Mike Reviews – NOAH Encountering Navigation (24th April 2005)

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

Back on the NOAH waggon this week, as I decided to watch the first big Budokan Hall event following the end of Kenta Kobashi’s epic two year reign on top of the promotion. Takeshi Rikio is closing the show as GHC Heavyweight Champ against Akitoshi Saito, whilst Misawa and Kobashi take part in undercard matches.

Kobashi put Rikio over clean as a sheet back in March of 2005, so let’s see if his passing of the torch gives Rikio some juice on top as Champion. This is available on YouTube and you can watch along by clicking right HERE.

The event is emanating from Tokyo, Japan on the 24th of April 2005

Opening Match
Jun Izumida and Makoto Hashi Vs Masao Inoue and Kishin Kawabata

Izumida was a mid-card guy from the All Japan days who would usually be a kind of comedy figure by this stage in his career, although sometimes they would actually try and let him look like a real wrestler. Hashi was a protégé of Jun Akiyama and was a solid mid-level player in the promotion. Inoue and Kawabata are both members of the Dark Agents faction, although Kawabata was a distant third or fourth banana in that group depending on who was in it at any given time. Inoue bordered on being second in command to Akitoshi Saito though.

This is your standard undercard opening tag match from NOAH during this period, as they rarely started out hot and instead gradually built the shows up with lower level guys in the early parts of the show until introducing more of the top stars as the shows progressed. This meant the shows usually peaked around the main matches, which helped the show flow, but it also meant that about half the undercard would be very throw away sometimes, as a match like this shows.

Inoue is probably the most over guy in the match and the closest thing the crowd buys to a star of the four, although they do laugh a little bit at some of Izumida’s comedy spots. Hashi spends a lot of the match selling at the hands of the Dark Agents, which he does well. The ref actually pulls Inoue away by his ears when he won’t break in the corner at one stage, which gets pop from the crowd. Izumida and Kawabata aren’t really up to much physically so they can only really do the basics at half-speed, whilst Hashi looks good and even comes off the apron with a couple of head butts to Kawabata at one stage.

There’s no real defined heat period or anything like that, with both teams trading the momentum at different points, with Hashi being the main punching bag for his team whilst Kawabata fulfils that role for his. Being the youngest guy in the match, that role makes sense for Hashi due to how Japanese Wrestling culture is, whilst Kawabata is the lower level guy in his tag team, which explains why he mostly gets worked over. The finishing stretch is actually quite fun, as Izumida and Kawabata go at it inside the ring and get some near falls on one another whilst Hashi and Inoue try to stop one another getting in to help their respective partners. Kawabata gets to kick out of a couple of big moves from Izumida actually, including a Lariat, but Izumida eventually comes off the top with a head butt and that’s enough for three.

WINNERS: IZUMIDA & HASHI
RATING: **1/4

This was kind of plodding in the early stages but it picked up considerably as it progressed and the finishing stretch was entertaining. I was also kind of surprised with the finish, as I felt for sure they’d have Inoue pin Hashi when all was said and done but they actually decided to go with Izumida pinning Kawabata, which is the only finish they could have done if Izumida and Hashi were winning. This ended up being a decent opener

There isn’t much to report post-match wise, as the winners get their hands raised and the losers slink away.

Match Two
Bison Smith, Rick Steiner and Ricky Marvin Vs Takashi Sugiura, Tamon Honda and Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Smith was one of the main foreign stars in NOAH during this era, whilst Rick Steiner was a legend in Japan due to his big matches along with his brother Scott back in the 90’s. Marvin was a constant in the Junior Heavyweight division and was a solid worker. Sugiura was still rather new to the whole Pro Wrestling thing but he was already developing keen skills. Honda would tag regularly with Kenta Kobashi and had wrestled in the Olympics, as well as being a cousin of the famous soccer player Keisuke Honda. Kanemaru was one of the best Junior Heavyweight workers in the world at this time and was the current GHC Junior Heavyweight Champ.

