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NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2016: The Official Smark Henry Review



New Japan’s Golden Week tradition, Wrestling Dontaku, has come and gone. With three surprising title changes and fresh new matches in the card, who impressed and left a lasting impression by the end of the night?


BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi) def. the team of Captain New Japan and Juice Robinson


As a match, there is really nothing of note to write home about, especially in a short match like this. But if we are to focus on the purpose of the match, which is to make The Underboss look like a monster, then mission accomplished. What this means for the long term of New Japan is still unknown, but for the match itself, it is what it is.

Rating: 1/5



CHAOS (Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI, Gedo, and Kazushi Sakuraba) def. the team of Ryusuke Taguchi, David Finlay, Jay White, and Tiger Mask IV


The first real match of the event was a fun way to get fans pumping, mixing technical wrestling from Saku and Tiger to fast paced action. But when it comes right down to it, it’s all about Will Ospreay and demonstrating his stuff to the audience. The newest NJPW signee excelled in the tag match, especially during the final moments when he tore the house down and getting the win for his team.

Ospreay may not be showing up in the Global Cruiserweight Series, but for the 22 year old, the sky’s the limit. And it was wise to give him the floor, given the announcement that would take place later on.

Rating: 3/5


Aerial Dogfight def. RPG Vice to become the new IWGP Junior Tag Champions


It’s easy to complain about the lack of competition in the Junior Tag division, and they may very well be warranted. But then again, when you get these two talented teams in a championship situation, then it’s easy to figure why they belong in the big stage. The two teams once again delivered, with much praise for the pace of the match and the excitement that they bring. You may see them compete multiple times together, but with a great combination of spots and excitement, no ones going to mind.

The big question now is what’s next for the new champions. With the current condition of New Japan, maybe they can consider opening their doors to other promotions, like they did before?

Rating: 3.5/5



The ELITE (IWGP Intercontinental Champion Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks) def. the team of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, and Yoshitatsu to become the new NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions


In four months, the championships managed to earn the same distinction as DDT Pro Wrestling’s KO-D Six-Man championships, that being the “hot potato title” where long title reigns are very much a rarity. However, despite the surprise title change, the encounter proved to be as fun as their last encounter, with The ELITE bringing the goods and unpredictability that they have been associated with.

But the big story came after the match, when it was decided that Tanahashi and Omega will face each other one more time for the Intercontinental Championship, but this time, it will be contested in only the second ever ladder match in New Japan history, the first of which actually also involved the High Flying Ace. Things are about to get really interesting in the Intercontinental side of things.

And just to add, why is Yoshitatsu still the “BULLET CLUB Hunter” if the BC isn’t what it used to be?

Rating: 3.5/5


Guerrillas of Destiny def. GBH to retain the IWGP Tag Team Championships

Just like their first encounter, something felt lacking on the side of the champions. Karl Anderson set the tag team bar so high that it is a wonder if any other gaijin team (besides the Killer Elite Squad) can take the mantle. And against a popular tandem like GBH, it felt like the match could have gone better. Perhaps the brotherly tandem will need some time to adjust, but as it is, the G.O.D. are champions who are also works in progress.

Rating: 2/5


Yuji Nagata def. Katsuyori Shibata to become the new NEVER Openweight Champion

Let’s give you guys a perspective check: at 48 years of age, Blue Justice managed perform at an elite level against a legit dangerous man like Shibata in a stiff, dangerous bout, the kind of match not many people in the world are willing to go through.

But there he was, Mr. Anti-Aging showing no signs of aging in an all out fight, effectively blowing away any expectations from the fans regarding the match. And for him to win the match with the Backdrop Hold, becoming the oldest NEVER Openweight Champion in history, that says a lot about how the company sees Mr. Nagata.

Kudos to both men for surpassing all expectations. The big question now is where Shibata goes from here after his war against the Third Generation. A rematch seems to be in order for The Wrestler.

Rating: 4.5/5


KUSHIDA def. Jushin “Thunder” Liger to retain the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship

Looking at KUSHIDA’s matches, this may very well be the most important in terms of significance as he fought a true legend in Jushin “Thunder” Liger, a man who used to be the standard bearer of the division and a true innovator. And compared to the Time Splitter’s past matches, this felt more methodical than your usual Jr. fare, no surprise given Liger’s age. Despite the age, Liger managed to tell a great tale of a legend wanting one more chance at the spotlight before his eventual retirement, and for that alone, there is heightened emotional investment in the eyes of the fans.

Even up to the very end, when the champion bested the challenger, there was nothing but respect for each other, the future taking the course of the division while the past remains contented at whatvwas achieved. This may not have been your usual title bout, but it may be the most integral yet in the future of the division as a whole.

The right man won, as KUSHIDA will now carry the momentum to this year's Best of the Super Juniors Tournament (with a preview coming soon!).

Rating: 4/5


EVIL def. Hirooki Goto (LIJ – 1, CHAOS – 0)


Everything about this match felt right. EVIL managed to prove to everyone that he is a solid worker and a guy who can become a reliable hand in the company, and in effect, a future champion. He also defeated a true main event player in Hirooki Goto, who took the loss without any damage to his credibility. This also allowed Goto’s current narrative to progress, a man who is at a crossroads in his career, uncertain about his future in wrestling. And this boosted the LIJ’s ranks to great effect.
And admittedly, EVIL’s bizarre entrance is a personal guilty pleasure of mine.

Rating: 4/5


Kazuchika Okada def. SANADA (LIJ – 1, CHAOS – 1)


It is a damn shame it took SANADA this long for his value and talents to be recognized after initially being seen as the future of AJPW, which turned into a long and winding road of moving to various promotions until he finally got to compete for New Japan. What better way to have a first big singles match than with Kazuchika Okada? The two may look similar, but in reality, they are polar opposites to one another, Okada being in the right place and the right place, and SANADA having to go through too much just to get his foot on the door. A strong narrative between the two individuals.

The match was well done, with SANADA being as seamless as ever with his movements and actions, and Okada just being Okada. By the end of it, it was a tale of a man getting revenge for a screwjob loss, and it was a powerful counter from SANADA’s Skull End dragon sleeper into a tombstone, followed by a Rainmaker, that spelled his doom.

SANADA already had the credibility, and a loss will not hurt his run as more can be told on his story and his association with Los Ingobernables de Japon. Overall, another wise decision.

Rating: 4/5


Tetsuya Naito def. Tomohiro Ishii to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship  (LIJ – 2, CHAOS – 1)


Here’s an interesting fact for you guys: this is the first match since January 4, 2011 that did not feature any of the previous Big 4 players in New Japan (Tanahashi, Okada, Nakamura, Styles). So this match became the first true fresh championship bout in five years, featuring talent that should have gotten a chance at greatness a long time ago. And with Ishii previously beating Naito for the NEVER Openweight Championship a few years ago, there is also a sense of revenge in the mind of Naito, who hasn’t forgotten that moment.

And even by those standards, this match felt new given Naito’s alignment, already a hit among fans and a contrast from Ishii’s honorable in-your-face fight style. Ishii is an underdog, an aspect fans can relate to, but at the same time, he can legitimately hurt you bad. These combustible elements made for a compelling title bout. It was a glorious bout that had the presence of Okada and Tanahashi looming over them, and we were close to actually seeing a new and deserving champion crowned. But despite Ishii’s hulking endurance, a well placed Destino ended Ishii’s first ever Heavyweight Championship opportunity.

The main event proved once again that New Japan has a wealth of talent that can become main eventers, and by virtue, future champions that can carry a company on their shoulders. It is unfortunate that it took an exodus for management to realize this, but now they know, and it is time to act upon it. What happens next to Naito’s reign is anyone’s guess, but the road to Dominion seems to be getting more and more intriguing as we go along.

Rating: 4.5/5

Next up is the annual Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, and we will have a preview for you guys coming soon! Until then, what did you think about this year’s Wrestling Dontaku? Sound off in the comments!

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