So with Voices of Wrestling kicking off their NOAH’s 50 greatest wrestlers project, it inspired me to watch and review nearly every GHC title match there has ever been. I say nearly every since I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this up and there’ll probably be a couple of matches I won’t be able to find.
Anyway this first part deals the early days of the title and Kobashi’s epic two year run.
14/04/01 – Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Yoshihiro Takayama
So this was the final of the tournament to crown the first ever GHC champion and its a great little match-up. Things start steady with some simple mat grappling and then Takayama gets control really dishing the punishment to Misawa. Misawa soon gets back into things though and adopts a different strategy to what he usually does, with him focusing heavily on trying to get a submission as well as bust out some stiff elbows. In the end after getting hit with a range of elbows Takayama still refuses to stay down, so Misawa gives him an Emerald Flowsion to finally get the win and become the first ever GHC champ. Good stuff.
Winner: Misawa (via Emerald Flowsion) ****
18/5/01 – Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa
Misawa’s first title defence and it’s a very good match. It’s just under 15 minutes, so it’s nothing too epic but they use the time wisely, with Taue getting a lot of the control, even giving Misawa a Nodowa Otoshi off the ramp onto a table. Misawa soon gets back into things though and Taue is finally put down after a running elbow and two emerald Flowsions.
Winner: Misawa (via Emerald Flowsion) ***3/4
27/7/01 – Jun Akiyama vs. Mitsuharu Misawa
Only Misawa’s second defence but Akiyama already manages to take the belt off him in another really good match, that’s quite a back and forth contest with a very nice finishing stretch. Akiyama actually focuses a little on Misawa’s head and neck and hits a wrist-clutch exploder to become the second champion.
Yuji Nagata actually came out with Akiyama and sat at ringside supporting him. Akiyama even locks in a Nagata Lock II at one point in front of him. Nagata of course ends up facing Akiyama at a New Japan Jan 4th Tokyo Dome show for the title, but we’ll come to that later. This was another very enjoyable match overall though.
Winner: Akiyama (via Wrist-clutch exploder) ****
Bonus match: GHC No.1 Contenders Match 28/8/01 – Takeshi Morishima vs. Tamon Honda
Stumbled across this match and decide to review as a little extra, because why not?. It’s a fun sprint that lasts only around 6 minutes with Honda’s amateur wrestling skills up against Morishima’s size and power with the mat grappling coming out on top as Honda manages to lock in the Rolling Olympic Hell 0 to secure his no. 1 contender spot. Good showing from Morishima though.
Winner: Honda (via Rolling Olympic Hell 0) ***1/4
9/5/01 – Antonio Honda vs. Jun Akiyama
Unfortunately only the last 6 minutes of this match seemed to be available, what a great 6 minutes though. Honda really brought it to Akiyama and he had the raucous crowd behind him but despite managing to hit two Dead Ends and even lock in an Olympic hell, Akiyama managed to get back at him and retains the belt with his King Crab Lock. Damn shame this wasn’t in full.
Winner: Akiyama (via Guillotine Choke) NR Clipped
9/12/01 – Vader vs. Jun Akiyama
Akiyama’s 3rd defence and it’s another really good match. Akiyama seemed to take most of the offence so it was a tough contest for him, he adopted a strategy of going after Vader’s arm which turns out to be successful as he makes vader tap with an armbar to retain his title. Of course by this point Vader had become a little less mobile, but he was still able to dish out some harsh strikes and even took an Exploder which was one of the few bumps he takes. Still I really liked how they worked the match and it was very enjoyable.
Winner: Akiyama (via Cross Armbreaker) ****
4/1/01 – Jun Akiyama vs. Yuji Nagata
It’s the battle of the exploders as Akiyama heads to the Tokyo Dome to defend his GHC belt in New Japan. It’s a really great match-up too, one that is incredibly even as both guys hit exploders, punish each other’s necks and use each others submissions. Quite the contest indeed with Akiyama finally coming out on top after a Wrist-clutch exploder.
Winner: Akiyama (via Wrist-clutch Exploder) ****1/4
7/4/02 – Jun Akiyama vs. Yoshinari Ogawa
So after 3 big successful defences, Akiyama drops the title to Ogawa in just 4 minutes. I’m sure this was a shock to everybody at the time and still quite surprising to see now. Don’t think anyone is completely certain as to why it happened but it did.
