January 22, 2012

Ryuji Hijikata . . . needs to take the Bravado Brothers aside for an hour to show them how a good strike is supposed to look.

Yutaka Yoshie . . . finds a way to not make me despise his existence, even if it’s all too brief.

Atsushi Aoki . . . still possesses some of the best armbars this side of UWFI, but they don’t do him a whole lot of good.


How bad does one have to be to make Kanemaru look good? There’s not a single redeeming quality to take away from Harlem’s performance. The strikes look horrible, especially the elbows in the corner, and he tosses out all kinds of spots for no other reason than to show that he can do them. Kanemaru looks pretty good in comparison, although it probably helps that this too short for him to really get crazy. The only big spot of his is the jumping DDT, which really isn’t that high on his list, and when that doesn’t work Kanemaru decides to outwrestle Harlem and eventually beats him with a simple cradle. I’d have rather seen SUWA spend the three minutes beating the piss out of Harlem, but I can do with a reigned in Kanemaru.


Lance doesn’t look as bad as Harlem, but that’s only because he doesn’t get the chance to toss a bunch of random spots out. The strikes look just as bad, even after Marvin lays into him in the corner, and it’s obvious that he’s really just following Marvin and Ishimori’s lead on pretty much every sequence. Hijikata still has the most wicked looking shots this side of Tajiri, so maybe he can show the Bravado boys how it’s done. The match itself isn’t all that deep, the NOAH guys abuse Lance, Hijikata takes care of himself, and more abuse for Lance ends the match.


First Kanemaru, and now Yoshie finds ways to not make me hate him. Yone has a protective mask on and Yoshie is a total dick about taking shots at it, and he’s awesome for it! Yoshie’s half crab while stepping on Yone’s face ruled six ways from Sunday. If only Yoshie had done a coconut crusher, this would be the best Yoshie match ever. Besides that, there’s nothing much to see here. We have our first stupid strike exchange of the night, Yoshie’s back fist shots and Yone’s head kicks, that neither feel like selling. Yoshie throws his weight around as usual, and Yone realizes that he’s not going to be able to do much to Yoshie, so he sticks with head kicks and eventually Yoshie stays down. There wasn’t anything really offensive, other than the strike exchange sequence, but this wasn’t anything special after Yoshie finished sharking on Yone’s injury.


This is pretty nice as a showcase for Genba, but there’s not much to it besides that. Takayama and Sugiura boot each other in the face and throw each other around, and while it’s nice that Takayama can get up for Sugiura’s suplexes, it raises the same question as when Brodie Lee does it. He can do it, but should he do it? Sure, Takayama’s best days are behind him, but he’s got a long way to go before reaching becoming the next Rusher Kimura. Marufuji isn’t bad, but aside from his counter to Takayama’s knee strike and the Cobra twist into Shiranui that he uses to finish off Genba, there’s nothing that hasn’t been seen a hundred times. I don’t know if it’s because he tries so much harder, or because he’s just fresher to watch, but Genba is easily the standout here. His heel touches are a blast to watch, and are the very thing he needs to hold his own against the two men that have held every one of the GHC Titles, and he’s pretty good when he’s on the receiving end of the punishment. I’d like to see him in a different role than the obvious low man on the totem pole just to see what else he might have to offer.


Kobashi vs. Sasaki, while letting their younger partners have the spotlight, was a fresh idea in 2005, now it’s beyond old. If nothing else, the mandatory chop exchange between Kobashi and Sasaki, that goes on for far too long, is out of the way early so that the young guys can work, but even that winds up disappointing. Nakajima leans toward stiffness and no-selling, showing just how much Sasaki is rubbing off on him. It’s unreasonable to expect Kobashi to really offer too much, with how broken down and injured he is. All he has to offer are the chops, lariat, and a couple of suplexes. That leaves Taniguchi to do the heavy lifting, and, like the November tag match, he can’t pull it off. He takes the beating just fine and sells rather well before Kensuke finishes him with the NLB, but he doesn’t have, or isn’t able to show, the offense to make this work. The fact that the best crowd reaction he ges is from surviving Sasaki’s lariat is telling enough.


