April 28, 2007
Bryan Danielson . . . looks like he’s ready to rekindle his ROH feud with KENTA from the previous year.
Mushiking Terry . . . makes his ascent to the top of the NOAH junior division in one of the most underwhelming ways possible.
Takashi Sugiura . . . finds out that the style of working that helped get him to the top of the junior division doesn’t fly when he’s in there with the heavyweights.
JUNJI IZUMIDA/MAKOTO HASHI vs. MITSUO MOMOTA/TSUTOMO HIRAYANAGI
It’s almost sad having to see Hashi regulated to these matches since he’d moved up to being a heavyweight. One would think he’d at least be a tag title contender instead of working comedy spots with Izumida and helping the young boys come along. Hashi and Hirayanagi work the best exchanges by far. Momota and Izumida show up and do a lot of slapping and chopping and very little else, aside from Izumida inadvertently fouling Hashi to give Hirayanagi a near fall. Hirayanagi even kicks out of both the diving headbutt and Goriman’s suplex, leaving Hashi to spike him with a Michinoku Driver to keep him down for good. It’s nice to see him making progress, but there has to be something better to do with him and Hashi than this tripe.
KENTARO SHIGA/KISHIN KAWABATA/JOE LEGEND vs. AKIRA TAUE/YOSHINOBU KANEMARU/SHUHEI TANIGUCHI
There isn’t very much here that sets this apart from the opener. It’s a lot of unfunny comedy, pedestrian work, and the only ones who seem like they want to be there are Taniguchi and Legend, who are also the only ones who really have anything to prove in this sort of match. Taue appears to be metamorphosing into Baba, right down to the chops and a jumping neckbreaker drop. The only real sign of a story comes from the Shiga/Kanemaru exchanges which are noticeably aggressive and seem to imply that there are still some lingering issues from their days as Kobashi and Akiyama’s underlings, but there’s nothing about the actual work that does anything to further the match, and neither is involved in the finish. You’d think that the finish coming down to Taniguchi and Legend would be a nice thing, and it is in theory, but Legend badly blows the belly to belly off the top and then nearly kills Taniguchi with the Hospital Job, which is more or less an overhead choke slam. It would have been nice to see Legend and Taniguchi get another couple of minutes to work the final stretch and give Taniguchi another spot or two to make the crowd think he’d pull off the upset, but this was never going to be anything amazing.
MOHAMMED YONE/KENTA/TAIJI ISHIMORI vs. BRYAN DANIELSON/DANIEL CROSS/TED DIBIASE Jr.
Aside from the Danielson/KENTA interactions, there isn’t much to see here. Danielson’s partners aren’t bad or anything, but DiBiase is more focused on attitude and crowd play, so it’s no surprise that he wound up in WWE, and the highlight of Cross’ offensive run was Ishimori overselling to make his spots look better than they were. Luckily, Danielson and KENTA are more than willing to do the heavy lifting to keep the match flowing, whether it’s Danielson smacking around Ishimori and daring KENTA to do something about it and KENTA obliging by lighting up Danielson with slaps and kicks. KENTA gets a near fall with the Busaiku knee and picks up Danielson for the Go 2 Sleep and Danielson escapes and plants KENTA with a Tiger suplex and segues right into Cattle Mutilation. The foreigner team works over Yone and his partners even the odds and then it’s the native team’s turn to work over Cross. Danielson and DiBiase make the save and brawl to the floor with KENTA and Ishimori, and they may as well have turned on a neon sign to tell everyone that the match was about to end. Danielson and KENTA continue their brawling on the floor and KENTA locks Danielson in a sleeper that keeps him from saving Cross at the end. The match itself is fine, but the Danielson/KENTA stuff is the clear highlight and it’s really a shame that their feud never got a proper blowoff in NOAH, aside from the GHC Jr. Title switch in 2008.
AKIOTOSHI SAITO/BISON SMITH/MASAO INOUE vs. YOSHINARI OGAWA/TAMON HONDA/TSUYOSHI KIKUCHI
It was fun to watch Bison knocking Ogawa around in an attempt to build him up as a challenger to Misawa, but there’s almost nothing else to take away from this. Saito’s team works over Kikuchi for a bit, but they don’t do much of anything to build anticipation for him making the tag. In fact, Kikuchi returns fire on Saito with elbows and Saito sells them to the point that it looks like Kikuchi is going to make his own comeback. Kikuchi does eventually make the tag , but it’s after Honda intervenes from the apron to buy him some time. Honda does some decent matwork with his attempts to lock up Saito in his kata-gatame and spikes him with a German suplex, but it just comes off as Honda doing his usual stuff, rather than a genuine attempt to tell a story. And just like the last match, when all six start to brawl in the ring and then four of them wind up on the floor, leaving Bison and Kikuchi in the ring, it’s painfully obvious where things are going.
