Wrestling Dontaku came to a close as Kazuchika Okada made the first defence of his latest IWGP championship reign – and we found out who the latest X was for the Bullet Club.

It’s back to the Fukuoka Convention Centre, and again we’ve got the four man booth – Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton, Rocky Romero and Gino Gambino. Taking commentary row a little too seriously with that line-up, eh?

Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Shota Umino & Ren Narita
Narita and Uemura start us off with an eventual tie-up into the ropes as commentary tell us that Narita’s taped-up shoulder is more a precaution… and hopefully not a long-term gimmick.

Uemura’s taken into the corner and stomped on as Umino tagged in… and had to fight to get his partner out of the ring. The pair keep Uemura cornered, as it seemed to be his turn to be on the defensive today as Yuya could barely think of getting in any offence. Umino’s hiptoss gets a two-count – and draws in Tsuji to break it up – but Uemura still couldn’t get anything going, as a dropkick from Umino folds him up for another two-count.

Finally Uemura gets himself free with a dropkick as the tags were made to bring in Yota Tsuji, who charges into Umino and Narita before a series of forearms ended with a Tsuji dropkick. Uemura’s got a dropkick too as Tsuji led into a back body drop for a near-fall, only for things to turn back around as Umino took control with a missile dropkick. From there, a Fisherman suplex lands, and with the sound of a body crashing into the guard rails on the outside, nobody was able to make the save as Shota Umino took the win. Your usual slice of Young Lion action was satisfying as we inch ever closer to what you think would be an eventual excursion for Umino and Narita. **¾

Post-match, Ren Narita returned to stomp down on Yuya Uemura some more.

Jeff Cobb, YOSHI-HASHI, Toa Henare, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Cobb’s back to wrap up the tour, despite losing his NEVER championship to Taichi last night.

Weirdly, there’s no jump start here as Suzuki-gun’s getting soft in their old age. Tiger Mask starts with TAKA, throwing a series of kicks before tagging out to YOSHI-HASHI, who connects with a chop and a dropkick in the ropes. Suzuki-gun’s cleared off the apron as TAKA’s left alone to take the Taguchi Japan train of offence… which ended when YOSHI-HASHI tried to become a Taguchi surrogate… and got strangled to the outside by Suzuki. YOSHI’s tossed into the guard rails, then has a chair bounce off of him as the English commentary table was left a little bedraggled by everything. The same went for YOSHI-HASHI, who had his shoulder tape pulled off as Suzuki-gun had him isolated… until YOSHI-HASHI caught a PK and managed to catch Suzuki with a Western lariat.

Tags bring in Jeff Cobb and Taichi, with Taichi taking a Samoan drop and a standing moonsault for a near-fall. Cobb’s quickly out and tagging in Henare, who catches Taichi with forearms and a flying shoulder tackle, before a charge into the corner is misdirected as Suzuki-gun gang up on Henare. A rear naked choke from Suzuki leaves Henare prone for a buzzsaw kick, but they break up the cover as the match spills outside. TAKA takes a Tour of the Islands from Cobb as a Parade of Moves broke out, nearly ending with a Henare spear on Taichi, only for Taichi to hit back with a backdrop suplex. One superkick later, and Henare flips inside out… then gets pinned too. Strangely subdued from Suzuki-gun, but with Taichi saying he’ll name his next challenger later, should we read too much into the Henare stuff? ***

Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Bullet Club (Jado & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa))
This was Liger’s final Dontaku show, ahead of his retirement next January, as the Bullet Club were again out in their Dontaku kimonos.

We open with a handshake and a hug as Jado and Liger celebrated their 30 years in wrestling, and of course it’s a ruse as the Guerrillas rush the ring to attack Liger from behind. Liger tried to make a comeback with a leap to the outside, but he’s caught and chokes by Tama by the guard rails – a motif that continued back in the ring before a drop toe hold helped Liger to get free. A tag’s make to Makabe, who comes in and… goes between Tama and Tanga with corner-to-corner clotheslines. Mounted punches are next, as we’re sticking firmly to the Makabe playbook, with a swivelling clothesline putting Tanga Loa down. In comes Yano, who goes for the turnbuckle pads, only to get whipped into the exposed corner, as Jado tried to put him away with a crossface.

Liger breaks it up, as Jado’s able to get his Kendo stick… Makabe catches a shot as the ring filled up, then cleared after a double clothesline from Makabe. A Shotei from Liger follows, before a low blow and a roll-up from Yano gets the win. Fun for what it was, and mercifully short. **½

Bullet Club (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Hikuleo) vs. Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson, Tomoaki Honma & Mikey Nicholls
Hey look! Another match where we’ve had all the pay-offs… except we got a new thread starting last night as a mystery “Death Rider” challenged Juice Robinson via video.

