Reviews

NOAH Retro: Pro Wrestling NOAH Departure 2004 Review

This is the longest review I’ve ever written, and that’s because I think this is one of the best pro wrestling shows to ever take place. Yeah, I know, that’s a bold statement. But hopefully when all’s said and done you’ll understand why this seemingly-random Japanese PPV from over fifteen years ago was, and still is, so awesome.

Pro Wrestling NOAH had its peak from 2002 to about late 2006. The company came to existence following major disagreements between Giant Baba’s handpicked successor Mitsuharu Misawa and his widow Motoko Baba over the future of All Japan Pro-Wrestling. Their disagreements led to Misawa forming Pro Wrestling NOAH and most of AJPW’s wrestlers followed Misawa to his new company.

Misawa’s NOAH was meant to be the direct continuation of (Giant) Baba’s All Japan but with some key changes. From a presentation perspective, Misawa had three critical changes he wanted to make in All Japan but couldn’t when Giant Baba was alive and still couldn’t when Motoko challenged him in key meetings. Those three things were:

  1. Give more attention to junior heavyweights just like New Japan did;
  2. Introduce and implement cross-promotional feuds and matches; and
  3. Run in venues bigger than AJPW’s sacred home base, Bukodan Hall

After four years of work and building up NOAH’s reputation using those first two things, Misawa was finally able to accomplish that third goal. Misawa’s NOAH was finally able to host a big show in the fabled Tokyo Dome. And to make sure it wouldn’t be a one-and-done situation, Misawa put together what is quite possibly one of the best non-WWE PPVs wrestling events to ever take place. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s fanbase voted this the Best Major Wrestling show of 2004. Looking back now, let’s see if this show really was that good.

NOAH Departure 2004
July 10, 2004, Tokyo Dome
Attendance: 58,000

Match #1: Haruka Eigen vs. Mitsuo Momota

Background: Eigen and Momota were a bunch of old-timers that spent most of their careers in lower-card matches. Momota was famous for being the son of Rikidozan, a.k.a. the father of pro wrestling in Japan and a national hero. Eigen was also an office guy who would become infamous in later years for being involved in a scandal involving NOAH and the Yakuza.

They do some very basic wrestling until Eigen knocks Momota out of the ring with a head-butt. Momota gets on the apron and chops Eigen so hard that a gob of spit flies from his mouth and hits a fan in the front row. Apparently this is an actual planned spot. Ok then. Momota throws Eigen out of the ring and Eigen avoids a dive. Momota lands a move similar to Sheamus’s apron chest clubs and Eigen’s spit hits a cameraman, who also smiles. Some more simplistic grappling ensues and Eigen applies a deathlock and works Momota’s leg. Momota gets a rope break and 56-year-old Eigen lands a 20-revolution giant swing. Pretty impressive for such an old guy. More stalling at ringside and Eigen drops Momota with yet another head-butt. Momota counters an Irish whip and Eigen counters a back body drop into a sunset flip for two. Momota goes for a neckbreaker, Eigen counters into a backslide for another two-count. Eigen lands a piledriver and goes to the top rope. Momota knocks him down and goes for a Backdrop but Eigen fights back. Momota fights through and lands a successful Backdrop for two. Eigen counters a suplex into a DDT and gets two again. He goes for another DDT but Momota counters into a cradle. No wait, Eigen floats over. Neither man gets a pin. Momota fights out of a German suplex and rolls Eigen up. One, two, three. Momota gets the pin after eight minutes.

Winner: Mitsuo ‘son of Rikidozan’ Momota

Analysis: ** Harmless match that made for an acceptable show opener. It was fine for two veteran wrestlers with the combined age of 110. They did very simple stuff that made sense, and the only ‘flashy’ spot of any kind was Eigen’s spit spot. Maybe that’s some kind of attraction in Japan, I don’t know. It made sense to open the show with these two considering they were at the bottom of NOAH’s totem pole. Both guys were way past their prime so it made sense for them to leave later spots on the card to the younger guys.

Match #2: Burning (Jun Izumida, Tamon Honda & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi) vs. Masao Inoue, Kishin Kawabata and Masashi Aoyagi

Background: This was a six-man tag match composed of veteran undercarders from 90s All Japan that followed Misawa to NOAH. The only notable wrestlers here are Honda (who was an Olympic-level wrestler, so like an inferior Kurt Angle) and Kikuchi (who teamed with Kenta Kobashi back in 1992 in one of the craziest tag team matches I have ever seen).

Aoyagi and Kikuchi start by kicking each other’s legs very hard. Aoyagi knocks Kikuchi down but Kikuchi lands a jump kick. But Aoyagi gets right back up and lands a jumping enzuigiri of his own. They talk smack to each other and Kikuchi leaves the ring and grabs a microphone. It doesn’t work at first and even when it does, Aoyagi pretends he’s Steve Austin and does the Japanese version of ‘WHAT’. Inoue tags in and does some very basic moves and then whips Kikuchi into Aoyagi. Aoyagi pretends to go for a dive but does a backflip in the ring instead. An angry Kikuchi charges at Aoyagi then tags Honda, who lands some elbows before getting kicked in the back by Aoyagi. Inoue takes advantage with a backbreaker and a torture rack but Izumida makes the save. Honda out-wrestles Inoue into an STF as both of his partners act as shields to stop any interference. Inoue reaches the ropes then counters an Irish whip into a cobra clutch Russian leg sweep. He does his own Irish whip but Honda counters into a cobra clutch slam. He goes for a German suplex but Inoue holds on by raking Honda’s eyes. They land simultaneous clotheslines and in come Izumida and Kawabata. They do the immovable object spot until the much-bigger Izumida tackles Kawabata down. Izumida lands a falling head-butt to the sternum for two and goes for a running bulldog but Kawabata counters into a backdrop.

Kawabata goes for a lariat, Izumida blocks and goes for an STO, but Kawabata counters into one of his own and gets two. Kikuchi tags in and brawls with Kawabata before being knocked down. Aoyagi tags in and lands more stiff kicks and stomps. Kikuchi gets overpowered all three of his opponents but then starts fighting back. Inoue goes for a torture rack but Kikuchi resists so he rakes his eyes instead. Aoyagi drops Kikuchi with more stiff karate kicks and then Kawabata tags and lands a diving shotgun dropkick. They continue to triple-team Kikuchi but he still kicks out. Kikuchi lands a sudden calf kick and tags Izumida, who runs into a powerslam but kicks out at two. Kawabata lands a clothesline for another two-count and lands a sloppy-looking diving leg drop but Kikuchi makes the save. The babyface team (I guess) get their turn triple-teaming Kawabata by taking turns with running attacks into the corner. Kikuchi tosses Izumida into Kawabata for another two-count. Kawabata fights out of a fireman’s carry but eats a clothesline for another two-count. Izumida goes to the top rope and lands a diving splash/head-butt only for Inoue to break up his pin. He gets Kawabata up onto his shoulders and lands a TKO for the win after eleven minutes.

