Wrestling Review: NJPW Wrestling Dontaku (Night 1) (2021)

After missing the 2020 event due to a little thing called a worldwide pandemic, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is back in action for the first of two nights of Wrestling Dontaku action. The NEVER Openweight Championship is on the line in the main event, as current champion Hiroshi Tanahashi faces off with the leader of the Bullet Club, Jay White. The two have traded wins across the Road To shows, including Tanahashi forcing Jay White to tap out to a high angled cloverleaf. In the semi main event, a rarity for New Japan will take place as Tama Tonga and Taichi compete in a ladder match for Takashi Iizuka’s Iron Finger Glove, while Taichi and Tama Tonga’s tag team partners will also collide, in a match where Zack Sabre Jr. wins, Dangerous Tekkers get an IWGP Tag Team Championship match. If Tanga Loa wins, Dangerous Tekkers can never challenge for the championship again. Also on the card, various tag team matches between impending championship challengers, including Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi leading teams of four in a huge eight-man tag contest.

+ Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Jay White (NEVER Openweight Championship): this long and probably didn’t need to be as long as it was… BUT gosh these two have such good chemistry I can forgive it. Nobody can get a crowd behind them like Tanahashi can, even though the crowd clearly doesn’t mind White (much like myself; in fact I prefer him). It’s not just the moves that these two are so good at, but it’s the facial expressions, and the the knowledge of when to slow things down that works so perfectly. I loved everything about this, from the lead up to the post-match
+ Zack Sabre Jr. vs Tanga Loa: I’ve made my thoughts on how underrated Tanga Loa is many times before, but this proved that even more. This was not a blow-away match by any stretch, but it was a perfectly well done professional match between two great pro wrestlers. It should go without saying that Sabre is really good
+ CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO & YOH) vs Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru): I’ve missed my daily dose of Suzuki violence. YOH coming back could have been a death sentence for SHO, but the two are at heights not reached before as a team, and who doesn’t like Despy/Kanemaru. I enjoyed this a lot more than the opener, and I eagerly await what Okada and Suzuki do next

Taichi vs Tama Tonga (Iron Finger From Hell Ladder Match): gosh, this sucked. These two were trying hard, but the style that Japanese wrestling fans like (and the style of Japanese wrestling I like) does not lend itself to a ladder match, nor did Taichi or Tama Tong look comfortable in doing one. NJPW has tried a lot of new things over the last year or so, and I respect that, but this was a wild swing and a clear miss
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI) vs United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Aaron Henare): straight up, The United Empire is so lame. I know Ospreay is the champ, and I like O-Khan and Cobb, but they are just so nothing as a team; LIJ, and especially Shingo, just outclass each of them in such a huge way. I expect Ospreay/Shingo tomorrow to be a match of the year contender, but this match was not good
Tiger Mask, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Master Wato & Toru Yano vs BULLET CLUB (EVIL, Taiji Ishimori, Dick Togo & Yujiro Takahashi): due to the circumstances of I was all about the EVIL run as a Bullet Club final boss, but now that the rest of the Club is back in NJPW, he just feels out of place. Add in an immobile Tenzan, a well aged Tiger Mask, the failing fledging Wato, the never good Yujiro and then Dick Togo for good measure, and I just did not care for this at all. Ishimori deserves better

Should you watch this event: Ditch the ladder matches, ditch the “special singles” between two very non-special guys (no offense Tanga Loa and Sabre) and get back to the NJPW style that we all love. Because if White/Tanahashi showed anything, it’s that good wrestling will always be good wrestling.

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