All Time MOTY List HEAD to HEAD Honda v. Kobashi V. Honda v. Saito
Tamon Honda v. Akitoshi Saito NOAH 3/30/03
ER: This is a match to determine the #1 contender to Kobashi's GHC title, and it's a killer game of Saito unloading more offense than he's probably ever unloaded in a match, while Honda was desperately trying to survive. Both men went hard, harder than usual. Honda isn't really a guy known for his strikes, more for his grappling and freaky tendon strength. But here Honda lobbed stiff elbows and stiff arm lariats in a way I've never really seen from him. They start with some nasty-as-expected shoulderblocks and from there Saito mostly takes over, ripping into Honda's knee with kicks, going after him with elbows and chops, cutting him to the mat with an axe kick, even getting to hit the Dead End before Honda even attempts it. Honda fires back with occasional headbutts, lariats and elbows but his knee keeps getting kicked (and him propping Honda's leg on the ropes and kicking it looked brutal), and Honda makes that knee injury look great. So as Saito keeps dishing a beating, Honda's muscle memory kicks in, and he just starts grounding Saito with the Olympic Hell. He turns pinfalls into it, tosses in his rolling version, even throws in an Olympic Hell suplex that I don't recall seeing (and thanks to the doofus camera work we didn't even see Honda hit his Dead End, as the director chose to cut to a 10 second shot of bored ass Kobashi at commentary. Thanks guys!), and Saito starts to wilt. After everything else fell short, Honda just spammed the Olympic Hell and wore Saito out. And while the finish does kind of come out of nowhere, and somewhat feels like Saito controlled 75% of the match, Saito passing out unexpectedly nicely put over the OH as a submission that should not be taken lightly, and one that could make for an immediate comeback.
PAS: I really loved this when it happened and loved it again each time on rewatch. I didn't remember Saito using Honda's moves, but early in this he hits both a Dead End and an Olympic Hell, which was odd but kind of cool, you didn't really see that kind of thing in early 2000s NOAH. Saito was also really brutal with his kicks to the knee, Honda has these big lumpy looking knee braces under his tights and Saito was teeing off on them. I loved Honda's run of Olympic Hell variations, he feels like a anaconda who just tightens and tightens his grip, he can hit that move out of anywhere no matter how hurt he is, and if he locks it tight, you will be blowing spit bubbles. Though that it kind of came out of nowhere made it even better. Great match, career match from Saito and a notch in Honda's belt.
Honda v. Kobashi review
ER: I really loved this match, but it has nowhere near the drama of the title match a couple weeks later. And not just the crowd really getting behind Honda, but the build itself within the match felt larger. Kobashi's star power combined with the fans finally viewing Honda as a threat, and the drama that comes with a title bout, makes the champ an easy winner for me.
PAS: I think I might have liked the actual work in this a little better, I really loved Saito as a crowbar and Honda fighting through the asskicking to grab a choke was cool stuff, plus the right guy went over. Still the big matchiness of the Kobashi match has to win in a MOTY battle.