Winners: Burning (Jun Izumida, Tamon Honda & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi)

Analysis: **1/2 Decent tag match but nothing special. There was no real story or intensity here, just six guys putting on a basic match. There were some good moments of tag team psychology and logic, but nothing exceptional. Kawabata seemed like the main guy in the match but he didn’t really do anything to really make himself or his team stand out. All in all, this is a completely passable match, but also a skippable one as well.

Match #3: Kotaro Suzuki & Ricky Marvin vs. Team KAOS (Donovan Morgan & Michael Modest)

Background: This was a junior heavyweight tag match, which is interesting because smaller guys rarely got major screen time in Baba’s All Japan and that was one of the reasons Misawa left and formed NOAH. Morgan was Modest’s protégé, Suzuki one of NOAH’s top junior heavyweight prospects at the time (as well as one of Misawa’s protégés), and Marvin is a cruiserweight from CMLL that found work in NOAH to help elevate their junior division.

Modest and Marvin start things off with some chain grappling. Marvin lands a running hurricanrana and then taunts Modest with a running backflip. Both Morgan and Suzuki tag in and Morgan out-powers Suzuki quickly. Suzuki counters a corner whip with a headscissor takedown and then charges to the ropes, Morgan avoids him, but Suzuki quickly dashes across the ring and lands a gorgeous plancha to the outside. Back in the ring, Suzuki lands a sequence of roll-ups – all for two – and Morgan tags Modest as Suzuki tags in Marvin. Marvin knocks Morgan off the apron and fights out of an Exploder, ducks a clothesline and goes for a handspring flip but Morgan kicks his lands. That allows Morgan to land an Orton-style draping DDT off the apron to the floor. Modest pins but only gets two. Morgan tags in and applies a chinlock. Both guys take turns working Marvin over and Morgan attacks his but with a series of moves for another two-count. A Goldberg-style twisting neckbreaker gets the now-legal Modest a two-count, as does a dropkick to the back of Marvin’s neck.

Morgan tags in and goes for an Exploder but Marvin fights out. He charges, but walks into a twisting Death Valley Bomb. Morgan pins but Suzuki makes the save. The two Americans double team Suzuki and drop him with the 3D and Morgan starts chopping Marvin in the corner. Marvin fights back but Morgan choke-tosses him back into the corner. Suzuki ducks a running kick and crawls to his corner but Modest holds him back. They go for a double-team move but something gets botched. They try again and Marvin counters with a double DDT. His matrix ducks a clothesline and tags in Suzuki. Suzuki starts fighting back as best he can. But the Americans overpower him and land a double-team Cross Rhodes for two. They double team both Suzuki and Marvin, knocking the latter out of the ring. They charge for double-team running kicks, but Suzuki grabs both their legs and holds them in place, allowing Marvin to dropkick both of them into the ropes. Double 619. Morgan kicks out. Suzuki lands a Bridging German suplex. Morgan breaks it up. Marvin lands a triangle plancha onto Modest outside the ring and then lands a moonsault on Morgan. That allows Suzuki to drill Morgan with Blue Destiny (a much more vicious Widow’s Peak). He pins. No, Modest makes the save.

Suzuki goes for a backslide but Morgan counters into an Exploder suplex. Modest tags in but eats a missile dropkick. Marvin tags in and lands a handspring tornado DDT for two. He gets whipped into a corner but counters Modest with a big enzuigiri. Modest dodges a topé and two 619s and drills Marvin with a lariat. Double underhook facebuster. Marvin kicks out. Backstabber by Morgan onto Marvin. Modest follows with an Air Raid Crash. Double Team slam. That gets the Americans the pin and the win after twelve minutes.

Winners: Team KAOS (Donovan Morgan & Michael Modest)

Analysis: *** Good tag match with some really exciting moments. The pacing was faster and there was an actual story here with the two Americans acting as cocky heels mocking Marvin and Suzuki whenever possible. There were some great lucha sequences from Marvin and Suzuki got to shine a few times as well. But Morgan and Modest were the stars here as they showed solid tag team fundamentals.

Match #4: Sternness (Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi) vs. Team KAOS (Richard Slinger & Scorpio)

Background: Both Slinger and Scorpio were veteran foreigners that have gone on many tours with NOAH and All Japan in the past. Slinger is also the nephew of Terry Gordy, and I had the privilege of interviewing him for another site. Meanwhile, Hashi was a rising star in NOAH teaming with Saito, an undercarder who, sadly, would have the misfortune of being the guy that landed the move that caused Misawa’s death five years later.

The two teams shake hands and the match begins. Saito and Scorpio do some basic wrestling and then Saito takes him down with some karate kicks. They have a macho exchange with each guy getting up after eating a big kick. Slinger and Hashi tag in and they do the same, trading holds and stiff kicks and chain grappling moves. Slinger starts working over Hashi’s arm but he somehow musters enough strength to land a hip toss. Saito tags in and throws Slinger out of the ring, and then holds Slinger in place for Hashi to land three diving head-butts off the apron to Slinger’s chest. Back in the ring, Saito lands a knee lift and a delayed vertical suplex for two. He tags in Hashi but Slinger lands a spinkick but it has little effect on Hashi. Hashi lands a second-rope diving head-butt and pins but Slinger counters the pin by bridging into a Stunner. I’ve never seen that before. Slinger lands a powerslam and tags in Scorpio, who lands some knees to Hashi’s chin for two. He follows that with a somersault leg drop from the second rope for another two-count. Scorpio works Hashi’s arm and lands a Falcon Arrow/Jackhammer for two and tags Slinger. Slinger hits a spinebuster for a two-count and then applies a Texas Cloverleaf while Scorpio lands another diving leg drop onto Hashi’s neck. Great combo move there. Slinger pins but Hashi kicks out.

