NJPW 2018 – Minoru Suzuki Vs. Kazuchika Okada at the Great Pirate Festival

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Minoru Suzuki’s 30th Anniversary Event at the Great Pirate Festival: Minoru Suzuki Vs. Kazuchika Okada

This match may be found FREE on New Japan World: https://njpwworld.com/p/s_archive_95_1_03

[Preamble: Hello, fellow Doomers! I’m Franco Victor, freelancer and fellow contributor to New Japan coverage on the BOD. I’ll be working around Norrissey’s G1 Climax reviews as well as pitching in for the Night Threads. To wit, I submit to the Blog a review on the recent Main Event at the Great Pirate Festival in Yokohama, only posted to NJPW World a few days ago: feel free to reach out with feedback and what you might want to see from Night Threads.; thanks!]

Who: Minoru Suzuki, Kazuchika Okada, and a panoply of guest stars!

What: An outdoor match, one fall to a finish with a 30-minute time limit.

Where: The Great Pirate Festival in Yokohama, a two-day FREE outdoor festival for fans and families alike – Suzuki-san’s actual hometown and so this is a homecoming as well as a very cool atmosphere for wrestling. Though it was raining heavily, that didn’t stop a decent crowd from gathering for the festival, estimated at some 18,000 fans and festivalgoers in attendance.

When: The Festival took place over June 23rd and June 24th, 2018. However, the match we’re looking at happened on the 24th as our Main Event of the weekend.

Why: To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Suzuki’s career, and his 50th birthday!

The Rundown: We’re announced in for our MAIN EVENT and serenaded for our introduction by Ayumi Nakamura, a long-running J-Pop star and artist behind Suzuki’s current NJPW theme, “Kaze ni Nare”. Here, she performs his theme LIVE and engages the crowd as Suzuki enters (in white!) to a healthy hometown pop – in a cool little moment, he casually fistbumps Ayumi en route to the ring.

Okada makes his entrance to a torrent of Rainmaker Dollars amidst the steady rainfall – no doubt most of the paper “money” was quickly ruined, but that didn’t stop eager fans from scrounging for a unique souvenir.  A bit surprising that he enters second, but perhaps a welcome nod to his status as New Japan’s incumbent ace – also, seemingly for staging purposes, Gedo makes his way to ringside off-ramp and is generally inconspicuous throughout the event.

As Ayumi announces in our combatants, a “Minoru” chant breaks out before the opening bell: despite Okada’s respect from the fans at large, Suzuki’s hometown favour will not be denied. As the two stare and pace across the ring the bell sounds and we are underway. Despite the weather, the camerawork has that modern-NJPW “feel” – no surprise, as TV-Asahi sent their cameras to cover the weekend on the chance that footage would be rebroadcast online or elsewhere (n.b. they did!).

Early jockeying for position with armwork follows, with both holding their ground and allowing both the crowd to warm up and the wrestlers to set the pace and establish their characters to the audience. Strikes are next as Suzuki plays underneath for sympathy and Okada exhibits his dominance (no surprise, coming off his historic IWGP Heavyweight run). To the outside as Okada wails on Suzuki and mostly dominates but as a weakened Suzuki is tossed into the ring, he counters on the apron with a surprise ARMbar instead – though broken up with a five-count by the referee, the hold weakens Okada to the point that he can only absorb punishment from Suzuki before he is thrown into the ring.

Back inside, Suzuki keeps working the arm from a standing position, looking to slowly break Okada down – it was this type of limbwork that won Suzuki the IWGP Intercontinental title from Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2017 (a match well worth checking out in its own right). Suzuki keeps breaking down Okada in the centre of the ring and on the apron, and even heads to the timekeeper’s table for a steel chair! The ref will have none of it and tosses the chair aside, but no matter as Okada is still showing a lot of vulnerability – not Hogan-WWF-era vulnerability, but enough to show Suzuki’s offensive range.

Okada rallies back with ~Fighting Spirit but not for long as Suzuki plays possum while Okada recovers, surprising the former champ with clubbering forearms to the back. Okada is irish-whipped and slips on the rain-soaked mat, sliding like The Rock in dress shoes: it should be noted that Okada doesn’t leave his feet and both he and Suzuki work in the slip very organically, but surely both they and the referee are now acutely aware of the hazards which the mat is presenting.

Okada goes up for a flying elbowdrop, and misses! Suzuki regains control and moves to more complex holds, even setting up for a royal octopus hold. The crowd is well engaged by this point, even in the pouring rain (which you can really see now falling on the ramp and the droplet-soaked videoscope lenses), and at this point we are awaiting an Okada rally. Out of nowhere, an Okada reversal into a tombstone, which levels the playing field! It should be noted that no pin followed and indeed, there have been no pin attempts so far in this match.

As the two return to their feet we have an old-fashioned Strong Style punch-off as they barter and trashtalk and mug for the cheap seats, a mini-contest ended by Okada crumbling to the mat while Suzuki shouts for more. Now the crowd is chanting for Okada as the two have generated a lot of sympathy for the former champ. Just as the two are rallying for another exchange, Okada surprises Suzuki with a shock lariat and then a second, and sets up for a Rainmaker – foiled by Suzuki but followed with an Okada dropkick, and then another.

A second Rainmaker attempt follows without success as Suzuki cuts off Okada with his own signature dropkick, and then he hits another in short order! Both warriors are off their feet, taking an 8-count to recover as Suzuki goes on the strike offensive again – Suzuki’s facials are among the best in the business today, and are such a good fit for his grumpy-sadist character…far as quinquagenarians go, he’s Bockwinkel-tier in the ring.

Suzuki sets up for a piledriver and the two milk the crowd for reactions – it’s ultimately broken up by an Okada backdrop and, instead of trying for a cover, he goes for a Rainmaker again. Suzuki counters once again, this time with an open-face slap! It might be noteworthy that Okada hasn’t gone for his trademark pre-Rainmaker open-arm pose, which could either telegraph the match still having legs or his taking Suzuki so seriously that posing could cost him the opportunity, or even the match.

Suzuki takes Okada to the mat again and ties him up in a knot i.e. a supine octopus hold, and after about 30 seconds of Okada straining to break out and Suzuki struggling to maintain the hold, the bell rings – time expired, and we have a draw! Okada makes a quick exit as Suzuki takes a moment to collect himself and has words for his hometown crowd.

In Closing: Though the match didn’t have an array of high spots that both are capable of, likely due to the weather, inclement working conditions didn’t stop the two from having a solid match. The full time allotted flew by, and this type of event would be one well worth restaging in the future.

A fitting celebration for one of the most storied wrestlers active today, this match was fun and while it didn’t reach the lofty heights of their G1 Climax 27 match, both Suzuki and Okada brought it to the fans and didn’t let the rain slow them down…too much. ***3/4 for the ringwork and an extra 1/4* for the extras (atmosphere, live music entrance, celebrating Suzuki’s 30th/50th), bringing us to an even **** (for what stars are worth nowadays…)

Onwards to the G1 Climax 28!