It’s not a surprise that this is probably the best match of the night, but when a rather inconsistent match like this is given that honor, it shows just how far NOAH has regressed from their glory days of 2004-05 (which also had their share of problems). There’s definitely some cool moments here, my favorite was Kotoge cracking Aoki with a headbutt that would have made Kikuchi proud, and when Aoki doesn’t go down, he boots him in the face to drop him. Suzuki also gets to show his own growth within the ranks by holding his own against both of the Osaka Pro boys, and making them look like buffoons. He looks miles away from the skinny junior that never won. But, the problem is that the good moments like that are counterbalanced with plenty of goofiness and downtime, the Suzuki/Harada elbow exchange felt like it went on forever and didn’t lead to anything, not even a Misawa chant. Aoki busts up Harada’s arm for a spell with some of the swankiest armbars this side of Kiyoshi Tamura, but Harada’s arm never becomes a focus, and he stops selling as soon as it’s over.

Virtually all the good action is in the last ten minutes, starting with Kotoge’s failed Killswitch and continuing on to the finish, but even that’s mostly typical juniors work, lots of spots and very little selling. The only time it seems like the titles are in danger of going to the Osaka Pro team is the springboard double impact on Aoki. The near falls from the second try at the Killswitch and the Gannosuke clutch don’t seem to get the crowd reaction you’d expect from finishers, especially considering that this is in Osaka, which should be Kotoge and Harada’s backyard. While it probably gives some rub to Aoki to pick up the win, almost single handedly, by killing Kotoge with backdrops and the finishing him off with the Assault Point, it doesn’t seem plausible that Suzuki wouldn’t do more to help them win than just keep Harada occupied. But, then again, Aoki survives both of Kotoge’s finishers without any save from Suzuki, so maybe the NOAH team just didn’t think the Osaka team should be considered genuine threats for the titles, but that’s all the more reason to try to create doubt as to the outcome.


The booking here isn’t exactly a surprise. Bad Intentions had already dropped the IWGP Tag Titles on 1/4, and Akiyama and Saito had been regular partners a decade ago, but were something of a dream team, with Saito having risen up the ranks over the years. What is surprising is how mediocre this is, things just never seem to pick up and make the match interesting. Bad Intentions don’t do anything especially dickish, despite being the outsiders. There’s no story or reason to make any sort of emotional investment in it besides being New Japan vs. NOAH, and that feud has been done on and off for ten years. They just plod along and kill time until it’s time for the finish, the only moment where things seemed to be on the verge of getting good was Jun unloading on Anderson, and it’s just Akiyama doing some of his usual stuff (running knee, Exploder, neck lock), nothing all that special. Bernard saves Anderson after the big enzuigiri from Saito, and, with Jun holding him back, Saito finishes with the Iron Claw slam followed by the Death Brand. This is relatively short for a title match in NOAH, only going fifteen, but this could have been cut in half and not lost anything.


When all was said and done, the best compliment to the match was that it was better then the semi main event. It shows promise, mostly during the first half, but then it crashes back to earth. The match starts with Morishima looking like the giant shitkicker that he needs to, easily handling Go, and making the GHC Champion look like his bitch. Go takes over the match first by surprising Morishima with a lariat and then by hitting him in the bandaged up eye to fully get control. Go’s work when he takes over is also rather smart, the piledriver on the floor was a good way to really put the hurt on Morishima, and Morishima getting up for a piledriver from Shiozaki doesn’t look nearly as odd as Takayama getting up for suplexes from Sugiura. Go’s standing kata-gatame is also a good idea, not that NOAH has really pushed the idea of submission finishers, but it’s a unique looking hold and a believable way to let Go stay in control of the match. Shiozaki also takes a page from the Bryan Danielson play book and tries to elbow Morishima into oblivion.

But, like all good things, the smart work must come to an end, and this turns into virtually every other NOAH main event. Extended strike exchanges that accomplish nothing. Morishima getting up for the piledriver wasn’t a big deal, but there’s no way that Go should be getting him up for the Go Flasher without using the ropes or turnbuckle for some kind of assist, and it’s even worse because the Flasher was just a throwaway near fall. And, it’s not NOAH without the suplex pop up sequence. A German suplex isn’t worthy of any real sell job, but a simple lariat is? Granted, it’s a Morishima lariat, but still. Finally, Morishima decides that enough is enough, and after a few wild swings he smears Shiozaki with a lariat, follows up with sweet grounded lariat, and then hits the backdrop to take the title. There’s enough good work here to keep this from being worthless, but this falls far below the expected standard for a major title match.

Conclusion: There’s some good stuff to be found underneath, but the major matches all fail to deliver in one sense or another. This is probably worthy of a youtube search or a download, but nothing that anyone will feel the need to watch more than once.