The Single File #25
Happy New Year.
Here's a question as we leave 2K1 behind: who was the breakout star of 2001? Gotta go with Rob Van Dam. RVD was a guy who for years was a big fish in the pond, and when he made the jump to the WWF became a bona-fide superstar. Since his arrival a few short months ago, he's already pinned most of the uppercard, was in the main event of a few PPV's, and is currently feuding with the Undisputed World Champion. That's a hell of a jump.
But overseas there was a wrestler who made a similar leap named Naomichi Marufuji. I had heard his name in passing before, but was recently told by a friend to check out this match he had on the first Zero One PPV. I was totally marking out by the end and knew I had watched a star being born.
Naohiro Hoshikawa vs. Naomichi Marufuji (Zero One PPV)
Where: Sumo Hall, Tokyo
Backstory: In case you're wondering what Zero One is, it's a promotion in Japan that Shinya Hashimoto started when he split with New Japan. It's kind of a meeting ground of a promotion; you never know who'll show up. Past participants include Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama, Shinjiro Ohtani, Masato Tanaka, Steve Corino, the Road Warriors, Atsushi Onita, and Single File friend Samoa Joe. As for this match, there's no angle driving it, and I don't think the two wrestlers have met before. Someone probably thought that it would make a bitchin' opener. Marufuji plies his trade in Pro Wrestling Noah, while Hoshikawa is a free agent that's wrestled in Michinoku Pro and Osaka Pro.
The Match: We see Marufuji psyching himself up before making the long walk from the back to the ring. He's wearing a MagnumTokyo-esque mask to the ring. The fans certainly seem to dig him. Naomichi poses on the top rope before backflipping to the middle of the ring. We cut back to see a stoic Hoshikawa, who makes his way to the ring to little fanfare.
Before the bell, both men get into a staredown, but share a tentative handshake. Bell rings, we're off to the races.
Both men circle each other; Hoshikawa tries a kick that grazes Marufuji's head. They tie up, and Hoshikawa makes a grab at Marufuji's legs, but Naomichi evades and grabs Hoshikawa in a front chancery. Hoshikawa counters into a wristlock, which Marufuji escapes by kipping up. Really lighting fast mat sequence I can't do credit to. The crowd applauds both men's efforts.
Another attempt at a tie-up, but Marufuji backs off. On the next attempt Marufuji manages a go-behind that Hoshikawa counters into a standing armbar. He flips Marufuchi over and applies a headscissors. Marufuji manages to turn Hoshikawa over on his back and then somersault out of the move. More applause.
Another tie-up is teased, but Hoshikawa opts to nail Marufuji in the leg with a stiff kick. Marufuji backs off to get his senses. When he gets to his feet, Hoshikawa tries another kick to the leg, but Marufuji manages to jump over it. Unfortunately, when he lands Hoshikawa kicks him REALLY HARD in the face, followed by another kick to the chest. He tries another kick, but Marufuji catches his foot. Hoshikawa tries an enziguiri but Marufuji ducks. Marufuji hits the ropes and ducks a Hoshikawa kick, then tries a clothesline that Hoshikawa ducks. Hoshikawa hits the ropes but gets nailed with a Japanese armdrag. Both men get up and Marufuji walks into an armdrag. Both men get up and do the "simultaneous dropkick" spot, then we get a standoff.
Both men circle each other again as the camera goes at weird angles for some reason. Another tie-up, and Hoshikawa backs his opponent into the ropes and lays in a heavy chop and taunts Marufuji. They tie-up again, and Marufuji returns the favor by backing Hoshikawa into the ropes and laying in a chop of his own. He then sends Hoshikawa into the ropes and nails a picture perfect dropkick.
Now it's Hoshikawa that takes a second to collect himself. They tie-up again, and Hoshikawa snapmares Marufuji over and punts him hard in the spine. Hoshikawa stomps Marufuji in the head and snapmares him over again and nails a HARD seated dropkick to Marufuji's face. We're talking whiplash here. Big "oohs" for that. Hoshikawa kicks and stomps Marufuji's chest for good measure.
Hoshikawa tries to pick up his opponent, but Hoshikawa surprises him with a standing spin kick. He sends Hoshikawa into the ropes and follows with a jumping elbow that gets massive air. He slams Hoshikawa and heads to the apron, hitting a slingshot swinging elbow. Marufuji covers and gets two. He immediately slaps on a chinlock, but Hoshikawa manages to get to the ropes. Marufuji hits a kick and then tries a snapmare, but Hoshikawa blocks it until Marufuji manages to hit the move. Marufuji hits the ropes and hits a huge jumping elbowdrop, covers for 2. Marufuji goes back to the chinlock, but Hoshikawa elbows out and again nails Marufuji with a stiff kick to the face. Hoshikawa nails a knee to the gut, and then tries a cross-corner whip that gets reversed. Hoshikawa manages to jump to the middle turnbuckle, but Marufuji immediately dropkicks him in the ass and sends him flying to the floor. Marufuji gets a running start, but when he sees that Hoshikawa has already moved out of the way, he puts on the brakes and opts to jump to the top rope and do a backflip to the middle of the ring.
