You wait months for a Meltzer’s Classic and then two come along at once. We spoil you, we really do. We’re still in Japan, but we move away from Joshi and back to New Japan Pro Wrestling where two all-star teams go head to head for the vacant IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. In one corner we have a very young Keiji Mutoh teaming up with Shiro Koshinaka, and in the other, we have Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada. I’ll be honest, outside of Mutoh these wrestlers are unknown to me, so I guess it’s time to see what they’re like.
This is a fascinating match as it’s essentially split into two parts. For the majority of it, it feels like an extended squash. It is wrestled more realistically with a focus on strikes and submissions. Takada and Maeda control the action and appear to relish any chance they have to kick their opponents around the ring. Anytime it feels like Mutoh or Koshinaka is about to swing the momentum, they’re cut off before they can get going. It feels like a question of when Maeda and Takada will take home those belts rather than if.
Then, everything changes. When Mutoh and Koshinaka get their chance, we get a pro wrestling match. There are moonsaults and spike piledrivers, and the pace flies up. They are finally able to assert their personality, and it’s the chaos that change creates that sees them sneak out the victory when Koshinaka catches Takada with a roll-up.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think this is a five-star match. It’s enjoyable, but watched in a vacuum in 2017 it doesn’t stand up. That doesn’t take away its interest factor, however. For one thing, this was Mutoh’s first ever IWGP title, and we all know what he went on to do. For another, it kind of represents the two sides of Japanese wrestling. You’ve got the severe MMA style and the more flamboyant pro-wrestling. It’s perhaps silly to read too much into these things, but when you consider who won and where New Japan is today, it all seems rather fitting.