Hiroshi Tanahashi defends the NEVER Openweight title against Jay White on the first half of the Wrestling Dontaku show that also featured a rare New Japan ladder match…
Taiji Ishimori, EVIL, Dick Togo & Yujiro Takahashi pinned Tiger Mask, Toru Yano, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Master Wato in 9:58 (**½)
YOH, SHO & Kazuchika Okada pinned Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki in 10:31 (**¾)
SANADA, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI pinned Aaron Henare, Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb in 11:31 (***)
Zack Sabre Jr. pinned Tanga Loa in 15:12 (***¼)
Taichi defeated Tama Tonga in 27:10 to regain the Iron Fingers from Hell (½*)
Jay White pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi in 38:59 to win the NEVER Openweight Championship (****¼)
We’re at the Fukuoka Convention Center, with no live English commentary as Kevin Kelly is in quarantine ahead of the two big stadium shows…
Bullet Club (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori & Dick Togo) vs. Toru Yano, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tiger Mask & Master Wato
Yep. It’s one of these tags. We already had the KOPW title match last week, and nobody from the NEVER trios champions are here, so… yeah.
We’ve a jump start, because of course we do. Yano removes the corner pad early, then gets attacked by EVIL from behind. Some hair pulling neutralises it as Yujiro comes in for Tenzan’s mullet, only to get Mongolian chopped. Remember when those were retired? Yujiro bites back and trips Tenzan for a low dropkick, as the Bullet Club rush the ring.
Ishimori’s in to ground Tenzan by his mullet, before EVIL tagged in to tie up Tenzan in the chained abdominal stretch. When that’s broken, EVIL gets a two-count, then brought in Togo to try and punch Tenzan’s suddenly-hard head. An eye rake gets by that ahead of a Mountain bomb from Tenzan, before Master Wato came in to elbow and kick his way through. A springboard uppercut from Wato drops Togo, who then blocked Recientemente and went back to the yees… only to run into a tiltawhirl backbreaker for a near-fall. Togo ducks a roundhouse enziguiri, then blocked a sunset flip, before taking Wato into the ropes as Ishimori hit the baseball slide German suplex.
Wato’s leg lariat misses as Ishimori clung to the ropes, before a tag brought in Tiger Mask to try and get the win. He nails another tiltawhirl backbreaker on Ishimori for a near-fall, before Ishimori’s caught in the corner as Tiger Mask went for a butterfly superplex… and nails it! EVIL breaks up the pin, as Ishimori returned with a Cipher UTAKI for a near-fall, before a Bloody Cross got the win as the Bullet Club marked their 8th anniversary with a win. **½
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Kazuchika Okada ( Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
This was Okada’s first match since Sakura Genesis… where he found himself temporarily pushed down the ladder for a title shot.
We’ve got Desperado and YOH for the title tomorrow, and we start with YOH charging at Desperado in the corner. A dropkick has Desperado on the deck, with SHO then tagging in to help wear down Desperado. There’s double-teaming attempted… but Kanemaru just pulls SHO outside as the guard rails get worn out. Back inside, Kanemaru slams SHO for a two-count, before Suzuki tried to rip SHO’s arm out of the shoulder. SHO gets to the ropes, but gets booted before he reversed a suplex attempt. Okada’s in to elbow down Suzuki, then flapjack Kanemaru before a DDT planted Suzuki for barely a one-count.
Okada goes for a neckbreaker slam, but Suzuki blocks it before he went for a PK. That’s caught, with Okada elbowing his way back in to start an exchange. CLONK. Okada stops that with a dropkick, before tags get us back to YOH and Desperado… with tomorrow’s challenger pulling ahead. There’s a neckbreaker for a two-count, before Desperado chains a spinebuster into Numero Dos with a quick rope break. Kanemaru’s back to dropkick YOH’s knee ahead of a Figure Four, but SHO stomps that apart – helping his partner in spite of the subtle “not quite on the same page” miscommunications they’d sprinkled throughout the tour. A spear from SHO lead to the Dominator/neckbreaker combo for a two-count, before Kanemaru almost nicked the win with a roll-up.
