Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki
G1 Climax Block B Match
Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, Yokohama, Japan
(reviewed 08/09/2017) As of this writing, I haven’t seen the previous match between these two from the New Beginning, so I was worried about missing any escalation or callbacks to that match. Thankfully it seems like this match is bad all on its own, so I’m not missing much. Well, I shouldn’t say outright bad. There’s a fair amount of stuff to enjoy here. They start with the usual sort of opening, real basic stuff, before Suzuki begins to go after Okada’s taped-up neck, which quickly becomes the central focus of the match. To his credit, Okada sells the neck work quite well most of the way through, though he goes out of his way to hit a few of his less-common signatures that require him to land on his neck (straight jacket neckbreaker, stalling fireman’s carry slam/neckbreaker) as well as a big one off the top rope (missile dropkick), which is infuriating but I guess par for the course with NJPW at this point. You can’t not hit your big moves, god forbid. Aside from that, though, the match is pretty compelling when Suzuki is plying his trade and Okada is doing some of his best selling as of late. His facials are weak in comparison to Suzuki, which almost isn’t fair considering that Suzuki is an all-time great in that regard, but most of his expressions here are laughable at best. So too this recurring quasi-heel turn tease that I think they’re going for, where Okada’s laughing and smiling at an opponent who is kicking his ass before he goes and does something vaguely heel-oriented (in this case the Gotch-style tombstone). It’s not nearly as overt as it was in the Kojima match and thus it feels so empty. If this eventually leads to him snapping or whatever, I guess that would make it alright, but here and now it just feels dumb, because it’s a “embrace the enemy’s tactics/beat them at their own game” sort of theme that doesn’t go much of anywhere when Okada hits one move that is sort of like something Suzuki does and doesn’t do it nearly so well.
The match continues and Okada starts making his slow comeback, enduring a bunch of holds along the way. There’s probably five whole minutes of sitting in submissions during this match, which isn’t terrible considering that Suzuki is the master of milking holds (peep the reaction to when he gets the leg over Okada’s head on the octopus hold), but it’s a lot of waiting around and Okada just, I dunno, gritting his teeth and bearing it instead of fighting back. I guess you could argue that neck/nerve damage can be momentarily paralytic, which is a fair argument, but I’d say that it A.) makes for a boring match and B.) should logically lead to Suzuki winning as soon as Red Shoes realizes that Okada can’t move. In any case, he endures all of this and fires back with a few half-Rainmakers that don’t lead to the finish because of his general exhaustion and neck/nerve damage. There’s a big slap exchange sequence that is fun in theory and not terrible in execution, but Okada is just not able to hold a candle to Suzuki’s strikes 90% of the time, and it’s not like Suzuki gives the spot his all either. Eventually when it looks like Suzuki’s finally slapped the fire out of him and Okada is all but finished, he manages to connect with a full Rainmaker that puts both of them down for the count. There’s a great shot where Gedo screams at Okada to go cover his opponent, but he can’t make it in time and the bell rings for the thirty minute draw.
Again, I should say, not outright bad. There’s a lot of good Suzuki submissions and good Okada selling (up until the last ten or so, where it reverts to general purpose exhaustion selling, which is damn hard to get right, I think) and some alright striking. For a thirty minute draw, it doesn’t exactly speed by but it sure doesn’t feel its length either. When it was announced that there was one minute left in the match, the thought first occurred to me that this was going long and it might go to a draw, so I’d take that as a compliment. But along with these positives there’s also a lot of meandering, especially towards the end when they go full Suzuki/Sugiura, and Okada’s sure as shit a far cry from the man who nearly paralyzed him back in 2009. His offense in general, slaps aside, is pretty weak here, I think. Suzuki does great here, but not the sort of great that carries a 30 minute draw with Okada to above pretty good. Not sure how their 40 minute match is going to sit with me.