March 5, 2006

My lack of reviewing shows in the ‘06 hasn’t gone unnoticed and it stops, starting right now! NOAH is back in the Budokan, with outsiders going for titles and young guys challenging old guys.

Haruka Eigen . . . lets the saliva flow like wine in the Budokan for one last time.

Takeshi Morishima . . . beats on Mitsuharu Misawa like he owes him money.

Minoru Suzuki . . . sadly proves that it’s true what they say about heroes, they’ll only disappoint you.


Aside from the novelty of Eigen getting to spit all over the Budokan one last time, this is the usual forgettable NOAH opening match. There are a few notable spots, namely Sano’s diving foot stomp to Honda, and Izumida standing guard to prevent Shiga and Honda from saving Momota, and then running scared when they enter the ring. But the six of them basically just kill time and nothing that any of them do really means anything in the grand scheme of things, since Shiga pins Eigen after a schoolboy.


Yone’s participation here is odd, you’d think that there being half of the GHC Tag Team Champions would allow for something better for Yone. This is the same thing the last match was, minus the spitting. Everyone did their stuff, without any real story to the action. Almost everyone (Yone being the exception oddly enough) brings some nice spots to the match, so the crowd does get quite a fun show for the ten minutes or so that this lasts for. The bulk of the match is the heels working over Dakota. SUWA makes him pay for his lack of boots by stomping his toes and ankles. I’ve never seen Dakota before and I’m not in a hurry to see him again, he’s not bad, but his cowboy yelling gets old quickly. SUWA is actually sort of nice here, not kicking below the belt or socking anyone in the face. The only real heel thing he does is prevent a pin, by grabbing the ref. The usual melee ensues, leaving Dakota three-on-one, and getting Jon Woo’d into next week and then planted with the Ki Krusher to give the heels the win. It’s fun and relatively simple, which is fine for its placement on the card.


Saito and Smith take turns no-selling one another to start this off, which means it can’t go anywhere but up from there. The Brits both bring some nice offense with them, and they put on a somewhat decent show, until the Dark Agents decide to try doing some of the things that Doug and Nigel do, and aren’t able to do them as well. There is one nice moment when Smith shoots it for the claw, and Kawabata does a matrix to avoid it. Just like the last two matches, this is hampered by a real lack of story, and unlike the last match, this doesn’t have the pretty offense from everyone to at least make it tolerable. It also has the same copout ending, with the six man brawl leaving two guys in the ring to do the finish. Williams’ Chaos Theory gets a decent pop from the Budokan crowd, although the move itself being done to Kawabata didn’t look that great.


As long as Ogawa was busting up Rikio’s arm and channeling the spirit of SUWA with his cheating, this was a surprisingly enjoyable encounter, between two workers not known for great matches. Ogawa jumps Rikio on his way to the ring and busts up his arm with some nice stuff, even whipping out a Fujiwara armbar at one point. One really fun moment came when Ogawa did a grapevine on Rikio’s arm, and started to bully the ref. The ref pushed him down, and wrenched on Rikio’s arm in the process. When Rikio started to mount a comeback, Ogawa would cut him off by pulling the ref in the way, or distracting the ref and kicking Rikio below the belt, doing nothing that takes any real talent to accomplish. Ogawa also used his size smaller size to his advantage a bit, by countering Rikio’s first Muso into a sunset flip. Unfortunately, Rikio doesn’t put in the same fun performance. He totally blows off the arm work Ogawa does, once it’s out of focus, and his offense is basically just smacking Ogawa around and using big moves. His answer to Ogawa’s counter to the Muso was to just slap him across the face and do the move again for the win. You’d think that someone pretty much labeled as a failed GHC Champion would do his best to show he still belonged on top, but instead he let himself get out performed by Ogawa of all people.


Considering the limitations that Marufuji has as a worker, and Taue’s physical limitations, this had the ability to be all sorts of bad. Instead they both work around them and put on the best match of the card. Their strategies are straightforward, Marufuji uses his speed and agility, while Taue uses his size and strength. That much is expected, what’s not expected is that they’d both bring some unique offense and counters along with smart work. When was the last time Taue pulled out a Triangle choke (counter to a roll-up) or a sunset flip? Marufuji’s initial advantage came from working on Taue’s leg, a rather obvious thing for a smaller man to do. It starts out with a Dragon screw over the ropes, and Marufuji keeps the Mutoh offense coming with the dropkick to the leg and a figure four. Taue gets the ropes to break the hold and Marufuji attempts another Dragon screw, but Taue counters into the Coconut crusher, and does the best sell job ever, and Marufuji’s superkick allows for more comical selling. It’s also proof that Taue’s physical state isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, judging from some of the bumps Taue takes for Marufuji. The Shiranui is expected, but Marufuji also gives Taue a chokeslam of his own, as well as a straightjacket suplex.

