November 27, 2011

I’m reviewing a NOAH show! True, I’m literally years removed from even remotely caring about this company (I tapped out when they put the GHC Title on Ken-suck-e), but there’s a Triple Crown defense from Akiyama and a KENTA main event.

Kenta Kobashi. . . . is lots of fun abusing young kids, and then making them look good in return.

Takashi Sugiura . . . checks most of the prerequisite NOAH goofiness at the door, resulting in a fun match with the returning Marufuji.

KENTA . . . looks a million miles away from the days of 2004-05 when he was considered one of the best in the world.


Oh joy. It’s a Masao Inoue match! Actually, this is pretty watchable when Miyahara in involved (aside from the superkick and no-sell exchange, that is), but Inoue is the kiss of death. When either of the foreigners is with Inoue the pace is slow, the strikes look positively timid, and the cooperation is way too evident (such as the spot where Inoue gets his foot up to stop the charge). There’s far too little of Miyahara involved to salvage this, although at least Inoue drops the fall when Nicholls gets a cutback on his sunset flip. I wouldn’t mind watching the other three again, if Miyahara was tagged with another junior heavyweight.


If not for Morishima, then this would have been a total waste, unless you’re into lumpy heavyweights making minimum progress with minimum effort. Saito and Yone both throw a ton of kicks and lariats and don’t take the match anywhere interesting, although it was a nice touch to see Saito hit a lariat on Morishima while he was against the post. Morishima salvages this with a couple of sweet lariats of his own and finishing Saito with a huge backdrop suplex. Why Saito bothered to trot out the Iron Claw slam, to pay homage to his late partner, when he the one taking the fall is beyond me, why not save that moment for a big win?


Replace the constant lariats and kicks from the last match with slaps and chops and you’ve pretty much got this match. The one bright spot is that Kobashi does a good job of selling for Taniguchi when he finally has enough abuse and starts fighting back, as opposed to Kensuke, who just slaps Taniguchi to stop the comeback. The only really memorable thing from Taniguchi was his blunder that led to him inadvertently helping Kobashi superplex Sano, and that worked because it was amusing rather than any other reason. Sano pretty much stays in the background and lets Taniguchi have the spotlight, he doesn’t add much more than a few of his rolling kicks, and a diving stomp with some good distance. Sano and Kensuke have a battle of NLBs with both of them trying their mutual finisher, unsuccessfully, and Kobashi winds up tipping the scales in Sasaki’s favor. It’s great to see Kobashi work matches like this, especially with how broken down he’d become, it’s too bad that he didn’t start doing this a few years sooner.


This fun for what it is, which is mostly a junior sprint. There's nothing outright bad, aside from Genba getting lost at one point, but nothing all that spectacular either. Everyone does their stuff, and it comes together just fine. Takayama pretty much stays out of the way and lets the juniors do their thing, he doesn't get all that involved until the very end when he gets triple teamed to set up a good near fall from Ishimori. Ishimori gets a few other near falls from cradles, but nobody believes that Takayama is going to fall that easily, especially being so fresh. Once Takayama gets his marbles together, Ishimori doesn't have a prayer. Ishimori has a couple of close calls thanks to his partners saving him, and once Kanemaru and Genba even the odds, Ishimori quickly falls to a big knee strike. The best exchanges are the Suzuki/Genba ones, but again, there's nothing bad, even Kanemaru reigns things in rather well. I'd have liked to see Takayama jettisoned in favor of another junior or smaller heavyweight, since he stuck out like a sore thumb, but, he managed to be an important factor without overshadowing the others.


If you're familiar with how both Sugiura and Marufuji like to work, then this won't be anything too surprising. It's the classic battle of speed versus power, Sugiura uses his strength and superior wrestling skills, while Marufuji uses his speed and puts his knack for flashy, yet very crafty, escapes and counters to good use. This obviously makes Marufuji more exciting to watch to see what he'll pull off next. I especially liked his positioning himself so that Sugiura's German actually sat him on the turnbuckle, and there's another good one where he sees Sugiura going low to take him down, so he jumps and winds up doing a footstomp to the head. The only knocks on the match are the blown Shiranui off the apron (no doubt due to some ring rust from his long layoff), it looked like Sugiura countered into a backdrop suplex, but Sugiura was the one who milked the count, while Marufuji was no worse for wear. The other big negative was the prerequisite pop-up and no-sell sequence, although they at least only devalued running kicks to the face, rather than big moves that fans might believe as near falls.

Their issues notwithstanding, they cap off a good performance with a nearly flawless finish. Marufuji attempts the Perfect Inside Cradle, and Sugiura sees it coming and gets up a knee to stop him. Sugiura doesn't give him any time to possibly recover and take him by surprise again, and he starts reigning down on Marufuji with elbows to the face and a few to the back of the head for good measure. When it's certain that Marufuji will not be getting up, Sugiura picks him up and Olympic Slams him to finish him off. That's right, there wasn't any finisher overkill and they didn't feel the need to ramp up the finisher somehow just for a pop. After a decent build up, the finisher itself was enough. I could get used to this. ***

KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA vs. RICKY MARVIN (Decision Match for the vacant GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)

