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[2004-04-25-NOAH-Encountering Navigation] Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama

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GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Yoshihiro Takayama - Budokan 04/25/04

 

Going into this project, this was my pick for the best match of the decade in Japan of the 00s, granted I had only seen something like 20 matches from the decade. While it is just as excellent as I remembered, it did not quite have enough to dislodge Misawa/Akiyama and Misawa/Kobashi from the top two spots. From the first time I watched this in 2007 until now, I have been impressed with the hellacious beating Takayama dishes out on the champion. For the first time in the title reign, it feels like Kobashi could actually drop the title.

These two have insane chemistry together. I loved their outing in 2000 and this match has enough differences to make this a unique great match. Instead of the hook being that Takayama is a outright heel, here it is can Kobashi surmount Takayama's strength advantage when in all the previous major title defenses he has been the larger competitor. Takayama is a big man, but he absolutely wrestles huge ensuring his stature being the crux of most of his matches. Early on they put over his size that Kobashi has to wear him down before he can hit big bombs like the half nelson suplex or delayed vertical. Kobashi pays for treating Takayama like any another opponent when Takayama reverses a delayed vertical into a guillotine choke. Takayama establishes control with a nice running knee/butterfly suplex combo. At first, it looks like Takayama was going to target leg, but when Kobashi keeps chopping him he takes his arm and hyperextends it over his shoulder. I loved this showcase of adaptability. He came in looking to take a limb and when Kobashi presented one to him he took it. Kobashi's verbal selling really put over the double wristlock. Outside the ring, Kobashi hits a rebound lariat off the railing, but his ailing arm prevents him from getting in the ring and Takayama hits a monster German off the apron. They milk this for all its worth with a double countout tease.

 

Reminiscent of their 2000 match, Kobashi's right arm has been rendered useless he has to find ways to circumvent it. Takayama picks off Kobashi with a butterfly suplex and transitions immediately into a cross-armbreaker, but Kobashi makes the ropes. Takayama continues to try to hyperextend the arm. Kobashi grabs desperation sleeper, but cant leverage due to height disadvantage and bad arm. Takayama hits a wicked half-nelson suplex and a big German to get a two. The "Ko-Bash-I" chants ring out in the Budokan. He goes for the Human Capture German suplex, but here comes Kobashi. Kobashi throws Takayama down on his knee attempt, spinning back chop and a half-nelson level the playing field even though Kobashi is still favoring the arm. Takayama takes advantage of this to hit a dragon suplex and running knee, but the ropes save Kobashi.

Takayama makes his last stand just landing nasty punches and kicks really smothering Kobashi and pushing the ref aside. This was really the first time Takayama was heelish and it puts over the desperation. Kobashi gets behind to hit the half-nelson and then a brainbuster for two. Burning Hammer, but his arm cant handle it. Takayama throws a wild kick BURNING LARIAT~! still only gets two. Kobashi with a bloody lip and a crazed look in his eyes signals for the Moonsault and the crowd loses shit for this. Moonsault right on Takayama's face wins the match!

This match was wrestler more like an intense title match with a David vs Goliath dynamic rather than 2000 match where Takayama heeled it up. It shows how far Takayama had come as a credible challenger to any major Japanese title. The match showcases Kobashi at his best working from underneath. Using his histrionics to full effect to get the crowd cheering for his eventual comeback and who better to dish out punishment than the Bleach Blond Badass. Takayama gave as good as he got as his chest looked like raw meat after this match. The right arm was why Kobashi could never string together a combination of offense until Takayama had finally punched himself out and also why Kobashi had to bust out the moonsault (on the face) because he could not physically hit the Burning Hammer. Also for the first time, Kobashi was pushed to the limit as he was forced to dig deep in his bag of tricks to beat this giant. It was an excellent payoff to many different levels of storytelling before the biggest match in NOAH history against Akiyama in the Dome. *****

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I thought that this was a great performance by both. Kobashi showed vulnerability and fire. Takayama was incredibly badass, but ended up burning up too much energy trying to weaken Kobashi's limbs up instead of focusing on getting the finish. If he'd have spent that time he worked over both legs to no real effect on the ribs and back, things may have been different. I thought that the lack of focus costing Takayama his shot was well done. He still looks like a beast and more than strong enough to go toe to toe with Kobashi, and Kobashi looks good for getting a win over a strong opponent. The beating both guys took was really brutal. It'll probably be top 20.

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I know there are some people who consider this a MOTDC and I definitely don't fault them for that. I have other NOAH matches that I prefer but there are moments in this match that are among the most incredible wrestling visuals I've ever seen. Takayama desperately resorting to punching Kobashi out in the closing minutes is PRO WRESTLING MOTHERFUCKERS just like the old DVDVR thread. Still, the body of this match doesn't grab me the way that the Honda and Ogawa title challenges do and there are some tags that I'd put over it as well. And that's just NOAH, factor in Battlarts, Muga, and pre split AJPW and you've got a pretty stacked top ten, which is where I can easily see this match resting.

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I think I did the impossible and I underrated a 5 star match. I rewatched this and a completely new appreciation for how badass this match is. Everybody knows about the arm work through the finish as why this match is considered a Match of the Decade Contender, but the beginning is why it is the complete package.

