Mike’s Mini Review – Pro Wrestling NOAH – Destination Back To Budokan! (12/02/2021)

Hello You!

NOAH returned to the Nippon Budokan on Friday, site of some of their bigger shows from back in the company’s heyday. I’ve got quite a bit on my plate at the moment so I can’t do a full on review for it, but I have watched it and I wanted to give some thoughts on it in the form of a Mini Review as some posters expressed an interest.

I’ll be doing this more in a highlight form, where I don’t go in-depth on the matches and instead just give some thoughts on each match and some general opinions without going into deeper detail. If I get a chance down the line I might give this one a proper full review. I picked the show up on FITE for £19.99 (Not sure of what the price will be outside the UK) and it features English commentary from Stuart Fulton and Mark Pickering, who did their usual good job. They’re a low-key good commentary team and I’m glad FITE has been sticking with them. Thankfully they didn’t try the experiment of pairing them up with Muhammed Yone this time, which led to the commentary flowing much better.

I really like the English graphics for the wrestlers too, as it helps someone slightly less familiar with the NOAH product, such as me, to know who everyone is. They do set the names out surname first though, as is the way it’s done over in Japan, so bare that in mind if you watch the show as it takes a second for your mind to adjust.

Anyway, let’s see how the show was!

Opening Match
Akitoshi Saito Vs Kinya Okada

I think this was the first time I’d seen Saito during these NOAH FITE shows, and it was nice to see him as I dug him back in the 00’s. Saito was the 30+ year vet here, an Everest sized amount of experience when put against Okada’s comparatively paltry 3+ years. Saito threw a lot of stiff strikes here and controlled most of the match. He moved pretty well for being a somewhat hefty bloke, especially as he’s past his peak athletic years now. Okada entered a solid performance, selling well and executing his offence to a good standard when required, but the match was mostly all Saito. Okada got to look gutsy by surviving a slew of Uranage Slams, but then ate an enziguri for three.

WINNER: AKITOSHI SAITO
RATING: *1/2

This was fine for an opener, but a bit one sided

 

Match Two
Yasutaka Yano, Atsushi Kotoge and Daiki Inba Vs YO-HEY, Hajime Ohara and Kai Fujimura

Kotoge reminds me a bit of Chris Brookes from a visual perspective actually, as he’s kind of lanky and wears the same sort of tights. There were lots of flashy quick moves in this one, with Inba hitting the turnbuckle so hard at one stage that he put the mounted camera out of focus! YO-HEY has a lot of charisma, but he sold quite a bit for the youngster Yano and even gave him a near fall with a roll up at one stage. Yano and Fujimura were both mechanically solid but they still need to work on developing personalities, which I’m sure will come in time. The match was pretty much action from bell to bell, including some big dives in the closing stages before Kotoge got a moonsault on Fujimura back inside for three.

WINNERS: KOTOGE, YANO & INBA
RATING: ***

This was a lot of fun, especially for a throw-away six man in the undercard. Standard Japanese under-card booking, but the lads turned it up a notch and it was good as a result

 

Match Three
Muhammad Yone and Shuhei Taniguchi Vs Masaaki Mochizuki and Masato Tanaka

I’m a self-confessed mega-mark for Masato Tanaka, so any time he’s on a show is pretty much an automatic thumbs up from me. It’s amazing that he still seems to have all his wits about him considering all those years of chair shots. Mochizuki and Tanaka are both part of the M’s Alliance stable, where the gimmick is everyone has a forename or surname with an M in it. Sadly they didn’t come out to Tanaka’s “Dangun” entrance music though, which tempted me to deduct a * right out of the gate on principle alone!

