Written by: Mike Campbell
ACCOMPLISH OUR SECOND NAVIGATION
July 26, 2002
NOAH celebrates their second anniversary of existence, and they really do it in style. Title matches, retirement matches, big guys beating each other up, KENTA showing he rules, and Izumida not sucking all the time.
Satoru Asako . . . calls it a career, with one last match with his old partners.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru . . . drops Sugiura on his head a bunch of times.
Yoshinari Ogawa . . . shows he can be useful for a stretch, with a shockingly fun title defense.
MITSUO MOMOTA/RUSHER KIMURA vs. HARUKA EIGEN/MASAHI AOYAGI
Oh yes, the old man comedy match. Actually aside from Eigen spitting all over the place, this is pretty much devoid of any comedy. Aoyagi attempts to do Eigen’s giant swing to Momota, but can’t lift him off the ground. So he compensates by just spinning him while he’s still on the mat. Randy Orton has nothing on Haruka Eigen in the spitting department though. Eigen does it when he gets chopped, or forearmed in the chest, and even after a Kimura lariat. Momota reverses an Eigen spinning toehold into a small package for the win. While Aoyagi blocks Kimura, not realizing that Eigen is getting pinned. Its short and its relatively harmless.
RICHARD SLINGER/SUPERSTAR STEVE vs. TAMON HONDA/TSUYOSHI KIKUCHI
This definitely isn’t a bad match by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a some flaws in it, not so much with the work itself, but with the workers themselves. The first one being the role Honda plays, that being not much of one. He makes the save for Kikuchi a few times, and bumps around for Slinger and that pretty much covers it. Honda only gets one major offensive run, against Superstar Steve, and its at the very beginning. Honda uses his power against Steve, perfectly acceptable but his choice of moves could have been better. Instead of the full nelson, it would have been nice to see Honda take Steve to the ground and stretch him out for a bit. Or Spike him with the Dead End early and put Slinger behind the eight-ball, and made his offensive run look like more than just making him look good. Slinger works a lot of NOAH tours, so its not like Honda was wasting his time and energy by making him look good.
Kikuchi had always made his name by being the victim. But he should really be above that by now. With Marufuji out and Kanemaru holding the GHC Jr. Title for no other reason than to keep it from being vacant. Kikuchi would be stepping up and being the major player. Kikuchi is arguably the #2 junior in NOAH by default, but he sure doesn’t look like it. There is nothing wrong with Kikuchi bumping and selling for Slinger like Honda did. Because the junior has always been the pinball for the heavyweight. Kikuchi shouldn’t be doing that for Steve though. As important as it is for a top guy to make lesser wrestlers look good, its just as important for them to keep themselves looking good. Kikuchi bumps for Steve and gives him a near fall from his lariat off the top. But then they go right to the finish with the Fireball Bomb. Completely skipping over where Kikuchi goes medieval on him before he finishes him off. If Kikuchi had done the same thing with someone like Sugiura, Hashi or KENTA it’d be different. Those three are a long term investment for NOAH, Steve is only working the tour for a combination of experience and payday. Kikuchi and Honda both had better things coming to them though, but if nothing else, this is a nice beginning to a “rags to riches” type of story. Before Kikuchi became half of the IWGP Jr. Tag Champions, and before Honda broke out of his shell in 2003 and almost immediately became of the better NOAH heavyweight workers.
TAKESHI MORISHIMA/DAISUKE IKEDA vs. YOSHIHIRO TAKAYAMA/BISON SMITH
This isn’t exactly a hidden gem, but a really surprisingly fun match. Two makeshift, hard hitting teams, just knocking the ever-loving-hell out of each other. Not out of a feud or hatred, but just to prove their toughness. The only really weaknesses of the match come courtesy of Morishima. Since the match is mostly just them smacking each other around, the execution isn’t usually a big factor. At one point, Morishima looks like he’s going to do a hip-toss and then changes his mind partway into the move and decides he wants to do a sidewalk slam, the results of which are not pretty. The selling is pretty much on par for the style of match they went with. For the most part they stagger and fall back when they get hit, and then take a second and fire back. The only real full-blown no-sell comes from Morishima as well, when he blows off Takayama’s belly-to-belly in order to do another lariat, and then of course he drops down for an infamous delayed sell.
