Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D and occasional guests write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2003 Match of the Year

Tamon Honda vs. Kenta Kobashi (NOAH 4/13/03)

ER: Tamon Honda's big coming out party! How were we all wrong, for so long? Before this match (and possibly the Saito match that set this title match up) I never heard anybody praising Honda. I heard plenty of people dumping on him, especially for his 90s AJPW matches. Before this title match he was most famous for that match teaming with Izumida against Hayabusa and Shinzaki, where he conked Shinzaki with a headbutt that busted him open hardway and was probably the first bloody AJPW match in well over a decade. We've gone back and seen 2001 NOAH where he's clearly awesome, but I don't remember anybody talking about that in 2001. Was he a guy who just took a long time to "get it"? Or was he a guy who just took a long time to get? Nobody liked Takayama in UWFi or AJPW, and suddenly about a decade into his career he got great. When did Honda get great?

That Honda investigation is for another time (and is something I definitely want to do, time to start seeing who has all the AJPW 90s stuff) because this match is here and it's wonderful. It feels very different from almost every other GHC title match during NOAH's heyday. There are far less strikes than in any other contest, no big bomb throwing portion, no rail ride, and had a sense of someone trying to outlast as opposed to learning their opponents' methods. The whole vibe didn't feel "NOAH" to me, it felt like some big match from an alternate universe fed, that just happened to be using a neon green ring. Honda tries to grind him down early with headlocks and Kobashi repeatedly brushes him off, and there's a neat establishing moment where Kobashi locks on a headlock, which results in him immediately tossed off by a rolling throw from Honda. It really showed that Kobashi was only going to be along for the ride whenever he attempted to grapple with Honda. They brawl to the ramp and Honda just gets flat out spiked by a DDT. I'll note it now as it applies to the whole match, but Honda's bumping was just incredible in this match. The way he threw himself into moves really belied his awkward physique, and this DDT was the first instance of that awesome bumping. Honda struggles already to get up and starts crawling back to the ring, and I like how cocky and almost dickish Kobashi is here, attacking him from the ring while Honda is still on the ramp. And then in the turn of events nobody saw coming Kobashi goes for the kill with a spinning chop and Honda ducks, catches Kobashi in a sleeper, drags his ass out over the top rope and plants him on the rampway with the Dead End. At that moment the whole crowd was suddenly taking Honda seriously as a contender, and he would look like a threat the rest of the match.

Even when Honda would fall behind, the fans now knew he had aces up his sleeves. And Honda goes right after that big lariat arm, rips off the elbow pad, works the wrist, traps Kobashi in several Olympic Hell variations (the rolling OH is so damn cool) and at one point, the way Kobashi is struggling to get out of it, he genuinely seems like someone who is being smothered by his own arm. Kobashi is always ready to threaten with a lariat, even through the pain, and boy does he. He hits a couple of absolute beasts in this match, just obliterating Honda. But Honda just hangs on, sometimes literally, grabbing that Olympic Hell and just dragging Kobashi down with it. The craziness really ramps up and the crowd is white hot for the stretch, with both guys bringing body breaking offense. The Dead End soon became my favorite finisher in wrestling. Watching Honda drag guys up and over was like getting to the verrrrry top of a rollercoaster, and that feeling you feel as it momentarily stops before crashing down....except now you're going backwards. And the dead ends are brutal here, but perhaps nastiest of all is a double leg that looks like it dislocated Kobashi's pelvis. It wasn't a spear, wasn't a spinebuster, it was a double leg, and it looked like Kobashi ran off the ropes right into a bus. But Kobashi has no problem giving back, and before long he's dropping Honda directly on his head with a couple half nelson suplexes, an insane sleeper suplex, and finishes things with an all time Burning Lariat. Such a wonderful, unique match, with Kobashi eventually going along for Honda's ride, helping the crowd really buy into Honda. Apparently, it helped all of us buy into Honda.

PAS: Goddamn is Honda a grappling master in this match, pure old school Olympic grappling, I can't remember a better performance of straight up wrestling from any in a pro-wrestling match ever. His early double leg was awesome, as was the way he twisted and turned Kobashi's arm, his grip and core strength in this match was unbelievable. Kobashi looks way bigger then Honda here, and Honda just snatches him and throws him time and time again. Even when Kobashi was in control, Honda could just grab him and drag him down to the Olympic levels of Hell. The Dead End on the ramp was my favorite ramp spot in NOAH history and they did a ton of them. I also loved how Honda ripped and tore at the arm, he felt like a guy in the match of his life and he was going after every hold like this was his last chance at glory, the battles for the Olympic Hell's felt like that as well. We also have to give Honda credit for his bumping, he takes some truly nasty drops right on his giant lollipop head and it looked horrific, that monster sized Family Circus thing compressing his neck bones, yuck. Kobashi was fine, his main contribution to the match was being Kenta Kobashi, he was the mountain Honda tried and failed to climb, and all of those years of greatness needed to be there, to make Honda's near triumph so sweet.

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