The rise of social media in the has completely changed the way that both fans and businesses alike see the world of professional wrestling. Everyone has a platform, which means the vocal minority are acknowledged just as much as everyone else. This has led to some companies adopting a more erratic approach to booking as they try to meet the demands of as many people as possible.
This inconsistency has restricted performers in terms of their ability to connect with an audience. The 3-week push has become near the norm in certain companies; which is frankly a laughably low amount of time for someone to get an audience to invest in them. The art of ‘getting over’ is very much a lost one in the modern landscape, for the most part.
But there are some cases that break that trend. Some wrestlers can get themselves hugely over with an audience in a matter of weeks – sometimes even one night.
Case in point, the match we’ll be looking at today – Yuji Okabayashi vs Takuya Nomura from BJW Osaka Surprise #42.
The two men had built up a strong narrative in the collection of preview tag matches that typically take place ahead of a championship match. Nomura, the (handsome) rookie, made it his mission to completely destroy Okabayashi’s arm. Those who have seen the man wrestle know that Okabayashi is a very large gentleman who likes to hit people very hard with his arms and/or hands, so this was a smart move, to say the least.
It allowed Nomura to neutralise his opponent when their championship match took place. Any time Okabayashi took control? Attack the arm. It was a safety blanket – a safety blanket that could be also be exploited.
The effectiveness of this approach had already been proven – Nomura had managed to tap out Okabayashi in their tag affair on June 30, tearing off The Golem’s arm protection halfway through and absolutely brutalising it – rendering it almost unusable by the end.
This completely flips the dynamic between the two men. No longer is Okabayashi the dominant veteran. No longer is he the predator, the one in control, the one looking for prey.
He’s now the wounded animal, with a very noticeable weakness, while Nomura, with only 3 years of experience at the time, is the hungry, bloodthirsty youngster. The hunter. The one in control. The one looking for the breakthrough after being heralded as a potential leader of the next generation.
The upstart challenger gets the last laugh ahead of the singles encounter, pinning the champion clean in Korakuen Hall in their final preview, just 5 days ahead of their collision course in Osaka.
BJW Osaka Surprise #42 – Takuya Nomura vs Yuji Okabayashi (c) – BJW Strong World Heavyweight Championship
The match has finally arrived. 658 people sit in attendance, as the two men make their entrances.
Okabayashi’s arm is now heavily taped. Nomura’s attacks have been brutally effective – this could spell disaster for the champion.
The introductions are made, with the paper streamers showering the ring.
Nomura shows little acknowledgement of the streamers. He remains focused. He knows that the time for playing to the crowd will come later on. Even with the 2 victories over the champion, he remains quiet. Calculated. Collected. Cool.
His ability to keep his composure here is a real testament to his ability – even with 3 years of experience, he understands the magnitude of the situation he is in – something that other, more experienced competitors fail to recognise, often to their detriment.
Okabayashi enters with an air of confidence, despite his very noticeable physical ailment. He’s still the champion – he can’t show Takuya the slightest sign of weakness. To do so would give him the psychological advantage, which would serve as yet another obstacle and potentially cost him the title.
Nomura gets a noticeable bigger reception than his opponent – the crowd is fully invested in his title challenge; which creates yet another hurdle for Okabayashi to climb over.
The Opening Exchange
The two lock up, and after a brief stalemate, it becomes clear that Nomura is going to continue to exploit the arm of the champion. Nomura tries to lock up again, but Okabayashi is (rightfully) hesitant to put up his left arm. The slightest movement and the upstart attacks, forcing the champion in the ropes.
He eventually breaks the hold and decides to anger Okabayashi. A slap to the face would certainly achieve that, right? Well, kinda. Okabayashi strides forward, before returning the favour with one of his own. Nomura responds with a forearm and gets a chop to the chest for his troubles.
This repeats a few more times before Okabayashi moves away from the strikes to hit a powerslam. He uses the injured left arm as a support, rather than the one doing the work. He’s protecting it as much as possible, in the knowledge that Takuya will eventually go back to it. Having all the experience in the world means nothing when you’re working from underneath against an opponent who clearly knows what he is doing, so he uses his smarts to level the playing field as much as possible.
