Noob Japan: Not On My Level Yet

Failure has a strange connotation to it. For some, it’s a weakness to avoid. A deep stain on your shirt that you have to get rid of or else humiliation will be your new companion. For others, failure is a motivator and a teacher. A simple ‘if it doesn’t work, fix it’.

Today’s match sees a man who has sailed the seas of victories and failures against someone who has yet to dip his toes into either pool. 

This recommendation comes from poet, wrestling fan and spiritual brother, Scotland Underwood.

What I Know
Under the Pro-Wrestling NOAH banner, this match took place in Nippon Budokan Hall on April 23, 2006. It is a place significant to the history of NOAH and its spiritual predecessor, All Japan Pro-Wrestling. In video-game terms, this was a boss rush for Naomichi Marufuji, who was ascending above the junior heavyweight division and onto bigger things. He’s defeated the likes of Jun Akiyama and Akira Taue, but he hasn’t faced someone like Kenta Kobashi before. Kobashi, however, has faced bigger and stronger foes, he’s fought someone like Marufuji that gave him enough trouble to sweat bullets.

Already I am familiar with Kenta Kobashi. I know him from that fabled match with Samoa Joe (that I still have yet to see), and I know him from his time as one of the Four Pillars of Heaven that told a decade long story in AJPW. I’ve watched matches of his here and there, notably a 1997 bout against Mitsuharu Misawa. And I know of his finisher he has crafted from joshi legend Kyoko Inoue, which feels like a precursor to KENTA and CM Punk’s G2S/GTS finisher. Lastly, I know a fact of the utmost importance: Kenta Kobashi’s career started with a losing streak that lasted for quite a while. Yet, he never gave up, and he let failure guide him to success.

Naomichi Marufuji is someone I am not as familiar with. A quick mini-search shows me he’s a longtime talent in Pro-Wrestling NOAH, with stints in NJPW and AJPW and the occasional appearance in the United States performing for either Ring of Honor or Impact Wrestling. It is clear from this match that he has grown significantly to become a legend of the industry.

Will this be a story of the youth surpassing the experienced? Or will a burning hammer nail the younger talent deep into his coffin? 

The Match
Though I am not overly familiar with either man, the in-ring introductions give a vibe that Naomichi Marufuji has reached the final boss.

Credit: Pro Wrestling NOAH

Immediately, Kobashi takes charge of the match. Easily. Overpowering Marufuji through strength, Kobashi lies in wait as the rookie races along the ring, unfazed, as though he were dealing with a mere bothersome gnat. He tests his might, opening up his chest to attack by Marufuji, as if to say “go on, I know you can’t do it.” And he eats every chop like a tasty snack.

Then it’s his turn to assault Marufuji’s chest. However, the younger man ducks each swing, his hair ruffled by the gust of force that passes over it; he does this over and over. Kobashi is wise to this and at the last moment he feigns one last chop. Pavlov has conditioned Marufuji to duck. Success. Kobashi slaps Marufuji’s chest, and this failure throws him to the emerald green below his feet. Kobashi is ten steps ahead.

Forcing Marufuji’s body to the mat while holding his wrist high to the heavens, Kobashi grinds and twists his opponent’s arm, ready to snap it off with unforgiving mercilessness. For Marufuji, time and speed are his biggest weapons and they are of the essence. Using acrobatic and fluid motion, he wriggles out of the hold, but survives for ill long as he’s tackled to the turnbuckle. Kobashi commands the ring.

Foolishly, it seems, Marufuji again engages in a test of strength with Kobashi. Again Kobashi dominates, until Marufuji traps him with his legs in quick surprise and flops his elder over. Any attempt out of it is met with the same result; Marufuji is now playing Kobashi’s game, until one last time he can’t; Kobashi chops him at the knee, crushing this rise to prominence before it can even happen. The child writhes in agony, and the old man forgives him not. 

