By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Hiroshi Tanahashi © vs Toru Yano 11/12/11
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
There are few more surprising IWGP Heavyweight Championship challengers than Toru Yano. Throughout his time in New Japan, he hasn’t been averse to winning the odd title, but they were all as part of tag or six man teams rather than as a singles wrestler. Yano’s role was clear: comic relief with the odd flash pin to cause upsets in the G1 Climax or other tournaments. He was someone who could potentially defeat anyone, but often ended up beating no-one.
That this title shot against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yano’s only ever match for the title, came off the back of Yano losing to Yuji Nagata pretty much says it all. Rather than sell Yano as a challenger by putting him over several established stars and somewhat legitimising him, New Japan booked him to come down to the ring after Tanahashi had defeated Tetsuya Naito and steal the belt. Rather than Tanahashi fighting Yano as anything approaching equals, which would always be a stretch, this was a simple case of getting the possession of his belt back, gold that he had held successfully for nearly a year. It added heat and tension to match that might otherwise have none; a passable main event for the newly minted Power Struggle pay-per-view.
Tanahashi’s frustrations boiled over before the match even officially began as he jumped Yano, eventually sending him to ringside with several lashings of his coat. Yano was not safe outside of the ring as Tanahashi launched himself off of the apron and landed on the challenger. This sparked the start of the ringside shenanigans, with a guard rail and chair being introduced into the contest. Tanahashi ducked a chairshot by Yano and hit a chair-assisted basement dropkick to injure the knee and continued the assault on the joint as the match headed back between the ropes. A baseball slide to avoid a Yano kick almost allowed the champion to wrap Yano’s knee around the ringpost, only for the challenger to pull Tanahashi into the steel instead.
Tanahashi’s exuberance continued to get the better of him when a charging dive saw him smash into the ringpost stomach first, followed up by a Yano slingshot to make it three collisions in a row. This would slow down Tanahashi but not keep him out of the contest, with the fans fully behind him as he rallied against Yano, dropping his opponent with a jumping forearm to the face. Skinning the cat allowed Tanahashi to maintain his momentum and land a dragon screw leg whip after blocking a Yano kick. Putting his body at risk once more, Tanahashi landed a High Fly Flow to the outside, crashing into Yano once more.
Yano showed surprising resilience though, catching Tanahashi in mid-air on a corner splash and dumping him hard onto the canvas. Just as it looked like the challenger might work his way back into the contest, Tanahashi went back to the already injured knee to cut him off. Though not quite tying into the limb work from earlier in the match, Yano almost stole victory by blocking a frogsplash with his knees and rolling Tanahashi up for a nearfall. A drop toehold into an exposed part of the turnbuckle had Tanahashi in more danger, especially after Yano grabbed a chair and pushed the referee out of the way. In a unique spot, the champion used a dragon screw to take over both Yano and the referee, who had been holding onto the chair to try and stop its use.
A powerbomb onto the chair by Yano looked as if he might, against all odds, be crowned champion, but Tanahashi kicked out at the last millisecond. A low blow and cradle was also not enough, as Yano could not find the move to put Tanahashi away. A second attempted powerbomb was turned into a modified Slingblade by the champ, but this time it was Yano who managed to keep himself in the match as he kicked out of a Slingblade, a dragon suplex and a High Fly Flow. It was the earlier assault on the knee that eventually cost him, Tanahashi forcing the submission with a Texas cloverleaf.
For a wrestler who didn’t stand a chance, Yano came within inches of taking the gold from Tanahashi. In doing so, he proved that he, when pressed, was more than just a one note comedy act.