Mike Reviews – Pro Wrestling NOAH Mitsuharu Misawa Memorial Show (31st May 2021)

Konnichiwa!

Back with another NOAH review, because YOU demanded it! (Well, a few people did at least)

Mistuharu Misawa formed NOAH in 2000 after taking the majority of the All Japan Pro Wrestling roster and setting up a brand new company. In an absolute tragedy he passed away during a match in June 2009, so this is an event to honour his memory by the company he founded.

I’m a big Misawa fan, even to the point that I reached maximum nerd level in my younger days by being able to recreate spots of his move for move on the Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 video game. One of my fondest memories from attending a wrestling show was seeing him wrestle at the Coventry Sky Dome in 2008.

This is up on FITE right now and has English commentary, so if you’re curious about the product and fancy giving it a try, there’s really no better time. It’s a step up from having to buy tapes either online or from Extreme Central UK in Manchester like I had to do back in the day that’s for sure!

The event is emanating from Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan on the 31st of May 2021

Calling the action on the English feed are Stewart Fulton and Mark Pickering

Opening Match
Seiki Yoshioka Vs HAOH

Yoshioka is a former GHC Junior Heavyweight Champ, with his reign only lasting for a month between February and March of this year. I think this was supposed to be YO-HEY opposing Yoshioka according to the blurb on the FITE app, but they’ve put HAOH in there instead. HOAH is from Kumamoto, which I can’t think about without chuckling these days ever since I saw the “Kumamon” mascot that region has. I’d totally buy a Kumamon t-shirt if I visited Japan actually.

Yoshioka recently ducked out of the Full Throttle faction and joined up with the Heel STINGER group, whilst HAOH is a member of the Kongo group, so this is technically Heel Vs Heel. Once again big props to NOAH for putting up a graphic with a picture of each guy during the matches, as it really helps new viewers to work out who everyone is. They even put up a graphic highlighting where all of the former Full Throttle members have moved to now their faction is gone, which is brilliant but almost feels like a punchline from a Nostalgia Critic episode or something.

There is good action here, with both men working it at a quick clip and the momentum being traded as the bout progresses. We get some fun near falls, with HAOH trying a series of different roll ups and pinning holds in an effort to win, only for Yoshioka to catch him with one of his own for three, although the eventual pinning hold looked a little loose.

WINNER: SEIKI YOSHIOKA
RATING: **

Decent opener

Neither man sticks around following that, so we don’t get any shenanigans between the two groups.

Match Two
Kaito Kiyomiya, Yoshiki Inamura, Kinya Okada and Junta Miyawaki Vs Kenoh, Manabu Soya, Nioh and Tadasuke

Kiyomiya’s team is made up of NOAH’s up and coming younger stars, whilst Kenoh’s team is a Heel stable known as Kongo. Kenoh up until recently was NOAH’s GHC National Champion and he was in the midst of a long and impressive reign until Kazuyuki Fujita WRECKED HIS SHIZZLE, taking the belt from him in the process. Kiyomiya and Kenoh have had regular jousts with one another, so this is yet another chapter in the issues between them.

I believe HAOH and Yasutaka Yano were both supposed to be in this one according to the original line-up listed on FITE, so taking out HAOH for the opener has led to Yano getting taken out as well. I make no secret of being a big supporter to Kiyomiya due to how he reminds me of a mixture between Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi, and he’d be the main star of the company if it was up to me. I do like Inamura as well, as he reminds me a bit of Yutaka Yoshie back before he went off a cliff physically.

Kiyomiya actually shows a good mean streak here, as he’s sick of people taking liberties with him and now he’s going to start throwing down, especially after NOSAWA bloodied him up in a recent outing. It’s a nice evolution for the character to take, and hopefully it goes somewhere. It leads to a very fun scrap between the two team captains, with Kenoh eventually having to tag out to save himself. Miyawaki looks good when he gets in, and at only 23 he would seem to be one to keep an eye on for the future. His inexperience does lead to him getting worked over for a bit though, and he sells that well.

Miyawaki eventually manages to fight back and it’s hot tag Inamura, who looks great as he bulldozes everyone, even including Soya. Stewart as always does a fantastic job getting him over on commentary, talking about the Russians trying to take a sample of his DNA. I’d be all in for a Kaiju BATTEL between Inamura and Soya at some stage if that’s on the cards. Soya does eventually manage to suplex Inamura and drops a knee for two, as this has been a fun outing thus far.

