WINTER NAVIGATION on 12/2/07
review by Mike Campbell
Yes, I’m jumping around again chronologically with NOAH. Like the September Budokan show, this shares a DVD with another show, in this case the October one. But given that there’s quite the buzz over the Kobashi return match, I’m reviewing this one first. Also, it’s got the Morishima/Marufuji rematch and an appearance by Eddie Edwards.
Kentaro Shiga... is far from the worker he was in 2002, but he’s still got one up on Bison Smith at this point.
YOSHINARI OGAWA/EDDIE EDWARDS vs. KENTA/TAIJI ISHIMORI
First Kanemaru on 9/9 and now Ogawa, what’s the deal with usually annoying NOAH workers working fun roles in tag matches against KENTA/Ishimori? Ogawa tries to get cute with KENTA in the opening moments and angers KENTA, leading them to slap and boot each other in the face a bunch. Ogawa tags out and KENTA keeps taking cheap shots at him from the apron, while him and Ishimori work over Eddie. When Ogawa finally does tag back in, he gets cute again by catching KENTA’s kick and throwing the foot into Ishimori, but KENTA is able to take over and kick him in the face and midsection a bunch. Ogawa creates himself a nice opening by countering KENTA’s tornado DDT and crotching KENTA on the top rope, but he’s still delaying the inevitable of KENTA beating his ass. Their exchanges only get more heated and they wind up spending the last five or so minutes fighting on the floor letting their partners do their thing.
Even though he gets the win, Edwards mostly looks like a scrub here. KENTA and Ishimori pretty much have their way with him early on, with KENTA kicking away at him, and Ishimori using his speed to catch him off guard, and it’s not until KENTA and Ogawa wind up brawling on the floor with each other, that Eddie gets to do much. He doesn’t show much personality, but he makes up for it by working several extended reversal and counter sequences with Ishimori, and showing off his own ability with a beautiful quebrada and a rana from the top, with both him and Ishimori standing up there. When his fisherman’s suplex doesn’t get the job done, he doesn’t waste time, and picks Ishimori up for a modified fisherman’s buster and scores the win, a happening in NOAH that’s rarer than a submission win. The Ogawa/KENTA parts were certainly the highlights of the match, but Eddie and Ishimori made the most of their chances to look good. It’d be nice to see if the Ogawa/KENTA thing turns into a real feud, but given their history of treating almost everything like one-off, I don’t think that’s in the cards. ***
AKIRA TAUE/KENTARO SHIGA vs. AKITOSHI SAITO/BISON SMITH
When Shiga and Taue had something to do, this was fun to watch, even though not that good. Taue may be broken down and past his prime, but was the best here by a pretty decent margin, bringing most of the watchable work, and bumping big when needed. Taue giving Bison a vertical suplex is impressive itself, but he adds several jumping Dynamic kicks, a few northern chops, and a Nodowa Otoshi. When Bison gives him the shoulder block on the ramp Taue’s bumping and selling are over the top in a good way to get over how powerful Bison is. Shiga isn’t a bad underdog, but he’s unimpressive left to his own devices. It was fun to watch him come up with reversals and counters to hang with Bison and Saito, but that was the extent of it. Shiga’s big highlight is Bison putting on the Iron Claw, and Shiga responds by grabbing a testicular claw, then switches up to two handfuls until Bison lets go.
Bison and Saito were a total bore most of the time. It wasn’t until they started digging out spots toward the end that their work picked up at all, although their reactions to some of Shiga’s counters and reversals were pretty good. They figure out that Taue is the strong link, and Bison keeps him at bay long enough for Saito to finish off Shiga with the big knee to the face and sickle of death. I do like the idea of the Bison/Saito team, but they really need to work with people who can bump and sell hugely for them, or seriously pick up the pace with their work.
