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RADICAN’S NJPW “THE NEW BEGINNING IN SAPPARO NIGHT 1” TOP MATCH SPOTLIGHT
IWGP IC CHAMPION HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. MINORU SUZUKI
JAN. 27, 2018
AIRED LIVE ON NJPWWORLD.COM
IWGP IC CHAMPION HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. MINORU SUZUKI
The match wasn’t supposed to go this way for Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi was supposed to mount a comeback and overcome injuries to his arm and knee to retain the IWGP IC Championship. Instead, the way Minoru Suzuki dismantled his opponent on this night was one of the most shocking match results in recent memory in NJPW. The signs were all there that this was a different night and a different match for Tanahashi. Suzuki was too confident and even more of a savage than he usually is. Suzuki sent his Suzuki Gun stablemates to the back as he made his entrance. Early in the match, Suzuki offered Tanahashi a clean break after pushing him up against the ropes. The smile on Suzuki’s face was pure evil. It signaled that he was in command of NJPW’s ace on this night.
First, Suzuki went after Tanahashi’s injured arm. Tanahashi would mount a comeback, but the match changed when Suzuki began working over Tanahashi’s leg. He beat and pummeled Tanahashi over and over. Tanahashi tried to mount a comeback. He hit several dragon screws, but he could not sink in his signature cloverleaf hold. Why? Because Suzuki used his neck as a bridge every time Tanahashi tried to sit down on the hold during the match. At one point, Tanahashi hit a dragon screw and went to bounce off the ropes, but Suzuki just shook it off and killed him with a dropkick.
Suzuki began applying a combination knee bar and ankle lock submission. Tanahashi managed to get to the ropes. Next, Suzuki worked a figure four. Later in the match Suzuki got the knee bar/ankle lock combination once again. Tanahashi valiantly fought his way to the ropes. Suzuki kicked Tanahashi’s leg over and over. Tanahashi had blocked his signature Gotch piledriver earlier in the match, but this time Suzuki hit it. He did not go for the cover. Tanahashi was surely done, but Suzuki wanted to take his leg and ankle with him. He put the combination knee bar and ankle lock submission once again. Tanahashi struggled towards the ropes. He could not get there. The ref kept asking Tanahashi if he wanted to quit. He would not. Suzuki really began working on the hold. He was sweating profusely and cranking on the hold when the ref finally dove in and called for the ref stoppage.
After the match, Suzuki stood over Tanahashi. He put his foot on him and held up the IWGP IC Championship. The rest of Suzuki Gun came down to the ring to celebrate with him. A board was brought up for Tanahashi to be stretchered out on, but the attendants paused as Suzuki continued to cut a promo. Tanahashi laid in a heap on the apron on top of the board. It felt like the death of Superman. The ace of NJPW had fallen. Suzuki mocked the fans for cheering what he did to their hero. Tanahashi was carted out on a stretcher and Suzuki Gun stood tall to end the show.
Winner: Minoru Suzuki to become the new IWGP IC Champion
Star rating: (****½)
This was a shocking result. Tanahashi looked to be in bad shape at Wrestle Kingdom earlier in January, but he was able to overcome Jay White and defeat him. The final scenes of the match with Suzuki and his stablemates from Suzuki Gun standing tall over Tanahashi on a stretcher board felt like a scene from the death of Superman.
This was something that nobody saw coming even though they should have. Tanahashi was really banged up for most of 2017. He took time off before G1 and during the World Tag League to heal himself. Suzuki, who is known for being ruthless was simply another level of evil in this match. He worked over Tanahashi’s arm and then switched to his leg later in the match. He pummeled Tanahashi with slaps and then kicks to his injured leg before hitting the Gotch piledriver.
The hush over the crowd as they realized what had happened added to the drama. They saw Tanahashi fighting for the ropes, but they didn’t seem to truly believe he could make it. Credit Tanahashi for selling everything like a champ. He took a savage, one-sided beating from Suzuki and made him into a dominant monster that should strike fear into the rest of the NJPW roster for several months to come. Suzuki was a scary figure in NJPW previously, but the way he dismantled the hero of NJPW left an impression.
NJPW does a great job of telling in-depth stories, but one of their heroes falling in this fashion is the most dramatic story they’ve ever told since I started following the promotion closely several years ago. It truly felt like superman had died and the bad guys had won.
After the show, NJPW announced Tanahashi was removed from The New Beginning In Sapporo Night 2. The next day it was announced Tanahashi was off the rest of The New Beginning tour due to Suzuki’s savage attack on his leg. NJPW booker Gedo deserves credit for telling compelling stories. Tanahashi is going away and he needs time off to heal his injuries, but the tone of this match and how ruthless Suzuki was sets up both men for great things going forward in 2018.
Suzuki is a scary individual. At 48 years old, he is capable of dismantling anyone on the NJPW roster. Heck, he took Okada to a time limit draw during G1 and he wasn’t nearly the menacing force that he appears to be now after putting Tanahashi on the shelf. On the other hand, the redemption of Tanahashi is going to be a blast to follow. Okada had some really tough times from a storyline standpoint after failing to unseat Tanahashi multiple times at Wrestle Kingdom before finally defeating him on NJPW’s grandest stage.
Tanahashi seemingly has even more to overcome than Okada did after losing to him for a second time at Wrestle Kingdom. Fans were hoping for his signature air guitar solo to end The New Beginning In Sapporo Night 1, but instead they saw the end of Tanahashi for now. This was pro wrestling storytelling at it finest.