Yone is an afro sporting comedy wrestler and Taniguchi isn’t really much of a serious wrestler either, so they did some comedy in the early stages and it was fine, although it struck me as a bit of a waste of guy with Tanaka’s talents. Mochizuki is one of those DragonGate guys that has always kind of flown under the radar for me, but he was fine here, throwing some really snug kicks. Tanaka has leaned up considerably since his heyday, but he still moves well and looked good here, if not the full-on Tanaka of old. They picked up the pace a bit in the closing stages and did some near falls, with Tanaka eventually getting the pin after a Sliding D/Running Kick combo.

WINNERS: M’S ALLIANCE
RATING: *3/4

This was a considerable dip in pace compared to the previous bout, but it wasn’t bad or anything. The NOAH team just don’t do it for me, with Taniguchi in particular being pretty low impact in everything he does. The M’s Alliance guys were fine, but didn’t really have much to work with. It was a nice hit of nostalgia to see Tanaka again though, especially as they did play Dangun when he got the winning pin. Inject it into my veins!

 

Match Four
Nosawa Rongai, Kendo Kashin, Kazunari Murakami, Kazuyuki Fujita, Kazushi Sakuraba and Takashi Sugiura
Vs
HAOH, NIOH, TADASUKE, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya and Manabu Soya

Murakami used to work some epic matches with Hiroshi Tanahashi back in the mid-00’s, including a rare New Japan cage match. Nakajima’s team are all part of the Kongo faction, and came colour coded in red just in case you didn’t know they were all supposed to be aligned with one another. It’s when you see matches like this that NOAH really starts to feel like World Japan at times, and Nakajima even debuted during the dying days of that promotion! NOAH doesn’t feel anywhere near as stale as World Japan did though, possibly because it’s managed to find itself a core fan base and they mix in the veterans with the younger talent better. Also they are smart to book matches like this, where guys can come in and work spots in tag matches to help offset their advanced age.

This one was a wild brawl to start, with everyone fighting outside the ring and pairing up with their rivals, the main one being the battle between Fujita and Soya as they’ve had a long running issue. Fujita works very well in this format actually, as he clearly doesn’t have the wind for long intense matches anymore, but coming in to do strikes and power spots in a scenario like this is the perfect use of him. TADASUKE is the guy that I see get a lot of attention online, and he is talented, but I have to say that HAOH is probably the younger KONGO guy that always catches my eye in these situations. He can work and he also seems to have no issue with getting clobbered in order to get the opposition over, and I can appreciate that.

Murakami looked like he’d walked right out of a Yakuza game and into a wrestling ring, even going so far as to wrestle in a suit. His official involvement was kept to a minimum for the most part, and he certainly looked the oldest of his team facially. Kashin of course doesn’t really have to worry about that aspect, as his mask essentially keeps him ageless and his body is in decent shape so he doesn’t really look old. Murakami and Nakajima had some shoot styled exchanges, with Nakajima showing his usual charisma and intensity. I’m not sure a singles match between them would be any good past the 5 minute mark, but Murakami might have enough presence to make it work so long as Nakajima can carry him through it.

Sugiura and Kitamiya got to do some power stuff of their own, and Sugiura is one of the best overall wrestlers in the whole company, so that was good. Things did eventually break down again, with Sugiura getting tripled on by Kongo at one stage until Sakuraba showed up to help him out. This allowed Sugiura to get NIOH with the Olympic Slam for the three count.

WINNERS: SUGIURA ARMY
RATING: **

This was fine under-card multi-person tag action, where they protected the guys who needed protecting by having them in and out after doing a crowd pleasing spot or two and then left it for Sugiura to guide the train into the station

 

Match Five
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Champs: Yoshinari Ogawa and HAYATA Vs Kotaro Suzuki and Ikuto Hidaka

Ogawa and Suzuki used to be in the STINGER group, but Suzuki got kicked out and has been looking for vengeance ever since. Hidaka is a guy who I’ve always appreciated, especially when he used to do shoot style in places like BattlArts. Ogawa and HAYATA are a good example of NOAH mixing in the vets with younger guys, as HAYATA has been getting a rub from tagging with Ogawa and its allowed Ogawa to keep going at a high level by having a younger guy in there to help carry the load so he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Ogawa’s body does seem to have held up very well, which is likely down to career of working smart in a company where everyone else would regularly go head drop crazy.

