Originally published on PWPonderings.com
It’s always been a problem with myself that I find it pretty hard to write about something that I love. It isn’t difficult describing why I love it, but I have trouble in that I want my words to carry the same emotion I feel for the object in question. Hence my apprehension to doing this piece originally. However, I have decided to go through with this as I do think it is important to be able to at least try and give today’s subject the justice it deserves.
Today’s topic is Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama from April 25th, 2004, and it is my favorite match of all time.
To start, let us look at the backstory behind it as well as as the history of both competitors.
Kenta Kobashi: 6’1” 254 lbs
Kenta Kobashi is pretty much my favorite Japanese wrestler of all time and number two favorite wrestler overall (Number one being Tim Donst). Kobashi, at this point, was in the middle of his GHC Heavyweight Title reign for Pro Wrestling NOAH which would later go onto become one of wrestling’s most legendary title reigns in terms of quality. Kobashi was one of the many people to have left All Japan Pro Wrestling with Mitsuharu Misawa to form NOAH in 2000. At that point, Kobashi was one of AJPW’s biggest stars and probably the most over babyface in Japan. A 3 time AJPW Triple Crown Champion, 10 time tag champion, 2000 Carnival of Champions winner, and participated in 23 WON 5 star matches, Kobashi was already one of Puroresu’s biggest names by the year 2004. In 2000, longtime AJPW ally, Jun Akiyama, betrayed Kobashi after their main event tag match together on NOAH’s first show, explaining he was tired of living in Kobashi’s shadow and declared himself the new ace of NOAH. They would fight twice that year, with both competitors getting a win. However, Kobashi was in need of knee surgery and took nearly 18 months (with one match requiring for him to have 5 more months off) to return to active competition. He would capture the GHC Heavyweight title from Misawa in 2003, which was used as added momentum for one last final confrontation with Akiyama at NOAH’s biggest show in the Tokyo Dome at that time, Departure on July 10th, 2004. But to get to Akiyama, he had to slay a list of challengers that included Yuji Nagata, Masahiro Chono at the 2003 NJPW Tokyo Dome show, and Yoshinari Ogawa. This match would be the last title defence before July 10th. But before that, he had to go through…..
Yoshihiro Takayama: 6’5” 290lbs
While Kobashi had faced legendary challengers before this, none were as much as a legitimate threat as Takayama. Takayama was a UFWi fighter back in their heyday, but never made it up higher than midcarder due to the company focus on Nubihiko Takada. He would also compete in interpromotional feuds with NJPW and WAR until the collapse of UWFi in 1996. He would join AJPW in 1997 and enjoy success with a feud against Toshiaki Kawada and forming the team NO FEAR with Takao Omori and winning the AJPW World and All Asia tag championships twice. Takayama would join Kobashi and Misawa in the exodus to NOAH, participating in the first GHC Title tournament, losing in the finals to Misawa. In 2001, he would join UWFi’s successor, PRIDE, where, despite a losing record, was considered to be a valiant competitor. Then the Don Frye fight happened. Takayama would become one of Japan’s legitimate main eventers following this fight. In 2002 he would return to NOAH to win the GHC Heavyweight Title and in 2003 would journey to NJPW to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title.
Here we have two of Japan’s most over wrestlers coming together for a big title fight. Both had fought each other before in 2000, but things had changed since then. Kobashi, armed with chops, Lariat, Brainbuster, and the Burning Hammer, is going into the match looking for a needed win in order to build the last remaining bit of momentum to fight Akiyama, who periodically is on camera during this match, silently observing with a stone face. Kobashi’s strategy hadn’t changed from the normal “beat them down till they are unable to get up for a 3 count”, but due to surgery, his knees are a weak point and his signature Moonsault is out of the picture. Takayama, armed with punches, cross armbreaker, High Knee, and Everest German Suplex, is looking to go into this match to reclaim another GHC title win and cement his place as the top performer in Japan. His strategy going in will not be his more heelish style of working. Instead, he comes in to take a body part and to work on it with submissions while beating the guy senseless.
The match is a typical “David vs. Goliath” encounter, but one that was unusual for Kobashi at this point. He had made his mark as a dominant champion before this, but now it has become an uphill battle (funnily enough, against the man with the Everest German Suplex).
