For the 13th time in a major match, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi stood across the ring from each other. This time the battleground was Dallas Texas, Night 1 of the G1 Climax. The two had fought three times in the G1 before, and the 30 minute time limit was the deciding factor each time. For six and a half years, neither man had been able to put the other away in under 30 minutes. There was too much heart, too much toughness, for either man to stay down for the three count that easily. Would this match be the same?
Nah, Okada just beat Tanahashi, definitively, in the shortest main event of their rivalry.
Crowd pops big for Okada win #G1climax #g129 #g1climax29 #njpw pic.twitter.com/u3cFw5xyrz
— 411 Wrestling (@411wrestling) July 7, 2019
The average time of Okada and Tanahashi’s main event matches is 31 minutes and 36 seconds. That includes their first two titles matches back in 2012, which went 23:23 and 28:06, and three 30 minute draws. The match in Dallas is the shortest match the two have had, barring a singles match when Okada was still in training, and their only G1 match to not reach the time limit. Never before has a major match between the two ended so quickly. In years past, they would be desperate to finish each other off before the time limit, straining to hit one final move as the clock counted down. There was no need this time.
The match in Dallas is being called a “Greatest Hits,” match, as neither man brought much new to the fight. The two became so familiar with each other over the past decade that matches often depended on a new move, technique, or counter to secure the win. But on this night, the old reliables were enough for Okada to send Tanahashi back to the drawing board. Okada drove Tanahashi’s head into the mat with a jumping Tombstone Piledriver, hoisted his rival up by the waist, and finished the job with the Rainmaker clothesline.
Okada landed a few Rainmaker’s earlier in the match, but for the finish, he only needed one. In a rivalry that has seen obscene numbers of finishers used in some matches, such an abrupt end came as a surprise. While it’s possible that neither man felt like emptying the tank on a show outside their native Japan, it’s also possible that Tanahashi has just run out of answers against Okada. Maybe Tanahashi is injured and wasn’t able to give 100 percent, even though at no point did Okada attempt to take advantage of his lingering arm injury. Maybe Tanahashi will devise a new strategy and challenge Okada again in the future and come out on top. Or maybe, after seven years of fighting, Tanahashi can no longer keep up with the Rainmaker.
Going forward, this match may be a tipping point in one of the greatest rivalries in professional wrestling history. It’s commonly thought that the average prime of a professional wrestler is in their early 30s when they have tempered the athleticism and skill of their youth with years of wisdom and experience. Kazuchika Okada has been an elite wrestler for years, and he is only 31 years old. Despite his litany of classic matches and one of the most epic title reigns in history, Okada may still have yet to reach his peak.
Meanwhile, his long-time rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi, is 42 years old. Every year it feels like he’s fighting the injuries that are inevitable for a wrestler in their 40s. How many are legitimate injuries and how much he is playing them up is known only to Tanahashi, but there’s no doubt this year that Tanahashi, after his incredible match against Kenny Omega at WrestleKingdom, has not been his old self. In particular, he is having trouble against the younger generation of wrestlers. This year he lost the IWGP title to 26-year-old Jay White, lost to 31-year-old SANADA in the New Japan Cup, lost to 31-year-old Zack Sabre Jr in Madison Square Garden, and lost a rematch to Jay White in Sumo Hall.
Hiroshi Tanahashi says this installment of his rivalry with Okada showed him where he's at as a wrestler.#njpw #g129 pic.twitter.com/xfCBafwZWv
— With Spandex UPROXX (@WithSpandex) July 7, 2019
After such a decisive loss to Okada, it’s time for Tanahashi to make a decision about his future. Does he have another main event run in him? Or is it time for him to join the Satoshi Kojima’s and Togi Makabe’s of the company, to settle on a place lower on the card for a few years before being regulated to veteran tag matches? We’ve seen him drop to the Intercontinental level before, but is it fair to ask if even that may be out of reach for him?
For Okada’s part, he’s already moved on. After defeating SANADA at Wrestling Dontaku, Okada said that it is SANADA who is his rival. And Okada has a point. SANADA is the same age as Okada. They share similar physiques and athleticism. If such a comment annoyed Tanahashi, the best way he could have put his name on the champions lips was to beat him in the G1, or at least take him to another draw. Instead, he lost. For years, Okada’s now ex-manager Gedo screamed that Okada “was on another level!” Now it seems like he really is, and the truth of that will be hard for Tanahashi to deny.