Chase Owens of all people starts out against Goto, but he’s quickly on the back foot as everyone has a pop at Chase’s arm. Juice and Nicholls lands an elbow drop/back senton combo, while Honma whiffs on a Kokeshi as the Bullet Club took advantage of everyone missing.

Jay White works a single-leg crab on Honma when things settled down, before the “Tongan Massage Parlour” saw Fale and Hikuleo stood on Honma’s back. Chops from Hikuleo keep Honma on the back foot, before he rolled away as Chase failed with a Kokeshi. There’s a quick tag back to White, who stopped Honma before he got going, but Honma manages to escape and land a leaping Kokeshi before bringing in Goto to clear house. Goto resists an attack from behind to suplex Chase onto White as he built up to a near-fall, only to get caught with a Saito suplex in the end. Tags bring in Hikuleo again, as the Bullet Club Young Boy continued to impress with chops on Goto, then with shoulder charges only to be taken down with a Goto clothesline. A tag brings in Juice Robinson, who had Mikey Nicholls for assistance, as Juice worked into a cannonball… but his follow-up crossbody off the top was caught as Nicholls returned to help suplex Hikuleo.

Fale runs in to turn it around with shoulder tackles as a Parade of Moves peppers Juice, with Honma having to save the US champion from a legdrop. Juice has to fight out of a Tongan Swing before he caught Hikuleo with a DDT, following through with a clothesline, a Left Hand of God, and eventually the Pulp Friction for the win. Good for what it was, an undercard outing to keep folks running on the spot before the next storylines came into play. ***

They replay the Death Rider video again, this time when Juice was on the stage so he could get a closer look at the screen. The new Knife Pervert’s here on June 5 – the BOSJ final show.

Bullet Club (Taichi Ishimori & El Phantasmo) vs. Dragon Lee & Will Ospreay
So the blindly-obvious was right – the new member of Bullet Club who used the El Phantasmo music and video was in fact, El Phantasmo.

Ospreay was practically begging to start against Ishimori, before he offered a handshake to his “friend from England”. Yeah, ELP doesn’t take the handshake and we start with those two, with ELP taking a huge monkey flip that sends him rolling outside for respite. That almost went south in a heartbeat! Back inside, ELP cartwheels out of a ‘rana then catches Ospreay with a dropkick before a spitty chop has Ospreay reeling. It’s time for some rope walking next, as a springboard ‘rana again has the Fukuoka crowd in awe. Ishimori’s in to try and outpace Ospreay, only to fall to a handspring enziguiri as Dragon Lee came in, ending a brief exchange with Ishimori with a clothesline.

ELP’s back in to chop away on Dragon Lee, but he’s caught with a snap German suplex before Ospreay hit his springboard forearm as he couldn’t quite follow through with a Storm Breaker. Phantasmo looked to head up top to leap onto Ospreay, but he instead has to do a rope-walk moonsault as Ishimori held Ospreay and Dragon Lee in the aisle. Phantasmo borrows a little from the Chris Brookes playbook, lifting up Ishimori for an elevated lungblower on Ospreay before following in himself with a moonsault for a near-fall. Ospreay escapes a whirlibird neckbreaker before he went for an OsCutter… it’s superkicked away as ELP hits that neckbreaker, before a trapped-arm Pedigree got the win. So, no high-flying finish for Phantasmo, who “teabagged” Ospreay with an ice pack after the match – and it was a really good debut for Phantasmo who seemed to wow the Fukuoka crowd on his first night in. ***½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Kota Ibushi & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
Well, we still don’t have a date, but Fukuoka were on fire just for the initial staredown between Naito and Ibushi.

They start off by exchanging holds and headlocks, but there’s a quick stand-off as Ibushi kipped up out of headscissors. Tags take us to BUSHI and YOH chopping each other silly, with SHO then coming in to help double-team BUSHI for a while. SHO’s legal… Shingo isn’t, but that doesn’t stop him from running in to clear house as BUSHI suddenly finds himself on top. Naito comes in to catch SHO with a Combinacion Cabron, while Shingo returned to slam and hit a top rope back elbow onto SHO for a near-fall. There’s another good flurry between SHO and Shingo, which ended when SHO ran into a knee in the ropes from BUSHI, before SHO recovered to deadlift Shingo into a suplex.

