For my money, DDT is the best promotion running in Japan today. Their mix of high-level main event wrestling combined with its famous undercard silliness makes it one of the most consistently entertaining promotions in the entire world. Its roster is filled to bursting with some of the most talented pro wrestlers anywhere in the world, and this November marks the start of their annual round robin tournament, the D-oh Grand Prix.
A round robin tournament format allows for the best of DDT to really showcase their abilities in singles matches, making it a must watch for fans of Japanese professional wrestling. And there were few match ups slated for the tournament that I anticipated more than HARASHIMA vs. Kazusada Higuchi.
Quite simply, HARASHIMA and Higuchi don’t miss. This holds true for their pairing as opponents but it’s also true for both men as individuals. The floor that either man has on any given performance of theirs is incredibly high. Either of these two on any given card pretty much guarantees quality. No shock then that they were entrusted with opening the D-oh Grand Prix as the first tournament match for the year.
It’s a great match that plays off the size differential between the two men in clever and interesting ways. The bout opens with HARASHIMA trying to ground the battle early, he wants to take Higuchi down to the mat where HARASHIMA believes that he has the advantage. The problem is that Higuchi’s size and power makes it difficult for HARASHIMA to maneuver the bigger man.
Of course, HARASHIMA’s able to get the advantage by attacking Higuchi’s leg—a classic tactic against a larger opponent. A combination of stiff kicks to the thigh and some really snappy dragon screw leg whips soften up Higuchi’s base. Despite being the larger man, Higuchi doesn’t skimp on the selling here. He perfectly gets across his compromised base, perhaps best illustrated when he can barely make it to the corner when HARASHIMA whips him in.
The transition into Higuchi’s comeback comes when HARASHIMA tries to play Higuchi’s power game against him. HARASHIMA takes Higuchi off the top with a superplex. Rather than just go for a cover to capitalize, HARASHIMA goes for a second suplex on the mat which Higuch is able to counter into a vicious slam of his own. I love that even in this moment, getting the advantage back in his favor, Higuchi puts over how shattered his knee is when dropping his weight on it to slam HARASHIMA. It’s little things like that that turn good matches into great matches.
Perhaps my favorite detail in all of this though is the way that HARASHIMA attempts to use Higuchi’s size against him. This is played out with three different spots all involving HARASHIMA using the ropes to try and get an advantage. In the opening moments, Higuchi has his opponent up on his shoulders but HARASHIMA’s able to reach out to grab the top rope and pull himself free. This leads straight into the first dragon screw that begins the leg work portion of the match.
The second time this happens, Higuchi again has HARASHIMA up on his shoulders in a similar position. Again, because HARASHIMA’s up so high, he’s able to use his legs to spring off the top rope and take Higuchi down to the mat with a back body drop. Wise to HARASHIMA’s game this time, Higuchi holds onto HARASHIMA and powers through to nail a massive sitout powerbomb.
In the closing moments of the match, HARASHIMA springs to the top rope to leap onto Higuchi and gets caught perched on the top. Higuchi proceeds to hit his finishing Brain Claw Slam off the top rope, which leads straight to the finish of Higuchi hitting the Brain Claw Slam again for the victory.
Those three spots make great markers that segment this match in a neat way. It’s a nice structural trick, intentional or not, that gives shape to a match like this.
Don’t get me wrong though, beyond subtle little structural intricacies, this match also goes incredibly hard. HARASHIMA never holds back with his kicks and they are just thunderous. Higuchi holds firm too when absorbing those kicks too, so he’s taking on the full brunt of the impact. Of course, Higuchi is one of the best strikers in the company too. His chops look delightful and he also throws one of the best shoot headbutts in a year where Takuya Nomura became champion in BJW for doing cool shoot headbutts.
There’s so much to love about this match all tied up into a neat little 16-minute package. Probably one of the best matches in Japan all year—hell, I’m comfortable enough to say it’s better than any of the G1 tournament matches of this past year too. I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, the Wrestle Universe streaming service that hosts all of DDT’s shows is giving away the entire year end for free to new users, with your first charge coming in January 2022. Getting this match plus the rest of this tournament for free sounds like a pretty good deal to me. A wonderful start to the D-oh Grand Prix 2021 II, and hopefully a sign of great things to come from this tournament.