From the entrances alone, you can tell a lot about these men. Takayama comes out, almost smirking, while exuding confidence in his walk. Kobashi comes in with a stoic yet intense demeanor, coming in to defend his opportunity to taking on his true enemy. As the match starts, it seems like Takayama begins toying with Kobashi, running off the ropes with a spring in his step, swatting away the elbow-and-collar tie up, etc.
For the next 9 minutes, these men are basically on even ground. Both can trade each other with strikes for what seems like forever and both can the ground the other with holds. It is, however, when Kobashi DDT’s Takayama on the concrete outside, that the match goes into phase two. Takayama feels that enough is enough and starts meticulously using his size to his advantage and starts grounding Kobashi and while on the ground, not letting up the offense for too long. When Kobashi tries to stop Takayama with chops, Takayama instead does his best to immobilize the arm.
This is a big problem for several reasons because Kobashi’s moveset is practically based on the upper body. Remember, his knees have been pretty much been taken out of the equation as far as offense goes since the surgery. It meant a total reworking of Kobashi’s moveset. His primary finisher, the Lariat, is made useless, no matter how many times he uses it. His secondary finisher, the Brainbuster, could work, if he could get him up there. His final finisher, the Burning Lariat, would mean certain victory, but would be impossible with hurting arms.
To make matters worse, Takayama is absolutely destroying Kobashi. Using his tree trunk-esque legs to kick and knee Kobashi in the face, Takayama goes into full control. But no matter what he does, he can’t keep Kobashi down. Things change when Takayama uses the half-nelson suplex on Kobashi, which is one of the many moves Kobashi made his own. Kobashi is then able to make a big comeback, despite his injured arms. Peppering Takayama with chops and slamming him down with lariats does put Takayama on the ropes, but Kobashi is being hurt in return and no matter what he does, he can’t keep Takayama down. When it comes time for the Brainbuster, he lands it perfectly and goes for the pin. Takayama promptly kicks out at two. Kobashi is running out of options. He begins to set up Takayama for the Burning Hammer, but being woozy from Takayama’s offense and not having as much power in his arms, Takayama is able to maneuver out, despite eating a lariat at the end of it, again, only for a 2 counts kick out.
For Kobashi, there is only one way to make sure Takayama doesn’t get up. It could mean his knees giving out again and putting him on the shelf for months. It could mean gambling his chances with a match against Akiyama only 3 months later. It could mean the end of his career as a wrestler. But considering what is on the line if he doesn’t try it, it’s a gamble Kobashi is willing to take. With a bloody mouth and a fiery rage in his eyes, he motions to the crowd and slams Takayama down with a body slam and motions to the turnbuckle. The crowd is becoming ecstatic. Neither the crowd nor Takayama would think that what happened next would be possible, but it happened. Kobashi landed his first moonsault in years onto Takayama’s face for the victory. Kobashi puts away his biggest challenge to date and will face Akiyama at NOAH’s biggest show at that point.
Why I Love this Match
Watching this match, for me, is like watching a wonderfully crafted movie. I love watching Kobashi’s champion’s fire in this match, being able to get up from every pin attempt, thought with obvious wear. I love Takayama in this match, being an absolute giant of an opponent who uses strategy over his size and only uses his size to help the strategy. But more than anything, I love the story this match created and the one it helped add to. It sets Kobashi up as a dominant champion who overcame the adversity of his worn knees to claim victory. After seeing how well the ending paid off, you would think Misawa, who was booking, intentionally let Kobashi’s knees to be worn down just for this moment, but certainly doubtful. The post match stare down showed that this wouldn’t be the last time these two men fought, but Takayama backing off first showed he did earn a lot of respect for Kobashi after the match. But the biggest accomplishment this match had was it built up Kobashi as a giant killer for his upcoming Akiyama match, which would also be brilliant. But I feel that this match had a little more of a compelling story and a phenomenal finish which emotion and atmosphere couldn’t be repeated.
And it’s those reasons why this match to be my personal favorite of all time.
The match is available currently on Youtube in full and in highlight form, though I recommend you getting the DVD of it with other NOAH matches from the card from IVP Videos’ release of it here for only 3 dollars.
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