NOAH Great Voyage in Niigata
Pro-Wrestling NOAH
Great Voyage in Niigata: Great Voyage x Big Fireworks
23rd September 2014, City Gymnasium, Niigata

One of the Japanese workers with the most tenuous grasp on the status of ‘legend’ in the jaded and weary eyes of this blog is Atsushi Onita. Never really that good when he was allegedly good as part of All Japan’s not-as-good-as-their-rival junior heavyweight division, he is known for his role in importing the deathmatch style into Japanese wrestling – as well as being a populist conservative member of the National Diet (parliament). Why do I bring this up? Well, he’s here tonight, under the banner of a handful of cross-promoted matches with the near-dead ZERO1 promotion.

But more on that later. Now for some housekeeping.

Company vice-president (SHOOT) Naomichi Marufuji, as you may recall, won the GHC Heavyweight Championship from Yuji Nagata in a bout that had a lot of hype leading in that met expectations both in ring and out of it. Stablemate Katsuhiko Nakajima challenged for the title immediately. It was a popular move and on the back of it I declared the company’s soft reboot to be in full swing.

That defense ended up being a fine match, not that it was widely advertised as being set to take place at any particular time and ended up being slightly thrown away on television at an event that occurred during, but not as part of, the Jr. Heavyweight Tag League (eventually won by heel team Kenou and Hajime Ohara). One month later Marufuji successfully defended against Takeshi Morishima at a fairly subdued Korakuen event at the end of the Summer Navigation tour. Maybach Taniguchi defeated Nakajima on the same show, sealing the next title tilt, which appears on this show.

Daisuke Harada remains GHC Jr Heavyweight Champion (adding two defences in the meantime, once in a three-way against Quiet Storm and Zack Sabre Jr. and once against K-DOJO regular Shiori Asahi) whilst Dangan Yankees (Masato Tanaka and Takashi Sugiura) hang onto the GHC Tag Team Championship (having defended against Mohammed Yone and Daisuke Ikeda). BRAVE (Taiji Ishmori and Atsushi Kotoge) remain GHC Jr Heavyweight Tag Champions too, though the pair have added no defences as a result of performing in the Jr. Tag League.

If you recall, New Japan’s Destruction in Okayama event was not shown live on Ustream or domestic television. This event was given priority. Was it worth it? Has the Marufuji era caught light or are NOAH still fumbling in the dark. Let’s find out as we go live to Niigata to witness a crowd sat remarkably far away from ringside.

Daisuke Harada vs. Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Hitoshi Kumano: So. It’s a Great Voyage event. There’s three guys under the weight limit. The champion is in the ring and Ogawa wants the title. So why isn’t this a title match? Is the Global Honoured Crown sanctioning body saving it for that card that is going to draw big on the back of Harada-Ogawa? Sometimes trying to figure out the decision-making process in NOAH makes my brain seep out of my nose.

Continuing the recent trend of an early card three-way match, these three put on a very short (5.55 according to the internet) but smooth match where the dry-but-talented Harada asserted his superiority over the sneaky and old Ogawa and the ‘Growing Bear’ Kumano by shoving the latter into the former and then dropping Kumano with a German Suplex hold for the count. Ogawa remonstrates after the match, teasing the match that could have just happened here (though to be honest, Kumano looks miles better than Ogawa these days). **1/2 

Akitoshi Saito and Mitsuhiro Kitamiya (NOAH) vs. Shinjiro Otani and Tatsuhito Takaiwa (ZERO1): Otani has played a canny political game in marshalling his personal relationships within the industry (this is the most cynical way I could have written ‘Otani has a lot of friends’), especially the tier of great heavyweights operating above him in the 1990s. Forming ZERO1 with Shinya Hashimoto upon his release from New Japan, Otani has kept sweet with Keiji Mutoh (Wrestle-1 vs. ZERO1 has featured prominently this year), Mitsuharu Misawa (Misawa headlined the first ZERO1 show) and Akira Taue (currently NOAH President and presumably having some say in this event). The reasons behind this show are unclear to me. Do two unsteady companies combined make a solid one? Regardless, Otani continues to steward the ship out of the ring and put in big performances inside it. Here he makes the early running by getting into a big slap battle with NOAH rookie Kitamiya. Otani wins, but seeing Kitamiya hanging with a legitimate star is thrilling and the crowd pick up.

