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[2002-05-02-NJPW-Toukon Memorial Day] Yuji Nagata vs Yoshihiro Takayama

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IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Tokyo Dome 05/02


From winning the 2001 G-1 Climax to main eventing the 01/04 Dome against Akiyama, now Nagata defends the IWGP title against the shoot-style giant, Yoshihiro Takayama. Takayama just carries himself so differently from a typical Japanese pro wrestler and at 6' 5'' he looks and wrestles like a giant in his match. He does not outright heel it up, but just his demeanor and his methodical pacing seems to mock the IWGP Champion and the crowd. He is a giant playing with his prey, before he breaks it into submission. Nagata looks a lot better in this match than Mutoh match as he is bringing it to the Bleach Blond Giant rather than reacting. It is not as good as Tenryu/Sasaki in terms of cementing a new champion, but Nagata earned a lot in terms of credibility by taking a lickin' and kept on tickin'. There is an gritty struggle to start on the mat that is how much the IWGP Championship means to these two combatants. Nagata gets a couple early slams (overhead belly to belly and back drop driver), but neither phases the monster, who shrugs them off. Nagata goes for the back drop driver again only to eat a German suplex and a roundhose kick to the head that knocks him out. Nagata's only option is to roll out of the ring. He does an excellent sell where he collapses on an irish whip. Takayama works an effective heat segment, just punishing Nagata with kicks. Nagata gets a hope spot in like a rolling heel hook out of a German suplex attempt, but Takayama cuts him off with a wicked kneelift. Then he starts to hulk-up, he kicks Takayama's base foot out from under him and roundhouse kicks him in the head to level the playing field. He slaps on his variation of the figure-4, but Takayama makes it to the ropes. Takayama hits a knee to the head and a slugfest breaks out. The punches are awfully weak and they punch each other at the same time. They get back up and slugfest ensues. Takayama whiffs on a roundhouse kick and Nagata hits two kicks to the head to win. ***3/4


They built the match up well with Nagata bringing the big moves early and Takayama established as this imposing tour de force he has to overcome. However, once they hit the Nagata Hulk-Up they lost me. The slugfests were a pretty lame to payoff the build. The build was David vs. Goliath and they paid it off with a toe to toe slugfest. It seemed too disjointed. Still, I like seeing Nagata as the champion bringing the offense to his opponent, which is a step-up from the Mutoh match.

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They do a lot right, and mostly work this smartly for the Tokyo Dome. At the same time, there are some disjointed aspects to it (per Sleeze), and they seem to be going for a vague mix of shoot-style and pro-style without totally nailing either. The result is a match that's on my bubble, but I don't think has a shot at my top 75.

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Early on both are trying to get something going and it looks like Nagata might get the advantage with his grappling. Until Takayama goes to his bread & butter striking. Nagata takes an ass-kicking before he ends up getting back in it with grappling technique. Then he hits some big suplexes after working the leg over. Takayama hits his own big suplex and we go to strike exchanges. Once they start throwing punches they lose me as Nagata cannot throw a worked punch. The double high kick to end it by Nagata was weak. Say what you will about Nagata's grappling, it's better than his striking. And him kicking out of a German early at 1 was kinda iffy. May make bottom half of the ballot for the Takayama beatdown.

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I like this match a lot. I'm surprised that in the post MMA world we don't have more wrestlers using mounts and the guard position in the places that there used to be headlocks. That's pretty much how the shooty stuff is used here. Nagata isn't really capable of a shoot style match but he is charismatic and in 2002 was game enough to fit in a simple heavyweight match with Takayama. The striking does leave something to be desired though. This isn't MOTY or anything like that. Still, this is a fun match that is pretty easy to enjoy.

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Liked this a good deal more on the rewatch. At first this had a nice Clash of the Titans feel with the gritty grappling early and then Nagata scoring early throws. However, a weakish Takayama roundhouse kick puts Nagata in a hole. Takayama has such a great presence to him and really knows how to carry a heat segment. Nagata is effective when he put in a position to react against a charismatic figure. He is able to feed off the natural story of him being overmatched by the larger Takayama. I liked the leg sweep and follow up Nagata work. The match is hurt when they overreach and Nagata is overselling then still coming back.; The simultaneous punches leave a lot to be desired. I have it in the 60s, but a higher rating. ****1/4

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Stiff war between the two. I feel like a hypocrite, but I thought this was a little boring. Nagata sold in a big way, but he just had a hard time looking credible against Takayama. Takayama blowing off his suplexes didn't help and I didn't buy the ending. There were lots of brutal kicks and punches to enjoy however, so what else do you want.

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Man, I love Takayama. In my mind, he's like an Andre, or a Hansen, or a Vader. Unfortunately, he didn't get booked that way. He pretty much gets treated like a giant JTTS. This match had flashes of greatness, but it would have been better if they'd treated Takayama as a bigger threat. Nagata's a guy I'm supposed to like in theory because he's technical and a mat wrestler, but I don't because it's half-arsed. I'd love to see Hashimoto vs. Takayama. I bet that would have ruled. 

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