April 23, 2006

The reviews from 2006 continue, with more NOAH! Not just any NOAH though, a NOAH commercial release that’s actually been legitimately obtained! NOAH branches out to the U.S. with legit DVDs, English commentary, and not having to wade through a usually dull and pointless undercard.

Kenta Kobashi . . . actually looks like the world class worker that he constantly gets praised for being.

KENTA . . . shows that he’s not nearly as good as the top dog, as he is as the underdog.

Masao Inoue . . . has the match of his career, largely by understanding how much he sucks.


SUWA and Suzuki as a team is the stuff that dreams are made of, and working against just about any other openweight team on the roster, they could probably steal the show. Like most of the NOAH undercard matches (and like most Misawa matches) this has its enjoyable moments, but they wind up being spread out over the match. It’s not so bad that Misawa and Ogawa go over, but they insist on going 50/50 with their opponents for most of the match. Every time that Suzuki will get a nice cheap shot, or outsmart Misawa in some way, he’s right there with a revenge spot, and Ogawa is his ususal self here, not really bringing anything worthwhile and just doing his usual stuff.

Suzuki and SUWA bring their share of fun moments, especially Suzuki’s big slap across Misawa’s face in the early going, and the smirk never leaves Suzuki’s face, even after Misawa levels him with a big elbow. SUWA gets in a surprising amount of his offense, and Misawa even bumps for the Jon Woo (although he negates it two minutes later), and it’s cool that Misawa gave him a near fall from the FFF. After that though, it’s just business as usual, and Misawa starts throwing out finishers until he gets the win. Suzuki’s save when Misawa went for the Tiger driver was nice, but only delayed the inevitable. It’d be nice to see the Suzuki/SUWA team continue, but they’ll need to either work with a team who’ll let them carry the offense, or work with a team that can bring something to the table besides the minimum.


Much like Marufuji’s match with Taue at the previous Budokan show, when you consider the limitations that both of them have workers, namely an over-reliance on certain spots and their big moves, this could have been quite hard on the eyes. Thankfully, both Kobashi and Marufuji go out of their way to tell a story based upon characterization, and the result is a match that is better than it has any right to be. It’d be easy to dismiss the opening bits of the match as simply filler. From an offensive standpoint, the match doesn’t seem to start to pick up until Marufuji starts targeting Kobashi’s knees. However, those early segments do an excellent job of laying the groundwork for the story, namely, Marufuji’s inability to get one over on Kobashi by trying to go right at him. The match starts off the same way that virtually every big NOAH match does, a quick strike exchange, and the shoulder block spot. And in every one of those instances, Marufuji doesn’t get any sort of win over Kobashi. There are instances where he can aggravate him, such as the head scissors, but Marufuji is never able to parlay those into a full-blown advantage.

When Marufuji starts to target Kobashi’s knees, the match starts to really soar. Marufuji uses some really nice tactics and brings a lot of nastiness to his assault on Kobashi’s knees. The Dragon screw in the corner, and the use of Bryan Danielson’s double knee buster were two really nice moments. And Kobashi’s great sell job makes it even better. The figure four spot seemed to be a bit out of place, but it was very useful in terms of the story. Even though Kobashi’s knees were getting assaulted and he was trapped in that hold, he was still able to use his strength advantage to pull himself to the ropes without a problem. Marufuji doesn’t learn from the mistake though, he puts the hold on again, and this time Kobashi simply rolls it over to reverse the effects of it. Marufuji winds up losing the advantage by going for the Dragon screw once too often, and getting leveled with a big chop to turn the tide. The nice thing about Kobashi’s control segment is that his offense is mostly kept simple. He uses several different chops, a nice delayed backdrop, and a NOAH trademark in the DDT on the ramp. It’s a great example of their respective roles in the company. Marufuji had to go all out to get control of Kobashi, but Kobashi was able to take back control with ease, and maintain it just as easy.

When they get back into the ring, it’s more of the same. Marufuji has to throw everything he’s got at Kobashi, and Kobashi gets by with relatively simple moves. Marufuji does finally find a strike that can stun Kobashi, his superkick, and he uses that to set up a few big spots. Marufuji also finds another focal point attack, Kobashi’s face, which puts a little extra meaning into those superkicks, and the big diving spots he rattles off. Kobashi is very giving to Marufuji in the selling department, really doing a lot to make Marufuji look like a credible threat. Marufuji’s size and body control have always allowed him to take very dramatic looking bumps, and the ones he takes courtesy of Kobashi’s two Half Nelson suplexes are no exception. Kobashi winning with a brainbuster seems like a bit of a downer, especially after Marufuji survived the lariat counter to the Perfect Inside Cradle. But it was technically sound, with Marufuji having had his neck worn down with the suplexes and lariat. For making someone look stronger in defeat, this kills Misawa/Morishima, and Morishima is much more likely to eventually carry the promotion than Marufuji. With NOAH’s penchant for multi-man tags on every show, it’d be nice to see more matches like this one, where the workers get the fans into the match by telling a story, and not by going overboard with big moves. ***1/2.

