2017 · Atsushi Kotoge · Katsuhiko Nakajima · NOAH

Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Atsushi Kotoge-NOAH 25.6.2017.

Similar structure to some of the recent Nakajima title defences, a little chain wrestling, some brawling outside and then the match starts proper. The weight Nakajima puts behind his kicks never ceases to impress me-they’re so incredibly sharp, it really shows he is a black belt karateka. This match needed more focus-there weren’t really any control segments, and the only things setting it apart from just *getting stuff in* was them building stuff around countering each other’s signature maneuvers. And some of the counters were good (Nakajima’s particularly-Kotoge’s signature spots are very unique in their elaborateness, and the stark contrast of Nakajima just cutting them off with quick head kicks made for a nice visual), but they didn’t properly organize it so that moments when those moves were hit later on would feel special, they’d just try them for the second time and be successful. Kotoge’s move-set is still quite juniorish and he doesn’t have much heavyweight offence other than the headbutt, but that’s not necessarily an issue, and after thinking about it I realised even if some of NOAH’s heavyweights are smaller there’s no one really working like that now other than him. They got the crowd invested without forced nearfalls (in fact the finishing stretch was really minimalistic) so I reckon this is a continuation of positive crowd conditioning. ***1/4

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2017 · Katsuhiko Nakajima · Mohammed Yone · NOAH

Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Mohammed Yone-NOAH 4.6.2017.

This is a battle of two kickers (well, Yone is a kicker when he’s motivated enough to be one) on a Misawa memorial show, and you get exactly what you’d expect. Aside from the opening sequence, there aren’t really any differences in the type of work throughout the match-they almost immediately get to striking at each other, with the intensity and urgence being the main difference depending on when it took place.  They in their shots nicely, the control segments aren’t huge, but Yone does get tangible control over the match and at point Nakajima just goes berserk, mounting Yone and just killing him with forearms, setting off the finishing stretch. Yone’s Lariats throughout the match looked great, Nakajima is great at using his kicks as cut-offs (espeacially in the later portions of the match) and the double slap spot was very cool and almost surprisingly fresh. They managed to get the crowd invested in the match without forcing an epic or going needlessly long, which was probably the right call for a “smaller” title defence. ***1/2

2008 · Katsuhiko Nakajima · Kota Ibushi · Mitsuharu Misawa · NOAH · Ricky Marvin · Taiji Ishimori

Kensuke Sasaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kota Ibushi vs Mitsuharu Misawa, Taiji Ishimori & Ricky Marvin-NOAH 25.10.2008.

A fun mess. Match starts out with Nakajima and Marvin, and while you may expect them to do some contrived junior sequences they instead proceed to just slap the taste out of each other’s mouth, setting the pace and the heat for the match. And it’s not like it was hard for them to sustain that-you get Ibushi pinballing for Misawa, Misawa and Kensuke slugging it out, Kensuke destroying juniors, all intriguing ideas that were executed well (I loved MIsawa saying fuck it mid-strike exchange with Kensuke and tagging out). Misawa is at his most Giant Baba-ish here, at the end of the match he can’t even run halfway across the ring, but anyone other than Kensuke that gets close to him gets elbowkilled. Marvin and Nakajima were unfortunately the heat killers too, as Marvin tried to use more of his more juniorish offence in their next match-up and Nakajima didn’t really know how to react. In an interesting turn of events Ibushi and Ishimori were the ones to get the heat back by doing even more junior stuff, but with fluidity and good execution. It being a six man tag also allows them to incorporate more complicated spots easier without ridiculous set-ups, like Marvin’s ramp run and Ibushi’s sudden Springboard to cut-off the double 619, you don’t even notice that stuff when there’s simulatenous action going on. ***1/2

2016 · Katsuhiko Nakajima · NOAH

Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Masa Kitamiya-NOAH 24.12.2016.

The children of Kensuke Sasaki are keeping the tradition of meathead battles alive. I am so glad that in this age of flash and GIFs someone is doing a Masa Saito tribute gimmick, Kitamiya may not be able to do the Omaga/Okada feats of athleticism and do Moonsaults over the guardrail but he has really good basics. So many wrestlers these days don’t know how to stomp, kick a lag or throw a bodyslam, all things Kitamiya is great at. Even his legwork was badass. They built a smart match with a beginning, middle and end and a clear trajectory. If there was a criticism I could point at the match it’s that shaving a couple of minutes would’ve made it even better, because it seemed they could produce something REALLY special and making it more concise would’ve certainly helped. These two put in great effort, keeping their offence varied and also keeping the viewer on his toes, constantly modifying sequences you thought you’d already know how they’d end. When Kitamiya way about to shoot Nakajima off the ropes Nakajima would pull him back in a Headlock and start really wrenching it, when it seemed Kitamiya was gonna Shoulder Block Nakajima Nakajima kicked him in the head and they built to a shoulder block, making everything feel earned. Kitamiya feels so refreshing, here’s a guy who turns a Samoan Drop into a holy shit spot and has all these awesome hulk ups and knows how to get the crowd riled up. It comes as a given they worked incredibly stiff. Nakajima’s biggest stregnth may be how great his cut-offs are-he really knows how to time and adapt a kicking variation to best match the moment. ***1/2