This rivalry had been brewing since Sakaguchi choked out Ueno in a six-man tag title match last year. Sakaguchi has choked out Ueno multiple times since, marking his Sleeper as the killing move needed to take away Ueno’s Universal Title.
It’s an absurdly simple story that’s been set up well and pays off perfectly in this match. As part of the build, Ueno was shown training with Shinya Aoki to learn ways to defend against the Sleeper. Even with that training, Sakaguchi very clearly has the advantage in this match when they’re in closed quarters. He smothers Ueno down on the mat and utilizes his kicks to great effect to keep Ueno behind.
Ueno’s far more effective when he’s able to create distance and use his speed and momentum. He tries for some arm work on Sakaguchi early and while it works a trick for a bit, Sakaguchi still catches Ueno with a knee that again puts him back in control. The match centers itself around Sakaguchi’s big strikes and Ueno trying to survive long enough to find the openings he needs.
Ueno’s just such a natural babyface in this match. He sells so well for all the big blows and he has enough determination and craftiness on his own that you have faith in him to make good. It’s so important to have babyfaces you can actually believe in. Ueno’s character is one that isn’t always the most powerful or capable but one that can credibly get his own back when the time comes.
Ueno’s credibility as a babyface worth rooting for gets absolutely cemented by the finish to this match. In a perfect act of justice, Ueno gets the win by locking on a Sleeper and choking Sakaguchi out. Ueno overcomes his rival by using Sakaguchi’s greatest weapon against him. A simple eye for an eye narrative that stands out for how oddly rare that is in wrestling these days.
Ueno’s got a bright future ahead of him if his performances stay on this kind of track. He has become a can’t miss act that hopefully only improves from here.