Sunday, July 20, 2014

KENTAFuji: Best of Junior Heavyweights in 2003-2004 Japan

Hey yo Stud Muffins and Foxy Ladies,

My LeBron, My LeBron, why have you abandoned me?

Best-Looking Fingernails in the game

I love polarizing figures. As a huge LeBron fan both on and off the court, I am not afraid to go against the grain and stand up for what I believe in. They do not get much more polarizing in Japan than the junior heavyweight duo, KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji. The pair burst on the scene in 2003 as part of Pro Wrestling NOAH's initiative to junior heavyweight tag team division. Together and individually they dominated the junior heavyweight landscape for the rest of the decade. They became darlings of the American Indy wrestling community. They were beloved for their "innovative" moves, "workrate", and astonishingly quick pace in the ring. I am sure a fan of ROH during this time period would describe their wrestling style as "All Killer & No Filler"  Ring of Honor Wrestling, a promotion heavily influenced by puroresu and largest American Indy of the 00s, showcased their talents for an American audience. They were forever cemented in America as the foremost puroresu has to offer. ROH was the gateway for a lot of American fans into puroresu and thus wrestlers like Kenta Kobashi, Marufuji,  KENTA and the Dragon Gate folks are the ones generally regarded as the best because they made the trek across the Pacific.  

So what are the detractors saying about  this much lauded break neck pace, MOVEZ~!, workrate-style that KENTA and Marufuji offer. It is a stand against the excesses of the 00s period. There was too much emphasis on spots over story. Video game transitions are taking the place of actual, impactful transition. Selling was just getting in the way of getting to the next spot. Basically they burnt down the framework of a pro wrestling match and said the hell with the glue that keeps all the spots together.

Everyone's Favorite Male Gymnast & His Spunky Buddy

Where does the truth lie? As in most cases always somewhere in between, KENTAFuji when left to their own devices could have some pretty wretched clusterfucks. However, if you pair them with a sagacious veteran that will reign them in like Liger, Misawa or Takayama the results can be truly phenomenal. KENTA and Marufuji are very carryable wrestlers. They have all the tools, but do not know how to employ in the most effective manner and these veterans help build a framework to create a classic match. When you think of carryable wrestlers you think of the 300+ brutes that need the smaller guy to do all the spots, bumps and generate interest by pinballing off of him. Well the situation has been reversed, KENTA and Marufuji need the structure that veterans offer them desperately in order to have a good match. What has been the key so far in my watching of these two is that they are atrocious working on top. The longer they spend on offense the more likely the match will degenerate into a clusterfuck. However, if you make them work from underneath, sell, hit hope spots, cutoffs and build to that big explosion of offense the results can lead to some of the best matches to ever happen in Japan.

The following matches from this time period featuring junior heavyweights are highly recommended:

Low Ki vs AJ Styles - Z1 01/05/03 ****
KENTAFuji vs New Japan (Jushin Liger & Takehiro Murahama) ****1/4
GHC Tag Team Champions Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa vs KENTAFuji  ****1/2
KENTA vs Yoshihiro Takayama - NOAH 06/27/04 ****


1. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 02/27/00
2. GHC Heavyweight Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 03/01/03
3. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Budokan 04/25/04
4. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - All Japan 05/26/00

5. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Keiji Mutoh - Budokan 6/8/01
6. Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi vs Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka - NJ PPV 12/14/00
7. Kenta Kobashi & Akira Taue vs Genichiro Tenryu & Jun Akiyama - Budokan 9/18/05
8. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Tokyo Dome 07/10/04

9. GHC Tag Team Champions Misawa & Ogawa vs KENTAFuji  Budokan 04/25/04
10. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshinari Ogawa – Budokan 11/01/03
11. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 12/23/00

12. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Ohtani & Takaiwa vs Kanemoto & Minoru - NJPW  6/25/00
13. IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada - 10/00 Tokyo Dome Non-Title
14. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata vs Togi Makabe - NJPW 07/06/07
15. Keiji Mutoh vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival 04/01
16. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Akira Taue - NOAH 09/10/04
17. Toshiaki Kawada vs Naoya Ogawa - Zero-One 12/14/03
18. Kenta Kobashi & Go Shiozaki vs Kensuke Sasaki/Katsuhiko Nakajima - NOAH 11/5/05
19. IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Minoru Tanaka vs Takehiro Murahama - NJPW 4/20/01
20. Shinya Hashimoto & Takashi Iizuka vs Naoya Ogawa & Kazunari Murkami - Tokyo Dome 01/04/00
21. KENTAFuji vs Jushin Liger & Murahama - GHC Jr Heavyweight Tag Title Final 07/16/03
22. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Tamon Honda - NOAH 04/13/03
23. Kenta Kobashi & Go Shiozaki vs Jun Akiyama & Genichiro Tenryu - Budokan 4/24/2005
24. Genichiro Tenryu & Masa Fuchi vs Toshiaki Kawada & Nobutaka Araya - AJPW 6/30/01

25. Kenta Kobashi vs Takao Omori - Champions Carnival Final '00
26. Akira Taue vs Yuji Nagata - NOAH 6/6/03
27. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - NJPW 12/10/06
28. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada vs Shinya Hashimoto - AJPW 02/22/04
29. GHC Tag Team Champions Sterness (Akiyama & Saito) vs Burning (Kobashi & Honda) - Budokan 6/6/03
30. GHC Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 07/27/01
31. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada - Tokyo Dome 7/18/05 
32. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yuji Nagata - Budokan 9/12/03
33. New Japan (Liger & Minoru ) vs. NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 4/7/02
34. GHC Tag Champions Akiyama & Saito vs Kobashi & Shiga - NOAH 10/19/02
35. Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen & Taiyo Kea - Budokan 07/23/00
36. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs Kensuke Sasaki - 01/04/00
37. Genichiro Tenryu vs Toshiaki Kawada - Vacant All Japan Triple Crown 10/28/00
38. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hiroyuki Ito - U-Style 08/18/04
39. KENTA vs Yoshihiro Takayama - NOAH 06/27/04
40. Yuji Nagata vs Koji Kanemoto - NJPW G-1 Climax 08/12/06
41. GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Minoru Suzuki - Budokan 01/08/05
42. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax '04
43. Low Ki vs AJ Styles - Z1 01/05/03
44. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada - Champions Carnival '00
45. Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - NOAH #2 08/06/00

46. Genichiro Tenryu vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan - Vacant IWGP Championship 02/15/04
47. GHC Champion Yoshihiro Takayama vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 09/23/02
48. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Vacant GHC Title 04/15/01
49. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 07/07/02
50. Kenta Kobashi vs Kensuke Sasaki - Tokyo Dome 7/18/05
51. Yuji Nagata vs Giant Bernard - New Japan Cup Finals 04/30/06
52. U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuyuki Fujita - Vacant IWGP Championship 6/5/04
53. IWGP Champion Yuji Nagata vs. Yoshihiro Takayama - Tokyo Dome 05/02
54. Kiyoshi Tamura vs Tsuyoshi Kohsaka - U-Style 02/04/04
55. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Vader vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 2/27/00
56. All Japan Triple Crown Champ  Toshiaki Kawada vs Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW 11/03/04 Non-Title
57. IWGP Jr Tag Champions Kanemoto & Minoru vs Liger & Makabe - NJPW 9/12/00

58. Naomichi Marufuji vs KENTA - NOAH 11/13/04
59. Keiji Mutoh vs Yuji Nagata - Sumo Hall 08/12/01 G-1 Climax Final
60. Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan - G-1 Climax Finals 08/17/03
61. Takaiwa & Hoshikawa vs Dick Togo & Hidaka - Z-1 12/26/03 
62. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Champions Carnival '00
63. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Budokan 02/17/02
64. Mitsuharu Misawa & Akira Taue vs Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama - NOAH #1 08/05/00
65. New Japan (Liger & Inoue) vs NOAH (Kikuchi & Kanemaru) - NOAH 2/17/02
66. IWGP Jr Hvywt Tag Champs Liger & Minoru vs. Kikuchi & Kanemaru - NJPW 8/29/02
67. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Giant Bernard - NJPW 06/18/06 Vacant IWGP Championship
68. Sterness  vs. Burning 8-Man Tag - NOAH 08/03
69. Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi - AJPW 01/17/00
70. Genichiro Tenryu vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 02/24/02

71. Yoshihiro Takayma vs Osamu Nishimura - G-1 Climax Semifinals
72. Yoshihiro Takayama vs Kensuke Sasaki - G-1 Climax Round Robin
73. SUWA vs Dragon Kid - Toryumon 08/24/00 Hair Vs Mask
74. GHC Tag Champs Misawa & Ogawa vs Saito & Inoue - NOAH 9/10/04
75. NWA World Heavyweight Champion Shinya Hashimoto vs Masato Tanaka - Zero-One 3/02/02
76. Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase vs Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata - Tokyo Dome 10/08/01
77. NJPW(Liger, Minoru , Makabe) vs Osaka Pro(Delfin, Murhama, Tsubasa)-NJPW 12/14/00
78. Toshiaki Kawada vs Vader - AJPW 2/17/00
79. Shinya Hashimoto & Yuji Nagata vs Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama - Zero-One 3/2/01
80. GHC Jr Heavyweight Tag Champs KENTAFuji vs Kanemaru & Hashi Budokan 9/12/03
81. U-30 Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura - Tokyo Dome 01/04/05

82. Toshiaki Kawada vs Satoshi Kojima - AJPW 06/06/01
83.  Naoki Sano vs Minoru Tanaka - Battlarts 01/30/2000
84. Dick Togo vs Tiger Mask IV - M-Pro 08/25/02

85. GHC Tag Team Champions Wild II vs Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito - Budokan 9/23/02

Low Ki vs AJ Styles - Z1 01/05/03

80s and 90s Japan used gaijin talent to great effect and it is definitely the missing ingredient in the 00s 

I believe this is the only match that features two Americans. O how times have changed since the 90s!

AJ Styles as the cocky, douchey show-off heel was one of my favorite things about wrestling in the 00s. He is perfectly contrasted against the ultra-serious, no-nonsense Low-Ki in this match. I have seen this match before and thought it was pretty good, but this time around I was actually blown away how well this came off. The spots were well-executed at a pace that kills, but in addition there were actual transitions and it felt like an actual contest with two combatants struggling for victory. The early matwork was really well done and felt super organic. Each wrestler was looking for a hold, but could never really wrangle one. I dug Ki's kick to AJ's head during a Stampede roll-around on the armbar. Everytime, AJ went to bask in his own glory it usually led to a swift kick to his head (second time he jumps over the railing to avoid contact only for Ki to wipe him and a bunch of fans out was friggin awesome). Or AJ liked to do a kip up hurricanrana at the time and I just watched the ROH 2002 match against Ki where he does it out of nowhere and it looked pretty stupid. Here, Ki has been on offense for the majority of the match, but during a criss cross AJ hits a dropkick to a leapfrogging Ki to hit his kip up rana and it looks so much better since Ki is bending over.

AJ was not just some Scotty Steiner doing a spot and then popping for himself. When he nailed Ki with one of his semi-finishers (one of them indy-riffic suplexes), he was pissed off that he did not win and started to unload with a bunch of closed fists. He cared about winning in a wrestling match what a novel concept! Of course, his overzealousness costed him as Ki caught him in a powerbomb. Ki showed the crowd that Styles was not the only one who cared about winning as he unleashed some devastating Kawada kicks. There were a lot of great spots in this one, but spot of the match had to be AJ catching Ki off some crazy flip and seamlessly turning it into Style Clash. AJ, brash as ever, signals he has a three only for a kick out and his face says it all. Now if Ki hit the Ki Krusher and won right there. I think I would have an argument to call this an elite match, but AJ kicks out and the finish sequence goes two minutes longer than it should. AJ counters Kawada kicks with a suplex combination that is indy-riffic in his no-selling and its presentation. He does grab his neck (Ki Krusher) and show some hesitancy to go for Super Styles Clash so I will give him that. Ki is able to take advantage of this to hit his Ki Krusher and roll into a wicked looking Dragon Sleeper for win. There are definite issues in terms of long-term selling and the finish sequence going into spot overdrive, but in terms of a fireworks display with struggle and well-done transitions this hard to beat. ****


KENTAFuji vs New Japan (Jushin Liger & Takehiro Murahama) - 
GHC Jr Heavyweight Tag Title Final 07/16/03

