124. Will Ospreay (c) vs Tetsuo Naito (IWGP US Championship Match, NJPW Battle Autumn 2022)

Stop the press! Pencil in the date: on January 4th, 2023, at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17, Will Ospreay will go one on one with…Kenny Omega!!! A dream match, and one will no doubt be awarded a million stars by Dave Meltzer. This year alone, Ospreay has been a part of six 5* (and 5*+) matches as rated by Meltzer. His latest one came at NJPW Battle Autumn 2022 against Tetsuo Naito. Of course, I had to watch it. And while a high 4* match, it never reached the heights to call it a truly great match…

Ospreay has all the talent in the world, no doubt about that. But…just like a certain Kenny Omega, he needs to learn how to slow down, and sell more effectively. In this match, Naito targeted Ospreay’s neck in a brutal amd meticulous fashion. This was the linchpin of the match; Ospreay rallying against this unrelenting neck assault. And while William sold it well, he sold it inconsistently. Perhaps I am expecting too much, but one minute Will’s holding his neck in extreme agony, next minute he’s flipping around and lifting up Naito with ease.

Am I just being picky? Perhaps the main problem was the ‘clapping crowd.’ I presume there are still some COVID restrictions in Japan, as the crowd were wearing masks. And it does detract from the atmosphere of the bout, in my opinion. A raucous applause means little without a raucous cheer, does it?

But I’m focusing too much on the negatives here. Naito is one of the few people who can neuter Ospreay’s excesses. By focusing on Ospreay’s neck (a neck injury forced Will to relinquish the IWGP Championship last year), Naito gave the bout a core, something to enliven a story. I guess they were both working as heels, but this gave the bout a traditional face/heel dynamic as well. While the bout followed the template of the typical NJPW main event (slow forst third, psychology-based middle, and an excessive last third), it kept the focus on Ospreay’s neck (whereas some NJPW main events lose the limb-based psychology as they hit the overdrive in the last third).

And while, admittedly, Ospreay did an uneven job of selling his neck, he sold the injury better than I’ve seen him sell before. It contributed to a thrilling final stretch, where Naito mercilessly dropped Osrpeay on his head and repeatedly battered his neck. The long wait for the action to heat up was worth it…yet the clapping crowd again hurt the atmosphere.

(As as aside, another thing that brought me out was Naito’s selling of the Oscutter. Not once, but twice. The first time, he fell on his back, rather than his front. I excused it as Ospreay hit it on the outside, so perhaps Naito wasn’t in position. But later on in the bout, Ospreay hit it again in the middle of the ring…and again Naito fell on his back! Why? It looked silly…)

In front of a maskless crowd, and with more consistent selling of the neck by Ospreay, this would have been a clear 5* match. The last fifteen minutes alone are some of the best wrestling you’ll see this year. But it took a while to get going (in typical NJPW fashion), and Naito’s awkward selling of the Oscutter really took me out of the match…not once, but twice. I’ll have to check out their G1 Climax bout this year…

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

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

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