Hidaka can still go, although he’s starting to show his age facially these days. He and Suzuki feel like a natural fit as a team actually, and they could probably have a good feud as opponents once the team breaks up, so I hope they stick together following this as it has potential. Suzuki and Hidaka got to work HAYATA over in the early going to show that they had chemistry as partners, and the action was good, with HAYATA selling it all well. They did a miscommunication spot for the cut off though, with Suzuki and Hidaka bonking into one another to set up an impressive dive from HAYATA.

Ogawa as the wily cheating veteran is always good stuff, and I enjoyed any time he had an opportunity to do something devious. The work here was good and the match itself was fun to watch, although you felt like there was an extra gear that it could kick into but never did. I think it needed a longer and more defined heel heat segment for STINGER, as they are clear cut heels due to Ogawa’s cheating ways and it would make sense to just work the traditional tag formula. Instead it felt more like your usual Japanese style tag team match, with the momentum ebbing and flowing and both teams working “control” segments rather than the heels working some proper heat.

Around the ten minute mark they started going into near falls, and it was well done, especially when Ogawa and Suzuki had their exchanges with one another. HAYATA really felt kind of like fodder here, which would be my main critique of the match actually. I personally felt like they could have done more to make him look on the level of the other three, but really he was just there to get clobbered outside of a dive and some double teams with Ogawa. Finish saw Ogawa catch Suzuki with a cheeky pinning hold out of nowhere whilst HAYATA got whomped outside by Hidaka.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: STINGER
RATING: ***1/4

This was good stuff and it could have possibly been better with a slightly different structure. I still enjoyed it though and I’m fully on board with Suzuki and Hidaka staying a team and then working their way back into contention. Nosawa jawed with Ogawa following the match too, so he could be getting in there with him at some stage, which could be an interesting snide-fest

 

Match Six
GHC Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Daisuke Harada Vs Seiki Yoshioka

This is the match that was heavily hyped to me in advance of watching the show, so I viewed it with some interest. It was one of those super quick paced Junior matches chockfull of counters, counter-counters and hot moves. It was done very well and I certainly enjoyed it, although these sorts of matches can sometimes veer into looking a tad too over-rehearsed sometimes. It reminded me a bit of the sort of match Ricky Marvin would do with someone like Juventud or Kanemaru in the NOAH glory days, so it was a nice hit of nostalgia if nothing else.

There were some snug strikes in amongst the slick counter wrestling and high-flying, and I think they really added to the match actually. It reminded you that this was a fight and these two guys were going heck for leather in order to win the belt. Harada’s chest in particular took one heck of a battering from some vicious kicks, and he showed good fire and facial expressions whilst selling them. Some of the counters were done so smoothly at points that it felt like next level stuff in terms of this genre of wrestling.

Surprisingly they didn’t milk the finishing stretch either and do a shedload of big near falls. In fact the closing section of the match was mostly Yoshioka breaking Harada down with the kicks and hitting a series of big moves before drilling him with a piledriver from a Styles Clash position, which thankfully wasn’t as terrifying as it sounds. I was genuinely surprised the finish came when it did because I thought we had more to come, but booking it the way they did made Yoshioka look strong and they can always rematch down the line if they want to go for the epic.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SEIKI YOSHIOKA
RATING: ***3/4

Hot match, with some super-smooth counter sequences and some mercilessly snug strikes from Yoshioka at points. It was a tad too one-sided and a little too cute at some points for me to put it into the **** range, but I still enjoyed it a lot and it’s certainly worth tracking down because some of it honestly felt like the next evolution of the Junior style. Kotoge threw down a challenge for the belt after the match too, so we’ve got that to look forward to at a later date

 

Match Seven
Jun Akiyama and Naomichi Marufuji Vs Kaito Kiyomiya and Yoshiki Inamura

This was a “NOAH Generations” match, with the old-guard of Aki-Fuji taking on the next gen guys of Kiyomiya and Inamura. Inamura wearing the King Kong Bundy styled singlet will never fail to amuse me. Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer Jun Akiyama looked as solid as ever, especially when working holds on the mat, and it was fun to see him working power spots with Inamura. Kiyomiya continues to not only be good in the ring but exude star power with his look and charisma, and I always look forward to his matches.

