Match of the Week Club: Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji (New Japan Pro Wrestling 10-10-16)

Every week on Place to Be Nation, a combination of correspondents review one match from the world of wrestling that YOU as the viewer should seek out!

Feedback from last week:

JKWebb @ prowrestlingonly.com:

I pretty much agree with Steven on this one.  I enjoyed “The Final Deletion,” but I too was underwhelmed by “The Great War.”  I don’t really think I could rate either of the matches, just because they are so different than a typical wrestling match.  But, I thought TFD was pretty funny and entertaining.  I didn’t really feel the same way about TGW.   I laughed when Hardy was smashing pumpkins, and I enjoyed the piano entrance.  But, other than that I guess it’s just not my thing.  I do not plan on watching either one of them for a second time.  But, it’s one of those things I’d throw on hanging out with some friends if they wanted to watch it for a laugh.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4x4xd8_kazuchika-okada-vs-naomichi-marufuji-iwgp-heavyweight-championship-njpw-king-of-pro-wrestling-2016_sport

njpwworld.com offers numerous New Japan live shows a month and includes English commentary on many major shows. The service is offered at 999 yen a month which is converted to around $9-$10 US Dollars per month.

The storyline:

Marufuji defeated Okada on night 1 of the G-1 Climax this year. In addition, both of these competitors are the respective aces of the promotions that waging an inter-promotional feud with one another.

Glenn Butler:

The chop duel is an interesting thing to me. A competitor must leave themselves vulnerable to stiff blows, over and over again, and for what? To prove their toughness? To prove their grit? To prove merely that they can take the punishment? To prove that you have to go to Japan to find the toughest-looking chops of them all?

Okada leaves himself open in this way many times in this match, at the transition point between the middle section and the latter. Even at this point, after having taken a great deal of punishment, Okada feels the need to display his toughness. More promotions have seen more moves done on the ring apron of late, and Marufuji’s piledriver on Okada truly takes the cake, yet even after this Okada must display his toughness. Marufuji’s closest near-fall is probably the one he gets right after that piledriver, when Okada barely beats the count back into the ring and Marufuji is waiting with a top-rope dropkick directly to the head, yet even after this Okada must display his toughness. I get it. He’s double-tough.

It makes enough sense, then, that Okada feels the need to pur Marufuji away with not just one or two finishers, but three in a row. Toughness is going around here.

Steven Graham:

This match felt like the generic NJPW main event, where they do a lot of things that may look good, but it just feels soulless. In fact it feels like those Oscar bait movies. You know, like those Sandra Bullock movies that nobody actually likes, but gets nominated for the Oscar.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some good stuff here. If you take a minute here or there, things looked good, it’s the whole picture that just doesn’t work for me. It just feels like stuff after stuff after stuff. The worst parts of the match was that piledriver on the apron, which looked awkward and really dangerous, but not in a good way and that Rainmaker counter near the end that looked like the lightest lariat in history.

If you like NJPW big main events, you’ll probably like this, but to me I’m bored to death with them.

Peter Saladino:

Kazuchika Okada does not tend to fight with emotion.  Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that he doesn’t display determination or passion for what he’s doing.  It’s more that he fights with a cocky detachment and confidence because he fights in a way that makes him impossible to overwhelm and he never entirely is out of his element.  What’s made this feud with Naomichi Marufuji so interesting and fun is how completely overwhelmed Okada has been from the start of it.  As a character, what makes Okada so fun is to watch how he adapts to each opponent.  If an opponent like Naito is faster than him, he’s happy to adapt and use his larger than average size to leverage a power advantage.  With a larger, plodding opponent like Bad Luck Fale, Okada will happily take to the air.  He fights, gets shrugged off, adjusts his style to hammer on his opponent’s weakness, and wins.

