Every week on Place to Be Nation, a combination of correspondents review one match from the outer regions of the conventional wrestling bubble. This is a deep cut of sorts that should be of interest to the hardcore wrestling fans hoping to consume content for every region in the professional wrestling world.
These two are meeting in the DDT DNA Grand Prix finals. Higuchi went through his block undefeated and is coming off the momentum of an exceptional match vs. Shuji Ishikawa. It is extremely apparent that DDT has big plans for Higuchi in the future. Bailey only lost to Guanchulo in his block and has been enjoying success in DDT since debuting in the Summer.
Lawrence O’ Brien:
I loved how Speedball came at Higuchi like a speeding torpedo at the onset of the match, hitting him flush with those brutal Tae Kwon Do kicks that he’s famous for and setting the tone for a tournament final immediately. Higuchi’s offense looked monstrous per usual and was a good contrast to Bailey’s martial arts. It was being wrestled a lot like a chess match, not in the mat wrestling way but more each one countering strikes/moves and just knowing what the other was going to do and capitalize on it.
Bailey took as many opportunities as he could to hit high risk moves, like the shooting star press knees multiple times which I thought did a good job displaying how hard of a mountain Higuchi is to climb to the point where Bailey felt the need to go so high risk. I really appreciated the spot where Higuchi went to do his sumo stance charge, and Bailey just kicked right through his chest, Higuchi attempted it again to the same result and then just rebounded back and hit Speedball with a lariat. Fantastic stuff.
What I really like about Speedball is how he times his bursts of offense, I find it so exciting when he presents the sense of danger of a roundhouse kick to the head that you never see coming, when you think you have him cornered/beaten down. He did that to Higuchi a bunch of times during this match and it played into the finish. He nailed Higuchi with one from the apron, and went up top for the shooting star knee drop only for Higuchi to climb right up to try and chokeslam him. He’s like a monster from an old 1930s monster movie where he just keeps coming back for more. Bailey kicked him one more time and hit the match winning shooting star knees to the back. What we got was a quickly paced, super easy to watch hard hitting sprint from two of my favorites in the business and I can’t argue with that. I hope we get to see a longer effort from the two on a DDT branded show.
From the start this has a gritty feel that most DNA shows don’t. The camera is in tight from the floor so the mic picks up everything from the wrestlers to the people in the crowd. It’s pitch black in the building so the sparse crowd is apparent. This almost feels like it could be any dingy indie in any country, not the developmental show for the 2nd biggest company in Japan.
Speedball has been so great this year that he felt on track to make the highly vaunted WDKW100 top 25. This was placed in jeopardy via his legal troubles with working in the US. Speedball hit the ground running as after the ban was announced he started to go all over the world cobbling together a patchwork of work. Speedball was meant to be a big part of AAA in Mexico only to have that fall apart as well known supporter or young non-mexican talent Konnan lost power in the company. Speedball got announced to be a part of DNA which felt weird at the onset as it is the working home of the DDT dojo students but made it work for him and even got booked on DDT big shows in more important matches because of it.
Higuchi on the other hand is a mountain of a man that really felt like he was destined for bigger stuff from the second he started with DDT. Higuchi has a Sumo background and caught on to the game of working as a big man super quickly. This serves him very well in DDT which is a promotion filled with smaller workrate heavy guys. Higuchi is a master of storytelling continues to impress with the way he can move, keeping up with anyone he’s ever in the ring with.
In this match Speedball seems to have the game plan to catch Higuchi off guard with speed and high flying early. Higuchi shows that this may be a flawed plan as he is able to battle back and forth with Speedball creating vulnerability for Bailey. That story then breaks down into a strike off between the two which is effective since Speedball has the technical expertise to compare to the shear size of Higuchi. Down to the closing stretch it always felt like Higuchi had a big counter punch or throw that could be an instant game changer. Towards the end, Speedball really turns it up taking off his kick pad to show he’s ready to finish Higuchi as it seems this is what it will take to put down the giant. The heat makes it feel like winning the Grand Prix is a big deal not just for these two but for anyone that sees them self as a top level competitor. This match is back and forth in a way that really works to make them feel evenly matched not just like they are attempting to get their stuff in.
