September 9, 2006

Oh lucky me, the NOAH DVD releases now show the complete cards rather than just highlights of the undercard. Thankfully I’ve got SUWA, Taue, KENTA, and a couple others to help soothe the pain I’m likely to experience.

Tsuyoshi Kikuchi . . . finally stands up to SUWA and shows him what happens when you anger the old man.

Akira Taue . . . is proof that awkwardness is timeless and that no matter how old he gets, he still owns you.

Naomichi Marufuji . . . pulls off not only the sell job of his career, but the fluke of the century.


Aside from a couple of mistimed spots, this is rather fun and inoffensive. It’s refreshing to see a rookie in a match that isn’t a total squash. Aoki more than holds his own, busting up Terry’s arm early by sending him into the ringpost, and wearing him down from there with several submissions, including a short arm scissors, a chickenwing armlock, and a juji-gatame. Where things start to fall apart is when Terry doesn’t do much to sell his arm being worked over when it’s his turn to control the action, and his control segments aren’t nearly as fun as Aoki’s. The mistimed spots also drag this down a bit, the biggest one being Terry’s Irish whip into the corner, and Aoki turning around too quickly, and doing two complete turns before hitting the buckle. While it was fun to watch Aoki try to take Terry’s arm apart, at the core, that was all he had to offer, and one Terry figured out how to offset it, the match was as good as over. To his credit: Terry did give Aoki a couple of nice near falls, and a counter to the first Mist Crush, before the second put him down for the count. It’s sort of telling though, that the rookie more or less owned the ‘star’ in terms of bringing watchable work.


It’s just not NOAH without a trios match that’s only booked to get more of the roster on the card. And because the U.S. DVD releases now feature all the matches uncut, I’ve got to sit through all fifteen minutes of this. There really isn’t anything that stands out about this, Scorpio takes to the air a bit, Saito kicks, and Steel and Inoue do their impression of Brody vs. Abdullah with brawling, and eye raking. Legend looks like a dead ringer for Bryan Clarke, and his long hair and incoherent grunting was making me think of Delirious.

The last five or so minutes are a nice change of pace, with a solid attempt to keep the fans guessing which team will win. Both teams get a 3-on-1 advantage and do some triple teaming that seems like it’d surely pick up the win, only for a save to be made. Legend also feels the need to yell the name of the moves he’s going to do. And misses a lariat or an elbow (hard to tell which he was going for) and walks into an Axe Bomber for a decent near fall, before he gets up and plants Kawabata with two face busters to finish him off. But it’s hard to care too much for the last five minutes, when the first ten are so dull.


Despite being a tag match, this is mostly worked like a SUWA/Kikuchi singles match, Honda and Sano do their stuff and more or less stay out of the way. And unlike the Tokyo Dome trios match, this isn’t the big heel SUWA taking on the classic Kikuchi of old. This is the big heel SUWA taking on the grumpy modern day Kikuchi, and I love it! Kikuchi more or less beats up SUWA all over the ring, culminating with two headbutts into the microphone, and it’s not until SUWA throws Kikuchi his briefcase and feigns injury that he gets a break, and it’s not until Sano wears down Kikuchi with a half crab and diving footstomp that SUWA has control. SUWA loses control quickly by going to the well once too often with the Irish whip, and finds himself reversed and planted with the Spider Belly to Belly. SUWA catches another break when he avoids Kikuchi’s headbutt, and hits the Jon Woo (which comes up a bit short). But Kikuchi blocks the FFF and it’s not until Sano takes out Honda, and hits his rolling kick on Kikuchi that he can hit the FFF for the win. It was a bit on the short side and unusually protective of Kikuchi, but beyond that, my only real complaint is that all the great SUWA/Kikuchi exchanges in various tags never led to a singles match between them.


There are basically two distinct portions of the match. When Yone is involved, it’s strictly a comedy match with him and Shiga, with them messing up each others hair. It’s telling that the crowd is completely dead when Shiga and Yone’s attempts to work a straight wrestling match. The other portion is the ‘Kill the Rookie’ portion, whenever Ota gets involved, and thankfully, that’s where Kanemaru is the most effective. Kanemaru does all sorts of nasty things to Ota, such as raking his eyes and gouge his nose, as well as several nasty kicks to his back. And not unlike his opening match counterpart, Ota does attempt to fight back, and in the process he breaks Bryan Danielson’s record for World’s Longest Airplane Spin, and Kanemaru’s overselling afterwards is priceless. And being Kanemaru, he needs to use almost everything he’s got, before he plants Ota with the brainbuster and finishes him off. Shiga and Yone are there too. They’re on the floor trading headlocks and messing up each others hair.


