Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Importance of Earning it. A Naito Fan's Defense of his Wrestle Kingdom Loss.

Wrestle Kingdom 12 is in the books and while I don't think it lived up to the highs of Wrestle Kingdom 11, I think overall it was a very tightly booked show with nearly every match being for a championship and every match having its own identity.

I loved the main event.  It lived up to my expectations of a Wrestle Kingdom main event and I think it holds up as another incredible IWGP Heavyweight Championship match in Okada's amazing run. Both men brought plenty of new counters and tricks to the matchup and the story it told was as excellent as Okada's Wrestle Kingdom pants.

Incredible and I will hear no argument

Having won a chance at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the second time and made his main event status undeniable, Naito decides to dunk on Finn Balor by showing up like a demon king ready to be crowned without using any body paint. 

He did wear that sweet cape though

The champ enters looking confident as ever.  This piece of sweet camera work happens.

Eat your heart out Kevin Dunn

And after the usual introductions, we are underway.  The crowd is electric from the opening bell and the cheers for Naito are just as loud if not louder than the cheers for Okada.  Naito's tranquilo antics and his ability to change pace at a moments notice seemed to unbalance the champ early.  For Naito though it was business as usual until a brutal looking series of attacks using the barricade gave way to a game plan, attack the neck

"Get baited scrub' - Tetsuya Naito (probably)

The challenger used Okada's damaged neck to take control and would maintain it for a long period of time before the champ would find his footing again. Find his footing he does though and the champ uses the cobra clutch he developed as a Destino counter to wear Naito down and regain some energy himself.  Naito would eventually regain control again and after a super reverse rana, we would begin to see the flaws in his gameplan/mindset. 

Despite working the neck previously, Naito goes for his old Stardust Press finisher after hitting his signature Gloria.  Instead of sticking with what is working, some part of Naito wants to prove that the old Stardust Genius was good enough.  He misses of course. Just like in the G1 Final.  While he may remember him fondly now, Naito is no longer the Stardust Genius and that is not his way forward.  But Naito wanted it.  A second stardust press attempt resulted in him being German suplexed as soon as he finished climbing the ropes.  Naito would be hit with his first Rainmaker not too long after.

He does kick out though, and soon after Naito would find an opportunity to hit a desperation Destino, but would be too tired to take advantage with a pin.  Launching into a false finishing sequence, Okada would counter a Destino into a Rainmaker only to see Naito duck the second post-wrist clutch Rainmaker and turn it into a second Destino (however, for the second time he was not able to hit the signature arm trap that completes a full Destino).  After a kickout just before three, Naito goes for the full trapped arm Destino, but Okada counters with an elbow followed by a dropkick.  Naito hits a third (non arm-trapped) Destino to counter a post-tombstone Rainmaker attempt and perhaps finally grasping what it will take to win the main event at Wrestle Kingdom decides to pick him up immediately to hit a full (arm-trapped) Destino to secure the win, but Okada counters that with his jumping corkscrew tombstone and a full Rainmaker after to secure the victory.

For the second year in a row a red hot challenger entered into the Tokyo Dome and lost to Okada. Not a gaijin this time, a native born trainee of the New Japan Dojo  I've seen some argue that Naito will never be hotter that he is right now and that it is a mistake to not put the title on him.  I've seen people argue that Gedo's affection for Okada has left him unable to see the star in front of his eyes and that he doesn't have a plan for making sure Naito can continue to be a global star to rival Okada and Omega. I may be as big of a Naito fan as they come (As proof please check out my 3000 word love letter to his evolution over the last three G1s), but while I was pulling for him to win, I was not upset by his loss.  Because I'm hoping there is something deeper going on here.

Okada lost to Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome twice before he tasted his first main event victory there.  He left the ring weeping after his second defeat.  This was going to be his moment.  He had fought for it.  Won the G1 Climax for it and yet there Tanahashi stood in the center of the ring condescending him and he still was not ready for the pressure of a Tokyo Dome main event.  Not ready for the pressures of being the ace.  While Okada had already been champion for New Japan and had won plenty of big matches,  it was clear the main event at the Tokyo Dome was something just a bit different and the old ace explained that it would take something more before Okada was ready to stand in the spotlight there.  Okada would have to learn the determination to never quit, to hold on against all opposition. He rebuilt, finding the confidence and determination of an ace.  He would win the IWGP heavyweight championship before Wrestle Kingdom, and nearing the end of his grueling title defense, we see the birth of the iconic spot from this  amazing championship run.  He keeps hold of Tanahashi's wrist.

Despite maintaining wrist control Okada does not pull out his gun

Although he is exhausted, Okada has learned what it will take to win.  He will not stop until he gets his victory. Shortly after that gif ends he delivers two Rainmakers to Tanahashi and finally gets his win at the Tokyo Dome. Its a highly emotional moment, largely due to how much effort we'd seen go into earning it.  

When Naito entered for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12, in a very real sense he achieved his goal.  The man who had had his previous Wrestle Kingdom match with Okada demoted from the main event just four years earlier walked out to huge cheers and a crowd that ultimately seemed to want him to walk out victorious.  His story of redemption meant that whatever the result of the match Naito had already won.  In a sense, that may have made his losing the match inevitable. Naito walked into the Tokyo Dome having already achieved his victory for the year. You can't win a Wrestle Kingdom main event with that level of self-satisfaction.  Before he could truly become the ace,  Okada had to learn that lesson from his second Wrestle Kingdom match with Tanahashi. Looking the part, having it be your moment, these things are not enough to stand tall after a match that important.  In his second Wrestle Kingdom match with Naito, Okada passed the lessons learned from Tanahashi, the past generation's ace, to the man who will likely help define his run on top.  

The next night at New Years Dash, any ideas that plans didn't exist for Naito's immediate future were quickly laid to rest.  As Chris Jericho came out to make good on some previous trash talking in the media with El Ingobernable.  A brief confrontation electrified the crowd and Naito showed he is still just as cool after his Wrestle Kingdom loss. 

Watch this gif and tell me you don't think its possible this man can't be just as hot if not hotter in a year.

Its clear New Japan still has big plans for Naito and history has a way of repeating itself in New Japan.  It could have been his night at Wrestle Kingdom 12, but part of the reason it felt so good just to see Naito walk out for that main event is because he had worked so hard to earn it.  While he fought hard in the main event, Okada had already learned that just fighting hard isn't enough.  Naito won't grow into the new ace (that role is Okada's for years to come), but another year of growth could set the stage for the perfect Wrestle Kingdom win for Naito. I would love to see El Ingobernable walk into the next Wrestle Kingdom as champion to for his third Tokyo Dome confrontation with the reigning ace (Maybe with New Japan finally pulling the Ibushi/Omega trigger for a can't miss semi-main event with a fresh, to New Japan, match up). This time, no longer impressed with just being in the main event and with a year of hard lessons taught by legends like Chris Jericho and other stars associated with New Japan, he can prove that he is not only Okada's equal in popularity, but on every stage including the biggest one in puroresu.

I guess what I'm saying is all good things in time, but for now Tranquilo,  Asseneyo.

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