By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2023”
May 3, 2023 in Fukuoka, Japan at the Fukuoka Convention Center
Streamed on New Japan World
Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton provided English commentary; Kelly is remote from home in the United States. While I have gotten used to watching the shows with the Japanese voices, it sure adds a lot to hear from them. The lights are low so it’s hard to see how many people are here, but Kelly said this venue has been sold out for weeks.
1. Toru Yano and Yoh and “Bishamon” Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi defeated “House of Torture” EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi, Sho, and Dick Togo at 3:45. EVIL and Yujro have the tag title belts, which they stole. All eight brawled at the bell. Yoh hit a plancha to the floor at 3:00. Bishamon hit their Shoto team slam on Togo for the pin. Kelly and Charlton were shocked at how quickly this was over. Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis ran to ringside and reclaimed their stolen tag team title belts.
* Fletcher got on the mic and offered a three-way tag match against both Bishamon and the House of Torture. Kelly said “you got to love the confidence of Aussie Open.”
2. “United Empire” Great-O-Khan, Kyle Fletcher, and Mark Davis defeated “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” Kosei Fujita, Shane Haste, and Mikey Nicholls at 5:29. Fletcher and Davis passed Fujita back and forth as they held him upside down. Davis hit a senton on Haste. O-Khan entered at 3:30 and he beat up Fujita, hitting his Mongolian Chops. O-Khan hit a Dragon Suplex for a believable nearfall. He bent Fujita backward and applied the Sheepkiller submission hold, and Fujita tapped out. Another quick one.
3. Shota Umino, Kushida, and Kevin Knight defeated TJP, Francesco Akira, and Aaron Henare at 6:28. Shota walks out through the crowd, channeling his inner Jon Moxley. Shot and Henare immediately traded forearm shots. TJP and Akira hit some quick team moves on Shota, with Akira hitting a Doomsday senton on Shota at 2:30. Knight tagged in and hit a Stinger Splash on both TJP and Akira, then a nice jump-up Frankensteiner at 5:00 on Akira. TJP nailed the Mamba Splash on Kushida for a believable nearfall. Kushida hooked TJP’s arm, got a forward roll, and scored the pin! That was shocking!
4. “Just Five Guys” Taichi, Douki, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru (w/Taka Michinoku) defeated “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi at 7:22. Taichi held his newly-won KOPW title in front of Shingo, taunting him. J5G attacked from behind, with Naito and Douki immediately trading mid-ring forearm shots. Shingo and Taichi traded offense, with Taichi nailing a spin kick to the head at 5:00. Bushi entered and hit a missile dropkick on Taichi. Douki hit an enzuigiri on Bushi, and J5G worked over Bushi. Taichi applied a Dragon sleeper, and Bushi tapped out.
* The cards for all the “Best of the Super Junior” shows were revealed. The main thing I pointed out was the non-NJPW wrestlers appearing this year are Mike Bailey (Impact Wrestling) and Brit Dan Moloney (prior NXT-UK run; recently joined United Empire.)
5. Hikuleo (w/Jado) defeated Kenta to win the NJPW Strong Openweight Title at 10:22. Kenta charged at Hikuleo, but Hikuleo caught him with a big boot, and the ref immediately checked on Kenta. Kenta got an inside cradle for a nearfall just seconds in. Kenta began stomping on the left knee and working over the leg. The ref got bumped at 6:00. Kenta immediately got a kendo stick. He struck both Hikuleo across the back, but also swung it at Jado, who had hopped onto the ring apron. Hikuleo grabbed the stick and snapped it in half over his knee. Kenta looked terrified! Hikuleo hit a chokeslam powerbomb for a visual pin at 7:30, but we didn’t have a referee!
