NOAH Navigation Over the Dateline, 9/12/03
review by PdW2kX

Before we head into the review, I'd simply like to note that "Navigation Over the Dateline 2003" was the name of the tour that ran from August 23, 2003 to September 12, 2003. As the date suggests, this is the event that ended this particular tour.

Richard Slinger and Masashi Aoyagi vs. Haruka Eigen and Kishin Kawabata

Richard Slinger shines with some nice, fluid counter moves, while Aoyagi hits some kicks but gets a Dragon Screw. Eigen gets in a ten-revolution Giant Swing, and then Slinger hits a Holding Fisherman Suplex for 2. Eigen is isolated and stiffed, and Slinger gets a sneaky rollup on Eigen at 8:46 for the win.

Analysis: The match had its charms. We still got some Haruka Eigen spitting-into-the-crowd spots, and it's funny to think that one of Eigen's best spots at this point in his career was to hock a loogie at a bunch of fans. The action was mostly slow, but I liked the crowd interaction and the random bits of athleticism and stiffness. All considered, it's standard fare for a NOAH opener, but still worth watching. **¾

Tamon Honda, Takuma Sano, and Kotaro Suzuki vs. Takeshi Rikio, Kikuchi, and Mitsuo Momota

Kotaro Suzuki starts us out with a Corkscrew Crossbody to Kikuchi, while Honda and Rikio soon exchange stiff forearms. Kikuchi hits three suplexes to Kotaro, chaining them all together and finishing with a Holding Fisherman Suplex, but gets 2½. Later on, Takuma Sano is able to score a Double Stomp to Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, and then Sano and the gang triple-team Momota. After Momota kicks out of one pin attempt, Sano puts him away at 13:06 with a Northern Lights Bomb.

Analysis: As a whole, this was good. There was a bevy of different styles in this match, and all of them were utilized. There was also some key character development: Suzuki put acrobatics on the backburner after one nice spot in order to concentrate and try to win the match, while Momota displayed a lot of courage while trying his best to keep up with people that were years (and probably decades) younger than him. The only flaw in this match was pretty elementary: it didn't feel like everyone was giving their all. Rikio, Kikuchi, and Honda all felt fine going through the motions and not really contributing anymore than their usual spots. Still, they put in some effort, and when coupled with the other three who did wrestle like the match had meaning, this resulted in a nice multi-man tag team match. ***

Akira Taue, Daisuke Ikeda, and Yone vs. Mitsuharu Misawa, Yoshinari Ogawa, and Masao Inoue

Yone fumbles under Misawa's elbow-centric offense, but fares better against Ogawa. At around the five minute mark, Ogawa's in trouble with Yone, but quickly tags in Misawa. Yone's the one in trouble now, thanks to some Misawa/Ogawa tag-team offense, but he hits a desperation lariat and tags in Taue. There's a few nearfalls, but Ikeda finishes Yone off with a Death Valley Bomb at 15:35 after Yone suffered through a Kinniku Buster and a lariat.

Analysis: If there's one thing NOAH knows how to do, it's book effective and pleasing six-man matches. With so many, many, many tag matches filling the cards of NOAH shows from the Budokan down to the Differ Ariake, sometimes it can get a tad redundant. That is, of course, until you realize that NOAH puts on good matches, regardless of how many people are involved. This match, for instance, featured six different characters wrestling six different styles, but blended them all together in a tag-team format that stressed unity, cohesion, and perseverance. There's simply too much good talent in here to have a bad match: the only one I'm even remotely not a fan of is Ogawa, and I've repeatedly stressed that Ogawa's gold with Misawa, because they make such an excellent duo. We're only three matches in, but already NOAH is stepping up. ***¼

Yoshihiro Takayama, Bison Smith, and Morgan vs. Jun Akiyama, Akitoshi Saito, and Jun Izumida

Jun Akiyama hits an Exploder not even a minute into the match, but a knee to the gut by Yoshihiro Takayama and a press slam into Saito by Bison Smith cuts Akiyama's wind off. Bison's wind is cut off, along with a sizeable portion of his oxygen flow, by some very hard Akitoshi Saito kicks. Akiyama and Takayama exchange elbows, with Takayama going down after a bunch of them. Morgan and Saito go at it, with Morgan hitting a nice dive through the ropes, though it was painfully obvious that Saito was waiting to catch him. Smith is able to hit the Iron Claw Chokeslam, but can't get a pin because Akiyama breaks the fall. Then everyone cluster-****s, and Bison takes the win at 15:08 with an Avalanche Iron Claw Chokeslam.

Analysis: Just like the previous match, this was a six-men tag match done right. This didn't exactly set the ring on fire (at least in terms of athleticism) but the brawling and big-man antics led to many choice moments. The only people I really had nothing to say for in this match were Donovan Morgan and Jun Izumida. Yoshihiro Takayama brings a cocky attitude and a penchant for brawling, while Jun Akiyama brings a cocky-yet-stoic attitude with some large stiffness. Bison Smith is the Mike Awesome type of hoss that's big and muscular but moves really well, and Akitoshi Saito is a charismatic big guy that has some agility to him, based on all those flying and rolling kicks he likes to use. Morgan and Izumida just felt bland when compared to such a diverse line of characters. In the end, though…a good match nonetheless. ***

W.L.W. Heavyweight Championship Match: Takeshi Morishima vs. Ron Harris ©

Both men do the basic "testing each other out" dance until Takeshi Morishima jumps off the apron and tries to squash Ron Harris beneath his weight. Ron responds with a huge powerbomb onto the entrance ramp and a corkscrew neckbreaker for 2¾. Morishima tries to run off the apron again, until to get countered into an Ace Crusher. Ron Harris hits a Chokeslam for 2¾, and Morishima hits a German Suplex, a Backdrop, and a Lariat, but can only get 2¾ as well. Harris tries a big boot, but Takeshi dodges and plants Harris with a holding backdrop at 14:29 to become the 10th W.L.W. Heavyweight Champion.

Analysis: This match had its flaws, but it got better as it went along. It had a good ending too. Ron and Morishima had a certain chemistry with each other after an initial period of culture-shock. Sometimes it felt like these two didn't know what they were doing, while other times this was big-man action in all its many forms. I appreciate this match's own unique flare…not knowing anything about each other in real life was turned into a center point of the match's psychology, instead of becoming a glaring flaw. ***¼

G.H.C. Junior. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships Match: Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA © vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Makoto Hashi

Makoto Hashi and KENTA start the match by stiffing the crap out of each other…more or less exactly what I expected. Hashi then has his leg worn down, extensively, and KENTA takes a nasty Inverted DDT onto the ring apron. KENTA eventually brings in Naomichi Marufuji, who hits a beautiful Suicide Somersault Senton into Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Makoto Hashi after bouncing from the second rope to the third. There's a cluster-**** before too long, capped off with Marufuji running up the guardrail and hitting a Shirunai to Kanemaru into the green protective mats surrounding the outside of the ring. Then, both teams do a bit of "save each other's partners from getting pinned", highlighted by a magnificent Avalanche Busaiku Knee to Hashi only for Kanemaru to make the save following the subsequent pinfall attempt. Kanemaru takes a Busaiku Knee Kick only to be immediately hit with a Shirunai right after, effectively ending his interference once and for all. KENTA ends his and Marufuji's first defense of the G.H.C. Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at 25:31 when he pins Hashi following some koutoubu kicks. In my eyes, "koutoubu kicks" represent little more than kicking your opponent's skull repeatedly and very stiffly.

Analysis: This match is beautiful. Not in a "fine piece of ass" way…more like in a "fine piece of art" way. This match featured raw, unbridled emotion from everyone involved…it really felt like all four would do anything to win. This is a fitting Junior Heavyweight classic. While I'm unsure of how widely-known this match is, I'd consider it a grave error in judgment if people look over such a wonderful match. For one thing, this match proves the repeated dominance of the Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA tandem. Better yet, this match was perfectly-paced, and I loved the fact that it got so much time to develop. This is a prime example of why NOAH has had (and still has, to a degree) such a good Junior Heavyweight division: NOAH puts faith into this division by giving Junior Heavyweight matches ample time, while the Junior Heavyweights repay that faith with brilliant, enthralling, crowd-pleasing, jaw-droppingly excellent matches like this. This was one of the best matches of the night. ***¾

G.H.C. Junior. Heavyweight Championship Match: Takashi Sugiura vs Michael Modest ©

