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[2005-07-18-NOAH-Destiny] Kenta Kobashi vs Kensuke Sasaki

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Kenta Kobashi is the king of overlong, overdone entrance sequences. Greta knucklelock sequence. Sasaki actually makes this match watchable during the opening part. He goes all junior on Kobashi, which is pretty fun even if it looks like Sasaki's gonna kill himself doing it. Maybe that's part of the fun. Then they go into a 5 minute chop sequence. Okay, maybe it's 3:30 to 4 minutes. But it feels like 10. Anyway, once they get back to the match it gets fun again. Kobashi does this amazing struggle against a tiger suplex that ultimately fails. Then they trade bombs until the 3. Some of this was fun and I'm glad I watched it. But it won't be getting a vote.

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Kenta Kobashi vs Kensuke Sasaki -Tokyo Dome 7/18/05


This is the double main event of a heavily stacked card, but the card is also a harbinger of things to come. GHC Champion Takeshi Rikio is ostensibly in the third most important match (fourth from the top), but against rising New Japan star, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The double main event of Misawa/Kawada and Kobashi/Sasaki features two outsiders and all four men are from the 90s. Yes, they were still able to draw 52k to the Dome, but from a quick glance at the card you can see how unhealthy the promotion is. Indeed, all five major heavyweight matches from NOAH in 2005 feature outsiders (Sasaki, Tenryu, or Kawada). The NOAH vs NOAH matches were stale, but instead of building from within they were bringing from the outside, which is not a sustainable solution to their woes of staleness.


There are a couple handful of matches from this decade that have a lot of notoriety surrounding them as must see bouts. I would say up until this match all those matches held up. Whether it was Mutoh/Tenryu, Misawa/Kobashi, Kobashi/Takayama, these matches are hyped and you should believe the hype. By WON voting, this placed third overall in 2005 and number one in puroresu. In Ditch's DVDVR poll for the best puroresu match in 2005 it ranked second. It is (in)famous for the five minute EPIC CHOP WAR~! that takes fighting spirit to new lengths. However, for the first time in this project, I felt let down by a hyped match that felt very much like an exhibition of fighting spirit rather than a sporting contest. I want to watch this match and the Sasaki/Kawada Dome match back-to-back to solidify my opinions, but based on recollection the Sasaki/Kawada match blows this out of the water. That match is very much rooted in the same impetus as this match. It is about macho pride. If Kawada was the most suited All Japan wrestler to work New Japan then Sasaki was the most suited New Japan wrestler to work NOAH. Sasaki and Kawada have a hard-fought struggled to prove who is the best by challenging each other at every turn. Whereas, Kobashi/Sasaki came off as the biggest dick waving contest ever held in a wrestling ring. They were demonstrating their moves and proving how tough they were to each other rather than trying to claw for a victory. It is a very good exhibition of the NOAH fighting spirit style and has its entertaining parts, but as a wrestling match it is sorely bereft of the urgency and struggle necessary to making a match a true classic.


I enjoyed the early bomb throwing leading to trash talking before the epic test of strength. There needs to be more trash talking in Japanese wrestling even if I dont understand it. Nothing of any real consequence happens before the chop war they just throw out some moves. Sasaki hits an awful lot of high-risk moves like a top rope Frankensteiner and a cross body from the top to the floor (which I really liked against Takayama), but it all looks well planned rather than heated. CHOP WAR~! I will say this they are committed to it and they go all out. The plums of sweat that comes off each man's chest and the color of chests are impressive. How could Kobashi's chest never turns that virulent shade of purple that his opponents do? They look to be hitting as hard as him. Kobashi wins the battle, but it is a Pyrrhic victory as he collapses. Sasaki is very good at selling the damage of the CHOP WAR~! in how moves throughout the rest of match, but he may not even be selling. My one favorite signature Kobashi spot from the mid-00s is the teased countout finish and this one comes courtesy of a sweet Northern Lights Bomb off the apron to the floor. Kobashi falling off the apron at 16 was a real nice touch. I don't like the Sasaki armdrag/armbar spot at all. They knock each other out with lariats signaling the reset for the big finish, which is Kobashi running through his shit and winning with a Burning Lariat.


Taken as an exhibition of fighting spirit and macho pride, this is fun, but really outside of the countout finish tease there is not much in the way of drama, struggle or urgency. It is a must-watch because of how well it exemplifies the style of the time, but it is nothing I consider great. ***3/4

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The long chop sequence is fun stupid. The rest is bad stupid. I guess I see the appeal of this match but after watching a fucking shitload of Japanese wrestling over the course of the last several years the fighting spirit shit here just feels unimaginative.

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I was surprised this ultimately felt like the best match on the show to me, even if I agree with the criticism of it. It reminded me of the Doc-Kobashi matches from '93 to '94--the two biggest meatheads imaginable having the most meatheady match they could possibly create. And the crowd fucking loved it, and it sort of summarized the spirit of NOAH when Kobashi was king. I'm often won over when performers take their commitment to an idea absolutely to the hilt, even if the idea doesn't fit my preferred aesthetic. Given who they were and where they were, Kobashi and Sasaki did exactly the right match. I will vote for it, even if not particularly high.

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Kobashi vs. Sasaki - July 18, 2005

Looks like this one was a dream match, pitting an AJPW icon against an NJPW icon. This definitely had the atmosphere of a WrestleMania main event. But the crowd and venue itself isn't what made this so special.

