Agony is the Price: The Visceral, Violent Beauty of Takashi Sugiura vs. Yoshihiro Takayama

Credit: Pro Wrestling NOAH

There is a sense of danger humming along every thread of Takashi Sugiura vs. Yoshihiro Takayama.

Any blow could be the final one. In an instant, we could see a warrior black out and fall at his foe’s feet. There is no Freytag’s Pyramid here. The climax always feels only a moment away, like an axe lifted above a stack of firewood, we sit waiting for that blade to fall.

Sugiura entered the Ariake Coliseum as GHC Heavyweight Champion.

The bruiser with the piercing glare won NOAH’s top title in December 2009. He defended against Togi Makabe and fended off Hirooki Goto (when he took the title to NJPW), but this bout, on NOAH’s 10th Anniversary in 2010, was a vastly different test.

Takayama is a monstrous man. 6’5”, 275 pounds doesn’t feel an accurate description of his size. He has always felt even larger than that, his presence filling up the ring like a shadow stretching across the ground. His face, mishappen by years of abuse, molded into something out of a Francis Bacon painting, tells a story of how violently he has lived.

The champ looked across the canvas at that beast, his own personal Goliath. At this point, Sugiura had yet to beat the big man. He fell to Takayama in 2001, 2008 (in just over two minutes), and 2009.

But he does not behave like the underdog here. Sugiura leaps into battle and trades elbows to the chin with the immense challenger.

Their fight quickly moves outside the ring where Sugiura’s hopes are soon snuffed out. Takayama overwhelms the champion. He clubs him. He pops him with a knee that lifts him off his feet. He suplexes him onto a table.

Damn, is he good at domination.

Takayama is methodical. He is a predator slowly squeezing the life out of this stubborn prey, his foot on Sugiura’s throat, his weight bearing down on him. This isn’t Strong Style, it’s Outright Destroy You Style.

As compelling as Takayama’s assault is, the bout’s real intrigue comes from Sugiura’s resilience in the face of it.

The big bear keeps swiping him down, but Sugiura soldiers on for comeback attempt after comeback attempt. Sugiura is unafraid. He is powered by courage, his survival instinct, or machismo-born stupidity. It does not matter what agony awaits him. He is going to keep swinging back.

Sugiura’s inner fire burns brightly, and he thrives as a warrior that you can’t help but root for.

In the course of this brawling, Takayama at one point pulls away bloody. Red slides down the creases in his face. The monster’s armor has cracked.

Blood adds a dramatic visual element to the next stages of the slugfest. It stains both men’s hair. It drips onto Sugiura’s shoulders. It is the foreboding violins surging in the background.

The men trade knee shots and slaps, going strike for strike until a massive suplex from Takayama floors the champion. When that is not enough and Sugiura kicks out, still undaunted, the mood of the match shifts.

You see a flash of concern on Takayama’s mug. Is there doubt emerging from under all that blood?

And then they just start punching each other in the throat.

It is a glorious, primitive exchange. One must end the other. One must leave the other lying on the forest floor. The end must be definitive and severe. It is.

Sugiura nails Takayama with a knockout knee. A primal roar leaves his chest. He lifts then twice slams his ogre opponent, downing him for a resounding three-count.

It is over. This underground fight pit of a match has gone the way of the long shot.  

Before Sugiura goes on to keep greats like Jun Akiyama and Takeshi Morishima at bay, holding tight to that precious golden belt, he and his adversary share a moment of love and respect. After all that viciousness between them, Sugiura lifts the weary bear, and they embrace.

Sometimes even the monster cannot help but be impressed by its slayer.  

It is this kind of storytelling, powered by brutality, that have been the hallmark of both men’s careers. It is nights like these, awash with blood and emotion, that compel fans to revisit their work years later, to watch a man be dominated, to watch a man prevail, in awe, in reverence.