Pro Wrestling NOAH’s N1 Victory ran from September 18th until October 11. There were 7 shows, 6 of which consisted of the round-robin portion of the tournament and the 7th had the two-block finalists face each other to be crowned the winner.
A Block and B Block both had six wrestlers each. I (Aiden) will be covering A Block while Greegor covers B Block.
This is the second edition of the N-1 Victory, replacing the Global League which itself only began back in 2010.
NOAH was born from All Japan Pro Wrestling who had the Champions Carnival. But NOAH did not create their own heavyweight round robin tournament until 10 years after NOAH was formed.
Previous winners of the Global League are Yoshihiro Takayama, Takeshi Morishima, KENTA, Yuji Nagata, Takashi Sugiura, Naomichi Marufuji, Minoru Suzuki, Kenoh, Kaito Kiyomiya and the first winner of the N-1 Victory was Kenoh.
The winners always challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. And 5 out of 9 winners would go on to claim that belt in their challenge. So just over half have a total victory.
So, let’s get right into A Block.
N1 Victory A Block:
The current GHC Heavyweight Champion in his fourth reign. A NOAH born wrestler who debuted in July 2004. A protoge of Kenta Kobashi, when NOAH released Kobashi at the end of 2012, Shiozaki and several others left in protest. He joined All Japan Pro Wrestling where he is a former Triple Crown Champion. But he returned back to the ark in 2016 and NOAH has been his home again ever since.
Shiozaki began 2020 at NOAH’s first show of the year, beating Kaito Kiyomiya for the GHC Heavyweight Championship and begin his current reign. The day after however he and AXIZ partner, Katsuhiko Nakajima lost the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles to Naomichi Marufuji & Masaaki Mochizuki.
NOAH was able to put on several empty arena shows during the Covid-19 pandemic, where Shiozaki was able to defend the belt against former three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuyuki Fujita (a match more widely known for the near 30-minute stare down between the two before finally locking up) and Akitoshi Saito.
When fans were able to return, he defeated former three-time GHC Heavyweight Champion Naomichi Marufuji and then had the GHC’s first-ever 60-minute draw in a Title vs Title match against newly crowned GHC National Champion, Kenoh, only 5 days after the Marufuji match.
Right before the N-1 Victory began, he and Nakajima faced Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba for the now vacant GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles. But not only did the two lose the match, but Nakajima also turned on Shiozaki, attacking him after the match and ending their two-year partnership. More shockingly, Nakajima joined Kongoh, Kenoh’s faction.
So Shiozaki enters the N-1 as a strong champion but a wounded man. He faced Sakuraba as part of his block, the man who made him submit twice in tag matches over the month of August. Kongoh members Manabu Soya and Masa Kitamiya were also part of his campaign, as well as the man who ended AXIS’s last tag team reign, Masaaki Mochizuki. And the man who he beat in January to win the GHC, Kaito Kiyomiya.
Go Shiozaki – 3 wins – 2 losses
One half of the current GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and a legend in MMA, he began wrestling back in 1993 for UWF-I and took part in the highly influential NJPW vs UWF-I feud back in 1996. He did not find immediate success in professional wrestling but MMA was a different story. He won at UFC Japan and had a run of victories in PRIDE.
Sakuraba may be familiar to those who have watched NJPW during the past decade as he made a full-time return to wrestling after a 14-year absence (he did have one match in 2000 and one match in 2011) in late 2012 with Laughter7 partner, Katsuyori Shibata.
Joining NOAH as part the Sugiura Army in late 2019, he won his first-ever title in professional wrestling when he and Sugiura defeated AXIZ for the vacated GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles. In fact, it was Sakuraba who submitted the GHC Heavyweight Champion for the second time in under two weeks in order to accomplish this.
The 51-year-old has had only nine singles matches in the past 8 years before this tournament began. And he lost 4 of those matches, falling to Shinsuke Nakamura, Yuji Nagata, Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata. And every single match in his block was a first time ever singles encounter.
Kazushi Sakuraba – 2 wins – 3 losses
He only made his debut in NOAH last year, but Mochizuki is a 26-year veteran who spent the better part of the beginning of his career with Pro Wrestling WAR. He would become more well known for his work in Toryumon Japan which transformed into Dragon Gate in 2004.
Mochizuki defeated CIMA to become the second ever Open The Dream Gate Champion and would hold that belt two more times, each time over 5 years apart from when he last held it.
Mochizuki was a part of last year’s N1 Victory, where he placed third in his block with victories over Kenoh and El Hijo Del DR Wagner Jnr but losses to Nakajima and Shuhei Taniguchi.
