NOAH 5th Anniversary DESTINY 2005 7/18/05 Tokyo Dome
Takashi Sugiura & SUWA & Masashi Aoyagi vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Mitsuo Momota & Katsuhiko Nakajima 9:32. Nakajima singlehandedly made the match passable with an energetic performance displaying impressive athleticism and marked by sharp kicks and elbows. At just 17, he’s already easily in the better half of the wrestlers on the card. SUWA did his usual great job of making the opposition look better than they are, wrestling the matches best segments with Nakajima & Kikuchi. They stepped up the pace and lengthened the finishing segment while condensing the body, producing a pretty good junior match with these three, but a much different, and certainly lesser match with Momota & Aoyagi. Momota wrestled seriously, but even his best effort could only produce a half passable minute with Sugiura, who responded to the huge crowd by wrestling with far more confidence than usual. **1/4
Mohammed Yone & Takeshi Morishima vs. Tamon Honda & Go Shiozaki 8:26. Shiozaki is another 2nd year wrestler who stepped up in a big way, though at 23 he’s a much older new face than Nakajima. Shiozaki has been a notable performer this year in large part because he always shows up to wrestler, but today he was the standout despite the veterans actually putting forth their best efforts. Thankfully, the match was pretty much Shiozaki vs. Yone with Honda & Morishima chipping in their best moves. That made for an enjoyable sprint, though it was too short to amount to anything. Still, with Yone once again showing a willingness to help the match by working longer and Shiozaki showing improved offense, it was easy enough to look favorably on the time filler. **1/4
Akitoshi Saito & Shiro Koshinaka & Masao Inoue & Kishin Kawabata vs. Akira Taue & Takuma Sano & Jun Izumida & Haruka Eigen 11:56. The remaining undercarders collected their Dome paychecks. The pace was too slow, the effort too underwhelming, and no one did anything worthwhile. This was just plain sorry. Beyond it being an uninspired house show match, they didn’t even do the basics of the oversized tag such as utilizing quick tags to keep the match moving briskly and showcase the better maneuvers. When they finally tried some of the novel concept - double teaming - toward the end, it just became chaos. *
Mushiking Terry Debut Match: Mushiking Terry (Kotaro Suzuki) vs. Black Mask (Ricky Marvin) 7:59. Tiger Emperor was simply Suzuki under a hood. I liked the gimmick better as it wasn’t more of the usual insidious advertising, but it was pointless since Suzuki did the same exact spots and sequences. Today Suzuki & Marvin were unrecognizable, stepping up and doing the match you hoped for with several different spectacular moves. It was incredibly short, but fast-paced and exciting state of the art junior action. The level of difficulty was a lot higher than Suzuki’s typical match, so the few minor imperfections within the generally really well worked match were excusable. Marvin was no mere foil, he did an excellent job of making the match, and had one of the spots of the night with the nadare shiki neckbreaker. ***1/2
GHC Junior Heavyweight Title Match: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. KENTA 20:31. The Dome has traditionally been a dreadful building for junior heavyweight matches, as about the only thing that plays well there is big names the marks are very familiar with, and the small guys tend to be younger, and regardless always come on relatively early. Not that there haven’t been excellent light heavyweight matches with great efforts, but rather the exemplary quality of the work is overshadowed by the fact it’s so quite you can hear the baby crying in the 20th row. Even though both men delivered their crowning in ring accomplishment, the true achievement of Kanemaru vs. KENTA was that they broke through the junior barrier, finding a way to connect with the audience that resulted in relatively sustained heat for the final quarter of the bout.
There are two injury storylines that are very important to this match, Kanemaru hurting his elbow early when KENTA avoided a reverse diving body attack and KENTA injuring his neck on two massive deep impact DDT’s - one with Kanemaru jumping forward off the middle rope to counter a superplex then a second leaping off the ring apron to thwart KENTA’s attempt to recover from the first on the floor. However, it’s important to point out the goal of these themes is not to be the match, but rather to provide a framework to shape the body around. KENTA’s arm attack served the purpose of carrying them through the early portion, giving a focus to his already impressive kicking arsenal, while Kanemaru injuring KENTA’s neck bridged the gap from the regular good moves to the great ones. This was never a match built around strict focus, they always remembered who they are, but they also crafted who they are into the health of the opponent, and I believe that’s what the crowd really connected to.
Kanemaru has had some junior title matches that felt completely irrelevant. His 1/8/05 defense against Tatsuhito Takaiwa was every bit as spectacular as this match, but it provided nothing beyond the awe factor. What made this a great match is you never felt as though they were simply showing off. I won’t say everything had a purpose, but rather they had a healthy mix of signature spots that are impressive and damaging and those that were specifically targeted, combining the two were applicable. More importantly, they did an excellent job of setting the highspots up through positioning, pacing the match more moderately by spacing the major spots out so it didn’t feel like trigger happy jack masturbating with his machine gun, and putting the moves over so we didn’t believe they were superhuman. On the contrary, they actually made the audience believe they were weakened and vulnerable to the point the match would end at 15:00 with their exchange of finishers, even though it was actually just the start of the finishing segment. This final segment could have related to what came before it better, but as a whole the match was well thought out and structured with some creativity and very little fat, which elevated it above the stiff, intense, extremely well worked counter laden big match we expected. Certainly one of the top junior matches All Japan or NOAH has produced. ****1/2
LM: That specific title reign of Kanemaru's was very good overall, but this match without a doubt blows them all away. Probably - to that point - the best singles match either of them had been in. They gave us excellent technical wrestling without the tediousness. A lot of guys understand the "working a body part" concept, but don't understand that you can actually do other stuff too, AND let your opponent do stuff to you (y'hear that, C.M. Punk?). KENTA & Kanemaru definitely get the idea in this one. There's one point where Kanemaru counters a rana attempt with a powerbomb and KENTA does some extra selling because Kanemaru had been working on his neck for several minutes, then a minute later when he hits the Deep Impact, the crowd responds thinking the match will be over because of the neck, then goes nuts when KENTA kicks out. It’s awesome. That's a level of detail often missing in NOAH (and frankly pro-wrestling in general). The one thing I could nitpick is that KENTA didn't really go anywhere with the work on Kanemaru's arm, but whatever, this match ruled.
GHC Tag Title Match: Minoru Suzuki & Naomichi Marufuji vs. Jun Akiyama & Makoto Hashi 24:55. I’m far from the world’s biggest Hashi fan, but he wrestled his heart out, giving a good enough performance that Marufuji was able to carry him to something very good. Marufuji has been better, but he did a great job considering he was essentially doing a singles match with Hashi despite it purportedly being a tag. Akiyama is such a waste of talent. He’s not that old and not that injured, but even on the biggest show of the year he wasn’t willing to do more than come in for a few signature spots and tag out before he had sell, well, anything. Hashi’s head was all bandaged up for headbutting the opposition silly in recent encounters, and it wasn’t going to get any better with him starting out thinking he’s Dynamite Kid with a diving headbutt to the floor. He almost avoided Marufuji’s concussive sunset flip powerbomb to the floor, but Suzuki did the sort of sinister and sadistic thing he does well, attacking Hashi’s hands until he was forced to let go of the top rope. Suzuki took Akiyama out with a DDT on the ramp, allowing Akiyama to take one of his long breaks while the opposition ganged up on his overworked opponent. Unfortunately, Suzuki had to wrestle during this portion, and while he’s one of the better workers in shoot style, in a pro-wrestling context his anemic slap, leverage hold, and submission offense seems a good two decades out of date. Hashi’s head was busted open during Rip Van Akiyama’s nap, and he eventually succumbed to Marufuji’s avalanche style shiranui even though Akiyama had become “involved” by then. ***1/4