Marufuji was the Gordian knot that could not be solved.  For every adaptive strategy Okada took, Marufuji had a counter leading back to a high knee and light superkick.  Each time Okada backed off and tried a different approach to the assault, and every time Marufuji adapted his defensive strategy and shrugged him off.  My favorite of these was around Okada’s third or fourth change to his strategy.  Whether through conscious decision or complete frustration, Okada gave in to his emotion and attacked Marufuji with an intense blind rage.  It met the same result as every other plan he tried.  Okada spent this entire match on his heels, getting small pieces of Marufuji, but never anything sustained.  When the tide finally swung his way for good it was only through luck and managing the right counter (and getting the right piece of Marufuji) at the right time.

The final sequence summed up the bout as a chess match.  A Shiranui attempt from Marufuji gets countered to a Rainmaker by Okada.  A weakened Marufuji counters another Rainmaker with a small package and then goes right back on offense.  A lucky slip lets Okada counter a high knee into a tombstone.  Another tombstone appears to be countered by Marufuji into an escape.  Marufuji’s escape attempt moves him out of position for a tombstone and into position for an Emerald Flowsion (the finishing move of Marufuji’s mentor, Misawa), an opportunity that Okada takes.  This was a conflict between two strategists where the only degree of victory was that of a minor slip on a counter.  A small sliver of luck was what won the final battle.

Lawrence O’Brien:

Marufuji and Okada have had an interesting relationship over the past few months. It’s not often Okada is made to look vulnerable against many in Shin Nihon Puroresu, but Marufuji, an outsider (of sorts), has notably had his number. He beat Okada in the G1. He felled Okada and YOSHI-HASHI’s attempt to dethrone him and Toru Yano of the GHC belts in NOAH. And boy were there moments in this rematch for Okada’s IWGP title where they made it look like Marufuji may just have all the answers to the young supposed ace of New Japan. I think that ended up being the beauty of this one. Although certainly a bloated like a lot of the modern day New Japan main event style matches, when it came time to really push forwards the important bullet points of this budding rivalry, it definitely came through. Marufuji would steadily pepper Okada with his trademark chest chops and superkicks (that actually connected flush) throughout the match to wear down the younger champ. That’s another good side point actually. Marufuji just looks so much more motivated in this setting and actually willing to work a little stiffer, like he has something to prove on the big stage. I guess it’s hard to blame him when you work in front of the lackadaisical crowds of NOAH of the recent era, knowing your match will probably be ruined by impending interference.

I thought Okada did a darn good job selling for Marufuji’s stuff in this. A point that many have gotten on Okada for in some matches, I thought he excelled at in this scenario. To be fair, those chest chops probably hurt so much that he wasn’t really selling those, but him selling Marufuji’s knees and superkicks like he had a faraway look in his eye was a good touch. Speaking of bumps, they did one of the most reckless spots of the year in Marufuji piledriving Okada’s head on the side of the apron. Almost a borderline unnecessary spot but I can’t deny it added drama to this match

Marufuji was able to counter the Rainmaker with a gigantic knee strike and ended up pelting Okada with another one in the corner that looked like it straight up killed the dude. Again, awesome sell from Okada. They had me biting on a false finish here when Marufuji followed it up with the Shiranui for a near fall. When he went for a second, Okada clocked him with a Rainmaker and held the wrist as he went down. The whole Okada holding the wrist thing they’ve been doing is really cool and I think adds to the narrative that Okada didn’t want to let Marufuji free and give him an opening. Loved the finish that saw Okada hit an Emerald Flowsion followed by one final Rainmaker. What a slap in the face to the NOAH veteran being beat by one of his own mentor’s moves. Excellent job by these two in the end, even if the journey took awhile to get there. I think this has to be Marufuji’s best performance in years and this is coming from a guy who has knocked a ton of his recent work. This felt big time. Marufuji felt like the most danger Okada has been in since Naito was in the picture and I think that’s such an important aspect in keeping Okada fresh.