YOH comes right back with a Flatliner, before a double underhook neckbreaker put Kanemaru away. Pretty much a standard undercard tag, with a lot of devils in the details. **¾
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan, Aaron Henare & Jeff Cobb)
Of course it’s Ospreay/Shingo tomorrow, so we’ve got this final warm-up…
Ospreay and Shingo shoot out of the cannon at each other, easing their big moves early as the pair eventually reach a stand-off. The LIJ apron gets cleared as Ospreay took some shots at Shingo, leaving him down for Cobb to try and push ahead… but a missed charge in the corner allowed LIJ to flood the ring and turn it around. A missile dropkick from BUSHI knocks Cobb down… but another turnaround has BUSHI charged into the corner as LIJ were taken outside and into the guard rails. Cobb squats in a stalling suplex and gets a two-count, before a standing moonsault nearly put BUSHI away. Ospreay’s back with a springboard stomp to a draping BUSHI, before Henare and Cobb sandwiched BUSHI with headbutts.
The double-teaming continues on BUSHI until he found a way out with a double ‘rana, before we got to Naito and O-Khan. Cobb tries to stifle it, but eats a low dropkick as a neckbreaker from Naito gets a two-count on O-Khan… who’s then choked with his hair. SANADA hits a double sledge off the top to the hair, but O-Khan fought back, swinging Naito like a Terry Funk ladder ahead of a backbreaker. We’re back to Henare and SANADA, with the former hitting a kick to the back before blocking some headscissors. A Blue Thunder bomb drops SANADA next, as did a Spin Cycle from Cobb as the ring filled, then emptied, before SANADA countered a Streets of Rage into a Skull End. Cobb breaks it up as they start a big ol’ Parade of Moves, with Shingo pulling ahead on Ospreay, only to get speared by Henare.
From there, SANADA hits the ropes and backflipped into a Skull End, before hitting the ropes again and nicked the win with an O’Connor roll. LIJ get one final shot in before tomorrow’s title match, as Henare found himself in the alarmingly-familiar losing role again. ***
Post-match, Ospreay had Shingo stare at his belt… but tried to go for a Storm Breaker. Shingo sneaks out and almost plants Ospreay as we get another stare-off.
I get caught out as I was expecting an interval at the halfway point…
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tanga Loa
If Sabre loses, he and Taichi are theoretically barred from challenging for the IWGP tag titles again…
We open with a lock-up as Tanga Loa tries to take Sabre to the corner, but instead there’s a break in the ropes as Sabre tries to nick a win with a sunset flip and roll-ups, faking out a Cobra Twist to take down Tanga for a near-fall.
A knuckle lock leads to a Test of Strength that Tanga looked to pull ahead with, but Sabre rolls back to reverse it before Tanga suplexes free and broke Sabre’s neck bridge to try and get a pin. Tanga’s running powerslam gets another two-count, before he proceeded to choke Sabre a la Taichi. Sabre turns it around with a tornado DDT out of the corner as he then proceeded to work over Tanga’s arm, trapping it in almost a hammerlock on the mat before things ended in the ropes. A scoop slam off the ropes bought Tanga Loa some time, but Sabre goes back to the arm to try and get ahead again.
Tanga tries for the Apeshit, but Sabre slips out as we go to a strike exchange, ending with Sabre ducking an enziguiri as he returned with a PK for a two-count. The OJK crossface traps Sabre, but doesn’t get the stoppage as Tanga then went for a stalling suplex before a trip up top ended with Sabre avoiding a swandive headbutt. A neck twist leaves Tanga Loa down for another submission attempt, grabbing an armbar that also ends in the ropes. Sabre tries for an Octopus stretch, but instead slips out into a Euro clutch for a near-fall, before a spear from Tanga Loa stopped him in his tracks. That’s followed up with a powerbomb for a two-count, then a leaping enziguiri, before Sabre countered out of Apeshit and put away Tanga Loa with a crucifix pin. A largely dominant outing for Tanga Loa, who’s made to pay for that slip at the end… and that’s Sabre and Taichi still able to challenge for the tag titles, while all the other tag teams in New Japan continue to wait. What’s that? There are no other regular tag teams currently around? ***¼
Iron Finger From Hell Ladder Match: Taichi vs. Tama Tonga
Regardless of who wins, apparently today will be the last time we see the Iron Fingers in New Japan again… which makes this match feel rather… needless? Maybe we’ll see it over Tama Tonga’s mantlepiece afterwards?
The Iron Fingers are in a clear shopping bag that’s been lifted above the ring – and it should be noted that both DOUKI and Jado were at ringside for this. Tama and Taichi start by trading kicks and right hands, before an Axe bomber from Taichi led to some choking. After a break, both men slide outside to grab a ladder that was barely taller than them, bringing it in as we get a ladder duel.
