ORIGINALLY POSTED: OCTOBER 14th, 2012
Kenta Kobashi is the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived.
Do I have your attention?
How about if I told you that the man who might well be the greatest babyface ever to draw breath once held a World Championship for 2 straight years, and that that reign is considered by people smarter even than me to be the greatest accomplishment involving gold since 4 old ladies decided to live together and keep it real? What follows here is a chronicle, a review, and an accounting of this reign, and not only what it accomplished, but what it meant to the history of Japanese wrestling as a whole. And if you’re the type who immediately dismisses anything that happens in a ring on the other side of whatever ocean or landmass Japan is from where you are, just this once let that wall down and let the incredible battles, triumphs and sacrifices of the man who wields the Burning Hammer wash over you. DDT and Defrost will be your tour guides through the strange and exhilarating world the awaits you, and will tell you everything from the years and years of backstory leading through the matches, to the very specific reason why the way the reign ended may have been the death knell for Pro Wrestling NOAH, even years before the cracks began to show.
So ice your knees in sympathy and lariat the cat, because the greatest reign of Kenta Kobashi is coming. And the world it left behind was forever changed.
DDT: Kenta Kobashi. Kenta fucking Kobashi. What the hell can you even say about the man? That he was arguably the greatest babyface of all time? Sure. That he was INARGUABLY the greatest heavyweight underdog ever? Sign me up on that petition. That he has himself a fine-ass wife?
Yes, all the above is true. But there is something else that Kobashi is; something that I feel sometimes gets over-looked. Kobashi is one of the best ‘dominate champions’ of all time. Now that’s quite a mouthful. I mean, there are lots of contenders out there; Flair, Hogan, Sammartino; what made Kobashi’s so special?
The answer is easy; no one had as many good-to-great matches (with one stinker) with such a wide variety of opponents over a relatively short time period (two years); bruisers, strikers, technicians, veterans, underdogs, over-the-hills, never-wases, up-and-comers, and various other adjectives you could use to describe them. From his title win to the fourteen defenses after, Kobashi proved that you didn’t need fully functioning knees to be one of the best wrestlers in the world.
But was it really one of the all-time great runs as a champion? Was it really one of the best runs of one of the all-time greatest wrestlers? Was Kobashi’s run as Pro Wrestling NOAH’s GHC championship as good as all of the purotards remember it being?
I set out, noble reader, along with my compadre in puro, the one and only Captain Curmudgeon himself, Defrost, to find out just what the answer to those questions are.
The answer is yes; yes it was.
There will also be some grotesque fan-wanking and match-ranking; you know, for funnzies.
So let’s take ourselves back in time to 2003, and a returning Kobashi who was taking a break from beating up Akiyama to do something that would make his younger rival REALLY mad; facing Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight championship.
Defrost: The story of these two goes all the way back to the late 1980s. After Tiger Mask II unmasked and revealed himself as Mitsuharu Misawa, he began a legendary feud with Jumbo Tsuruta and was backed up by Toshiaki Kawada, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, and Kenta Kobashi and they formed the Super Generation Army. After Kawada parted ways, Misawa and Kobashi became regular tag partners and won the tag titles on two occasions. In 1997 they would begin a series of insanely great matches over the Triple Crown all won by Misawa. It was not until 1999 when Kobashi invented a new move, the Burning Hammer, that he was able to take down Misawa. This was in a tag match where Kobashi and his partner Jun Akiyama defeated Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa for the tag titles. The epic singles match never came. Kobashi, Misawa, and really all the native wrestlers began taking their shots at Vader who came into the promotion and ran wild. This was followed by the All Japan/NOAH split. At the time of the split Kobashi found out just how damaged his knees were and he’d miss the better part of two years due to his injuries. Kobashi came back, got hurt in his return match, came back again, and began to work his way up. At the 1/10/03 show in Budokan Hall the feature match was Masahiro Chono making his first NOAH appearance teaming with Misawa against Kobashi and Akira Taue. In the match Kobashi and Taue got the win when Kobashi pinned Misawa with a Brainbuster. In a novel approach to booking, even in this string of matches, (just wait until the DDT rant on Rikio,) the man who pinned the champion was made #1 contender and thus this match happened.
This is the match where Kobashi surpassed Misawa. Misawa would always pull it out in the end. Whether it be against Kawada or Kobashi or Stan Hansen or whoever Misawa would take a beating but come back with the Giant Baba booked equivalent to Hulking Up. In this match he does it again. Kobashi beats him down and Misawa comes back. He drills Kobashi with everything he has. All Misawa needs to do is drop Kobashi on his head with the Tiger Driver ’91 that he had used to finish Kobashi many times in the past. Only he couldn’t do it. Kobashi stopped the killshot. Misawa could not stop the Burning Hammer. New Champion.
DDT: It has been said by a several people that this match is, at worst, a great spotfest. Even if you have no idea of the history behind these two men that spanned over a decade at this point, even if the moves themselves mean nothing to you (like say, you have no idea why Misawa’s elbows are such a big deal, or why the Burning Hammer is so important in any Kobashi vs. Misawa match), everything is hit crisp and clean, the bumps are the stuff that make you go ‘oof’, and both men do this thing called ‘selling’. Heard it was all the rage these days. For those who DO know the history, they will be more appreciative of the best nostalgia trip ever.
This match is the perfect summary of the relationship between both men. First off, it is in the Budokan Hall, where most of their famous matches took place, giving us the most appropriate stage possible. After the initial face-off, Misawa dominates Kobashi, who can only just barely survive the onslaught of the man who, until now, was always the bigger star. Kobashi makes a few reversals, dominates a few portions, but more often than not is fighting from underneath. Gradually though, as the match wears on, Kobashi gets into more and longer dominate positions, until finally, he brings down the Hammer, and takes his place at the top of NOAH, and for the next two years, the top of Japanese wrestling. This isn’t the best singles match these two have had against each other, but it is ONE of the best, and has an insanely hot crowd to boot. You could not ask for a better start to a title run then this.
DDT: I love this match; until I did this review, I had this as the best of the Kobashi title defenses. It may have lost that place, but it still has its place among the very best of them. Honda, you see, was something of a life-long mid-carder. Oh, a few All-Asia tag title shots here and there, but in All Japan he was nothing special, and that translated over to NOAH as well. Except for that number one contender’s tournament he won. And that title shot against Akiyama that resulted in one of the best GHC title matches in a while. Then that quick fluke win over Akiyama. And beating Akitoshi Saito in a number one contender’s match. And his impressive amateur credentials (three-time Olympian, and in his first go-round placed 5th overall), and his large array of finishers. Well, the point is, he’s never been a huge star, just a few hiccups in popularity and presenting enough of a threat for champions to get a noteworthy notch on their belt. And with a looming Tokyo Dome showdown with New Japan superstar Masahiro Chono (who looks on from the audience pimptastically), people thought Kobashi would make short work of Honda, including Kobashi himself. How did that work out for him?
