Cubed Circle Newsletter 184 – Wrestling Dontaku 2015 & Rasslin
We have quite the assortment of topics in this week’s newsletter with coverage of the 2015 Wrestling Dontaku show, and the very interesting Dominion card subsequently announced, a RAW that was actually enjoyable, the horrendous rating it did, NXT, and the first in hopefully a long line of Mid-South television reviews as Ben travels back in time to December 3rd 1981 to update you on Terry Orndorff/JYD, Iron Sheik enhancement matches, cultural sensibilities of the time, and more!
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
Wrestling Dontaku 2015: Hirooki Goto Gets His Big Win
Debuting in 2003, Hirooki Goto began his pro-wrestling career at a fairly inopportune time, too late to be considered a contemporary of Tanahashi and Nakamura, but too early for the likes of Okada and Naito. Combine this with Goto’s lack of flair with respect to the aforementioned performers, and unfortunately, even following New Japan’s “renaissance”, Goto has remained several rungs below the likes of Tanahashi, Nakamura, Ishii, and Okada with respect to star power. Given Goto’s immense working ability, and aptitude to perform and deliver in big matches better than most anyone else in the company, work is certainly by no means his problem. Rather, he has, for the majority of his career, been a victim of a cruel set of circumstances that ultimately capped a large portion of his career at the upper midcard level. Whilst Goto will remain at or near that position most probably for the remainder of his career, his hard work with the company for over a decade (including excursions) was rewarded with a victory of Shinsuke Nakamura to regain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, a title he last held in 2012, before dropping it to Nakamura, who, during that and subsequent reigns, brought the championship to a status approaching that of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
One should be careful, however, when discussing the extent to which the IWGP Intercontinental Championship has been built, as only Nakamura and Tanahashi have held it since the beginning of its true, steep rise to prominence last year. With the championship not around the waist of a Tanahashi or Nakamura, I find it difficult to believe that Hirooki Goto will be able to maintain the level of prestige that the title has carried for quite some time now. However, to consider the opposite effect negligible would also be ignorant, as Goto will, undoubtedly, experience some kind of rub from not only defeating Nakamura clean, but also taking his championship, which has been strongly protected over recent months. Given the fact that most every other championship in the company has been switched in some form over the last few months it would be good to see Goto breathe some fresh life into the division, whilst building his singles legacy and creating an opening for Nakamura to branch out into a more varied direction heading into the 2015 G1 Climax. There is little doubt that Goto’s in-ring ability is such that he will be able to, in most cases, produce at the very least on par with Nakamura.
Not surprisingly, due to the imminent Best of the Super Juniors tournament a challenger did not emerge for Goto, nor could there have been, as Shinsuke Nakamura is set to rematch Goto at New Japan’s next big show, ‘Dominion’ which is a return to the NJPW pay-per-view format of old, with, what looks to be at least preliminarily, a stacked card. Apart from Nakamura’s rematch, which I suspect he will lose, not only due to all that was discussed of Goto above, but also due to the sheer number of potential challengers available for Goto over the next few months, as well as possible alternative paths for Nakamura. Kazuchika Okada will also challenge AJ Styles for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which is an interesting matchup, not due to any unique possibilities work wise, as we have seen numerous times what both men can deliver together, but rather from a booking standpoint.
Styles has just won the championship, and has only had a single defence thus far, that defence being against Ibushi last month at Invasion Attack. From this perspective, it wouldn’t be all too great of a decision to switch the title, as Styles should be given time to produce a constructive run, one which wouldn’t end in a fashion quick enough to turn the championship into a hot potato belt, which is a real possibility given the number of comparatively short reigns and few defences we have seen over the past year. On the other hand, however, the story of Okada reclaiming the title from Styles, a man who beat Tanahashi, who in turn Okada simply hasn’t been able to put away in big matches, creates a natural match-up for down the line – at next year’s Dome show, quite possibly. If they do decide to move in that direction, then Okada would most assuredly have to go over not only Styles, but also Tanahashi on a big show, perhaps even the G1 finals, in order for the story to reach some sort of conclusion. Although, conclusions are not always guaranteed, as can be seen with career rivals Kawada and Misawa for example.
Elsewhere on the upcoming card, Katsuyori Shibata will be facing off against Kazushi Sakuraba, which, in not the slightest of hyperbolic fashions, is the match I am most excited to see in all of pro-wrestling at present. The pair faced off briefly in a multi-man tag match on the Dontaku show, and by all indications should have an outstanding match. Unfortunately for Sakuraba, as Shibata was quick to demonstrate in their tag, he is unwilling to hold back on any strikes, which is far from ideal for someone who has taken as much head trauma as Sakuraba. Still, the battle of Laughter7 teammates has been an obvious eventual destination since their redebut in late 2012.
These three matches already put Dominion at a distinct advantage over this past week’s Dontaku show, as Dontaku tended to drag during its later matches simply due to a large portion of decent, but far from blow-away, homogeneous matches, a problem for WWE that we discussed last week. Of course, this is a problem far smaller for New Japan than it is for the WWE, and one that can be remedied in but a few shows by building to special cards such as Dominion – a show that may supply an expecting audience a good four 4*+ matches.
Additionally, the Best of the Super Juniors 2015 looks better than it has in years with Liger, Taguchi, Komatsu, Berreta, Gedo, Cavernario, ‘O Reilly, and Chase Owens in the A Block and Tiger Mask IV, KUSHIDA, Shelley, Dorada, Romero, Fish, Nick Jackson, and David Finlay III in the B. Whilst this year’s tournament may not feature the Ricochet and Ibushis of the world, the possibility of seeing all but a couple of the men in the above list work with one another is interesting at the very least, and at times down right exciting.
Whilst Dontaku may not have been the greatest of shows, or featured the very best matches that New Japan has seen this year, the shows that look to proceed it introduce some interesting new directions for the product – namely Okada as IWGP Heavyweight champion once more, Goto as an interesting new secondary champion, Shibata/Sakuraba which could very well be the match of the year, and a daring, exciting and fun Best of the Super Juniors line-up.
NJPW Wrestling Dontaku May 3rd 2015
Fukuoka Kokusai Center, Fukuoka
1. Yuji Nagata, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Mascara Dorada vs. KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi, Manabu Nakanishi & Captain New Japan
KUSHIDA and Dorada, two of the the three best men in the match, executed a slick sequence before transitioning into standard New Japan undercard fair — although Liger and Nagata were admittedly entertaining working with KUSHIDA. Dorada landed a spectacular middle rope assisted tope, Nakanishi’s pescado that followed was less so. Nagata pinned the Captain with a backdrop.
2. Kota Ibushi & Yohei Komatsu vs. Tetsuya Naito & Sho Tanaka
Naito’s skin was a strange shade of crimson tonight, and on the topic of aesthetics, Tanaka, who has hair remarkably similar to Ibushi’s, started off with his hair-mentor. Ibushi pulled off the always effective Young Lion no sell . Komatsu, who was more over than Tanaka, went at it with Naito. Whilst Ibushi was very good at playing the bully, Naito was better, as he is a fantastic in-ring jerk when he wants/is forced to be. Komatsu tends to oversell at times, but is as over as any Young Lion in recent memory, and is technically very sound, so his work is most definitely effective. Komatsu and Naito had a wonderful strike battle before Naito and Ibushi went at it for the first time in the match. Naturally, Naito and Ibushi were great with one another and tagged their respective Young Lions in. Tanaka set Komatsu up for Tanaka’s Boston crab, which looked to be the finish with Ibushi restrained on the floor, but Kota slipped back in with a kick on Tanaka for the break. Komatsu fired back, was dropped with an amateur slam, but was caught in a roll-up for two as Ibushi and Naito grappled for access to the ring on the floor. Tanaka was then forced to submit to a single leg Boston crab. This is what big show New Japan undercard matches should be, creative pairings that yield good matches. Komatsu and Tanaka are going to be something special. Naito and Ibushi stared each other down in the post match, with Ibushi back-flipping off of the ring apron to show Naito up.
