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Thread: Oliver's Twist: The New Beginning

  1. #1
    Senior Member Oliver's Avatar
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    Oliver's Twist: The New Beginning


    A cocky and brash challenger stands across the ring from the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Nobody gives him a chance. After all, he’s squaring up to the Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, a man who has held the title for over a year. What’s more, this is only The New Beginning. The card isn’t really a major one. Nobody expects anything of consequence to occur, and this is thought of more as a warm up for the incumbent champion than something that will become a touchstone for the company in the years to come. It’s on this stage that the challenger hopes to make his name, but nobody expects he will come away with the gold.

    The year is 2012, and Kazuchika Okada is about to face Hiroshi Tanahashi. The latter beats the former, and the rest is history.

    The year is also 2018, and SANADA is about to face Kazuchika Okada. Can history be repeated?

    Nobody, or at least hardly anybody, is giving SANADA a chance going into the title match in Osaka this weekend. It seemed like even Cold Skull wasn’t given himself a chance initially, continuing his stony faced silenced in the face of much provocation from the Ace of New Japan. That he was hand chosen this bout, with his stablemate Naito passing him Okada like a hot potato at New Year Dash, doesn’t seem to have stirred his demeanor at all. Okada would comment that ‘he doesn’t even speak’, comparing the cold, detached nature of his upcoming opponent to that of his Los Ingobernable de Japon leader Tetsuya Naito, a man who talks arguably too much. The split between the two could hardly be more noticeable, as Naito plays to camera after camera. The master antagonist, Naito needles at his opponent throughout their feuds, provokes and provokes until he gets the reaction he is looking for.

    Okada would be the more silent partner in that feud, allowing Naito to talk himself into a situation he subsequently couldn’t wrestle himself out of, losing at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Yet here, the roles are reversed for Okada and SANADA. It’s Okada who is trying to get a reaction from his new opponent, trying to provoke in him some form of emotion and reaction, even reaching down to the lowest level he has gone in a long time and filling SANADA’s mouth with Okada dollars. Is this Okada trying to get the best out of someone who he sees as wasting their potential? After all, it has always been argued that Okada brings the best out of his opponents. Or is there something deeper at heart? Is Okada, in fact, wary of his own history?

    If the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event was an echo of the Wrestle Kingdom 9 one, but with the roles reversed, it seems it’s an echo that is still following Okada, whispering faintly into his ear. As highlighted we now see a new version of the very situation in which the Rainmaker made his first step towards greatness, laying the foundations for the past years of his career. On that night, at New Beginning in Osaka in February of 2012, we saw Okada identify a weakness and chase it, attacking the neck of the former Ace. That was a building block, a chance for Okada to show us the wrestler he was at that point but also to show us the wrestler he could become. From that point on we’ve seen Okada develop into a performer who has, it seems, a unique ability to work out his opponents before the bell rings. He knew the type of match Omega would work against him every time and played to that, ending up using it to his own advantage. When he came up against EVIL late last year, driven by the loss in the G1 Climax, he knew what to expect from his opponent. He went toe to toe for strikes with Shibata and counted on his own ability to absorb damage and for his opponent to punch himself out. He gave Naito a glimpse of victory and he became overconfident. Every time it has seemed like Okada’s number is up, he finds a new technique to work against his opponents. This is an extension, realistically, of the very character that Okada came in with – a man who could, seemingly on the fly, work out an opponent’s moves and reverse them, normally within the same match.

    But now he comes up against SANADA, a man who gives nothing away. There is no facial expression when you look into the eyes of the Cold Skull. He’s never happy, never sad, never angry, never pleased. He remains unmoved in the face of many onslaughts, and as a result Okada can’t get a read on him. He doesn’t know what makes SANADA tick behind that façade, and that means he cannot develop an approach to facing him that he knows will be effective. Okada has been desperate, throughout the build to this match, to get SANADA to talk to him. He’s almost pleaded with him to reveal why he wants the title around his waist, what is running through his head. At one point, Okada even insisted that he wasn’t interested in SANADA, asking New Japan to find him a new opponent. And in the face of all this SANADA does…nothing. He responds just once, shortly and sweetly promising to end Okada in Osaka, but provides no chink in his armour to Okada for him to exploit. Okada’s provocation is just not rattling his opponent here, and as a result he can’t get a read on the man he’s set to stand opposite this weekend. And the only conclusion is this: Okada is worried.

    It might initially seem like this is a very minor match in Okada’s history, one that will wind up being only a footnote in the story of the longest ever IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign. But the flashbacks must be flying through the Rainmaker’s mind as he looks at SANADA and considers not just his own past with regards to his title win at The New Beginning in Osaka, an event NJPW themselves coined the ‘upset of the century’. Think back to TNA, think back to Okada being Samoa Joe’s sidekick and nothing more, think back to SANADA not getting the opportunities his performances perhaps deserved. Think to Okada returning from his excursion and being hotly tipped for great things, in the same way that SANADA was. The history between the two is somewhat twisted together and there are elements of it to show that Okada is right to be concerned. It was, after all, SANADA who played the biggest part in Okada losing the title before, at Invasion Attack 2016, where Naito would be the beneficiary. And throughout that time SANADA has built his reputation as a wrestler who will adapt to his opponent on the fly and make them work for him, rather than him work for them. His match with Yano on Night Eight of the G1 Climax is great for this – it’s less than five minutes, but Cold Skull uses his knowledge of the Sublime Master Thief to invert the expectation – it’s SANADA that takes a cheap count out victory by tying his opponent in the Paradise Lock on the outside.

