Wrestling Dontaku 2023 (May 3) Preview

Annual wrestling festival hits sold out Fukuoka


May 3 means the Dontaku festival in Fukuoka, and along with it, its wrestling counterpart, celebrating a 30th anniversary this year. With a sold out Fukuoka International Center getting set to see five championship matches, it’s set to be an incredible end to a red hot tour.

Watch live in English on NJPW World!

Main event: IWGP World Heavyweight Championship- SANADA vs Hiromu Takahashi

Singles record: 1-0 SANADA

‘I knew then that he was going to be a star’. The one singles meeting for SANADA, then representing AJPW, and Hiromu Takahashi, then a Young Lion, taking place in 2012 in Taiwan, is not much of a reference point for how the Dontaku main event will play out, but SANADA’s impressions of his Fukuoka callenger were as accurate as could be. 

Indeed, up to 2023, one could say that Hiromu’s star shone much brighter than SANADA’s. The results followed along with the stardom, and five IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships and four Best of the Super Junior trophies not only put Time Bomb in the elite and even unprecedented of junior heavyweight ranks, but also put him in a field with the likes of Koji Kanemoto and Prince Devitt, of junior champions that were able to challenge for the top heavyweight title. 

In the summer of 2020, Hiromu’s challenge to then IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion EVIL were motivated more by emotion than potential glory; EVIL had just defected from Los ingobernables de Japon to BULLET CLUB and what would become HOUSE OF TORTURE; EVIL seizing the double IWGP gold after a severly tainted win over Tetsuya Naito was something that Takahashi could not forgive, and the then junior champion demanded the match on mere week’s notice. 

Fast forward three years later, and while Hiromu is again motivated to an extent by competition against a defecting partner in SANADA, the goal is one that he’s carried for a long time; to wear the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, to win the World Heavyweight title while still a junior heavyweight, and to wrestle in prime time. He even took the match with one month’s notice, but did so on the condition that he wrestle Yoshinobu Kanemaru first, and the result was over 30 minutes of torture that will doubtless create issues for the challenger a mere week later. 

Meanwhile the champion’s star has risen sharpy and brightly ever since joining Just 5 Guys. Winning the New Japan Cup, converting to the IWGP World title, and carrying a presence, aura and magnetism unseen up to now, SANADA is finally leading the pack in NJPW. Tonight, he is doubtless the favourite, but the underdog status is one the challenger craves. For many new champions, the first challenge is the toughest; could Hiromu end SANADA’s reign at V0?  

8th Match: NEVER Openweight Championship- Tama Tonga vs David Finlay

Singles record: 2-0 Finlay

The NEVER Openweight Championship is on the line when Tamas Tonga seeks his second defence against David Finlay. On the tenth anniversary of BULLET CLUB, it’s founder member Tonga against current leader Finlay, and a chance for Finlay to firmly assert that leadership status. Finlay has declared that his ewra of BULLET CLUB be for ‘savages only’, and that despite his differences with prior leader Jay White, that Tama’s exit was wholly justified. ‘Our fathers would be savage enough to hold this title, and I’m savage enough to take it from you. Are you savage enough to keep it?’ was the Rebel’s challenge to Tama, with a belt shot at Sakura Genesis the exclamation point. 

It’s clear that Finlay has an intended direction for this match and for the NEVER title to follow as champion. Tama by contrast has yet to show a vision for his reign as champion, his reign still young at V1. The question is whether he can put together enough defences for that vision to come into focus, or whether Finlay will end that reign with his third straight singles win over the Guerrilla of Destiny.

7th Match: NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Championships- Strong Style (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki & Ren Narita) vs Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Hiroshi Tanahashi

When Ren Narita and Shota Umino faced Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada on March 11 in a special tag attraction match during the New Japan Cup, few were too surprised when age and experience triumphed over youthful enthusiasm. Yet while the Son of Strong Style felt burned at losing alongside a Dojo classmate in Umino, his confidence as a NEVER 6 Man Champion has only continued to be buoyed. Alongside his Strong Style partners, Narita picked up a victory and defended against HOUSE OF TORTURE, and had revenge on his mind immediately afterward. 

Narita called out Okada and dared the Rainmaker to find two partners to face Strong Style in Fukuoka. While pundits suspected the inclusion of Tomohiro Ishii and Hiroshi Tanahashi, the subsequent Road to Dontaku was rather complicated. Ishii battled El Desperado in Washington DC, and their battle proved to be a flashpoint of an intense war that was waged through the rest of the tour, but the Stone Pitbull made a point of saying he wouldn’t team with Tanahashi, wanting anm all CHAOS team to challenge. 

