January 22, 2006

Junji Izumida . . . tries to beat down the Sumo legend, Akebono, by using his head!

KENTA . . . puts in one of his most disappointing performances.

Akira Taue . . . shows why all the talk of him being too old and too broken down to go anymore is hogwash!


There are some occasional good things here, like Eigen countering Shiga into the Fujiwara armbar, but, this is your standard NOAH comedy fare. Eigen and Momota are funny and throw a lot of slaps, Eigen spits a bunch, and Shiga pins Eigen after an inside cradle.


Aside from watching Sano’s team play ‘Kill the Rookie’ there isn’t a whole to see here. Kanemaru reaffirms his shittiness by blowing off a whip into the guardrail, just to boot Hirayanagi in the face. Saito doesn’t add much more than a nice strike exchange with Sano, and Inoue is his usual useless self. Hirayanagi gets a nice run with Dakota to try to win the match for his team, but can’t pull it off yet, and winds up losing when Dakota spikes him with a Diamond Dust. Ironically enough, after a few years, a name change, and a change in hairstyles, Hirayanagi would be a more interesting worker than everyone else involved.


Although this has its good moments, it never warms up enough to be anything more than just fun. Honda pretty much carries the match, providing most of the good work (his waki-gatame counter to Ogawa’s vertical suplex is probably the best moment of the match), and some of the comedy with his hard head. Koshinaka isn’t bad or anything, but, his main contribution is the hip attack (which get a bigger reaction than anything else in the match). Ogawa and Ikeda are just there, they don’t actively detract, but overall, don’t especially add anything either. Well, Ogawa does get the pin for his team, but it comes on the heels of Koshinaka breaking up the standing kata-gatame, so Koshinaka did the work and Ogawa got the glory.


The brawl between SUWA and Kikuchi that kicked this off made it look like an intense, hateful, trios match was about to happen. Unfortunately, things simmered down after Morishima, Yone, and Kikuchi each got to take their shot at SUWA on the ramp. There’s some pseudo-comedy in the form of dissension between SUWA and Suzuki, and, instead of taking it out on each other, they beat on Yone. They also have a damned fun finish, with Kikuchi pretty much taking everyone’s finisher, and getting pinned by Scorpio’s 450, but, there’s nothing in the body of the match that was nearly as exciting as the brawl in the opening moments.


For such a high-profile match, this seems awfully low-key, it just doesn’t feel like it’s anything special. The Misawa/Sasaki exchanges are clearly the centerpieces of the match, but, that’s as much due to the failure of the other four to bring much to the table than it is Misawa and Sasaki doing anything great. They work the same strike exchange that Sasaki and Kobashi did, only sub Misawa’s elbows for Kobashi’s chops, and, like the Kobashi match, they get nowhere in the process. A bit later on, Sasaki wins a strike exchange and runs through a few of his usual spots, the facecrusher, and ippon seoinage, and then plants him with a release Tiger suplex, only for Misawa for pop up and hit an elbow. The camera almost misses the finish between MT and Nakajima, because it’s watching Misawa and Sasaki trade shots on the floor. None of the other four are bad, but, none of them step up and tries to actually take the match anywhere. It’s nice that the two Mushiking characters work together so well, but, their exchanges almost look choreographed. When it comes down to it, what’s missing is more noticeable than what’s there. There isn’t any sense of real anger or hatred between the NOAH and Kensuke Office camps, and, there’s no real story being told other than what’s seen in the Misawa/Kensuke segments and the idea of each team getting a chance to abuse the other team’s lowest ranked member.


This is a bit like the previous match, in that the main aspect of the match is the rivalry between Kobashi and Akebono, but, this match is much better at conveying the hatred. Besides their exchanges with each other, there are also moments where Kobashi will be working over Rikio, but he’ll be staring, or pointing, at Akebono. There are times that it’d be nice to see them try to take the match somewhere else though, such as making the spot where Akebono stands on Kobashi and Izumida matter. They followed it up with Rikio hitting Kobashi with his own diving stomp (which probably hardly registered, after having Akebono standing on him), but then, they go out to the ramp, and Kobashi wins the strike exchange to take control. It’d have been smarter to let Rikio and Akebono stay in control and keep targeting the body, and, try to build up to a hot tag to Izumida. And, considering that the finish was a union diving body press, it’d make even more sense to wear down the body.

Rikio and Izumida both do a fine job in their supporting roles, this is certainly a step up for Izumida, even though it’s nowhere near as high of a step up as previous Kobashi partners (and opponents) have taken. It’s arguable that Izumida is the only reason that Akebono was even hurt, Kobashi’s early attacks had no effect on him, and, it’s not until they go to the floor, and Izumida surprises Akebono with the tope, that they have any success against him. Both of the times that Akebono is genuinely in trouble are also due to Izumida, he holds Akebono in place to prevent the Bonsai drop, and allows Kobashi to do the powerbomb out the corner, which leads to Akebono getting worked over for a bit, and, when it seems like Akebono is about to take over on Izumida, Izumida blasts him with a series of Mongolian chops and headbutts to stun and drop him. It’s not enough to finish him, and after he recovers, Akebono finishes Izumida off in short order, but it was nice to see Akebono try to give Izumida that little bit of rub. But, other than a smart moment when he drops a charging Rikio with an STO, Izumida doesn’t bring much more to the match than he does to the comedy tag and trio matches that he was doing before.

