There was a moment early in this match where Antonio Honda stood up with Togo’s legs trapped in his and paused, just for a second, but long enough that my brain made an assumption. After years of watching his work, I could almost see the silly wee dance we were about to get, a sweetener to make everyone laugh after a serious start to the action. I was wrong. Instead, Honda dropped backwards, wrenching on the hold and making it clear that there will be no jokes in this one.
That perhaps shouldn’t have caught me off-guard because this is the ‘good’ Honda match. I’ve heard numerous people hold it up as proof that he is a decent wrestler, even if he insists on telling Gon the Fox stories and indulging in his love of slapstick the rest of the time. You’ve probably guessed that it’s an opinion I don’t have much time for. I think Honda is a genius. From his iconic battles with Lulu Pencil to his attempts to get an edge over Yukio Sakaguchi by making him corpse, few people are as inventive and out there as Anton is. With that in mind, I almost came into this, hoping I wouldn’t like it. That Honda vs Togo was merely alright and that I’d be able to dismiss those comedy detractors as having attached themselves to it in order to excuse the fact they rate a wrestler who is too weird to be accepted into the mainstream canon of greatness. Sadly, or maybe thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This fucking rules, and it rules in a way that I was not expecting it to rule.
Because I’ve never heard Honda talk of any great love for American territory wrestling, but judging by this, it must be there. He steps into the role of that Jerry Lawler style old-school babyface going up against a bastard heel. From the start, it’s Honda who is in control, keeping Togo under wraps by repeatedly bringing him to the mat and working over his arm. We’re shown that in a straight wrestling match, he would probably win. However, the whole thing then flips on a single mistake, Anton moving into the spectacular with a dive to the outside and getting caught as he does so. When he comes up, he’s been busted open, leaving Togo free to go to work, hammering away on the wound.
And there is very little fancy about the rest of it. They descend into a slugfest, Honda desperately trying to get out from underneath but constantly being cut off. It works, though. It works because he plays that role to perfection, the blood pouring down his forehead as he wildly swings for the fences. Nothing they’re doing is original, pulling from classic wrestling tropes, but they’re doing it brilliantly, timing every Honda punch to get the crowd eating out of their hands. Everyone watching is willing him on to regain the upper hand and put the prick away.
It’s almost fitting that the Honda match the work rate fans will point to is still not what is generally considered great in 2021. There are no fancy moves or over the top spectacle, just an old-fashioned babyface trying to overcome a prick. It’s beautiful, pure pro-wrestling, and while I will always love Honda for being a massive fucking weirdo, I’m glad I put my petty prejudices aside and gave this one a shot.
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