Hoshikawa stalls for a bit on the floor before getting back on the apron, where he's nailed with a Marufuji forearm. Marufuji tries to suplex Hoshikawa back into the ring, but can't get him over. Hoshikawa tries to suplex Marufuji to the floor, and comes real close twice, but in the end opts to kick him in the face again. Marufuji shakes off the cobwebs and charges at Hoshikawa, who tries a sunset flip but overshoots his target, and ends up somersaulting back into the ring. He tries another kick, and again Marufuji catches the foot, but this time Hoshikawa is able to nail the enziguiri. Marufuji rolls to the floor, but Hoshikawa gets up a head of steam and nails a crazy tope suicida that sends Marufuji flying backfirst into the steel guardrail. Hoshikawa rolls back into the ring while Marufuji plays dead on the floor. He finally manages to get back into the ring, where he's met with a few kicks to the head and spine. Hoshikawa covers and gets two. Hoshikawa slams Marufuji, hits the ropes, and nails a nice jumping elbow of his own. Another cover, another 2 count. As soon as Marufuji kicks out, Hoshikawa transitions into an attempt at a cross armbreaker, but Marufuji keeps his hands locked to block the move and gets to the ropes. Hoshikawa follows up with three stiff kicks to Marufuji's arm. Hoshikawa slaps on a wristlock and segues to an armbar. Marufuji tries to kip out to no avail, but does manage to reach the ropes. Hoshikawa lays in some more stiff kicks to the arm, a hard punch in the corner, finishing with a stiff kick to the face that sends Marufuji slumping to the mat.
The ref starts to count, with Marufuji getting up at 8, only to be immediately speared by Hoshikawa into the corner. Hoshikawa lays in some shoulder rams, stomps, and kicks before the ref makes him back off. Hoshikawa does back off, but only to get a running start and nail Marufuji with a seated dropkick. Hoshikawa covers and gets a long 2. He picks up Marufuji and sends him to the ropes. Marufuji ducks a clothesline, and when Hoshikawa charges, Marufuji backdrops him over the top ropes to the floor. Marufuji then backs off, gets a running start, runs up the ropes, and hits a gorgeous somersault plancha to the floor. Marufuji dumps Hoshikawa in the ring and heads up top and hits (swear to God) the biggest dropkick off the top I've ever seen. Marufuji covers and gets 2.
Marufuji tries a cross corner whip, but Hoshikawa reverses it. Hoshikawa tries a shoulder ram in the corner, but Marufuji dodges by sitting on the top rope, then jumps off into a rollup that gets a loooong 2 count. Marufuji picks up Hoshikawa, who surprises him with two stiff kicks. He tries a third, but Marufuji catches his leg and hits a nice Capture Suplex. Marufuji goes to the apron and climbs to the top rope, then hits a Frog Splash that would make Eddy Guererro proud. It gets another long 2 count. Marufuji does the "thumb-across-the-throat" and goes for the Shiranui (1), but Hoshikawa manages to shove him into the corner. Hoshikawa goes for a German Suplex, but Marufuji elbows out and manages a go-behind, and hits a German Suplex of his own. It gets 2, but when Hoshikawa kicks out he manages to transition into a Teioh Lock (2). Hoshikawa locks in the hold, but again Marufuji is able to reach the ropes.
Both men are slow to rise. Marufuji lays in a kick and tries a cross corner-whip, but Hoshikawa puts on the brakes and nails his opponent with another hard kick. Hoshikawa picks up Marufuji and sends him into the ropes, following up with a jumping kick to the chest. He covers for another long 2. Hoshikawa tries a German Suplex, but Marufuji hits to elbows in an attempt to escape. He tries a third, but Hoshikawa ducks and Marufuji spins around and gets caught with a Northern Lights Suplex for another 2. Hoshikawa (visibly frustrated at this point) kicks Marufuji and tries another German Suplex, but Marufuji backflips to escape it. Marufuji hits the ropes but gets caught with an enziguiri. Both men sell exhaustion on the mat for a few seconds, then get to their feet, where Hoshikawa nails another enziguiri. He tries a double leg rolling pin and gets another 2 count. Hoshikawa heads up top, and hits a enziguiri off the top rope on Marufuji! Cover, but Marufuji kicks out a nanosecond before three.
Hoshikawa has a "what will it take?" expression on his face. He places Marufuji on the top rope and tries a superplex, but Marufuji actually jumps off and lands on his feet while Hoshikawa crashes to the mat. Hoshikawa gets up and tries a clothesline that Marufuji ducks and turns into an indescribable pinning combo for another 2 count. Both men get up and Marufuji nails a superkick on Hoshikawa. Marufuji grabs Hoshikawa, runs up the ropes and hits the Shiranui! Taka cover (3), 1-2-3! (16:00)
Marufuji is pumped after his win, while Hoshikawa is understandably upset. We see a replay of the finish. Marufuji and Hoshikawa shake hands and hug, with Hoshikawa raising Marufuji's hand and pointing at him as if to say "He's the one." Marufuji jumps to the floor and heads to the back to the delight of the crowd.
Match was loads of fun, with the story of Hoshikawa beating the hell out of Marufuji and the youngster coming back with amazing spots. Marufuji is still green, but can take a beating and excels at playing a sympathetic character. This was a legit MOTYC that got overlooked in year end votes, probably because it happened so early in the year.
Fallout: Marufuji went on to become Noah's third Junior Heavyweight Champion, beating Tatsuhito Takaiwa on 12/9/01 (4), and looks to be the wrestler that the division will be centered around. Juventud Guerrera is going to tour with Noah soon, and if he maintains the high level of work he's been showing in CMLL lately, then he and Marufuji could have an early candidate for MOTY. Not sure what's up with Hoshikawa; he definitely deserves a shot somewhere.
That's all for now. I'll try to be back soon with another SF. If not, I'll be back for the Royal Rumble preview.
(1) You grab your opponent like you were going to do a Dudley/Dog/Acid Drop, then run up the ropes and jump backwards, so your opponent lands like an inverted DDT and you land on your knees. It translates to "Sea Fire."
(2) Reverse seated full nelson
(3) A Taka pin being where you sit on your opponent's chest and hook a leg, like Taka always does after a Michinoku Driver.
(4) Avenging a loss to Takaiwa on the 4/18/01 Zero One show.