After their awful performance in the 8-man Burning vs Sterness tag, I was fearing for the worst from KENTAFuji and I expected that these matches would confirm the worst of what their detractors say about their spot-fu, bereft of selling style. However, I love polarizing figures in wrestling because they challenge me to evaluate the match on its merits not on the reputation. You cant let someone else dictate your opinions. You have to go to the primary source to develop your own. I have seen other KENTA and Marufuji matches, but for the purposes of this project, this is only the second match I have reviewed. I thought they belted this one out of the park. I would call this second best junior heavyweight match I have seen so far and the best of the New Japan vs NOAH junior tags. Funny how Murahama is two of top three best junior heavyweight matches and I had never heard of him until this project. Much like when I watched the New Japan/Osaka trios match, as soon as I saw Murahama hook it up with KENTA I wanted that singles match hell sign me up for a KENTA/Minoru Tanaka singles bout. Another feather in Liger's cap proving that he is the greatest Japanese junior heavyweight and globally I would say Rey Mysterio is the only one who is in the same league as him.

KENTA/Murahama kick off the bout with some really neat shoot-style standup and KENTA hits a running big boot on Liger on the apron. This ain't going to be no exhibition there is some bad blood here, baby. I love how Liger swatted the gymnast, Marufuji out of the sky early with a palm strike. Marufuji to his credit went toe to toe with Murahama in headbutts showing that he was not all bad aerials and light offense. After the little shoot-style intro, they hit their dives. KENTA comes up a little short on his, but Marufuji does hit a sweet spingboard moonsault onto Liger to the outside. Then there is a weird heel in peril segment where KENTAFuji works over Murahama and Marufuji hits his first shitty move and it just drags. Murahama wakes us up with a sweet flip dive onto KENTA and here comes THE BOOM! Liger destroys KENTA: frogsplash, wicked Ligerbomb, surfboard, camel clutch (complete with Murahama kicks). Murahama transitions to KENTA's legs and applies a figure-4. KENTA does a pretty good garnering sympathy from the crowd as the New Japan invaders are really laying it on. KENTA/Murahama hit mirror strikes on each other, but Murahama tags Liger in and he knocks Fuji off apron with the palm strike and wallops KENTA with one in the corner. KENTA is finally able to tag Marufuji after a tornado DDT onto the top rope and springboard dropkick. It is not much a hot tag as Liger smokes with a palm strike after a short sequence and then catches him off the top with a wicked powerbomb and then the Ligerbomb looks to finish it. Two more brainbusters cant get the job done as KENTA saves. Marufuji hits a superkick and Liger a palm strike to knock each other out. I am loving the KENTA/Murahama interactions as they just rock it again with the kick combos. Murahama is able to get a brainbuster, German suplex and finally a double wristlock, which is treated as a finish. Murahama kicks KENTA's bad arm so he catches that leg and elbows it. Muraham switches to other leg and KENTA catches that and dragon leg screw. Well done! Tag to Fuji and we hit the finish run. Melee ensues. Murahama actually gets a nearfall on Marufuji after a couple kicks to head. KENTA owns Liger with a wicked strike combo. KENTAFuji hot their version of Doomsaday Device with a knee instead of lariat. Liger saves. The finish is a nice Marufuji shooting star press as they become the inaugural GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.

This was one helluva a balls to the wall affair. Besides the weird heel in peril segment (like 2-3 minutes of a 26 minute match), these four brought all the action to deliver a great fireworks spectacle. KENTA/Murahama stood out as a great pairing and I hope there is a singles match between the two of them out there. Liger was the MVP of this for me. He proved that not only could he could keep up with the young guns that his offense was truly timeless. Plus Liger dismantling Marufuji should bring a smile to everyone's face. Nothing has changed in terms of me thinking that KENTA is light years ahead of Marufuji. If someone could slow KENTA down a bit and force him to sell he has some great matches in him. KENTA was great in his FIPs, just long-term selling is what I mean. Marufuji was definitely more reigned in here, but his superkick is weak and his offense is too light. He toned down the dumb shit and was working better, but I don't think he is salvageable. In 2003, the juniors are 2 for 2 in terms of big action blockbusters in my book. ****1/4


GHC Jr Heavyweight Tag Champs KENTAFuji vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Makoto Hashi Budokan 9/12/03