It’s still kind of a fun sprint but certainly feels rushed and a little lacklustre. Ogawa gets the win reversing a 3rd exploder into a cradle to get the 3 count, causing the crowd to erupt. Odd booking, but sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.
Winner: Ogawa (via cradle) **3/4
Ogawa would go on to successfully defend the title twice against Takeshi Rikio and Akira Taue but sadly couldn’t find those matches anywhere at this time.
Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Yoshihiro Takayama – 7/9/02
Ogawa’s 3rd and final title defense and it’s a really solid match overall. Ogawa essentially gets beat-up until he finds an opportunity to go after Takayama’s arm and proceeds to use his smarts and agility to stay in things even trying for a countout victory after backdropping Takayama on the floor outside. In the end though despite his best efforts a 2nd Everest German Suplex keeps Ogawa down for the 3 count allowing Takayama to capture the belt.
Winner: Takayama (via Everest German suplex) ***3/4
Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Mitsuharu Misawa 23/9/02
So after holding the title for only 16 days Takayama already drops the title to Misawa in his first defence essentially making him a transitional champion which is unfortunate for someone like Takayama. It’s a great match though, one that’s better than their previous encounter. It’s quite the back and forth contest that has a fair amount of stiffness with harsh strikes making up most of the offence and they have a really good finishing stretch too. In the end it’s a stiff running elbow that keeps Takayama down for the 3 count. Shame he didn’t keep the belt longer. Very enjoyable match though.
Winner: Misawa (via Running Elbow) ****
Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Yoshinari Ogawa – 7/12/02
So Misawa’s first defence is Ogawa who looks to reclaim the title from his mentor, it’s a good match but I didn’t really feel the drama in it. At this point I think it was very difficult to see Ogawa getting the title back and at one point he goes a bit crazy with the backdrops and hits way too many of them. He gets a good portion of control early on too, keeping Miswa’s head locked inside a hold. Despite his best efforts though, it just wasn’t enough and Misawa retains the belt, hitting an emerald flowsion. Solid match if a little uninspired.
Winner: Misawa (via Emerald Flowsion) ***1/4
Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi – 1/3/03
Now here’s a classic, one of the first Puro matches I ever watched. Kobashi’s return to glory and the start of his GOAT title run.
After an a great opening exchange Misawa drops kobashi on his skull with a backdrop and takes control until he smashes face first into the guard rail and takes a half nelson suplex on the outside, letting Kobashi take control. Once Misawa gets back into things though, it becomes a epic back and forth war that includes a tiger suplex off the ramp, which is still mental to watch today.
The final few minutes are incredible with the crowd super hot and Kobashi managing to kick out of an emerald Flowsion, which very rarely happened. You can see Kobashi using all he can to stay in things and then he manages to catch Misawa with a lariat, allowing him to hit a brainbuster that only gets a 2 count, before finally hitting Misawa with a Burning Hammer to win the title. Just an awesome match-up through and through.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Hammer) *****
Antonio Honda vs. Kenta Kobashi – 13/4/03
Kobashi’s first defence and it’s a really great match-up with Honda really proving himself as a challenger. They mainly spend the first 10 minutes exchanging holds with a few plexes chucked which was really nice. They then up the ante a little when Kobashi DDT’s Honda on the ramp and Honda gets his revenge giving Kobashi a dead end on the ramp. Honda continues trying to get Kobashi with holds throughout utilizing his amateur background effectively and focusing a little on Kobashi’s bandaged elbow too. Despite a damn good effort though, Kobashi won’t stay down and hits a burning lariat to retain the belt.
Winner: Kobashi (burning Lariat) ****1/4
Masahiro Chono vs. Kenta Kobashi – 2/5/03
Kobashi heads to New Japan, much like Akiyama did but this time to defend his title against Masahiro Chono in somewhat of a dream match and its pretty damn awesome. It definitely as a special big match feel to it and it’s a very even contest throughout, up until Kobashi starts murdering Chono with half nelson suplexes and Chono begins to struggle to stay in it. Hiroyoshi Tenzan at one point even gets on the apron to maybe throw in the towel but Chono tells him no and his last gasp at offence is ducking a lariat and locking in a cobra twist. But Kobashi quickly tosses Chono to his back and hits a final half nelson suplex followed by two burning lariats to retain his belt. Hell off an effort by Chono but in the end he just couldn’t keep up with Kobashi. Superb stuff.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Lariat) ****1/2
Kenta Kobashi vs. Bison Smith – 26/8/03
Kobashi’s 3rd defense and it’s another superb contest. Match is very back and forth until Bison takes out Kobashi on the outside with a few moves like a powerbomb on the floor and proceeds to throw everything he’s got at Kobashi, but Kobashi refuses to stay down and three half nelson suplexes and a burning lariat later, he retains his title. Great effort from Bison though, really showcased the best of his talent.
