By R.W. Andrews
It’s the day after New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Special USA Night One, and I have to say, job well done. I know I don’t have much say in the matter with only nine months at the cool kid’s table (a/k/a following NJPW), but I thought the card was a decent welcome mat for anyone seeing the promotion for the first time. Sure, it wasn’t a Wrestle Kingdom caliber super-card, but for a stateside show filled with three-quarters of the roster jet-lagged, each match was well worth the time. Tomohrio Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin, and Kazuchika Okada vs. Cody were obviously upper level matches, but the tags and other tournament matches each had enough action to satiate the masses.
Although not much for chants – you fight forever with your saddlebags poured into a pair of tights – I thought that the crowd added to the excitement when fully engaged. The only problem I had was on a personal level. After Ishii took care of business, I saw numerous people just sitting on their asses with their arms folded. When Tomohiro Ishii is in your presence you stand up and pay homage to that mofo and all of the sacrifices he has made for our enjoyment. By the way, I’m picking Ishii to complete the mission tonight and to represent this country proudly…in his home country of Japan. Pay homage.
Part II: No Rest From the Wicked
With Minoru Suzuki raising hell in All Japan, Yuji Nagata won – then lost – the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Following what has to be a future entry in this series, Nagata suffered a loss to Kurt Angle in 08’ before winning the Zero1 World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Masato Tanaka. Tanaka, a wrestler just as ruthless as Suzuki, is a savant when it comes to violence. That alone makes him a fine surrogate for Suzuki in order to keep the framework of this article sturdy, as Tanaka gets a rematch in Tokyo.
Match 2: Yuji Nagata (c) vs. Masato Tanaka
Wrestle Kingdom III in Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome
January 4, 2009
The World screws us on intros, with coverage beginning with both men in the ring. The ref holds Nagata’s title and shows it to Tanaka, who apparently rode into town with a track-suited hit squad. Seriously, Tanaka is rolling deep with a small army of dudes slicked out in black zip-ups drizzled in Adidas stripes. This has to be the most comfortable looking stable in wrestling history.
The sound of the bell is like a starter’s pistol, sending both men into a Batsu frenzy. Forearm by Tanaka, forearm by Nagata, forearm by Tanaka, forearm by Nagata, five more exchanges land flush before Nagata lands three and a knee to take the win. His sprint to the ropes is cut off by Tanaka, whose shoulder stuffs him into the ropes. A knee to the gut serves as payback, with a stiff kick as the chaser to leave Tanaka struggling to get back up. Nagata posts up and lights Tanaka’s chest on fire with another kick that clears him out of the ring.
As Nagata heads out after him – and forgive me for a Bloodsport reference in back to back weeks – a direct doppelganger for the dude who Van Damme knocks out with the split-legged nut uppercut in the Kumite semis – looks right into the camera with a surprised expression. With all trons on him, he jumps into action by directing the shot and pointing to where the cameraman should place his focus to better capture the action. I have to hand it to him, he knows his stuff. The camera zips around the ring post just in time to catch Nagata try for an exploder, only to get reversed and spiked to the floor with a brainbuster! Ho…ly…shit!
With Nagata damn near lobotomized, Tanaka reaches over the guardrail and plucks an empty chair as the crowd boos unmercifully. He sneers at a section before taking a big backswing to level the almighty shit out of Nagata’s head! That evil prick took a f—ing derby cut on that shot, hitting Nagata so hard that the seat portion of the chair flew into the damn crowd! Nagata, understandably, is left crumpled in a heap as Tanaka uses the frame of the chair like a battering ram to open up his forehead. He shoves Nagata into the ring post forehead-first before rolling him into the ring.
Back inside, Tanaka bangs a right hook off of Nagata’s temple before tossing him into the corner. He throttles into top gear, roaring a forearm transitioned into another brainbuster! Good lord, man! He covers to a severely home cooked slow count, netting a two. Frustrated by the count, Tanaka uses Nagata’s head as a heavy bag – sparring against skull until he’s forced to wipe the blood from his knuckles. He tries to whip Nagata into the ropes, but the champion just collapses after purging a healthy portion of his guts all over the floor. But Tanaka’s assault stays relentless, victimizing Nagata with a running forearm and a lariat. His pinfall attempt is once again thwarted by a generously slow two count.
