September 9, 2007

The NOAH U.S. DVDs are back to how I like them, only the main matches, and no useless undercard filler. This is actually a two-part DVD, with the NOAH Budokan show from 7/15, but the lineup here looks much more appealing than the July show. MUGA invades the Green Ring! Morishima finally vanquishes Akiyama, and one year after winning the GHC Heavyweight Title, Marufuji again reigns supreme.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru . . . makes his usual big move overkill actually serve a purpose for once.

Go Shiosaki . . . attempts to make like the Briscoe Boys and ‘MAN UP’ to Tatsumi Fujinami.

Naomichi Marufuji . . . takes the mother of all beatings courtesy of Akitoshi Saito, and then gives his own to Morishima.


To quote a wise man named Jack Skellington: “What’s This? What’s This?” A match where Kanemaru’s finisher overkill actually has purpose, and the two young guns are actually allowed to shine? Where am I and what happened to NOAH? The opening few minutes with Aoki and Ishimori are just filler, but they manage to get the point across, that Aoki may be technically sound, but he’s no match for Ishimori’s speed. Once the two elder partners tag in, the match starts to take form. At first it looks like KENTA and Kanemaru are just doing a quick sprint to pop the crowd, but then Kanemaru plants KENTA in quick succession with a brainbuster, his jumping DDT, and a second brainbuster, and KENTA is dead, he rolls to the floor and has facials and body language more than tell the story.

Ishimori is on his own, and after Kanemaru softens him up a bit, he tags in Aoki and it’s Aoki’s turn to make an impact. Aoki doesn’t show much from am offensive standpoint, he mostly works over Ishimori with various kicks and a few holds, but Aoki makes up for it with bringing plenty of nastiness to the match. Aoki also shows some fire and/or guts by taking a big cheap shot when KENTA crawls back on the apron, and then Kanemaru runs out to the floor and work him over a bit more. Aoki’s lack of experience makes a quick appearance when he and Kanemaru try dual top rope splashes, and Aoki’s looks morel like a Frog headbutt, than a splash. Aoki also makes good use of both a Juji-gatame and a Chickenwing armlock, to decent heat, but nobody would buy that as a finish, even if Kanemaru and Aoki had singled out Ishimori’s arm. KENTA is finally able to get tagged in, and while he still shows the effect of the earlier abuse, he’s also showing plenty of fire and hate, and in a nice touch, after a shot to Aoki, he goes to the floor to brawl with Kanemaru, leaving the two young guns one on one, and like before Ishimori’s quickness and experience has Aoki at a loss. Ishimori looks to have it won with the Superstar Elbow, but Kanemaru saves, and after KENTA dispatches him one last time and plants Aoki with a big kick, Ishimori finishes him off with the Jorge Special. It was fun to see the two veterans stay back and let the younger wrestlers shine, what Aoki lacked in the wrestling, he made up with the heeling (much like his partner), and hopefully he can help fill the void that the loss of SUWA created. ***


Poor Shiosaki, he learned a valuable lesson in this match. That you don’t, under any circumstances, mess with Muga. This is probably the best I’ve seen Shiosaki look up to this point, he hits almost everything cleanly, sells great, and the MUGA World guys make sure that he looks good. The only real knock on him is a lack of real offense, and like Aoki, he makes up for that in personality. The real oddball here is Misawa, he’s the only one without a really defined role in the match, he more or less stands on the apron and makes the occasional quick appearance, luckily, he seems to adjust to how the Muga guys like to work, he works quick and simple exchanges with Nishimura and Fujinami. Both Nishimura and Fujinami, bring the old school 1970's style goodness, and Fujinami also brings all the grumpiness you can get out of someone who’s been wrestling for thirty-seven years (if you want to trust the commentators).