Honda took it to Kobashi in ways that just did not seem possible, and a crowd that was largely indifferent to Honda went firmly into his camp, screaming and cheering for him to take the victory, to take the championship, to take his place in wrestling history. Unfortunately, Kobashi has no desire to be a one-defense champion, and after surviving virtually every variation of every finisher Honda has in his arsenal, Kobashi sentences Honda to death with the Burning Lariat.
You don’t see many matches like this in WWE because they firmly believe that the challenger must be this built-up juggernaut, or at least believe that they are. There is something to be said for that approach. However, there is something so satisfying about seeing someone who has no chance, try so hard and come so close. It’s the Little Engine That Could, and we happily chug along, because we want to see him make it up that hill, damnit!!
Defrost: Tamon Honda spent his entire career as a goofy looking jobber. Literally. I mean if any human actually could pull off being a doppelganger of the Disney cartoon character Goofy it is Tamon Honda. Then something started to shift. In late 2002 Honda defeated former GHC Champion Jun Akiyama in 4 minutes. In a vacuum you could chalk that up to the treatment Akiyama was receiving that year. Guess being a bigger draw for New Japan than NOAH earns you many sub 5 minute losses. However, Honda went on a winning streak using his new array of finishers most notably the Rolling Olympic Hell. At the show where Kobashi won the title NOAH ran an angle where Akiyama had a man in a mask pretend to be him so he could jump Honda from behind. He and Akitoshi Saito won that match via ref stoppage leading to a #1 contenders match with Honda against Saito. Why those two? Only thing that makes sense is they wanted to do the Honda match and not have Honda beat Akiyama. Problem there is Honda would pin Akiyama a couple of months later in a tag title match. Honda beat Saito and this is match that came of it.
People love this match. This match got so over it made Honda second in command of Kobashi’s stable and Kobashi’s regular tag partner. I think it is a good match. I quite like it. I find it overrated. The biggest issue I have is that I find the first third of the match to be filled with mat work that I find to be meandering. Once the match goes into the next gear following a Honda suplex to Kobashi onto the ramp and Honda starts working over Kobashi’s taped up arm the match really clicks for me. It is what comes before that is my issue. I would still eagerly recommend watching it because even in my outlier opinion I rate it quite high.
Defrost: Kenta Kobashi’s only match on a New Japan Show, not counting any joint promotion such as All Together. The last time New Japan sold out the Tokyo Dome. To say this match deserved much of the credit for that would be an understatement. This show, Ultimate Crush, featured an entire mid card of vale tudo fights. Inokism is at its height going on here, including the debut of Lyoto Machida. As for the match it was the first time Kobashi was taking on one of the Three Musketeers in a singles match. Only time that would happen too. Chono was coming off a sixty minute draw with IWGP Champion Yuji Nagata which would not be the last time someone was made #1 contender coming off a time limit draw. Chono was the last of the Three Musketeers in New Japan. Shinya Hashimoto having left and formed Zero-1 and Keiji Muto having jumped to All Japan. So the last remaining member of New Japans legendary trio against one of All Japan’s Four Pillars of Heaven.
Chono had a bum left knee coming into this and oddly enough this match gets so much better after he tweaks the knee and starts hobbling around. He hurts his leg taking suplexing Kobashi off the top landing right on his back somehow, but oh well. Kobashi sending the NOAH guys away and then Chono sending his guys off was a good touch. I like how at the start Chono tries going move for move and strike for strike but it is obvious that Kobashi is just stronger than he. Thinking about it while watching this match what moves does Chono have to finish off a Kobashi? I think that is why Mutoh worked much better against the AJPW guys than Chono (remember Chono’s awful match with Misawa). Especially after inventing the Shining Wizard I could buy Mutoh keeping Kawada down. Chono not so much. Closest thing is that sequence where he Backdrop Suplexed Kobashi over and over. Love how that plays too when not long after the STF Kobashi Kobashied up and just rapes Chono. It was like saying, “This is how you drop mother fuckers on their head.” And for a promotion vs. promotion match it has a really decisive finish. Very good match, but as I said Chono’s lack of a killer finish hurts a bit near the end when Kobashi was supposed to be in trouble. That would be the biggest complaint about the match and I would tell you to seek it out for a watch.
DDT: When I first learned of this match, I laughed and cried out, “Fuck no!” You see, post-2000 Chono and 30 minute matches went about as well together as George Lucas and directing; sure, you’ll get a few amusing moments, but ultimately it is just a bad idea. This was actually one of the two matches I was dreading the most coming in, and I mentally prepared myself for the assault on my eyes that was sure to begin.
So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed this match a great deal. For a bit of a background, Chono was one New Japan’s big stars in the 90’s, and Kobashi was one of All Japan’s, so both are huge names in Japanese wrestling. Chono had just taken IWGP champion Yuji Nagata to a draw (as Defrost said) and before that won the 2002 G-1 Climax Tournament (think New Japan’s King of the Ring). So on paper, Chono should be in Kobashi’s league, right?
Wrong. Chono never had a lot of firepower in his arsenal, and with his neck injury stealing a lot of his physical prowess away from him, other than the Yakuza Kick all Chono had was being a cheating heel dickhead. But he had too much pride to go to that straight away, and tried to go toe-to-toe against Kobashi. Kobashi gradually but definitively ground Chono down. When Chono saw that he was not going to win a fair fight, he began to take short cuts such as low-blows and using the ropes to assist in suplexes. He even gave Kobashi repeated backdrops on his skull. Kobashi never slowed and never wavered, calmly going forward and destroying everything he saw. When he repeatedly half-nelson suplexed Chono into a near comatose state, Chono buddy Tenzan leapt up and almost through in the towel. He ultimately decided not to, but it was no use. One (poorly sold) lariat later, and Kobashi had vanquished Masahiro Chono.
This match doesn’t get a lot of love compared to other title defenses, and it is easy to see why; Kobashi was never in any real danger throughout the match, and it wasn’t the most impressive spectacle ever put on. However, it was (to me) a well-told narrative of two veterans with roughly the same prestige and experience, and how one had progressed to stand atop the mountain of wrestling, and the other just no longer had it in him.
