July 16, 2003

After an excellent show last month, NOAH returns to the good old Budokan, and a few things become crystal clear.

Tamon Honda . . . continues his streak of good performances on important shows.

Yuji Nagata . . . doesn’t.

KENTA and Marufuji . . . become ‘The World’s Greatest Tag Team’.


Under normal circumstances only being six-and-a-half minutes long would be a knock on a match of this importance. But given some of the things that they think are good ideas, it’s just as well that this goes so short. It starts out looking like a crazy-ass brawl, which is a fine method for working the match to explain why it’s so short, but Nagata and Akiyama decide to go all out, and work this like your typical NOAH main event on fast-forward. Exploders in the ring, Exploders on the floor, DDT on the ramp, wrist clutch Exploders, and even an Exploder pop-up sequence. There is one nice part, where Nagata gets in the ring before being counted out, of course he barreled in there, rather than milk the count and put over fatigue. Once Nagata gets in the ring, Jun pounces with the Akiyama Lock, but that winds up being throwaway, so they can trade off Exploders, and Nagata hits Jun with his own Exploder ‘98 for the win. This makes Nagata vs. Taue from the month before look like even more of a miracle match than it was already.


The first half of this looks to be a continuation of Honda’s quest from the title win the previous month, proving that he can hang with the big boys. Honda has no problem with Makabe, and after he figures out that he can’t trade strikes with Takayama, he tries to wear him down with the shoulder hold. Honda only loses his advantage because he was trying to get Kobashi out of the ring, telling him that it’s his fight right now, and Makabe spears him in the back to give the challengers control. Honda takes his beating like a man, and Kobashi doesn’t get involved to do anything, until Takayama attempts to ‘ground n’ pound’ after getting a mount, and again later on when Takayama traps Honda in a juji-gatame. When Honda finally can tag in Kobashi it’s by avoiding Makabe’s charge, and surprising Takayama with a takedown, not because Kobashi did anything to make it possible.

The match focus shifts from Honda’s continued quest to prove himself, to Kobashi being the brave NOAH defender against the two outsiders, and Honda is just Kobashi’s supporting player (although he still manages to outperform Kobashi). When the match goes to the floor and any sense of traditional (even by NOAH standards) tag matches, goes out the window, Honda is right there to have Kobashi’s back, even though Kenta was making Honda take the pounding, and overcome it on his own. Makabe is little more than a “Mini-Me” version of Takayama with all the yelling and chest thumping, and none of the skills. A few weapons get involved to give Makabe an edge over Kobashi, but after Honda hits Takayama with the Dead End, over the top rope and into the ring, Makabe is left with an angry Kobashi, and a chair. And the chair shots aren’t giving Makabe much of an edge. Takayama only does so much too, he’s got his IWGP and NWF titles to worry about, his appearances in the match don’t amount to much more than giving Makabe a quick opening, or giving Makabe a quick break, and then bringing him back in.

Just like Honda was forced to endure the beating he took, now its Makabe’s turn. But Takayama isn’t forcing him to take the pounding, it’s because Honda is smart enough to figure out the best way to cut off Takayama from making the save. Honda also employs the same strategy when he’s in the ring with Makabe. Instead of working the same style that everyone else is working in NOAH big matches, Honda falls back on his amateur background and instantly differentiates himself, as well as finds a method that nobody can manage to outdo him in. Makabe finds an escape when Honda attempts the standing shoulder hold, and gets caught with a backdrop, and Makabe finally tags. As soon as things look hopeless once again for Honda, he reaches up and hooks the shoulder hold on Takayama, once again changing the complexion of the match in a split second, and forcing Takayama to tag back out to Makabe. Makabe tries his hardest to hang with Kobashi, but unless he gets an opening from Takayama, he can’t do anything. Kobashi just shrugs off his strikes, and drops him with several of his famous suplexes, including an especially nasty double flapjack with Honda. Honda keeps Takayama from intervening, and Kobashi hits the Burning Lariat for the pin, which looks more like Kobashi hogging the glory than the champions winning a hard-fought match. God bless Honda for his effort and performance here, and anyone else in place of Honda would have likely been a real disaster.


