NOAH Navigation with Breeze
June 4 2017
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall and it’s a pleasing attendance figure of 1405 for NOAH. This show is headlined by Nakajima defending against proven draw Mohammed Yone whilst Atsushi Kotoge and Kenoh, both former junior wrestlers, compete for the number one contenders spot.
Part of this show is about paying tribute to NOAH founder Mitsuharu Misawa, who died in the ring in June 2009. I still remember taking a phone call that day from Chris Boyle, telling me he’d passed away. It rattled me to the point where I eventually stopped watching wrestling for a few years. Misawa is without a doubt one of the most complete professional wrestlers there has ever been. He was an extraordinary technician and workhorse. He worked a snug, realistic style that made me love puroresu. Without Misawa I may never have gotten into the world of Japanese wrestling like I did. The crowd respectfully stand in silence while a ten bell salute rings out around the Korakuen and the camera lingers on Akitoshi Saito, the man who hit the suplex on Misawa that ended his life. Misawa is introduced and the crowd throw green streamers into the ring in his honour. This is a lot of emotion to take onboard before the start of a wrestling show.
RATEL’s (Daisuke Harada, YO-HEY, HAYATA & Tadasuke) vs. XX (Taiji Ishimori & Hi69), Yoshinari Ogawa & Seiya Morohashi
Morohashi might be a new name to some people. He’s been knocking around DDT’s undercards for an eternity and is almost into his 40s. Before we’re even underway it’s plain to see Ogawa is the emotional focal point of this match. Misawa’s former tag team partner was the only Misawa partner who stuck by him and didn’t get the green-eyed monster. They carried on tagging until the bitter end. RATEL’s dick around, perhaps not understanding the emotional background. YO-HEY slapping his thigh so much during spots he looks like a fucking Morris dancer. Although I’ve criticised Ogawa openly over the years, due to him not being a main event star and being pushed as such, he shines here. He’s the surly old bastard, putting these punk kids in their place, only he can match anyone for speed and precision too. Morohashi looks great, keeping his strikes snug and his bigger spots look realistic too. Ishimori has a good match, doing flashy shit but doing it well. It’s all so smooth and effortless. RATEL’s are only good at one thing; multi-man spots. Like a four-way superkick. Everything else is shit. HAYATA wins, against the flow of the match, with a moonsault on Hi69.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control takes us backstage for interviews. Harada’s group looks like a punk band from Los Angeles in the 1990s. Tadasuke’s look just screams ‘bass player’. Or, more likely, ‘roadie’. He looks like a bloke who just hangs around with talented people, making faces in the background. YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT.
Akitoshi Saito & Masa Kitamiya vs. The Back Breakers (Hajime Ohara & Hitoshi Kumano)
So, they’ve finally done something with Kumano. He’s changed his look a little bit and is tagging with Ohara, who has been missing a tag partner since Kenoh moved up to heavyweight. Although they’re a junior team, they face off against the heavies here. Saito is notably the largest man in the match by some distance. I’m not sure his mind will be on the match when there’s a huge banner of the man he accidentally killed overlooking the ring. I know it would put me off my game.
This shot is incredible though. Saito doing his delayed suplex while Misawa watches him. Ohara is pretty great in his underdog role, taking a beating off big Saito and asking for more. The Back Breakers actually do a lot of backbreakers, which is handy otherwise it’d be a shit name for a tag team. It gives Kumano some much needed focus and he’s taken the Torture Rack as a finish, which is fine for other juniors but a struggle when faced with heavyweight opponents. Kitamiya’s beard weighs more than Kumano. Kitamiya beats Kumano with the Backdrop Driver, a move nobody has the balls to kick out of on a tribute show to Misawa, who died taking it. I found this to be a powerfully emotional match. Proof positive that wrestling can get to me like nothing else.