In a way this match nicely sums up the role Taue plays in NOAH, relative to his skills. It’s relatively short, and a good bit of it is comedy oriented. By the end, it’s clear that even though he’s regressed just as much (if not more) than Misawa, Kobashi, and Kawada, Taue is still fairly capable of knowing how to engage an audience, work a smart match, and assert his role as a top level guy. Look no further than the opening exchange between Shibata and Taue to see that: Shibata more or less calls Taue out, and after a few strike exchanges that don’t really go anywhere, Taue pastes Shibata with a slap, slams him with the Coconut Crusher, and when Shibata rolls to the floor for a breather, Taue attempts to dive at him. In all of two minutes the cocky Shibata was more or less totally shown up by the so-called “weak link” of the All Japan Four Lords of Heaven.

Taue tags out to Go, but Taue still supplies some fun stuff, as KENTA and Shibata both take cheap shots at him on the apron, while they work over Go, with their usual array of stiff kicks. That’s not something totally uncommon in tag team wrestling nowadays, watch virtually any tag team match and you’ll see at least one instance of the heel team doing something along those lines. It’s just as much a tool for isolating Go, as it is for further establishing Taue’s role in the match. What’s not as often to be found are spots like that being paid off, which is what happens after Taue tags back in and starts dishing out another beating to Shibata. KENTA springboards in to save his partner and gets caught and planted with a Nodowa Otoshi, and Taue turns back to Shibata and plants him with the Dynamic Bomb for a great near fall. The Nodowa on KENTA is where the match basically peaks, it’s the only big spot that’s given proper respect to. As great a near fall as the Dynamic Bomb was, Shibata was back on his feet a minute later and bringing the fight right back to Taue. Go is also frustrating in that aspect, as he eats KENTA’s knees on a moonsault attempt, but blows it off and charges at KENTA, only to get kicked a few more times and planted with a Tiger suplex for a near fall.

While it’s far from being perfect, there’s still plenty of things to like about this match. Especially the heelish edges that KENTA and Shibata have while working over Go, and Taue’s reactions to the cheap shots. At one point, Shibata hits Go with a Coconut Crusher of his own, just to stick it to Taue, and Taue responds by shaking the ropes “Warrior-style” to show is displeasure. As frustrating as he was with the Dynamic Bomb, Shibata is awesome with putting over Taue’s chops and other low end offense. Taue’s facials when KENTA and Shibata both knock him off the apron are also quite comical. The actual ending (KENTA pinning Go) is frustrating for a few reasons. First off it simply reeks of the NOAH standard of ‘low man jobs.’ It’s not like KENTA gets anything out of pinning Go, weight classes aside, KENTA had already pinned him several times. And with Shibata taking a clear backseat to Taue, he should have been the one to score the pin, especially going into the GHC Tag Title tournament. If nothing else, Shibata is able to get one over on Taue before they finish off Go with Touch the Sky (springboard Doomsday Device), when he surprises Taue with the sleeper and then cracks him with the PK. With Taue out of commission, they quickly commence to finish off Shiosaki. It doesn’t quite hit the level of the GHC Tag match Shibata/KENTA had in 11/05, but it’s far from terrible, which isn’t something that can be said about a good number of matches on big shows that involve Misawa and Kobashi. ***


Good Lord, this is boring. Misawa takes most of the match off, only coming in to do his few spots and do the Suplex/Emerald Frozian ending. It’s mildly amusing when the muscle heads are beating on Ogawa, only because the size difference means most of the stuff they do to Ogawa looks very good, and Ogawa just does his usual four or five moves to turn the tide. Ogawa is good for some comedy though, as he fights off a 3-on-1 attack on the floor as though he’s the size of Big Show, as well as he means of using the ref to sneak in a low blow. Not to be outdone, Bison does some comedy too, by getting planted several times with a DDT from Ogawa only to pop up, and then sell after a simple eye poke. The best compliment I can pay this match is that the fans are at least more respectful toward Walker than the ROH fans. I don’t speak Japanese, but I somehow doubt the NOAH fans were chanting ‘You’re on steroids!’


Matches like are a prime example of why Rikio’s GHC run was a flop, and why Morishima hasn’t moved up the card a bit since the Misawa match. The match is worked like a typical #1 and #4 vs. #2 and #3 match, with the idea being to elevate Sugiura even in defeat, which is a good idea in theory, but the actual execution doesn’t allow them to accomplish a thing. The biggest problem is that Sugiura never gets a meaningful run of offense against either Morishima or Rikio. Not to say that he doesn’t get anything in against them, he’s able to rattle off a good number of spots, but he never gets a true offensive run a la Masao Inoue in the 9/04 GHC Tag match. The strength he shows here is commendable, he manages to give Morishima his Olympic Slam, and give Rikio the delayed gut wrench, but he’s never able to successfully string more than two or three moves together at a time. And what’s worse is that Wild II don’t do much as far as selling for Sugiura either. Watch Morishima get up from the Olympic Slam all too quickly, and then successfully block Sugiura from doing a second one. Rikio takes a few German suplexes, and then manages to break Sugiura’s grip and do his own suplex. The closest that Sugiura gets to truly having control and making it mean something is his Ankle Lock, and even then, Morishima breaks it up far too quickly for it to mean anything.