Following an excursion to the steel barricades outside, Kobashi brings the tender junior back in the ring, where his neck is wrung. Demanding Marufuji to wrestle on his level, the juvenile of the two has no choice until an opening is procured and he targets Kobashi’s knee in swift retribution. 

This is Marufuji’s web now, and the veteran is helpless to it. Crawl as he might, struggle as he might, youth is starting to pass him by. Wrestling is evolving, and his old King’s Road Style isn’t adept to the modernized style of wrestling on the prowl. Kobashi, however, is no milquetoast.

A chunk of Kobashi’s career was built on his failures that he’s learned from, and through fighting spirit alone he overcame it. He’s not letting some young tiger take the alpha’s meal.

Having had enough of Marufuji’s offense, the legend dismantles Marufuji on the ropes and on the barricades. He sees red, and Marfuji’s gear has just enough crimson to bring about the thirst for blood. 

Be not mistaken, I am fully rooting for Marufuji here. He’s taken so much punishment, but Kobashi is a fighter forged in the flames of combat. Marufuji just has the misfortune of being in his way and being trained by his former rival. 

Kobashi resumes the offense, attempting pin after pin, being met with defense upon defense, all for naught. Then, a deadly moment is dealt by the legend, dropping Marufuji from the heavens, suspended but for a moment with a delayed yet highly damning and effective back suplex.

Credit: Pro Wrestling NOAH

It is hit with such force that you are sure it’s all over, it’s game over for Marufuji, but he doesn’t have the quit in him. 

Kobashi does not panic. He knows he’s close. He can practically smell it. He hopes to keep the scent aloft in the air as he brings the match to the ramp, where he chops with no hope for tomorrow and unleashes a nasty DDT. As Naomichi Marufuji lands with a thud on his head, I am filled with a migraine, pulsating angrily in my mind.

Back in the ring, one last test of endurance; Kobashi leaves no opening. Like a lumberjack to a tree, he chops. How Marufuji’s ribs are not crushed is beyond me. With one last divine chop from the heavens, he is stalled. Marufuji’s fighting spirit shows he is not just some rookie, that he can stand toe-to-toe, one look on Kobashi’s face stands the revelation that he knows this to be true.

Is it adrenaline? Is it fighting spirit? Is it the will to stay alive? Marufuji rains down an assault born of King’s Road and the modern style of wrestling. This reinvigoration feels as though Misawa’s pupil had just started the match, that the entire middle chunk had not occurred. 

A gnarly suplex from Kobashi and a squeal from a fan in the crowd later, the momentum is stopped. Back and forth, back and forth. Both wrestlers know the end is at hand, but they refuse to look up at the lights in bitter defeat. 

Tenacious in his young age, Marufuji withstands all of it, but another turning point arises from this encounter upon the top turnbuckle. With all the bravado and drama in the air, Marufuji holds his senior and strikes a pose to let the crowd anticipate the fall. You do not do that. Not when locked in with someone still breathing the air of consciousness. Kobashi chops at Marufuji’s back and drops him to the mat below. 

There’s still breath in Marufuji, something has to give, though. The match has to end. Kenta Kobashi, with the last vestiges of strength he has, hits a Sheerdrop Brainbuster and at last, the angels cry the song of victory.

Credit: Pro Wrestling NOAH

The senior has defeated the junior. But both walk away with gain. A win in Kobashi’s records and respect given to Marufuji. Game over for now, but it shall begin again, and it will be a dangerous game.

My Thoughts and Feelings
This match gave me a visual as to if Jeff Hardy had been facing off against Harley Race. It’s clear how much the Western style has been influenced by Naomichi Marufjuji, combined with what all he has learned in his home in the East. 

Kobashi is just that older legend whose name carries so much weight and importance. He felt unstoppable, but at several points you almost believe Marufuji is going to topple him and ascend to glory. 

That was not the case. Marufuji would go on to great success. This was but a failure to learn from.