SANADA incurred an orbital fracture injury in a match with Will Ospreay during the New Japan Cup tournament. On April 9th during the Hyper Battle tour, SANADA appeared for the first time since that event and relinquished the IWGP United States championship. His request was for the title to default to its previous holder, Hiroshi Tanahashi, with the caveat that he would get the chance to wrestle for the title upon returning from injury. However, an angry Ospreay insisted he be declared the champion as he was the one who put SANADA on the shelf. A match was then signed for Wrestling Dontaku on May 1st with Tanahashi and Ospreay competing for the vacant title. However, on April 28th, Will Ospreay tested positive for COVID-19, and Tomohiro Ishii was selected as his replacement to challenge Tanahashi:
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
NJPW “Wrestling Dontaku 2022” – Fukuoka, Japan – 5.1.2022
This is the ninth singles match between these two, with Tanahashi winning all but one of those previous encounters. Ishii gave Tanahashi no space. When Tanahashi did his cute little air guitar after landing a crossbody, Ishii kicked him in the back. Ishii backed Tanahashi into a corner with chops, and left him zero space to connect when he began to retaliate with forearm strikes. When Ishii put his boot up out of the corner to stop a charging Tanahashi, Tanahashi took him down with a dragonscrew leg whip. Just as it looked like Tanahashi’s offense was about to have focus, Ishii responded with his own dragonscrew leg whip. It was uncharacteristic to see Ishii use one of Tanahashi’s signature moves, and Tanahashi did the same by throwing a headbutt so he could back Ishii to the corner with forearm strikes. An incredulous Ishii leaned into the strikes, backing Tanahashi into the opposite corner where just one forearm smash knocked the Ace on his ass. Tanahashi however managed to pull Ishii off of the top turnbuckle with another dragonscrew leg whip. Ishii delivered a powerslam to halt Tanahashi’s onslaught onto his leg. Each man dropped the other with a Dragon suplex, and Tanahashi earned a two count after a pair of Sling Blades. Ishii throws a desperation headbutt to Tanahashi as he ascends the top rope. When Ishii gets his bearings, he superplexes Tanahashi for a two count. Tanahashi counters a brainbuster with two Twist and Shouts and a Dragon suplex, and is able to land the High Fly Flow onto Ishii’s lower back. Ishii is able to roll out of the way of a standard High Fly Flow and hooks Tanahashi in a Magistral Cradle for a crazy close nearfall. Ishii fires up after landing an enzuigiri and lays out Tanahashi with a lariat for only a one count. Ishii can’t believe it when Tanahashi kicks out of a vertical drop brainbuster, and when he tries again, Tanahashi slips out and lands a reverse Sling Blade. Tanahashi withstands a flurry of strikes and knocks down Ishii with a headbutt. Ishii gives Tanahashi his own Sling Blade before attempting another vertical drop brainbuster. Tanahashi reverses into one of his own. Ishii kicks out of one at Sling Blade, but has no energy to follow up with any offense. Tanahashi takes him down with Aces High, and then connects with the High Fly Flow for the pin at 23:20. For a match that replaced an anticipated bout just days before an event, this over delivered. Them using each others’ offense was a really fun wrinkle, but I especially like that Tanahashi used his own tried and true offense to put away Ishii, especially with how Ishii had dodged the High Fly Flow twice before. This incorporated the best elements of both competitors and made for a super fun watch. No question this is amongst the best IWGP U.S. title matches. ****½
Tanahashi’s post-match speech is interrupted by Chase Owens, who earlier in the evening had won the IWGP Tag Team championship with Bad Luck Fale. He reminds Tanahashi that he pinned him during the G1 Climax tournament. Tanahashi was the IWGP US champion during the tournament, and Owens never got a title opportunity against Tanahashi he feels he may have deserved. However, he says no longer cares about the U.S. title since he is now a tag team champion, but notes “that guy might.” From behind, a masked individual in a BULLET CLUB vest clobbers Tanahashi with a right hand and drops him with a jumping Killswitch. The man unmasks, revealing themselves to be Juice Robinson! Juice had been making heavy hints that “Windy City Riot” would not only be his final NJPW show, but perhaps his final wrestling show period, making this quite a shocking moment for those who bought into his comments (including myself – no shame.) Juice drops Tanahashi with a Death Valley facebuster and then holds the IWGP US title over his body. Two days later, it was announced Tanahashi would defend the U.S title at “Capital Collision” in a four-way match against Jon Moxley (a two time U.S. champion who called out Tanahashi at “Windy City Riot”), Will Ospreay, and Juice Robinson (a former U.S. champion in his own right.) As someone who considered Robinson to be one of the most underrated babyfaces in wrestling, I am curious how he will fare in the BULLET CLUB. If nothing else, I think it’s a good way to freshen him up, and I am genuinely glad he isn’t leaving after all.