After bits of chain wrestling here and there, Michael Modest makes the mistake of arrogantly walking over Takashi Sugiura's chest and smiling about it. To the surprise of no one, Sugiura gets up angrily, nails a vicious German Suplex, and spends the next few minutes going ape-**** on Modest. Modest fights his way back, even nailing his patented Ass Smash, and he remains in control. In the highlight of the match, Modest breaks Sugiura in half with an Air Raid Crash off the apron. Sugiura's response is nothing short of excellent: he has this killer "What the **** just happened to me?" look on his face, and then he spends the next several seconds dry-heaving. Sugiura isn't going down without a fight, though, as he kicks out of a Vertebreaker before hitting a surprise and decidedly desperate German Suplex. It's all seemingly in vain, though, as he tries a Diving Shoulder Block and eats an Ace Crusher. Somehow, Sugiura fights on, and even nails a Dragon Suplex and an Olympic Slam, both of which get 2¾. Sugiura claims his position of honor as the 7th G.H.C. Junior Heavyweight Champion at 19:11, successfully pinning Modest after nailing an awe-inducing Avalanche Olympic Slam. Post-match, the fans go bat-****ing-crazy at the win.

Analysis: A blissful match. I had no idea Sugiura could sell so well…I mean, damn. This was the classic story, too: it played upon the very backbone of Puroresu, the very roots this genre was carved from. Modest could tell he wasn't a popular champion…in fact, at his entrance, he got only a modest (no pun intended) response. No streamers or anything…the Japanese fans were showing respect to a champion, but only paid attention to Michael Modest because he had "their" belt. Modest was smart enough to know the plain fact that Japanese fans like Japanese champions. Although Puroresu has had plenty of highly-cheered foreign talent, it's hard to forget the whole "hated foreigner vs. warrior standing up for Japan" style of matches that Rikidozan created and perfected. It's hard to forget because that's what built Puroresu, of course. Yet the difference here is that Modest knew the fans didn't hate him…they really didn't feel anything towards him. They simply preferred having a "home team" talent as a champion. In that regard, Modest was masterful in how he worked the match: he didn't make the crowd hate him, he made the crowd rally under Sugiura. Sugiura did his part by having an energetic will to succeed while selling every move like it could be the one thing needed to finally put him down. Michael Modest is forever elevated in my eyes…he's not just the guy from "Beyond the Mat" anymore…he's a charismatic wrestler that can really produce magic given the right circumstances. This was every bit as good as the match before it. ***¾

G.H.C. Heavyweight Championship Match: Kenta Kobashi © vs Yuji Nagata

Before even getting into the match, I feel the need to mention how hot the crowd was for this one. Honestly, this crowd screams "electric". I've rarely seen Japanese fans get this rabid, and the crowd reaction this match was getting (even before the match began!) rivaled some of the best American independent federation crowds, and at times it even felt as loud as a WWE show. It's a blast to see.

Yuji Nagata starts off by slapping Kenta Kobashi clean across his face, and the NOAH fans are eating this up: they're really hating on Nagata. The fans even start a "BOO!/YAY!" dual-chant when Nagata and Kobashi start stiffing each other. Nagata tries some chain-wrestling, but Kobashi meets him every step of the way. Nagata scores the first impressive move of the night with a Belly-to-Belly Suplex on Kobashi, on the entrance ramp, but some Kesagiri Chops by Kobashi represent the first chinks on Nagata's armor. Nagata quickly works the arms of Kobashi due to this, but nothing seems to be working. Nagata hits a few Exploder Suplexes, while Kobashi dishes out Half-Nelson Suplex after Half-Nelson Suplex. I counted about four Half-Nelsons before Kobashi busts out the Sleeper Suplex, and he still can't put Nagata down. An Avalanche Exploder Suplex by Nagata gets 2¾. Nagata follows it up with six Ganmengiri's and a Holding Backdrop, still 2¾. Kobashi hits a Burning Lariat, then another Burning Lariat, then a Brainbuster, then one more Burning Lariat, and he's finally able to keep Nagata down, pinning him at the 30:13 mark to cap off Kobashi's fourth defense.

Analysis: I want to say I loved this match. Really I do. I've praised Kobashi up and down as the man that put my foot in the door and convinced me Puroresu was a hobby worth investing in. He's almost on Idol-like status to me. I've loved Nagata's pure blend of stiffness and really good wrestling. This was a long match and had one of the most excited crowds I've seen in a long while. There's no reason to not love something like this, right?

