Welcome, cats and kittens, to yet another installment of the only reviews that take a lariat from Kobashi and live to tell the tale, Cewsh Reviews! We have a special treat for you tonight as we travel back to our very first classic show outside of American borders. The reason for the occasion, you ask? Well just a little thing called KENTA FUCKING KOBASHI. Also other various things that have names I’d be more than happy to put into caps and yell at you, but the point is that this was an exciting show by any standards, even for people are aren’t conventional fans of Japanese wrestling. Here we have the conclusion to a rivalry between two of Japan’s biggest stars 5 years in the making, an appearance by my favorite tag team in wrestling history, and generally a card loaded up with the pick of the litter back when NOAH was the hottest promotion on the planet hosted in the historic Tokyo Dome. How does this all play out? How did NOAH fall apart from here? Where are they now? To answer these questions and gives all the backstory your heart can desire, we’ve brought in noted Pro Wrestling historian DDT. Any thoughts DDT?
DDT: Pro Wrestling NOAH from 2000 to 2006 was quite possibly the greatest wrestling promotion on Earth in terms of match quality and “big fight feels”. They were what all the American Indy’s tried to copy, and what all big Japan promotions wanted to be. Eventually, they squandered that with lack of building stars and poor booking, but those six years were jaw-dropping amazing, and still remain a sight to behold. So what are we waiting for, mon capitan? Let’s do a motherfucking review!
Cewsh: Whoa. Bro, BRO.
DDT: Yeah, I stole your line. Deal with it.
DDT: Momota is the son of Rikizodan, the most popular professional wrestler from Japan ever. Now, to put this into perspective as kindly as I can, picture Momota compared to Rikizodan as being equivalent to Michael McGillicutty compared to Mr. Perfect. Got that image in your head? Good, now take away ALL of Michael’s athleticism. Done that? Okay, now make him about 25 years older or so, and slap on a porn-stache.
Finally, give him the equivalent wrestling talent of the Boogeyman (just so we are all clear, mth, that means he’s really, really, REALLY bad). Congratulations, you have an accurate picture of Momota. Enjoy your nightmares.
Cewsh: DDT is being incredible generous when he compares Momota to McGullicutty, because at least McGullicutty can wrestle capably, if emotionlessly. Momota is just here just like he has been “just here” on every card he’s ever appeared on. You may be shocked to learn that he turns in just that sort of performance here, as he just sort of totters around while Eigen repeatedly unleashes his special move of spitting into the crowd.
At some point they clumsily fall into a pin and Momota wins this epic contest and goes to the back to groom his mustache, seemingly completely unaware of the world shittingly terrible job he turned in here. I would say that Rikidozan turned over in his grave after it happened, but I’m pretty sure that he’s just glad he wasn’t there to get spit on.
43 out of 100
DDT: For the choice of the hot opener that would set the crowd on fire, they let Momota open the show. With another fifty-year old. Where the most impressive maneuver was a spitball that flew somewhere in the second row. Oh yeah, and a roll-up for the finish which was kicked out of at two. This match sucked; there really is no other way to describe it. It was slow, it was plodding, they teased moves they didn’t do, and it was just terrible.
DDT: Tamon Honda and Kikuchi are both members of Burning, with Honda being the tag partner and number two to Burning leader Kenta Kobashi, and Kikuchi being Kobashi’s buddy since the 90’s. He also suffers from Izumida was Honda’s tag partner in the 90’s and in the midst of crafting his semi-comedic persona based on his extremely hard head. Masao Inoue is a long time vet who has spent much if not most of his career as a mid-tier comedy wrestler. I have little idea who the other two are.
This match was fairly inoffensive, but that was because they didn’t really do anything. Honda, perhaps the biggest star at this point in the match, did almost nothing throughout, and most of the rest was fairly forgetful, pedestrian stuff that they weren’t in any real hurry to get through.
Cewsh: Okay, dedicated Cewsh Reviews readers may remember Tamon Honda as being part of that incredible match with Kobashi we reviewed for the CRIHAOSMUTDC2: EB. We loved that match so much that it filed a restraining order against us, so I have a lot of fondness for the guy here. I’m not overly familiar with any of the other guys so let’s get into the match. See, things mostly revolve around the Job Squad kicking the shit out of Kikucki while he looks really pained.
Wait. Why do I feel like I’ve seen that face somewhere before? Hmm, add about 5 years to it…
HOLY SHIT IT’S THE BREAD MAN. The bread man that we know and love has now earned his third match review in a year, topping all other Japanese wrestlers in the process. Each and every time has been totally an accident, but apparently Bread Man is the new Necro Butcher and is on every goddamn show we watch. Unfortunately the legendary Bread Man can’t quite save this match, which is basically just a bunch of sidekicks and nobodies doing ugly moves slowly to each other until they finally stop. This match really outlines the difference between the olden days of heavyweight wrestling in Japan, where a bunch of big dudes just slowly tromped around waiting to do some head drops and lariats, and today’s much quicker style where the heavyweights are more like middleweights and are incredibly superior athletes.
I think one of these guys was called an athlete once, but it was at a buffet and the person burst out laughing afterwards.
67 out of 100
DDT: Only two matches into the most important show of NOAH’s four year history, and it is shaping up to be somewhere between shitty and mediocre. NOAH better do something and quick.
Modest and Morgan are two guys that virtually every promotion in the world at one point or another gave a shot to, but no matter where they just couldn’t hack it. NOAH is in the midst of trying to make them stars, and their sacrificial lambs are ironically (and appropriately) the best babyface team in NOAH of Suzuki and Marvin. Suzuki is a protégé of Mitsuhara Misawa, while Marvin is a luchador who seemed to have moved over to NOAH on a permanent basis. Suzuki and especially Marvin where known as two guys who would take a tremendous beating and sell, sell, sell, sell, until the audience was begging for a comeback, which they delivered with gusto.
Cewsh: Which naturally was the story of this match.
See, Michael Modest and Donovan Morgan are two big muscular dudes. They also happen to resemble giant walking cocks, but that’s neither here nor there.
More importantly they’re WAY bigger than Marvin and Suzuki and immediately set about removing them of their limbs with malicious glee. Marvin takes by far the brunt of this, as Modest and Morgan just annihilate him with brutal double team moves and painful submissions one after another. Now Ricky Marvin is quite possible the smoothest wrestler to have ever laced up a pair of boots, so every single offensive move he takes looks amazing, and when he tries to make a comeback he flies all over the place like a crazy person, all while seeming in complete control of the situation. His partner, the faster but less smooth Suzuki, gets in on the action too, and together all four of them have a hugely enjoyable “Big guys vs. little guys” match where the faces engender huge sympathy and the heels are, of course, dicks. Unfortunately for our proud heroes, Marvin gets caught one to many times and gets to go on the least fun amusement park ride of all time as a result.
That’s all she wrote for this one, folks.
I’ve been down on Morgan and Modest a ton in the past. Ring of Honor tried to push Morgan so hard during its early days that it almost single handedly killed all of the great momentum that Christopher Daniels had built for himself from the start, and Michael Modest just never lived up to the potential everyone thought he had. But right here, both men were absolute on point as vicious heels, and they couldn’t have had two better opponents to show it again, including Ricky Marvin who at this point in history was one of the best cruiserweight wrestlers in the world.
The future isn’t kind to any of these men really (Marvin slowed down, M&M disappeared off the planet and Suzuki never really made it any bigger than he was here) but in this moment, all 4 guys combined to create something pretty cool.
DDT: Two ugly, bald, bigger and stronger guys against two pretty boy high-fliers whose forte is selling beatings and making come backs; not even Modest and Morgan could be incompetent enough to fuck this up, and luckily, I was proven right. This match was the shot of adrenaline that the show needed, with Suzuki and Kotaro doing what they do best, mixed in with some surprisingly nice cockiness from the bald duo. It was a bit of an eye-roller when said bald duo decided the thing to do towards the end was steal the Dudley Death Drop.
DDT: Scorpio, aka 2 Cold Scorpio, aka Flash Funk, aka whatever else people called him. He was black, athletic, impressive, and reportedly a booker’s nightmare to work with. He had been hanging out with the NOAH crew at this time, not young enough to have one last run towards the top, but he’s a good hand to have in any match. Slinger was Scorpio’s regular tag partner in Japan for a while now, and actually is the nephew of Terry Gordy. Saito and Hashi are both members of Akiyama’s Sternness stable, with Saito being his number two and Hashi as the plucky junior willing to die in order to prove himself. The latter’s attitude usually made for a fun match, while the former was at this point ranging somewhere from “solid” to “good” so there wasn’t any way this match could have been bad.
And it wasn’t; Scorpio gave an aged yet fine performance, Slinger accounted very well for himself, and Saito was a solid competitor. The only real disappointment was Hashi. A large portion of the match depended on him struggling against his deficiencies to match his superior opponents, and you never once feel that desperation; neither did the audience. As such, Saito’s saves become lackluster, and it quickly devolves into the Scorpio and Slinger show. Still, it was a fun show, and not all that much worse than the previous match.
Cewsh: Is there anyone more awesome than 2 Cold Scorpio?
The man is a walking, talking awesome machine. He does moves that don’t seem physically possible for a man of his size like they’re nothing, smokes more weed than a human being should be able to survive imbibing and somewhere along the way he found the time to be a terrifically adaptable wrestler too. That’s on display here, as Scorpio, a man known in the States for flashy moves and not much else, works a stiff Strong Style match in order to play to the strengths of his opponents. He still finds time to do the flips, but this is an older, wiser Scorpio and he knows how to put a match together and the right time to bust that stuff out. Now with that said about Scorpio, another thing that must be said about him is that, for some reason, he seems to constantly get teamed up with the dorkiest looking white guys on the planet Earth. Mikey Whipwreck, Buff Bagwell, and now Richard Slinger follows them in the proud tradition of “Oh hey, that guy is here too!”
Now, Slinger has a long history in Japanese wrestling, and has been around since the early 90s when he competed in those amazing All Japan Real Tag leagues, teaming against guys like the Holy Demon Army, Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi and Dr. Death. Despite this, he flies around the ring here as spry as anyone on the show and actually serves as a great compliment to Scorpio’s stiffer and more in your face style.
Together they carry their two dullard opponents to a passable match that you will not remember for a single thing other than Scorpio and Slinger’s pants. But let’s be fair, that’s all of Scorpio’s matches in a nutshell. He’s the show all by himself.
72 out of 100
DDT: Taue was one of the biggest stars in All Japan during the 90’s, and while his star has diminished considerably over the years at this point he was still one of the most over wrestlers in the company. Takuma Sano is the former shoot-stylist expert turned-junior rival for Jushin Liger-turned surly heavyweight with a rolling sole butt fetish, and was at this time celebrating his 20th year as a professional. Speaking of shoot-stylists, both their opponents hail from Battle Arts, until recently the premier place for those who like their wrestling less storyline oriented and more hard-hitting and competitive. Ikeda has been a regular of Battle Arts and a semi-regular of NOAH since the beginning of both promotions, while Yone was a young lion who made the jump to NOAH and showed much potential. He went on to do nothing with that potential and became just a giant gaping disappointment, but at the time he seemed alright.
Cewsh: Akira Taue is one half of the Holy Demon Army and one fourth of the Four Pillars of Heaven, giving him pretty much a total monopoly on awesome names being applied to him. However as DDT said, here he’s an old man who clearly isn’t going to be carrying anyone to anything. This is unfortunate since his partner is one of the most boring wrestlers ever to exist in this dimension (don’t get me started of Bizzaro Dimension Urt Kangle). But from the start the man seems determined to turn in a great performance here as he just starts getting MEAN with the rookie Yone, just vicious knocking him around all over the place. Yone takes an incredible beating at the hands of the Holy Demon General while still making himself look full of fire and like a fantastic developing talent in the process. The parts of the match where those two are engaged in fisticuffs are fantastic, to the point where I could only wish this were a singles match.
Unfortunately it WASN’T a singles match, and Sano and Ikeda don’t bring nearly the excitement of Yone or the credibility of Taue, so their parts of the match drag and pull it down from what it otherwise might be. But they don’t drag it down beyond likability and Yone shines so hard here its hard not to like it. He takes every finisher anyone has to offer and kicks out ready to take more, until finally Sano takes him to the top rope and dusts him off for good with an utterly insane Northern Lights Bomb right on his rookie head.
Its really a shame that Yone wasn’t able to make anything of his potential here, and would eventually just become a guy with a huge afro working as the enforcer of midcard stables and being a jobber to the stars whenever necessary. Its hard to see guys be so exciting and have so much potential when you know that the future is unkind to them. It really breaks my heart. But hey, that’s life.
75 out of 100
DDT: You have an interesting dynamic in that this match is full of people who had at one time or another talent, but Ikeda was the only one close to his prime. As such, they laid the grounds of a fun little match where Yone would show fire and ability, but get cut off with hard shots from his two veteran opponents. This was mixed with Ikeda making saves and trying cover his partner’s lack of experience against big named stars. Taue was especially impressive in this, as this was at a point in his career where he saved everything for one super-performance for the year, and just phoned it in the rest of the time (this was not said super-performance). I wish other wrestlers could be this good while phoning it in.
DDT: Oh boy oh boy this match. Ahem: backstory. KENTA and Marafuji were the junior disciples of Kobashi and Misawa, respectively. Marafuji was given more opportunities to shine by virtue of his mentor being more popular and more active in the beginning. When coupled with KENTA’s rage and hatred at anything that is larger than him (he had a little man complex)/not a member of Burning, bullying those under him on the totem pole and getting squashed like a bug by those at the top, Marafuji can quite obviously be seen as the senior partner of the two. The two could not be any more opposite; KENTA used a kick-based, smash-mouth style, while Marafuji favored a more flowery, high-flying and inventive style. That’s not to say that KENTA couldn’t fly or Marafuji couldn’t throw a punch, but the two had their comfort zones and liked it that way.
Back when the Jr. tag titles were just an idea on NOAH’s planning chart, KENTA teamed with a man named Takeshi Sugiura. Sugiura was a bitter little man and a half who tittered about the borders of junior heavyweight and full-fledged heavyweight. Why was he bitter, you might ask? Well, the simple answer is that he was at one time a hopeful for Japan’s Olympic judo team, but missed out by three points. How bitter was he? He used the Olympic Slam and the Ankle Lock as his two finishers, and tended to hang around guys who were “legit”. Eventually, Sugiura and KENTA had a falling out and became bitter enemies. KENTA teamed with Marafuji, and the two became the first GHC Jr. tag champions in 2003, and their reign was still going strong. Sugiura, eager to stick it to KENTA, found his own partner, and true to form it was the legit-as-nails Kendo Kashin.
Kashin, a collegiate amateur wrestling “star” of Waseda University, was a hopeful of New Japan’s Jr. Heavyweight division, and indeed showed such promise that he was one of the men Inoki sent to their deaths in MMA fights for the “honor of professional wrestling”. Kashin was knocked unconscious by Ryan Gracie (yes, a member of THAT Gracie family) in under a minute. Embarrassed and enraged, Kashin took time to train himself, and later fought Ryan again, this time returning the favor in under 5. This made him one of select few guys who came out of the terror known as “Inokism” smelling better than when he went in. Despite this raising his stock in New Japan quite a bit, Kashin had enough, and jumped ship to All Japan with Keiji Mutoh and Satoshi Kojima in 2002 By 2004, he was a free-lancer who worked for whoever would pay him, and is mostly known for a man who’s MMA escapades, in spite of its moderate success, side-tracked a promising pro wrestling career.
Cewsh: Full disclosure here. KENTAfuji, the tag team comprised of KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji is not simply my favorite act in Japan at this point, they are my favorite team and possibly my favorite act in wrestling history. Two young, good looking Junior Heavyweights who have styles utterly opposite one another, they made an odd couple that somehow worked on every level. KENTA is the explosive offensive machine who just wants to kick the world in the face so he’ll be respected like the big guys. Marufuji is the incredibly exciting and charismatic high flyer who can turn anything into an electrifying move (See: The Perfect Cradle). They were they only real friends the other ever had and together they formed a team that seriously could not be beaten. Their partnership marked the beginning of the enormous push both men would receive, placing them squarely as the two biggest Jr. Heavyweight stars of the 00s, and squarely at odds with one another for which one truly deserved that crown later on. But that’s later, and this is now.
Here, KENTA and Marufuji are absolute center stage as they tear the house down with every move they make. Sugiura is obviously out for KENTA’s blood and they just go banana on one another whenever possible, and Kashin, for his part, seems more interested in amusing himself than he does in actually winning the match. In the end that sabotages their team and Sugs is left out to dry and is easy pickings for Naomichi Marufuji, who end s him with a Super Shinarui off the top rope like an absolute boss to keep KENTAfuji riding their record setting Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship run.
Hey, did I mention that KENTAfuji were awesome? How about a few more pages? I could talk about how their hair…hey…hey where are you going?!
DDT: So with his kind of background, you’d expect Kashin to just take it to the mat and keep it there, dominating his two opponents. Nope; he plays a chickenshit, cheating heel that does everything he can to win the belts and look good doing it. His shenanigans even get him into a brief brawl with Sugiura, who can only take so much of Kendo’s bullshit. KENTA and Sugiura kill each other whenever they get the chance, and Marafuji takes center stage with dazzling high flying, procession superkicks, and liberal usage of the Shiranui (Sliced Bread #2) due to him having troubles hitting the Shooting Star Press on this night.
Easily the best match on the show so far, though it seemed to not really be building to anything in the middle it paid off with a fantastic finishing run, and was another great showing by the team known as KENTAfuji.
DDT: In January of 2004, Sugiura defended the GHC Jr. Heavyweight title against Jushin “Thunder” Liger at New Japan’s annual Tokyo Dome show. In front of New Japan regulars, the man who was quite arguably the greatest Jr. Heavyweight to ever live dethroned the champion and took the belt to New Japan. From there Liger would do what he always does in heel mode; head to the other promotion and make a complete ass of himself. But on this night, in the same building he became NOAH’s biggest junior heavyweight headache, he would have to defend against NOAH’s ace, the first GHC Jr. champ, the only man to hold that belt twice; he would defend against…Yoshinobu Kanemaru?
For those of you who are not in the know, Kanemaru was the fourth and final member of Akiyama’s Sternness stable. He was the Ace of NOAH’s Jr. division, true, but there are aces and then there are aces. Kanemaru’s ace status was due to a combination of rule bending, veteran instincts, and craftiness born of experience. None of these tricks would work on Liger, who was even more experienced, and who’s success was based off of skill, power, and ingenuity, all three of which he retained sizable portions of despite being a bit past his prime here, and still in larger quantities than Kanemaru. Still, Kanemaru is both the most qualified and best NOAH has to take the belt from Liger, so it was Kanemaru or bust for NOAH, and do or die for Kanemaru.
Cewsh: You know how sometimes you’ll read something about how somebody like Crash Holly has held a WWE title like 22 times and you’ll think to yourself “How did that scrub win so many titles?” Well the success of Yoshinobu Kanemaru is kind of like that. I could go off on some kind of prolonged metaphor to give you some kind of context for the level of dork this man resides in, but I think it can be best expressed pictorially.
That man is up against Jushin goddamn Thunder goddamn Liger. If you don’t know who Jushin Liger is then I imagine you stumbled across this review on your way to some kind of website about Koosh balls and are horribly, horribly confused by this point, because the man is a living legend the likes of which are few and far between now or in any era. He revolutionized junior heavyweight wrestling, became a star all over the world, and has been throwing down with anybody worth a damn in jr. wrestling since before some of you were born.
With that said, though, there are two kinds of Jushin Liger matches. There are mediocre Jushin Liger matches, where Liger is respectful and kind to his opponent, and there are great Jushin Liger matches, where Liger doesn’t give one single fuck. This is definitively one of those latter ones, as Liger is here in NOAH to flaunt that he has their title on behalf of his home promotion of New Japan and he could not give less of a shit about how his scrub opponent feels about it. Kanemaru knows full well that he’s up against the God of Junior Heavyweights and also knows full well that if he doesn’t beat the greatest Junior who ever lived, his company is fucked. Rock and a hard place.
While Kanemaru wants to get the title back and prove himself to his company, Liger just wants this damn match over with already, so 30 seconds into the match, Liger just says “Fuck it” and gives Kanemaru a huge lariat and drops his ass with a HUGE Liger Bomb. Kanemaru manages to get a shoulder up much to Liger’s surprise and even more to his surprise, Kanemaru hoists Liger up and plants him with a nasty brainbuster for another 2 count and now both men square off, knowing they’re in for one helluva match.
And one helluva match is what the proceed to have. Liger punishes Kanemaru, who isn’t in his elder’s league athletically or in terms of experiences, but Kanemaru clearly has more fight in him than Liger so they each trade the advantage back and forth again and again and again. Liger hits the man with everything in his arsenal but the man defending the honor of his home promotion just will not be defeated, and when Liger finally slips up Kanemaru empties everything he has in him into one incredible salvo of offense, a top rope Deep Impact DDT, a huge brainbuster and then immediately another even bigger one to finally put away the great legend and drive the opposition from his home.
Despite what I said about Kanemaru in the beginning, his shortcomings actually helped this match a great deal. The whole storyline of the man fighting against utterly overwhelming odds to get the belt back as his promotion’s last chance is terrific and you can really feel his eagerness and, ultimately, desperation. Liger brought his A game here too and really understood that he was here to play the role of the underestimating legend. As a result these two turned in one of the best matches on this show.
DDT: I liked this match about as much as the Jr. tag match. Where that one suffered a bit from its lack of a build, this one had a sharp, focused story: though Kanemaru was able to get his licks in towards the beginning, Liger kept cutting Kanemaru off and just dominating him. As the match wore on, he gave Kanemaru less and less respect, as he had less and less reason to. Finally, Kanemaru was able to rally a successful comeback, and they went to a home stretch that, while not nearly as good as the tag match, was satisfying enough given the rest of the match.
DDT: The IWGP Tag Titles belong to New Japan Pro Wrestling, and its current holders are the two biggest bullies of professional wrestling. Both men have a strong background in shoot-style wrestling, and Suzuki is actually one of the founding fathers of Pancrase, the first MMA organization in the world. Takayama was a large, intimidating man who would punch you and knee you to death before finishing you off with the Deadlift German Suplex. He was just coming off an incredibly two year hot run of great matches against a variety of opponents before an untimely stroke stole half his face and left him half a step slower. Suzuki was known for incredibly bad haircuts and being a complete dick to anyone and everyone, often requiring big time main eventers to straighten his shit out, but even they would not always have success. He is also one of the more charismatic men in puro, which has caused even those who at one time found him completely annoying (like myself) to grudgingly fall in love with the man.
So, given those two terrifying behemoths, what schmucks would NOAH send to the chopping block? Their hope for NOAH’s heavyweight division, Rikio and Morishima, better known as Wild II.
Rikio and Morishima were two large, chunky men who had a fair degree of mobility and could hit hard and often; Morishima especially reminded some fans of a Japanese Terry Gordy. NOAH was quite high on both of them, but because NOAH had no idea how to book new stars, both men became failures, resulting in NOAH giving up on Rikio and Morishima only now recovering. But on this night they were in their element; a chunky mid-card tag team full of attitude towards the outsiders and both big and powerful enough that even their opponents would think twice before bullying.
As for the match…I liked it, though I admit it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Takayama and especially Suzuki tried to bully both men with superior mat work and more crisp striking, but when the challengers got their chance they bull-rushed both me, smacking them, dishing out lariats, and trying to make it, well, a wild brawl. It’s a great case of strategy against strategy, as the champs try to keep the bout more technical, while the challengers try to make it as rough as possible. Like I said, not everyone will love the match, but for me…
Cewsh: There are only two things about this match that merit any sort of mention at all.
1. Minoru Suzuki is the most abrasive, shit talking, pot stirring dickhead in wrestling history and I adore him for it.
2. Nobody else in this match deserves to be in it with him. And yes, that does include Yoshihiro Takayama who, despite much opinion that he is one of the great legends of puro, I continue to not see any real star quality or exciting matches from. Its been quite a few matches now with him just sort of lazily kneeing people in the face, and I just don’t see what it is that the man is supposed to offer.
Seriously, that’s all there is to talk about. I have exhausted all possible conversation topics about what happened here. But you know I can’t leave you, my beloved readers, with only that, so here’s a gif of Takeshi Morishima crushing a man’s face with his ass.
Thank you, and goodnight.
70 out of 100
DDT: Mitsuhara Misawa. Keiji Mutoh. Both men started off as smaller wrestlers. Both men became two of the most skilled heavyweight wrestlers of all Japan. Both would participate in dozens of great matches over the course of a single year every year. Both became charismatic superstars of the 90’s during Japan’s wrestling boom, and became well known celebrity figures. Both men after a little over a decade would become fed up with their management (Misawa with Mrs. Baba, Mutoh with Inoki) and the two would go on to become the head of their own promotions, never having to deal with a boss again (Misawa founded NOAH, while Mutoh bought out All Japan Pro Wrestling).
This would have been the equivalent of Goldberg meeting Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998 or 1999. Yes, it wasn’t a singles match, but it was still Misawa and Mutoh going against each other, and was a true dream match for puro fans everywhere.
Teaming with them respectively was Ogawa and Kea. Some might describe Ogawa as a lackey, but I know better; he is the ULTIMATE lackey. A cocky douche-in-a-half who’s whole reason for being cocky is who he knows and how he knows them. His double-teams with Misawa all centered on Ogawa setting the opponents’ up for Misawa’s legendary elbows. The only reason Misawa gave him the time of day, (let alone teamed up with him) was because Misawa was tired of forming super-teams with the likes of Kawada, Kobashi, and Akiyama only to have his partner leave him one day, and then try to off him as the company’s number one guy. Ogawa’s reliability was based solely around the fact that even if he betrayed Misawa, he was no threat at all. His offense seems to be based solely around pissing his opponents off. Of all the “character-based” wrestlers in Japan, he is easily my favorite.
Taiyo Kea, on the other hand…sucks. He flat out sucks. He was a jobber in All Japan before the roster split made him one of the few heavyweights left in the company, and they were more or less forced to push him due to a lack of options. Kea is what I like to describe as an “indy dork”. What I mean is that he uses a lot of cool looking moves for little or no reason, like jumping kicks or hurricanrannas despite being a heavyweight. You are a God damn heavyweight; throw a powerbomb, you fuck!! Ugh; just another in a long list of people who tried to imitate Misawa’s hybrid style without understanding the thought that went into it and the history behind it.
Oh, and he was part of a heel stable that was feuding with Mutoh at the time. Awesome
Cewsh: Keiji fucking Mutoh and Mitsuharu fucking Misawa. DDT said everything that needed to be said about them, but I just feel the need to reiterate it in case you suffered some recent brain trauma and suffer from short term memory loss. These two guys meeting is absolutely enormous and unprecedented. Keiji Mutoh was, at one point during the 90s, the biggest wrestling draw in the history of professional wrestling. Mitsuharu Misawa may be the most respected and beloved wrestler in our lifetime. And here they were going to square off for the very first time anywhere, ever. Honestly, their tag team partner could have been MacGruff the Crime Dog and Air Bud the actual dog and this would have been an incredible match to look forward too. Instead we get Ogawa, the ultimate sidekick, and Kea, the ultimate worthless shithead. As a man with Hawaiian heritage, I’ve always wished to have a guy from there to be proud of and root for like the fantastic wrestlers from Samoa. Instead we got Taiyo Kea. Sigh.
Anyway, Mutoh makes his epic entrance and the fans lose their minds for him, even though he’s technically a heel here and trying his best to play one amidst raucous applause. Of course even that ovation pales in comparison to this.
Those are Japanese fans. They don’t go in much for wild cheering and coordinated chants. But when Mitusharu Misawa comes down that ramp you’d best believe it’s a whole different story. So now we have these two absolute icons of Japanese wrestling standing across the ring from each other. And it is on. Fittingly, Ogawa and Kea start us off because anticipation is an important tool in matches like these. They dance around for awhile, and finally decide, fuck it, why not give the old men a try? Let’s see how the fans feel about that.
They know exactly what they’re about and waste absolutely no time revving the fans up even louder as Misawa immediately nails a Tiger Driver which Mutoh soon after counters with a Shining Wizard. They’re on equal footing and they both know it. They settle down into a more conventional match until Ogawa tags himself in against the Mighty Mutoh. This is kind of an enormous mistake as Mutoh quickly schools the shit out of him and, in an enormous fuck you to Misawa, lifts Ogawa up and drives him down with Misawa’s own finisher, the Emerald Fusion. Not knowing that it’s a bad idea to piss off Misawa, Mutoh hardly makes it back up to one knee before Misawa comes flying halfway across the room to Shining Wizard Mutoh half out of his boots just as a fuck you right back.
As cool as this whole exchange between the two is, and as hot as the crowd is for the two of them, this is not a singles match. Mutoh and Misawa spend much of their time out of the ring building anticipation for their next exchange, and while that would be fine if their partners could carry the load, one of those partners is Taiyo Kea, so no, they can’t. Every time Kea steps into the ring, the match immediately devolves from a main event level match into a WCW Power Plant training match with nothing but not nonsensical flippy after nonsensical flippy. No rhyme is involved and no reason is given, as the man botches the simplest moves (like falling over backwards) and tries his best to turn this match into a one man showcase for himself, at the expense of all else. By the time he finally botches the finish to the match by deadweighting Misawa, the crowd is somewhat deadened, simply due to Kea’s inability to make anyone look good, including himself.
Considering the way this began, its nearly a tragedy it ended on such a somber note as it did. Mutoh and Misawa had every bit of the magic that it should have. Its just a shame they had to share it.
78 out of 100
DDT: So the match. Well, when Mutoh and Misawa were in, it was epic. These two literally did everything they could to get on each other’s nerves; they used the other guy’s move, they gave dirty looks, and of course, kicked the crap out of each other. Ogawa was his usual “little shit” self, being where he needed to be and doing what he needed to do. Unfortunately, that often entailed keeping Kea out of Misawa’s and Mutoh’s way. Ogawa deserves a medal for being able to carry Kea as much as he did, but even that wasn’t enough to keep Kea from dragging this match down. Nonsensical moves, botching selling that often required him to DO NOTHING AT ALL, sloppy work when he wasn’t botching; it’s almost as if Kea was actively trying to bring the match down. Intent or not, what could have been a classic dream match was only “good”.
Fuck you, Kea.
Cewsh: So I hear this Kobashi guy is pretty good.
DDT: There is a LOT of history in this one, and I mean A LOT. There is no real way to summarize it, and all of it is vital to this match, so sit back and enjoy our trip, which starts all the way back to the 90’s, with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Akiyama was a spunky, fantastic athlete with outstanding amateur credentials as, like Sugiura, he was an almost-Olympian, though it was for wrestling rather than judo. He burst on the scene of All Japan, and became the only post-’92 native heavyweight outside the Four Divine Emperors (Misawa, Kawada, Taue, and Kobashi) to leave his mark on the promotion in a big way. He was the last man to form a “super-team” with Misawa, and would eventually break away from Misawa in order to seek out a convincing victory over one of All Japan’s big four. Though he was ultimately not successful, he increased his stalk tremendously, and would go on to become friends with and form another super-team with Kenta Kobashi. Together, they would form the first incarnation of the unit known as Burning, and would come to be the dominant tag team of All Japan. Later, they would add Kanemaru and Shiga to their ranks to become a full-fledged group in their own right.
Despite this success, Akiyama had a darkness inside; a darkness born of jealousy. He could accept losses to Misawa and Kawada, the top two men of the company and outstanding amateurs in their own right. He could accept losses to Taue, easily the craftiest and most unique of the Four Emperors. But Kobashi? He was such a straight-forward goodie-good that he didn’t even really implement strategies; just attacked until the opponent stopped moving. His blind trust in everyone following the rules and doing what was right allowed him to constantly be fooled and blindsided by cheating almost every time. Despite being a great athlete and a fairly competent technician due to practicing judo, he was no match for Akiyama in either respect. Yet no matter what Akiyama did, no matter what he accomplished, he could never beat Kobashi decisively, and when they became a team he could never emerge from Kobashi’s shadow.
The culmination of this was February 27, 2000. Misawa had lost the Triple Crown championship to the gaijin terror Vader in October of last year. Vader was running through the entire roster, and the All Japan faithful were waiting for a hero to come and save their beloved AJPW. Misawa decided to rise up to the challenge, and was looking to build momentum for a rematch. This night he had Akiyama, and was not about to let this youngster, who had never been successful against him before, dash his hopes. Since breaking out as the ace in 1992, Misawa could probably count the number of times he had lost a singles match on television using both hands with fingers to spare; not even Kobashi’s name was on that list, and it took Misawa’s biggest rival Kawada five years to do it. Akiyama did not back down, and in front of a stunned audience, out-wrestled Misawa, then planted him with the wrist-clutch Exploder suplex to pin him.
Akiyama had done it; he had done something that many thought was almost impossible, something even Kobashi hadn’t done, pinning Misawa on a major show in front of a sold-out crowd and televised audience…
…And then, in the main event, Kobashi defeated Vader for the Triple Crown championship, holding it until the roster split that formed NOAH. Without meaning to, Kobashi had dashed Akiyama’s hopes once again. Then, a few months later, Kobashi would earn HIS first victory over Misawa, rendering Akiyama’s one accomplishment over Kobashi moot. As far as Akiyama was concerned, that was the last straw.
On the first show of NOAH, Burning faced off against Taue and Misawa in a 2/3 falls match. Akiyama scored the winning falls (the first of which he choked out Misawa), and established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Then, as he and Kobashi were celebrating, he stabbed Kobashi in the back, left him lying and declared himself the Ace of NOAH.
The very next night, Kobashi faced off against his long-time right hand and best friend. Akiyama betrayed him, and now he had to pay the piper. Kobashi faced off on Akiyama in typical Kobashi-style, smash-mouth, straight forward, hard-hitting. Yet, despite Kobashi’s rage and justice, it didn’t matter. Akiyama shut him down time and time again, and it became clear that anything Kobashi did was just a delay of the inevitable.
In the end, Akiyama choked Kobashi out, finally gaining that victory over the man who had overshadowed him his entire career, and setting himself up as the Ace of NOAH and declared the formation of his own group, Sternness.
Kobashi, despite being bested, gathered the tattered remains of Burning from his friend Kikuchi and his student KENTA, and went after Akiyama, losing almost every engagement. Around this time, it became clear that Kobashi’s knees would not last without surgery, but he couldn’t leave without one win over Akiyama, one victory that would leave force Akiyama to always look over his shoulder for signs of Kobashi.
He got his chance in December of 2000, on NOAH’s biggest show to date. Using a new style to cover for his semi-immobile state, and taking advantage of Akiyama’s insistence of using the same choke that defeated Kobashi months earlier, Kobashi narrowly won a close contest, bringing the NOAH score between these rivals to one apiece.
Akiyama did not take this lying down, and the first opportunity he got, he murdered Kobashi’s knees, sending him to the injured list for over a year and a half. With Kobashi gone and Misawa unable to stop him, Akiyama and his Sternness group ran rough shot over the rest of the roster. Akiyama won the GHC Heavyweight title, and held it for over a year. When that was wrestled from his grasp by Ogawa, the match was considered a fluke, and Akiyama turned his attention to the tag division with partner Saito. They won the tag titles and ran rough shot over that division, too. Akiyama even invited his friends from New Japan to come and fuck with the NOAH regulars. It became clear that whoever was champion, Akiyama was the Man.
Then, Kobashi made his triumphant return, and went straight after Sternness again. Akiyama was able to fend Kobashi off, but for the first time in NOAH he was on the defensive, and Kobashi had never been this aggressive. But to truly get one up on Akiyama, Kobashi needed an edge, needed momentum; he needed to send a clear and strong message to Akiyama. So during a brief interlude of their feud, Kobashi faced off against his former rival, Mitsuhara Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight championship, and won. Now Kobashi finally had momentum.
Kobashi reformed his stable Burning by including his first challenger, Tamon Honda, as his tag partner and number two. Months later, the pair would face off against Akiyama and Saito, and took the titles off the long-time champions. To make matters worse for Akiyama, he was the one who dropped the fall, and to Honda at that. Now Akiyama is worried; a fluke loss to Ogawa is one thing, but now Honda too?! Akiyama realized that Kobashi truly WAS back, and now he needed to build himself up all over again. His quest had led him here, the culmination of NOAH’s biggest feud on their biggest show ever. For Akiyama, this night is about putting an end to his jealousy and proving that his decision was the right one. For Kobashi, it is about settling the score with Akiyama once and for all.
Cewsh: What can you even say, man?
How do you even describe a match that is the culmination of a ten year back story? How do you find the words to sum a match where every arm bar, every headlock, every glance means something significant to this story they’ve woven between these two? How do you summarize the frustration of Akiyama or the endless fire of Kobashi? Its nearly impossible.
But I’ll try.