After several minutes of both men establishing that this was a match of equals, they than had a battle within the battle, exchanging in a chop-fest that first had me wondering, much like the first CM Punk vs. Roderick Strong singles match, if I was watching a 1989 event because it reminded me of Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat. But it kept going, with both men even getting to the corner and taking turns dong Kobashi's signature rapid-fire chops, instantly grabbing each other to switch positions when the chopping perpetrator would get gassed. This exchange eventually ended after several minutes when Kobashi just laid into Sasaki, who fell down. This exchange was never tedious, and had the crowd going apeshit when it concluded.

Other highlights include Sasaki dropping Kobashi on the floor mat via brainbuster, and Kopbashi almost getting counted out. What made that stand out is that around the 16 count, Kobashi fell or tripped, building the potential drama of a countout victory for Sasaki. But Kobashi was the fucking man and found a way back in the ring before the ref reached 20.

Ultimately, this was just Kobashi's night, having just a bit more firepower behind his strikes and bombs than the quicker Sasaki. But even in defeat, this match did nothing to hurt Sasaki's star power that had already been established for more than a decade. This was a dream match that lived up to expectations. I won't quite put on par with the other big star power dream match of Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (the original or the sequel), but this was excellent, epic shit, even better than the Punk vs. Strong rematch just done earlier in the month . ****1/2

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The long chop sequence is fun stupid. The rest is bad stupid. I guess I see the appeal of this match but after watching a fucking shitload of Japanese wrestling over the course of the last several years the fighting spirit shit here just feels unimaginative.

 

Funny, I would reverse that statement! To me, the long (never ending) chop sequence is bad stupid, while the rest, in a way could quite nicely be summed up as fun stupid. I think it's Superstar Sleeze who sums this up as a dick waving contest, and that's pretty accurate - it's just the two of them throwing all finesse out of the window and going to hit each hard. Really hard. This has a number of moments that I really like - I totally bought the teased count out where Kobashi drops to the floor at 16 but the chop battle was just damned long. There's no denying they were absolutely laying into each other and while the waves of sweat flying everywhere makes for an interesting visual, at around 2 and half minutes in, I was fighting it amusing, like I was watching a GIF on a never ending loop. All the other bits of the match I like though, and I'm a sucker for the old rope a dope Kobashi routine of take punishment in the knowledge he has the artillery to outgun his opponent. It's like a summer blockbuster of a match; not much subtlety in the plot but plenty of bangs and explosions and the crowd are pretty molten the whole way. I'm in the hovering just below **** range.

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Such an amazing spectacle, kinda like Hogan vs Warrior if they were both great wrestlers. I was surprised by how much I liked this, it left a much stronger impression on me than the first time I saw it. They're absolutely phenomenal at commanding the crowd, and everything from the lock-ups, the staredowns to them getting back in the ring feels like an iconic event. The chop battle is kinda like Maradona's goal vs England at the world cup, there have probably been many better, but the combination of time and place realy makes it more iconic than any other. The match is really held together by their selling that never allows the match to go from a battle of stupid male determination into sheer stupidity. Kensuke getting up from a Superplex got a huge reaction, but if he suplexed Kobashi outside the ring instead of eating a Half Nelson one straight away the quality of the match would've been much different. The chop battle perfectly encapsulates how they kept the crowd involve-they didn't just stand there and throws two hundred chops in a row, even if that's how you might remember it. They fired up, got in each other's face, pushed each other into the corner, channged the pace of the chop throwing and so on. In a way the pop-ups eliminate the nearfalls-there are a couple near the end, but nothing near the amount you might expect. Any match that captivates me so much is going to get a high rating, and I'm really struggling to come up with any valid criticisms of it. ****1/2

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Sometimes you don't need workrate, but just two Big Lads slapping the piss out of each other for twenty minutes. Far from being Kobashi's best match, this was a total spectacle that every puro fan needs to see. This reminded me of Kobashi's match with Samoa Joe later in the year. Both matches felt like a Kobashi exhibition match and a spectacle for different reasons, although I vastly prefer the ROH match as Joe a much more interesting opponent that Kensuke.. 

★★★★

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To say that I've grown jaded on endless strike exchanges could be an understatement. I tend to check out whenever that happens by this point since it's usually mindless and boring but this match will always capture me like no other match despite being the very example of endless strike exchanges. Only with chops being the case rather than elbows. Sasaki and Kobashi is one of the most enthralling, spectacular matches of its kind. It's in the Tokyo Dome, it's the big showdown between the two titans, the enormously hot crowd that eats everything they do up. It's an experience to witness.  This is my favourite match of all time so naturally I think it's Kobashi's best which is quite funny considering that when I was the last few matches of the Kobashi GHC title reign, I noticed that he was slowing down a bit. His matches began to suffer from not many new or interesting ideas and just being not up-to usual standard. But here, he works perfectly to his capabilities to match the nature of the match and has an absolute classic, just after his peak has ended. Sasaki, on the other hand, is coming in after freelancing all around Japan so he has something to prove against Kobashi. So when Kobashi throws the first chops, Sasaki fires back. And over 200 chops later, the crowd is still begging for more and more. They eventually move on to an epic bombs away finishing stretch which included a few awesome no-sell pop ups that never fail to get the juices flowing. Just a classic. *****

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