Marvin and Kanemaru start us out and it’s really good fast paced action. Steiner and Sugiura both have amateur backgrounds, so the crowd enjoys watching them go at it and Sugiura seems pretty jazzed to be in there with a star of Steiner’s stature. Steiner looks to be in good physical shape here actually and getting to work amateur style and throwing bombs in a tag situation helps hide the fact that he was starting to slow down quite a bit by this stage in his career. It’s funny reading old issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter as Dave Meltzer clearly hated Honda’s work, but I don’t really mind it and always though he could be fun to watch when allowed to play to his strengths. I will concede that he has a terrible look though, and he never would have even gotten a chance outside of Japan where his amateur wrestling credentials gave him instant credibility in a country where wrestling companies know how to market that stuff.

There are fun moments where the Junior Heavyweights on their respective teams mix it up with the Heavyweights and actually get the better of them a bit, with Kanemaru seemingly having a death wish in that he keeps going after Smith, even flinging the much bigger man into the metal railings at one stage. Smith looks good whenever he gets in there, especially when he has a chance to clobber Kanemaru back, with Kanemaru selling that all well and bumping around to make Smith look like a monster. Steiner doesn’t really look that good when he’s asked to do a bit more than just throw clotheslines, but he doesn’t do anything overly complicated and so doesn’t look that bad either. He’s kind of just there and doesn’t really get over with the crowd that much. He does take a nice German Suplex from Honda at one stage though.

Marvin and Kanemaru really do the best work together in the match, with their exchanges being fast-paced and entertaining. It really gets you into the idea of seeing the two have a proper singles match, so if Marvin was next in line for a Title shot then this match really did its job. Sugiura comes in and does some nice stuff with Marvin as well, with Marvin getting a very nice quebrada for a near fall at one stage. Marvin has been getting possibly the best reactions in the whole match, both for his offence and for his bumping/selling for everyone else’s moves. Marvin and Sugiura do the main finishing sequence together whilst everyone else fights outside the ring and it’s really good, with some tight near falls leading into Sugiura picking up the win with the Olympic Slam.

WINNERS: SUGIURA, HONDA & KANEMARU
RATING: **3/4

Well I guess Marvin wasn’t next in line for Kanemaru based on that finish, as they likely would have had him win otherwise in order to heat him up. The match probably went a tad too long, but everyone looked good except for maybe Steiner and Honda, and in their cases they didn’t look especially bad. I’d argue that Honda was fine and Steiner was just about passable. They smartly didn’t ask Steiner to do anything he couldn’t do and were thus able to mostly hide his limitations

Marvin’s partners check on him whilst Sugiura’s “Fell In Love With A Girl” theme tune plays the winners out. I do love that song but I never really felt it fit a burly dude like Sugiura that much.

Match Three
Donovan Morgan, Michael Modest and Scorpio Vs Richard Slinger, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Yoshinari Ogawa

Morgan and Modest were a regular team both on the indies and in Japan, whilst Scorpio was actually one half of the current GHC Heavyweight Tag Champs with Doug Williams. Modest actually featured on Beyond The Mat, where we got to see him have a WWF try out. Slinger and Kikuchi both came over from All Japan when NOAH was formed, with Kikuchi being one of the best young wrestlers in the world at one stage before he got clobbered so often that it legit affected his ability to remember spots in the ring, causing him to fall down the card. Ogawa is a former GHC Heavyweight Champ and used to team semi-regularly with Mitsuharu Misawa during this era. He has the charming name of “Rat Boy” due to his propensity for cheating.

Modest and Ogawa seem to have the issue here, as Modest spits at him early on and swears up a storm, go Ogawa knocks him down and then double stomps on his spine to pop the crowd. I always thought that Morgan kind of flattered to deceive a lot of the time and was never really that into his work, but Modest comes across as the real deal here, as he not only wrestles well but he shows off some good personality at the same time. Morgan kind of reminds me of a less charismatic Louie Spicolli. Slinger’s work is crisp here and the crowd appreciates it, whilst Scorpio was starting to slow down a little bit in comparison to his peak years by this time but he could still go and he had the bonus of charisma and star presence.

