Time to get Skrong up in here!
This match is for Yuji Okabayashi’s Big Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Championship.
Within BJW there is a division that is known as the Strong Division. That division consists of a style known as Strong Style. Boiled down to its most bare elements Strong Style is two dudes hitting one another as hard as possible. It feels, to me at least, like it is an offshoot of the Fighting Spirit trope that has been common in Japanese wrestling for many years now. That’s not to imply that Strong Style is anything new, it’s been around for some time now as well. I do think there are differences between the BJW approach to Strong Style and the classic New Japan Pro Wrestling Strong Style approach. That’s another article though; for our purposes today all that matters is that you know BJW has an entire division devoted to guys walloping one another and that the walloping is called Strong Style.
Well before I knew any of the above about BJW, I knew I was a fan of Yuji Okayabayshi. The legendary Dean Rasmussen of Death Valley Driver Video Review wrote post after post of Okabyashi praise when I first came back to pro wrestling near the beginning of 2014. Trusting in Dean I went and sought out Okabayashi and was very impressed with what I saw. On the surface Okabayashi is all tough guy. That’s the image he exudes, the style he wrestles, and the way he carries himself at all times. Like any great wrestler there’s more to Okabayashi than meets the eye.
Take this match for example, where Okabayashi gives so very much of himself to Ryota Hama. This is important because if Okabayashi isn’t willing to give so much of himself then Hama’s act will die a quick death. Luckily Okabayashi isn’t selfish, and he does give plenty of himself. That means he makes Hama’s offense look killer, and that he plays to the timing based game of Hama to great aplomb. He may wrestle an outward style of being the tough guy, but so much of why Okabayashi succeeds, and why this match is great, is because of how willing Okabayashi is to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and to do what it takes to make his opponent look great.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that Hama needs some help to be great. In no way does that mean Hama is a schlub being carried to something great by Okabayashi, but Hama does need some help along the way. His entire act is predicated on his opponent being willing to work to make him look good. A prime example of this is the sequence near the end of the match where Okabayashi is drilling Hama with Lariat after Lariat. Hama won’t go down though, and that means that Okabayashi keeps coming at him with more Lariat’s. Then Hama musters the strength to hit a Crossbody for a close two count. That’s a sequence that only works if Okabayashi is willing to both let Hama shrug off his power based offense, and to put himself in the right position for Hama’s timing based offense.
When I say that Hama’s offense is timing based, I really mean his offense is timing based. It’s an important element of the match too, because Hama’s timing based offense is the main reason this match ends up being darn great. The crowd buys into the offense that Hama does hit. They know who he is, they can see how rotund he is; they know of his lack of mobility. That’s why Hama leaving his feet for a Crossbody is a moment that truly pops the crowd. It’s completely timing based, is set up to near perfection, and the audience buys into the moment completely.
I almost didn’t write about this match. As it marched along I thought it was really good, but not quite great. The final six minutes or so sealed the deal as far as this being a great match was concerned. All the early ground work made more sense, the repeated Chops to Hama’s chest began to pay off, and the idea of Okabayashi needing to use Hama’s reliance on timing against him crystalized within the story of the match. Timing can be overwhelmed, an onslaught can become too much, and a good match can turn into a great match right before your very eyes.
Oh, the drive for respect!