Mike Reviews: Kenta Kobashi GHC Heavyweight History – Part One

Hello You!

I thought I’d try something a bit different and actually cover some classic Pro Wrestling NOAH for a change. In the early to mid-00’s, NOAH was probably the most consistently great wrestling company in the world. It had a great Junior Heavyweight division anchored by the likes of KENTA, Naomichi Marufuji, Ricky Marvin and Yoshinobu Kanemaru, talented youngsters coming through the ranks such as Takeshi Morishima, Takeshi Rkioh, Mohamed Yone and Go Shiozaki, dependable veterans in the mid-card who could be relied upon such as Tamon Honda, Takuma Sano, Daisuke Ikeda and Akitoshi Saito, and most importantly a really good main event scene featuring the likes of Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama, Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki.

However, the biggest star of them all was the man who held the GHC (The equivalent to New Japan’s IWGP) Heavyweight Title for two years from 2003 to 2005, having great matches with basically everyone along the way. That man was none other than Kenta Kobashi, the inventor of The Burning Hammer, an all-round elite level worker and a guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer. Not only was Kobashi superb in the ring, but he was also a hit at the box office and NOAH enjoyed a lot of success during his reign.

The zenith of Kobashi’s reign was likely headlining NOAH’s first ever Tokyo Dome show in 2004, but he also enjoyed a spate of sell outs at Budokan Hall and defended the belt in a number of classic bouts, dragging top level matches out of basically everyone he faced ala Ric Flair during his Title reigns during the 80’s.

Personally I’d say Kenta Kobashi is probably my favourite wrestler of all-time. Whether it was coming up with inventive suplexes, flying through the air with a moonsault or just destroying his opponent with hard knife edge chops, Kobashi could seemingly have an epic and enjoyable match with practically anyone and he almost always elevated the people he wrestled. Losing to Kenta Kobashi in an epic bout would almost always raise the defeated opponents stock, not lower it.

What I like most about Kobashi though is his selling, his facial expressions specifically. Kobashi’s facials are possibly some of the greatest of all-time, as he could convey a mixture of pain, desperation, anger and defiance like almost no one else. It’s one of the reasons why I think Kota Ibushi is so good as well actually, as he can do similar with his own expert facial expressions.

So with intro’s out of the way, I suppose I best explain what this is going to be all about. During the late 00’s G+ in Japan put together a compilation of all of the matches from Kobashi’s GHC Heavyweight Title reign. I eventually picked this up on DVD, but some kind uploaders on YouTube have uploaded the whole thing for public consumption. I won’t post the link here in case I accidentally drop them in hot water, but a quick search should be able to bring it up rather easily.

Obviously the full video is close to 9 hours long, so I won’t be doing it all in one sitting. Basically, whenever I get the time I’ll upload 2 or 3 matches when the opportunity arises. I’m not expecting this to be a particularly regular thing due to all the other commitments I have, but it will be a nice side project that I can bust out now and then when I can.

So, with the longest intro in Blog history completed, why don’t we watch some chuffing wrestling?

NOAH Navigate for Evolution – Nippon Budokan – 1st of March 2003
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Mitsuharu Misawa Vs Kenta Kobashi

We start out with the big Title fight between long-time rivals Misawa and Kobashi, although their rivalry was never especially nasty and more built around competition than any sort of dislike. Indeed, Kobashi and Misawa tagged together for large chunks of the 90’s and then had a reasonably neutral relationship to one another in NOAH, even though Misawa ran the WAVE Faction whilst Kobashi headed up BURNING. Misawa had defeated Yoshihiro Takayama back in September of 2002 to win the Title and this was Kobashi’s first proper shot at the belt after spending a lot of time on the shelf over the past couple of years due to issues with his knees.

