The Best Matches from New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku Events

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The Best Matches from New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku Events

New Japan’s latest tour culminated in this week’s Wrestling Dontaku show, where IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada squared off against the so-called “underboss” of the Bullet Club, Bad Luck Fale. They didn’t have the best match of the tour, but that doesn’t mean Okada’s excellent streak of main events came to an end: it just means that New Japan’s reliably great standards for high profile singles matches continued unabated. If the best matches from the tour were consolidated on a single show, it would’ve been one of the best shows of the year so far. Instead every major show on the tour saw at least one notable match, from Minoru Suzuki winning the NEVER Openweight title from Hirooki Goto at Hiroshima’s Road to Wrestling Dontaku show last week, to the Wrestle Doyonokuni show in Beppu, which might’ve been a better show overall than Dontaku itself. If you don’t have time to sift through every match on New Japan World, let us help you target and isolate the ones most worth watching. Here are the five best matches from New Japan’s latest tour, all of which are available through their subscription-based streaming service.—Garrett Martin

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5. Kazuchika Okada vs. Bad Luck Fale (Wrestling Dontaku)

Okada’s on the run of a lifetime in 2017, with a different classic match every month, against a variety of wrestlers with differing skills and styles. Bad Luck Fale’s a formidable presence within the Bullet Club—at this point he’s the most constant and imposing member of that troupe—but he is not quite the level of performer that Okada has been matched up with so far this year. Going into this match, fans knew Okada would probably struggle to reach the heights he’s scaled with Katsuyori Shibata, Minoru Suzuki and Kenny Omega. Still, the two worked a punishing, tightly-formatted match, with Okada taking a beating from the New Zealand giant for most of its twenty or so minutes. It wasn’t the sustained, focused sell job Okada mastered against Suzuki, but it was a fine David vs. Goliath homage, with the champion eventually pulling out the victory despite all of Fale’s power moves. Almost everything in the match played to the two competitors’ strengths, with Fale dominating throughout and Okada mounting occasional comebacks before finally pulling away for good in the final few minutes. You may not got out of your way to rewatch this match in the future, but if you ever wanted to relive Okada’s amazing 2017 you probably wouldn’t feel the urge to skip forward.—GM

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4. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL (Wrestling Doyonokuni)

The Tanahashi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon feud is one of my favorite things going right now, and this match was one of the best yet. It wasn’t the first time the two men had squared off on-on-one: EVIL shocked the world by defeating Tanahashi in the first round on the New Japan Cup. This was Tanahashi’s shot at redemption, and it started before the bell even rang, with a surprising attack on EVIL during his entrance. It looked for a moment like we’d see an overbooked schmoz of a finish, after a prolonged interference from Bushi and SANADA. But after some help evening the odds, Tanahashi and EVIL were left for a strong finish. Hiroshi Tanahashi may be in his elder statesman years, but he continues to show why he’s still considered one of the best in the world.—Paul DeBenedetto

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3. Tetsuya Naito vs. Juice Robinson (Wrestling Doyonokuni)

The lead-up to this match was a textbook example of how New Japan uses its undercard tag team matches. Robinson last month shocked everyone by pinning Naito in an eight-man tag, setting up this IWGP Intercontinental Championship with Juice as the underdog babyface. The pin was a stunning reminder that Robinson was no longer just a Young Lion or extra hand to be used to fill up space. But if his win at Sakura Genesis was a sign of his arrival, this title match was an even bigger statement. Both men played their roles extremely well, with a dominant Naito frustrating the younger Robinson, starting the match by continually taking a powder before working on Robinson’s knee. When the tide inevitably turned, and Robinson was working on top, the typically reserved New Japan crowd nearly came unglued. A few false finishes near the end really sell the match, and Robinson comes out looking like a million bucks in his first main event.—PD

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2. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Ricochet (Wrestling Doyonokuni)

At this point it’s a cliché to say you’re worried about Hiromu Takahashi’s long-term health, but it’s one of those clichés that’s completely supported by the real facts of the situation. The IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion regularly does moves that the human body probably can’t tolerate for long. The prospect of him facing Ricochet, perhaps the most dynamic high flyer in wrestling today, was thus as stressful as it was exciting. Thankfully the two were able to have a match that was both tremendously entertaining, and that squeezed almost all of their signature spots into a uniquely paced and structured layout, while avoiding some of the riskiest and most egregious maneuvers that Takahashi matches have become known for. If you love state-of-the-art wrestling that’s as crisp as it is athletic, but without most of the fear or guilt you might feel from that kind of style, this is the match for you.—GM

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1. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Wrestling Dontaku)

Outside of a flurry of offense in the opening seconds, this match took a little while to really get going. But once it did, it was magic. At this point everyone knows Omega and Ishii are pro wrestling machines, bound to have quality matches with nearly anyone. What’s surprising is how good Ishii is at leaving his wheelhouse to hang with Omega. Omega, in turn, played to Ishii’s strengths really well, and the result was a great back and forth. The outcome seemed obvious before the match even started. But I confess that, as it began to reach the 20-minute mark, I started to doubt the common wisdom. And that’s the pro wrestling sweet spot: When it takes you out of the moment and makes you wonder, “what’s going to happen?”—PD

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