Hideki Suzuki v Daisuke Sekimoto (Big Japan, 3/5/17)
I was caught a little bit in two minds coming into this. On the one hand it was a big title match in which I figured Suzuki would really get to stretch out and do his thing. On the other hand I knew it went half an hour and I wasn't sure how I'd handle half an hour of Sekimoto. But hey, it mostly turned out to be everything I wanted with almost nothing of what I didn't want! They grabbed me from the very first lock-up, laying some groundwork for the story they were going to tell. Sekimoto wins the initial test of strength because he's stronger, so Suzuki smartly uses his height and leverage to stand back up and slickly spin out to sweep Sekimoto's leg. Suzuki flexes out the kinks in his fingers and they lock up again, but this time Suzuki just throws Sekimoto over the ropes with a belly to belly. And from there it was just a super quick half hour. There were lots of things I liked in this. They never worked what you'd call a slow build as such, there wasn't much hold-trading or deliberate matwork early on, but they continued laying the foundations and it didn't take long for the story to form. Sekimoto is a real slab of meat and his number one aim is to steamroll you. Suzuki can't quite trample guys the same way but he's the superior technician, and so there are lots of examples of Sekimoto trying to flatten him or hit one of his bombs and Suzuki countering in unique ways, usually into a submission attempt. Sekimoto tries for a submission of his own by going to the torture rack and Suzuki does this great slow escape that he manages to turn into one of his airtight chin locks/chokes. Suzuki has so many cool variations of moves, often rolled out unexpectedly, like when Sekimoto lowers his head huffing air after a flurry of forearms and Suzuki yanks him right into a small package. He also brings a bunch of cool little touches to communicate the STRUGGLE, like grabbing Sekimoto's ankle so he can't be turned in a Boston crab or going dead weight to prevent the German suplex. I was mostly perfectly fine with the strike exchange as well, and I actually thought Suzuki threw the better shots. He's a world class striker anyway, but clubbering the dogshit out of someone, as much as he can annoy me, is something not many people do as well as Sekimoto. Even the no-selling/fighting spirit parts were tolerable, not just because there were only a couple of those bits during the whole match, but because they at least played into the story of Sekimoto being a juggernaut who's nearly impossible to stop if he builds up enough momentum. And if nothing else it led to Suzuki having to come up with more interesting ways of combating Sekimoto's little-engine-that's-too-stupid-to-know-it-should-stop-isms. I was a bit worried they'd started going back and forth towards the finish a bit early and that they'd lose me, but they really didn't at any point. I guess there were a couple ropey transitions, but the selling of exhaustion was mostly excellent and it really did feel like they fought a war. It always came off as a struggle rather than back and forth for back and forth's sake, which is one of my single biggest grumbles with modern puro. It isn't making you forget Misawa v Kawada or anything, but there were shades of the build to those big moves just the same. And the fact neither could hit their finisher not only left something of consequence on the table for the rematch, it made sure they never went too far into overkill in the first run. I heard this was good and I'm all the way on the Suzuki bandwagon by now, but it still managed to exceed my expectations.