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[2004-07-10-NOAH-Departure] Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama

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GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Tokyo Dome 07/10/04

 

The pinnacle of Pro Wrestling NOAH pits the red-hot Kenta Kobashi defending his title against NOAH's second best, Jun Akiyama in a suitably epic encounter. It is a testament to NOAH that they were able to draw 50,000 to the Egg Dome with a main event of two NOAH talents as the big matches of 00s tended to feature a company vs. company rivalry. Yes, All Japan and New Japan were represented on the show, but without a doubt the drawing card was the payoff to the collision course that Kobashi and Akiyama has been on since Kobashi returned from injury in 2002. With a victory, Kobashi cements himself as one of the greatest champions of all time with one of the best reigns ever. If Akiyama wins, it could be a similar torch seizure that took a place just a year earlier when Kobashi finally got the Misawa monkey off his back and took his place in the sun. It has the Clash of the Titans feel you want at a Dome show.

 

It is always a little weird to see the All Japan/NOAH boys at the Dome, but if there were ever two of them meant for the Dome it is these two. Kobashi wins an early exchange with a shoulderblock and Akiyama powders. Kobashi tells him he wants to get this done in the ring. Akiyama has Kobashi scouted grabbing a leg lace out of a Russian Legsweep attempt (that usually follows his short knee lifts). Akiyama looks for the guillotine choke (how he won the August 2000 match), but Kobashi urgently chops Akiyama's neck to stymie him. Kobashi turns Akiyama's neck/chest a nasty purple-red with some of the most brutal chops ever. He misses a spinning back chop and Akiyama capitalizes with a high knee. It is business as usual for Akiyama targeting the neck with knee-based offense and a wicked DDT onto the apron. Akiyama wrangles the choke, but Kobashi pops out so Akiyama goes right back to the neck with a double-arm DDT and a forearm to back of head. Akiyama grabs the choke and Kobashi goes limp, but summons the strength to make the ropes. In a bitchin transition, Kobashi actually clamps on a headlock after being hit with a back suplex. It is such a good headlock that it is a credible pinning predicament. Then in a HOLY SHIT bump, Kobashi suplexes him off the apron, which sounds nasty, but not that nasty. However, when you actually see the landing they fucking bounce off the floor.

 

They milk this for a double countout, but both get in at 15. Kobashi collapses in the ring and when he finally covers Akiyama he barley gets a shoulder up. Kobashi runs off his usual offense, half-nelson suplex and Burning Lariat He knows it is time for Burning Hammer, but Akiyama elbows out and a running knee levels the playing field. They tease finishers off the apron and Akiyama hits his Exploder off the middle rope to the floor. They tease a countout loss by Kobashi, who gets in at 19. Kobashi is able to get his foot on the ropes during the consequent pinfall attempt. More Exploders (top-rope version) are not doing the trick, so he tries choking him out and still only can get two. Wrist-clutch exploder gets two. Kobashi is not human. Akiyama must be like I am fucked at this point. Kobashi brainbuster out of some crazy Exploder variation and trade half-nelson suplexes and exploders. Burning Lariat and finally Akiyama collapses. It is academic at this point and a moonsault and Burning Hammer polish off Kobashi's biggest challenge yet.

 

There is something about the Kobashi/Akiyama that just does not do it completely for me. I like wrinkles and dynamics that add to forumla. I feel like Kobashi and Akiyama are the most proficient practitioners of the epic NOAH style so it is just formula executed as well as possible, but without the wrinkles that other opponents can add to the match. This had everything you would expect from Kobashi/AKiyama: chops, knees, suplexes, huge bumps, big bombs and a badass finish run. It felt like Akiyama pushed Kobashi to his limit moreso than any other opponent yet with his chokeout and Exploder off the middle-rope, but just did not have enough in the arsenal to polish off Kobashi. I can see why people feel like this match is the nail in the Akiyama as an Ace coffin. It was a very decisive Kobashi victory as he take literally every Akiyama bomb and then beat him clean with his two biggest bombs. I don't think this was the point of no return. Akiyama could have worked on a new super head drop finisher or if Kobashi dropped the title on the next defense he could take credit for Kobashi being so fatigued that he was easy pickings for the next challenger. There were options for Akiyama and I don't think this was a must-win for him. It was a great performance that put him right on Kobashi's level, but much like Kawada the resistance to pull the trigger ultimately fucked him. It is hard to explain, but I thought it was missing that little hook that other MOTDCs have had to give this the full monty. I felt Kobashi's desperation, but I just didnt think Akiyama was at the same level of urgency. For comparison, I thought Akiyama's performance in the Misawa '00 match really had the extra sense of urgency that takes the match to next level. I have said it before and will say it again when you are picking the best match of the decade you have to pick nits. ****3/4