Taue takes over the action by grabbing Marufuji as if he’s going to attempt a Nodowa and hurling him into the post. Taue’s plan is also simple. He’s going to put the hurt on Marufuji by using his strength. That’s the aspect that makes this pairing work together so well, because anyone can take the bumps Taue can dish out, but they can’t make them look as good or as brutal as Marufuji. Marufuji’s back flip counter to the Nodowa is unique, if nothing else, and Taue also gets to repay it with a Nodowa counter to an attempted Shiranui. Marufuji countering the Ore Ga Taue with a juji-gatame is another surprising spot. It’s sort of sad to see Taue basically killing off his own offense with so many attempts at the Nodowa and either a kick out or an escape being the result. Taue has never employed a great deal of offense, but even a little variety (jumping Dynamic kick, Beale Nodowa, tossing backdrop) would have been nice. It’s also odd that Taue puts Marufuji up top for the super Nodowa after he clubs the hell out of him. It worked against Akiyama when he first did the move because it was surprise counter. But if Marufuji is stunned enough to put up there, then he could have surely put him away with the Dynamic Bomb or Ore Ga Taue. Instead he goes for broke and loses when Marufuji uses the same Nodowa counter and pins him after a wrist-clutch small package. It’s a fun sequence, but odd to see Taue outdone like that, when they’d both been working so smartly. Whether the match was intended to or not, it did a fine job of putting both workers over in different ways. ***1/4


The goal here is to obviously elevate Morishima in defeat, whether or not that was accomplished is debatable at best. It’s easy to see the abuse they both take and say that it worked, but keeping in mind that both members of Wild II have supposedly been ‘The Future’ of the company ever since 2003, and that this is hardly the first time that it’s been attempted to elevate him in a manner like this, and this looks like just one more go at it. The biggest failing of the match isn’t so much due to Misawa, but rather the choice of Misawa as Morishima’s opponent. Morishima has always been good at dishing out beatings, and usually that’s enough. But in this case he’s wrestling Misawa, and everyone has always been able to dish out huge beatings to Misawa, even as far back as 1998 when wrestling Akiyama. So in this case Morishima really needed to bring something else to the table and he failed in that regard. Had Morishima worked this same sort of match against Ogawa, Honda, Shiga, Nakajima etc. as a sort of warning to Misawa, Akiyama, Kobashi, or Sasaki, it’d have been more than enough to get the point across.

The match itself is no different from any good number of similar matches involving Misawa. The match kicks off with Misawa getting taken by surprise with Morishima coming in full steam ahead with a bunch of lariats, forearms, and elbows. Misawa fires back with some elbows of his own, getting a little blood from Morishima’s nose. Misawa also doesn’t shy away from taking big bumps, such as the powerbomb on the ramp, and the reverse Nodowa off the apron. Morishima takes a bigger bump of his own, with the Tiger driver off the apron. But again, it’s just a matter of same-old same-old when it involves Misawa. There are a few nice instances of ‘learned’ spots, with Morishima trying to once again powerbomb Misawa on the ramp, and doing a rana reversal, and with the bloody nose, Misawa cranks on the facelock more than usual. But smart moments like that are few and far between.

Morishima pretty much kills his backdrop as a finisher, planting Misawa three times, and still failing to get the win, and after the third kick out, they get to their feet and Misawa wins the next strike exchange. The strike exchanges look nice, because Morishima isn’t shy about teeing off at a moment’s notice, but all they really amount to is a stall tactic between bigger moves. They do deserve some praise for their final stretch, with Misawa looking fired up, with a goal of caving in Morshima’s face with close range elbows, and Morishima doing a nice job of putting over how it’s gradually sapping his strength until he can’t take it anymore and stays down. As far as structure and storytelling goes, it’s not much different from Misawa/Kobashi GHC Title change, and at least that had the emotion of being a passing of the torch. This is just your typical Misawa vs. Young Guy match. Both of them were guilty of only doing their usual stuff and little else. But it’s hard to imagine that Morishima taking on just about anyone else wouldn’t be able to yield better results.


Just like the match before it, this is another case of smart work taking a backseat to the same old routine. This isn’t as disappointing though, because there are a few instances where some smart work does creep its way into the picture. The most notable is KENTA busting up Kobashi’s arm. The lack of reaction to KENTA cranking the Fujiwara armbar isn’t surprising given how the promotion treats submissions, but both KENTA and Kobashi do a nice job with the segment. Kobashi is also good about selling his arm, even on offense, until it’s well out of the focus. KENTA’s early scouting of Kobashi’s spinning chop, and Kobashi cutting off KENTA’s patented strike flurry are both smart moments, showing their familiarity, both from being partners, and their previous singles match.

The biggest detractor of the match is the heavyweight vs. junior heavyweight booking, because there is precious little that KENTA can do to Kobashi to believably look like he’s giving him any real trouble. The only really good near fall he’s able to get on him is the powerbomb out of the corner, which got no reaction at all. KENTA has his kicks, and his strikes look better than almost everyone else, but everyone has seen Kobashi take huge beatings and still come out on top, so it’s hard to buy KENTA’s kicks as a real means to victory, and KENTA’s Go 2 Sleep that he levels Kobashi with looks beyond ugly as well. It’s not a Kobashi match without a few head drops, the Half Nelson suplex seemed like a prerequisite, given that it had no real meaning. The second is more tolerable, with Kobashi counter KENTA’s armbreaker into a sleeper, and dumping him with the sleeper suplex. But it’d have been just as, if not more, wise of Kobashi to simply work the sleeper and wear down KENTA that way. The delayed selling also comes in, with KENTA blowing off a Half Nelson suplex to do the Busaiku. Kobashi digging out the wrist-clutch Burning Hammer isn’t a bad finish, but it’d have worked better if he had given KENTA a couple more near falls to give the impression that it was a last resort.


