With Ryusuke Taguchi’s run to the final of the 2016 Best of the Super Juniors, including notable matches with KUSHIDA, Matt Sydal and finally Will Ospreay, it seemed like a good time to revisit the 2011 final where we found ourselves in a very similar situation. Taguchi, the old guard of the junior division, against the next hot sensation of the wrestling world.
At this point in time Taguchi was devoting a lot of his time to his team with Prince Devitt, collectively known as Apollo 55 (not sure whatever happened to that Devitt guy). As part of this run they’d faced DDT’s Golden Lovers, Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega, in matches for the IWGP junior tag team titles. This match continued that particular beef. The story of the match was quite simple; Ibushi flipped around and did his incredible flashy stuff. Taguchi couldn’t compete with that, but what he did bring to the match was intelligence. Ibushi tried to be flashy but as long as Taguchi stayed a step ahead he’d have a chance.
In recent years Taguchi has received a bad reputation, mostly because he does comedy stuff on spot shows and doesn’t get serious as much as he used to, but on his day he’s still fantastic. This was one of those days. The role of a “base” in pro wrestling is underappreciated and Taguchi’s one of the best at that particular skill. It’s not that he’s able to just keep up with his opponent. His timing, both in cutting Ibushi off and in allowing Ibushi to get his own shots in, took a very aesthetically-pleasing match and added some real drama to it. And drama there was – Korakuen Hall loved the Gooch. It was weird to see a crowd supporting someone so much against Ibushi.
The heavy nearfall style can sometimes be a bit too much but it really worked for me here. There’s something inherently enjoyable about a great big tournament ending with both finalists going balls to the wall and doing every single move they know on each other. Ibushi hit all of his big money moves and nothing seemed to keep Taguchi down, only for Ibushi to kick out of a series of suplexes and the Dodon’s Throne, a move that had taken Taguchi to the final. It’s been five years since this match took place and I knew the result but that nearfall got me. Eventually Taguchi’s trickster ways weren’t enough, as Ibushi blasted him with a sit-down Last Ride powerbomb and connected with the phoenix splash to win the tournament. He was so excited he basically mounted referee Red Shoes, so everything ended on a romantic note.
It was in this match that I realised Ryusuke Taguchi is pro wrestling’s Ronnie Gardocki. He’s not the main man on the team, he gets overlooked a lot of the time, but he’s incredibly dependable when you need him to be. Sometimes his facial hair sucks. And he loses at the end. A magnificent man. ****1/4