April 25, 2004

Just like the Great Voyage 2004 review, this also needed retooling, and it’s also an upgrade from a complete TV to commercial release. It’s never pleasant to eat crow and see that you were wrong. But it’s preferable than living in the great big box of ignorance, and insisting to everyone (including yourself) that you don’t need to go back and give it another look.

Makoto Hashi . . . shows that he didn’t step up and prove himself, like we all thought he did.

KENTA and Marufuji . . . are still ‘The World’s Greatest Tag Team’, but their match wasn’t an all-time classic.

Yoshihiro Takayama . . . actually poses a serious threat to Kobashi and the GHC.


Aside from the finish, there really isn’t anything surprising about this. It’s a lot of big men beating on smaller men, and big men no-selling smaller men. Considering that Hashi had supposedly proved himself to Akiyama, in his match against Lyger the month before, he really doesn’t show it here. His only successes against Rikio are his cheap shots to him on the apron, and although he’d failed to do that to Akiyama back in January, Suzuki is able to successfully do that to Akiyama in this match. Hashi also doesn’t really show that much success against Suzuki, unless Akiyama has already softened him up, with a big move, such as the piledriver on the ramp.

There is a bit on continuity from the January trios match, in the form of Rikio being able to get control of Akiyama, but unable to sustain it for very long. When Jun has Rikio in the chinlock, Suzuki comes in and starts battering away at Akiyama with kicks, stomps, dropkicks, anything to break the hold, and just like January, Akiyama isn’t even phased. Jun lets go of the hold, only to give Suzuki a few more free swings, before he beats him senseless. When it’s down to Hashi and Kotaro, you’d think Hashi would have the situation well at hand, and at first he seems to. But there is no catalyst for Suzuki’s comeback (and eventual pin after the Blue Destiny), other than escaping Hashi’s attempted Goriman’s driver off the top. Nothing that Akiyama or Rikio did made any impact at all. If anything, the finish is just as much of a huge win for Kotaro, as it is proof that Hashi hasn’t done anything to prove himself. Sure, Suzuki was challenging Lyger two days after this for the title, but it was at a New Japan house show. The Akiyama/Hashi storyline was one of the better received storylines that NOAH had run, and by giving Hashi the loss to Suzuki in his first major match since he supposedly proved himself to Akiyama, it seems like a step backwards.


While the fact that the junior tag champs lost is no big surprise here, what is surprising, is that they’d further cement their status as ‘The World’s Greatest Tag Team’ by doing what no other team could seem to do, force the champions to step up their game, in order to keep the titles. Right from the get-go when the challengers jump the champions and start to double team Misawa, they’re telling Misawa they aren’t going down without a fight. Misawa tries to use his usual single elbow smash to ward off KENTA, but he just keeps firing away, and it’s not until Misawa digs down a bit deeper into his move set, that he’s able to keep him down. When Misawa and Ogawa finally get control of KENTA, he takes his beating like a man, complete with a great sell job. It’s nothing overblown, but nothing understated at the same time, he seemed to find the perfect level to sell everything. KENTA also doesn’t just start throwing kicks for a comeback, he waits until a reasonable opening presents itself, and then goes from there. When Marufuji gets his turn for some abuse, it’s more of the same, although his selling isn’t as grand as KENTA’s. He makes up for his though, with using his body control to make for some dramatic, yet not over-the-top bumping, especially the bump Marufuji takes on Misawa’s monkey flip, the term “crash and burn” doesn’t quite do it enough justice.

