January 10, 2004

Change is good sometimes. A person’s observations and perspective can change a lot in a twenty-two-month time frame, so sometimes you’ve got to go back and reevaluate. Tape upgrades from complete edition TV, to commercial release are always a good thing when it involves NOAH.

Mitsuharu Misawa . . . sleepwalks through a big match, it’s one of the luxuries of being the owner .

El Samurai . . . shows that he’s still got a few more good matches left in him.

Tsuyoshi Kikuchi . . . summons the spirit of Fuchi, to deliver a brutal beating.


The NOAH vs. NJPW matches are better left to the juniors, not only are they much better in the work department, but they’re able to garner a great deal more heat. Neither of these teams is in any position to carry the load and make this any good. But even the simple little things they could have done that would have made this at least watchable are either ignored, or done incorrectly. It looks like everyone just does the same stuff that they usually do, whether or not their stuff actually did anything to further along the match, or take it somewhere interesting.

There are some fun parts thrown in here and there, like Ogawa’s stooging, and the early cheating done by the NJPW team, but it doesn’t do anything to really further along the match. Nobody would believe for a second that any of Ogawa’s cradles would put away Nagata that quickly, whether or not Ogawa was holding the tights. As fun as it was, when Nagata would choke Ogawa from the apron, the only thing it really added to was Tanahashi’s missed dropkick, and both Ogawa and Tanahashi failed to make that account for anything. The beatdown stretch on Ogawa was rather uninspired for the most part, although it was nice to see Nagata attempting to build to the crab hold with the leg kicks. Misawa took most of the match off, and didn’t seem interested in helping to make the champs look very credible at all, both of which aren’t very unusual at all for Misawa. Misawa’s face first bump into the knees on the countered Frog splash and the utterly nasty kick to the head from Nagata were both fun moments but didn’t go anyplace meaningful. Nagata wasn’t any better as his best idea after the head kick was to go after Misawa with the Nagata Lock III, and not only does Misawa not do a single thing to convey either pain or resistance to the hold, like Taue did such a good job of doing. Nagata doesn’t do anything to make it seem like he’s really wrenching on it, and making it as painful as possible.

Tanahashi is the obvious underdog here, and it shows with the relative ease in which Misawa and Ogawa roll their basic attacks out on him, as well as the fact that he botches a few simple moves, he loses one of Ogawa’s arms on the backslide, and doesn’t hook the leg with the attempted small package on Misawa. Tanahashi was more than used to playing the young underdog fighting from underneath during this time period, but it doesn’t show here. The sunset flip/jackknife sequence was one of the few times that Tanahashi looked comfortable, but it also looked choreographed and scripted. Misawa wasn’t much interested in doing anything to genuinely work with Tanahashi to either make him seem like he might be able to sneak one past Misawa, or make Misawa finally dig out the Emerald Frozian to keep him down, unless one counts the botched small package, and Tanahashi not going down to the one-two elbow as doing either of those things. This obviously wasn’t going to be anything great, but when running a title match that involves outsider champs, it helps for someone, anyone, to step up and do something, anything, to try to make the outcome in doubt, or make the fans actually care about what’s happening.


Now this is what a New Japan vs. NOAH match for tag titles should be all about, a good story, and inspired work that makes the fans actually care about what’s happening. The champions are the ones who are behind the 8-ball at the moment though, with Lyger capturing the GHC Jr. singles title less than a week before this, and it’s up to them to ensure the belts stay in NOAH. Both of the champions, but KENTA much more so than Marufuji let their mean streak out. KENTA displays tons of confidence and just pounds away with the kicks on Inoue. You’d expect KENTA to be a little bit wary of Wataru, with Wataru having come out on top in their 08/29/02 singles match, but if anything, KENTA uses that loss to drive him further into proving whom the better man really is. The champions don’t have any problem with a little double teaming behind the ref’s back, or doing what they can to get Lyger (who is seconding the challengers, and showing off his new title belt) riled up on the floor.

As good as both the champions are, it’s Samurai who really impresses. For someone who’s looking to be declining more and more as a worker each year, he really adds a lot of fun elements to the match. As much as KENTA and Marufuji were abusing Wataru in the early portions of the match, Samurai hands it back to them tenfold. He pulls hair, rakes the eyes, and uses the guardrail. Whenever he makes a mistake, he doesn’t dwell on it at all, such as when he accidentally hits Wataru with a lariat, instead of stopping to contemplate what he’s just done, Samurai quickly rushes in and levels Marufuji with one, before he can get taken by surprise. As good as KENTA was able to dish out the pain to Inoue, Samurai is just as good as dishing it out to KENTA. Samurai also shows what twenty years of experience can do, when he counters Marufuji’s Shiranui into a reverse DDT. Inoue is the only one who really stands out as a weak link, but it’s due to his lack of experience in big matches like this. But when Samurai starts to dish out the pain, Wataru follows the lead, and adds in a few heelish things of his own like cocky pins and standing on KENTA’s face. Wataru also shows his own development as a worker when he manages to trap KENTA in both the Triangle Lancer, as well as counter his slap flurry into the Octopus hold (which he’d used to beat KENTA in their singles match).

