June 6, 2003

The first Budokan show of the summer, and it's one of the best NOAH shows of 2003. Isn't it amazing what NOAH is capable of accomplishing when the workers feel like putting on the workboots?

Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama . . . give Tamon Honda the match of his career.

Akira Taue . . . helps give Yuji Nagata the match of his career.

Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa . . . never mind, some things never change.


One criticism that can always be validly levied at NOAH is their lack of ability to elevate anyone up the card high enough so that they could be considered legit threats to the elite three of Kobashi, Akiyama, and Misawa. This match is proof positive that they know *how* to get the ball rolling in that direction. The pecking order of the workers in this match is fully established. Kobashi is the man, Akiyama is right behind him, playing second fiddle to Kobashi as he always has (and probably always will). Honda is third in line, because he’s got that direct singles win over Saito. That win was actually the beginning of how this match came about. Honda beat Saito to earn a shot at Kobashi’s GHC title, and Kobashi was so impressed with Honda’s performance that he formed their tag team.

Now in a perfect world, this pecking order would be followed to a tee, Kobashi always controls the action, and Akiyama always in control of Honda. Being wrestling however, there are always variables involved that shake up things. When the playing field is level in the early stages, Akiyama has no problems whatsoever with Honda. Even when Honda takes things to the mat (and Honda had a much more accomplished amateur career than did Akiyama) Akiyama is able to keep up with, and control Honda without any problems. The complexion is instantly changed though, when he tags in Kobashi. This time it’s Akiyama who can’t get any momentum going, and simply has to take what Kobashi gives out, and after a big delayed suplex leaves Akiyama on the mat, Kobashi tags Honda in, so Honda can get his own revenge. Honda begins to wrench on Akiyama’s knee, and applies a Scorpion to avenge the earlier submission attempt that Akiyama had tried to get with the modified neck lock. Honda only breaks the hold, to dispatch Saito from attempting to make the save.

The only way that STERNNESS gets back on track, is by taking things to the outside. After using the guardrail to their advantage, and a spike piledriver on the floor, They finally resume their advantage over Honda. Akiyama one-ups Honda and tries for yet another submission from a modified neck lock, and Saito can get revenge of his own, for the way Honda had pretty much man handled him. The great thing about Honda’s beating is that he just simply takes it. He doesn’t just start to shrug things off, under the guise of showing ‘fighting spirit’. Honda simply weathers the beating, and does his best to not lose the match. When Kobashi finally does get the hot tag, he once again puts the shoe on the other foot of the champions, they wanted to give Honda a big beating, and now he’s gonna give it back. Kobashi avenges the spike pile driver with a half nelson suplex on the ramp to Akiyama. Saito tries to step up like Honda was able to, and dumps Kobashi on his head with a German suplex, and momentarily gets control, but Kobashi puts the kibosh on that one, really quick.

With Akiyama all but dead on the ramp, Honda is literally jumping on the apron begging for the tag. He’d proved himself against Akiyama to an extent, so he knows he can handle Saito. Honda uses the same reverse shoulder hold that he’d used to beat Saito in March, and then drops him with the Dead End for what would have been the end, if Akiyama hadn’t finally gotten his bearings together and made the save. Kobashi tries to nix that too, but this time Jun gets his own revenge spot, by dispatching Kobashi with an Exploder on the floor. With Honda left two-on-one he’s once again regulated to doing nothing, other than taking the punishment, and hoping that Kobashi can recover in time to help him out. Honda has a close call with the Akiyama Lock, but eventually Kobashi gets back in, and saves Honda from a pin attempt after some double teaming. Saito tries to step in, so Akiyama can finish the job, but Honda does all he can to fight the wrist clutch exploder off. Honda knows that it’s only a matter of time before Saito gets dispatched, and Honda just needs to hold out. Kobashi takes care of Saito quickly, and then levels Akiyama with a lariat after saving Honda. When Saito tries to go after Kobashi, Honda drops him with a Dead End, and it’s back to being simply Honda vs. Akiyama.

