Originally published at NJPW DONTAKU: Tanahashi vs. White, Iron Fingers Ladder Match
NJPW DONTAKU REPORT: Tanahashi vs. White, Iron Fingers Ladder Match
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestling Dontaku 2021 night 1. This was the first of two shows from the Fukuoka Convention Centre in Fukuoka. For anyone wondering why there is a crowd, Fukuoka is outside of the areas where the Japanese government has introduced further COVID restrictions. Those restrictions have seen multiple wrestling shows in the Tokyo area either get canceled or converted into events without fans.
This is the start of a stupidly packed period for New Japan. In the space of 35 days, New Japan has 2 Wrestling Dontaku shows, Wrestle Grand Slam in Yokohama Stadium, Wrestle Grand Slam in the Tokyo Dome, and the Dominion event in Osaka-Jo Hall. In addition to that, they also have 7 smaller events in those 35 days, with six of those taking place in Korakuen Hall. This is the peak of New Japan’s oversaturation, a move designed to maximize revenue in order to overcome attendance restrictions.
- Master Wato, Tiger Mask, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toru Yano vs Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL – A basic, non-descript tag match that did nothing to feel different.
- Sho, Yoh & Kazuchika Okada vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki – A simple but good tag match designed to build intrigue around Yoh’s future.
- BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi vs Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay – A simple, basic warm-up tag match to tease Ospreay vs Takagi.
- Rights to challenge the IWGP Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr vs Tanga Loa – A promising start led to a good but ultimately unsubstantial power vs technique match.
- Iron Finger from Hell Ladder match: Taichi vs Tama Tonga – Way too long and full of interference. The big spots may be enough for some people, but this was a sub-par ladder match for me.
- NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Jay White – A long, battle of attrition style leg work match. There was great limb work and selling but avoid it if you do not like matches that are slower paced or long – RECOMMENDED.
Master Wato, Tiger Mask, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Toru Yano vs Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL
This started with the Bullet Club too-sweeting each other and jumping their opponents. They isolated Hiroyoshi Tenzan using nefarious tactics before a Mountain Bomb on Dick Togo let Tenzan tag in Master Wato. The hot tag saw Wato look good against Togo. The closing stretch was between Taiji Ishimori and Tiger Mask and it featured an avalanche double underhook suplex by Tiger Mask. Togo interfered, which allowed Ishimori to win the match with the Bloody Cross.
Taiji Ishimori pinned Tiger Mask via Bloody Cross (9:57)
We have seen dozens of this style of match in New Japan this year, and we will see dozens more before the year is over. This did little to stand out from the crowd, although Master Wato looked good by his standards. The finishing stretch was non-descript, and that was a good way to describe the match.
Sho, Yoh & Kazuchika Okada vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki
Yoh was fired up for his upcoming IWGP Jr Heavyweight title match against El Desperado, so he jumped the Champion to start the match. Roppongi 3K showed clear signs of miscommunication early on, looking like they were on different pages. Suzuki-gun isolated Sho, who eventually tagged out after suplexing Minoru Suzuki. Okada tagged in and he was fired up, adding a lot of energy to the match. Suzuki used knee strikes to try and control Okada before they traded forearms. That ended with an Okada dropkick and in came Yoh and Desperado.
Yoh was energetic but Desperado quickly cut him off with the Numero Dos. Suzuki-gun then attacked Yoh’s injured knee, with Kanemaru applying a Figure Four until Sho made the save. Yoh nearly lost when Kanemaru rolled him up, but he hit Kanemaru with the Direct Drive while Desperado watched on. That move both won the match and proved a point to Desperado in the build-up to their title match the next day.
Yoh pinned Yoshinobu Kanemaru via Direct Drive (10:31)
This was basic but it also achieved a lot of things. It teased some lack of cohesion between Roppongi 3K, it added some interest in a possible future Okada vs Suzuki match and most importantly, it built up the IWGP Jr Championship match for Dontaku night 2. While it was nothing special, I did really like the early work that teased the Roppongi 3K issues as it is much more subtle than what you normally get when teasing a team breaking up. Yoh had good moments and I look forward to the Jr Heavyweight title match.
BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi vs Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay
Ospreay and Takagi started the match, quickly trading forearms and shoulder blocks. After a variety of moves, Takagi controlled the center and intimidated Ospreay into tagging in Jeff Cobb. Of course, the IWGP World Champion got in some cheap shots before leaving the ring. LIJ used their superior teamwork to get things back on track. The match broke down with a series of brawls on the outside while Cobb tried to squish BUSHI. Cobb showed off while the United Empire isolated BUSHI. Eventually, BUSHI used a double Frankensteiner to escape and tag in Tetsuya Naito, who used cunning and straight-up cheating to take control of the Great-O-Khan.
SANADA tagged in but O-Khan used Naito as a weapon and tagged in Aaron Henare. The sequence between Henare and SANADA was good, and Henare’s new look and style suited him. The match broke down, ending with Henare taking Takagi out with a Lanzarse lifting spear. The match ended when SANADA rolled up Henare with an O’Connor Roll.
After the match, Ospreay stared down Takagi and held the IWGP World Heavyweight title aloft. Ospreay tried to hit Takagi with the Storm Breaker but that ended in a stalemate.
SANADA pinned Aaron Henare via O’Connor Roll (11:31)
Another simple build-up tag match. The United Empire has grown more and more comfortable as a unit. This was another decent mid-card match but again, nothing that anyone will remember in a few weeks’ time.
Rights to challenge the IWGP Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr vs Tanga Loa
The match started cagily before a lock-up that saw Loa control Zack Sabre Jr. In reply, Sabre Jr used his speed to unsettle Loa, although multiple quick roll-ups failed to earn a 3 count. The story was power vs speed and technique, with Loa winning a test of strength with a knuckle lock suplex. Sabre Jr showed off his neck bridges before Loa started dominating with forearms and a running clothesline.
Sabre Jr eventually fought back with a rebound Tornado DDT before attacking Loa’s left arm. Loa tried to fight back with strikes and a Powerslam. Both wrestlers showed signs of tiredness before Sabre Jr and Loa traded nearfalls with big strikes. Loa applied a submission of his own, but Sabre Jr escaped the crossface by getting a foot on the ropes.
Loa missed a diving splash and Sabre Jr applied a modified Jujigatame, but Loa managed to reach the ropes. Sabre Jr nearly pinned Loa with a Japanese leg rolling clutch before Loa cut Sabre Jr off with a Spear and a Powerbomb. Loa then looked for his Apeshit piledriver, but Sabre Jr escaped and won the match with a sneaky Crucifix pin.
Zack Sabre Jr pinned Tanga Loa via Crucifix Pin (15:12)
This was a good match with a great start. I loved the speed vs power elements in the early going and honestly, I would have loved this if they kept that up for the whole match. Instead, the pace slowed down into more of a power vs technique match. Loa looked good, especially early on when he cut off the ring with his movement. The action was good, although it did not seem to get in a higher gear, and you could nit-pick some flaws in the selling and the length. This was a good undercard match but there is room for a much more interesting match between these 2. Then again, I just want to see more speed vs power matches in New Japan.
Iron Fingers from Hell Ladder match: Taichi vs Tama Tonga –
The Iron Fingers from Hell were placed in a clear plastic bag that was suspended from the ceiling. Kind of like a David Blaine publicity stunt, but with a silver oven glove instead of a magician.
As the Iron fingers ascended to the heavens Tama Tonga and Taichi traded forearms and leg kicks before Taichi landed an Axe Bomber. After rolling around and choking each other on the mat like a bad late 1990’s WWE women’s match they had a staredown before they each grabbed a ladder. A ladder fight ended with Tonga dropkicking a ladder into Taichi, who was Irish whipped into a ladder later on. Tonga followed that with a running splash, only to be reminded that pinfalls did not count.