Kobashi would appear to be the crowds pick here and he tries a spinning back chop early on, but Misawa ducks out of the way just before it makes contact. It’s not long before both men are trading strikes, Misawa with elbows and Kobashi with chops, and that leads into a nice chain sequence and a standoff. Neither Misawa or Kobashi were spring chickens at this stage in their careers, but that sequence was a nice callback to their 80’s and 90’s physical primes. Things settle down into a more scientific wrestling battle, with both men trying to out wrestle the other. However, Misawa decides he’s had enough of this patient technical wrestling lark and drops poor Kobashi on his head with a back drop suplex.

Kobashi rolls outside follow that, but he isn’t safe out there either as Misawa climbs to the top rope and then dives out on to him with an elbow drop before following with a cannonball off the apron. You could make Misawa do both of those moves on Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 I think and it was awesome in that as well. Misawa puts Kobashi back in the ring and then comes off the top with a missile dropkick before heading up top again for a big splash for two. Wow, Misawa isn’t wasting time busting out the big moves here is he? Misawa goes to an arm bar next, but Kobashi fights it and eventually manages to make it to the ropes. Will that have taken his famous lariat out of his repotroire though?

Misawa focuses in on Kobashi’s right arm. Kobashi manages to get a chop in the corner, but his arm is weakened and Misawa is thus able to shake it off and elbow him down. Kobashi tries coming off the ropes with a shoulder tackle instead, but Misawa sees it coming and catches him with another elbow mid-move and then goes back to working the arm. Kobashi tries a sleeper in reply, but Misawa dropkicks him to the floor and gets a baseball slide. When he tries diving off the apron again though Kobashi sees it coming and side-steps, sending Misawa into the railings around ringside.

Kobashi lays Misawa’s neck over the railings and leg drops the back of his head a couple of times before going for a half Nelson suplex outside the ring. Misawa fights it for all he’s worth, but Kobashi eventually hurks him over and Misawa looks to be bleeding from the mouth. Maybe he busted it on the railings earlier? Kobashi drags Misawa back on to the apron and delivers some elbows to the back of his head before bringing him back into the ring for a gourdbuster, which gets him two from the ref. Kobashi keeps working on Misawa’s head and neck area, by going to a cravat and then chopping Misawa in the neck. Kobashi actually gets a modified Rocker Dropper move for two before going to a sitting face lock, which is normally a move from Misawa’s playbook.

After cinching in that for a bit, Kobashi decides to make a cover on Misawa, but he’s not worn down enough yet and is able to kick out. NOAH at the time was using a ramp that went right up to the ring, so Kobashi throws Misawa out there and DDT’s him on the ramp before throwing him back into the ring for two. We see that Akitoshi Saito is watching the match from the back arena, possibly because he’s sizing both men up for a future Title shot. Meanwhile, Kobashi causes Misawa to sink in the corner with some chops. Misawa tries to counter with a monkey flip, but Kobashi drops down to counter it so that Misawa goes face first into the top turnbuckle and then follows up with two release half Nelson suplexes before cinching a modified Full Nelson on the mat. This moves the crowd to start chanting for Misawa and the Champ is eventually able to channel that into helping him find the ropes for the break.

Kobashi chops Misawa back down to his knees, but Misawa decides he’s had enough of this and stands back up to unload some elbows. Kobashi smartly gets a back suplex though before Misawa can gain any real momentum, which gets him two from the ref. Misawa fights off another suplex and gets release German Suplex followed by a release Tiger Suplex before finally flooring Kobashi with a big elbow. In a cute shot from the crowd, a little girl is literally covering her ears not knowing what to make of all the crowd noise. Misawa tries the Tiger Driver next, but Kobashi blocks it so Misawa rolling kicks him whilst he’s down and then manages it on the second attempt for two. Misawa gets a combination Tiger and Dragon Suplex, which gets him a two from the referee, and now the crowd is back to chanting for Kobashi again.