DDT: Ah, Bison Smith; NOAH’s token “gaijin” heavyweight, may he rest in peace. This match was interesting to me, as I was curious to see how someone as big as Bison would fair in a longer-than-usual-for-him match. But there is one important point that must be made before we go any further. Yuji Nagata is a fucking pimp and I dare anyone to disagree. I wish I could find a picture of him overlooking this match in his white suit; glorious. Anyway, as you gathered, Nagata is the next challenger after this one, so like the Honda match most went in thinking a fun romp with Kobashi coming out on top. And unlike the Honda match, that is exactly what they got. Bison Smith can be a lot of mindless fun with his array of claw holds, surprising agility, and willingness to both hit and be hit hard. But ultimately, that’s what this was; mindless fun. Totally worth your while to be sure, as it offers some interesting situations, such as Kobashi finding himself in the rare position of being out-muscled (especially in light of the previous title match where Kobashi was the one doing the muscling). However, while the crowd had fun, no one bought Bison winning, and he didn’t. Fun times; neither the best nor the worst.
Having said all that, I still have no idea why Bison insisted on using the Styles Clash as his finishing move, given that he had infinitely cooler and more impact-heavy throws and slams at his disposal.
Defrost: The old standby of the Japanese hero taking on a big scary white guy; been doing since the very beginning when Rikidozan faced off with the likes of The Destroyer or Lou Thesz. This tradition moved on to guys like Andre the Giant, Bruiser Brody, Hulk Hogan, Stan Hansen, and the Road Warriors. In this match it is Bison Smith who plays the part.
Right off the set of Miami Vice Yuji Nagata looks on from the stands. This match is fun but begins the pattern of the lesser match really going longer than they need to or really should. Bison Smith beyond everything did not have a body conducive to going half an hour without a lot of resting to avoid blowing up. That is what you get. You get a very fun sequence like the one that ends with Kobashi getting Claw Slammed through a table being followed up with rest holds. This is the kind of match you watch when you want something fun to watch, and don’t want to deal with anything famously epic where keen watching would be involved. Like a match you watch when going link to link in youtube or something. Though again, the length does hurt here.
Defrost: Yuji Nagata of New Japan Pro Wrestling. So this is a new wrinkle in having an outsider come into NOAH to take on the beloved Champion. Nagata who was coming off a 392 day reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. A reign that included a, at the time, record 10 successful title defenses. Yuji Nagata who had come into NOAH in the months before this match and had beaten both Akira Taue and Jun Akiyama in singles matches giving him claim to a title shot which he challenged Kobashi to following his defense against Bison Smith. Having already reviewed this match for DRS2EBRaSAGG so I’ll let DDT do the full honors
DDT: The word to describe this match is ‘big’. It felt big, it was wrestled big, the venue was big, and the crowd reacted big. Everything about this was big, and it was awesome. To reiterate some of Defrost’s points, Nagata earned the name of “Mr. IWGP” when he became the first man to defend the IWGP heavyweight title what was until earlier this year a record ten times. Like Chono, he was a New Japan wrestler who on paper had all the credentials needed to take on a big time. Unlike Chono, however, Nagata also had all the tools to not only compete against Kobashi, but put him away; if Kobashi chopped him, then Nagata would kick back; if Kobashi gave him the brainbuster, then Nagata would answer with the backdrop suplex; Kobashi had his array of lariats, and Nagata had his array of submission holds; Kobashi had the Burning Hammer, and Nagata had his patented, never-before-escaped Nagata Lock III.
This was the first time heading into the title match where people thought there was a serious chance of Kobashi losing. The match itself went back and forth, with the two trading shots and disrespect, when suddenly Nagata did something that Kobashi has, historically, always had problems with; Nagata began to implement a strategy. See, the Nagata Lock III puts pressure on, among other things, the arms, and Nagata began to go after Kobashi’s right arm with a vengeance, simultaneously setting Kobashi up for the Nagata Lock III and taking away his lariat arm in the process. Yet no matter what, for the life of him Nagata can’t get that devastating, victory-guaranteeing, never-before-escaped Nagata Lock III locked on. He tries, oh does he try and try. Yet no matter what he does, no matter how close he gets, Kobashi keeps escaping his holds. Eventually Nagata makes a mistake that many a wrestler has made before and since; he frustratingly abandoned his working strategy to trade bombs with Kobashi. This is what we of the wrestling fandom like to call, “A really bad idea that can backfire very easily.” And easily it did. It gave Kobashi’s arm the chance to recover, and soon he was able to stand toe-to-toe with Nagata again, only this time Nagata had played himself out. Two lariats with a brainbuster sprinkled in between, and it was a done deal, his toughest challenge to date thoroughly and utterly squashed.
When watching this match, Defrost and I both came to the conclusion that more promotions need ramps that connect to the ring itself. In this, the Misawa match, and the Honda match, it led to a whole lot of cool moments and spots, and added to the fun of it all. Luckily for us, this match is not the end of the ramp.
DDT: Yoshinari Ogawa, the Ultimate Sidekick and Little Shit Extraordinaire; he’s too big to be a junior heavyweight, too small to be a heavyweight. He made his mark on wrestling by being the annoying, eye-poking, low-blowing, short-cut taking shit-head that hid behind Misawa’s skirt after pissing his opponents off. Yet, possibly (only) only because he was tight with Misawa, he was given some huge wins, two of which are significant to this match. One was a four minute win over Akiyama Jun for the GHC championship back in 2002. That’s right, this walking, talking rat is the first former GHC champion that Kobashi is facing. Well, it was regarded as a fluke win and a fluke reign, so no real problem there…except the second win was pinning Kobashi in a multi-man tag, which is how he got this shot in the first place.
Now, NOAH could have done one of two things here. One, they could have pretended that Ogawa could give Kobashi a competitive match and get laughed out of the building. Instead, they went with two; they had Ogawa be this annoying little shit that relies completely on strategy, befuddling Kobashi with cheap shots, attacks from behind, low blows, and even some superior mat wrestling. It leaves this sense of, ‘Kobashi will kill this fucker the moment he gets his hands on him’ without having Kobashi get his hands on him, and it is great. But the thing that Ogawa did that got him instantly hated by the crowd was having the nerve, the GALL, to go after Kobashi’s knees.
You have to understand; Kobashi missed a year and a half due to knee injuries. He had to change his entire style of wrestling because if it. So when Ogawa went after Kobashi’s legs, the crowd let him have it, and raised the ‘we want Ogawa to die’ factor by about ten. He even has the gall to use the ring bell on Kobashi’s knees, the little twerp. Then Kobashi finally DID get his hands on Ogawa. I’ve seen Kobashi mad. I’ve seen Kobashi angry. I’ve even seen Kobashi wish vast physical harm on people. But until now I could never swear to seeing steam coming out of Kobashi’s ears. Kobashi didn’t even want to drop Ogawa on his skull he was so mad; he just wanted to punch him in the face repeatedly, until Ogawa was a bloody mess. On that note, Kobashi has awesome punches.
