October 5, 2003

Pro Wrestling NOAH take a break between tours for a little stand alone show, and there are surprises abound.

Masashi Aoyagi . . . is in a fun singles match.

Yoshinari Ogawa . . . was part of the big highlight of an otherwise boring tag match.

Akira Taue . . . makes both Kobashi and Akiyama look like his lackeys.


Momota did some nice stuff here, but none of the other three could seem to be bothered. Momota takes a decent sized beating from Inoue, but refuses to give in and keeps on fighting and when that’s enough to make him standout, it shows how well the other three were performing. There are slaps galore from all four of them, and Inoue changed things up now and then by adding some kicks to the arsenal. Inoue also attempts to some comedy by no-selling. Because nothing says “humorous” like having Momota level you in the face with a soccer kick, and then shrugging it off like nothing. Unbelievably enough, Eigen doesn’t actually spit at all, although it gets teased when Eigen and Momota head to the ramp. The flash nature of the pins here is odd too, especially given how Momota took the brunt on the punishment, and yet Inoue couldn’t put him away with anything meaningful and needed the roll-up of all things to do it.


As choice as this match is, it’s instantly negated by the fact that NOAH likely wouldn’t have been able to parlay the match into something meaningful. Aoyagi is as kick-tastic as the previous match was slap-tastic. But Kikuchi is the ultimate difference maker here, he tries to make every kick that Aoyagi lands mean something. He lets out huge screams and grunts whenever Aoyagi lands one, and his facial expressions are great. He tries several time to mount himself a comeback, be it brawling on the floor, or attempting to take down Aoyagi with actual wrestling moves, but poor Kikuchi can never quite get that because Aoyagi’s advantage is always just one kick away.

Kikuchi finally finds some success when he manages to level a kick at Aoyagi’s arm and momentarily halt him. Kikuchi tries for the Fireball bomb, but knows it’s way too early, and when Aoyagi kicks out, Kikuchi clamps on the Chickenwing, and even grapevines the leg, to prevent Aoyagi from both getting the ropes as well as kicking his way out. Aoyagi puts over the Chickenwing the same way that Kikuchi was putting over the kicks, he’s yelling and screaming like he feels his arm about to snap in half at any given instant. Kikuchi also does everything he can to apply as much pressure as he can. Aoyagi does finally get the ropes, and Kikuchi doesn’t keep on the hurt limb, instead he opts to use the advantage he has as a chance to use own offense to get the job done. He rocks Aoyagi with elbows and sends him down with the Spider Belly to Belly, but comes up short on the diving headbutt, and Aoyagi gets back to the kicks, and to his credit he does shake his arm out now and then, instead of totally forgetting what just happened to him. Kikuchi had seen his advantage slip away, but as soon as the opening presented itself, Kikuchi was right there to snag it. Kikuchi once again traps Aoyagi with the Chickenwing (this time in the dead center of the ring), and scores a very rare submission victory. Kikuchi obviously isn’t the future of NOAH, but with solid performances like this, it’s too bad they don’t give him more of a ‘one last run’ sort of push, the same way Taue gets each year, especially with Kikuchi showing that much like Taue, he can carry the ball on those rare occasions when he’s allowed the chance. ***


No doubt that the year 2003 featured some impressive showings form the much improved Tamon Honda, but this is not an example of them. It’s probably no coincidence that the highlights of Honda’s 2003 also featured names like Kobashi, Akiyama, and Takayama, all three of them busted their humps to help make Honda look good, and now Honda’s in the position of having to make himself look good. Honda does a nice job with showing how quickly he can turn the tide with a simple Kata-gatame, but at this point in time, it’s nothing that he hadn’t already done. It also doesn’t help matters that Kawabata couldn’t be bothered to do anything very interesting when attacking Honda’s knee. The leg lace and stomps may be technically efficient, but there are plenty of other leg attacks that can accomplish the same feat and still look more damaging. It is notable that both this, and the last match both ended by tap out. But Kikuchi (and Aoyagi for that matter) had gone the extra mile to make something out of the short-lived arm work by Kikuchi, whereas Honda treats his shoulder hold as more of a wear down move, so all he really accomplished by ending the match with that, is making it clear that Kawabata isn’t worthy of any sort of dangerous and/or meaningful finish.