His 2020 started well, with him and Marufuji winning the GHC Heavyweight Tag belts from AXIZ but they failed to win the Global Tag League and then lost the belts in their first defense to the winners, El Hijo Del Dr Wagner Jnr & Rene Dupree.
Every single match in his block was a first-time singles encounter, with big matches against the former and current GHC Heavyweight Champion.
Masaaki Mochizuki – 2 wins – 1 draw – 2 losses
Beginning his wrestling career in August 2011 as part of Kensuke Office, under the tutelage of Kensuke Sasaki, Kitamiya made his NOAH debut in February 2012 as part of the relationship between Diamond Ring (the rebranded Kensuke Office) and NOAH.
He didn’t actually join the NOAH roster full time until September 2013 and main evented the final Diamond Ring show against Kensuke’s first protoge, Nakajima. Kitamiya made his Global League debut in 2015 but lost every match bar one DQ victory.
2016 was a different story however as he made it to the finals where he was beaten by Minoru Suzuki. From there he became a three time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, once with Kenoh and twice with Nakajima. But every time he tried for a singles title, he’s come up short.
Kitamiya has faced Shiozaki and Soya in singles matches before but has never beaten them. His win/loss record against Kiyomiya stands in his favour, but he lost their last singles match for Kiyomiya’s GHC Heavyweight Championship.
Masa Kitamiya- 2 wins – 3 losses
Soya joined NOAH in April 2020 as the latest addition to Kongoh, but his wrestling career began back in April 2007. He joined All Japan Pro Wrestling in November of that year and gained popularity in his tag team with another young star in Seiya Sanada (yes, that SANADA).
He would have tag team success with Sanada as All Asia Tag Team Champions and Takao Omori as World Tag Team Champions but singles success never happened for him in AJPW. But outside of AJPW, he became the second-ever Big Japan Strong World Heavyweight Champion.
Soya was on the shelf injured when Mutoh and many others left AJPW to form Wrestle-1. So when he made his comeback in 2014 he did so for Wrestle-1. He would lost his first challenge for the Wrestle-1 Championship against Keiji Mutoh in early 2015 but would win Grand Prix tournament and beat KAI for the belt.
He would go on to win the Wrestle-1 Championship one more time and when the promotion folded he made his way over to NOAH as Kongoh’s newest muscle. While he would lose his first singles match against the GHC National Champion, Sugiura, he would go on to win a tournament to challenge new champion, Nakajima but also came up short.
Soya faced Shiozaki back when Go made his AJPW debut and Shiozaki won in just under 5 minutes. Now he has a chance of redemption and retribution.
Manabu Soya- 2 wins – 3 losses
The former GHC Heavyweight Champion. I already did a lengthy write up covering Kiyomiya’s career and history leading up to the N-1 Victory finals which can be found HERE –
However the crux of the matter is that going into the N-1, Kiyomiya is not having a great year. He lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship to Shiozaki. He unsuccessfully challenged Sugiura for the GHC National Championship a month later. While he would beat former Wrestle-1 Champions, Daiki Inaba and Kaz Hayashi on his way to a crucial match against Keiji Mutoh.
But the former four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, two time Triple Crown Champion, NWA World Heavyweight Champion and Wrestle-1 Champion’s experience would be too much for the man 33 years his junior. I know that loss didn’t sit too well with many but hopefully it will all come right in the end.
Kaito Kiyomiya – 3 wins – 1 draw – 1 loss – WINNER
Recommended N1 Victory A Block Matches:
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Masaaki Mochizuki 18/09/20:
I know I was a lot higher on this match than Greegor was. But for me, this was a great youth vs experience and it showed Kiyomiya had learned from the Mutoh match. The Mutoh match, Kaito had the upper hand for a lot of it because Kaito was able to counter a lot of Mutoh’s offence. So Kaito seemed a little bit over-confident because he had a plan. But then everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Or dragon screw leg whipped into a guard rail in this instance.
In the Mochizuki match, he was hungrier from the off-set. And although Mochizuki is double Kaito’s age, Mochizuki wrestles as if he is a much younger man. Despite Kaito’s hunger, Mochizuki was able to control the match. He focused on the leg/knee that Mutoh had worked over the month before. And before the 20-minute mark, Mochizuki had hit his Twister but Kaito kicked out. Kiyomiya hit his Tiger Suplex but Mochizuki smartly kicked his knee to force him to break up the hold and the pin.
The two went to a time limit draw but honestly it didn’t feel like a half hour. They had good chemistry together and I would not be opposed to seeing a rematch between the two down the line due to the nature of this draw.
