June 4, 2006

Jun Akiyama . . . tortures rookies and sees why Masanobu Fuchi had so much fun doing it to him all those years ago.

KENTA . . . tries to break the streak of always losing title matches to Takashi Sugiura.

Kenta Kobashi . . . bloodies up Morishima, while they beat each other all over Sapporo.


Considering that Aoki and Ito were both rookies at this point, this is as good as can be expected. SUWA sells about as much as possible, especially for Momota’s chop flurry in the corner, and after the miscue that causes him to knock Ito for a loop, he gives Aoki a little run to try to build up some heat, it doesn’t really work, but the effort was nice. Aoki catches SUWA in a juji-gatame for a bit, and gets a near fall from a German suplex. SUWA, while still selling the arm, catches Aoki with a lariat and finishes him off with the John Woo and FFF. But, SUWA and Momota both seemed content to let their partners work, which doesn’t exactly make for an exciting match.


Ki and Kanemaru deserve some credit for bringing some energy to the match, but, that’s the only positive thing to say about it. Ota is only there to get beaten like a drum, and, his strikes, especially the forearm shots, look like he’s afraid of leaving even a red mark on any of the others. The three heavyweights are as dull and plodding as ever. They try to tease Ota getting the win for his team, but since the crowd just saw it with Aoki, they aren’t fooled.


Jason shows some potential, but, after two matches in a row that teased the underdog getting the upset, only to wind up losing, the match plays to crickets. Saito does a fine job of selling for him, but, neither does all that much to give the idea that Bates can pull off the win. The only really good shot from Bates was the discus lariat, which got just as little reaction as anything else, and Saito’s backdrop, which kicked off his finishing stretch, only really got a murmur of reaction, but it was deafening compared to anything else.


Every now and then, one of these midcard trios matches will come together surprisingly well. Kikuchi and Fish are the two designated whipping boys, while the senior members of each team commence the whipping, and everyone seems to be up to the task and plays their role well, without overdoing it. There are some nice exchanges between Scorpio/Taue and Sano/Fish, and the sequence with Fish being trapped in Sano’s Indian Deathlock, with the attempts to save him doing anything but, also works rather well. The only real mark against the match is Fish’s rana to Sano, with Sano’s delay on taking the bump making it like Sano actually countered it. The finish is the same as always for these matches, with each of the low men being in a three on one situation, Fish gets saved, but Kikuchi isn’t so lucky. ***


This is easily the best of the rookie/young gun matches. It helps that, instead of another case of trying to tease the rookie getting the upset (over the GHC Champion of all people), that Taniguchi’s determination is shown with how much of a beating he can take before he stays down. The only odd thing is the extended crab hold from Akiyama, sure, it’s usually the kiss of death for the rookies, but, Taniguchi had already been in Akiyama’s front neck lock and held out, so, the crab hold shouldn’t pose any threat. When Taniguchi gets the chance to control the match, he shows that he has learned a few things in between all these beatings, he throws a couple of nice suplexes, and even remembers to sell the back afterwards, and, Akiyama puts over the juji-gatame as much as possible. Taniguchi also gets one up on Bates, by blocking a vertical suplex and not having it look awful. But, once those few things are out of the way, Akiyama gets back to business and kills him in short order.


Hey, NOAH goes two-for-two with perfectly watchable trios matches. Misawa and Rikio mostly stay out of the way, except to give their partners an assist and to work with each other. Once Shiga dispenses with the comedy surrounding his hair, he works some nice mat exchanges with both Ogawa and Marvin, and, Marufuji has always worked well with Ogawa. So, this winds up being a case where the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. It’s not perfect by any stretch, there’s not much of any story to speak of, unless you count Misawa’s team trying to mess up Shiga’s hair. Once again, the match winds up with each team’s low man being stuck in a three-on-one, although this time both teams make the save, and, once it’s down to Marufuji vs. Marvin, the end is never in doubt, even though this is the one case where teasing the upset would actually work.

