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A few days ago I watched and wrote about a Minoru Suzuki match and opined about Suzuki’s greatness. While doing research and seeking out matches to watch, I found this treasure from Pro Wrestling NOAH‘s Great Voyage 2005, where Suzuki challenged Kenta Kobashi for the GHC Heavyweight Title.
You can find this match on Youtube with some strategic searching.
Let’s get to it.
This is the 13th defense for Kobashi, who won the GHC Title in March of 2003. That reign has created a long-running story in NOAH, where one grueling title match after another have worn down Kobashi.
Suzuki comes in as the arrogant heel freelancer, and at the time, this is just his third match in a NOAH ring.
Watch a Suzuki match from recent years (yeah, he’s still going strong) and you’re likely to see him go at his opponent throwing forearms or open-hand slaps — especially if he’s going against a longtime nemesis like Yuji Nagata or someone with a similar hard-nosed style like Tomohiro Ishii. Here, giving up a ton of size to the champion and being considerably younger, Suzuki uses his quickness and catch wrestling skill, quickly establishing himself as the fleet-footed arrogant challenger to the beloved champion’s lengthy reign.
When I say beloved, I mean it. The NOAH crowd is so behind Kobashi that when he clamps a headlock on Suzuki at the five-minute mark, the fans LOSE THEIR MINDS. For a headlock. The two wrestlers stick with it; Suzuki crumples in the hold as Kobashi wrenches, and when the action briefly spills to the floor, Kobashi re-applies the headlock, gets back to his feet, clambers up on the apron and drags Suzuki into the ring, still ensnared. The crowd loves every bit of this.
Choices like an extended headlock seem wise the way Kobashi is moving so gingerly. A pair of massive knee pads indicate the accumulation of damage he has accrued in 15-plus years wrestling regularly for both All Japan and NOAH, and any actual running by Kobashi is absent aside from one Burning Lariat where he charges off the ropes to wallop Suzuki at center ring.
Kobashi brings the intensity and has the fans, but Suzuki makes this match go. After eating machine gun chops in the corner by the champ, Suzuki catches Kobashi’s arm on a follow up and transitions into his hanging triangle choke over the ropes, setting up a focus on the right arm of Kobashi that remains a theme of the challenger’s offense for the rest of the contest. Suzuki briefly tortures the right arm of Kobashi, a harbinger to the brutal, would-be-banned-by-the-Geneva-Convention type of torment he inflicts on opponents’ limbs in more current bouts. Kobashi weathers the storm, surviving a standing RNC on the outside of the ring by crawling off the elevated entrance aisle. In another example of the evolution of Suzuki’s character and wrestling, Suzuki hits his Gotch piledriver — a sure-fire match ender today — but doesn’t even go for a pin after hitting it here, reveling in downing the popular champion and toying with him.
Instead, Suzuki is focused on making the champion submit. He elicits anguish with an octopus stretch. Then, after Kobashi rallies with the aforementioned lariat and his powerbomb into a jackknife pin, Suzuki promptly counters into an MMA armbar. Kobashi outlasts this too, and then unleashes hell on Suzuki with two clubbing clotheslines, a running lariat, and a backdrop driver. Slaps by Suzuki only anger the champion, who unleashes yet another lariat and three consecutive backdrop drivers. A final, feeble slap by Suzuki shows the outcome is inevitable, as a Burning Lariat finishes the match and Kobashi’s 13th defense.
–Great Voyage is one of the biggest events of the year in NOAH and this match definitely has that big-fight feel.
–This would be the final successful defense for Kobashi, who goes on to lose the GHC Title to Takeshi Rikio in March.
Final Rating: 6.8
There’s a lot to like and the novelty of the matchup is one of the main attractions for watching. Making an early-match headlock compelling and creative was quite the feat. Still, with Kobashi facing some physical limitations, the end result only reaches a certain height. I’ve not watched nearly as much of Kobashi and the others from the Four Pillars era of All Japan as I should — definitely something I’ll remedy as this project continues.
Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.