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[2012-02-12-NJPW-The New Beginning] Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada

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IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada - NJPW New Beginning 2012

 

So lets see if this is all it is cracked up to be. I actually watched this match back in 2012. The year 2012 is when I experienced my pro wrestling renaissance. I had fallen out of the Japanese scene in 2009 and had heard about this. I actually even wrote a blog article about this match, but I have not gone back and read it. I remember being surprised much like everyone else that a relative unknown in Okada dethroned Tanahashi in his first major match. From a story standpoint, this is very Jumbo/Misawa. Established ace vs young upstart. The young upstart has gone through a transformation. Misawa taking off the mask and Okada donning the Rainmaker gear. Both very surprising upsets. The follow up story similar to Jumbo/Misawa is that Okada is not the Ace overnight this is just an opening salvo and an announcement that he is here, but it will be a long road before he becomes the Ace.

 

As for the match itself, this is no Misawa/Jumbo. What it is is a very solid Tanahashi formula match. I am one of the most ardent Tanahashi advocates and it mostly comes from my love for his formula. On the other hand, I often find Okada to be dreadfully dull. He is the Japanese Randy Orton in my opinion. Technically fine, but a vacuum of emotion. I thought he was a little better at channeling his aloofness into cockiness here, but still did not think this was a standout performance by him at all. It very much relied on the Tanahashi formula and the novelty of The Rainmaker.

 

The drawback of the formula is they have missed out on telling a more interesting match of Okada needing to prove himself to Tanahashi rather than just being another Tanahashi opponent. The beginning of the match Tanahashi controls with solid headlocks establishing himself as the Ace. Okada transitions using what else, but his patented get out of jail free card, the dropkick. However, it is not just one dropkick, but two. One normal and the other being a dropkick to a seated Tanahashi on the top rope to cement his control. This was well set up as Tanahashi was going for his middle rope senton so it did not feel shoehorned. Okada was aggressive on the outside attacking Tanahashi's neck. I felt once they got back in the ring he lost some of that ferocity. He was content to be in the match. Maybe it was supposed to be cockiness, but I felt in the first match he needed to make a statement and really go for a big bomb. Like earlier, he went for the Tombstone, but instead now he was just content to cut Tanahashi off at each pass with an elbow to the neck. To Tanahashi's credit, he sold the neck well and threw some nice overhand chops, but his detractors would never let you believe. The transition here was the Dragon Leg Screw, a Tanahashi staple. The spot of the match was the High Fly Flow to the floor. Great spot, awkward timing, I don't feel like Tanahashi was in that much danger that he needed to bust that out yet. Tanahashi applied a Texas Cloverleaf and somewhere along the line had his tooth knocked out. Oh yeah, Tanahashi is not tough! Give me a break! The injured Okada knee has been established. Okada hits a tombstone just as it seemed Tanahashi may run away with the match, which targets the hurt neck of Tanahashi, but hurts Okada's injured knee. Nice! Tanahashi uses a dropkick to the knee to buy himself some time. Here, Tanahashi's pays for his over-urgency. You could claim hot hand fallacy here. He hit the High Fly Flow to the floor earlier and now cocky went for a somersault off the apron and that may have been what cost him in the match. Okada nails Tombstone on the cement and sells his knee. Tanahashi is just deadweight as Okada drags him back in the ring. His big top rope elbow sets up the Rainmaker, but Tanahashi gets out and hits Sling Blade. Now we see him run through his finish stretch climaxing with a missed second High Fly Flow that eats knees. Okada sells the knee as is customary by Tanahashi opponents. I love the symmetry here. Tanahashi avoids Okada's finish and goes on a run. Now Okada avoids Tanahashi's finish and goes on a run. One Rainmaker finisher (it was a helluva Rainmaker) unseats Tanahashi.

Clocking in around 20 minutes this is a great, tight little match. It does not have the emotion I would like, but the world was solid and layout as usual is awesome. All the transitions made sense and were timed perfectly. No segment felt too long. The selling was consistent pretty much throughout. It built from limb psychology (neck and knee) to big moves Tombstones->Tanahashi finish run-> Okada finish with great escalation. It was just missing that emotion factor for me. Great, but not a classic. ****