The novelty of the title change, and the ref stoppage finish make this stand out among most NOAH title changes, but other than that, this is less a wrestling match and more of a spotfest and an exercise in frustration. The most notable thing lacking here is any real sense of build or structure. Virtually all of the good work and spots come from Hidaka, or from double teams by Skull and Bones. They don’t always double team in the usual sense. A good number of them are simply a choreographed set up where Fujita (or Hidaka) will set up Sugiura (or Kanemaru) for Hidaka to hit with a springboard dropkick, or a big splash. There are a good number of regular double teams though, an assisted Tornado DDT, a double superkick, the neckbreaker/splash combo. The only really good stretch of the match comes early on, after Skull and Bones hit a pair of synchronized dives to the floor. Kanemaru attacks Hidaka from behind, and the champions work over his back, starting with a Kaientai-style Camel clutch, and then keeping it simple with forearms to the back, and Sugiura using a few of his suplexes. But aside from that one stretch in the early going, there isn’t any genuine story or build to the match.

There are also a good number of small annoyances throughout the match as well, mostly from the challengers. Sugiura applied the Ankle Lock to Hidaka without any sort of build to the hold at all, and after Fujita made the save, there wasn’t any sort of follow up done. Kanemaru also goes a bit finisher-crazy, whipping out his brainbuster three times, and two more attempts, plus his jumping DDT and even a DDT off the second rope. Sugiura no-sells several shots to the head in order to rattle off a suplex, and Fujita also plants him with a Tombstone on the ramp to set up the finish, and he still has to be held back to prevent him from making a save. The challengers aren’t exempt either, doing a fun job of wearing down Sugiura’s leg in the early portions, including a sick looking Ankle Lock variation, and then totally leaving it alone. Which is compounded by the fact that it’s Kanemaru who winds up in the Shawn Capture, rather than the one who’d had his leg worked over. The ref stoppage is unique, although it’d have come across better if Kanemaru had passed out rather than refuse to tap. There’s several things to like about this match, but a thirty-minute title change (especially involving outsiders) should have more than one decent stretch, and some fun work from the challengers.

JUN AKIYAMA © vs. MINORU SUZUKI (GHC Heavyweight Title)

Given how much the work is hampered by Akiyama’s rib injury, this match should probably have not taken place. But kudos to NOAH for sticking with what they advertised, rather than making last-minute card changes, like their some of their contemporaries have been known to do. Aside from the overly long slap exchange, this match is built around protecting Akiyama’s ribs, and that’s made a bit too obvious at times, especially when this is supposed to be the blowoff to the long Akiyama/Suzuki rivalry. The clean breaks at the beginning look downright odd. That they take it to the mat at first isn’t a bad thing, being an accomplished amateur is what got Akiyama into All Japan in the first place, and Suzuki is obviously adept on the mat, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual Kobashi-style stuff in NOAH main events.

It’s after their bit on the mat though, when the obvious cooperation becomes an issue, when Suzuki starts to “target Akiyama’s ribs.” The sleeper hold spot over the ropes is nice, and Jun’s reaction to the body scissors is excellent. The next thing Suzuki does in on Octopus hold and he teases grinding his elbow into Akiyama’s taped up ribs. But the camera quickly pans away, to hide the fact that he’s actually far above the taped up portions. They do the same spot later on, and the camera cuts to a reverse angle, hiding the fact that Suzuki is actually grinding into Jun’s hips. Suzuki follows up the Octopus with a diving foot stomp which hits Jun in the chest area, rather than the ribs. All Suzuki is able to do that actually attacks the injured area is the body scissors sleeper, and one kick. And in a match between two wrestlers who’d been feuding for a year, and one known for working matches like he’s gone into business for himself, it doesn’t cut it. The camera work is also a hindering factor, as the replay of Suzuki’s piledriver show’s Jun had a relatively safe landing, as opposed to the initial camera angle looking like Suzuki had really spiked him with it.

The only time the match shows any real intensity is the overly long slap exchange. It’s not quite as silly as the chop exchange by Kobashi and Sasaki in the dome, but it’s the same basic principle at work. Overly long exchanges of a simple strike, designed for crowd pops and to kill time, rather than genuinely building a match. And this goes even longer than Kobashi and Sasaki did (or at least it felt like it). Akiyama finally wins the exchanges and plants Suzuki with the Exploder ‘98 for the win, but the finish is anticlimactic at best. Considering how badly he was hurt, it’s a tribute to Akiyama that he even worked the match. It’s just a shame that a long rivalry like this had to end on a relatively low note.

Conclusion: For the most part, this is par for the course when it comes to NOAH. It’s a show with many enjoyable factors, but with several gaping flaws. Granted, not all of it was their fault, but it’s an overall disappointing show, with a recommendation to avoid.