    Indeed, if you need to know just when Okada realised he was opposite somebody who had all the talents he did, look back at their G1 Climax match last July. SANADA plays possum with a fake knee injury and then, when his back is turned, takes the fight to Okada in a way that few ever have. There are signs in that match that the challenger is an accomplished wrestler who can match Okada, but also that he learns as quickly, if not quicker, than Okada himself did – spots that once didn’t work function properly the second time around, SANADA picking his time and using them more judiciously than before. He learns from his mistakes almost on the fly, springboard dropkicks that at first didn’t connect landing cleanly the second time.

    You have to assume, then, that SANADA has learnt from the mistakes that also cost him that match. Taking too long to lock in the Skull End and allowing Okada a chance at recovery, copying Okada and attempting a Rainmaker, even copying Naito and trying for a Destino – these points are where SANADA will have learnt and grown. I’d expect no similar errors from him in this forthcoming match. Not only that, but with Okada now having had multiple beatings in the ensuing months, having been working with a hurt neck throughout the second half of last year, and with SANADA having the Skull End Dragon Sleeper as his ace in the hole – the stars seem to almost align for the challenger in this one.

    That is, of course, assuming SANADA can apply himself. He’s long been expected to have a breakout performance and yet somehow consistently fallen short of delivering time and time again. Whether it’s the attitude that costs him or something else, he never quite finds his fifth gear. It’s entirely possible that the promise of the championship will give him the impetus to deliver in what is probably his biggest match to date, but he must continue in the way that he’s approached the feud to date, giving no sign of the best way to break him to the champion and learning from his mistakes both prior to this match and during the ring time itself. If he can do that, he can show us that he has as good a claim to be a challenger to the Ace in the years to come – in a way, he’ll show himself as a nega-Okada, who’s cocky brahsnness portrayed itself as arrogance through his Okada dollars and flamboyant entrance gear, who too often wore his heart on his sleeve in when finding traction in New Japan, his emotions all too often getting the better of him. The cold detachment of the challenger here could make the two perfect long-term rivals at a time where it seems like challengers to the Ace – legitimate challengers – are either already lying in his wake. Many have expected SANDA to make good on his obvious potential in recent years and become an established main event player.

    It’s possible that his first step, like Okada, might well come in Osaka at The New Beginning.

  2. #2
    Senior Junior SirSam's Avatar
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    Ok, I'm done with the CSI, I can comment and watch other wrestling again!

    Thanks for posting this Oli, I am really keen to catch this match, I suspect I spoiled the ending by browsing Twitter while it was happening but I'm still very intrigued by the characters you laid out. As you probably know I'm very new to NJPW so I really appreciate these write ups to give me the story heading into big matches.

    I really like how NJPW has these big long arcs for its characters and it can chose to create patterns but then also subvert our expectations by going against the pattern. I think this would potentially fall into it with the pattern of the champ fending off a huge challenger only to then face a cocky up and comer. They could try and place SANADA as the next Okada (have fun filling those shoes mate) or Okada subverting the pattern set by Tanahashi.

    I'm torn, I feel like after such a huge rise Okada really needs to get beaten by one of the other big names, either Naito or Omega in my mind. However both of those do seem a tad predictable so if they did want to mix things up then they could do a lot worse than SANADA. It would make me a little sad though becuase I have tickets to see NJPW in Sydney next weekend and I really want to see Okada as champ down there.

    Question for you, outside Omega and Naito, who do you see as the main challengers to Okada's title?

  3. #3
    The Brain
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    Once again, I find your write up actually more interesting that the build up itself to a New Japan match! You are really cracking out some incredible insights into the lower levels of storytelling they are doing here. I honestly kind of wish they could find a way to make this a bit more explicit, because right now it's subtle enough that I'm left wondering if these underlying themes are really there or if we're squinting so hard between the lines that we see things that weren't intended to be there. Then again, if all the pieces fit, why not consider this the true story of the match? Of course, SANADA did not pick up the victory, as expected, and I haven't heard anything about him yet having that standout performance that we have indeed been waiting for. I'm a fan of SANADA, have been since his run in TNA (which I actually enjoyed, for the most part), and I do think he'll do great things one day. Not yet though, not yet... great piece Ollie, really dug it.

  4. #4
    Member 205 Clive's Avatar
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    Again, Oliver, you give a very in depth analysis of a feud and match that I wonder if even the NJPW creative realise. For me, very much a part time NJPW fan, you give a great backstory and really sell me on the match.

    I would say that you are even keeping me interested in NJPW after the initial popularity boost of Wrestle Kingdom 12.

    Keep up the good, and informative, work!

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