73. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada (IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match, NJPW New Beginning 2012)

Finally, I found an Okada match that justifies the hype around him! It took me a while…but here, I can see what (almost) everyone says about him. Both his rivalries with Hiroshi Tanahashi amd Kenny Omega are legendary, but I thiught I’d start woth his first ever shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against the ‘Ace’ Tanahashi. Here, Okada was the heel, and apart from spots of poor selling, he looked like a million yen…

Okada had travelled the world to learn wrestling (including an awful stint in TNA!), and came back to NJPW with a squash match. Afterwards, he put a challenge out to the then IWGP Champion, Tanahashi. An unprecedented move; the champion usually decides his challenger in NJPW. Could this young, cocky upstart beat the already-legendary Tanahashi?

Now, this is the only bout I’ve seen Okada wrestle as a heel, but he seems more suited to a heel than a face (again, like John Cena? I keep comparing the two mega-babyfaces in my mind…). He looks like a smarmy, egotistic bastard here, believing that he’s the best in the world (and willing to back it up). Rather than his lackadaisical, emotionless performances of recent years, he looks invigorated and eager to impress.

I’ve only seen a few matches involving Tanahashi, but even from those matches, ot is clear he has that indefinable ‘it.’ From his wrestling, his mannerisms, his look, and his sheer in-ring presence, Tanahashi is the total package (maybe not on promo, I’ve not had the chance to listen to one of his promos!). At the time, he was the flag-bearer for NJPW (just as Okada is now), the man credited with bringing NJPW out of the doldrums. And it’s easy to see why here. Oh, he also loses a tooth in this bout. The referee kindly picks it up and puts it to one side for him.

The match doesn’t outstay its welcome (like most other Okada matches I’ve seen), probably just over the twenty minute mark. There are a few things that prevent it from being an all-time classic, like Okada’s intermittent selling of his knee. But I’ve heard that this rivalry is one of wrestling’s best rivalries. And it gets off to a great start here.

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘A Wrestling Match A Day‘)


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