Defrost Reviews…Shinsuke Nakamura vs Keiji Muto

In the final match of the 25th G1 Climax Shinsuke Nakamura fell to Hiroshi Tanahashi. Now I have already reviewed several of their matches. So what’s the next best thing? Well Hiroshi Tanahashi’s mentor was Keiji Muto. Shinsuke Nakamura lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Keiji Muto in 2008. Now that was a pre Swagsuke Nakamura version, and Muto has had his peaks and valley due to age and injury. So let’s see what the Strong Style Fighter man version of Shinsuke Nakamura got out of old man Muto.

NJPW Pro-Wrestlers Be Strongest (Tokyo Ryogoku Kokugikan)
Shinsuke Nakamura and IWGP U-30 Openweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Keiji Muto and Osamu Nishimura

NJPW Brave (Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs Keiji Muto

NJPW Destruction 2008 (Tokyo Ryogoku Kokugikan)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Keiji Muto vs Shinsuke Nakamura

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In 2004 and 2005 Keiji Muto was, to put it politely, out of shape. As a matter of fact he looks better aesthetically now than he did 10 years ago, and that’s while having even less knees somehow. To put it bluntly he was very round going into that tag match. And he blew up very quickly. So for the purpose of this review the match did not lend itself to any detailed analysis as to an ongoing series with Shinsuke. Especially since there was an angle in here where Muto would always tag out when Shinsuke came in. Now for the purpose of enjoying a wrestling match this posed a different problem. This means that Nishimura worked the bulk of the match. Now I will concede that Nishimura is a technically sound wrestler, but to me he has always been dull as dirt. There are certain guys who work a heavily technical mat based style that I like. Zach Sabre Jr currently for instance. However, Sabre has charisma. Something Nishimura has sorely lacked to me. So his stuff has always been mechanical and meandering to me. That is to say I left the tag match feeling that I’d wasted my time.

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At the 2008 Tokyo Dome show Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi. The thought was actually to make Tanahashi a heel and Shinsuke Nakamura the ace of the company. Tanahashi was so amazing in 2007 and 2008 however that the best laid plans sorta fizzled out there, and if you are reading internet wrestling reviews you are probably aware of who has been on top of NJPW the last few years. I had been following NJPW for a couple of years when the Muto title defense was announced out of the blue really. Muto was still running AJPW at the time and the last time he wrestled in NJPW as himself, he wrestled as The Great Muta at the Tokyo Dome a few months prior, was almost a year and a half prior to his victory over Shinsuke. The title change was an even bigger surprise. Shinsuke had beaten Tanahashi twice, and made Kurt Angle tap out to unify the IWGP Title with the Brock Lesnar version of the title. Muto winning here seemed a slide back into the bad days of Fujita and Sapp as outsider Champion which was not that far off from this. However, my first thought was that Muto vs Tanahashi would end main eventing Wrestle Kingdom 3, and thus Shinsuke would not be the ace. Were it the Shinsuke we know today is that how it goes down? Who knows? Anyway onto the matches.

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Though there were some signs that the second title match would not follow the pattern of the first that hope was quickly dashed when Keiji Muto caught a Nakamura kick for a Dragon Screw. Prior to the first title match the prematch video was all about Muto’s run in 1995 which culminated in a match at the Tokyo Dome with Nobuhiko Takada that at the time drew the largest gate in the history of Professional Wrestling. In his most famous match Muto was victorious over Takada using several Dragon Screws before getting the submission win via a Figure 4 Leg Lock. Meanwhile, at the time Shinsuke’s finish was a Cross Arm Breaker. So simply enough you have a match where Muto works the leg and Shinsuke works the arm. That’s fine until you have a guy who has been Dragon Screwed a couple dozen times and sat in a Figure 4 for 5 minutes throwing kicks and going for Moonsaults and Nakamura did. Now I am not a selling Nazi. I am not one of those that complain about babyface comebacks, or say Shawn Michaels couldn’t work because he did a kip up after taking having his back worked on. So when it gets to me then you know there is an issue. Not to mention Muto just kills him with Shining Wizards and a Moonsault in the end anyway. So you come to the rematch a few months later. At the start Shinsuke goes for Muto’s famously legit bad knees, and Muto goes for Shinsuke’s famously legit bad shoulder. This is taken as an interesting development. That is until Muto misses his famous elbow drop and Shinsuke pounces on it only to have a kick to the arm caught and turned once again into a Dragon Screw leading to the exact same match with the exact same level of no selling. Difference is the rematch had something going on early. They’re not bad matches, but they’re nothing essential either. Muto had much better matches in the same time period with Hiroshi Tanahashi, and maybe that’s all you really need to know to understand who ended up as the Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Results and Ratings

NJPW Pro-Wrestlers Be Strongest
Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Keiji Muto and Osamu Nishimura at 21:25 when Tanahashi pinned Nishimura with an Inside Cradle (Star Rating: *1/2)

NJPW Brave
Keiji Muto defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall at 22:34 with a Moonsault Press. Keiji Muto won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (Star Rating: ***1/2)

NJPW Destruction 2008
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Keiji Muto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall at 21:39 with a Frankensteiner. Keiji Muto retrained the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (Star Rating: ***3/4)

Average Rating: ***

Where is the next journey after a return from Japan? How about a continuing quest? A quest to find a great opponent for Chris Jericho not named Shawn Michaels. Next Time: Chris Jericho’s great opponent search.

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