KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 01/04/2017) God, finally a match that has little chance of being anything less than good. All things considered, this is probably the match I’m most excited about on this card. Hiromu’s entrance and general demeanor here are both cool, even if I think it’s a little much. He shoves KUSHIDA off the ropes during his entrance, getting right down to business, and KUSHIDA responds by kicking him to the floor and hitting a big flip dive off the top. Back in the ring, the champ goes right after Hiromu’s arm, and Hiromu does well to sell the armwork as well as to fight it. Hiromu turns things around with some speed and misdirection before destroying poor KUSHIDA with a sunset flip powerbomb off the apron and to the floor. It looks like KUSHIDA’s head crashes against the guard rail on the way down, but it’s hard to tell. In any case, it immediately kicks up the match a few notches and creates a huge amount of sympathy for our valiant babyface champion. Hiromu takes his time with laying into KUSHIDA, and KUSHIDA makes him pay for it with a mean flatliner into the corner and a MUCH meaner cartwheel dropkick. KUSHIDA tries to follow it up with more of his usual offense, but Hiromu cuts him off with a repeating German suplex. Afterward, Hiromu goes for a hurricanrana off the top to KUSHIDA as he stood by the ropes, probably attempting to rana him to the floor, but it sadly doesn’t work. In any case, KUSHIDA powders and Hiromu hits him with his senton off the top, coming down hard, and it’s clear that he hurts himself. Back in the ring, a Meteora earns him a two count, and a Pele kick from the champ puts them both down for the count. KUSHIDA flips through a second attempt at the sunset flip powerbomb off the apron, and when Hiromu dives at him off the apron with a dropkick, KUSHIDA catches him on the way down in a cross armbreaker in a goofy highspot that I like anyway. KUSHIDA measures a few kicks to Hiromu’s arm back in the ring, and the challenger really fights a Hoverboard Lock attempt. Hiromu struggles to get to the ropes, and KUSHIDA in turn does well to fight that, with both of them making this submission feel like a huge deal. When KUSHIDA tries to roll back towards the middle of the ring to prevent Hiromu from getting to the ropes, Hiromu muscles him up for a Time Bomb attempt, which KUSHIDA reverses into a wheelbarrow victory roll for a two count. KUSHIDA is right on the challenger afterward, going for a bodyscissors kimura, but Hiromu frees himself. After some rope running, KUSHIDA again goes for the kimura, but Hiromu continues to fight it, knowing that he’s finished if it’s locked in. KUSHIDA goes for his fastball special punch, and while Hiromu cuts him off with one of his own, KUSHIDA has enough left in him to hit a short jab anyway, sending both men slowly down to the mat. It’s a gradual thing, not an immediate collapse, and I really like it, though it sadly doesn’t get quite the crowd reaction I’m sure they were going for. Back on his feet, KUSHIDA rushes at Hiromu, who sends him into the corner with a big belly to belly. Sitting the champ up on the top rope, Hiromu is briefly caught in a kimura, though he frees himself and hits a Salamander off the second rope for a nearfall. He follows it up with a DVD into the corner, and then the Time Bomb for the win. Not bad at all, this match. It’s a bit slow going at points, and there’s a bit of sloppiness here and there, but it tells a good story of a technical, defending champion being overcome by a challenger just a little too new and too different for him despite some choice armwork. It’s not perfect, but the finishing stretch is quite exciting and more importantly quite gripping, which is all I can ask for.