December 23, 2006

Kikutaro . . . channels Stan Hansen and is able to make a match with Kanemaru watchable!

Naomichi Marufuji . . . carries Go Shiosaki, to one his first impressive singles performances.

Takeshi Morishima . . . shows why he isn’t yet ready to carry the company, with a disappointing performance with KENTA.


Ota is still getting beaten like a drum, but, at least it happens in an entertaining match for a change. Ota gets a chance to rattle off his few usual spots, like the bulldog, neckbreaker drop, and the airplane spin, but, they don’t have much of any long term effect on Ishimori, even the dizziness from the airplane spin wears off quickly, and Ota has nothing left to fall back on except flash cradles. Ishimori keeps this fun throughout, showing his Toryumon roots between his flying and lucha-influenced matwork, and gets the win by spiking Ota with a nasty looking piledriver. I’d have liked to see Ota get one last run of offense, just to try to put the finish in doubt, but, even this is miles better than what Ota was doing with Kawabata and Inoue.


Although it seemed designed to do the opposite, this winds up showing how much better Aoki is than Suzuki, even so early into his career. He can seemingly armbar Suzuki at will, from just about any position, and aside from one early counter, Suzuki can only get to the ropes and reset the action. Suzuki doesn’t do much of anything as far as selling goes, despite Aoki having a field day with his left arm. At one point Suzuki gets his rope break and then starts trading forearm shots with Aoki.

Aoki outclasses Suzuki in pretty much every way, in addition to the armbars, he’s also much better about selling. Suzuki uses a rather meaningless Boston crab hold, but Aoki sells his back for a decent length of time, even after he’s gone on offense. Suzuki goes for pins after relatively weak things, like a 619, and Aoki puts them over as good near falls, and the finish sees Aoki fight like crazy to escape the Blue Destiny, only for Suzuki to counter to a Tombstone piledriver. It seemed like the idea was to show the distance between Suzuki and Aoki, but, the main thing they wound up showing is why Suzuki works so much better in the spunky babyface role. ***


Hirayanagi shows a remarkable amount of courage, and/or lack of brains, by jumping SUWA in the aisle way and choking him with his own towel. Unfortunately, Hirayanagi winds up showing that has next to no real offense, all he does in kick, stomp, and slap, and it doesn’t take long for SUWA to recover and return the favor tenfold. Hirayanagi gets a small comeback when SUWA misses a corner dropkick and shows off a couple of nice things, like a fisherman’s suplex and DDT (that SUWA does a great job of selling), although the tornado DDT didn’t look very good, and their last couple of sequences, which lead to the Jon Woo and FFF, are quite smooth, which show that Hirayanagi may not be at the level of Aoki just yet, but that he was still coming along nicely.


I’d rather see Kanemaru in there with the man himself, but, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. It helps that it’s a typical Kikutaro affair instead of a typical Kanemaru affair. Kikutaro’s caricature of Hansen is pretty much dead on, right down to him slapping the ref on the back in order to revive him. Kanemaru mostly just plays along and lets Kikutaro do his thing, although he should have gone all out to sell the lariat, and wins with his brainbuster and moonsault, with Kikutaro selling the brainbuster the same way you can imagine Vince selling the stunner.


Yone doesn’t squash Ricky, although he may as well have. Ricky is little more than a spot machine, with virtually nothing else to do other than a couple of bits with the ref that work more for comedy than anything else. But, despite how long he’s in control for, there’s never a point where it feels like Ricky is genuinely building toward something, or trying to actually take the match anyplace. Yone isn’t anything wonderful either, aside from singling out Marvin’s leg as a target, which works more for Marvin’s selling than anything else. It’s telling how threatening that Yone finds Ricky, when three consecutive kicks to the face and head don’t even take him off his feet, and the finish is Yone simply countering Marvin’s vertical suplex into his Muscle Buster, there’s not even really a struggle, Marvin just hooks him up, and Yone lifts him and drops him. Yone was a GHC tag champion here, while Marvin was still an underneath junior, but the whole point of the match is supposed to be creating doubt.


This is just an extended squash for Rikio. Taniguchi gets chewed up and spit out, and gets in almost nothing. And, the little he does get in, a couple of suplexes, and the juji-gatame as a counter to a Rikio lariat, isn’t put over to any great degree. Aside from one nice spell, where Rikio softened up the body with a couple of slams on the ramp, and then a body scissors, Rikio works over Taniguchi with his usual array of slaps and lariats, instead of continuing to focus on the midsection and try to tell a story. The finish works on some level, with Taniguchi surviving several big moves, and it forces Rikio to unleash the Muso to keep him down, but, it’s still just Taniguchi getting squashed, rather than him showing any growth the way his junior counterparts had been able to do.


