NOAH "Encountering Navigation 2003"
review by PdW2kX

Part 1

April 5th, 2003
Ishikawa Industrial Exhibition Hall #3
3,200 Fans - No Vacancy

Haruka Eigen vs. Mitsuo Momota

If you've seen them, they start out with the same stuff you've seen before: grappling, Eigen teases a dive, the "slaps leads to spitting into the crowd" spot, Eigen getting chopped a lot, etc. Eigen even hits the Giant Swing, stopping at about nine revolutions and getting a two-count. After some more spitting into the crowd and Momota getting in some headbutts, the two exchange nearfalls and Eigen wins the exchange at 6:46 with a backslide.

Analysis: I'm compelled to use the term "geriatric antics" to describe how this match started and progressed, but I can't find the words to justify the term. I prefer the term "old-school". This was better than a few of their matches that I've seen before. But, honestly, how many times have these two wrestled each other throughout their long careers? Eigen even wrestled most of his retirement matches against Momota, so I'm guessing at least a hundred. Maybe even two! The story's the same they usually work through: ageless warriors locked in battle, longing for former glory, destined to keep wrestling until they're old and gray…or older and grayer…you get the point. As an opener, I'm not terribly impressed, but you've got to hand it to both NOAH and the two men in this match for consistency: they may wrestle basically the same match whenever they open a show, but you can't hate them for it, because the matches don't suck. **¾

Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Makoto Hashi vs. Masashi Aoyagi and Kotaro Suzuki

Hashi and Suzuki slap each other, but Suzuki quickly goes into "fast-paced junior" mode and hits a backflip kick, a spinning headscissors, and a 360° dive. Masashi Aoyagi doesn't use aerobatics, but keeps Makoto Hashi down just as effectively with kicks. Before long, though, Suzuki is brutalized with a nasty backdrop and multiple slams, yet Aoyagi keeps saving him. Aoyagi dishes out more kicks, but one Dragon Screw later, he's down as well. Hashi ends up pinning Suzuki at 13:47 with the Gory Thunder (a backdrop into a powerbomb).

Analysis: The story was basically that Kanemaru and Hashi were testing out their partnership, while Aoyagi just wanted to win. Likewise, Suzuki just wants to prove himself, but unfortunately, this match did little to wipe away his typecasting as a plucky, somewhat attractive junior that flips nice and has a good attitude…but loses a lot. Suzuki takes a good bump, though, and I've always been a fan of Kanemaru and Hashi. Aoyagi's never really caught my attention, but he tries hard to personify the "Stiff Kicking Martial Arts Guy" I see him as. Fast, stiff, and with a few nice spots, we've got our first good match of the set. ***

Michael Modest vs. Vinnie Valentino

We've got your test-of-strengths, your armlock reversals, standard fare for the two in the ring. Valentino takes some nice bumps off a sleeper-hold reversal, an Exploder Suplex, and a lariat before Modest hits the ever-effective "Ass Smash" that Umaga does so effectively today. Valentino scores a neckbreaker and has a few short burst of offense, even hitting some top-rope moves, but a Vertebreaker and the Reality Check spells victory for Modest at 9:09.

Analysis: Pretty standard… VinnieValentino was basically fodder for Michael Modest. Like Suzuki in the previous match, Valentino saved himself by taking a few good bumps. I can't really describe this match as anything else except a typical squash-match with Valentino drawing the unfortunate luck of jobber. **½

Akira Taue and IZU vs. Scorpio and Donovan Morgan

After some macho power stuff from IZU and Morgan, Scorpio gives Taue the dreaded, deadly, Double Purple Nurple. Taue covers his nipples repeatedly and has this great "I've been violated!" look on his face. Taue then grabs Scorpio's gonads, for revenge, and shakes/squeezes them quite fiercely. Morgan saves Scorpio after an Avalanche Nodawa Atoshi, but it's Morgan that's pinned when IZU hits the Mukado Domu at 8:01.

