Operation HEAT: A Difference In Power
Yujiro Takahashi versus Tetsuya Naito for the Tokyo Dome Right to Challenge Case and NEVER Openweight Championship is the match that made me fall in love with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Furthermore, Yujiro Takahashi was and is til this day my first favorite wrestler in this wild world of puroresu. He celebrates his 19th debut anniversary this month on July 26th and, to celebrate that day myself, I want to take a look back at his first ever title challenge in NJPW, and a match I love. Sit back, relax, as you learn about the short lived unit war of C.T.U vs SAMURAI GYM.
CTU vs SAMURAI GYM
Control Terrorism Unit (C.T.U) was a villainous unit led by Jushin Thunder Liger that terrorized the junior heavyweight division, and contained a who’s who of junior wrestling in their ranks. SAMURAI GYM was a unique faction in itself, as it started long before they even had the name. Junior wrestling legend, El Samurai teamed up with the young Ryusuke Taguchi for over a year before officially naming themselves, even enjoying a reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions where they had run-in’s with C.T.U. On March 11, 2007, Taguchi was announced as the first member of SAMURAI GYM. Then, only seven days later, they would finally get another person to join their ranks. After failing in a tag match against SAMURAI GYM alongside future rival, Texano Jr., the young junior heavyweight powerhouse YUJIRO appealed to join SAMURAI GYM, and was accepted by both men. SAMURAI GYM would proceed from that day as a trio.
Taguchi decided to make an attempt to bring the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to SAMURAI GYM by challenging C.T.U’s Minoru Tanaka for the belt. On April 13, 2007, Minoru successfully retained the belt. However, it would be his actions afterwards that would set our stage. Minoru stole the sacred SAMURAI GYM signboard that the group would carry with them. Not only that, but Minoru had proclaimed himself to be a double champion with both his belt and his newly acquired signboard. Wanting to reclaim the SAMURAI GYM signboard, but also take Minoru’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from his grasp, YUJIRO would be the next from the group to step-up. On May 22, 2007, he’d get what was built as a double crown match. Winner would indeed take all in this one.
The entrances tell you everything you need to know about the difference in the competitors state of mind heading into this. YUJIRO entered focus obviously dealing with a lot of thoughts heading into this one. Despite the hands extended out to him, and the shouts of his name overtaking his entrance music. YUJIRO kept a tunnel vision, as a fellow young wrestler named Tetsuya Naito held the ropes open for him to enter the ring and await his opposition. As soon as the first note of ‘Silence’ hits the mood changes. It’s like a rockstar is about to walk out onstage, the fans are chanting a repeated chorus of “Mi-no-ru! Mi-no-ru!” Then out he walks with a water bottle in his mouth, smug look on his face, belt and signboard in his hand, and his C.T.U teammates flanking him. The way he strutted through the group of adoring fans wanting to simply touch him and feel his greatness made him look like the coolest wrestler alive. Showcasing his ego along with the stakes of the match by walking over to the ring announcer, and demanding to be acknowledged as a double champion. He’s won this mental game right before this match begins.
The opening has quite the feeling out process, but not one that typically bores me. These two are so skilled on the mat with their respective backgrounds that I could watch them roll around on the mat all day. YUJIRO has decided to target the heavily taped arm of Minoru which is a smart strategy even if none of his big moves focus on the arm. Minoru starts to comeback, but he’s immediately shutdown with a belly to belly toss. What made YUJIRO standout, despite being so young, is he was a junior that wrestled in a heavyweight power fighter style. Despite that, he’s inexperienced and him overcommitting on an attack gives Minoru the window of opportunity he’s been seeking. Now Minoru is working over the arm of YUJIRO possibly to soften it up for the Minoru Special 1, and or 2. Minoru is truly a wizard in the ring, because he’s perfected his style and is such a unique shoot-style/high-flying junior hybrid. A flurry of buzzsaw kicks to the targeted arm while encouraging the one-armed man to fight back is tremendous scumbag stuff. This match has swung into the direction of the champion, and is seemingly all but won. YUJIRO hitting a desperation power slam doesn’t even swing momentum back his way, as he soon finds himself trapped in the Minoru Special 1.
YUJIRO fights out, and once he gets back on a roll Minoru shuts him down immediately…or so we think. Minoru starts to work back on the arm after a brief glimmer of hope, as he Irish Whips YUJIRO only to be bulldozed by a big tackle. The action starts getting very fast, back and forth, but the shining moments for YUJIRO have just begun. He gets up instantly after Minoru attempts a pin following an avalanche fisherman’s buster. Charging right into a Minoru jumping knee followed by a buzzsaw kick. Minoru attempts another pin, but only gets a one-count AGAIN! YUJIRO fights back with a big time lariat followed by his Deadlift German Suplex Hold! One..two..KICKOUT! YUJIRO slams Minoru down to the mat, before shouting out “IKUZO!!” He scales the top rope for a big moonsault, but Minoru moves! Minoru measures for another buzzsaw kick, but YUJIRO catches him with a rollup! After a two-count, YUJIRO is like a stubborn bull trying to run through Minoru. Big lariat to the back followed by a charging front one turns Minoru inside out. YUJIRO picks up Minoru, and plants him with a big Intercolligate Slam! He rushes into the cover! One…Two…Thr-KICKOUT FROM MINORU! YUJIRO’s raging bull style leads to his downfall, as his repeated lariat attempts finds him caught in the Minoru Special 1 again. Finally, this time there is no escape and he’s forced to tap.
When The Dust Settled
In July 2007, Taguchi defeated Minoru to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, and retrieve the SAMURAI GYM signboard. That very same night, C.T.U was disbanded when Jushin Liger dissolved the group to join Masahiro Chono’s LEGEND. While it may seem like SAMURAI GYM had a storybook ending, they didn’t. El Samurai left New Japan the following year, and the group was dissolved. While the group was short lived, YUJIRO learned a lot from Samurai. He even adopted some of his moves like the diving headbutt, tope suicida, tornado DDT, and the inverted DDT he still does to very this day. Furthermore he would get his revenge on Minoru when he pinned him to capture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships the following year. He would do it alongside that very same fellow young wrestler who held the ropes open for him before this match got underway. I’m sure that direct fall over Minoru to capture the belts was exhilarating for YUJIRO. Why couldn’t he do the same in their singles? Well, it boils down to one specific reason: Yujiro’s stubbornness which saw him keep trying to throw lariats with his damaged arm. That inexperience is what highlighted their difference in power.