The crowd loved this match especially the closing stretch. Yeah, the crowd loved this match. So there's that. It was not horrible, but it just felt interminable (only 26 minutes). They had no idea where they were going and then they just started throwing shit together at the end of the match to pop the crowd. They had control segments, but there were no transitions and everything felt disjointed. I am all for tag teams with complementary styles, but KENTA & Marufuji are basically working two different matches with no connection between the two. KENTA works the stiff Strong Style with some hints of shoot-style. As a quick aside, I was really taken by how similar Daniel Bryan works to KENTA today. The flying all around and constantly hitting the ropes to gain momentum and the kick combos, the same running knee finish not to mention eschewing selling for the sake of offense. :) Between that and the Go To Sleep, KENTA should be getting royalty checks from WWE.

While Marufuji works the Japanese Men's Gymnastics Team style. God, there were two awful tumbling passes between him and Kanemaru. As soon as I saw Kanemaru as an opponent, I knew it was going to lead to some lame choreographed bullshit. Kanemaru would have been better off ball-shotting everybody. KENTA and Hashi were actually pretty decent when they were in the ring together and enjoyed their exchanges. KENTAFuji is not the greatest team in terms of control segments and it is worse when it is just there to kill time. I thought the control segment on KENTA was pretty decent. I liked Hash's Slop Drop on the apron leading to some good back psychology and Boston Crab work. Of course as soon as Marufuji is tagged (KENTA just kicked Hashi's arm) we get that awful tumbling pass. Marufuji totally botches the climax of that pass which is the Bicycle Kick, but Kanemaru sells it.

We then hit the finish stretch which was exciting from an offensive standpoint, but was just a lot of MOVEZ~! I liked the Kanemaru frogsplash and Hashi diving headbutt to KENTA, but that is followed by two KENTA brainbusters. There is no rhyme or reason. It is just you hit your spot and I'll hit mine. One Marufuji spot I liked was the missile dropkick to the head of laying opponent. I think that's an innovative spot that can be better worked into a match. Also, kudos to Hashi for selling by wriggling in pain and KENTA adjusting his flight path to still nail knee drop. That is organic. That is Hashi responding to Marufuji and KENTA responds in kind. I am not asking the world here. After Hashi looks like a genius, he gets up and totally whiffs on the Slop Drop, but KENTA falls with him so much for responding in kind. :(

KENTAFuji hits their variation of the Doomsday Device (KENTA hits a knee), but Kanemaru saves of course. KENTA royally fucks up either a hurricanrana or a flying cross armbreaker and then hits a Tiger Suplex for two. KENTA destroys Kanemaru with a running knee and Marufuji takes him out with Sliced Bread. KENTA wins off a kick combo polishing off Hashi.

It is not an awful match, but it is not something I really want to watch again. Transitions are the most important thing to me. It is how you connect the segments together to form a cohesive match and this was totally bereft of transitions. They were not even lazy transitions. The match just had control segments because thats what wrestling matches have and then we will throw out spots. That all being said, I can appreciate a good spotfest and this was a slightly above average spotfest with some nice looking stuff. I have only watched two KENTAFuji matches, but I do recommend watching this and the Liger & Murahama match back to back to see Great KENTAFuji against Mediocre KENTAFuji. ***


I don't know how much of this picture is real, but it is all real to me, damnit!

Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Naohiro Hoshikawa vs Dick Togo & Ikuto Hidaka 
 Z-1 12/26/03 NWA Lightweight Tag Team Title Final

Am I the only one who is immediately annoyed by a wrestler wearing capris? It just screams I am a bland spot monkey. Based on this one match, Hidaka was just the typical 00s wrestler adding spins & flips to moves that just do not need spins & flips and overwrought finish sequences. Overall, he was not a critical wrestler in the match. In fact, I thought the match lived and died on the shoulders or in this case the knee of Hoshikawa. I had never heard of Hoshikawa, but he gave one helluva selling performance. His offense left a whole lot to be desired especially his weak jumping kicks. Takaiwa had some good spots, but I thought he took away from the flow of the match. Rather than coming in as the heavy hitter saving Hoshikawa, he was more interested in trading spots with his opponents.

