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Dave Meltzer's top-rated matches of 2017: Tetsuya Naito vs. Michael Elgin

Naito vs. Elgin

Editor's Note: Every day this week, we'll take you back to one of Dave Meltzer's top-rated matches of the past year, starting with No. 10 and going through No. 1. What follows is an edited version of Dave's writeup of that match from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter with the context relatively intact.

Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito
NJPW New Beginning | February 11
*****

Tetsuya Naito pinned Michael Elgin in 36:17 to retain the IC title

The crowd was super-hot for Naito. Naito spit at Okada, who was doing commentary, so that’s for down the line. Elgin pressed Naito and held him up for a long time before dropping him. Elgin did a flip off the apron. Naito did a tope and Elgin caught him in mid-air and turned it into a delayed vertical suplex on the floor. Naito worked the knee including having Elgin in a kneebar and spitting at him. Elgin was doing ridiculously hard clotheslines. He also gave Naito a German suplex into the buckles, followed by another one.

Naito worked the knee and got a super near fall using a reverse Frankensteiner. He went back to the leglock and the crowd was really hot for the rope break. Naito spit in Elgin’s face again. Elgin used the Emerald Flowsion on the apron, as well as a power superplex into a falcon arrow. He did spinning elbows to the back of the head and the front of the head. Elgin kicked out of the first Destino attempt. Naito tried another Destino, but Elgin blocked it and used a Death Valley bomb into the turnbuckles, then a power bomb on the apron, and a power bomb on the barricade and threw Naito into the ring.

Elgin then did his Elgin bomb in the middle but Naito kicked out. The reaction was incredible. They traded more big moves including Naito getting out of a Burning Hammer and Elgin kicking out of a reverse DDT, until Naito hit another Destino for the pin.

At one point in the match, Elgin gave Naito a power bomb into the guardrail. Part of the magic of pro wrestling is the ability to do things that make you think guys are devastating each other, but are actually safe and perhaps these guys are so good they can do that spot safely. The problem is that in the quest to stand out, safety is often forgotten and risks are taken. But, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor likely thought the same thing. And unlike WWE, which is a machine that runs no matter what, a serious injury to Naito at this point would probably damage this promotion more than any single wrestler getting hurt right now would hurt any major company.

Overall, this was the second best match I’ve seen this year behind Okada vs. Omega. This was a step above John Cena vs. A.J. Styles at the Royal Rumble and Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki last week in Sapporo which is great company to be in. There have been so many great matches in such a short period of time which leads to healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) debate because the good thing about the four standout matches of the year thus far is all are completely different from each other.

The strengths of Naito vs. Elgin were Elgin’s power moves and selling of the knee, some strong creativity, the physical nature of the match, and Naito’s overall work, which was spectacular. Naito is clearly New Japan’s MVP right now, and has been a great wrestler for years, always praised for his layouts of big matches. Still, even though he and Omega had one of last year’s best matches in the G1, I always felt Naito was just underneath the best in-ring guys. As a babyface, he could do it all, but there were reasons he didn’t always connect. As a heel, he’s picked up greatly in the charisma department, and whether it’s desire to be at the highest standard, I now see him in that category with the big five or so main event singles workers in the world.

*****

Previous Matches:

Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak
WALTER vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Tanahashi vs. Naito
- Okada vs. Shibata
- Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA