January 8, 2005

This review had to come sooner or later, being the only major NOAH show from 2005 that I hadn’t reviewed. A lot of cool stuff happened in NOAH in 2005, so it’s only fitting to look at the very beginning and see how it all unraveled.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru . . . finally avenges the first time that he lost the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title.

Takeshi Rikio . . . shows that he’s certainly not going to be the next Yoshinari Ogawa.

Minoru Suzuki . . . shows that he’s a disrespectful punk until the end, even as he’s getting destroyed.


For being Morishima’s return match from his knee injury, this is decent, although there isn’t a whole lot about the match that centers around Morishima. It’s more a continuation of the ongoing saga of Akiyama and Hashi, and Morishima’s return to the ring is just a footnote. Hashi’s improvement in terms of taking care of himself in the ring is clearly evident, but because Hashi and Jun are playing heels here, Hashi’s best attributes aren’t really on display here. Hashi and Marufuji work a fun little back and forth segment against each other, with Marufuji showing off his flashiness, but Hashi quickly takes the opening and hits Marufuji with his DDT (which Marufuji sells awesomely). Akiyama throws Marufuji to the floor and tells Hashi to do his diving headbutt from the apron. For the first time in God only knows how long, Hashi actually connects the diving headbutt on all four occasions that he attempts it.

Jun seems damn near unstoppable at times in the ring, playing off the hierarchy of the workers in the match is an aspect of the Jun/Hashi saga, and it keeping up here isn’t much surprise. Marufuji is surprisingly successful against Jun to a certain degree, he can fatigue him, but not get a clear advantage. Morishima can take advantage of the fatigue for a quick run of success against Jun, but no real damage is done until Morishima and Marufuji start to double team on Akiyama. Once it’s down to Akiyama vs. Morishima one-on-one though, Akiyama quickly gets control of the match back, and not by taking a cheap shot at Morishima’s knee. When Jun has Morishima in trouble he sends in Hashi to try his luck. Hashi had more or less proven he could hang with the King of NOAH Juniors, so now he’s ready to test himself against an honest to goodness heavyweight. Hashi isn’t successful of course, and Morishima’s specialty was always to knock the ever-loving hell out of a smaller guy and finish him off, which is more or less what happens here, with the almighty backdrop finishing off Hashi, but that was a formality. The match sends two messages loud and clear. The first is that Morishima is back, and he’s still the same Morishima. The more important one is from Hashi though, and that’s that he’s finally starting to get a decent way up the ladder.


The storyline going into this match of Kanemaru wanting to avenge his first title loss to Takaiwa is good in theory. The way that both Kanemaru and Takaiwa like to work though, put this at a disadvantage because Kanemaru is (A. Not very good in singles matches and (B. When he is good in matches (singles or tags), it’s usually predicated on him working as a heel and his opponent selling for him, and Takaiwa is not the man to do that for Kanemaru here. No doubt that Takaiwa can beat the hell out of Kanemaru, and Takaiwa isn’t afraid to take cringe worthy head bumps himself, but neither of them makes any of it count.

Right at the beginning for instance, Takaiwa starts off heavy with a big lariat and then the Triple bomb, but Kanemaru escapes the attempted Death Valley Bomb out the back door. Instead of heading outside to catch a breath or sell the Triple bomb, Kanemaru grabs Takaiwa and hits his own DVB. There is some brief work on the mat, as well as Takaiwa working over Kanemaru’s knee, but it’s just filler and everyone knows it’s just filler. They get back to trading off the head drops soon enough. This is like watching Misawa and Kobashi work a match if they were smaller, quicker, and less broken down. The only really good selling comes after Kanemaru scores a low blow, and the only thing that it wound up being any good for was Kanemaru to level Takaiwa with a brainbuster. Sure they sell after taking a drop on the head, because how can you not sell that? But it’s not good selling, the two of them just lay there, before climbing to their feet and doing some more. At one point Takaiwa seemed to try to make it count by leveling Kanemaru with a big lariat, but Kanemaru blew it right off.

One thing that Misawa and Kobashi usually did have in their matches is that they went all the way with it and had something to use as a climax of sorts, the Emerald Frozian in their 6/99 match and the Burning Hammer in their 3/03 match. This has none of that. Takaiwa tosses out the DVB, lariat, and the Takaiwa driver all pretty early. Kanemaru overuses his brainbuster, and in fact it’s only after the Touch Out *and* an additional brainbuster off the top, that Takaiwa is put away. This doesn’t come off feeling like Kanemaru vanquished a ghost from his past, or proved why he’s the champion, the way Marufuji’s win over Takaiwa in 12/01 did. It comes off more as them just doing whatever came to their minds, and then running with the finish they had to do, instead of building up to it and making it seem like a real climax.


This isn’t too bad for what it is, which is a bit of a warm-up for Rikio on his way to the main event scene. Tenryu and Koshinaka both do a nice job working him over and getting the fans behind him. Misawa is surprisingly decent here as well, working a nice little sequence with Koshinaka and trading some stiff shots with Tenryu. While you can argue that Rikio was a failure as GHC Champion, his performance here does show that he appeared to be on the right track on his way there.