Within the first minute, Hoshikawa injured his knee on a dive to the outside. Togo and Hidaka went to town on the knee and started off looking like one of the best Junior matches of the decade. I liked Hoshikawa rallying near the opponent corner only to have Togo sweep the leg from outside. He wraps it around the post and the a chair around it. Hidaka applies a figure-four and Togo comes in & jams a chair into his knee. Takaiwa saves and CREAMS Togo busting him open with the chair that comes flying out and almost hits Hoshikawa. Takaiwa works the cut well, but eventuall Takaiwa and Togo trade teases of finishers before Takaiwa hits a powerbomb only for Togo to hit a top rope Pedigree and then a Pedigree and a pretty, pretty Senton Bomb. Takaiwa now big chops and a Top Rope Death Valley Driver. It has really devolved into spot-trading at this point. Takaiwa sets Togo up for some sort of Doomsday Device, but Hoshikawa whiffs on kick and Togo ranas out. Takaiwa finally wrangles Hidaka and powerbombs to tag out to Hoshikawa.

Hoshikawa is not very good at offense, but the most interesting facet of the match is his knee. Hidaka and Hoshikawa work a really good sequence around his knee with Hidaka targetting it and Hoshikawa not being able to hold him on a first bridging German and on the scond bridged on one leg. Same Doomsday Device set up this time we see it leads to a Takaiwa double powerbomb into a Death Valley Driver. Now that was a wicked spot! I like that as a finish and the only reason not to use that as a finish would be if they were not winning. Of course, they follow it up with weakest, lamest jumping kick by Hoshikawa and Togo saves. Togo detains Hoshikawa and Hidaka gets powerbomb and Togo hits a beautiful Senton. Hoshikawa and Hidaka go back and forth, before Hidaka grabs a heel hook. Senton flying in by Togo. Togo dives onto Takaiwa on the floor and Hoshikawa taps out. Togo and Hidaka are the inaugral NWA Lightweight Tag Team Champions.

When Hoshikawa was in the ring, it was an interesting match with Hoshikawa trying to overcome the early injury and Togo/Hidaka targetting it. Takaiwa would come in and just hit MOVEZ~! Yes, his double powerbomb/DVD was impressive, but would like to see more transition work. Togo has a really great Senton, but still not an outstanding performance. It is a good, heated junior tag, but a little uneven. ***1/2


GHC Tag Team Champions Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa vs KENTAFuji  
Budokan 04/25/04

Misawa rushes over to catch Marufuji as he coming down on Sliced Bread and hits EMERALD FLOWSION!!! Ogawa covers. KICK OUT! WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED!!!! KENTA flies in with a springboard legdrop and takes out Ogawa with roundhouse kicks. Misawa restores order with elbows and heads to the top. KENTA hits enziguiris to stun him. Marufuji joins him on top and hits a fuckin Moonsault Rock Bottom on Misawa! KICK OUT BY MISAWA! EVERYONE LOSES THEIR SHIT! WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED!!!!

That is what we like to call in the business "in medias res". If I was not so pressed how time I would craft a  Vergilian simile to explain how bitchin this match is. It is like the Light of Love emitting from the Emerald Elbow that vaporizes the Clouds of Despairs in order to guide you on the Righteous Path towards the True Gate of Miracle Ecstasy. That simile is not exactly Aeneas ascending out of Hell, but it is how I felt during this match because this was fucking awesome.Everybody understood their roles to a tee and the output was magnificent. KENTA & Marufuji knew they were going to be outgunned by Misawa, but that does not mean they did not believe in themselves. KENTA & Marufuji definitely gave every indication they could hang with the Almighty MIsawa, but they always respected the Misawa Legend. They were not cocky. They knew this was going to be a tall task and they were going to be forced to preserve and they did. KENTA & Marufuji wasted no time and they just bull rushed Misawa & Ogawa immediately. They dispatched Ogawa relatively quickly, but even though they gained the advantage on Misawa, they were overwhelmed by the Indomitable Elbow of Misawa. That opening really set the tone for the match. KENTA & Marufuji were here to play ball and if Misawa & Ogawa overlook them they will get burnt.

