July 22, 2012

Genba Hirayanagi . . . continues to be entertaining, despite the fact that he’s booked as the obvious loser.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara . . . looks like he can spank half the NOAH roster like spoiled toddlers.

Go Shiozaki . . . shows a marked improvement in his work since January, I can only hope it’s not a one-time affair.


Why have I never heard of Takanashi before? I need to see more of this guy yesterday! This goes less than five minutes, so neither guy really gets to cut loose, but it’s fun enough to watch what they can do. Ishimori is flashy as usual, and that diving stomp is brutal. Takanashi totally steals the show between what he shows on the mat to work over the leg, and his comedy, like grabbing the ref to bock the 450. The only thing that’s really hard to swallow here is the Taka Tonic (Code Red) only for how he sets it up, but even that winds up leading to the finish with Ishimori countering it and spiking him to set up the 450. The way DDT’s boys have been making the rounds, I wouldn’t complain at all if Takanashi showed up in All Japan.


The Von Erich boys lose points with me automatically by not coming out to “Stranglehold.” But, they make up for it by not being awful, which is about all that you can ask, considering it’s their pro debut. They show off a few nice things, especially Ross keeping Haste on his toes by dodging his kicks and rolling him up for a near fall, and it’s not a Von Erich match without the claw. Once the claw has come and gone, there’s really nothing else for the Von Erichs to do except get beat. Well, a discus punch might have been nice. Haste and Nicholls do a nice job of heeling things up to rain on the rookies’ parade, so that their loss seems like a heartbreaking experience.


There were two things that struck me as I watched this, the first was exactly how much Taue resembles Baba, and the other was the notion that the best performer here was Genba, by a pretty big margin. Taue reels off the usual spots of his that he can still pull off, and even the Nodowa that he plants Nakajima with really isn’t that bad, but there’s nothing all to see from Kensuke and son, Nakajima isn’t as offensive as Sasaki has been, but he seems to be moving in the wrong direction. That leaves Genba, who takes most of the abuse, and also adds some comedy, including finding something that even Sasaki has to sell, and also some nice hope spots and teases before he gets finished off by a running kick from Nakajima. It’s an understatement to say that NOAH has fallen off the map, but at least there are matches like this to show that they still have wrestlers who can perform well. It looks I’m adding Genba to the list of wrestlers I’d like to see in AJPW.


This is fun to watch in a carny sideshow sort of way, with Fujiwara showing the world that Yone really has no business being in the ring with him. He scouts him from a mile away, and has no trouble doing exactly what he wants. Yone mucks things up with stupid no selling, and having nothing at all to add to the match except for high kicks, one of which eventually gets him the pin on the old man. Why Yone went over here is beyond me, he definitely didn’t look like he deserved to.


The timing on some of their exchanges was nice, specifically the early sequence of dodging each other and going to a stalemate, but when all was said and done, this was just a spotfest, and one that wasn’t always very well done. Ibushi’s flying is spectacular, and Kotoge unleashes some wicked shots, but they don’t seem to be able to put everything together. Their best moment was probably Kotoge hitting a kick and Ibushi stumbling around like Terry Funk and falling over the guardrail. But, they do the same spot in the ring a minute later, only for Ibushi to do a cartwheel and standing moonsault to take over. They spend far too long setting up a reverse rana off the top, only for Ibushi to counter by landing on his feet. There’s no build to the finish. The actual finish, a sit out Last Ride style powerbomb is much better than Ibushi’s usual overdone flipping exhibition, but it’d have been nice to see them make their spots matter instead of killing time before the finish.


There isn’t anything too shocking here, Tajiri is quicker and more experienced while Maybach is bigger and stronger, so the match plays out pretty how one would expect. Tajiri comes up with a clever escape for to the chokeslam, but gets mowed down by a lariat. The really fun thing here is that both Tajiri and Maybach are willing to cheat like crazy, and they do just that every chance they get. The difference is that Tajiri is smart enough to not get caught, unlike Maybach, which leads to the lame dq finish. The match is over but the fun continues with Genba getting involved, and getting blinded by the green mist, in return for Maybach using red mist earlier. Gimmie an anything goes rematch, or a Tajiri/Maybach tag match.


