Happy Wednesday Everyone!
More from the near nine hour YouTube video compilation of Kenta Kobashi’s epic GHC Heavyweight Title run from 2003-05.
Today we close things out with Kobashi’s final three defences, as he takes on Mike “The Gladiator” Awesome, Minoru Suzuki and Takeshi Rikio. Let’s hope that Kobashi goes out in style!
4th December 2004 – Navigation, Uprising Spirit – Yokohama Bunka Gym
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs The Gladiator (Mike Awesome)
Awesome had previously worked a lot in Japan for groups like FMW and All Japan before becoming full-time in the USA with first ECW and then WCW. He had jumped over to the WWF when WCW was bought out and was actually the first invader to win a belt when he dethroned Rhino for the Hardcore Title backstage at Madison Square Garden. However, the WWF higher-ups soon soured on him and he was back in Japan from 2002 onwards until tragically taking his own life in 2007 at the young age of 42. He was always known as Gladiator over in Japan, and is going under that name here, but I’ll refer to him as Awesome because we all know it’s him and he has that written on his bum.
We see that Minoru Suzuki is ringside for this one, as he’d be due a Title match with the winner. He of course looks cool as all heck in his snazzy black suit whilst he scowls at the two men competing in the ring. Kobashi tries to get a proper match out of Awesome here, with them building things slowly with stuff like tests of strength and what-have-you. Meltzer hated this match at the time and actually compared it to Scott Steiner Vs Triple H at the Royal Rumble because he felt the match went on for too long and Awesome wasn’t equipped to work that sort of match.
25 minutes probably is a bit too long for Mike Awesome to work a straight match as he was usually better in shorter 10-15 minute bouts where he could show off his explosive move set and bully smaller great selling and bumping workers like Masato Tanaka or Spike Dudley. Working the traditional long Heavyweight Title match is certainly a bit out of his wheelhouse, especially as his mat game has never been his strongest suite and he’s required to work on the mat with Kobashi quite a bit in order to get the wrestling aspect of the bout over. It’s trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and that doesn’t always work, even with someone as talented as Kobashi in there to hold it together.
The fight heads outside at one stage, where Awesome gives Kobashi a back suplex off the apron to the floor before following with a big TOPE CON HILO, which always looks impressive due to Awesome being such a big dude. Awesome takes over back inside following that, with his high impact big moves looking good but his general strikes and holds lacking some oomph to them, especially compared to some of the other guys Kobashi has faced during this reign who were able to lay stuff in and make it look good. Awesome’s punches, elbows and stomps just look light and don’t have much behind them. It was something that wasn’t really that noticeable in ECW when they often put him in there with crash test dummies to throw around and he didn’t really need to work holds or throw Japanese styled strikes.
The match in general just feels a bit flat, even when Awesome heads outside to grab a table in an effort to liven things up a bit after a dull heat segment. Kobashi and Awesome scuffle on the apron for a bit, which looks a bit awkward as I’m not sure whether they are having some communication issues, and that leads to Awesome giving Kobashi a sit-out Awesome Bomb off the apron through the table. The table bump looked impressive, but it didn’t get as big a pop from the crowd as you might expect. Part of me thinks the NOAH crowd doesn’t really appreciate ECW stuff in a GHC Heavyweight Title match and it’s leaving them cold on the match. I’m not sure how many of them actually think Awesome can win as well.
Kobashi of course sells as much as possible in order to make Awesome look like a viable challenger, and once Awesome starts focusing more on hitting big moves and going for near falls the match picks up a little bit just because Awesome is doing stuff that is more in his wheelhouse and Kobashi can keep kicking out in order to get the crowd behind his struggle. Kobashi does eventually get himself back into things with a plancha and proceeds to start administering ALL THE CHOPS in the corner, but Awesome sadly brings that to a halt by fighting back and then launching Kobashi with a big release German Suplex followed by a Spear to send Kobashi out to the ramp.
Awesome dives out onto the ramp with a Road Warrior like shoulder tackle to Kobashi, which is once again very impressive when you consider how big Awesome is, and then Awesome Bomb’s Kobashi back into the ring before following up with a Big Splash off the top for two in a really good near fall. That was an excellent sequence and the match has started picking up considerably since they let Awesome off the leash to do his wacky hybrid high-flying/power move set. Awesome even gets a big Awesome Bomb off the top rope at one stage (think Chris Candido’s old finisher) but that only gets a two as well and the crowd is starting to get invested in the action now. Awesome’s look of bafflement at Kobashi surviving that is pretty great and it really gets Kobashi over as a tough Champion.