Slinger tags Scorpio and he lands a butterfly suplex for two and applies a cobra clutch that goes on for a while until Saito breaks it up. Slinger knocks Saito off the apron allowing Scorpio to land a powerbomb/moonsault combo for two. Scorpio follows with an STO/handspring splash combo that also gets two, as does a diving twisting splash. He goes for another splash for Hashi dodges. Hashi eats some kicks while charging at Scorpio, but he dodges the third kick, lands a desperation lariat, and tags Saito. Saito runs wild knocking both opponents down and then suplexes Scorpio over the rope. A big lariat gets Saito a two-count as Slinger saves his partner. They try to double team Saito but Saito keeps both at bay with karate kicks. Scorpio rakes his eyes, tags Slinger, and Slinger lands an aided dropkick and an elbow smash on Hashi. A bulldog/elbow drop combo gets Slinger a two-count. He charges but Saito trips him up and tags Hashi, who then lands a diving shotgun dropkick. Slinger resists a suplex so Hashi counters into a scorpion death drop for two instead. Nice counter. Slinger counters a corner Irish whip with a bicycle kick and knocks Saito off the apron. He and Scorpio go to double team Hashi but Hashi dodges and Scorpio ends up hitting Slinger instead. Hashi and Saito double team both of them but only manage another two-count.

Slinger tries to counter Hashi with karate kicks but Hashi counters him with a Fisherman suplex but that only gets two. Slinger and Scorpio land Total Elimination on Hashi and Scorpio holds him in place for Slinger to land a diving splash for two as Saito makes the save. Slinger goes for a Fisherman Buster but Hashi counters into a cradle for yet another two-count. Scorpio puts Saito into a sleeper at ringside as Slinger counters Hashi’s counter with a nice enzuigiri. Bridging German suplex by Slinger. Hashi kicks out. Slinger lands a fireman’s carry into a powerslam for the pin and the win after 16:45

Winners: Team KAOS (Richard Slinger & Scorpio)

Analysis: ***1/4 This was a good tag team match with lots of drama and back-and-forth action. Slinger and Scorpio did most of the work while Saito and particularly Hashi tried their best to fight back, albeit in vain. Scorpio and Slinger were more of a well-oiled machine here as they showed great tag team logic and psychology. Scorpio wrestled like he hadn’t aged at all since his days stateside and Slinger was a terrific counterweight to him by being the fluid technician to Scorpio’s more in-your-face style. Saito was alright here but didn’t do much to set the world on fire and Hashi had a solid performance as well.

Before the next match, the camera pans to Harley Race who is in attendance. The fans give him a loud reaction, which makes sense because it’s HARLEY GODDAMN RACE, one of the most revered and respected tough guys in pro wrestling history. Of course he’d be in attendance at a NOAH show. Not only was NOAH the home of some of the biggest tough guys in pro wrestling at the time, but NOAH also had a working relationship with Race’s fledging World League Wrestling (WLW), which was still in operation at the time.

Match #5: Akira Taue & Takuma Sano vs. Daisuke Ikeda & Muhammad Yone

Background: Ikeda and Yone were rising stars facing two established veterans. Takuma Sano is better known as Naoki Sano, who is famous for having a bunch of awesome matches with Jushin Liger back in 1990 to help set the stage for the junior heavyweight explosion in the 1990s. He changed his first name in NOAH from Naoki to Takuma because, reasons. His partner in this match is Akira Taue, one of the fabled Four Pillars of Heaven, who I think is one of the most underappreciated wrestlers in Japanese wrestling history.

The match starts with Yone dropping Sano with a spinning wheel kick and knocking Taue off the apron. Sano ducks a kick and they do the double lariat spot but neither man goes down. They avoid each other’s Backdrop suplexes until Sano lands a rolling kick to Yone’s gut and lands a successful backdrop. Taue tags in, but before he can do anything, Ikeda charges in, and uses Yone as a stepping stone to heel kick Taue in the face. Yone dodges a charging Taue and goes for a dive, but Taue blocks him and lands a big corner chokeslam for two as Ikeda makes the save. Taue lands a release powerbomb and tags Sano who pins for a two-count.

Sano applies a chinlock, and then lands a diving foot stomp for two as Ikeda saves his partner again. Taue tags in and lads a big boot and goes for a back body drop but Yone counters into a sunset flip for two. After applying a chinlock, Taue tags Sano who lands some hard karate kicks for a two-count. Yone counters a suplex from Sano into one of his own and goes to tag Ikeda but Sano holds him back and applies a type of STF submission hold to keep him in place. He transitions into a camel clutch but Ikeda breaks it up.

Taue tags in and lands two lariats for a two-count and attempts a chokeslam, but Yone resists so Taue choke-tosses Yone into the corner and lands a yakuza kick. Taue whips Yone into another corner but Yone reverses and lands a wheel kick, which allows him to tag in a fresh Ikeda into the match.

Ikeda drops Taue with an enzuigiri and winds up his arm for a lariat. Taue counters into a chokeslam attempt but Ikeda fights out and drops him with a running lariat. Both guys grab each other’s neck in simultaneous chokeslam attempts until Taue pushes Ikeda into the ropes. He whips Ikeda and lands a big boot, then tags Sano who lands a diving shotgun dropkick for another two-count. Ikeda counters an Irish whip from Sano into a flurry of stiff kicks and then lands a Death Valley Bomb but Taue saves his partner. Ikeda tosses Taue out of the ring and tags Yone.

Yone and Ikeda double-team Sano in the corner until Yone lands a Muscle Buster on Sano for a very close two-count. A clothesline gets Yone another two-count as Taue makes the save. Yone tries to knock Taue down but Taue ducks a forearm and lands a big chokeslam and boots Ikeda down. Sano lands more stiff kicks but Yone fights back with stiff slaps to the face. Sano continues with more kicks and a German suplex. Brainbuster by Sano. Ikeda makes the save. Taue drags Ikeda out of the ring. Diving double stomp by Sano. Yone kicks out. Superplex Brainbuster by Sano onto Yone. Taue holds Ikeda against the ropes. Sano gets the pin and the win after 10:45

Winners: Akira Taue & Takuma Sano

Analysis: ***1/4 Another solid tag match. There was plenty of great action here shown as a clash between the heavyweights (Taue & Sano) and the smaller guys (Yone & Ikeda). Both Ikeda and Yone looked incredibly strong against their larger and more experienced opponents and looked close to winning on several occasions. If Taue hadn’t broken up Yone’s pin following his Muscle Buster, there’s a good chance he would’ve won. But Sano and Taue were both craftier and more experienced and that allows them to get the win here. All in all a solid tag match that was exactly what it needed to be.

Match #6: GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match: KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji [c] vs. Kendo Kashin & Takashi Sugiura

Oh, this is going to be good.