Analysis: A decent match made better by Akira Taue and Scorpio. I've got nothing major against IZU or Morgan, but Taue and Scorpio had more chemistry than I would've thought. It was a good, short match with the always-hilarious and entertaining Scorpio up to his usual hijinks. We're only four matches in, but the show is getting there. At least, we're getting consistently solid encounters. **¾

Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Takeshi Rikio and Masao Inoue

Misawa and Ogawa do some headlocks to Inoue, and there's even a brief comedy spot, but the shenanigans end and the stiffness begins with Rikio is tagged in. Rikio is angered after Scorpio- who was at ringside- criticizes him for going down to Misawa's elbows, and he takes it out on Ogawa with the always-appealing Bear Hug-into-Suplex spot for 2½. Ogawa is soon at the mercy of frequent tag-ins and arm work, since one of his arms was taped. Ogawa eventually hits a backdrop and brings in Misawa, and even though Inoue cheats, elbows keep him down. Now Inoue's at the mercy of the other team, but does manage to tag in Rikio. A brawl breaks out, with Inoue subject to massive double team offense, which leads to him getting pinned at 18:51 when Ogawa used a backdrop hold.

Analysis: A fun, entertaining match with a lot of "big man" chemistry. Misawa and Ogawa is still a highly-effective combo after tagging together all these years, and despite Rikio's and Inoue's toughest attempts to dominate the two. Ogawa has always been his best as the "partner in peril"; he shines at selling damage and making the crowd hunger for a tag. Misawa came off as the grizzled veteran, while Rikio was the fiery powerhouse and Inoue was the solid all-rounder. We also got a general progression from mat wrestling, to stiff strikes, to big, crowd-pleasing moves. There's most definitely plenty to enjoy here. ***¼

Tamon Honda vs. Bull Schmidt

Bull Schmidt hits a DDT to Tamon Honda on the outside, but tries a headlock and gets backdropped. After some submissions by Bull, Honda teases the Rolling Olympic Hell. Bull responds with a high kick and an elbow for 2, but Honda latches on the Tamon Shooter (an S.T.F.) and then hits a spinebuster. Honda finishes Bull Schmidt off with a reverse shoulder hold at 4:37.

Analysis: Even Tamon Honda looked surprised when he got the three count. The match never had any real time to grow to anything more than average. Like most short matches of its ilk, this one felt like ¾ of it was missing. But it was brief, to the point, and mildly entertaining. I'll give it that. **½

Yoshihiro Takayama, Daisuke Ikeda, and Sugiura vs. Kenta Kobashi, Sano, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi

The fans in attendance are chanting "Kobashi" even before Sano's entrance is over. Takayama and Kobashi start the match out by puttin' a hurtin' on each other, with everyone else getting in on the action in various ways and with various opponents. Takuma Sano hits an impressive suicide dive into Ikeda and Sugiura, a bit later on. Kikuchi is then subjected to some nasty face-scrapes by Takayama, and this is only the first of his woes, as he endures dual chest/back kicks by Ikeda and Takayama, then a bunch of elbows. Kikuchi is heavily dominated, but manages to bring in Kobashi, and all hell breaks loose as Kobashi dismantles all three of his opponents. Then we get sick neck bumps aplenty, as Ikeda takes a Half Nelson Suplex while Sugiura takes a Dragon Suplex. Ikeda is then unmercifully triple-teamed, only to kick out and hit a Muscle Buster on Kikuchi, with Sano making the save. Yet Sano's save proves to be frivolous, as Ikeda obliterates, dominates, and pins Kikuchi with a Death Valley Bomb after 25:46. After the match, Takayama and Kobashi get into a chaotic brawl.