As fun as this is, it’s got zero qualities that make it stand out from any number of tags and trios matches between the various incarnations of these six. The pecking order was pretty clearly defined, which is what the match mostly plays off, but as is custom for NOAH, it misses easy opportunities to make it mean so much more. Much like every match he’s ever been in, Kotaro gets himself in trouble, and Hashi is right there to give him the pain and show him who the higher man is. But when Suzuki gets a tag to KENTA, and the fight gets more even, Hashi isn’t quite so full of himself, and when KENTA is able to get Hashi in the other corner, and sics Marufuji on him, then the shoe is finally on the other foot. Hashi is the one with the most to prove as well, having dropped the fall in the 9/12 GHC Jr. Tag Titles match to KENTA. The unique thing about when Marufuji is working over Hashi is that the face/heel dynamic in the match takes a complete 180, and it’s KENTA and Suzuki getting in cheap shots, while Marufuji distracts the ref, and all three of them triple team him in the corner when the ref is trying to put Kanemaru back to the floor. When Kanemaru finally does get the tag, he’s quickly hit with a cheap shot on the apron from KENTA.

When Hashi finally gets out, the heel/face dynamic goes back to what it normally is, and it’s Suzuki who has to pay the price. All three of them run Suzuki into the guardrails numerous times, and when he finally gets back into the ring, things don’t appear to be much better for him, as all three of them beat him down and stomp a proverbial mudhole in him. Marufuji doesn’t let that get too out of hand though, especially after the hurting they put on Hashi, he knows that Suzuki can’t take that. That’s also where the match has its biggest failing, because as the various combinations of them start facing off, there is never a sense that either one gets a distinct advantage over the other, it’s more equal than anything, and that doesn’t speak much for future matches. First off you have Sugiura (the new GHC Jr. Champion) and Marufuji (arguably the #1 junior), Marufuji uses his speed to avoid Sugiura and catches him with a cradle for two, but gets caught with his spear when trying to play to the crowd after a super kick, and then Sugiura hits a suplex, and Marufuji flips out of the German. Neither one got a distinct advantage nor victory over the other. KENTA and Kanemaru are the same story when they’re going at it. You have the most successful GHC Jr. Champ in its history against the obvious heir to the GHC Jr. throne, and neither gets any decisive win nor advantage over the other one.

The match then turns into the typical Kotaro Suzuki affair, where he survives the odds, gets his near falls, and in one particularly nice spot, KENTA and Marufuji double suplex Hashi to set up a Suzuki splash. It makes sense to use Hashi in the final run, since he is the one with the most to prove, but having a meaningful exchange, or run of offense against Marufuji or KENTA would have done more to help Hashi prove he’s still got it, than simply getting the best of Suzuki. Conversely, having the same run of near falls, and saves with either the GHC Jr. Champion or the two-time former champion and longest champion in history, would have probably done more to show how close Suzuki is coming to his breakout win, than doing it against Hashi. Unfortunately, the finish run winds up accomplishing the minimal amount of showing either of those things, and it doesn’t run much deeper than simply Suzuki losing to the Goriman’s driver, when Marufuji and KENTA were being held back.


The bulk of the action of this match is from Ikeda and Ogawa, their exchanges are chock full of intensity and had they not had that abomination of a singles match back in June, it would seem like something NOAH should book sooner, rather than later. On more than one occasion they brawl to the floor and right into the crowd. Ogawa does some truly nasty things to the groin of Ikeda including doing the rowboat with Sano. Sano also works over the leg of Ikeda and when Ikeda manages to turn over the figure four, Ogawa runs in and turns it back over on Ikeda. Ikeda does make a tag to Yone, while in the figure four, but the ref doesn’t allow it since Yone was on the bottom rope. Ogawa and Ikeda also do their dueling referee spot, and Ogawa stooges here and there, to work in his usual stuff. Sano doesn’t do much of note other than the legwork to set up the figure four, and a few nice roundhouses to the head. Yone would almost be totally unremarkable if not for his lack of performance following the hot tag from Ikeda. He hits a couple of kicks to Sano, some weak looking slaps, and then when Sano slaps him back, he drops to the mat for a near fall. Ikeda and Yone attempt their dual Muscle Buster spot, but both Sano and Ogawa escape, which leads to Ogawa and Ikeda back on the floor brawling, while Sano quickly finishes off Yone with an NLB, which is really the only other thing Yone brought to the table of any significance, doing the job.


