Rediscovering Jake Lee as NOAH-Superstar/NOAH Main-Event Renaissance

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Jake Lee was an All Japan guy who I really like'd seeing a few times back around 2020. He was one of Kento Miyahara's best opponents IIRC (I'm just a youtuber, not a real tape collector, so my watching is spotty at best). He was like a heavyweight version of KENTA when KENTA was on his rise to the top of worldwide fame. He had some heavy kickboxing leanings, but much heavier than KENTA could ever had hope'd for; so those roundhouse kicks meant something new in heavyweight strategy and against someone the size of Miyahara, it was entertaining to see. Back then, there wasn't a lot of All Japan footage going around aside from Miyahara main events, but I just discover'd Jake Lee transition'd to NOAH, which has a super-solid main event picture after years of stagnation, and Jake Lee basically ran threw the gamut of main eventers over the GHC Heavyweight title last year until recently dropping the title to KENOH. For heavy Dean Rasmussen (RIP) advocates, one of the last things I remember I love'd hearing from Dean was when he said Jake Lee is "the male version of Barry Windham" ... I can understand what he meant; Lee and Windham are similarly tall, but not giants; minimalist but not skimpy on the action. I'm guessing Jake Lee change'd some things b/w the last time I saw him and when he debut'd in Pro-Wrestling NOAH, but we'll find out within my first re-viewing of Jake Lee in 2023.

I had the choice of watching the matches in order from Lee's title win versus young KITYA (YES!), to his defenses against NAKAJIMA (WAM!), MARUFUJI (BAM!), SUGIURA (DAM!), GO (HOLY!), and KENOH (SHIHH!), but I'll be honest, I have something like attention-deficit disorder and there's no guarantee I'll get away with watching all these matches for-free and/or alone. So I'm going with SUGIURA to start.
Why>? Because I've seen the least of Sugiura and he's the veteran of the bunch, isn't he? I've never gotten into his work, but then again, I'm glad he's still around and I don't figure he's getting title shots in NOAH because he sucks these days. That, and how am I suppose'd to choose between young KITYA or young KENOH? Or b/w GO and NAKAJIMA???!!!! Nakajima is one of the funner guys in all of wrestling in the last 10 years and I doubt he turn'd it down a notch in the last two years since I last saw him; plus, SHIOZAKI is almost a guilty pleasure he's so pure-NOAH and so pure-wrestling you're almost bound to learn something from him when he's in an important (in NOAH: long) match... Finally, when it comes to someone facing MARUFUJI I'm almost scare'd for him, but knowing the outcome of all these matches, I'm just saving the best for last when it comes to who I want to see the most. Marufuji runs NOAH last I heard, so I know he's going to make sure the match is pure-NOAH through-and-through, and versus Jake Lee, it's bound to be full of surprises.
let's go to the action~!

For starters, Jake Lee is no longer dress'd like KENTA, he's looking darker, more western like, well, Barry Windham with a little nWo:2000 thrown in. And Sugiura has a mohawk style look and he's looking a tad thinner at 53. I'm anticipating nothing good for Sugiura in this match, but only worse for 34 year old Jake Lee. Sugiura's never been the nicest little big man (think Roderick Strong, only completely unattractive unless you're into Macho Man-looking sex-symbols), but to be putting over a new guy from All Japan after passing middle-age, I can just see how Sugiura is going to work here; the match length is 30 minutes, and that's long enough to make me wince after the entrances.