It’s KENTA who ultimately makes the most impact though. He takes an ungodly beating from both of the challengers, as well as having to deal with Wataru showing off what he’s learned since his last battle with KENTA. KENTA takes the beating like a man, with a killer sell job. But KENTA also proves how tough he really is, he makes Wataru and Samurai practically throw the whole gauntlet at him, and he doesn’t back down, or do some big goofy no-sell under the guise of “fighting spirit,” he simply weathers the beating, and keeps on fighting. KENTA doesn’t get back on track until Marufuji saves him from Samurai’s reverse DDT off the top, and KENTA hits a quick rana off the top and levels Samurai with a Shining Wizard before he can get up. From there on, Samurai makes KENTA really earn the eventual Busaiku and pinfall, by catching him with several different roll ups and cradles, before KENTA can rattle off several of his big roundhouses to the head, and the Busaiku for the huge win. The only thing this match was really lacking was a big performance from Marufuji to show that he’s NOAH’s top junior. He seemed to do just enough to make his presence known, but not enough to really stand out, and as a result the match winds up coming off more like a graduation of sorts for KENTA, rather than feeling like an important victory for the champions, or for NOAH. ***1/2


As aggravating as it is to see NOAH cloud their undercards with trios matches, for lack of anything else to do with the talent. You can’t argue that the results are awesome, when they get it right. The teams are matched up evenly in terms of their placement on the totem pole, but at the same time the teams look odd with stablemates, and tag partners on opposite sides. What this match does a really great job of doing, is playing off the hierarchy of the various participants.

The match mostly revolves around the Akiyama/Hashi feud, but everyone gets something to do. The only ones who don’t contribute a whole lot are Morishima and Rikio, their exchanges together are just as stiff and hard-hitting as they were in the trios from the previous October, but until the final stretch when the mandatory elimination spots come into play, they don’t really add a whole lot. They don’t really need to though, because the other four is what really makes the match so fun. Kikuchi is almost Fuchi-like in the way he dishes out the punishment to Hashi, especially when Akiyama holds the microphone up to let the Budokan hear, just how hard he’s really headbutting him. At the same time, when Kobashi tags in, Kikuchi is screwed, for all intends and purposes. All their years as partners and stablemates don’t do a thing to save Kikuchi from Kobashi chopping the hell out of Kikuchi’s chest. Kobashi also winds up being the man who’s needed to take on Akiyama. Akiyama seems unstoppable, neither Hashi nor Rikio can seem to get anything going with him. But Rikio tagging in Kobashi is just as much for Rikio to get away, as it is for Rikio to sick Kobashi on Akiyama, because he’s the only one who’ll be able to hurt him.

The meat and potatoes of the match, is the Hashi/Akiyama feud though. Watching their exchanges together, it’s hard to determine which of the two of them want to see Hashi prove himself more. Hashi dishes out slaps and chops to Jun with all his might, and Jun just stands there. Akiyama is totally emotionless. He doesn’t look angry, amused, or surprised. Akiyama finally decides he’s enough free shots to Hashi, and proceeds to batter the tar out of him, before deciding that he’d proven his point. Things aren’t quite finished though, as Hashi attempts to take a cheap shot at Akiyama while he’s on the apron, and Akiyama sidesteps Hashi, without even blinking an eye. That’s also what makes Kobashi dishing out the pain to Akiyama that much more enjoyable, because we’ve seen how little regard Akiyama had for Hashi, and just like Kikuchi learned the hard way, the shoe is on the other foot now. After Kobashi had put Akiyama in his place, Kobashi and Rikio try to set up Hashi to pin Jun, just to really prove their point. But on the other side of the ring, are Morishima and Kikuchi, doing their best to keep Kobashi and Rikio away so that Hashi is on his own, and that combo really makes for some good, intense near falls for Hashi. Of course Morishima and Kikuchi do finally achieve their goal, and then it’s only a matter of time until Hashi is done for. The crab hold finish looks somewhat out of place considering that Jun doesn’t have a shortage of finishers at his disposal, and even Shiga was worthy of taking the Wrist Clutch Exploder. But at the same time, Hashi never did get his big run against Akiyama, without assistance, and Akiyama did have to really elevate the crab hold. The final message is crystal clear though, even though Akiyama isn’t exactly a rousing success story right now, he’s still much higher up than Hashi. ***1/4


Sano was being prepared to be sent down the line to put over Kobashi, and needed to be kept looking strong, so in that sense, I can respect the fact that this match needed to happen. I can’t respect the fact that it was chosen to be included on this tape though. Neither of them is very interesting, except when Sano is tearing apart Inoue’s knee with several nasty kicks and submissions, and Inoue does a somewhat passable sell job of it. That is of course, until he manages to hit a boot to the face, an atomic drop, and a backbreaker, all without flinching, or any sort of problem. When Inoue tries the Argentine Backbreaker, his inability to hoist up Sano isn’t due to his knee, but due to Sano elbowing him in the head. It’s nice to know we can always count on Inoue for something. Sano’s rolling kick to the gut has always been a protected strike, but using it for a KO finish is somewhat stretching things. I suppose it’d have made more sense if Sano had spent all that time that he was sharking Inoue’s knee singling out his mid section instead, it’d have made more sense as a finish. But the sharking of Inoue’s knee also served as a message to the champion. Although it’s not like Sano ever had a prayer of beating Kobashi, or that this had a prayer of being any good.

Conclusion: There is definitely some good, but you have to take the good with the bad. The fun stuff in the jr. tag title match, and the trios match, does outweigh the bad in the heavyweight tag title match. I’m gonna go in the middle here, but leaning upwards.