Sadly, there was as much done wrong here as there was right; Once the face punching commenced, it should have been five or so minutes of Kobashi destroying Ogawa and then pinning him. Ogawa did NOT need to get a few roll-ups, and he most certainly did NOT need to go back on offense afterwards. It really took away from what was at that point a really fun match. Oh well.
Defrost: Yoshinari Ogawa otherwise known as Rat Boy. You can probably gather what that means, but basically Ogawa gets by doing whatever he has to so he can get by, A mainstay of All Japan’s Jr. division which was never much of anything even with the likes of Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, Dan Kroffat, Joe Malenko, Rob Van Dam, and Masanobu Fuchi littering the place at various times. Baba’s focus was always on the Heavyweights. Ogawa’s big push is when he became Misawa’s tag partner. Together they won both the All Asia and World Tag Team titles and they would lose the World Tag Titles to Jun Akiyama and Kenta Kobashi. In 2002 Ogawa won this title from Jun Akiyama in a match lasting about 4 minutes, because again you lose in 4 minutes for being a bigger draw in New Japan, which was quite a shock. He would lose the title to Yoshihiro Takayama and fail in his attempt to win it from the man who beat Takayama, his tag partner, Mitsuharu Misawa. This match was set up by a Captain’s Fall Match where Ogawa captained one team and Kobashi the other. The match would end when the Captain was defeated. Ogawa pinned Kobashi in that match to win it. Thus was he named #1 contender.
Rat Boy lives up to his name in this one. Not just with the low blow. Not just using the bell as a weapon. No his sin was going after Kobashi’s bum knees. No one had done this so far. Like this is bad sportsmanship. And all these sleazy tactics lead to Kobashi getting angry. And when Kobashi gets angry people bleed. And when people bleed Kobashi throws punches. Don’t make Kobashi throw punches. Kenta Kobashi has the best punches I have ever seen in wrestling and his beating of Ogawa is a pleasure to watch.
Thinking about the negatives though it feels like they went out of their way to protect Ogawa because he was Misawa’s boy. There is the needless ref bump where Ogawa gets a visual pinfall on Kobashi with his shitty back suplex. Then he is given a comeback after Kobashi has already busted him up and started smashing him. Once the smashing started that should have been all Kobashi until Kobashi lariated his head off. And this does hurt the match a lot.
Defrost: This is the worst Kenta Kobashi match I have ever seen. Good thing only three people were in the arena to see it. You know what annoys me about Sano. He was in UWFi which was a promotion based on pretending to be MMA really hard and the only guy anyone cared about in that promotion was Nobuhiko Takada. Then when UWFi became Pride most of the early fights involving pro wrestlers were worked because the pro wrestlers and the Gracies were the draws. Sano lost every one of his fights in Pride. Because he sucks and is living off a bunch of great matches he had with Jushin Liger in 1990. That’s your backstory.
This match sucks. That’s your review.
DDT: I’m something of a Sano apologist; his matches with Jushin Liger in the late 80s/early 90s were not only great, but pioneers of New Japan juniors work. He was a solid hand who had good shoot-style matches with UWFi. But then the 2000s came, and he got old and fat, developed a reliance on the rolling sole butt (a spinning back kick to the gut for all you non-puro fans who may be reading this) and some slow matwork. As the years passed and more and more of his once great athleticism left him, Takuma Sano became, as Cewsh once called him, “The Most Boring Wrestler on the Planet”. So when I tell you that this match blew all sorts of monkey chunks, it blew all sorts of monkey chunks.
It took three viewings to get to that opinion though. The first time I viewed it, I thought that Sano did a fine job; he hit hard, he went after the legs with some swank technical holds, and he took some of Kobashi’s stiffest offense like a champ. He even showcased some of his former athletic prowess with a nasty double-stomp halfway across the ring, and reversing an Irish whip by leaping to the top turnbuckle and back flipping over Kobashi’s head in a movement so fluid it would have made Daniel Bryan sigh with jealousy.
The second time I viewed it, I thought that the leg work was overly long and unnecessary, as it didn’t lead to the finish. The third time, I had to skip it entirely; not only was the legwork COMPLETELY worthless and time wasting, but the crowd was absolutely not into it at all. And these were presumably the 2500 or so that actually LIKED Sano enough to throw streamers in his colors. I might have forgiven this had it been a ‘throwaway’ title match like Honda or Bison, but this was the first title match of the year for NOAH, at the end of the first tour. They should have started with a bang, and instead gave us a loud snore. Whoever said “[insert name] could have a good match with a broom,” never saw Fat Sano.
Shame on you, Sano; shame on you.
That’s right; without even having to WATCH the remaining matches, it secured the bottom spot. It was that bad. Moving on.
DDT: Ah, Takeshi Rikio. One of NOAH’s many hopefuls for their future, a list that included his tag partner Takeshi Morishima and Mohammed Yone. At this point he had a few high profile matches, a few notable performances, even winning the tag titles. He secured this particular title shot when he scored the winning falls in back-to-back tag matches against teams with Kobashi on them, and then defeating big name Akira Taue. This tour was Rikio’s first real chance to prove himself in a big setting with big boy offense against one of the best in the world; there wasn’t really much chance of him winning, but there was a chance to see if he belonged.
As for the match itself…when they were clobbering and bombing and selling for each other, it was a lot of fun. When we were supposed to believe that Kobashi was going to tap to a single one of Rikio’s leg submissions or that his leg work meant a damn, it was kind of dull. You could tell even here that Kobashi was SUPER high on Rikio with how he was putting over Rikio’s offense huge and losing certain exchanges. And to be sure Rikio looked damn impressive here; more so than in other Rikio singles matches I saw, and I have a huge soft spot in my heart for big chunky wrestlers (Rikio was one of many young sumo wrestlers who fell through the cracks) Really exciting home stretch for me.
Also, I’m sure none of his opponents complain, but man alive does Rikio throw the softest powerbomb ever.
Defrost: When NOAH was a successful promotion living off the fumes of All Japan there were four guys who stood out a possible new generation of main eventers; the two Jr. Heavyweights KENTA and Naomichi Marufui and the two heavyweights Takeshi Morishima and Takeshi Rikio. They were paired up in tag teams with Rikio and Morishima’s team being called Wild II. Of these four people I cannot fathom ranking Rikio higher than fourth. Now size went against KENTA and Marufuji who were and still are both more over than Rikio. Hell KENTA is the most over guy in the promotion right now and Rikio is retired. Remember these things for the punch-line of this whole thing. Rikio became #1 contender by winning a match against Taue. Why those two? Why not?
I liked this match. Maybe irrationally since I watched it right after the Sano match. Rikio gets to look good while Kobashi is seen in it as being above him. Like this was not his day but if Rikio keeps at it he has something to aspire to and the ability to one day get there. So that fits into future plans. Watching all of these matches together one is struck by how much softer Rikio works than everyone else. Maybe that is why Kobashi was so high on him. He was the one guy he worked with that didn’t make him feel like he got hit by a truck afterward.