Analysis: A really good match that was only hurt by everyone playing second-fiddle to the Kobashi/Takayama war. Still, Takayama and Kobashi have an incredible amount of chemistry with one another. Lots of pure hatred there. Like Yoshinari Ogawa, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi shines as the face-in-peril, mostly because he has such a good partner to work with: Kenta Kobashi. Daisuke Ikeda and Takuma Sano are the non-stop stiff guys of the group, and they did what they do best by handing out large amounts of stiff, furious punishment. I don't really know why Sugiura made the cut, but I liked him, too. I'm not sure if there's a "Most Badass Badasses" list, but if there was, Takayama would have to be in the top 5. Character wise, this thing was an absolute blast. Match wise, it was epic and dramatic with plenty of cool spots and segments. The stiffness was over-done, but not really to an extreme, while the pacing was expert and the execution of moves was picture-perfect. All told, there's very little reason to dislike this match. ***½

Global Honored Crown Tag Team Championships Match: Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito © vs. Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji

Jun Akiyama hits an Exploder Suplex to Naomichi Marufuji seconds after the match starts, incapacitating him for a while. Morishima does his best to pick up the slack, and for a time, he's able to handle both pretty well. Saito's leg is then made the focus point of our challengers: Marufuji dropkicks it, both put it in submissions, and Morishima kicks it a lot. Marufuji takes a sickening Spike Piledriver to the unprotected outside (Saito lifted up the mats). Marufuji gets inside the ring at 19, and eventually counters enough moves to bring in Takeshi Morishima. After that, Jun Akiyama hits an Exploder Suplex to Marufuji, only for Marufuji to get up, superkick him twice, and hit a Shirunai. Jun saves Saito twice, so Marufuji and Morishima decide to try and eliminate him once and for all by taking him out into the crowd and giving him a Shirunai. Saito kicks out of a Shirunai, only to get hit by another. But by then Akiyama had managed to crawl to ringside, and he saves Saito. After more nearfalls, Saito busts out the Death Brand on Marufuji to score the win at 25:58.

Analysis: Our top contender for Match of the Night here, since we're treated to a shockingly fluid, not-so-surprisingly excellent encounter. There was lots of character diversity and some really good nearfalls. Akiyama is still a brilliant badass, but really knows how to look after his tag partner. Saito rarely needs looking after, though, since he's a gigantic powerhouse with some great agility. Takeshi Morishima matches Saito perfectly, and Naomichi Marufuji was mixing it up with NOAH's big stars, and doing really well, long before he laid claim to NOAH's biggest championship. All four were at the top of their game, and this felt like a perfect Pro Wrestling NOAH match: it had the hot crowd, the emotional environment, and the stacked action that only Pro Wrestling NOAH knows how to faithfully create. ***½

Part 2

April 13th, 2003
Tokyo Ariake Colosseum
11,500 Fans - Super No Vacancy

Note: The first two matches (Jun Izumida and Haruka Eigen vs. Masashi Aoyagi and Kishin Kawabata, Michael Modest and Donovan Morgan vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Mitsuo Momota) aren't shown.

Akira Taue, Takuma Sano, and Makoto Hashi vs. Scorpio, Bull Schmidt, and Vinnie Valentino

There's some basic mat wrestling between Hashi and Vinnie Valentino, then Schmidt gets planted with a backdrop and a Piledriver. Taue again gets his nipples tweaked by Scorpio. Scorpio is then on the receiving end of some varied offense, but recuperates enough to hit a powerbomb and a moonsault. Valentino is then isolated and worked over by all three members of the opposing team, mostly with submissions and stiff strikes. Taue is dominant later on, as he effectively takes care of Scorpio, Schmidt, and Valentino when they try to triple-team him. The match truly belongs to Takuma Sano, though, as he hits a Northern Lights Bomb to Vinnie Valentino for the win at 18:34.

Analysis: An otherwise good match that captured the dominance of the NOAH regulars a bit too well. The "home team" were put over hard in this one, as Taue, Sano, and Hashi were made to look much stronger, much more accomplished, and much more cohesive than their foreign counterparts. I'm all for this in regards to Valentino and Schmidt…I've never heard of either of them before this event, they seemed like they were new, and I know for a fact they're not being booked in NOAH now. It's our old pal Scorpio being jobbed out that I have a problem with. Scorpio is too charismatic and has wrestled too many great matches (in NOAH and other places) to warrant looking like a fool. He held the G.H.C. Tag Team straps with Vader… he was a bit of a NOAH mainstay by the time this match took place… he shouldn't have to play a bumbling idiot like he did here. I didn't have any particular problem with the actual wrestling in this match, though it did seem a bit lethargic. It's still a good match, but it has its errors- both in judgment and in wrestling. **¾

Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Takashi Sugiura vs. KENTA and Kotaro Suzuki

KENTA hits some of those harsh kicks to Sugiura and Kanemaru; Suzuki hits his fair share of flippy offense as well. KENTA unfortunately has a taped-up shoulder, so it quickly becomes a focus point for Kanemaru and Sugiura. It consistently keeps KENTA down, but he's able to tag in Suzuki, who's able to hit a Springboard Back Elbow to both of his opponents. Sugiura later takes a Falcon Arrow from KENTA and a Frog Splash from Suzuki, but Kanemaru breaks the subsequent pin attempt. KENTA almost submits to a shoulder hold, but gets up and quickly hits the Busaiku Knee Kick. His partner doesn't fare as well, though, as Suzuki is double-teamed and takes a spear, two German Suplexes, and Kanemaru's Swinging-Into-DDT spot. Takashi Sugiura then goes into a Ken Shamrock-like insanity-spree, locking in an Anklelock on Kotaro Suzuki and refusing to let go, even after Suzuki gives up at 16:46. KENTA manages to save Kotaro, only to get kicked in the shoulder and put into an armbar. Sugiura is eventually pried off and only stops when Tsuyoshi Kikuchi comes down to check on KENTA and Suzuki, Sugiura gets in his face, and Kikuchi elbows both Sugiura and Kanemaru.

Analysis: A fine Junior Tag Team match with a decidedly non-Junior Tag Team atmosphere. There's very little "fun match" appeal here…this was built around something entirely different than what I first expected. Sugiura took an almost sadistic delight in handing out pain, and Kanemaru was so hell-bent in getting a victory that he gave Sugiura free reign to do so while also establishing himself as a firm threat. KENTA was a bit of a mini-Kobashi as he strove to use his Burning Spirit to persevere despite injury, and Kotaro Suzuki was so determined to help build a name for himself that he kept tagging in even when KENTA seemingly had the match in hand. The spots reflected this perfectly and nothing was repetitive, but this match misses ***½ by a very small margin. The only thing I didn't like was the convoluted pacing of the match: it could go from fast and furious to slow and methodic within seconds, with no middle-ground to prepare you for what's next. Still, this was a very nice Junior Heavyweight Tag Team contest. ***¼

Mitsuharu Misawa, Ogawa, and Masao Inoue vs. Takeshi Morishima, Ikeda, and Naomichi Marufuji

One mammoth brawl starts the match. Ikeda even drags Misawa backstage! Everyone else follows, and all six men are fighting in a hallway backstage. Misawa brings Ikeda back to the ring while Marufuji and Ogawa disappear down a flight of stairs. Eventually, everyone finds their way back to the ring. Misawa and Morishima exchange some elbows after some Marufuji/Ogawa hijinks, and Misawa goes down to a running elbow. Inoue and Ikeda then exchange some harsh elbow strikes, and this time Ikeda goes down to a lariat. Ogawa is tagged in, but is soon at the mercy of his three opponents, until Misawa comes in on a blind tag. Misawa stands toe-to-toe against mostly everyone for most of the match, and when Ogawa is in a jam, Misawa is always there to bail him out. Misawa and Ogawa eventually find themselves outside the ring, and Marufuji tries a Springboard Crossbody into the both of them. This proves to be his undoing, though, as he's caught, placed on Misawa's shoulders, and murdered with an Emerald Frosion straight into the outside mats. Marufuji's rolled in and pinned by Ogawa, giving Ogawa's team the win at 22:04.