They show Nagata in the crowd watching the match who would end up being Kobashi’s next opponent.
Winner: Kobashi (via burning lariat) ****1/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Yuji Nagata – 12/9/03
Nagata invades from New Japan to try and take Kobashi’s title in a great epic match. They do some mat grappling early on, then into some strike exchanges. Nagata then proceeds to target Kobashi’s right arm and continues to do so until 10 minutes before the end where it all gets thrown out the window and they have a long finishing stretch with both guys trying hard for victory, but in the end a Burning lariat once again ends it all and Kobashi continues to keep the belt. This also made Kobashi have the most successful defences as a champion at the time and there weren’t no signs of stopping him any time soon. Those who like consistent limb work may find issue here but if you can look past that then it’s pretty awesome match-up.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Lariat) ****1/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshinari Ogawa – 1/11/03
Kobashi’s 5th defence as Ogawa looks to pull off another upset and win the title again. This time he ups his chicanery to the max using all sorts of tricks and tactics. He actually manages to control a good portion of the match after fooling Kobashi and the ref into thinking he was knocked out from a spinning back chop, but once Kobashi’s back is turned he attacks Kobashi’s knee and keeps his focus on it throughout. At one point Ogawa pushes Kobashi into the ref which takes him outside and Ogawa grabs the ring bell and hits Kobashi’s exposed knee with it. This would prove to be the last straw for Kobashi who ends up busting Ogawa wide open against a ringpost and repeatedly lamps Ogawa’s bloody head with punches and chops. Despite being beaten to hell though Ogawa still tries some last ditch efforts using a low blow and attempting different pinning clutches. In the end though Ogawa goes for a crucifix but Kobashi throws him off and gives him a lariat, then proceeds to hit a final burning lariat that gives him the 3 count. A different type of match to previous the lot, one that’s not quite up to par, but still very good overall and I loved the dynamic between the two.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Lariat) ***3/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Takuma Sano – 25/1/04
One of Kobashi’s more low key defences but still a very good one. First 10 minutes are very back and forth and then Sano finds opening taking out Kobashi’s knee and continually takes control for the next 10 minutes focusing on it. Kobashi starts looking like he’s coming back into things but Sano gives him a northern lights bomb on the outside followed by a double stomp off the top. He proceeds to hit his big moves on Kobashi which won’t keep him down, so Kobashi ultimately comes back and finishes things with a brainbuster. Similar type of match to a couple of the other ones where Kobashi takes most of the offence and then comes back to win. Still very good though.
Winner: Kobashi (via Brainbuster) ***3/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Takeshi Rikio – 6/3/04
By this time Kobashi had held the title for just over a year, so in came the fresh faced Takeshi Rikio to try and take it from him. Its another very good contest with Rikio adopting a similar strategy to Sano and Ogawa of going after Kobashi’s knee. After watching this straight after the Sano match I found the limb work to be a little uninteresting, but he doesn’t keep it up as long and they make up for it in a great finishing stretch with Rikio trying to keep up and take down Kobashi but ultimately falling victim to a burning lariat.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Lariat) ***3/4
Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama – 25/4/04
Now here’s a fantastic match-up as Kobashi takes on one of his toughest challengers to date in a contest that certainly gets physical with a number of stiff strikes. They have a nice little opening exchange before Kobashi gets some control trapping Takayama in holds, but once Takayama gets Kobashi in a guillotine choke, he delves out most of the offence throughout the rest of the match and Kobashi certainly takes some harsh punishment with Takayama somewhat targeting Kobashi’s right arm and even giving Kobashi a taste of his own medicine with a half nelson suplex. The finishing stretch is awesome it has some great near falls with the crowd going wild and Kobashi hitting a moonsault for the first time in ages to retain the belt. Just a superb match-up overall.
