April 24, 2005

With Rikio’s big title win out of the way, we have one more stop before arriving at the Tokyo Dome.

Minoru Suzuki and Naomichi Marufuji . . . are freakin’ awesome.

Mitsuharu Misawa . . . is freakin’ awful.

Go Shiosaki . . . looks like he will be freakin' awesome, one day.


It’s more than a little odd to ever think that the addition of Mitsuharu Misawa to any match, is the only negative aspect of a match, but here it is happening. Marufuji and Kotaro bring plenty of flashiness, Marufuji and Minoru Suzuki bring plenty of attitude, and Kotaro brings all sorts of sympathy to the match. All Misawa seems to be good for are adding elbow smashes to the match. Fortunately, Misawa isn’t in the match a whole lot and as a result the other three get to shine. Particularly the MaruSuzuki combination as they do everything they can to put sympathy on Kotaro, but with a minimum of actual beating, so that he’s still realistically able to make his comeback. Minoru uses several nasty looking submissions, as well as doing general asshole things, such as feigning an Irish whip toward Misawa’s corner, and then yanking him back the other way. Marufuji looks like he’d just watched a twelve-hour ‘Best of Ohtani’ compilation tape the way he’s trying to give off general disdain for Suzuki, even making a tag while standing on his head. Suzuki blocking the attempted piledriver is really the only thing that looked a bit out of place, but even then, he hadn’t been taking much in the way of a physical pounding.

When Misawa does make an appearance in the match though, Suzuki and Marufuji go all out to make him look lethal. They always get sent reeling back from one of his elbows, when Marufuji takes a bump from a monkey flip by Misawa, the term “Crash and Burn” doesn’t do it justice. Misawa eventually does have to tag Suzuki back in so they can work the finish, Misawa’s final appearance to save Suzuki from the springboard spike piledriver was a great way to show that he’d just worn out his welcome in the match. The choke sleeper putting him out of the match is a technically sound way to do it, but missing that great visual aspect. Such as Suzuki doing the flip over the back, but they were saving the great visual for the finish. Kotaro’s final offensive run with the flash cradles is fun, and the junior ace has no problem coming within an eyelash of getting pinned. The choke sleeper that put Misawa out, used to set up the Shiranui was a great finish. This is a damn fine match on it’s own, and with Marufuji and Suzuki heading toward the GHC Tag Team Titles, it shows that despite his many booking faults, Misawa does seem to know a good thing when he sees it. ***1/4


The last match was about disdain and disgust this one is about revenge. Kobashi vs. Tenryu is another of the dream matches that NOAH has been teasing its fans with, and they start things off hot and heavy with Tenryu throwing a table, and water bottle at Kobashi. Kenta responds to that, the only way that Kenta Kobashi can. He gives Tenryu about thirty chops straight to his chest, and drawing some sick looking juice in the process. Kobashi just gave Tenryu a good reason to dislike him, and Akiyama and Kobashi has its own storied past. So what happens is very obvious, Akiyama and Tenryu take out their aggression and hatred for Kobashi on his poor rookie of a tag team partner.

Maybe it’s just because he hasn’t become over exposed in big matches for this role, but Go Shiosaki seems to have wisdom beyond his years for how to put over the pain that he goes through. Of course there is some silliness, such as not selling a strike and firing back, but considering that (A. it’s pretty much a trademark of NOAH big matches and (B. Shiosaki is a NOAH dojo graduate and pupil of Kobashi. It actually sort of makes sense that he’d be doing it. When Shiosaki does get any offense in, he keeps it relatively simple and not too flashy. Jun could have used at least one of his bigger moves to try to put him away, it makes sense that he’s not bringing out the high-end offense for Shiosaki, but even a simple Exploder would have probably given off a decently hot near fall. Tenryu isn’t to be left out, and he makes sure to get in some stiff chops of his own, Tenryu is getting revenge on Kobashi vicariously through Shiosaki. Shiosaki eventually makes the hot tag, and Kobashi has success at first. He gets in a big suplex, and chops Tenryu in the chest a bit more, but eventually the numbers game becomes too great, and in a great camera shot, we see Shiosaki is on the floor leaning against the apron trying to get his bearings straight.

