Pro Wrestling NOAH “Grand Voyage” 12/24/00
review by PdW2kX

Note: Some sites have this listed as 12/23/2000, some 12/24/2000, and some both. To clear up any confusion for those that may not know, this was taped 12/23/2000 and shown on Samurai! TV the next day. Either day is fine, really, so I just chose 12/24/2000.

Kentaro Shiga, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takeshi Morishima vs. Masao Inoue, Takeshi Rikio & Takashi Sugiura (who is debuting)

As openers go, this way pretty standard. The story was, basically, that of two hosses (Rikio and Inoue) and one junior (Sugiura) taking on two juniors (Kanemaru and Shiga) and one hoss (Morishima). General stiffness by the hosses and quick/high-flying moves by the Juniors. There are a few notable spots, like Kanemaru giving Sugiura a boston crab between the ropes and Kanemaru nailing a jumping kick off the guardrail to Sugiura’s back. And, of course, there are the obligatory combo moves, “hot tag” spots, and “cluster-****” spots. The finish comes when Shiga gets Sugiura all alone with nowhere to go in the middle of the ring with an armbar, which he taps to at 14:17.

Analysis: This didn’t go on for too long, per se, but it did tend to drag a bit. The finish did feel a bit cheap since no one bothered to work over Sugiura’s arm at all, and he just taps to it after about five seconds into the hold. Also, it just felt like the big guys, especially Rikio (which is saying something), were simply phoning it in and going through the motions. Bottom line: the big men weren’t giving anything near their best, and the juniors didn’t do much of anything to excite the crowd or make it a blow-away match. It wasn’t horrible, but it certainly did leave me somewhat bored, then confused, and finally maybe even a bit cheated. *¾

WEW Tag Team Title Match: Tamon Honda & Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs. Kodo Fuyuki & Kuroda

Marufuji is looking as handsome as ever as he starts the match with Fuyuki. They begin the big moves early and outside the ring, as Marufuji nails a rolling savate kick that sends Fuyuki into the crowd, which is followed by a great springboard moonsault by Marufuji all the way into the crowd and right into Fuyuki. Very good opening spot- not too flashy, very crisp, and it certainly excited the crowd. I have high hopes following that spot, hopes which are immediately dashed as Fuyuki tags in. His “animalistic” screams sound like a high-pitched girl, and because he tends to scream a lot, and I mean a lot, it has the exact opposite of its intended effect: most of the time I’m just laughing at how stupid he sounds. Honda then tags in and he never really contributes nor takes away from the match. There’s two more cool spots, though, seen when Naomichi gives Kuroda a standing hurricanrana on the entrance stage/ramp, and also when Honda nails Kuroda with a backbody drop that sends him neck-first into the mat for a two count. Naomichi tags in and goes for another hurricanrana, in ring, but it’s turned into a sick powerbomb by Kuroda. Kuroda follows through with a great Fisherman Buster but only gets two. Marufuji nails the Shiranui mostly out of desperation to a good pop, but Fuyuki breaks up the pin attempt. Not much else of note comes about until Fuyuki, who I’m beginning to not like, hits a lariat on Honda for the win at 13:13.

Analysis: Marufuji and Kuroda carried this one all the way. Like the first match, the main synopsis was spots from the little guys and stiffness from the big. That’s about it. Once Naomichi and Tetsuhiro tagged out, though, the match quickly took a turn for the worse. Honda was either phoning it in or just chose not to work all that hard because he knew he was going to lose, while Fuyuki…well…Fuyuki just sucked and screamed that stupid little girl-scream of his. At least Marufuji and Kuroda delivered, though. ** ¼

Yoshinari Ogawa & Daisuke Ikeda vs. Akitoshi Saito & Masashi Aoyagi

Two double team moves by Ogawa and Ikeda start the match. Saito fires back with kicks to both men and then a double lariat that knocks them both down. More double team moves by Ogawa/Ikeda leads to a decent kick exchange by Saito and Ikeda. Ikeda eventually fights back after some punishment and ends up executing a rather sloppy Death Valley Driver on Aoyagi for the win at 7:27.