Misawa goes back to the Tiger Driver next, but Kobashi is once again able to kick out, although each kick out is with less and less luster. Misawa goes for the Emerald Frosion (Sit down modified powerslam from the shoulders) but Kobashi slips out of that and delivers another half Nelson suplex, only for Misawa to pop up from that in classic All Japan “delayed sell” style, but Kobashi is ready for him and gets a sleeper before turning THAT into a suplex as well. Misawa tries a jumping back elbow from the second rope, but Kobashi swats him out of the air with a lariat, which gets two from the ref. Misawa fends off the Burning Lariat with a pair of elbow smashes, but Kobashi gets it on the third attempt, only for Misawa to kick out at two.

Kobashi tries a brain buster next, but Misawa fights that off and then flips over onto the apron where the rampway is, which leads to him suplexing Kobashi out of the ring onto the ramp. You could do that on VPW2 as well! Misawa follows with a suicide dive out onto the ramo and both men are down on the rampway. Misawa goes for the Tiger Driver out on the ramp next, but Kobashi fights that off, so Misawa decides to just Tiger Suplex him off the ramp to the floor, as you do. Holy mackrel that was positively terrifying! Both these guys are absolutely nuts. They’re both nuttier than a walnut that just enrolled at Knutsford College! Not surprisingly, we get the big count out tease next, which leads to both men only just making it back in, where Misawa makes a dramatic cover for two. Well, I’ve seem worse near falls if I’m being honest!

Misawa actually gets a version of the Shining Wizard back inside, but Kobashi is again able to kick out, although he’s a couple of neighbourhoods on from Dream Street at this stage. Misawa delivers a pair of spinning back elbows and then manages to deliver the Emerald Frosion, only for Kobashi to manage to kick out, and the crowd is losing it’s mind right now. Misawa looks for another Tiger Driver, possibly the horrific head drop version called the Tiger Driver 91 that he’s used to great success in the past, but Kobashi back body drops out of it and then takes Misawa down with a lariat for two. Kobashi gets a brain buster next and makes the cover, but Misawa kicks out once again. Both men are just throwing all their biggest moves at each other and just can’t manage to keep the other guy down for three. Kobashi decides to bust out his most dangerous of moves next in the Burning Hammer (A reverse Death Valley Driver) and that’s finally enough to put Misawa away.

RATING: ****3/4

Well, this was a darn fine way to start out Kobashi’s Title reign, as he and Misawa went all out for over 30 minutes to have a classic memorable bout and they certainly succeeded. Considering how beaten up both men were even at this stage in their careers, the fact they went at such a quick clip and delivered those kinds of big moves was nothing short of amazing. This was probably the last big singles match between the two as well I think, as most of their interactions came in tag matches after this, either as partners or opponents. Truth be told, I’ve always tended to enjoy the Misawa/Kawada and Kobashi/Kawada matches over the Misawa/Kobashi ones, mainly because I’ve always tended to find the Kawada character a bit unlikable so I can enjoy rooting against him and it adds to the match, whereas I like both Misawa and Kobashi so it’s always been a less enjoyable dynamic for me when they’ve fought one another. This was a truly brilliant match though, even if they went a bit OTT with the head drops in places. It’s definitely a good introduction to the NOAH Heavyweight scene though if you weren’t watching during this era.

In a nice touch, Kobashi shakes Misawa’s hand post-match, showing that there is indeed healthy respect between the two men. Kobashi is awarded the belt and also given a huge trophy to celebrate with. He’s so beaten up and tired that he can barely cut his post-match speech, but the crowd loves him regardless and treat him like a conquering hero. KENTA gets to make a cameo by carrying Kobashi’s trophy to the back for him.

NOAH Encountering Navigation – Ariake Coliseum – 14th of April 2003
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Tamon Honda

Honda is the guy on the left in the picture and, as the picture shows, he actually was a member of Kobashi’s BURNING Faction and regularly used to tag with Kobashi. Indeed, two months after this match Kobashi and Honda would actually team up to bring the GHC Heavyweight Tag Titles home to BURNING, so there’s no real animosity between these men at all.

