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NOAH 8/5/00
by Digable James Cobo

 I. Intro (duction)

I tells youse one thing - when Brian Gleine says the site needs non-big-3 reviews, you *do* a non-big-3 review, and you do it toot f'n sweet. Unless, of course, you're Digable James Cobo, in which case you take the Online Wrestling Commentary equivalent of the long and winding road. But, as with everything, I come complete, having even TAKEN NOTES (honest to goodness NOTES) while I was watching the show; after all, I haven't done a show report in about seven months, so I'm a teensy wee bit out of practice. Nevertheless, HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL~!, so I shall try to capture that Olde Tyme Feeling.

A few notes: this is NOT Mem-O-Rate style. Don't get me wrong; these are EXTRAORDINARILY subjective ratings, but the Mem-O-Rate doesn't really work in the puroresu context. I'll be using the standard Cornette/Dooley rating system (***** = perfect, **** = great, *** = good, ** = OK, * = pretty bad, DUD = horrible), so adjust your rearview windows accordingly. Additionally, I'm not a big fan of play-by-play; I'll include it, but this is mostly opinion.

Finally, I've actually got something of a schedule of upcoming releases to be dropped upon ye, namely:

  • - Further puro/lucha/indy reports (generally I'll just review them as I dub them for trades)

  • - continuing work on the Upcoming Secret Project

  • - a minimum of one My Other Area within the week

  • - a Tens? Don't count on it, but HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL~!

  • - a new Dreamcast, meaning eventual reviews of Giant Gram (unless Boon beats me to it, which he assuredly will) and Fire Pro D (~!), upon release.

So in other words, I's got a bizzay Jan'yary.

Oh, and Gleine - although you may think I'm writing this just for the sake of making mention within a column, I swear to god - right before I turned on the VCR to finish watching the tape (thinking "Eh... I'd really rather just watch TV, but I might as well"), I turn on VH1, and... INDEPENDANT WOMEN, PART ONE. Instant karma, she is making plans for getting you.

2. NOAH 8/5/00


It's a safe bet that in this modern day of computers and inter-nets and Jet Grind Radios, every wrestling fan connected to the World Wide Web has at one point or another come across reference to All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). More than likely, that fan read the virtual tomes of praise being heaped upon the promotion for its brutal stiffness and head-dropping (which is exactly what it sounds like - the art of dropping another person on their head), well-crafted matches (luminaries as high as Dave Meltzer have recognized AJPW as having been the home of more ***** matches during the 90s than any other promotion), and most importantly, their epic, subdued storylines (which were told almost entirely within the context of the match itself). How good was AJPW? Just ask anyone with even a modicum of interest in international professional wrestling what the best men's singles or tag match is, and an All Japan match will be the answer for both (for the record, that's Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada on 6/3/94 for best singles match and Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Kawada/Akira Taue on 6/9/95 being the best tag match). I mean, hell, even if they don't agree, odds are they'll make mention of either one of those matches.

It all came down to the storylines. AJPW had a history of telling IN-RING stories first and foremost. Take the famous Kawada vs. Misawa feud, widely considered to be the best feud ever, in terms of both in-ring work and overall greatness. Just looking at the first half of the feud, you'd think it was really one-sided, with Kawada never being able to beat Misawa for the Triple Crown. This was in fact untrue, as AJPW set up Kawada to pin Misawa on several occasions in several high-profile tags, including the aforementioned 6/9/95, to keep the idea that Kawada *could* pin Misawa fresh in the audience's mind. Additionally, AJPW feuds would feature specific (and extraordinarily brutal) moves as "killers" (my term) that were impossible to overcome, such as Misawa's Tiger Driver '91 (double underhook high-angle piledriver), Kobashi's Burning Hammer (torture rack into reverse Death Valley Driver), or most infamously, Toshiaki's Ganso Bomb (powerbomb your opponent DIRECTLY on the top of their head), which ended up blowing off the entire Misawa/Kawada feud. The biggest key to all of this was the duration of the feuds; that same Kawada/Misawa feud went for EIGHT YEARS. Nowadays, most American wrestlers don't even stay in the same federation for eight years.

It was, in short, the ideal wrestling promotion. For a little while.