Honda initially goes for the shoulder hold, seeing as it’s both a good revenge spot, for when Jun locked him in the Akiyama Lock, and a hold he’s had success with. Saito breaks it up, and Kobashi grabs him in a sleeper hold, telling Honda that it’s his chance, and to go for the kill. Honda doesn’t waste time, and drops Akiyama with two Dead Ends, and locks the Rolling Olympic Hell Special for the pin, and the titles. What makes this so unique, isn’t just the fact that both Kobashi and Akiyama were working hard to make Honda look credible. But it was the ways they were doing it. When Honda ran into trouble, Kobashi would bail him out. . . . eventually. But first Honda would have to show that he could take what they were dishing out. The fact that Akiyama took the fall, showed exactly how important they tried to make the match. In pretty much any other promotion, when a top name like Chono, Nagata, HHH, Mutoh, CM Punk, etc. drops a fall, it’s nothing big. But when Misawa, Kobashi, or Akiyama does it, it’s a major happening. ***½


Akira Taue is one of the great wonders of NOAH, he’s getting up there in years, he can’t take much in the way of bumps, and even in his best years he was far from graceful. But in those rare occasions when he’s given the opportunity to carry the ball, he always delivers the goods. This match is much like the tag title match, in the way of story. Much like Honda was booked to get the win, Kobashi and Akiyama made him actually earn it. And even though Nagata is booked to take the win here, and move on up to face bigger names and eventually challenge Kobashi. Taue makes him earn the win. Right off the bat, he hits two big bombs on Nagata. Nagata can’t even stand up, and does a big belly flop when Taue attempts to do an Irish whip. Taue sends him to the outside for a Nodowa onto the exposed floor. After the near fall he gets when Taue rolls Nagata back in, the message is crystal clear. Taue isn’t done yet, and he showed just how easily he could send Nagata packing.

God bless him, Nagata does a great job at putting over how much Taue is destroying him. Nagata shows some good thinking in his first transition to offense, from Taue’s blind charge. He knows the backdrop will probably subdue Taue (especially after Taue spent some energy by doing the big bombs early on) and when he hits it, he also lands on his back, which is still hurting from the three big moves he took early on. Nagata does show some flashes of his usual annoyances though, such as botching his comeback spot. Instead of flipping out of the backdrop and landing on his feet, Nagata lands on flat on his face, luckily Taue is there to cover with two missed lariats to allow Nagata to hit the Exploder.

As great a job as he did, in convincing us that he’d killed Nagata two minutes into the match. Taue is just as great at putting over Nagata’s offense. He does a great job at selling his left arm, when Nagata singles it out as a focal point. Taue’s selling of Nagata’s jumping enzuigiri shots is simultaneously comical and logical. When Nagata initially attempted the Nagata Lock III, Taue was excellent in doing all he could to block the hold being applied, and that act alone made the move ten times more credible than anything Nagata had ever done to make the hold look like a finisher. The DDT Taue does with his left arm, could have been done without, but it’s somewhat forgivable because it was a desperation move, as opposed to an offensive move. Taue’s general clumsiness caused a couple of problems, the transition to the Nagata Lock II had a bit of a delay because Taue landed on his hands and knees. The first time Nagata put on Nagata Lock III, looked a bit awkward because of Taue’s position.

The match takes a bit of a decline when Nagata starts to stray from the arm work, and use his big moves. It’s not much surprise, because of how submissions generally get treated in NOAH. But at the same time, it didn’t serve a purpose since they were going to go back to the arm for the win. In relatively quick succession, Nagata manages to fire off the exploder off the second rope, the regular backdrop, and bridging backdrop, all of which Taue kicks out of. Nagata could have gotten the exact same reaction by having Taue get a rope break after the exploder, and not bothering with the regular backdrop. Nagata’s transition to the Nagata Lock III after Taue’s last kick out is perfectly consistent, and Taue puts it over great, doing his best to not give in, but finally having no choice and nodding his head. To call this a carry job by Taue, is somewhat inaccurate. No question Taue was definitely in charge, and was there to help Nagata when help was needed. But Nagata also held his end up pretty well, and the result was not only the best singles match Yuji Nagata has ever had, but easily one of the best heavyweight singles matches NOAH has ever had. ***3/4.