Meanwhile Tanahashi’s path to inclusion was made challenging by injury. At Capital Collision, the Dream team of Okada and Tanahashi were unsuccessful in their attempt to win the STRONG Openweight Tag team Championships, and the Ace would also leave with a broken rib. On April 30, Tanahashi announced on social media that he was cleared and would be in Fukuoka to take the open spot; hours later, Okada confirmed the decision in Kumamoto. That prompted Ishii to storm out in anger; will Ishii accept the Ace, and will this team of three be on point enough to beat a well oiled machine in the championship side?

6th Match: NJPW World TV Championship- Zack Sabre Jr. vs Jeff Cobb

Singles record: 2-0 Sabre

Zack Sabre Jr. looks to defend the NJPW World TV Championship for a sixth time against Jeff Cobb. Back at Sakura Genesis, ZSJ would challenge Aussie Open on behalf of his TMDK mates in Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls; the challenge was accepted on the condition that Jeff Cobb get a shot at the TV title, but this title match sees him compete very much in Sabre’s wheelhouse. 

Sabre’s one singles loss in 2023 against Shota Umino took 26 minutes, wile every one of his wins bar one in the UK have been under the 15 minutes required in NJPW World TV Championship defences. 

His challenger Jeff Cobb is similarly impressive in short matches though- his 14-4 record in the last year in ma6tches under 15 minutes is respectable indeed. Yet against Zack Sabre Jr., two singles matches way back in 2016 saw two wins for the Briton, one in a hair over the 15 and one in just under ten minutes. While those bouts were a long time ago, the odds favour a ZSJ retention, but can Cobb end a historic and impressive first reign?

5th Match: STRONG Openweight Championship- Hikuleo vs KENTA

After a Juice Robinson assisted victory over Fred Rosser in San Jose, KENTA has picked up defences through more foul means than fair against Minoru Suzuki and Eddie Edwards in recent weeks, but will be making a little bit of history on behalf of BULLET CLUB on their tenth anniversary. His match with Hikuleo marks the first STRONG Openweight title match on Japanese soil, and is one that caps a tour marked with violence from the off. 

Before the title match was even official, KENTA blasted Hikuleo with the title belt at Sakura Genesis to nominate Hikuleo as his challenger. Determined that the ‘big man’ couldn’t take him down, KENTA has made it his mission to ensure that the young giant barely makes it to Fukuoka at all, having assaulted his challenger with a kendo stick Saturday in Kagoshima. There is no doubt that KENTA has a heavy advantage when it comes to experience, and the wide range of dirty tricks he has up his sleeves, but with size, power and a desire to claim his first singles title, might Hikuleo be too much to deny?

4th match: Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI)

After Taichi survived a 40+ minute war against Shingo Takagi to lift the KOPW 2023 belt in Kagoshima Saturday, he combines with DOUKI and Kanemaru to face an LIJ trio looking to get back on track, and to set a positive picture for Hiromu Takahashi in our main event. Will the fourth match’s reult be a portent of the ninth tonight?

3rd Match: Kevin Knight, KUSHIDA & Shota Umino vs United Empire (Aaron Henare, Francesco Akira & TJP)

After Shota Umino was laid up Sunday in Kumamoto with a fever, he’ll be on the side of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions tonight and looking to bounce back against the United Empire. UE have been hugely impressive on undercards throughout the tour, even in spite of Catch 2/2’s tag title loss however. A key factor in those successes has been Aaron Henare and the Ultima; can the Hontai opponents avoid submission disaster?

2nd Match: TMDK (Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste & Kosei Fujita) vs United Empire (Mark Davis, Kyle Fletcher & Great-O-Khan)

 Six man action will bring fall out from Saturday’s IWGP Tag Team Championship match between Aussie Open and TMDK, but after the friendly and respectful competition of Satuma no Kuni, Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis have their minds on distinctly unfair competition from HOUSE OF TORTURE of late. After two sneak attacks, Aussie Open will be glad that H.O.T will be occupied by CHAOS in our opener, and looking to make a dominant statement in this trios bout. 

1st Match: CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano & YOH) vs HOUSE OF TORTURE (EVIL, Dick Togo, Yujiro Takahashi & Dick Togo)


As HOUSE OF TORTURE have injected themselves violently and more than a little unreasonably into the IWGP Tag Team Championship scene, Bishamon have neither forgiven the fact that H.O.T interrupted their own challenge to Aussie Open, nor any of the last years of transgressions. The main card in Fukuoka will kick off with CHAOS looking to get their licks in on EVIL and co, but with the tortuous house still needing solid credentials to make good on their title claim, they may be extra motivated to plumb the deepest depths. 

Dark Match: Ryohei Oiwa Hattrick Challenge

Not part of  NJPW World broadcast

Before the NJPW World broadcast starts in Fukuoka, Ryohei Oiwa will attempt to run the gauntlet of Yuto Nakashima, Boltin Oleg and Oskar Leube. If he can win one, two or all three of the five minute matches, he could come away with some delicious prizes of yakkiniku barbecue, with the grand prize of 200,000 Yen’s worth of met and an NJPW World TV title shot if he scores all three victories!