Once again, the young gun mostly gets squashed, but, it’s more acceptable here, with Marufuji needing a strong win coming off his GHC Title loss. Marufuji works over Shiosaki’s arm, and is as clever and crafty as ever, and he even gets a little bit heelish while he’s at it. Shiosaki’s selling is perfect too. He always keeps it in mind, and when he tries to make a comeback with chops or forearms, he uses the other arm to do it. Shiosaki’s best stretch of offense comes when he surprises Marufuji with a sleeper, which goes into the Oklahoma roll, and then into a German suplex, only for him to lose the bridge because of his hurt arm. The finish is brilliant, with Marufuji using a Tiger driver and segueing into the juji-gatame. Shiosaki lingers a little bit too long, and the ref winds up calling the match, which puts a bit of a damper on it, but, given how NOAH generally treats submission finishes, it’s not too surprising that Shiosaki wouldn’t really know what to do with the hold. Overall, this still ranks as one of Shiosaki’s better performances (and maybe his best up to this point), and while it helped that Marufuji did the heavy lifting, he still came through where he needed to. ***1/4


Other than playing off the 7/16 tag match, and setting up their rematch in March, there really isn’t a good reason for this to go to a twenty-minute draw, and, much like the July tag match, doing so basically cuts off Morishima at the knees. How can anyone take him seriously as a threat to Misawa, when he can’t even beat KENTA? Of course, Morishima’s performance also doesn’t help wash away any perception issues that the booking creates. He hits the backdrop for a close near fall inside of two minutes, and still can’t finish off KENTA after another eighteen minutes and another backdrop. It’s one thing for him to sell KENTA’s kicks, but, he certainly doesn’t need to be going up for the G2S, German suplex, or powerslam, unless he’s really making KENTA fight for it, but he does just that. KENTA hits a rolling kick that doesn’t really register, but then a simple shoulder tackle drops Morishima like a safe.

And, even worse is that they had a much smarter way to do things staring them right in the face. Morishima comes into the match with his arm wrapped up from the forearm to the elbow. A simple spot like a missed lariat, or one of KENTA’s kicks catching the arm could open the door for KENTA to work it over. KENTA would have plenty of things to do, and it wouldn’t make Morishima look weak. But, they don’t take advantage of that, Morishima uses the arm quite a bit, and KENTA finds other ways to go on offense.

I don’t mean to bag on the match too much, because it does have some good qualities. Morishima has some great ideas for targeting KENTA’s midsection, he stretches the holy hell out of KENTA with an abdominal stretch, and, he hits a diving stomp off the second rope that KENTA puts over perfectly. As frustrating as it is to watch Morishima going right along for some of KENTA’s spots, he’s great at putting over his strikes, and the bump he takes for the Busaiku is excellent, and not overdone in the least. You certainly can’t accuse Morishima of being selfish in this match, but, this was a case where some selfishness was necessary.


At first this looks like it’s going to be the stiffest, and grumpiest, match that’s ever taken place for the title. Then, things look hopeful when Takaiwa hits a powerbomb off the ramp and follows up in a smart way, by waiting for Sugiura to drag himself back into the ring, and giving him a superplex for a near fall. But, that winds up being the high point of the match. They follow that with Sugiura sucking up two lariats, doing a G2S variation, and then sucking up two more lariats and going into a quick German suplex and DVD pop-up sequence, and, any sense of structure or storytelling goes right out the window.

It’s nice to see Sugiura outsmart Takaiwa to get the ankle lock, but once Takaiwa gets the ropes, Sugiura doesn’t try for it again, or do anything to try to soften Takaiwa up for it again. He just starts using suplexes and the Olympic Slam. When the Olympic Slam doesn’t finish Takaiwa off, he tries for the top rope version only to get countered, and then it’s Takaiwa’s turn to start throwing out the bombs. The powerbomb into the corner works, since it continues the trend of wearing down the midsection, but then Takaiwa starts dumping Sugiura on his head. After taking both a Takaiwa driver and a DVD off the top, Sugiura takes a brainbuster and kicks out at one. Takaiwa blasts him with a lariat, and, a regular Takaiwa driver finally keeps him down. Despite the difference in finishes, this isn’t all that much different from Sugiura’s title win in June. They pass up the opportunity to make the better moments of the match truly matter, and are more concerned with ‘top this’ nonsense instead of telling a story and putting on an engrossing match.

Conclusion: Despite a disappointing main event, this is still a fun show overall.