Welcome to Looking Back. Here, I will be reviewing either wrestling matches or rivalries, trying to explain as well as I can how much I enjoyed said match or rivalry, as well as narrating it. For this third article, let’s go back to December 2th 2016, in Pro Wrestling NOAH. The Global League winner Minoru Suzuki challenged Katsuhiko Nakajima for the GHC Heavyweight championship match, where the loser would have to leave the promotion.
Nakajima had defeated Suzuki-Gun member Takashi Sugiura on October 23rd in Yokohama, rising up as the man having to end the faction’s reign of terror in NOAH.
Anyone knowing about Suzuki-Gun’s time in Pro Wrestling NOAH will get the importance of this match. Suzuki-Gun had been ruling the promotion for nearly two years when Nakajima finally took the Heavyweight championship away from Sugiura. Beforehand, the only non Suzuki-Gun members to capture the championship were Naomichi Marufuji and Go Shiozaki, who kept the belt away from the villainous faction for a total of 132 days, since the first time Suzuki became champion in March 2015.
This encounter is the second time Nakajima and Suzuki face off, as they battled earlier in the year, where Nakajima got the win. Now, it is time for Nakajima to defend his newly won championship for the first time, in the most tense atmosphere possible. If he loses, who will save NOAH ?
Right from the bat, and by that I mean once both wrestlers make their entrance, you understand how serious the matter is, as determination can be seen right through their eyes. Suzuki gets into the champion’s face, who shows no intimidation and pushes his opponent back.
The bell rings, both men take their time sizing up each other, being cautious. They know what the other can do. Going into a first test of strength, Nakajima pushes Suzuki in the ropes, as both men take a more defensive stance. After a tense moment, Nakajima slaps Suzuk’s chest and backs down. This attitude won’t last long, as right when both seemed to go back to grappling, Suzuki tries kicking his opponent in the chest, but Nakajima dodges, which leads to a first striking sequence, showing that this is more than a match, this is going to be an all-out war if it has to be. Quickly, Suzuki answers to Nakajima’s strikes with a boot to the face, with Nakajima answering back with the same move, going back and forth until Nakajima puts Suzuki to the mat with a boot of his own after running into the ropes. The champion wants to establish dominance early, and as Suzuki goes back on his feet, he starts kicking him in the chest. However, Suzuki blocks the third attempt, drops Nakajima on the mat while holding his left leg and applies a heel hook you should be quite aware of if you watched any Suzuki match. Nakajima’s kicks being his biggest weapon outside of the Vertical Spike, damaging the legs is the strategy to go with, and Suzuki didn’t fail to see it. Nakajima manages to roll himself and Suzuki near the ropes, but Suzuki doesn’t quite let go of the hold, and Nakajima having his hands on one of Suzuki’s leg, the referee tries his best forcing both men to let go, as Suzuki kicks Nakajima while talking to him, probably not in the nicest of ways. Ultimately, both men let go and quickly go back on their feet as they are now on the apron. Nakajima launches another striking contest, where this time it is Suzuki getting the upper hand, even booting Nakajima again. The latter tried to reply with a boot of his own, but got caught, dropped by Suzuki, who then used the middle rope as he applies another leg lock on Nakajima, waiting until the last second to let go, in pure Suzuki fashion.
As Nakajima drops on the outside, Suzuki follows him and uses one of the barrier in a similar way to the one he just used with the middle rope, keeping the violent assault going. Suzuki decides to inflict more damage by using a chair, but the referee tries to take the chair away from Suzuki, which he will do. Too bad he got dropped into the barrier by Suzuki with it. With the referee supposedly down, Suzuki goes even further and takes Nakajima into the stands where fans are seated, striking him with kicks to the chest and applying the same heel hook he first went with, as the referee came back and told Suzuki to, again, let go of the hold. Suzuki does that, but quickly goes back on the attack, landing a chairshot on Nakajima’s leg. At this point in the match, things look really bad for the champion. Ultimately, both men get back into the ring, and a confident Suzuki lands some forearm strikes and runs in the ropes to gain momentum. Nakajima tried to land a kick with his left leg, but Suzuki quickly anticipated and slid to force his opponent to change his mind, grabbing the right leg and again applying the now infamous hold. Suzuki now oozes confidence as he fully controls the match. Nakajima tries as much as he can to not tap, throwing his arms in the air, slamming the mat and even grabbing the referee, as his close friend Masa Kitamiya, along with other NOAH wrestlers, encourages him at ringside. Nakajima finally grabs the rope, but again Suzuki waits until the last moment to let go of his hold. Then Suzuki tells Nakajima to get up, and both men go for another exchange of forearm strikes, all resonating throughout Koruaken Hall. Nakajima ends the striking exchange with a kick to the chest, tries to following with another kick but gets caught again, receiving elbows to the leg, as well as a slap to the face from Suzuki as a punishment, putting Nakajima in the corner. Suzuki tries to follow up with a running boot, but Nakajima dodges, propulsing Suzuki in the corner, kicks him in the head and follows up with a backdrop suplex, but he accompanies Suzuki on the mat as he needs time to recuperate from the damage done to his right leg.
