Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada
G1 Climax 26 Block A Match
Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/21/2018) Sort of shocked that I liked this match so much after the last two Dome show main events left me in such a sour mood, but this one managed to intrigue and entertain me in ways I didn’t expect. First and foremost I like how this match, basically for the first time in this feud, establishes that Okada is now just straight up better than Tanahashi. He might not be able to beat the guy in G1 regulation time and he might not be able to avoid all the genius’ best tricks, but he’s now faster, stronger, and more explosive than the veteran and he’s also real familiar with how he tends to approach matches. Very early on here Okada rushes in and is able to connect with this flurry of big signature moves before Tanahashi has any chance to react or settle into his own strategies, something the Okada of 2012 or 2013 might have been able to do once, maybe, and never as effectively as this. Only through a small package reversal and the first stabbings of his signature leg work is Tanahashi able to avoid eating a Rainmaker in the first five minutes of this match. Even then the damage is already done and he’s working from a deficit the rest of the way through this 30 minute draw.
As with the WK10 match, this is straightforward legwork from Tanahashi. He throws in a new dragon screw variation here and there as the situation calls for it, but by and large this is his paint by numbers stuff. This deep into the feud I’d probably complain about how that shouldn’t be all that effective against Okada anymore, but largely it isn’t. It slows him down, sure, and Tanahashi’s able to briefly lock in the best cloverleaf he’s been able to trap the kid in thus far over the years, but Okada is so much stronger, so much more hardened now that it’s nowhere near as debilitating as the veteran needs it to be. Even with that—or maybe because of that—this ends up being one of the absolute best selling performances of Okada’s career. The legwork is just slight enough that he can believably run through his arsenal unaffected, and by and large if he does do something dumb to hurt himself there’s a good reason for it. He’ll hit a Tombstone out of nowhere to avoid Tanahashi taking firm control of the match or he’ll get his knees up on a HFF attempt or, most deliciously of all, when he goes for a springboard dropkick he eats shit and is made to pay for it with the aforementioned cloverleaf. All the while he’s managing to sell the leg in between spots in compelling ways and it’s so, so impressive to me coming from a guy who rarely ever paints in anything other than the broadest strokes. This performance doesn’t leap off the page quite as much as the Invasion Attack match, mainly due to a relative lack of fire, but I wager that it’s a better job overall.
In a lot of ways this feels more like one of their 2013 matches than anything from the latter stages of their feud, with one important difference: Tanahashi is old now. Okada’s been capable at every stage of this rivalry but part of why he’s able to dominate this match is simply because Tanahashi is breaking down, which, you’ll be shocked to learn dear reader, makes him all the more endearing to me. There isn’t such a strong face/heel dynamic here as there has been in the past but still, the weight of Tanahashi’s age and experience and how he tries to get surlier and smarter to counteract that puts him in such a sympathetic role here that it really draws me in. And, frankly, so does Okada’s dominance. His selling isn’t making me love the guy the way that Tanahashi’s selling is, but the fact that he’s finally got a firm grasp on this feud is shockingly compelling. I think they lose a fair bit of steam here in the finishing stretch as they pull out a lot of goofy reversals to give the people what they paid for before time runs out, but with one or two neat ideas stuck in there still and the greater thematic interests at play, this ends up being one of my favorite matches of the series. Didn’t think they were capable of that anymore.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: This ain’t hard. Tanahashi and Okada were able to win me back after selling the farm two straight years at the Dome, whereas Shawn and Taker pushed me further away than maybe I’d ever been from either man’s work and continued to stay there with subsequent iterations. Maybe there isn’t anything as breathtaking in this match as the big chokeslam from Shawn/Taker, but Shawn/Taker also didn’t have me wincing in anticipation of a finisher reversal. There’s a world of difference between those two levels of investment. That I was able to get so invested again after being so thoroughly pissed off last time is all the more impressive.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25