Things move forward some more, and Okabayashi is completely controlling the action. He’s all over his challenger and is doing everything he needs to protect his vulnerable arm – the only viable option is to attack with such speed and force that Nomura cannot build a comeback or attack the arm. Nomura struggles to find an answer to the chops and only manages to escape a submission attempt with a rope break.
But what we first believe to be a sign of weakness turns out to be a stroke of genius. Nomura allows himself to be chopped some more and lays in a few, pretty ineffective strikes. Another two monstrous chops and Okabayashi runs to the ropes – likely to keep things sped up and not give Nomura any chance to go after his arm.
What Okabayashi fails to notice here, though, is that he rebounds with his injured left arm at the front, which allows Nomura to turn the tide. It’s only a dropkick. It only clips the arm – it’s almost unnoticeable. But it connected with the champion’s body and knocked him down – gaining the challenger a few crucial seconds of respite.
Advantage: Yuji Okabayashi – by a rather considerable margin
After finally catching a break with the dropkick, Nomura decides to get his own back on Okabayashi, laying in a series of kicks to his adversary’s chest and back before irish whipping him into the ropes for another dropkick. He makes sure to execute the move on the injured arm – a subtle but impressive detail. The dropkick connects, which leads to a cover – or so we thought.
The challenger covers the champion, yes. But instead of trying to get a pinfall, he kneels over him, laying in a series of strikes to his face. Yuji is unable to offer any resistance – Nomura is over him like a rash. Nomura then goes back to the arm, hitting a cringe-inducing stamp to the injured elbow, which is pointing straight up.
He briefly stands to appreciate his handiwork. Is this the Yuji Okabayashi that had held the Strong World title for over a year? Some sort of dominant champion? It certainly doesn’t seem that way.
He wraps the arm up in the top rope for another attack. Okabayashi responds with a chop. And another. And another. But something’s different. Nomura absorbs every strike, showing no sign of pain. The champion connects with yet another chop, which brings out a brief flash of aggression. Nomura hits a swift kick to the arm.
Okabayashi has made a potentially fatal mistake – he’s looked for a potential reaction from his adversary rather than keeping his foot on the gas pedal.
The champion goes back to the chops. One. Then another. And another. Another. Nomura still refuses to show any sign of discomfort. Each attack is met with a smirk, which riles the champion up and allows the challenger to keep the advantage.
This is an extremely interesting situation. Okabayashi, the veteran, loses his composure and becomes angry. That’s perfectly fine. What’s surprising is that Nomura (again, with just 3 years of experience here) has used this anger against his opponent, quickly floating over and out of a slam attempt and transitioning into the first arm submission.
Even with absolutely no extended periods of Nomura working the arm, this still feels like it could be the one move that slays the giant. But he powers his way to the ropes. This would become a recurring event, which showed the extent of the damage that had been caused to Okabayashi’s arm. He couldn’t afford to power out of it – to do so would reduce the effectiveness of the injured arm further, which could spell disaster if he should ever need to use it against an increasingly aggressive Nomura.
Advantage: Takuya Nomura
Nomura continues to punish the arm, refusing to take his foot off the gas pedal. He knows that even the smallest time frame will be used to turn the tide of the match. He works smarter, moving all his effort to dismantle Okabayashi’s arm. Strikes. Submissions. Using the ring as a weapon. It quickly pays off.
Okabayashi tries to charge out of the corner after an Irish whip but is stopped at the last second by a knee from his adversary. Back to the arm he goes. The champion doesn’t get even the slightest chance to recover. Nomura lands another kick, before wrestling his larger foe to the mat and quickly applying a seated Fujiwara Armbar, pulling the arm back at a sickening angle.
With Okabayashi face down on the mat and Nomura putting weight on the arm, the champion has no choice but to use more energy and force his way to the ropes once again.
Takuya maintains control, stepping under and trying to take the champion down to the mat once more. But Okabayashi sees the window of opportunity creak open, and he takes the chance – hitting a side slam and a suplex for a two count. Even after this exchange, Nomura remains very much in control of the match.