Analysis: This didn’t suck, but it certainly was boring for just about the entirety of the match. Asides from the stiff kicks, this match brought nothing to the table. Thankfully, it was short. **

Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Akira Taue

This was a good match, and it helped the event as a whole hit its stride. The story revolves around Takayama, the cocky, brash heel, taking on Taue, the famous, tough-as-nails face. This is best illustrated when Takayama gives Taue a slap at the beginning of the match, but it’s more of a ***** slap than a stiff shot, which leads to stiff exchange for a bit until Taue nails a sick Chokeslam out of nowhere, and Takayama folds up right over his own neck. Both men roll onto the apron and Taue tries for a chokeslam to the outside. Takayama fights out of the hold, so Taue responds by kicking Takayama in the face, which sends him to the floor. Taue controls on the outside until both men get back up on the apron, Taue tries for the chokeslam again, Takayama reverses it again, and this time both men end up kicking each other in the face which causes them to fall back inside the ring. Akira nails a decent-enough dropkick but it only gets two. Yoshihiro then takes control with some arm work, but Taue counters and regains control with more stiff kicks, including kicks in the corner, followed up with a chokeslam and a neckbreaker drop, both of which Takayama kicks out off. The finish comes when Takayama nails a very stiff kick to Taue’s head that puts him down for the three count at 9:29.

Analysis: Completely stiff, entertaining match that, while it ultimately had no purpose booking-wise at the time, was good. At first I felt a bit cheated about the finish, but then I realized it was meant to make Takayama seem both lucky (since the kick came out of nowhere) and powerful (since it knocked out Akira). And Akira certainly had nothing to be ashamed of, as he put on a strong showing. Could’ve been better if it was allowed more time, but it also could have been far worse, something I was expecting given the lackluster opening matches. It certainly was better than those three, but it can still stand on its own as a relatively good match. ***

Shin'ya Hashimoto vs. Takao Omori

Seeing Shin'ya again makes me sad. This match helps to remind people why he became such a big star. Your basic stiff exchange by two powerhouses starts the match: slaps, elbows, kicks, chops, etc. A basic headlock segment leads to another stiff exchange, culminating in a barrage of kicks by Shin'ya that sends Omori to the mat. Omori fights back and nails a lariat on Hashimoto in the corner, then another lariat to a standing Shin'ya that knocks the big man down, but not out, as Shin'ya kicks out at two after the pin attempt. Omori then hits a super-sweet Dragon Suplex on Hashimoto, but again Shin'ya kicks out. Hashimoto eventually gets the win after a brainbuster, which was executed and sold perfectly, at 6:32.

Analysis: Like the match before it, a good, entertaining, stiff-as-all-hell match that could've been great if it were only given a bit more time. I even had the feeling that, if the match had continued, the brainbuster spot would ultimately be the definitive "starting point" of what could have very well been a great match. As it stands, though, it was still good, and it definitely reminded me why I miss Hashimoto. ***¼

Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Vader

The mind games are in full effect in this one, as the first thing Vader does is flip off Misawa. A basic lockup to no particular outcome until Vader spits at Misawa's shoes, which causes Misawa to return the favor and flip off Vader, which leads to slaps, elbows, and more elbows. Vader then nails a swank release German that drops Misawa right on the side of his head. Holy ouch. Standard stuff by both men until Vader dominates Misawa in the corner and then drills him with a great powerbomb for a two count. Misawa eventually fights back and there's a "Misawa can German suplex Vader" spot which, by all accords, looks a lot more akin to "Vader can German suplex himself". Vader rolls outside and Misawa hits a crisp-as-ever dive and then a flying elbow to take the lead. He keeps that lead, and nails the Rolling Elbow, but it's only 2½. Misawa then takes some time to work on Vader's arm until Vader looks for another German, doesn't get, and instead lifts up Mitsuharu by his crotch, turns him around in mid-air, and slams him down in a powerbomb-like move. Vader then nails a chokeslam for the pin, but Misawa rolls through and synchs in an armbar. Vader gets to the ropes, and while Misawa lets go, he keeps working down Vader's arm. Vader eventually nails Misawa with a lariat to the side of Misawa's head, which knocks him down. Vader then goes up top and hits the Vader Bomb, but sells the arm work and rolls over clutching his wounded appendage. In the highlight of the match, Vader tries to go to the top rope for the Vader Sault, but once again sells the arm damage. He then "improvises" and hits the Vader Sault from the second rope! Holy ouch! Misawa kicks out of the pin attempt, takes control of the match again, and finally puts the big man down with three running elbows at 14:28.