Things die back down a little when Saito and Takaiwa go at it. Not that they’re bad workers at all, just that they lack that underdog status that Japanese crowds generally seem to get right behind. They tussle for a bit with a bit of exchanging opponents until we come full circle to Otani and Kitamiya for the finish. Otani scoops Kitamiya with an Otaniplex for the simple win, only to find Kitamiya powering out at 2.99. Another big Otaniplex does for the young man but enhances his growing reputation. Fine independent-style hard-hitting no-nonsense tag match. ***1/4 

Hajime Ohara, Kenou and Takeshi Morishima (Cho Kibou-gun) (NOAH) vs. Daemon Ueda, KAMIKAZE and Takuya Sugawara (Daemon-gun) (ZERO1): A baggy and shapeless brawl between the two promotions’ asshole heel factions. What is happening with Morishima? The man is a double world champion. Maybe he didn’t draw very well but he’s better than everybody in this ring put together. UGH. Pet peeve. Match gets thrown out by the referee after he gets attacked.

Atsushi Kotoge and Taiji Ishimori (BRAVE) (NOAH) vs. Ikuto Hidaka and Mineo Fujita (ZERO1): The last time this blog checked in with Mineo Fujita he was kind of a nothing-y heel working and losing opening matches but today he is a bit more fully realised and bedecked in the ZERO1 World Junior Heavyweight title after ending Jason Lee’s half year reign. His hair appears crisply ironed and well-conditioned and apart from some well-worn cheating he appears to belong in the same ring as the reigning GHC Jr. Heavyweight champs.

As does Hidaka, whose last outing I previously decided featured “strong and innovative cruiserweight tag wrestling, but not much personality.” This match is much better; not entirely coherent but a lot of fun. The BRAVE pair are a real cut above, giving a solid platform to let their opponents shine but always appearing to have the edge when in control of the match. The champions win in this entertaining non-title match, though basing your opinion on the in-house crowd would leave you to believe the foursome had farted in the library. *** 

Hideki Suzuki, Kohei Sato and Yoshikazu Yokoyama (ZERO1) vs. TMDK (Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls) and Quiet Storm (NOAH): Not having watched ZERO1 between 2004 and 2013, I was surprised to read that Kohei Sato was once considered to be ‘boring’. Right now he is anything but: a gruff, tall genuine heavyweight with a frightening vertical forehead dent, walloping kicks and a decent all-round game. Four days prior to this show he recaptured the ZERO1 Heavyweight Championship from Masakatsu Funaki, entering into his fourth reign, with no signs of lapsing back into this supposed boringness.

As a matter of fact, I like pretty much everyone in this ring, though I guess it’s not the greatest outing for everyone. Things seem to work best when Sato and Storm are butting heads and when TMDK are showing off their array of tag team moves (future stars in the west, I expect). The crowd pick at the lint in their navels by the time of the finish, which comes when TMDK are isolated and Sato buries Storm with a German Suplex Hold. Fine for something thrown together on a cross-promotion, but all have performed better. **3/4 

Katsuhiko Nakajima and Mohammed Yone (BRAVE) vs. Masato Tanaka and Yusaku Obata (Dangan Yankees): Tanaka is the bridge character of this show, holding tag team gold for both promotions with his regular partner Takashi Sugiura, giving a sense of previous history to this match that many other cross-promotional bouts don’t have. And, needless to say that when Nakajima and Tanaka are in the ring it is electricity and even the crowd, who up to now don’t appear to like much, enjoy the exchanges between the veteran Tanaka and the looks-like-an-accountant Nakajima.

Yone – who in the space of a year has gone from an afro to a top-knot to a shaved head – and Obata also contribute well to a good, if slightly overlong, tag match with plenty of strikes and periods of control for each man. Obata takes the fall from Yone, kicking out of a couple of set-up moves bravely before taking the Muscle Buster centre-ring for the fall. ***1/4 

GHC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs. Maybach Taniguchi: This match is a fine match. Naomichi Marufuji, one of the best wrestlers of this century, works his testicles off to make his opponent look good in defeat and put himself over as a man of continuing relevance in 2014.

The problem is, the crowd react to most of this match (not all, I must stress) as if Marufuji was nerve-pinching Taniguchi centre-ring whilst reading aloud from a foreign-language copy of a Haynes manual. It is a really saddening sight and it affects the match.

