By R.W. Andrews
Part 3 – Lariat Safari
Ending Satoshi Kojima’s remarkable run that began in August of 2010, Hiroshi Tanahashi is back on top with the full support of The Suits stuffing gobs of merchandise money into as many interest bearing accounts they can get their hands on. This is probably how it was always meant to be, with the face of the company beaming down on all challengers from NJPW’s ivory corporate tower – probably located in Tokyo, or Tokyo adjacent. But Kojima is coming in hot, flanked by a fully stocked Kojima-gun with Taichi, Taka Michinoku, Nosawa Rongai (another name to add to my “need to know this guy” list), and former Beat Down Clan leader MVP. Yeah, that’s right, I tried TNA for all of two episodes when I tried to get back into wrestling. It didn’t go well. But a cool faction nonetheless that had my interest for a fortnight. Anyways, Kojima beat Togi Makabe – pay homage – to keep his place in line and receive a chance to reclaim the throne. And he better, considering all the mouths he has to feed in his entourage.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Satoshi Kojima for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The New Beginning at Sendai Sun Plaza Hall
February 20, 2011
The stream starts up with Kojima already in the ring, the crowd chanting for Tanahashi before being washed out by the theme of all themes streaking through the speakers. Kojima stays focused as Tanahashi glad-hands with the people, his mind fixated on the three seconds needed to pull sway back in his favor. Red Shoes is back for more shenanigans, his hair finally returned to the classical jet black mushroom top we’ve come to love. As he takes the belt to show not only Kojima, but Taichi as well, we get a glimpse of the latter’s intentions. This son of a bitch is decked out in a pair of short trunks barely visible under the hem of a nondescript black t-shirt, an ensemble sponsored by I Am Interfering. As the camera spins on its axis, a shrill sound barks through a microphone. The camera darts back to find Red Shoes pointing towards the entranceway, banishing Taichi from his sight. Then Makabe appears out of nowhere, he too adorned in short trunks practically engulfed by a long t-shirt. He grabs Taichi and tosses him out of the ring, ushering him to the back with the type of murderous stride found in the deepest of back alleys.
After a brisk frisk, Red Shoes calls for the bell as the crowd unleashes an almighty war cry for The Ace. The initial tie-up ends clean, garnering the proper respect from the outskirts. A spurt of waistlock reversals end in another round of applause before the combatants finally punch the clock and get to work. Tanahashi is quick to hammer Kojima’s arm, but the crafty vet gets a drop toe-hold transitioned to a side headlock to cut the assault short. Red Shoes has zero control on a break, his count far from over before just deciding to step in and pry them apart. Tanahashi nearly wins a test of strength, but a snag of the anime gives Kojima the advantage. A pair of shoulder blocks give him nothing more than a morale boost though, as a steady string of arm wear-downs ground the proceedings to a halt.
Kojima finally works his way free, spinning out of a waistlock to bang the crown of Tanahashi’s skull to the mat with a DDT. And look what we have here! Red Shoes is all over the champ, hovering above him as a doctor enters the ring to perform a not-so routine checkup. Unbelievable. Kojima, rightfully outraged by the extra attention never once extended his way when champion, stomps on Tanahashi’s head before chasing the doctor away. Good for him. With both men on the apron, Kojima collars Tanahashi’s neck, points to the sky, and gives him another DDT! Ok, now get the doctor. Red Shoes, erring on the side of extreme caution, decides to simmer down the home cooking and count with the most “I’m just here to do my job, Man” expression on his face. Amazing.
Tanahashi gets in at eighteen and is immediately buckled up in a camel clutch. After a long stretch, Kojima switches to a cravate comboed with a vicious neck breaker against his kneepad. His suplex attempt is reversed, his body spinning into a dropkick clocking him straight in the face. Tanahashi gets a flying forearm off the whip before hitting a front-flip senton for two. With Kojima exiting stage right, Tanahashi scurries after him to hit a diving front flip on the floor. Not bad for a guy clearly in need of spending time in the concussion protocol.
Back in the ring, Tanahashi boots and dropkicks Kojima’s arm, but the effort is for naught as a running forearm absolutely steamrolls him. Tanahashi tries to Slingblade his way out of trouble, a desperate measure countered by an amazing spinebuster! Kojima heads up top, his dense frame falling with the grace of a crash test dummy on an elbow drop. He follows up with a far more graceful neckbreaker – traditional variety – but only nets a two from Red Shoes. Kojima peels off his elbow pad and goes head-hunting with a lariat, which is blocked and countered with a Dragon Suplex attempt, which is blocked and countered with a neckbreaker, which is blocked and countered with a Slingblade! Very nice.