Timothy Buechner:

Okada is judged pretty harshly for his formulaic matches, similar to Ric Flair or Bret Hart, it’s seen as a negative as his long title reigns are filled with safe matches that all follow an easily duplicated pattern but, I also see a good amount of subtle differences in his matches that if you aren’t paying attention came across as token spots. One such spot early on in this and many other matches Okada does is his condescending chest pat before a rope break. This goes different ways every time depending fully on his opponent. Here Marufuji throws a kick only for Okada to dodge and take over, in other matches his opponent may just get frustrated leading to grappling or a guy like Ishii might just fire off the ropes taking over with strikes. These subtle differences make sense in the context of a wrestling match as yes Okada follows a formula but what pro athlete doesn’t? Floyd Mayweather has a boxing style that he brings to every fight as does Okada what makes each match special is how Okade reacts to his opponents while always attempting to implement his game plan. In this match Marufuji is the grumpy vet throwing very stiff strikes especially chops to the chest at the brash young cocky champion. Okada is at best in this setting not just fighting from underneath but having to use his considerably abounded natural gifts to get some sparsely sprinkled in hope spots while the wiser Marufuji continues to keep Okada under his thumb. One really great example of this is the insanely impressive dive over the guardrail into crossbody onto a standing Marufuji by Okada. This puts Okada in the most dominate position he has been in since the earl feeling out stages of the match showing that it took not only a risky spot but, one that almost anyone of Okada’s size would not have the ability to pull off just for him to get advantage. After which Marufuji has to resort to using a brutal and almost sadistic piledriver on the apron to again take lead of the match showing that Marufuji’s years in wrestling has hardened him to the point of almost cavalier disregard for the well being of his opponent. Marufuji has a chance to claim  his spot atop the biggest wrestling company in all of Japan and have the biggest prize in NJPW the IWGP world heavyweight title and he’s not going to let that slip through his fingers. Okada goes into what could be seen as his trademark closing sequence known as “the five moves of doom” but his selling after having been destroyed slowly going from move to move is what makes this work, When Okada is selling it’s brilliant but when he goes to moves so quickly after it feels abrupt and fake at times. They finally decide to just stand and bang (hit each other with hands based strikes) Okada does not mind selling over the top as Marufuji slightly registers making Marufuji look like a true butt kicker. Even reeling there is not quit in Okada as he always follows the golden Steamboat rule of never going four or five attacks without answering back. Marufuji throws some amazing looking strikes most notably hooking back kicks and leaping knees that are made to look even more devastating by Okada’s selling. Okada counters the Shiranui into a Rainmaker for that RKO out of nowhere spot of the match Okada always does something like this and it always makes the crowd and me pop huge. Okada then starts to string together some big bombs. One such bomb being switching a tombstone mid move into an Emerald Flowsion the trademark finishing move of Marufuji’s legendary late mentor Misawa. That spot felt more like something that would have fit the cocky bad guy Okada of previous and not the current de facto ace/face of NJPW but it doesn’t hurt the match just felt out of place here. Okada here selling was at times some of the best you’ll ever see and at times it seemed forgotten completely in lieu of hitting some moves all in all Okada made Marufuji look like a star that could probably beat anyone else in the company just not Okada tonight. ***3/4

Chad Campbell:

I have never been much for Marufuji as I find his striking inconsistent and his selling non-existent at stages. This match also suffered from a whether mundane opening 5-10 minutes where not much of note happened. I am in favor of some table setting and a feeling out process in a long title match but I also want there to be a sense of escalation and to be able to see the strategies forming of the competitors. I was ready to chalk this match up as a dud overall until we get the sick piledriver spot on the apron. The thud of Okada’s head really sent the message that Marufuji wasn’t just a token challenger. New Japan has handcuffed themselves with their current touring structure that it was pretty easy to predict an Okada victory here leading to the big Wrestle Kingdom main event vs. Kenny Omega. The fact that the piledriver and fabulous nearfalls afterwards by Marufuji brought even a smidge of doubt of the outcome of this match was an impressive feat. Marufuji’s strike combinations looked great here and were really laid in for maximum effect. We even get him going for the Emerald Flowsion which brings up memories of a possible Misawa vs. Mutoh match in Sumo Hall in 1992 with these two contemporaries battling it out. Overall, Okada is still the ace and was able to whether the onslaught with his Rainmaker finisher. The camera work was spot on both showing Okada holding onto the arm as well as the anguish on both men’s faces in the closing moment. A tale of two matches but the second half more than made up for the start and the end result was a great match. ****

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.