Kota Ibushi gets involved with a plancha, but back inside the ring he’s dumped with a pop-up death valley driver by Shingo. Naito returned to take advantage with a diving boot, then dumps Ibushi high on his neck with a Gloria-like Blue Thunder Bomb. Ibushi finally cuts him off with a clothesline, as Roppongi 3K tag in to keep Naito on the back foot, landing a step-up forearm in the corner before SHO & YOH tried for their double-team Dominator. Naito escapes that and looked for a tornado DDT on YOH, except it’s countered into a Falcon arrow as a Parade of Moves broke out, ending with a high speed tope suicida from BUSHI as YOH was left alone for a Destino… and there’s another W for LIJ. As ever, these guys were relied on to have a stormer of an undercard tag, although it is curious to see that it was YOH who ate the pin so close to BOSJ. ***¾

Post-match, Naito apologises for Fukuoka not getting the Intercontinental title match… then set the date for his shot: Dominion in Osaka’s Jo Hall on June 9.

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s music hits next as he came to the ring. He talks about how he missed Dontaku last year, but then won G1, won the IWGP title… then hit the lowest of lows as he lost the title in his first defence. Despite having just had surgery, Tanahashi’s making his return on June 5 as the Best of Super Junior finals, and vows to reach new peaks.

Except he’s interrupted by Jay White at the end, taking exception at Tanahashi wanting an IWGP title shot. White reckons he’s next in line, and that’s the cue for an attack from behind before an attempt to Pillman-ize Tanahashi’s surgically repaired elbows was stopped by the Young Lions.

EVIL vs. Tomohiro Ishii
These two have been going after each other for the whole tour, bringing all the clonking elbows a person could desire.

Oh, and shoulder tackles too, which is how we start, before they quickly find their way in with elbows back and forth as EVIL drew that proverbial first blood as he knocked down Ishii. We head outside as EVIL whips Ishii into the guard rails, but that did little to dampen either man’s fight as they came back with chops before EVIL jammed Ishii’s knee into the mat as he tried for the Scorpion Deathlock. Ishii fights out of it, and after some shots in the corner he caught EVIL with a slam off the ropes. A back suplex attempt from Ishii’s blocked, but he just charges EVIL into the corner for a clothesline before an attempted superplex ended with Ishii throwing a headbutt on the top rope before he pulled EVIL down.

EVIL’s right back with a thrust kick to Ishii, before he bounced him off the turnbuckles with a suplex into the corner. Following him to the outside, EVIL looked for some chairs, but before he could use them Ishii teased a suplex into the railings, only for EVIL to rebound with a Magic Killer, using the railings for help. The baseball chair spot followed as Ishii has a chair whacked off of his head, before EVIL went back into the ring for a retaliation superplex. From there, EVIL rolls Ishii into a Scorpion Deathlock, as we had echos back to last night’s ref stoppage… except this time Ishii dragged himself into the ropes for the break. Ishii manages to give himself a breather with a backdrop suplex… only for an EVIL forearm to drop him once more. A clothesline attempt from EVIL is swatted away as Ishii ran back with one of his own, then rolled EVIL into a Scorpion Deathlock of his own.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all that.

EVIL gets to the ropes to break free, as Ishii looked to focus on EVIL’s leg knee with a knee breaker before some thundering elbows rocked EVIL some more. Another barrage of strikes from both men saw EVIL landing a headbutt, then a big lariat as the pair seemed to be nowhere near spent, despite all of that punishment. An attempt at Everything is EVIL is countered as we’re back to the thunderous clotheslines… eventually leaving both men laying.

They still keep going with the clotheslines, with the sound ringing around the hall as they smash into each other. In the end, headbutts from Ishii sink EVIL to his knees, only for EVIL to land a half-nelson suplex to fold Ishii in half. Ishii looked for Everything is EVIL, which of course didn’t land, as EVIL’s attempt at a forearm instantly saw him take an enziguiri. That was the moment where EVIL faded again, leaving him open for a big lariat off the ropes for yet another near-fall! All that was left was for Ishii to dump EVIL with a sheer drop brainbuster though, and that was that. A goddamned war, and one that was every bit the slugfest they teased throughout the tour. Big Tom overcomes EVIL… so, what’s next? ****½

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
A rematch of the New Japan Cup final, where SANADA continued his run of losses against Okada in singles matches. Will that continue here, or will SANADA see the IWGP title continue its run of champions who fall at the first defence?

We’ve a new mask for SANADA, who’s changed his look as that goddamn beard has finally gone away. It’s almost like he’s throwing himself back to the days of the Great Sanada back in TNA (although from that shot above, you’d be forgiven for thinking SANADA borrowed Honma’s entrance robe). SANADA doesn’t exactly rush into this match, as he and Okada work on the mat as we see stage hands clearing away the shower of Okada bucks on the entranceway. The pair float between leg locks and armbars early on, before a standing surfboard stretch from Okada had SANADA on the defensive. Okada takes SANADA into the ropes for the mockingly-clean break, which prompted SANADA to charge back out… and run into a big boot as Okada hits a low dropkick to leave SANADA reeling. Okada keeps up the pressure with a slingshot senton from the apron, but the pace of this is curiously slow. Like “hey guys, we’re going for our longest match yet” slow.

