Spoiler-Free Review by Buck:
NOAH 12/2/2007. Winter Navigation tour. Final show of the tour, from the Budokan Hall in Tokyo.
Opening thoughts: There was a bonus match on Disk 1. Mushiking Terry, CIMA & Jack Evans vs. Ricky Marvin, Genki Horiguchi & Ryo Saito from Dragon Gate 1/23/2007. It was awesome. I'd give it *** 3/4. Also, there was a sweet IVPvideos highlight package, previewing footage from Dragon Gate, New Japan and NOAH. I don't know how long that's been on IVP DVDs, but it's the first time I've seen it. It was really cool. I originally bought this DVD when it was on sale for $2, so I'm not sure if these bonus features are still on new copies. They probably are, though.
Anyway, obviously being a huge fan of Kobashi's, I was dying to see this show. I almost blew off the first disk altogether, as I'm sure some of you might have, in favor of skipping right to the main event, or at least the last 2 matches. But, I'll review the whole show here.
Kishin Kawabata & Mitsuo Momota vs. Junji Izumida & Tsutomu Hirayanagi:
A nice opener. I usually take some time in every review to pick on Jun Izumida, but I'm starting to like this team with Hirayanagi. Hirayanagi's younger and more talented, he covers up for a lot of Izumida's shortcomings, and their characters compliment each other pretty well. Especially when Hirayanagi accidentally kicks Izumida in the nuts, which happens pretty often.
Not a lot of great wrestling here, but it was entertaining. Kawabata brought some nice stiffness and a few crushing top rope moves that were great. Momota gave his facial expressions and comedic gestures. Izumida brought some comedy too but otherwise stunk up the joint, and Hirayanagi cleaned up Jun's mess. The result is a good Sports-Entertainment bout. Not the right match to put as the opener in my opinion, but worth watching.
Rating: ** 1/4.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Atsushi Aoki vs. Kotaro Suzuki & Ippei Ota:
This was great fun. An excellent juniors bout. Extremely fast paced and exciting. This match definitely got the blood pumping. This should've been the opener in my opinion. Aoki impressed the most I think, showing off his great submission skill and general awesomeness. Suzuki and Kanemaru had some great exchanges too, including a string of reversals that lasted like 40 seconds, followed by an equally fast Fighting Spirit segment that made me jump out of my chair. The finish was good too. Overall, a very good juniors match.
Rating: ** 3/4.
Doug Williams & Buchanan vs. Takuma Sano & Masao Inoue:
Probably the worst match of the night so far, but still solid action. It started unflatteringly slow but got better as it went on. This was more of an American-style match in terms of the moves executed, due to Inoue and Buchanan both having decidedly American movesets. Those parts were entertaining, but my favorite parts of the match where when Sano was in and the match took on more of a NOAH style. That's just my personal preference. Nothing special overall, but certainly got the job done.
Tamon Honda, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Go Shiosaki vs. Takashi Sugiura, Mohammed Yone & Akihiko Ito:
Great 6-Man. Started out at a breakneck pace and never let up until the end. Everyone pulled their own weight. Even the normally slower wrestlers like Honda and Kikuchi were able to keep the pace of the match strong. Takashi Sugiera no longer strikes me as boring either. I'm really liking his new style, more strike-oriented but keeping the amateur wrestling roots. He's really turned the corner for me. Ito got his ass kicked.
Shiozaki tore the house down, as expected. He even included a little tribute to Kobashi at the end of the match, which was nice to see. Overall, an extremely fun match that beat expectations.
KENTA & Taiji Ishimori vs. Yoshinari Ogawa & Eddie Edwards:
Another great match. KENTA and Ogawa simply killed each other. Ishimori and Edwards were also awesome, as they usually are. Both teams clicked extremely well. There was an excellent sense of hatred and desperation as well. Overall, everything worked perfectly here. This was fun and very entertaining. It had a little bit of everything, from stiffness to high flying to big power moves to sports-entertainment to the kind of hatred normally only seen in the most bitter of rivalries.
I'm liking the team of KENTA & Ishimori more and more every time I see them. I didn't think any team could live up to KENTA & Marufuji, but KENTA/Ishimori are very close. A great match.
Rating: *** 1/2.
