Pro Wrestling NOAH are not slowing down with their eighth show in January 2022. They started this month in the Nippon Budokan on the 1st. Two shows at Korakuen Hall on the 4th & 5th. Three shows at Yokohama Radiant Hall on the 6th, 7th & 10th. And most recently a big show in Sendai on the 16th.
That’s not even including NOAH’s involvement in NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 3 which was a special NJPW vs NOAH show, the first show entirely made up NJPW vs NOAH matches entirely.
So NOAH are keeping that momentum going with Higher Ground 2022 in Osaka on Saturday the 22nd. Taking place in Osaka EDION Arena, this show is currently scheduled to feature two GHC Title matches.
In the main event Kenoh defends his GHC National Championship against Masakatsu Funaki. This is the second singles meeting between these two and it’s happening less than a year from the first. And it’s the second time the GHC National Title will be on the line between the two.
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships are also on the line. STINGER of Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA have been forced into vacating the belts due to Ogawa testing positive for Covid-19 so, obviously, unable to defend the belts on this show. There’s a bit of controversy here as Ogawa recently said he was feeling better and was getting ready to return. So that might be something to keep an eye on.
Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara, the next challengers, are automatically in the Title match. Now STINGER is made up of four members so Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu are opposing Kotoge & Ohara in this match.
The show starts at 5:30pm in Japan. That’s 8:30am in England, 3:30am East Coast USA and 12:30am West Coast USA. Airing live on Wrestle Universe there is no English commentary but it will be up for replay not long after the show has ended.
Let’s get right into it!
GHC National Championship
Kenoh (c) vs Masakatsu Funaki
After Kenoh made his third successful defense of his GHC National Title over Daisuke Harada on January 5th, Masakatsu Funaki came to the ring to make it known that he would be Kenoh’s next challenger. No attacking. No harsh words. Just pointed at the belt, tapped it while it was on Kenoh’s shoulder and then made the universal sign of one finger to signify one more match.
Because this is a rematch from February 12th and NOAH’s Return To Budokan show. It was the semi-main event, the GHC National Title was also on the line and it was Kenoh’s fifth defense in his first reign.
It seems like not much has changed in a year. Kenoh would beat Funaki, beat Kendo Kashin on March 7th to make his sixth defense but then lost the belt to Kazuyuki Fujita on March 21st. Kenoh’s first reign with the GHC National Title saw him face consecutive wrestlers with MMA experience – Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazunari Murakami, Funaki, Kashin and then Fujita.
Kenoh was really trying to face and beat as many UWF/UWF-I and Inoki-ism wrestlers as possible. Now in this second reign with the GHC National Title after he beat Masaaki Mochizuki on November 13th, this reign hasn’t had a theme so far per se.
The first Title defense was an hour draw against the GHC Heavyweight Champion. That runs parallel to his first reign where he and Go Shiozaki went to an hour in August 2020 and then it was Nakajima on November 28th.
The second defense was against Kaito Kiyomiya. November 2020 for the first reign, January 1st 2022 in the Nippon Budokan for his second reign. These two have been linked ever since Kiyomiya returned from international excursion in 2018 so it’s not a surprise to have them face each other when a Title is involved. Just coincidental that it happened in the same place in each of Kenoh’s reigns.
Kenoh beat Sakuraba in December 2020 during his first reign but beat Harada in an unannounced GHC National Title match on January 5th, just four day’s after the Kiyomiya match, to make his third defense. Kenoh and Harada had plenty of experience wrestling against each other back when they were both juniors in 2014-2016. That was their first singles match since Kenoh had moved up to a heavyweight in 2017. And it was Kenoh’s first singles victory over Harada.
Murakami came next in Kenoh’s first reign in January and then it was Funaki as his fifth opponent in February. So Funaki is jumping the que and isn’t waiting for the chance to be fifth in line again. He wants his Title shot and he wants it now.
