Recap from David Arthur:
In a match taking place during the 2009 G1 Climax annual tournament, Hiroshi Tanahashi, the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the “Ace,” of New Japan Pro Wrestling , faces off against Masato Tanaka, a veteran journeyman wrestler of Japan who may be known by American wrestling fans for his feuds with the late Mike Awesome in Extreme Championship Wrestling during the latter half of the 1990s. At the time of this match, Tananka is looking very lean and healthy, almost like a Japanese version of Lance Storm.
The match begins with a lockup stalemate. Both men try to gain an inch of ground on the other by exchanging holds. Tanahashi brings it to a halt with a kick to Tanaka’s abdomen. Then they begin exchanging chops, but Tanaka abruptly ends the exchange with a forearm shot. Tanahashi choses not to begin trading strikes with Tanaka just yet, so he hits him with a low dropkick, and begins to work over Tanaka’s knee.
Tanahashi makes his way outside, along with Tanaka’s leg, and slams it against the steel ring post. While outside the ring, one of Tanaka’s associates (Jado? Gedo?) distracts Tanahashi, and the referee, giving Tanaka the chance to nail him from behind with a Kendo Stick. Until this very moment in the match I had thought perhaps Tanahashi was the heel. Tanaka takes it back into the ring. Tanahashi tries to fight back, but just can’t match strikes with Tanaka, who begins yelling at the audience and hurling terrible insults towards a prone Tanahashi (I’ll assume they were insults, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying).
Tanahashi cuts Tanaka off and manages to land a few expressive strikes of his own. He misses a middle-rope senton attempt, but regains control after another low dropkick. Just as his confidence begins to swell, he’s hit with a back drop suplex by Tanaka, but Tanahashi regains control again after hitting Tanaka with the Sling Blade (14:00 mark, I can’t explain this move with words). After another exchanges of strikes, Tanaka hits a running lariat on Tanahashi, followed by one of his trademark maneuvers: The Diamond Dust (14:50 mark), and then hits another running lariat for a near pinfall.
After some more strikes, Tanaka tosses Tanahashi over the top rope, Tanahashi holds on and pulls himself back up and over the top rope (also called “skinning the cat.”), hooks his feet around the head of the incoming Tanaka and headscissors him out to the floor. Tanahashi tries a running apron dive, but connects with nothing but the mat on the floor (Splat!). Tanaka then produces a table from underneath the ring, sets Tanahashi on it, climbs to the top turnbuckle, and splashes him through it with his own bodyweight. I bet Eiji Ezaki would’ve gotten a kick out of that. Tanaka takes the fight back inside the ring. He hits a Superplex on Tanahashi, followed immediately by a Brainbuster for a near pinfall. Tanaka then goes for the Sliding D (a sliding forearm strike), Tanahashi ducks the move, snatches Tanaka’s leg and maneuvers him into a Texas Cloverleaf, but Tanaka makes it to the ropes for the break. After a Dragon Screw leg whip, Tanahashi hits the ropes and is snatched by one of Tanaka’s cronies (still not sure exactly who it is). He holds Tanahashi for Tanaka to strike, only to absorb the forearm himself when Tanahashi pulls a split-second escape. Tanahashi O’Conner Rolls Tanaka up, but gets kicked off towards the ropes and is met by Tanaka’s cronie with another shot from the Kendo stick. Tanaka schoolboy’s Tanahashi for a near pinfall.
Tanaka climbs the top rope and tries to hit Tanahashi with his own finishing move, The High Fly Flow (a frog splash), but catches Tanahashi’s knees to his mid-section. Tanahashi tries the same thing and gets the same result. Tanaka takes Tanahashi up top and hits a huge Avalance Backdrop suplex, and this time successfully follows up with the High Fly Flow. But Tanahashi kicks out of the pin somehow. Tanaka then hits Tanahashi, this time right on the money, with the Sliding D for another near pinfall. Tanaka then hits a Sliding D to the back of Tanahashi’s head, and attempts another one, but Tanahashi catches his arm and takes him over in a crucifix cradle. Tanaka kicks out.
Tanahashi dodges a Rolling Elbow and folds Tanaka up in a small package, but for only a count of 2. Tanahashi then executes an Arms Captured (both arms) German Suplex, followed by a Dragon Suplex on Tanaka for a near pinfall. Tanahashi runs and hits Tanaka with another Sling Blade. He ascends the top turnbuckle and delivers the High Fly Flow onto Tanaka’s back, followed by another traditional High Fly Flow for the victory.
This match was such fun to watch. The near 24 minute duration of it just flies by. The only noticeable flaw is that even though the referee was properly moved out of position for the first Kendo stick shot (and it’s implied that he didn’t see the second), the table spot happened right in front of him. I can only guess that for the sake of preserving the importance placed upon the tournament, he exercised discretion uncharacteristic of referees under NJPW’s rules and chose not to call for a disqualification. That’s how a booker would probably spin it ( I would know). Tanahashi is excellent, he’s NJPW’s Ace for good reason, and this is some of the most enjoyable work I’ve seen from Tanaka in his long career. The roadmap in Tanaka’s forehead is pretty sharp too!