What might even be worse than Wild II basically putting the Kibosh on any Sugiura momentum is that they only half-ass it in that sense. They’re not willing to sell for him or let him get a real offensive run, but they’re more than willing to tone down their own offense so that it looks credible for Sugiura to show off his feats of strength. So in addition to Sugiura suffering, the match itself suffers because Wild II don’t go their natural route of being tough guy brawlers, so their offense usually isn’t that interesting. It’s funny to see Morishima use his weight as an advantage, doing things like standing on Sugiura and running hip attacks. If nothing else, we are graced with a bit of consistency from Takayama. Much like Wild II wouldn’t allow Sugiura the chance for a real control segment, Takayama doesn’t do anything for Wild II in that regard. Unless he’s being double teamed by them, he more or less makes them look like a pair of bumbling idiots. And when the coin is flipped and it’s Takayama and Sugiura doing the double teaming on Morishima, then he’s got no chance at all, until Takayama leaves and he can start working over Sugiura again. But that itself is a bit odd, seeing as Takayama is coming off the injury, and Wild II has enough of a mean streak to learn from Akiyama and single it out. One could try to argue the finish as doing something for Morishima, he hits a hip attack on Takayama and covers him dually with Rikio pinning Sugiura after the Muso for a stereo three count. But Sugiura and Rikio were the legal men at the time so it’s moot. Nobody really got elevated at all, and nothing was accomplished, but that’s just NOAH in a nutshell.


If nothing else, this is rather consistent from a booking standpoint. Marufuji had been a thorn in Akiyama’s side for a long time, and junior heavyweights beating Akiyama thanks to cradles isn’t a new concept either. This goes a bit off the deep end as the match goes to the finish, turning into your typical NOAH finisher-fest, but thankfully the finish run itself, as well as a good bit of the work done before that is good stuff.

It’s natural that Marufuji goes after Akiyama’s knee, the best way to take down a bigger guy is to cut him down to size. And being that Marufuji is known for flashy strikes and taking things to the air, it’s understandable that his methods of taking down Akiyama aren’t the greatest. There are pleasant surprises like Bryan Danielson’s Mexican Knee Stomper, and the Dragon screw around the post, but for the most part he uses standard stuff like Keiji Mutoh style dropkicks to the knee. Where the match really starts to soar is when Akiyama back drops Marufuji over the top and onto the ramp. Marufuji’s sell job is simply fabulous, especially when compared to the sell jobs given by Misawa and Kobashi after taking suplexes on the floor and the ramp. Akiyama, showing the mean streak prevalent in the last few of his Budokan matches, waits for Marufuji to get to his feet and then bodyslams him off the ramp and onto the floor. Akiyama throws Marufuji into the ring and the fun really begins, with Jun torturing Marufuji’s midsection with some sick submissions, and Marufuji continues his great selling. It’s the first time in quite a while that I can recall the Akiyama Lock getting an honest to goodness real reaction, and looking like it could end the match. It’s a small complaint that Jun quit selling his knee after the back drop, but given the delay between the back drop, the slam, and Jun throwing him back in, it’s more than feasible that Jun’s rest gave his knee time to recover a bit.

It’s after Jun finishes torturing Marufuji that the match starts to go downhill in a sense. It starts off well enough, with Marufuji surprising Akiyama on the floor with a Shiranui that lands Akiyama on the guardrail, and then a second one directly on the floor. After that they basically start to trade off various finisher attempts. Marufuji is good enough to continue to sell his midsection after Jun hits an Exploder. But otherwise, it’s standard Marufuji which equates to several superkicks, and Shiranui attempts. There is one nice spot where Marufuji attempts his super Shiranui off the top, and Akiyama blocks it, and then later on Akiyama tries a backdrop off the top and gets leveled with the Shiranui. Akiyama also uses the Explode several times, one of which is in the corner, and even digs out the STERNNESS Dust Alpha, but surprisingly enough, leaves the Exploder ‘98 in the bag, which is almost backwards, seeing as the ‘Dust is supposed to be his big killer. The finish is about as well done as can be. They both scout each other well, avoiding strikes and countering moves, until Marufuji sneaks in his Perfect Inside Cradle for the stunning upset. While it’s hard to argue that Marufuji hadn’t been built up for this match (beating Taue, losing a very competitive match with Kobashi, and the tag draw on 7/16), that the title change comes off as a fluke only starts a whole other run of potential problems. ***

Conclusion: The only things really worth going after is the Shibata/KENTA tag match and the main event. If this was like the previous couple of DVD releases from NOAH and shows the undercard in clips, I could probably give it a mild recommendation, but there’s too much junk to wade through in order to get to the good stuff.