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AJPW / NOAH 2011 Matches to See (by Dean Knickerbocker)

by on June 6, 2011

By Dean Knickerbocker

The top two wrestling promotions in Japan are clearly New Japan and Dragon Gate. From the great wrestling, to the logical and compelling booking, to the die hard passionate fan bases to to the pageantry of the larger show, these two promotions have it all.  At a level below these two exist All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH.   While neither promotion approaches the top two from an overall perspective, each has an excellent in ring product that the casual or non puro fan might want to explore.  To that end, here are a few matches from each promotion so far this year that are worth checking out.  I dont think you will be disappointed with any of them if you do so.

It has been almost 11 years since Misawa and crew departed AJPW to form NOAH.  Since then AJPW has been hit or miss with the occasional great match or hot show, but more often that not a product that could not approach the glory days of the promotion.  But having watched a lot of AJPW this year, I can attest that the overall level of the promotion has improved and they may have even surpassed NOAH as the number three promotion in Japan (we shall see how the recent locker room problems with the Voodoo Murders affect the long term roster).   Here are the AJPW matches worth seeking out:

    * Kaz Hayashi vs Minoru on 1/2 – Great match for the AJPW Jr Title.  This is a simply phenomenal match, easily in the top 2-3 Jr matches in Japan this year.  Great building of the match with an amazing amount of fluidity between everything they did.  So smooth and just awesome to watch.
    * Shuji Kondo vs. Kaz Hayashi vs. Minoru on 2/6 – The matches between these three have been awesome all year long.  Here you get all three in the ring at the same time.  I often find three ways a little too distracting but this is non stop great and there never seems to be too long a stretch were one of the wrestlers is out of the action.
    * Kaz Hayashi vs. Shuji Kondo on 2/11– Contains what may be my favorite spot of the year, a top rope move that started as a huracanrana turned into a power bomb attempt and then into the DDT.
    * Seiya Sanada & Manabu Soya vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi  on 3/21 – These two teams have had three matches this year (with one more on 6/19) and in my view this one is the best.  Soya and Sekimoto just beat the crap out of each other.  Sanada is like a young Kobashi or Tanahashi, athletic enough to pull of incredible moves like a junior but tough enough to battle the true heavyweights.  The whole series of matches is worth watching, but the 3/21 match is the best.
    * Yuji Nagata vs Suwama on 4/9 (as part of the Champions Carnival) – Suwama is just a beast who has turned into a very credible Triple Crown Champion.  These two have just a war of a match. This is probably my favorite AJPW match so far this year.  The rematch is set of 6/19 with Nagata getting a shot at the Triple Crown.  Given more time and the fact that they are not putting in 20-30 mins matches as part of the tournament and I am hoping for something even better.

Four to five years ago, NOAH was probably the best promotion in the world.  However, since then un-imaginitive and lackluster booking in addition to the tragic death of Misawa have contributed to a overall decline in the product.  But NOAH still has a great roster of wrestlers and the work in the ring is still top notch, even as the once hot crowds have started to dwindle away.   The last major NOAH show of 2010 at Budokan Hall on 12/5 was phenomenal and featured four matches that I would rate as four star or better (Naomichi Marufuji vs. KENTA, Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Kotaro Suzuki, Yoshihiro Takayama/Takuma Sano vs. Chris Hero/Claudio Castagnoli and Takashi Sugiura vs. Takeshi Morishima).  This leads into the 2011 NOAH matches worth seeking out:

    * Yoshihiro Takayama v. KENTA on 1/15 – Brutal! The best opening 30 seconds of any match I have seen this year.  It only goes 12 minutes or so but every second is great. Every wrestling fan owes it to themselves to see this.
    * Kotaro Suzuki vs. Eddie Edwards on 1/29 – Everyone knows Edwards as the current ROH World Champion but in the past year he has shined in NOAH as well. He was great during the 2010 NOAH Jr Tag Tourney and he is great here.  Suzuki has turned into one of my favorites and these two have an awesome match.  Both Suzuki and Edwards have had really amazing years so far and they put it all together here.
    * Kotaro Suzuki vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima on 3/5 – The match of the year so far in NOAH.  Watch this match and you will see why everyone loves Nakajima.  They go around 30 minutes and I simply  loved every second of it.
    * Takashi Sugiura vs Giant Bernard on 3/5 – This has is my favorite match from any promotion in 2011.  Not necessarily for the wrestling but for the angle and out of ring work by Bernard and Karl Anderson.  Sugiura is my favorite wrestler not named Yugi Nagata.   And Bernard and Anderson make this a joy to watch.  Just a fun fun match.

Hopefully this wets your appetite for a few matches worth watching this year from NOAH and AJPW.  I know that I have enjoyed them immensely and hopefully you will too.

-Dean

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