Final Rating: ***
Go Shiozaki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya
Go has a link to Misawa’s death too. He was tagging with Misawa in that fateful match and was being groomed as Misawa’s replacement on top of the card. When Misawa passed away Go was pushed into that spot, couldn’t handle the pressure and ended up leaving for All Japan a few years later. Now he’s back and trying to regain that acceptance from the NOAH fans. There is a feeling he’ll always be the ‘nearly man’ of NOAH. Everything he’s involved in seems to come so close to greatness, only to fall back into mediocrity moments later. Like his New Japan interactions that went nowhere. He’s a perennial victim of bad timing. Kiyomiya is a victim of Go’s chops, which are so vicious they put a smile on Kenta Kobashi’s face at ringside. If Kobashi is nodding approval at your chops, they’re good chops. There is a definite gulf in prestige between Shiozaki, a multiple former champion, and Kiyomiya, barely graduated from being a Young Boy. This is reflected in the action, where Go beats the piss out of the poor kid throughout. Kiyomiya has some good hope spots, although there’s no chance of him actually winning. The crowd’s reaction to his near falls is suitably freaked out. As they are for Kiyomita’s miracle kick outs. His timing on them is fucking incredible. It builds the tension beautifully and almost makes me believe he has a shot. Then Go ends him with a lariat. This was terrific. I was really into it.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Brian Cage vs. Takashi Sugiura
This is Cage’s first tour of NOAH. He’s gone undefeated so far, including a victory over Go Shiozaki. It’s pretty clear the NOAH office are big on him. Maybe they want to build him up for a title shot. Japan is perfect for Cage btw, because he can look like a genuine monster. He’s super muscular but if he went somewhere like WWE he’d look small. He was in Florida around the time of Misawa’s death but never saw main roster action. His work does scream “WWE”. From the chinlocks to the strikes. It’s all WWE-esque. Which is a pity because his Indie darling offence in PWG and Lucha Underground is genuinely fun. When he heads into that stuff, starting with a standing moonsault, the fans suddenly come on board. It’s a pity everything is such a drudge before that. Cage has the kind of offence that is somewhere between Michael Elgin and Super Crazy. Don’t hide that away! Pretty soon he’s taking rana’s off the top and hitting ridiculous power moves like they’re going out of fashion. That’s the Brian Cage I know and love! Cage is a great opening match guy because he can get the crowd fired up with ridiculous shit. I’m not sure he has the capacity to be a big star because of his match structuring. He goes over again here, dropping Sugiura with the Steiner Screwdriver, a move that totally freaks out the commentators. There’s definitely an air of displeasure from the crowd when Cage gets the three count. As if he’s not earned a streak of victories. This being his first tour is a reflection of that. Generally people who get pushed quickly in Japan, without earning their spot, tend to get a very mixed reaction from the crowds.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control gives us interview time with Cage and he wants the GHC title. It would be fair to say he’s a spectacularly muscular individual. Will NOAH put the title on him? I seriously doubt it.
Atsushi Kotoge vs. Kenoh
The two former juniors start out at speedy junior pace, to remind people that while they’ve stepped up the card they’re still the same wrestlers. This includes some risky spots, like Kenoh dropping Kotoge into the buckles backwards, and blind, and Kotoge barely touching them on the way down. That looked like it sucked to take. Kenoh is a horrible bastard in this match throughout, stiffing the fuck out of Kotoge with kicks repeatedly. Kotoge does a lot of thigh slapping here but unlike YO-HEY it’s hard to spot. He conceals it. Which is the whole point of a thigh slap. You’re not supposed to see it. Everything Kotoge does feels like a logical part of his offence. No unnatural movement. The same goes for Kenoh, who prefers to make ‘noises’ by stiffing his opponent rather than slapping his thigh. His overhand chops and slaps are both highly effective. The match is these two just beating each other up. It’s delightful. Kotoge resorts to the headbutt, which is sickening, and something he probably shouldn’t be doing after Katsuyori Shibata put himself in the retirement home with one of those bad boys. Another spot he should probably eliminate is the ‘blocked rana’ one where he throws himself onto his head off the top rope. Doing both back to back to definitely a mistake. They don’t make enough of the big spots here, with Kotoge firing up immediately but then being taken down with a high kick, which Kenoh throws hundreds of. Killswitch puts Kenoh away after a very competitive, back and forth match. It wasn’t without its issues but the crowd got right into it, which is testament to both characters and their performance levels.
