Bad start for the project because I actually think this match is pretty great.
I first saw it at a public screening with some friends and a crowd so my initial reaction to it was always going to skew to the positive. At the time, I recall rating 4.5 stars out of 5 but the drop off upon reviewing it over a year later wasn’t as steep as I expected.
This match is wrestled under no disqualification rules and thank god. Jericho’s the kind of worker who badly needs that kind of stipulation to disguise his weaknesses in the ring. One thing I can certainly praise this match for is eschewing the needless opening mat work that plagues so many main event style New Japan title matches. Chris Jericho never truly displayed any real prowess on the mat even in his youth so to pretend to that now at this age would be just ridiculous.
Another positive is that Naito gets the first shots in, jumping Jericho before the bell. It makes for a great babyface shine and Jericho gets thrashed about on the outside pretty nicely. This might be some of the most energized and motivated that Naito looked in 2019 which also wasn’t a great year for him either. Hell, I can even give Jericho some props here for some of the punches he threw as they landed pretty solidly and rarely whiffed. From the go, pretty clear that both guys are giving a lot here.
We get a great transition spot where Naito hits the ropes, fakes out his Tranquilo pose, then instead goes straight for a tope to the outside only to be cut off with a kendo stick to the head. Great timing on the spot especially since Naito really didn’t look like he hesitated or expected the cane shot to be coming at all. Good stuff there to lead into the Jericho control segment.
Now while there’s only so much Jericho can do in control, the tedium is broken up with some gem moments. Naito takes a delightful head stand bump into the table on a DDT and takes some solid shots from the kendo stick. In between, Jericho reaches into his limited playbook of filling time–mainly posing and shouting at the crowd. It works well enough but it’s a tactic he’ll return to far too often in many of his matches so it wears thin pretty fast. Speaking of wearing thin pretty fast, Jericho also does his grab-the-camera-and-flip-off-his-opponent which is the kind of spot that’s funny and entertaining once then just becomes lazy and uncreative the next six hundred times that you do it. In this case here, Jericho doesn’t even get a pop for it as it’s nothing new anymore.
As the match wears on, Jericho’s own physical flaws start to become a problem as well. Naito’s matches work best when Naito is moving at a quick pace, stringing together offense. Jericho can not move fast enough to keep up with the pace Naito’s trying to set. His bulkier frame makes him harder to maneuver and he simply can not get into position fast enough for Naito to maintain the momentum of his comebacks.
The finishing run is a great piece of work though but mostly for Naito. Probably the highlight of it comes from Naito playing baseball with Jericho’s body and the kendo stick as the bat. That first swing at Jericho coming off the ropes remains so satisfying and got me belly laughing at Jericho’s misery. Jericho even nails a few great false finishes here with the low blow Codebreaker combination that won him the belt before finally being put down with a belt shot and the Destino.
Overall, a great match with a little bit of sag in the middle. But the hot finish and the satisfying finishing stretch do make up for the bloat that this match experiences. It’s fun enough and some of the best work from either guy in 2019.