Welcome back to the second part of this retrospective where we look back at Kenta Kobashi’s epic reign as the GHC Heavyweight Champion from Pro Wrestling NOAH in the early-mid 00’s.
Last time out we saw Kobashi defeat Mitsuharu Misawa to win the GHC Title in a classic match before defending it in a barn burner against fellow BURNING stablemate Tamon Honda. We closed out last time with Kobash having a decent but not thrilling bout with Masahiro Chono on a New Japan Pro Wrestling event at the Tokyo Dome.
This time we’ll see Kobashi go back to defending the belt against people from his home promotion, but don’t be too surprised if those pesky invaders from New Japan show themselves once again…
Pro Wrestling NOAH Navigation Over The Date Line Tour – International Conference Hall in Nagoya – 26th of August 2003
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Bison Smith
Smith is a big lad from Colorado who had been going on NOAH tours since 2001. Being a beefy foreigner, Smith found himself as a member of the “KAOS” Faction, which was essentially the group that the majority of the non-Japanese wrestlers joined. Originally formed by Vader and Richard Slinger, notable members of the group over its three year existence would be Doug Williams, Too Cold Scorpio and Mike Awesome.
Smith had been kept relatively strong in the build up to this by not doing any singles jobs and just two days prior to this he had been on the winning side in a 6 man tag that head featured Kobashi battling on the opposing team. Despite being generally booked strong and working well as a tough guy foreigner, Smith would probably be the weakest challenger Kobashi has faced since winning the Title. Hopefully he can deliver his usual main event magic to get the crowd invested in this one.
Both men take each other down with should tackles to start to show that they will be a match for one another in the power department, before going to a test of strength. That ends in a stalemate, so Smith suplexes out of it, as we see that New Japan wrestler Yuji Nagata is watching from the crowd (Whilst apparently dressed like the Timothy Dalton iteration of James Bond when he went rogue). Kobashi throws some chops before getting a pair of knees to the gut and a Russian Leg Sweep for two. Val Venis quite literally lifted that entire sequence when he came to the WWF in 1998, along with pinching Jun Akiyama’s Blue Thunder Driver for good measure. Who would have thought someone as a wholesome as an Adult Film Star would stoop so low as to steal other wrestler’s moves like that?
Kobashi tries wearing Smith down with a sitting facelock and then sends him outside, where he chops him over the railings into the front row. Kobashi puts Smith back inside, where he gets a nice hanging vertical suplex for two. Wow, he held him up for a long time there, which is a testament both to his own strength and also to Smith for being able to go up light. Smith no sells a Kobashi chop and takes him down with a running shoulder tackle before clotheslining him off the apron to the floor. Not satisfied with just that, Smith heads to the top rope and dives out on to Kobashi with a flying shoulder block in a darn impressive display of athleticism for a guy that big. Smith keeps bringing the pain with a powerbomb onto the floor, which gets the crowd to chant for Kobashi. Smith applies THE CLAW to Kobashi next and then transitions it into a choke slam through one of the commentary tables. Kobashi is taking some big bumps to make Smith look like a credible challenger here, and it’s kind of working as well.
We get the count out tease, but Smith doesn’t want to win that way and throws Kobashi back inside for a cover, which gets two from the ref. Smith works over Kobashi back inside the ring, focusing on the head and neck. Smith fires off a nice powerslam, but Kobashi is able to kick out at two. Kobashi tries to fight back with some of his trademark chops, but Smith clubs him down and follows up with his own hanging vertical suplex for two. Kobashi eventually manages to dodge a Smith shoulder tackle and throws ALL THE CHOPS in the corner. Smith responds with a spear however and then gets a modified Blue Thunder Bomb for two. Smith tries to apply THE CLAW again, but Kobashi fights it off in dramatic fashion and gets a pair of spinning back chops. Smith eventually manages to get THE CLAW however, only for Kobashi to counter with a CLAW of his own. Smith’s CLAW wins out however and he turns it into a face slam for two (Think a choke slam but you grab the guys face instead of his throat).
