Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 01/04/2017) This should rule. The promo package before the match does a good job of detailing the careers of these two and hypes me up sufficiently. “Love & Energy”, Tanahashi’s new theme, and his weirdly bubbly entrance do not, though the light show for Naito’s entrance evens things out. Backing the champ into the corner from a lockup, Tanahashi lands a few shots to the man’s kidneys before Naito turns things around. Tanahashi in turn grabs at Naito’s hair and puts him down with a dropkick, unafraid to play a little dirty, but Naito’s speed proves to be a problem for him. Naito knows it and begins to target the ace’s knee in order to worsen things, spending the better part of ten minutes on this game plan. Tanahashi is able to make a feeble comeback, and really only retains control by going after Naito’s knee and kidneys. Naito’s knee isn’t worked over nearly as much as Tanahashi’s, but it’s enough to give him trouble, as he falters in a tornado DDT off the ropes, allowing the ace to hit a dragon screw in the ropes and then a sling blade on the apron, topping it off with a super mean High Fly Flow to the floor that probably gave Naito a concussion. The champ struggles to get to his feet afterward, and Tanahashi taunts him with his Tranquilo pose. Back in the ring, both men are feeling the legwork just enough to not be able to pull off their usual offense, and Naito has to resort to a roundabout low blow to regain control. A big rana off the top and bridging German suplex from Naito target Tanahashi’s famously bad back and neck, though the damage to his knee prevent him from getting the leverage he needs on the bridge, and Tanahashi kicks out. Naito earns another nearfall from the Gloria. His Destino and tornado DDT attempts are thwarted, so he goes back to Tanahashi’s knee, locking in a weird faux-trailer hitch that looks totally improvised as well as sort of bad. With a big effort, Tanahashi is able to reverse it into a high angle cloverleaf, and Naito is barely able to make it to the ropes before seemingly passing out from the pain. Tanahashi continues his onslaught, and when Naito reverses an Irish whip, Tanahashi uses the momentum he otherwise wouldn’t have on his bad leg to hit a nifty sling blade. Good spot there. He sort of ruins it by hitting a regular sling blade right afterward, though Naito bumps it real good (i.e. unsafely). Waiting for Naito to get to his feet (which takes so long that it’s obvious there was some miscommunication), Tanahashi hits another High Fly Flow to his standing opponent, though a regular one a moment later misses. Naito connects with a Destino, but an attempt at a second one is turned into a dragon screw neckwhip that puts both men down for the count. Feels very odd to have two spots in a row where someone hits their finisher but doesn’t go for the pin, only to have the second finisher be reversed or missed. Struggling up to their feet, both men trade forearms and shots to the knee. Tanahashi connects with a quick jab and follows it up with a good dragon suplex for two, springing to the top rope for another High Fly Flow, this time to Naito’s back. He shoves Naito over and climbs the ropes yet again, but this time Naito is able to get his knees up and block the High Fly Flow, though he further injures himself in the process. Slowly, both men rise to their feet, and Naito is able to hit an enzuigiri and reverse tornado DDT (which commentary refers to as a “swing Destino”) for a big nearfall that was basically a three count, topping it off with a regular Destino for the win. Not bad in any sense, though more typical than I’d like, fitting into the Tanahashi/NJPW big match formula and offering little other than that. The legwork wasn’t exactly compelling outside of a few moments (compare it to the junior title match earlier in the night), and being that it comprised a good 80% of the match, it means there’s little left that truly shines here. Fun to watch, to be sure, but a disappointment from what I pegged as being the match of the night.