Hello ladies and gentlemen, it’s Val again ! I am back with another article, and this time, I wanted to look back on one of my favourite matches of 2021.
A match which I also consider to be one of the best one to happen so far this year. A match which I think cannot be praised enough for what it accomplished.
Today, I will tell why you why I believe HARASHIMA vs Yukio Sakaguchi from March 28th’s DDT Judgement show is the perfect pro wrestling match !
Professional wrestling is a medium as interesting as it is diversified. Two matches rarely ever look the same, yet there aren’t that many different goals to accomplish with said matches. Another interesting thing is, two matches can have drastically different lengths, and end up accomplishing very similar things. In the modern day, the popularization of « epics » lasting a bare minimum of 25 minutes, mainly through New Japan Pro Wrestling’s growing worldwide popularity throughout the 2010’s, has led a whole section of the wrestling fandom to believe that length was a key component in making a match « epic », filled with drama and twists alike.
My goal today is to deconstruct this belief. While I am far off being the first one to discuss this topic, whether it may be through an article, a video or a series of tweets, I want to use an example which goes against everything surrounding this belief. In a sense, redefining what « epic » in pro wrestling means, or at the very least can be. In order to do that, I suggest we look at DDT, and go back to March 28th 2021, and the Judgement event.
HARASHIMA and Yukio Sakaguchi. DDT’s longtime Ace figure and the former MMA fighter, and core member of the Eruption trio. These two men have wrestled many times before, most notably for the promotion’s richest prize in the KO-D Openweight championship. This little tidbit only serves a contextual purpose here, as the match I intend on discussing has no such stakes in line. This match from DDT Judgement served as a preview for the eventual KO-D Tag Team championship match between then champions Sakaguchi and Kazusada Higuchi of Eruption, against HARASHIMA and BJW’s Yuji Okabayashi, dubbed as Smile Pissari.
With all of this in mind, let’s just straight into the action, shall we ?
As most of you are likely aware, wrestling matches have a structure to them. In the case of this match, it takes all the structural elements you would find in a typical main event. A « feeling out sequence » to start off, followed by a battle on the mat to see who can take the upper hand first. We then move on to the outside sequence, creating another shift in the match’s dynamic, leading right into the first striking exchange. An exchange serving as another way to measure who holds the advantage. This exchange gets more and more intense, culminating in a burst of a finishing stretch where both men hit their N°1 striking move : Kami No Migi Hiza for Sakaguchi, and Somato for HARASHIMA. The latter wins this battle, nailing his move last after countering Sakaguchi’s second attempt with a jumping knee strike. HARASHIMA, who came out on top during every single phase on this match, barely manages to keep Sakaguchi down for the three count, thus winning this match.
The right man won, after said man got to lock the first actual hold of the match, forcing his opponent into a rope break. After taking the upper hand on the outside by dropping Sakaguchi on the apron twice. After showing he was gradually gaining the advantage during the kicking contest. All of this done, not in 10, 15, 20 or even 30 minutes, but 6. It took these two men 6 minutes to tell a very simple and compelling story, while building up to their upcoming title match, and emulating the intensity you would expect from two wrestlers who have fought many times, and thus know each other perfectly. In that sense, by the time the finishing stretch happens, there is some kind of « epicness » being felt.
To sum it all up, having the ability to condense all the different phases of a match only to keep the most important elements of the story you are trying to tell, having the ability to reduce 20+ minutes worth of storytelling in just 6 minutes is what, to me, makes this HARASHIMA vs Yukio Sakaguchi match, the perfect wrestling match. It proves that length isn’t a pivotal element of storytelling, even more so when the level of skill between all parties involved is high enough to encapsulate all the elements you want to incorporate, in a very short timeframe.
Of course, this means such a performance isn’t accessible to every performer. However, don’t let this make you think that more length means an easier way to tell your story : At the end of the day, the length is one of many tools the wrestlers have at their disposal, and it’s up to them to make the best use of the time they have.
Lastly, another reason I believe this match is perfect is, because of how much it goes straight to the point, it may very well be one of those matches you want to initiate someone to wrestling with. While you can see it with a slightly deeper layer depending on your knowledge, I have the firm belief this is the kind of match which can captivate a non-fan, without needing this person to remain focus for a lengthy period of time.