Some matches just cut straight through the noise.
I don’t think it’s any big secret that I watch a decent amount of wrestling in my daily life from a wide variety of promotions and time periods. It’s a lot of material — a lot of it pretty good, and some of it quite great. Even with my cherry picking for matches I’m more inclined to enjoy though, these things still meld together in the brain more than they don’t.
So when a match like El Lindaman vs. Shigehiro Irie from GLEAT’s May Korakuen Hall show appears, it can’t help but stand out. There is a frankly stunning amount of confidence and almost effortless excellence in this match. I imagine a large part of that comes from these two being long time stablemates as a part of #STRONGHEARTS. They’ve travelled the roads together, worked together and against each other for years on end at this point. No one fights like brothers, and these two are as close as you get without blood.
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This is one of those matches that’s so damn good that it ruins everything else for about a day or two. It was hard returning to other contemporary wrestling after seeing this because it so clearly stood on a whole other level to everything else. Just on a mechanical level, there’s very little wrestling in the world today as crisp and perfectly executed as what Lindaman and Irie delivered on this night.
Even if all they had going for them was high quality execution, this would still be one of the best matches of the year. But as with anything truly excellent, there’s a lot of great stuff going on under the surface.
The Match Reveals Itself
I love how this match reveals itself to the viewers.
The opening moments are fairly innocuous. It’s mostly standard exchanges as the two feel each other out, punctuated but a dive to the outside by Lindaman. Even with the big spot, this is all still within the norm of what to expect, well done as it may be.
When the action gets back into he ring, Shigehiro Irie hits his first elbow of the match. That’s when everything changes. Suddenly the steady progression of the opening moments spikes into a concentrated moment of violence. Lindaman, for his part, sells that first shot like a devastating blow. The tone of the match shifts from competitive struggle to a much more urgent and violent fight for survival. Lindaman gets thrust into much bigger trouble than he might have been expecting coming in.
This aspect of the match works so well because Shigehiro Irie puts on one of the best offensive performances of the year this side of Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson. The man comes across as a world destroyer. The size disparity between him and Lindaman is obvious, but the brutality is what really does the trick. Irie transcends from powerful wrestler into pure force of nature — every strike a thunderclap, every bomb an earthquake. As with any other natural calamity, one can’t help but be drawn to its destructive power.
The best part of Irie’s performance is that even amidst all the impressive feats of strength, there’s a calculation to his violence as well. Nothing illustrates this better than when he sets up Lindaman for a piledriver on the floor. Noticing that he where he’s standing would drop Lindaman onto the black padding, Irie adjusts to ensure that he drives the champion into the hardwood instead.
I would be remiss not to mention the headbutts in this match. As I scientifically determined back in January, headbutts rock, and these are the best headbutts I’ve seen all year. Irie nails Lindaman with three skull crackers that send the viewer’s own body into secondhand convulsions. Truly disgusting stuff, such that I wouldn’t want anyone to even attempt to top what was done here.
As much as I love Irie’s performance, El Lindaman is the beating heart and soul of this match.
Back in my early days on message boards, I saw a description of “fighting spirit” that stayed with me. The poster argued that while fighting spirit gets associated with standing up after a suplex or absorbing multiple strikes, it’s best embodied in Jushin Liger getting repeatedly knocked off the top rope by his opponent but climbing back up to keep fighting every time.
That idea never left me. So when I saw El Lindaman in this match getting knocked off the top rope by Irie multiple times, and Lindaman continued to climb back up to try to take the big man down, it warmed the heart. Right there, the textbook definition of fighting spirit before my very eyes.
That underdog spirit and determination informs Lindaman’s entire performance. On a regular day, he’s already an irrepressible ball of charismatic energy. But in a big time title match like this, that translates into being an endearing underdog champion with a belly full of fire. There’s not a moment in this match where it feels like things come easy to El Lindaman. He’s scratching and scraping for every little advantage he gets until he becomes undeniable by the end.
Everything Great About Japanese Wrestling
The climax of this comes when he’s able to hit his own gross headbutt on Irie. After being on the wrong side of those headbutts all match long, Lindaman just launches himself headfirst into Irie’s cranium and it’s one of the most satisfying moments in wrestling all year. It’s the changing of the tide that allows Lindaman to start trying to bomb the larger man into the dirt.
This is everything I want out of pro wrestling from Japan. Stiff, brutal, but also buoyed with a simple and emotional story that’s easy to get behind. Great action and great stories—the perfect combo for a Japanese championship match. With COVID restrictions easing up in the country, and cheering steadily making its return, there’s a chance that something might top this later in the year. The way I see it though, that’s going to be an uphill climb from any company in Japan this year.
For now though, this match is the standard that I will measure anything else in Japan by until the year is out. I truly can not recommend it highly enough. Make some time for it as, luckily, it’s available for free on YouTube. In fact, most of GLEAT’s events get streamed live for free on YouTube. It makes them the most accessible and easy to follow company anywhere in Japan. I sure hope it stays that way because matches like this are far too good to hide behind a paywall.
Share it around, give it a watch. It’s free, you have no excuse.