Recently, Kenta Kobashi and Samoa Joe took part in a great match, an amazingly hard hitting match, but most importantly a special match. The contest wasn't just another technical masterpeice, though it was, it was a match that touched people in a way that few wrestling matches anywhere in the world at anytime in history ever will. We have yet to see the match, and I don't entirely understand the feeling, but I know that the roughly 1,000 fans in attendance on October 1, 2005 who have likely been to hundreds of independent shows in the Northeast will never forget the magic in the air the night Samoa Joe went toe-to-toe with Kenta Kobashi. The following are the thoughts of Dave Meltzer, editor of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, host of Wrestling Observer Live and the most respected wrestling journalist in North America:
"I just saw the Kenta Kobashi vs. Samoa Joe footage, with no commentary, from the 10/1 show from the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. The match is pretty much as it's billed. It's far from the best match I've ever seen in my life, but I'd give it *****, and that only makes four matches in the U.S. in the last nine years I've give that to, and what's scary, it's the third with Joe.
Of course the crowd made a difference. There were chants of "this is awesome" in the first 2:00 before much of anything had happened. But the match was just ridiculously physical. It's not like this would have been a **** match somewhere else but the crowd made it seem better than it was. The crowd always ends up making some of the difference in a great match. It was kind of amazing to see a match where one of the guys did nothing but chops and a few carefully placed suplexes, and almost nothing offensive on the mat, as his entire offense in a match this good, which speaks volumes about getting a few trademark spots over huge and building matches around them.
The Hart vs. Austin match in 1997 was at Wrestlemania, and is generally considered the best match ever at Mania. It was among the best matches in WWF history both because it was an excellent brawl, and got over the double turn storyline over strongly and had the memorable picture perfect finish of Hart with the sharpshooter, Austin covered with blood and refusing to tap, and eventually passing out while refusing. The truth was, it was clear a week before the match that Hart was going in as the heel and Austin as the face, but the match put the exclamation points on both turns and led to one of the most memorable feuds in wrestling history. In fact, as good as that match seemed to be at the time, historically, it was far more important because it was the springboard to the Austin face turn that was the major factor in WWF's popularity reaching the heights it did at its peak a few years later. A lot of people say it was the major factor in winning the wrestling war, but it was the incompetence of WCW that won the wrestling war.
Joe vs. Punk in 2004 was more the right match in the right place at the right time. The title was over. Punk was challenging in his home town. And they went an excellent 60:00, with good build and a final 15:00 that were blow away. It would have been a good match under most circumstances, but would it have come across as special somewhere else on another day? Not nearly.
In this one, the things to me were just how hard Kobashi worked and how much he was willing to take and do before less than 1,000 people; and how he worked a match putting Joe, who is nowhere near his level of star on an international basis, over as an equal and a threat. Still, the keys to the match were the brutal chops and slaps both guys were willing to take. While not every crowd would have treated Kobashi like he was the God of wrestling that they were seeing live for the first time, I can't imagine this match in any setting and not working to almost the same degree. Everything was solid and believable.
There was no slapstick or comedy to take the crowd out of the mood, nor stuff out of context that halted the momentum of the match. It was a unique mood, because it was clear it didn't matter who won or lost, although anyone who knows politics of wrestling and Kobashi's spot in Japan knew the only possible results were a draw or Kobashi going over. Really, the latter was the only finish I could even envision. They were there to see the first meeting, and who knows, maybe the only meeting, of their at the time dream match. And that did make it easier, and harder. Easier in that everything solid was going to get a great reaction. Harder in that anything less than a 100% effort from both men would mean the match wouldn't live up to expectations at the end. This match didn't come close when it came to wild moves and athleticism to Joe vs. Christopher Daniels vs. A.J. Styles (the other match I gave ***** to), or to a lesser extent, Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels or the first Daniels vs. Styles Iron Man match (two other strong U.S. match of the year contenders). But from a Japanese standpoint of who is the guy "who can take the most," professional wrestling without resorting to permanently disfiguring someone, it was above those matches, because the chops from both sides were something to behold, and Joe's chest as the match went on was visible proof of it.