Misawa and Ogawa then put on an absolute clinic on how to work control segments. They work two back to back within two minutes of each other. The first is on KENTA, who does his best selling ever in this match and the second is Marufuji and you best believe I loved Misawa lighting that dude up with some elbows. I love the Misawa/Ogawa dynamic. Ogawa allows the match to breathe with some lighthearted moments (I loved the moment when he plays "Made you flinch, bitch" with Marufuji on the apron) and also gives KENTAFuji a point of entry into the match. This is contrasted so well with the heavy hitting, ultra-serious Misawa. Misawa and Ogawa just work over KENTA's back, but KENTA is always struggling. He is always throwing elbows. There is this great exchange between KENTA and Misawa where Misawa goes to pull him to rock him with an elbow and KENTA is always one step back and then moves a step in to hit Misawa. It looks mis-timed if you expect neat chereography, but it fits a real contest so well because it is two people responding to one another rather doing a dance routine. I was really impressed with KENTA's hope spots and just his constant work. I thought the eventual transition to the hot tag was pretty lukewarm. In the first of many, what the fuck moments. Marufuji becomes of the one of the few people to cutoff the heat-seeking Misawa elbow to the floor by dropkicking his knee and hitting his own dive. While I think KENTA is clearly the better wrestler of the two, Marufuji is also the bigger of the two thus why I think he got more of a push in this match. Marufuji looks to hit sliced bread on Ogawa, but Ogawa counters and sends him crotch first into the post. God Bless Ogawa! Thus the heat segment on Marufuji begins and it is not as good as KENTA's because there are some more elaborate numbers, but credit where due Marufuji definitely upped the physicality with nice chops to Misawa and headbutts to Ogawa. At this point of the match it has been 95% Misawa and Ogawa with KENTAFuji just hanging on by a thread. The story becomes how much longer can they last and what if anything can they do to defeat the underhanded Ogawa and the heavy hitting Misawa.

Misawa and Ogawa are finally done playing with their food and begin unleashing their series of awesome double teams on Marufuji, which KENTA obviously saves, but then he is taken out. The turning point comes on the ramp where Marufuji hits a wicked superkick and then SLICED BREAD ONTO MISAWA ON THE RAMP! KENTA DEMOLISHES OGAWA WITH THE KNEE! In 15 seconds, the entire complexion of the match changes. It was such a  powerful and well-laid out transition. KENTAFuji were getting their asses handed to them and BOOM! They are back in it. It is just like any sports game where you leave a team hanging around all it takes is a well-timed special teams touchdown or a big three-point shot to rattle the cages. They tease the countout finish and then there is an awakward exchange between Misawa & Marufuji that leads to KENTA's tag in. KENTA shows while he may be small, but he has a big set of balls because he starts doing Kawada kicks, Kawada's big boots and the stretch plum on Misawa. Be careful, KENTA, you dont want Misawa having flashbacks to 1994 and really fucking your ass up.  KENTA's Tiger Suplex only gets two as Misawa gets up and unloads a big elbow. At this point, we hit a tremendous finish stretch filled with great fireworks. In the opening, I ran down the craziest portion of all time. I can't believe Marufuji kicked out of Emerald Flowsion even if it was Ogawa covering and then for Misawa to take the Inverted Rock Bottom Moonsault. Yes, it is just a front flip, but HOLY SHIT, I did not expect that at all. I loved the finish being Misawa's take on the Steiner Screwdriver with a Spinning Emerald Flowsion to pick up the win.

The match checks off all the boxes. Great character work. Great lay out. Great selling. Great Build. Awesome Action. Yes, there are some quibbles  with some of the transitions and the overwrought Marufuju sequences, but for the most part it told the tale of two experienced veterans dismantling a young, hot team with a combination of wile and strength. However, they let them hang around and it nearly cost them the match. When Marufuji and KENTA turned the tide, it really affected Misawa & Ogawa's ability to concentrate their attacks. The match became more chaotic, which was a boon to the high-flying and quick team. Still it was too little too late because the match ended in a familiar fashion with Misawa on top of  a vanquished opponent. ****1/2


