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

2006 · Akebono · Junji Izumida · Kenta Kobashi · NOAH · Takeshi Rikio

Kenta Kobashi & Junji Izumida vs Akebono & Takeshi Rikio-NOAH 22.1.2006.

A very good 20 minute match that could’ve been a great 10-15 minute match. Akebono is the focal point of the match-whenever he’s in the ring the match is on track. The crowd is livid at the idea of him facing off with Kobashi, and the early sequences clash Kobashi’s tenacity with Akebono’s sheer size, and it ends up with Akebono running over Kobashi. Unfortunately the Akebono-less pairings deliver nothing for most of the match, you’d think Kobashi was Go Shiozaki by the reactions his offence was getting and his insistance on doing shitty downward chops. The action picks up once Rikio fires up, no-sells Kobashi’s pedestrian offence and corners him with sumo palm strikes. From there on Akebono stops playing the invicible monster and embodies a more vulnerable, Vader-esque monster, peaking with Kobashi relentlessly chopping him down in the corner and getting both his payback and moral victory in the clash of the titans. Akebono’s slaps and slams are brutal enough that he doesn’t lose credibiltiy even if Izumida was beating him up moments beforehand, and him and Rikio come up with neat ways to sandwich their opponents and put their weight to use. A neat glimpse into an alternative universe where a  more mobile and better booked Akebono was a great wrestler. ***1/4

Jun Akiyama · Muhammad Yone · NOAH

Jun Akiyama vs Muhammad YoneYone-NOAH 4.3.2007.

Yone attacks Akiyama at the bell, which looks way cooler than those segments usually do since a bunch of smoke comes out when Akiyama climbs on the entrance ramp and Yone takes advantage of that. The kicks he takes Akiyama down with looked clunky, which was the first sign I wasn’t going to like this as much as I did however many years ago I’d watched it first. Akiyama’s acting is top notch-he gets into Yone’s face and goes straight after him, Yone instantly fired back with kicks, Akiyama barely registers it, then gets kicked in the face and has to, then gets serious and Exploders him off the apron. And that pattern continues-Akiyama mocks Yone when in control, tries to half ass it with the pop-ups when in danger but gets kicked in the head again. Eventually Yone hits some big moves, including a brutal head kick which busts Akiyama open. Akiyama manages to somehow kick Yone straight in the face to counter a Diving Legdrop, and from there on it’s pure smashmouth as many slaps and knees set up Akiyama’s victory. Definitely a quality sprint, but Akiyama seemed unwilling to put himself over as strongly as he should’ve for a match like this to reach its full potential. He always does *a lot* whereas someone like Kobashi or Takayama may not put as much thought/effort/whatever into facing lower ranked opponents but because of the greatness of their offence and how strongly they present themselves they still put on strong outings, maybe not as good as those Akiyama does, but they don’t focus on them as much as he does either. ***1/4

2009 · KENTA · NOAH

KENTA vs Ricky Marvin-NOAH 15.10.2009.

I’m pretty confident in calling this the greatest under two minute match of all time. I was wondering how some of these NOAH matches would hold up for me but this one absolutely did. The match start off with probably theg reatest blindsight dive of all time, you’ve seen the spot where one wrestler attacks the other before the match starts a thousand times, and a fair share of those have been junior dives, here KENTA is just normally walking around the ring and Marvin comes out of nowhere crushing him. His next move is getting KENTA back into the ring and John Woo Dropkicking KENTA. That’s a move that looks badass by itself, but here KENTA’s skull crashes into the bottom turnbuckle. Marvin follows it up with a Powerbomb for an early nearfall setting the insane pace. That is followed by KENTA’s transition back into control, which has KENTA try a couple of counters that Marvin adjusts to-first by Savate Kicking him, and then when Marvin bounces off the ropes and you already see KENTA countering that with a Front Head Kick Marvin does this amazing Jackie Chan kip-up combo. I really have nothing against flips in wrestling nor anyone wrestling any style, my problem most of the type is simply that many wrestlers don’t possess the creativity and wrestling intelligence that Marvin displayed here. You could also have a situation where Marvin would do five of those while his opponent did some other flips, but that doesn’t really convey the sense of struggle in that flashy move it did here, where Marvin legitimately looked like a kung fu master. KENTA takes all of Marvin’s shots and still comes back with a Discus Lariat. This could’ve bothered me, but with their difference in hierarchy and how the match was worked I deemed it fitting. From then on it’s a game of cat and mouse with KENTA blasting Marvin with huge kicks and attempting the G2S while Marvin attempts desperate flash pins and counters. The second time he goes for the same counters KENTA is ready-and he catches him, counters his counters, knees him and kicks him in the head and goes over. Wonderful pro wrestling. ****

2011 · KENTA · NOAH

KENTA vs Takashi Sugiura-NOAH 13.11.2011.

A month before KENTA has beaten Sugiura in a grueling, thirty minute match to become the #1 contender for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. You can see that tensions are still high even before the match, as their postures and facial expressions tell you they’re ready to duke it out, and boy do they ever. This match is kind of like the world’s most awesome Pancrase sprint, as they just go out there and slap the hell out of each other, but they don’t just exchange strikes by doing the “I strike you-you strike me” spot for two minutes before going to a finish, they bust out combinations, duck, block and counter. KENTA stops for a moment before the Go 2 Sleep, and it’s uncertain whether KENTA was genuinely unbalanced, selling his knee which was tapped up or the lines blurred, but it’s not even that important as the effect is the same. The finish plays up the urgency really well, as it’s not something usually used as a finish, rather a swift adaption to the attacks and a more definitive method than insisting on finisher spamming and a war of attrition unfit for what they were going for here. All time great 2 minute sprint. ***3/4

2011 · Kensuke Sasaki · NOAH

Takashi Sugiura vs Kensuke Sasaki-NOAH 23.7.2011.

This is a lot closer to how many japanese matches are worked these days than the Kensuke matches I’ve recently reviewed, partly due to when it took place and partly due to who he was facing. There isn’t a lot to it-there’s a million strike exchanges which make up almost the entire match, Sasaki overwhelms Sugiura in the beginning, beat the shit out of him and Sugiura gradually comes back before the match finishes in total parity with a double KO. Lacking the other ingredients needed to reach greatness, but it’s still fun two see two guys just shitbeat each other without any eye-rollingly dumb spots, and these two sure brough the violence, and also varied their striking combinations a lot, particularly as the match went on, and appropriately finished it off with shoot punches. It is telling of how poorly Sugiura protected his offence that winning a strike exchange got a significantly louder reaction than his Dragon Suplex. Kensuke using elbow strikes once a year and them then being sold like death brings me joy. The German Supex popping up in a 2011 match won’t surprise anyone, but this match felt chaotic enough that it hardly mattered. There are probably inherent limitations in a match where you limit how much the input variables can matter, but this match isn’t relevant enough to thoroughly analyse that. ***1/2