Honda actually wrestled for Japan in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics and even finished 5th in the overall standings during 84, so the man has some legit athletic chops. It apparently runs in the family, as I believe he is a relative of the footballer Keisuke Honda, who most notably played for the world famous AC Milan club in Italy. Everton were actually linked with Honda before he went to Milan but it didn’t end up happening. Probably for the best to be honest, as our manager at the time was David Moyes and I’m not sure he would have known what to do with a mercurial talent like Honda.

Anyway, Honda despite having legitimate athletic credentials was never really a main even calibre guy in either All Japan or NOAH, so it’s going to take a strong effort from Kobashi to make him look like a legit GHC Title level guy here. Will Kobashi be able to convince the crowd that mid-carder for life Honda might have a legit shot at wresting the Title from his waist? Why don’t we watch on and find out?

In a notable change from normal, Kobashi comes out to a theme called “Blazin” here as opposed to the “Grand Sword” theme he would normally be known for. This was something that happened throughout his GHC reign. We see that Masahiro Chono of New Japan is in the crowd eying up the competition, as NJPW and NOAH had agreed to work together during this time frame. Honda wastes no time getting a pair of suplexes on the Champ before tying him up on the mat in a pinning combination for a couple of two counts. Kobashi replies by going to a front face lock to try and wear his challenger down. Honda counters that into a leg lock though, which eventually forces Kobashi to head to the ropes for a break when he can’t counter out.

Kobashi tries his luck with a reverse arm bar next, but Honda uses the ropes this time to break up the hold, so Kobashi throws some chops and then follows up with a big hanging vertical suplex. Kobashi goes to a sitting face lock next, as his strategy appears to be to wear Honda down with traditional professional wrestling techniques whilst avoiding putting himself in positions where Honda can unleash his dangerous amateur wrestling styled offence. Kobashi tenaciously holds on to a side headlock, as Honads struggles to find a way out of it. Honda eventually suplexes his way out of the headlock, but runs straight in to a Russian Leg Sweep from Kobashi, which is followed up with a Full Nelson hold on the mat. Kobashi eventually lets go of that and drags Honda out onto the ramp, where he delivers a DDT.

However, when Kobashi tries to suplex Honda back in, Honda fights him off and ends up German Suplexing Kobashi from inside the ring onto the ramp. That was a wild, wild spot and didn’t look pleasant whatsoever. Honda puts Kobashi back inside following that and goes for a cover, but Kobashi is able to kick out at two. Honda’s next port of call is to go after Kobashi’s heavily taped right arm, which he must have injured in that last match with Misawa and then aggravated over the course of this tour. Honda actually goes to a cross arm breaker, but Kobashi is just about able to get to the ropes and break the hold. Kobashi rolls outside following that, but Honda doesn’t let up and follows Kobashi out, where he rams the arm into the ring post and then delivers the divorce court arm DDT on the floor itself.

Kobashi tries to go for a sleeper back inside to stem the tide, but his arm is too hurt to properly cinch it in and Honda counters to a Diamond Cutter before going after the arm again. Kobashi eventually manages to get a back suplex and that buys him some time, but Honda no sells a follow up leg drop to the back of the head and then suplexes his way out of a front face lock. Kobashi keeps coming though and gets a half Nelson suplex, followed by another, but Honda is able to kick out at two. Kobashi tries a brain buster next, but Honada fights out of that into a head and arm choke, taking Kobashi down to the mat in the process.

Kobashi eventually gets to the ropes to break that, but Honda suplexes him again and gets a type of pumphandle powerbomb for two. Honda sets Kobashi up on the top rope and then German Suplexes him down, in a spot that looked a LOT safer than it sounds, and Kobashi manages to kick out at two. Honda goes to the STF next, which is fitting consider Chono is in the crowd and he popularised the hold, but then transitions to the Anaconda Vice. Kobashi doesn’t tap from that, so Honda cinches it in until he begins to fade and then makes a cover, but Kobashi manages to kick out at two.