Misawa has never been very good at working matches with lower-mid card workers. Anything beyond taking the bumps for them, he can’t seem to be bothered with. This leaves it up to whoever gets penciled in to face Misawa, to carry the load, and Sano isn’t among those who could probably get it done. Misawa evidentially didn’t bring a move set with him tonight, showing a very heavy reliance on the elbow. On more than one occasion Misawa can turn the tide of the match with a single elbow. At one point, Sano connects two rolling kicks, follows up with the diving foot stomp, sends Misawa to the floor, and his the tope suicida. Misawa responds, by putting the breaks on an Irish whip, dropping Sano with an elbow smash, and rolling back into the ring like he’s A-OK, and leveling Sano with the elbow suicida.

Sano brings some nice strikes with him, and he’s not shy about just teeing off on Misawa with roundhouse kicks at a moments notice. But aside from the leg work, to eventually get to the figure four, Sano doesn’t really show a focal point to anything he does. And immediately after he makes the ropes for the break on the figure four, Misawa pulls himself to his feet and proceeds to win the next strike exchange. Sano’s neck and shoulder stretch was quite a unique submission hold, but upon being relinquished, Misawa proceeds to get to his feet once again. Sano is wearing no pads, Misawa is wearing an elbow pad, so of course their exchange of elbow smashes flush to the jaw, comes out with Misawa on the winning end. And with Misawa hardly using much offense all to keep Sano at bay, the Tiger driver, or the running elbow would seem more than adequate to get the job done. But instead he allows Sano to survive both of them, and use the all mighty Emerald Frozian to win the match. That way, not only did Misawa make Sano look like nothing special, but he got to disrespect his own big finisher as well.


Another opportunity to elevate a lower guy up the card, and another failure. This is even worse than the Misawa match, because (A. Ikeda is better, and more over than Sano and (B. Ogawa’s size leaves him more prone to some of Ikeda’s bigger moves. In the seven minutes they get, the closest we come to seeing anything from Ogawa in terms of making Ikeda look like a possible major player, is that Ogawa lets him kick out of several backdrops and flash pin attempts. The only main offensive move that Ikeda gets in is the Dai-Chan bomber, and that’s after several attempts at the move. Ikeda capitalizes on two Ogawa mistakes to attempt the Death Valley bomb and the Muscle buster, and considering Ogawa’s size, it’s not out of the question that they could get the win, or at the very least a near fall, but Ogawa escapes from both attempts. The majority of the match is simply Ogawa and Ikeda brawling, and Ogawa stooging to cut off any attempts Ikeda makes at getting the upper hand. After Ikeda surviving every finisher thrown at him, including a backdrop off the top, Ogawa simply uses a small package to get the win. Doing next to nothing in terms of helping lower wrestlers get elevated, and not bothering with protecting his finishers, Misawa and Ogawa really do make a fitting team.


Despite being the shortest match of the tape, and the fact that Takayama has to be better protected than Misawa and Ogawa, because of his stance as IWGP and NWF Champion, Takayama smokes Misawa and Ogawa in terms of making Morishima look good, before ultimately losing. Despite that he’s clearly playing second fiddle to Rikio, Morishima is NOAH’s top hard hitting wrestler, and with Takayama’s rise to fame coming courtesy of being Don Frye’s punching bag in PRIDE, it only makes sense that they go there. Both of them start haphazardly throwing punches, Takayama ultimately wins the strike exchange but doesn’t know when to quit throwing the strikes. Morishima gets on offense by catching him with an attempted capture suplex, and a big lariat. Morishima doesn’t learn from Takayama’s mistake though, and just Takayama went too far with the kicks and punches, Morishima goes too far with the lariat, and Takayama counters with his belly to belly. Morishima gets back on offense from Takayama attempting the Everest German suplex too early though, but after another lariat, he tries the backdrop too early and loses the edge. Takayama finally just puts the kibosh on the whole thing with a triangle choke for ref stoppage, utilizing a tactic that is almost embarrassingly lacking in NOAH. Morishima clearly showed some potential as a possible top contender down the line, he’s got the power on his side, and he knew when and how to pounce when his opponent made a mistake. But he still needs to better grasp the thought process when it comes to what he needs to be doing, when he’s in control of the situation.

Conclusion: The first two matches, are definitely worthy of checking out. It’s like watching some Bizzaro World wrestling tape, with Yuji Nagata putting on a good performance, as well as Akiyama and Kobashi busting their humps in order to make Honda look credible. Nothing else is really worth a look, but they aren’t particularly long either. High recommendation for this NOAH commercial tape.