132. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Minoru Suzuki (IWGP Championship, NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2012)

For ten years, there was a hole in my soul. For ten years, I was without a monthly wrestling magazine. I loved Power Slam back in the day, and no other wrestling mag would do. In 2021, I happened to be browsing the shelves of WHSmith and found Inside The Ropes, the spiritual successor to the hallowed Power Slam. Finally, that hole in my soul was slowly being healed with every issue that I purchased (handily, you can even buy a PDF version, so you don’t even have to leave the house to buy it! What a world we live in…).

In Issue 25 and 26, they printed a feature ‘The 100 Best Matches of 2011-2021.’ In date order, not quality order, this opened my eyes to some more NJPW matches I hadn’t watched before. Of course, I’d seen all of the WWE matches on the lost. I’ll have to find the ROH/NOAH/AEW matches that are on the list at some point. But, as I have subscribed to NJPW World, I’ll work my way through the NJPW matches on the list.

And the first one of the list (coming in at No.6, but like I said, this is in date order, jot quality order!) is Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Minoru Suzuki, from NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2012. For almost a decade, Dave Meltzer hadn’t rated a NJPW match 5*…and  this was as the match to break that streak. Tanahashi is responsible for reinvigorating the promotion. Without him, who knows where it would be today…

Tanahashi represented the future of the promotion; Suzuki represented the apst and the future. Suzuki hated everything Tanahashi stood for; Hiroshi’s style over substance, flashy wrestling disgusted Suzuki. Minoru pioneered MMA, and preferred actual wrestling, strikes and submissions. Tanhashi put on a show. Suzuki didn’t care about entertaining the crowd. All he cared about was winning and punishing his opponent.

(Yes, it’s a tale as old as time, even revisted by Tanahashi himself when he fought Kenny Omega. At that time, Tanahashi was the established veteran, disgusted by the showmanship and flashiness of his opponent, Omega)

For sheer quality of in-ring psychology and selling, this match should be required viewing for any wrestling fan. Suzuki worked over Tanahashi’s already injured arm, and Tanahashi sold it beautifully. I think back (or forward, in this case) to the classic clashes between Tanahashi and Okada. Tanahashi would work over Okada’s knee, and Okada would forget about his injury minutes later (only to remember it minutes after that!). It prevented my full engagement with the contests; I expect some realism from fake wrestling!!!

Here, the focus is wholly on the body part each wrestler Is targeting. That’s the whole story of the bout. If they failed to sell their injuries even in the slightest, the in-ring psychology would fall apart. Because don’t expect dramatic near-falls or high spots. This is a statement from both wrestlers. Suzuki sticks to his guns, sticks to his more traditional style of wrestling. Tanahashi, on the other hand, forgoes his usual style to fight fire with fire. He wanted to prove to Suzuki that he had equal amounts of style and substance.

This bout grew on me as it progressed. For the first five minutes, it built like your typical modern day NJPW bout, and I feared the in-rimg psychology would suffer as the bout progressed in favour of big moves and near falls. But it held together in a way that would make Bret Hart proud. NJPW prides itself on being a legitimate sport. And this bout felt like a legitimate contest, one that could end at any time with a submission. This is back to basics with a modern twist, a bout that demands patience from the ivewer and rewards it bountifully. I daresay I enjoyed it more that any Tanahashi/Okada match…

Hammy’s Rating: ***** (out of 5)

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


One thought on “132. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Minoru Suzuki (IWGP Championship, NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2012)

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