By Alan Counihan
Pro Wrestling NOAH's tour ender at Korakuen Hall this past week was, for obvious reasons, a very emotional show. It was without question the biggest show since the passing of Mitsuharu Misawa, as more than 2,000 fans packed one of the most famous venues in wrestling. The show was headlined by a mouth watering tag match pitting Kensuke Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima against the new GHC Heavyweight Champion, Go Shiozaki and junior champ KENTA.
The show opened as all recent shows have, with a ten bell salute to Misawa. A framed picture of him was placed at ringside.
1. Chris Hero vs. Akihiko Ito
This has been Hero's breakout tour in Japan. He's been getting over with the fans on every show, and has been having really good matches (particularly last time at Korakuen against Shiozaki). Ito is one of the younger members of the roster and has been showing a ton of promise in recent months. They really got the crowd into the match, as the two worked extremely well together. Ito came up with some clever counters to Hero's signature stuff that he's been using on the tour, and they got some great nearfalls. Hero, who was wearing new green gear, used a ton of Misawa like elbows which the crowd ate up. However it was from the moveset of Misawa's rival Toshiaki Kawada that Hero pulled out the finishing move of this match, as he made Ito submit to the Stretch Plumb. Awesome stuff.
2. Taiji Ishimori & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Genba Hirayanagi & Kotaro Suzuki
There are few wrestlers with as much chemistry as Kotaro and Taiji. It's always a treat to watch these two against each other. Match was relatively short but there were plenty of cool exchanges. Genba has a ton of charisma. Finish came with Taiji turning on Kanemaru allowing Genba to get the win. This is where I'm not going to be able to help you, because they totally lost me with the post match angle. Taiji got on the mic and said something that got a big reaction. He then called out his ex-partner KENTA who came out and helped him put the boots to Kanemaru. This was made even more confusing by KENTA wearing a Rikio t-shirt (Rikio is partners with Kanemaru, Kotaro and Genba). Kotaro and Genba saved Kanemaru, and they joined back together too. Apparently this was NOT a heel turn by KENTA. I don't get it. If anyone speaks Japanese and understands the angle, please let me know.
3. Akira Taue, Yoshinari Ogawa & Ricky Marvin vs. Akitoshi Saito, Masao Inoue & Bobby Fish
This match really put a smile on my face. These guys, particularly Saito and Ogawa, had been through emotional turmoil and they really just seemed to go out here and try to have fun. The crowd gave them so much love, especially to Saito which was great to see. Inoue is a vastly underrated comedy wrestler, as he always entertains with his facial expressions and reactions. Taue is amazing in that regard too. Loads of funny things spliced throughout the match, but there was also some good action from the likes of Fish and Marvin. Saito got the win with an enziguiri on Marvin. He was very emotional post match as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
4. Takeshi Morishima & Takashi Sugiura vs. Yoshihiro Takayama & Takuma Sano
Sugiura and Morishima were on fire here. Very intense action throughout. They kept it short and sweet which allowed the guys to have an explosive match. That is in my opinion, the best way to use Takayama. He was great here, really putting over his opponents as serious bad asses. Morishima, in spite of his added weight, still moves ridiculously well. He was flying around the ring, and his missile dropkick looked better than ever. It came down to Sugiura and Sano, and they had some great exchanges before Sugiura put him down with an grapevined ankle lock.
5. Atsushi Aoki vs. Jushin Thunder Liger
This match was part of Aoki's ongoing trial series. He's coming off a successful run in New Japan's Best Of Super Juniors, actually making it further than Liger by getting to the semi finals. This match was great. Aoki was more over than he's EVER been, as the crowd really rallied behind him. Liger was awesome in his role as the seasoned vet. Aoki, as he usually does, worked the arm for most of the match. This built to him eventually locking in a kimura, which transitioned into a jujigatame. The roof was set to come off Korakuen as Liger teased and teased tapping. It was so awesome. He barely made the ropes to break the hold. Aoki pressed on, attempting to finish Liger a different way, but he was caught with a perfect flash cradle for the pin. Wonderfully executed match. Aoki is coming along so well.
