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[2006-01-22-NOAH-First Navigation] KENTA vs Naomichi Marufuji

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KENTA vs. Marufuji - January 22, 2006

I'll get the flaws out of the way: KENTA had room for improvement in regards to selling the left knee that Marufuji spent so much time working on. In addition, he could've added some more hope spots to fulfill this match's crowd heat potential. I also saw zero point in landing a fucking Shiranui off the apron to the floor. Marufuji almost fell apart in the closing stretch due to that, failing to lift KENTA for a Tiger Suplex, simply rolling him back in that position for the pin.

This was a great Jr. Title defense for KENTA, most importantly VERY different than his prior classic defenses against SUWA and Low Ki. Marufuji worked a headlock early to feel out and slow down the red-hot KENTA, bringing back memories of Shawn Michaels doing the same thing to Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21. KENTA would get some back-and-forth going until Marufuji attacked his left knee and just mercilessly went to work on it.

Make no mistake, Marufuji was relentless on KENTA's left knee, neutering the few sporadic hope spots KENTA attempted, and the best part of course was him bringing out the classic figure four leglock. Put this match in front of an ROH crowd at the time and the heat would've been off the charts for that. After about 10 minutes, KENTA is able to bring the match to an even level when lifting his right leg to block an attempted corner splash, then landing a Yakuza kick, and countering a charging Marufuji with a powerslam.

KENTA was vicious, doing a so-so job of selling all the left leg work as I mentioned earlier. But that was somewhat made up for with the pacing, and more importantly in the finishing stretch which I'll get to later. I actually didn't mind KENTA landing an Attitude Adjustment style Death valley Driver out on the floor, as that protected Marufuji from a stupid head/neck drop. Once the match got to the finishing stretch after the Shirnaui on the floor, both men traded blows and suplexes, with Marufuji ducking some left leg roundhouse kicks, showing that KENTA lacked that extra fraction of speed to land them after the work done earlier. They also traded beautiful Tiger Suplex nearfalls that had the crowd rocking. KENTA eventually no-sold the earlier work and used his left leg to deliver his standard kicks.

However, KENTA showed that his left knee lacked a bit of firepower. Marufuji was able to kick out of a left leg Basaiku knee. He then kicked out of a left leg G2S. But once KENTA landed the second Basaiku knee, everyone knew it was over. I suspect the issues I pointed out earlier were taken care of by the time these two faced off again to provide the MOTYC potential they have, rather than just a great match that gets lost in the shuffle. ****

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Marufuji's leg focus in 2006 is pretty varied and interesting all things considered. It was enjoyable watching him do his damage. However, I agree that KENTA essentially no-sold it. We can reason that Marufuji realized that he hadn't done enough damage to hurt or even hobbled the Jr. Champ. Therefore, he cut his losses and went forward in head/brain (?) attack mode with kicks, Shiranui's etc. 

KENTA's selling of limb work has never been great. So, all in all I'm glad that they decided to move past the leg stuff. It would have been worse if Marufuji kept going back to it throughout the match...we all know KENTA wouldn't have sold any of that either :D

Also, the non lift tiger suplex was meant to be more of a roll up type of move rather than a throw.

Quibbles aside, this was an intense title fight that avoids their extraneous tendencies. Not to say I don't dig the October GHC heavyweight title fight but, this is felt leaner and meaner. I thought the match was a NOAH Jr. Classic and an overlooked one at that.


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