A new ref hopped in the ring. Hikuleo went for a chokeslam, but Kenta turned it into a modified Triangle Choke, then he turned it into a crossface, with Hikuleo reaching the ropes at 9:00. Kenta hit a low blow punt kick with the ref out of position, then a Shining Wizard for a believable nearfall; I thought that was it. Hikuleo hopped up and hit a powerslam, then a chokeslam, for the pin! New champion! Solid big man-little man matchup.
6. Zack Sabre Jr. (w/TMDK) vs. Jeff Cobb (w/United Empire) for the TV Title went to a time-limit draw at 15:00. Sabre has come close to a draw but hasn’t had one yet. They had a knucklelock early on, which of course, Cobb overpowered him. Kelly noted that Sabre has already had five successful defenses since he won the belt at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Cobb hit a shoulder tackle that sent Sabre flying at 4:00. Sabre went to work on the left knee, and he tied him up on the mat. Cobb hit a flying crossbody block for a nearfall at 7:00. Cobb hit a hard forearm to the jaw that dropped Sabre.
Sabre fired back with some European Uppercuts. Cobb hit a dropkick, and they were both down at 9:00. Sabre tied him in an Octopus submission hold as they fought on the top rope in the corner. Cobb nailed a top-rope gutwrench suplex, and they were both down; Cobb was slow to make a cover and got a nearfall. Sabre went for a German Suplex but Cobb escaped. Cobb hit a flying headbutt, and they were both down at 11:00. Sabre got up and they traded forearm shots, but Cobb dropped Sabre again. Cobb went for the Spin Cycle side slam, but Sabre managed to hop on Cobb’s back and applied a sleeper. Cobb hit a German Suplex!
Cobb went for the Tour of the Islands, but Sabre turned it into a rollup for a nearfall at 13:00. Kelly and Charlton agreed that Sabre might want to just run out the clock. Sabre hit several open-hand slaps to the face. Cobb nailed the Spin Cycle, but Sabre rolled all the way to the floor. Cobb hit a standing moonsault for a nearfall at 14:30. Sabre applied a modified Triangle Choke. Cobb hit a suplex, but as he headed over to make a cover, the bell sounded. (I had it at 15:07, but close enough.) They kept arguing after the bell.
* Quick backstory: Kazuchika Okada needed to pick two teammates for a six-man tag match. He picked Tomohiro Ishii first. The injured Hiroshi Tanahashi (broken rib) has been cleared to wrestle, so Okada picked him, too. However, Ishii apparently doesn’t want to team with Tanahashi. Charlton said this is the match he was looking forward to the most.
7. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, and Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, and Ren Narita to win the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Titles at 19:35. Okada’s team all came to the ring together, but Charlton and Kelly talked at length about Ishii’s rift with Tanahashi. Tanahashi and Suzuki opened, and to my surprise, Hiroshi doesn’t have his ribs taped. Hiroshi hit a basement dropkick on Narita’s knee at 1:30. Okada tagged in and he brawled to the floor with Ren, whipping him into a guardrail, then hitting a bodyslam onto the floor. In the ring, Okada applied a Money Clip submission hold.
Desperado and Suzuki tied Ishii up against the ropes and beat on him. Tanahashi jumped in front and “took the bullet” for Ishii. Suzuki hit a series of forearms in the corner on Tanahashi, then a Helluva Kick, at 5:30. They traded mid-ring forearm shots. Suzuki hit a punch to the ribs, and Tanahashi fell to the mat in pain. Suzuki applied an abdominal stretch; Charlton said it is the worst possible hold for Hiroshi’s damaged ribs. Ishii hopped in and made the save at 8:30.
Hiroshi hit a dragon screw leg whip on Desperado, and he tagged in Ishii at 10:00. Ishii and Desperado brawled, with Ishii hitting a back suplex. Desperado hit his own back suplex. Okada and Narita got back in, and Okada hit a flapjack. Hiroshi accidentally slapped Ishii in the face! Ishii hit a German Suplex on Desperado but rubbed at his face where he was struck. Desperado hit a spear on Ishii and a slam for a nearfall at 13:00. Desperado set up for his Angel’s Wings, but Ishii fought free. Ishii hit a ‘thud’ of a headbutt that dropped them both.