Smith sets Kobashi up on the top rope and gets a super rana from up there, but Kobashi is once again able to kick out. That was one heck of a spot considering the size of both men. Smith heads up top next, but Kobashi stops that and tries to superplex Smith down. Smith turns that into THE CLAW however and then face slams Kobashi down from the second rope, but Kobashi is able to kick out at two. There’s a genuine sense of dread in the crowd now that Kobashi might indeed lose, but he fights back with a release German Suplex and a half Nelson suplex for a double down. Smith keeps coming though and gets a S.T.O, but Kobashi is once again able to kick out at two. Smith delivers the Bicentennial (Styles Clash) next, but Kobashi refuses to lose and kicks out once again. Smith goes to up the ante with a powerbomb, but Kobashi back body drops out of that and then takes Smith down with a lariat. The building is rocking now, as Kobashi throws some chops before dropping Smith on his HEAD with a half Nelson suplex for two. Kobashi isn’t playing nice anymore though, and gets another trio of half Nelson suplexes before destroying Smith with a lariat for the win.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENTA KOBASHI
I liked that finish quite a lot, as it was utterly definitive but also made Smith look strong because Kobashi had to fling everything at him to hold him down. I preferred this one to the Chono finish in part one because they weren’t teasing that Smith was so beaten up that they might need to stop the match, so Kobashi seemed like less of jerk for going full bore in destroying him. Smith was a weak challenger in the sense that it’d be very unlikely to see him win, even though as this match showed he was a solid worker and his finisher was over. It would be like someone like Meng getting a shot at Sting in WCW in 1998. Meng was a solid worker and a convincing tough guy, but there’s no way he was ever going to beat Sting for the World Title, and that was the same sort of feeling you got watching this. They did the best they could though by giving Smith a lot of offence and by having Kobashi sell so much that the doubts started to slightly creep in towards the end. Not the best match of Kobashi’s Title reign, but certainly not the worst either.
Nagata looks on from the crowd, clearing eyeing Kobashi up for a future bout down the line. During his post-match promo, Kobashi addresses Nagata and lays down the challenge for a match. Nagata heads on down to the ring, which leads to a duelling chant in the crowd. The match seems to be on, as Nagata wiffs on a handshake to salute before leaving the ring.
Pro Wrestling NOAH Navigation Over The Date Line Tour – Nippon Budokan – 12th of September 2003
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Yuji Nagata
This is a continuation of the New Japan and NOAH working agreement, as Nagata came over quite a lot in 2003 to work with the main guys on the NOAH roster. To build him up for this match he was given clean victories over not just Akira Taue but also former GHC Champ Jun Akiyama. Nagata is one of my all-time favourite New Japan wrestlers, with his G1 Climax Final in 2001 against Keiji Mutoh being one of my all-time favourite New Japan matches. If you have a sub to New Japan World then seriously, hunt that one down, as it’s exceptional.
Nagata actually gets openly booed during his entrance by the partisan NOAH crowd, which is fun to see from the normally more reserved Japanese wrestling crowds. A young Hiroshi Tanahashi is actually cornering Nagata here, along with Toru Yano and Ryusuke Taguchi. Kobashi meanwhile has KENTA, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Tamon Honda with him. Nagata wastes no time getting an open hand chop to Kobashi’s chest, but Kobashi doesn’t sell it and shoves Nagata into the corner for some choppage of his own. Nagata runs through another chop to getting a running big boot, but Kobashi pops right back up with a chop, which Nagata thusly gets straight back up from also.
With parity now established, we go to the test of strength, which ends in a stalemate and leads to both men trading strikes. Kobashi brings that exchange to a close with a nice hanging vertical suplex for two, before trying to wear Nagata down with a headlock. Nagata gets out of that by making the ropes and we get some nice amateur styled grappling from both men, in which neither gains a clear advantage. Nagata eventually starts targeting Kobashi’s lower body with some leg kicks, and his eventually able to take him down with some of them, only for Kobashi to pop up each time and demand more. Both men trade strikes again, with Nagata eventually sending Kobashi out onto the ramp with a big boot, before delivering another one out there for good measure (This was during a period where the entrance ramp went right up to the ring in NOAH)
Nagata follows up with a n overhead belly to belly suplex out on the ramp, before throwing Kobashi back into the ring for two. Kobashi replies with some chops to the neck, but Nagata blocks one of them and throws some kicks before going to the Dis-Arm-Her. Kobashi gets to the ropes, but Nagata won’t release at first, drawing the ire of the crowd and embracing his position as defacto villain in this inter-promotional battle. Kobashi comes back with ALL THE CHOPS in the corner however, only for Nagata to reply with some stiff kicks to send Kobashi down to the mat. Outside the ring we go, where Nagata sends Kobashi over the railing into the front row with a big boot before flinging him into the ring post. Back inside, Nagata goes back to the Dis-Arm-Her and then transitions into a cross arm breaker.