You see, business in AJPW had been declining since mid-'97/early-'98. Backstage tempers were wearing thin; Misawa wanted to move the product forward to a flashier style, while the Babas (founder and president Shohei "Giant" Baba and his ridiculously influential wife Mokoto) wanted to keep the promotion running the way it had been. Out of deference to Giant Baba, Misawa relented, but the seeds had been planted. Tensions were also running high among the workers; Kawada in particular was angered by the fact that Kobashi had been chosen to kick out of the Tiger Driver '91, a spot which should have been his. More importantly, workers were becoming more and more aware that a glass ceiling was very much in effect; outside of Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, and Taue, there weren't any native talents that made a consistent impact (occasionally, the fed would bring in outside, usually American, workers like Gary Albright, Johnny Ace [Mrs. Baba's favorite, and who would eventually go on to be one of the bookers], and Dr. Death Steve Williams, and push them heavily, albeit temporarily), in spite of the thunderous reactions received by talent such as Takao Omori or Jun Akiyama. In short, something had to give. All it took was one event to set the wheels in motion.

The death of Giant Baba.

With Baba's passing in January of 1999, it was just a matter of time before Misawa split. Mokoto Baba tried to placate the dissidents by elevating Jun Akiyama and giving Misawa the Triple Crown at the Giant Baba Memorial Card, but it's too little, too late: in June of 2000, Misawa split for good with AJPW. But he didn't go alone; he took not only three of the big four (himself, Kobashi, and Taue), not only both Jun Akiyama and Takao Omori (AJPW's two most marketable young stars), he essentially took all of the native talent within the federation. Hell, eventually he even signed a deal with Vader, who was still under AJPW contract. In short, he gutted AJPW, and molded those entrails into his own federation: Pro-Wrestling NOAH. And the world was waiting to see what he'd do in his new playground on August 6th, in the year 2000.


The Actual Show:

Green static gives way to english lettering (!): "New legend dawns in the last summer of the 20th century". Note to Vince McMahon - sometimes the understated approach is the best approach of all.

It's unfortunate that I'm taping this for someone, or else I could skip directly through this looooooooooooong interview segment (in Japanese, I might add). I would, however, be remiss in noting that in the line for NOAH tickets, there's two FOXY LADIES third and fourth, respectively, just as a reminder once again that EVERYTHING's cooler about Japanese wrestling :) And just in case we didn't get it... the NOAH officials *give away tickets* to the hardcore fans who waited in line overnight, thus blowing my mind.

And now we get to my personal most-anticipated part - the actual debut of the federation, as we get BIG fanfare, and a suddenly darkened arena, when all of a sudden... a spotlight shines down... on Mitsuharu Misawa. It's just a great thing to see, as he climbs through his own federation's ropes for the first time, and all the rest of the fed's wrestlers come out in a mass procession. Misawa gives a speech, and immediately starts to break down his famous Stoic Pillar personality; I mean, the man is nearly crying with joy. Why? To show that things are different now, and that there's a whole new way to perform. NOAH ain't your parents' wrestling, bubbaloo.

Interview package, and then WE'VEGOTAMATCH!

First Match: Mokoto Hashi vs. Takeshi Morakami

I can't express how much easier it is to recognize people since they have English name screens before the match itself. Almost as if they knew that We Lowly Americans Who Are Uncontent With Two Of Our Three Biggest Promotions, If Not All Three Altogether were going to be buying this. Can't say I'm overly familiar with either one of these here guys, although Hashi's silver outfit makes him resemble a baked potato a little bit too much for me to take him totally seriously. This match is what they call a Contrast in Styles, as Morakami's "stiff" style contrasts pretty sharply with Hashi's "suckass" style. I mean, not even five minutes in, and Hashi's setting Morakami up for a headbutt that would make the ROCK bitch about how bad it exposes the business (explanation: sets up Morakami against the outside of the ropes, runs the length of the ramp leading up to the ring, hits him with a shitty headbutt). If this is what Misawa wanted, then Go Mrs. Baba, Go You Huskies. Fortunately, as the match progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Hashi's suckitude isn't due to Misawa's Sports Entertainment fetish, but rather to his own inherent shittiness. I don't know how you can make an armbar look shitty, let alone a fucking HAMMERLOCK, but I'll be damned if Hashi didn't find a way. Fortunately, Morakami's up to the task of giving the match some sort of flow; he takes us back to the old school with his armbar -> jujigatami (scissor legs around shoulder, pull up on wrist) escapes. Too bad he couldn't sell ice water in hell - he totally forgets all Hashi's shitty armwork once he gets in control, and they ease into a head-based psychological segment thanks to Dueling Headbutts. Worse yet, Hashi's back in control. Why Hashi, who's this friend of yours that keeps popping up? "Hello; I'm the Mongolian Chop (raise both arms over your head, holler, and strike at base of opponent's neck), and I suck ass. You'll be seeing me a lot tonight." And yet... Morakami just REFUSES to (a) suck, or (b) sell, nailing a SWEET-ASS X-Factor, a CRINGINGLY great lariat, and finally his whomp-ass finisher (chokeslam into a face buster) for the win. I tells youse what, he's got a pretty good idea of timing and a pretty decent moveset. If he learns how to sell (paging Akira Taue), he could be a player.