That first match in February was not long at all. Only lasting ten minutes and ten seconds, neither man was interested in having an extended feeling out process and instead just went straight into exchanging strikes and Funaki dominating on the mat in an MMA inspired match. Rewatching it they pack a lot in that ten minutes plus with Funaki pressing an advantage more often than Kenoh. It took a high kick to the head to really rock Funaki and then very quickly followed up with a Dragon Suplex for the three for Kenoh.
Since then they’ve only faced off in two tag matches. August 6th Funaki, Keiji Muto & Naomichi Marufuji beat Kenoh, Nakajima & Manabu Soya. And November 10th Funaki & Masaaki Mochizuki beat Kenoh & Katsuhiko Nakajima. Each time the two have wrestled against each other with respect, no shouting or swearing from Kenoh.
They’ve not even had a preview match due to the short turn around in which this match was booked. They’ve only been on the one NOAH show together since the match was announced, Kenoh along with Soya unsuccessfully challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s against Muto & Marufuji.
He’s hoping to have better luck against another M’s Alliance member in Funaki. After all he did beat him in their one and only singles match last year. But Funaki has won every single tag team match they ever had against each other. And Funaki is still a former AJPW Triple Crown Champion. He demolished Jun Akiyama in under five minutes to win that belt in August 2012 and held it for 203 days, beating Suwama, Takao Omori, Manabu Soya and Akebono before losing the belt to Suwama.
Funaki has also had a run with the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship and three reigns as Real Japan Legend Champion. He reached the semifinals in the N-1 Victory 2021, being the only man to go undefeated in their Block, beating Akitoshi Saito, Masa Kitamiya and Kazuyuki Fujita to do so, but fell to Nakajima. And that was a fight and a half.
Honestly this match could go either way. Funaki seemed to have Kenoh’s number in their Budokan match and the ropes saved Kenoh’s Title reign after a Hybrid Blaster straight into a sleeper. But Kenoh is also just coming off that GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title loss so two Title losses in a row will sting the Kongo leader. And then there’s also Muto who has aspirations towards the GHC National Title….
M’s Alliance (Naomichi Marufuji & Masato Tanaka) vs Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba)
This is the third time this match has taken place in the past year. June 27th Naomichi Marufuji & Masato Tanaka beat Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba, Marufuji pinning Sugiura. This was just before Marufuji successfully defending his GHC Heavyweight Title against Sugiura on July 10th.
And on the 23rd of July Marufuji & Tanaka beat Sugiura & Sakuraba again, Tanaka pinning Sugiura. This was just before Marufuji successfully defending his GHC Heavyweight Title against Sakuraba on August 1st. And Sugiura successfully defending his GHC National Title against Tanaka and winning the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Title in the process on August 15th.
The other singles match in this combination happened on September 20th during the N-1 Victory where Tanaka and Sakuraba wrestled to a thirty minute draw. So in the past year these four have crossed paths often. And there’s years of history between Marufuji and Sugiura and Sugiura and Tanaka. Sakuraba being a late entrant into NOAH in comparison.
Marufuji lost his GHC Heavyweight Title on October 10th to Katsuhiko Nakajima. Sugiura lost his GHC National Title on October 28th to Masaaki Mochizuki. Sugiura did however retain his ZERO1 World Heavyweight Title over Tanaka on January 1st. So none of them hold GHC singles belts right now.
However on November 28th Marufuji & Keiji Muto won the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s from Kaito Kiyomiya & Masa Kitamiya. They’ve made two successful defenses over Tanaka & Mochizuki on January 1st and Kenoh & Manabu Soya on the 16th.
Now Sugiura & Sakuraba are former GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. They held the belts from August 2020 to March 2021. Perhaps they could be looking at making another run at the belts? They’ve not challenged for the belts at all since they lost them.