KENTA © vs. TAKASHI SUGIURA (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)

It’s too bad that they didn’t devote the same amount of time to telling a story and building the match, as they do stiffing the piss out of each other. These two have plenty of history together: KENTA was one of the few people that Sugiura beat during his 2003-04 run with the title, and, it was Sugiura pinning KENTA that ended the Marufuji/KENTA junior tag title reign. But, they don’t seem to be interested in playing off their history, or doing much of anything create an engrossing match. The only thing one can take away from this match, in that regard, is that Sugiura once again unseated KENTA in a title match, a streak that would continue until 2013.

The match isn’t completely devoid of good ideas or smart moments, but, there are far too few of them for a match that goes more than twenty-five minutes. The best thing is KENTA’s apron DDT counter to the Olympic slam, Sugiura puts it over perfectly, rolling into the ring just before he’d have been counted out, and KENTA literally springs to action as soon as Sugiura rolls in, using the time to rest. But, it’s gone just as quickly, with them back to trading shots without any regard for what just happened. The finisher stealing is another nice moment, especially with the bump that KENTA takes for the Busaiku.

The ankle lock finish is unique, since NOAH has never really pushed submission finishes, but, considering the build (or lack of) to the finish, it’s easy to see why they’ve never been focused on. Sugiura first gets the hold as a surprise counter of the Busaiku, and, after KENTA gets the rope break, he’s right back to throwing kicks like it’s nothing, and Sugiura is back to trying to wear him out with suplexes. They get an opening, when KENTA’s escape and counter to the Olympic slam off the top sees him land one-footed, but, he doesn’t sell it, and Sugiura leaves it alone. It’s not until another round of finishers, with Sugiura countering the G2S into the hold, as well as pulling KENTA back from the ropes, stomping his head, doing the grapevine to the leg, and KENTA holding out for a decent amount of time, that KENTA finally gives up. Yes, they’d worked each other’s limbs early on, but, that had long fallen by the wayside. There’s not a single thing between the first ankle lock and second, to suggest that Sugiura was actually trying to go that route to win the match, and it’s not like there weren’t chance to do that, Sugiura could have easily jettisoned a few of the suplex spots to work the ankle, and spots like KENTA’s escape of the Olympic slam, or German suplex could have easily played into that, with him tweaking it as he landed, or having his kick-heavy offense work against him, as much as it would have worked for him. But, such is the case with NOAH, the workers have the chance to so something relatively unique, and great, but, wind up squandering it.


Although the Kobashi/Morishima exchanges are the centerpieces of this, with them hinting at something bigger happening down the line, most likely the following year during Morishima’s road to redemption, it’s the supporting cast who does the heavy lifting. Yone and Honda are both good about staying on task, finding good ways to fill time without losing the crowd, like Yone working over Honda’s arm, and Honda being able to persevere by using the bad arm to keep Yone in a headlock while he tagged in Kobashi. Honda puts his mat skills to good use to keep Yone grounded, and they even succeed where the junior title match failed, by having Honda’s matwork pay off by teasing Yone submitting to the Kata-gatame, and the crowd being rabid at the prospect of it.

Aside from teasing the eventual showdown, which never took place, Morishima and Kobashi are mostly regulated the same roles as Misawa and Rikio in the previous trios match, and are primarily there to give their partners the assist. There isn’t any moment of the match where it seems like the match is going to end by Morishima beating Honda, or Kobashi beating Yone, and, indeed, the finish comes as a result of Honda surprising Morishima with the big German suplex and Kobashi picking up the pieces to keep him at bay, while Honda finally finishes off Yone with another round of suplexes. The real disappointment isn’t just the fact that the Kobashi/Morishima showdown never happened, but, that all the effort of reestablishing Honda winds up being wasted, as he got shunted back down the card when Kobashi went back on the shelf. ***

Conclusion: A mostly watchable show, with only the Izumida/Inoue trios and the Saito/Bates matches being outright bad. Even the junior title match is more disappointing than bad.