Honda goes for a powerbomb next but Kobashi counters it into a rana before delivering a left handed lariat for two. Honda responds with a spear however and then gets a release German Suplex, but Kobashi pops right up with a right handed lariat before collapsing from a combination of pain and exhaustion. Kobashi drags himself to his feet, holding his arm close to his body, and gives a roar that essentially translates to “My arm is destroyed and thus lariating this guy with it again would be a big mistake and would really hurt, but the Title is on the line so sod it, I’m lariating the bugger!”. However, before Kobashi can deliver the lariat, Honda counters it to a roll up that basically the entirety of the arena is buys as a finish, but Kobashi is able to kick out, get a sleeper suplex and then follow with the lariat for the win.

RATING: ****1/4

The reaction to that near fall at the end was something to behold, as Kobashi had done such a good job presenting Honda as a genuine contender that people thought he was actually going to win there, even though it was Kobashi’s first Title defence and Masahiro Chono was sitting in the crowd. The match itself was paced perfectly and they didn’t overdo the finishing sequence either. Honda just needed to look competitive and have that big near fall from the roll up, to so anymore would have stretched credibility somewhat as Kobashi really is a way bigger star than Honda and Honda at his position on the card wasn’t going to get the GHC Title, so doing the big super epic finishing stretch would have felt a bit out of place.

Kobashi helps Honda up post-match and gives him a hug, thus ensuring everything is hunky-dory inside BURNING. Kobashi then gets a mic and lays down a challenge to Chono for the Title, which brings Chono onto the apron to accept. No blows are thrown and the two men actually shake hands, but you can tell there’s a competitive desire from both to take one another on.

New Japan Pro Wrestling Ultimate Crush – The Tokyo Dome – 2nd of May 2003
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Masahiro Chono

This is the payoff to the Chono antics in the last match, as Kobashi comes to New Japan to defend the GHC in enemy territory against one of New Japan’s biggest names in an inter-promotional dream match. Chono had previously gone to a time limit draw with Misawa, so he was no stranger to going it at with the NOAH guys by this stage in time. New Japan and NOAH would work together quite a lot during this period, with wrestlers like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Jushin Liger even coming over and winning Titles, whilst Jun Akiyama would enter the 2003 G1 and make it all the way to the Final.

According to Wikipedia, the attendance for this Dome show was 55,000, but that might be bunkum as New Japan’s business was starting to go on a slide at this time due to Inoki’s obsession with pushing shoot fighters and they were both papering the Dome and lying about attendance figures something fierce during the 00’s when the crowds continued to dwindle, with the lowest being something like 16,000 for a show in 2005. I have to say though that the building does look pretty packed here and the entrance stage looks mighty impressive as well.

Chono wastes no time throwing punches at Kobashi, but Kobashi replies with a running shoulder block and the two men start teeing off on each other, with Chono throwing punches and Kobashi throwing chops. That ends in a stalemate, so both men go to the good old fashioned test of strength next. Kobashi wins that, owing to how hench he is, so Chono gets to the ropes to break, which leads to another rally of both men trading strikes. Kobashi brings that to a close with a hanging vertical suplex and then transitions into a surfboard hold. Chono fights the hold and eventually finds a way to reverse it, but Kobashi is too strong and muscles his way out of it, so Chono is forced to get to the ropes to break the hold.

Kobashi throws some more chops and then works a side headlock for a while. Everything has been presented as an actual contest thus far and both men have been selling the holds well, but for a big Tokyo Dome semi-main you kind of feel like the match needs them to pick up the pace a little. Chono eventually makes the ropes to break the headlock, but Kobashi DDT’s him down for two, before going to a chin lock. Chono eventually mule kicks his way out of that, letting his natural heel persona shine through, and then heads up top. Kobashi stops him however and then superplexes him down for two.

