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Imp’s NJPW Adventure – 46th Anniversary: Okada vs Ospreay
1972, New Japan Pro Wrestling was born. 46 years – and a whole lot of Inoki – later, the promotion is on one its hottest runs to date. Branching out to the West has so far been a tremendous success, with the second US show taking place in Long Beach on March 25th. It may only be a 5,000 seat venue, but as we speak Bullet Club are trying to prove they can fill a 10,000 seat arena in Chicago for their All In show this September. The New Japan brand is hot, if anything they’re undervaluing themselves. Quite a place to be in, ey?
The likes of Naito, Omega and Okada have really carried NJPW into a new Golden Era. But March often gives way to a rising star, or finally gives that guy who’s been knocking on the main event’s door that final kick through it, via the New Japan Cup. A single elimination tournament, where the winner gets to challenge for either the NEVER Openweight Championship, IWGP Intercontinental Championship or IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Pretty much everyone goes for the latter, but the choice is there if you desire to bash a particular skull in. Shinsuke Nakamura is the only man to have chosen a different title, choosing instead to challenge for the Intercontinental Championship held by Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2014. That was the year he’d lost said title to Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, so the logic for bashing said particular skull in was indeed there.
The New Japan Cup starts later this week, first on the calendar we have NJPW’s 46th Anniversary event. Headlined by the clash of two CHAOS champions, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Okada vs IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Ospreay. With the legendary champion finally being game for putting the title on the line against those within his own stable. Adding to the narrative of CHAOS being at the helm of the company, hand in hand with those steering the NJPW ship. At the same time LIJ are left fighting for opportunities on the lower decks, drinking rum whilst Okada and his friends dine with fine wines in the Captain’s quarters.
Within the not so pirate ship themed CHAOS vs LIJ feud, Okada vs Ospreay gets across that story of hierarchy whilst simultaneously closing the gap between the Junior and Heavyweight divisions. While Ospreay may not have won, and there not be another Junior/Heavweight clash any time soon, the fact this match even happened gives so much credence to the Junior division. If the Ariel Assassin can get a Heavyweight Championship opportunity, why can’t someone else down the line? It’s simple logic really, once a wrestler has proven themselves, why not give them an opportunity to dance with the ‘big boys’?
Kacuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay
Junior vs Heavyweight, CHAOS vs CHAOS, Champion vs Champion. A mouth-watering bout on paper, but how was it in reality? Well, oddly, very Japanese. A slow build, with hot moments occurring more and more often, finishing with a hot flourish of counter wrestling where both competitors truly feel like the talented bastards they really are. And for a split second I believed the challenger could actually win, they were never going to but the fact I was able to suspend that for even a second shows the level of talent on display.
Ospreay was never going to win, Okada’s essentially in ‘filler mode’ whilst we wait for the New Japan Cup to conclude. But in the meantime he’s had two matches with strong up and comers that’ll do wonders for their respective careers going forward. In its essence, wrestling is always building to the future and Okada’s 2018 has so far exemplified that. Over the course of 2016 and 2017 New Japan were solidifying Okada as the future, but the future is now the present so I guess it’s time to start building to the future again.
And like SANADA last month, Ospreay got one hell of a boost from this match. Going toe to toe with one of the greatest champions of the decade should help your stock a little, the high flying Sword of Essex well and truly brought it to the champion. With the ending sequences being damn impressive! Especially Ospreay’s reversal of the Rainmaker into a Powerbomb, which might quite possibly be the greatest clothesline reversal I’ve seen. The fluidity of it was a marvel, showing off both Ospreay’s strength and athleticism. Basically how WWE bill Apollo ‘no Crews’, all rolled up into one manoeuvre.
On Okada’s side, we once again got see a little bit more of that cockiness seeping through. Not putting all his weight down on a few of the pin covers, most notably at the end after the spinning Tombstone and Rainmaker combo. It’s a combination no one has kicked out of and that list is getting longer by the month, a slice of nonchalance is appearing on Okada’s plate. Just another minor detail being added, that will surely play a vital role in his eventual downfall. Nothing lasts forever, and more and more cracks are starting to show.
Post-match Okada claimed he is the best, he will be the one to carry NJPW forward. Not Tanahashi, not Omega, not Naito. He and Gedo will be there for the 47th, 48th, 49th, 50th Anniversary shows, it’s Okada you can trust with New Japan’s future. Again, an awesome speech that adds a few more notches to that cockiness dial. Will there come a time when Okada is too confident for his own good? Or will he fall to a more Suzuki esque tactical deconstruction? After all, the wear and tear over the length of his reign is surely going to loosen a few bricks for someone like Senior Kaze-san to kick right down.
As for this match, Ospreay really brought it with the inventive reversals and captivating flippy shit. Okada also got to show off athletic counters he doesn’t really pull out very often, like a perfectly timed drop kick to counter the Brit’s OsCutter. The match never went crazy with kickouts like a lot of main events, instead established the big moves each wrestler was desperate to counter. A running theme with Okada’s title defences so far this year.
His opponents may have started to figure out how to counter/kick out of the Rainmaker, but he’s so far had a 100% success rate when it’s combined with the spinning Tombstone. And Okada respected Ospreay’s OsCutter in the same manner, doing everything in his power to not be hit by the move. Creating a weakness, Okada can be brought down if you hit your finisher. It’s just actually hitting it that’s the problem. So once again, Okada’s cracks a slowly starting to show, but they’re hidden behind a sturdy brick wall of confidence.
However, with the New Japan Cup just round the corner, you never know…
And that’s it! The future of the feud between CHAOS and Los Ingobernables de Japon looks like it’s evolving nicely, but it is a long road to January 4th 2019. A story of respect, a company champion and the man carving their own paths. Ospreay really established himself, Okada asserted his dominance, but Los Ingobernables de Japon also continued to pick up wins and momentum. The titanic CHAOS vs LIJ clash is getting closer by the day, and I’m expecting an enormous land shift when the dust settles.
Side note: Suzuki-Gun continued to pick up titles in the background, with El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru winning the Jr Tag Titles in dastardly fashion. With Minoru Suzuki holding the Intercontinental Championship and now this, don’t underestimate the underlying cunningness of that group. They could yet have a bigger role to play in all this.
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