Akiyama and Kiyomiya delivered some really intense exchanges, with Akiyama going all grizzled grumpy vet on him by slapping him around and injuring his arm. That led to Kiyamura selling the arm whilst the vets worked him over, and he did a fantastic job selling it whilst the vets did an equally fantastic job of laying a walloping on him. Inamura eventually got the hot tag and looked like a beast, made all the better due to Stuart losing his mind on commentary for it. Hey, commentators showing real emotion and not being ludicrously over-produced so that they deliver on branding buzz words is really good. Who knew?

Kiyomiya selling the arm throughout was great to see, even after he came back in following Inamura’s rampage. It’s the little touches like that which really make me dig him as a worker. I’d pay good money to see him work the top guys in New Japan, Okada especially. They did the big submission tease with Marufuji having Kiyomiya in a key-lock, but Inamura made the save right before it looked like Kiyomiya was going to tap. Sometimes a good submission tease is up there with a near fall for me. Kiyomiya eventually managed to pin Marufuji with a Tiger Suplex whilst Inamura took care of Akiyama to give the new gen guys the battling win.

WINNERS: KIYOMIYA & INAMURA
RATING: ****

This was exactly what it needed to be, with good work from all four guys and a great story of the younger guys stepping up to the plate in order to show they were on the veteran’s level. Credit to Kiyomiya for not giving up on the arm selling either, as he sold it throughout. Inamura got his big spot to run wild and Akiyama was great as the grumpy old man there to give the younger lads their lumps in order to get them to prove they belonged

 

Semi-Main
GHC National Title
Champ: Kenoh Vs Masakatsu Funaki

Kenoh is the leader of Kongo and had never wrestled in Budokan, so this one was a big deal for him and for the National Title itself as that hadn’t ever been defended at Budokan before. Funaki is a legend of the shoot style of wrestling and is a member of M’s Alliance. He’d also recently choked out Kenoh in order to establish his Championship Credentials.

This one was worked shoot style, so it won’t be for everyone, but I’ve always had a soft spot for that genre of wrestling, especially BattlArts, so this was up my street. It’s basically a pro wrestling match worked more like an MMA fight, with an emphasis on mat work and submissions. I can totally get why it’s not to some peoples taste, but I appreciate what it tries to achieve, especially when it’s done well, and it was done well here. Kenoh worked a similar match with Sakuraba recently, so he clearly understands the style and it came across watching this, as he didn’t look out of his depth working with a master in it such as Funaki.

Eventually Kenoh started implementing some more traditional pro wrestling spots, including heading up top for a double stomp, but Funaki dodged it and then tried to finish it with the sleeper, but Kenoh was too close to the ropes. Kenoh rebounded after that and got one his trademark “out of nowhere” wins with his back against the wall by catching Funaki with a Dragon Suplex for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENOH
RATING: ***

Hardly a show stealing effort, but it was good for what it was and Kenoh is a master of getting trolloped but then pulling it out at the death. He’s got that sort of match down to an art form. Funaki did the big show of respect following the match, and always seemed amused that Kenoh caught him

 

Main Event
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Go Shiozaki Vs Keiji Muto

Go was my pick for Wrestler of the Year in 2020, and this was one of his biggest tests as Champion due to Mutoh’s age. Muto is legitimately 58 years old and last had a Wrestler of the Year performance twenty years ago in 2001 when he totally changed up his wrestling style in order to accommodate the fact his knees were utterly shot. He Main Evented the Tokyo Dome as recently as 2009 against Hiroshi Tanahashi, but asking him to Main Event at the World Title level in a group like NOAH might very well be a request too much. Still, if anyone was capable of getting a great match out of a 58 year old man with no knees then Go would be front of the queue.