Match rating: * 3/4. Calling Hashi "bad" isn't quite right. Rather, he's a big fucking PARADE OF SUCK that kept clogging the intersection between Decent Wrestling Avenue and Stiff Work Boulevard. Morakami needs to learn to sell before he can REALLY carry a match.

Second Match: Haruka Eigen/Jun Izmuda/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Takeshi Rikoh/Rusher Kimura/Mitsuo Momota

The coolest thing about this rancid affair is the prematch interviews, where they seemingly go in ascending order of age, ending up with Rusher "Father of Dirt" Kimura. Ever get that spidey-sense tingle that a match is going to put its lips on an ass and suck? The Undertaker Effect, they call it. At any rate, this match is precisely as bad as I had expected, despite the MASSIVE presence of the Goddamned Mongolian Chop. When the highlight of the actual match is the shitty triple team that only reminds you how great the KDX/Crazy MAX triple teams are... well, that's not a very good match. I mean, I could count the number of actual WRESTLING moves on one hand. Is it still a comedy match if nobody laughs?

Match Rating: DUD, FUCKING DUD. It's even worse because Kimura used to be an honest-to-goodness good wrestler; I've read recaps of him vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (~!) that blitz past ****. Nowadays, the only way he's going to see four stars is to go outside at night.

Third Match: Kentaro Shiga/Naomichi Marufuji vs. Masao Inoue/Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Apparently, Inoue and Kanemaru are some sort of tag champions. The only thing I know about them is that I keep mistaking one for the other, and that goes for Shiga and Marufuji too. Not that it matters; this match can't possibly be worse than the last one. Marufuji and Inoue open this one up, and they came to RUN, as we get a (sloppy) kip-up, a SLINGSHOT HEADSCISSORS (!), and in general a nice little mostly-mat-based sprint. Inoue tags in Kanemaru, whose trunks have a big white star on the ass, and he proceeds to bring out the WORST in Marufuji. I've never seen such a bad dropkick in all my life; it's like Marufuji just rammed Kanemaru's chest with his shins. Not that it matters, because it all leads up to the Official Number One And The Best Funniest Moment in NOAH History To This Day: Kanemaru is in control of Marufuji on the ground around the ring, throws him over a guardrail, lariats him, and then backs off in terror. For you see, Marufuji has found a weapon to brandish as Hell's fury shines in his eyes... an UMBRELLA. I had to pause the tape due to excessive laughter (by this time, I was no longer dubbing). Jesus CHRIST... now I know how Brian Pillman felt when Sid came at him with the squeegee. Marufuji wisely decides to cut his losses and tag in Shiga. I don't know if there are words that adequately describe Shiga's utter vanilla-ness; the most interesting thing about him is the way he does slams (leans on one foot upon release). He tags back out after Kanemaru nails him with the Worst Tree of Woe Footstomp Ever (slow motion reveals a complete absence of contact), and Marufuji responds by getting the crap beat out of him (bleeding hardway from the nose in the process), until nailing Kanemaru with a SPECTACULARLY great, yet clearly called (VERY clearly called) top-rope headscissors. I mean, Marufuji's just hitting on all cylinders - running DDT that puts the Undertaker's best one to SHAME, WICKED AWESOME locked solebutt, NICE top rope dropkick, PRETTY DECENT frogsplash... he fucked his hot streak to do the World's Worst Arabian Presss (Poetry in Motion for those of you not in the know), but for a few minutes, he was the Worker of the Show in a WALK. CUE THE STIFFNESS! In the span of like five minutes, we see Kanemaru MURDER Marufuji with a lariat, a reverse 'rana that lands Shiga DIRECTLY on top of his head, and general NOAH-PANIC, all leading up to the ending - a perfectly acceptable reversal-waistlock-shitty armbar-jujigatami -> tapout. Note the submission; these were pretty few and far between in AJPW (to the point where the audience knew that they were essentially restholds, regardless of what they were). Keep that in mind.