GHC Heavyweight Title Match: Takeshi Rikio vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi 17:11. The youth movement was in full swing with this historic title match between the top champions of the two most successful puroresu promotions. That mere fact made it match of the century material, or rather, a meeting between the GHC & IWGP Heavyweight Champions should bring in and down the house at the Tokyo Dome. However, neither of these “young studs” were looking like championship material, and the fact they put them on fourth from the top, even before Tenryu predictably squashed Ogawa in 10 minutes shows the real standing of these posers. Tanahashi had shown some things in his home promotion, and would go on to become a top wrestler later on, but was not wrestling with confidence today, seeming overwhelmed by the occasion. Rikio at least has some belief and the demeanor of a champion. He may not be good, but no one has told him that, or at least he’s refused to believe them, and that actually works in his favor because he believes he’s going to deliver a really good match. Tanahashi, on the other hand, is the sort of preening pansy who has to spread his arms after every supposedly impressive move, which is to say anything that any generic ’80’s pretty boy “high flyer” could have done. He got less than zero reaction to this posturing, so he wounds up coming across like some stumblebum who just couldn't seem to maintain his balance! The match was pretty good for a while, if it was 5 minutes shorter it would have been a nice second match at an Okinawa house show, but it seemed to get worse then simply end. It wasn’t a DUD by any means, but considering what this sort of match is supposed to be it was a colossal failure. Certainly the lack of familiarity didn’t help, as neither are a particularly easy assignment. The match may have been good on paper, but in actuality it was mechanical and unconvincing. The collective groan when Tanahashi blew a small package pretty well sums the match up. **
Genichiro Tenryu vs. Yoshinari Ogawa 10:27. Ogawa was a minor member of Tenryu’s army before Tenryu abandoned him to join SWS. Ogawa has grown up, or at least old, since then, and his goal was to finally get revenge by sending the senior star into retirement. He tried picking on Tenryu’s knee, but was quickly overwhelmed. It’s lame enough this went on after the two paper champions, but at least they could have figured some way to make Ogawa appear to have a snowballs chance in hell. How did booking this match accomplish anything, and what made it Dome feature worthy? Despite Ogawa not even being close enough to Tenryu’s level to give him a few good rallies, it was enjoyable due to Tenryu dishing out one wicked potato shot after another. Tenryu has finally gotten better at carrying a match if only because he relies on stiffness and simplicity, but in a way the bout was good in spite of itself. Still, one has to wonder why they couldn’t give Taue this match, as it would have been much more intriguing and competitive, and obviously Taue had nothing to do on the show, and did nothing. **3/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Kensuke Sasaki 23:38. If your conception of pro wrestling ignores selling than this was undoubtedly one for the ages. It’s the ultimate macho brutality or bullshit depending upon your perspective, a real my schwartz is bigger than yours post potato shot popupfest, that is if they bothered to go down in the first place. The story of the match is they essentially both consider themselves the toughest guy in the world, so they are going to withstand every possible form of brutality the other can throw at them with defiance and without flinching, or especially yielding. It was how to kill each other without doing a deathmatch. They didn’t want to win so much as to prove their superiority. They expected, no demanded, the other match them, with Sasaki rooting against his own potential ring out victory, waving Kobashi on when Kenta nearly couldn’t beat the 20 count after Kensuke Northern Lights bombed him on the floor.
The structuring was interesting because most of the variety came early due to the match being built around an endless 4+ minute chop exchange. Sasaki really stepped his offense up to make up for Kobashi’s ever tightening moveset. He had some moments of clumsiness, for instance two of his best moves - the Frankensteiner off the top and the plancha - took forever to set up because Sasaki couldn’t get his balance on the ropes.