NAOMICHI MARUFUJI/RICKY MARVIN/IPPEI OTA vs. CIMA/DRAGON KID/SUSUMU YOKOSUKA
This looks more like a Dragon Gate match than it does a NOAH one, which is both good and bad. What keeps this from being very good is that despite them being outsiders and having a relative rookie to torture, the DG team just isn’t very heelish. Their control segment on Ota is mostly flashy tandem spots, with CIMA being the only one who shows much attitude. Once Ota tags out to Marvin, the match just breaks down into a big spotfest, with very little in the way of any story or build. There are a few smart touches, such as Ota being able to make the tag after connecting with a jumping neckbreaker drop, and CIMA works a nice sequence with Marufuji where he traps him in an Indian deathlock and takes Ota over in a vertical suplex to wrench his knee. CIMA follows up by sending Marufuji into the corner and he tries to get his feet up to stop CIMA’s charge, but CIMA catches him and sets him up for the venus and iconoclasm. The airplane spin sequence with Ota and DK was another highlight, although DK recovered a little too quickly afterwards. One moment DK was completely disoriented and the next he was holding his own against all three of the NOAH wrestlers. Ota presses his luck by trying another airplane spin to Susumu and isn’t able to replicate his success. He does get a hot near fall from a flash cradle but winds up on the wrong end of a double team from CIMA and DK before Susumu finishes him off with the Mugen.
The match has its memorable moments, and is certainly watchable, but it’s more noticeable for what’s missing than what’s there. Again, the biggest thing is the lack of heelish tendencies from the DG team. DK may not have much experience in that area, but CIMA and Susumu sure do. Marufuji may not be the top guy in NOAH the way that CIMA is in DG, but he’s at the top of the NOAH junior division and Marvin was half of the junior tag champions at this point, but neither of them shows much of any intensity to give the idea that they’re defending NOAH from the outsider team. The CIMA/Marufuji exchanges were technically fine, but don’t feel like a dream match sort of encounter between two top guys. Hell, the NOAH team doesn’t even get their own extended control segment to work over Susumu or DK the way the DG guys did to Ota. Overall, it’s a fun match for what it is, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that it could have been a whole lot better. It’s still good enough to be the best trios match of the night, even though it’s lacking the personality of the KENTA/Danielson issue.
TATSUHITO TAKAIWA © vs. MUSHIKING TERRY (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)
There was a stretch of about six minutes or so where it seemed like they were building up a nice little match, and then Terry made his comeback and it just turned into a huge spotfest and any sense of build or structure was out the window. The nice stretch comes after a bit of an inauspicious opening sequence; Takaiwa hits a DVD straight away and follows up with a lariat. Takaiwa calls for the powerbomb and Terry counters into a sunset flip for a near fall and then hits a dropkick. For some reason, the wrestler that took a surprise counter into a cradle and then a lower-level spot is selling more than the one who took the high impact bump straight away. After that initial sequence the match settles down and Takaiwa works over Terry with some basic offense and it actually works very well. The work isn’t anything special or meaningful, it’s a lot of chops and stomps with Takaiwa working some basic holds like a top head scissors and single leg crab, but it’s useful in terms of characterization. The grumpy vet champion is asserting his position over the spunky challenger, and the “Terry” chant that the crab hold draws shows that it was resonating with the Budokan fans.
Terry’s penchant for flash over substance shows up in his first attempted comeback. He flips out of a backdrop suplex and does a Tajiri-style handspring and jumps back onto Takaiwa’s shoulders in backdrop position and flips out again. Terry tries to follow up with a twisting head scissors but the spot is badly blown, and he settles for a running knee in the corner and then getting a near fall on Takaiwa with a sort of Meteora-style jumping knee. Takaiwa takes over and tries to pick up where he left off with the more basic offense as well as a little more heat mongering in the form of roughing up Terry on the floor with the guardrail and post, and some mask ripping. But, once again, Terry’s comeback is predicated on busting out every flashy thing he knows. He escapes the powerbomb and jumps on Takaiwa’s back for a Code Red near fall and when Takaiwa picks him up for a DVD, Terry counters into a crucifix bomb for another near fall. After two counters and next to no real offense of his own, Terry decides it’s the perfect time for a finisher, and drops Takaiwa with his Tiger driver, and one can almost look at Takaiwa’s face and pinpoint the moment that he decides to forgo his attempt to genuinely build the match, and just go along with what the kid wants to do. Takaiwa was never more than the occasional guest in NOAH anyway, so it’s not like he’s killing his credibility with the NOAH fans by having Terry kick out of the top rope DVD or the DVD into Michinoku Driver (which has to be one of the coolest things he’s ever done).
