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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi XIII – G1 Climax 2019

In February 2012, the greatest wrestling feud of the 2010s began. Seven years later, it came to a close (as least for now). The feud between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada changed the wrestling landscape forever. Their feud was said to have surpassed other great rivalries like Flair-Steamboat, Bret-Shawn, Cena-Orton, and many others. Now it has come to an end. But did this storied rivalry end with a bang or with a whimper? Read on to find out.

Today we revisit the singles match between Tanahashi and Okada from the 2019 G1 Climax tournament.

Check out Tanahashi/Okada 1 here and then Tanahashi/Okada 2 here. You can read about Tanahashi/Okada 3 right here and then Tanahashi/Okada 4 was posted last year. Meanwhile, Tanahashi vs. Okada 5 was posted recently, and here’s Tanahashi vs. Okada 6 as well. The Okada/Tanahashi match from Wrestle Kingdom 9 was the 7th match and it’s posted here. And their 8th match together from Wrestle Kingdom 10 can be found here. Their 9th match from NJPW G1 Climax 2016 was reviewed here, and their 10th match from Wrestling Dontaku 2018 was reviewed here. Here’s the 11th match from G1 Climax 2018 and the 12th match was also from 2018.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

This is the thirteenth and final singles match between Tanahashi and Okada to date. Tanahashi and Okada have faced off in G1 Climax tournaments three times before, and all three of those matches ended the same way: with a 30-minute draw. It seemed that thirty minutes wasn’t enough for these two to beat each other, which is why most of their non-G1 matches went longer. Thus, with this match, they were hoping to change that.

New Japan understood the importance of this rivalry, which is why they brought it to the United States. In 2019, New Japan was attempting to break into the American wrestling market with this show, a G1 special taking place in the United States. It was extremely rare for a New Japan show featuring the top New Japan talent to have a full show in the US. To see if the American fans would actually invest in a NJPW product in the already-saturated market, New Japan made sure to feature two of their biggest stars in singles competition.

Not only that, but this was the opening show of the G1. In past tournaments, Tanahashi and Okada faced off closer to the end of the tournament to signal how important their eventual match-up would be for their bracket. Things were different here. Tanahashi and Okada were in the same bracket and whoever won this match would be the first of the two to get points (unless a draw happened).

With so much at stake, which of these two incredible wrestlers would win?

The match

This match took place on July 6th, 2019 on a special event in USA called G1 Climax Special. It was originally rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back now, let’s see how this match holds up.

Fans start chanting ‘holy s**t’ before the bell rings. I’m not surprised; this is Tanahashi and Okada, after all. The bell sounds and the entire American Airlines Center jumps up to give them a standing ovation. Again, I’m not surprised at all given the incredible amount of wrestling talent these two men have. Okada even cracks a smile as the fans chant his name. They lock up and the fans are now split between them as Okada gets a clean break on the ropes. He pats Tanahashi, who lands an elbow smash in return. Both men fire up and hit elbow smashes. Okada breaks the balance and lands a big boot, only for Tanahashi to bounce right up. Okada counters an Irish whip and goes for a dropkick but Tanahashi holds onto the ropes. He charges and goes for a slingblade. Okada counters and attempts a Rainmaker. Tanahashi counters and tries for a dragon suplex. A technical exchange and a standoff ensue. That’s followed by loud applause and a ‘both these guys’ chant.

Tanahashi escapes a wrist lock and lands a scoop slam followed by an elbow drop. Okada counters an Irish whip into a corner, Tanahashi lands an elbow and goes for a second-rope splash, but Okada grabs is legs to stop him. But Okada’s quicker and lands the corner dropkick that sends Tanahashi to the floor. Okada lands a DDT on the ringside mats as the five-minute mark passes.

Tanahashi gets into the ring at the count of fourteen and is met with a running dropkick to the side of his head. Okada poses with his foot on Tanahashi’s chest but the ref refuses to count that as a pin. Said ref then mocks Okada’s pose, which gets a brief ‘Red Shoes’ chant. Okada drives Tanahashi into a corner and lands some arm thrusts to the neck, but Tanahashi fires back. But that doesn’t last too long as Okada lands a dragon screw leg whip on Tanahashi. Okada lands a falling neckbreaker for a two-count and continues working Tanahashi’s neck with a chinlock. Tanahashi musters his inner fire and gets to his feet and escapes. He escapes another dragon screw and counters a big boot from Okada with a dragon screw of his own. He counters another Irish whip and lands a Shawn Michaels-style flying forearm onto Okada. Then he lands a big corner dropkick and a second-rope somersault senton for a two-count as the ten-minute mark passes.

Tanahashi goes for another slingblade but Okada avoids it and lands a back elbow. He lands a corner splash and another DDT for another two-count and attempts the reverse neckbreaker but Tanahashi fights out. Okada ducks a charge and Tanahashi ends up on the apron. That’s a bad move for Okada because Tanahashi catches his leg and dragon screws it through the ropes. Tanahashi charges but Okada counters with a flapjack. Okada stays grounded due to the damage to his leg.