Okada gets in for the first time and looks good as well, throwing some nice kicks and getting a near fall on Kenoh with a gut wrench suplex. The entire Kongo team quadruples up on him though, which leads to Kenoh getting a near fall that is broken up by Kiyomiya. Kiyomiya continues to look like the dog’s unmentionables here, showing excellent fire, but Kenoh suplexes him to take him out of the running so that he can go back to fighting Okada, which ends how you would expect with Kenoh picking up the win with a double stomp off the top.

WINNERS: KONGO
RATING: ***1/4

I really enjoyed that, with all of the NOAH Team getting a chance to shine until Okada looked at the lights. Inamura in particular looked fantastic during his section

Kiyomiya is still furious following that, so this story will continue. Kenoh taunts him on the mic post-match to make it worse. Kenoh has great intensity to his promo, and it’s one of those promos where you know it’s good even though you don’t speak the language. The gist is that Kongo will keep NOAH’s name strong at the big upcoming joint show with DDT on the 6th of June. I don’t have Wrestle Universe so I probably won’t watch that one, but I’ll keep a look out for any other shows on FITE.

They play the Tiger Mask II theme during the brief intermission before the main show proper starts in a really nice touch, as that was Misawa’s gimmick before he wrestled under his own name in case anyone reading wasn’t aware.

Match Three
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Champs: STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa and HAYATA) Vs Daisuke Harada & Hajime Ohara

Ogawa was a long-time partner of Misawa, with the two famously teaming up to take on Keiji Muto and Taiyo Kea at the Tokyo Dome in 2004. These days he’s running his own Junior Heavyweight Heel faction known as STINGER. The combination with HAYATA works really well actually, as HAYATA is a solid worker who can help carry the load so that Ogawa can focus on his excellent character work.

Ohara was the leader of Full Throttle, but now that group his disintegrated he’s teaming up with Harada, someone who was formerly a rival. With his entrance mask on HAYATA reminds me a bit of Vortex from TEW 2020 actually. Ogawa makes the mistake of trading strikes with Harada in the early going, which goes the heftier challenger’s way, so Ogawa attacks the eyes in order to buy himself some time to tag out.

HAYATA gets worked over for a bit following that by the challengers, and he sells it well whilst the offence from his opponents looks good, especially when Ohara tries some Lucha inspired submission holds. The Champs end up attacking Ohara in the throat however, which leads to them working some heat on him. Harada does a solid job of selling it all and constantly keeps trying to fight back, and eventually succeeds as he tags in Harada, who runs wild and looks like a beast in the process.

The Champs follow the age old tactic of how to deal with a beefy dude who is battering you by targeting Harada’s legs, with Ogawa flinging the appendage into the ring post a couple of times, because he’s Yoshinari Ogawa and he’s doesn’t so much break rules as he does deny their right to exist. Harada shows some good fire during that, pulling himself to his feet and trying to fight back even though the Champs have done a real number on the limb.

The Champs keep the heat relatively simple, although Ogawa does bust out the Haas of Pain at one stage in a cool visual. In a nice bit of storytelling, they have HAYATA deviate from the game plan by going for a Moonsault, which leads to Harada being able to dodge it and get a chance to tag. That wouldn’t have happened if you’d just kept stomping him on the leg you pillock! Harada snaps off a quick overhead belly to belly suplex and makes the tag to Ohara, who runs wild on the Champs with some nice offence, with the Champs bumping all over the place to make him look good.

We enter the finishing stretch as we get the 15 minute call, and this match hasn’t felt that long at all, which is usually a good sign that a match is of good quality. Time flies when you’re having fun as they say. Both teams get some near falls and the crowd is into the action, clapping along as the two tandems try to take the other out. Ohara has to mostly fend for himself due to Harada still selling his leg, meaning that Ogawa is able to come in and help his partner without fear of reprisal for the time being.

Harada eventually limps back in to stop an Ogawa attempted Tiger Driver, but Ogawa catches Ohara with a DDT straight after anyway for two in a very well executed near fall. Harada tags in following that, but he can’t really do much with his injury and ends up in a single leg crab for a good submission tease. Harada’s selling during that was absolutely spot on and the crowd really responded to it. The Figure Four comes next from Ogawa, following a well-placed shot to the leg from HAYATA of course, but Harada makes the ropes again after another fantastic tease.