Chono sells his leg and rolls onto the apron, where Kobashi tries to suplex him off to the floor, but Chono manages to fight him off and then knocks him off the apron, before following with a suicide dive! Wow! Chono was already physically falling apart by this stage in his career due to many years of problems with his neck (With it being so bad at one stage that he actually had to vacate the IWGP Title in 1998) so for him to deliver a big move like that was impressive. Chono takes Kobashi up the ramp, where he goes for a piledriver, but Kobashi counters that with a back body drop and then goes for a powerbomb, only for Chono to counter that into a rana (?!) and then follow up with a Yakuza Kick (Running high kick). Chono tries to suplex Kobashi back in to the ring, but Kobashi fights it and tries to suplex Chono outside instead. Chono persists however and does eventually manage to suplex Kobashi back in for two.

Chono gets a neck breaker, followed by another, and then takes Kobashi down with his own Russian Leg Sweep for two. Chono works over Kobashi in the corner with punches and kicks, but Kobashi replies with a Hart Attack clothesline and then puts Chono in the corner for a barrage of chops, as sweat flies. Kobashi tries for a half Nelson suplex, but Chono counters it into a back suplex. Kobashi gets up from that, so Chono delivers another and then a third once Kobashi gets up again. Kobashi stays down this time, but Chono is too tired to go for a cover and instead rests for a moment before delivering yet another back suplex. A Yakuza Kick follows from Chono, but Kobashi is able to kick out, so Chono follows up with the Shining Black (Running kick to a kneeling opponent) but Kobashi kicks out once again.

You can hear the crowd starting to buzz now, as they are invested in this, even if they aren’t losing their minds. Chono goes to the STF next, but Kobashi refuses to tap and drags himself to the ropes to try and break the hold, only for Chono to transition into an underhook sleeper type hold before he can make it. Kobashi eventually makes the ropes to get out of that and the two men start trading strikes again, which ends with Kobashi dropping Chono on his head with a half Nelson suplex. Chono pops back up from that, but he’s wobbly on his feet and that allows Kobashi to lariat him down. Kobashi gets a buckle bomb on Chono, followed by another half Nelson suplex for two. Kobashi delivers another half Nelson suplex and then drags a stunned Chono back up onto his feet for another one. At this stage regular Chono tag partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan comes onto the apron to tease throwing the towel in, but he ultimately decides against it. Kobashi gets another suplex and tries a lariat, but Chono counters that into an abdominal stretch. Kobashi gets out of that though and suplexes Chono once again before delivering a lariat. Kobashi doesn’t cover however and hits another lariat to pick up the pin.

RATING: ***1/4

I think they were going for a “Isn’t Chono so gutsy? It took all those suplexes and lariats to beat him” story there, but really it had more of a “Wow, Kobashi is really being kind of a jerk, Chono is obviously finished, just pin him” vibe to it instead by the end, especially with them teasing that Tenzan might throw in the towel. Kudos to Chono though, as Kobashi came into his house and then battered him so badly that they were teasing a stoppage finish. That’s how you get an invading promotion over at the end of the day. The match itself was a bit slow paced for me, although the work was fine. Chono is excellent at getting the very most out of everything he does, which is something he had to learn to do following his litany of injuries in the 90’s, but for a big Tokyo Dome match this one felt like it took a little too long to get going. Once it did it was solid enough and Kobashi ended up looking like a dominant Champion, so it achieved its goals and they never lost the crowd either, which is to their credit. Something tells me we’ve not seen the last of Kobashi taking on New Japan guys either.

Following the match, Chono refuses to go out on a stretcher and pulls himself to his feet for the respect handshake with Kobashi. Kobashi gets a polite round of applause from the New Japan fans post-match and thanks them with a bow before leaving up the ramp.

End of Part One

I think that’ll do us for now. I’ll come back to this as and when I have the time. Two excellent matches and one solid one is a pretty good return all told though. Kenta Kobashi isn’t half bad at this pro wrestling lark is he?

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