Best And Worst Of NJPW: Road To Wrestling Dontaku 2019, Part 3


Previously on NJPW: Roppongi 3K advanced beyond what they’ve been able to do with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships so far and Hirooki Goto did the opposite of that with important main event matches.

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And now, the best and worst of the Road to Wrestling Dontaku shows from April 30 in Kagoshima and May 1 in Beppu.

A Shoot New Era

It’s not super uncommon to here NJPW wrestlers talk about whose “era” it is (especially a certain Kiwi emo for IWGP Heavyweight Champion, obviously) but these last two Road to Dontaku shows include several references to the real-life changing of eras going on in Japan.

On April 30, 85-year-old Emperor Akihito abdicated the throne, therefore ending the Heisei Era, and on May 1, his son Naruhito became the 126th Emperor of Japan, beginning the Reiwa Era. The news the abdication was impending broke a while ago, resulting in speculation about who would be the last Heavyweight Champion of the Heisei Era in NJPW around Wrestle Kingdom, then the new era was officially revealed, immediately unleashing a flood of memes on Japanese twitter because *Hannibal Buress voice* humans is the same *end Hannibal Buress voice.*

The way these events I assume people are talking about all the time in Japan right now connect to pro wrestling is that the main event winners of these shows (Ibushi and Sanada, who I’ll get back to) have extremely easy, topical ways to give their declarations a bit more gravitas and champions have the option of pointing out that their current reign is Historically Important (Roppongi 3K.)

We also get a pledge “with new beginnings in mind” from Shingo Takagi to be “more true” and less “modest,” something I did not realize he had been doing at all! Along with fitting how he ramped up the intensity after he and Bushi lost their title match against Roppongi 3K and how Takagi asked for both Yoh and Sho in his Best of the Super Juniors block the night before, this feels promising for Takagi breaking out as a singles competitor soon and hopefully beyond BOSJ. He’s gotten chances to shine as a tag wrestler and built up to look very strong and like a star and now it seems like NJPW will finally, truly unleash The Dragon.

Best: The Last Ones Left

This changing of the eras adds an interesting bonus element to the Liger vs. Suzuki old man feud to the death. As we learned from English commentary and/or Chris Carlton’s twitter account, Suzuki is the only wrestler in NJPW to wrestle in the Showa Era (which ended in 1989 with the death of Hirohito), the Heisei, and the Reiwa Era. The man behind the Liger mask, Keiichi Yamada, did too, but since Liger is a separate person/god in kayfabe this doesn’t get recognized on the show.

Still, I’m extremely into this feud between two ornery veterans that already includes insane things like Suzuki deciding to chow down on Liger’s fingers while trying to break his arm having this element of being between literally the last two left of a certain type of person. Once they’re gone, they can never be replaced! Oh no, I’m sad now!

Best: Of The Super Juniors Approaches!

Replay ‘Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2019 Night11’ on May 1st, 2019]
2ND MATCH: @azucarRoc & @taguchiryusuke vs. @eldesperado_ & @kmaru0923!! #NJPWWorld Watch now▶ #njdontaku

— njpwworld (@njpwworld) May 1, 2019

But wait, I’m suddenly not sad anymore because I’m thinking about how we’re gearing up for Best of the Super Juniors! As we approach the month of the year in which these short kings get full human rights, those outside of the title pictures have tag team matches that remind the audience of their skills.

Tiger Mask reminds us how sharp his kicks and submissions still look, Taguchi actually gets a win with Dodon, and Kanemaru keeps doing what he’s been doing but with a WAY WORSE HAIRCUT that seems directly inspired by that scourge Sanada (but, you know, it shows he’s putting in extra effort?) We get multiple plays of Rocky Romero’s singles theme song that I always forget exists even though it includes lyrical highlights like “ Tiger so bomb” and more reminders that he can absolutely still go way harder than he’s gotten opportunities to recently. He and Desperado’s sequence that ends their May 1 tag match includes really cool counters and hopefully points to a BOSJ match to come because I am very much here for more of it.

This year is definitely going to have some matches that produce gifs that are going to make different groups people go crazy in positive and negative ways and then fight on the internet, but just looking at what the currently active juniors in NJPW are doing right now and considering some of the guest stars from other promotions it’s clear there are also going to be some real gems.

Big Boy SZN Approaches Even Sooner!

Taichi and Jeff Cobb continue to make me think they’ll probably have a good match that the audience might not be all that into with what they’ve been doing in the ring. Although I’m still hoping Cobb retains the NEVER Openweight Championship so his whole reign isn’t a guy calling him a fat pig for weeks and then beating him, I kind of loved the backstage confrontation between him and Taichi that climaxed with, “It’s gachimuchi. Gachimuchi, bitch.” (Which isn’t literally just “big muscles,” it’s like “muscular/chubby” or what message board people call “strongfat” or “bear mode.”) (It’s also not only the homoerotic meme music videos; it is a real slang term for something else and I don’t know if Cobb knows about the meme because I once had a conversation with him during which he said “Internet websites. Don’t get me started on that” so I doubt he’s the most “online” person.)