Taichi’s knocked down as Tama Tonga looked to grab the shopping bag of glory, but the ladder’s a little too rickety and he gives up. Rather than grab a bigger one, he goes after a-still-downed Taichi with a right hand, before an attempted whip into a ladder in the corner ended with Taichi raking the eyes before he got thrown into it anyway. A Stinger splash keeps Taichi there, but Tama then goes all Macho Man in the Rumble on us and tries to go for a pin. Sadly, Taichi didn’t propel him into the sky with a kick-out a la Yokozuna… and when Tama Tonga went for a second Stinger splash, he crashed and burned before a back body drop looked to see him clip his ankle in the ladder.
Taichi follows Tama to the outside, and throws him into the rails, before he set up a legitimate ladder bridge between the ring apron and guard rails… only for Jado to intervene as a suplex looked to put Tama through it. DOUKI intervenes as Tama tries to throw a ladder at Taichi… and gets clotheslined for it as Taichi recovers to just run through Tama with a ladder. Taichi heads to the ring with a ladder as he had designs on climbing, but Taichi gets the Wrestler Slow Climb™ as Tama gets back into the ring to climb the ladder with him, but gets knocked down as Taichi instead leapt off the ladder to do something… and got caught with a Gun Stun. Okay?
Tama tries to climb the ladder, but drops down and climbs with his back to Taichi as DOUKI came in with a springboard dropkick to knock him down. Cue Jado. Cue Kendo stick. Crack. After Sandman’ing DOUKI, Jado tapes Taichi to the guard rails so Tama Tonga could… kick him? We cross the 15 minute mark as Tama returned to the ring and nearly killed the ref by stumbling into the ladder… then started the climb, only for Zack Sabre Jr. to run out and push Tama off the ladder. Another bad landing, as Sabre then neutralises Jado before he untied Taichi, who crawled back into the ring… just as Tanga Loa ran out to interfere. Anyone else out there want to get involved in this mess?
Tanga bridges a ladder in the corner, but Sabre elbows away as Taichi looked to be destined for a powerbomb on it… Apeshit drops Sabre, just one match too late, before DOUKI returned to save Taichi from the ladder powerbomb… only to get awkwardly dumped through that ladder bridge. Jesus. That looked to clear the way for the Guerrillas… but first, they wanted to end Taichi as we passed the 20 minute mark. Taichi escapes a Magic Killer onto a ladder, then punted Tama in the balls. Off come the trousers, and in comes Jado to crack Taichi in the back… but to no avail as Jado got sumo tossed onto the ladder. All that looks to be left is for Taichi to climb the ladder, but Tama’s back to his feet… and gets taken off the ladder with a chokeslam.
Another Wrestler Slow Climb™ has Taichi close… but Tama’s back with another ladder to stop him, swinging it like a chair as Taichi fell into the ladder. Tama goes out for a table, and sets it up next to the big ladder, but Taichi fought out to avoid getting powerbombed onto it. Instead, the pair scale the ladder, with both men coming close to grabbing the bag before Tama opted to hit a Gun Stun off the ladder… but Taichi clung on as Tama threw himself through a table… and it’s elementary from there as Taichi retrieved the Funky Oven Glove. There was absolutely no way this needed to go the better part of half an hour – and while we were never going to get a spotty, flying ladder match out of these two, we ended up with what felt like every trope in the book. Throw in an eggy period in the middle where Tama looked to have picked up an injury after a back body drop into the ladder, and this match damn sure took a lot out of all concerned: wrestlers and viewers. ½*
You know what that probably means… Sabre & Taichi vs. Guerrilas at a stadium show. The Iron Fingers also got a retirement ceremony, set to Takashi Iizuka’s old theme… sadly, he wasn’t there to cause havoc. Maybe the Iron Fingers will get melted down into a chain or something like that?
NEVER Openweight Championship: Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)
After being off the entire road-to tour (smart man), White’s back to claim his title shot as he looked to be the first man to win the Quadruple Crown – Heavyweight, Intercontinental, United States and NEVER.
White took the sting out of the early going by mouthing off at Tanahashi before grabbing the rope to avoid a Dragon screw attempt. A lock-up ends with White getting backed into the ropes, before he was tripped into them as Tanahashi came in with a side headlock. Tanahashi’s pushed away, but a crossbody out of the corner helps him get back to the headlock, only for White to dump him on the ropes and send him to the floor. Following Tanahashi outside, White dumps the champion knee-first on the edge of the ring as he proceeded to target the knees, stomping on them back in the ring, before he tied up Tanahashi in a deathlock, rolling him to the mat so White could do some press-ups as Tanahashi needed to grab the ropes.
