10.21.2005

The Ark (Pro Wrestling)

In all the world, currently, my favorite wrestling promotion is Pro Wrestling NOAH, and it's for one simple reason; everyone has a place.

It's not a federation filled with the youth of Japan like Dragon Gate, or the history of tradition like New Japan, but rather, a promotion all it's own. Like a hybrid of 80s New Japan sans Maeda, and 90's All Japan, NOAH is by all means the perfect wrestling promotion, and like I said, it's because everyone has a place.

Everyone's place fits, too. No one ever seems like they're doing something strange; Misawa's skill at booking has allowed for all wrestlers to break out on their own, but still maintain clear images of who they are as wrestlers.

This also holds true to NOAH's incredible junior division, one that puts all others to shame with sheer variety of wrestlers. You have the ace and fan favorite, Naomichi Marufuji, the champion and rival in KENTA, the foreign superpower in Low Ki, the obligatory luchadore Ricky Martin, the jaded champions in Suigira and Kanemaru, the ultimate bully and rival to KENTA, SUWA, and the veteran gatekeeper in Tsuyoshi Kikuchi.

Things are also very clearly defined in the heavyweight division. Misawa is the standard bearer, yes, but has seen fit to take a back seat to those who are far more willing to go, like Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama. There are the upstarts of Rikio and Morishima, slimy Yoshinari Ogawa, the break out star in Mohammed Yone, the menacing Akira Taue, and the most dramatic protagonist in all of NOAH, Makoto Hashi.

To distract for a moment, the story of Makoto Hashi is the most fascinating thing I have ever witnessed. It's almost inspirational in a way. Hashi was one of the first wrestlers in NOAH to truly break out from a history of near-nothing in All Japan, and is now starting to get noticed by everyone for his exceptional talent and old school fire. He is a one time GHC Jr. Heavyweight title holder, but because of how he won the title (through the injury of champion Naomichi Marufuji) he returned it respectfully, and made it to the finals of the ensuing tournament, only to fall to Yoshinobu Kanemaru. This would be one of many disappointments in his career, as he would get all kinds of title shots and usually lose them.

Then there's his interaction with Jun Akiyama, who has taken a crazed coach role with Hashi. Akiyama sees big things for Hashi, and damnit, he's going to get them out of him, no matter what it takes. But before then, it was just thought as abuse, as Akiyama would get so frustrated at the beatings Hashi would recieve that he would climb in the ring, and throw him out, then slap him and beat on him. Over time, though, this started to reinvigorate him. Also, in matches that they have been on opposing sides, Hashi would just unleash hell on Akiyama for as long as he can. It almost seemed like he didnt want to win, just to get payback. This all came to a head at the most recent Tokyo Dome show. Jun Akiyama was granted a shot at the GHC tag titles, and almost instantly chose Makoto Hashi as his partner. However, he stated if they lost, he'd never team with him again. The ensuing tag match, while not very good due to Minoru Suzuki and Naomichi Marufuji being a still awkward team, was off the charts emotionally. You could not help but get behind Hashi, and even Akiyama was, giving him the chance to finish the match, but again, the eel known as Minoru Suzuki slipped out and got the submission victory. After the match, Hashi was seen crying, but instead of beating on him, Akiyama applauded his strongest efforts in the match, and thanked Hashi. It was really a surreal, awesome moment in the usually stoic world of Japanese wrestling.

Even in the lower card of NOAH shows, everyone has a clearly defined role. There's the ambitious group known as the Dark Agents, the veterans like Tamon Honda, Takuma Sano and Jun Izumida, the occasional appearance of Daisuke Ikeda, and the rookie sensation Go Shiosaki, who in his first year in wrestling was half of the finest tag match I've seen in some time, and probably my favorite match this year. There's also the team of TEAM KAOS, Michael Modest and Donovan Morgan, holding down the fort as the perinnial tag team title challengers, which brings us to the outsiders.

Over the years, the foreign factor has really grown into something fascinating. There's a steady parade of outsiders to do combat with NOAH regulars. The two that have had the biggest impact so far have been Minoru Suzuki and Gen'ichiro Tenryu. Also, New Japan and NOAH have been at near constant war, in both heavyweight and junior divisions, with Yuji Nagata having a truly incredible stint in NOAH, along with Hiroshi Tanahashi who's won the GHC Tag Titles, defended the U-30 Title against Marufuji, and wrestled Takeshi Rikio, GHC Heavyweight Champion, for the belt at the last Tokyo Dome show. There are lots of accounts as well of the New Japan/NOAH Junior War that are far more indepth than I can ever go, but suffice to say, it was an amazing thing to see.

Amongst the gaijin are wrestlers such as Scorpio, who has truly gone through rebirth, the incredible Doug Williams, and even a collection of power gaijin like Bison Smith. And this will continue to expand, as starting this November, Katsuyori Shibata will wrestle for NOAH, which will bring an element to the promotion that only KENTA and Daisuke Ikeda had in the past.

NOAH has also had the best feud this year, between Kenta Kobashi and Gen'ichiro Tenryu. It started innocently enough; a tag match was signed between Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiosaki, (which has been another fascinating development, as they've almost become father-son like in the ring) against Jun Akiyama and Tenryu. But Tenryu was never impressed with Kobashi, and provoked him. That wasn't very smart at all. Kobashi responded with great strength, and even drew blood from chops alone on Tenryu. And this was just the start of things.

Over the last few months, the two have tangled repeatedly, in tag matches, and each times, it just gets more and more heated and violent. Tenryu hates Kobashi's guts, and the feeling is mutual, as Kobashi now has a fire underneath him, actually coming up with new and unusual ways to punish Tenryu, such as his new Double Chop, made specifically to break Gen'ichiro Tenryu's collarbone. In one of their last matches, a six man tag between Kobashi, Tamon Honda, and KENTA, wrestling Tenryu, Akiyama, and Takeshi Morishima, where Kenta Kobashi almost dominated Tenryu with a simple headlock. He's using everything he can to punish his newest rival and hated enemy, and it's only getting more interesting as time goes on.

I'm forgetting a lot, probably, but these are just a few of the reasons that Pro Wrestling NOAH is the greatest promotion around today. My wrestling diet, as I've previously mentioned is entirely NOAH and CMLL anymore, and man, it's a happy diet.

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