Background: KENTA & Marufuji were the top cruiserweight tag team in the world at this time and were seen as future stars in NOAH. Marufuji was Misawa’s protégé and KENTA was Kobashi’s. As such, their wrestling styles were worlds apart. KENTA was a no-nonsense stiff striking machine that hit people as hard as he possibly could so that anyone bigger than him (read: everyone) would be forced to respect him. Meanwhile, Marufuji was an artistic and inventive wrestler with this incredible ability to take even the simplest of moves (like an inside cradle) and make it exciting. Both of them would become famous in later years for a bunch of reasons. Marufuji became NOAH’s new, unquestioned ace in later years and, for better or worse, inspired an entire generation of wrestlers to adopt his high-speed, nonstop spotfest style. Meanwhile, KENTA became Hideo Itami, floundered in NXT, and came back to Japan where he has had some…decent…success thus far. They also had one hell of a wild and intense singles match together two years later, which is still one of the best matches of the past twenty years.

Their opponents were pretty big deals as well. Sugiura was KENTA’s former tag partner who was bitter for narrowly missing the cut to be on Japan’s Olympic team in Judo. Embittered by this, he started wrestling like Kurt Angle and associating with other ‘legit’ wrestlers (of which there were plenty in Japan since it was home to the innovators of modern MMA), until he found an unlikely partner in Kendo Kashin. Kashin was an amateur wrestling star in university and ended up in New Japan during Inoki’s failed wrestling-MMA hybrid era that nearly killed New Japan and pro-wrestling in general in the country. Yet through sheer talent and force of will, Kashin somehow survived that era of Inokism with his career and reputation relatively intact and bounced around All Japan and other indy federations before finding himself in a team with Sugiura.

This is for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. Kashin and Marufuji start things off. Actually, wait, Kashin tags Sugiura instead. The two of them do some cool cruiserweight exchanges to start things off. Kashin tries a fireman’s carry several times in a row but Marufuji flips out on each attempt. Kashin counters a Boston crab into a cradle for a quick two count and the crowd applauds. More clever and quick pins from both guys, all ending in escapes. The crowd gives them loud applause. Kashin offers his hand to Marufuji, but then at the last second walks over to tag Sugiura. That was funny. Marufuji responds by tagging KENTA, and now the ass-kicking begins. KENTA boots the living hell out of Sugiura’s face, and makes sure to dodge every move Sugiura makes. Sugiura jumps back up and lands a spear and then overhead suplexes KENTA as he gets back up. Sugiura slows the match down with a chinlock but KENTA reaches the ropes. Sugiura and Kashin seem to be doing an ‘oddball pairing story ass Kashin seems to be reluctant to tag in. and when he does, he tosses KENTA out of the ring and then gets in an argument with his own posse at ringside. Marufuji tries to take advantage with a plancha, but Kashin’s back-up guys are much bigger than him and hold him in place for Kashin, who goes for a diving ax handle but gets dropkicked by KENTA instead.

Back in the ring, the experienced ‘shooters’ Kashin and KENTA size each other up and lock-up until Sugiura tags in. he and Kashin choke KENTA in their corner and Sugiura goes for a suplex but KENTA counters into his own. He tags Marufuji who lands a big elbow back elbow for two and applies a standing chinlock. KENTA tags in again and drops both Sugiura and Kashin with stiff strikes. He gets a two-count off a stiff soccer kick to Sugiura’s back and then applies a figure-4 neck lock. After Sugiura reaches the ropes, KEN TA lands a springboard leg drop and Marufuji tags in and lands a springboard elbow drop, both of which look pretty sweet.

After Sugiura kicks out, Marufuji applies a chinlock and traps Sugiura’s arm but Sugiura uses his foot to reach the ropes. Sugiura holds onto the ropes off an Irish whip and sends Marufuji out of the ring, but Marufuji lands on his feet and pulls Sugiura out of the ring. He goes for a baseball slide but Sugiura traps him which allows Kashin to stomp on him. KENTA comes in and rushes Kashin but Kashin drops him while Sugiura lands a gutwrench suplex on Marufuji from the apron to the floor. Damn that looks painful.

Sugiura rolls into the ring and Kashin rolls Marufuji in at the count of 19 of 20 (because he wants to win the titles instead of taking a count-out win). Sugiura pins but only gets two. Kashin tags in and argues with Sugiura as he works of Marufuji. Things get a bit silly as Kashin refuses to tag out and then whips the referee into Marufuji in the corner, which gets laughs from the crowd. Kashin pins but the ref can’t do so right away. I guess refs are made of glass everywhere. Kashin tags Sugiura and holds Marufuji in place for a double-team move but Marufuji dodges and Sugiura spears Kashin instead. They do the double-team spot again but with the roles reversed this time and Marufuji dodges again. Kashin ends up slapping Sugiura but that doesn’t lead to the team imploding. Instead, Kashin lands an Angle/Olympic Slam (Sugiura’s finisher) and pins but Sugiura breaks up his teammate’s pin. I guess this is supposed to be serious but everyone’s laughing instead.

Sugiura tags in and applies a camel clutch and follows with a wheelbarrow facebuster for two. Suddenly, Marufuji does some crazy cruiserweight stuff and rolls into a sunset flip into a superkick before finally tagging in KENTA. KENTA knocks Kashin off the apron and goes absolutely apes**t kicking the crap out of both Sugiura and Kashin. Both a shotgun dropkick and a fisherman buster get KENTA two-counts. Sugiura counters a suplex and KENTA ends up on the apron. He goes for another springboard dropkick but Sugiura counters with a powerbomb. Kashin tags in and lands some hard strikes but runs into a powerslam from KENTA. KENTA goes for his martial arts burst but Kashin dodges everything and lands a low blow behind the referee’s back while pretending KENTA crotched him as well. Kenta avoids a boot and lands a dragon screw leg whip and then tags in Marufuji.

Marufuji lands a big corner elbow and goes for a super Frankensteiner but Kashin blocks it and applies a rope-hung figure-4 neck lock. He keeps it in as long as possible and then rolls into a victory roll pin for a two-count. Marufuji trips Kashin up and lands a dropkick to the head for two. He goes for his patented Shiranui but Kashin lands another low blow and hits Marufuji with his own finisher. Kashin pins but KENTA makes the save. Sugiura tags in and Marufuji attempts to sunset flip powerbomb him from the apron to the floor. Kashin holds onto Sugiura to save him but KENTA interferes and Marufuji drives Sugiura into the mat as KENTA literally kicks Kashin out of the ring.