Akitoshi Saito & Bison Smith vs. Akira Taue & Kentaro Shiga:
Not as good as the last two matches, but good nonetheless. It started out slow and pretty boring. It picked up later on and got good. I enjoyed the exchanges between Smith and Taue in the later portions. Shiga has never appealed to me. I like Saito most of the time though, and he performed relatively well here. Not the best example of any of these guys, but entertaining stuff regardless.
Takeshi Morishima vs. Naomichi Marufuji:
One word: AWESOME. Just what you'd expect from these two guys. A fun, fast-paced, hard-hitting match with loads of big moves and storytelling to boot. The last time these two faced each other, they had each gone through a match right before it. That was awesome, but seeing them both at 100% was even better.
The only flaws I have with this match is that it started a bit on the slow side. Nothing too bad, but compared to their last match which kicked off with frantic action, this was a little lacking. Also, there was a tad bit of overkill at the end, a little bit too much for my liking. Still, it worked in the end, and those are very small gripes that are easily overshadowed by the quality of the middle and end portions of this match. This was hectic, frantic and simply breathtaking. Both men went above and beyond in order to gain recognition. Knowing they were going on right before a historic event, they didn't want to be overshadowed. I think they were successful in carving out their own legacy on this show, and NOAH 12/2/2007 will be remembered for having not one, but two Match of the year-quality bouts, thanks in no small part to the hard work and talent of these two men.
Kenta Kobashi Return Match: Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama:
The best word to describe this match: indescribable. This is easily the most emotion I've ever had for a Japanese wrestling match. Kobashi's fighting spirit has traveled oceans and affected people worldwide. In the past, he has overcome the Tiger Driver '91, Exploder Suplexes on the outside, Tiger Suplexes off the apron to the outside and countless other moves that would cripple most. Now, you can add cancer's name to the list.
The tightly packed crowd of 17,000, that surely must've violated at least a few of the Budokan's fire codes, all screamed at the top of their lungs for their hero's return. I shed a tear for the first time in wrestling since the Benoit tragedy. But this time, it was a tear of pride and joy. He's my hero too. His will to survive is not just a character, it's as real and true as can be. Even before the match started, seeing Tamon Honda crying on the outside, followed by not one, but two unbelievably massive barrages of streamers, psyched me up.
Once the match began, it took Kobashi only a few minutes to lose any tiny bit of ring rust he had. Once that was gone, Kobashi proved once again why he's not only a legend in singles matches, but tag matches as well. A brilliant match, with great storytelling and tons of emotion. The fans liked Takayama as always, but nothing compares to the giant, roaring applause whenever Kobashi comes in. Seeing Kobashi perform at his best again was in many ways surreal to me. Misawa nailing him with an elbow and Kobashi flinching as if to say "I remember this". Misawa just plain being a dick as if to say "Yeah, welcome back, but I'm the champ and this is my show", taking cheap shots at Kobashi from behind and the like. Man, I've never hated Misawa more.
All the little things made this match incredible. Akiyama taking brutal moves from Kobashi and making faces that say "I wish you never came back". The Japanese may not be incredible with words, but in terms of facial expressions, they're the kings. Takayama, perhaps as a contradiction to this usual M.O. never tried to steal the spotlight from Kobashi, allowing himself to become a strictly supporting player and backing Kobashi 100%.
Everything worked in this match. Everything clicked. It was great. Kobashi even pulled out some risks that were unbelievable, and pulled them off perfectly. It had a huge match feel. This is the quintessential Puro match. The post-match was just as emotional as the pre-match. When Kobashi hugged Misawa and Akiyama, I shed a tear again, knowing all of the brutal wars they've put each other through. All three of his opponents held the rope down for him, and Kobashi was the first one to exit, a job well done. Overall, this was everything I expected it to be, and one of my favorite NOAH matches yet.
Rating: **** 3/4.
While the last two matches really "made" this show for me, the first disk was still very solid action. Nothing bad at all here, and since it was the biggest show of the year, in front of the biggest crowd they had all year, everyone gave the extra mile to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves in a show that was all about Kobashi. You can really see the extra effort from everybody on this show.
I bought this DVD when it was $2 during the special sale. But even if you missed that sale, this DVD is still easily worth a purchase. $6 is a steal, and the show from top to bottom is one of the best that NOAH is capable of. Also, the last two matches, particularly the main event, simply need to be seen by every wrestling fan. So, for that reason, I'm giving this show an extremely enthusiastic recommendation, as well as the highest DVD rating I've given thus far.
Final Rating: ****.Rating: [4 of 5 Stars!]