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[2016-01-04-NJPW-Wrestle Kingdom 10] Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada

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As much as I want to crap on this match for it's dull control segments and opening moments, they kept me entertained enough with spots early in the match like the springboard dropkick knocking Tanahashi outside in brutal fashion and the crossbody over the guardrail. Once they hit the finishing stretch is when things get really great. I can even forgive some of the signature move reversal exchanges looking like a dance rather than a struggle for dominance. These guys know how to work an epic big match finishing stretch. This borrows a lot from the early 2000's WWE main event style, especially when they end up using each others finishing move. They add enough new stuff here to make it stand out from their other battles. It's flawed, but the great stuff outweighs the bad.

★★★★

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I thought this was fantastic. The opening segments didn't feel quite as bloated or tiresome as the past Dome matches and they carried the weight of the past encounters with them as well. By this point, Okada has really developed his own personality and has come leaps and bounds from the bland puffy haired nothing that he started out as against Tanahashi in their first encounter together. Tanahashi focuses on the leg in this match, trying to cut away both of them from Okada.

 

Okada's selling of the leg is spotty in this match for sure but I think they're trying to go for the fact that he has godly Ace No-Selling powers. It's incredibly jarring when Tanahashi has him in cloverleafs and does a million Dragon Screws and five minutes later, Okada's running full speed and doing dropkicks (he still does this to this day and it's his worst habit). The thing is, that leg selling does come back in the latter portions of the match so I'm willing to take it as his new Ace abilities and progression allowing him to work through it but still have it trouble him enough as the match progresses.

 

The finishing stretch really is something wonderful. The finisher steals are dramatic and exciting. Then you have the fantastic wrist clutch spot. Yes, it signaled the end of the Rainmaker as a protected finisher but the visual of it and the drama of Okada clutching that wrist to hit the final killing blow really is some very iconic stuff. I honestly believe that a lot of this match wouldn't have worked quite as well without the incredibly affecting sight of Okada weeping after his loss last year. This match truly felt like it had the highest stakes of any of their encounters.

 

Still, you gotta stop no selling that leg though.

 

****3/4

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First of all, I have to congragulate the NJPW for the setting, the special effects and entrances. We always say how much WWE is great for all of those things, but New Japan also manage with those things. Okada's entry is tremendous; we hear his theme and then it suddenly stops and the lights are turned off, then the lights are turned on and the theme restarts and we see Okada on top of the stage. That's really impressive and cool. I consider this match to be used to Tanahashi to pass the torch on Okada, it's always good to have a classy entry in a match like that. The main problem with this match is the lack of selling, of course. Okada doesn't sell the leg but we are used to the fact that he's a bad seller. At the end of the match, he counters Tanahashi's high fly flow with a drop kick. It's ridiculous considering the efforts of Tanahashi to injure Okada's legs. It would have been much better if Okada had found another to counter it. Maybe with an uppercut, I don't know. But it still an amazing match. We feel that it's an important match. It's in the Tokyo Dome, the two greatest wrestlers of the promotion at the time face each other in the main event, the match must lasts over 40 minutes. All of those components make that it remains a classic and a great match despite the faults. Still, I prefer their match from Wrestle Kingdom 9. I'm not sure to know why, maybe because I prefer Tanahashi and he's the winner ...

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IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi - NJPW 1/4/16

I am coming into this match with pretty unreasonable expectations because I loved 1/4/15 so much, but if there are two people that can deliver it is Tanahashi and Okada. These two are just textbook to a tee and I love them for it. They are so good at pure pro wrestling. I read my 2015 review right before this match so I caught myself back up on all the things to watch for. 