KENTA © vs. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)

This first half of this showed some promise, but, then KENTA decided that he didn’t want play along and tell any kind of story, and Marufuji eventually followed suit. Although KENTA has worn the title for the last six months, it’s still Marufuji who is seen as the top dog of the NOAH junior division, and KENTA’s early control segment is shown to be just as much about knocking Marufuji off of that pedestal as it about defending his title, especially with the overly stiff strikes that he levels him with. But, if there’s one thing you can almost always count on Marufuji to do, it’s to show how crafty he is, and he shows that by baseball sliding into KENTA to knock him of the apron, and then take advantage of the opening by sharking away at his leg, including a very Mutoh-esque figure four spot. But, when KENTA is ready to take back over, he does so by getting a boot up to stop a corner charge and then goes back to his kicks and knees, without any trace of selling. And, this is KENTA, there is plenty of video evidence that shows that he knows how to put over an injury in a consistent manner.

Marufuji tries to continue working smart, he low-bridges KENTA over the top to regain control, and, since KENTA ruined any chance of the leg work mattering, he tries to beat him with more high impact stuff, like the missile dropkick, while KENTA was on his hands and knees. He also smartly, modifies a Tiger suplex, to stop KENTA from doing the same escape that he did, for a good near fall, and, he delays hooking KENTA’s leg after a Shiranui to explain why KENTA kicks out.

But, once KENTA hits the DVD on the floor, the match pretty much just falls to pieces, and Marufuji gives up trying to keep things together. KENTA hits a buckle bomb, a reverse powerbomb, and then when he goes for three, Marufuji counters into a (badly botched) rana over the top. They work a sequence on the apron that ends with Marufuji hitting a Shiranui off the apron to the floor, and somehow, that’s worthy of a longer sell job from Marufuji than the two powerbombs that KENTA hit. They milk the count for KENTA, but once they’re both in the ring, it turns into the usual NOAH finisher fest, with both of them throwing out bombs, and finally ends with KENTA hitting a barrage of knees and then the Busaiku. The final flurry of knees was nice, and Marufuji took a great bump from the Busaiku, but, I can’t believe that neither of them could think of a better way to get to the finish.

AKIRA TAUE © vs. JUN AKIYAMA (GHC Heavyweight Title)

It’s too bad that Taue’s best GHC match would wind up being his last one. Both of them bring plenty of good work, and add smart little touches, to the match. There are only two big bumps, both taken by Akiyama, and they’re both put over in an appropriate way. Akiyama has always been partial to the knee strike, but, he takes it to another level here, using it both as an attempted KO strike (which eventually pays off), and to try to wear down Taue’s neck and soften him up for suplexes and the neck lock. But, it never feels like Jun is being lazy with the knee, just doing it because it’s what he does, like Misawa with the elbows. It’s always clear that Jun has a goal in mind, and it shows with the crowd reaction to the neck lock.

For all the talk about how age and injuries have broken down the Four Corners, Taue shows exactly how much he’s got left in the tank. He brings tons of great offense early on, including a big splash off the top rope, and a tope sucidia! And, he still makes sure to bring out the Baba staple of the Coconut Crusher. Taue doesn’t show the focus that Jun does, as far as having a specific game plan, or a goal that he’s working toward, but, he more than pull his weight, and makes the most of his chances to control the match.

The only odd thing is the Ore Ga Taue getting essentially wasted. Taue had taken over control with the Nodowa off the ramp (which Jun sold like death), and Taue had added one of his smart touches by covering Jun too close to the ropes, so he had to roll him further away and try again, which nicely explained the kickout. Taue followed that with a near fall from the Dynamic bomb, which isn’t a big deal, and played of the fact that Taue had tried it earlier and been blocked, but, then he goes right to his big finisher for another kickout. Considering that the next spot was Akiyama reversing a Nodowa off the top, to hit a knee and regain control, it’d have been just as well to let Akiyama escape the Ore Ga Taue to hit the knee. It’d have been even better to see Akiyama pull a Nagata and try that escape and fall flat on his face, as a way to continue selling. But, they more than make up for that one issue, but playing off the finish of their 9/18 tag match (which led to Taue challenging for the GHC) for a great near fall, and then they go to the finish, which comes off about as good as possible. This certainly stands out amongst GHC Title matches, just for not going ridiculously long, and lacking all of the nonsense that one normally sees in NOAH main events, it’s too bad that main events like this couldn’t become the norm for the promotion. ***1/4

Conclusion: A good main event caps off a very underwhelming undercard, and a huge disappointment in the semi main event.