NOAH In NJPW
Jun Akiyama vs Yuji Nagata 1/4/02 GHC Heavyweight Championship
Not only is this NOAH vs NJPW, but also exploder vs exploder. There are a lot of similarities between these two. Similar movesets, similar age, both being thought as the 5th wheel in their respective promotions, now both headlining the biggest show of the year as representatives of their company. Nagata gets the first major offense, kicking the shit out of Jun, knocking him out of the ring in the process. The pace is very slow afterwards, both guys still trying to feel each other out. This was more interesting for what they DIDN'T do than what they did do. Instead of being the exploder based match people were expecting, both guys did multiple piledrivers to set up submissions (guillotine and Nagata Lock, mostly). Outside of a spot in the opening while they were testing each other, and the finish, exploders weren't even really teased through out the match. Akiyama began using Misawa moves at one point, possibly foreshadowing Misawa's future involvement at a NJPW show. Akiyama gets the win with a wrist clutch exploder. Title retained.
Mitsuharu Misawa vs Masahiro Chono 5/2/02
This probably should have had Hashimoto or Mutoh instead of Chono, but both guys had left the company, leaving Chono as he sole Musketeer. The crowd is amped for this. It's kind of a weird match in the sense that both guys are kind of working heel, with neither giving clean breaks. The crowd seems more supportive of the invader, and the top rope is loosened, giving the ring a war torn look, definitely helped by the mass of NOAH/NJPW talent and photographers around ringside. Chono is CLEARLY outmatched on every level, yet you can't really root for him as the underdog because he's a shithead. There was some really neat stuff of both guys doing Inoki/Baba spots. Love that shit. The match ends in a 30 minute draw. This was much more of a spectacle match than Akiyama/Nagata, probably for the better because Chono was always the weakest of the top NJPW guys in my eyes, and his body was clearly falling apart. Still, this was pretty hot stuff. Post match had Tenzan challenging Misawa, but I don't believe that match ever happened.
Masahiro Chono vs Kenta Kobashi GHC Heavyweight Championship 5/2/03
A year after he went to a draw with Misawa, Chono attempts to defend NJPW's honor once again against NOAH's other top star. Good luck, pal. Before the match starts, both men send their armies to the back. Once again, Chono is CLEARLY outmatched against the invader, but he's not going to garner much sympathy even from the home crowd. There are some scary bumps in this. Very, very dangerous looking head drops. Kobashi eventually just tries to cripple Chono, doing repeated half nelson suplexes, to the point where the NJ guys are pleading with the ref to stop the match. He then wins with repeated Burning Lariatos. Title retained. For a dude that seemed like he could barely walk at times, Chono gutted it out. It was really strange to me that Chono got way more offense against Kobashi than he did against Misawa, despite Kobashi being way bigger, stronger, and the more dominant wrestler at that point of time.
Shinsuke Nakamura/Hirooki Goto vs Mitsuharu Misawa/Takashi Sugiura 1/4/09
This is right before Nakamura discovered cocaine, but still, Misawa and Nak mixing it up sounds pretty cool. Even old, fat, tired, and wanting to retire Misawa. It's weird here that Goto seems like the bigger star and more important member of the NJ team. Considering how Nakamura is probably the most popular puro dude worldwide since the Misawa/Kobashi/Kawada/Mutoh era and Goto has been permanently stuck in the upper-mid card for years, it's a strange sight. Nakamura gets the win with a rolling cross arm breaker on Sugiura. Nak blasted the fuck out of Misawa multiple times, and even though Nak got the win for his team, Goto seemed like the bigger star. My how times have changed.
Takashi Sugiura vs Hirooki Goto GHC Heavyweight Championship 1/4/11
These two had a singles match two years ago, which Sugiura won. Now as GHC Heavyweight Champion, he looks to repeat the result. Sugiura, despite only being in the game for about 10 years at this point, has full assumed the role of grumpy, cunty vet who hates everyone. Which is great, as that's my favorite thing about Japanese wrestling. There is a crazy spot of a rope hanging neckbreaker on the apron, which sees Goto miss the apron entirely and Sugiura land right on the edge. Goto follows with with a top rope elbow where he just lands full weight on Sug's head and neck. Brutal. Even after this, Sug kicks out of a Shouten at 1. He's not going to let this fucking punk take his title. Just when you think it is over, Goto kicks out of a gnarly Olympic Slam also at 1. He's forced to give up to a grapevine ankle lock. Title retained. This was a lot more than I was expecting it to be. Mostly because I was pretty iffy on Goto until midway through 2015. It's strange that NJPW hasn't pulled the trigger on Goto. Seemed like he was being set to get the Nakamura/Okada spot and then it just...didn't happen.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Go Shiozaki 1/4/11
Go was supposed to be the guy to lead NOAH into the future. Kobashi's protege and Misawa's tag partner. Instead, he left NOAH in mass exodus to AJPW, in a reversal of what started NOAH to begin with. He spent quite a bit of time in NJ anyway. Nak has discovered coke, but is still just dabbling. Go does chops to the LEG, which is weird. I don't think I've ever seen that. I don't want to say Go dominates, but he does control the majority of the match, just beating the shit out of Nakamura's leg. Nakamura was able to get the win with an early, and much softer, Boma Ye.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Naomichi Marufuji IWGP Championship 9/23/12
Marufuji was Misawa's pick to be the next star of NOAH in the early days. KENTA was Kobashi's pick. Very weird how Marufuji is nothing at all like Misawa. The bulk of this match was both guys working on the leg of their opponent, yet it didn't seem to hinder either guy from running and jumping around like normal. I don't think Marufuji was ever really suited for the heavyweight game, and as great as Tanahashi is, he can very easily be dragged into spotty psychology if his opponent is into that kind of thing. Tanahashi won with the High Fly Flow. Title retained.
Outside of Tanahashi/Marufuji, this was some dope stuff. It's a shame that NJPW is really the only big game left in Japan, as NOAH is now essentially their developmental league, AJPW might as well not exist, and only the indies like DDT and Dragon Gate are drawing money.