Even though he’s clearly out of his element here, Shiosaki doesn’t back down and tries to bring the fight to Nishimura and Fujinami, and after several attempts to get any real advantage fail, Misawa tags in for a quick exchange with Nishimura where he targets Nishimura’s knee and then lets Shiosaki have another go. This is where Shiosaki’s lack of offense starts to show, the only things he does to try to work the control segment are either generic leg locks, or strikes to the leg area. Granted, a chop to the knee scores points for originality, but that’s all it does, and when Nishimura tags out, the shoe is really on the other foot, because the MUGA World boys basically try to take his knee home as a trophy, working less generic leg locks, like the spinning toehold, and figure four, Nishimura even does an uncharacteristic knee buster over the guardrail, and Fujinami brings out the Dragon screw to a big pop. When Shiosaki tries to mount another comeback, he’s again hampered by his lack of offense, the chops, forearms, dropkicks, etc. is enough to hold them off, and they certainly sell it admirably, but it’s not enough to get him where he wants to be.

Misawa makes another brief appearance, although longer than before, and after a quick scuffle with Fujinami, he finds himself outsmarted by Nishimura and having his knee worked over, Misawa manages to roll over a figure four, but then Fujinami, in another seeming non-Muga tactic, hits a knee from the top rope onto him to break the hold, and Misawa now *has* to tag Go back in. This is where the match becomes the Go Shiosaki show, he finally starts to attempt to pull out offense that looks like he can pull off the upset, including hitting a surprise tope suicida on Nishimura, and when Fujinami goes after him on the floor, he Irish whips him into the guardrail. Shiosaki gets a very good near fall with a Fisherman buster, and makes a rookie mistake when he goes for a jumping knee in the corner and misses, Nishimura makes his own mistake by trying to come off the top with his own knee drop and misses. But Go doesn’t learn from the mistake, and goes up for the moonsault, which looks very graceful, but comes up short, and he hits knees-first. One figure four later, with Fujinami holding Misawa at bay with a Dragon sleeper and it’s all over. I’m honestly torn a bit here, the match would have come off a lot better had Go done anything in the earlier parts to show that he wasn’t the obvious loser here, but that would also have potentially taken away from his big run toward the end. It’s quite the fun match, but it’s also more or less a forgone conclusion.

NAOMICHI MARUFUJI vs. AKITOSHI SAITO (GHC #1 Contender’s Tournament Block A Playoff)

When did Saito start having fun singles matches? There’s a few goofy bits, mostly from Marufuji, but for the most part this is simple yet effective. Saito brings the pain, Marufuji takes it and, usually, puts it over well, but finds nice ways to work in hope spots and attempted comebacks. For the most part, Saito just lays the mother of all beatings on Marufuji, using his strength advantage to use lots of suplexes and slams, as well as throwing his kicks around. There’s one great spot, where Marufuji is against the post and Saito charges for a lariat, usually that’s like holding up a big neon sign that says ‘He’s gonna move’ but not this time. Saito also comes up with the best counter to the Perfect Inside Cradle, since Kobashi knocked Marufuji out of hit boots with the lariat, when he puts up his knee to counter and almost knocks Marufuji out.

Marufuji is mostly good here, trying to use his speed to his advantage by surprising Saito with several superkicks, and he takes it to the air to attempt to bring the fight, especially when he sneaks in something seemingly out of nowhere, like the cross corner sliding dropkick. One thing Marufuji has always had a knack for, which shows up here, is his penchant for making the bumps that he takes look much more brutal and devastating than they are. When Saito hits four uranage slams, in succession, each time Marufuji drops like a ton of bricks and it looks hopeless for him. That trait actually winds up working against Marufuji a little bit toward the end, because eventually it stopped being plausible that even he’d be able to withstand a beating like that. There are a few goofy parts here, but nothing that really drags the match down, their opening kick exchange, where Saito blew off an almost Taiji level audible superkick was a bit odd, but not completely out there, but then he planted Marufuji with a big spinning heel kick and Marufuji popped back up. Saito also really didn’t need to hit the Death Brand if Marufuji was only going to kick out, and counter the second attempt into a cradle for the fluke win. The cradle itself also looked ugly (although that could have been due to a bad camera angle), it certainly didn’t look as good or as believable a finisher as the PIC. Odd moments like that aside, it’s still quite the fun little match, and it gives me hope that it’s indicative of what we can start to expect out of Saito.

