IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
There are performers who instantly click with me, but there’s never been that has done so more immediately than Kazuchika Okada, who despite being born in early November of 1987 (making him almost exactly my age, as I was born in late September of the same year) has already built an unassailable legacy that would already put his resume at or near the top of any contemporary listing of the world’s greatest professional wrestlers. As I put it this morning when rewatching part of the show in preparation for this review:
— Nick Bond (@THEN1CKSTER) January 5, 2015
As has become a recurring theme in this review – and will likely continue into the future for such reviews, especially if GFW continues to produce English versions of the show — his brilliance transcends language, with his dropkick (shown above) being perhaps the finest single move I have ever seen performed in a wrestling match. He operates in the ring as essentially pure wrestling talent, with every movement, the entire essence of his being dedicated to tell the story required for his performance. That his greatest rival so far in his career is what appears to be the NJPW equivalent of John Cena and Hulk Hogan’s overbearing lovechild is just the icing on perhaps the most delicious cake professional wrestling has ever baked.
Though, while Tanahashi is not exactly for “us” — in the way that John Cena is also not fundamentally not for people my age, but plays to my soft spot of loving highly talented performers who are palpably trying their hardest every night AND do a great deal of good works behind the scenes (not unlike Okada, coincidentally) — he did more than carry his half of the performance, matching Okada move for move and producing perhaps the second most spectacular moment of the night (because seriously, tho, that drop kick) with his High Fly Flow frog splash to land approximately 50 feet from the ring on top of Okada.
Although his ultimate victory was disappointing — at least in the sense that Okada performed so wonderfully that it felt like a let down that he didn’t emerge victorious — it was undoubtedly earned and, more importantly, made sense in the larger context of the epic series between the two. And while that ending — or more accurately, the fact that the match did not feel like a self-contained story in the same way the preceding one did — prevented it from being the singular masterpiece that Nakamura-Ibushi was, they were equally great in their own way, and an addicting introduction to what is truly the finest PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING organization in the world.
Which is why the English call of this match in particular was so important to the enjoyment of this match, moving it from a very good capper to a great night to a match you can tell your kids about: JR and Matt Striker clearly felt they had seen something unique and beautiful that reaffirmed why they fell in love with the business in the first place, leading them to call perhaps the finest matches of either of their careers — and when you consider that Striker also help call Taker-Michaels II at WrestleMania XXVI that’s even better than it sounds — with JR in particular seemingly reinvigorated on a basic human level by what he was watching. That he shares my love of Okada’s drop kick also didn’t hurt.
The Bottom Line
There are shows that change the way you think about things, how you’ve lived your life, the things you’ve loved during that time and the effects that those things have on your very existence. And while it would be far fetched to call a wrestling show a religious experience, this was the type of show that can certainly feel like it. While it wasn’t perfect, it came as close as can be reasonably be expected to, and essentially defined perfectly what it means to get Bang for Your Buck. These are the type of shows that build life long fans, and NJPW may have just found one in me. I am a better fan for having watched this show, and everyone who enjoys the artistic medium of professional wrestling would benefit from watching this show, even if it’s in a language they can’t understand. Outside of WrestleMania XXX, I can’t remember a show in years that has been so good from top to bottom, with even the less savory bits in between managing to serve a purpose and propel a story — even if it wasn’t one I was particularly interested in — forward. There isn’t much more you can ask for any piece of entertainment, but what we should hope for every time we turn our eyes to the squared circle.
Overall PPV 7.4 | Match Avg. .740 (.74 if you’re nasty)