Kento Miyahara (c) vs Naoya Nomura
Triple Crown Championship
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/22/2019) Not the worst Hiroshi Tanahashi tribute match I’ve ever seen, I guess.
…you really gonna force me to say more about this match? Ugh, fine.
That opening jab comes from the fact that this reminded me a lot of Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Hirooki Goto from November 2007. That was Goto’s first ever shot at the IWGP title after a foreign excursion in which he bulked up to heavyweight, as well as Tanahashi’s first defense after regaining the belt from Yuji Nagata. If you’ve never seen that match, you need to immediately stop reading this horseshit and go watch it. Watch it on World, download it from Ditch, do whatever you need to do. Ok, you back? Wasn’t that good? Wasn’t it way better than this match in every conceivable way? Yes, totally, I agree. I’m glad we could come to an understanding on this subject.
Saying that this match is worse than that one doesn’t mean this is bad necessarily, because Tana/Goto is kind of incredible. Still, I find that this match is rather bland and listless for something so well-regarded and I’d like to use the example of Tana/Goto to explain why.
Let’s start with our competitors. I’ve never been much of a fan of Naoya Nomura but this is easily his career performance from what I’ve seen. After years of being one of Kento’s little buddies in NEXTREAM, this 25 year old gets his first shot at the big belts and really goes for it. He avoids or challenges some of Kento’s signature spots, really lays into the champ with some mean shots, and refuses to go down easy at any point in time. Big showing from the kid. I prefer what Goto’s doing in the 2007 match more but it’s not for Nomura’s lack of trying, just that Goto’s more consistent in his act of bringing his all to a big match. I never feel that Goto flubs one of his finishers, for example, and he clocks Tanahashi with every strike he throws from bell to bell.
Where these matches begin to diverge is with their respective champions. Coming into the Goto match, Tanahashi had something to prove. He had just beaten Nagata twice to ensure that he was as tough as anyone from the previous generation and that their time on top was over. However he still needed to defeat a rising star to cement that he was the ace of this new era and Goto, riding the biggest wave of his career, proves to be a worthy test to that title. Tanahashi matches the young upstart for intensity, showing enough aggression and ill will that he draws some serious boos from a hot Sumo Hall crowd backing the challenger. When that isn’t enough he pulls out something new, going after Goto’s legs and utilizing what I’m pretty sure is the first Texas cloverleaf of his career to score a definitive win.
Kento is in a similar situation here but his reaction to it isn’t nearly so enjoyable to me. He quickly realizes how much of a hurdle Nomura’s going to be once the kid avoids some of his signature moves and refuses to stay down for anything but that revelation doesn’t lead to anything interesting. Emotionally he’s as tiresome as ever, either staring blankly at Nomura when he refuses to run twenty feet across the floor into the corner post on an Irish whip attempt or gaping bug-eyed at him when he kicks out of a sequence Kento hits for the second time. Mechanically he’s no different either. When Nomura starts firing up after knee strikes, Kento doesn’t change course at all and just elects to spam the same moves more and more. Even as Nomura fights his way free of every big finish, Kento just applies the same thing again and it suddenly works, not for any added effort or quick adjustment, but simply because he didn’t bother to think of anything better.
To be clear, I still sort of like a lot of what these guys do here. Per usual Kento has delightful headbutts. Nomura responds with a handful of his own as well as some choice spears. Both of them throw a few good forearms. It’s just that, as a whole, the story isn’t there to draw me in and once again it’s due to the champion being a real bowl of oatmeal. He’s not boring enough to make the match bad but it does leave it at an unappealing middle ground. The match is fine, an acceptable 6/10. (Sidebar: if you’re the sort of pedant who immediately began thinking “umm, Brock, six out of ten is almost a failing grade???”, please, I beg of you, orient your worldview around something other than the goddamn American education system, for both your sake and mine.) It follows a formula I’ve seen before but it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be enjoyable. However it needs to do something new or else I’ll feel that I’ve wasted my time. Sadly this match, or at least one guy in it, doesn’t do anything of the sort.