First reviewed here.
Distance and time have shown that the Higuchi/Ueno pairing is more of a coin flip than a sure thing. It feels like such an easy match up to make sense of–a fiery undersized worker in Ueno against an absolute behemoth like Higuchi–and yet when given too much room, they often turn in long epics that feel bloated and stretched thin. Luckily, the coin landed the right side up for the King of DDT semi-finals this year.
The greatest benefit of this match is its conciseness. As semi-finals match, they’re keeping things rather brisk so as not to overwork Higuchi who still has to perform in the finals in the main event. But that means that everything they do pack into this 10 minute bout feels consequential. It helps too that Ueno turns in his finest performance of the year here with a rather spirited performance.
There’s a little added thought behind it too behind all that fiery determination. The early match sees Ueno go to the basics to try and control Higuchi, using a beautifully snappy headlock takeover to get the big man down on the mat. Higuchi obviously tries to power through, only letting Ueno headlock takeover him over the ropes and to the floor. It’s a really cool looking moment and opens up Higuchi naturally to take a big dive from Ueno. On the floor another avenue of attack opens for Ueno as well when he dodges an incoming Higuchi lariat that Higuchi nails on the ringpost instead. While last year’s title reign and DDT canon have imparted that Higuchi’s skull is invulnerable to all attacks, his arm is less solid.
Ueno doesn’t stick to the arm work too long, he mostly uses it as a means to halt Higuchi’s momentum and open him up to more impactful offense. But the times that the arm does come into play feel well thought out and purposeful. I like that Ueno uses it to stop Higuchi on the turnbuckles or to break Higuchi’s grasp when attempting a suplex or his Brain Claw Slam. Higuchi takes the proper tact too of not selling his arm like it’s falling apart but giving it enough attention when it’s focused on to establish that it’s a problem. The trick here, of course, is that Ueno’s laying groundwork for Chris Brookes in the final, more than he is establishing a strong narrative for this particular match itself.
Higuchi himself is just so obviously great in this at every turn. His no selling of the head attacks always steals the show, but what really gives his character such depth is when he does begin to sell in earnest. Not only does he bump huge for a man his size, even on things as simple as that early headlock takeover, but he has an unreal sense of how to display a larger man getting worn down by increasing attacks. On offense too, Higuchi’s just breathtaking. There is weight behind everything he does, be it a strike or a slam. He puts his whole self into every single thing and that’s a lot of man to put into every move.
As far as DDT goes this year, this is the closest they got all year to recapturing the magic of the Higuchi title reign from 2022. God knows I’d much rather have this match than the Higuchi/Ueno title match we got last year.