Featured image by @tomosankaku109

Once again, the best vision of the New Japan main event style comes from none other than Hiroshi Tanahashi. Despite being for the NEVER Openweight Title, this never really falls into that particular genre of match. This is far more in line with the extended epics that made Tanahashi so beloved to begin with. He is, of course, an absolute master of that style.

That begin said, this isn’t a perfect match. It’s still a New Japan main event in 2021. That means that it could use some editing. Five or maybe even ten minutes could have been sliced off to help the flow of things here. The early goings are particularly slow and it’s not helped by the fact that Tanahashi has very clearly broken down physically. He can’t quite hit the ropes and run with the same speed anymore.

Luckily for us, even when they’re going too long, Shingo Takagi and Hiroshi Tanahashi are two of the most likeable and watchable pro wrestlers anywhere in the world. The former is probably the most important aspect of this match, especially on Tanahashi’s end. Shingo spends most of the second act of the match in control by going after Tana’s leg. He adds insult to injury by ripping off some of Tana’s classic offense with a pair of Twist and Shouts and even mocking Tana’s air guitar taunt on the Ace’s own battered leg. It’s small stuff to help add to the narrative of the beloved and aging Ace coming back for a big victory.

Of course Tanahashi gets his own back. He goes after Shingo’s leg as well and Shingo’s masterful selling carries through this whole damn match. Great moments like Shingo landing a new drop on Tana’s leg hurting his own knee do a lot to bolster that second second act that’s trying to move things forward from the slower start.

The last third of the match is wonderful. Exactly the kind of high impact, high stakes wrestling that New Japan excels at when at their best. There’s so little in wrestling that feels real and emotionally engrossing. And yet, here, just as I did in his G1 match against Naito, I couldn’t help but cheer on the Ace. Found myself cackling in joy and awe as the last few moments of offense played out. Tanahashi’s a guy that you just can’t help but want to win. He represents so much of the good that New Japan provided us in the past and in many ways feels like one of the last threads still connecting us to that time.

Shingo is fantastic here. Of course, he don’t miss. He sells perfectly for the Ace and his eventual fall feels perfectly justified given his somewhat more heelish brashness in the middle of the match. This match isn’t really about him in the end though. It’s about Tanahashi giving us another magical moment in his legendary career.

Go Ace. Long may he reign.

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