The one nice theme that they manage to develop is around Takaiwa’s lariat. Whenever Terry tries to mount a comeback, or whatever move he took wasn’t enough to keep him down, Takaiwa is right there with the lariat to keep things moving along. Probably their smartest moment comes after Terry gets a near fall from a corner assisted sunset flip and Takaiwa kicks out and rolls back to get Terry into powerbomb position. Takaiwa muscles him up and powerbombs him in the corner but Terry is still on his feet, and Takaiwa drills him with a lariat for his best near fall of the match. Terry’s big comeback comes after Takaiwa tries a top rope splash mountain which goes as well as it has for everyone else who has ever attempted it since 1997, Takaiwa gets up and tries for the lariat and Terry literally beats him to the punch with a palm strike, and Takaiwa never gets any real momentum going again. Terry unloads everything he has on Takaiwa including a hip toss off the top rope (that took far too long to set up) and wins the title after his Mist Crash suplex.
Takaiwa’s title win over Sugiura wasn’t exactly a barnburner when it comes to NOAH juniors matches, but even that match was well beyond this one. Of course, Terry is no KENTA and for all of his grumpiness, Takaiwa is no SUWA. For all the promise that this seemed to show early on, the only takeaway from this is that it’s a title change.
JUN AKIYAMA/TAKESHI RIKIO © vs. YOSHIHIRO TAKAYAMA/TAKASHI SUGIURA (GHC Tag Team Titles)
For a match that goes for nearly thirty minutes, there’s a noticeable lack of meaningful work and an equally noticeable number of meaningless strike exchanges that go nowhere and seem to be there just to eat up time. The elbow exchange between Akiyama and Sugiura early on was bad enough (and long enough), but there’s the goofy boot exchange when Akiyama is in the corner and Sugiura charges, and the slap exchanges between Rikio and Takayama as well as Rikio and Sugiura. And, for a match that’s apparently designed to showcase Sugiura as someone ready to graduate to the heavyweight division and be somebody, there’s very little here that gives that sort of impression. Sugiura’s best near falls are predicated on Takayama giving him the opening, such as drilling Rikio with his knee to the midsection, and then turning things over to Sugiura. Sure, it’s nice to see that Sugiura can throw Akiyama and Rikio around with his suplexes, but he’d always been presented as the power guy of the junior division and there isn’t such a size disparity that it seems like a genuine surprise, the way it would if he was doing it to someone the size of Morishima or Takayama.
The best stuff to see here is when Akiyama and Rikio act like jerk heels and work over Sugiura’s midsection. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last very long, and doesn’t have any real long term effects on Sugiura. If they wanted it to seem impressive that he can get Rikio up for the Olympic Slam, they could have made them working over his midsection cause him to have trouble pulling off his suplexes and throws, and having to fight through the pain to hit his big move. Instead, the body work is mostly there as a gateway to Akiyama’s bigger offense, namely his jumping knee and his front neck lock, which garners some nice crowd response. It also doesn’t help that Sugiura mostly works the same way that he always has. Compare Akiyama’s front neck lock getting some crowd heat to the crowd being mostly dead for the ankle lock, because Sugiura doesn’t do a single thing to foster the idea that he’s got a genuine chance of actually winning the match with it. He also decides that when he’s on his own, with Takayama on the floor, it’s a great idea to blow off the Exploder. The fact that Sugiura loses for his team has nothing to do with how he winds up looking afterwards. The best way to elevate someone new up the ladder is for them to look great in defeat. But that’s not what this is. It’s Sugiura doing the same stuff with Akiyama and Rikio that he’d do if he was teaming with Kanemaru against Suzuki and Marvin.
Overall, the match does have some nice moments. The shoulder tackle stalemate between Rikio and Takayama wasn’t anything that hadn’t been seen a hundred times already, but Takayama responding by hitting a flying body press on Rikio was certainly unexpected. Akiyama and Rikio make a pretty good heel team and Takayama worked very well with Rikio and was great in his supporting role evening the odds. But, there’s too much of Sugiura and his no-selling goofiness for this to be anything more than watchable, and a title match of this length needs more to it than that.