A lot of the fire Kikuchi used to have was gone by this stage, but he could still sell with the best of them, and for years an angry fired up facial expression was known as a “Kikuchi Face” online due to the way Kikuchi would deliver his. The foreigners cut Kikuchi off and work him over for a bit, which he sells well and work from the American trio looks good. Modest is trying very hard to draw some Heel heat here but the crowd isn’t really biting. Morgan does manage to get a reaction by mocking Kikuchi’s head butts, but the crowd actually finds it funny and laughs at it rather than booing. Some of Scorpio’s strikes look really good here, especially some of the knees to the body that he throws. You normally think of Scorp as primarily a high-flyer so it’s interesting to see that he could vary up the offence and keep it looking good.

Eventually it’s hot tag Slinger and he runs wild, looking good in the process and popping the crowd with his offence. Slinger looked too generic for WWE to really give him a chance during this period I think, not to mention the fact that they would have probably thought him both too small and too old, but I could have totally seen him rocking up in ROH or TNA and hanging with some of their better workers based off this. The babyfaces all go for a triple dropkick on Modest at one stage but he dodges it and gurns like a goof in a funny moment, only for Ogawa to take him down with a back suplex for two anyway. Ogawa has barely been in this actually, which is surprising considering he was probably the biggest star in the whole match. It’s mostly been a showcase for Slinger and Modest.

Kikuchi does get a nice Spider German Suplex off the top at one stage after getting a flurry on Scorp and follows up with a duo of suplexes for two in a good near fall. Things break down following that though with all the Heels coming and triple teaming Kikuchi, leading to Scorp coming off the top with a splash that would have got three if not for Kikuchi’s partners break it up. The Heels keep coming though, with Modest giving Morgan a rana onto Kikuchi in a neat spot before Scorp follows with a Moonsault Leg Drop for three.

WINNERS: MODEST, MORGAN AND SCORPIO
RATING: **1/2

This was a solid match, with Kikuchi selling well in the heat and Slinger looking really good when he was able to run wild. Modest showed some good personality as well and everyone had their working boots on here. It was just a shame that we didn’t get to see a bit more of Ogawa as he really didn’t do much at all here and he did look good whenever he got in there

Scorpio seems to be suggesting to Slinger following the bout that he should be tagging with him rather than the Japanese guys before making nice and shaking Ogawa’s hand.

Toshiaki Kawada’s music plays to a big pop following that match and he joins us in a suit to cut a promo. This was all to set up his match with Mitsuharu Misawa at the Tokyo Dome in July, as NOAH needed a big match as a hook for that show and Misawa/Kawada was certainly the sort of match that would pique people’s interest. Misawa comes down to join Kawada in the ring and it looks like the match will happen. I was certainly excited for it back in the day. Taichi has a blink and you’ll miss it appearance as Kawada’s young boy.

Match Four
Mohammad Yone and Takeshi Morishima Vs Akira Taue and Takuma Sano

Yone had originally started out doing shoot style in places like BattlArts before settling into a more traditional Pro Wrestler role in NOAH, complete with wacky comedy afro. Morishima was one of the guys targeted to be NOAH’s future along with the likes of Rikio, Marufuji and KENTA, but he never really reached the star status hoped of him and he even got in trouble in real life for assaulting a taxi driver at one stage. He’s probably more fondly remembered for his impressive ROH World Title run than anything he did in NOAH.

Taue is one of the famed “Big Five” stars of All Japan Pro Wrestling along with Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada and Jun Akiyama. He had settled into more of the upper mid-card fading legend role by the time this show came along, but he did get one last run in Main Events later on in the year. Sano was one of Jushin Liger’s first big rivals back in New Japan before leaving to work in places like SWS. He and Taue fit nicely into the “grumpy veteran tag team” role that most Japanese companies tend to have.

Taue is over with the crowd here, especially as they just saw his former tag partner in Kawada and it no doubt brought back nostalgic feelings of Taue and Kawada destroying everyone in the 90’s. Yone and Morishima actually take quite a lot of this, with both Taue and Sano getting worked over at points. Yano even gets Taue with a Muscle Buster early on and Sano is forced to break up the pin attempt lest his team lose it early doors. Taue does a decent job selling when he’s down on the mat, although some of his bumping and feeding is a bit off.