As this is the third match together, they should know each other inside out by now. Expect Sugiura & Sakuraba to pay particular attention to Marufuji if indeed a GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title challenge is forthcoming. February 23rd would be an educated guess.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara vs Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu
A rematch from Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara beating Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on September 12th last year. And a rematch from just twelve days ago, January 10th, where the two teams wrestled to a twenty minute draw.
It was originally supposed to be Kotoge & Ohara against the Champions of Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA, however Ogawa recently tested positive for Covid-19. Despite feeling like he’s over the worst of it, NOAH made the decision to vacate the tag belts and the 48th GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions to be determined in this match.
This has to sting for HAYATA, having lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship to Daisuke Harada on January 10th and now losing the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s without ever being able to fight for them. But I’ll pick up that thread in HAYATA’s match down below.
However this is a great opportunity for Yoshioka & Susumu. Thing’s haven’t been great for them since they lost the belts to Kotoge & Ohara. They actually went on a losing streak as a tag team and only recently picked up a victory over Kotaro Suzuki & YO-HEY on January 6th and then the draw against Kotoge & Ohara.
They have a lot more experience together as a team as they first teamed in October 2008 in Wrestle Gate. The two teamed – and faced each other – in Wrestle Gate, Dove Pro, J Stage and Wrestle-1 for over a decade. Even when they weren’t in the same promotion, they found a way to team together on special occasions.
Yoshioka joined the NOAH roster first in April 2020 after the closure of Wrestle-1. Susumu joined, in disguise, in October 2020 but was unmasked in December and joined STINGER as part of an elaborate betrayal of Kotaro Suzuki. Despite being in NOAH and different stables (Yoshioka was in FULL THROTTLE at that time), their paths never crossed until May 2021. And in that match Yoshioka betrayed FULL THROTTLE to join his former tag partner in STINGER.
They would capture the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s together in their first attempt from Ohara & Harada on August 1st. They made the one successful defense over Tadasuke & Aleja on August 15th but, surprisingly to me, lost the belts to Kotoge & Ohara on September 12th.
That same match in which Yoshioka betrayed FULL THROTTLE and effectively disbanded them saw Ohara join Momo No Seishun and friends as a result. And that partnership bore fruit (pardon the pun) almost immediately as Harada & Ohara won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s from Ogawa & HAYATA just 29 days later.
They held them for 62 days, making the one successful defense over Tadasuke & Haoh before losing them to Yoshioka & Susumu as already mentioned on August 1st. But Ohara found himself a new tag partner in Kotoge and they took the belts on September 12th. However they would lose the belts in their first defense, in just four minutes at that, to Eita & NOSAWA Rongai.
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s did become hot potatoes after May. The STINGER team of Ogawa & HAYATA gave the belts stability and it seemed, despite any potential growing tension between the two, that Ogawa & HAYATA may have settled into another lengthy Title reign but Covid-19 put an end to that.
Hopefully the winner’s of this match have a long reign and are able to still a turbulent NOAH junior division. With Haoh recently leaving Kongo to join Momo No Seishun and friends (more on that down below) 2022 could be yet another wild ride.
Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya & Aleja) vs Go Shiozaki, Masa Kitamiya & Daisuke Harada
The current GHC Heavyweight Champion faces his two most recent challengers in the one match. Katsuhiko Nakajima beat his generational rival, Go Shiozaki, on January 1st in the Nippon Budokan. And he beat his “little brother”, fellow Kensuke Office graduate, Masa Kitamiya on January 16th. And there’s no rest for the wicked Nakajima as he faces Kazuyuki Fujita on February 23rd.
So this match may not have any GHC Heavyweight Title implications for right now. But it may have implications for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and the new Champion, Daisuke Harada. I’ll admit that Harada beating HAYATA for the belt on January 10th did surprise me. But Harada is the Champion now and he needs a challenger.
There was drama on January 16th when, after some miscommunication between Haoh & Nioh in a tag match, Haoh stormed off by himself after the match. Later in the night, Haoh came out after Harada’s match against Seiki Yoshioka. Many thought he was going to challenge Harada, however he asked to join Momo No Seishun and friends.