MITSUHARU MISAWA © vs. TAKUMA SANO (GHC Heavyweight Title)
I’m not sure which is sadder; Misawa’s performance, or the fact that this is the best GHC Title match of 2007 up to this point. The only real storytelling element to the match is Sano working over Misawa’s midsection. Misawa is great at putting it over at first, and then as the match wears on the body attacks seem to get less and less effective. It gets to the point where Sano takes Misawa over with a snap mare and charges for a running kick to the chest, Misawa blocks the kick and gets to his feet and drops Sano with an elbow and then comes off the top with his frog splash without even bothering to sell to give the impression that Sano kicking and stomping at Misawa’s midsection did anything to make the frog splash any harder on Misawa. The frog splash is the most egregious of them, but Misawa busts out most of his usual offensive spots - the elbows, Tiger driver, flying headbutt and the Emerald Frozion that finishes things, and Sano’s body attack doesn’t do anything to impede him from pulling off any of them. Over the course of the match, Sano’s kicks go from instantly halting anything Misawa tries to accomplish, to simply delaying him and finally Misawa just takes the kick and makes a grimacing face and then goes right back to throwing his elbows.
Of course, Sano has his share of issues as well. His body attacks outside of the rolling kick and a few diving footstomps is virtually nonexistent. They aren’t a gateway for his bigger offense and they don’t open the door for him to use more dangerous body attacks to try to beat Misawa. It’s just easy filler to eat up time. Look no further than this early sequence to see how the body attacks are treated overall. Sano gets a near fall after several footstomps while Misawa is prone on the mat and follows up with a basic legbar. Misawa lingers in the hold for a spell and rolls to the ropes. After they get to their feet, Sano attacks Misawa with leg kicks and they have no effect at all, and it’s not until Sano goes back to the rolling kick to the body that he hurts Misawa again. Sano then tries a more dangerous figure four, and, just like before, Misawa gets to the ropes, and this leads to another strike exchange, this time with elbows. And when it seems like Misawa is starting to get the better of Sano, he has to go back to the rolling kick. It doesn’t make any sense for Sano to switch gears and go from the body to the knee, it’s not like anyone thinks he’s going to submit Misawa anyway, and the body attacks should (in theory) be better at staving off Misawa’s more lethal offense than his having a hurt knee would. But, instead of going along with it and trying to get the match going somewhere, Misawa just ignores it and leaves him and Sano at square one.
And let’s not forget the way they treat their respective finishers. Sano’s first NLB comes after he gets a near fall from a diving footstomp, and he immediately picks up Misawa for a second one (which Misawa is at least good enough to sell his neck and shoulder afterwards). Sano picks Misawa up again and Misawa fires off an elbow and Sano retaliates with a rolling kick and then does NLB number three, which results in a near fall. Misawa gets up and they have another strike exchange (complete with a replay that shows exactly how far off the mark Sano’s rolling kick to the face actually was), and Sano hits his fourth NLB which Misawa gets right up from. Another strike exchange results in Sano going for a fifth, which Misawa blocks and picks up Sano for an Emerald Frozion. Yes, Misawa’s be-all end-all finisher. That wouldn’t have made a very good finish, but it’s better than what we wound up getting. Sano kicks out and Misawa picks him up and hits a second one for another near fall. They do one last strike exchange with Misawa sucking up the rolling kick and hitting a running elbow for a near fall, and then he picks up Sano for a fireman’s carry variation of the Emerald Frozion, which looks more like Taiyo Kea’s Hawaiian Smasher, and finally ends the match. It was silly when Marufuji kicked out of it in December, and it’s even more so here, considering that Sano never has been (and never would be) anything more than a tag title contender playing second fiddle to Taue and later Takayama.
Considering what happened during the opening moments of Misawa’s title defense from January against Morishima, it’s impossible to fault them for wanting to work a match like this, with no emphasis on big bumps and head drops (and even the Emerald Frozion is more of a back bump than a head or neck one). But this ultimately fails because they don’t do anything worthwhile in place of it. They could have let the body work carry the match and used it to create doubt about Misawa’s ability to pull off his stuff and also made Sano’s offense seen more effective, but they didn’t. They could have really gone in a different direction and taken advantage of Sano’s UWFI and PRIDE experience, but they didn’t. They just work the typical first third or so of a typical Budokan main event from NOAH and then take it home. If nothing else, this is better than the junior and tag titles matches, if only because they had something resembling a story and stuck with it (Sano’s first NLB came right after his rolling kick to the midsection), but that’s the highest praise that I can give it.
Conclusion: There’s no other way to put it, this is simply a terrible outing from NOAH, the one bright spot was Danielson and KENTA, and it’s just as easy to see any of their matches with each other in ROH.