On August 3rd, 2020, I deleted the video “The Essential Tanahashi vs. Okada Formula” from my YouTube channel as a precaution against copyright strikes. The script as I have it archived is now here below.
The first night of the 2019 G1 Climax took place in Dallas, Texas: the first time in history that New Japan has held any G1 tournament matches outside of Japan. Despite the abysmally disappointing attendance numbers, the horrific sight of incredibly empty chairs caught on camera, the show was still a success in terms of quality. So before I proceed HERE ARE SOME RAPIDFIRE THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OTHER TOURNAMENT MATCHES THAT NIGHT:
Ospreay-Archer: Awesome. Too long though.
EVIL-Fale: Who cares?
ZSJ-SANDA: Pretty good!
Ibushi-KENTA: It was all right.
The main event that Gedo selected for a new market was a safe one: the rivalry that defined New Japan in the 2010s. The Once in a Century Talent Hiroshi Tanahashi taking on the IWGP Heavyweight Champion “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada.
Okada and Tanahashi have been the defining rivalry in New Japan ever since their first match all the way back in 2012. While I do find that some of their matches have been grossly overrated, there’s no question in my mind that this is an all time great match-up in terms of the consistent quality that they can bring under almost any circumstance. Have they disappointed in the past? Yes. But the hits far outnumber the misses.
This match presents us an interesting perspective into how Okada and Tanahashi structure their matches together. I say this because there are a few constraints applied to the result that make it unique to anything else they’ve done in recent years. The first one is that by virtue of being a G1 block match, they only have thirty minutes maximum to play with. This is important to the narrative of the match as every single G1 match these two have had in the past has ended in a 30 minute time limit draw. In fact, the last time that these two wrestled a match that went under 30 minutes was in 2012 Tanahashi pinned Okada in 28:06.
The second restraint on this is match is that Okada must win. After suffering a decisive loss to Tanahashi on last year’s Destruction tour as the regressed Broken!Okada, the peak power Shorts!Rainmaker needed to reassert his dominance as The Ace and the top wrestler in all of New Japan. This means that the match is guaranteed to go under the 30 minute time limit.
The final restraint is that this match is taking place in the States in front of an American crowd who has never had the opportunity to witness an Okada-Tanahashi match live before. That means that despite being the shortest match they’ve wrestled since 2012, Okada and Tanahashi still have to capture enough of the magic of their rivalry to satisfy a crowd of fans who might never before have seen them wrestle in a singles match before.
That’s what makes this match so special in my opinion. Watching this match, you’ll find that it is essentially a “greatest hits” version of an Okada-Tanahashi. With the limited time they’re given, Okada and Tanahashi have to pick and choose segments and spots that have informed their rivalry through the years and create the best possible Okada-Tanahashi experience without going into their 30+ minute epics.
In fact, the first five minutes of this match are incredibly telling in what they choose to highlight. Immediately after locking up we go into Okada’s chop fake out which leads straight into a (not so great) forearm exchange. We then get a few slick finisher near misses, another signature sequence from these two. Follow that up with their iconic double hair pull face down. All the fun stuff without the usual chain wrestling that New Japan epics lean on the pad out the first act of their matches.
You can also see that Tana and Okada are having a little more fun that usual, really working up the American crowd who are hot for basically anything and everything these gods of the internet wrestling community have to offer. In the eyes of the Dallas crowd, Tana and Okada probably can do now wrong and the two wrestlers relish in this fact, enjoying the raucous atmosphere. They even fall back on their older roles of Okada as the smug heel against the heroic Tanahashi. From a kayfabe perspective, this fits as well. This is the first one-on-one Tanahashi-Okada match since the two first allied as occasional tag team partners towards the end of 2018. In that sense, both are approaching this match with a sense of friendly competition and not so much the deeply personal struggles of 2013-2016.
The second act of the match moves at a fairly steady pace as the two trade offense back and forth. Again, there’s nothing particularly special here that we haven’t seen before. Tana goes to the legs to create his openings as is the key to most of his big main event matches. Meanwhile, Okada sells the legs well enough in the moment but forgivably drops it once he goes back on offense. Tana is never able to maintain a sustained attack on the legs for any length of time so this doesn’t take away from the match too much. Probably the highlight of this section of the match for me is Tanahashi interrupting Okada’s Rainmaker pose with a victory roll, a continuation of the theme of Tanahashi using the Okada’s pose to create offensive openings for himself that we saw last year.
Tanahashi graces with a beautiful High Fly Flow to the outside, a little something spectacular to get the already hyped up Dallas crowd even more rabid. From this point onwards, we get the standard Okada-Tanahashi finishing stretch of traded near falls, finisher close calls, and some rich callbacks to their past. I particularly enjoyed them once again returning to the wrist control struggle that made their 2016 Dome match so special. That was a nice touch.
But, there’s a certain order that this match needed to restore after Tanahashi was able to get a win over Okada at last year’s Destruction tour. By the time Okada hits the backslide Rainmaker, things are essentially over for Tanahashi. And sure, he does get a few brief flashes of hope in before the end comes, but after that Rainmaker, the writing is on the wall. If anything, I wish Tanahashi had sold his impending demise a little more actually. Really hammer home the fact that Okada’s the top guy, has been for a long while now, and that the tail end of 2018 was just a blip in the radar.
This is the average Tanahashi-Okada match, and I certainly don’t mean that as insult. Rather, I believe it’s the standard that all other Tana-Okada matches should be compared to. This Tana and Okada working in their comfort zone. They’re so at ease working together that the seamlessness of their chemistry really shines through in this match. This highlights all the best and worst aspects of the Tanahashi-Okada rivalry. The nail biting finishing stretch, the clashing characters, the weak offense, and the dazzling counter wrestling. In many ways, it’s a perfect gateway match into the Tanahashi-Okada feud. You don’t need too much knowledge of their past matches to really enjoy this one. And also, it’s 22 minutes, guys. In the New Japan landscape of 2019 where forking SANADA gets 40 minute main events, this is a gorgeous display of restraint from two men who embodied the epic scale of New Japan in this decade. Check this one out, I give it 4 stars. It’s fun, light, and in many ways, chicken soup for the wrestling soul.