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El Samurai v Shinjiro Otani


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El Samurai v Shinjiro Otani - NJPW 01/21/96


One of the keys to a great wrestling match is that the holds are earned, not given, and that definitely applies in this case. There is a struggle for every move and every counter from the very beginning until the very end, with both having a clear strategy -- destroy one part of the opponent's body, and refuse to let up until the goal is accomplished. This was the start of a great journey for Otani in 1996, a journey that wouldn't see him catapult himself to The Man status within the juniors division, but the reasons for that had absolutely nothing to do with the booking not pushing him in that direction. The intended subtleties in this match are every bit as distinct as the more direct work, which is a major accomplishment in itself, and goes to show how well the story being told was communicated.


The matwork here, from both, is incredibly high-end, and the great thing about the holds, moreso than the holds themselves, is the counters to those holds. Never once in American wrestling have I seen a wrestler counter a hold by applying his own hold at the same time, giving them both a sense of control, but I saw that here many times, and it's a simple, effective way to establish parity in a way that's not quite as shopworn as some of the other, more established sequences. The more established holds are teased constantly in the mat work, which nicely builds anticipation for the moment when the hold is finally locked in. This also nicely conveys the point that no hold will be locked in without a fight -- determination is the one thing both have in spades, and the aggression and focus is pretty amazing on both sides. Sammy will not settle for anything less than absolutely destroying Otani's arm -- he wants a submission and eventually gets a submission. Otani is just as relentless on Sammy's leg until he gets ahead of himself and changes his game plan.


The crowd acknowledges Sammy's win, but it's obvious they're rooting for Otani to come through; he fails to cover immediately after taking the match to the air, and they come unglued, screaming for him to move in for the kill. It's that lack of killer instinct and desire to show off, pointing to the crowd to do yet one more big move, that ends up costing him the victory in the end. You can feel the window closing when he doesn't take advantage of the opening he created, showing that the ability to secure big wins is definitely there, but that Otani got lost in the moment, and it ultimately cost him. His emotions overcame his better judgment, and until he learned to control that, he was going to repeatedly come up short.


****3/4 -- and *possibly* (I'm not totally committed to this) the best NJ juniors match ever

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