TAKESHI MORISHIMA vs. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI
This is supposed to be Morishima’s big revenge, where he finally vanquishes the last ghost from his past and moves forward to bigger and better things (he’d finally defeated Akiyama at the 9/9 show, and had defeated KENTA in March to avenge KENTA’s role in the 7/06 tag draw and their 12/06 singles draw). The booking itself allows for that to be the case, because Morishima wins, but the way the match goes is that of a typical NOAH semi main event. It goes longer than it should, has plenty of near falls and big spots, and it does so, yet again, at the expense of Morishima. It makes sense to an extent that NOAH wouldn’t want this to be a one-sided squash, Marufuji is one of the few younger wrestlers that NOAH had managed to elevate, but Marufuji still wound up controlling way too much of the match and hitting far too many big bombs. Morishima’s goal here should have been to leave Marufuji as a stain on the green mat, but until the last thirty or so seconds, it never comes out.
At first it looks like it’ll start out okay, Marufuji uses his speed to avoid Morishima, and then keeps things on the mat by working his left arm over with a short arm scissors. Not that anyone would believe that Morishima would submit, but it keeps him at bay. Morishima tries several times to roll over it and do the Bob Backlund escape, but Marufuji is able to roll through it and keep the hold applied. When Morishima does finally escape, he levels Marufuji with a big lariat (complete with the usual huge bump from Marufuji) but he does the lariat with his right arm, so as not to blow off the arm work. That’s about as smart as the match really gets, there are a few nice moments, but it’s mostly your standard NOAH affair, with Morishima mostly getting the short end of the stick. Morishima’s advantage is lost thanks Marufuji doing a rebound lariat, a nice little throwback to Morishima’s time in ROH and feud with Nigel McGuiness. But smart moments like that are few and far between, instead it’s a lot of Marufuji superkicks, and various big bombs: The Shiranui, Shiranui off the top, a Shiranui Kai off the ramp, an attempted Pole Shift. Marufuji even does an Air Juvi type dive that barely grazes Morishima, but he still has to put it over huge. One could argue that Marufuji needed to do them to look like he had a chance against Morishima, but he wasn’t supposed to have a chance, this is supposed to be Morishima’s big moment.
There are times that Morishima seems to have the right idea, but he winds up getting cut off before he can go anywhere with it, after Marufuji hits the first Shiranui Morishima kicks out at one and attempts to start dishing out his own punishment. I’m not a big fan of no-selling but it worked for what he seemed to be going for, which was finally showing that he’d had enough of Marufuji and was going to put him in his place. But before he could get anything substantial, Marufuji hit a superkick and was back in control. For all the big bombs that Marufuji gets, Morishima only gets one big spot of his own, the German suplex off the second rope as a counter to the Shiranui, and like almost everything else Morishima got in until the very end, it was a waste. As the match winds down, Morishima finally finds the anger he needed from the get-go. Marufuji goes for the Pole Shift (which beat Morishima in September), but Morishima shifts his weight and falls on top of him and starts to pummel Marufuji with punches. Marufuji tries for a Shiranui, but Morishima counters with a backdrop suplex. Marufuji tries to no sell it, but Morishima isn’t deterred and plasters him with a big lariat, Morishima then picks him up and hits another big backdrop for the win. Yes, Morishima won, but it’s the only thing that he can really take away from this match. If anything, it’s a testament to Marufuji that he lasted more than twenty minutes and got in as much offense and as many big bombs as he did, against Morishima.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/JUN AKIYAMA vs. KENTA KOBASHI/YOSHIHIRO TAKAYAMA
It’s rather fitting that the four of them are paired off this way, given that this lineup was supposed to be Takayama’s big return match, and Kobashi’s cancer scare and hiatus cancelled that. On the surface, this looks like a lot of big NOAH matches, but it’s not, because this is one of the few times they get it right. Their timing, pacing, and the way it’s put together make this one of the very few big NOAH matches that both shows genuine emotion and doesn’t contain any of the silliness and/or stupidity to drag it down.
