New Japan Pro Wrestling have seen fit to offload some of the title matches you’d expect to happen at Wrestling Hi no Kuni (Apr. 29) and Wrestling Dontaku (May 3-4) this year to a few of the smaller Road to Wrestling Dontaku shows, and so that means we’re putting together a special interstitial match recommendations post to cover those matches and one or two other notable matches from these shows.
As always, I've got a very simple five point scale laid out where a 1 is total skip, 2 you can probably skip unless you love one of the folks in it, 3 is a match that's worth watching but not necessarily worth making time for, a 4 is a solid recommendation to make time for if you can, and a 5 is a must-watch.
Mind you, these are not star ratings. They're not meant to be absolute ratings in any sense, but rather a simple (and hopefully sensible) way to determine if a match is worth your time. A one is not necessarily a bad match, but rather just one I feel like you're best off skipping. I have my biases, of course, but hopefully I can make it easy for you to adjust for them.
On with the shows!
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship) (3): Suzuki-gun counter an early surge from BUSHI by going underhanded but they can’t keep him from making the tag. Hard hitting exchanges between Desperado and Hiromu, and Takahashi is able to fight off their double-team efforts and run hot for a while. The action spills outside and, inevitably, the champions take control and, when things return to the stability of a normal tag team match, they have Hiromu isolated and off-balance.
Hot tag to BUSHI, he fights the good fight a while until Takahashi recovers and comes back in as the match escalates and escalates to a conclusion. I’m of two minds on this one. On one hand, it’s a pretty by-the-numbers junior tag title defense that doesn’t live up to the hot streak they were on with the Young Bucks and Roppongi 3K (and of course RPG Vice before them), but on the other, the crowd is SUPER into Hiromu and creates an atmosphere such that, when he’s in the match at least, feels pretty special.
So I’m gonna split those feelings down the middle and say this one’s worth watching if you’ve got the time but isn’t quite worth clearing your schedule for.
Toa Henare vs. Tomohiro Ishii (4): Slugging it out right from the jump, Henare happy to go forearm for forearm with Ishii and it’s the Stone Pitbull that changes tactics first, looking to grind the younger man down. From there into bull moose strength testing, the action spills outside with Tom firmly in control. Back in, the vet punishes Toa with disdain but Henare fires up as he takes kick after kick!
Getting back into it, Henare makes his comeback, and the story becomes a question of whether Henare can dig deep enough to put Ishii away before the Stone Pitbull recovers and destroys him. This is everything you want out of an Ishii singles match against somebody at the point Henare is in his career. It’s hard-hitting, fast-paced, and a whole lot of fun. Watch accordingly!
David Finlay vs. “Switchblade” Jay White (c) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship) (5): Jay White’s time in New Japan since returning as Switchblade has been a bit of a roller coaster. The Hiroshi Tanahashi match at Wrestle Kingdom felt like jamming a square peg into a round hole, the Kenny Omega match was excellent, and the Adam Page match was... divisive, to be polite about it. Through it all, Jay has clearly been struggling to find his own voice, so to speak, as an in-ring storyteller, and I think this match shows he’s close to putting it all together.
The structural issues from Strong Style Evolved have been dialed back, it still has the feel of an American indie grudge match but with just a bit more New Japan flavor to it. The big bombs come, but the match never degrades into “your move, my move”, instead having good, natural shifts of momentum that built nicely to the crazy stuff like a powerbomb through a table that broke but didn’t collapse.
David Finlay, as well, is about the perfect opponent here-- their chemistry is well-established and on fine display, but above and beyond that they’re on the same level in a lot of ways where past bouts felt like White was trying to hang with the big boys and the outsiders. In short, this is, in a lot of ways, the best match Jay has had this year and you should absolutely make some time to check it out whether you’re high, low, or in the middle on the man.
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Juice Robinson (NEVER Openweight Championship) (5): So this went a little differently than I was expecting! Goto plays the cool, confident champion with a bit of a mean streak in order to complement Juice’s underdog babyface fire and while it feels a little uncanny valley at times for ol’ sad sack Goto to be that guy, it really works. Robinson has to scrape and claw for every bit of offense he gets until at long last the damage mounts up enough for him to have an even fight, and then it’s all a question of who hits the bigger bomb first.
This was, really good, and you should probably make a point of watching it. Without getting into details since I try to keep these spoiler-light, I’ll say I’m not terribly excited about the NEVER feuds being set up coming out of this one, but as a match, it’s top notch. Goto has to dig back and bust stuff out he hasn’t in ages, Juice uses every last bit of willpower in his tank to try and outlast him, just really good, borderline great stuff.
Chaos (Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA (3): KUSHIDA and Ospreay to start, a good back and forth before they go to cycle, Okada’s a bit reluctant but tags in on Tanahashi all the same. The Rainmaker attempts to carry his streak of Tombstone piledrivers on the floor but Hiroshi blocks, so both Chaos men take the match to the floor and things breakdown as we get a countout nearfall before they work the once and future Ace over two-on-one some.
Save made, hot tag, KUSHIDA is more concerned with taking Will out than going after the heavyweight champion but still manages to take the lead for a good while. They return the two-on-one favor and the match proceeds to the finish, a matter of whether Okada can get himself back into it or not.
So this is a fun match that, as these tags generally do, mainly serves as a preview of the two title matches at Dontaku. Just based on what we see here, you can bet KUSHIDA/Ospreay will be fast-paced, action-packed, and more than a little grapply as KUSHIDA tears his arm apart, whereas the story of Tanahashi/Okada is headed more in the direction of being an epic battle with the old Ace fighting from underneath for much of the match before they explode into a crescendo of action. None of that is surprising, of course, but still, if you can’t wait for Dontaku, this match will hold you over just fine.
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.