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Charles (Loss)

[2008-04-09-AJPW-Championship Carnival] Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kohei Suwama

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This match is easily Tanahashi's best as ace so far. His match against Fujita outclasses everything I've seen of him as an ace, but that's beside the point. There are a few things that work for this match that a lot of his NJPW matches just don't have. For one, the refereeing is even. Wada starts by saying "break", counts and then gets physically involved if he has to. For both wrestlers. I can't tell you how much this elevates him above that dumbfuck with the red shoes in NJPW. Secondly, the wrestlers involved seemed to be booked as even. This makes Tanahashi's abandoning of the legwork for a portion of the match not stand out so much. Especially against Nagata it seemed like the only way he could do damage, so abandoning it in favor of his nearfall offense seemed stupid. Here it seemed more like a natural progression. Suwama looked like he was taking damage from the non-leg stuff, so it doesn't feel like such a disconnect. And last, but definitely not least. The finishing run was well-worked, fit with the rest of the match and didn't go overboard. Moves were teased or done and then sold after so there was no cover. Suwama re-bangs up the knee by bringing the knees up on the frog splash, which is I think a nice use of the leg work by Tanahashi. It kills the counter to his finisher a la Kawada working the arm so that when people blocked the gamengiri it gave him time to still get back on offense. Tanahashi has recently added to that by working a Texas cloverleaf as a finisher/nearfall and does that here. Suwama hits some big nearfalls and seems like he's ready to put Tanahashi away with the powerbomb, can he do it or will Tanahashi be able to finish him off after wearing him down?

 

The strike exchanges, a slight lull right at the beginning of the nearfall sequence and some less-than-crisp striking by both work against this, but the structure and lack of going too far put it somewhere around 50 for me.

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Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Suwama - AJPW Champions Carnival 2008

In 2007 it seemed New Japan had left the dark ages of Inokism behind them, but 2008 was like the Black Death before the Renaissance we are witnessing today. Admirably, they tried to create a star on Tanahashi's level by having him drop the IWGP championship to Nakamura on the Dome show. This match did not make the project, but it is definitely, I am going to check out. To see how they since progressed (or perhaps retrogressed) since their great 2006 encounter and to see if Tanahashi plays the heel in the match. Much like in 2005 & 2006, it seems New Japan had partnered with All Japan, which included Mutoh winning the IWGP Championship. This was a death knell for championship match quality for the rest of the year. In addition, we saw Tanahashi wrestle in the Carnival against All Japan's hot, young prospect, Suwama.

I liked this match up a lot on paper before I even saw it for two reasons. One is both wrestlers are on the cusp of becoming The Man in their respective promotions. So you get a hungrier version of an Ace vs Ace showdown. In addition, there are few match ups I like more than the powerhouse versus the cocky pretty boy. This match, especially beginning, felt like I was watch Hiroshi Flair versus Lex Suwama. The cool paradigm shift in this match compared to the Flair vs. Luger series was Suwama was on Tanahashi's level so Tanahashi is even more tenuously in control than a Flair would be.


Hiroshi Tanahashi have the best consistent heat since the Kobashi title defenses. This crowd was red hot. Booing the shit out of Tanahashi and chanting for Suwama throughout the match. It does not matter if it is Greensboro, NC or Tokyo, JP, every crowd is going to love the pretty boy slam -> gloats, but unaware of the powerhouse no-sell -> pretty boy gets slammed. I love when wrestling transcends both time and cultures like that.


INCOMING!!! Huge pop for Suwama's suicide dive! Tragedy strikes for our hero as he was re-entering the ring, Tanahashi grabbed his leg and wrenched it with a timely dragon leg screw. Again, Tanahashi takes away the base of his stronger opponent. He is able to work a body part, but also create an opening for his preferred moves. Plus, cocky, shit-eating grin Tanahashi is awesome at working over the leg. I loved when Tanahashi is jaw jacking with the ref and gets speared, but it is right back to work on the leg. Suwama slaps the ever loving taste out of Tanahashi's mouth to HUGE cheers and mounts the comeback.