Nioh was upset at Haoh leaving and it turned into an impromptu tag team match between Haoh & Harada against Nioh & Aleja. Harada pinned Aleja to win the match for his team. Haoh and Nioh will face each other in the opening match of today’s show. Leaving Aleja to try and get revenge over Harada and in the process earn himself a shot at the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.
But they’ve got four heavyweights in between them. Nakajima has his issues with both Shiozaki and Kitamiya. And Manabu Soya has his issue with Kitamiya. See, Haoh is not the first person to leave Kongo. Atsushi Kotoge, Yoshiki Inamura and Masa Kitamiya have all left Kongo. The difference is that all three of them were heavyweights (Kotoge was a heavyweight back then). Haoh is the first junior to leave Kongo so Nioh and Aleja didn’t take too kindly to that. And I’m sure Tadasuke would be upset about it too when he returns from quarantine.
Soya and Kitamiya were tag partners in Kongo before Kitamiya & Nakajima restarted The Aggression. They even challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s together in October 2020. After Kitamiya left Kongo in May last year, they faced each other a few times as Nakajima chose Soya to be in his partner in his feud against Kitamiya. But there was no real hatred between them. It was just Soya supporting his unit.
Both had horrible N-1 Victory’s. Kitamiya only won one out of his three matches in his Block. Soya didn’t win any. He lost all three matches. So Soya had a rocket lit under him after a poor showing and he beat Kitamiya several times at the end of 2021. It seemed like the big men had something brewing against each other but it was mainly about competition instead of hatred.
I hope these two pick up that feud where it was left off last year. They could have some great hoss battles. Soya is already a two time Wrestle-1 Champion and Big Japan Strong Heavyweight Champion whereas Kitamiya is yet to hold a singles Title. It genuinely is a matter of when not if Kitamiya holds a singles belt in NOAH. He’s challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Title six times now and the GHC National Title once. I could easily see him hold the National this year.
Shiozaki against Nakajima is always a great combination. I do feel that he is directionless right now after losing to Nakajima in the Nippon Budokan, lost the right to say “I Am NOAH” and then lost to Kaito Kiyomiya on January 4th. I don’t know where he fits into NOAH’s main event scene right now so he may have to take a backseat. Maybe wrestle guys like Kitamiya, Inamura, Soya and Daiki Inaba. Build up a healthy upper midcard scene. But who knows.
HAYATA vs YO-HEY
HAYATA has had a rough January but it started so well for him. He beat Yoshinari Ogawa in the Nippon Budokan to retain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the 1st. Him and Ogawa managed to beat YO-HEY & Kotaro Suzuki to retain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on January 4th, even when it seemed like there was tension between the two. And he got a win for NOAH at the NJPW vs NOAH show where he and Seiki Yoshioka beat Taiji Ishimori & Gedo.
But on the 10th he lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship to Daisuke Harada. He and Ogawa were supposed to be defending the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s against Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara at this show but Ogawa tested positive for Covid-19 so the belts were made vacant. He never even got the chance to select a replacement partner and instead his STINGER team mates got the nod.
And now he has to face former tag partner and best friend YO-HEY. Again. They already faced each other in a singles match last August where HAYATA successfully defended the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title over him. Plus the aforementioned GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title match on January 4th.
This year really has to be the year that YO-HEY breaks that glass ceiling in NOAH’s junior division. He is a two time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion but he’s failed to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on every occasion. Three of those Title shots were against HAYATA himself.
HAYATA has had YO-HEY’s number in their past three singles matches. Their record, going back to 2016, stands as a YO-HEY win, count out draw, YO-HEY win and then three consecutive HAYATA victories. So HAYATA stands as YO-HEY’s superior right now.