Shiosaki doesn’t get much of a breather though, because as soon as he sees Kobashi is stuck in the Akiyama Lock, he runs right back in and does everything he can to free Kobashi. In something that’s odd to see in NOAH at all, let alone in Kobashi matches, the submission hold is given a huge amount of respect, and Kobashi does a great sell job of it, and tags Shiosaki back in so they can work the final stretch. Shiosaki never gets much of a big advantage over Tenryu, and unlike with Kotaro there aren’t any near falls from flash roll-ups that nobody is going to believe for a second will get the win. Just the mere fact that Shiosaki was able to trade off slaps and chops with a legend like Mr. Puroresu himself, Genichiro Tenryu is enough of a personal victory. Shiosaki makes the rookie mistake and tries to go up top for a moonsault, and Tenryu gets to his feet, yanks him down and finishes him off. The look that Tenryu shoots at Kobashi says it all, even though Kobashi busted his chest open something awful, Tenryu came out the winner. The real story though is the excellent performance of the rookie though, if Shiosaki is able to keep performing at this level, given a few more years of experience to develop more of a move set, and get a better look for himself, he could easily be a top worker in NOAH. ***½


There certainly are better ways that a new champion can have his first title defense, and better opponents to have a first title defense against than Saito. The main problem with Saito is that he doesn’t have much of an actual move set and so when the time comes to have an extended segment working over Rikio, all Saito can manage to do is throw kicks. When Saito decides to target the arm of Rikio, things do pick up a little bit, because his roundhouse kicks actually have an intended purpose, but as soon as the juji-gatame is released, Saito just forgets about the arm and goes right back to the random throwing of his various strikes. The only of Saito’s near falls that look close to being convincing was his Tajrii-style roundhouse to the head, and that was only due to the how late in the match it was when he hit it.

Rikio does a great job at selling his arm that Saito is targeting . . . for a while. Rikio yells in pain anytime that any sort of contact is made with that arm, and has trouble doing his patented cradle DDT. But once Saito forgets about the arm, Rikio forgets about selling it. Rikio can throw stiff shots at Saito’s back, throw his famous slaps, and pulls off a very ugly botched powerbomb, without even the slightest affliction to his arm.

Another problem that creeps up with Rikio is that he seems to be trying too damn hard to be Kenta Kobashi. In this match Rikio shows the same penchant for silly no-selling, as well as taking bumps off the ramp to the floor. That sort of behavior works for Kobashi because we’ve seen him taking all sorts of brutal punishment for years and years. Until Rikio takes some obscene beatings from Jumbo Tsuruta, Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, and gets knocked completely out of it from a Western Lariat while he’s on the top rope, then that sort of stuff isn’t going to fly. Instead of trying so hard to be like (arguably) the greatest GHC Heavyweight Champion in the short four-year history of the title, Rikio needs to be more worried about finding his own identity.

One Kobashi trait that Rikio could have stood to pick up would be how to work a finish run without devaluing his big move. The Muso has gained Rikio two pinfall victories over Kenta Kobashi, as well as the GHC Heavyweight Title. Against an opponent as far down the food chain below him as Saito is, if he needs to use it at all, it only needs to be once. But here we see Saito not only survive it, but kick out of it (a foot on the rope would have been a little bit more forgivable). So Rikio has to fire off another flurry of offense, and then connect a second Muso in order to finally put Saito away. More often than not, the role of the champion is a role that wrestlers will have to grow into. Kobashi was the same way, and his title defenses against Honda and Nagata, as compared with his defense against Taue, show that it sometimes does take time. Hopefully Rikio can correct some of these faults, because we all know how much Misawa likes his champions to have extended runs with the gold, if Rikio doesn’t grow into the role, it’s going to feel like a very long reign for Rikio.

Conclusion: Despite the disappointment in the main event, the other two matches both are great stuff and should definitely be seen. If you’re like me and don’t have IWTV access, then I’d highly recommend picking up this commercial release.