Featured image by @high_kkk
After reaching the peak of his career by winning the Double IWGP Championships at the Tokyo Dome in a fantastic match, Tetsuya Naito has decided that nothing else this year matters quite enough to actually show up to work for. The man has been sleepwalking his way through the year, stumbling through a terrible program with EVIL and finally landing himself in the G1 with both belts in tow. He’s not going to win the G1 so I imagine he’ll continue to drag his feet through most of this tournament, especially with his final night being against a past his prime KENTA.
And yet, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
In a landscape where the tentpoles of the Bushiroad era have proved themselves to be either unwilling or incapable of holding their own through one of the most tumultuous periods in wrestling and world history, New Japan needs to turn to the only true Ace that there is.
Hiroshi Tanahashi drags Naito kicking and screaming to something worth seeing here. He sets the tone early by going straight for Naito’s leg before the two trade some decent enough chain wrestling on the mat. The strategy is clear for Tanahashi though and as soon as he can catch Naito off guard by the ropes, he goes to work with the Dragon Screws.
Tanahashi brings just enough energy and fire to his attacks to the leg that Naito’s selling feels actually warranted this time. Plus it actually gives a glimmer of hope that Tana might take away the victory tonight. He busts out a lot of the old tricks to make this match pop. Top rope High Fly Flow to the floor, repeated Twist and Shouts, all the good stuff to get even a New Japan cynic like myself thinking “Go Ace!”
I knew this match would make the list when Tana began to go for the High Fly Flow at roughly the 25 minute and I felt deep in my bones a sincere need to see him win. It’s such a stark contrast to the grand apathy that permeated every other match on the card tonight.
This isn’t some instant classic like some have been painting it out to be. Even at the finishing stretch, Naito fumbles on his stuff just enough to remind us of his disappointing year. But even that can’t quite snuff out the pure thrill of hoping to see the Ace knock off a pretender.
It’s not a classic. It’s not even the best match of this weekend of G1 shows. But it’s Hiroshi Tanahashi showing up to get something out of a failure of a champion and that’s worth going out of your way for.