They worked a lot of it on the mat early doors, as you’d expect, with Muto targeting the injured arms and shoulders on Go, who has been gradually become more and more wounded with every match in this Title reign. The work was solid, as Muto is an elite technician and Go can easily hang in that sort of environment. I enjoy good mat work, so I was having fun with it, but I could see how some would think it was a bit on the slow side. We got some fighting out on the ramp-way at one stage, where Go gave Muto a DDT and teased a suplex off to the floor. There was little to no chance of 58 year old Muto taking that bump, but they teased it well.

Muto eventually went to his traditional game plan of targeting Go’s legs with Dragon Screws, and Go sold all that really well with a good mixture of pain, desperation and defiance. In a lot of ways this was renaissance Muto 101, with the exception that he had considerable more pace and explosion in his late 30’s than he does in his late 50’s. Still, he was working hard here and turned back the clock a couple of years at least, even if it wasn’t at his 2001 level. Go held up his end of things, which was essential in making the match work, and Muto took a series of big moves to help give the near falls drama.

Things got a little scary in the closing sections as Muto went for the Emerald Frosion but couldn’t get it at first and then almost spiked Go when he tried it again for a near fall. Thankfully Go seemed to be okay and we got a moonsault tease from Muto, but he decided it wouldn’t be a good idea and stepped back down to audible disappointment from the crowd. You could tell that Muto was getting really tired at this stage and he was struggling, but Go is the consummate professional and carried him through the finishing stretch. Go went up with a  moonsault of his own, but Muto kicked at two in a great near fall and then caught Go with a flash rana for the upset three count. The finish sadly didn’t look that good, as you really couldn’t buy that Muto had it cinched in enough to win and it was kind of a weak way for Go to drop the belt.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: KEIJI MUTO
RATING: ***1/4

Let’s face it; they did this so Muto could be a guy who held the NWA, IWGP, Triple Crown and GHC Titles and cement his legacy as one of the most successful wrestlers ever. NOAH can promote that for as long as he works for them, and they can always transition the belt onto someone else. It’s not like NOAH doesn’t have a history of wacky Title changes either, such as when Ogawa won it in 2002, Taue won it in 2005 and Marufuji won it 2006 long before he was ready to actually win it.

As for the match, it was as good as a match featuring a guy with Muto’s limitations was going to be. He worked really hard here and most of his stuff looked good in the first ¾ of the bout, but they went too long and he was visibly struggling after a certain point, with it effecting his execution pretty notably. Go entered his usual strong performance and did the absolute best he could to go out on his shield in one more epic Title defence, but Muto just doesn’t have the Main Event level match in him anymore that a company like NOAH needs. You do that match in the Main Event of an indie show and it’s incredible, but NOAH is a level above that and for the past year fans have become accustomed to Go tearing the roof off in this amazing matches, so they’ve made a rod for their own backs.

The big tease to close the show was Kiyomiya coming out to stare down Muto to set up a possible match between the two. Honestly if it were me I’d just have Muto transition it to Kiyomiya in his first defence just because Kiyomiya is more than capable of working at World Title level and he’d get a considerable rub from beating the legend. I’d be shocked if this is a long Muto reign, but stranger things have happened I guess.

In Conclusion

NOAH shows are always an easy watch and this was no exception. Muto winning the belt was certainly a controversial decision, but it’s certainly generated some discussion and I’ve had a few messages from people about it since it happened. If it manages to get some eyeballs on the product then it could prove to be worth it, as NOAH is a great show.