16th GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion KENTA
Marufuji returned to All Japan in Yokohama on 9/28/08 to win the World Junior Heavyweight Championship from Hijikata Ryuuji. KENTA dethroned American pro-wrestling ace Bryan Danielson at an untelevised NOAH house show on 10/13/08 to become GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion for the third time. KENTA debuted against Marufuji, and this is their 9th singles match. I'm not sure any of the 5 bouts they had before 2004 were televised, but this former tag team golden pair had two epics in 2006, KENTA defending his junior title on 1/22, the only time he's defeated Marufuji, and Marufuji avenging that loss in a heavyweight title defense on 10/29. Now, nearly two years to the day from that NOAH Best Bout winner, they meet again in a double titles match. The referee is All Japan legend Wada Kyouhei and the match will take place under PWF rules, meaning the floor count is at 10 instead of 20. Senior NOAH official Nishinaga Shuuichi will be stationed on the floor as sub-referee.
The crowd may have been more electric for Kobashi in his returns, but the Nippon Budoukan has not had this level of anticipation and electricity for the match itself since Misawa-Kobashi '03, and the ring entrances alone make this match feel like a '90s All Japan epic. Marufuji is out first. When KENTA reaches the ring, he immediately gets in his face. Foreheads together, they both raise aloft their championship belts. The crowd is so amped up that during the reading of the title proclamation, they loudly cheer the mention of the name of PWF president Hase Hiroshi. Following the introductions, the crowd gives Wada a thunderous "Kyouhei" shout as though he's a returning messiah. The ring is green, the wrestlers are young junior heavyweights, but I'll be damned if we haven't been transported back to All Japan 1995.
Wada calls for the bell, they stare each other down and the crowd begins to clap and chat, split 50/50 in their support. After trading some cautious rope breaks, they explode into a fast junior sequence, both men dodging, avoiding or blocking everything to show how well they know each other's tricks. Their routine move sets will not be nearly enough. Marufuji controls early with a hammerlock brought into a headscissors, but KENTA gets out of it. Marufuji dropkicks him to the floor and attempts an Asai moonsault, but KENTA kicks his legs out and tries to suplex him into the ring. Marufuji blocks and scores with a double jump moonsault body attack, then begins to focus on KENTA's knee with dropkicks, a dragon screw off the top rope and a rolling hiza-juuji-gatame. At one point, Marufuji attempts a slingshot move but slips on the rope only to recover brilliantly, land on his feet and hit a sweep kick to KENTA's knee. From the apron, Maru tries a dragon screw through the ropes but gets kicked to the floor at 15'.
Back in the ring, KENTA counters a run with a lariat and explodes with kicks and a double arm suplex into the turnbuckles, scores with his rush attack and hits the Busaiku Hizageri for a nearfall. Marufuji tries to mount a comeback, but gets a drop toe hold across the middle rope and a slingshot knee drop. Both men on the floor, KENTA connects with a drop toe hold and hangman's neckbreaker on to the guardrail. In the ring, Marufuji battles back, even connecting with the Shiranui, but when he attempts perhaps a tumbleweed body attack off the second rope, KENTA grabs him in midair with a cutter. Marufuji draped on the rope, KENTA goes up top for a diving knee but Marufuji was playing possum and slingshot dropkicks KENTA off the top turnbuckle to the floor. KENTA clutches his head in agony, so Marufuji merciless focuses his attack there, including a vertical drop brainbuster on to the top of the guardrail! KENTA survives a rear naked choke at the 30 minute mark.
Eventually, KENTA mounts a comeback with lariats, a fisherman buster and an STF. This momentum proves to be shortly lived as Marufuji pulls the ropes to send a running KENTA crashing to the floor. KENTA cracks him with a high kick, but Marufuji shoulders him over and climbs up on the apron. The crowd begins to buzz, as two years ago Marufuji almost killed himself attempting this, but today he springs off the top rope and his Asai moonsault easily and beautifully clears the barricade and crashes fully into KENTA, who just barely beats the count back into the ring.
