152. Kenta Kobashi vs Kensuke Sasaki (Pro Wrestling NOAH Destiny 2005)

Just imagine the dream matches we’d have if you were to transpose peak Kenta Kobashi into the modern era: against Tomohiro Ishii, against AJ Styles, against Kenny Omega, against Gunther. When you think of dream match, you may think of Hogan/Rock, Cena/Styles, Angle/Joe. When it comes to imaginary dream matches, the list is endless. After Kobashi’s epic GHC Heavyweight title reign ended in 2005, he wanted a steady schedule and ‘event’ matches. That included a few dream matches. While some dream matches are worthy of the name, others stink the arena up (I’m thinking of Antonio Inoki vs Sting, for example). But would this Kobashi dream match end up being a sweet dream…or a beautiful nightmare?

The final match on the ‘Burning: The Greatness of Kenta Kobashi ‘ list (click here for the list) is the dream match between Kobashi and Kensuke Sasaki. These two wrestlers followed similar paths, in AJPW and NJPW respectively. They had similar physiques, similar styles of wrestling, and exuded that ‘fighting spirit’, the essence of Japanese wrestling. Ideal opponents, some might say. With no title around his belt or on his mind, Kobashi wanted ‘event’ matches, and one of the last ‘event’ matches for him was against Sasaki. Fortunately, by 2005, Sasaki was freelancing, and the dream match became a reality at NOAH Destiny 2005.

As with any dream match worthy of the name, the crowd lose their mind before the two wrestlers even lock up. You can feel the heat burning through the screen. Some wrestlers soak in the heat, maybe play up to the crowd (I’m thinking of Hogan/Rock, where they looked at each other and the crowd for about five minutes). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Every wrestler reacts differently. Sasaki reacts by immediately dropping Kobashi on his head with a back suplex! Kobashi responds in kind seconds later. Already, within the first thirty seconds, you know what kind of match this is going to be: fast, furious, and brutal.

These two will not back down; these two will fight until their last breath. Nowhere is this ‘fighting spirit’ more apparent than the famous ‘chop battle’ that lasts for about five minutes. It’s perhaps what this match is renowned for, above all else. Type ‘Kobashi Sasaki’ into Youtube and you’ll likely get the chop battle as a top result rather than the match itself. These two exchange hefty chops without surcease, and instead of easing up on the chops as the battle goes on, the intensity increases. You see the welts and bruises forming in real time. They must hit a 100 chops each (round about). I clutched my chest merely watching it…but there’s so much more than mere chops.

I’ve been thinking about this clash in relation to the clash between Kobashi and Takayama (click here for my review). In that clash, it’s David vs Goliath, where Kobashi plays David. He’s hopelessly outmatched on almost every level…apart from his ‘burning spirit,’ his will to win. Against Sasaki, Kobashi has met his match, a man with an equal will to win. Sasaki is a parallel version of Kobashi, a version out to destroy his doppelganger. These two equals have no option but to destroy each other; the ring, the universe is not big enough for the both of them. Here, there’s a point to no-selling: to prove they are the toughest wrestler on the planet, each wrestler has to endure being dropped on their heads and having their chest chopped to the bone without showing pain. They have to absorb offence and smile, and just glare at their opponent. Any sign of weakness could led to losing the match, and losing respect.

Talking about NOAH, I watched a more modern NOAH match, that from New Year 2022 pitting Kenoh vs Kaito Kiyomiya (I will write a review if I have time!). Whilst entertaining enough, one thing that really stood out was the lack of selling. To provide exciting exchanges, the two left little room for adequate selling. Even when they did sell, something didn’t seem quite right about it. To keep up with modern standards, wrestlers tend to rush through moves without adequate selling. In Kobashi vs Sasaki, the no-selling is a important part of the story being told. And there’s a breather or a rest period where the two wrestlers do sell, where they have no choice but to take a breather and rest their weary bodies. These moments give the audience a chance to soak in what they’ve just witnessed.

Just like the Takayama bout, I have to rate this 5*. It has everything you could wish for in a wrestling bout: a superhot crowd, a once-in-a-lifetime meeting, escalating action where every move makes sense, and an ending that keeps you guessing right until the final pinfall. Some dream matches fail to reach expectations; this one punched through them. I had to stop myself from replaying the match as soon as the final bell rang (but allowed myself to watch the chop battle on Youtube!). Essential viewing.

Hammy’s Rating: ***** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘Reviews of Wrestling Matches‘)

My Other Reviews of ‘Burning: The Greatness of Kenta Kobashi’ (in date order)

And here are some other reviews of Kobashi’s matches:


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