Nakajima originally vacated the title when he got injured. Marvin won a decision match for the title and then immediately vacated it because he wanted to beat the champion for the title. Why couldn’t Marvin just defend it here to beat the former champion? This has its fun moments, but the fun is minimized by the notion that they seemed to be actively trying to make each other look bad. Nakajima works over Marvin’s leg for a couple of long stretches, including a nice figure four spot, but as soon as it’s Marvin’s turn to get in offense he’s throwing out step up enzuigiris, dives, leaping stomps, and even a diving knee drop. How’s that leg doing, Ricky? Nakajima returns the favor at the end when Marvin is throwing out some bombs, including a Bisontennial, and then Nakajima finishes him with a German suplex (second time that a tribute spot to Bison had been dumped on). As gorgeous a German as Nakajima can do, it was far less dangerous than most of what Ricky was doing. Again, there’s things to like about this, they both throw some wicked kicks, and Ricky has tons of awesome spots up his sleeve, but it’s all negated by the fact that neither of them wanted to make anything matter.

JUN AKIYAMA © vs. TAIYO KEA (Triple Crown)

With their having gone to a draw during the carnival, it only makes sense that Kea got the first crack at Akiyama to bring home the titles to All Japan. This is a step up from their carnival match, which may not seem like much of compliment, but really is. Kea busting up Jun's arm early is just filler, but it's smart filler for Kea. Nobody thinks that Akiyama will submit, least of all to Kea, but by doggedly keeping Jun in arm locks, Kea finds a way to believably control the action. It helps that Akiyama's selling is pretty good and it also helps that Jun favors knee strikes, so when Akiyama has the advantage he doesn't make Kea's busting up his arm seem meaningless, unlike Marvin and Nakajima. One of Jun's first offensive bursts is a series of jumping knees before taking down Kea into a front neck lock, it's typical offense from him, but it doesn't come across like Akiyama is getting in his own stuff at the expense of what Kea had just done.

Kea's problem is that he doesn't have much else to fall back on to believably take the fight to Akiyama. Sure, Kea has his usual arsenal like the jumping DDT, Surfing suplex, TKO, etc. and while that may be adequate to beat MAZADA, it's nothing that someone like Akiyama, who has taken legends like Misawa and Kobashi to their limits and beyond, will believably fall to. It’s not like Kea doesn’t *have* convincing finishers, the H50 and Hawaiian Smasher were both right there and aren’t things that Kea uses all that often. Kea's best shot on Akiyama is the Surfing suplex, and it was due to the fact that Akiyama was really going all out to put over Kea's Cobra clutch before Kea had to pick him up for the actual suplex. All things considered, Kea probably should have gone back to an arm submission one last time before Akiyama's final run to try to plant that seed of doubt.

The fact that Akiyama winds up beating Kea by submission to the neck lock further illustrates Kea's place on the pecking order in comparison to Akiyama's. Sure, Akiyama beat both Misawa and Kobashi with that same hold to open NOAH's doors eleven years before, but it was pretty much done as a viable finisher by 2002. It's become Akiyama's version of the Misawa facelock. It's nice to see Akiyama make his usual suplex-heavy offense count for something besides his ability to throw Kea around, but it really doesn't say much for Akiyama as a champion, or the Triple Crown as a meaningful title, when Akiyama's challenger (who should be the best that All Japan has to offer) is so clearly a few rungs below him on the ladder. Kea's issues aside, this has all the hate and energy that you'd expect from a challenger going to enemy territory to bring home the gold. Akiyama's selling certainly shows that he was trying to help Kea look good, it's too bad that Akiyama couldn't go further with it and that Kea couldn't even go as far as Akiyama, had they both been able to, then this could have stolen the show. ***

GO SHIOZAKI © vs. KENTA (GHC Heavyweight Title)

I’ll give Shiozaki credit where it’s due. He throws a really nice lariat. He’s no Hansen, or even Morishima, but it’s still a damn good one. If you like stiff kicks and chops, then you won’t want to miss this, but it’s noticeably lacking in every other department. Neither KENTA nor Shiozaki seems to want to let the other have any sort of notable control segment. Even as the match winds down, it looks like they’re taking turns. Shiozaki gets a couple of great shots on KENTA that should have led to him firmly controlling the match, the best one being catching KENTA’s plancha, ramming him into the post, and then tossing him with the fallaway slam on the floor, but KENTA takes back over almost as soon as they’re in the ring. Toward the end, Shiozaki hits a moonsault and KENTA counters the subsequent pin attempt into his crossface. Shiozaki isn’t any better, just watch him take two kicks to the head and then pop up and nail KENTA with a lariat. With how little any of their big moves seemed to matter, it’s amazing that KENTA stayed down after the Limit Break.

They had the chance to do something interesting when Shiozaki seemed to start focusing on KENTA’s knee, but it didn’t last very long, and KENTA didn’t feel like selling it anyway. Had they gone that route, it’d explain why Shiozaki kicked out of the Go 2 Sleep twice in a row, and Go could have gotten an offensive run to make him seem worthy of being champion. The only other positive to take away from this is that the NOAH crew seems to have learned from Misawa’s accident and done away with the head drops. The work isn’t any smarter though, they’ve just replaced head drops with stiff strikes.

Conclusion: When the Triple Crown match is spanking the GHC match, something isn’t right. It’s a decently fun show as a whole, but the matches you’d expect to deliver, namely the two GHC Title matches, both fail to do so.