Back in the ring, KENTAFuji land some Hardyz-style double team moves on Sugiura and double kick Kashin’s head in. they go for a doomsday move but Sugiura fights out. He goes to back suplex Marufuji but he lands on his feet. Sugiura dodges a superkick, twists Marufuji’s leg and rolls into an ankle lock. Meanwhile, Kashin jumps onto the top turnbuckle and flips into a cross armbreaker in midair. Wow, what a crazy move. Both KENTA and Marufuji are locked in submission holds. Marufuji crawls to the ropes to break it up.

Sugiura carries Marufuji around the ring but Marufuji counters into a sunset flip, only for Sugiura to spear him down before Marufuji can kick him again. German suplex by Sugiura. Marufuji lands badly. One, two, no, Marufuji kicks out. Sugiuta goes for another. Marufuji lands on his feet. Superkick. Shiranui, no, Sugiura counters into a Tombstone. Bridging German suplex followed by a bridging dragon suplex. KENTA makes a last-second save. Kashin tosses KENTA out of the ring but KENTA counters him and sends him flying over the barricade. Olympic Slam by Sugiura in the ring. But he’s not done. He goes for an Olympic Slam from the top rope. But KENTA interferes. Powerbomb/diving shiranui combination! One, two, NO, Kashin stops the ref from making the three-count. KENNTA drops Kashin with a martial arts combo and a Busaiku running knee. Marufuji lands a shiranui on Sugiura and pins. Sugiura still kicks out. Diving elbow. Sugiura kicks out again. Shiranui Kai/super shiranui. One, two, three! The champions retain after 22:26!

Winners and STILL GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions: KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji

Analysis: ****1/2 At first I thought this was going to be a disappointing match because of Sugiura’s and Kashin’s…I guess, comedic…antics. Their ‘teammates-that-can’t-get-along’ stuff seemed out of place in such a serious setting. But as the match progressed I got fully invested into the story they were telling. Sugiura and Kashin thought they could take it easy and play some sort of game of one-upmanship with each other, but as soon as KENTA came in to save his partner, that silliness was swept aside. The two of them did their absolute best to pull together to fight off the far more cohesive unit that KENTA and Marufuji were, but to no avail. The champions were simply faster, more agile, and better at counters than the challengers. And they showed that with some amazing tag team moves and spectacular near-fall sequences. I can see why everyone was hyping these two up as future stars in NOAH in spite of their small stature. My only real gripe here was that Marufuji’s selling was very inconsistent, especially since he was in an ankle lock for so long yet still darted around like a video game character controlled by Kenny Omega. But overall, this was an awesome tag team match that I strongly recommend you take the time to watch.

Match #7: GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship match: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger [c] vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Background: This match was part of a larger feud between NOAH’s junior heavyweights and New Japan’s heavyweights that had been going since about 2001. Earlier in 2004, Liger had taken NOAH’s junior title from Sugiura and then ran roughshod over NOAH’s junior heavyweight division. Which made complete sense because it’s Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Desperate to save their company’s honor, Kanemaru stepped up to the plate hoping to defeat the Beast God. That was a tall order, because Kanemaru basically came off as a complete scrub compared to Liger.

I already reviewed this match as part of my 5-star and Almost 5-star Match Reviews series, so here’s a condensed version of my thoughts for it.

Analysis: ****1/2 Tremendous match. I enjoyed this match way more than I thought I would. I don’t think this was a 5-star epic by any means, but it didn’t need to be. It was the best it possibly could be, especially considering it was in the seventh match on a ten-match card. I don’t think this is a legendary or historic match by any means. And yet, it was very enjoyable. There’s something entertaining in seeing Jushin Liger some into another company and wipe his ass with their politics, booking, and top stars. And he nearly did that here as he tried to mop the floor with Kanemaru, but Kanemaru wasn’t going to give up just because of the legendary status of his opponent.

If anything, this match is something of a textbook case in how to make a star out of a potential nobody. Kanemaru went into this match looking like he had no chance. And Liger almost proved that to be true when he dropped Kanemaru with his finisher in the opening seconds. But Kanemaru not only survived that, but he outfought and outwrestled the most iconic cruiserweight of all time. This match put Kanemaru on the map in Japan and made people care about him a lot more than they did before. Liger basically made Kanemaru into a much bigger star than he was before, which shows how much Liger understands about wrestling storytelling and how to make your opponent look good.

So while it’s not historic or iconic as a match, it’s the kind of guilty pleasure wrestling match you can watch and enjoy without having to understand the story behind it. To some, it might come across as a bit unrealistic or video-game like, but those parts are only in small doses here and are juxtaposed by realistic grappling that keeps this match somewhat grounded in realism. And that balance is what made early-2000s NOAH so unbelievably awesome.

Match #8: IWGP Tag Team Championship match: Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama [c] vs. Wild II (Takeshi Rikio & Takeshi Morishima)

Background: Suzuki and Takayama were both freelancers wrestling all over Japan at the time, and Takayama had also challenged for NOAH’s world title a few months earlier in what I consider the best David vs. Goliath wrestling match to ever take place. Their gimmick as a team was that they were the biggest bullies in Japan and were seen as legit threats due to their respective backgrounds in ‘shoot-style’ wrestling. Takayama began his career in UWFi and also became world-famous for blocking punches with his face. And Suzuki was the co-founder of Pancrase, the first MMA organization in the world. His MMA fight record was 30-22, with most of his wins coming via submission. And when he wasn’t making people tap out, he was riling them up by being a pot-stirring d**khead.

Meanwhile, Rikio and Morishima were two heavyweight rookies looking to achieve further glory by defeating two outsiders and taking their titles from them. Rikio was a generic plucky goodie-goodie that hit hard enough, while Morishima was like a Japanese Terry Gordy or a pre-awful booking Bray Wyatt minus Wyatt’s charisma.

This match is for New Japan’s IWGP Tag Team Championships. Suzuki spends the first minute or so dodging Rikio while wearing a mocking smile, until he backs into his opponents’ corner and Morishima grabs him. Rikio goes to attack him but Suzuki, like a slimy eel, slithers away to safety. Takayama tags in and taunts Rikio as well until they do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock. Rikio somehow out-powers Takayama to the ropes (not an easy task) and then he bitchslaps Takayama which gets a huge reaction. Rikio starts hitting stiff elbows to Takayama’s face but Takayama doesn’t budge, so Rikio lands a big shoulder tackle that does. The crowd is a lot more into this than I was expecting. Then again, considering what kind of ungodly s**t Takayama has endured, I guess anyone that can knock him off his feet would look like a big deal.

Morishima tags in and knocks Takayama down with a back elbow. They lock-up and Takayama applies a sleeper and drags Morishima to his corner and tags Suzuki. Suzuki stomps on Morishima while trash-talking him, and when Morishima explodes out of the corner Suzuki squirms away. Rikio tags back in and tries to go toe-to-toe with Suzuki but Suzuki’s too fast and ducks or dodges everything Rikio does while slapping him in the face. But Suzuki gets too cocky and Rikio grabs him by the throat and lands a huge slap that sends Suzuki out of the ring and the fans to their feet. Rikio and Morishima follow Suzuki to ringside and brawl with Takayama and then drop him with a backdrop/Rock Bottom combination. In the ring, they double shoulder tackle Suzuki and Rikio lands a running splash for two. They continue with more double-team moves that end in an aided lariat by Rikio on Suzuki for another two-count. the two Takeshis go for a doomsday move but Takayama cuts them off, which allows Suzuki to transition into a cross armbreaker from Rikio’s shoulders. It takes Morishima running in and landing a flurry of hard slaps for Suzuki to let go.

Suzuki gets up first and tags Takayama and the two of them double-team Rikio in their corner. Takayama lands a big corner yakuza kick followed by a double underhook suplex that sends Rikio flying across the ring. Rikio kicks out of a pin, so Takayama soccer kicks his chest and pins again, only for Rikio to kick out once more. Suzuki comes in illegally and both he and Takayama kick Rikio some more and pin Rikio with their feet on his chest, but the ref is distracted with Morishima. So the outsiders take advantage by double-kicking Rikio some more and then Takayama lands a big back suplex. Takayama continues to bully and mock Rikio, until he lands a sudden barrage of slaps and a chokeslam before tagging Morishima.

Morishima lands two big corner clotheslines and goes for a lariat but Takayama ducks and lands a running crossbody instead. Suzuki tags in, ducks some more clotheslines, and locks in a grounded armbar. Morishima reaches the ropes quickly so Suzuki goes for a sleeper. Morishima tries to counter into a backdrop, but Suzuki counters him into a rolling kimura lock. Suzuki wrenches the hold as hard as he can as Takayama knocks Rikio off the apron and brawl with him ringside. But Rikio escapes the big man and saves his partner at the last second.

Takayama tags in and applies a kimura of his own but Rikio saves his partner. Some double team and aided kicks from the two Takeshis lead to a two-count, as does a Backdrop suplex from Morishima. Suzuki flies around the ring dropkicking both Takeshis until Morishima grabs him and lands a huge forearm to the face. Big running lariat to Takayama by Morishima. Takayama doesn’t move. Running soccer kick by Takayama. Rikio saves Morishima. Suzuki puts Rikio in a sleeper and knocks him out of the ring. Takayama and Suzuki drop Morishima with a backdrop/neckbreaker slam combo move. Everest German suplex by Takayama. He gets the pin and the win for his team after 12:55.

Winners and STILL IWGP Tag Team Champions: Minoru Suzuki & Yoshihiro Takayama

Analysis: ***1/4 This was perhaps the most story-driven match of the show, which was a good thing. The story here was that Morishima and Rikio were underdogs against a guy that was smaller and more agile (Suzuki) and a guy that was bigger and WAY tougher (Takayama). The NOAH team tried their best but both of them were outfoxed by Suzuki’s craftiness and general dickishness. He managed to get under their skin many times, which led them to make rash decisions. That ended up working in the champions’ favor, especially since it allowed Takayama to rampage over them. Suzuki and Takayama were very much the stars here as they did an amazing job of actually wrestling like a team. Suzuki knew he couldn’t match either Rikio or Morishima in terms of raw power, so he did some underhanded tactics and technical grappling and saved the heavy lifting for Takayama, who made a lot out of the few big power moves he landed while being the perfect damage sponge.

Match #9: GHC Tag Team Championship Match: The Untouchables (Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa) [c] vs. The Cult of Mutoh (Keiji Mutoh & Taiyo Kea)

MISAWA VS. MUTOH! MISAWA VS. MUTOH!! MISAWA VS. MUTOH!!!

I cannot stress how big of a match-up this is. In terms of star power and fan anticipation, this is the Japanese equivalent of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin facing Goldberg in 1998 when both men were champions.

Background: This is a dream match that’s almost a decade in the making…sort of. Mutoh was perhaps the biggest wrestling star in Japan in terms of appeal and drawing power during the 1990s, and at one point main-evented the most financially-successful wrestling show of all time. Meanwhile, Misawa was undoubtedly the best in-ring wrestler at the same time. Mutoh admitted being a fan of Misawa’s and wanted to face him but interpromotional politics prevented that from happening. Years later, Misawa formed NOAH and opened the doors to outsider wrestlers because he saw that big money could be made from interpromotional matches that Baba refused to do in All Japan. As for Mutoh, he defected from New Japan to All Japan in early 2002 because he was tired of Antonio Inoki’s nonsensical booking and in the process became president of AJPW. And after Baba’s widow Motoko retired, All Japan and NOAH formed a small working relationship, which eventually led to this match happening. And yet, it wasn’t a pure singles match (possibly due to neither Misawa nor Mutoh deciding on who was to take the fall) so a compromise was made to turn it into a tag team match. That’s where things get a bit more interesting. Misawa’s partner is Ogawa, a guy whose gimmick is that he’s the ultimate sidekick that Misawa should never be afraid of because he poses no threat to Misawa whatsoever and his wrestling style is all about annoying his opponents and letting Misawa take advantage of their lack of clear-headedness. As for Mutoh, his partner is Kea, a Hawaiian wrestler who seems to exist in that amorphous border area between cruiserweight and heavyweight. Going into this match, Kea’s biggest career accomplishment to date was being the guy that caused Mutoh to create the Shining Wizard, which is perhaps the most copied/stolen wrestling move to ever exist.

Before the match begins, I want to note how the fans react to this. All four wrestlers have separate entrances, with Kea and Ogawa having relatively subdued responses. When Mutoh comes out, there is a pretty damn loud reaction for him (it also helps that his entrance theme is one of the most badass themes I’ve ever heard; it’s like the living, breathing version of that ‘why do I hear boss music’ meme).

But that doesn’t even hold a candle to how the crowd responds to Misawa. Yes, I know, this is a NOAH show and Misawa is the founder of NOAH. But still, 58,000 fans jump to their feet and chant MI-SA-WA in unison as his ‘Spartan X’ theme song plays. It’s otherworldly how beloved this guy was, especially since Japanese fans, by and large, weren’t as into big crowd chants like American fans.

