March 19, 2023


Katsuhiko Nakajima . . . treats one of NOAH’s up-and-coming heavyweights the same way that all the vets and legends treated him back in his teenage years.

Shuhei Taniguchi . . . elbows Sugiura in the eye and tries to turn the multi-time Grand Slam GHC Title holder into a Cyclops.

Yoshinari Ogawa . . . has suddenly turned into the best wrestler that I need more footage of yesterday!



There’s not much to be expected from guys this young and inexperienced. Some of their early exchanges are smooth, but more often than not, the cooperation is obvious; especially in the last minute or so when Ozawa hits his dropkick and Yano ducks the lariat in the corner. Yano working the headlock was fun to watch, even though it didn’t really go anywhere. There’s a little bit of logic to the finish, Yano surprises Ozawa with a cradle for a near fall and then Yano does a sunset flip and makes sure to cradle Ozawa’s legs so that he can’t get the leverage to kick out. Matches like this may not be much more than watchable, but it’s worlds better than watching alleged comedy from the over-the-hill crew.



What’s the point of putting so many wrestlers in the match if they’re not going to get ample time to do anything notable? Nobody looks outright bad, but the only one who stands out at all is Yoshioka, who looks like the fastest wrestler since Masato Yoshino. For all of the heelish attitude that the Kongo team shows, they only get a very brief chance to work over Alejandro, and then the babyfaces do the same to Tadasuke. Tadasuke and Kotoge have a nice series at the end, with Tadasuke’s fakeout punch that sets up a DDT being the highlight of the match. Kondo and Tadasuke’s double team backfires and Kotoge pins Tadasuke with a roll-up. Kondo and co. take exception to Tadasuke’s friendly fire, and subsequent losing of the match, and YO-HEY saves him from the Kongo beatdown. Then, both of them lay out YO-HEY’s partners and form their own alliance. If nothing else, the surprising nature of the finish and the angle afterward justifies the match being so short.



If one is a fan of absurdly stiff kicks, then this is something they’d definitely be into. But there isn’t a whole lot more to it. It seems like it’s going to be interesting when Okada jumps Nakajima at the bell and starts teeing off on him, showing that he can take the fight to the former GHC Champion. Okada’s missed corner charge that leads to the German suplex was a good way for Nakajima to take over, but then it turns into a kick-fest, and any sense of story or build completely dissipates. The kicks aren’t used to wear Nakajima down or to lead to Okada using more dangerous offense. All they accomplish is showing how hard Okada can kick and how tough Nakajima is for sucking them up and challenging him to do it again.


They get back on track during the finishing stretch, with a couple of nice moments; Nakajima blocks an O’Connor Roll and Okada rolls himself into position for the running kick, but he manages to dodge it. Then Nakajima escapes the NLB and gets a sleeper, which wears down Okada enough for Nakajima to hit the running kick and Okada still has it in him to kick out. So, Nakajima picks him up and spikes Okada with a brainbuster to keep him down for good. What makes the whole thing come off so well is Nakajima’s attitude. From the time that he gets the sleeper on until the finish, Nakajima never acts like he’s anything but completely in control. When Okada kicks out after the running kick, he doesn’t get frustrated or seem surprised. Instead, he smiles as though he’s actually happy that Okada kicks out because he has an excuse to do something more dangerous. It’s certainly not the way that Misawa or Kobashi would work with an up-and-comer, but it has a sadistic appeal that makes it work. If they jettisoned the ridiculous kick segment and had another five minutes to work, this could be pretty neat.



This is the first match that feels completely skippable. It’s not overtly bad, but nobody other than Suzuki has anything interesting to do. Considering whom Saxon is associated with, I was expecting him to show up with some carny matwork, and instead, I got a Brody/Berzerker/Warrior imitator, although that vaulting elbow into the ring to Yone was nice. Yone only shows up for the last few minutes to add a few comedic touches and eat the pin, and Inamura doesn’t get much to do other than take the bulk of the punishment. This faction of Suzuki, Saxon, and Timothy Thatcher(!) could be tons of fun wreaking havoc on the lower and midcard guys (just imagine Thatcher stretching out the rookies…), but Yone and Inamura (at least the Inamura that showed up here) don’t seem to be the ideal opponents to show that.