Speedball Mike Bailey has been in a few of my favorite matches this year including this one.
Higuchi is a star in the making I almost don’t know if the top of DDT is the limit for him as he’s a big man that can move and tell a story. I look forward to the growth from both men and to see this rivalry continue for years to come.
Of all the wrestling circles I traverse in, the hype for Speedball Bailey is one I have a big disconnect with. I understand he legitimately has a great martial arts pedigree behind him, but something about his look and overall strikes just make him feel indyriffic. I can buy this in certain situations like his match vs. Drew Galloway from last year where he gets his ass beat from pillar to post. I have more of a problem with his character when he is going 50/50 with talents like Will Ospreay or Marty Scurll. It is an unfair projection on my part but I wonder why this geek with smelly looking feet is going toe to toe with the wrestling stars of the future.
With that as a preface, I was looking forward to this match. Higuchi is right there with Futa Nakamura or Takaya Nomura as the can’t miss prospects of the future. His match vs. Shuji Ishikawa was excellent and showed how impressive a big man like himself can be in defeat. I wanted to like this match so much and hoped Higuchi would give the dominant kick ass performance that would feed into Bailey’s underdog tendencies and force him to project his selling in a compelling way.
Instead, this felt like a match that was firmly established for Bailey to look good coming out of it. On the surface this isn’t a problem but I had a ton of issues with the execution. I understand the storyline that was developed of Speedball starting the match off hot and having to really rely on his kicks and high risk moves as an equalizer to Higuchi’s size advantage. The match just felt like everything came a bit too easy for Speedball. Even though Higuchi would stunt his momentum at points, it really felt like Bailey could take as many high risks as needed and the consequences wouldn’t be that substantial. The spot that drove this narrative home for me was the missed shooting star kicks from Bailey. As his knees crashed to the mat, I thought this provided Higuchi an opportunity to really work the legs over and gain control of the match. Instead, he does a few strikes and Bailey is right there going to the well once again and even wins with the same move he just flaked on earlier. This made his biggest win in DDT so far feel very hollow. Speedball continues to be someone I struggle with as I think his concepts of pro wrestling is much stronger than his execution at this point.
This reminded me of a scene you’d see in a Batman movie – Bruce Wayne, a stranger in a strange land, challenging his toughness and fighting for respect against a bigger foe. Here’s Mike Bailey, barred from wrestling in the US, traveling across the world to do battle in the DNA Grand Prix 2016. There are no lighting rigs. It’s dark and off the beaten path. You can hear everything. It feels like they set up a ring in Fight Club.
Despite the size difference, and Bailey sliding into a traditional underdog role, it’s clear off the bat that he has the weapons to neutralize Higuchi. And I like that this is a bit more balanced than your traditional big man / little man encounters. Bailey works smart, but is still cut off by Higuchi’s power. The slaps may not be effective, but Bailey’s kicks do just enough to stymie Higuchi so Bailey can try to slip in a quick three-count, or climb to the top to finish him off.
There’s some small portions clipped here, the outside the ring stuff early (although we do get Bailey’s twisting dive), which maybe makes the match even tidier for being 13 minutes. It all builds to the shooting star kicks and I really liked how well this was done. Higuchi rolls out of the way first, almost baiting Bailey. Next they clip to Bailey hitting the move to the outside, with Higuchi just making the count. Next it’s reversed into a huge chokeslam off the top rope. The crowd, sparse as they were (although you couldn’t truly see) – yet vocal, bought into this and popped nicely when he finally hits it to the end the match. Really great Mike Bailey match here, with a solid story that is easy to follow, and executed really well.