Match rating: ** 1/2. There was some damn fine wrestling in here, and that much can't be denied, but I used the phrase "Worst _______ Ever" entirely too much. Not to mention the fact that there wasn't much flow to the match; and it's rare that you'll find really great TRUE back-and-forth affairs. Nevertheless, Marufuji could be one to watch; he's got some nice moves, and decent selling skills. He's like HHH back in '97 - you know he's missing an overall grip of match flow, but the talent's there.

Fourth Match: Satoru Asako/Yoshihiro Takayoma/Takao Omori (Team No Fear) vs. Yoshinari Ogawa/Masahito Kakihara/Daisuke Ikeda (~!)

Wait, wait, wait - let's rewind this:

Omori: stiff worker, pretty good talent, could be one to watch

Asako: eh.

Takayoma: Sucks ass, but hey...

Ogawa: NOT the shootfighter who will, in the near future, be allegedly facing off against Mike Tyson. Thanks to Scott Christ on that one, believe it or not.

Kakihara: Sucks a moderate amount of ass, is allegedly becoming a shootfighter in the near future.

Ikeda (~!): Was one of the two or three best workers in BattlArts (~!) until he left, depending on whether or not Minoru Tanaka is in the fed at the time. Works stiffer than Ron Jeremy at a Disgraced Nun's convention. This is his debut for NOAH.

Think this one might be stiff :)? To make things even better, we get Omori/Ikeda to start this off, which really is the Best Possible Solution. CUE THE STIFFNESS! Ikeda's kicking like they're giving out prizes, and Omori... well, Omori's moves would be knocking anyone not affiliated with BattlArts stupid due to their force. I mean, GAH. Like three minutes in, he catches Ikeda with a sort of fisherman's-suplex-meets-fallaway-slam that places Mr. Ikeda DIRECTLY on his head, and apologizes by putting an elbow to Ikeda's face and a European Uppercut to his chin that probably does more damage than a year of Stunners. Does Ikeda get revenge? Shit yeah! He just RIPS Omori's arm with a Fujiwara armbar, then shortly tags in to Ogawa, who proceeds to punch Omori straight in the face roughly eighty billion times. Sadly, Ogawa tags out to Kakihara, whose purpose seems to be as follows:

(a) get hit

(b) Yell "AAAAAAAAH!" as if he were somewhat disappointed.

He does take a lot of nice moves, including some rather nice locomotion triple-teams by Team No Fear (all of whom have bleached hair and white trunks...THANKS A LOT), but he doesn't really take the stiff-ass shots that Ikeda was taking (hell, Ikeda nailed Kakihara with a lariat on a miscommunication spot, and it ended up being the hardest shot that Kakihara took all match). This match is REALLY slanted in TNF's favor as far as the psychology goes; it's letting them show a bunch of the positives of the flashier style (i.e. the triple teams), but not really the downside (the faces miss a chance to get a near-fall on a schoolboy rollup while Takayama's showboating). Not to mention that Takayoma reeeeeeeeeally sucks (although he DOES get to block a charging lariat [see Hashi's from the first match for what Ikeda was doing] by putting his foot right in Ikeda's face. I'll tell you what DOES impress me - Asako no-selling Ikeda's kicks, which I didn't know was possible. I also really like how they're using Ogawa - as a sort of secret weapon. Inoki must have given them special conditions for his use. Hell, Ogawa even gets the fall (!) with a submission (!! That's two in a row!), which just HAS to suck for Ikeda, since he and Omori were responsible for the best parts of this match.

Match rating: ** 3/4. Very spotty, and not a whole lot of WRESTLING, but oodles of stiffness and face-punching makes up for something. Nevertheless, TNF's got a long way to go before they're really going to make an impact (Omori could be a main-eventer this time next year, but ferchrissakes he blew a STANDING KICK near the end). In reality, the only one I really expect true big things from out of this group is Ikeda. Let's us just see.

