Hello everyone and welcome to My Journey Through NJPW’s Golden Age! To me, this “Golden Age” I’m speaking of starts with the meteoric rise of Kazuchika Okada (starting at this match) and stretches to (at the time of writing this) the present. Currently, my masterlist of matches to review is here, so check it out and suggest important matches I missed. I will be adding modern matches periodically, and hopefully I can eventually make it to the present. New Japan has always been a glaring blind spot for me (even though some of my favorite matches are from there) so I’m very excited to watch the biggest moments in order. Anyway, lets begin!
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c.) vs. Kazuchika Okada – IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match – NJPW New Beginning 2012
In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the 1990 match between Mitsuharu Misawa and Jumbo Tsuruta, where the torch was passed from the current ace to the rising ace. Both matches are hugely important, both see monumental victories which establish new stars, and both drag rather significantly in the middle. The early going here was quite frankly great, with Tanahashi being a cocky veteran while Okada played the overly antsy rookie. The contrast was very well done. Okada would often either rush his moves, allowing Tanahashi an opening, or he would over telegraph them, allowing Tanahshi an opportunity again. Tanahashi did well grinding down the newbie with headlocks and constant reversals, but some of his overconfidence would cost him. As a champion facing a relative nobody, his ego was inflated. This, along with other small errors, allowed Okada to gain control. This thread was most prominent in the early goings, but it was weaved throughout the entirety of the match. However, when Okada got the advantage he had a rather underwhelming heat segment with a rear chinlock right in the middle. The whole thing was technically fine, as it played into the neck work of Okada later on, but the segment was really boring. From that point on it was an uphill battle to get me into the match. They did an okay job pulling me back in, but I was never fully immersed. I will admit, however, that all the limb work or neck work here was great. Tanahashi’s limb work is always compelling and this was no different. He worked Okada’s leg a decent amount to have it as an opening to gain the advantage, but never worked it excessively. This allowed Okada some leeway with selling, but still made it a factor. Okada did well selling, never compromising the spots at hand to sell but also showing it was bothering him, like when he reversed a High Fly Flow with knees for example. As for Okada, his neck work was real good. It played into the story, as he softened Tanahashi up for the Rainmaker, and also it accounted for Okada’s great number of signature moves working on the neck. It wasn’t sold all that much, but it was an okay minor plotpoint. Finally, to end, I want to note a minor story with Okada which I found interesting. He seemed to just throw his moves at Tanahashi, even if it was early in a match. He tried a tombstone piledriver in the first five minutes, he tried for a Rainmaker two times before it hit, etc. That’s a fun wrinkle to his inexperience, as he didn’t plan out his moves well, but when they eventually hit they were killer. That’s really smart. Now, the boredom I felt midway through does damper a really smart matchup. However, regardless of that, this was objectively good and one of he best ways I’ve seen a new star established.
So that was the first part of My Journey Through NJPW! I hope you enjoyed. As stated, the whole list of matches to review is here, so help me revise it and make it better! Other than that, I have a ton of stuff I wrote in the past month that I haven’t gotten around to posting, so expect some interesting content up. I even have some stuff from Wrestlemania weekend; that’s how far behind I am! Anyhow, check out new updates and such here, and check out some of my other writings at freeprowrestling.com. If you want to contact me, check here. Otherwise, like, comment, share, or do whatever else you want to do. Thank you for reading and see you next time!