Masaaki Mochizuki vs Kazushi Sakuraba 20/09/20:
Sometimes, you just want a match that’s under ten minutes but is smartly worked. Mochizuki wants to waste little time after the half-hour time limit draw two days beforehand, but Sakuraba doesn’t want to go long either as he hasn’t had many singles matches in quite some time.
Mochizuki starts with the kicks and is fully intending to knock him out but Sakuraba has that heavy MMA background so if he can catch an arm or a leg, it could be over at any minute.
Go Shiozaki vs Kazushi Sakuraba 22/09/20:
Go needed payback for those two submission losses to Sakuraba in August. Sakuraba had already proved that he can submit Shiozaki and withstand strikes if he can catch a limb.
This also goes under 10 minutes and it’s the battle of strength against technique. Well worth your time to check it out.
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Manabu Soya 23/09/20 Show 1:
This was for me better than the Shiozaki/Soya match. Which while good I was slightly disappointed as I thought they had a better match in them. This however, because I had no pre-conceived expectations, was great.
Soya is an absolute beast of a power house. Kiyomiya has proven himself as a guy who can take a beating and eventually pull out the victory. This was his MO during his 2019 title reign and this match wouldn’t have been out of place there.
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kazushi Sakuraba 23/09/20 Show 2:
Again, it goes under 10 minutes. And not far off from it either as Sakuraba’s longest singles match in over 5 years. I know people had an issue with the finish itself but I thought it made sense after the Mutoh match.
Kaito surprises Sakuraba by grappling with him. All his other opponents so far have tried strikes or power to beat him. Kaito is the only one willing to go down on the mat and out-wrestle him which shocks the hell out of Sakuraba in how good at it he is.
Go Shiozaki vs Masaaki Mochizuki 23/09/20 Show 2:
Mochizuki took the former GHC Heavyweight Champion, Kiyomiya, to a time limit draw but this is the first time he’s faced the current champion. Shiozaki is thus far unbeaten and is carrying himself like a true champion but he’s had a rough few months.
Mochizuki wrestles this match as if it’s for the belt and gives it everything he’s got. Shiozaki however wrestled Sakuraba earlier in the day whereas Mochizuki had rested so he was already carrying himself into this match with his shoulders taped up.
It’s a sprint of a match, just over 15 minutes but not a moment is wasted. I would like to see a rematch between the two down the line, especially if Shiozaki is able to hold on to the belt.
Go Shiozaki vs Kaito Kiyomiya 04/10/20:
The two had spent more time teaming together than they had on opposite sides since Shiozaki took the belt from Kiyomiya. And when Nakajima turned on Shiozaki, it was Kiyomiya who came to his rescue. But Kiyomiya had no real love for his once upon a time former tag partner and said he was only protecting the title that Shiozaki “stole” from him.
And so, 9 months to the day that Shiozaki beat Kiyomiya in this very same venue, the two would face each other again. And this felt exactly like their GHC Heavyweight Championship match from earlier in the year. The winner of this match would automatically win A Block so there was just as much on the line.
It definitely came across like they put everything into this match and it was on par with the title change. Shiozaki, the champion, with pride on the line for him as he wants to be first champion to win the N-1 Victory and better his 2017 finalist achievement. But also Katsuhiko Nakajima, the man who betrayed him, has already been confirmed as the B Block winner.
Kiyomiya however was desperate for redemption. This was his first shot at the man he feels “stole” his title belt. But he hasn’t just got to beat Shiozaki, doing so would get him a future title shot potentially, he’s got to beat Shiozaki AND beat Nakajima in the finals to complete his redemption arc. So he’s fighting an uphill battle and having to show all his strength in the process.
This was for me the best match out of all of A Block. And truthfully the best match of the tournament at that point even beating Kenoh vs Nakajima.
N1 Victory A Block MVP
Honestly, before I started writing, it was Go Shiozaki. The champion, stoic, coming in to this to prove himself. To have the dominant reign he didn’t have before, all while his world was severely shaken by the Nakajima betrayal. In the beginning, when writing the piece about each wrestler going into the N-1 I started writing what turned into a career retrospective so will spin that into it’s own piece.
It has to be Kaito Kiyomiya. I know he won the block so sometimes you have to shine the light on those who came up short. But Kiyomiya had the perfect story and it was executed so well. The draw with Mochizuki. The loss to Masa Kitamiya who always beat him back when he was a young boy. And then the back to back victories over Soya, Sakuraba and Shiozaki. All showing that fire that made him such a good champion last year.
