Hey wrestling heads. I’ve been away a bit, focusing on getting more stuff on my fiction blog nearzone.com in order. Now I’ve got those ducks in a row, I hope to be posting here much more often. Let’s get it going.
Early in the American morning on that most American of days, an American was in Japan doing what Americans are most known for: being obnoxious and lording their greatness over everyone else. The man in question? AJ Styles, the reigning and defending IWGP Heavyweight Champion. As the holder of one of the (if not the definite) most prestigious championships in the world, Styles has a lot to brag about. This is his second run with the belt which proves to everyone who didn’t know that he’s not just a TV-boosted fluke, he is real as far as New Japan’s concerned and he’s looking ready to continue his dominance. He’s skilled in all manners of the game from mat wrestling to high flying, and he has one of the best counter weapons in the game, namely his Pele Kick. He has never expressed doubt about his ability to beat his opponent going into Dominion, a man he first got to know when the tables were turned as far as native and foreigner.
That man, the challenger, is none other than “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada. He cut his teeth in New Japan but then spent a long period in TNA, the American league which AJ Styles arguably built from the ground up. Unlike Styles, Okada went to TNA as an unknown and he left much the same, but on his return he was picked up by Gedo and refashioned, pushed into becoming the wrestling marvel he is today. Okada has had a long road back to this point after losing the title to Styles two years ago but he stands ready to reclaim what he feels is his. Where Styles is a king of all trades Okada is just a jack, but what puts Okada over the edge is his precision and fluidity, his absolute professional quality. His dropkick is perhaps the most feared in the sport for stopping power and versatility, and he’s used the tombstone piledriver to great effect as well. The question to be answered, of course, is will all that be enough to defeat “The Phenomenal One”?
NJPW Dominion • 5 July 2015
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
AJ Styles© vs Kazuchika Okada
From the word go we can see that not only are these two very confident competitors, they also know each other extremely well, a thread that runs throughout the match. They struggle for grappling advantage at the beginning before AJ, with the help of his Bullet Club buddies at ringside, manages to pull ahead. Okada stays competitive but it’s clear that AJ’s in full control of things. Things start to turn around when the referee Red Shoes (Hiroyoki Unno) finally gets fed up with the shenanigans and tells Bullet Club to “SUCK IT!”, which is Japanese for “You have to leave.” The change isn’t immediate as Styles immediately gets vicious in his frustration. However, a few choice dropkick counters — catching Styles coming off the top, then crotching him on the ropes and sending him to the floor — brought Okada right back into competitiveness. Both guys started to bring out their big guns, Styles landing a springboard 450 splash and Okada finally securing the tombstone piledriver, but both got near falls. Throughout the match Okada had been successful in defending against the dreaded Styles Clash, but now Styles went for it with gusto. A blistering sequence ensued as both men tried to score their finish while avoiding the other’s. Only after it seemed like every angle had been exhausted did Okada score a modified Rainmaker, and then another, earning his three count and the heavyweight title.
It is really difficult to overstate how good AJ Styles is. Throughout his career he’s managed to shine in whatever role given to him and in New Japan he seems to be relishing the chance to do what he perhaps wasn’t able to back stateside. Here in this match he was able to play the role of Bullet Club patriarch to its full, not only in how he reacted to the Biz Cliz but also in his handling of Okada. Of course, that relationship of veteran/youngster has been well established but, especially in matches of this magnitude with a star of Okada’s caliber, these aspects of the story can often get lost. Here it seemed very clear to me that AJ was the one working on wits and Okada was working on desperation and guts. Okada played his part perfectly, confident of course but always a half-step behind, always needing to invent a new trick in order to have one not in Styles’s bag.
The story arc was strong but, as per my usual drumbeat, I would have liked to see more of a sense of exploiting and working on weaknesses. Neither guy really made an effort to focus on an area that they’d hurt before or really seemed set on building up to a certain finish. The Styles Clash was definitely put over as the thing-you-avoid-at-all-costs (for good reason) but I never felt like Styles was doing anything really to try and get Okada weakened for it. Perhaps there’s some of this that would be sort of patched over if I could understand the commentary. I feel like if we’d had Styles gradually work on Okada’s leg, for example, it could have heightened the tension further; even if Okada is fairly good for most of the match, at the very end that weakness can flare up, making every little bit that Okada has to fight for that much more dangerous. However, as attrition matches go, this is certainly the way to execute it. Good work from everybody involved here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep running Styles/Okada on top.
Bottom Line: A great “new heavyweight” title match between two of the best going. Short on strategy but long on drama and extended on action.