White slingshots Tanahashi’s throat into the ropes, only to get caught with a Dragon screw. A flying forearm keeps Tanahashi on track, as he dropkicks White into the corner ahead of a slam and a flip senton off the middle rope. A dropkick to the knee keeps White on the defensive, but a DDT bought him time… enough time to drag Tanahashi outside and into the ring post as the knees again became a focal point. Back inside, Tanahashi manages to catch White in the ropes with a Dragon Screw, before a High Fly Flow crossbody to the floor saw him roll back the years. Rolling White back inside, Tanahashi ends up getting caught with a Flatliner and a deadlift German suplex, before he got pulled into a back suplex.
White pulls up Tanahashi for a Kiwi Krusher, but it’s countered out of with a Twist and Shout, then another, and another as he looked to wear down his challenger… only for White to return with a uranage, albeit with his leg buckling as he sold the Dragon screws from earlier. A sleeper suplex follows as White stacked up Tanahashi, before he went right back to the legs with Dragon screws to set up for the TTO. Instead, White rolls Tanahashi over in a Cloverleaf, then pulled Tanahashi away from the ropes so he could switch the hold into the TTO. Tanahashi’s able to drag himself to the ropes for a break, but White stays on him with another sleeper suplex attempt… before he opted to drop down and chop block the knee. Tanahashi falls on White’s leg, exacerbating his own injury, before elbowing out of another sleeper suplex attempt as he tried to come in with a Dragon suplex. Instead, Tanahashi nails a strait-jacket German suplex for a near-fall, before a Slingblade had White down for a High Fly Flow…
But Tanahashi goes for the Ace’s High, and gets caught as White went for a Blade Runner, only to pull Tanahashi back into a TTO. White drags him away from the ropes again, then rolled through as Tanahashi tries to escape, but the ropes again save the day. Tanahashi clings to the ropes as White looked to reapply the hold, and after White distracted himself with the ref, he ends up taking another Dragon screw from the champion. White returns the favour, but he couldn’t follow up as his leg gave out on him as we were firmly in the battle of two men with bum wheels. Another TTO attempt’s pushed out as both men’s knees were causing trouble, as were those back-and-forth grounded Dragon screws, before they seemed to call a truce. They instead opt for elbows as they fought from their knees… and we’re back to the Dragon screws as we sail past the 30-minute mark.
Uppercuts trap Tanahashi in the corner as we pass the marker for the longest singles match between these two. White’s having to hold himself up in the ropes as Tanahashi looked to be beyond spent. He’s dragged away from the ropes so White could do some more damage… but Tanahashi couldn’t even muster another Dragon screw. Nor a low dropkick. White was allowing Tanahashi to tire himself out – with the Ace getting visibly frustrated. He’s able to land a clothesline to buy time, before a Dragon screw pulled White out of the corner. Out of nowhere, White tries a Blade Runner, but it’s countered into a Slingblade… with a second one following for a near-fall, before Tanahashi tried to hobble up top for the High Fly Flow… instead he nails Ace’s High, then goes up again, landing a High Fly Flow to White’s knees.
From there, Tanahashi pulls White into a Cloverleaf, then away from the ropes as the challenger flailed towards a break. White’s tapping, but Gedo’s distracting the referee… and Tanahashi relents. A Dragon screw crotches Gedo in the ropes, as Tanahashi then went back to White, who nearly won with an inside cradle… then with a backslide, with his feet on the ropes too! Tanahashi tries for another Dragon screw, but it’s caught as White ends up having to fight out of a half-and-half suplex… before finally landing the Blade Runner for the win. Some will dismiss this as overly long at almost 40-minutes, but this was a well executed story of both men going for each other’s legs… but White, with less historical damage, managed to hold on and put Tanahashi away with the Blade Runner at the death. ****¼
We’re back early at the Fukuoka Convention Center tomorrow for the other half of this show, with Shingo Takagi being the first challenger for Will Ospreay’s IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in the main event… before New Japan has an enforced shutdown ahead of the Wrestle Grand Slam in Yokohama stadium show.
Your take on the ladder match is likely going to influence your opinion of the entire show. The first half of the card was your usual throwaway tag fare, while the two matches centring around the tag division never really got going. Solid, but not spectacular continues to be the baseline for New Japan, with a “show saving” main event – a far cry from the heights many still have fond memories of.