Yone actually draws some genuine heat for knocking Taue off the apron at one stage, which makes me think it’s all building to Taue getting a tag and killing him for the easy pop. And indeed, Taue eventually runs wild on Yone with slaps in the corner and the crowd LOVES it. That was genuinely great, as Taue could still turn on it on even in the autumn of his career. The finishing stretch follows that, with Taue getting some near falls on Yone whilst Morishima and Sano fight on the outside. Morisgima is able to make some saves and Yone even kicks out under his own power at some points, but eventually Taue gets a back suplex into a Choke Slam for three.

WINNERS: TAUE & SANO
RATING: **1/4

This was so-so until Taue got angry and started running wild, at which point it really picked up and the crowd got into it

Yone sells big following that whilst Taue stomps to the back in a rage.

Match Five
Break the CAPS LOCK Challenge Bout!
SUWA Vs KENTA

SUWA came through Ultimo Dragon’s gym and first started regularly working for NOAH in 2004, where he settled into the role of Heel Junior Heavyweight. SUWA is happy to cheat and be a devious jerk. KENTA originally started out in All Japan as a protégé of Kenta Kobashi and wrestled a handful of matches there before leaving with most of the rest of the roster when Misawa and co formed NOAH in 2000. He was one half of the Junior Heavyweight Tag Champs at the time.

KENTA actually jumpstarts this one and attacks SUWA from behind, leading to both men waling on one another until SUWA sends KENTA to the floor for a TOPE SUICIDA. We’re using all the CAPS LOCK in this one BABY! Things settle down a bit back inside following the hot start, with KENTA working some holds and SUWA selling them well. The action soon picks up again though, with KENTA running wild with some nice fast paced offence until SUWA seemingly kicks him low, although there was enough ambiguity to allow him to get away with it.

SUWA brings out a metal case from under the ring to use, but KENTA kicks that away from him and then kicks the heck out of him. SUWA fends that off though and eventually hits KENTA with the case, drawing a rare DQ in a company where they don’t normally do that. The DQ seems to draw genuine Heel heat as well, as the crowd was enjoying the match and are annoyed it ended so early.

WINNER BY DQ: KENTA
RATING: **

They were on their way to a really good match there until they took it home early with the DQ

SUWA and Sugiura do a beat down on KENTA following that whilst Kanemaru tries to break it up, only for him to then beat up KENTA as well, leading to all three seemingly forming a faction together. The way they teased that attack from Kanemaru was done really well. KENTA was set to challenge Kanemaru at the Tokyo Dome so this was a good way to set that up whilst also keeping KENTA’s issue with SUWA going as well.

Match Six
Mistuharu Misawa and Kotaro Suzuki Vs Minoru Suzuki and Naomichi Marufuji

Misawa is another member of the Big Five and was also the inaugural GHC Heavyweight Champion. Kotaro Suzuki is one of his protégés and they would often team quite a bit during this period whilst K. Suzuki was still developing his skills. Minoru Suzuki originally started out doing shoot style in places like Pancrase, and he actually did some real shoots as well. He wasn’t quite the star that he would become in New Japan about a decade later yet, but he was getting there. Marufuji had taken a similar career path to KENTA and they were the current GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Champs.

Misawa and M. Suzuki go at it pretty early on, with Misawa mostly throwing elbow strikes and M. Suzuki absorbing them and making sick facial expressions to show he’s enjoying it. Misawa is stoic as always by comparison, so it makes for a fun contrast of personalities as well as style. Misawa and Marufuji do a little bit together as well with Misawa getting the better of that before taking in K. Suzuki so that he can do some more high-flying faster paced stuff with Marufuji. Marufuji ends up winning that battle and that leads to him and M. Suzuki working K. Suzuki over for a bit.

M. Suzuki is of course utterly vicious in the way he works over his namesake, although he doesn’t seem to be laying in the strikes overly hard. M. Suzuki does bust out a modified version of the Stump Puller on K. Suzuki at one stage though, which looks really painful thanks to K. Suzuki’s flexibility allowing M. Suzuki to really cinch it in. K. Suzuki sells well in general whilst getting worked over, whilst the offence from Marufuji and M. Suzuki looks good. It’s standard booking in Japan for the least experienced guy to get battered like this, so K. Suzuki knows his role and does a good job at playing it.

