365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
Tajiri has become a repeat showcase here at 365 Wrestling. He and Steve Austin (twice as Stunning, once as Stone Cold) tie thus far for the most total appearances in the project, with three apiece.
Recently I joked that this project is like a wrestling nerd’s equivalent of Quantum Leap, jumping to different promotions and places for various snapshots. Thus far we’ve seen Tajiri at two different times and places: a chapter of his star-making and highly influential feud with Super Crazy, and a well-done, fast-paced WWE cruiserweight match with Rey Mysterio, Jr.
And now, for something completely different, we take a look at the latter stages of Tajiri’s career, in this match with Dave Finlay from Tajiri’s SMASH promotion in 2012.
This match is available on YouTube and, for your convenience, embedded below:
Tajiri started SMASH (not to be confused with the Canadian promotion also called Smash) at the end of 2009, not long after HUSTLE — a Japanese company where Tajiri had been a regular — closed. SMASH brought in a wide and varied roster through its two-plus years of active existence but by the time of this event, SMASH 25, the promotion had announced it would be shutting down. Finlay, who you probably know better as longtime WWE/WCW wrestler Fit Finlay, had won the SMASH Title the prior November.
This was Finlay’s only defense of the title, the final match for the title, and the only time Tajiri and Finlay wrestled one another in a singles match.
Before the match gets going, SMASH put together a video to hype the title bout, and what was announced at the the time as the final event, and it’s pretty fantastic. The video touts Finlay as a world-beater, calling him King Terror, and showcasing several big names of wrestling talking about how formidable he is, including Ultimo Dragon noting he would refuse to wrestle Finlay if the match got booked. Well then.
This was not what I expected to see at all, in a good way. I anticipated lots of striking. Instead Finlay’s forearms and Tajiri’s kicks serve as accents to spice up the unexpected stew that hearkened back to wrestling’s days of yore. Matwork is the centerpiece of this match, and every aspect of that battle felt like a true struggle. Along the way, we see some beautiful touches, such as Tajiri picking an ankle and applying a leglock on Finlay when the retaining champion goes for a lateral press. Later, after Tajiri finally starts throwing kicks targeting that same leg and Finlay regains the upper hand, Finlay rubs his thigh in a subtle but masterful bit of selling, getting the feeling back in his leg.
Matters intensify after Finlay counters a tarantula attempt by Tajiri and just starts laying in a beating both inside and outside the ring. Finlay lives up to the reputation placed upon him in the pre-match video. He controls the majority of the match and just keeps coming at Tajiri, although eventually the Irishman does wear down, a battle of attrition that leads to a very believable false finish after a Buzzsaw Kick.
Finlay blocks a second attempted Buzzsaw Kick with a spinebuster and, after a tombstone doesn’t seal the deal, he shortly thereafter resorts to rulebreaking. He brings his shillelagh into the ring behind the referee’s back and waylays Tajiri, then hits a second tombstone piledriver after a prolonged struggle to finish the match.
The pomp and circumstance surrounding the match — with the knowledge of the promotion’s impending closure, and the video presenting it as Tajiri’s last chance to capture the title in his own company — positions this as an eventual coronation, making the outcome a major surprise.
–After the match, Finlay grabs the microphone and leaves the title belt in the middle of the ring, then challenges Tajiri to “keep wrestling classic.” This is a harbinger of Wrestling New Classic, the promotion Tajiri would start not long after SMASH folded.
–The national anthems of both wrestlers play before the match, an outstanding touch that adds to both the real-sport and big-fight feel of this one.
Final Rating: 7.2
This is a very good throwback match with plenty of stakes and history adding to the appeal. Both guys wrestle with a sense of urgency, and you believe that they are trying to win the title at all costs and as quickly as possible, not just trying to have a “classic” or highly-rated match. It’s atypical in the body of work of two guys who spent the bulk of their careers thriving as midcarders, but they carry the big-match feel and made me wish there were more one-on-one matches between them. Definitely seek out this one.
We fire up some tag action in CHIKARA from 2005.