Tanaka overshoots a forearm that allows Nagata the chance to defend himself with a straight right and a steady stream of forearms to push Tanaka into the ropes. The ref tries to step in, but he’s thrown aside so Nagata can bury his knee into Tanaka’s face. Perching Tanaka up top, Nagata scales the ropes to hit a mega backdrop suplex for a millisecond quicker two-count. Just sayin’. He connects with a trio of knees, each one driven viciously upwards. Nagata continues to push the pace, sending out flesh ripping kicks that slide the Richter scale across Tanaka’s body. A follow-up kick jolts Tanaka back to his feet, his hands just managing to corral a kick and counter with an elbow.
A f—ing Batsu game breaks out in the middle of all this, both men swinging in a tempo of triple-six staccato until their arms and shoulders are smeared in blood! Nagata drops Tanaka to the mat with a knee to the gut before mowing him down with a lariat, the impact leaving both men writhing on the mat! This is hell on Earth!
They crawl back to the middle of the mat, conking foreheads and engaging in a Batsu sizzle reel of forearms back to their feet. Tanaka pops off ten consecutive left/right forearm combos before trying for another brainbuster that’s countered by a rope-assisted dragon screw neck whip. Sensing the kill, Nagata tries for a backdrop suplex, but Tanaka spins away and snapmares him to the mat comboed with a sliding kick to the back of the head. He crushes Nagata in the corner with a running lariat, hopping onto the second rope to hit a flip-out stunner! He’s off to the races AGAIN, coming back with a lariat that absolutely decimates Nagata! Tanaka covers, but another slow count gives Nagata time to kick out!
Tanaka charges a dazed Nagata in the corner, kneeing him in the back and hoisting him on the top turnbuckle for an incredible backdrop that sends both men crashing to the canvas. He covers, but again Nagata kicks out. Tanaka sits Nagata up and takes off for the ropes, racing back at full speed for a sliding lariat! He takes off again, coming back with a sliding forearm before covering. 1, 2…Nagata counters into a seated armbar! He screams to the crowd as he pulls on Tanaka’s arm, but can’t drop his weight down to stop Tanaka from squirming back to nick the bottom rope with the toe of his boot.
As Tanaka begins to rise, Nagata shuffle-steps and hits a leaping enzuigiri. He hits a backdrop suplex, hell bent on finishing this damn thing by floating over for the pin! 1, 2, Masato Tanaka lives! Tanaka struggles to his feet as Nagata sets his stance, his foot sickling through the air to nearly decapitate Tanaka! Nagata shoots in for a backdrop suplex, banging the back of Tanaka’s head against the mat. Somehow Tanaka rolls to his knees, his arms aimlessly reaching for safety. Nagata hunts him down, hitting another backdrop suplex as his body floats over to cover for the win.
Winner: Yuji Nagata
Impressions: Amazing, amazing, amazing match! I can’t believe this gem has existed for all of these years and my dumb ass is just stumbling across it now. These two men beat each other within an inch of their lives and told one hell of a story along the way. If you have never seen this match, please go out of your way to track it down and watch it. Nagata was resilient, and facing a swell of furious style he managed to kick it into another gear to match Tanaka’s exhaustive pace. And speaking of Tanaka, although this series is focused on the histories of guys on the current roster, you bet your ass I’m going to find a feud that involves him over a longer stretch of time. Savant was such an understatement. He is a muse for which all violent acts are predicated upon. Too much? Screw it, I’m still high from the adrenaline shot created by witnessing this f—ing masterpiece.
Flash forward to December of 2010 and Minoru Suzuki is back in New Japan with a bang, attacking Nagata after a match to make as big of a splash as possible upon his arrival. But Nagata dares him to make that splash bigger, challenging him to go toe to toe at their old stomping ground…or cannonball into their old watering hole if you want to complete the whole splash analogy. Either way, Nagata challenges him to a match at Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo.