Analysis: This was very good, and, like the two matches before it, helped revive the crowd and bring up the quality of the show, which is still marred by the first three matches. Although the match was good, looking back, I can't help but think that Misawa and Vader only touched on a winning formula. Misawa could've gone all out with his vast arsenal, and Vader could've done a lot more absorbing of punishment and power moves to really make the match seem awesome. But they were both content to simply go through the motions and compete in an entertaining match that could've been a whole lot more. As it stands, though, the ring work was spot-on, Vader did a great job selling the arm, Mitsuharu played the hero role great, and the end didn't feel cheap at all since it took a good amount to get Vader down. Again, this match could have been immensely benefited if both men gave their all, but, as it stands, it was still a good match and possibly the best one of the entire card up to that point. ***½

Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama

Your basic stand-offish affair between these two starts out the match: strikes with neither man going down, blocked chops, blocked knees, etc. Both get in some good early offense, but neither man gets the clear-cut lead. A good opening spot is where Akiyama wrestles Kobashi down to the mat, then clubs him on the back of his head, only for Kobashi to respond by getting up, shoving the referee out of the way, and completely unloading on Jun with chops. Both go outside where Akiyama begins controlling the match, working Kobashi over with elbows, knees, and a D.D.T. onto the ring entrance/stage. He even nails a sweet, fluid jumping elbow from all the way back at the beginning of the entrance ramp, which has enough force to both knock Kobashi down fiercely and propel Jun back into the ring. Another great spot is when Jun tries to suplex Kobashi back inside the ring, but Kobashi counters and instead levels Jun with a sick stalling suplex onto the ramp that makes a loud thud. Kobashi takes control of the match away from Jun and begins working over Akiyama's head, culminating in a great segment where Kobashi applies a face lock and keeps it synched in even after Jun tries to throw Kobashi off and even backdrops him. Then, of course, Kobashi drills Akiyama's worn-down head with the Full Nelson suplex…which Akiyama no-sells and fires back with an Exploder Suplex…which Kobashi no-sells. Jun sends Kobashi out of the ring with a knee, and both men are down. "Delayed selling" can be a beautiful thing if timed and worked right. This isn't one of those times. One of the biggest things that dragged this entire match down is that Kobashi put so much work on Akiyama's head, culminating with the Suplex, and Akiyama, who doesn't even "prepare himself" to "withstand the pain" and come back with offense of his own, the entire point of the "delayed selling" technique, instead just no-sells it for no real reason and comes back with offense of his own. And after a knee, not an Exploder Suplex, but a knee, then Kobashi decides to sell. It just felt cheap. It does get better, though, as Jun begins working over Kobashi's arm in a few ways, which leads to a few cool moments, until Kobashi regains the advantage with the Sleeper Suplex but keeps selling the arm damage whenever he tries to wear Akiyama down with his chops. Then, in a highlight of the match and perhaps the entire night, Kobashi absolutely murders Jun with a Half-Nelson Suplex onto the ring entrance. Kobashi follows that up with a Jackknife Powerbomb back in-ring, but it only gets 2. The follow up move by Kobashi, a Suplex into an Ace Crusher, almost gets the job done, but Akiyama kicks out at 2¾. Crowd is really getting into the match now, and for good reason: most of it has been great. After a brief skirmish, Kobashi nails the Burning Lariat, but Jun somehow manages to kick out again. Kobashi then goes up top for a moonsault, but Jun is able to get back to his feet and powerbombs Kobashi, who crashes upper-shoulder/neck first into the mat. Ouch, that one looked particularly painful. Both men eventually get to the apron, and Jun tries to give Kenta an Exploder to the outside. After some resistance, Jun goes for it and both men fly out. I'm not sure what was supposed to happen there, but Kobashi kinda clubs Akiyama's back in mid-air and both men kinda-sorta land on their feet and then fall. Jun gets to his feet first and, although the camera barely catches it, nails Kobashi with a flying lariat to the back of Kenta's head after running the apron, sending Kobashi into the crowd. Jun follows that up by lifting up some mat and giving Kobashi a viscous Exploder Suplex onto the exposed floor. Back in the ring, Akiyama continues to break down Kobashi with a double-arm D.D.T., then a flying punch off the top turnbuckle to the back of Kobashi's head, followed by yet another Exploder Suplex. That could've very well been it, but Kobashi raises the shoulder before the dreaded three. Not completely surprising, but a good near-fall nonetheless. This is followed by yet another great spot: Jun tries for what is probably his fifth Exploder Suplex, only for Kobashi's free hand to nearly touch the ropes. Just when it looks like Kobashi is going to get the rope break, Akiyama grabs Kobashi's hand, pulls it away and under, and then drills Kobashi with the Wrist-Clutch Exploder! Again, Kobashi kicks out. The match seems to be building towards a great finish, and it's doing this very well, as this is shortly followed by yet another awesome spot where Kobashi is set up for a top-rope Exploder, fights out of it, and hits Jun with a lariat, causing Jun to fall from the second rope right onto his neck. Kobashi then nails the Burning Lariat, but again Akiyama kicks out. Wow. Kobashi then picks Akiyama up, holds his head, and nails yet another Burning Lariat (which, IIRC, is called the Ianukki Lariat when done in that particular way) which sends Akiyama crashing down to the mat on his neck, but once again, somehow, Akiyama gets the shoulder up. Finally, Kobashi can take no more, and sets Akiyama up on the top rope facing the crowd, which sends the crowd into a frenzy. After the brief set up, Kobashi nails it! Burning Hammer! Burning Hammer! Akiyama sells it like death. A sweaty, bruised Kobashi rolls over and pins a sweaty, beaten Akiyama, and Akiyama finally does not kick out. Kobashi wins it at 35:58. Damn, what a match. Post-match, Kobashi and Akiyama eventually shake hands, and, while Jun has to be carried back, Kenta is only slightly helped back up the entrance, only pausing to raise his hand in victory as the crowd chants his name.

