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[2002-02-16-NJPW] Yuji Nagata vs Tadao Yasuda

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God, sometimes I forget how good Nagata was before he became a gimmick wrestler. I’m sure making goofy faces, turning his eyes white and finding a couple of spots to recycle in every match made his life a lot easier, but I definitely don’t consider it as creatively interesting as his early 2000s work. This match isn’t without flaws-at one point you see Nagata do a wacky Release German Suplex before going for a lame leg hook pin, and on the “is this something Inoki would do” scale this gets a stern no. He’d either hit a perfect bridge on that damn Suplex or work the (not huge but still ostensibly present) size difference into the match and opting for a Cradle pin or a Takedown instead. But, the roughness is what gives this match its charm, and Inokiism bring a wonderful pastiche of wacky pro wrestling and MMA really unique to wrestling history, even compared to other “shooty” styles. Yasuda is a former rikishi and thus has an advantage in the clinch, they are about evenly matched on the ground but Nagata possesses a wider array of joint locks Yasuda is just a brute who’s going to put his forearm in Nagata’s throat and go for simple chokes. This dichotomy is present on their feet too although there Nagata’s finesse in kicking techniques helps him prevail over Yasuda’s roughhouseness. Whether you call it genius wrestling storytelling or a simple dedication to identities of wrestling characters-it’s really cool to see Nagata throw lame forearms and get punched out for all he’s good only to realise his only solution is to revere back to his kicking, it’s such a breath of frash air to see something like struggle over underhooks and overhooks and Yasuda blocking Nagata’s Belly To Belly by grabbing his hooks and just steamrolling him into the corner. You get Nagata preying on in an S mount, PRIDE-esque grounded knees and Tiger Drivers and a wacky Indian Deathlock/Figure 4/whatever Nagata Lock I is supposed to be and the internal logic of the match remains consistent, because they are merely (a very visually pleasing, which is very important in a performance art!) substance, the form is what drives this to excellence. ****1/4

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Yasuda is something else. Sweaty and sloppy and unrefined. But yet it works well against a stalwart like Nagata. There are definite lulls in the match but Nagata will bring the fire with his kicks and knees while Yasuda keeps trying for the three holds he knows well enough to pull off. But it takes him awhile to get anything locked in as Nagata keeps fighting out and fighting back. Yasuda finally hits a tiger driver to set-up a hold but Nagata makes the ropes. Really liked the knees to the head from Nagata to set up the crossface hold but ultimately, he ends up tapping to one of his own holds in the front necklock. Preferred their April rematch but this still good stuff. 

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It's no surprise workrate smarks hated Yasuda, as his style was very simplistic and unspectacular. While he was a questionable choice for IWGP champ this wasn't a bad match at all. It was basically built around intense clinches and Yasuda constantly trying to choke out Nagata. Everything was logical and Nagata had one of his better showings trying to struggle out of Yasudas anaconda like grip and roughing him up with fired up strikes. Watching guys struggle over getting underhooks and overhooks rather than doing fighting spirit spots and bomb throwing is refreshing for japanese wrestling. Add in a few neat counters and brutal strike exchanges down the stretch and I'm a fan.

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