Ikeda would seem to be out of place in this match due to his size, but they can work around that with his striking. Ikeda can hit just as hard as the other three and his size lends him speed which he can use to tire out the bigger guys and make his strikes even more effective. It does look a bit odd to see Ikeda hitting Takayama with a backdrop, but not nearly as odd as it is to see Misawa giving Vader a German suplex. Bison isn’t as tall as Ikeda, but he’s more built, and that makes it more believable to see him hitting Morishima with a powerslam. It would have been nice to either see one team use a few double team moves, or Ikeda change things up with a couple submissions. The ending doesn’t really give a full conclusion either. The match is over but no real team comes out looking better. Morishima was able to hit the backdrop and Ikeda was able to prevent Takayama from saving. Its simple, but not very compelling. Its due to the thrown-together nature of the teams. Takayama was on his way to New Japan, and Morishima was already half of the tag champions, so neither team had an immediate future. Which is what boils down to NOAH’s main problem is with their under-card booking. A few random names will get tossed together in a tag match just to fill the card. When it produces something fun and enjoyable, nobody thinks to stop and see why or how it happened, so that they can book similar matches more regularly. When the time comes for another show in need of a few more matches, its just onto another random drawing. ***
VADER/SCORPIO vs. MICHAEL MODEST/DONOVAN MORGAN
This match itself is almost a complete squash, and Vader spends the majority of it on the apron. Its best that he does too, because Scorpio has the more flashy offense, and he can work with Modest and Morgan. Modest and Morgan don’t really get to show off too much, only a couple of nice looking double teams. Its pretty even when Scorpio works with them, because he can work *with* them. Modest and Morgan don’t have anything they can do to someone the size of Vader, so when the big man does get in the ring, it’s a total massacre. Modest was able to survive the splash, which is about as close as it gets to Vader making him look good, but then he follows up with the Nodowa and there’s nothing left, pinning Modest makes it crystal clear that Vader is the absolute top gaijin in NOAH. It’s too bad that Misawa didn’t book Vader to win the gold from Akiyama, because Vader with the strap is ten-times more credible than Ogawa.
KENTA/TAKUMA SANO vs. KOTARO SUZUKI/JUN AKIYAMA
Suzuki with his jet black hair and dark blue trunks, looks almost exactly like Akiyama looked in his younger days in All Japan. This match is all about the juniors though, and more specifically KENTA. The NOAH junior division wasn’t much of one at this time. Suzuki was clearly at the bottom, and then the big three, but KENTA, Hashi, and Sugiura were all pretty much interchangeable with each other. KENTA shows in this match, that he’s above the other two and that he fully intends to be #1.
KENTA and Suzuki tear things up early on the mat, and Suzuki is in control at first, using his arm drags and then taking it to the air with a big dropkick, and a plancha. Suzuki isn’t much more than a spot machine, but the athletic ability is impressive. KENTA gets control and grounds Suzuki with the Boston Crab, and then things get interesting. Akiyama tries to break the hold with a half-assed kick at KENTA. Who responds by getting all up in his face. Akiyama dares him to do something and KENTA does all he can, forearms, kicks, chops, and nothing has any effect, but the crowd eats it up. It was actually a lot like Jun’s younger days in All Japan. Where he’d try his best against the likes of Hansen, Williams, Kawada, etc and still come up short. When Akiyama fires back though, he really fires back and KENTA does the full Curt Hennig oversell to boot. KENTA tags in Sano, and as soon as Sano was able to wear down Akiyama a little bit, KENTA came flying in with his springboard dropkick and took Akiyama down. That’s another sign of Akiyama’s past. When he’d do his best and fail, only for Misawa to obliterate the opponent with two simple elbows and then tag Jun back in, where he’d now have things under control. KENTA shows that for a guy his size, he does have some strength, when he catches Akiyama in a powerslam, and then lifts him up in a back breaker.
Suzuki comes back and KENTA goes from being the underdog, to making the underdog look like he’s got a prayer. KENTA’s Falcon Arrow is a close near fall, and then he gives Suzuki his own near fall from a hurricanrana and then finally finishes him off with a breathtaking German suplex hold. Afterwards, Akiyama shows KENTA some respect and acknowledges him as a good wrestler. This falls into the same category as the Morishima/Ikeda tag match. A lot of fun and enjoyable stuff, but it was ultimately just a throw-away match. ***.