The lineups for the tournament itself pretty much set it in stone that these two teams were going to meet in the finals, and did a great job of building to it. KENTA and Marufuji eliminated the other outsider team from Zero-One, while Lyger and Murahama knocked off the only team that had beaten Marufuji and KENTA, Kanemaru and Sugiura. As good as this is, it doesn’t feel like it’s the best match they could have had, there isn’t any viable reason why these four couldn’t have put on the best match of 2003. Lyger has enough grumpiness and hate to go around, Murahama’s shooter background adds a great dynamic that NOAH usually lacks in. Marufuji can bring all sorts of great spots, and KENTA’s work speaks for itself.

The number of good to great moments in this match is insane, but they never seem to fully connect to each other and complete the great match. Very early on, it’s established that Murahama is the man who can be beaten, not because they can handle him with relative ease, but due to the fact that Lyger is handling *them* with that relative ease, there is nobody in NOAH’s junior class who has the sheer amount of both experience and success that Lyger does, and he shows it by always knowing where to be to save Murahama, and what the best tactic will be against his opponent. Marufuji can use his speed to overcome Murahama, and KENTA is one of the very few who can go kick-for-kick with him. In fact, it’s not even until KENTA shies away from the strikes and tries to take it to the air, that he gets himself in any sort of trouble. KENTA is able to regain the momentum though, because Murahama decided to stick with strikes rather than try any sort of submission hold, which would have kept KENTA in trouble, given NOAH’s chronic lacking on submission foci.

Lyger finally gets in and lays an unholy beating upon KENTA, it starts with a brutal powerbomb, and Lyger proceeds to show Murahama the error of his ways first with a Camel Clutch type stretch and then switching over to a Cobra Twist. Murahama works over KENTA’s lower half with a spinning toehold before changing up to the figure-four. It’s also nice that the fans can pick up on exactly what is going on. NOAH fans usually only pop for the big spots, and the nearfalls. However, with the outsider team being composed of a legit shooter, and a top guy from a rival company who uses heavy submission emphasis, they realize how important the holds can be, and how easily the first GHC Jr. Tag Champions couldn’t be NOAH representatives. Murahama doesn’t quite fully understand though, because once KENTA is in a precarious position he’s back to the kicks again. He’d seemingly rather be the cocky punk heel like Lyger is being, but without all of Lyger’s wisdom. This once again bites him in the ass, when KENTA begins to fire back on Murahama, and it leads to an unusually realistic looking double KO spot.

Lyger’s role isn’t just that of being the big bully who beats them up, he also knows when and how to sell big for them. Lyger does a monster sell job to Marufuji’s Asai Moonsault, and then again later on for Marufuji’s super kick. The super kick sell is actually a bit odd (although the effort from Lyger is appreciated) because it’s normally just used to stun Marufuji’s foe to set up the Shiranui. Even though he’s a distinct #3 in the NOAH pecking order, Lyger sells KENTA’s Busaiku huge. Marufuji isn’t to be outdone here, and does a big 360̊ sell job for Lyger’s shotei. Marufuji also sells Lyger’s simple but effective offense like the Brainbuster and Fisherman buster like death. Lyger makes his own error though, trying to stick it to NOAH instead of win the gold. Since NOAH etiquette has always been to do big moves off the top rope, Lyger decides to use the top rope brainbuster on Marufuji for an exclamation point, and having been in that position before, along with his excellent body control, Marufuji has no problem at all with slipping out the back door while he’s in midair.

The finish run works well enough for what it was, which was the NOAH team focusing back on Murahama and simply trying to keep Lyger at bay long enough to get the win. Murahama makes a nice last ditch effort for a submission win with a keylock hold, but when Marufuji puts the old kibosh on that one, all that’s really left for him to do is kick, and KENTA has already established that he can meet and beat him there. With Lyger out from the Busaiku, Marufuji and KENTA use a double team of their own, and then just to stick it to Lyger really well (with KENTA making sure he can’t make the save) Marufuji uses a move that has (A. Gotten him championship success before, and (B. Lyger invented, the shooting star press. The selling was off the charts (particularly from KENTA and Lyger), and the submission aspect was a very good idea in theory. Unfortunately it didn’t really work out that well in execution. It’s still a really good match, just not as good as it would seem that these two teams could have put on together. ***½.


Conclusion: The main event is really good, and Honda’s performance is excellent. Although nothing else is anything that even the most rabid NOAH fan should run out and see. The GHC Jr. Tag match is no doubt available on several compilations already. Thumbs down for this commercial tape.