Taichi regained some control by backdropping Tonga’s leg onto a ladder and both wrestlers took time to rest. It looked like Tonga badly hurt his leg on that backdrop as he was clearly struggling to stand. Douki saved Taichi, getting Clotheslined for this good deed. In a baffling spot, Taichi jumped off the ladder halfway up trying to do something. That was countered with a rough-looking Gun Stun. Tonga tried to climb the ladder but Douki made the save with a springboard dropkick that knocked Tonga off the ladder. Jado took out Douki with a kendo stick and then taped Taichi to the guardrail by both wrists.
Tonga was so unsteady here that he nearly knocked the ladder over by accident. Zack Sabre Jr then arrived and pushed Tonga off the ladder before untying Taichi. Tanga Loa then ran in and laid out Sabre Jr with the Apeshit. Loa tried to powerbomb Taichi into a ladder but Douki made the save. Sadly, for Douki, he got powerbombed out of the ring through a ladder at ringside in a nasty-looking spot. Taichi saved himself from a Magic Killer with a pair of Superkicks and a low blow. Jado was taken out with a hip toss onto a ladder.
Taichi choke slammed Tonga off the ladder but Tonga repeatedly swung a ladder at Taichi to stop him from reaching the Iron Fingers. A table was set up and Tonga staggered around trying to powerbomb Taichi through the table, but Taichi managed to get back onto the ladder so Tonga climbed up the opposite side. They fought to grab the Iron Fingers and Tonga tried to Gun Stun Taichi off the ladder through the table. Taichi held onto the ladder and Tonga went crashing through the table as Taichi retrieved the Iron Fingers from the bag. After the match Taichi held a retirement ceremony for the Iron Fingers and he left the ring to Takashi Iizuka’s music.
Taichi beat Tama Tonga by retrieving the Iron Fingers (27:11)
Tonga deserved a lot of credit for continuing the match after appearing to hurt his leg sustained during a back body drop onto a ladder. That said, this match was a mess. It was way too long and full of constant interference. There were some great-looking spots and Douki was one of the main highlights, especially the bump that he took to the outside. Ultimately this match needed to be half the length, with some of the interference cut out, and it would have been a much better match. Aside from a couple of big spots and some accidental comedy, this will most likely be remembered as one of the worst ladder matches in 2021.
NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Jay White
The build-up to this match was based around submission holds, with Tanahashi calling his Texas Cloverhold the JTO. That was a little funny since that is also the initials of a promotion run by a certain New Japan persona non-grata. Before the match, we had a brief video package of the previous NEVER Openweight Champions. As usual with Tanahashi vs White matches they each showed off their abs before the bell.
After lots of trash talk, both wrestlers looked to attack the legs before locking up. White and Tanahashi both mocked each other before Tanahashi repeatedly schooled White with a headlock. Eventually, White saved himself by crotching Tanahashi on the top rope and working over Tanahashi’s leg.
After attacking the leg, White applied a Prison lock in the middle of the ring before turning it over himself and mocking Tanahashi with press-ups. When Tanahashi tried to fight back White replied with kicks to the knee. Eventually, Tanahashi found an opening and hit a dragon screw. Tanahashi gained control but his knees were bothering him, although the leg selling was downplayed at this point.
Tanahashi looked for a Texas Cloverhold but White fought it off and hit a DDT. White tried to attack Tanahashi’s knee but Tanahashi cut him off with a dropkick to the knee. The desperate White slammed Tanahashi’s legs into the ring post. White nearly escaped a Dragon Screw in the ropes but Tanahashi threw him back into the ropes to hit the move, following up with a High Fly Flow to the outside. Tanahashi escaped a German suplex attempt from White by stomping the foot. While White managed to hit his Complete Shot-German Suplex combo he still sold the leg. White tried to rely on impact moves, but both the Kiwi Crusher and the Blade Buster were easily countered by Tanahashi due to the leg damage. The New Zealander managed to hit a Uranage suplex on one leg to regain some control.
White went back to the leg, applying the Texas Cloverhold before locking in the TTO. Tanahashi reached the ropes and fought off a sleeper suplex attempt, only for White to chop block the knee. White tried to fight out of a Full Nelson in possibly the best Daruma-style German suplex spot that I have seen in years. After a Sling Blade Tanahashi took out Gedo but White caught the High Fly Flow and eventually applied the TTO. The agony was etched on Tanahashi’s face as he crawled towards the ropes, only to be dragged back to the Centre of the ring. Eventually, Tanahashi managed to break the hold. Tanahashi saved himself with a desperate Dragon Screw, only for White to hit one of his own. When either man tried to follow up, the other would petulantly kick the knee.
