I know what everyone is thinking, Rob surely you have heard of both Taguchi and Tanaka? Of course I have but when certain people claim that Taguchi was a workhorse at one point and he wasn’t a cheap Shiro Koshinaka/Shinsuke Nakamura combination I went searching for this treasure. Luckily for the viewer and Taguchi, the man going against him in this match is one of the best junior wrestlers of all time in Minoru Tanaka. In my opinion, Tanaka should be in the same breath as other junior heavyweight greats like Liger, Tiger Mask, Kanemoto, Ultimo Dragon, Great Sasuke, Mysterio Jr., Devitt and countless others. Then again I’m sure someone would think that’s purely crazy talk and chalk it up to me being a mark. However, the commentary agrees that Minoru is Mr. IWGP Jr. before the match starts so perhaps I’m onto something.
Minoru being the veteran that he is knows when to slow down the match to his advantage and Taguchi is over eager especially at the start of the match. Taguchi hits a dropkick and lands a chop until he is met with an eye rake of disdain and thrown to the outside when attempting to do something too fancy for his own good. Minoru with a basement dropkick on the floor and from there he goes to torture Taguchi’s arm with simple offense and an evil gleam in his eye.
Smart and simple storytelling with Minoru toying away with Taguchi’s arm and Taguchi making a comeback the fans desperately want. Honest question, when was the last time limb work was used effectively in any modern NJPW junior matches? That’s not to say the juniors or the matches are awful in modern day NJPW but it’s a welcome sight when the million movez and sprints are thrown out the window and a match is given room to breathe. Taguchi gets his comeback with a basement dropkick, plancha and then Minoru’s shoulder is rammed straight into the ring post so both men are on a level playing field.
Tease of a strait jacket suplex but Minoru frees himself, stomps Taguchi’s boot and lands another kick straight to the arm of Taguchi and both men are down. Taguchi goes for the Three Amigos but Minoru counters and hits a suplex of his own. Fantastic sequence where Taguchi nails Minoru with dropkicks to his afflicted arm but when Taguchi goes for another strait jacket suplex, Minoru hooks in the cross arm breaker which Taguchi ultimately breaks once he reaches the ropes.
Minoru tires of Taguchi’s resilience and attempts to end the match with a top rope brainbuster and after a long struggle of Taguchi not going down easily finally hits possibly the smoothest Fisherman’s Buster from the top rope that I have ever seen. That’s still not enough to put away Taguchi who has plenty of fighting spirit to kick out of a backdrop suplex variation and a buzzsaw kick right at one. The fans know that a groundswell of offense is bound to come from Taguchi and every single near fall forces them to come unglued. La Casita and the cross arm breaker cause the crowd to erupt and this match is anyone’s to win at this point.
Taguchi hits a Tiger Suplex and the Strait Jacket suplex and yet Minoru still kicks out at one, he’s going to win this for C.T.U. isn’t he? Forearm battle that reaches a stalemate leads into Minoru getting a cradle pin for a near fall but in the end Taguchi hits Dodon and he cannot capitalize due to the limb work from Minoru. The finishing stretch is off the wall insanity as near falls, high impact moves and higher drama reach a satisfying conclusion and Taguchi becomes the new IWGP Jr. Champion.
Wow, this was a pleasant surprise and I feel I missed some of the moments in this recap. This match had fantastic pacing with both men working the arm, a few high spots thrown in and a breathtaking finish which made the fans overjoyed. This is everything you could want from a junior heavyweight match in New Japan from the year 2007 and I’m fairly sure it’s a style that would be welcome in 2016. Taguchi worked his behind off here, yes even more so then usual especially considering his gimmick nowadays. Tanaka was incredible here, he knew when to work over Taguchi and also when to let Taguchi shine. Great heel work from Tanaka, the selling was on point majority of the point and this truly felt like the passing of the guard from one era to another.
Watching this back, it makes me fairly upset that Taguchi decided to change his gimmick from Funky Weapon into Guerrero/Koshinaka/Nakamura clone instead of being his own. He wasn’t Best in the World or anything but I’d rather see this version of Taguchi then the version we have in 2016. This match also makes me wish that Minoru Tanaka was not in WRESTLE-1 having his talents be rarely seen instead of possibly pushing KUSHIDA to a MOTYC or even going against Okada and taking the IWGP Heavyweight strap away from him and going up against the current crop of talent from NJPW, AJPW, BJW, so on and so forth. Maybe when this Super J-Cup happens this year, we could get an appearance from Minoru Tanaka. Who knows? Perhaps I’m screaming into the wilderness and beating my own drum but this match is a time capsule if I’m being blunt. Look how much time changes in pro wrestling within a span of ten years.
Perhaps reader, you are unaware of this version of Taguchi which you should try to remedy this weekend. I hope I’m not speaking hyperbole when I say that from 2007-2011 he was one of the best performers in NJPW. Perhaps you are also unaware of the underrated nature of Minoru Tanaka which you should remedy immediately. According to good friend Lawrence O’Brien, Tanaka just had a MOTYC with everyone’s favorite hoss, Yuji Hino in 2016. Yes, Tanaka still delivers in 2016. Why wouldn’t you want to discover a talent like him? Seek this out, discover two talented individuals and spew venom or praise towards me. I’m content either way.