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  1. I've been in a bit of a down period with wrestling the last month or so. I got a Highspots Best of 2003 compilation off eBay a little while ago and I thought it might be the thing to get me back into things. It starts out with matches from the January 10th show. A couple of them are ones that I always wanted to see but never got around to. Looks like a good place to start. KENTA & Takashi Sugiura vs Takuma Sano & Kotaro Suzuki - Man alive this was a Jr. tag fireworks display. Kotaro just set the tone early showing Tiger Mask like speed & agility. Sugiura was the powerhouse while KENTA & Sano were the violent artists. 14 minutes of Jr. action without being contrived or "out of order." There is a difference between this and what was going on in the U.S. at the time. Guys would catch up but this was crisp, clean and engaging Jr. tag wrestling. The finish was the only flaw of this great match. Even then, it doesn't diminish the work. Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito vs Shinjiro Otani & Masato Tanaka - This is a WAR lover's match. More potatoes than Idaho. Some might more moves but this burns bright with inter-promotional hate. That coupled with a brutal finish makes this a classic tag match in my book! Mitsuharu Misawa & Masahiro Chono vs Kenta Kobashi & Akira Taue - So I thought the above match was the final but no! We have this dream bout with NJ's Chono getting in the mix. His interactions with Kenta & Taue were like a Fire Pro match come to life. Its different than what came before it and was very much a big time main event style match where you get what you came for. The tanks aren't emptied out but you're still grinning at the end. It's been awhile since I've seen Misawa, Kobashi & Taue so this was a treat. I feel very comfortable calling it a near classic match... ----- Its no secret that I'm a big fan of tag matches and these were totally up my alley. Each was different stylistically yet each was dynamic and engaging. I'm sure these are available online somewhere or maybe you have them on DVD or saved somewhere on a computer, take the time and check these out. If you're a newer fan, its some great stuff from the not too distant past. If you were watching NOAH take shape 20 years ago (holy cow!), these matches will take you back in time to a period of excitement and possibility. Thanks for reading!
  2. By this point, Chono is Mr. Puroresu and he's a legend. And he's also washed up. Like, really washed up. So, what does Kenta Kobashi do to make this match at the Tokyo Dome as compelling as it can be without compromising himself (that is, without making himself look like a completely washed up guy can actually take him down) ? First : work the first part of the match like Dory Funk Jr. would. Stretch job reversals, work a solid headlock spot that is part of your repertoire anyway; stuff that Chono can do and can eat up some minutes building the tension while doing not so much in term of spots and physicality (which Chono can't do). Second : find a cool transition for the washed up guy to do : Chono actually reverses a powerbomb doing doing some ugly hurricanrana on the ramp. Third : find a way to give your opponent some kind of offense that looks like it affects you to some degree. This is where Kobashi has to go overboard, as Chono's backrop just look weak as fuck. So Kob litteraly does a bunch of twists with his body to throw himself on his head, of sorts. Which, yeah, is goofy, but is right out of Ric Flair "please back body drop me / please throw me off the tope rope / please reverse my figure four" playbook. Because really, apart from no-selling a few chops, Chono has nothing he can do to make himself look slightly menacing. Four : sell the STF spot like it's really hurting you and could end the match....eventually. Nobody's gonna buy it, but give it your best. Five : since there's no way anyone actually thinks Chono can takes you down, to make it a Tokyo Dome spectacle, make it about how Chono is too washed up, too weak but shows a bit too much heart so you drop him on his head several times. They know he ain't coming back up. Be a dick, kinda. And then Tenzan is almost wanting to throw the towel because everyone understand you're murdering the guy now. Have Chono kinda, almost, try to do a delayed no sell on the latest head-drop, but actually barely making it to his knees before beheading (well, not really considering the tired bumps Chono takes) the guy. That's the final drama time. Not a bunch of stupid trading nearfalls that would make no sense. Something that makes sense, that doesn't need the audience to think you can actually loose (which they would not anyway), but still feels big. So yeah. That's NOAH Ace Kobashi vs washed up dream match worker Masa Chono. It's a good match, all things considered (meaning : considering Chono had really almost nothing left and looked like a relic from a removed era). Kobashi was a great, great pro-wrestler.