Remember when KENTA was considered one of the best in the world? He looks pretty far away from that level here, especially in the selling department. Marufuji is his usual crafty self, coming up with original and exciting ways to shark on KENTA’s knee, but KENTA’s selling is never better than decent. The two diving stomps are completely unnecessary, and he even craps on the Shiranui by kicking out at one and trying to segue into Game Over, but Marufuji was right by the ropes for the break, so he was better off just eating the spot and selling it. Other than the knee attacks, which mostly carry the match, Marufuji is fun to watch in other ways. Marufuji has several counters to the Go 2 Sleep, including the last one, which is a play on Marufuji’s own return match from injury, when he uses the same counter that Sugiura used against his Perfect Inside Cradle. Marufuji demonstrates that he understands that he can’t ride KENTA’s leg all the way to the end. He still needs to win the match himself. He shows this early by doing a knee buster, and using that opening for a jumping stomp, and the superkicks KENTA while he’s still down for a near fall. When it’s obvious that the Shiranui isn’t going to be enough, Marufuji cleans KENTA’s clock with a knee strike and plants him with the Tiger flowison to finish him off. Marufuji performance is enough to make this a good match, but, if KENTA had followed suit they might have stolen the show. ***1/4


You know you’re in for a fun time when all four wrestlers have done a dive to the floor after less than three minutes. There’s no doubt that this is fun, but it never gets any better than fun, because, at the core, this is pretty much a giant spotfest. Both teams have tons of big spots to add to the mix, but neither team has anything else to offer, even though there were chances to do so. Neither team heels/rudos things up to any great degree. Despite Aoki’s knack for tricked out armbars, he only does one, and Marvin quickly makes the save before it can lead anywhere. Being a spotfest isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nobody is as bad as KENTA in the previous match, but none of them bring any of Marufuji’s smart touches either.

The only thing here that’s stupid was that, yet again, paying tribute to the late Bison Smith is a wasted effort. Marvin plants Suzuki with a Bisontennial not once, but twice, and the second was off the second rope, and he kicks out of both of them. Then again, there are tons of NOAH juniors matches with boatloads of stupid ideas to be found, so the worst possible thing was the Bisontennial treatment, and at least that’s been consistent in NOAH. But, everything else is fine, Suzuki’s selling is just what it needs to be when he’s getting thrashed by Marvin, and just when it seems like it’s getting implausible for Suzuki to keep surviving, Aoki appears and hits a couple of big backdrops to give him time to recover. The finish is almost flawless. Crazy sacrifices himself to ensure that Aoki won’t be coming back, and Marvin spikes Suzuki with a cradle tombstone to keep him down for good. This isn’t altogether that far off from the prior match, which is both good and bad. The worst stuff here was miles better than KENTA’s worst offerings, but, again, none of them were as good, and smart, as Marufuji. If so, this would have left that match in the dust. ***


I was afraid that not following NOAH closely for so many years would result in me being totally out of date with things. Then I see that Kanemaru is the junior champion, and it’s like I never stopped following it. This is far away from the level of the other junior title match, which isn’t exactly a shocker. Daniels’ early work seems to revolve around Kanemaru’s neck, but it never seems like he’s softening him up for something specific. Well, there is the Koji clutch but that’s never been a real finisher for Daniels. Kanemaru has never been a good seller, and this is par for the course. There are a few cute exchanges, like Daniels’ backslide and Kanemaru’s roll through, and Kanemaru getting the foot up to stop the BME, but right after that Kanemaru plants Daniels with a brainbuster that he kicks out of at one, and Kanemaru does a lariat, and then pins Daniels with the same move that only got a one count a minute before.