6. Shuhei Taniguchi vs. Bison Smith
Like Aoki, Taniguchi is also undergoing a trial series at the moment. Only his is of the heavyweight variety. He was originally slated to face Misawa in this match. They shuffled the card around to free up Smith so that he could step into the spot. The match wasn't bad but it had issues. Bison clearly was trying to make Taniguchi look good and gave him ALOT of offense. However I think it may have worked better if Bison got the heat so to speak, and Shuhei had to fight from the bottom. The crowd may have rallied behind the youngster more if this was the case. I don't think they knew how to react to him beating up Smith in the first two thirds of the match. By the end though it got good, as Bison took control and nearly put away Taniguchi several times. He hit a series of BRUTAL moves, including possibly the most insane lariat I've ever seen. Taniguchi fought to stay in it, and the crowd responded. The finish was awesome as Bison hit a powerbomb, but held on and hurked Shuhei up again for the Bisontennial. Both guys worked really hard here.
7. Kenta Kobashi & Tamon Honda vs. Takeshi Rikio & Mohammed Yone
Up and down match here. Rikio and Yone are not the best guys to be working with Kobashi, and Honda seemed to be a bit off. Thus it was less than smooth at times. The crowd was responsive to a lot of what they did though, and Kobashi's charisma was as great as ever, so the match was worth watching. Yone took some BIG bumps including a scary half nelson suplex from Kobashi. Honda dropped the fall for his team, getting rolled up by Yone as he attempted a suplex.
8. Go Shiozaki & KENTA vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima
The main event, that looked can't miss on paper, delivered in spades. The heat built during the entrances to the point that the atmosphere was nuts even before the wrestlers made contact. This match was built around striking exchanges, and they were some of the most brutal and hard hitting striking exchanges that I've ever seen. Go's chops were the loudest they've ever been and one of the first times he hit Nakajima with one it was RIGHT IN THE FACE. I think he was expecting Nakajima to duck based on their reactions after it happened. Poor Nakajima looked like someone immediately after they got smacked in the face with a soccer ball.
KENTA upon entering made it known that he wanted Kensuke and was trying to pick a fight with him even as he stood on the apron. Those two proceeded to blister each other with chops and kicks too. The crowd was eating all of this up. The Kensuke Office isolated KENTA for a while, but he eventually got a big hot tag to Go and the fans went nuts. The first big nearfall was a submission tease as Nakajima locked in an ankle lock on KENTA while Kensuke had Go tied up in his Stranglehold Gamma. This was as dramatic as the Aoki/Liger spot earlier in the night.
We got plenty of Nakajima vs. KENTA interaction down the stretch, and it was every bit as good as what they produced in their big singles matches this year. The big turning point in the match saw Sasaki and Nakajima going for a doomsday device style move on Go, but he countered by hitting a rana on Kensuke and ducking the airborne Nakajima in the process. Almost immediately KENTA came from off camera with a top rope diving footstomp on the prone Nakajima.
It came down to Nak and Go, as KENTA held Kensuke at bay outside. Nakajima went crazy hitting about 6 superkicks in a row that looked incredible and then nailed his picture perfect bridging German for the best nearfall of the match. He looked for more kicks but Go cut him off with an unbelievable lariat. He then nailed a series of chops including his awesome spinning overhand version. Another lariat and then finally the Go Flasher gave his team the win. This was an incredible match, and easily in the top 2 or 3 I've seen this year. The crowd was molten and the wrestlers gave everything they had. You have to check this out if you get a chance.
Post match saw Nakajima and Shiozaki get into it and have to be separated. Shiozaki got on the mic and spoke to the fans, then he and KENTA went over and bowed to the picture of their leader Misawa. The familiar music of the NOAH founder then played over the arena and the ring filled with green and white streamers. It was an unbelievable visual.
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