A stunning match. There have been few matches this year that I’ve looked forward to quite as much as this one. Despite being a fairly convert when it comes to the DDT product, the past few months have had me fall head over heels for Kazusada Higuchi and his incredibly fundamentally sound and hard hitting brand of professional wrestling. Then, of course, there’s none other than Jun Akiyama as the defending champion here, still in full possession of a top level, intimidating aura that makes him a perfect mountain to climb.

This match was set up in the D-oh Grand Prix at the tail end of 2020 when Higuchi beat Akiyama in four minutes with the Brain Claw. Akiyama’s first order of business after winning the KO-D Openweight Title from Endo was making the challenge to Higuchi to avenge the loss. Since winning the title, Akiyama has refused to wear the championship belt on his waist until he avenged the loss to Higuchi.

The match starts out with Higuchi flexing those great fundamentals that I mentioned at the top. Simple stuff like a test of strength looks convincing and straining when someone like Higuchi is the one applying the pressure. Despite this, Higuchi still feels very much the underdog in the situation with the calm and imposing Akiyama to oppose him.

Higuchi’s not afraid to strike with Akiyama, going to his chops early. Picking up on this, however, Akiyama’s able to dodge a chop and send Higuchi’s hand into the ringpost on the outside. From there, we see some of the great hand and arm work that Akiyama displayed in the D-oh Grand Prix Final against Takeshita. Akiyama really attacks the arm with ferocity, even throwing in some gnarly looking small joint manipulation. It’s excellent stuff that Higuchi sells really well especially in the second act. There’s a fantastic moment where Higuchi is unable to clasp his hands to grab a chinlock on the mat and has to resort to biting his good hand to add more leverage to the hold. It’s nerdbait and I love it and it rules.

The violence ramps up delightfully in the finishing stretch. We see an exchange of suplexes, vicious strike exchanges, and a whole lot more. It’s a wonderful pay off to all the tension that’s built through the opening act of the match and it’s glorious to see Higuchi come so close to the victory when he’s able to get the Brain Claw in on Akiyama. The damage to the hand is enough to let Akiyama escape the hold, however. Higuchi eats some absolutely brutal knee strikes from Akiyama in this finishing stretch, somehow playing a believable fiery babyface underdog despite his size. The match fittingly ends with Akiyama hitting an exposed knee strike to the back of Higuchi’s head for the victory.

What a fantastic match. Filled to bursting with good action, bolstered by a real likeable challenger in Higuchi, and elevated by the best Akiyama performance since he joined DDT last year. Nothing in wrestling this year has touched on so many of the themes and aspects that I want from this sport in the way this match did. I can not recommend this enough.

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