Global League Match B Block: Toshiaki Kawada vs. Naomichi Marufuji
One would think the first singles meeting between the best heavyweight of yesterday, who is more or less still at the top of the throne, and the best heavyweight of today would be a big deal, but, in all their wisdom, NOAH unceremoniously tossed it in front of 5 rows of people on a show that wasn't one of their big TV tapings (the match was tacked on at the end of Budokan tour final special for those who didn't shut the TV off). I don't want to excuse the performers, who certainly did a really good match, but much of the reason it didn't quite work was external, as the booking of Marufuji since abruptly aborting his GHC Heavyweight Title reign on 12/10/06 has left him without any clear role in his own company. Marufuji is a junior outside of NOAH - not only the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion at the time of this match but one who is actually drawing for New Japan - but he just floats around in NOAH, competing mostly as a semi pushed heavyweight, but still working with the juniors when they need him to make their tag league or a match interesting.
Kawada laid out an excellent match. In terms of believably incorporating a number of fake moves into a “real” setting, it was certainly top notch. Kawada would beat him up with kicks, and then cut him off with kicks. The early series where Kawada countered Marufuji's charge with a Yakuza kick, Marufuji countered Kawada's charge with a dropkick then ducked a Yakuza kick, but was caught on the way back with another was the fate Marufuji suffered most of the time when he tried to break free and utilize his athleticism. But, of course, Kawada wasn't doing this to force his style of match. He was imposing it, yes, and keeping it “realistic” by doing so, but every time he stopped Marufuji's freewheeling he was also setting up Marufuji to hit the same move later on, and thus making that move more anticipated and meaningful. This wasn't Kawada showing disdain for Marufuji's spectacular offense, it was Kawada actually making them work within a believable context.
The problem with the match, is while Marufuji getting stuck in Kawada's realm because Kawada countered him whenever he tried to leave was the logical structure, and Marufuji not being able to hold his own with Kawada in a striking match is the obvious result, that hurt the entertainment level. I'm not saying this because I care that Marufuji did 5 or 10 less cool moves than usual, I was happy to see a few less cool moves but to have a spot like Marufuji vaulting himself over the top and bringing the hip down on Kawada was really a meaningful point of the match, not merely a cool dive. No, the problem was Marufuji isn't really credible as a heavyweight because he isn't booked like the dominant New Japan wrestlers of the last few years, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinshuke Nakamura, who happen to be about the same size, but don't come off as juniors simply because they beat everyone big or small. While certainly logical, by always have Marufuji struggling to get his spots in, he was never any sort of threat to Kawada. Marufuji needed to be established early not so much because Kawada out sizes and out toughs him, but because we need to be made to believe he has a chance to win this match. They did the right match in terms of how the styles match up, but that robbed it of most of the drama because the two were never anywhere near equals, and the ending was never in doubt.
I was really happy that Marufuji was more than willing to follow Kawada and do the smart match, even though it wasn't the match that would make him stand out. They built the match and incorporated the spots they did really well. They certainly showed the ability to have a really strong match together. But this wasn't it. It lacked Kawada's usual intensity and ferocity. In fact, the stiffness was particularly disappointing. It lacked the aura, the feeling of being anything special, partly because it was a small arena, but certainly that was also their lack of putting that energy, that vibe in. Mainly though, the problem was Marufuji's big counters, turning a superplex into a nadare shiki shiranui and a powerbomb into a Frankensteiner were just shards of hope. Marufuji didn't have a prayer trading kicks with Kawada. Everyone knew it before the match, much less during and after. The fact that Marufuji lost to Kawada is no big deal, the fact he finished last in his group, behind a bunch of has beens and no hopers, doesn't bode well for whatever future NOAH hopes to have. 22:21. ***3/4