TAKESHI MORISHIMA vs. JUN AKIYAMA (GHC #1 Contender’s Tournament Block B)

It’s cool to see Morishima finally go over a big name, but, as common in NOAH, it’s marred by the circumstances surrounding it. All you need to do is watch the first five or so minutes to see how much potential Morishima has as a serious Vader/Gordy/Williams/etc. type of monster who will unload the violence, but Morishima himself does a decent amount of stuff to counteract that, namely silly looking things like the cartwheel avalanche in the corner. It also didn’t help that neither Akiyama nor Morishima were very consistent with what they were doing, both offensively and defensively. After pouncing Akiyama at the bell, Morishima sends him to the floor and tries for his backdrop very early, and Akiyama pushes off the apron, causing Morishima goes back-first into the guardrail. Jun still takes a bump, between the two tables, and he sells that quite well, nearly getting himself counted out. But once he rolls into the ring, he wins the next strike exchange, sends Morishima to the floor, and hits a piledriver on the ramp, causing Morishima to milk the count.

The match doesn’t really get much smarter, Jun works over the back (from Morishima’s shot to the rail, although that was already long forgotten) with a big superplex, and then a big stomp. He goes for the Exploder from the second rope, and buckles under Morishima’s weight. Morishima then throws him into the corner for the cartwheel avalanche. From there it turns into typical NOAH big match, with lots of big moves and no selling, Morishima gets a near fall from a backdrop, but then Jun counters another attempt into a neck lock, which would have been smart if he’d kept on the neck after the piledriver spot. Morishima blows off an Exploder, and blocks another one to hit a backdrop, which Jun completely blows off, only to run into a big lariat and be pinned. It’s nice to see Morishima finally getting a big win, but doing it after basically killing off his big finisher probably wasn’t the best way to do so.

TAKESHI MORISHIMA vs. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI (GHC #1 Contender’s Tournament Final)

As far as singles matches go, this is easily one of Marufuji’s smartest worked ones, he takes a lot of flak from people, myself included, for his spottiness and his Kojima-like habit of repeating the same spots, but he was just what he needed to be here. Having had time to rest while Morishima was wrestling Akiyama, Marufuji comes flying out the gate with a Shiranui for a quick two count. From there he uses his speed to work in several dropkicks and superkicks to wear down Morishima, and almost gets in trouble trying to do a powerbomb from the apron, but he moves out of the way and Morishima hits the apron.

Morishima doesn’t get much offense of his own in, and it does make sense with him being tired after having just had the Akiyama match, but he still makes his moves count. Every lariat damn near turns Marufuji inside out, and he takes a wicked bump from a Uranage. Like the Saito match, I could have done without Morishima trotting out the backdrop for a near fall, but it does wind up having a purpose, it causes Morishima to put Marufuji on the top turnbuckle and go for the super backdrop, which is countered to a Shiranui. Morishima also really didn’t need to trot out Bryan Danielson’s elbow flurry, it came pretty much out of nowhere and seemed to be done strictly to do it. Marufuji using the pole shift (a sort of fisherman’s Michinoku driver) also left a somewhat bad taste. There’s nothing wrong with showing Marufuji has some deceptive strength, especially if he’s going to be working against more heavyweights, but doing it to easily the biggest guy on the roster, *after* already having worked a match which he took a lot of punishment seems a bit much. Nonetheless, it does have it’s own reasoning though, with the winner challenging Misawa, the guy who knocked off Marufuji for the title, there needed to be something to give the idea that Marufuji could pull it off, and getting the win with a fluke cradle, or even the PIC, doesn’t give that impression nearly as well as hoisting up the big guy for a move like the pole shift. It’s far from being a classic, but like Marufuji/Saito it’s quite fun, and unusually smartly worked, although probably more due to circumstances than any real progression Marufuji himself has made as a worker.

Conclusion: There’s a lot of fun to be had here, although there isn’t anything blow away great. But between the novelty of MUGA World in NOAH, and seeing Marufuji and Kanemaru reign themselves in, plus the fun in seeing Morishima finally win one, there’s plenty to enjoy. I can at least give a recommendation for this half of the DVD.