New Japan Pro Wrestling
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
From a structural perspective, I liked all the Okada vs. Tanahashi matches from 2013. The issue in those matches was more that Okada is still a bit rough around the edges and Tanahashi’s offense is borderline offensive. Replacing Tanahashi’s offense with Naito’s offense into a similarly structured match is a net gain in my eyes. For the most part, this match played out just like that. It was a Tanahashi vs. Okada match only with Naito’s offense and perhaps a better underdog structure than one gets when Tanahashi and Okada match up.
I really liked the build of Naito going for the Ricky Steamboat-like leaping side headlock takeover into his submission finisher. The first time he gets the takedown, but cannot lock on the submission. The second time he gets both, but Okada reaches the ropes without much of a tease of giving up. When Okada goes for the move a third time – well into the finishing stretch by this point and having already reversed a Rainmaker attempt – I totally bought in that split-instance that if he gets Okada down and puts on the hold, that he might win. That little tease and the payoff were played perfectly to cap off a hot finishing sequence.
The body of the match was fine but at times, they veered too close to the elements that hurt the Okada/Tanahashi matches. The sequence on the ramp for instance was reminiscent of Okada/Tanahashi matches and goofy on its own (not in a good way, either). The Tokyo Dome crowd – as usual – was not great all night but they stayed in the match the entire time and got some good near falls late. I think it helped that Naito was clearly positioned and viewed as the underdog. The match was worked accordingly which helped it from falling into the back-and-forth affairs the Tanahashi and Okada matches often suffer from.
Puro Main Event| Watch It | Quality