Wow, this one is just all over the place. At first it seemed like it was going to be interesting. Sugiura does an errant slap and Taniguchi drills him with a headbutt in the eye/cheek and then unloads with forearms and elbows. Sugiura puts it over perfectly. It seems like he’s going to try to Kobashi-Up and start to fire back, but he changes his mind and just keeps selling. Taniguchi gets a near fall from a backdrop suplex, and then Sugiura escapes a full nelson and starts throwing forearms. Taniguchi fires back with his own strikes and the moment is gone. It’s just as ridiculous as the kick segment during the Nakajima match, maybe even more so, considering that they’d established that Sugiura had a weak spot that Taniguchi was specifically targeting. They try to get it back later on when Taniguchi escapes a hanging front choke by ramming Sugiura into the turnbuckle and then going back to the elbows while he was still down in the corner, and even tossing the ref aside at one point to continue the onslaught. And honestly, if they’d been able to stay consistent from that point on, they might have been able to pull it off.


But they don’t stay consistent. Sugiura takes over by hitting Taniguchi with a running knee while he’s charging, and then he starts drilling Taniguchi with knee strikes, and Taniguchi goes into full-blown Kobashi ‘Fighting Spirit’ mode; making crazed faces and screaming while he gets up. He fires back with more forearms and Sugiura doesn’t sell them at all, and then Sugiura blows off another headbutt. Sugiura hits the Olympic Slam (nearly dropping Taniguchi on his head), which Taniguchi no-sells and then he hits a Tenryu-style running kick to the face. And had the match ended right there then it would have been on something of a high note, despite the ridiculousness of what came before it. But instead, they drag it out too long and ruin the chance. They tease a ref stoppage, and then Taniguchi plants Sugiura with a suplex and two more running kicks before the rather anticlimactic pin.


The infuriating thing is that they clearly had the tools and the ability to make something out of this. The hate and intensity were unmatched by anyone else on the card up to this point, and when they (well, mostly Sugiura) felt like moving the story along, it was actually pretty engaging. Taniguchi may not be a young gun in the vein of Kinya Okada anymore, but it was still impressive to see him dominate someone as accomplished as Sugiura in the manner that he did. It’s too bad that they couldn’t seem to get out of their own way, Sugiura turned into latter-day Kobashi and Taniguchi just went off the deep end with him.



It takes a little bit of time to get going, but this turns into a fine tag match. Morris is the best performer here by a decent-sized margin, mostly thanks to his selling. Wagner, and later Marufuji, traps him in a particularly nasty submission, and he does everything possible to make his crawl to the ropes seem as difficult as possible. Later on, Wagner hits something of a KENTA-eque strike flurry, and Morris’ selling of the final knee is perfect and then he takes a nice bump from Wagner’s Ace crusher. Morris and Wagner work a decently smart finish, with both of them wanting a Tiger driver, and each of them finding clever ways to block and counter it. Morris outsmarts Wagner into charging into a spine buster and then he stuns him with a running knee, and that allows Morris to hit the Tiger driver and get the pin, and Morris even thinks to struggle to pull off the move, showing exactly how much the punishment from Wagner had hurt him.


Nobody else is bad, although the early comedy from Greene and Marufuji could have been scrapped and nobody would have missed it, but none of the others are even close to Morris’ level here. Wagner is mostly a spot machine, but the spots that he brings are fun to watch, especially with how Morris puts them over. Marufuji seemed content to mostly throw out stiff chops, and Greene was watchable, but he didn’t do much to really stand out.