YO-HEY definitely has his supporters who want to see him do well and finally become a singles Champion in NOAH. He was able to return to Dragon Gate in late 2021 and exorcise those demons from his past. However HAYATA has been a big stumbling block for him over the past few years. So he needs this victory but HAYATA is going to be incredibly irate with what’s happened to him over the past several days.
Funky Express (King Tany & Muhammad Yone) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Kotaro Suzuki & NOSAWA Rongai)
It’s a mismatch on paper. King Tany & Muhammad Yone are heavyweights. Kotaro Suzuki & NOSAWA Rongai are junior heavyweights. Suzuki is an incredibly talented wrestler who took part in the N-1 Victory last year and even got a shock win over Masato Tanaka.
But he’s still a junior heavyweight. He’s giving up a size and weight advantage to both his opponents. He may be more experienced than Tany – Suzuki was the first NOAH dojo graduate in December 2001, Tany debuted in December 2005 – but he gives up experience to Yone who debuted in August 1995.
King Tany has had a lot of issues with Kendo Kashin who, while officially a heavyweight is just only above being a junior heavyweight. Kashin has found his way to get under Tany’s skin and has used that to his advantage and managed to beat him. If there’s anyone else on the NOAH roster who is similar to Kashin then it’s NOSAWA.
NOSAWA is a born rudo. Any short cut. Any cheap, heel move he can do to steal a win, he’ll do it. The NOAH born are always so by the book that they are easily taken advantage of by those not afraid to break the rules. SUWA did it. Suzuki-Gun did it and almost destroyed NOAH. And now Kashin and NOSAWA (& Eita) do it.
Los Perros del Mal de Japon are supposed to be the rudo stable in NOAH but Suzuki, Ikuto Hidaka and YO-HEY have not broken the rules in a manner in which NOSAWA does with ease and comfortability. So this is what NOSAWA needs to do if they stand a chance of winning this match.
Haoh vs Nioh
Haoh shocked everyone when he left Kongo to join Momo No Seishun and friends at the last show. There was no attacking of his team mates. There was no real betrayal. Haoh had lost a six man tag team match after Nioh inadvertently struck him which lead to the finish. So Haoh asked Harada to join their stable which was accepted.
Right now it’s not known if Haoh will continue forward with that name. Haoh is the name he took when he joined Kongo (and NOAH) in December 2019. Before that he either wrestled under a mask as Kenbai or his real name of Yuki Sato. His days as Haoh may soon be over.
Nioh also took that as his new name when he joined Kongo on that exact same show in December 2019. The former Hi69 took the red of Kongo and chose the name of Nioh. And Nioh and Haoh were pretty much tied together from that point. They were the original juniors of Kongo.
They even challenged for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s twice together. January 2020 and January 2021. I even mused in an earlier preview piece as to whether they would challenge again in January 2022 to keep that streak going. However Haoh leaving Kongo and making an enemy out of Nioh puts an end to that.
Because the two are now enemies. At least to Nioh. He seemed very upset that Haoh would leave him, leave Kongo like that. So this feels like it will be very heated, especially for the opening match on the card.
This is not their first singles match against each other. They had a warm up in December 2020 before that January 2021 GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s, it was on a Kongo produced show, and the two beat the absolute crap out of each other. There was no friendship or partnership that night, both desperately wanted the win. And it was Nioh who has won their only previous match before this show.
I’m excited to see what Haoh does outside of Kongo. I’m excited to see where this emerging feud between him and Nioh goes after this show. I’ve always felt that Haoh has been incredibly underrated since he joined the NOAH roster, he’s always delivered in big matches so I hope he has more big matches to come with his new alignment.
And that’s your lot.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak that affected January 16th so heavily, the card for this show was only 100% confirmed on Thursday. So I pretty much had to write this on a day’s notice so hopefully the quality hasn’t dipped too much.
As always thank you so much for reading this. Your time is appreciated and it does mean a lot for everyone who reads and enjoys these pieces.