See, going into this match it is important to realize what Kenta Kobashi represents in Japanese wrestling. He is the ultimate babyface in a way that I don’t think another wrestler will ever be able to be. He lost 100 matches to start his career as he inched ever closer to making it, right before the eyes of fans that fell in love with his determination. He was a loyal friend to anyone who helped him and never betrayed them or was found wanting when they needed his help. He never cheated, never took a short cut, never gave less than everything he had and his road to the top was slow and determined until he finally made it, the culmination of years of careful booking and insane crowd support. But when I say that he is the ultimate babyface, I mean that. He is also utterly devoid of the ability to be duplicitous. Kobashi does not come into matches with battle plans or tactics on how to win. He is an athletic freak who uses his incredible physical gifts and his bottomless well of endurance and determination to win his matches. There isn’t anyone in Japan who could ever match his combination of size and speed. But all the same, Kobashi can be beaten and he can be beaten with a plan. If you can get Kobashi off of his game, and keep the match from becoming a race to see who can drop bombs the fastest, (it will always be Kobashi,) then you can win, or at least force a draw. Misawa and Kawada often took advantage of this to put the young bull in his place, and coming into this match, Jun Akiyama knew he had to do that to win as well.
Akiyama’s plan revolves around trying to sucker Kobashi into his choke submission by getting Kobashi so excited that he makes a mistake. Akiyama knows that to accomplish this, he needs to keep a tight reign on his own emotions to avoid feeding into the exact kind of stand up fight that Kobashi cannot be defeated at. From the start, Akiyama does just that, keeping in careful control of the match whenever possible and attacking the legs of the bull, keeping Kobashi grounded and unable to use his natural momentum in the fight. This works admirably, but Akiyama has to work overtime to avoid being caught in one of Kobashi’s famous comebacks, with a well placed Exploder here, and a well placed knee there.
Akiyama stays utterly in control of Kobashi who is completely outmatched in this kind of setting. Then, as Kobashi starts to weaken, Akiyama starts to put the pressure on, dropping bombs on Kobashi whenever it is tactically appropriately to do so, and punishing the man in incredible ways.
But there’s one problem with the best laid plans of mice and men. No matter what you plan or strategize or work out, you still ultimately have to finish the man off, and Kobashi just will not stay down, no matter what Akiyama does to him. And then you see the frustration that Akiyama has carefully pushed down from his years of bitterness start to bubble up. He finally gets Kobashi into his deadly rear naked choke, but he lets him go, wanting to pin his rival to prove himself the better man once and for all. He goes for every finisher he has trying to end it, not knowing that he has unwittingly begun his own demise. His hits Kobashi with an Exploder, but Kobashi answers right back with an Orange Crush suplex. Akiyama hits him with a huge knee, and Kobashi answers right back with a Burning Lariat. Now Akiyama is too far into things to back out now, and he goes for broke with a Wrist Clutch Exploder, traditionally the very greatest of all of his moves, his ultimate weapon. He nails it, planting Kobashi firmly into the mat and waits to be named the new champion of this promotion. HIS promotion. But once again, the man he betrayed, the unstoppable bull, will not stay down. Completely baffled by what he could even do from there, Akiyama is battered 10 ways to Sunday and lifted into the air for Kobashi’s ultimate weapon. The move he invented to counter Misawa. The move he had used only 6 times before. The move no man can survive, handed down by the gods. The Burning Hammer.
1…2…3. Feud over.
This match was sooooooooo goooooood. The emotions involved were off the charts, and the degree to which the entire match from start to finish fed off of what had been established prior shouldn’t just be enjoyed, it should be studied and learned from. These were two absolute masters at work at the top of their craft, and they delivered something truly memorable here.
After the match, these two warriors shake hands and embrace. Akiyama can finally have peace, knowing that things are all over and the better man has been decided, and Kobashi can have back the friend he never wanted to lose. Fuck’s sake guys I’m tearing up a bit here.
DDT: This was fantastic; absolutely fantastic. Kobashi and Akiyama told a masterful story that summed up a relationship I thought couldn’t be. Kobashi had the advantage early with his straight-forward style, but Akiyama took advantage with short-cuts, and then pressed the advantage with superior grappling skill. At one point, Akiyama had the match won with a variation of the choke, but he arrogantly wanted a pinfall victory over his rival, and gave Kobashi the opening he needed to launch a comeback. There were some nasty bombs tossed in this one, and it led to one of my favorite home stretches easily. Just an awesome, awesome match.
Cewsh: This was a really strong show. The opening match was terrible and it really took the show a little while to warm up as a result, but once it did it just kept rolling right on to the end, capped with one of the best matches you will ever see. I could nitpick here and there, wish that Kea weren’t so awful or that the opener had never happened, or ask that there be less matches between big slow midcarders with no future, but those are nitpicks. This show was quite satisfying in its way, and if you do nothing else today, track down and watch it with the context we’ve given you. I have a damn good feeling that it’ll make your day.
DDT: What a show. It started off slow, but then picked its way up from there, and didn’t look back once. Three fantastic matches and five really good ones seem like a fair trade for one mediocre and one comically shitty match. This was NOAHs first Tokyo Dome show and it did a damn fine job.
Well that’ll do it for us this time boys and girls. We hope you enjoyed visiting this picture from the history of wrestling with us and all the mustachioed weirdness and lariating glory that resulted from it. Next week we’ll be reviewing what some wrestling fans consider to be the second biggest show of the wrestling year, TNA’s Bound For Glory 2011. They brought their megashow to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia this time, and with so much controversy over their head writer change before the show, what will happen? Who knows. But until then remember to keep reading and be good to one another.