Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Naomichi Marufuji
GHC Heavyweight Championship
Taped 12/23/2015, aired 12/27/2015
Ota Ward Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
Marufuji’s got a dumb Kamen Rider-esque entrance outfit here with glowing lights and shit, but half of it doesn’t light up, so it looks even dumber than it already is. Typical Marufuji. He’s got a number of NOAH true believers in his corner (Yone, Kotoge, and Nakajima at first, but more come out as the match goes on), while Suzuki, looking as evil as ever, is out here alone. Old man Kobashi is out here to make the title match official, and his body language as he approaches Suzuki for a handshake and is denied one is just fantastic. We start off with a bit of not-so-friendly chaining, and Suzuki cranks away at Marufuji’s neck with a headlock and cravate before they separate. Suzuki looks for a Fujiwara armbar when they lock up again, and Marufuji has to scramble to the ropes, nursing his arm afterward. Marufuji gets the best of a chop exchange and avoids the champ’s over the ropes armbar, sending him to ringside with a dropkick and following it up with a pretty weak dive. Back inside, Marufuji hits some more of his limp-wristed offense before Suzuki is briefly able to slap on an armbar and then octopus stretch on the ropes to regain the advantage. He beats down Marufuji at ringside and takes shot at the native NOAH contingent around him before wrapping Marufuji’s arm around the guardrail. When Suzuki wraps a cable wire around Marufuji’s neck, the ref interjects himself and Suzuki nearly belts him before thinking better of it, choosing instead to yell at the NOAH lads who are now standing up to him. Back in the ring, Suzuki beats down Marufuji in about the manner you’d expect, targeting the arm as well as wrecking general destruction on the younger man’s body, and he continues to draw the ire of the referee. Marufuji mounts a comeback with some flips and kicks, but Suzuki quickly cuts him down with a trio of boots and a PK. Both men begin trading chops with their chests becoming notably redder and redder by the minute before Suzuki slaps on a cross armbreaker right in the middle. Marufuji really has to struggle to get to the ropes, and the referee likewise has to struggle to get Suzuki to break the hold. Back at ringside, Suzuki again wraps the challenger’s arm around the guardrail before getting in a shouting match with the ref, and it gives time to Marufuji to recover and hit a silly clothesline off the apron. Suzuki tries to whip the younger man into the guardrail and roll back in the ring, but Marufuji stops himself, changes direction, and hits a springboard dropkick for two back in the ring. Marufuji follows it up with a goofy superkick to the temple and low-impact clothesline, mitigated by the fact that his arm is hurt, but he powers through it and goes for the shiranui. Suzuki shoves him off and boots him in the face, but Marufuji fires back with a chop before Suzuki can get any momentum going. They trade chops back and forth, slow and fierce, and while it’s nowhere near as violent as the strike exchanges in Suzuki vs Sugiura, this probably makes me wince more. A series of reversals and spots back and forth end with Suzuki hitting a hard slap and Marufuji hitting a weak superkick for a double down. The champ gets to his feet first and rushes at Marufuji, who meets him with a boot and a superkick before going to bounce off the ropes and being cut off with a mean, mean single leg dropkick from Suzuki. Vicious stuff, and Marufuji takes his sweet time to get back up from it, looking near death. He hits a rolling solebutt and looks to capitalize, bouncing off the ropes, but Suzuki follows him in and grabs a sleeper hold on before going for the Saka Otoshi. Marufuji lands on his feet and tries to shoot Suzuki’s leg, but Suzuki buries a knee in the challenger’s face and roars in approval to a crowd who doesn’t like it one bit. Suzuki slaps on another sleeper, draining the life from Marufuji’s body, before flipping him over with the Saka Otoshi and laying all his body weight on the younger man and cranking back on the sleeper. With a big, breathless effort, and with the NOAH contingent cheering him on, Marufuji is able to grab a hold of the bottom rope and force a break. While the camera isn’t focused on him, Suzuki’s facials and body language here as the crowd chants for Marufuji are great. Looking to just ruin the poor kid, Suzuki hits what has to be about thirty slaps to the face and neck before going back to the sleeper right in the middle, and the crowd loses it when he goes for the Gotch-style piledriver. Marufuji fights it with all his might, though, and backdrops the champ over to the first real big pop of the match. He puts a pair of rough bicycle knees in Suzuki’s jaw before collapsing to the mat for a double down, and the crowd chants his name as old man Kobashi looks on. As he attempts to bring Suzuki to his feet, KES rush the ring and take out the NOAH lads, but Marufuji fights them off and Yone and Nakajima drag the to the back. Marufuji hits another bicycle knee as they go, topping it off with a shiranui, but he can only get a nearfall. He drags Suzuki up and looks for either the Pole Shift or Twist Donut, but in a flash, Suzuki wriggles free and grabs another sleeper, leering at the crowd. The ref raises Marufuji’s hand to see if he’s out but Suzuki cuts him off, going for the Gotch-style piledriver, and Marufuji reverses it into a cradle fire thunder driver instead. Four bicycle knees put Suzuki on spaghetti legs and a fifth puts him down, glassy-eyed, and Marufuji hits the Emerald Flowsion to then put him away. Not bad. Not really good, either, at least not for the first twenty minutes or more, and while it certainly picks up by the end, it’s not quite enough to make up for a boring-ass first half peppered by wacky Marufuji offense that I can never enjoy. I do enjoy Suzuki’s selling as he stumbles around ringside afterward, though, and the appearance of not only old man Kobashi, but old man Taue as well. While I can’t say I hated watching it or anything, I’m not sure if this was worth a full 34 minutes of my time, as it’s all stuff I’ve seen before from two dudes who have done better.