The match probably does start dragging a but at one stage, especially when Misawa comes in off what should be the hot tag but he doesn’t really do much and quickly tags K. Suzuki back in. K. Suzuki does look good running wild on Marufuji at least and the match does start picking up at that point. K. Suzuki genuinely looks great in this match when he’s on offence actually, with some really nice flashy moves that also don’t bend the bounds of reality too much either. The finishing stretch is good fun, with M. Suzuki constantly trying to choke Misawa out so that Marufuji can put K. Suzuki away, but K. Suzuki doesn’t go down easy and it takes a Shiranui (Sliced Bread #2) from Marufuji in order to pick up the win.

WINNERS: SUZUKI & MARUFUJI
RATING: **1/2

The work was good here but the match did start to drag a little bit due to the long heat segment on K. Suzuki and the lack of any real hot tag from Misawa. Misawa was barely involved to be honest actually and this was a strange way to book him when he had the big match with Kawada on the horizon as it wasn’t much of a showcase. M. Suzuki and Marufuji looked good as a team and they would eventually win the belts at an FWA show in Morecambe, England from Williams and Scorpio

Suzuki and Marufuji gesture that they want the tag belts following that.

It’s announced that Kenta Kobashi will be facing Kensuke Sasaki at the Tokyo Dome and the crowd loses their collective marbles at that news.

Semi-Main
Genichiro Tenryu and Jun Akiyama Vs Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki

Tenryu was a huge star in All Japan in the 80’s before deserting the company to form the SWS promotion. Following the failure of SWS, Tenryu formed the company known as WAR and when that went under he worked for places like New Japan and All Japan. It was seemingly inevitable that he would eventually find his way to NOAH seeing as there were big matches there for him with the likes of Misawa and Kobashi. Tenryu had left All Japan before those guys had come to prominence, and by the time he came back they had already left to form NOAH. Thus there was a lot of juice in seeing Tenryu get in there with Kobashi. Shiozaki was still very early in his career here but he was already showing promise.

Tenryu and Kobashi waste no time going at it with chops, leading into Tenryu flinging a table at Kobashi, which Kobashi essentially no sells to pop the crowd. Tenryu and Kobashi continue to go after one another on the apron whilst Akiyama works Shiozaki over inside the ring. Shiozaki mostly just got worked over when in there with anyone experienced during this stage in his career, meaning he spends the majority of his time in this one getting battered by Tenryu and Akiyama. He performs his role well, showing that he had potential without stepping beyond his level.

Kobashi delivers ALL THE CHOPS to Tenryu at one stage, which the crowd loves and Tenryu sells great, leading into Kobashi chopping Tenryu down to the mat in the middle of the ring before delivering MORE OF THE CHOPS outside the ring for good measure until Tenryu’s chest is redder than a baboon’s posterior. In fact, Tenryu’s chest is soon quite literally bleeding as a result of the hot choppage, which was either something he agreed to or Kobashi just got overly excited. Regardless of which one it is, it’s a darn gnarly looking thing to happen.

Tenryu may have bladed actually, which he gets points for dedication if nothing else. He takes it out on poor Shiozaki though, as does Akiyama, as Go gets hammered from pillar to post with increasingly more violent offence from the experienced tandem. Shiozaki continues to bravely keep fighting though, getting himself over with the crowd as a result, especially when he tries throwing elbows at Tenryu until getting knocked back down by Akiyama. Kobashi eventually gets the hot tag and runs wild on both opponents, looking great in the process.

These Tenryu/Kobashi exchanges have just been utterly immense, with the action being mostly straightforward stuff but it’s been executed so well with such intensity that it’s been supremely entertaining, especially as the crowd is so into it. Akiyama has almost been a third banana here, although his exchanges with Kobashi have been very good and the crowd has got into them. Akiyama gets a call back to his Dome match with Kobashi in 2004 by wearing Kobashi out with a guillotine choke, although Shiozaki is there to make the save for his mentor.

Shiozaki has another brave stab of getting in there and wrestling with Tenryu, although once again Tenryu manages to shrug most of it off pretty easily. Kobashi cheering Go on like a proud parent is pretty great though, especially when he comes in at one stage and helps him out before going to fend off Akiyama. Shiozaki gets to kick out of a Tenryu Lariat at one stage to a nice pop but he can’t kick out of the powerbomb that follows it. Still, Go gave a good account of himself there even in defeat.