This is for the GHC Tag Team Championships. They do ring introductions and both Mutoh and Misawa get ludicrously loud reactions. Ogawa and Kea start off with some nice technical chain wrestling. They do a second such sequence and Ogawa breaks it off with an eye poke and a jawbreaker. Frustrated, Kea looks to Mutoh and tags him in. And the crowd goes NUTS. Ogawa plays to the crowd and points to Misawa as if to say ‘you guys want Misawa?’ and the crowd gets even louder. Then Ogawa tags in Misawa. Which leads to a standing ovation from the crowd. The two legends haven’t even done anything yet and the audience is absolutely losing it. Both wrestlers soak in the amazing crowd reaction, and then they lock-up. The dream match-up begins. Mutoh sends Misawa into the ropes. Neither man budges off a shoulder tackle spot. Misawa charges again but runs into a brick wall. Elbow Smash. Tiger Driver! Mutoh kicks out at two. Then he trips Misawa up. Shining Wizard! Misawa rolls out of the ring. Mutoh poses for the fans. That was awesome!

After indulging the fans with their signature moves, the actual wrestling begins. They go back-and-forth with amateur-style mat wrestling for a bit until Mutoh tags Kea. Misawa hits some elbows and tags Ogawa and the two NOAH guys double-team him for a two-count. Ogawa gets whipped into a corner and kicks his way out for the larger Kea knocks him back down to the mat. Kea slams Ogawa and goes to the top rope but Ogawa cleverly sneaks up behind the referee and kicks him into the corner which sends Kea falling. Misawa tags in and starts elbowing Kea, but he fights back with chops and a dropkick and then tags in Mutoh. Mutoh lands his trademark snapmare/flashing elbow drop combo which gets an enormous reaction and trhen he starts working over Misawa’s leg. Kea tags in and they double-team stretch Misawa’s legs. Kea goes for a suplex but Misawa resists and gets into his corner allowing Ogawa to tag in. Ogawa sends Kea into a corner and charges but Kea dodges so Ogawa goes shoulder-first into the steel ringpost. Kea lands a big back suplex and tags Mutoh who annihilates Ogawa’s legs with dropkicks to his knees and a dragon screw leg whip. Mutoh applies an STF but Misawa saves his partner. That seems to anger Mutoh because he picks Ogawa up onto his shoulder and drills Ogawa – Misawa’s partner – with an Emerald Flowsion, which is Misawa’s finisher. To which Misawa answers with a Shining Wizard onto Mutoh. The Tokyo Dome erupts in loud cheers and applause.

Kea tags in and works over Ogawa with corner clotheslines and a fireman’s carry falcon arrow. He pins but Misawa makes the save. Both Kea and Ogawa hit each other with enzuigiris and make hot tags to their respective partners. In come Mutoh and Misawa again. Mutoh dropkicks Misawa. Misawa dropkicks Mutoh and starts hitting elbow smashes. Mutoh responds with elbows of his own. Misawa goes for a rolling elbow. Mutoh ducks, dropkicks Misawa’s knee, and lands a dragon screw. Shining Wizard by Mutoh. Misawa tanks it and lands an elbow smash. Mutoh falls out of the ring. Elbow suicida! Mutoh goes careering over the barricade.

Mutoh returns to the ring and elbows Misawa as Misawa attempts to rush him. Then 42-year-old Mutoh with bad knees lands a top-rope shotgun dropkick and tags Kea. Kea lands some corner splashes and goes for a German suplex but Misawa fights out. So Kea answers with a deep arm drag and a superkick. Kea maintains control by dodging Misawa’s charges and lands a hurricanrana for two. He applies an armbar but Misawa reaches the ropes. Kea goes for a back suplex but Misawa lands on his feet and lands a rolling elbow then tags Ogawa. Ogawa lands a sick running DDT for two but gets manhandled by kicks from Kea. Kea goes for his finisher but Misawa saves Ogawa and knocks Mutoh off the apron. The NOAH duo lands some great double-team moves but Kea still kicks out at two. They land a Tiger Driver/backdrop combination but Mutoh saves Kea at the count of two. They try a back suplex into an Emerald Flowsion but something goes wrong, leading to an awkward spot. Mutoh breaks up another pin and Misawa & Ogawa try to double-team him, but he responds with a dropkick and Shining Wizard for each of them. Rib breaker by Mutoh. He goes to the top rope. Snap diving moonsault. Kea crawls over to pin. Misawa makes the save. Mutoh dragon screws Misawa’s leg but gets elbowed for his efforts. Ogawa tags Misawa who charges in with elbows, but Kea counters into a cobra clutch suplex for another two-count. Misawa fights back with elbows and charges but runs into a Hawaiian Smasher (TKO). One, two, Ogawa makes the save. Kea fights back. Misawa drills him with elbow smashes, including a one-two stiff elbow combination. Misawa pins but Kea kicks out at one. Misawa lands a (poor) Emerald Flowsion. Kea kicks out. Misawa has had enough. Emerald Flowsion Kai/Brainbuster Emerald Flowsion! Ogawa holds Mutoh against the ropes. One, two, three! Misawa and Ogawa retain their titles after 21:46.

Winners and STILL GHC Tag Team Champions: The Untouchables (Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa)

Analysis: ***3/4 This was the Japanese version of Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock from WrestleMania X8 in that it was absolutely carried by the spectacle and historic magnitude of two of the biggest stars in the country facing off. And while the actual wrestling in this match was significantly better than Hogan/Rock, that didn’t really matter much. The fans wanted to see Misawa and Mutoh and nothing else. They cared little about Ogawa and even less about Kea, even though Kea was in the match more than anyone else. It seemed like this match was intended to make a bigger star out of him, especially during his long interactions with Misawa. Unfortunately, I think Kea was a bit of a weak link here. He had some sloppy bits in the match and seemed unsure whether he was a heavyweight or a cruiserweight here. He just landed moves haphazardly and didn’t seem to follow any sort of logic, unlike the other three wrestlers involved. Ultimately, the slower and less interesting bits involving Ogawa and Kea were largely buoyed by some tremendous fanservice-like sequences from Misawa and Mutoh, who knew exactly how to make the fans happy. That said, this was a terrific little guilty pleasure dream match that was meant to be more of a treat than a serious athletic contest. And that was because they saved the biggest and most important wrestling match for the main event.

Match #10: GHC Heavyweight Championship Match: Kenta Kobashi [c] vs. Jun Akiyama XIII

S**t is about to get real.