Kobashi manages to counter yet another Awesome Bomb into a rana and then takes Awesome out with a suplex and a Lariat for a double down. We hit the finishing sequence in earnest following that, with Kobashi even busting out Fit Finlay’s rolling fireman’s carry move at one stage for a near fall. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Kobashi use that one before. Awesome gets to kick out of a Lariat at one stage, drawing a notable surprised reaction from the crowd, but Kobashi follows up with the Moonsault following that and that’s enough for three.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENTA KOBASHI
You know what this reminded me of a bit? The Edge Vs Randy Orton match from Vengeance 2004, in that it was a slow starter but by the end they were having a pretty darn good match that the crowd was enjoying. I think the Edge/Orton match was probably better overall because they are both better suited to working a longer more mat based match than Awesome was. This one took a while to get going, but by the time it did it was a decent outing. Kobashi’s selling and bumping helped a lot, but Awesome’s big moves all looked great and succeeded in getting the crowd invested when they hadn’t really be into the earlier exchanges
Suzuki doesn’t look overly impressed at ringside, but then he rarely is.
8th January 2005 – Great Voyage – Nippon Budokan
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Minoru Suzuki
Suzuki wasn’t quite the star he is now back in 2005, as he’d mostly been working tags with Yoshihiro Takyama, but he was starting to gain some traction in the Pro Wrestling world after previously doing shoots for the PANCRASE company. Of course these days he’s wrestled all of the top guys on the Japanese scene and has a real cult following amongst foreign New Japan fans who love his vicious crazed old man act. Facially he actually hasn’t aged too horribly compared to 2005, as he’s always kind of looked like a DragonBall Z villain come to life. The fans don’t even sing along with his theme that much here, which shows you where he was in his current career trajectory at the time. Suzuki does do a great crazed look when Kobashi makes his entrance though to sell that he’s looking forward to getting him some of NOAH’s top star.
Suzuki is clearly the quicker of the two and he uses that to play with Kobashi in the early going, ducking out of the way from his chops and quickly dodging all of his grapple attempts. It does the job of establishing Suzuki’s advantage over Kobashi as well as highlighting his shooter credentials as he tries for a couple of arm bars and Kobashi has to fight hard to avoid getting locked in them. It tells the story that Kobashi isn’t going to be able to win it this way and that he’s going to have to use traditional Pro Wrestling in order to have a chance, which they establish by having Kobashi cinch in a side headlock that Suzuki can’t easily break out from.
I really like it as an early series of exchanges actually, as it lays the table nicely for the Shooter Vs Pro story they are going to try and tell and it lets both men have a moment in the sun where they get the better of the other to establish that they are both talented and skilled practitioners of their respective discipline, making the match a contest of who can essentially shoot their shot first in order to come out with the victory. Kobashi sees an opening to administer ALL THE CHOPS and he does so, with Suzuki selling it big. Kobashi makes the mistake of throwing one chop too many though and Suzuki catches him with an arm bar on the ropes, which leaves Kobashi coming up selling his arm.
I love that because Kobashi was having some luck going with that sort of offence and Suzuki didn’t really have an answer to it, but Kobashi went to the well once too often and Suzuki was resourceful enough to catch him with the arm bar and now the entire momentum of the match has switched in favour of the challenger after Kobashi was doing a solid job controlling things with the headlock and chops. Suzuki works some heat following that, targeting the arm with some punishing holds and vicious looking strikes. Kobashi of course sells all of that excellently, whilst also trying to find an opening so he can fight back, although Suzuki’s speed continues to be a real obstacle.
In a nice touch, the big reason why Kobashi is able to eventually get back into the match is that Suzuki gets too cocky by mugging for the camera whilst working the arm over, which allows Kobashi to catch him with a Sleeper Suplex before taking the fight out onto the ramp. Suzuki locks in a Sleeper hold out there on the ramp, which leads to Kobashi dragging both himself and Suzuki off the ramp to the floor in order to break it. Well, that counter was certainly a good example of thinking outside the box. It’s not often someone will cause themselves to plummet off a ramp way in order to break a submission hold, but Kobashi doesn’t always follow the beaten path.
Suzuki recovers first from that and gets a Gotch Piledriver back inside, but rather than go for the pin he instead demands a 10 count, which Kobashi of course answers and then gets another flurry of offence, with the story being that Suzuki just keeps being his own worst enemy in this one by letting his arrogance get the better of him when he should be seeing the match out and picking up the win over the weakened Champ. Kobashi eventually starts getting fired up and angry, which is not a good thing to be on the opposite end of if you happen to be one of his challengers as Akitoshi Saito and Yoshinari Ogawa can attest.
We get the submission tease off a cross arm breaker, with Kobashi making sure that Suzuki never quite has it on cleanly in order to excuse why it isn’t an instant tap out, which he always used to do with legit MMA submission moves and it really helps with the suspension of disbelief. Kobashi manages to make the ropes to survive that and starts unloading with big moves on Suzuki now he’s good and mad.
