(02/11) Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii

New Japan Pro Wrestling
Bodymaker Coliseum (Osaka, Japan)
NEVER Openweight Championship

The minute this match ended you knew that Match of the Year talk surrounding it was going to crop up. Sure enough, less than twelve hours after the match’s conclusion, the ***** ratings and MOTY accolades are already rolling out from all corners’ of the internet. For that reason, I will leave the rundown of all the big moves and strong sequences to those who consider the match to be a true upper-echelon performance. They will capture the positive parts better than I could, I am sure.

What I do want to say is that I liked this match a lot, perhaps just not as much as others.

I’ve written quite a bit about the strong build to the match in tags, trios, and eight-man tags that Naito and Ishii have had versus one another over the past month+. That great build lead to anticipation for me, but at the same time, I was not all that convinced the eventual singles match would be any good. Not only was it good, I would say it was very good. The early-portions of the match were well-done with Ishii selling for Naito’s charged up attack out of the gate and Naito working a fun, varied chin lock sequence. Both guy’s injuries were worked into the match effectively – Ishii’s shoulder and Naito’s knee – and it was just solid stuff with good crowd heat (even if the Osaka crowd did back Ishii and boo Naito from the get-go). Naito’s German suplexes looked great and were the big time power moves he needed in order to keep up with Ishii’s power offense.

Ishii did some of the stuff that makes me less than enthused about watching his work (striking and selling-related issues) but it was not a deal breaker and works better in a big match context, which this was. At the part of the match when they were heading into the stretch run – or at least the part where it appeared they were – I was right there with the MOTYC people.

During this stretch run, Ishii hit a brainbuster on Naito. It got a big time reaction and it came after several prior near falls. Naito kicked out late, the crowd went nuts, and my brother, Tim – who stopped to watch a little before work – commented that Ishii was definitely not winning now. That was hard to argue. Years of watching pro wrestling lead us to that seemingly foregone conclusion. That was Ishii’s big nearfall (after he had several lesser ones earlier) and pro wrestling match structure dictates that Naito was retaining in short order.

Only, that did not quite happen. They didn’t get to the end quickly at all. From that point on, the match went another five minutes or so with a whole slew of additional near falls. It seemed clear to me that the match had reasonably peaked on the brainbuster near fall. It was hard to imagine that the crowd was going to react much more than they did to that sequence of events. It was the cue to take things home, but they did not. The near falls kept coming and each one brought diminishing returns in terms of crowd response. I admit that sometimes I think there are too many near falls but the live crowd will react differently. With this match, the crowd reaction was the proof that they went too long. They didn’t get out on that high note and the match suffered a tad because of it. It peaked and then at best flat-lined through the eventual finish (Ishii winning the title with a top rope brainbuster).

Again, I think this is a strong match but Ishii’s annoying tendencies that were still present combined with going too long during the near fall stretch run, left this match a notch below the upper tier for me. It is a good match – I almost certainly liked it better than Ishii/Shibata from the G1 as Ishii’s more annoying tendencies were much more visible in that one – just not the top tier MOTYC on first viewing that others see it as. It will go in the February re-watch pile and I’ll revisit it later, but those are my initial reactions.

High Impact | Must Watch | Hype/Quality

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