Kobashi fights the hold however and is eventually able to drag himself to the ropes for the break. Kobashi eventually manages to a release half Nelson suplex, but Nagata pops right back up with an exploder suplex (Anyone else getting the sneaking suspicion that Becky Lynch might be a Nagata fan? I mean, she’s only human after all…) only for Kobashi to pop up following THAT and deliver a Hart Attack styled clothesline. Oh ho, Japanese wrestling, how I love you! Kobashi gets the kitchen sink styled knees to the gut, but neglects to go for the Russian Leg Sweep and instead throws a pair of spinning back chops. Nagata replies with a boot in the corner and another exploder, before throwing a series of high knees to a bent over Kobashi.
Back drop driver comes next, with Kobashi landing on his head, but that only gets two from the ref so Nagata transitions to the Nagata Lock II (The cross face). Going from memory, the standard Nagata Lock is an inverted Figure Four Leg Lock, the Nagata Lock II is a cross face, the Nagata Lock III is the Rings of Saturn and the Nagata Lock IV is a chicken wing of some kind, but I might have a couple of those mixed up. Anyway, Kobashi fights off the Nagata Lock II so Nagata tries to transition to Nagata Lock III, but Kobashi gets to the ropes before it can be locked in. Nagata keeps throwing kicks, causing Kobashi to sink in the corner, and then goes for a back suplex. Kobashi shifts his weight to land on top however and then fires off a release half Nelson suplex for a double down.
Kobashi gets up first and goes for a powerbomb, eventually managing to get a Buckle Bomb and then following up with another half Nelson suplex for two. Kobashi pulls Nagata up for another one, but Nagata manages to kick out once again. Kobashi keeps coming, this time getting a Sleeper Suplex, but Nagata manages to drape his foot over the bottom rope to stop the count. Kobashi is fired up now, but Nagata isn’t done let and catches Kobashi with a big spin kick to put both men down again. Nagata follows with a running knee in the corner and then sets Kobashi up top for a super exploder. Kobashi tries to block it, but eventually gets suplexed off and covered for two. Both men fight up from their knees, which leads to Nagata getting six unanswered enziguri’s and following up with a bridging back suplex for two.
The crowd is of course massively behind Kobashi, both because of the NOAH Vs New Japan reason and also because he looks like he could be fading. Kobashi manages to pull off a lariat out of nowhere, but ends up taking a Mirko Cro Cop kick to the head from Nagata for two. Cro Cop had actually beaten Nagata in an MMA Fight previously, so that kick might have been an intentional call back. Fans were totally buying that near fall and Kobashi sold it great by slowly sinking to the mat to make it look like he’d been legit knocked cold. Kobashi manages another desperation lariat for two, before firing up once again and delivering a head droppingly stiff looking brain buster for two. Another lariat follows, and that’s finally enough to keep Nagata down.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENTA KOBASHI
I think Meltzer went ****1/2 for this, but I’ll go a tad lower just because I felt it went possibly a tad too long and ended after the peak. It was still an excellent match though, with great selling from both men and a crowd who were invested thanks to the inter-promotional feud. Nagata did the clean job but was also made to look on Kobashi’s level, so the loss didn’t do him any arm, especially as it was he who was the invader. It was a much more even effort than the Chono match, which essentially just became Kobashi destroying Chono in his own gaff. Nagata at least looked competitive throughout and hand Kobashi on the ropes more than once with his brutal kicks and punishing submission holds.
We get the post-match handshake, although this wouldn’t be the end of Kobashi and Nagata doing battle with one another, as later in the year Nagata and Tanahashi would defeat Kobashi and Honda to claim the GHC Tag Team Titles.
NOAH Navigation Against The Current Tour – 1st of November 2003 – Nippon Budokan
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Yoshinari Ogawa
Ogawa, known by NOAH fans as “The Ratboy”, had formerly held the GHC Title himself for a brief period in 2002 after scoring a big upset over Jun Akiyama. As his nickname would suggest, Ogawa is a wrestler who isn’t above playing dirty tricks such as eye gouges, stomping on feet or even biting in order to get results. In a lot of ways, he did a very similar gimmick during this period to what Toru Yano does now in New Japan, although Ogawa played it less for laughs. Ogawa is actually still wrestling now at the ripe old age of 52.
Being a former GHC Champ of course gave Ogawa some credibility going into this match and earlier in this tour he had captained a team to victory against a team captained by Kobashi in an elimination match, as well as teaming up with Scorpio to defeat the team of Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Ogawa winning the Title here wouldn’t have been a gigantic upset because he had the pedigree of winning it before, and this show actually drew very well at the gate, so fans clearly didn’t see him as a lame duck challenger either, but he will probably need to delve into his bag of tricks if he’s to be successful here.