Except there is. This was Departure 04's Kobashi vs. Akiyama…except in '03…and to be quite honest... not as good. Whereas the Kobashi/Akiyama match could be enjoyed (at least in a "frequent mark-out" kind of way) because it featured little else than killer moves, I hate to see the very-real and very-good chain-wrestling skills of Kobashi and Nagata go to waste. I mean…when this match began, it had everything going for it. Kobashi wasn't going down without the fight of his life, while Nagata kept changing tactics and evolving his gameplan to suit what he found out was or was not working. If Nagata couldn't handle Kobashi's stiffness, he'd work the arms. If Kobashi could chain-wrestle with Nagata, Nagata would try some of his big moves, like the Exploders. Up until the half-way point, this thing was a sure-fire classic, since it featured a gradual but excited build that weaved in an intricate, constantly evolving, and very interesting storyline.

I can even pinpoint when this match fell apart. It was during a "Burning Spirit" spot where Nagata no-sold a Half Nelson Suplex and Kobashi no-sold an Exploder Suplex. This, in and of itself, can be forgiven, though. As an example, the Destiny '05 Sasaki/Kobashi match had a great moment where Kobashi no-sold a Northern Lights Driver while Sasaki was unphased by a Brainbuster. The difference between the two? It was just that one spot. After this particular spot in the Nagata/Kobashi match, both men basically abandoned all their clever and very well-thought-out work and simply decided to start throwing out big moves with no rhyme or reason. I hate to use this figure of speech repeatedly, but it suits these types of situations so well: no matter who you are, you do not kick out of this stuff. You do not kick out of four Half-Nelson Suplexes and a Sleeper Suplex. You do not kick out of six damn Ganmengiri's. Point-blank, it felt like nothing fazed these two. This was in clear contrast to the first half of the match, where it seemed like both men were really beginning to wear each other down.

In the end, I'll sum this match up in one word: overkill. Kobashi's whole persona revolves around his magnificent and inspiring ability to come back from the brink of defeat. There was no "brink" here. None at all. Nagata threw everything at Kobashi. Kobashi threw everything at Nagata. None of it mattered one damn bit. The only thing that really saves this match is the first half of it. All told, what could have been the match to replace Kobashi/Rikio as my highest-rated (at least in terms of matches I've fully reviewed) Japanese professional wrestling match ended up becoming one of the weakest matches of Kobashi's otherwise-excellent two-year run as the personification of Pro Wrestling NOAH. **½

Final Thoughts: It's tough to get the bitter taste of Kobashi/Nagata out of my mind. I almost feel angry at these two…if that match had lived up to expectations, this entire show would have joined the "Blood Sport" ECW compilation as a "Must Have or Die" DVD. I mean…when I'm impressed by Haruka Eigen and Mitsuo Momota, you know they're doing something right. Aside from the opener, for the longest time nothing dipped below good, and even so, the first match just barely failed to make the grade! I fell in love with the Junior Heavyweight title matches, Harris and Morishima had a very nice singles encounter, and all of the tag matches were definitely appealing. The NOAH Budokan cards are always stacked; this one was no different. From top to bottom, this show featured NOAH's best and brightest competing in big matches with big risks, big consequences, and big rewards. This show meant something, plain and simple. And not only did it mean something…everyone treated this like it could be a show that would make or break their careers. Coupled with a die-hard crowd, it's hard to find such a fantastic mixture of in-ring and out-of-ring dedication.

But…of course…Kobashi. Nagata. Our black sheeps of the evening. You know that phrase parents just love to use on their children? "I'm not angry; I'm just disappointed in you"? You know how that somehow hurts the kid a bunch more than if Mom and Dad were just angry at him/her? That's how I felt about Kobashi/Nagata. I expected greatness, because I knew both men were capable of it, and could accomplish it with ease. Well, I got my greatness…for half the match. The other half…stank. Plain and simple.

Yet, all considered, this is still a good show. Very good, actually. In fact, had Kobashi/Nagata not been the main event, this'd be one of my most highly-rated and highly-regarded NOAH shows I've ever reviewed. It's just that having your main event be the worst match of your entire show tends to make people forget all that great action that happened before the main event. When you take a look back on the entire show, you'll see that nothing was really all that bad. One match was…as I said…disappointing…but everything else was different shades of good, with some being all kinds of great. If you can overlook some weak points, this show screams "buy me". If you're the kind that is attentive to detail…this is still a worthy buy. Despite my mixed reactions on the main event, I'm still giving this one the nod/stamp of approval. All the great Junior Heavyweight and Tag Team action deserves to be watched. This Pro Wrestling NOAH show is like an ice cream sundae…the only problem with it is that the cherry on top is a bit stale.

Final Rating for Pro Wrestling NOAH ""Navigation Over the Dateline 2003": ***½

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