THE TWO SHEDS REVIEW by Julian Radbourne
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In June 2008 top Japanese wrestling promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH, in association with Mark Sloan’s A-Merchandise, came to British shores for the first time in their history, bringing along such stars as the late, great Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Naomichi Marufuji. Along with home-grown talent such as Doug Williams, Nigel McGuinness and Martin Stone, they packed the Coventry Skydome for European Navigation 2008, released a few months later on DVD, with Dean Ayass and Mo Chatra handling commentary duties.
The show begins with British star Joel Redman taking on Atsushi Aoki. A good, solid opener from the two former Rookie of the Year winners, with both guys putting on a great display of chain wrestling throughout, working over each other’s arm, with Aoki proving to be the more inventive with his various submission holds, especially when he kicked out of a Redman pin attempt with an armbar. Redman also played his part well, with his corkscrew brain buster looking particularly impressive. In the end, after a series of lightning fast near falls, the time limit expired, ending a pretty even contest. Good stuff from both men.
The next four matches featured tag-team action, beginning with Brits Wade Fitzgerald and Martin Stone against Tsuyosji Kikuchi and Junji Izumida. This was a great match, mixing hard hitting action with great wrestling moves and a touch of comedy as well. The exchanges between Izumida and Stone had this writer laughing out loud, and the attempts of the 150 pound Fitzgerald to body slam the 300 pound plus Izumida also made for somewhat humorous viewing. Sadly, my fellow Brits didn’t get the job, with Izumida taking young Fitzgerald out with a variation of the ace crusher.
The Britain v Japan action continued with Doug Williams and Nigel McGuinness facing Kotaro Suzuki and Takeshi Sugiura. For those of you who have only seen Doug Williams working for TNA, then this may be something of an eye opener for you. It’s a great outing for Britain’s best technical wrestler of the past decade, something that he sadly doesn’t get to show too much of in the Impact Zone. McGuinness, ability wise, isn’t too far behind him, and if anything the NOAH version of McGuinness is a whole lot better than the ROH version of McGuinness. As for Suzuki and Sugiura, they were equally as impressive, working well together as a team, winding up the partisan British crowd with some of their underhanded tactics. Put all of this together and you’ve got an awesome match, with false finishes aplenty, before McGuinness finally managed to take Suzuki down with his second Tower of London attempt, with a little help from Williams, ending an awesome match, and finally giving the British contingent a mark in the win column.
With the British stars having shown their wares in three great matches, it was now up to the Americans to see what they could do against the NOAH stars, beginning with Bison Smith, teaming with Jun Akiyama against the great team of Muhammad Yone and GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima. It was also the first match to feature a Japanese referee, the first three having been officiated by British ref Andy Quildan. As a result of this you’ve got the best exhibition of the Japanese style of wrestling on the show so far. Yone and Morishima once again showed what a great team they are, and Smith and Akiyama weren’t that far behind them as far as tag-team continuity goes. Smith in particular was highly impressive. This may not have been the unbeatable monster that’s been terrorizing Ring of Honor shows this year, but he was still an impressive animal, coupling great power with tremendous speed and agility. In the end, the biggest afro in the history of professional wrestling didn’t get the job done, with Smith getting the win for his team, taking Yone out with the Bison-tennial, basically his version of the Styles Clash, ending another great match One question though – did Morishima lose his bags at the airport? Judging by his ring attire, it looked like he did.
The first of two title matches followed, with Bryan Danielson and Eddie Edwards challenging KENTA and Taiji Ishimori for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag-Team titles. Danielson and Edwards came to the ring to a great reception, but soon earned some boos when Danielson said that his entrance music, The Final Countdown, was only for Americans. As Dean Ayass pointed out, that song was actually made by a band called Europe. The American Dragon’s heelish tendencies continued as the match went on, as he resorted to spitting at KENTA as he stood on the ring apron. As for the match action, KENTA and Ishimori proved to be a highly effective and highly impressive team, putting together a great series of moves, often taking their American counterparts out of their stride. As for their opponents, Edwards played the part of the punching bag to good effect, while Danielson continued to annoy the crowd by threatening to go for some of trademark moves, but then abandoning them when the crowd began to cheer for him. In short, it’s a tremendous, near thirty minute long tag-team match, something that NOAH really specialises in, with an absolute ton of near falls, and KENTA getting the title retaining pin after taking Edwards out with the go to sleep, ending an awesome contest. One quick note though – Dean Ayass should have really taken his headset off when he told Mo Chatra he was going to “quickly run to the loo” at the end of the match!
The second title match followed immediately, with Jay Briscoe challenging Yoshinobu Kanemaru for the GHC Junior Heavyweight title. An excellent title match here. Both men put in outstanding performances, with Briscoe in particular looking quite impressive, once again showing that he’s just as capable on his own as he is with his brother. We had a slow build up with gradually picked up speed before going into an excellent finish, with Kanemaru taking Briscoe out and getting the winning pin after two great looking brain busters. This Kanemaru guy sure can wrestle!
Main event time, tag-team action, with Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki taking on Mitsuharu Misawa and Naomichi Marufuji. What a main event this was! This was the sort of match that NOAH has become famous for. Four outstanding performances in a match that had a slow beginning before building up to a tremendous finish. Seeing the two old rivals in Misawa and Kobashi going against each other was a joy to behold, and it mixed well with the exchanges between the younger Shiozaki and Marufuji. As for Kobashi’s chops, the production crew apparently counted more than fifty in one exchange with Misawa alone. So after nearly thirty minutes of classic action, as Misawa stopped Kobashi from getting back into the ring, Marufuji took Shiozaki with an awesome looking fisherman’s buster.
Sadly, no DVD extras to speak of here, so let’s get right down to business.
In conclusion – wow! To say that NOAH’s first show in Britain was great would be an understatement. These matches weren’t just good, they were tremendous, a brilliant example of the NOAH product. Each and every wrestler on this show put in a great performance, with the Danielson/Richards v KENTA/Ishimori encounter the match of the show, and perhaps the best match from 2008 I’ve seen.
Production wise, it can’t be faulted. Even though it was held at a English venue by an English production company, with English commentary and with English fans, it still felt like a Japanese show. The style of wrestling didn’t change at all, and the Brit stars who were drafted in for this show did themselves proud. As for the commentary, Dean Ayass once again proved that he is Britain’s top announcer. Mo Chatra, for his part, showed that he’s improved since his days as a link man on The Wrestling Channel. He’s certainly a lot better when he’s not reading from an autocue or having to remember his lines.
So in closing, if you haven’t seen a Pro Wrestling NOAH show yet (and why haven’t you?) then this would be the perfect place to start. I don’t think I really need to say that this DVD comes highly recommended.
With thanks to Mark Sloan for supplying a copy of this release. Pro Wrestling NOAH European Navigation ‘08 is available to buy online at www.a-merchandise.co.uk.