Last week, Pro Wrestling NOAH held its first two Korakuen Hall shows of 2017. With a depleted roster since the departure of Suzuki-gun, the cards were predominantly singles matches. The purpose of this article is to highlight the best matches from each night.
GHC JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP DECISION MATCH: HAJIME OHARA DEF. TAIJI ISHIMORI (1/7/2017)
This match was created as a result of heavyweight-bound Atsushi Kotoge vacating both of NOAH’s junior heavyweight titles on December 26th. Ohara and Ishimori have good chemistry together; both men are products of Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon system. Commentary put over the senpai/kohai relationship between the two.
They started out with some slick matwork and lucha-influenced chain wrestling. Ohara gained the early advantage with a John Woo dropkick on the floor that sent Ishimori’s back crashing into the guardrail. Hajime did an excellent job of focusing his offense on Ishimori’s back from this point on. He stretched Ishimori with llave submissions and dropped him with countless backbreakers to set up his Muy Bien submission finisher. The match dragged a little in the middle as the crowd was never really behind Ishimori’s comebacks. Ishimori countered another John Woo with a great standing double foot stomp that got him back in control. They wisely used this spot to switch roles around the 15-minute mark which really played to the crowd’s desire to support Ohara.
Ohara won with a rip-cord Canadian backbreaker into his Muy Bien submission to become the 33rd champion, his first singles title in NOAH. Although I enjoyed his team with Kenoh, I prefer Hajime as a singles wrestler. A strong fan favorite; he is a natural babyface. It took them a while to figure out how to play to the crowd, but this was an excellent match that I enjoyed more upon rewatch. ***3/4
GHC TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: GO SHIOZAKI & MAYBACH TANIGUCHI (C) DEF. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI & ATSUSHI KOTOGE (1/7/2017)
One of NOAH’s top juniors over the last 3 years, Kotoge entered the heavyweight division on this show. The exchanges between he and Shiozaki did a great job of presenting Kotoge as fiery, over-eager underdog who will bite off more than he can chew.
This match really took a while to get going, which stood-out upon rewatch. Towards the end of the match, Kotoge nailed Shiozaki with a thunderous headbutt that was clearly audible from my seat. Both men were instantly bloodied by the strike. This spot really changed the match, getting the crowd involved and firmly behind the challenging team. From this point on the near-falls got great reactions.
Definitely not a good idea. Kotoge, the very picture of regret. pic.twitter.com/ScPm2a4AAU
— LARIATOOOO!!! (@MrLARIATO) January 14, 2017
Shiozaki eventually drilled Kotoge with a Kobashi-esque short-range lariat for the champions’ first defense of the titles. I’ve never been a fan of Atsushi Kotoge, and I was skeptical of his transition to heavyweight. However, I really enjoyed his performance in this match. Shiozaki was also very good here, albeit a little one-dimensional. ***1/2
GHC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA (c) DEF. TAKASHI SUGIURA (1/7/2017)
Katsuhiko Nakajima continued his strong run of intense main event performances in this match. Sugiura was looking to become the first ever four-time GHC Heavyweight champion; Katsuhiko was hoping to truly establish himself as NOAH’s ace by beating Sugiura in a second consecutive title match.
I preferred this match to both of their two matches last year. Nakajima’s aggressive offense stood out. His elbows and kicks seemed to have more weight behind them. This was a battle of determination and fighting sprit. As his catchphrase implies, Katsuhiko “will not stop!”
Sugiura played the jaded, surly veteran which actually did more to get him over than build sympathy for Katsuhiko. By the 30-min mark, there was clearly more fan support for Sugi-sama. In the final minutes, Sugiura endured repeated slaps and seven thrust kicks. Ultimately, Katsuhiko dropped Sugiura with the Vertical Spike to seal his third defense of the GHC title. ****
TAIJI ISHIMORI DEF. Hi69 (1/9/2017)
Coming off his loss to Ohara, Ishimori faced freelancer, Hi69. This is a rematch from a good December Shinjuku FACE match that Ishimori won.
Hi69 spent most of the first half of the match in control. Much like their first match, Hi69 attacked Ishimori’s leg. Taiji did a good job of selling the damage throughout, despite not changing his offensive approach. The action was crisp and this pair has great chemistry despite limited interactions. Ishimori got the win by stacking up Hi69 with a Mexican roll. As he reminded Hi69 after the match, this was Ishimori’s second consecutive win. They put their differences aside to form a team going forward. ***1/4
I’m not reviewing their match here, but Takashi Sugiura and Kaito Kiyomiya also formed an interesting team after their match.
GO SHIOZAKI DEF. ATSUSHI KOTOGE (1/9/2017)
Like the tag title match on the previous show, I overrated this match on initial viewing because of a strong finish. Nonetheless, It was a good match that dragged a little. They did a great job of playing off the headbutt from the first match until another one ultimately reopened their wounds (especially Shiozaki’s). Go won again with a short-range Burning lariat. We’re two matches in and I definitely prefer heavyweight Kotoge. **3/4
KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA DEF. KENOH (1/9/2017)
As I mentioned, Kotoge’s interactions with Shiozaki did a good job of introducing the newcomer to the heavyweight scene. By contrast, this match flat-out established Kenoh as a heavyweight threat. It helps that these two are so similar in style and stature: they were both introduced at 210 pounds (although neither is technically a heavyweight by traditional definition).
As one would hope, this was all about the kicks.
Turn up that volume!! ?? pic.twitter.com/oYknV4vH0H
— 'brother Mort (@mortenvh) January 10, 2017
The selling in this match was also very good. It was easy for them to convey pain because the audience could almost feel the impact of the kicks. While I mentioned that the match made Kenoh look great, I think Katsuhiko benefited, too. He didn’t dominate, but he won relatively quickly (by NOAH main event standards), getting the win with the Vertical Spike after 17 minutes. ***3/4
The overall theme of both of these show is how hard the entire roster worked. The matches were all intense and enjoyable. I think my initial excitement about “NOAH the REBORN” resulted in overrating some of the matches, but I think the Junior title match was better than I gave it credit for live.
It was definitely a questionable decision for NOAH to run Korakuen twice over Wrestle Kingdom week: the second show only drew 694 fans. But based on my live experience, I think the shows were received well by those in attendance and created some needed buzz for the rebuilding Ark.
I’m not sure where NOAH will go from here with Nakajima’s reign. Yesterday the company announced another GREAT VOYAGE show at the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium for March 12th.