Whenever I’ve seen Harada before I’ve thought he was a good worker and I’ve generally given him good ratings, but this is the best outing from him that I can personally remember. His selling has been utterly superb, as he’s fully committed to it and it’s having a direct effect on his wrestling style as a result, which is like chicken soup for the soul for me. Ohara eventually comes is his aid though with some quick fire back breakers in a fun moment, which leads to a double suplex from the challengers for two on Ogawa when HAYATA breaks it up.

Ohara dives out onto HAYATA to seemingly take both of them out of the contest, meaning we get Ogawa and Harada seeing it out in the ring, with Harada showing some fantastic fire as he battles through his injury and Ogawa’s dirty tactics. The only downside is that Harada gets a couple of knee strikes at one stage and doesn’t immediately collapse in pain. As Kenta Kobashi so wonderfully showed, you can get away with using an injured limb to throw a strike so long as you;
A. Make it clear that it to do so really REALLY hurts
B. You decide you’re going to just do it anyway because you’re so gosh darned tough!

Ogawa survives a pair of rolling elbows, but Harada keeps coming and eventually manages to put Ogawa away with a bridging German Suplex. I’ll be honest, I thought that Harada’s leg would go out on the bridge and Ogawa would counter to some sort of wacky pinning hold for the win, but they instead had the challengers gut it out to win the belts clean.

WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: HARADA & OHARA
RATING: ****

This was an excellent match, as they built it gradually and Harada’s selling was fantastic. NOAH can still put on a thrilling Junior Heavyweight Tag Title match after all these years, and that’s wonderfully comforting

Harada can barely walk following that but he still manages to raise his tag belt in victory.

Match Four
GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Champs: Katsuhiko Nakajima and Masa Kitamiya Vs Muhammed Yone and Shuhei Taniguchi

Nakajima and Kitamiya are also members of Kongo, whilst Yone has set up his own “Funky Express” stable, of which Taniguchi is a member. The surly and nasty Champs taking on the fun loving challengers is a natural story, but I’m not sure if the match itself will really be that good. Hopefully I’m being overly negative and they end up having a fun collision.

It’s actually pretty fun in the early going, as Yone does a nice exchange with Kitamiya and that leads to everyone brawling around ringside. The Champs get the better of that, but the challengers fight back in the ring and make fun of Kitamiya by tying him up in the ropes before doing a disco pose. The Champs fire back after that though, as Nakajima decides that he cannot sanction this buffoonery anymore and kicks poor Taniguchi to pieces with some snug shots before isolating Yone.

Yone does some great selling whilst getting worked over inside the ring, with his eyes glazing over to make it look like he’s been knocked silly. This has been a decent match thus far, and hopefully they do the natural payoff where Yone goes back to his BattlArts days and gets serious in order to force the Heels to show some arse after dominating for so long. Yone does eventually catch Kitamiya with a desperation dropkick and its hot tag Taniguchi.

Taniguchi does a decent hot tag segment actually, where he mostly body slams the Champs onto one another and the crowd digs it. Taniguchi has looked better than usual here actually, and he shows some good fire when trading elbows with Kitamiya before getting a powerslam for two in a good near fall. They’ve made me look like a right plum for my earlier cynicism thus far, as this has been fun for the most part.

Nakajima looks great throughout the match, showing off his usual excellent charisma whilst delivering some punishing offence that has his trademark snap to it. He cuts Taniguchi off with a missile dropkick and some vicious kicks, which Taniguchi sells really well, probably because he has no choice as those kicks looked pretty legit. Heel miscommunication sees Nakajima take out his own partner though, which allows Taniguchi to get a desperation suplex before making the tag to Yone.

Yone works over Nakajima and heads up to the second rope for the Matt Hardy leg drop, which ends up getting him a two count. Yone gives Nakajima some of his own medicine by throwing some kicks of his own, which leads to the challengers doubling up on Nakajima as Kitamiya is still out on the floor. Kitamiya does eventually return in order to break up a pin attempt and takes out both challengers with a double Spear.

Both teams trade near falls now that all four are involved, and the action continues to be good, especially when Nakajima throws his snug kicks. Yone turns him inside out with a lariat though for a great near fall, before following up with The Kinniku Buster, which requires Kitamiya to break up the pin as Nakajima was done for. Yone keeps coming though and fires off some stiff elbows, which actually cause the crowd to exclaim due to how snug they are. Hey Nakajima, you live by the stiff you die by the stiff! Nakajima replies with some more kicks though and follows up with a Brain Buster, which is enough for three after an absolute WAR!

