The Wrestling 101 Match #13
GHC Heavyweight Title Match
KENTA vs. Naomichi Marufuji ©
October 29, 2006
Pro Wrestling NOAH
Nippon Budokan

(Watch on YouTube here)

The past two matches I’ve reviewed for The Wrestling 101 have felt quite massive, the sort of epoch-defining productions that could not be properly understood without unpacking their various meanings one by one. The reviews were a fun test of my critical abilities, but the writing process was a bit of a slog.

By contrast, KENTA’s 2006 challenge for Noamichi Marufuji’s GHC heavyweight title is a match that mercifully defies the liberal arts toolkit. It asks no questions about the impact of a company’s capital accumulation strategy on its cultural production, nor compels the astute reviewer to sift through a month of wretched WWE television to understand how the audience reacted to the story in real-time.

Finally, a wrestling match that’s just a wrestling match.

And man, what a magnificent wrestling match this was!

For starters, there are few joys in wrestling quite like watching prime KENTA, a man who has managed to fit more violence-per-square-inch into his relatively sleight body than anyone else in the history of the medium. When he’s in control early in the match, there’s an uncanny juxtaposition between his nonchalant demeanor and the viciousness that snaps from his body with each kick, stomp, and slam. There’s something, too, in the way he slingshots himself over the ropes to get in and out of the ring. It feels not quite “graceful,” but “swift”—a man moving with the urgency of someone who has somewhere to be, without a hint of anxiety as to what awaits him on the other side.

As a long-time tag team, Marufuji and KENTA have a remarkable fluidity that needs to be seen to be believed. The meat of the match lies in a series of high-speed counter-reversal sequences—high kicks reversed into capture suplexes, clubbing forearms matched by stinging kicks to the gut, one wrong move and you’re absolutely fucked. In this way, the match plays like a cross between speed chess and Russian roulette. When KENTA misses a kick to Marufuji’s head on the outside, he winds up crotched on the guardrail, then kicked over the guardrail, then splattered on the floor from a gnarly asai moonsault that left the challenger bloody throughout the rest of the match. All this happened in the span of about 15 seconds.

Like any good set of partners, KENTA and Marufuji know each other well enough to really hurt one another. When Marufuji goes for his signature shiranui in the corner, KENTA uses his momentum against him and simply chucks him over the ropes to the outside. For me, the enduring image of the match is Marufuji’s line-drive trajectory as he crashes to the floor. It was like watching a glitch in a wrestling video game—you just don’t see people fall at that speed and angle very often in real life.

The match is all the more thrilling for the way its most dramatic sequences tend to take place on the top rope, or the apron, or on top of the entrance ramp.

Together, the two longtime partners climb to a dangerous elevation, engage in a desperate struggle for control, and attempt to ensure that the other guy comes out worse for wear from the resulting crash. Eventually, one of the participants takes one more tumble than he can handle, allowing his opponent to put the match away for good.

This was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, filled with violence, drama, athleticism, and a real willingness on the part of two world-class wrestlers to do a bunch of dumb, dangerous shit. I don’t have much to say about it, but I can’t recommend it enough.