March 1, 2003

Happy Birthday Splash Mountain! One year, 109 reviews, three different banners, and a good amount of hate mail from ROHbots, but I’m still going strong. Not bad for someone who usually undertakes a daunting task and then loses interest. In honor of the first anniversary I’m reviewing something that I’m - well, actually, - something that I’m famous for reviewing, Pro Wrestling NOAH!

Mitsuharu Misawa . . . really used to be one of the best workers of all time.

Akitoshi Saito . . . usually doesn’t do a bunch of fun stuff in his matches.

Masao Inoue . . . usually doesn’t do anything worthwhile in his matches, and he’s the only one who stays on track.


It’s actually sort of sad to see Misawa and Kobashi work like this. These two had put on some absolute classics together, just a few examples would be 03/26/95, 01/20/97, and 10/21/97, and to see that they’ve regressed to this point is a sad sight to behold. This is supposed to be the big ascension of Kobashi, where he becomes the true ace of the promotion. But much like Kawada’s first Triple Crown win over Misawa back in ‘98, it’s flawed by predictability. Misawa’s run with the GHC was less of a title run, and more of a way to keep the belt warm. He’d won the title the previous September, made a whopping one defense in December against Ogawa, and hadn’t done a thing with it since. Misawa has also never been known for his great contributions in working with lower guys and raising their stock, and now he’s more or less putting the company at stake with his ability to get Kobashi over that last hurdle, and make him the man. So they need a classic performance now, more than ever. They do accomplish that in some ways, but not in the right ways. If you’re looking for insane crowd heat, you’ll find it here. If you’re looking for tons of emotion, you’ll find it here. If you’re looking for memorable moments, you’ll find them here. If you’re looking for smart work, look elsewhere.

The first ten or so minutes are actually fairly watchable, with them both looking for the first advantage. Misawa looks fired up a bit and he’s challenging Kobashi to bring the fight and take control of things. It’s after Kobashi does finally take control of things with a half nelson suplex on the floor that the pieces start to fall into place. Misawa takes the bump, flush on the noggin, and simply lays there like a slug. There’s nothing really wrong with that in itself. Getting dumped on your head is certainly a cause to be knocked out. But the next thing that happens is that Kobashi rolls him into the ring, and fires off some chops to the neck, which Misawa sells as though his neck is in agony. The idea of Kobashi working on Misawa’s neck is fine and good, but Kobashi’s main idea of ‘working’ Misawa’s neck is to continuously dump him on his head with suplexes. Just like the original suplex on the floor, Misawa’s reaction to them is to look knocked out instead of actually selling his neck being hurt, but Kobashi doesn’t even attempt a cover. He does attempt a full nelson which has no real purpose since (A. Kobashi has never been known for tapping out anyone, and (B. Nobody would ever believe that the match would end that way.

Kobashi isn’t the only one who does the silly things. After getting dumped on his head enough times, instead of putting over damage to his neck, Misawa just starts hulking up and no-selling them. Misawa starts dishing out suplexes and such to Kobashi, which get no-sold as well. Misawa also hits a Tiger driver and acts out of breath, which only makes his lack of selling the suplexes look that much more silly. There are times in the match when Misawa and Kobashi do show some flashes of their previous greatness. While the Tiger suplex off the ramp to Kobashi winds up meaning nothing in the grand scheme of things, the way Misawa and Kobashi milk the count and get the fans in a frenzy is excellent. For all of their idiocy with throwing out bombs for no good reason. They do a very good job with the final stretch, with Misawa going through the various things that had put away Kobashi before, and not being able to get it done. And Kobashi scores the one move that’s always been able to put away Misawa, the Burning Hammer, to get the win. Time has actually been somewhat kind to this match. It doesn’t look so bad when it’s compared to Kobashi/Sasaki from July 2005 or Kawada/Mutoh from February 2002, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a sad display from two guys who’d put on legendary performances against each other.


Why couldn’t Akiyama and Saito always have such fun tag matches? They’re both a total blast here. The action starts with STERNNESS spike pile driving Honda on the floor and Saito hitting the jumping roundhouse to put Sugiura out early. From there they just systematically take Honda apart, first going after his neck, and after Honda starts to mount a comeback, Saito takes out his knee and STERNNESS just rips it apart, and eventually get a rare submission win because of it. Things get frustrating though when Honda and Sugiura make comebacks though, because they just start throwing out their bigger moves, as though they’d not just been totally owned, and were in control the whole time and ready to take things home. It’s understandable *why* Honda and Sugiura do things that way, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or silly to watch. It also doesn’t help that Jun and Saito don’t really do anything good to really cut off the babyface’s momentum. The champions both bring their share of fun moments to the match, their double teams on Honda’s knee especially stand out, as does Jun’s use of the Axe Bomber as a potshot at Omori (who’d left NOAH and was working the debut show for World Japan on this day). It’s really too bad that Akiyama and Saito didn’t have more matches like this when they were a team. Their GHC Tag Title matches not being like this is understandable given NOAH’s love for thirty plus minute matches. But offhand I can only think of a couple of Akiyama/Saito tags that I’d say were as much fun, or better than this. Which is both telling and sad.


If all matches were judged upon the amount of eye-raking that goes on, then Inoue would be able to unify the IWGP, GHC, Triple Crown, NWA, and WWE Titles and make one big world title, because nobody eye-rakes like Masao Inoue. But here on earth matches are judged based on things like ‘talent’ so Inoue is still stuck in the mid-card. Considering Inoue got squashed like a bug by Tamon Honda of all people back on 1/26, why he wasn’t squashed here by the NWF Champion is beyond me. It seems like things are headed in that direction, after Inoue gets done with his eye-raking. But then he pulls out a few reversals and counters, probably intended to make someone believe that he could score the upset, which nobody in their right mind would believe. Takayama provides a couple of nice moments, like when he nearly chokes Inoue out from a head scissors, and the Everest German suplex he uses for the win looks as good as ever. But aside from those couple of moments, it’s got nothing to stand out.


Outside of the novelty of Ogawa jobbing, this has about as much in the way of standout moments as the Takayama/Inoue match. Ogawa gets control with the testicular claw and proceeds to backdrop Scorpio both on the ramp, and several times in the ring. Old Man Fuchi would be proud. But Scorpio mounts a comeback and does all of his top rope moves, including two 450 splashes to win. The match comes across looking like they wanted to make it look ‘legit’ with both of them trying to *really* score a pinfall.

Conclusion: Akitoshi Saito is the MVP of this commercial release for Funk’s sake! And the scary thing is that it’s not just by process of elimination, although it does help that the match only went about seven minutes. Misawa/Kobashi is good for historical purposes, and there’s plenty of better matches than that one. Definite recommendation to avoid this one.