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: NAKAJIMA & KITAMIYA
RATING: ***3/4

Well consider me shut up, as I didn’t think Yone and Taniguchi would still have the chops to have a match that good and they absolutely proved me wrong. This had great fire from the challengers and some fantastic work from Nakajima, who looked like an absolute megastar throughout

Kitamiya lays out Nakajima with a Saito Suplex following that, perhaps as revenge for Nakajima catching him with that errant kick in the match itself? The rest of Kongo are shocked at this, as Kitamiya chews Nakajima out on the mic, saying that he can’t trust him and seemingly leaves Kongo. Apparently he hasn’t liked Nakajima for ten years now. Shouldn’t you have considered that before tagging with him Masa? Good angle though that adds intrigue going forward.

Match Five
GHC Junior Heavyweight Title
Champ: Atsushi Kotoge Vs Yuya Susumu

This is Susumu’s first ever singles Title shot in NOAH, and he’s a member of STINGER who has been feuding with Kotaro Suzuki in recent months. Kotoge is in the same stable with Harada and Ohara, so he’ll be wanting to keep all the Junior Heavyweight gold in their ranks. Susumu works Kotoge over with holds in the early going, with the idea being pushed on commentary that Kotoge has been getting worn down in his recent Title defences and Susumu has cottoned on to that, which is why he’s trying to essentially dissect him here.

Kotoge fights back though and sends Susumu out to the floor for a dive, before trying to follow up with a bulldog back inside, only for Susumu to counter that into a roll up for two. We get the dramatic face off following that, which leads to both men trading counters in a nice segment, that ends with Susumu countering a Spear through the ropes into a Randy Orton styled DDT off the second rope.

You get the impression watching this that Susumu has Kotoge’s number here, as whenever there has been a series of counters it has always ended with Susumu getting the last word. The wrestling has been good for the most part, and Kotoge in particular has sold really well. The crowd has been receptive to it, and Kotoge eventually makes the comeback, getting a nice Moonsault for two. Susumu responds with a crossface, but Kotoge is able to counter out of it after a dramatic struggle.

Kotoge gets a leg lariat following that and then follows with a Kryptonite Kruch for two before spiking Susumu with a Tomikaze for the three count after a real struggle. Kotoge was made to work for that and Susumu took the big head plant bump to make the move look extra devastating.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: Atsushi Kotoge
RATING: ***1/4

Very good match there, although I tend to find with these Junior Heavyweight matches that they are usually a bit on the short side and they can start to feel a bit samey after you’ve seen a few of them. It could just be that I’m still more used to the 00’s stars of the division who tended to build more gradually in traditional styled longer matches and I’m just not fully acclimatised to how it’s done in present day NOAH yet though

Yoshioka comes down to challenge Kotoge following that, but Ikuto Hidaka and Tadasuke want a shot as well, meaning that all of the main factions are staking a claim. Kotoge grabs a mic and says that he’ll face all of them in the same match because he’s a fighting Champion. That should be a fun outing if it happens.

Semi-Main
GHC National Title
Champ: Takashi Sugiura Vs Kazushi Sakuraba

Sugiura and Kazuyuki Fujita brutalised one another for the belt back in April, with Sugiura coming out the winner, so now he’s going to defend it against his stablemate Saku. The GHC National Title is the secondary belt in the company and can only be defended in Japan (Which is basically all the belts right now because of the pandemic, but you get the point).  We get a handshake prior to the bout starting, although Sugiura does also try to punch Saku at the same time!

This is Shoot-Style in the early going, which essentially means both men grapple on the mat like it’s an MMA fight, not unlike what you’d see in UWFi and BattlArts. I quite enjoy that style of wrestling, so I like this as a result, but if that’s not your own personal jam then this might not be for you. In a funny moment they end up getting tied up in the ropes and Sugiura gives a clean break, only to then throw a punch again, but Saku is expecting it this time and blocks it.

Eventually things get a bit more Pro-Wrestling, as Saku baits Sugiura out to the floor and then follows with a body press over the ropes to a surprised pop from the crowd. That came totally out of leftfield and Saku almost looked surprised himself that he pulled it out of the hat like that. Saku tries to submit Sugiura with a leg-lock back inside, but Sugiura manages to make the ropes each time in order to keep himself in the match, but he struggles to do it more and more on each occasion.

