NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Preview

Credit: NJPW

New Japan Pro Wrestling concludes its arduous Wrestling Dontaku tour with a duo of cards, best described as a mixed bag. Some matches I’m very excited for. Others not so much.

In non-pandemic times the cards would probably be unified into one, but the crowd limitations mean the cards have been spread out across two consecutive nights. With three title matches, an intriguing contendership match and a controversial ladder match, there is plenty to dig your teeth into across the two shows.

Night One (May 3rd):
Tiger Mask, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Wato Wato & Toru Yano vs Bullet Club (EVIL, Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi)

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, YOH & SHO) vs Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, SANDA & BUSHI) vs United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Aaron Henare)

Rights to challenge for the IWGP Tag Team Championships:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Tanga Loa

Ladder Match for Iron Fingers:
Taichi vs Tama Tonga

NEVER Openweight Championship:
Hiroshi Tanahashi (C) vs Jay White

Night Two (May 4th)
Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & DOUKI) vs Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Jado)

CHOAS (Kazuchika Okada & SHO) vs Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI) vs United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Aaron Henare)

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Toru Yano, Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi vs Bullet Club (Jay White, EVIL, Taiji Ishimori Dick Togi & Yujiro Takahashi)

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
El Desperado (C) vs YOH

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Will Ospreay (C) vs Shingo Takagi

Skipping all the undercard tags, I’m going to highlight the five big matches from across the two nights of action!

Credit: NJPW

Rights to challenge for the IWGP Tag Team Championships:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Tanga Loa
The first interesting match of the two shows comes in the form of a special singles match between Dangerous Tekkers’ ZSJ and G.O.D’s Tanga Loa. The match stipulation serves as a “right to challenge” battle, with ZSJ securing himself and Taichi an IWGP Tag Team Title shot if he is victorious here. However, if he loses, Dangerous Tekkers can never challenge for the titles again.

I would expect this one on one showdown to take a similar path to the technical style encounters they have engaged in, in recent months. I’ve been impressed by their work together recently, so this match is one I’m intrigued by. 

I predict ZSJ will win the match, as it’s logical to set up to a Dangerous Tekkers vs G.O.D re-match (perhaps for one of May’s two stadium shows), however it isn’t a forgone conclusion by any means. Keep an eye on this one – it could exceed your expectations!

Credit: NJPW

Ladder Match for Iron Fingers:
Taichi vs Tama Tonga
Now to the contentious and controversial part. I fall in the unhappy camp when it comes to this match – as I think it is important to look at this in the grand scheme of New Japan booking.

To win the match either Taichi or Tama Tonga must retrieve the Iron Fingers from atop a ladder, and with neither renowned for their high-spots wrestling, this one could be a struggle.

I’m seeing a dangerous series of booking decisions by NJPW, which are seemingly directed at booking for the short, and not the long, term. The recent golden years of New Japan were highlighted by long term feuds, not short sighted booking decisions aimed at selling tickets for the next show alone. This match in particular speaks to the downward booking trend, which certainly worries me and other NJPW fans, as it is very short sighted.

Ladder matches are a special commodity in New Japan (with only two before this, the most famous being an Intercontinental title match between Kenny Omega and Michael Elgin), so for me it’s disappointing to see such a meaningful stipulation thrown on a match of such little magnitude. 

Unless you’re invested in this Iron Fingers story between Taichi and Tama, then, like me, you won’t be interested in the slightest for this match. Personally, I believe it’s a very “sports entertainment” feud, which isn’t the reason anyone watches New Japan. This match could surprise and be enjoyable, but interest levels seem to be low for most of the fanbase heading in.

Credit: NJPW

NEVER Openweight Championship:
Hiroshi Tanahashi (C) vs Jay White
Out of the two nights, this is the match I’m most looking forward to. Off the back of nice build, great history and fantastic prospects: this match should be phenomenal!

Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi have delivered many spectacular matches in recent years, each fueled by a different story wrinkle. Switchblade has brought back the ‘TTO’ (Tanahashi Tap Out) t-shirt in recent months, with this the direction of their Wrestling Dontaku encounter.

Tanahashi has been enlisted with raising the stocks of the NEVER title, with a match against White being a surefire way of achieving this.

As the IWGP Intercontinental Championship has now been dissolved into the Heavyweight, New Japan’s NEVER Openweight prize becomes one of greater importance and standing in the company. To imagine two of the promotion’s top stars duking it out over the NEVER title just a couple years ago would have been ridiculous, but now it is a reality. 

White and Tanahashi for the NEVER Openweight title: expect a match of the year contender. 

Credit: NJPW

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
El Desperado (C) vs YOH
It has always been SHO and YOH, but now it is YOH and SHO. A very exciting match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title awaits us on Night Two of Wrestling Dontaku, as YOH gets his first ever shot at the grand prize of the Junior division.

YOH has forever been in the shadow of his more lorded contemporary, but this is undoubtedly his chance to shine. Finally, the spotlight is on YOH, and YOH alone. In singles competition, YOH has been limited to annual Best of Super Juniors outings, so this match is evermore intriguing as it’s his first major non-tournament showing.

El Desperado, on the other hand, has had his fair share of big singles matches – especially in recent times, as he has stepped seamlessly into the ‘Junior Ace’ shoes of Hiromu Takahashi.

Despy has had a fantastic run in 2021 so far, with title glory, a spectacular match with Kota Ibushi and elevation in the Junior division to boot. Facing off against YOH, he has yet another chance to steal the spotlight and deliver a great match!

Credit: NJPW

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Will Ospreay (C) vs Shingo Takagi
Ospreay’s reign as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion is one which has caused much divide – myself falling on the side of disdain for it. However, I’m still somewhat looking forward to this solely because of Shingo Takagi’s involvement. New Japan’s Dragon is not only one of the best in the company, but one of the best anywhere in the world.

They have engaged in matches that are unrivalled in terms of quality (especially their Best of Super Juniors final from 2019). Whilst their most recent match, the concluding match of this year’s New Japan Cup, didn’t live up to the hype of their previous showdowns, the promise for this title match is sky high.

I wouldn’t expect anything other than an Ospreay retention here, as that would set up a killer Kazuchika Okada Tokyo Dome main event for May 29th. The match will still be spectacular, as Ospreay and Takagi have perhaps chemistry greater than any other modern in-ring pairing.

A lackluster tour may end in fireworks, if so all will be forgotten and the 2021 Wrestling Dontaku shows will be viewed as a success. Shingo vs Ospreay and White vs Tanahashi will shine bright, as could a few others on the shows, making the duo of events well worth a watch.

Show Details
Night One: Monday 3rd May @ 10am GMT/5am EST/2am PST
Night Two: Tuesday 4th May @ 7am GMT/2am EST/Monday 3rd May 11pm PST
How to Watch: Available live on NJPW World for only 999¥ per month (roughly £7.50/$9.30)
Notes: Only Japanese commentary will be available live.