Giant Bernard v Yuji Nagata (New Japan, 4/30/06)
Man, this was outstanding; totally blew me away. I've liked a lot of the Giant Bernard stuff from Japan that I've seen, but this might be his career performance, and I never really thought he had a match this great in him. It starts out with Nagata trying to hit and move as Bernard swings for the fences. He goes in for the arm, but that leaves him too close and Bernard just mows him down. Bernard's pretty great working on top for the next 6 or 7 minutes, almost like a more mobile Mark Henry at points. A couple times Nagata starts firing back and Bernard cuts him off by uppercutting him right in the throat. When Nagata starts to make his comeback he really lays in the kicks and tosses Bernard with some big suplexes, and that's his opening to go back to the arm. Really dramatic moment when Nagata finally manages to lock in the armbar. Sometimes it can feel like guys are sitting in the hold for too long and it eventually reaches a point where, if they haven't tapped out already, they're not going to. Wasn't the case here, as you could buy the match being over even though it was only about 10 minutes in. He manages to make the ropes and force the break, but his sell job for the rest of the match was great. He tries to hit the powerbomb about 7 times, and it's not until right at the end that he's able to actually get Nagata up for it. Every other time he just about manages it, but the arm gives out and he has to drop him. When he finally hits it he doesn't even get all of it, which I thought was cool. Stretch run is awesome without crossing into overkill territory, plus you've got Nagata trying to go back to the arm in amongst the bomb throwing. Honestly, I thought this was about on par with Nagata's match with Takayama from '02 as far as "Yuji Nagata in Uphill Struggle" matches go. Bernard's on his way back to WWE soon as well. I was excited at the prospect of him matching up with a bunch of guys in the company already, but this has me REALLY stoked. I'm not sure who the WWE equiv of Nagata would be. Punk? Babyface Danielson? No way they should be turning Danielson face again any time soon, but Bernard/Punk could be fucking great.
Mitsuharu Misawa & Kotaro Suzuki v Shinjiro Ohtani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (NOAH, 3/5/05)
This was the Shinjiro Ohtani show. I mean, everybody was good in it, but Ohtani is such a first class dickhead from word one that he took something that would otherwise be really good and propelled it to greatness. Even when he's standing in the ring before team NOAH have come out he's grabbing the ref' by the scruff of the neck and shoving him around. When he and Misawa get in together they have this awesome little exchange of douchebaggery. Ohtani backs Misawa into the ropes, and as he breaks he shoves Misawa in the chest while shouting "BREAK." When Misawa backs Ohtani into the opposite ropes, he fakes to throw an elbow, then just pats him on the head before breaking clean. Ohtani HATES it and spittle flies from his mouth. The heat section on Kotaro was really good here. Kotaro is a pretty bland junior that I don't really have much desire to watch, but this might be the best he's ever looked. He really leans in to getting elbowed in the face (although it's not like Takaiwa needs an invitation to put his weight behind throwing elbows) and plays a fine spunky underdog. Of course, a lot of that is probably down to Ohtani. He mocks him, beats on him in nasty ways (at one point he sits in a camel clutch position, fish hooks both cheeks and starts yanking back) and cuts him off by kicking him right in the dick. Old man Misawa was pretty awesome as well. Throws elbows like he's Misawa, and the early flurry that rocks Ohtani looked super nasty (Ohtani's awesome sell of it didn't hurt, though). Takaiwa probably popped up a bit too quickly after the last big Kotaro nearfall, and the double powerbomb into death valley driver spot is a combo I hate because it's so glaringly cooperative, but those are minor quibbles. I really wish Ohtani got to stretch out like this way more over the course of the last decade. A guy that's such a natural asshole should be allowed to act like one.