N1 Victory B Block Participants
The Tournament winner. Nakajima came into this tournament on the back of a shocking betrayal. Nakajima betrayed his AXIZ tag partner and GHC Heavyweight Champion Go Shiozaki. After the betrayal, Nakajima shockingly joined Kongoh.
Nakajima had the best block performance out of anyone in the whole tournament. He had the most wins and most points out of anyone. He won 4 out of 5 matches and finished on 8 points. Nakajima’s only loss came at the hands of Shuhei Taniguchi.
Nakajima finished with a record of 4 wins, 1 loss and 8 points
Where does he go from here?
Nakajima will now turn his attention to the 28th of November where he will take on former AXIZ tag partner and Homie Go Shiozaki for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. A championship he has not held since 2017. He was a different person when he held the championship back then. Time will tell if he can add yet another title to his already impressive haul and would be a great way to cap off a great 2020.
Kenoh (winner of 2019’s N1 Victory)
Kenoh came into the N1 Victory as the GHC National Champion. So, he had a target on his back. People in his block could earn a potential championship shot if they could beat him.
Kenoh had a really good tournament, only losing two matches. He lost to eventual tournament winner Katsuhiko Nakajima in a battle of Kongoh members; as well as taking a loss to mortal enemy Takashi Sugiura. Kenoh finished 3rd in his block with 6 points.
Kenoh finished with a record 3 wins, 2 loses and 6 points
Where does he go from here?
Kenoh will be defending the GHC National Championship against mortal enemy Kaito Kiyomiya on the 22nd of November. Kiyomiya challenged Kenoh on the 28th of October show. This will be Kenoh’s second defence. His first being a title vs title match with GHC Heavyweight Champion Go Shiozaki which ended in a time limit draw.
The third oldest wrestler in this tournament and the leader of Sugiura-gun, Sugiura came into this tournament as one half of the GHC Tag Team Champions.
Sugiura is NOAH’S Mr consistent. He seems incapable of having a bad match. This tournament was no exception. Putting on some good matches and some matches that could be considered some of the tournaments best. Giving youngster Yoshiki Inamura his best match and showing Inamura to be a powerhouse to having a 30-minute draw with fellow NOAH veteran Naomichi Marufuji. He really did have a great tournament both in match quality to points total finishing on 7 points just 1 point behind block topper Katsuhiko Nakajima.
Sugiura finished with a record of 3 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss and 7 points
Where does he go from here?
After narrowly missing out on the finals by a point Sugiura will refocus on his duties as one-half of the tag team champions. He will continue to lead his band of company dogs and his stable the Sugiura army. Sugiura will continue to be a cornerstone in NOAH and one of the best veteran wrestlers in the world. His next defence will be against the M Alliance’s Naomichi Marufuji and Masakatsu Funaki.
The genius of the ark came into this tournament on the back of an unsuccessful GHC Heavyweight title challenge and was looking to bounce back. Marufuji was also looking to make amends after his dismal showing in last year tournament points-wise where he finished with no points.
Marufuji had a strong showing here in the tournament both points and performance-wise. Putting on some of the better tournament matches and one that I would argue is done near the bottom of the tournament matches in my opinion. He finished middle of the block with a respectable 5 points much better than last year’s total.
Marufuji finished with a record of 2 wins,1 draw, 2 losses and 5 points
Where does he go from here?
After a much better performance than last N1 Victory. Marufuji will be both happy and disappointed. Happy that he did better than last year but disappointed he didn’t make the finals. From here Marufuji will team with Masakatsu Funaki to challenge for the GHC Tag Team Championship.
NOAH’s Frankenstein came into this tournament on the back of not doing too much outside of the Global Tag League.
Taniguchi had a decent tournament. Putting on some solid to good matches but not putting on any great matches. Taniguchi finished the tournament on 4 points and second last in his block. Although he was the only person to beat tournament winner Katsuhiko Nakajima meaning if Nakajima wins the GHC Heavyweight Championship Taniguchi may be in line for a title shot.
Taniguchi finished with a record of 2 wins,3 losses and 4 points
Where does he go from here?
Taniguchi has a match with Keiji Mutoh. This singles match will take place on November 22nd. The match was made after they meet in a tag match and Taniguchi made the challenge to Mutoh. Although if Katsuhiko Nakajima were to win the GHC Heavyweight championship Taniguchi could have a claim as he beat Nakajima in the N1.
The first-ever appearance for Inamura in the N1 Victory. Inamura came into this tournament chasing his first big singles win in NOAH. He had beaten fellow inexperienced members of the roster but not scored one of his seniors.