Match 3: Yuji Nagata vs. Masato Tanaka
Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome
January 4, 2011
The Tokyo Dome is nothing short of immaculate for Wrestle Kingdom V, with a screen seemingly shredded from Logan’s Claw is layered above the entrance as two mega screens in a tron-waving competition with the WWE barely fit into the pulled back camera shot. When Kaze Ni Nare hits, the crowd immediately welcomes Suzuki with a torrential downpour of applause. As he struts along the catwalk – that wicked smile beaming with murderous moxie – it has finally hit me. Minoru Suzuki has always reminded me of someone, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I’ve got it now. He reminds me of Hector Salamanca of Better Call Saul. Not the older version entombed in a wheelchair on Breaking Bad – only time will tell if he ages less than gracefully. No, he reminds me in look and in unhinged action of the flashback maniac taking a leak in Don Eladio’s pool moments before Gus’s first cook gets brained. It’s uncanny how much they look alike.
A Redshirt squats on the middle rope, holding it open for Suzuki until they make eye contact. He bails to the floor, learning the lesson so few young lions fully realize after repeated kicks to the chest. Suzuki, with all eyes on him, waves his hand to waft the noise throughout the dome before gliding between the ropes as the crowd screams “Kaze Ni Nare!” on cue. The World skips Nagata’s entrance once again, quick-cutting to an image of he and Suzuki locking eyes from opposite corners. Marty Asami is on call for the match, his hand whipping the air to signal for the bell. Both men engage to the tune, twisting and turning one another into the ropes until Marty breaks it up. The break is far from clean, with Nagata’s cheek catching the brunt of a swift slap. Suzuki flares his hands to his sides, challenging Nagata to see if his Batsu skills are still up to snuff. Challenge accepted.
Slap by Suzuki, slap by Nagata, slap by Suzuki, slap by Nagata, another slap by Suzuki rankles an incredulous look out of Nagata, they share a six-pack of slaps, Suzuki sticks his tongue out and screams at Nagata before pasting him across the cheek, another slap by Nagata makes Suzuki turn around and chuckle to the crowd, they exchange another four shot salvo before Nagata unloads three kicks to Suzuki’s hamstring and sweeps him across the face to win in dramatic fashion!
After stomping Suzuki to the apron, Marty calls for the break, ushering Nagata away as Suzuki uses the top rope to pull himself up. Nagata brushes past Marty and heads back with his boot aimed high. It’s the perfect height for Suzuki to sway back and snatch it, flipping upside-down with a kneebar locked on tightly. “Break! Break!” barks Marty, his diminutive frame nearly diving over the top rope in an attempt to pry them apart. Suzuki only adheres when he’s damn good and ready, doing so with a smirk sketched proudly on his face.
The fight goes to the floor, with Suzuki weaving Nagata’s leg between the rails and hammering it with his boot. Marty’s continued attempt to separate them is met by a hard shove, though Suzuki ultimately abides and rolls Nagata back in the ring. Nagata smacks Suzuki from his back, causing Suzuki to stop the onslaught in order to unleash an angry diatribe. Nagata slaps him mid-sermon before a kick to the inner thigh sends him right back down. Suzuki keeps preaching from the full mount as a conveyor belt of forearms are delivered to Nagata’s face. He smiles at the crowd before ending service with a kick to the face.
Nagata braces for the second and third kick, rising to his feet to catch the forth shot and connect with a leaping knee. Riding his second wind, Nagata boots Suzuki in the face and hits an exploder for two. They have a mini-Batsu, won rather quickly by Nagata who decks Suzuki with a boot to the face. He tries for a brainbuster, but Suzuki slides out of harm’s way and shoves Nagata into the corner. He snapmares him to the mat, hitting the ropes for a PK that makes Nagata scream, “Yooooow!” Suzuki covers lazily for two, his menacing glare telling Marty to pick up his cadence.
