IWGP Heavyweight Championship (New Japan) Feburary 15th 2009
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
The Setting: 

Tanahashi had gone into this bout as champion after defeating invading  legend Keiji Mutoh on Jan 4th at the biggest show of the year – Wrestle Kingdom. Mutoh had held the belt for several months after defeating Nakamura for the gold. In the past Hiroshi and Shinsuke had traded the IWGP strap in some great matches. This one looked set to be great as well, live on the King of Sumo Hall PPV. They were formerly allies as well, having held the IWGP tag belts together for 10 months in 04/05.

The Match:

The audience is pumped for this one, lots of cries from them. The pair lock up and they struggle for an advantage. In the ropes both men refuse to break so the ref starts a count. They get back in the centre of the ring and Tanahashi attempts a takedown and the pair reverse grapple attempts. Back on their feet they lock up again. After more counters, Nakamura takes the champ down and works over an ankle. He quickly goes for an arm but Hiroshi struggles to block it. Head scissors applied that Tananashi turns into a Bow-and-Arrow then slips on a side headlock. Shinsuke powers out and works over the champs left arm. In the corner the two get in each other’s face until Tanahashi counters a charging Nakamura with a dropkick to the left knee. He then wisely takes advantage of the hurt leg. After a brief scuffle outside the pair exchange forearm blows to the face then stomps to the knees. Tanahashi gains control again from here and punishes the bad leg some more. Shinsuke is whipped to the ropes but bounces off them with a stiff clothesline and goes to work on Hiroshi with some nasty looking kicks. Powerslam for the first two count of the match. Hiroshi attempts some offence but is hit with a clothesline again. They yet again exchange hard forearm shots till Nakamura tires for a kick to the ribs. The champ catches the extended leg and blasts it with an elbow. Uppercuts send the challenger to the corner. Scoop slam followed by a climb up the ropes. But the ‘Saviour’ boots him in the face sending him crashing to ringside as many young girls in the crowd gasp in horror. He wastes no time in kicking his opponent repeatedly in the chest. Back inside, Tanahashi stops Nakamura entering the ring with a Dragonscrew Legwhip on the bad knee followed with another then a modified Legwhip on the canvas. Taking a page from Ric Flair he applies a Figure Four Leglock. Fans are getting behind the challenger who struggles to break the hold. Rope break but Tanahashi is right back on the bad knee. Shinsuke nails a great cartwheel kick and runs the ropes but is caught with a Sling Blade – a Tanahashi trademark move. Back on their feet they start blasting one another with forearms to the head as they stagger. This goes on for a long time and looks painful! Nakamura lands a punch to the face and tries a slam but Tananashi escapes and locks in a Dragon Sleeper. The challenger drops to the mat yet grabs hold of an arm and counters with a cross armbar then turns this into a ‘Hells Gate’ choke. ‘Ace’ seems to be out of it yet struggles to his feet and with gritted teeth slowly turns the hold into a Texas Cloverleaf. Shinsuke pops out of it and attempts another armbar but the champ cradles him up for a pin forcing the hold to be released. Tiger Driver but the ‘Saviour’ only gets a two count. Tanahashi escapes a firemans carry with a sunset flip but Shinsuke rolls out of it and hits a lariat. Hiroshi lands a Sling Blade and climbs to the top, seemingly for his Frog Splash-like finisher the High Fly Flow. Nakamura jumps up there with him and they batter each other. Tanahashi flips over the challenger and drops him with a Powerbomb yet when he gets back to the top and launch’s off it for the High Fly Flow it is blocked by Nakamura with both knees. This only further hurts Shinsuke’s bad knee as he manages to deliver a Cradle Shot for a nearfall. He goes for a reverse Tiger Driver but it is countered with a Hurricanrana. Tanahashi ducks a kick and nails a modified German Suplex. He follows up with a Dragon Suplex for a super close nearfall. Sling Blade for only a one. He dropkicks the bad knee and comes off the top for a High Fly Flow to the back then another one to the front of Nakamura for the hard earned three count.

The Aftermath:

Tanahashi would trade the title with big man Manabu Nakanishi in a couple of great bouts in early summer of that year. In August he and Nakamura would meet again in a semi-final of the annual G1 Climax tournament. Nakamura would win but it was during this bout Tanahashi suffered an injury and was forced to vacate the championship. The resulting match for the championship, Togi Makabe vs. Shinsuke, saw ‘the King of Strong Style’ capture his third IWGP title. Nakamura’s reign would last over 7 months. As of today, Feburary 2nd 2012, Tanahashi is in his record tying sixth run as champ while Nakamura is the longest reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion. Hopefully these two greats will have another classic match soon.

See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVEwhO5Z9Eo

James Simpson (@KnowYourPuro)