Yet again White hit a Dragon Screw and looked for the TTO, except this time Tanahashi pushed him off and hit another Dragon Screw. They both crawled along the mat, trying to grab a leg while keeping their own legs away from their opponent. This then evolved to a desperate strike exchange on wobbly legs before White hit another chop block and Dragon Screw. White desperately tried to keep Tanahashi down, trying to win via attrition. He urged Tanahashi to get back to his feet but Tanahashi did not even have enough energy to hit a Dragon Screw. White anticipated all of Tanahashi’s attacks as the Ace had just run out of gas. White got too cute and Tanahashi nailed him with a desperate Lariat.
Tanahashi and White got back to their feet and White tried to hit a Blade Runner. Tanahashi countered and hit a Sling Blade for a near fall before hitting the High Fly Flow to a standing Jay White. Tanahashi winced in pain and hit a second High Fly Flow, this time landing on White’s legs. Tanahashi then locked in the Texas Cloverhold and White tapped out. Except Gedo was on the apron so the referee missed it. Tanahashi went for the Texas Cloverhold again but White nearly won with a roll-up. White then used a backslide with his feet in the ropes but it still was not enough. After a short counter sequence, Jay White hit the Blade Runner to win the match and become the NEVER Openweight Champion
After the match White says that it was time for Tanahashi to quit and called himself the first ever New Japan Quadruple Crown Champion. In a backstage promo White called Ibushi a fraud and declared himself Tanahashi’s worst nightmare. He demanded a match against David Finlay as he lost to Finlay in the New Japan Cup.
Jay White pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi via Blade Runner (39:01)
I was torn on this match because it tried to be too many things. There is great limb work through the match. Both Tanahashi and White were extremely focused on getting the most from the leg drama. Tanahashi’s selling was great at times but it was also spotty, whereas White’s leg work was much better. The way that White used his big power moves almost always played into the leg work. The longer things went, the more that it felt like a battle of attrition. The pace was slow, and they often focused on using the same moves, but I felt that it suited the theme of 2 stubborn wrestlers trying to win a battle of attrition.
Some of the choices here were sublime, with White’s constant chop blocks or the niggly kicks to the knee. The sequences where both wrestlers crawled around and tried to keep their own legs out of harm’s way was great. The sequence with Tanahashi being out of gas and White anticipating everything was maybe one of the smartest sequences that I have seen in the last 2 years of New Japan. They told a great story of attrition and White outlasting the older Tanahashi.
So of course, they ruined it. Instead of a decisive finish or working around the established limitations, the finish was their usual “epic match” finishing stretch. In fairness, they added leg submissions to the mix, but it was very glaring how Tanahashi went from being broken down to being able to hit 2 consecutive High Fly Flows. I would not care in a normal match, but it seemed like the whole point was to tell a story of attrition and then they basically ignored it.
This match was a great example of having too many ideas and trying to do all of them. If they toned down attrition stuff, then I would see the majority liking it more. If they omitted the standard finishing stretch and went all-in with the attrition element, then I would be heaping this with praise. Instead, they tried to do too many different things. This was a very good match, but it could have been much better, and that was not good enough for a 39-minute match.
I will not be surprised if some people see this as a “Worst show of the year” contender. The 2 big matches went awfully long, and I expect them to be very polarizing. There will be lots of people that hate them, and I will only recommend the main event to people who appreciate details, leg work, and matches that try to be different. I got plenty of satisfaction out of the show, but this is another case of a weak card at a big venue being utterly reliant on the main event delivering. In this case, I think a lot of people will argue that the match did not deliver. On paper Wrestling Dontaku 2021 Night 1 looked like the weaker show, and I expect that this will be the case. If it is not, then something will have gone seriously wrong with the main events for tomorrow’s show.