MOHAMMED YONE vs. JUN IZUMIDA
This kept rather short, and is surprisingly smartly worked considering who the participants are. Yone almost scores the win really quickly with a roundhouse to the head, and the only reason he doesn’t make a quick cover and win, is because he can’t roll over Izumida fast enough due to his weight. Izumida sells it really nicely though, and Yone tries to get a half-assed quick win, just doing little moves like an elbow drop. Yone screws up though and charges into a boot and then eats a Nodowa Otoshi, which leads Izumida to start targeting his taped up neck. Izumida keeps on it with effective attacks like the STO, the lariat, and even a headbutt. Showing Yone exactly why he was so stupid for not taking full advantage when he almost had Izumida knocked out. Izumida then seizes the moment and cranks on a neck lock to score the tap-out win. Its too short to really be worth a whole lot, but it’s some really smart work from two guys who aren’t really known for smart work.
MISAWA/KOBASHI/ASAKO vs. TAUE/INOUE/HASHI
This is Asako’s retirement match, after a long head injury, so it makes sense that he gets to be the star. Asako is reunited with his old tag partners from way back in the early 1990’s when he first got started. Kobashi is even wearing his retro orange trunks with no flame design on them. This is pretty dull and meandering at first, with nothing much going on in the way of any storytelling. Asako brings out a few nice moves in a blockbuster and tarantula to Hashi before tagging out. Misawa doesn’t look very motivated at all here, despite his left shoulder being heavily taped up. The only time he ever sells anything to it, is when he hits Inoue with a shoulder block. Inoue works as smart as he usually does, which is to say, not at all. Despite Misawa’s shoulder being heavily taped up, Inoue doesn’t take a single offensive shot at it. There isn’t any guarantee that Misawa would have sold anything, but then it comes off like Misawa’s the dumb-ass and Inoue is actually doing something right for once in his career. Inoue does something right, when Misawa hooks on a chin lock, he actually sells it by audibly coughing. Taue and Kobashi don’t bring much to the table either, just a few hot sequences with each other.
That’s all okay though, because its Asako’s retirement match, so its his time to be in the spotlight. Inoue does something right by working over the neck and head area of Asako, but then completely screws it up by tagging in Taue. Taue does all of two moves and then realizes how ass-backwards it is, to get a good advantage over someone and then bring in the strong member of the team, so he tags back out. Asako sells like a king though. Every time anyone does anything to his neck area he lets out a big pained scream, and rolls around clutching his neck. Asako takes a DDT from Inoue and basically spikes himself into the mat, making Inoue look like he damn near killed him. Asako hot tags and its just like ten years ago, after he’s taken a pounding, its time for the bigger guys to clean up. Kobashi makes quick work and brings Asako back in, so he can complete his time in the limelight by scoring a win. Misawa takes care of Inoue on the floor and Taue eats a Burning Lariat from Kobashi. Leaving Asako alone with Hashi. First he softens him up with a fisherman buster and then its time to use the SDA (Super Driver Asako) one last time, and call it a career. Afterwards he gets the red carpet rolled out for him and the wrestlers present him with gifts. Much more tasteful than “pink slip on a pole” matches, or the fans singing “Goodbye” as you leave the ring.
TAKASHI SUGIURA vs. YOSHINOBU KANEMARU © (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Kanemaru is only holding the title to keep it from being vacant. Marufuji is out with a serious knee injury, Kikuchi is getting up there in years, and none of the other native juniors are ready to be champion. Kanemaru certainly isn’t champion for his great skills. This match makes that perfectly clear, as Sugiura looks passable, but Kanemaru is just frustrating. The early portion is duller than dirt, the only real highspots are a pescado from Kanemaru and his guardrail leg drop. Beyond that, they kill time with rest holds, and neither of them have any concept as to working the holds in attempt to tell a story. The action picks up after a little while and Sugiura starts to work over Kanemaru’s back, a pretty solid strategy for using the Olympic Slam, and taking away Kanemaru’s main weapons in the brain buster and moonsault. After Kanemaru survives the Boston Crab though, he just goes back on offense like nothing has happened.