The finish is great, with Suzuki throwing slaps at Kobashi in a defiant manner, only for Kobashi to keep coming with big moves. Every time Suzuki slaps him they have less and less behind them, but at least he’s quite literally going down swinging. Kobashi finally destroys Suzuki with a series of back suplexes and then finishes him off with a Lariat, with the ref trying to stop it at points because Kobashi is going beyond reason when dishing out the punishment because Suzuki got him so mad. Suzuki actually has a creepy look on his face during the beat down, selling that he kind of likes getting the cheese kicked out of him because he’s so darn tough and psychotic.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KENTA KOBASHI
I think this got slept on a bit back in the day (even by myself I believe) but watching it back for this feature I really enjoyed it. I loved it both as a clash of styles and as a morality play, with Suzuki having a great chance to take the belt from Kobashi but just not being able to seal the deal because he was far more interested in being a cocky jerk. I basically love that. The finishing sequence is an all-time favourite of mine as well, with Suzuki fighting till his last even when he had basically nothing left to offer. Great stuff and well worth a watch!
We don’t get to see it on this compilation, but on the Great Voyage show itself Takeshi Rikio came down to challenge Kobashi for the belt again.
5th March 2005 – Navigation for Evolution – Nippon Budokan
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Kenta Kobashi Vs Takeshi Rikio
Rikio had previously challenged Kobashi unsuccessfully back in March of 2004, so he’s spent a whole year getting himself back into contention, including a pin over Shiro Koshinaka on the previous Great Voyage show at Budokan. He had also pinned Kobashi in the December of 2004 in a tag match to establish his credentials as challenger. Both men get the streamer treatment for the ring introductions, which is always cool.
They start this one out hot, with both men throwing chops and slaps before heading out to the floor, where Rikio powerbombs Kobashi from the floor onto the ramp that leads up to the apron. He gets a two count from that back inside, with Kobashi selling the move big. We head out onto the ramp again where Rikio tries another powerbomb, but Kobashi is able to back body drop out of that one, although he can’t get any momentum going back inside. Despite some chops in the early going, Kobashi has mostly spent this match on the defensive, with Rikio working him over and maintaining control. Kobashi’s impeccable selling has kept it interesting and Rikio hasn’t tried anything he can’t do, so the match has flowed well.
Kobashi does eventually manage to gain a foothold in the match, working a Boston Crab, which Rikio sells well and Kobashi viciously cinches in for maximum effect. Kobashi also makes sure to get some payback on Rikio for the powerbomb on the ramp by dragging the challenger out there for a DDT before dropping a leg over Rikio’s neck whilst he is hanging off the side of the ramp way. Kobashi continues to control things back inside, with him throwing a lot of nasty judo styled chops to gradually wear Rikio, as Rikio’s sell job continues to be really good, especially when Kobashi delivers ALL THE CHOPS in the corner at one stage.
Rikio tries to make a bit of a comeback, but Kobashi fights that off and then sends Rikio outside for a plancha, as the match has now completely switched to Kobashi controlling things whilst Rikio is mostly on the defensive. Rikio has actually done a really good job in that position as well, as his selling has been top notch and exactly what it needs to be in order to make you sympathise with his plight despite him being a big hefty lad. Kobashi tries a Half Nelson Suplex out on the ramp and Rikio desperately fights it off before getting a version of Konnan’s 187 Brain Buster out there to finally buy himself some respite whilst Kobashi sells big.
The finishing stretch is done well, with Rikio kicking out of tonnes of big moves, including both a Lariat and a Moonsault, which succeeds in getting the crowd to chant for him. It also plants the seed in the fans minds that maybe Rikio is getting these kick outs so he has something to take from the match when he eventually loses if that’s the way the match is going. Rikio manages to fight off the Burning Hammer and a large chunk of the fans are behind him now, as the sweat flies when he clocks Kobashi with a clothesline and big powerbomb for two. Rikio follows up with his Muso Spine Buster, which he used to beat Koshinaka, but Kobashi kicks out. Rikio gets a modified Olympic Slam though and then follows up again with another Muso for three.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: TAKESHI RIKIO
The whole point of this match was for Rikio to sell and sell until the crowd started to rally behind him, and that’s what did eventually happen in the closing stages, with his eventual win getting a big pop. Rikio’s selling in the match was really good and Kobashi’s offence looked good as well, so the match worked well for the story they were telling. It wasn’t the all-time classic end to Kobashi’s long run that he possibly deserved, and we can debate the merits of picking Rikio as the guy to beat him until the cows come home, but Kobashi at least went out on his shield in a good match
Kobashi gives Rikio a hug to endorse him once the match is over and Rikio seems genuinely moved by the whole thing.
Sadly for Rikio his reign was not a success, even though Kobashi put him over strong here and did everything he could to pass the torch. Mitsuharu Misawa even put Rikio over at one stage in an effort to finally get him over the line as the top guy, but it just didn’t take and Rikio eventually dropped the belt to Akira Taue of all people at the end of the year.
Kenta Kobashi’s GHC Heavyweight Title run might honestly be one of the best Title runs ever from both a critical and commercial perspective. He had numerous great matches with a variety of different opponents and he also drew consistently well at the Nippon Budokan for his big Title defences. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane and I strongly suggest checking out some of the matches from this compilation if you aren’t that familiar with Kobashi and want to get a flavour as to why so many wrestling fans rate him so highly.