Analysis: We're given more goodness here, as this match practically bled raw intensity. The huge brawl at the beginning was a blast, since it was so unexpected. I really didn't think such a high-profile match with veterans like Misawa would start with everyone brawling in a big hallway in the backstage area. This really hit home the dual hate/unity aspect of the match: the two teams were unified in their hatred of each other. The match was evenly balanced between submissions and stiffness, and even the characters of everyone were perfectly set at odds with each other. Ikeda was Misawa's foil in that they were both veterans with specific modes of attacking (Misawa with his elbows, Ikeda with his legs); Marufuji was a lot like Ogawa (Ogawa's a bit too old to play the "arrogant rebel face" but still tries to, while Marufuji played that role really well), and Inoue kept Morishima in check (they were supposed to give their individual teams a "big man" advantage but ended up canceling each other out). It's a classic mix of storytelling and adrenaline-pumping action, so there's very little you won't love about this match. ***½

Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito vs. Tom Howard and Steve Corino

Saito and Howard do a macho no-selling of each other's strikes, but Saito works the knees to bring Howard down. Corino tags in, but crumples under Akiyama's strikes. Corino also crumples under Saito's strikes, but Saito's the one doing the crumpling when Corino gets in a low blow. Howard gets in and grounds Saito with a superkick, then proceeds to badly botching a Slingshot Moonsault by not even remotely making contact. However, his saving grace comes when he and Corino do a great Blockbuster/Spinebuster double-team move, with Howard being the one that does the Blockbuster. Saito breaks up the following pin attempt, though, and it proves to be all in vain since Akiyama soon hits the Exploder Suplex on Corino, getting the win after 11:06. Post-match, Jun grabs a bag of chips (or something that looks like chips) and dumps some on Corino's face. While he and Saito leave up the ramp, Akiyama eats the chips, offers some chips to Saito (who also eats), then hands the bag of chips to the fans.

Analysis: Akiyama and Saito make a good team. Definitely. Corino's mannerisms are good: he's really good at drawing heat, even from a Japanese crowd. Howard has plenty of experience in wrestling, Mixed Martial Arts, and is in fact one of the reasons we're seeing John Cena, Chris Masters, and a slew of others that he helped train in U.P.W. The thing is, even after all this time, he still has some notable rough edges. This was a fun little match, despite that big botch. It's not the best match in the world, but it's a good crowd pleaser. ***

N.W.F. Heavyweight Championship Match: Yoshihiro Takayama © vs. Takeshi Rikio

Stiffness and power moves are in store for the evening, as Takayama and Rikio frequently try and prove that they're the stronger man. Both brawl outside the ring, and Takayama is whipped into many things: the guardrail, a large pillar, the ring post, etc. He's also on the receiving end of a few spears and a lot of slams. Takayama gains a foothold on Rikio by using his feet, as kicks and a few headlocks are able to keep Rikio down. Takayama ends up throwing one kick too many, though, as Rikio dodges and hits a massive German Suplex. Rikio then utilizes his girth and strength for most of his attacks, but Takayama keeps kicking out. After a flurry of kicks and straight punches, Rikio, enraged, tries a lariat, falling right into Takayama's trap. Takayama easily dodges the blow and beats Rikio at 15:03 with a German Suplex Hold.

Analysis: This was a really sweet power match that had a lot going for it, mainly because both men did what they do best: hurt people. There weren't any restholds or highspots here- both men unrelentingly pounded on each other from the second the match started, and up to the very end. This is the kind of Rikio I love to see: someone who's big, powerful, dominating, and knows how to chain one impressive move into another until the crowd's up and cheering. I already know how good Takayama is, and if you don't, this match is proof positive. Takayama's a master of facial expressions and intensity: he can go from cocky and collected to fiery and ruthless in mere seconds, but only when it would make the most sense. The final moment, with Takayama outsmarting Rikio by making him do something stupid out of rage, was a great way to show just how badass Takayama really is. The best pure, all-out brawl of the evening. ***¼