Advantage: Takuya Nomura
Yuji decides to use some of his power-based offence to break his opponent down, and opts for a torture rack – somewhat fitting, considering the abuse his arm has been subjected to for a sizable portion of the match thus far. But in using his left arm and keeping it level with the right, Okabayashi opens himself up to further exploitation – which is exactly what happens. Nomura, ingeniously, pushes down on his adversary’s nose, restricting his breathing and allowing him to near-seamlessly transition into an octopus hold.
Each and every submission thus far has felt like it could feasibly end the match, and this one is no different. Okabayashi can’t crawl here. He can’t get lucky and move his foot to the rope. He has no choice but to once again carry Nomura’s weight to break the hold. But in doing so, he opens up his arm for a further attack – which Nomura brilliantly capitalises on. He drags the arm down onto the topes. He does it again. A third attempt is briefly thwarted before the challenger bites the forearm to take back control.
Advantage: Once again, Takuya Nomura
The Beginning Of The End
The two combatants soon find themselves at the top rope, and Okabayashi’s found his way back into the drivers seat. They come crashing down from the heavens after a devastating superplex by the champion. Okabayashi understands and appreciates the danger that Takuya poses to him, and will use any and all means to vanquish him – even if it’s to his own detriment.
Okabayashi is the first to rise, with Takuya finding his way back to his feet almost immediately after. he’s been in control for a sizable portion of the match, it’s going to take more than a superplex to keep him down.
Back to the striking exchange we go. Both men quickly look to the crowd for some sort of support. Chops from Okabayashi, kicks from the arm from Takuya. The champion becomes enraged and connects with a barrage of chops that echo like gunshots. He goes for a lariat, but is met with yet another kick from Nomura that is followed up with another kick attempt. But in a near superhuman feat, Okabayashi clubs down the leg with his arm – he’s a monster unleashed.
Nomura has more than kicks in his repertoire though, and connects with a slap to the face in an act of defiance, knocking the sweat off the champions head. Another lariat attempt, but Okabayashi once again clubs the attack away.
The champion is completely in control, and Nomura has absolutely no answer to the bombs that his opponent is throwing.
Okabayashi goes to the top, seeing the best opportunity he has had all match to put Nomura away. The challenger has not moved since the second lariat – this could very well be the end.
But at the last moment, Takuya finds a way to get the knees up and the champion crashes and burns. He takes advantage immediately, going in for the killing blow. A triangle choke. Okabayashi somehow powers out, but Takuya keeps his control and transitions into an armbar, which Okabayashi manags to escape by once again scrambling to the ropes.
Nomura has the crowd completely invested at this point. Every submission, every strike, every attack done to Okabayashi’s arm feels like it could be THE move that ends the match.
He keeps going, determined to finish things as soon as he can. A kick is blocked by Okabayashi, but Nomura fights back with a slap to the face.
This is no longer the technical genius Nomura, the man that has controlled the entire match with his attacks on the arm. This is a man hell-bent on killing the imposing monster that was stood in front of him. This is a man looking to cement his place at the pinnacle of the company he calls home.
He connects with a closed fist. And another. He’s a man posessed. He has to kill Goliath. The giant is dazed. This is his chance – a German Suplex may just get the job done.
And against any other opponent, it probably would. But this is Yuji Okabayashi. It’s going to take more than a German to put him down.
He rolls through with a triumphant roar and charges toward his target. The youngster ducks at the last moment, and adds a point of emphasis to his second suplex – holding a bridge for a heart-stopping near fall.
Takuya smells the blood and follows up immediately. He gets the full nelson applied, likely to set up a Dragon Suplex. But Okabayashi won’t budge. Even after two big suplexes and a series of punches, he refuses to go down without a fight. The challenger is forced to once again change his game plan – snapmaring Okabayashi down to the mat in preparation for a Shibata-esque penalty kick, which is once again thwarted; and the monster fully awakens.
After having some sort of composure and accuracy to his strikes thus far, Okabayashi devolves his offence to a flurry of heavy slaps that go unanswered. He realises that Nomura is a much bigger threat than first thought, and he cannot afford to go on for much longer with his arm in the state it’s in. He sees his adversary dazed, and goes in for the kill. A lariat – but Nomura is ready, and throws the big man down to the mat before applying yet another armbar.
This is the one. The crowd are exploding at this point – they’re ready for their young hero to slay the giant. They sense that the champion’s arm is at its weakest – it’s only a matter of time before a new competitor wears the crown of the Strong division.