Of course, this is all about Kobashi. He’s the one returning from a seventeen-month absence. But the big reason why Kobashi and his never-say-die attitude works as well as it does, is thanks to Misawa and Akiyama. Akiyama was showing a very heelish side of himself in the Takayama return match, but he turns the volume all the way up here, and Misawa is good enough to follow suit. Takayama isn’t given a defined role, but he’s good with what he’s given. The early exchanges between him and Akiyama foreshadow Jun’s (and later Misawa’s) grumpy side taking over on Kobashi. After Kobashi is worked over for a long period of time, Takayama makes a nice hot tag for him, cleaning house for a few minutes until the heels take over again, and trying to give the assist to Kobashi to pick up the win. So, yes, the other three are also quite good, but this is Kobashi’s return and he’s the main attraction. Kobashi makes it perfectly clear that hiatus or not, he’s the man and he plans on staying the man. He simply won’t stay down and won’t show any signs of weakness. When the match starts up and Kobashi and Akiyama lock up, Kobashi shows that he’s in control by hitting Akiyama with a single chop to show his victory. Akiyama gets to his feet and tries to get his own victory in terms of dropping Kobashi to the mat with a shoulder block, but Kobashi leaps right back to his feet and returns the favor. Misawa isn’t much more successful, finding himself in the corner while Kobashi and Takayama have some fun by trading kicks (Takayama) and chops (Kobashi) to Misawa’s chest.
Kobashi seems to have things well at hand until he jumps into an elbow from Misawa, that’s when their heeling really picks up and the match soars. Misawa and Akiyama are both total dicks with how they work over Kobashi, and, bless him Kobashi is great with putting it over, instead of doing his usual ‘Fighting Spirit’ shtick. Two of Misawa’s most basic spots, the little hopping kick to the chest and the senton, neither have meant anything in years, they’re little more than just recognizable spots from Misawa, but when he does them to Kobashi here the kick itself looks devastating, and Kobashi makes the senton look like it nearly kills him. Misawa also applies a simple chinlock, and Kobashi tries to break it, and Misawa responds with a headbutt to the top of his head. Like in the previous tag, Akiyama is especially nasty with the running knees, but he’s also good for helping make simple things look more effective. The most basic of All Japan/NOAH filler moves, the surfboard, Akiyama locks it in, and Kobashi tries like mad to break the hold, but is unable to, Jun winds up breaking it himself, just to pelt Kobashi with a kick to the back region. Kobashi attempts to do a Hulk-Up comeback, no-selling some chops from Akiyama, but Misawa gets him from behind with an elbow to stop that.
After Kobashi’s hot tag, and Takayama’s quick run of offense, this starts to go back to looking like the typical NOAH main event, but again, they work it smart enough to make it more than just same old same old. Kobashi works in his rapid fire chops in the corner, and it’s some nice payback for Akiyama for his tactics earlier in the match. With Kobashi and Misawa it’s all about the head dropping and big moves, but it doesn’t degenerate into a stupid pop-up sequence like their GHC match, or Jun’s GHC match with Kobashi. They make a point of actually working in counters and transitions between the spots. It starts with Misawa hitting a Tiger driver for two, Misawa waits for Kobashi to get up and then charges for an elbow, Kobashi ducks and counters into the Half-Nelsons suplex. Misawa gets up and charges into a lariat. Takayama tries to help out by hitting Misawa with a German suplex and whipping him into a Kobashi lariat, for a hot near falls when Akiyama saves. Kobashi follows up with what he knows will put down Misawa, The Burning Hammer, but Misawa escapes out the back door. Kobashi works both Misawa and Akiyama over with chops to keep them at bay, but Akiyama catches him with an Exploder, Kobashi gets up and Misawa hits the running elbow he couldn’t hit earlier for a near fall. Misawa follows up with Emerald Frozian for another near fall and finally, he ramps things up as much as possible, with an Emerald Frozian off the top (with some help from Jun) to finally put Kobashi down. It had all the big moves (but not overkill except arguably the finish, which made sense with Kobashi not staying down) you’d expect, but they were done in such a way as to help the match instead of simply get crowd pops. Other than 6/6/03 I’m at a loss to think of any NOAH heavyweight tag match that’s as good as this, and it’s not surprising to me at all that both matches involve Kobashi and a honest attempt at storytelling and smart work. ***1/2
For more of Mike Campbell's reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com