Sugiura does manage to catch a kick and then goes to THE DREADED YOUNG LION BOSTON CRAB, but this time Saku manages to make the ropes after first trying to counter out of the hold unsuccessfully. Sugiura unloads with a flurry on Saku following that, with Saku selling it all well, and that leads to an attempted superplex, only for Saku to counter to a double wristlock. Saku stays on the arm and shoulder following that, trying to submit Sugiura with a key-lock and Omoplata, but Sugiura manages to survive once again and fires back with a release German Suplex.

This has been an enjoyable mix of styles, as they started out doing Shoot-Style and now they’re doing more of a traditional Pro-Wrestling match with MMA submission holds thrown in, and it’s been an entertaining clash as a result. Saku kind of has a ceiling these days due to his physical limitations, but he has buckets of charisma and that helps offset it, whilst Sugiuri is an absolute freak to work as well as he does at the age of 51, especially when he suffered a heart attack earlier in life.

Saku keeps going back to the arm and shoulder in an effort to finally make Sugiura submit, with Sugiura trying for his Olympic Slam finishing move. Saku keeps countering and blocking it though, so Sugiura decides to bowl a Yorker by catching Saku with a school boy roll up out of nowhere and the element of surprise is enough for him to pick up the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: TAKASHI SUGIURA
RATING: ***

Solid effort, although it won’t be for everyone

Both men make nice following that, which leads to Danshoku Dino and Super Machine from Dramatic Dream Team showing up, with visual aids nonetheless, seemingly to challenge Sugiura and Saku to a match for Cyber Fight, which would appear to be accepted.

Main Event
GHC Heavyweight Champ Keiji Muto and Masato Tanaka Vs Naomichi Marufuji and Masakatsu Funaki

All four of these guys are members of Marufuji’s “M’s Alliance” faction, which is a group where to be eligible to join you need to have a surname or forename that begins with the letter M. Still waiting on my invite lads. Just saying. Marufuji has actually laid down a challenge to Muto for his GHC Title, so we’ll see if there are any key spots or moments in this match in order to build to that. Considering how good Sting looked on that AEW pay per view they should probably let him wrestle Muto one last whilst it could still happen.

There’s a lot of really good work on the mat from all four guys in the early going, as they are patiently building this one up, which makes sense as they probably have a combined age of around 200 years. It never fails to impress me how NOAH can run with these guys on top and actually make it work when it was kind of a disaster when World Japan tried it back in the 00’s. Maru tries working over Muto’s left arm as the match progresses so that he won’t be at 100% when they do battle in their Title match at Cyber Fight.

Muto sells all of that well, and the holds/strikes that Funaki and Maru apply/deliver all look suitably painful. Muto eventually manages to catch Funaki with a Dragon Screw though and it’s hot tag Tanaka, who can still go despite years of brutal punishment. I can only assume that Tanaka secretly has Wolverine’s healing factor and that’s why he’s still able to wrestle these days with little to no ill effects from all the insane stuff he used to do in the 90’s and 00’s. Muto hasn’t looked too hot here by comparison, as he’s mostly just soaked up offence from the opposing team, possibly because he knows he’s going to have to put some significant time against Maru in their match next week.

Muto does bust out the Emerald Flowsion on Maru at one stage though as a tribute to Misawa, which is a nice touch, and that leads to him trying the Shining Wizard, only for Maru to block it and then get the Shiranui, which gets two when Tanaka breaks up the pin. Muto counters Maru’s knee attempt with a Dragon Screw though and Shining Wizard sets up a Sliding D from Tanaka into a Muto Figure Four, which Maru sells fantastically and eventually taps out in order to avoid suffering any serious damage ahead of the Title match.

WINNERS: MUTO & TANAKA
RATING: **1/2

I wasn’t really feeling that one, although there was nothing wrong with the work itself. Muto was struggling to even move at points and normally I’d suggest ending the Title reign, but Maru doesn’t really need the win and they could probably get more mileage out of Nakajima or Kiyomiya winning it instead. I think the eventual Muto/Maru match will be decent just through sheer force of will on their parts, but I’m not sure how many Main Events Muto has left in him and they should probably use the ones he does have giving a rub to those that need it, as opposed to just already established guys

Marufuji shows respect to Kenta Kobashi and Akitoshi Saito on the way out.

We close on a Misawa tribute video and suddenly I seem to have some dust in my eye. That or I’ve just started chopping some onions and didn’t realise it.

In Conclusion

Another easy thumbs up from the NOAH crew, with some hot matches and some fun storyline development. As usual I need to give a shout out to Stewart and Mark, as they are low-key one of the better commentary teams in all of wrestling right now.

Recommended show!