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Your standard New Japan main event: great in spite of itself. While these two are two of my absolute favorites on the whole roster, this is a match that ignores a key factor of what makes them so enjoyable: brevity. The NEVER Openweight Title division has built itself around hard-hitting short matches that contrast nicely to the forced epics of the IWGP title scene. Here, as the main event of a New Japan Road show, that key element gets thrown at the window as these two are booked to wrestler for 27 minutes straight.
Luckily for all of us, Takagi and Ishii are great and they do their best to make the most of those 27 minutes. All the stiff strikes, huge suplexes, and mean mugging you could ask for. As Big E might call it on his podcast BIG SWEATY MEN SLAPPING MEAT. There is nuance there though. Both Ishii and Takagi have mastered the timing on how to display vulnerability. At one point, Ishii walks into a series of Takagi’s elbows only to lay out the champ in one blow. Only when Takagi goes down does Ishii allow himself to register the pain from the elbows. That’s the good stuff that combined with all the spectacle of the stiff action would have made for something truly excellent had it been condensed into a tighter package.
It’s sad that this match suffers from the trademark New Japan Bloat but that’s the price us fans have to pay for these two getting the chance to main event a show, even one as inconsequential as New Japan Road. At this rate, I’d much rather see them stuck in a midcard match on Dominion if it means they only have to go fifteen.