Suzuki applies a sleeper hold, but Nagata grabs his left arm and drives it down on his shoulder. He hits a running kick to the chest, barely breaking stride to connect with a sick sounding kick to the back of Suzuki’s head and a hop-step kick that nearly cracks open his chest cavity. Quickly hauling in Suzuki’s arm to bang it across his shoulder again, Nagata transitions smoothly to a seated armbar that Suzuki narrowly manages to spin away from. Infuriated, Suzuki licks his mitt and smacks Nagata with a dominant hand. Nagata calls for more, a sound ringing like a dinner bell in Suzuki’s ears. Nagata sets his feet before banging a kick against Suzuki’s arm, connecting so flush that Suzuki is forced to take a walk. Awesome stuff. But this is Minoru Suzuki we’re talking about here. He returns from the trip with another smack, an impact intent on inflicting permanent beer goggles. Another sleeper attempt is nearly sniped out at the ropes, but Suzuki drags Nagata back to the middle of the ring to successfully cinch it in. Nagata slumps to his rear as Suzuki shoves him to the mat and covers, a decision that swaps a potential submission for a two.
Suzuki hits a sliding kick that makes Nagata’s head wobble as he hits the mat. He covers with a hand victoriously hoisted in the air as Marty strikes the mat for two. Another scowl awaits. Suzuki turns his attention to getting the sleeper back on, but Nagata shuffles back and kicks him on the arm, closing the gap to gobble him up and caber-toss him clear across the ring with a release belly-to-belly! Nagata keeps kicking, alternating between Suzuki’s chest and arm. Suzuki stumbles around before a final kick drops him to his hands and knees, a position tailor made for a seated armbar. Suzuki gets the ropes, breaking for merely a moment before he’s sucked back to the middle of the ring and Nagata’s eyes begin to flutter and tilt. He screams while trying to apply pressure, his lungs expelling air rapidly as he pulls. Marty dives to the mat to check on Suzuki, his ears filling up with a loud “Noooo!” Suzuki is in the armbar for an eternity, but outlasts Nagata who exhaustively releases the hold.
Nagata measures the distance, stepping back to kick Suzuki hard enough to jolt him back to his feet. They lock eyes for a moment, with Suzuki launching into another angry tirade as the crowd stirs. Nagata responds with another kick, causing Suzuki to shake his head and slap him back. Nagata licks his hand and pastes Suzuki across the face. It’s met with a chuckle and an even harder smack. They continue smacking each other, each time the crowd screaming “Heeeey!” as sweat clouds fill the space between them. They both reach back and strike the other clean, their bodies left hanging in an off-kilter sway. Suzuki recovers first, striking Nagata repeatedly to drop him to a knee. He goes right back to the sleeper, but Nagata stomps to the ropes. Suzuki tries to get back to the middle of the ring, only succeeding after Nagata counters to take his back and hit the backdrop suplex. Suzuki, dizzily fumbling for solid footing, ends up in Nagata’s embrace before being hoisted sky high and planted to the mat with another backdrop suplex. Nagata floats over and covers. 1, 2, Suzuki kicks out! Nagata kicks Suzuki in the back of the head, catching him staggering and snapping him up for a third backdrop suplex! Marty dives to the mat as Nagata covers, his hand pounding the mat like a gavel to seal Suzuki’s fate!
Winner: Yuji Nagata
Impressions: Another stellar match! These two are tailor-made for one another, with styles meshing seamlessly to tell thrilling stories based on the simple premise of, “Can you hang with me?” This time Nagata did, and did so by being far more brutal with his offense. Maybe it was not having a chair waffled into his face five minutes in, but he seemed to be in control for greater chunks of the match as opposed to having to fight from behind for the majority. Suzuki was a pleasure as always, providing the highlight of the match by cutting off his angry tirade just to mount Nagata and continue preaching with his fists providing the punctuation. Just brilliant stuff. This match also provided multiple world class Batsu games, as both guys seemed possessed to prove that they can outlast the other. I fell in love with the final game where each slap left sweat silhouettes of each man before they were whiplashed out of frame. I’ve typed it before and I’ll type it again. I cannot wait for the next battle in this incredible war.)
Next Week: Sight-seeing at G1 Climax 22 – The Ballad of Toru Yano, and Suzuki/Nagata III
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