This winds up being structured in a similar manner to the other tag titles match, only the flashy spots are replaced with intensity and stiffness, especially the exchanges between Saito and Joe. Their intensity is certainly welcome, in fact, this is the first match that feels like hateful affair, and that shouldn’t be the case in the semi final match, and the third title match featuring NOAH defending against outsiders. Everybody adds some nice touches, even Magnus (who is obviously trying to follow Joe’s lead), but the problem is that nobody takes charge and tries to take a stab at telling a story or developing any real theme to the match. Akiyama’s love for the running knee looks better in this context, because it seems like he’s really trying to do some damage, and the double team spot that lets him do it to Joe in the corner is one of the best spots of the match. But, making Akiyama’s favorite strike look more appropriate seems like a small success, when they could have spent the time telling a story.

I could do without watching Joe and Saito blow off strikes, and do delayed selling of them, but at least it’s only slaps and kicks, instead of major spots being blown off. The finish seems to come a bit too quickly and easily, not that I wanted to see them go for thirty plus, like every title match in the old days of NOAH, but it would have been nice to see them go another five or six minutes and build up the finish. Joe being able to get Saito up for the Muscle Buster is an impressive sight, so it would have been nice to see them try to lead into it.


Sometimes it pays to go into something with low expectations. I’ve never been terribly fond of Shiozaki, and their match from January was hardly an inspiring effort, but this is head and shoulders above that match, and Shiozaki is a big reason for that. This time around, Shiozaki uses more believable offense, rather than getting up Morishima for spots that he simply shouldn’t be able to. The only exceptions are two Go Flashers, one of which was on the floor and came on the heels of Morishima’s backdrop on the apron going wrong, and Shiozaki’s selling showed that doing the spot took just as much out of him as it did Morishima. The other Go Flasher was toward the end, and was after Shiozaki had planted Morishima with a DDT counter to a backdrop, and leveled him with several lariats and other strikes.

Most of Shozaki’s offense was aimed at Morishima’s knee, Shiozaki was no Marufuji for coming up with crafty attacks, but the fact that he found a way to use believable offense this time around was good enough for me. Morishima also puts in a fine performance. Before Shiozaki cuts him down to size, he’s exactly what he needs to be, the juggernaut looking to mow down the former champion. But, once he gets hurt, and Shiozaki takes advantage, he’s vulnerable. Nobody would believe that Shiozaki would tap out Morishima (judging from the lack of heat that the submissions were getting), but Morishima still put them over fine. Morishima tries to make a comeback with a roundhouse to the head, but hurts himself just a much as he probably hurts Go. Morishima follows with a bit lariat that drops him, but does it at half speed. They only get stupid one time, and even that’s not as bad as it could have been (not that I want to sound like I’m praising them for it), they do your standard suplex exchange sequence, but at least they somewhat sell between the spots, as opposed to how Kobashi and Akiyama would just jump to their feet like nothing.

The finish is proof positive of Shiozaki’s overall spot in the NOAH pecking order. Despite two runs with the GHC, and a huge move up ladder after the Misawa accident, he’s still not where he needs to be to considered a true company ace. Morishima is able to take his best shots and keep coming, not unlike a Misawa or Kobashi. Shiozaki shows overall improvement by taking the fight to Morishima in a more believable manner and survives the backdrop this time, but, he doesn’t have what it takes to beat Morishima yet. Morishima keeps his cool after the first backdrop, and levels him with a series of strikes including a couple of Misawa style elbows for another near fall, and then picks up Shiozaki as though he expected the kick out, and hits another backdrop to finish him off for good. Watching this gives me hope for NOAH with Morishima as the top guy that they seemed to be lacking, like All Japan finally got with Suwama. He may not need the title soldered to his waist, but his overall performance in the ring, and the way he carries himself says enough. ***½

Conclusion: I didn’t expect much going in, but I was pleasantly surprised. Almost every match has something to like about it in one sense or another. Even Kanemaru/Daniels was at least short.