Since the start of 2017, we have been spoiled with so many historically great matches throughout the wrestling business and especially in both WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Of those, four matches stand head and shoulders above the rest: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega from Wrestle Kingdom; AJ Styles vs. John Cena from the Royal Rumble, Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki from the February 5th NJPW New Beginnings show, and Naito vs. Michael Elgin from the February 11th NJPW New Beginnings show.
While most probably have Okada vs. Omega at the top of the list (heck, our Dave Meltzer gave it six stars) and while I enjoyed Styles vs. Cena a bit more, one of those matches had something that none of the others had. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a better match, but I think it told a story that is very unique in pro wrestling and something I wish we would see more of in 2017: something we see in other forms of entertainment that fits in wrestling very well.
The Okada/Suzuki match was the classic hero in peril story like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or countless other movies and TV shows. The hero or heroes find themselves in a situation that seems lost when all hope is gone and the villain seemingly is going to come out ahead. But yet, as you watch, you never give up hope that the hero will come through in the end.
Especially in the case of a TV show where the main character finds themselves in peril, you just know they can’t lose, yet it doesn’t take you away from the fact that you want to see just how the hero will manage to get out of it whether it be through something he or she does or whether it will be the arrogance of the villain that will eventually do them in.
Okada/Suzuki had that. Okada was the defending IWGP Champion, but came into the match vulnerable due to an injured knee that had been the focus of a previous attack from Suzuki. Right from the start, Suzuki targeted that knee and at several points during the match, it seemed like he could end it. In fact, Okada’s own corner was seemingly close to throwing in the towel.
But eventually, Suzuki’s arrogance caught up with him and through heart and determination, the champion stuck it out, hit the Rainmaker clothesline, and won it. It was a beautiful story and one that isn’t over. Okada is still vulnerable. Suzuki knows that he, or someone else, could very easily take advantage of his weakened condition and Okada, being the fighting champion that he is, will continue to meet his challenges but will eventually succumb to someone, someday.
Or, maybe he won’t and that’s why we continue to watch.
If the rest of 2017 is half as good as the first two months have been, we are in for a hell of a year.