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[2023-09-17-NOAH] Naomichi Marufuji vs Will Ospreay

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This was alright. I think the most intriguing factor was Maru basically playing the wiry vet role and how much he learnt off wrestling Misawa when they were in this same situation back in the mid 2000's. The match started off with typical tentative grappling and "big-time" shoulder charges alongside some ok back and forth action. Maru worked the arm for a bit then dropped it while Ospreay kinda just did whatever in terms of setting stuff up limb-work wise with barely a care in the world. The strikes were predictively pretty bad across the board; Maru has his usual wiffy kicks and Ospreay mostly kept to landing very light forearms (to be fair he does land a good rolling elbow near the end, so that's something) or his own kicks, mostly because that's not what matters here.

What matters for these two is the spots and how those spots interact with each other, so you have Ospreay's usual big fancy sequences paired up against Maru having to rely on landing his shit through openings or counters given he just can't keep up with that pace anymore. That's great, because Maru is at his best when he's allowed to live up to his "Genius of the Ark" moniker as opposed to just running through spots with no real attention to detail. His comebacks feel laboured and desperate, especially around about the last 10 minutes where Ospreay is just overwhelming him with anything he can think of in the moment, so his more clunky execution does, I feel, make sense with the context of the match. I think the selling in that regard is fairly effective, even if it's predictively not that amazing for two guys who aren't really known for their outstanding work in that regard, it's mostly just sitting around after big stuff or doing facial expressions that might suggest they're hurt. Fatigue builds quickly between the two and there's a real sense that any truly big move could potentially finish things up real fast.

Ok, enough positives? Cool: this had some stinky stuff in it as well. The dreaded mandatory strike exchange that everyone wants to do these days was alright, but I don't think it was needed given it just led into the two doing more convoluted stuff rather than build to a proper crescendo. The other really bad trend of "x does finisher close to y's heart in some way and they kick out at 0.5" is peak melodrama bullocks, and it didn't help that the last 5 or so minutes is just finisher spam between the two, so it's not something that really feels earned bar the significance of the move itself. You get what it's trying to go for with said spam....but it's still spam, so if that irks you it definitely won't be a fun sequence. I was amazed at how simple the finish was as Ospreay just ignores a knee strike to the face/superkick to hit two Hidden Blades and the Stormbreaker for the clean 3. While it fit the idea that Maru was on basically borrowed time in this match, it did feel a bit....weak, especially after all of the crazy stuff before. You're telling me a apron Shiranui and a rope-hung Shooting Star Press doesn't hit the mark as much as two running back elbows and a elevated cutter? Ehh not believing that. 

Anyway, the match isn't going to convince anyone who's sceptical of the pair into believing the hype, but for those who do like this callback-heavy focus on spots and big action it definitely hits the mark. It was clearly set up in a way to make Maru seem like he could still go hard even if he really can't bar a couple of his usual big main-event spots, with a lot of smoke and mirrors used alongside tons of dub spots to  The guy isn't "cooked" per-se, just felt like Ospreay carried a lot of the raw atheticism. I think what it's lacking was some sort of....thing to go along with it. Usually with matches like these they start friendly and get more and more disrespectful as time goes on, building on the natural heat to really drag a match into the next level. Bar Ospreay doing Misawa-moves, nothing of the sort pops up here. It's just two guys doing spots and sequences well, just not building on much beyond that.



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This delivers exactly what you'd expect between these guys. That being you get some cool flippies interspersed between laughably phony set-ups for said flips, poor strikes, and questionable selling decisions. These guys also somehow managed to botch an irish whip, which had me howling with laughter at how Ospreay did a unprompted square dance while running into the corner. Watching a guy in the crowd laughing while they did their obligatory epic late-match strike exchange kind of confirmed a thought I had while watching Miyahara's goofy character work the Nakajima match. That being that maybe these NOAH epics of late are best viewed as having moved into some sort of lighthearted DDT-esque parody instead of being an unironic entry into the genre. In that light, the shitty forearms and missed kicks just kind of had me smirking instead of groaning. I have absolutely no clue what's going on with people trying to hype this as some MOTYC or whatever, but I had a pretty good time being awed at the athleticism while also laughing along with the crowd at the goofy ass facials and epic match tropes.

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Yeah, I didn't think this match was a MOTY contender. It was a good match if you like watching two guys crisply get their moves in, but I didn't get any sense of struggle or urgency in this match. A lot of this match felt like both guys were going from spot to spot, and the closing stretch is what you would expect out of an Ospreay match. 

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