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 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

The first installment in the project and we’re kicking things off by spotlighting two of my all-time favorites.

Rey Mysterio, Jr. has 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. Tajiri, meanwhile, is a fine example that a wrestler doesn’t have to take a turn as a headliner to be memorable. Tajiri spent his entire time in American wrestling in the midcard, but his look, style and charisma paved a path to success for the Japanese Buzzsaw in WWE and ECW. Like Mysterio, Tajiri is still active. Though he’s slowed down more than Rey, Tajiri became MLW Openweight Champion near the end of 2021.

You can check out this match on Peacock. You can also watch a clip from the match in the video above.

The Match

Rey gets one more crack at Tajiri, who dethroned Mysterio 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.

This culminates a four-month rivalry between Rey and Tajiri, and their familiarity shines through in this one. Rather than go right 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. Each man anticipates key offense of the other: Rey blocks signature Tajiri maneuvers like the springboard back elbow and the Tarantula, while, late in the bout, Tajiri avoids a springboard senton by Rey with 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. The highlight of that attack is a pinpoint standing dropkick to the knee while Rey is hanging upside down in the Tree of Woe.

The finishing stretch is strong with each man scoring 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.

Final Rating: 7.6

This is a very good match that showcases both Rey and Tajiri in their primes. Everything flowed well and looked good. At under 12 minutes (counting entrances, and minus an early segment of the match we don’t see due to the commercial break), this is a brisk, action-packed match with real stakes, a strong narrative centered around Rey’s left leg, and a satisfying, definitive conclusion. Seek out this match if you haven’t seen it.

What’s Next

We head to Japan and ring in 2013 with a death match.

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

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