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[2006-06-18-NJPW-Best of the Super Juniors] Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Giant Bernard

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Is this the tournament final for the IWGP Championship after Lesnar vacated? Bernard says he wanted the belt during the match.

 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Giant Bernard - NJPW 06/18/06

 

One of the common talking points was that once Albert went to Japan to become Bernard he magically became a great wrestler. Having never bothered watching his puro output, I had high expectations for Lord Tensai, but he was the same plodding, mechanical Albert. Having watched this match, it seems more like a case Bernard was given better opportunities to have good matches rather than actually getting better. I would say this is the best individual Tanahashi performance. He worked really well underneath the whole match and made Bernard look like Goliath. How desperate he was to avoid any contact from Bernard early and how he sold each blow really made Bernard into a credible giant. I liked the catch me if you can beginning. You know once Bernard can just wrangle this little bugger he would put him out. Bernard removes the turnbuckle pad, but Tanahashi slide by it and there is some good struggle over who is going to hit it first before Tanahashi finally cracks his skull against the unforgiving steel. Tanahashi is bloodied, but not beaten as they tease the countout finish. Tanahashi did a good job mixing in his hope spots and selling for Giant Bernard. At this point, I thought it was a really well-done David vs. Goliath because of how well they respected the size differences. However, in the finish stretch, Bernard felt like got a whole lot smaller. He was grabbing quick pinfall attempts like a powerslam off the ropes or a desperation Baldo Bomb (as called by the announcers). Tanahashi was able to hit a German suplex. The finish proper did reconnect the match back to the first half with Tanahashi being able to pin Bernard via Sling Blade (first two no-sold) so he had to resort to sending Bernard into the turnbuckle that Bernard had exposed (O what a world what world!) and then was able to get the pin.

 

I don't mind Tanahashi German suplexing Bernard. How many times has that happened in Vader matches after all. It is just that during that 5 minutes that proceeded the actual finish it felt like two equal-sized wrestlers trading moves, which was a disconnect from the earlier established story. I really liked the match up until comeback, but also loved the finish. Any person Bernard size could have wrestled this match all he brought to the table was that he is a larger than average wrestler. Tanahashi wrestled really well underneath, but just could not put together a complete match...yet. ***1/2

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They did some clever work early to establish the meaning of the size difference. It felt like a genuine struggle for each guy to assert his preferred match. I don't know if Bernard had improved much from his Albert run, because I honestly don't remember his Albert run very well. He was excellent at the kind of big-man selling that put over his opponent but also kept him looking like a hoss. And I'm not sure he got to do much of that in WWE, at least not in 20-minute matches. Anyhow, I thought they stuck to the story pretty well, though some dodgy execution down the stretch knocked it down a peg for me. The actual finish felt exactly right. This will probably make the lower end of my list.

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