When Okada goes to show Tanahashi in the opening rope break by patting him on the chest and then slapping him, Tanahashi first tries to take a swipe at him, Okada ducks and then slap. Okada still got one up on Tanahashi. Someone should gif Okada's response to that he looks like such a cocky douche. Okada looks one step ahead of Tanahashi. Until they get it on the mat, Tanahashi is able to sit out of a couple holds and start to get a rhythm. It is pretty even on the mat. Then it happens early, on a side headlock, Tanahashi picks Okada up and hits a KNEECRUSHER! OH SHIT! Okada was the first one to have a control segment in 2015 but here we go Tanahashi. Tanahashi is the best at working the leg. I could watch him work it all day long. It is an abbreviated control. I really liked the spot that Okada couldnt follow up on an advantage because he gingerly tries to charge but Tanahashi was able to back elbow and hit a reverse crossbody. Okada rolls through and goes for a TOMBSTONE~! The Rainmaker knows thats the key to victory! Tanahashi escapes to the apron. He wants to drive Okada's head into the buckles but he lets go too early and Okada jumps onto the ropes and springboards into a dropkick sending Tanahashi somersualting off the apron. Great transition! I loved how it was a dropkick, Okada's bread & butter and it capitalized one a small error by Tanahashi. Great soaring crossbody over the railing by Tanahashi. I thought Okada's control segment was lacking some oomph but the Corkscrew elbows looked good. My favorite parts were the missed Tanahashi hope spots. Okada goes for his dropkick from the mat to the top rope but Tanahashi blocked. I cheered and it looked like Tanahashi was going to get his senton only to crash and burned and I booed sadly. Tanahashi goes for the dropkick to the knee but Okada picks up his leg, but Okada misses the senton! Dropkick to the knee! Tanahashi presses! Dragon leg screw! High Fly Flow to the floor?!? Okada blocks. Tussle. Struggle. DRAGON LEG SCREW ON THE METAL TURNBUCKLES! I POPPED! Okada sells it so well. HIGH FLYYYYYYY FLOOOOOOOOWWWWW! TO THE FLOOR! YES! YES! YES! Not as epic as the 2015 one, but I still love it. Okada really does a great job milking the countout tease. So far pretty damn good. I am at about the 20 minute mark. Lets see what these guys got in store for us for the grand finale. 

Back in the ring, Tanahashi hits a mini-High Fly Flow to the bad legs of Okada. He cant negotiate the Texas Cloverleaf and Okada struggles to the ropes. There is a really great moment where Tanahashi ties Okada's leg in the ropes and kicks the knee. We have seen it in a million times BUT Okada has the presence of mind to yell "Ref" and he has the ref get his leg out of the ropes. It is that little touch that tells he couldnt do it himself, he was trapped. Great detail. The match loses a little bit for me. Okada springs into action and hits that White Noise into his knee but it is his bad knee. He sells it but then he is FLYING around doing dropkicks. He was sprinting! Great springboard dropkick to Tanahashi too. The dropkicks looked great and I know that is his thing but he really undercut the drama of the match. He hits the top rope elbow drop which can only mean one thing...RAINMAKER POSE~!

Tanahashi naturally evades and goes back to work on the knee. This time he gets the Texas Cloverleaf. Now Tanahashi is feeling it. On his second attempt, he gets SLINGBLADE! This means HIGH FLY FLOW! But he crashes and burns. Red Shoes is bumming. Now at some point in the last 5 minutes, Okada had gone for the Tombstone again, but was thwarted. The third time is the charm, Okada nails the Tombstone! In every previous match, the man who nailed the Tombstone won the match, will history repeat itself?

RAINMAKER~! 1-2-NO! Okada steals the High Fly Flow for 2. He is not as good at it, obviously. Tanahashi steals the Rainmaker and we have time travelled back to 2002 WWE. They treat this as a level the playing field spot, but by my count Okada is up a Tombstone and a High Fly Flow. Tanahashi hits Sling Blade out of a Rainmaker, Dragon Suplex, TANAHASHI IS FEELING IT! Tanahasi springing over the top rope is the new Kobashi fist pump before the moonsault. It just fires me up. High Fly Flow connects! 1-2-NO! If it doesnt work, try, try again...connects with High Fly Flow 1-2-no! He is incredulous. He tries to a standing Okada, but he counters with an Anti-Air land to air missile dropkick. Tanahashi sells it like a million bucks writhing in pain. Tanahashi is defiant. Slaps him, but charges into a DROPKICK to the head. The end is nigh. Tanahashi keeps hitting another Smack of Defiance, but Okada maintains wrist control and it is not one, not two, but THREE RAINMAKERS~! that put the Ace of the Universe away. 

The finish run was electric and it was a suitably dramatic way to end the greatest feud of the 2010s. Okada was able to kick out of all of Tanahashi's big shit, Tanahashi looked defiant in his loss, but it was Okada that dug down deep for the win. I loved that they maintained the tombstone story until the very end. I didnt think this holds up to Invasion Attack 2013 or Wrestle Kingdom 2015. Much like how I preferred Infinity Wars to Endgame, I feel the body of the first was perfect. It was so well-paced and well-segmented. Each segment lasted the perfect amount of time and they transitioned at the right time and really well. This match I feel like the body was an after thought to the finish. They were doing all their usual stuff but the momentum swings were more often, but also less meaningful and less thoughtful. Okada blowing off the knee selling was egregious. However, they do make up for it with a gangbusters ending and these two are so easy to watch work that the time still blew right by. A great capper to the best feud of the 2010s. ****1/2

 

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