3. TenCozy & Tomoaki Honma vs. Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale & Cody Hall
This match kicked off like every single Bullet Club tag you have ever seen with Tonga and company jumping team Cozy before the bell. TenCozy recovered long enough to get some offence in, but were, of course, worn back down in short fashion. Tonga decided to utilise Mongolian Chops, a guaranteed heat-getter in Tenzan matches. This led to a comeback, as it most often does, with Honma tagged in before the match broke down. Honma landed the Kokeshi for a big pop and the victory in a match that didn’t overstay its welcome, thankfully.
4. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
RPG Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) vs. reDragon vs. The Young Bucks
For whatever reason, RPG Vice feels like a star tag team on a level beyond that of Forever Hooligans. Nick, terrified of Romero, tagged Fish in – Romero responded with a windmill eye-poke and was then abandoned by everyone on the apron for some over comedy. There were dives everywhere with ‘O Reilly at least attempting to add some semblance of story by landing an apron armbreaker on Beretta, setting up for the armbar. There was a, comparatively long heat segment on Beretta, with RPG Vice targeted by reDragon and the Bucks. Matt Jackson parodied Romero’s lariat barrage in the corner, but Romero quickly retaliated. ‘O Reilly spiked poor Beretta, and then kicked him up into a Fish German. Romero took a knee drop guillotine. ‘O Reilly locked an armbar in on Beretta in the ropes and Trent then superplexed Matt Jackson onto everyone else on the floor. That spot spectacular, as it was, required that the other four competitors and a couple of juniors stand in place for an incredulous 10-15 seconds. Romero kicked out of a rope-assisted Bucks swanton. They set up for More Bang For Your Buck, but Trent tagged in, Romero got the boots up, and Beretta did the Benjamin straight vertical leap into a belly to belly suplex. Trent hit his tombstone, but had Matt Jackson and ‘O Reilly break the pin. ‘O Reilly and Nick traded kicks, ‘O Reilly went for the jawbreaker lariat, but was pulled to the floor for a an X-factor tombstone on the floor — luckily Jim Cornette wasn’t watching this, or he would have had an embolism. The Bucks then landed More Bang for Young Buck on Trent to become the new Hot Potato. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions.
5. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Kenny Omega w/ The Young Bucks vs. Alex Shelley w/ KUSHIDA
Shelley entered in a futuristic biker helmet. Omega looked for a “handshake”, but was dealt a Shelly middle finger. I enjoyed the fact that all three men at ringside won their matches, and were thus fit to accompany Omega, and Shelly. Of the past 25 wrestlers to appear on the show, 12 were gaijin. Matt Jackson had a planned dive thwarted by the Bucks and had a garbage can thrown at his head upon a second attempt — this begat the heat. Omega kicked the can into Shelley’s head like a soccer ball off a distraction, but Shelley kicked out of the fisherman’s buster that followed. Omega took a downward spiral into a chair mounted can on the floor and a DDT off of the apron to the outside. Shelley landed another in the ring. Omega got his knees up off of a Super Fly splash. Omega was dropped with a full nelson suplex. Shelley hit a belly to back piledriver, but the referee was pulled to the floor for the obligatory ref bump and Bullet Club chaos. Shelley laid the Bucks out with a dive, and Omega took sliced bread for a believable nearfall. Shelley was then drilled with a running knee and took the Katayoku no Tenshi for the pin. KUSHIDA kicked Kenny’s cleaner broom, and said that he wouldn’t be entering the Best of the Super Juniors in what felt like a bad anime dub of a generic super villain.
6. IWGP Tag Team Championship Match
Mike Bennett, Matt Taven & Maria Kanellis vs. Karl Anderson & Amber and Doc Gallows
There was the greatest video package of the month recounting Anderson’s love for Maria Kanellis to opera. This was essentially the Maria Kanellis and Amber Gallows show featuring four men. Anderson chased over Maria, but took a right hand from Taven around the corner. Amber and Kanellis worked in the same fashion that you would expect from a mid-2000s gimmick women’s match — Maria was worlds better than Amber though. Maria was forced to dance hesitantly with Anderson, who she proceeded to kick in the crotch. She then rolled Amber Gallows up for the win. In the post match Amber did her best Stephanie McMahon impersonation and Anderson threw Kanellis into Doc’s fist before landing their finish. Bennett and Taven cleared the ring as Anderson walked off with a cold look on his face.
7. Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kazushi Sakuraba & Toru Yano
Replacing Yano with anyone in the CHAOS stable other than Jado would have produced a better trios combination. Ishii herding Sakuraba and Yano into the corner to go to battle with Makabe was highly amusing, though. Sakuraba and Shibata delivered some captivating matwork, making the proposition of an eventual singles match even more tantalising. Sakuraba pulled Tanahashi in for a sleeper from his corner, and Shibata did the same with Yano. Shibata, however, released, allowing Yano to undo the turnbuckle pad and engage in standard Yano antics on the floor. Fairly uninteresting heat on Tanahashi ensued. It dragged some and the tag was made to Makabe, who went at it once more with Ishii. The respective tags were made to Sakuraba and Shibata. Shibata landing his full force running dropkick on Sakuraba, who has taken copious amounts of head punishment in his life, made me cringe. Tanahashi and Yano were the legal pair once more. Tanahashi landed a couple of slingblades, CHAOS was taken out to the floor, but Yano got his knees up off of a high fly flow. Tanahashi then pinned Yano with a roll-up of all things. Unlike some of the earlier tags, this match went too long for my tastes.
8. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI w/ Gedo vs. AJ Styles & Yujiro Takahashi
Whilst I had previewed and read through this card before hand for the newsletter, I couldn’t quite piece this match together before Styles and Takahashi came out. I recognised that there was another match on the show, and that it was non-title, but couldn’t come up with a partner for Styles — suffice to say the appearance of Yujiro was disappointing. Watching Takahashi and HASHI, as much as HASHI has improved, second from the top was somewhat disheartening. Okada and Styles were as good together as you would expect, however. Okada responded to a Styles pele with a dropkick. HASHI ran wild showcasing his recent improvement. Styles pulled off a new facebuster on HASHI for a nearfall. HASHI landed a lariat on Takahashi for a good pop and was taken to the top by Styles where he fought for, and then missed a Swanton bomb. Styles slipped out from under HASHI on a second attempt and landed the Bloody Sunday and Styles Clash for the win. Styles and Okada faced off in the post match, implying that they will be facing one another on the next big show. Styles went for the Styles clash on the belt, Okada reversed it and looked for the rainmaker, but Styles slid out. Okada then lifted the belt high before politely passing it over to Red Shoes for AJ. As much as this match was dull the post match was exciting and very effective.
9. IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hirooki Goto
NJPW built to this match with a fantastic video package that got me excited using exclusively a language I don’t understand. They started out with some matwork before Nakamura landed a cheeky kick, which led to Goto overpowering him to the floor. Nakamura was playing MANDGAMESMAGGLE and slid in and out of the ring making binocular eyes. Goto caught Nakamura on the floor, but was met with a guillotine knee drop on the guardrail, which, as always, can’t be at all good for Nakamura’s knees. Nakamura was in full control at this point, toying with Goto, and fooling around with his eyes, but was knocked straight down with a Goto lariat. The pair exchanged forearms. Nakamura looked for a Boma Ye following a front suplex. Goto executed a highly impressive leg lariat to a top rope mounted Nakamura, sending him to the floor. Goto looked for the over the knee neckbreaker, but had to lift Nakamura up thrice to get it. Nakamura ducked a lariat and landed a knee and reverse powerslam. Nakamura looked for the Boma Ye, but was met with a gigantic lariat for a double down. Yet another strike battle ensued, but Nakamura landed a flurry of body strikes and one of his flying face kicks sending Goto to the apron. They fought on the middle rope allowing Nakamura to land a middle rope Boma Ye and a running variant for two. Goto avoided a knee and landed a headbutt, which led to a trade of a couple of headbutts and a huge Goto lariat for two. Goto then landed his top rope over the knee neckbreaker for two! Nakamura took the Shouten Kai for a much deserved Goto victory. Goto, as one of the most talented members of the New Japan roster, and someone who unfortunately debuted between two generations, hasn’t been able to advance to the same degree as a Nakamura or Okada, but still has an unbelievable degree of talent.
Goto closed the show out with a promo and he then got the entire crowd to lift their hands at once a few times like a Mexican Wave?