The match slows down again, but it picks up when Sugiura goes back on offense and works over the back some more, with some gut wrench suplex throws. Sugiura also tries to give off the aura of being a legit bad-ass with a Triangle Choke, but submissions were never big in NOAH, so it doesn’t give off the desired impression. Sugiura shows he’s got the champion scouted and dodges the low kick, and tries to end it early with the Olympic Slam, but Kanemaru escapes and hits a brain buster. Kanemaru tries for a second one and Sugiura does a go-around and hits the Olympic Slam, but is too out of it to cover. Considering Sugiura just got spiked on his head, and had it in him to not only counter, but hit his own move, that isn’t a particularly smart thing to do. It would have worked if Sugiura had slowed down and struggled a bit before he threw him, thereby showing fatigue and affliction to explain why he couldn’t cover as fast.
As frustrating as that was to see from Sugiura, Kanemaru just has to go and one-up him. Sugiura tries for a second Olympic Slam only for Kanemaru to escape and then go right back on offense by hitting a DDT. Kanemaru then ignores any damage his back may have taken from the slam, or any back work in general and he throws out his jumping DDT and moonsault. Then he proceeds to spike him with the three locomotion brain busters, and does the same “too out of it to over” routine that Sugiura did. Sugiura doing that was frustrating, but this is downright silly. He doesn’t cover period and then decides to play All Japan “top this”. It’d be one thing if he actually had tried to cover and Sugiura kicked out. At least then taking him up to would have some hint of logic in it, rather than just bringing up top to spike him for a fourth consecutive (and fifth total) brain buster to end the match. A very dull first half, combined with a frustrating and half-witted second half, aren’t the kind of matches I want to see the GHC Jr. Title defended in.
TAKESHI RIKIO vs. YOSHINARI OGAWA © (GHC Heavyweight Title)
Ogawa as GHC Champion has a sort of tragic appeal to it. This is one of those things that makes hindsight so great. Looking back, all Ogawa’s GHC reign wound up being was a five-month placeholder for the title. Back in 2002 when nobody knew when it would end, it was this huge ordeal. The set-up for this match is pretty cut-and-dry. Rikio dismantled Ogawa in a non-title match in under two minutes to earn this title shot. The match starts out much like the Yone/Izumida affair did. With Rikio trying his best to brutalize Ogawa for another quick win. Rikio has some success with his power offense, and decides to hurt Ogawa just for kicks. Rikio puts a headlock on and really cranks on it. Rikio winds up outsmarting himself though, and when Ogawa goes to the floor for a breath, he takes the opportunity to trip him up and hook his knee in the ropes. It was just like what happened to Yone, instead of going for kill and getting the win, he wanted to have fun and it bit him in the ass.
Ogawa’s ways of working over Rikio’s knee aren’t exactly state-of-the-art, but they aren’t supposed to be. He needs to do as much damage as he can, with the lucky break he just found himself. So instead of trying all these advanced moves, that he probably can’t even do right. Ogawa just stomps and does a simple leg lace. He also brings out Bret Hart’s ring post figure four (although not nearly as well executed as Bret). Its too bad that the leg work only wound up being filler, because they could have kept going in that direction and probably put on a better match.
They start going more toe-to-toe with Rikio still being able to overpower Ogawa, but using his leg as an excuse for him to not be able to have as much success as he used to. One nice moment is Rikio being unable to do his cradle DDT as fast. Ogawa stays away from the leg, and tries to make himself look better by going toe-to-toe with Rikio. Ogawa doesn’t have much he can do to someone Rikio’s size though, so he winds up having to use his own signature moves several times. Its nice that Rikio sells Ogawa’s enzuigiri like a near-knockout blow, because its usually little more than a set up to something else. It does look odd to see Ogawa dishing out multiple backdrops though. It’d have been much more fathomable for Ogawa to just do a single one, and have him put everything he’s got into the move. Then play the “too tired to cover” card. Rikio’s selling of Ogawa’s attacks give them much more credibility than they probably deserve. But when he hits the bridging backdrop, the nail is in the coffin. With Rikio’s knee, the figure-four cradle would probably have been a more logical ending move. Part of being the champion is knowing how to win, Ogawa’s win here makes him look like a combo of lucky and good. The champion, shouldn’t need to look lucky at all.
Conclusion: A pretty fun up-and-down card. The top two matches both had room for improvement, although they both did have some enjoyable moments. The undercard has a bunch of fun stuff as well. Recommendation for NOAH: Accomplish Our Second Navigation.