Ren and Okada got back in the ring, and Ren hit a Northern Lights suplex for a nearfall at 15:30. Ren hit a leg lariat. Desperado hit a Spinebuster on Okada. Ren hit another Northern Lights suplex for a nearfall at 17:00, then a third one for a nearfall. Narita applied an Octopus, but Ishii made the save. Okada’s team took turns working over Narita, with Okada hitting a neckbreaker over his knee for a nearfall. Okada hit his picture-perfect dropkick, then the Rainmaker short-arm clothesline on Narita for the pin! New champs! I didn’t expect that!
* Shota Umino walked to the ring and he challenged Okada for the six-man titles! On the video screen, JON MOXLEY cut a short promo, saying he’ll be there on June 4 to team with Shota. Charlton wondered who would be their partner. Okada got on the mic and said, “F— you” in English to Shota; Charlton quipped, “That doesn’t need any translation.” Hiroshi offered his hand to Ishii, and Ishii shook it, somewhat reluctantly. Great match, and great post-match segment.
8. David Finlay (w/Gedo) defeated Tama Tonga (w/Jado) to win the NEVER Openweight Title at 25:07. They immediately brawled to the floor and amongst the fans. Back in the ring at 5:00. Finlay was in charge. Tama hit a T-Bone Suplex, and they were both down at 7:00. They brawled back to the floor, with Tama whipping Finlay into the guardrails repeatedly! Back in the ring, Tama was fired up and peeled off his vest at 9:30, and he hit a Stinger Splash then a rolling Death Valley Driver.
Tama went for a frogsplash, but Finlay got his knees up. They traded forearm shots while on their knees. Finlay hit a clothesline to the back of the neck at 13:00 and he was in charge. Tama hit a Tongan Twist, and they were both down. Tama went for Gun Stun, but Finlay blocked it. Tama went for a Jay Driller, but Finlay escaped that, too. Tama applied a Sharpshooter, but FInlay reached the ropes at 16:30. Tama went to the top rope, but Finlay hopped to his feet and shoved Tama to the floor, with Tama hitting the guardrail. Finlay powerbombed Tama onto the ring apron.
Finlay tossed Tama head-first into the ring post at 19:00. Tama dove back into the ring at the 19-count. Finlay immediately nailed a Dominator faceplant for a nearfall. Tama went for Gun Stun, but Finlay avoided it. Finlay hit a standing powerbomb, then a second one, for a nearfall at 21:00. Finlay repeatedly slammed Tama’s head on the mat and punched him in the face; he shoved the ref to the mat. Finlay hit a third standing powerbomb at 23:00. Jado was on the ring apron, towel in his hand. Finlay hit a fourth powerbomb; Jado teased throwing in the towel, but he went back to the floor.
Finlay hit the Trash Panda neckbreaker over his knee, but he pulled him up rather than get the pin! Finlay hit a second Trash Panda, but again pulled him up. He hit a third one to get the pin. A decisive win to a very good match. Charlton said Finlay has “run Tama Tonga out of the gym.” Tama Tonga was put on a stretcher and taken from the ring as Finlay stood over him and held the title above his head. “I told you my Bullet Club is for killers,” Finlay said to the camera.
* Someone wearing a black hoodie walked in the ring and attacked Gedo. He removed his mask to reveal it is El Phantasmo! ELP attacked Finlay and beat him up on the floor. A nice pop for the newly-turned-babyface Phantasmo.
9. Sanada (w/Just Five Guys) defeated Hiromu Takahashi (w/LIJ) to retain the IWGP World Title at 27:29. An intense lockup to open. Charlton said these two actually wrestled in 2012 in Taiwan. Kelly said that Sanada’s move to Just Five Guys was needed to shake off complacency. Hiromu hit a dropkick that sent Sanada from the ring apron to the floor at 4:00. Hiromu nailed his running Shotgun Dropkick from the ring apron to the floor. Charlton said Hiromu hasn’t lost a singles match since June, but he added that most of those wins were against juniors. Hiromu hit another shotgun dropkick on the floor, and he dragged Sanada back in the ring.