Tenryu and Koshinaka dish out the beating and while Rikio is no Kawada for selling, he’s decent enough here. His comeback has a catalyst, rather than just Rikio showing fighting spirit. It’s because Tenryu gets lazy and starts doing the little Soccer kicks, not trying to hurt Rikio, but just toying with him. Rikio gets fired up and starts to unload on Tenryu some big slaps, when Rikio starts to get the better of Tenryu, Koshinaka adds a quick cheap shot hip attack from the top, and the Budokan erupts in a chorus of boos. Misawa aids Rikio with a few elbows on Koshinaka and then an attempted Tiger driver, and Misawa actually looks motivated for a change. Tenryu tries to ambush Misawa, but he gets sent down with a quick rolling elbow for his trouble. The message though isn’t that Misawa needed to save Rikio, but Rikio needed help when the odds became two-on-one. Misawa does try to gift-wrap the win to Rikio with the Emerald Frozian, the same as he would for Ogawa, only Rikio doesn’t want it. He waits for Koshinaka to stir a bit and then hits a splash for two. One big lariat and Muso later, Rikio has finished off Koshinaka by himself. Watching Rikio here, it’s too bad he thought he needed to be a Kobashi clone. If he’d just stuck to being himself, his title reign may not have been such a failure.


Kobashi’s run with the GHC was obviously starting to wind down here, it had been obvious ever since the Taue defense from 9/04 that getting credible challengers for Kobashi was becoming more and more difficult. Nobody would ever think Suzuki would have a prayer of taking the title here, but to the credit of both Kobashi and Suzuki, they do a wonderful job of making it seem like not only could Suzuki win the title here, but could easily hold off anyone that NOAH threw at him to get the title back. And a Kobashi GHC defense that doesn’t look like a total squash for the champion is always good to see.

It’s established early on that there is no doubt that Kobashi *can* hurt Suzuki, but he’s going to have his hands full actually getting it done. The opening sequence involves Suzuki easily dodging Kobashi’s chops and playfully slapping him in the face. His goal isn’t to hurt Kobashi. It’s simply to frustrate him. Kobashi spent thirty minutes making Yuji Nagata look like a total chump, as well as making the heir apparent to Kobashi’s throne, Akiyama look like he was miles below him, but Suzuki makes it clear that Kobashi will not be giving him the same sort of treatment. When Kobashi finally gets one-up on Suzuki and grabs the headlock, he really wrenches it, to show that he’s finally got his challenger under control. Suzuki does everything he can to try to escape, but the much more powerful Kobashi stands his ground and keeps the hold applied. The spot where they roll to the floor and then climb back in (while the headlock is still applied) looks a bit silly, but it works in the context of putting over the real stranglehold that Kobashi has Suzuki in. It doesn’t last long though, because as soon as Kobashi lets go and goes for the big chop, Suzuki dodges it, but isn’t quick enough to dodge a second one, and he sells it like death. Kobashi connecting several other neck chops and then putting Suzuki into the corner for a series of chops to the chest garner similar selling from Suzuki. After making such a show out of Kobashi finally hitting his favorite strikes, they make the payoff worthwhile.

Kobashi’s arm getting busted up is hardly a new concept, not just in GHC matches, but in singles matches in general. What isn’t a new concept however, is Kobashi really doing a great sell job on the arm in question getting beaten up. Whether Suzuki is striking it with kicks and Takayama style knees, or various submissions, including a Triangle Choke over the top rope, Kobashi realistically puts over the damage being done to his arm. The arm work also leads to an unusually logical set up for a sleeper suplex, when Kobashi counters the hanging armbar to the sleeper suplex. The only real mark against him in this department comes from when he starts to use the arm to attack Suzuki. It’s silly to think he’d not use his arm, concerning his biggest weapons are the lariat and his chops, but Kobashi doesn’t sell his arm while he’s using it to dish the pain out. Even if he’d just winced from it, while Suzuki sold like crazy, it’d have sent the message that he’s hurting Suzuki more than he’s hurting himself.

Suzuki’s sleeper off the ramp spot worked nicely as a revenge spot for the headlock to the floor that Kobashi used, and Kobashi having the secret to escaping the hold was a nice way to showing that Kobashi was thinking one step ahead of Suzuki, which isn’t something that the match had done a lot of up to that point. The whole match had been about Kobashi knowing he could hurt his opponent but having trouble actually going about doing it, and that’s what makes Kobashi’s channeling the spirit of Fuchi with the backdrop slaughter work so well, because it’s keeping what had happened early on in the match still in focus, and giving Kobashi an easy way of wearing down his foe to finish him off. Suzuki clearly is out of it, barely able to stand, but still manages to be himself and hit a few weak slaps to the face and maintain his famous grin with tongue hanging out, and Kobashi levels him with the lariat to finish him off. Kobashi winning was a formality, but to his credit Kobashi was able to make the ride to the eventual finish a really fun one, and Suzuki is usually a treat to watch, no matter what role he’s stuck in. ***1/2

Conclusion: The main event is a really fun ride, and should definitely be sought out. The rest of the show is not so much. Your best bet would probably be to snag a compilation tape with the main event on it. Recommendation to avoid the commercial tape, but make sure to check out the main event.