10 Best Wrestling Matches Of 2016: #4 – Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs Kazuchika Okada
Sometimes, the best wrestling match of the year happens four days into January. Wrestle Kingdom, the Japanese equivalent of Wrestlemania, takes place every year on the 4th of January. In recent years, as the renaissance of New Japan Pro Wrestling continues, this has meant some truly spectacular shows. This year’s main event saw its two top stars put on the kind of match that would likely make a lot of western wrestlers feel a little inadequate.
The Ace Vs The Upstart
Hiroshi Tanahashi has been the ‘Ace’ of New Japan for close to a decade. Imagine a star as big as John Cena with the ring aptitude of Shawn Michaels. Tanahashi has held New Japan’s top belt, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, seven times. Going into the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, however, the Ace did not have the gold. Instead, the title was held by the man New Japan hope will eventually replace the aging Tanahashi as its top star: Kazuchika Okada.
Imagine if Vince McMahon came to his senses and decided to put a rocket behind Seth Rollins and push him to the stars and you wouldn’t be far off what Okada is in Japan. A brash young workhorse with a knack for putting on show stealing matches when called upon, Okada goes by the moniker of ‘The Rainmaker’. Donning the kind of lavish robe to the ring that would make Ric Flair blush, fake money falls from the ceiling as he enters the arena. He’s a matinee idol with ring skills which may soon be unsurpassed. And he’s only 29.
But what about the actual match? Okada and Tanahashi have been feuding for so long in New Japan the pair might be hard pressed to show fans anything new. So when when they closed Wrestle Kingdom 10 with a five star match, it was probably time they had your attention.
The Passing Of The Torch
This match perfectly encapsulated the ongoing story between the champ and the ace. Okada was younger, taller and more resilient, but Tanahashi was smarter and more methodical. As the match saw reversal after counter after reversal, Tanahashi attacked Okada’s legs, slowing him down and breaking his vertical base. Okada is known for some big moves, such as the piledriver or his Rainmaker clothesline, but every time he dug deep into his arsenal, Tanahashi schooled him with an unexpected reversal. It was the backbone of the match’s story, and Tanahashi would always get back control. Until the finish, that is.
The psychology and selling here was great, as was Tanahashi and Okada’s understanding of their characters. But there were also some huge spots and big moves – too many to go into here, but if you ask me on Twitter I probably won’t shut up about them.
Ultimately, it took three consecutive Rainmaker clotheslines for Okada to vanquish Tanahashi. In a reversal of the result twelve months earlier, Okada took control and overcame his youth and inexperience. In a lot of ways he inherits a mantle that could see New Japan make a modest breakthrough in North America. Not that they’ll ever surpass the WWE juggernaut, but for a certain type of wrestling fan New Japan’s quality level and consistency reminds them why they love the squared circle.
Incidentally, as it’s now January, you might want to check out Wrestle Kingdom 11, which it’s safe to assume will have a match of the year candidate for 2017 as well.