With Hiromu’s feet on the apron, Sanada hit a swinging neckbreaker to the floor at 7:00, and Hiromu clutched at his neck. He got back in the ring, but Sanada was in charge. Sanada hit a high back suplex for a nearfall at 9:00. Hiromu hit a headscissors takedown, then a shotgun dropkick for a nearfall at 11:30. Sanada hit a dropkick, then a plancha to the floor. In the ring, Hiromu applied a modified Triangle Choke. Sanada hit a TKO stunner for a nearfall at 16:30. Sanada applied the Skull End dragon sleeper and fell to the mat, locking it in.
Sanada hit a top-rope moonsault; he went for a second one but Hiromu got his knees up to block it. Hiromu nailed the Time Bomb for a nearfall, and they were both down at 19:00. Hiromu hit a superkick and a clothesline. Sanada hit a Shining Wizard. He set up for Deadfall (Jay White’s Blade Runner!) but Hiromu escaped. Sanada hit some stiff European Uppercuts at 21:30. Hiromu fired back with a side slam for a nearfall. Hiromu nailed the Time Bomb II for a believable nearfall at 24:00.
Sanada went for a Shining Wizard, but Hiromu got his arm up to block it. Sanada again applied a Skull End; the ref got close to hear if Hiromu was tapping out. Sanada let go of the hold and hit another moonsault for a believable nearfall at 27:00. Sanada set up for Deadfall, but Hiromu turned it into a rollup for a nearfall. Sanada immediately hit another Shining Wizard, and this time he nailed the Deadfall for the clean pin. A really good match.
* Sanada got on the mic and brought up facing Hiromu 11 years ago, and he’s sure they will wrestle again. The confetti cannon went off to cover Sanada in streamers to close the show. But wait! The lights went out and a video played. Charlton said we’ve seen this teaser video for weeks. A man wearing a hoodie emerged from the back, and it’s recent Young Lion graduate Yota Tsuji! Charlton said Sanada looks like he has seen a ghost. Tsuji attacked Sanada and the rest of Just Five Guys. He nailed a spear that sent Sanada flying! The crowd popped. “They can’t believe what they’ve just seen!” Charlton exclaimed.
Final Thoughts: A very good main event. But as good as Hiromu is, I never bought the idea he was winning here. It was a fun and compelling match, but it lacked the suspense of who was going to win. The Tsuji return is intriguing. I’ve admittedly only seen him on a handful of UK shows. Much like Shota Umino, it seemed like just a matter of time before Yota Tsuji returned as well. And like Umino, I’m glad to see him immediately trying to be established in the upper tier.
Tama-Finlay was really good. Finlay beat him in the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup, and got another win here. Obviously, NJPW is really pushing Finlay into the upper tier as a replacement for Jay White. I really like Tama and I hate to see him lose his title, but I really hate to see him lose so decisively.
The Moxley announcement was a pleasant surprise, and it will be intriguing to see who he picks as his teammate with Shota Umino. Let the speculation begin. Ishii not being quite on the same page as Tanahashi can be some fun stuff moving forward.
#NJPW #Road #Wrestling #Dontaku #Results #Vetters #Review #Sanada #Hiromu #Takahashi #IWGP #Heavyweight #Championship #Tama #Tonga #David #Finlay #Openweight #Title #Minoru #Suzuki #Desperado #Ren #Narita #Kazuchika #Okada #Tomohiro #Ishii #Hiroshi #Tanahashi #Openweight #SixMan #Titles #Zack #Sabre #Jeff #Cobb #NJPW #Title #Pro #Wrestling #Dot #Net
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