Both men dodge each other’s big strikes until Okada lands an uppercut, but Tanahashi answers with a dropkick to the knee. Okada counters an Irish whip with an elbow smash and connects with the reverse neckbreaker, driving Tanahashi’s neck into his knee for another two-count. Diving elbow drop connects. Rainmaker pose. But wait, Tanahashi catches him off guard with a roll-up. One, two, no, Okada escapes. Tanahashi answers with another dragon screw. Texas Cloverleaf submission hold applied. Okada reaches the ropes quickly. Tanahashi lands yet another dragon screw. Okada escapes to ringside. Man, he still hasn’t learned. High Fly Flow from the apron to the floor. That move connects once again but Tanahashi seems to hurt himself in the process.

Back in the ring, Okada avoids a slingblade and goes for his Heavy Rain slam, only for Okada to counter into a twisting neckbreaker. Okada fires up and lands a shotgun dropkick right away. Tanahashi does the same and lands a slingblade. He tries again but walks into a standing dropkick. Tombstone Piledriver connects. Okada signals the end. Rainmak—no, Tanahashi counters with another slingblade. High Fly Flow to a standing Okada. Tanahashi’s not done. another High Fly – no, Okada gets his knees up.

Both men are down as the fans chant for both wrestlers equally. Okada goes for another Tombstone but Tanahashi blocks and tries for his own. Neither man budges to Tanahashi answers with an explosive strike flurry that ends with a bitchslap to the face. Tanahashi charges. Okada counters into a backslide. Then he rolls through…and connects with the Rainmaker lariat! Awesome counter! But he’s still not done. Okada maintains wrist control. Another Rainmaker connects. But Okada’s still not done. He goes for a third Rainmaker, no, Tanahashi counters into a small package. One, two, no, Okada kicks out.

Okada’s shocked so he charges recklessly, but Tanahashi counters into a bridging dragon suplex for a very close two-count. Tanahashi charges again. Okada ducks and goes for the Rainmaker. Tanahashi blocks that one and then stops another with a slap to Okada’s jaw. Okada keeps holding onto the wrist as Tanahashi lands slap after slap. Tanahashi gains the upper hand and charges again. But he runs into a spinning Tombstone from Okada. A picture-perfect Rainmaker lariat connects. One, two, three! There’s the match. Okada finally defeats Tanahashi at the G1!

Winner after 22:04: Kazuchika Okada

Review

That was an exciting match that really benefited from being in front of an American crowd. As much as the Japanese crowds have been great in this duo’s matches before, there’s something different about American crowds. While they showed a healthy modicum of respect in their applause like their Japanese counterparts, there was much more passion in this audience’s chanting that made this match better. Which is great, because the action was a bit underwhelming for the standard these two have set for themselves.

The story here was that Okada had beaten Tanahashi in every respect but one: during the G1. They had three draws during the annual tournament and this was meant to end that streak. Thus both Tanahashi and Okada did what they did best: hit high-impact bombs on each other and created awesome counter sequences. They streamlined their wrestling style here by forgoing some of their more technical and scientific stuff and went straight for the moves and spots their fans were most familiar with. That made this match feel faster and quicker-paced, but it came at the expense of telling their story properly.

A lot of stuff didn’t matter at all, especially Tanahashi’s legwork. That has been a recurring theme in this rivalry, but here it was more pronounced because Tanahashi attacked Okada’s legs and applied a Texas Cloverleaf, but Okada escaped seconds later and it was largely forgotten. Tanahashi also sold the apron splash to the floor suggesting he had damage to his own knee, but that wasn’t mentioned or followed up on, even though it would’ve added some more drama to that closing stretch. In this sense, this ended up being a case where a match would’ve benefitted from being longer instead of shorter.

That’s not to say the match wasn’t good; it was, especially thanks to the crowd. They helped elevate this match to an extent by giving it a big fight atmosphere. And for once, the fans chanting stuff like ‘both these guys’, ‘New Japan’ and ‘holy s**t’ didn’t come across as snarky or obnoxious. These fans were legitimately excited to see two of the best wrestlers on the planet and wanted to make them feel welcome in North America. It’s just too bad that Tanahashi and Okada gave the fans a summary of their feud instead of a new chapter.

Final Rating: ****1/4

This was a textbook definition of a ‘greatest hits’ sort of match. It in terms of wrestling, this was every Tanahashi vs. Okada singles match with some parts either condensed or removed altogether. It benefited from a faster pace and a sort of ‘let skip the formalities and get to the meat of things’ mentality. There was very little in terms of psychology and basically nothing in the way of new direction. Maybe that was intentional; Tanahashi and Okada were wrestling in front of an American audience for the first time and were thus testing the waters to see how the fans would react. But for fans already familiar with these two and their series, this was disappointing. It

I’m not trying to suggest that their wrestling was better when they were home in Japan, but from this match these two wrestlers kinda proved that theory themselves. This was far beneath their earlier work in basically every respect. For a casual wrestling fan unfamiliar with New Japan and the Tanahashi-Okada feud, this match serves as a pretty useful summary of what their rivalry is about. But for someone interested in an actual deep dive into that rivalry, it’s an underwhelming conclusion to a series that began seven years earlier.

Thanks for reading.

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