Analysis: What a match. What a freakin' match. There was only one real problem with this match (the no-selling part I already explained) but the rest was solid top-to-bottom. There were a few pacing problems, and a few fluidity problems, but these are all easily forgettable, and many simply won't see them at all. Although this wasn't one of the all-time greats, this was a fantastic match between two great competitors, which culminated in a wonderful ending that was built up fabulously. Although the three matches before this were good on different levels and for different reasons, this match was so clearly the Match of the Night it's not funny. I'm unsure if this match was ever a Match of the Year contender, or if it really deserved that much praise, but all I do know is that this was a great match, and I enjoyed almost every second of it. ****

Final Thoughts: From top to bottom, Kobashi versus Akiyama made this card. The first three matches, while being decent, sucked compared to the next four. Everyone in the final four matches of the card delivered in various ways and really made the matches exciting and good. But, again, the first three matches weren't good by any stretch of the imagination. They weren't in the negative-star range, they weren't even all that bad, they just weren't good: the opener felt like no one was giving their all, the second and third matches were carried by the juniors, not to mention that the second match was bogged down by Fuyuki's girly screams of doom. If the first three matches simply never happened… If Takayama/Taue and Hashimoto/Omori were given more time… If Vader and Misawa had decided to go all out instead of working a regular, albeit good, match…If all that would've happened, then this would've been a buy-it-or-die event. But, as it stands, the event boils down to this: three decent matches bordering on sucking, three good matches that could've been better for various reasons, and one great match. Granted, that still means that there are three good matches and one great match. If you can, just get Kobashi/Akiyama by itself, and feel content that, while you may have missed a good showing from some good superstars, you didn't miss much. But, if you want to buy the entire show, that's not an entirely bad idea, either. You won't feel ripped off, and I certainly didn't, as I came off the D.V.D. thinking that, even with its problem, this was a good show.

In the end, Pro Wrestling NOAH's first "Great Voyage" show gets a solid ***½.

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