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Charles (Loss)

[1998-01-04-NJPW-Final Power Hall in Tokyo Dome] Ultimo Dragon vs Shinjiro Otani

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New Japan's junior title matches hit the skids from '97 to '98. This is still a good match, but has that certain "first half is filler, second half is a hot sprint" quality, which keeps it from being great overall. From here, it's like the wrestlers forgot how to build a compelling singles match. Most of the time they even failed to deliver a hot sprint at the end.

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First off, the referee of this match is the Japanese Harley Race. Second, I get what Ditch says to some extent. The match has a mat heavy beginning portion and the action was heavier in the second half. Coupling with all of that, the crowd wasnt too into this. However, I disintegrate in not enjoying this match because I did think the matwork played a bigger role into the entire story being told than in many other matches. Ultimo had a good bit to prove in this match based on his past Dome performances and him trying to overreach his boundaries. He had two awkward moments in this match but no complete wipe outs like in the 93 match with Liger. The opening matwork was also done well because every time Ultimo tried to get more flashy or fancy he got caught. Otani dragged him into the apron on the outside before he could springboard. Otani started to counter the hunnicanranas and work over Ultimo. Even the finish repeated this storyline of Ultimo getting two close near falls with two moves and then his thinking of combining them together being his ultimate downfall. Otani is still able to mix in some amazing mannerisms, punches, and hand movement to make a match memorable. Overall, this is one of the better junior matches I have ever seen from the Dome and it told a nice redemption story for Ultimo to me and Otani becoming even more the man in the junior division. (****)

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Dragon almost hit face first on the ring apron on the moonsault off the turnbuckle to the outside. First half wasn't too engaging but they did hook me for the latter part. Was enjoying the La Magistral by Dragon on how it was probably getting the biggest reaction out of the crowd during match. Dragon threw all his finishers at Otani. Some really good close pinfall attempts. I like Otani getting all fired up and pumping his fists. Though entertaining got too heavy on use of finishers.

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In doing research for 1999 and in past years, I've seen so much inspired matwork from Otani that I still had high hopes for this, because matwork to start is pretty common for him and he has a way of making it high stakes more often than not. He does it here with little details like scraping Ultimo's face with his free boot to counter a kneebar. I've seen these two have enjoyable matches before, especially in '96 at the J*Crown. I wasn't expecting anything quite at that level this time around, but I think one reason this disappoints is that Otani continued to improve and grow as a worker since their last match while Ultimo was pretty much stagnant.

 

The type of gritty fighting for holds Otani attempts is not really where Ultimo excels. He's more the type of wrestler to take it to the air and I think that works fine since Otani can do that too. But his approach makes this match seem a little "lighter" than most Otani matches. Ultimo does pull out some interesting holds. He's a capable mat worker in terms of technique, but he doesn't seem like he's really fighting or struggling all that much, where Otani is the master of making me care about what he's doing instead of just trying to impress me with what he can do.

 

I like Otani's counter to the first La Magistral, but one thing this match makes painfully obvious is that while he has grown as a worker, his character is still the same it always was - crying over nearfalls, not going for covers when he has his opponent beat ... at a certain point, he needed to move on from that stuff decisively. He wins here and I thought this was a good match in spite of the stuff I'm criticizing about it, and I also thought it was really impressive how they got the Dome crowd so excited for the nearfalls. But Ultimo feels stale and while Otani was a brilliant worker, his character never seemed to learn anything.

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I liked this a good bit. Both guys broke out solid counters and early high spots were thwarted as things built to the second half of the match. Solid matwork to start as well. the nearly botched moonsault gets things in gear While I was rooting for Dragon to finally get him with one of his roll-ups, it made sense that Ohtani finally escaped and we get a good finish. The dome seemed to really get behind this one by the end. ***3/4

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Here I was, ready to recite one of my favourite lines and what happens? The crowd goes and gets hot.

 

A quite reasonable build. Nothing spectacular but they kept things moving. Then an elongated stretch with multiple references to La Majistal. It was a good effort from both guys. Ohtani's desperation was now feeling like an act rather than authentic emotion. He was hanging onto his prime.

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I liked this a lot--dare I say it's the best match of 1998 so far. I get the criticisms of Otani's character work and it very much reminds me of jdw criticizing Kobashi for continuing to work his crying spots in the late '90s, but I can't say that that criticism registered with me while I was watching. I was just into the match wanting to see who won. I also didn't mind the matwork, since it was a bit different from your standard NJPW juniors fare thanks to Ultimo Dragon throwing in every lucha hold that he cribbed from Dos Caras that he can remember. It's not all executed smoothly but it stands out as unique. There are some really cool counters and cut-off spots down the stretch, which each guy putting over how much they fear the others' big moves, before Otani gets a win to retain his IWGP Jr. title. All this and a hot Dome crowd!

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Nothing much to add here as my reactions are pretty much a mesh of the previous eight comments. This does seem like one of the better Dome junior matches I've seen. I agree with everything Loss said about Ohtani's lack of emotional growth and Dragon being stagnate. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I believe the La Magistral significance and why the crowd was popping for it was that Dragon beat him with that move in previous matches. I could be wrong. Anyway, four days into the year and this is my current MOTY.

 

Rating: Something to revisit.

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Ahh... junior wrestling! People may say that this flash-over-substance style hasn't aged that well, and it's true. Altough it would be unfair to pin this on Ultimo alone, because Otani was just as guilty of popping up and lazy transitions. Perhaps even more so. Ultimo Dragon looked like you your formidable cool masked wrestler guy – nice sequences, awesome dives, cool lucha submissions, moving fast as a cat when it counted. Still, the best moment was when Otani sold a punch to the jaw like an actual punch to jaw, allowing Dragon to follow up with a stiff kick and look like a badass for a brief moment. Also, Ultimo got people to flip out for his rollups, which has to be smarter wrestling than Otani with his bajillion headdropping suplexes. It's also true that Ohtani's shtick felt like old hat by 1998. Ah well, this was still alright. Not very bright but not a dull moment either. The perfect „brain off“ kind of match.


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