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After a false start on 1/4, Okada is in much better shape here. Loved early how Okada tries to go to the headlock and Tanahashi proceeds to completely outwork him on the mat, showing his experience and edge. Tanahashi gets a little cocky, possibly mocking Okada, which sets up Okada's big dropkick while Tanahashi is seated on the top rope. Great transition which sets up all of Okada's neck work. The holds by both guys are worked exceptionally well here. Tanahashi's comeback off the flying forearm starts into his knee stuff, plus a HFF to the outside in a nice big spot. Couple dragon whips continue assault until Okada gets a spot in and knocks out Tanahashi's front tooth (!). Tombstone by Okada for his first nearfall. Good selling on offense by Okada throughout. Tanahashi's comeback is thwarted when he somersaults off the apron but Okada ducks and he wipes out. Then we get a second tombstone on the concrete outside the rails. Awesome. Tanahashi transitions into his finishing stuff with a sling blade but Okada's knees are up on the second HFF (and he sells it). Now Okada runs through all his signature power stuff with kickouts and the crowd is hot for this. Tanahashi hits a dragon suplex with a bridge for a close nearfall. We get a couple ducks and reversals of the Rainmaker, but Okada sticks with it and finally crushes Tanahashi with one for the win(!). Wow, I did not see that coming this early in his run. This built perfectly - a snug 23 minute great match. ****1/4

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The opening headlock stuff here is basic but adds a nice wrinkle to set off the entire rivalry in retrospect. Tanahashi dominates here as well as he should being the ace against the upstart that quite frankly doesn't deserve to be in this match based on his WK performance. The work after that table setting transitions to a basic battle of Okada going after the neck to set up the RainMaker and Tana focusing on the leg of Okada. The work Tana does on the leg is well done and Okada again is infiltrating much of the llave style into his neck focus by doing cravate submissions. Midway through, Okada kicks out Tana's tooth and that really jumpstarts to the end. The key focal point of the match was the wipe out by Tana on the outside and the tombstone immediately afterwards. Tana was doomed from that moment on. I appreciated Okada selling the leg damage on that and for Tana's hope spots in the match in the waning moments with the High Fly Flow attempt. Tana gets a dragon suplex for a nearfall but it is no match for the RainMaker as Okada hits it and wins the IWGP to a shocked crowd. The RM looked much more brutal than on the 1/4 match. This went the perfect length. Okada's facials here weren't really strong but he sold the leg well enough and he delivered a 100% better performance than on 1/4. This isn't Jumbo vs Misawa but its honestly not that far off. ****1/4

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This is already 5 years old? Christ, time flies.

 

Okada is a long way away from the Rainmaker that we all know and love today, he's still green and doesn't carry himself like a star, but there's buckets of potential with him. Tanahashi is the vet who dominates all the opening matwork and Okada only gaining control by capitalizing on Tanahashi's mistakes. Okada's selling of his leg was good, even if his facials weren't his best.

 

The dynamic and booking between these two is superb. Okada throws everything at Tana after hitting the Tombstone on the outside. He busts of a Heavy Rain and DDT in a quick succession before finally picking up the win the Rainmaker. This didn't look like a fluke win yet it didn't feel completely decisive. Okada might got the better of Tana this night, but he's still not quite his equal, leaving the door wide open for a rematch.

 

★★★¾

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Really good match and a very good start to one of the most iconic (for better or worse) feuds in modern day wrestling. Slow start with Tanahashi acting very dismissive towards Okada and Okada's heat segments getting deathly silence.

 

Things started picking up for me when Tanahashi started going for the knee and Okada is forced to start selling more and show some more urgency in his work. That all leads into a fairly hot finishing stretch and the glorious days when all it took was one Rainmaker to end a match.

 

****

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The match that saved Okada’s main event career after flopping so badly that anyone other than Gedo would’ve been turned off. The first real match of one of the greatest in-ring rivalries ever, in my opinion. My favourite actually. Some great storytelling to start off, stemming from the Dome interaction. Tanahashi catching Okada out several times, using his experience to keep the advantage. Which then began to turn into Tanahashi being more arrogant, playing to the crowd more and not taking Okada seriously, allowing Okada to get some ground in the match. And considering that this is one of Okada’s first matches where he is in control, without having the chance to develop that overseas, he does a pretty good job of doing it either. He is awkward at first, but gets his groove eventually, and then pulls out some nice experimental offence on Tanahashi (llave style~!). Tanahashi really had his working boots on, selling and putting over Okada big time while adding some leg work on the leg, giving the match some great drama. There were some great transitions with Okada catching Tanahashi with the tilt-a-whirl into the tombstone and then Okada moving out of the way of a rolling senton by Tana on the outside, following up with brutal tombstone on the outside. Both great ways to put over the tombstone as a big move as well. The selling near the latter stages was nice with Okada being unable to follow up after he counters the High Fly Flow with his knees. Loved the finishing stretch, as I usually do with these two. Simple and impactful. And yet, every time I see it, I get goosebumps every time Red Shoes counts the three. Nagata's, Fale's, Rad Shoes, Gedo's and especially Okada's facial expressions after that pin were all gold. Shock, surprise, amazement, the look of "OMG I did it". And…..Rainmaker Shock Indeed. ****1/4

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