WINNERS: TENRYU & AKIYAMA
RATING: ****

This was an excellent match, with the Tenryu/Kobashi exchanges being all kinds of fun, whilst the match told a good story of Go stepping up and showing some impressive heart before finally succumbing to Tenryu’s greater experience

Tenryu flips Kobashi off before leaving, whilst Kobashi helps Go up so that Go can get some deserved applause from the crowd for his brave effort.

Main Event
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Takeshi Rikio Vs Akitoshi Saito

Rikio was chosen as the man to end Kobashi’s long 2 year Title reign and this was his first big Title defence at Budokan. Saito wasn’t an especially strong challenger. He was usually protected in his matches, but he didn’t really have anything more than upper mid-card star power. Kobashi had managed to get a good Title match out of him, but he did that with everyone and usually the draw was Kobashi himself more than his opponents.

This one has a decent start, with both guys going at it right from the off until Saito is able to catch Rikio with a back suplex in order to gain the advantage. Rikio tries slapping his way back into the match, but Saito cuts him off and keeps working him over with kicks. It’s the usual hard hitting action you’d expect from a big match in NOAH, although it doesn’t really have the Main Event level heat you would like from the crowd. It’s not like they hate it, it’s just that Saito isn’t really a strong challenger and they’d hadn’t made Rikio a truly viable Champion yet either as it was so early into his reign.

Rikio sells well whilst Saito beats him up, with Saito targeting the right arm at one stage by flinging it into the ring post. Rikio does eventually start fighting back, although he kind of forgets all of the work done on his arm, which is disappointing. His stuff looks good for the most part and Saito does a good job selling it, but it’s a bit jarring that he had so much done to his arm and now he’s doing clotheslines and whatnot without even registering the pain.

Both men tease flinging one another off the ramp at one stage, with Saito eventually winning that battle by giving Rikio a Uranage Slam off the ramp down to the floor. They are certainly working hard here; you can’t take that away from them. The finishing stretch is actually quite fun, as Saito destroys Rikio with a slew of big moves for near falls, with Rikio showing guts and fighting spirit by continuing to kick out and fight back.

I’m not sure how many of the fans really buy that the belt is going to change hands, with the reactions to some of the kick outs reflecting that, but the wrestling itself has been fun outside of Rikio not quite getting the execution right on a powerbomb on it looking a bit flimsy as a result. The best reaction probably comes when Saito gets a series of big enziguri’s, with Rikio only just managing to kick out. The crowd is more invested following that, which is a credit to both guys for how hard they’ve been working. Eventually Rikio gets a series of big moves, including a splash off the top and an Exploder Suplex, before getting a back suplex into a side slam type move for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: TAKESHI RIKIO
RATING: ***1/4

They were working hard there and did their best to have as good a match as they could. I think they could have probably shaved some time off this and it would have worked better, as they clearly felt a GHC Heavyweight Title match had to go a certain amount of time, but neither guy was really cut out for going that long without a Kobashi type guy to help carry them through it and keep the crowd invested. The crowd did start getting into it a bit at the end in response to the effort levels from both men. It wasn’t the strongest start to Rikio’s reign but it wasn’t a disaster or anything like that either. It was a mostly well worked match in front of a crowd who didn’t quite buy-in to it being a Main Event level bout

Rikio gets given his trophy and belt, to polite applause from the crowd, although there does appear to be some jeers when he does his post-match promo. There are quite a lot of empty seats before he’s finished as well, which is a big ouch and seems to be a comment from the Budokan regulars on how important they see him.

In Conclusion

Rikio’s reign never really worked out, even with Misawa eventually stepping up to put him over clean in an effort to get him to the level they wanted him to be at. In-ring he was a solid enough worker, but he didn’t have the star power of a Kobashi or Misawa, meaning it was always going to be a struggle for him.

The show overall was solid enough, although it felt more like a set-up show for the Dome show in July. The Semi-Main tag match was fantastic and well worth a watch, but there wasn’t much else you need to go out of your way to see from a match quality perspective.

The Kawada/Misawa angle was very cool though.

Mildly recommended show