHIDA is eating, it’s making me wonder… title change tomorrow? ***¾

Cody vs. Kota Ibushi
A rematch from WrestleKingdom, and if this is anywhere near as good as that match, then we’re in for a banger. Cody’s gone for a wacky military-inspired jacket, just minus any medals, which some would say is fitting.

Cody keeps Kota on the mat early on, but the wannabe Bullet Club leader gets easily frustrated as he powders outside and throws a seat into the ring. A seat that Ibushi just politely places outside as Cody tries his luck again, taking Kota into the ropes and forcing himself on him with a kiss. My feed stutters a little here, returning as Kota’s snap suplex doesn’t even get a one-count as the pair looked to go tit-for-tat in their feeling-out process.

Cody rolls outside again after he looked to land funny from a leap over, but of course it’s a ruse as Cody hangs Ibushi on the top rope before dumping him onto the apron with a front suplex, complete with a nice “splat” as Kota faceplanted onto the floor afterwards. The springboard body press to the floor follows as Cody’s methodical game plan continued to unfold, with Kota getting taken around ringside as the match remained at a rather slow pace.

Garvin-style stomps follow, as do Scott Steiner-esque push-ups, and a kick to the gut a la Bob Holly as Cody eventually knocked Kota down with a kick ahead of a figure four. Ibushi escapes and hits a dropkick as commentary painted this as a comeback, and finally we get something resembling action as a flurry of kicks puts down Cody, before a ‘rana takes Cody to the outside once more. An effortless Golden Triangle moonsault left Cody down on the floor… but when we get back inside, Cody’s right back in with a Disaster kick for a near-fall.

The pair fight back to their feet, trading right hands, then kicks, and assorted strikes before Cody hits a basement uppercut, only to get decked with a lariat as we’re back on the mat. A Stinger splash meant for Kota led to Cody squashing the referee in the corner, giving Cody time to find a table and set it up in the ring as the Young Lions tended to Red Shoes. Cody teases a superplex through the table, but it’s set way too close to the corner as Kota escaped and instead teased a Destroyer…

That too is blocked as Cody falls back onto the table, and gets squashed with a stomp. Of course, the table doesn’t break… we’re in Japan!

Kota tries the stomp again, but Cody ends up going through the table as the wood breaks… but Cody’s almost stuffed between the table frame and the unbroken wood. It’s cut Cody’s back a little, but he’s able to counter Kamigoye into a roll-up for a near-fall, before a head kick sunk Cody to his knees. Ibushi pulls down his knee pad again, but the Kamigoye’s avoided, as Cody heads outside… but even the other side of the barrier isn’t far away enough, as Ibushi springboards over the guard rails with a body press into the crowd.

Back inside again, Cody dragged Ibushi into the ring for Cross Rhodes for a near-fall… the Kudo Driver/Vertebreaker follows, and that’s all folks. It’s a rude landing for Ibushi, and it’s enough to put him away. A lacklustre match, far too lethargic for my tastes. Watch their WrestleKingdom outing instead, as that was more action packed, whereas this just seemed to exist to give Cody his win back, albeit this time with the proverbial “Superstars-special.” Disappointing. **½

Hangman Page vs. Kenny Omega
Commentary was talking up Page before the match as a potential future star… he’s certainly taped up like one, as he’s coming into the match carrying an injury.

Kenny’s wearing the Bullet Club robe, and he’s jumped by Cody before the bell as the Young Lion’s watched on dumbfounded. The bell hasn’t gone so this isn’t DQ-worthy, but Omega’s right back with a dropkick to stop Cody from bringing in a table as the bell goes. A snap ‘rana from Omega takes Page outside for a plancha, as Kenny sets up for a Terminator dive, crashing right into Cody on the other side of the ring. Omega’s celebrating too early as he’s caught with a German suplex from Page, and an Orihara moonsault to Omega on the floor… worthy of two replays!

The table’s back in play, as Kenny takes a Rite of Passage onto the folded wood – but the only dent is from Page’s knees. It drew blood though, as did a DDT onto a chair as Page had shoved down the ref, and we’re back outside as Kenny’s blonde locks were slowly turning red.

Omega reverses a snap suplex on the outside, then delivers one onto the apron as Page then ate a Finlay roll on the floor, followed up with a delayed moonsault off the guard rails… put Page rolled away, before getting clotheslined into the crowd, and returns with a slingshot lariat. Back in the ring, Page takes Omega into the corner, then slingshots Kenny into the ropes, before Kenny blocks a suplex, only to get caught in Page’s bridging, pumphandle fallaway slam for a near-fall.

An Irish whip sends Omega hard into the buckles as Kenny seemed to be on the back foot, before he mounted a comeback with some axehandle blows and a swinging DDT. That gets Kenny a near-fall, as he followed up with the Finlay roll and a moonsault for another two-count, with the Aoi Shoudou keeping him ahead. A V-Trigger is delayed as Page tried to escape, but he’s right back with a rolling elbow and a package tombstone as Kenny was almost put away.

Page looks for a superplex, and despite Kenny’s attempt to block, he ends up getting taken down with a top rope neckbreaker…as only a foot on the rope saved Omega from being pinned. A Rites of Package is teased again, but Kenny clings onto the ropes, only to get an elbow right to the top of the head as Page tried to open up that cut some more… but it doesn’t work as Omega flips out of a German suplex and hits a V-Trigger!

Page is right back in with an enziguiri, only to get waffled with another V-Trigger, before he slips out of the One Winged Angel, only to fall into a Snap Dragon suplex. The slingshot lariat attempt from Page ends up with him getting rocked with another V-Trigger, which looked to have knocked him out as a phantom kick-out was called ahead of another V-Trigger and a double underhook piledriver as Omega kept up the pressure. One more V-Trigger leads to the One Winged Angel, and that’s all folks. **½

I’m not sure if the instant camera switch to bemused fans in the front row was right, but it summed up my thoughts. It was a match, but in spite of the attempt to increase tensions with Cody being out there at the start, it just existed. Nothing more, nothing less. While the Cody vs. Kenny feud is certainly clicking, it just feels like the matches with the peripheral players just isn’t working – and while I can’t say for certain, it feels like the stuff that’s been inserted to extend the main feud – perhaps by New Japan themselves – is dragging this down.

The first night of Wrestling Dontaku will have to go down as a bit of a disappointment – the big matches just did not deliver, and I don’t know whether Fukuoka just wasn’t into it, but the silence that greeted a lot of the Bullet Club-related stuff here was tough to watch. Luckily, Friday’s card isn’t as Bullet Club-heavy, as the junior and heavyweight titles are on the line… and while we have two matches that on paper should be show-stealing, we also have the spectre of yet another Suzuki-gun/Roppongi 3K match as they try to plumb those depths yet again!