The Story as old as time: Bleach Blond Goliath versus Frosted Tips David

KENTA vs Yoshihiro Takayama - NOAH 06/27/04

I hope KENTA is still sending Takayama Christmas presents because Takayama made him look like a million bucks. This is a better version of the Tanahashi/Fujita and Takayama is downright Vader-like in how well he shined up KENTA throughout the match. Now granted KENTA is whole lot tinier than Sting or Mutoh, but Takayama was so selfless and really put the kid over as a scrappy, never say die babyface. KENTA did all the right things, but he was just missing that extra something when he was selling to really take it to the next level. This remains one of my all-time favorite NOAH match as it accomplishes what it sets out to do in a tidy 12 minutes and leaves you thinking KENTA is one tough little bugger. Right from the outset, he sets the tone kicking away Takayama's outstretched hand and bringing the fight right to him. Takayama weathers the storm before swatting him away like a gnat. There some huge kneelifts and kicks in this match from Takayama. I loved the spot where he just threw KENTA down to the floor it seemed like a deadlift. Takayama like all bullies gets a little cocky and covers KENTA with one foot. KENTA ain't taking that lying down. Takayama lays him out with a closed fist. KENTA just won't go away a tornado DDT and springboard dropkick get him back in it. He even covers Takayama with one foot, which Takayama promptly swats away. I loved the cutoff spots with huge kicks and knees from Takayama. KENTA was the little train that could and even got to slam and German Suplex Takayama. I have to say that Takayama did this spot a lot better than Vader, who made it too clear that he was helping his opponent. KENTA gets a really shitty looking cross armbreaker before Takayama slams out. He goes for the Everest German, but instead throws him face first onto the mat in a nasty spot and then demolishes him with a knee. This was everything you would want out this match. Takayama is one man wrecking ball and KENTA just won't stop coming. It is one of the easiest stories to tell, but they knocked it out of the park. ****


Naomichi Marufuji vs KENTA - NOAH 11/13/04
Surprisingly this was not for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title. I figured that was the only reason to really have the two tag partners wrestle. They may have already realized they wanted to push Marufuji and did not want the Junior Title to pigeon hole him. KENTA did win his first Junior Heavyweight Title until January of 2005, which is later than I would have expected. It is sensible given how integral KENTAFuji was to the Junior Tag Scene. This is just a good 'ol fashion respect contest expect someone forgot to tell KENTA.
I loved the beginning with KENTA coming out a million miles an hour looking to be the aggressor with the kicks. Marufuji really put over how much he did not want to take one of those. The slaps woke up Marufuji and told him he was in a fight. He tackles KENTA and is ready to punch him in the face. The ref admonishes him and he relents. That was a really damn good sequence. Marufuji continues to sap KENTA's strength in holds, but in a criss cross sequence KENTA catches him in a leapfrog and powerslams him, cool spot. The first annoying spot is KENTA tornado DDTs Marufuji, who sells, but seconds later is running around and hits a sunset flip powerbomb. Marufuji hits a DDT on the floor and works a cravat in the ring. I love how Marufuji is controlling the explosive KENTA with holds. Very sound psychology so far.

KENTA whiffs on a big boot, but finally connects on a kick to Marufuji's knee when he was going for the Asai Moonsault. I have liked how Marufuji has been winning by playing it conservative and letting KENTA make the mistakes, but once Marufuji tries to play KENTA's game, he gets burnt. KENTA does not work a very good control segment, He has a tendency to put a hold on and then just let go for no reason. I have always hated the mid-air powerbomb spot. It just looks so stupid. It is a bit too my move, your move at this point. I did like KENTA's counter of the Sliced Bread into a tombstone piledriver. He really spiked him. I also hate the Van Terminator and KENTA does that here. Exploding knee gets two. Go 2 Sleep, but Marufuji is too close to the ropes. I like that way of protecting a finish. Marufuji runs through his usual end of match moves. He goes up for the Spanish Fly, but they both take a nasty spill off the top rope onto floor. I really, really think that should have been the finish. They are tag partners and equals at this point. It shows the great lengths they would go to prove they were the better only for them to render both of them senseless. Instead they are up at 7 (Kobashi would have waited until at least 16 and he is very macho). Marufuji hits the Spanish Fly to win.

The match is infinitely better than their big Budokan GHC Heavyweight Title match in 2006. They told an interesting story in the beginning and then ran through big moves. Yes it was disjointed and there are better way to build their moves, but at least it was not absolute overkill. They had their finish right there, but decided to go to one extra move. That's story of NOAH always at least one move too much. ***1/2


Where are going to try to whip right through the next few. I have the reviews done for NOAH 2006, Best of Toryumon and Junior Heavyweights of 2005-2006.

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