Ogawa jumps Kobashi right from the bell, hammering away with stomps and punches. This serves only to anger Kobashi though, who promptly murderizes Ogawa with chops. Ogawa manages to reply by taking Kobashi down with a nice wrist lock counter (Showing he does have wrestling acumen to go along with his trademark Ratboy antics) and then works a headlock. Ogawa tries a sleeper next, but Kobashi powers him into the corner and throws some stiff chops in there. Ogawa sells them all fantastically, acting like he’s been hit with a battering ram. Kobashi gets a really nice rolling cradle next for two, before clocking poor Ogawa right in the FACE with a spinning back chop. That was just cruel…do it again!
Ogawa plays possum on the mat following that, which allows him to catch Kobashi unawares with a dropkick to his surgically repaired left knee. Ogawa swings Kobashi’s leg into the ring post a couple of times and tries to take off his knee pad. Ogawa eventually manages that and then works over the heavily taped leg and knee back in the ring. Kobashi manages to power out of a single leg crab and then starts no selling shots to the leg. Kobashi forces Ogawa into the corner where he begins to start throwing ALL THE CHOPS, but Ogawa comes back with a thumb to the eye and a Dragon Screw to put a stop to that. Ogawa goes to a ring post Figure Four next, as he keeps looking for any avenue he can use to give himself an advantage. Ogawa makes the mistake of letting Kobashi get up though, which allows Kobashi to get a Hart Attack clothesline.
Release half Nelson suplex looks to be on the way, but Ogawa shoves Kobashi into the ref to stop that and then gets a back suplex. With the referee now down, Ogawa heads outside to grab the ring bell and clobbers Kobashi in the leg with it. Kobashi fights back on the outside however by flinging Ogawa face first into the ring post and then chopping him in the back of the head. This gives him a chance to reapply his knee brace, and he now decides to unleash hell on Ogawa, who has come up bleeding following the visit into the ring post. Kobashi works the cut with punches back inside, as he’s now royally wound up as a result of Ogawa’s prior snide behaviour, which could prove to be bad news for the challenger. Out on to the ramp we go, where Ogawa and Kobashi trade strikes until Kobashi brings the little rally to an end with a DDT. Kobashi keeps punching away back inside, as I think we’re all learning a valuable life lesson here, which is if you happen to have Kenta Kobashi on the ropes you better make it count otherwise he’ll wreck your shizzle.
Kobashi gets a two count from a powerbomb before trying to put Ogawa out with a sleeper hold. Ogawa gets out of that, but Kobashi keeps going after him, which eventually causes the referee to intervene. This allows Ogawa to get a sneaky low blow unseen by the official, which gives him him a chance to recover. Ogawa gets an enziguri, but Kobashi no sells that and then delivers ALL THE CHOPS in the corner for real this time, before setting Ogawa up top for a superplex. That looked gorgeous, but it only gets a two. Ogawa manages a pair of desperation roll ups, even getting his feet on the rope with one of them, but Kobashi is able to kick out. The crowd reacted to those roll ups like they might actually be the finish though, which highlights how good a job they’d done with Ogawa the previous year during his Title reign. Kobashi blocks a crucifix attempt however and then kills Ogawa with a pair of lariats to put him away.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENTA KOBASHI
This one told a really good story, with Ogawa’s game plan working well until he made the mistake of taking the fight outside the ring when the ref went down, which led to him going face first into the post and essentially bringing an end to his challenge due to the blood loss. Ogawa was fantastic in his role here of the smaller guy trying to use shortcuts to get the victory, whereas Kobashi was equally great as the surly Champion who got sick of Ogawa’s antics and just couldn’t sanction his buffoonery any longer. It again may have gone a tad too long at 20+ minutes, as they could have probably told the same story in closer to 15 and it would have felt a bit tighter as a match, but overall this was a lot of fun and something different from the normal NOAH main event, which is always welcomed.
We don’t get much of a victory scene following that and go straight to the next match, which we’ll cover next time out.
This part was a lot of fun, as we got three different styled opponents and Kobashi worked a match based around all three of their strengths to deliver the most enjoyable outcome he could. To be fair, Nagata as a worker is close to, if not equal to Kobashi, so in that match they just went out there and did their thing. The Smith and Ogawa matches were worked perfectly based on who the opponent was however, with Smith getting a chance to shine before getting protected in the finish whilst Ogawa was given carte blanche to do all his trademark nefarious behaviour.
I get to this as and when I can, so I’m not sure when the next part will be up, but hopefully it won’t be too long. New Japan World not uploading the J Cup and Royal Quest until September has given me a bit of a window, so I’ll try to fill it as best I can. I now totally want an Ogawa Vs Yano match at Wrestle Kingdom though. “Ratboy Vs Sublime Master Thief”, who wouldn’t want to watch that?!?!