  3. Damn, I didn't expect to like this so much. Any Fujinami big match is guaranteed to have a ton of wrestling, and there was a lot of that here, but there was also a ton of disdain right from the opening which has Chono spitting Fujinami in the face. Chono is far from a great matworker, but he was game here, busting out an awesome calf slicer and a flying clothesline that was like something Necro Butcher would do. He also wasn't afraid to get into stiff slap battles and I liked his headbutts and mafia kicks he would use to combat Fujinami's mat prowess. Fujinami on his side had one of the most brutal dropkicks I've ever seen and an epic dive. This was a very typical NJPW style match, there was no grand finishing run with a ton of big moves to be kicked out of or something, instead it was about avoiding the other guy's finisher when push came to shove. That and the fact both guys sold a ton of exhaustion made the second half of this pretty great. Little bit of a lucha title match influence here with some dramatic bumps for momentum shifts and that sick guardrail dive from Fujinami. Great stuff, glad that this was brought up as the 232nd best match of the 90s
  4. Heated early 90s japanese wrestling is guaranteed quality and this is another goody. Fast pace, everyone runs in to beat the hell out of eachother, Heisei Ishingun are really fun as elderly japanese men in purple pants who will crack your ribs... the superstar charisma of Shinya Hashimoto stands out (as always) as anytime he steps in the ring things get a little more real, a little more intense. Surprisingly Tatsutoshi Goto makes a really effective main antagonist as he knocks people silly with stiff lariats and chucks chairs in Iizukas face. Iizuka & Nogami are fun in their goofy Rockers gear flying around and taking beatings. Match starts fun and it builds to some bigger and bigger moments and nearfalls and surprisingly well timed spots, we also get Aoyagi and Hashimoto facing off for a couple seconds. This is the kind of match that just leaves you wired by the end.
  5. Typical Choshu match with all that entails. You get Choshu slapping the shit out of Chono, and Chono bleeding and trying to take the megastar down. Pretty rough around the edges in terms of layout and Chono isn't very compelling (though I loved his full speed yakuza kick to Choshus face) but the big moments of the match felt brutal.
  6. Few guys have undergone a more beneficial transformation during this time period than Chono. Only Doc's transition from tag wrestler to singles star compares, but Chono's career was in worse shape than Doc's. This starts off great, with Hash psychotically kicking Chono to death in the corner and abusing Tiger Hattori in the process, with Chono having to fight back just as hard. But then this just dies, with a lot of meandering and punch-kickery. Chono is charismatic in this role but this really feels like a WWF or AAA-style New Japan match. Lots of playing to the crowd between moves clubbering, and Hash does an unconvincing Hulk-Up routine. The crowd seems really restless, too. Hiro Saito's interference isn't appreciated, either. This has the attempt of an intense no-frills war, but it comes off about 1/3 as convincing as a Hash/Tenryu match would be in this setting. This isn't a BAD match, but it seems these guys expected to just walk in and have a really good match, instead of doing anything particularly special as befitting either this setting or this feud. It's just another routine Hash title defense with a routine layout and routine finish. Reaction to this match was negative enough--to say nothing of the the realization that AJPW had outclassed them in their own backyard--that NJPW basically pulled their support for this show as soon as it was over. So no home video release, no sequels (even though Mutoh was supposedly willing to put Misawa over in a singles dream match had they run this again in '96), or anything else. Too bad, because this show ultimately did live up to its hype, providing a little something for every wrestling fan without overstaying its welcome the way Big Egg did.
