Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a wrestling piece, and since we’re just days away from New Japan’s biggest show Wrestle Kingdom 12, I thought I would write about where this year’s main eventer Tetsuya Naito was last year. Today’s piece will be about the fantastic match between Naito and Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Wrestle Kingdom 11.

This match I feel was heavily overshadowed from the all-time classic of Omega/Okada 1, but it definitely deserves to have a spotlight shown on it. These two warriors arguably had the greatest story going into the event. Dating back to their first match in 2011 when the young gun Naito attempted and failed to take down the Ace of New Japan in Tanahashi, there has been a years long struggle for Naito to get the one-up on Tanahashi. He has been Naito’s longest rival. It was a loss to Tanahashi that lead to Naito traveling to Mexico which completely revitalized his career and introduced his Tranquilo gimmick.

Even discounting the story the match is an absolute master class of ring work and psychology. You don’t have to be familiar with the history between these two to see the story in this match. From Naito focusing on Tanahashi’s historically bad neck to hit his Destino finisher, to Tanahashi being supremely confident in the face of this challenger. There’s so much going on in this match worth talking about.

For the length of this 30+ minute classic the two competitors are evenly matched. Blow for blow, lock for lock. Finishers aren’t sealing the deal. Naito hits Tanahashi with two Destinos in a row at one point and he still kicks out. It all leads to the finishing spot, in which Naito hits a top rope Destino, picks up Tanahashi and then hits him with another Destino for the 3-count. The Ingobernable One has finally conquered his greatest rival.

This leads to a banner year in Naito’s career, in which he wins the G1 Climax tournament, securing a shot against Kazuchika Okada in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12 for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Naito’s story is perhaps the most compelling in all of modern wrestling, and it’s undoubtedly the longest-running and most consistent. It all culminates at Wrestle Kingdom, but it’s worth it to go back and experience matches like this one where you can see how his story really developed and he became one of the Big 4 in New Japan.

Tetsuya Naito vs Kazuchika Okada gets a 5/5 from me.

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