OK, forget about Thatcher stretching out the rookies. Just let him have five minutes with Ninja Mack! At first, I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a wrestling match or a tumbling routine. Lanze and Tiger add a few heelish touches, but there aren’t nearly enough of those to make this worth anything. There’s no real attempt to tell a story or to create any structure, other than Tiger and Lanze being jerks and stopping the other team from doing their dives and flips. The only big spots come at the end when Lanze finishes off AMAKUSA after a Tiger driver into a facebuster and then a powerbomb into a backbreaker. I suppose the idea is to make them look strong, with how easily they finished off AMAKUSA. But even that’s reaching for positives. Actually, forget Thatcher. Let’s bring SUWA out of retirement to smack these guys around. If they want to fly so badly, then SUWA can oblige them with a John Woo.



Even with a rather crazy finish, Kitamiya hits Soya with a senton bomb that would make Togo envious, the match never seems to come together all that well. They have several fun touches that could have been built upon, but nothing seems to have any lasting effect. It also doesn’t help that Inaba has a bad habit of delayed selling, although none of them really does a whole lot as far as selling goes. Hell, Kitamiya gives Soya two kneebusters and then locks in a reverse figure four to tease a submission. Kenoh makes the save, and Soya ducks a lariat and hits a spear and then picks up Kitamiya for a DVD, with both of his knees seeming no worse for wear. And that’s just one case where the match could have gone somewhere interesting and didn’t, but there are instances of it all over the match. Kenoh’s ankle lock to Kitamiya is probably the most egregious. He has the hold applied for a decent length of time before Kitamiya gets the ropes, and it’s a smart way for Kenoh to neutralize the size disparity. But all it does is give Kitamiya a reason to be on one knee so that Kenoh can pelt him with kicks until it’s time for the comeback.


When they’re actually going about fleshing out something as far as a story or theme goes, they do a decent job of moving it along until they decide not to do it anymore. Soya’s cheap shot lariat to Kitamiya is a good example of this; Kitamiya seemingly has no idea it’s coming and he’s down on the floor for a good five minutes from it. Inaba tries to tag out, but sees his corner empty, and it seems like a prime chance to drum up some good heat and let Soya and Kenoh have some fun. But, after one sequence of them double-teaming Inaba, he decides it’s time for him to make a comeback. He ducks a lariat and then pushes Kenoh into Soya and hits each of them with an enzuigiri. Soya and Kenoh each get a brief chance to try to work over Inaba while Kitamiya is still down (and Kenoh mocking Inaba having nobody to tag was a great moment), but it’s all too brief. Inaba no sells some chops and an elbow from Soya and drops him with an STO before deciding to sell, and then he manages to tag out. Kitamiya finally getting back into the match plays to crickets, because it never felt like Inaba was in any real danger of losing the match. The final stretch between Kitamiya and Soya (other than the figure four spot not going anywhere) is good enough that it leaves a good final impression of the match. It's really a shame though, because if they had just been able to stay consistent with one story, instead of starting and then dropping several of them, then this could have been pretty good.



I’m not sure which is more surprising; the fact that fifty-six-year-old Yoshinari Ogawa is working semi-final matches on major shows, or the fact that he’s putting on amazing performances while doing it. Honestly, the only one who doesn’t really add anything is Eita. He’s not terrible, although his throwing HAYATA off the turnbuckle so that he dropkicks Ridgeway is a bit Young Bucks-esque, but his primary use in the match seems to be little more than to fill time when Ogawa is taking a break (it’s especially apparent when Ogawa tags out after getting his knee worked over). He doesn’t hamper things too much though, because the other three are more than able to pick up the pieces.