DDT: Well, Rikio did well as a youngin’, and we have a careful build-up in store for Rikio to look forward to before he takes his place in the main event. Maybe even a rematch with Kobashi, if the reign lasts long enough. With such a good beginning, one would be a fool to screw it up, right? Right?
Defrost: Yoshihiro Takayama is the only man to have won the GHC Heavyweight Championship, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Triple Crown Championship, NWF Heavyweight Championship, GHC Tag Team Championship, IWGP Tag Team Championship, AJPW World Tag Team Championship, and All Asia Tag Team Championship. Takayama was in UWFi and when that ended went to All Japan where he received a big push after Baba died. Including being the last challenger for the Triple Crown before the NOAH split. He lost that match to the final pre-split champion Kenta Kobashi. Then his famous fight with Don Frye and Takayama could main event anywhere. Here the match came about when Kobashi challenged Takayama after his match with Rikio.
Love this match. Takayama is the first guy who is so much bigger than Kobashi that Kobashi loses the battle of sheer might. It also creates a scenario where Kobashi has to fight up at someone creating a new and interesting situation. Takayama has the kinds of big moves that are needed to keep Kobashi down, but added to that he brings a strategy in with him. He focuses on Kobashi’s lariat arm. The lariat is Kobashi’s primary finisher. His murder-death-kill, use once-every-blue-moon finisher, the Burning Hammer, is hard to pull off with one arm too. So Kobashi had to pull out a move that he had not done since he came back from the doom of his knees. Takayama maybe thought he didn’t have it in him. Then Kobashi bodyslams him. And the crowd goes absolutely apeshit. Because they know that Kobashi is going to the top rope. He does. With a moonsault right on Takayama’s face, which didn’t work well even before the stroke. Awesome stuff. A match anyone should go out of their way to see.
DDT: HE MOONSAULTED HIM RIGHT IN THE FACE!!
Ahem. Think about what we have seen from Kobashi so far. He’s wrestled people bigger and stronger than him, like Bison Smith. He’s wrestled people who were more technical strikers than him, like Nagata. He’s wrestled people who were not afraid to take short cuts, like Chono and Ogawa. He’s wrestled a more technically sound wrestler than himself in Tamon Honda, wrestled people who could absorb huge punishment like Rikio, and he has even wrestled people uglier than him, like Sano.
So what happens when you combine every single one of those traits into one super monster?
Yoshihiro Takayama got his start in UWFi, so you know he got stretched until he knew his way around that mat, and knew how to smack someone in the face. He was involved in several famous shoot fights where he gave (almost) as good as he got. He also has huge big match experience from his times in New Japan, All Japan, and the beginning of NOAH. He’s one of a handful of Japanese wrestlers tall enough to step over the top rope, and, as you saw from his picture above, he is one ugly dude.
For the first time, Kobashi finds himself completely out-classed from the word, “go”. He has to fight from underneath every step of the way, only no matter what he does Takayama is there, ready to cut him off at the pass. Then Takayama, like Nagata before him, begins to work over Kobashi’s right arm, his lariat arm. However, there is a dark difference. Unlike Nagata, Takayama is not looking for a submission, though he would be happy to get one. No, he’s trying to take Kobashi out of the game completely. Kobashi has several match enders, but all require the use of either both arms or just his right arm. The brainbuster might put him down, and the Burning Hammer WOULD put Takayama down, but Kobashi can’t get him up. The Burning Lariat, while not dead, doesn’t have the power to put Takayama down for three anymore. Kobashi is bloodied, battered, hunched over, with an arm that barely works. He has Takayama down but not out, and he no longer has any weapons to put the big man down. What could he possibly do?
This match was fucking king-sized! I cannot possibly tell you enough how wonderfully well this match works. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, get on that shit; get on it right now!
Oh, also on the card, Rikio teamed with a junior heavyweight to defeat Jun Akiyama and his junior heavy buddy Hashi. Good to see that they are continuing to steadily push Rikio without cramming him down people’s throats. I see good things in the kid’s future.
DDT: The history between these two is well documented; a tale of friendship and a betrayal born of jealousy. Of Akiyama trying to put Kobashi out of wrestling and assume his place at the top of NOAH, only for happenstance (and shitty booking) to get in his way. Kobashi’s triumphant return from Akiyama’s dastardly attacks, winning the championship and defending it against some of the biggest names, promising up and comers (and one bout that we do not speak of) only to have Akiyama quietly watching, waiting, biding his time; more often than not, Akiyama would be color commentating Kobashi’s title matches. And it came to this, the super big, and super impressive match.
Now, since I reviewed this match elsewhere, and most people have seen it anyway, I’ll just talk about this match and me for a bit. This was the first of the famous five star matches that I as a young puro fan saw. I hated it. I thought it was a bunch of slow delays, stupid bumps, with the two doing things for no real reason, and then Akiyama would randomly pull his trunks up a quarter of a centimeter.
It wasn’t until a year and a half later, when I watched more of the famous All Japan matches, the beginning of NOAH, and gorged myself on the wonderful Burning (Kobashi’s stable) vs. Sternness (Akiyama’s stable) tag bouts that I gave the match another go. What was once boring to me now had me at the edge of my seat. What once made no sense was now calculated strategy. What were just stupid bumps were now well-placed bombs trying to keep the other down once-and-for-all. What was Akiyama adjusting his tights because of some psychological quirk…was still Akiyama adjusting his tights due to some psychological quirk, but hey, you get used to it.
I have seen this match at least five times now, and it has gotten better each and every time. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best match in a legendary title reign, and it was the perfect conclusion to any feud in the history of wrestling.
It is also the beginning of the end for NOAH.
When Kobashi defeated Akiyama, it was with a decisive finality that any re-matches when be automatically void no matter what the result. Akiyama, the touted leader of the new generation, the one who NOAH from day one wanted to be their ace, was established as being firmly below the Old Guard.
Leader of the New School…below the Old School…can you see where this would be a problem?
As much as a Kobashi mark as I am, this was a bad decision, but ultimately not an unsalvageable one. All they had to do was carefully promote a younger heavyweight who was popular with the crowd, and build him up to where they wanted HIM to take the belt off of Kobashi. Well, they were already half way there with Rikio; why earlier in the card he had a very high profile match where he and partner Morishima challenged for the New Japan tag titles in a bit of cross promoting. They didn’t win, but Rikio didn’t take the fall, and BOTH young stars looked really good. They couldn’t possibly fuck this up, right? RIGHT?!
Defrost: Jun Akiyama’s had his debut match on 9/17/92 against Kenta Kobashi in what was probably the greatest debut match of all time. Akiyama worked his way up the card becoming the tag partner of Mitsuharu Misawa and then Kenta Kobashi. The idea was that as Misawa and Kawada were to the 1990s Kobashi and Akiyama would be to the 2000s. Thing is Akiyama never quite got to that level. You could point to a number of reasons why, whether you start at his first main event against Misawa where Misawa was not as generous to him as Jumbo Tsuruta was against Misawa; Losing to Kobashi right before Kobashi went away for knee surgery; Losing to Misawa in the tournament to crown the first GHC Champion (Though he did beat Misawa for the title in the main event of NOAH’s first Budokan Hall show). Then he lost it to a guy named Rat Boy in 4 minutes because he wasn’t drawing. Well not drawing in NOAH, he was drawing just fine in New Japan. I mentioned that a few times I think. So here on NOAH’s biggest show of all time would they do what they had to do to make Akiyama the Ace he was long assumed to become?
Kobashi beat Akiyama clean in the middle with the Burning Hammer. Again. That said this is one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time and the best match of a legendary title reign. Their style of wrestling changed much over the years but the first part of the match felt very much like a throw-back to 1994 All Japan. Then came the big bombs. Bigger bombs than you’d see anywhere outside a couple of idiots in someone’s backyard. Or Kobashi’s match with Saito, but we’re not there yet. The vertical suplex off the apron is insane and Kobashi who was the suplex-er who seemed to get it worse than Akiyama the suplex-ee. No matter what Akiyama does though he doesn’t finish off Kobashi. Maybe he got to big for his britches and should have just choked him out but he didn’t finish him off. And this booking decision is a really the first step toward NOAH becoming what it is today.
Defrost: Ah Taue. Once a year big run he’d get in the middle of the last decade. Taue was one of the Four Pillars of Heaven or however you want to translate it of All Japan along with Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi. The man Kobashi beat to become World Champion for the first time was Akira Taue. Their most famous clashes came in the form of tag team matches where Kobashi and Misawa had many a memorable encounter with Taue and Kawada including the greatest match of all time. This match was set up when Taue went to a 30 minute draw with Misawa. Why this made him #1 contender and not Misawa? Got me.
What I really like is in watching the whole thing up till now you had guys either going for big moves against Kobashi or attacking his legs with a few wrinkles sprinkled in here and there like Nagata’s submissions or Takayama going after the arm. Here Taue does both. When Kobashi takes it to the mat it back fires when Taue goes for the legs, and then Kobashi finds himself landing on his head and flying off the apron to the floor. Love the finish. Taue throws one bomb after another, but Kobashi still comes back only to almost get flash pinned by Taue. Kobashi decides to stop fucking around and instead of going for a bunch of suplexes or whatever does a lariat and when that doesn’t end it goes straight to the Burning Hammer. An interesting thing about Taue is how he ups his game in big matches. He can go from doing nothing or comedy in the opener but the second you give him a main event it gets special. That is what happens here. A match you should go out of your way to see.
DDT: You know who doesn’t get nearly the love and respect they deserve? Akira Taue. Even to this day there are people out there who think that he does not deserve his position among the Four Pillars of Heaven, and that he just lucked out by always being in matches with them. I happily submit that these people are stupid and know not of what they speak. True, Taue is tall, lanky, looks and dresses like he came out of the seventies with Giant Baba, and he often acts as goofy as he looks. But this hides a viciousness and mean-streak that only comes out in big matches. Taue is the kind of guy that would chokeslam a man on his injured partner’s leg, just because. He’s the kind of man who will leap up and plant his foot in your broken orbital bone, because fuck you. More importantly though, he learned something very important; unlike many wrestlers from across the globe, he long ago learned the value of saving your health for one big performance, so that your greatest becomes more memorable, and more fondly remembered.
Anyway, Taue is the last of the old guard on NOAH’s roster that has a chance at taking the belt from Kobashi, and here he give it is all, unleashing a barrage of mid-range offense and new variations on old moves that, for the first time since winning the belt, KOBASHI has to take it to the mat in order to stop the red onslaught that is Akira Taue. But he’s not safe there, oh no, for now Taue goes after his knees with a vengeance. Taue’s blitzkrieg is so devastating that he actually knocks Kobashi out cold. Unfortunately, he did it on the outside, and Taue had to roll Kobashi back in to avoid the countout.
So dominate was Taue that, once Kobashi finally got on the attack, he didn’t waste time by peppering Taue with suplexes and other shots. No ,Taue is too dangerous, too close to defeating the hitherto unbeatable Kobashi. Once again Kobashi must break out the Burning Hammer, but this time he will take no chances with Taue; he adds a little spice on that spike. For the first and only time, Kobashi breaks out the Wrist-Clutch Burning Hammer (Wrist-Clutches are to Japanese wrestlers what Kryptonite is to Superman). Victory was attained, but this marked the first of a change in theme of Kobashi’s title matches. Here, Kobashi did not get a dominate, or at least decisive win; here, Kobashi survived. It is such a subtle hint that the title reign is grinding him down that I don’t even know if it was on purpose, or is me just seeing things, but I love it.
DDT: Oh, how is our hopeful for the future of NOAH doing? Well, he’s in another tag bout opposite Akiyama. That’s nice, I suppose, and yes he won, but look, Akiyama is done for rest of the title reign. Even if Rikio pinned Akiyama in a tag bout, it wouldn’t mean THAT much against someone who just lost a title challenge. By all accounts it was a good match, but more so for their partners (Fiery junior Makoto Hashi and young lion Go Shiozaki) then the two men in question. If it were me, I would have made it a one-on-one match between the two, and given Rikio the win. That would have done a great deal more to elevate him than a match where the focus would inevitably be on two young lions looking to prove themselves to the established veterans. Oh well, at least Rikio’s IN the ring with big names. Not like they would start putting him in random, meaningless six-man tags, right? Right?
DDT: I like Saito, and I refuse to apologize for it. Yeah, he’s short, fat and dumpy. Yeah, he wears those silly leather pants. Yeah, he has shitty taste in anime (Death Note?! Really Saito, really?!), and his theme song has a really stupid name (Deathtiny? Now you’re not even trying, Saito!). But you know what? He’s stiff, his offense is great, and he knows how to put together exciting home stretches and contribute to great matches. Akitoshi Saito was a karateka (practitioner of karate for those of you who suck and don’t practice karate) before being transitioning to a pro wrestler, where he worked for tiny W*ING for a year. He left W*ING to become a mid-card nobody in New Japan throughout the 90’s. He left wrestling in 1998, only to return in 2000 for Pro Wrestling NOAH. There, he became the number two of Akiyama’s Sternness, and his career sky-rocketed. Akiyama and Saito would dominate the tag division for the longest time, and when they eventually lost the belts in 2003, and after Sternness broke up post-Kobashi vs. Akiyama, he formed his own group, Dark Agents. This is his title shot that he earned after…I have no idea why he’s getting this title shot; must have won a lottery or something.
Anyway, the match itself is awesome. It has a lot in common with the Honda match in that no one expects Saito to have a chance in hell, and by the end of it they’re buying every near-fall he earns. Saito uses what weapons he has to great effect, such as his sickle kicks (enzuguris, basically) that come out of nowhere and stop Kobashi’s motion, the nastiest German suplex Kobashi has taken in these title matches, and one incredibly nasty brainbuster to the outside that I’ll let Defrost evaluate on. Like the Taue match previously, this is one where it feels like Kobashi survives more than he does win. Also, Saito made Kobashi mad. And we all know what happens when Kobashi gets mad, don’t we?
Defrost: Akitoshi Saito is a guy. Best way to describe it. There is always this feeling about him that he is over-pushed because there is nothing dynamic about the guy whatsoever. That said he has a tendency to come through in the big matches he is put in. He doesn’t suck. It is just he is a good hand to have, but no real reason to push him. He is like NOAH’s version of Scott Armstrong. Going back over some results I have no idea why Saito got this title shot. He had done nothing of note at all surrounding this match.
The match is good. I want to focus on this one spot in the match because honestly it is the only thing in the match I give a shit about. Saito tries for a Brainbuster on the apron where Kobashi would land on apron and Saito on the floor. Problem is Saito jumped too far out and Kobashi went to his doom all the way to the floor. I am not a man who bemoans what guys do to their bodies. Chair shots to the head don’t make me all indignant. That is where I am coming from. That move was totally retarded. Which of them thought this was a good idea? It is so dumb to be comical. Like Darwinism or something. Just no.
DDT: On this same card, Rikio was in a six man tag. He teamed with mid-carders. He fought mid-carders. His team won, and nobody cared. Well, at… at least he was on the card. That counts for something, right, right?
DDT: Before we get into this match, there is something very important we must discuss. A week before this, there was a two-day tag tournament. The teams that met in the finals were Takeshi Rikio and Naomichi Marufuji on one side, and Kobashi and protégé’ KENTA on the other. In this final match, something happened that hadn’t happened for over a year, something huge and career changing; Takeshi Rikio had pinned the GHC Champion, Kenta Kobashi. Such a win deserved another title shot, and certainly more high profile matches. Okay, it was too late in the tour to give Rikio the title shot this time around, but surly something? Maybe give Rikio and Marufuji a shot at the tag titles held by Misawa and Ogawa? Giving them the win, and allowing Rikio to pin Misawa would be a HUGE feather in his cap. It may be sudden, but they pulled the trigger now, so might as well and make Rikio as strong as poss—what do you mean Rikio and Marufuji aren’t getting the tag title shot? What the fuck will they be doing? Teaming with KENTA in another fucking six-man?! No, I don’t give a shit if one of their opponents is Taue, and I certainly don’t care that they won; this doesn’t help Rikio in the slightest! Who’s getting the title shot if not the two guys who won a two day tag tournament?
MODEST AND MORGAN?! THE WALKING COCKS!!!?! THEY WEREN’T EVEN IN THE FUCKING TOURNAMENT!!!!
Do Rikio and Marufuji at least get the next shot? No? Do they EVER get a title shot?
…*sigh* lets…let’s just move on. I need a minute Defrost, so take it away.
Defrost: Here is a man who has all the credentials. Former World Heavyweight Champion. Wrestled the entire world over. Thrilled all the fat chicks. Who can deny his right to a title shot?
Remember that stuff about big scary white guys? That. Plus this match is in Yokohama and FMW was strong there and Awesome’s big run in Japan was in FMW.
I was stunned by how much I liked this match. I had never seen it before. Can’t go wrong with a match where Kobashi murders someone with a moonsault. He was not in ridiculous mode, well maybe the powerbomb off the top was excessive, but his stuff added some spice to the Japanese guy bravely takes on the big scary white guy formula. Plus that powerbomb through the table was probably the safest bump he has ever taken off the apron. Especially compared to the outright idiotic spot in the previous match. A knock would be that it went to long. Really all the lesser matches in this run could easily be improved by trimming 5-10 minutes off. Except Sano. Nothing would save that dreck. Plus there seemed to be a few communication issues. Which at the start I thought oddly enhanced the match in some ways. Another problem is the camera work. Mostly this one shot after the big splash damn near gave me motion sickness. If you are a fan of ECW this is something you’d get a kick out of. Though if you are a fan of ECW you probably hold that whole “fucking over ECW when leaving for WCW,” thing against him.
DDT: Defrost and I couldn’t be more opposite in regards to this match. I didn’t hate it, and found some parts to be incredibly enjoyable, but…look, I understand that Awesome’s getting the title shot because you’re holding the show in old FMW territory. But could you at least book him DURING the tour to look like he earned the thing? Sorry, but being a jobber in WWE for several years does not really make me see him as a big star; random six-man appearances throughout the tour does not a challenger make.
As for the match itself, it wasn’t Sano territory, but the first 15 minutes were kind of dull and lifeless. The highlight for me was this embarrassing spot where both guys went all, “Come on!” “No, YOU come on!” That had the crowd laughing. Then Awesome powerbombed Kobashi through a table as he is want to do, and the match finally picked up. Awesome ran through his array of spots, Kobashi made his comeback, and we have the return of the FACESAULT!!!!
So yeah, good match, but for me a bit on the meh side.
DDT: After the match, some dipshit with bad hair gets on the apron and starts talking about what an idiot Kobashi is, and how he would never let himself get powerbombed through a table like a newb. Who is this trash-talking schmuckhead?
Oh, HELL YES!
DDT: Minoru Suzuki; only he could piss off a champion so much that they challenge him. Minoru Suzuki is yet another UWFi shoot-style guy. Unlike most of those guys though, that were technically skilled but useless in a real fight, Suzuki was all kinds of legit bad-ass. He was one of the founders of Pancrase, the successor of UWFi where a lot of the matches turned into legit fights and became one of the foundations of modern MMA. Suzuki was incredibly successful, defeating the likes of both Ken and Frank Shamrock (back when that was actually an accomplishment). He made the switch back to pro wrestling as the ultra “Better than you” dickhead, and I’ve loved him ever since.
Okay, that’s a lie; I at first hated him because I fell for his act completely, and thought all he did was wank off how good he was technically and never put anyone else’s offense over. But I warmed up to him. And his bad haircuts.
Suzuki here is just the man, using speed and agility to pepper Kobashi with shots while avoiding his, and making him look like a fool. When Kobashi finally DOES get his hands on him, Suzuki suffers the price. That is until he starts breaking out the submissions. Then Kobashi locks on a headlock and won’t let go no matter what, because he realizes that Suzuki, for all his pretentiousness, is one of the most dangerous challenges he’s had yet. Suzuki is able to get out of the headlock and uses his submissions to their fullest extent. Unfortunately his tomfoolery leaves himself open for Kobashi, and he takes advantage with repeated backdrop suplexes, before giving Suzuki several of the stiffest Burning Lariats we have seen.
Now, there is a slight problem with this match. Actually, it is a huge problem. The ending feels like it comes out of nowhere. There is no buildup to the suplex barrage that leads to the end. It just…ends. That hurts the match HUGE in my opinion. What could have become an all-time great just became…really good. Still, a really good match is a really good match, and makes it just one more reason why this title reign is AWESOME.
Defrost: Following the match with Mike Awesome he is confronted by Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki so angers Kobashi that Kobashi demands to defend his title against him. Minoru Suzuki is such a great heel. Minoru Suzuki started Pancrase with Masakatsu Funaki. Pancrase was a shoot fighting promotion that housed the likes of Ken and Frank Shamrock. Suzuki beat them. So he was something. When he came back to pro wrestling he did so as an uber heel with a wild haircut unlike so many grrr I’m a real fighter grrr types. Even doing so he still had the aura of ass kicking about him. I love Minoru Suzuki.
I fucking love this match. It is like the anti- Sano match. Suzuki is legit and presented that way here as for the first time Kobashi stands no chance whatsoever trying to mat wrestle with an opponent. Kobashi has to start using his head like grabbing the shit out of that headlock or diving off the ramp to get out of the sleeper. Plus Kobashi hates Suzuki. He wants to kill him, but can’t. Suzuki is being such a dick. And being a dick gives Kobashi openings here and there until he is able to exploit it and suplex the shit out of him. Would have liked for there to be more heat in the building; my only real complaint honestly.
DDT: And dare you ask what Takeshi Rikio was doing? Well, this time he was in a match of consequence. See, this show marked the debut of Genichiro Tenryu to NOAH. If you don’t know who Tenryu is, then I’m assuming you are completely new to puro, to which I say, welcome! Tenryu was an All Japan star of the 80’s who has wrestled everywhere for everyone; he is directly responsible for the style that dominates NOAH to this day, and is so beloved by puro fans that they have taken to calling him “Mr. Puroresu”, which is essentially calling him “Mr. Pro Wrestling”. And to mark his debut into NOAH, he teamed with former 90’s New Japan star Koshinaka to take on Rikio and Misawa.
So yes, it was a big deal match…the problem being that Rikio was not the focus by a long shot. People were clamoring to see Misawa and Tenryu get it on, and as far as they were concerned, both Rikio and Koshinaka were competing to see who would avoid being the Loss Post Larry. Yeah, Rikio and Misawa won. Yeah, Rikio was the one who scored the winning fall. Doesn’t matter; he didn’t pin Tenryu, which meant that eyes were somewhere else while he was getting his hand raised. This was also the last truly high profile match he had before facing off against Kobashi. He DID have an awesome six-man tag winning streak though! Ugh.
Defrost: Leaving the buildup to DDT
You know how sometimes matches are just nothing? Like the happen and you have no memory of them. Not a bad match because if it was you’d remember it. It is just, like, there. Better than the Sano match at least.
DDT: I…I just…I don’t even know what to fucking say at this point. Never have I seen a wrestler receive such a bad push in such a rushed amount of time. You can’t even say, “Well hindsight’s 20/20,” because anyone who was fucking there should have been able to answer two questions at any time:
1.) Who is taking the belt off of Kobashi?
2.) How are we going to book him to do that?
Now the folly of Kobashi beating Akiyama comes full circle. And what sucks is that, if Rikio was handled right, it would have all been fine. But no, there was no buildup of Rikio; from his first title shot to the day he pinned Kobashi, Rikio did not progress one iota, despite ample opportunities and ample opponents for him to do so. I understand their reluctance to put him in a whole bunch of singles matches (that might ruin potential dollar value in his title defenses) but it wasn’t like they couldn’t have done ANYTHING.
Even THAT could have been salvaged with the way he pinned Kobashi; in the finals of a tag tournament. Challenging the Misawa/Ogawa tandem would have been a huge step in the right direction, and would have opened the door for more tag bouts between whatever group Rikio might form and Kobashi. Nope; they kept him where he was, stuck him in ONE high-profile match where he was a complete after-thought (and more of an “after” then a “thought” at that), gave him new tights, a main event coat full of feathers, and that was that.
Not only did they not stick him in matches with higher profile guys so he could learn off of them and work on his craft, they didn’t even have the decency to help hide his flaws (among which, he gasses easily, as you might expect).
So Kobashi is facing not a world beater, or the everyman who has finally found the combination to take down the Unstoppable Force, or the young hero who had learned what he needed to learn on his journey. No, he was facing the same exact mid-carder he beat almost a year ago to the day, two days after the anniversary of his second year as champion. Except this time, Rikio has red tights instead of black, and a new feather coat for his entrance! Just like a main eventer.
What is there to even say? The match? It was alright; more or less on par with their first one. The beginning was better than the first, the ending was liquid hot, but the middle was as dull as a spoon, ultimately balancing it all out. As it should be; this Rikio was no different than the Rikio Kobashi faced a year ago. Rikio’s title reign never got off the ground, received an arm injury that would be with him for the rest of his career, and lost the belt to Taue later in the year, the company never taking a chance on him again.
Ultimately I feel sorry for Rikio; it was not his fault, and he was put in a position of failure due to a combination of bad decisions, politking, and lack of prioritizing.
DDT: So what can we take away from the Kobashi title reign? Always know where you going before you start? If you’re going to push someone, by God PUSH them? That sometimes things end not with a bang but with a whimper? Yeah, but that’s not why I started this project. I started it to take a look at the quality of the matches of Kenta Kobashi’s two year title reign, not the booking decisions there in. We’re dealing with Pro Wrestling NOAH, of course the booking is, at best, dubious.
What both I and you, dear reader, should take away from this is that Kenta Kobashi is an amazing professional wrestler. Unless your named rhymed with “Sakuma Tano”, it was impossible to have a bad match with the man. His charisma, skill, and connection with the crowd made bad matches okay, okay matches good, good matches great, and great matches legendary (again, Sano notwithstanding). He faced virtually every kind of wrestler in every kind of match under the sun; his title reign is literally a ‘something for everyone’.
Whatever happened afterwards, this was the Golden Era of NOAH, and at its head was the good Captain Kobashi, dazzling us all with amazingness.
Did I mention he had a hot-ass wife?