Welcome to Looking Back. Here, I will be reviewing either matches or rivalries I really enjoyed, trying to explain as well as I can how much I loved said match or rivalry. For this second review, I’ll be going over a first time ever between the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, and Naomichi Marufuji, in the first night of the G1 Climax 26.
This match signs Marufuji’s comeback to New Japan, his first match in three years. Last time was against Shinsuke Nakamura at King of Pro Wrestling for the Intercontinental Championship, where he lost to the King of Strong Style. This is also his second G1 Climax, as he participated in 2012, finishing with 8 points.
The G1 Climax is a great time to host this kind of match. As there is basically no background between the two wrestlers, the odds are simple. Win to get two points in the tournament, and show who has the edge over the other. Basically, the story of the match is all about what happens in it.
Both men start the match feeling confident, but take their time to figure their opponent out. Quickly, Okada shows off his strength by maintaining head locks and tackling Marufuji, posing afterwards, furthermore showing his confidence. Right after though, you get a faster sequence with a first Rainmaker attempt by Okada, as Murufuji dodges and quickly tries both Ko-oh and a kick, both dodged by Okada, who then gets to the corner as he seems to realize who he actually faces. The match won’t be easy and he doesn’t want to let Marufuji hit him with these strikes. Okada keeps on trying to wear down his opponent, snapmare followed by a dropkick, another lock the head and neck, Okada works methodically.
Then comes the momentum changer. Okada manages to get Marufuji in the corner and sits him on it, but as he goes for his dropkick, Marufuji kicks his arm which gives him time as Okada has to step away. Marufuji then, still on the ropes, jumps and does a dropkick right in Okada’s right arm, as he was holding the upper rope with his hand. Only two moves, and you can already see and hear Okada being in pain, rolling on the outside. Marufuji follows and pushes him arm first in the ring post, then proceeds to use the barricade to damage Okada’s arm. Marufuji then goes back in the ring and waits for Okada, and right at the moment the Rainmaker comes back in, Marufuji goes back to the damaged arm.
The plan is clear, the more damage is inflicted on Okada’s arm, the more chances you get of kicking out of his finisher. Okada tries to fight back but quickly feels the wrath of Marufuji’s chops, chopping him throughout the ring and blocking him in the corner for a brief moment, using the opportunity to attack Okada’s arm a bit more. Going for an irish whip, Okada reverses with one of his own, and throws Marufuji over his back landing flat on it, giving the champion time to recover. That sequence shows the dynamic of the match. Marufuji being the effective worker, having his strategy and Okada using his strength advantage as a counter. Okada follows with a bunch of elbow strikes and a slam, then climbs on the ropes, probably thinking about the elbow drop, but Marufuji quickly goes in Okada’s corner to protect himself as Okada dives and lands on his feet. Okada gives another elbow and runs in the ropes, but is followed and takes a lariat from his opponent. Both men start to get quite tired. Okada rolls out of the ring, but after a moment Marufuji sees him near the ropes and dives right on Okada’s now injured arm. More work on the arm by Marufuji, both outside and inside the ring, then applies an armbar to Okada, who manages to get his foot in the rope, forcing the break. He then gets Okada on the ropes, chopping him and attacking his arm, but Okada counters with a flapjack after a reversed irish whip. Both men then strikes each other, Okada with his right forearm, with less power than usual, and Marufuji with his chops. The latter takes the upper hand, but Okada gets in Marufuji’s face, as he starts to show fighting spirit. After another reversed irish whip, Marufuji counters his opponen and makes him go outside the ring with a dropkick, and follows with a dive over the top rope on Okada. Okada gets back on his feet and counters Marufuji as he tries to throw him in the barricade, but Marufuji uses his foot to stop himself, and, as Okada was sliding back in the ring thinking he would get a break, Marufuji goes a springboard dropkick right on Okada’s head and goes for the pin, only for a two count. He then tries Shiranui but gets pushed in the corner and as he jumped on the second rope, Okada catches him and lands his signature neckbreaker. He follows with a top rope eblow drop, and starts to feel like he got the momentum back, with only two moves.
He does the Rainmaker pose, but he can’t maintain his right arm, showing the damage he took during the whole match. Okada tries his finisher, but is countered with elbow and a knee strike, but Okada follows with an elbow of his own, putting Marufuji in the corner. Okada runs at him but gets a blocking kick, and takes two more for good measure. Marufuji then tries for Shiranui again but Okada puts him on the ropes, back facing the ring. Okada then lands a dropkick on Marufuji’s back. Okada tries the tombstone, but Marufuji escapes and gives him a thrust kick, a slap and another kick to counter, but as he ran in the ropes, Okada catches him with a second dropkick. You can feel the intensity, the crowd is really into it, both men are feeling the effects of all the attacks they took, the end is near.
Okada tries the Rainmaker again, but Marufuji avoids it, tries Ko-oh but misses, Okada catches him with a german suplex, keeps the hold, and again tries for the Rainmaker, but get hit by a kick in the right arm, a superkick and finally Ko-oh from his opponent. The crowd starts to erupt as Marufuji gets hyped up, grabs Okada and goes for Emerald Flowsion (the fisherman version, Pole Shift Shiki Emerald Flowsion). He hits it. 1… 2… 3 ! The Japanese broadcast team and the crowd are wild, I still felt shocked even though I started watching the match while already knowing the result. I believe that may indicate you of how good it was.
One of THE upsets of the whole G1 that year just happened before our eyes. The Pro Wresling NOAH’s star Naomichi Marufuji defeated the mighty champion Kazuchika Okada. The best thing with this match, to me, is how it was built. The more the bout was going on, the more you saw Marufuji getting and managing the keep the advantage over Okada, besides the size and power difference. Here, the veteran Marufuji took Okada to school, as the Rainmaker never really seemed to have an answer, and when he managed to counter his opponent, it never lasted long. You don’t get to see Kazuchika Okada being in such a position a lot, so watching it either at the time or more recently for me, it is still a bit unreal to watch, even more so now that Okada had one, if not the most dominant reign in the recent New Japan history.
This win would only be the first of five during the tournament, as Marufuji finished with 10 points, and he even gets the chance to fight Okada again, this time for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, at the following King of Pro Wrestling show.
As I will now wrap off with this review, I hope you enjoyed reading, whether you already watched this match or not, and hopefully you might want to watch it for the first time or go back watching it.
I also hope, as usual, that I managed to narrate it in a good way.