Featured image by @IssitaMarie
This match was commissioned by Grizzly Bear (AF2). This was a one-time offer, the blog isn’t open to any other commissions at this time.
I don’t have a good relationship with modern NOAH main events. Most of the lauded Go Shiozaki epics of 2020 completely passed me by. I was very vocal in my monthly review series on YouTube at the time about how I thought the Go/Nakajima match from last year was a bloated epic that ran out of ideas and got bored of the ideas it did explore real fast. People didn’t like that in the comments so I decided to not tell them that I thought the exact same thing about Go/Sugiura.
Of course, the reason why I don’t like so many modern NOAH main events is because the one time they got it right, they set a blueprint that simply couldn’t be matched. Go Shiozaki vs. Kazuyuki Fujita, the 2020 match of the year, is special in that it can never be replicated. It’s also special because it provides a handy little litmus test to judge all other epic-length matches by.
It’s simple really. Would I rather be watching two men try to eye fuck each other to death for 30 minutes?
The answer for every Go Shiozaki epic after the Fujita match was, yes, I would much rather be watching Go and Fujita stare daggers at each other than whatever else was going on in front of me.
As you can see, the odds were stacked against this match from the go. I already don’t love much of NOAH’s main event scene, and the piece of it that I found most enduring–Go’s struggle to carry a company on his back despite being held together with duct tape–is entirely missing from this match. Add on to that, this match is a very special kind of mental exercise: the dreaded 60-minute time limit draw, that most tedious of wrestling prestige bait that is only ever great and excellent or an absolute waste of time. It’s near impossible to find anything in between.
When I told a particularly notable Slack chat that I was setting out to watch this match, a friend of the blog warned me ahead of time:
I expect lots of dull kick exchanges and some limb work that goes nowhere Joseph
Dude nailed it on the head.
I did my best to come to this with an open mind, I really did. I enjoyed the N1 Victory finals well enough, and I even have some fondness for the singles match these two had in 2020. You look at these names, you know what you’re going to get. The kick boys are going to kick ’til they can’t do their kicking no more. How they ever expected that to fill up an entire hour of time absolutely boggles the mind.
The first act of the match, wouldn’t you know it, is built around these two exchanging kicks. They’re good kicks, don’t get me wrong. The real solid, thunderous type that reverberate in the chest instead of dissipate like a thigh slap might. But the kicks are so one-note and samey that these two couldn’t even be bothered to sell them for the first ten minutes of the match.
Okay though, benefit of the doubt, they’re just getting warmed up. There’ll be room for selling and dynamics later down the line.
For a moment, it seems that things might be heading in an interesting new direction. In an attempt to counteract Kenoh’s kicks, Nakajima takes to working over Kenoh’s leg. And it even works! Kenoh’s so bullheaded and stupid about his strategy in this match that all he knows is to keep doing his kicks like the kick boy that he is, but his bad wheel disrupts all those plans. He can’t plant properly, when he does throw a kick, there’s very little power behind it. He makes a good show of trying to sell the leg. It’s a nice little wrinkle to the narrative because there’s literally nothing Kenoh can do in the ring that doesn’t involve throwing his legs at people.
Kenoh’s desperation leads him to hit some major offense. He nails Nakajima with a huge Dragon Screw Leg Whip off the apron to the floor. He follows up with a couple more Dragon Screws on the floor which surely will damage our dominant champion. Kenoh’s next brilliant plan is to leap off the top rope to nail a double stomp to Nakajima on the floor, essentially dropping his entire body weight onto his bad leg. Not that Kenoh can be bothered to register that in the slightest, of course. He has more trouble running in the ring moments after than he does nailing a precarious and thunderous piece of offense to the floor.
That’s better than Nakajima though who sells none of those huge Dragon Screws that dropped him to the floor, keeping to his kicking without any trouble at all. Just keeps on kicking and kicking because that’s just what he does.
After the big floor segment, these two drop any semblance of long term limb selling. No need to sell their legs when they have so damn much kicking to do. And there’s only 30 minutes left in the match to do their kicking. They throw in some other stuff too. There’s a few bombs and stuff on the top rope. None of it sticks at all and all I can think of when the 45 minute call rings and I audibly groaned into the world at the idea of sitting through 15 more minutes of this.
This match does not earn its length. It goes an hour because NOSAWA’s pen decrees it. There’s nothing in it that functionally separates it from the N1 Victory final which goes a third of this time. There’s nothing in the match to speak to any reserves these two might be digging into to go longer than usual because they can’t even be bothered to display any difficulty handling the actual offense that goes their way.
They just keep kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking until they can’t kick anymore because the bell rings and they legally can’t kick anymore.
I’d rather watch Go and Fujita stare each other down for half an hour.