KENTA © vs. TAIJI ISHIMORI (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)

There are two things that this match does a great job of establishing. That KENTA can really kick hard, and that Ishimori is very acrobatic. The kicks that KENTA lays into Ishimori are cringe inducing at times, and it’s hard to not be impressed with some of the things that Ishimori is able to pull off. Beyond that though, this is noticeably lacking in substance and story, and it’s a rather large failing on KENTA’s part. For someone who had an absurd number of good-great matches from 2002-2005 in an underdog role, KENTA isn’t nearly as good in the role of the top dog. There isn’t any point in the match when it looks like Ishimori has a real chance to pull off the upset. The closest that he gets comes after the ref gets bumped and he’s able to hit KENTA with a 619, but KENTA still avoids the Superstar Elbow on his own. Ishimori’s offense beyond that is little more than lots of flying and flips to pop the crowd, but most of his near falls wind up coming in the form of roll-ups and counters. All Ishimori really does though is starve off the inevitable. He can hold off KENTA finishing his strike flurry, and he can delay the Busaiku and Go 2 Sleep. But he’s got almost nothing to actually prevent it, and once KENTA finally has him worn down enough, he does hit the Busaiku and Go 2 Sleep to retain his title. It may have been a successful defense, but the match itself is a huge failing for KENTA, because he was unable to give his lower-ranked opponent any real rub to give the impression that he might be able to unseat KENTA in a future match.

JUN AKIYAMA © vs. MASAO INOUE (GHC Heavyweight Title)

If you’re expecting a great match from a ‘workrate’ point of view, you’re going to be hugely disappointed. This match is another case of psychology and storytelling taking center stage. Masao Inoue is a horrible wrestler. That information could be obtained by anyone who’s watched NOAH for any length of time. Inoue himself even knows this, and he understands that in a straight wrestling match, he’s got no hope of knocking off the GHC Champion. This is a bit like the junior title match in the sense that largely the match is a case of Inoue merely delaying the inevitable. The big difference is that Akiyama is actually willing to play along with Inoue, and it gives Inoue that bit of rub that KENTA wasn’t able to give Ishimori.

Inoue’s strategy is to simply cheat as though he’s an honorary member of the Guerrero family. He jumps Akiyama before the bell with a lariat, and quickly plants him with a Cobra Clutch suplex. Akiyama levels him with an Exploder to turn the tide, and all Inoue can do is stall for time, which he does by rolling outside of the ring. Inoue also frequently goes to Jun’s eyes with eye rakes, and using the ropes. He tries to win by count out when he puts Akiyama in a figure four on the ramp. Akiyama responds by letting out a grumpy side of him that really needs to show more often. He rakes Inoue’s eyes for a little payback and when the crowd starts to boo him, he soaks it up, and then really gives them some reasons to boo him, by trying to murder Inoue, with a grave digger into the guardrail and a DDT on the ramp.

With Inoue unable to Cheat 2 Win, and knowing that he can’t win by trying to outmatch Jun in the wrestling, or power departments, he’s only got one thing left. Inoue has to outsmart him, which he attempts to do in the form of several schoolboy roll-ups and a backslide. It’s not completely without merit, Inoue has won his fair share of undercard and midcard matches with that very hold, and Akiyama has dropped falls in the past to fluke cradles, the most notable being his first GHC loss in 2002. It’s not enough tonight though. Inoue tries to go up top and gets met halfway and planted with an Exploder, and the glazed look on Inoue’s face is absolutely priceless, and one of the best individual moments of the match. Jun lets his cockiness get the better of him, and tries to go up top himself, and Inoue then cuts him off with a superplex, and applies the Argentine Backbreaker. That’s the only point in the match where it looks like Inoue might have a chance, but he’s not done nearly enough to wear down Akiyama, and Jun escapes. From there on, Akiyama levels Inoue with running knees, and Exploders, and finally plants him with an Exploder ‘98 to finish him off. If one of the worst wrestlers on the roster can have a passable GHC Title match, simply by focusing on sound psychology and storytelling, why doesn’t NOAH do this on a consistent basis? ***1/4

Conclusion: This is definitely a step up from the previous Budokan show. Two matches that could have been horrible, were both very pleasant surprises. Definite recommendation for Spring Navigation 2006, and you can even buy it legit!