The main story of the match revolves around Ridgeway and HAYATA working over Ogawa’s knee, and Ogawa giving an all-time great sell job. But even the early portions of this are fun to watch. Both teams use every cheap tactic they can think of, and Ogawa and Eita work over HAYATA’s arm for a spell, with Ogawa’s simple and effective offense being a nice contrast to the fancy and flashy things that HAYATA and Ridgeway like to do, such as Ridgeway trapping Eita in a bow and arrow and holding him down for a HAYATA dropkick to the face and then rolling him over into an Indian deathlock. But once HAYATA and Ridgeway start working over Ogawa’s knee, the match absolutely soars. Ridgeway and HAYATA are just about perfect in every way; the holds look appropriately tight and the usual heel things one would expect, like snapping the leg over the ropes, make for good revenge spots for what Ogawa was doing to them earlier in the match. And Ogawa’s great performance here isn’t limited to his selling either, he tries several times to get some momentum going for a comeback, but his bad leg doesn’t allow him to sustain it. One of the better examples of this is when Ridgeway is wrenching his ankle and Ogawa manages to get wrist control and starts bending back Ridgeway’s hand. It’s almost like a submission version of a strike exchange, with the idea being to see who’s going to go down first, and in this case, it’s the person who already had the weakened limb. The sequence that allows Ogawa to tag out was one of their weaker moments, but it’s not too bad. HAYATA drops a series of elbows on the knee and goes for a moonsault that Ogawa puts up his knees to block and he manages to hobble/crawl to the corner and tag out. It’d have been nicer if they found a spot that didn’t require Ogawa to use his knees at all, but, it’s better than a lot of other things they could have done.


Again, the match levels off after Eita tags back in. He’s not especially fired up for being the hot tag, and it’s obvious that they’re just trying to fill time until they can get Ogawa back in to continue the story and work the finish. Ogawa’s re-entry into the match sees him continuing to put the knee over, as well as a rather funny spot when Ridgeway drops down, and instead of hopping over him, Ogawa stomps on his back. Ridgeway gets a couple of longish submission segments, with HAYATA holding Eita on the floor, and creating some drama about Ogawa’s ability to hold out until Eita can free himself and save his partner. The finish is absolutely brilliant. Eita breaks up Ridgeway’s figure four and hits HAYATA with a superkick which allows Ridgeway to sneak up and plant him with a German suplex. With Ridgeway on his back from doing the suplex, Ogawa limps over and ties up Ridgeway’s legs and pins him, or more accurately, causes Ridgeway to pin himself. The only way that it could have possibly come off any better would have been if they’d found a way to work HAYATA’s shoulder into it.


Who would have ever guessed that a junior tag match featuring someone who’s prime (if he ever really had one) was twenty-plus years ago, when he was playing second fiddle to the real top guy, would be spanking the heavyweight tag titles match that includes the leader of the top heel group? But that’s exactly what happens here. By pretty much every metric that one could measure by, this comes out ahead. The only exceptions would be the number of stiff strikes and a more decisive-looking finish, neither of which were necessary for this to work. It’s become cliché by this point to harp on all the big changes and surprises that have happened in wrestling over the last few years, but Ogawa putting his own spin on the role of the surly vet of the junior division, made famous by Fuchi and Momota, is definitely something that seems unexpected. ***1/2


KAITO KIYOMIA © vs. JAKE LEE (GHC Heavyweight Title)

Well, I suppose it just wouldn’t be a NOAH main event unless it went a good 7-10 minutes longer than it probably needed to. This is a weird case where the issues with the match aren’t due to their work, this is at least fun for almost the entire stretch (aside from Kiyomia’s last offensive run when he forgets about selling). Instead, it’s the structure and layout that seem peculiar. Whether it’s because NOAH wants to make the guy who just jumped from All Japan (and was rather successful over there) look strong or they’re simply giving the idea that Kiyomia’s loss to Kazuchika Okada on 2/21 was the start of a big downfall for him, the way that this plays out makes Kiyomia look like a far cry from being the genuine top guy. There’s nothing wrong with Lee looking strong, he’s the one going over after all, but with only a few exceptions, he virtually dominates Kiyomia.