Unfortunately, Suwama does not really bother selling and the match does lose its way a bit. It is a bit too easy for Tanahashi to regain in intervening moments when Suwama should either be kicking his ass or making him earn it more. I liked Suwama going for a knee for a knee with a heel hook, but only lasted for a hot second. The Sling Blade countered into a Back Drop Driver is such a great spot. Tanahashi is a crazy bumper. He was getting absolutely tossed around by Suwama. Suwama hits this crazy German Suplex that Cesaro would be proud of, it was a sick dead lift. Tanahashi is overkilled, just like the Goto match, but to an more extreme degree. Tanahashi has not been hit with the powerbomb.


Tanahashi hits a High Fly Flow hits knees in mutual destruction, but Tanahashi comes out on top. He applies the Texas Cloverleaf, which won him the Goto match. This time it was just not in the cards. Tanahashi crumples him with a Dragon Suplex. He goes for another one, but countered into an overhead belly to belly. Here comes the powerbomb, but Tanahashi counters into a roll-up. Tanahashi showboating gets his head taken off with a lariat and finally the powerbomb ends it.

This and Goto matches are very close for me. Tanahashi is really excellent in both of them as the cocky, pretty boy heel that uses the dragon leg screw as a game changer. I loved the addition of the Texas Cloverleaf to the arsenal. I like Suwama better than Goto because he has more charisma and has some cooler power spots. I thought the beginning of the Suwama match was better because it was even more clear in its face/heel dynamic and was really entertaining. However, the finish run was definitely more overkill in this match. Tanahashi should not have survived that many slams on the neck to only get back on offense. The finish of the Goto match overwhelms the beginning of the Suwama match for me to put the Goto match ahead, but both will do very well. ****1/4

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I also enjoyed Tanahashi's early heeling and Suwama's big-man tope. But then this settled into paint-by-numbers Tanahashi, complete with the tepid, blown-off legwork and the spectacular, yet overdone finishing stretch. It wasn't bad or boring, but my attention drifted because I knew exactly where the whole thing was going and Suwama did little to put a different stamp on it. I did like Suwama selling the leg after Tanahashi landed on his knees with the second High Fly Flow. Anyway, the match didn't stand out enough to make my list.

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This is arguably the best match of tanahashi's career, the other ones in contention are probably the 2004 match Vs fujita and Vs Suzuki from 2012. In this match tanahashi is technically a free agent as he refused to sign his deal with NJPW at the start of the year. But really everyone knew that he was not leaving and was really a representative of NJPW. He entered the tournament didn't lose a match in his block (but did draw twice) and got to the final to face SUWAMA. SUWAMA was at this point just about to be ace he was the hottest act in the company and beloved by the crowd on this night. This was to be his crowning moment.

They worked the match with Tanahashi as the dickhead outsider putting in a great performance as someone who it is so easy to hate. SUWAMA was the stoic but tough face determined to defend his company. The dynamic is simple but very effective and with two guys who pulled the characters off expertly it did not really matter what the rest of the match was like it would be a success.

Tana worked the leg a bit because that is what happens in a Tanahashi match by law. SUWAMA did a little leg work of his own but nothing substantial as he mainly worked from underneath.

Having Tanahashi give out most of the offence in a match is a dangerous idea because most of his offence normally looks like shit: his strikes, stomps, flying firearm and the fucking sling blade all look bad usually. But here he worked a bit more snug with his strikes so that it was not laughable that he was in contention with SUWAMA. Him going for a sling blade and just getting dropped on his head with a backdrop was cathartic.

There was a sequence built around the Texas cloverleaf which was done expertly as the crowd really thought that Tanahashi would make him tap out. When he finally got the ropes the mass exhale from the crowd was outstanding.

The joy of the crowd at the finish was palpable as SUWAMA was mobbed leaving the ring.

This was a triumph as it made sure that SUWAMA already a big star seemed like a superstar, this is using an outsider correctly in a tournament to get your top guy over. ****3/4 close to both guys best matches.

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