I believe it was Rocky who declared this “One is the most important rivalries in professional wrestling history.” It’s kind of wild to see this as an opening-night match, but at least it’s the main event.
It’s taken me a long time to come around on Okada. His douchey Rock-wannabe gimmick has always felt a little too authentic to me. But he’s fantastic to watch in the ring, so I’m really looking forward to seeing these two meet again.
Kevin Kelly tells us they’ve met three times before in the G1 tournament, and each time they’ve gone to time-limit draws. They’ve got 30 minutes on the clock for this one, and the crowd is hot for this.
I wanted to attend this event live, but holding this the weekend after 4th of July — when most people are traveling home (and not ready to begin a trip) — made it impossible for me. But seeing this opening makes me wish I’d been able to be there in person. This feels huge.
Tanahashi is looking old and wrestling older, but he manages to turn that into compelling body language charisma; you feel his struggle and you’re rooting for him to keep up. He needs your support to hold his own with Okada!
And Okada goes for the classic smug one-foot-on-the-chest cover. He pulls out the dragon-screw leg whip to turn Tanahashi’s move against him. NJPW talent do such a good job of subtly adjusting their style in face vs face matchups to give the crowd a clear favorite to root for, and before long, Tanahashi is able to return the favor. It’s a subtle, detail-oriented form of storytelling you could be forgiven for not knowing it exists if you only watch WWE.
Fantastic back-and-forth exchange between the two about 15 minutes in that has the crowd completely blowing up. But then Tanahashi goes on the top rope and the camera catches an entire section of the American Airlines arena sitting completely empty.
Okada hits two back-to-back rainmakers at 20 minutes, when I suddenly catch myself thinking “he’s not a natural blonde.” Then Tanahashi hits a dragon suplex and I start paying attention again. But I love how NJPW wrestlers and announcers can make something as small as “wrist control” a pivotal part of match storytelling.
I don’t like that a spinning tombstone piledriver is a transitional move, but at least it sets up a rainmaker and leads to a finish. Okada gets the 2 points and the announcers remind us that no reigning champion has won back-to-back since 2000, stacking the odds against Tanahashi regardless.
Solid main event, but I think I would still give my night 1 match of the night to ZSJ and Sanada by a hair. Okada and Tanahashi held some stature by nature of who was involved. Okada cut an endearingly sincere promo to close the show, in spite of his naturally heelish charisma. Rocky calls him the greatest IWGP champion we’ve ever seen.