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So the first part of this match is awesome. I love watching these guys do basic holds and wrestling sequences because it is the best you will ever see those things done. The bad strike exchange aside, great early match. Then it turns into the NOAH that I am beginning to hate with a passion. See, late 90s All Japan had this tendency to go away from the reserved use of big suplexes and head drops that made early to mid-90s AJPW great. And as NOAH progresses, it seems like they take it ever farther. And that, to me is a sad, sad thing. Kobashi and Misawa seemed to really like doing stuff like that just to pop the crowd. Where Taue and Kawada were more likely to rely on smart wrestling to build to big spots. And you can guess which style won out in AJPW, as well as which one came over into Misawa and Kobashi dominated NOAH. I can't disagree more with SS on this, but to each their own. :)

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It's rare that a match this length can hold my attention and leave me feeling compelled. The problem is, going this long still leaves things on the bloated end even if it's time well-filled. Sleaze has it right in that Akiyama's performance here, while once again very solid, doesn't quite have the urgency of his '00 Misawa showdown. Him desperately trying for the apron exploder was a good callback to that previous mega match, I thought it was just a tease only for them to deliver even bigger. Both guys tease being dead at this point. Akiyama gets in at about 16, Kobashi's carcass drags itself in at 19. Akiyama throws everything he has at Kobashi, including a super exploder. Somehow that's not enough. The desperate Akiyama goes for a second pin attempt on that, as if he couldn't believe Kobashi kicked out. I think Akiyama does a really strong job getting more and more determined to put Kobashi away, only for everything he does to come up just a little short against the unstoppable Kobashi. Not even the wrist clutch exploder can do the trick. Kobashi finally counters Akiyama with a quick brainbuster. They drop each other with half nelson suplexes and exploders, both full of vigor, til Kobashi plants Akiyama with that lariat. Then another. Akiyama gets to show how tough he is, even kicking out of the moonsault that beat Takayama. Only a burning hammer can appropriately end this. Both guys get ice bags and mists of water to save them from exhaustion afterwards.

 

****3/4. A little heavy at times and I do think in historical context it hurts Akiyama to have Kobashi withstand everything in the book. At that point, only some new super head drop could give Akiyama credibility, since as of this match why would I think Akiyama could beat Kobashi? Regardless, for just this match, they put on a hell of a show. Kobashi is the indomitable champ, Akiyama was the biggest challenge yet.

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My feeling about this are similar to my feelings about 3/1/2003. There are a lot of big moves down the stretch but this was a big match which called for it since it had been built up for so long. The selling was actually pretty good for the most part but the half nelson suplex vs exploder section is a bit too far for me. It's a few steps below the Misawa match but it's still good, just not as great as I used to think it is and not something I think I'll rewatch anytime soon.

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I love Kobashi. I love Akiyama. I just don't like them together. They both seem to lose all emotion when facing each other. The match is dramatic, but it lack of urgency really kills it for me. Akiyama reached an out of this world level in February of 2000 and he never really got there again it feels. The beginning Clash of the Titans work is really great from the test of the strength to Kobashi demanding they do it in the ring and Kobashi chopping Akiyama down when he is going for an early choke. I thought Akiyama's transitions were too lackluster throughout the match. Akiyama's heat segment felt too by the numbers and Kobashi was unusually reserved. Kobashi did an amazing job on a long transition to his offense. From the sustained headlock to the sleeper suplex to the gnarly vertical suplex off the apron where Akiyama bounced off the floor. It was a great crescendo and Kobashi is looking to build to the Burning Hammer. Again, instead of using the Exploder to the floor as his transition, he hits some moves before the Exploder to the floor that do not make that spot pop out. Akiyama's finish stretch is loooooooooooong and I just don't buy it. The exploder/half-nelson suplex was a bit much. Kobashi works through his big finishers to win. Kobashi was doing more of the deadfish sell with less struggle, which sucks because he is so much more dynamic than that. Akiyama had no urgency. Weirdly lethargic match, but it had its big moments and was definitely dramatic. It is one of the big losers of the rewatch falling into the 40s. ****1/4

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Kobashi vs. Akiyama - July 10, 2004

Another instant classic that also stands the test of time. I appreciated the basic storytelling of Kobashi vs. Takayama a tad bit more, but this was excellent shit on a grand stage in front of an epic crowd. Akiyama found a way to get an advantage by going after Kobashi's knees throughout the match, but Kobashi was just too much of a fucking juggernaut not to find a way back in.

Career-shortening highlights include a superplex to the floor, Exploder to the floor, and the usual head drop nonsense. But this was tremendously paced, with Akiyama throwing absolutely EVERYTHING possible to be the one to bring Kobashi's iconic reign to an end. In some ways, Similar to WWE to me, I also loved that when they threw bombs at each other near the end of the match, both eventually collapsed in pain and exhaustion. (Such a shame that Go Shiozaki vs. BJ Whitmer was a shallow copycat of this a year later, and many other indy matches do the same.) ****3/4

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