Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi
June 7th, 2021
When this match was announced, I was excited, but felt indifferent about it at the same time. Shingo getting another title shot? Yay. It’s against Okada.. uh oh.
The backstory here is Will Ospreay was the champion. He defeated Kota Ibushi in Ibushi’s first defense of the newly christened IWGP World Heavyweight Title (the merging of the old belt and the IC belt.) He then defeated Shingo Takagi in his first defense, but he didn’t come out unscathed. An injured Ospreay was forced to relinquish the belt soon after his second five star, highly acclaimed match with a man who has become one of his greatest rivals, Shingo.
That leads us here. A vacant IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and the two top contenders - Shingo Takagi and Kazuchika Okada. A Toryumon Dojo graduate vs. a Dragon Gate Dojo Graduate. That’s pretty fucking cool, too.
With all the bad luck that New Japan has had lately, this seemed like a no brainer. Throw the belt on Okada and it’ll all be just fine. That’s the definite safe route. Okada is the John Cena or Randy Orton of this promotion. He’s the guy. You can always count on him and he won’t let you down.
For this reason, my excitement for this wasn’t quite where I expected it to be. These two had one of my favorite matches of the entire year in the G1 last year, but the unlikelihood of this going the way of Shingo took away from the interest I had because this felt like the easiest prediction of all time.
Therefore, when I awoke to SPOILERS that Shingo had won on Monday morning, I was blown away. A match that I was probably going to watch in a few days, I had to see ASAP.
I hop off work early on Monday afternoon and settle in for this viewing. Before I get too far, I must note that my opinions on this may be partial due to me knowing the result beforehand.
None the less, I’m excited. Okada feels like THE MAN during his entrance, but also seems unphased. He’s been here before. That was one of my favorite parts of this. How lax Okada was. Bell rings and Shingo is ready to pounce, Okada just looks at him, almost with a *shrug shoulders* type of look.
Okada brings this same attitude to the physicality of the match when things get going. He takes it slow. Holds, submissions, nothing crazy. Shingo, on the other hand strikes hard and often. Things gradually pick up and Okada goes for his new favorite, the money clip a LOT.
Some people shit on this move and especially his use of it here. I’m neither here nor there about it. The rainmaker is better, but the money clip looks decent sometimes and honestly, it did on most occasions here.
Shingo hits an insanE MADE IN JAPAN on the floor that made me gasp which leads to them gradually going into the finishing sequence of rainmaker counters and a few near falls. Before long, Shingo has Okada in position for Last of the Dragon and he’s able to nail the maneuver for the pinfall, becoming the new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
What a moment! But to be honest, it was more of that than an amazing match. The match wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t as good as their previous meetings. It went 36 minutes and those minutes flew by, for the most part, so that’s a huge plus. It just felt like they were just getting warmed up into the closing sequence when the pinfall happened. Not saying the match should have went even longer, the layout just felt a little off, but I think that could also be the two saving their absolute best for when things are better and full capacity crowds return.
Speaking of that, a full crowd would have made this much more enjoyable also. My expectations for Shingo’s big moment being an epic match probably also contribute to my feelings on this contest.
On another note, as much as I love Okada, this seemed to fall into one of those “just another match” feelings that he seems to have in the last year or two. It just never truly feels urgent. It happens and picks up and has its moments, but those moments were largely provided by the man who walked out as champion.
I try not to overanalyze matches, though, because the bottom line is - you either like something or you don’t. You either love something or you don’t. As a match, I liked this, but I didn’t love this. The result? I didn’t like, I LOVED.
I could go on for paragraph after paragraph on how much Shingo Takagi deserves this championship. I could list off 20, 30, probably even 40 matches that he’s had in the last 10-12 years that should put him in the conversation as being one of the best ever. That’s for another time, though.
Let’s just be thankful that New Japan gave him this massive opportunity that I don’t think anyone expected them to. Shingo has been the hands down MVP of New Japan since he debuted in 2019, but in the past year or so during the pandemic, he has shined even more, providing more high quality matches than anyone else in the company as of late. This is his reward and I am so glad they pulled the trigger on him while he was hot instead of waiting way too long like they did with Kota Ibushi. This reign is going to rule.
And as for the match itself, my minor critiques aside, was great. Shingo conquers the biggest star New Japan has for the most coveted prize in the company, in one heck of a back & forth battle. What a time we are living in!
Match rating - ***3/4