Satoshi Kojima vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
4 January, 2011
Tokyo Dome; Tokyo, Japan
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
I am pretty unfamiliar with the work of these two guys. As you can tell by my selection of matches, I tend to lean more towards the old All-Japan or NOAH style when it comes to my puroresu viewing. I should probably change that. I'm sure there is just as much good Japanese stuff as there is good lucha stuff. To me, it seems like all the current stuff from Japan gets put up on torrents, where the Mexican stuff gets put on YouTube.
Anyway, I liked this match a lot. I do not know if there is any backstory between the two, but I do know this: the January 4th Tokyo Dome show is either the second or third biggest wrestling show of the year (Behind Wrestlemania, and depending on the card, CMLL's Anniversario). It is by far the biggest show in Japan on a regular basis. Regardless of this being called "WrestleKingdom 5", NJPW has actually been having a big show at the Tokyo Dome every January 4th since 1996 - and I think the tradition of a big show on January 4th goes back farther than that. What this means is that these two guys were going to bring the goods, because this was the main event of the biggest show of the year.
Kojima seems to be wearing a bandage on his left arm, so naturally Tanahashi went to work on his right arm. Kojima battled back and went after Tanahashi's legs, and as easily as that, the psychology to the match is established. In a surprising turn, the match kinda breaks down into an exchange of elbows, and the match quickly turned into "avoid the other guy's signature move" - with Tanahashi dodging and countering Kojima's Diamondcutter/AceCrusher/RKO, and Kojima avoiding Tanahashi's Reverse DDT variation.
Here is where NJPW is more similar to US style wrestling than a group like NOAH, for instance. In a classic NOAH or AJPW match, the wrestlers would have started pounding each other in teh head, because as the match went on, they were going to do bigger and bigger moves where the other guy would land on their head. A body part would be picked out perhaps, which would cause someone to drop defenses, and be ripe for a head-drop. NJPW seems to be more in the vein of picking out a body part to wear your opponent down, so that you may hit your signature move. It is a subtle difference, but a big one.
Here, Tanahashi is obviously looking to hit his frog splash on Kojima, and after sever attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, he finally hits it to get the pinfall, and the championship. While I certainly wouldn't put this match ahead of a "Misawa-Kobashi" classic, when you compare it apples-to-apples with the main event of a recent Wrestlemania, I certainly think this would be a far superior match to just about anything (except maybe last year's Undertaker/Michales match). I do not see how you could watch this match and not think it blows away something like HHH/Cena or Cena/Orton.