I have no deep connection to Manabu Nakanishi. By the time I started watching Japanese wrestling, he was firmly rooted in his role as a New Japan Dad. The years weighed heavily on him, and he’d slipped into the world of Young Lion matches and undercard tags. However, I’ve always loved the Dads. There is something beautiful about these grizzled old veterans, beaten up and hurting, but refusing to die. Every time they wander down to that ring, they are trying to prove their fire still burns. Perhaps ironically, Nakanishi would prove his fire is still roaring in his final ever match.
You could tell this was going to be special from the start. Korakuen was rabid, the 3rd Generation stars making their entrances separately, each one getting their names chanted by the stands. It was, of course, the man of the hour who got the loudest cheers, though. Nakanishi got the hero’s welcome, looking awesome in his white jacket and carrying his years better than he has in a long, long time. You might have noticed a hint of emotion creep across his face, but it was quickly brushed away as he got ready to go out in style.
And fuck me was he fired up. Nakanishi came into this match like a whirlwind, throwing every last drop he had into the action. Old Manabu’s final fling saw him step into the role of the ring general, directing his troops to war. They followed his orders to perfection too, never hesitating in their determination to send their friend out on a high. Meanwhile, the all-star team across from them stepped up to their role, heeling it up to stoke Korakuen’s fires just that little bit hotter. The seven other men in this match were the embodiment of selflessness, stepping back and making sure that this was all about Nakanishi.
That gave Nakanishi the room to produce the kind of performance that makes you wonder whether he needs to retire at all. As he danced with Okada, Ibushi, Goto and Tanahashi, you couldn’t help thinking that he still has a couple of years in those legs. Sadly, those thoughts were born in the thrill of the moment, and anyone who has watched Nakanishi regularly knows he’s made the right decision. Yes, he could clamber those ropes one last time, flying off to connect with a Crossbody, but how did he feel the next morning? He’s given his heart and soul to this final run, and as beautiful as that’s been, it’s now in his best interests to walk away. There would be one final show of respect, though, as he was given a warrior’s death. First the GTR, then the Kamigoye, followed by the Rainmaker and finally a High Fly Flow. Four huge moves to slay a monster of a man and end a great career with a perfect match.
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