The story of the match is fine. Completely worthy of a heavyweight championship match. Taniguchi has been riding roughshod as of late, attacking people with his weird two-pronged fork and generally acting the dick. At the outset of the match he ushers his Cho Kibou-gun stable mates away from ringside along with his weapon. In the opening rope break exchanges, he indicates that he is not willing to cheat to win, thereby implying that he only actually cheats to get your attention and actually thinks of himself a ‘real’ wrestler. Which is quite a clever and bold psychological gambit, if you try and position yourself in the kayfabe shoes of Marufuji.

For the 22 minutes of the match, Taniguchi does not cheat once. He is, however, outclassed almost from bell to bell in both story and in terms of workrate. After all, and I find proclamations like this difficult to announce, Taniguchi is not a very good wrestler. He has size and an interesting look but lumbers around with no real interesting moves, no special grasp of timing and performativity and not a great deal of top-line personality. For US readers, he most calls to mind Kane in 2014.

Marufuji bumps around a little for Taniguchi, taking an apron chokeslam that looks rough but gets little response. Neither does a great section in which Marufuji teases an apron Shiranui but is countered, but manages to Super Kick Taniguchi off the apron. The silence of the crowd is all you can hear and I struggle to understand why this is. Do they collectively not like Marufuji?

The finish comes with Marufuji hoisting Taniguchi for his Misawa-indebted Pole Shift Flowsion to make his third successful defence, though successful seems like the worst word to use. Wrestling is at its root about making a connection between performer and audience and that does not happen here. A technically impressive match featuring an expert and his willing lackey is treated like a Sunday afternoon beer baseball match and as a result everyone suffers. **3/4 

NO ROPE BARBED WIRE CURRENT BLAST DEATH MATCH – Atsushi Onita, Hideki Hosaka and Ichiro Yaguchi (ZERO1) vs. Genba Hirayanagi, Yoshihiro Takayama and Takashi Sugiura (No Mercy) (NOAH): So this is why the crowd are sat so far back. A quick change of the ring mat from the emerald hues of the NOAH mat to the red blood-disguising ZERO1 mat and the rigging up of barbed wire ropes interwoven with explosive charges and we’re ready to go.

I don’t want to suggest that Mitsuharu Misawa is indeed turning in his grave but it does seem to me that this particular match was not in the great man’s company vision. NOAH did have a hardcore title once upon a time, but it mainly served as an Openweight championship and was retired around the waist of Kenta Kobashi. And call me puritanical but I don’t think that the GHC Heavyweight Championship should ever not be in the main event position. It is probably the best single asset NOAH possesses.

Nonetheless the match, pitting the mostly comedic figure of Genba Hirayanagi, the former world champion of New Japan, All Japan and NOAH Yoshihiro Takayama and NOAH’s second longest reigning champion Takashi Sugiura against Onita and two Joe Schmoes, is an absolute roaring dog egg.

It’s simple. Shove someone into the barbed wire and an explosive charge goes off. Presumably insurance indemnity means that the crowd, already not exactly NOAH’s greatest feature, are probably three times the distance away than ordinarily would be necessary. As a result this intensely violent act is met with – at best – a reverb-heavy ‘uhhhh!’ sound.

Along with some boring brawling at ringside and Sugiura getting lamped with a barbed wire bat, this is all that happens. Presumably there’s backstory as Sugiura seems to be the target and is the focus of the camera at the outset, looking absolutely PISSED – but it is all frittered away in an orgy of predictable violence between three guys who can’t wrestle for shit and three guys who can’t deathmatch for shit.

A lot of people on the internet have shat on that recent WWE match where Cameron appears to attempt a pinfall on an opponent who is face down, and a lot of people seem to find the Jenna Morasca vs. Sharmell match from TNA a grotesque affront to the remaining dignity of the industry. To the annals of pointlessness and disgust I submit this match, whose redeeming feature is that it is over inside nine minutes once all the charges have gone off. DUD

Hopefully NOAH have got that all out of their system now ahead of the Global League (their version of the G1 Climax/Champion Carnival) and a quite excellent-looking Great Voyage event from Yokohama featuring…

Marufuji vs. Daisuke Sekimoto! Take my money!

In addition, Daisuke Harada will defend the Jr. Heavyweight title against Super Crazy (yes, him) and Dangan Yankees will defend the tag straps against TMDK once again. The card will also feature appearances from New Japan regulars Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi and Hiroyoshi Tenzan. What a difference three weeks can make.