The heart of the match was the aforementioned chop showdown. Even more than the record amount of welting and broken blood vessels, even beyond the constant thuds, I think the most impressive thing to me is this exchange was so intense the sweat was still flying off each of their chests right to the very end. The match was so easily understandable, and the sort of career shortening performance you don’t give often because if nothing else it simply leaves you too sore, that crowd went totally gaga over it. It’s the most memorable match on the show, I mean, no amount of skill can really overshadow two guys pulverizing each other with tree chopping force, but I’d only rate it the third best on the show because it was the sort of two steps forward, one step back match where what they did to make it great also had some reverse effects. Still, if it’s not the best singles match of Sasaki’s career, it’s at least very very close. ****1/4
LM: Some matches have an "energy" or "vibe" about them that gives them a life all their own beyond a simple strings of moves and spots, and to me that match definitely had it. And I don't mean crowd reaction or anything like that, it’s more ephemeral. It just had such a real feeling to it. To me, Misawa-Kawada felt more like guys doing pro-wrestling moves, Kobashi-Kensuke was guys who WERE pro-wrestling. The chop exchange was kind of just the middle - there was more than that built around it, including some nifty counters like Kobashi sort of headscissoring out of the tornado bomb. The problem I have is the match gave ideas to people who shouldn't be having such ideas, and ever since I've been seeing long stupid chop exchanges that have no point. It’s one thing if two genuine strongmen are going at it, but D-Lo Brown? Please.
Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada 27:04. The 21st confrontation in the legendary Misawa vs. Kawada series didn’t produce a lot of new wrinkles, but for a couple guys old enough to have their share, they did themselves proud, delivering far more than mere nostalgia. It was more towards Kawada’s match than most of their recent encounters have been, vintage All Japan working the holds and putting them over big with the occasional small touches such as Kawada surviving a choke but then collapsing when Misawa tried to whip him into the corner. While Misawa vs. Kawada may have lacked the raw in your face excitement of the Kobashi vs. Sasaki match, it was exquisite in its patience and diversity.
What made it thrilling is they telegraphed very little. For the most part they also exchanged strikes, but these exchanges organically set up virtually every major move they used. For instance, a chop vs. elbow battle on the apron suddenly left Kawada prone to a Tigerdriver off the apron, though this wound up being one of the many teases. The success of the match didn’t lie in what they ultimately succeeded in or failed to execute because they allowed you to live in what they hoped to do. The rush came from the surprise of the opportunity for the familiar big move opening up, which is not to say they didn’t deliver a powerbomb on the ramp, emerald flowsion, and ganso bomb, but that even when they did so, it was in such a manner that seemed designed to remind their peers there’s more to wrestling than merely exhausting your arsenal.
The one truly disappointing aspect of Kawada vs. Misawa was the heat. I think the fans just had nothing left after Kobashi vs. Sasaki, so it took quite a while for them to begin viewing the match passionately. Ironically, some no selling got the fans into it, but Misawa popping up from two released German suplexes was meaningful because they’d sold just about everything that came before it. Kawada’s big chance came when he subsequently slipped out of Misawa’s intended German suplex reply and leveled him with an enzuigiri. Misawa was able to weather the storm, setting up Kawada no selling an elbow by kicking out at 1. This led directly to the finish, as Misawa essentially threw nothing but elbows for the rest of the match, finally knocking Kawada out with a running elbow.
Having been apart for 5 years since the tragic All Japan split, there wasn’t nearly as much to play on as there normally is. The match wasn’t as deep or even as well executed as many of their previous encounters, with Kawada throwing some of his strikes without conviction as if he were concerned with not hurting Misawa, which seemed particularly lame coming after Kobashi & Sasaki left nothing to the imagination. The rather retarded excuse for another Misawa vs. Kawada was that even though Kawada has always been the superior wrestler and Misawa & Kawada have been peers since 1992, they had a senpai-kohai relationship since Misawa was a year ahead of Kawada, the leader of their team, and has owned him in singles. Kawada not only doing yet another job, but actually having to get on the mic and essentially admit Misawa was his master left something of a bad taste in my mouth, though the quality always supercedes the outcome. In any case, though not in the better half of their bouts, it was what a big show main event should be in more or less every regard, and a particularly fine example of making the moves meaningful rather than simply rolling out move after move. It was, as always, about as good a justification for viewing pro-wrestling as I can think of. ****1/4
Special thanks to: Luke Merritt