Main event, 2/3 falls: Jun Akiyama/Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa/Akira Taue

Wow... they're ALREADY breaking down the old style. There still isn't a face/heel structure among the Nu-Skool Big 4 thus far. Hell, even the starting pair is deconstructive: it kicks off as the former Real World Tag League (AJPW's annual round-robin tag leagu) partners Akiyama vs. Misawa. All this deconstruction leads up to the big news... follow this five-minute first fall. Akiyama/Misawa trade shots, Kobashi comes in, nails Misawa with that Tazmission-plex (half-nelson with a choke belly-to-back suplex... drops opponent RIGHT on their head) and runs off to take care of Taue, while Akiyama PLANTS Misawa with a DDR segued into an inverted jujigatami and...gets the tapout???!?!??! On MISAWA? That's UNREAL! I don't care how many times in a row you have someone tap out on the show... Mitsuharu FUCKING Misawa has been a WARRIOR, and to see him go down (tap out, nonetheless!) in less than five minutes is almost disturbing. He sells it like he's dead, too; I almost thought he got injured legit. But no... it's just a setup for allowing Akira Taue in. I should point out that I wasn't too impressed with Taue at any point before tonight... BEFORE tonight. Now, of course, I'm so on board his bandwagon it's just not even funny. As in, he's got Akiyama in a reverse facelock and he just rams his (Akiyama's, that is) head into the turnbuckle for no other reason than dickish surlitude. Hell, after Akiyama, Taue's most responsible for this match. And boy does he shine; he transitions EFFORTLESSLY from segment to segment, and knows just how to sell what (might I direct you to Kobashi's SUPERdelayed suplex that he sold like he hadn't taken one since dickety-two, and he'd forgotten how painful they are? It sure made me look at Kobashi's offense in a much more impressed light). He's also ludicrously unafraid to take some of the world's stiffest strikes; his chest is bright pink by the end of Kobashi's punishment. Too bad he still can't chokeslam worth a damn, though; it looks more like a choke-shove. Move of the night's probably the chokeslam on Akiyama on the ramp, followed by the atomic drop over the rope. I REALLY wish they'd stop teasing moves like the chokeslam off the apron; eventually I'm just not going to care. Misawa does seem kind of out of it, although any doubts I might have about the reality of his injury disappear with his Tiger Driver sequence and spot-on participation in the KICK ASS AJPW-ish finishing sequence, where everyone knocks everyone else stupid by hitting their signature moves right in a row, culminating with Akiyama's second Exploder (overhead Tazplex) on Taue, for... the pin?!?! Akiyama takes two straight? GAH! COLOR ME SHOCKED! It was hard to make notes because I was getting wrapped up in the story of whether Taue or Misawa would get the pin, but GAH! GAH! That's just AWESOME! I'm still recovering from the awesomeness when Akiyama LAYS OUT KOBASHI to solidify his heel turn, which just makes me go NUTS. Nuts with JOY, that is. Jun Akiyama, welcome to the 21st century... hope you're ready for it.

Match Rating: ****1/2. Granted, that's a MotYC number, but consider it the absolute barrier between ****1/4 and the actual rating. The first fall was REALLY goofy, and Misawa's snap-out-of-it selling at the end kind of drag it down (not to mention the teased apron chokeslam). But don't get me wrong - this is a REALLY GOOD MATCH. It's AJPW meets US Prostyle booking at its finest, and it makes me want to watch more NOAH. And in the end, that's the best compliment that you can give a match.

3. In Short

I hope it's obvious why I picked this show to be the flagship for the RC Puro Review section; after all, the genesis of a new federation isn't something you see very often. I've seen early tapes of a bunch of feds, ranging from Toryumon to '96 Big Japan (ugh), and they've all got this formative nervousness to them. This show may very well be the best debut show to hit the shores in a long, long time.

Moreover, it may be the beginning of a new phase in puroresu, depending on how the fed does. Obviously, as a fed founded on stars rather than stories, they've GOT to develop new characters and feuds, and do them in a new and intriguing way. This show certainly seems to have that development in spades, as Akiyama's position at the top of the card was solidified and, hopefully, Ikeda, Omori, Marufuji, and Morakami positioned themselves to be within striking distance of the upper half.

It all comes down to one question - should I buy this show? Let me put it this way - there's only one straight-up good match, so it's probably pretty unlikely that you're going to buy it for match quality. The question should be asking if you want to get in on the ground floor of one of the more intriguing feds to hit either continent in years. If you don't want to, then I reccomend that you take a long, hard look at your priorities.

Digably Yours,
Digable James Cobo
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