 

Now that Kobashi has defeated Misawa decisively about a year ago, Kobashi is The Man. He wrestles like The Man. However, Takayama is the first opponent where Kobashi seems to question himself. Takayama is bigger, he has shoot credentials and is a former GHC & IWGP Champion. Kobashi cannot just go out assert his dominance. So for the first time in his reign, you have a sense of desperation in the early going. Almost like Kobashi is playing not to lose. It is very reminiscent of his matches against Hansen. He tries for bombs early, but Takayama catches an overzealous Kobashi with a knee lift. Then Kobashi goes for holds. He is trying to contain Takayama and sap him from his energy. This opens up the chop game and an DDT to the outside. Kobashi gets cocky and goes for a delayed vertical and Takayama applies a choke. Now Takayama is a big, bad bleach blond giant, but like Kobashi he recognizes his opponent has got game. So he is pressing the advantage quickly with covers and then applying holds again to sap energy and open up the kick game. I am just thoroughly impressed at how well this is being worked. Then they launch this match to the Stratusphere once Takayama wrenches Kobashi's knee and then when Kobashi tries to chop his way out of trouble, it is bye bye arm. The finishing stretch is legendary and the hope spots and cutoffs are immaculately timed. Takayama going shoot-style crazy only for Kobashi to comeback with Burning Lariats is why we watch wrestling. On top of all that the response Kobashi gets for signaling an delivering the moonsault means that this match has leaped over 03/01/03 and Misawa/Akiyama into the top spot. I have rewatched 03/01/03 and I am going back and forth with it. That match is the Moment of the Decade, but this is such a flawless match. Misawa/Akiyama needs to be rewatched. It is anybody's ballgame among those three. *****

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Kobashi vs. Takayama - April 25, 2004

Much like another Kobashi opponent would go on to do, Takayama starts this off early with a grumpy bitch-slap to the GHC Heavyweight Champion. Kobashi of course gets pissed, but Takayama uses that against him, gaining an advantage when he causes damage to Kobashi's right arm and shoulder. I was very pleasantly shocked to see Kobashi sell his arm throughout the match in this one, channeling Chris Benoit and Ricky Steamboat.

Kobashi would of course get his offense in to prove why he was the fucking man, gaining an advantage when they got outside. However, I shuddered when Takayama grabbed Kobashi by the waist while the champ was on the apron, and delivered a fucking German suplex to the floor! That took years off of Kobashi's career for sure. Takayama would regain the advantage once they got back in the ring, putting numerous submissions holds on Kobashi's right arm/shoulder. Kobashi would even rely on his left arm when delivering his lethal strikes.

After several minutes, Kobashi would allow Takayama to attempt a Yakuza kick and got his right leg caught in the ropes, gaining the advantage back in a thrilling finishing stretch that had the crowd going bonkers. From a pacing and stroytelling standpoint, I can't think of anything wrong with this match. Sure, from a safety standpoint this was absurd, but the quality of match certainly didn't suffer. *****

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I have this ranked # 3 for Kobashi's title bouts. Great dynamic as the dominant champion is now suddenly the underdog against the giant badass shooter. These two together were always gold. Takayama's finest hour. Brutal finish. ****1/4


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Following Misawa/Ogawa vs Marufuji/KENTA, this has to be one of the greatest 1-2 punch ever. Greatest Kobashi match since the Misawa epic. The finish was one of a kind and pure brillance.

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Feels like you standard big heavyweight title bout until Takayama violently drags by his leg and kicks the shit out of his leg. He decides on taking out Kobashi's chopping arm. Kobashi sells his hurt arm well and is an excellent fiery babyface. Kobashi has to adapt and use his other arm to dish out the chops. This has a red hot finishing stretch with Kobashi landing one of his scariest moonsaults ever. This was great, but not as great as I remembered it being. I don't think I enjoy matches with big, epic closing stretches as much as I did when I discovered puro eight years ago. 

★★★★

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This was pretty insane. You have Takayama and Suzuki in one corner, looking like the most badass dudes in the world and the other side is Kobashi, Shiozaki and Honda with the most determined looks on their faces. The match was super intense with an epic atmosphere in Budokan Hall and very hard hitting in all aspects. Kobashi was in his element as the sympathetic babyface getting his ass kicked by Takayama who was not holding back with his strikes at all. Kobashi leveled Takayama with his chops himself but Takayama ruled the ring with his vicious knee strikes. The one where he catches Kobashi coming off the top rope and catches him with the knee in his stride was amazing. Takayama brutalised Kobashi’s arm with submissions and kicks. Anything he could to tourture Kobashi, he did it. Perhaps to his detriment as he eventually lost stamina giving Kobashi the opening to make his big comeback. Kobashi’s selling was excellent the entire match. Not just selling the arm. The selling in every little thing - his facial expressions, his comebacks, everything. Kobashi’s overall performance was amazing. The escalation made the match feel more grander. When Kobashi hit the Burning Lariat, the crowd went insane only for Takayama to still kick out. Kobashi then pulling that famous grimace and hitting the moonsault was a pitch perfect way to end the match. *****

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