The challengers sense when the champions are starting to get complacent and try their usual sleepwalking bit, and that’s when they strike. It takes all of twenty seconds for Marufuji to hit a sleeping Misawa with a superkick and Shiranui on the ramp, and KENTA to level an unsuspecting Ogawa with the Busaiku, and turn things around completely. Instead of instantly raising their game though, like they did in the beginning of the match, the champs try some of their usual tricks, like Ogawa’s stooging, and Misawa hitting an Emerald Frozian and then letting Ogawa take the pin, but KENTA simply won’t allow it, and saves Marufuji at every turn. Misawa doesn’t learn his lesson though, and soon afterwards he once again starts trying to do as little as possible, but this time the challengers decide to fire him up. KENTA’s ode to Kawada is simply beautiful, and the only way the moment could have been any greater was if Budokan had broken out into a chant of “KA-WA-DA!” It does the trick too, as Misawa is instantly fired up and ready to continue to laying in the punishment. When Misawa tries a half-assed elbow to stop Marufuji, and he comes back with an Axe Bomber (shade of Takao Omori, who’d left NOAH the year before) it’s met with a similar reaction by Misawa.

As great as it is to see the junior tag champs making the heavy tag champs put their working boots on, the sad truth is that the challengers haven’t got a prayer. KENTA and Marufuji really throw the gauntlet at them, and it doesn’t make a difference. The only credible near fall that the challengers get, come from Marufuji’s reverse Shiranui off the top, and that’s only because Misawa isn’t adverse in the least to taking big bumps. It was nice that Misawa thought to ramp up the Emerald Frozian a bit, since Marufuji had already survived the regular one, for them to finally retain the titles. But it’s still a big failing on the part of Misawa and Ogawa that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t do more to make things seem like the challengers could actually pull off the upset. ***1/2


There is no denying that this match does have its strong points, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad. On paper, Takayama is a unique opponent for Kobashi. The size difference means that Kobashi won’t be able to simply mow him down, and one of Takayama’s specialty is taking a beating, and asking for more. In other words, typical Kobashi wouldn’t be able to cut it here, and the champ would be the one with his back to the wall, for a change.

There are some nice bits early on, like Kobashi’s DDT on the exposed floor, and Takayama attempting to give Kobashi the Half-Nelson suplex. Of course there are also the chops, which is more or less a prerequisite of Kobashi’s big matches. Things don’t really pick up though, until Takayama starts to target Kobashi’s knee. It’s hardly an original thought. Kobashi’s knees have been shot all to hell for years now. Kobashi’s knees have often been the targets of those looking to relieve him of the GHC. Another staple of Kobashi’s matches, has been vanquishing his challengers with the almighty lariat. So after Takayama has Kobashi distracted by attacking his knees, he switches gears and goes after his arm, in an attempt to hopefully neutralize the lariat. Takayama’s use of the juji-gatame stands out as one of the very few times that the NOAH crowd actually reacts to a submission hold, and Kobashi’ selling while he’s in the hold is outstanding. He also does a nice sell job of his arm when Takayama drops it over his shoulder. But unfortunately, Kobashi’s selling isn’t always that great. He hardly flinches when he hits a running lariat on Takayama on the floor.

Aside from Takayama’s interesting game plan on taking Kobashi down, there isn’t a whole lot else they do, other than paste away at one another punches and chops. Takayama’s MMA credentials and the number of credible strikes, do serve to makes this a more even contest, than the last few GHC defenses of Kobashi. Kobashi also gets to take his big bump, as a result of German suplex to the floor (and Takayama sells it as a KO, just as much as Kobashi). This is also one of the few times that Kobashi’s penchant for big suplexes actually works in his favor, due to Takayama’s size, and his ability to take a beating. Kobashi’s use of the lariat isn’t without a purpose, although it’d have been nice if he did sell the arm. Even though Takayama had moved away from it for a while, then at least there would have been some sort of explanation for why Takayama survived it. The same cannot be said for the way Kobashi just errantly blows off Takayama’s head kick before hitting the lariat. Kobashi needing to dig out the moonsault for the first time in years, speaks volumes for how much of a challenge Takayama was, and this definitely isn’t a big squash, like his last few defenses were. But if this is good enough to be a standout defense of Kobashi’s first title run, it’s due to the lack of quality challengers he faced, rather than the merits of this. ***1/4

Conclusion: Well there’s plenty of good, but nothing great. It was nice to see Kobashi actually have a challenge for a change, and to see Misawa and Ogawa actually put their work boots on. I’m going to recommend it, because this is still good enough to stand out for 2004, which was far from a pinnacle year for great matches