But the veteran isn’t out of it yet. In one last effort to stop the onslaught, he manages to lift his challenger up and throw him into the middle turnbuckle. His work at preserving the arm has worked, he’s managed to escape the armbar – something he couldn’t do in the preview tag match.
Advantage: Impossible to tell – it’s a stalemate
The Closing Stretch
Both men are broken. They’re at war, with no end in sight. They’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at each other – but neither has managed to keep the other down. Nomura lays exhausted in the corner. He’s been subjected to such physical abuse, in this moment he could very well be reconsidering the situation. Okabayashi is no better off. He lays motionless on the floor. This has been a FIGHT – one that could change both men forever.
With a stalemate so far in, they decide to settle the score the only way they know how to.
With strikes. Lots and lots of strikes.
This is no longer about the championship. This is simply to see who breaks first.
Why do these men do this? Is it for fame? For glory? Is it simply the desire to have their hand raised, for the official to declare them the better wrestler?
It’s not for any of those reasons. It’s about the love of the sport. The desire to be called the best. For Nomura, it’s about proving himself to be one of the leaders of a new generation. For Okabayashi, it’s about righting the wrongs of his past. Ridding himself of the humiliation caused by the submission defeat and the pinfall loss at the hands of young Takuya.
The two crawl to the centre of the ring and begin trading blows. Chops. Forearms. Neither man breaks. They rise to their feet, and Okabayashi connects with a chop that knocks the wind out of his opponent’s sails. Nomura is visibly struggling. Okabayashi sees it as an opportunity and follows up with another chop, hoping to bring his opponent down once and for all.
Nomura smiles. He openly invites Okabayashi to hit him again. There’s a feeling that he’s getting some sick enjoyment out of this. He’s thriving off of the strikes that he’s being hit with.
This, naturally, draws out more aggression from Okabayashi, and things escalate once again. What was once a series of calculated strikes has devolved into primal slaps to the head from both men. They connect faster. Harder. Nomura hits a flurry that is left unanswered and follows up with a wince-inducing headbutt. Okabayashi immediately responds with a lariat.
This builds to the climactic moment of the match. After spending the whole match preserving and protecting it, Okabayashi uses the injured arm – and the crowd ERUPTS. He connects with a stiff lariat and rips off what remains of the arm protection, before hitting yet another running lariat for a two count. Even though he kicked out, we all knew the end was near. We knew that as soon as Okabayashi ripped the tape away. This was the last weapon in his arsenal, one that had been preserved to the very last moment. He plants the challenger with a powerbomb, and points to the top rope.
After the tide had gone in and out, ebbing and flowing, the waters rushed back. Okabayashi ascended to the top rope, before crashing down on Nomura like a tsunami; connecting with the Golem Splash for the 3.
It’s finally over.
Nomura loses the match but gains absolutely everything in defeat. Okabayashi proves that on this night, he’s the absolute best wrestler in Big Japan, after being taken to his limit by the young challenger. Incredible.
This was easily one of my favourite matches of the last 5 years. Subtle callbacks to the preview tag matches, wonderful pacing and brilliant psychology throughout.
We see Nomura trail in the opening exchanges before a key moment allows him to completely overwhelm the champion as the investment from us, the fans, grows.
He holds the champion for 20 minutes, the longest match of Okabayashi’s 2nd run with the Strong World Title. This, combined with his brutally efficient targeting of the arm, gives him all the momentum in the world coming out of the match.
It was a huge sign that Big Japan was going to invest in this guy – even a non-viewer such as myself could see that.
Then we have Okabayashi, who played his role to near perfection. He sold the pain of the arm. His attacks and ‘game plan’, so to speak, were logical and added to the drama of the contest. This was a man usually in a much better position. A giant. A hard-hitting monster that could get the job done. And while he did get the job done, he had to take a much different approach. He was on the back foot until the final moments, with his chops making up the majority of the offence. No lifting. A lack of lariats. They were reserved for the most desperate of moments.
A psychological thriller. An unadulterated display of pure violence. A stellar match narrative, beautifully built off the back of the preview tag team contests.
Pro wrestling doesn’t get much better than this.