Shinya Hashimoto v Tatsumi Fujinami (New Japan, 6/5/98)
You know, I think this might be the only Hashimoto/Fujinami singles match I've seen. If I've seen any of their others then I certainly don't remember them. Fairly sure I haven't seen the '94 title match. I think I've only ever seen brief clips of the 2000 match. For two guys of whom I've watched god knows how many matches, it's pretty cool that this is something of a new experience for me as a viewer. It delivered, of course. Hashimoto was really sensational in this. Fujinami started out by working a headlock and Hash had no time for it whatsoever. Pretty soon it was all about him taking penalty kicks to Fujinami's leg, stretching it out, lifting it up and driving it into the mat. Fujinami would try and make his comebacks and Hash would knee him repeatedly in the hamstring, then when he got annoyed he'd kill him with high kicks. Hashimoto is so great at showing progressive vulnerability, particularly in the way he'd convincingly shut down those early comeback attempts before finding it more difficult the longer it went. I loved the transition to Fujinami going on offence. He'd been catching a number of Hashimoto's kicks all match, but Hash knew what Fujinami wanted to do and immediately grabbed the ropes to prevent the dragon screw. When Fujinami finally catches one where Hash isn't close to the ropes, he doesn't quite hit the dragon screw as much as twist the leg in a super awkward angle and yank Hash to the mat with it. Then he does do it cleanly and we get a short run of Fujinami working the leg. Initially I was a little disappointed that they didn't do more with it, but if nothing else I could buy the leg work as more of an opening to the sleeper, taking Hashimoto's kicks out of play at the same time. And everything they did with the sleeper ruled. Fujinami was dogged in going for it, leaping onto Hashimoto's back and shifting between the regular and dragon variations as required, and Hash would desperately try to shake him off. Hash would back him into the corner to break it, then when Fujinami locked in the first dragon sleeper Hash could only fling himself backwards and land with his entire body weight on Fujinami. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective and it kept him in the game. The next time Fujinami saw it coming and shifted again into the regular sleeper, body scissors and all. I don't know if anybody has ever made being in a sleeper hold more compelling than Hashimoto. Truly badass match.
Kazuchika Okada v Kenny Omega (New Japan, 8/12/17)
I had no intention of watching this but then on a whim I did. And I didn't regret it! I haven't seen their second match because no way I'm watching these two for an hour, but I did watch the January match (and liked some parts of it) and have a decent handle on the big picture of their rivalry. Even without that, though, I thought this managed to tell a really nice story in isolation. I don't like Okada much and in the four other Okada matches I've seen this year I thought he was pretty terrible, but this is by far the best I've seen him look in anything. I was a wee bit worried I was gonna hate it when they opened with the street dance/parity reversal routine as neither guy is Tajiri and likely to make me care about such things, but I suppose it fit with them being super familiar with each other's offence and all that by now. After that they won me over anyway, and I thought the first fifteen minutes were pretty excellent. Okada sold the neck great and I liked how Omega would really lean on it with a chin lock or just outright chop him across the neck, which even got some heel heat. The reverse rana on the floor was huge and the crazy apron dragon suplex felt like a real game changer as well. So many of the bombs in the first match felt inconsequential, but they took time to let the rana sink in and Okada's neck being vulnerable remained a factor right until the end. Okada being broken down even made his not-very-good strikes work, and there was one Rainmaker towards the end that looked like it had nothing behind it whatsoever and he kind of collapsed into the turnbuckle after it like that was as much as he could muster. At some point I started to lose some interest and the finishing stretch will probably never be my thing anymore, but it was right about on the line of what I can handle. It wasn't FULL on Step Up routine, and even if some of the transitions were abrupt and bordered on "doin' stuff," I don't think it went overboard. I still can't get by Omega's facial expressions but the part where he lost it after Okada kicked out of that awesome German suplex was great, like I truly bought that he was at the end of his tether and couldn't believe Okada still refused to stay down. All of the big spots and bumps were appropriately big (and man were some of those bumps BIG) and I never thought it got long in the tooth, so it was overall about as much as I'm going to get out of New Japan main event wrestling. I would put this behind the fourth or fifth best Hideki Suzuki match of the year, which is better than I was expecting going in.