SANADA hits back with a low dropkick to the knee, leading Okada laying, but the Paradise Lock doesn’t come off… so SANADA goes back to the leg with a Dragon screw, before he finally ties up, and rolls over Okada in that Paradise Lock. The low dropkick gets the champion free, and it’s not long before Okada’s back-elbowing his way back in front, taking SANADA outside after a DDT, where a big boot puts him over the railings… and in prime position for a crossbody over the rails and into the front row. Okada’s left holding his knee after that landing, and after SANADA’s double leapfrog/dropkick combo, Okada’s left to make a comeback with a flapjack as we crossed the 20 minute mark with both men still incredibly even. Boots from SANADA seemed to trigger Okada into going for a dropkick, which misses as SANADA clung onto the ropes before he was forced to flip out of a German suplex as a springboard missile dropkick just about edges him ahead.

Okada quickly gets back in with a neckbreaker slam, before the top rope elbow drop and the Rainmaker zoom out led to some more back and forth pinning attempts as they attempted to wheelbarrow each other up. Sunset flips are next as SANADA almost took the win with a Japanese clutch, only for Okada to kick out and trap him in a Cobra clutch. After getting himself free, SANADA trades dropkicks with Okada, before getting caught in a tombstone… prompting SANADA to backflip his way into a Skull End. Pulling himself to the mat perhaps wasn’t a good idea for Okada, who was fading, as SANADA hit a one-man Magic Killer a la EVIL. A Tiger suplex only gets SANADA a near-fall, before a missed moonsault saw SANADA jam his knee on the impact, before he ended up taking a clothesline after having sidestepped a shotgun dropkick. Using the corner for a Shiranui-like flip, SANADA finds himself back with Okada in a Skull End, swinging the champion around by the neck before dragging him to the mat. Okada thought he’d slipped free, only for SANADA to drag him back into the hold… as we wash, rinse and repeat.

SANADA clings onto the hold as Okada looked to be out of it at the half hour mark, but rather than have the arms drop, SANADA lets go and goes for the top rope moonsault, crashing into Okada’s back. Then again to get the pin… but Okada got the knees up, and could that be the moment SANADA lives to regret? Should he have held on and taken the submission? With both men on their knees, Okada and SANADA trade forearms… fighting back to their feet as those forearms became elbows, as we crossed the line of this becoming their longest match against each other yet. Another forearm has Okada on his knees, but SANADA pulls him up… just to land an uppercut. Okada finds a new burst of energy and catches SANADA with a shotgun dropkick… but he can’t avoid another backflip into a Skull End, instead having to walk up the turnbuckles to reverse it en route to a tombstone attempt.

Except SANADA wriggled free and looked for one of his own, but the deep waistlocks hinder things before SANADA broke free as the tombstone struggle led to Okada reversing in and out of the hold. In the end, an O’Connor roll from SANADA puts him back in front with a Skull End, before the pair tease Rainmakers… as SANADA landed his for a near-fall! That seemed to be the moment that broke SANADA, as he had to compose himself before a standing Shiranui into a Skull End’s blocked… before he Shiranui’d himself into a tombstone as Okada finally lands it! Picking SANADA up, Okada goes right back in with a Rainmaker… and that is that. Perhaps a little too slow to start, but when this got going, this turned into quite the game of human chess – with SANADA being left to rue that moment where he let go of a Skull End, just as he was about to win, so he could try and win it with a moonsault instead. ****¼

So SANADA’s now 0-6, and he exchanges a fist bump with Okada afterwards as he prepared for a seventh crack. Just don’t let go of a submission hold and trust your gut next time!

Okada’s show closing promo is interrupted by another video…

Chris Jericho’s back in New Japan, with his weird lipstick, and he’s going for Okada at Dominion! Well, that’s one way to announce a challenge – and that’s a match that’s interesting for many, many reasons. Let’s see if it’ll be a straight match or whether they tweak it to allow the no-DQ stuff that’s characterised Jericho’s recent matches here…

Night two of Wrestling Dontaku was pretty much a microcosm for the “big shows” on this entire tour. The top four matches all delivered, while the undercard was steady and stable. EVIL vs. Ishii is a match that you need to drop everything for to go and watch (if you haven’t already). Meanwhile the debut of El Phantasmo might not have been “oh my God, what a show-stealer”, this was exactly what you’d have expected given the role and place of ELP in the roster. Doing just enough to wow the New Japan crowds, and for folks who’d not seen him before, there’s a tonne of anticipation for him ahead of Best of the Super Juniors. Now, can we all agree that five big stops is too much for a tour like this?