  7. The more I watch NOAH Misawa, the more I'm fascinated and it reminds me how great this man was both as a worker and actually as a booker too. Here he is, leading his new company toward new coasts in dream matches that could never happen because of Baba isolationist mentality, and most of all preparing the field for his men to get over on the big stage. So he gets Chono, who is still in heel mode here (as opposed to the following year when he will already have turned into more of a legend figure) and also much more active than in the Kobashi match in 2003. Yet, we're leading toward that match already, as Misawa, who barely loses anyway, won't be able to take Chono down and go to a 30 mn draw. Now that may seem a crazy thought, especially by 2002 in a Dome (ah, the days where NJ would still run several Dome shows a year), but it actually works really well because Misawa knows what the fuck he's doing, and Chono is game enough. Sure, it's a slower paced match. Sure, there's a lot of repetition of spots, but it's because the match works that way : who is gonna put the other one down with his favourite weapon : the elbow / the kenta kicks ? They mix up other spots too : Chono going for a few submissions, and Misawa doing a really good job putting the STF (whom everybody knows won't get him, really); Misawa actually does an emerald frosion on the ramp (which allows Chono to not have to kick out out it right way, as Misawa is also selling a piledriver too by that point, so it takes quite some time before they get back in the ring). A super neat sequences comes after Chono uses the Russian Legswip, which was a Baba spot, so Misawa retaliates with the same spot followed by a neckbreaker drop (again, old Baba spot). Yeah, some fine reference work there, again as Misawa uses the manjigatame on Chono (he gets countered of course, since he's not as good as Chono at it, it's a Inoki hold after all). Plenty of neat little stuff like this, until the point where it comes down to Chono not being strong enough to sustain Misawa's elbows (who is ?), yet manage to work enough counters and muster enough will to work up a few kenta kicks of his own. At this point, it's a matter of him not sinking more than beating Misawa (come on now, Chono ain't gonna beat Misawa)? leading to an unexpected draw. Another thing : Misawa didn't drop Chono on his head once inside the ring. That will be Kobashi's not-so -secret-weapon. So yeah, this was not an epic spectacle nor a magnificient action packed match, but it was just right, it told a fine story, Misawa did an excellent job making the most out of Chono's sometimes really light offense, it felt like two big stars finally colliding, there was the old AJ vs NJ feel to it. Really good, smart, compelling stuff. And it let the door open for Kobashi, the real Ace of NOAH (still to come) to beat Masa Chono. Misawa was such a great, great pro-wrestler, coupled with a selfless booker.
  8. So people are saying that Fujinami in the 90s was past it and his title in reign in 1998 was a lowlight. And judging by this match -- they are WRONG. Fujinami says DAMN you ALL - and drags Chono kicking and screaming into a bonafide MUGA epic like it's 1978/2006. Exciting opening establishes the story of the match immediately. Then you get Fujinami working really stiff - slapping the dogshit out of Chono and busting out the Thesz back elbow. Chono can barely do a thing on the mat but, Fujinami carries him no problem. Not only do you get fun maestro-ish touches from Fujinami, but also really excellent psychology, as you had Chono trying to work Fujinami's match, a great sequence centered around a lowblow, which Fujinami probably saw Negro Casas do in 1981 at Toreo, Fujinami teasing the STF, great leg attack stuff etc. Last couple minutes probably would've been better if Chono gave a shit about selling his leg. Ah, what the hell - this is still about the best match involving 1998 Chono I can imagine.
  9. Another fun Crockett-goes-to-Japan match in a series. This starts off with everyone throwing chairs at each other and descends into a total U.S. formula match. Liger is utilized perfectly in this unique setting, keeping the heels off-balance with his flashy offense before working a textbook FIP segment with Team Chono cheating their asses off while abusing him. Hashimoto gets the hot tag and that's worked right out of the South as well--eventually he gets isolated with Hiro Saito and you can guess how that ends up. Not essential but I could watch NJPW matches like this all day.
  10. Not much to say about this one, but it's an impressive 2/3 fall sprint in a match built for sprints. This gets a little TOO clusterfuck-y at the end, with Sabu doing more long furniture-arranging, but for whatever reason I'm surprised at how good he was in this setting overall.
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