Tanahashi hits two Dragon-Screw Arm Whips before banging Kojima’s arm atop his shoulder and hitting a Falcon Arrow for two. He decides to take flight, and once again knees beat splash in their ongoing game of Knees-Splash-Rest Hold-Lizard-Spock. Kojima perches Tanahashi up top, and after fighting off the spins from a last ditch headbutt, launches Tanahashi to the floor with a lariat! At least he missed the apron in the free fall. Red Shoes’ hand is steady on the count, racking up eighteen before Kojima decides to head outside and dart the champ on the apron with another DDT! Son of a bitch! His ass was getting that apron one way or the other.
Kojima brings Tanahashi back in with a suplex, but a follow-up lariat misses high, a misstep costing him a Straitjacket suplex. Kojima screams in frustration after escaping and heads back out on his lariat safari. Tanahashi ducks the next shot, Dragon Screw Arm Whipping the challenger thrice before taking off for the ropes. Kojima spots it, his body rifling up to deliver a lariat that ragdolls Tanahashi to the mat! Red Shoes makes a highlight reel dive to get into position – 1, 2, kickout!
Kojima laces a forearm into Tanahashi’s temple before taking off for the ropes, but his approach is derailed by a Tanahashi lariat! The champ follows up with a Slingblade, followed by a bridging Dragon Suplex for two. He spends all of a second mulling over his options, deciding to ride the sky with a High Fly Flow to the back. He heads up top again as the focus pulls waaaay back into Rainmaker-cam to capture the flightpath! Red Shoes’ rear literally slides into view upon impact, taking up so much of the frame that you can barely see his hand slap the mat for the pinfall victory.
Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
After the match, Red Shoes, the doctor, and even a redshirt check on the champion as Kojima slinks backstage clutching his arm. The referee, a pillar of bipartisanship, takes an ice bag and gently presses it on the back of Tanahashi’s neck. Good Lord! Just give the guy a handy while you’re at it. After the parade of gifts, Tanahashi plays air guitar mid-ring as the crowd goes insane over each imaginary strum. It’s a deserving solo, as the next ten minutes are spent watching him shake everyone’s hand – the sweet son of a bitch even hugging the kids shoved his way as the paparazzi stalk his every move. Even the announcers reach out to touch him. Just an incredible scene really, one that shows that the current pulling Kojima from the safety of the shore was far too strong to ever truly fight. Not that long ago those were his trophies. His gifts. His giant checks. His crowd. His handies. Poor bastard.
Impressions: Kojima was on fire early in this match, absolutely decimating Tanahashi with power shots and high impact offense. It obviously couldn’t continue for the entire match or this would be an “In Memoriam” piece, but a damn fine way to put the champion in immediate danger. I’m actually a little surprised that Tanahashi can still go at the level that he does today given the crazy spills his body has absorbed throughout his career. That stuff adds up. And I type this in all seriousness – I will not get tired of Dragon Screw Arm Whips, especially the way Kojima just wilts to the mat after he’s been twirled by one. Overall, the guys did what they do – hitting a lot of familiar notes, but delivering a nice rubber match that saw Tanahashi have to pull out a lariat of his own to keep Kojima down long enough to hit the High Fly Flow. It doesn’t top Wrestle Kingdom, but still a fitting end to a really fun trio of matches.
Reticulating Splines (Actually SFW For Once)
Speaking of fitting ends, I’ll tie this all up next week with a little excursion to Wrestling Dontaku so we can see the very different paths these two men travel post-feud.
Next Week: NJPW World Makes Good & The King of Strong Entertainment
A Friendly Game of Mishegoss
I’m going to keep this one nice and short. If you didn’t draft DeVante Parker, wait for his first bad game and pounce with an overwhelming trade offer. Barring injury, he is going to finish at worst a high-end #2 WR. It’s already been determined with the Ryan Tannehill injury giving way to Jay Cutler and his “I will chuck the ball to you” gunslinger attitude. What more can you ask for out of a situation? So get your trade chips together and be ready to act accordingly.
That is, of course, if Parker actually has a bad game.