G.H.C. Heavyweight Championship Match: Kenta Kobashi © vs. Tamon Honda

There's lots of grappling and lots of submissions for a good chunk of the early match, to both play off Honda's Olympic background and Kobashi's attempt to beat Honda at his own game. Unfortunately for Kobashi, Honda's a beast when it comes to submissions. Honda latches on a headlock to Kobashi while Kobashi's in-ring and Honda's on the apron; and in an insane moment, Honda hauls Kobashi up to where he's straddling the third rope, then dishes out a German Suplex that plants Kobashi on the entrance ramp. Honda then works Kobashi's taped-up elbow unmercifully, but some Rolling Kesagiri Chops and a Backdrop means Kobashi still has a fighting chance. Two brutal Half-Nelson Suplexes by Kobashi gets 2¾, but Honda is able to hit what I believe is the Rolling Olympic Hell 5 (an Inverted Arm Triangle Choke) and a Pumphandle Slam. Honda then locks in the Tamon Shooter, and chains it into the Olympic Hell! Kobashi fights out of it, hits a Burning Lariat, and gets 2¾ before getting a big German Suplex by Honda, popping up, and hitting another Burning Lariat! Kobashi can't put Honda down with a Sleeper Suplex, but he hits the Ianukki Lariat at 26:55 to get the win! Both men shake each other's hands, and even hug each other following the match.

Analysis: Well, looks like I'm a fan of Tamon Honda now. Furthermore, it saddens me to think that Kenta Kobashi won't be able to wrestle matches like this anymore, when he returns. This one had all the ingredients of a sure-fire no-contest Match of the Night: drama, emotion, storytelling, stiffness, everything. This is proof positive why Kobashi's G.H.C. reign is so widely regarded: this was his first defense of the belt, and it was a classic match. Kobashi didn't have a few good title defenses every once in a while that people remember over the other, mediocre championship matches. Kenta Kobashi had such a terrific run as the embodiment of Pro Wrestling NOAH because every single time he defended the belt, from opponent one to opponent thirteen, and for two years, Kobashi had great matches with anyone and everyone that tried to lay claim to his title. The back-story of this one was expertly done: Kobashi wanted to out-wrestle Honda, to beat Honda at his own game while knowing that Honda wouldn't be able to try the same thing. I mean, who pictures Tamon Honda dealing out Half Nelson Suplexes and Machine Gun Chops? But that's the beauty of Kobashi's flawed logic. By not perceiving Honda as much of a threat, Honda was able to shift into a mode he rarely goes into: an expert Submissionist that will unmercifully work a ligament until you're begging him to stop. Kobashi's will to survive and need to keep the championship were the only things that kept him alive during Honda's Submissionist onslaught. As a whole, this one was the potent mix of excellent action and excellent storytelling, and it kicked off the vaunted Kobashi G.H.C. Championship streak with a big bang. ***¾

Final Thoughts: To get it out of the way; let me say something about the video quality of this DVD. To be fair…that's what the video quality of this show is. Fair. This is actually a bit subpar in regards to regular NOAH shows…it feels like a slightly-bad VCR copy. The picture is a bit fuzzy, sometimes the audio skips, and sometimes the video gets a bit scrambled, but only for a few seconds. The audio and video quality is usually good, though, but the only real thing holding this show back doesn't have anything to do with the show itself. It's really not that big of a deal once you get used to it, but when you compare this to other NOAH shows, especially "Destiny", which had a video quality so good it felt like you were watching it through a pane of glass…you begin to get my point.

V.Q. issues aside, though, you're in for about five hours of classic Pro Wrestling NOAH. There's very little to dislike here and nothing to hate. You're also essentially getting two shows for the price of one, though the second show is missing the first two matches. It's hard to classify this as a show, set, or even a compilation…but there is one thing you can classify this as: pretty good. The tag-team action in this one takes center stage, as talented team battles talented team in a wide array of diverse matches that are good in their own way and for various different reasons. Both shows are great examples of NOAH booking: start out slow but solid with somewhat unimportant singles matches and good Junior Heavyweight action, to get the crowd pumped. And when they're ready and begging for more, you give them exactly what they paid to see: great matches with big stars.

So, as a whole, the positives far outweigh the negatives for this DVD. The VQ may be a bit hit-or-miss, but it's crushed with the combined assault of five full hours of wrestling mixed in with lots of diversity and plenty of show-stealers. This is a great combo of shows at a great price.

Final Rating for Pro Wrestling NOAH "Encountering Navigation '03" Tour: ***½

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