Anyway, it’s good to see both sides of this feud finally get to participate in the trash talk at the same time and always good to see NJPW people fighting backstage.

An element of this feud that doesn’t suck in itself but reminds me of something that kind of sucks about NJPW now is how Taichi entering separately from the rest of Suzukigun would have been such a huge deal a year ago, but New Japan has completely dropped any consistency in how they do entrances for tag team matches.

I’ve definitely already written about how I think this mildly confusing thing bugs me and is a decrease in the production quality of NJPW shows because it makes them just make less sense, but it stands out here! Sometimes people with featured feuds enter separately from the rest of their team and sometimes they don’t for seemingly no reason. For example, why does Cobb enter separately from his team on April 30 and with them on May 1?

Wouldn’t it be easier to keep everyone entering the same way like they have been rather seemingly deciding “we don’t care how this part of the show works anymore?” Who is in charge of deciding how these work on any given show? When do the performers find out how they’re entering? (Don’t comment with an answer about “gorilla position,” please, because NJPW does not have that.)

Mostly Worst: Blowing Things Off

Replay ‘Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2019 Night11’ on May 1st]
5TH MATCH: @dragonlee95, @WillOspreay, @mikeynicholls, Juice Robinson & @510njpw vs. @taiji_ishimori, @Hiku_Leo, @realchaseowens, @TOKSFALE & @JayWhiteNZ!! #NJPWWorld Watch now▶

— njpwworld (@njpwworld) May 1, 2019

Anyway, in the actual wrestling part of the show, the weakest parts here tend to involve the feuds that seem to be already finished, aka the ones involving Bullet Club people who aren’t Taiji Ishimori. Their tag matches on the 30th have their moments and so does the ten-man elimination match on the 1st, but they’re clearly less engaging in every way than the Chaos vs. L.I.J. stuff that’s both still building to climactic matches and still producing better tag matches in themselves.

That being said, here are some bullet point highlights of the Bullet Club vs. Miscellaneous Good Guys five-on-five tag team elimination match:

  • Dragon Lee and Ishimori didn’t seem like they necessarily had a “mutual elimination” type of feud, but they amp up the aggression to that level here and Ishimori runs away with Lee’s mask like a little gremlin.
  • Will Ospreay’s performance with the combination of some cool moves and impressive speed with the worst “acting”/facials possible contains like eighty percent of the pros/cons of Will Ospreay and this dude getting just dumped out of the ring by Fale for an elimination is very satisfying to watch after his Giant Slayer tour.
  • As little as there is to blow off in some of the blow-off sections of these feuds, the Fale-Nicholls-Owens-Robinson section of this match feels like a nice wrap-up to their angle.
  • Goto plays both his post-main event humiliation matches like he’s still determined to get revenge on Jay White, which I don’t know that he will get the chance to do in a meaningful way at any point, but good for the performer for protecting his character by acting that he hasn’t been nerfed yet again.
  • The thing that makes me think Goto might at least get one meaningful moment on this tour – two matches left! – in which he doesn’t look like a complete and total loser is that he does ultimately lose this match looking like such a complete and total loser.
  • Jay White winning by eliminating Goto via shenanigans barely gets booed because they already had their singles match, it doesn’t matter at all at this point, and it was a stupid ending anyway. This guy’s in the Big Four now so get ready for a lot of stupid endings involving him throughout the rest of the year and the foreseeable future unless something about his act changes significantly! We got like a whole year without anyone doing the worst kind of interference endings in high profile matches all the time but that is clearly over now!

Mostly Best: Elimination Nation

Replay ‘Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2019 Night11’ on May 1st]
6TH MATCH: @njpwShowT, @njpwyohei_k, @ibushi_kota, Tomohiro Ishii & @rainmakerXokada vs. @Takagi__Shingo, @BUSHI_njpw, @s_d_naito, @151012EVIL & @seiyasanada!! #NJPWWorld Watch now▶

— njpwworld (@njpwworld) May 1, 2019

The feuds that have been going strong and are still building to things and involve most of the top wrestlers in the company unsurprisingly have a more exciting elimination match in the main event of the May 1 show! It takes a while to heat up – more than ten minutes before the first elimination – but when it does we get a really good sequence leading up to an elimination between Evil and Ishii, that very feud-appropriate double suicide (murder-suicide?) elimination with Ibushi and Naito, and a not all that impressive but also not predictable ending with Sanada eliminating Okada, then Sho for the win. Like the previous match, everyone gets a chance to shine, but this has that extra aggression and motivation to make it more entertaining.

Backstage, we get a semi-final look at the state of Sanada’s character going into his IWGP Heayvweight Championship match. After keeping his “favorite place” gag going, he sincerely appeals to the fans to cheer loudly if they think he’s a better fit for the top champion of the company than Okada. As much as he acts like he doesn’t care and tries to keep his cool image, this guy clearly does have a desire to be a big babyface star and to have people like him. It’s endearing enough to almost make up for the beard.

With the final Road To shows behind us, I’ll see you back here after the weekend to talk about the two nights of Wrestling Dontaku, the fighting holiday we’ve been traveling towards for almost a month!

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