The placement of Rikio and Morishima on the respective teams is ironic, given that at the time of this, the only wrestlers in the company who had a win over Misawa in singles action were Akiyama and Kobashi, and the fact that Rikio would join that elite group in 2005. This match is structured similar to the way that the junior trios match was, in terms of playing off the hierarchy of the workers. The big difference here is that they mix things up a bit to give credence to the notion that the younger (as well as the broken down older) workers can still give the top stars a run for their money, which results in a very fun match.

Watching Morishima and Rikio’s opening exchange with each other, you’d think they were hated enemies rather than regular tag team partners, they lay right into each other. Both members of WILD II obviously get their peril sections, and the nice thing that they both share, is the way it ends. Which isn’t by being bailed out and allowed to leave, but by having to bail themselves out by fighting back. Their respective partners will help them out if the trouble becomes too much, but neither of them gets their big tag as a direct result of that save. Morishima’s peril section is the more interesting of the two, thanks to a combo of Morishima’s ability to better put over the trashing he gets, as well as the fact that Kobashi and Akiyama have more of a variety of ways they can put on the hurt. Rikio also heaps the abuse onto his tag team partner, in brutal fashion. When Rikio and Kobashi knock Misawa and Taue off the apron to allow Akiyama to hit Morishima with the Exploder, it looks to be the beginning of the end, but Morishima kicks out, sucks up Jun’s jumping knee, and outsmarts him with the sidewalk slam before he can tag. Misawa and Taue don’t do a thing, and it’s Morishima on his own. Morishima does more than simply take a pounding though, he manages to beat Akiyama in one of NOAH’s frustrating kick trade off sequences, and puts Jun in some serious pain with an abdominal stretch. Morishima’s participation in Rikio’s peril segment is the highlight of it (again, due to Misawa and Taue’s lack of variety offense), and Morishima only gets in trouble because he had to delay attempting his backdrop on Akiyama, to prevent Kobashi from ambushing him.

Morishima isn’t the only one who’s on a mission to prove himself though. Akira Taue puts on quite the good showing during his time in the ring. When Taue and Kobashi are going at it, the GHC Champion looks like he’s going to make short work of Taue, but in the span of a spilt second, Taue seizes an opening and plants Kobashi with a Nodowa Otoshi leaving him flat on the canvas. Taue also takes Akiyama for a wild ride with a Nodowa on the ramp, followed up with the Dynamic bomb for a near fall. Rikio’s youth and power aren’t something that Taue knows quite how to deal with effectively. Taue takes Rikio’s slap flurry and hits the charging Rikio with a kick, but Rikio isn’t to be denied and Taue finds himself mowed down with a big lariat. Rikio also has a quick run with Misawa where he gets to show the power and toughness that would make him the next GHC Heavyweight Champion. Kobashi and Akiyama help him out a bit, with a double backdrop to Misawa, to set up a big splash from the top rope from Rikio. It’s odd (but also very welcome) to see Kobashi and Akiyama not only working together, but staying more in the background, letting the others do their thing. They contribute plenty of nastiness when working over Morishima, but not to the point of overshadowing him.

Misawa doesn’t really show up at all until toward the end where he’s face to face with Kobashi. There is one cool moment early on when Misawa is two-on-one with Kobashi and Akiyama and uses one of his old offensive staples in the headlock/head scissors takeover combo. But when Misawa and Kobashi get face to face, they pick up where they left off in March, which is nice because it looks like Misawa has finally woken up. And what’s even better is that the thirty-minute time limit expires before they really get to go off the wall with the head drops. Kobashi gets a sleeper suplex and a half nelson suplex in, before the bell. The thirty-minute draw is somewhat expected given the odd parings of the teams, as well as that it was every big name heavyweight in one match. NOAH booking has always mandated that the lowest ranked member of each team does the job. However by the same token the time limit draw shows the growth of WILD II, both of them managed to survive the match, which in turn gives the notion that they will hopefully be a rare example of NOAH actually managing to elevate workers and make stars. ***1/4

Conclusion: These stand-alone NOAH shows can be fun, but they show the prime reason I prefer to stick with NOAH commercial tapes. There are a couple fun matches, but the rest is nothing but filler and the fun matches more often than not, don’t get followed up toward something meaningful. Thumbs down, unless you’re a NOAH completest.