Marufuji goes back to the neck with his special cobra clutch triangle choke, eventually bringing it into a wrist clutch cobra clutch suplex hold he may have just invented on the spot! KENTA kicks out, but Marufuji hangs him in the tree of woe and goes for the coast to coast dropkick. KENTA pulls himself up to dodge, but Marufuji dropkicks him in the head anyway and looks for a Frankensteiner. KENTA powerbombs him off and launches a counter-offensive with kicks and his double knee drop. Marufuji charges in but KENTA shoulders him to the apron, connects with his rush combo and scores big with the Busaiku, blasting Marufuji off the apron and into the guardrail, nearly knocking a television monitor onto Misawa (who's been doing color commentary). Uniquely, Nishinaga begins the outside count on Marufuji while Wada simultaneously starts the down count on KENTA in the ring. Maru scrambles in at 9, but KENTA was lying in wait and cracks him with the swandive dropkick, a cannon blast of a dropkick into the corner, and a sit-out powerbomb for 2.9. Marufuji floats out of a Go 2 Sleep attempt, KENTA blocks a Shiranui and latches on the manjigatame. Marufuji reaches the ropes and KENTA hits some strikes, but Marufuji does his go-behind rope run and gives KENTA his own Busaiku Hizageri! Only 15 minutes left and both men are down!
Back up, KENTA tries to suplex Marufuji off the top rope to the floor, but Maru headbutts out of it and runs in with a dropkick from the floor to the top (is he actually human?). He then inelegantly flings KENTA off the top to the floor. KENTA rolls back in at 9.5 but Marufuji is fully in control, hitting a Shiranui on the run, a go-behind lariat and what can only be called a forward-rolling standing Shiranui. Marufuji's clearly frustrated that KENTA won't even lose to moves he's making up on the spot. He tries an avalanche Shiranui, but KENTA counters and hits an avalanche Tiger suplex, only to see Marufuji flip in midair and land on his feet. He tries the standing Shiranui thing again, but KENTA twists behind and hits a Tiger suplex! The Budoukan fans count along with Wada, but its not over! Another Busaiku Hizageri downs Marufuji but he kicks out at 2.9999. Marufuji somehow counters the Go 2 Sleep with a knee strike to send both men down. With five minutes left, they trade brutal strikes. Marufuji hits the Pole Shift, KENTA hits the Go 2 Sleep, but they still live. They run into each other with lariats. Two minutes are left. Marufuji just barely survives another Go 2 Sleep, and with twenty seconds left unleashes another Pole Shift. KENTA will not die, and from their knees they trade punches as the one hour time limit expires. They take a moment to recover and Wada raises both their hands as Budoukan crowd shows their appreciation for the near-supernatural effort they just witnessed.
Absolutely epic. Marufuji showed a viciousness seldom demonstrated in the past, the story largely being KENTA's refusal to die no matter what his senpai did to him. They managed their energy wonderfully, with the match being structured somewhat episodically so that the few seconds of rest came after explosive sequences rather than pointless rest holds. The few submissions that were used did not look nor feel like they were there for time-shaving, especially Marufuji's punishing headlock after trying to collapse KENTA's skull for about 15 minutes. Also, the ring out nearfalls were made more frantic by the 10 count, which Wada blazed through like it was 1981.
Marufuji often shows something new every match he's in, but here he brought out moves that shouldn't be humanly possible, and both men initiated and suffered spots that very nearly surpass Kobashi's Tiger suplex off the ramp from 2003. What is incredible is that these insane, rapid sequences took place throughout the match, they didn't just do one athletic sequence at the beginning, lurch around for 50 minutes and bring out a hot finish. They went nonstop for a full hour. The only comparable match that I've seen would be Toyota Manami vs Inoue Kyouko from 5/7/95, but to my eyes that match was just a linear string of- after a point- meaningless offense to fill up the hour, while Marufuji and KENTA here showed themselves to be too good to be contained by the hour. To a trained eye, many 60 minute draws can be sniffed out in the opening minutes, but here, they always looked like they were going for victory, whether at minute 5 or minute 59.
If I could nitpick, I'd say I would've liked the exchange of punches at the end to go on a little longer. The desperate flailing was, in actuality, quite fine, but it would've been neat if the punches at the end had gone on for maybe 10 seconds longer so the time could run out in almost a double KO situation, which would be fitting since they were so brutal throughout the match, but that's a very minor issue. While Marufuji did slip off the rope at one point, he needs to be congratulated on his brilliant recovery, not scolded for the sole blown spot in 60 minutes. KENTA showed himself to be the most resilient man in wrestling and Marufuji lived up to his nickname of "Pro-Wrestling Genius". The bottom line is that I can say without exaggeration that this bout is a flawless masterpiece in the art of professional wrestling that should endure through the ages and very possibly never be matched. This is quite simply the match of the decade, and absolutely in the conversation for match of all time. *****