Featured image by Shining Wizard Designs

Wish I loved this but it sadly met my expectations. Despite the brilliance of the angle to close out the Tokyo Dome, I wasn’t looking forward to this match at all. Naito had a poor 2019 and while a lot of that can be attributed to his vision problems, I still didn’t expect anything too great from this match up. I also haven’t been a huge fan of what KENTA’s been up to in the ring since his return so this wasn’t the best match up on paper.

This wasn’t great but it’s not all terrible. To be specific, it has a great a opening and a great finish. Loved KENTA’s heel buffoonery in this match. The heat he got from something as small as just rolling out of the ring, using Naito’s own tactics against him? Delightful. His constant egging on of the crowd to compensate for not using too much offense? Great. For a long while, it felt like another refreshing permutation of the New Japan epic that has been spinning its wheels since at least 2018.

But then, we get right back to the standard back and forth in the ring and that’s where things really ground to a halt for a good…twenty minutes? Zero heat for the Busaiku Knee, zero heat for the Game Over. KENTA’s offense simply isn’t over to the New Japan crowd and Naito’s comebacks did little to win things over. In the last three minutes, we get a sudden shift as Naito gets busted open on the exposed turnbuckle. Blood is a rarity in New Japan and especially in IWGP Heavyweight Title matches so I was excited to see what they would do with this new element. The answer? Nothing at all. Just run through the finish and go home.

There’s a certain ambition here to do something different from the standard New Japan epic but it fails in its lack of commitment to that concept. Wish they’d done the blood earlier and really milked the drama for what it was worth. As it is now, it’s more of a tacked on addition that serves to liven up a bloated epic for just a few minutes. Exhilarating as those last few moments were, they do little to support what came before. Not a bad match, I don’t think, but definitely not what it could have been. It’s good for what it is but it pales in comparison to what it might have been.

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