Winner: Kobashi (via Moonsault) ****1/2
Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama – 10/7/04
This feud had been brewing for a long time through various Sterness vs Burning tag matches, so what better way for it to end then 1 on 1 at the Tokyo Dome for the GHC Title. What an incredible match-up and one of the greatest in NOAH History. Akiyama is the guy who seemed to have the best chance of taking the title off of Kobashi and he tried damn hard but Kobashi would not stay down for anything, even kicking out of a wrist-clutch Exploder. Akiyama certainly didn’t go down easy though kicking out of both a burning lariat and a moonsault before finally falling victim to the burning hammer which of course keeps him down for the 3 count. Both guys really do give it their all, the vertical suplex of the apron and exploder off the top to the floor are still mental to watch and those last few minutes are phenomenal with the packed crowd on fire. The match does have its slower moments but they certainly do not detract from this awesome epic at all.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning Hammer) *****
Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue – 10/9/04
Another old rival comes to face Kobashi in another great match-up. Most of the first 10 minutes are spent locking in holds and then Taue gets control and gives Kobashi all he’s got including an Ore Ga Taue off the apron and the incredibly rare Chichibu Cement brainbuster. But Kobashi in his 10th defence is still pretty unstoppable and will not be kept down by anything and busts out a Wrist-clutch Burning Hammer for the first time ever to retain the belt. Gets bit slow in the middle but a very enjoyable match overall.
Winner: Kobashi (via Wrist-clutch Burning Hammer) ****
Kenta Kobashi vs. Akitoshi Saito – 24/10/04
Next Saito tries to step up to the plate and it doesn’t end well, awesome match-up though, one of the more underrated one of Kobashi’s title run and one of Saito’s best matches as he really puts a great effort in. Early on he goes after Kobashi’s leg, but shifts focus as the match goes on to Kobashi’s arm. It’s a good strategy but doesn’t prove to be all that effective and by the end Kobashi really lays in Saito with lots of spinning backchops and ends it all with a brainbuster. Enjoyed this way more than I expected to.
Winner: Kobashi (via brainbuster) ****1/2
Kenta Kobashi vs. The Gladiator – 4/12/04
One of Kobashi’s more random challenger’s as Mike Awesome steps up to the plate in another very good match, though I’m not sure it should have gone almost 30 minutes. Gladiator gets in the majority of the offence and really gives Kobashi hell with big moves including a sitout bomb from the apron through the table, an awesome bomb from the ramp into the ring and an awesome bomb off the top rope. But of course none of it keeps Kobashi down and he retains after moonsaulting Gladiator’s face. Another usual Kobashi takes a beating and comes back match but still very enjoyable as always. After the match Minoru Suzuki comes to the ring and makes the challenge for the belt.
Winner: Kobashi (via Moonsault) ***3/4
Minoru Suzuki vs. Kobashi – 8/1/05
Kobashi’s 13th defence as Suzuki this time tries and fails to beat Kobashi in a another great match. No big fancy moves in this one just lots of holds, stiff strikes and suplexes. I love how early on Kobashi keeps trying to keep control with a headlock and even goes as far as locking one in one the outside and dragging Suzuki back into the ring with it. Suzuki ends up finding an opening to attack Kobashi’s arm and proceeds to take control throughout the rest of it with the arm being a focus for most of it. Kobashi continues to show great resiliency though and takes a different approach at the end by taking out Suzuki with a series of Saito suplexes(adjusting possibly from the damage to the arm?) before finishing him off with a burning lariat. Another very enjoyable contest, enjoyed the dynamic between the two.
Winner: Kobashi (via Burning lariat) ****
Kenta Kobashi vs. Takeshi Rikio – 5/3/05
So by this point Kobashi had held the belt for 2 years and it was only day off from being a year since Rikio first tried taking Kobashi’s title. Well here Rikio tries once again and manages to succeed, getting the biggest win of his career and finally dethroning Kobashi as Misawa tries to push him as the next top guy. It’s a really good match one that is very back and forth with Rikio managing to really hold his own. The finishing stretch is really great, Rikio manages to kick out of a burning lariat and moonsault and the crowd rally behind him as he starts hitting his big moves on Kobashi even giving hitting his own half nelson suplex before a hitting one final Muso that keeps Kobashi down for the 3 count, thus ending Kobashi’s epic reign. Rest of the match is still enjoyable but it’s those last few minutes that really bring it up a notch
Winner: Takeshi rikio (via Muso) ****
I think that’s a good place to end part 1, lots of good to great matches to enjoy here. You can actually watch Kobashi’s entire title reign in full a 9 hour video on Youtube if you’re ever intrigued to. Been fun going through this thus far, look forward to continuing it.