There's a feeling-out process where Jake Lee establishes dominance due to his size, but when Takashi refuses a handshake, the NOAH crowd cheers. They're all for the veteran's pride; this is where I see that Jake Lee is pretty much the same babyface as before, which is cool with me (he still looks bad as hell with his dark features - reminds me of The Undertaker with a resigned look in his eyes). Takashi feels comfortable getting the headlock in, but Jake is too big in the upper and lower body to be tied up, so rope-breaks are helping to plod things along, but Takashi is obviously not amuse'd and Jake Lee takes precautions to make sure he doesn't get the backhand. Within moments, Takashi turns up the heat and hits a spear early, along with forearms to the ribs/sternum that prove the feeling-out process was but a courtesy. Jake Lee sells the onslaught with exuberance: he seem'd to know what a match with Takashi Sugiura would include and unable to avoid somme stiff cruelty, he sells it like a pro until he can lock in a fujiwara arm-bar. By attacking the smaller man's arm, he's securing his chances of avoiding the same should he find himself daze'd on the mat [just to note: this is 12 minutes into the video, and I'm guessing before long we will see some of the focus of the match shift into head-drops and brawling, (but Jake Lee is the new Global king in a new age, so I'm ready and willing to be surprise'd)] ...

The match does indeed get into meanness when Jake Lee tries belittling the old man on the outside and gets cut off at the foot. He gets deadweight'd down to the expose'd floor with a swinging neckbreaker variation off the apron. This is interesting (who can I compare young Jake Lee's GHC Championship run to so far? He's a stranger in a strange land, for lack of a better phrase, but it's obviously revamping Takashi Sugiura as a deal-breaker at the top of the cards). Next the superplex: it looks like Jake Lee is too big to take another big move so early into the action, but strong Sugiura muscles him up and superbrainbusts'it for the trouble (the crowd is dead silent for the nearfall, but it is obvious Jake Lee would like to have just laid down at this point); the rear chinlock that follows is one of the nastier ones we'll ever see, but Jake Lee surprisingly harkens further west with a hotshot to turn the tides (an especially desperate hotshot that seems to have land'd Takashi Sugiura right on his throat, this is 17 minutes in and the pace is still plodding but technical; each man is proving himself to deserve this main-event). Next, we see Jake Lee use an almost Finlay-esque scoop-slam into a key-lock, so I'm definitely looking at a guy who theoretically studied more Four Horsemen than KENTAfuji, and it's making for a thoroughly satisfying main-event; the story seems to be that he remembers his work on Sugiura's left arm, while Sugiura abandon'd the ribs and went head-droppy, but the action hasn't totally pick'd up so anything's bound to happen at 18:35 minutes in.

Immediately, things pick up into a combination of strikes, rope-running, and chain-wrestling: Sugiura is still hoping for an ankle-lock, but Jake Lee is still much too big for folding. So, Jake Lee is actually putting Sugiura through much more pain than I predict'd, but I don't expect that he's going to let his arm be torn from socket (he, Takashi, is garnering more sympathy from me than I've ever muster'd for him before - Jake Lee, without excessive cruelty is bringing out the human side of Sugiura and perhaps, unwittingly exposing the veteran in his peak performance). Before the limbwork becomes excessive, Sugiura is able to get a second wind and in the process, cut down Jake Lee's wind with returning shots to the midsection. Jake Lee suprises me with a unique front-kick off the ropes, but a wind'd Sugiura is still able to lock his ankle-lock and bring the match to his speed (the NOAH schedule is heavy and it's obvious that one ankle-lock is actually many ankle-locks, and Jake Lee is going through a lot to be pick'd low at 22 minutes into a match with the hard-hitting, serious Sugiura). It is interesting to see how dominant Sugiura can still be with just one arm, but more intriguing still is how Jake Lee is willing to go further Beowulf on Sugiura's arm just to regain his position: it is like watching a dominant Undertaker performance where the zombie is just too dead to kill and we finally see him miss a helluva-kick but rebound with a KENTA-style roundhouse to the head that lays Sugiura out cold and it's obvious where this match is heading at 26 minutes in.
SO, I was kind of wrong about the kind of performance we see from Sugiura in this: it's much more valiant and not so mean, but he does drop Jake Lee with a left-hook just for good measure (his second Olympic-slam gets a nice nearfall, but it's clear he should have been meaner and crueler from the outset, as Jake Lee is too far from being a push-over; his selling is the best thing in this match, along with Sugiura's never-ending, never-failing-to-be-stiff forearms).
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