One of the first big hints that Jake has Kiyomia’s number is the armbar segment they work. It’s no different from the surfboard that Misawa and Kobashi, and Jumbo before them, would work. The hold itself isn’t of any consequence, but it represents the larger struggle that Jumbo faced with Terry Funk, Misawa faced with Jumbo, or Kobashi faced with Misawa. Only this time, it’s Kiyomia who is struggling to free himself from the hold, and just when it seems like he’s got the leverage he needs to get out, Jake slams the door in his face and makes him start again. It’s a stark contrast to the later headlock segment from Kiyomia, where he doggedly keeps the hold on, despite Jake’s attempts to escape. The GHC Champion should be able to outwrestle his challenger, but it doesn’t feel like the symbolic struggle that the armbar did, it comes off more like Kiyomia finally gaining some ground by keeping Lee stationary instead of him doing much of anything to get ahead in the match.


Despite having a good number of moments like this, that come off feeling backward as far as the roles one would expect, both men put in quite a good performance; between the attitude and aggressiveness from Jake and Kiyomia’s selling. Lee’s attitude is fully on display when he literally sends Kiyomia all over ringside by throwing him into the guardrail, and even before that with the series of near falls with Lee starting with rather lackadaisical pin attempts and having to gradually try harder and harder, until he finally wraps up Kiyomia as tight as possible. And once the midsection gets singled out as Lee’s primary focus of attack, the match picks up a lot. A grounded bearhug may be a technically sound method of attack but it doesn’t sound very interesting, and yet they both make it work. Jake acts like he’s putting everything he’s got into working the hold, and it seems positively hopeless for Kiyomia until he finally makes it to the ropes. The Northern Lights off the top was probably a little overboard, although it’s nothing compared to what we’d seen from Misawa and Kobashi or even from T-Hawk and Ishida in their GLEAT match from April. The spot has a distinct purpose and is put over appropriately.


Kiyomia doesn’t forget about selling when he makes his initial comeback. He ducks a running lariat and hits a diving body block that hurts him more than it hurts Lee, and that’s true for most of his offense for the rest of the match. Kiyomia could have been a little more cautious and left some of the bigger spots in the bag, namely the dive to the floor, and the tease of the German suplex on the apron seemed unnecessary since he never actually goes through with it or even attempts it later. Kiyomia’s last big run of offense is where he starts lapsing with his selling. He gets a near fall from a bridging German and sells afterward, but it’d have made more sense for him to either lose the bridge or not even bother with the bridge. Kiyomia can drop him with the suplex and delay the cover because of the pressure on his body that even doing the suplex caused and use that to explain Jake kicking out. Kiyomia’s last big run of offense starts to border on infuriating with his non-selling, but that’s when he charges into a knee to the midsection and sells like he just got clocked by Takayama. Kiyomia needs the ropes to help him get up, and that makes him easy prey for Jake to hit his Bazooka running kick finisher and win the title.


Although it seems like it, and Lee probably controlled a lot more of this match than he needed to, this isn’t a squash of Kiyomia. Kiyomia manages to work in a decent number of smart spots that go after Jake’s knee after the dragon screw off the apron gave him the opening. But all they do is allow Kiyomia to go for the Shining Wizard, and even that doesn’t do much for Kiyomia. He tries for three of them during the match: the first is blocked, the second hits for a near fall, and Jake blocks the third and tries to counter into a powerbomb, which Kiyomia escapes and leads them into the finish. Kiyomia gets a single near fall, and he tries to follow that up with his Tiger suplex finisher which is blocked. So, not only doesn’t his one successful shot get him the win, but it’s also not even enough for him to hit something bigger.


Overall, between the selling, pacing, drama, and the story they tell, this winds up being a good match from a work standpoint. But its direction feels positively shaky. Unless the plan is for NOAH to set up Kiyomia for a redemption run, just as New Japan did with Nagata after he lost to Cro Cop, then it seems odd for them to switch the title in this manner. Especially considering Kiyomia’s track record with the GHC and the fact that Jake Lee hardly looks like he fits the mold of the monster heel champion the way that Vader, Fujita, or even Minoru Suzuki did. ***1/4


Conclusion: Aside from those couple of midcard tag matches, this is quite a fun show. The junior tag titles match is the big reason to seek this out, but it’s certainly a show that’s worth watching.