Background: This is an epic confrontation twelve years in the making. Kobashi and Akiyama were tag team partners for many years until Akiyama broke away in 2000 when NOAH first formed. In late 2000, Kobashi beat Akiyama in a big singles match, before being sidelined for over a year to get much-needed knee surgeries. Meanwhile, Akiyama beat Misawa to become world champion, only to have a mediocre run. He didn’t become the top draw they hoped, and in 2003, Kobashi returned, beat Misawa (putting an end to that rivalry) and became the ace that Akiyama was supposed to become. So going into this, Akiyama hoped to beat and then surpass Kobashi as Kobashi had beat and surpassed Misawa.

Akiyama was determined to finally beat Kobashi because he was a better-rounded athlete. He was a near-Olympic level amateur wrestler and a masterful in-ring technician. Meanwhile, post-surgeries Kobashi had a singular yet very successful and entertaining wrestling approach: hit thing until thing dead. That was easy enough for Kobashi considering that he hit like a freight train conducted by Stan Hansen and absorbed damage like Mick Foley and John Cena combined.

Needless to say, stakes and expectations were high for the thirteenth and presumably final singles match between Kobashi and Akiyama.

Just like earlier, I already reviewed this match as part of my 5-star and Almost 5-star Match Reviews series, so here’s a condensed version of my thought for it.

Analysis: ***** Absolutely breathtaking main-event wrestling match. It was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. It had everything: technical wrestling, intense back-and-forth action, layered big moves and psychology that built up towards a logical and decisive finish, and above all else, brutality. This was a heavyweight war designed to show the incredible extremes to which both Kobashi and Akiyama were willing to go to win. I’ve seen a lot of incredible and daring wrestling moves over the years, but few matches have featured stuff as crazy as in this one. It seems that both Kobashi and Akiyama were determined to prove that they were the two toughest bastards in the entire wrestling industry, and boy did they make a compelling case for that argument. There’s a reason you rarely, if ever, see a wrestler get thrown from the top turnbuckle to the floor. They risked hurting each other and themselves really badly, but for them those risks were worth it to achieve fame, glory and immortality. And aside from a few excessive spots, I think this match genuinely deserves its 5-star rating and its status as the Wrestling Observer’s Match of the Year for 2004.

But as tremendous as it was, I think the match had the wrong ending. Kobashi was, and always will be, the greatest professional wrestler to ever live, at least in my opinion. But he didn’t need to win here. He was already on borrowed time due to a multitude of knee surgeries, and wasn’t meant to be NOAH’s top draw forever. He needed to lose the title to someone big, someone credible, someone around whom NOAH could build their brand going forward. And at the time, no one fit that bill more than Akiyama. He checked all the right boxes: he was an amazing in-ring wrestler, had solid fan support, was younger, could work with a variety of different opponents, and most importantly, was healthier than Kobashi. He needed to win here so that Kobashi could relax knowing NOAH’s future was in good hands.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, Kobashi destroyed Akiyama so decisively that nothing Akiyama could do in the future would ever put him on Kobashi’s level, much less above him. Hell, Akiyama could’ve pinned Kobashi clean in thirty seconds on NOAH’s next show and no one would care. Kobashi put Akiyama in his place here and cemented a pecking order that had existed since the 1990s. And in doing so, it created problems for NOAH. With Akiyama no longer capable of beating Kobashi, NOAH had very few choices for Kobashi’s successor. The guy they chose, Takeshi Rikio, was both booked poorly as a credible challenger and booked poorly as a champion. And unfortunately, Rikio bombed as NOAH’s champion and supposed top draw, to the point that older guys like Taue and Misawa were forced back into the title picture in the hopes of keeping NOAH successful (spoiler alert: that didn’t pan out). If Akiyama beat Kobashi here, he would’ve ended a rivalry that had started back in 1992 and would’ve gotten the same level of vindication and satisfaction that Kobashi got when he beat Misawa in March 2003 after spending almost a decade trying to top Misawa.

Five Stars of the show:

  1. Kenta Kobashi – I cannot stress how superhuman he was here. He was 37 years old but had the body (and especially knees) of someone much older, yet he wrestled like Kurt Angle and took bumps like Mick Foley. On this show, he was less a man than a god.
  2. Jun Akiyama – His chemistry with Kobashi was outstanding. He demonstrates how complete of a wrestler he was in his match and looked like an absolute monster. To this day it mystifies me that NOAH’s audience didn’t see this guy as being on Kobashi and Misawa’s level.
  3. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger – Once again, Liger showed his greatness by telling an awesome story through his actions and not through words. Through his wrestling he was able to garner sympathy for Kanemaru in a way that few other wrestlers could. He really went out of his way to make this match mean something and give the audience their money’s worth.
  4. Mitsuharu Misawa/Keiji Mutoh – They couldn’t have their singles match, so they did the best they could with these tag team parameters. And what they did do together made this a definitive dream match and more than made up for some less-thrilling bits involving their respective partners.
  5. Naomichi Marufuji/KENTA – They wrestled circles around Kashin and Sugiura and did an amazing job of showcasing their talents. In watching this match, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that both of them would become huge stars in the coming years.

Yes, I know, that’s more than five people. But it was impossible to choose between them in entries four and five since all of them fought so well.

Best match on the card: Kobashi vs. Akiyama XIII (*****)

Worst match on the card: Momota vs. Eigen (**)

Show Rating (out of 10): 9.75

Were it not for the two bland matches at the start, I’d give this show a perfect ten out of ten. It featured one match that almost hit four stars, two four-and-a-half-star matches, and a perfect, 5-star main-event. And when you add those to the solid rest of the card, this show ends up being really strong, all things considered. Four of the five title matches were simply spectacular for different reasons. The junior heavyweight singles and tag title matches were amazing displays of lightning-quick athleticism and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it counters that showed just how quickly a match’s direction could change. The tag title dream match involving Misawa and Mutoh had one of the biggest crowd reactions I have ever heard from a Japanese audience and it completely threw the stereotype of ‘quiet, studious Japanese fans’ out the window. And the main-event between Kobashi and Akiyama more than delivered as the perfect main-event. And while I personally didn’t like the ending, the match itself was a historic epic that really defined the term ‘heavyweight hoss fight’.

You can watch the entire NOAH Departure 2004 show at the link below. Yes, I know, it’s a four-and-a-half hour show. But to be honest, it really flies by and isn’t slow by any means. There’s no down-time, exhausting promo or nonsensical time waster that you’re likely find on a bloated WWE PPV or other American wrestling show.

And the best part is, the language barrier means absolutely nothing here. The wrestling put on here was such that it can be watched, digested, and understood without feeling like you’re not understanding something being said on commentary. That’s how you know that wrestlers are skilled: they can tell a story in the ring and you don’t need someone telling you what everything means.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pllQ5B-O1OM

Thanks for reading.

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