The following Tuesday, Yuya Uemura made his AEW debut on Dark:
Yuya Uemura vs. Angelico
AEW Dark #141 – Orlando, FL – 5.3.2022
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Angelico, and he’s a very proficient mat wrestler for a high-flier. What he isn’t is a good sport, as when he was unable to get control on the mat, he suckered Uemura into a wrist twist out of a handshake. When Uemura chops him to death, Angelico leans into the ropes to make Uemura back away, and then strikes with a dropkick to Uemura’s left knee. Although Angelico does some damage to his legs, Uemura gets in an explosive dropkick. After a chop and uppercut, Uemura backdrops Angelico for a two count. Angelico pulls his hair to stop a double underhook overhead suplex and takes him down with a dragonscrew leg whip. Angelico uses the Navarro Death Roll to twist Uemura’s ankle. He makes Uemura tap out in a grapevine ankle lock at 8:55. Even though Angelico’s AEW trajectory seems to be that of a “Dark lifer”, he is not phoning in his performances. He showed a lot of character and smarts in his match with Uemura, who at least looked competent in his debut. I do wish he got a little more offense in, but I get it. ***
This week’s episode features three matches from “Lonestar Shootout” that were not featured on the FITE broadcast:
Dallas, TX – 4.1.2022
Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly and Matt Rehwoldt.
BULLET CLUB (Chris Bey & Hikuleo) vs. Stray Dog Army (Bateman & Barrett Brown)
This was a strange pairing of two Rudo tandems. The BULLET CLUB just wore down bateman forever, and then as soon as they called the ten minute mark over the house mic, Bateman dropped Bey and tagged in Brown for his comeback. It’s always been the case that these time calls were cues for those in the ring, but this was so blatant I couldn’t help but laugh. Brown ran roughshod on Bey. Bey successfully shoved Bateman and Brown into one another so he could tag Hikuleo. Bey wiped out Bateman with a dive on the floor. Hikuleo cut off Brown with a clothesline before muscling him up into a chokeslam for the pin at 12:16. A solid first two minutes and fun last two minutes didn’t make up for the total snooze in between. Hikuleo does not accept Bey’s “Too Sweet” before heading backstage. *
Blake Christian vs. JONAH
Christian seemed to be getting some semblance of momentum, but JONAH put an end to that when he caught Christian’s pescado attempt. JONAH rammed Christian back first into the ring post and then dropped him ribs first onto the barricades. After taking more damage in the ring, Christian got a few running forearms before spiking JONAH with a tornado DDT inside the ring and again outside of the ring. JONAH kicked out of a 450 splash. When Christian came off the middle rope with a springboard, JONAH speared him in mid-air. JONAH then powerbombed Christian before squashing him with a Tsunami and getting the pin at 6:56. More or less a squash for JONAH, for which I approve, but doing so at Christian’s expense is a bit questionable. *½
Fred Rosser, Alex Coughlin & The DKC vs. Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, JR Kratos & Royce Isaacs)
Kratos still wants Coughlin, after Coughlin defeated him back at STRONG 76, and he attacked Coughlin from behind to start the match. DKC helped Coughlin wipe out Kratos on the floor after he took out Isaacs with a sucidie dive. Meanwhile, Rosser gave Isaacs a running Death Valley Driver, with Coughlin giving Lawlor a fallaway slam beforehand. With Rosser turning his attention to Lawlor, Isaacs was able to catch him with a right hand and release fisherman’s suplex. With Rosser incapacitated, Lawlor is willing to come in and help beat him down. Rosser takes down Isaacs and Lawlor with a double clothesline and tags DKC, who Kratos instantly nails with a running shoulder tackle. DKC gets sent outside with a shoulder tackle from Lawlor. However, Rosser drags Lawlor to the floor, gives him a suplex, and then a backbreaker onto the ring apron. Isaacs and DKC fight off camera as Kratos and Coughlin trade strikes in the center of the ring. They end up fighting to the floor and Isaacs throws DKC in the ring to a dazed Lawlor. Lawlor intercepts a karate chop and tries a sleeper hold. DKC escapes and drops Lawlor with DK Fire. Lawlor ducks a chop and hoists up DKC, using him to knock Rosser off the apron before dropping him with a running uranage. DKC avoided a double team by Isaacs and Lawlor but gets caught on the top turnbuckle by Lawlor. Although Rosser pulls Lawlor to the floor, Isaacs brings down DKC with a super powerslam for the pin at 11:12. Another good, action packed Team Filthy match to build Rosser vs Lawlor and Coughlin vs. Kratos. We’re reaching critical mass on these, but it’s clear that less people in these matches make the build to the eventual matches much more substantial, which is to say, the big ten man tags from the PPV’s do very little to aid in these stories. ***
After the match, Rosser reminds Lawlor that he challenged him for yet another shot at the STRONG championship in Florida. Lawlor told Rosser no then, saying he didn’t think he had earned it, and that sentiment has not changed. Lawlor decides he’s feeling generous, and gives Rosser that opportunity to prove himself worthy, and agrees that he will give Rosser a STRONG title match if he beats Royce Isaaces and Jorel Nelson in a handicap match during the “Mutiny” tour. Seems fair for someone who Lawlor has already defeated twice.
Honestly, they could’ve thrown that post-match angle on YouTube or somewhere else and left the rest of the show dark and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit. Do check out that Tanahashi vs. Ishii match, though.
This week’s XTRA match was Lance Archer’s IWGP US title defense against Hiroshi Tanahashi at “Resurgence.” That’s a great match to check out if you didn’t see it back in August.