IWGP Intercontinental Title Match
Masato Tanaka © vs. Tomoaki Honma

December 23, 2011
New Japan Pro Wrestling Road to Kingdom 1st
Korakuen Hall

Reviewed by Liam Byrne (VOW Author Page)

Gifted by Joe Gagne (VOW Author Page / Five Star Match Game)

Unlike some of the matches I have watched for the Secret Santa project over the years, I have very little sphere of reference for this match. I have probably seen the odd Tomoaki Honma undercard match on a New Japan card, whilst I’ve only ever watched Masato Tanaka when he is opposite Mike Awesome (and the occasional jaunts he took into Dragongate). I was vaguely aware of the popularity Honma did manage to cultivate as somewhat of a lovable loser, including a subsequent push up the card. From the looks of it, this was the singles high point as he challenged for the IWGP Intercontinental Title in this pre-Christmas Korakuen Hall contest.

It isn’t hard to understand why the company chose to gave Honma a push at this point – the crowd eat up everything he does. Something as simple as an early-match chop exchange has the fans chanting his name (and celebrating him coming out on top) and they love it when the two men brawl briefly in amongst the crowd. Narratively, this always felt like Tanaka was the better wrestler and the most likely to win, but Honma had a puncher’s chance largely due to the force of will of the fans.

In fact, not knowing the history of Honma’s run made me all the more surprised by the outcome of the match. This being posted under the ‘Greatest Moments’ primed for a title change, as did the overall tone of things created by the Korakuen fans. It felt like this was more of a swearing in ceremony; the fans were just waiting for Honma to come out on top and finally achieve singles gold in the promotion. That’s not to suggest the fans were upset by Honma’s ultimate defeat. If anything, it probably added further to his allure – the underdog who gave it his all every time only to come up short more often than not.

What I do know is neither man is averse to using a weapon and the early stages saw them both battling over a table at ringside. Tanaka deserves particular credit for nailing a picture perfect splash that snapped the often-finickity Japanese tables in half – couldn’t have stuck the landing nor split the wood better. The table would come back to haunt Honma later on as he would also be on the receiving end of a Tanaka swing, one that saw the scrap of wood connect so hard as to drive Honma’s head through it. It was a spot that looked visually impressive largely because it probably bloody well hurt.

As mentioned before, Tanaka always felt like he was the better wrestler than Honma, but the risks the challenger was willing to take almost turned things in his favour. A falling headbutt to the outside was more successful than an initial falling headbutt attempt in the ring, whilst Honma got a near fall after a sitout piledriver variation. When Tanaka kicked out at 2 after this move, it felt like Honma had had his last real chance and that was to be confirmed by a sliding clothesline minutes later. Not that this dampened the spirits of the crowd as an impassioned burst on the microphone from Honma was greeted positively – what he said, I have no idea, but it pleased his audience in the moment.

Was this a good match? Yes. Was it great and a must watch? Not necessarily, though a chance to see an enraptured audience for Tomoaki Honma of all people is at least an interesting development. Considering this is a match I would never knowingly reach for without a project like this, I’m glad I spent the time to check it out and enjoyed what I got to see.

As for who gave this to me, I decided to do a little bit of digging. A rudimentary search of Tomoaki Honma on the Voices of Wrestling website came up with an article by one Andrew Rich. With this being Homa in the spotlight and Andrew being a confirmed Honmaniac, I do believe that it was him who gifted me this match. Whoever it was, a good choice was made – well done.