Featured image by @__Yukiko_s__

NOAH remains quite a mystery to me as a promotion. On the one hand, they have two of my favorite title matches from Japan all year–both featuring Go Shiozaki. The first, his title win in January against Kaito Kiyamiya, was just an excellent standard Japanese epic style main event that built incredibly well over an extended run time with some strong ideas and performances in the middle. The other, against Kazuyuki Fujita in May, is an anomaly in wrestling with its bold and oftentimes ridiculous ideas.

This match sees Go defending the title against former tag team partner Katsuhiko Nakajima. I don’t know much about NOAH lore but these two have been tagging for a while now and Nakajima’s heel turn on Go seemed to elicit just the reaction the promotion wanted from its fanbase. It sets the table well for this match. Big stakes with the title on the line with the added element of the rivalry being far more personal than any of Go’s other recent defenses this year.

It’s no great shock then that NOAH aims for the kind of ambitious epic title match befitting of the story they have here. As far as I can tell, this is the biggest match they’ve run all year so of course they’ll want to squeeze it of every drop of drama it has to give.

Go and Nakajima weren’t really up to the task here.

What we have instead is an incredibly frustrating affair where I can see great match sandwiched between some of the dumbest choices imaginable. The first dumb choice comes from backstage before the bell even rings. Forty-two minutes are allotted to this match. Forty-two minutes in front of a typically tepid COVID-era NOAH crowd inside a very large building where even the best reactions can sound hollow and weak.

The next problem comes from how these two structure their ideas around those 42 minutes. There’s a big apron spot in this match, probably to be expected from a big NOAH epic like this. But for some reason that big apron spot takes place within the first ten minutes of this. That’s not inherently wrong but it does become rather maddening when the big bump Nakajima takes to the floor doesn’t even impede him enough to last a three minute control segment. He almost immediately regains the control and goes about working Go’s arm like it’s another day at the office.

This becomes even more frustrating when it becomes clear that the next major chunk of this match is actually good. The arm work is decent and Go sells it incredibly well. Throughout this whole thing, Go never fails to be entirely sympathetic and likeable in his performance and it adds a lot to when things start inevitably going south.

But for much of the second act, things rule. It’s build around Go working through his bad arm to just beat the crap out of his traitorous challenger and Nakajima relying on his kicks to try to wear the champion down. They throw in some delightful looking suplexes just for flavor too.

Things fall apart when they deviate from this and have to reach towards the more dramatic side of things. There’s an attempted top rope frankensteiner counter spot that goes wrong which forces these two to improvise a decidedly less impressive skirmish on the floor. Things get back into the ring where it becomes a bombfest with Go working to put a decisive end to things with a series of lariats by the end. By that point, however, things have really begun to wear thin. Go’s comeback is well performed but not well placed in that it comes at the end of a rather tiresome slog that makes up the finish.

Even despite some of its worse qualities, there’s just enough in the middle there to call this good. I can even imagine why some would like this if they’re particularly invested in this angle. But as is, it’s just another bloated Japanese epic with a lot of good and a lot of bad mixed in.

Weigh your options with this one. It’s not a forty-two minutes I can easily recommend.

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