The crowd exploded with Kobashi's first chop very similar to an 80s crowd in a "smart city" like Baltimore used to do with a Ric Flair match. Joe knocked Kobashi out of the ring and did an elbow suicida. In many ways, Joe almost played the role of Toshiaki Kawada, with things like the rapid kicks or knees to a bent over Kobashi, with Kobashi making the same style comeback. The crowd was very familiar with it, and that's really what they wanted–familiar spots they had seen on tape but never live.
Kobashi took the Ole, Ole kick while sitting in a chair outside the ring. When Joe tried a second, Kobashi got out of the chair and met him with a chop. He put Joe in the chair, then delivered a ridiculous chop with Joe flying out of the chair and over the guard rail. The place went nuts for a chop exchange right out of a Kobashi/Tenryu or Kobashi/Sasaki sequence. Joe blocked a chop, and took Kobashi down with a hip toss and followed with a senton. Joe took Kobashi in the corner and used a punch and chop sequence right out of a Tenryu playbook. Joe power bombed Kobashi into the turnbuckles and followed with face wash kicks. Joe did a power bomb and followed with an STF, and then hooked Kobashi's hand so he couldn't make the ropes, but Kobashi maneuvered his foot onto the ropes for a break. Kobashi then delivered his first half nelson suplex, and followed with 16 straight chops in the corner. Just when you thought that was over, Kobashi was just getting started, with 68 more chops and four more double hand chops. Kobashi survived a muscle buster and came back with another half nelson German suplex. Joe got his hand on the rope to break up the pin. Kobashi put on a sleeper, then delivered a sleeper suplex. Joe made the desperation recovery throwing hard slaps, but Kobashi came back with three spinning back chops and a running lariat for the pin.
It's funny, because after seeing it, I told Gabe Sapolsky that when he releases the match on DVD, it should be without commentary. He said he'd already decided to do the same thing. I don't think matches without commentary work in most instances on a commercial DVD, but on rare occasions, and this match would be one, commentary could really only take the presentation down.
When it was over, the most notable thing was not only that Kobashi worked Joe as an equal, even though Joe has never been what would be called a mainstream star in Japan, but also that Joe more than held up his end. There hasn't been a foreign wrestler in NOAH ever who Kobashi has ever been able to work like this with. You'd have to go back to the heyday of people like Stan Hansen, Steve Williams and Vader in All Japan. The thing that struck me is just how messed up Japan is these days when it comes to evaluation and scouting of talent. What Joe has going against him are two things. He's not tall (probably 6-0 legit, as Abyss, a legit 6-4, towered over him when they did the spots in the TNA Rumble last week). He's heavy and his body type is not a negative in Japan like it would be in WWE (in actuality, his body type in WWE would be a negative for the first five minutes he's in the company, and, after that, the only people who would care are management and wrestlers who are brainwashed into thinking you have to look a certain way to be a star). But the other negative is simply he was never a mainstream star with an already established reputation. If you look at the superstar foreigners in Japan that really broke out, like Brody, Hansen, Funks, Mascaras, Williams, Gordy, Hogan, Andre, Vader and Norton, all but the latter two were established superstars in the U.S. first, and the latter two were the big powerhouse types that Japan has favored foreigners to be, and the company had decided to go all the way with them before they even had their first match. Vader actually grew into the role later. Norton made himself a nice career because he was pushed and got over when the company was really hot and was established in fans' eyes as a monster. While he was a crummy worker, he was very believable at playing the big powerhouse role. Still, if a guy could go like this 15 years ago, he'd have gotten a Japan tour, and he may have to work his way up from the middle, but he'd do so and he'd have made a 15 year career as a regular there. The fact NOAH, New Japan and All Japan aren't using him as their top foreigner after a match like this, NOAH in particular since it's driven by matches exactly like this, really shows the problems with talent evaluation there.: