365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

What makes someone an outstanding performer in the realm of pro wrestling? Should they be measured by their single “greatest” match? Their ability to sell tickets (when we aren’t in the middle of a plague, of course) or move merch? In recent years, I’ve placed more stock in longevity as a key determinant in wrestling–whether it be the ability to reinvent yourself time and time again to remain relevant, a gradual evolution to become one of the top practitioners of your craft, or being able to sustain excellence for years… even decades.

For me, Rey Mysterio, Jr,. falls into that latter category. He’s slowed down some, naturally, after the pile-up of years and injuries but his appeal, his style and many of his signature moves remain, in many ways, timeless. In the opening installment of 365 Wrestling, I decided to watch a match between Rey and another personal favorite, Tajiri, from the New Year’s Day episode of SmackDown back in 2004. You can check out this match, and every episode of SmackDown except the most recent four episodes, on the WWE Network. You can also watch a clip from the match in the video above.

The Context

Rey gets one more crack at Tajiri, the man who beat him for the Cruiserweight Title the previous September. Tajiri’s reign included him bringing on two lackeys to watch his back and interfere on his behalf, Akio (better known as Jimmy Yang) and Sakoda.

The Match

This culminates a four-month rivalry between Rey and Tajiri, and their familiarity shines through in this one. Rather than go flying at one another, and flying around the ring, at the opening bell, they opt for a more patient, mat-based battle in the opening minutes that runs counter to what most might expect from a matchup between these two. Each man anticipates key offense of the other: Rey blocks signature Tajiri offense like the springboard back elbow and the Tarantula, while, late in the bout, Tajiri avoids a springboard senton by Rey into a sweet counter to a half crab on the left leg, which is the main target of Tajiri’s offense for most of the match.

After relying on a distraction from Akio and interference by Sakoda to get control of the match, Tajiri really works over that leg, busting out the shin breaker best known as one of Ric Flair‘s favorite moves, the aforementioned single-leg crab and (my personal favorite) a pinpoint dropkick to the knee while Rey is hanging upside down in the Tree of Woe.

The finishing stretch is a good one. Tajiri delivers a nasty-looking running sitout powerbomb for a long two count. Rey counters the following Buzzsaw Kick with a double leg bridge for a very believable false finish. Ultimately, Rey foils interference by Akio and Sakoda, hooking Tajiri with a huracanrana into the pin to become two-time Cruiserweight Champ.

Random Thoughts

–Because this is the opening match on the show, I watched from the very beginning and was reminded of Hardcore Holly getting the rub as Brock Lesnar’s challenger at the Royal Rumble, and the SmackDown credits, which were a fine trip down memory lane as they’re the same credits and theme song from SmackDown: Here Comes The Pain, a game I played habitually for most of the mid-2000s.

–Sending out Akio and Sakoda in blue shirts with black pants wasn’t the best choice. On wide shots, they looked to similar to the uniform of the time for SmackDown referees.

–Hearing Michael Cole on commentary underscored just how long he has been a lead broadcaster for WWE. Has anyone else had a longer stretch as a key part of week-to-week TV for the company?

Final Rating: 7.8

This was an excellent match that showcases both Rey and Tajiri in their primes. Everything flowed well and looked good. At under 12 minutes (counting entrances, and minus the early portion of the match we don’t see due to the commercial break), this is a brisk, action-packed match with real stakes and a satisfying conclusion. A high bar has been set for tomorrow.

What’s Next

We head to Japan and get hardcore with a death match.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.