Both men get up, Suzuki kicks Nakajima’s head, pushing him in the corner, but as he runs towards him, gets caught by three thrust kicks and slap, putting Suzuki on one knee. Nakajima instantly goes for his signature Sleeper Hold, keeping the hold for a whole minute, where Suzuki goes from looking in quite some pain, which can be unusual, to look like he is nearly passing out, which is even more unusual. Realizing it, Nakajima goes for his finisher and lands it ! One, two… Suzuki kicks out. Nakajima went all out quickly, but it still isn’t enough to put the mad Suzuki away. Nakajima puts Suzuki in a sitting position, wanting to follow with a penalty kick, but gets caught again. This time, Nakajima frees himself after striking Suzuki, gets slapped, but knocks Suzuki out with a kick to the head. Nakajima wants to follow up but the referee stops him, Suzuki genuinely looks like he is out, so the referee checks on him to see if he can continue, but Suzuki doesn’t even move, as Nakajima gets frustrated because he can’t follow up. Finally the referee lets him go on, so Nakajima tries to get Suzuki back up on his feet, which is now hard since Suzuki still has a hard time moving. Nakajima does put his opponent back up and strikes him with forearms, which seems to wake Suzuki up a bit, even though he still cannot answer to Nakajima’s strikes. Nakajima runs towards the ropes to follow up, but a woken up Suzuki takes Nakajima by surprise with a running dropkick. Suzuki is the first one to get back up this time, and with a grin on his face, grabs Nakajima’s head as he was also getting back up, and starts striking him. Nakajima tries to asnwer back, but Suzuki takes the upper hand again, landing strike after strike, slap after slap, until he unleashes his signature flurry of slaps on Nakajima. The latter tries to strike back, but Suzuki moves around Nakajima and catches him in his own Sleeper Hold. After applying the hold for around the same amount of time Nakajima did earlier, Suzuki goes for his finisher, the Gotch Style Piledriver. However, as he takes time yelling, Nakajima puts his arms around Suzuki’s legs, trying to prevent his opponent to lift him and hit his move. Nakajima ultimately manages to drop Suzuki over his back, and follows up with a dropkick. Both men need more time to get back on their feet, but once they do, they go back to stiff strikes, until Suzuki pushes the referee on Nakajima, kicks his opponent and strikes him down. He then calls out for his Suzuki-Gun stablemates to come out, but no Taichi, Desperado, Kanemaru, KES or even Sugiura is showing up to help their leader. Suzuki starts looking very preoccupied and his attention draws away from Nakajima, who still eats a few strikes and a kick to the chest as he tried getting up. Suzuki keeps calling for his faction to come out, as a stumbling Nakajima is back on his feet. Suzuki proceeds to go after Nakajima again with forearms, and both once again exchages a few of them, until Suzuki starts smiling and moves his head saying “no”, and then strikes Nakajima so hard to put him in the ropes. Go Shiozaki encourages Nakajima at ringside while Suzuki yells at him, which sparks Nakajima up as both men go for another striking exchange. This time, Nakajima’s fighting spirit gives him the ability to answer to his opponent’s strikes, as Suzuki starts showing signs of slowing down. The two keep exchanging blows until Suzuki starts launching really weak forearms, and as he tries to land another one, you see him failing to do so. Nakajima keeps the flurry of strikes going, finishing with a running forearm, knocking Suzuki down. Nakajima goes for the pin, but Suzuki kicks nearly instantly for a quick one count. Nakajima then goes for an irish whip, countered by Suzuki who then follows Nakajima in the ropes. The champion anticipated and goes for a roundhouse kick, which Suzuki dodges, but he fails to dodge the following thrust kick. Nakajima pins Suzuki again, one count again. He lands a german suplex and maintains the hold for the pinfall, but again Suzuki kicks out at one.
Nakajima follows up with a dropkick and another PK, this one not being caught, and goes for the pin again, this time getting a nearfall, finally. How much more does it take to put the machine Suzuki away ?
Nakajima pumps up, yells at Suzuki who insults him as he gets up, and hits him with a devastating high kick right to the head. He then goes for another Vertical Spike, does his pose, yells, gets Suzuki up… And lands it for the second time ! One… Two… Three !
Katsuhiko Nakajima vanquished the evil plaguing NOAH for nearly two years, literally kicking Suzuki out of the promotion he swore to take over. This, however, wouldn’t be the absolute end for Suzuki, as Takashi Sugiura, who came out alongside Desperado and Kanemaru after the match, attacked both his stablemates as well as Suzuki, hitting him with an Olympic Slam and taking off his Suzuki-Gun shirt, signaling he is done with the group. As for Nakajima, he just won the biggest match of his career, he now is in the position to lead NOAH in this new age with no Suzuki-Gun, and leaves as a proven champion, ready take the next step.
Now, why did I like this match ? I liked it because it was hard-hitting and something quite different from what you might see these days, even in a company like New Japan. NOAH being known for hosting hard hitting matches, this match was no exception, and the story told in that match was great. Opposing the dominant force that is Minoru Suzuki to someone like Nakajima, who played his role perfectly as the man who had everything to prove. Seeing Suzuki panicking is a odd, but quite satisfying sight considering the context of the match, as not only he didn’t receive the help he wanted, but he just couldn’t put Nakajima away, and left just enough openings for the champion to take over, as he showed resilience.
One little thing to point out is that Nakajima was possibly a bit off with his selling of the leg, but it didn’t hurt the match at all.