Shinya Hashimoto vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara - (New Japan 06/01/1994)
Fujiwara may very well be my favourite wrestler of all time, and Hashimoto himself is excellent so right from the get go I was expecting a really really great match and unlike Kawada vs Fujiwara
: this delivered all the greatness I expected and more. This is paced very differently from your AJPW classics from around this time, there's plenty of action mixed with periods of lulls where both men jockey for position. Fujiwara has the reputation of being the most lethal man in wrestling history on the mat or on his feet so I dug how both men were nervous and careful when locking up, it played out like Hashimoto respecting Fujiwara may have his number and both men strategising for a limb to target.
No sooner has the match started and Fujiwara takes Hash down with ease into a Fujiwara armbar, straight away he's established his dominance and this sequence sets out the rest of the match pacing. Hash really sells the armbar well on the next lock up, he holds his left arm backwards and goes in one handed nervous about the armbar and it really puts over the struggle both men are in as well as making the last sequence mean something. Hash soon uses his kicks and puts Fujiwara's taped up right leg in the corner and then points to his injured shoulder and now you know it's on!! Fujiwara has some of the best facials in history (no that doesn't sound gay) and his selling of this spot is tremendous.
The other operating story in this is Fujiwara on defence. Throughout he tries to catch Hashimoto's kicks and turn into a submission and there's one sweet spot where he catches a loose kick and takes Hash down into a cross arm breaker. What Fujiwara does so well though is gradually piss off Hash more and more, he chokes him in the corner, slaps the taste out of his mouth before a lock up, avoids a spin kick from Hash and does the fucking GREATEST DANCE in the corner afterwards
. You can see Hashimoto is getting pretty fucked off with all of this and keeps going for the kicks and Fujiwara takes enough kicks to let you know he's not got them all scouted but occasionally manages to block one kick and regain the advantage. People often call him the greatest defensive seller and this match is a good illustration, you can just see him trying to antagonise Hashimoto into a mistake and it pays off towards the end with Hash motioning Fujiwara to get in the cente of the ring. Also dug Fujiwara using a sick headbutt to lock in another armbar attempt which again Hash tries to fight like death.
The finish is particularly magnificent. Hash manages to lock in the DDT but Fujiwara attempts a couple of counters before ultimately falling to the knees to the gut and then takes a horrific bump on the DDT (I think its in a youtube video entitled 'Shinya Hashimoto hates your neck'). This DDT is good enough to win by pinfall or TKO but the crowd wills Fujiwara on (its his one and only ever IWGP championship match despite being one of the first NJPW graduates) to keep fighting. Hash unloads with a variety of kicks before hitting a second sick DDT for the win.
A match so simple in its execution but equally magnificent. Each exchange is treated like an incredible struggle and Fujiwara is magnificent in setting out the story of being in control and trying to force Hashimoto into a game of human chess. Terrific stuff.