It has been a while since a match hit me so hard that I felt like I absolutely had to write about it immediately. Not that I feel that my words can do justice to how sensational this was but man I will give it my very best try.
Antonio Inoki used to say that professional wrestling is the strongest and I mean, for us wrestling fans it has contantly been a reason to smile. The last 3 years or so of japanese pro wrestling have been weird to say the least. It was there for us during those times but man, COVID hit the world, puroresu got shut down for a few months and when it came back, what we had was empty arenas and clap crowds. Even through the moments of brilliance it is had to deny that this goddamned pandemic almost sucked the life out of wrestling by robbing it of its greatest strength, the roaring crowds. Wrestlers and fans pushed through but anyone who’s lived through this period will tell you how tough it was at times. Regardless the light at the end of the tunnel is finally here as NJPW had their first sold out cheering show in Osaka with a very fitting main event between the two best champions of the clap crowd era in Kazuchika Okada and Shingo Takagi. They meet again in the same building where they had their first meeting 3 years ago, only difference being that the crowd can cheer!
This match was the kind of main event EPIC that was one of the reasons that people gravitated towards NJPW during the 2010s. Shingo is the firm crowd favourite and thus Okada makes the correct decision to play the role of the asshole. The reason why Okada has been such an incredible main event wrestler in the last decade is because he acts like a blank slate that lets his opponent paint their own picture. He knows what role to play in which situation. There’s very few wrestlers that I’ve seen who play to the crowd better as can be seen in even the test of strength they have early on in the match when the crowd gets into it. Shingo is the perfect foil for him too, playing the babyface asskicker trying to take down this undefeatable ace through sheer will. They trade a couple of small control segments but Okada provokes Shingo too much and then Shingo firmly gains control of the match as he starts beating the fuck out of the champ. Okada’s so good in those small moments though where he kicks the barricade or when he holds onto the chin lock for a few extra seconds much to the chagrin of the crowd and helps fire them up even more. He really takes some gnarly bumps here. Okada manages to get some small openings but really nothing major. His attempts to land his big moves continously get thwarted by Shingo who is simply an offensive monster. Shouldn’t get fooled by that at all though because one of Okada’s best qualities as a wrestler is he manages to not feel sympathetic at all no matter how brutal the beatdown is. Shingo counters the Rainmaker with an with an awesome lariat and then provokes Okada and pisses him off which brings us to one of the best parts of the match with an INCREDIBLE strike exchange. Blank eyed, angry top guy may just be the best version of Okada. His hubris costs him though as it usually does because the guy he’s facing legitimately specialises in throwing big strikes, there’s no way he’s coming out on top.
The finishing stretch is absolutely unbelievable. Enthralling counters, huge nearfalls, particulary the one on the last of the dragon where I WAS SMIPLY READY TO JUMP OFF A CLIFF!! Okada lands a pumping bomber of his own and lands the Rainmaker for the win as the immovable object stops the unstoppable force on this night. By the time this match ended I was out of breath, had goosebumps and my heart was RACING!!! This match felt so rewarding coming out of the tough times of the COVID era of puroresu. Okada and Shingo greeted us with an absolute instant classic. The right character dynamics with both guys playing the correct roles, with a roaring crowd in Osaka willing them on to go to the furthest lengths, these absolute masters captured the magic of professional wrestling and treated us with the perfect main event.