Final Rating: ****
GHC Tag Team Championship
Naomichi Marufuji & Maybach Taniguchi (c) vs. Cody Hall & Randy Reign
This feels very soon for Hall & Reign. They get interview time before the match and Cody must stink at promos because he lets Randy talk and Reign falls over his responses, barely in character. The interviewer gets so frustrated with the poor quality of the promo that he specifically starts asking Cody stuff.
What is Randy Reign even doing here? Staring at the floor like some 14 year old kid playing his first gig at a friends birthday. Cody tells us to “forget about” Scott Hall as he’s making his own name. The interview is excruciatingly long. Just let them go! Cody visually improves during it with his facial reactions but Randy has a shocker.
Cody has earned his spot in NOAH by virtue of a long run as a young lion in New Japan. That gives him a degree of credibility that Reign doesn’t have. Maybach has a new mask, which has tassels on it. It does not look bad ass. His old mask, without tassels, looked badass. We cut to Kobashi and he looks impressed at the size of Hall & Reign. Booking on Fortune Dream 5 virtually guaranteed lads! Cody gets to look dominant here, shoving around Marufuji and treating NOAH’s top guy as a smaller, weaker opponent. The way the match is structured is to make the challengers look credible and a mountain for the NOAH boys to climb. With Cage heading towards a title shot, we may have that story for the GHC title too. The biggest issue with going this route is they just did it with Suzuki-gun and it sucked. Cody and Randy are sliding into the gap left by Killer Elite Squad. Cody can cope with the monster status and taking abuse from an angry Taniguchi better than Reign. Experience in Japan helps a great deal. It doesn’t help him cope with Marufuji’s knife-edge chops though. Am I a complete sadist for wanting Marufuji vs. Shiozaki in an ironman match where they’re only allowed to do chops? This is one of those NOAH tag title matches that goes on for way too long. Especially given the inexperience of the challengers. That said it’s only 21 minutes long but it feels longer. It’s actually the longest match on the entire card and it feels like it. Cody looks gassed towards the finish. The champions retain by nature of having more gas left in the tank. They simply outlast the big boys, which turns the run-time into part of the match. It makes sense. Cody gets annoyed with Randy Reign for eating the pin.
Final Rating: ***
GHC Heavyweight Championship
Katsuhiko Nakajima (c) vs. Mohammed Yone
Both these guys also worked on Misawa’s last show. Nakajima defeated Bobby Fish and Yone tagged with Takeshi Rikio in a win over Akira Taue and Yuto Aijima. Everyone else from Yone’s match is retired (Aijima works once a year at this point). Nakajima has brought stability to the GHC title and is currently enjoying the longest run since Minoru Suzuki’s stint, holding the belt hostage in 2015. Nobody takes Yone seriously as a challenger but the ‘throwback’ motif that has run through this show demands a retro challenger. Yone looks up to the task at hand and he’s been unfairly classified as ‘skippable’ by people who skim through NOAH’s undercards. I find him to be genuinely entertaining, even when he’s not having good matches. Yone has certain crutches that he needs, which includes the odd rest hold, and Nakajima is clearly the superior talent. The concept of a belt switch is not one the crowd get into. This was an issue during Kobashi’s record setting run. He’d sometimes run into a guy who had no shot of winning and they had to tell that story. Nakajima tries hard at this by selling a lot and putting over Yone’s offence but competitiveness is an intangible that you cannot force on an audience. The match works far better when Nakajima kicks the shit out of Yone, gets super aggressive and Yone is forced to defend himself. That’s the dynamic they should have gone with from the start. When they unload on each other with big kicks it becomes a decent main event. Yone starts grinning like a lunatic, which is frankly bizarre to watch. It’s his version of no selling. Nakajima flat out refuses to take the Kinniku Buster and finishes with the Vertical Spike as Kotoge watches on. It’ll be Nakajima vs. Kotoge for the belt next.
Final Rating: ***1/2
A very solid card from NOAH. Little to complain about and yet nothing spectacular. The emotional power of Akitoshi Saito’s match is worth a look and Kotoge vs. Kenoh was pretty damn great. Like most NOAH shows I wish it was clipped to a two hour TV block instead of rumbling on for 3h23m.