For Inamura this was a good tournament performance-wise but bad points-wise. He finished on 0 points and bottom of the block. However, he put in some really strong performances against his seniors including one of the better tournament matches against Takashi Sugiura. Inamura proved that he is ready to break out and become one of the top members of the NOAH roster. He is ready for stardom and perhaps a title run is in his future.
Inamura finished with a record of 0 wins, 5 losses and 0 points
Where does he go from here?
Though he may have found his tournament disappointing Inamura gave a good account in it. He gave good performances and looks to be ready for a bigger role. He recently left Kongoh to join up with Kaito Kiyomiya and his new stable. It looks like this stable is going to be a big part of NOAH’s future with Kiyomiya, Inamura, former WRESTLE1 star Daiki Inaba and veteran Taniguchi.
MVP of the N1 Victory B Block
For me, this could only go to person – Takashi Sugiura. Even in his 50’s, he puts on great matches and is consistent when it comes to putting on great matches. For the most part, Sugiura gave everyone in the block their best matches of the tournament.
His mix of experience and his ability to adapt to his opponents as well as being able to implement his style made that possible. In the Inamura match, he made Inamura’s offence look like a million bucks. this made the match a lot better than all of Inamura’s matches because Sugiura made him look dangerous.
He was selfless, always helping his opponents to shine while shining himself. Overall, just consistently putting on some of the best matches in the tournament and helping everyone look good. That is what it means to be an MVP to me and that’s why Takashi Sugiura is my pick for B block MVP.
Yoshiki Inamura vs Takashi Sugiura 18/09/20
Easily Inamura’s best match of the tournament and a great way to kick off the tournament. Inamura brings his power and for the beginning part of the match overpowers Sugiura. At times it looked like Inamura could have won the match.
Sugiura’s experience was able to get him the victory in the end. A high-quality match that went under 10 minutes and worth your time.
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Kenoh 18/09/20
A rematch to their GHC National title the month prior where Kenoh was the winner. This time, they are stablemates instead of enemies as Nakajima joined Kongoh after betraying former tag partner Go Shiozaki. This match was like there title match where it was a kicking war. These two delivered hard kicks and strikes. I would say this was better than their National Title match. It was shorter and more concise, so it fit the pace better. A great way to end the first show of the tournament.
Takashi Sugiura vs Naomichi Marufuji 22/09/20
Two of NOAH’s veterans going at it. Both men prove that they still have it and then some with a great time limit draw. After a slow start, the pace starts to pick up. The start lays the groundwork for the match. With callbacks to previous matches and good bits of storytelling. A great match from these two veterans.
Kenoh vs Naomichi Marufuji 23/09/20 show 2
Their first match in two years. This match is what you would expect from these two. They did some very good perfection sequences. Marufuji brought his signature chops as well as his kicks and knees. Kenoh brought his signature kicks. Overall a very good match.
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Takashi Sugiura 23/09/20 show 2
Another GHC National championship rematch. Earlier in the year, it was Nakajima beating Sugiura for the championship. Like the Kenoh/Nakajima this was a condensed and concise version of their match earlier in the year. Hard-hitting stuff with Sugiura bringing his forearms, strikes and submissions and Nakajima bring his heavy-hitting kicks.
Kenoh vs Takashi Sugiura 04/10/20
A rematch from last years N1 Victory finals. Both men came into the last day alive and looking to the finals and it showed. Again with it being more concise than last years match it helped fit the pace. Like a lot of Sugiura matches its hard-hitting. It will also quite technical with both men trading submissions and holds. Overall a nice mix of different styles and a good match.
Naomichi Marufuji vs Katsuhiko Nakajima 04/10/20
Like the previous match on this list both men were alive and could make it to the finals. With both men, you know what you are going to get in it. It was a hard-hitting affair. Marufuji brings the knees and chops, Nakajima brings his kicks. Throughout the tournament, Nakajima has been more and more aggressive. It comes to a head in the actual finals, but he is aggressive here as well. Laying in heavy kicks into Marufuji. There were a couple of good sequences as well. A good block decider for B block.
N1 Victory 2020 Final – Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Kaito Kiyomiya 11/10/20
The N1 Victory finals. We had the hero, the future of NOAH, the young ace Kaito Kiyomiya. Then in the other corner, we had the villain, the mad wolf, the super aggressive Katsuhiko Nakajima. This match was brutal at times. Kiyomiya in the earlier stages tried to outwrestle Nakajima. Nakajima became aggressive and started to take control. Nakajima tried to throw Kiyomiya out the ring but Kiyomiya got straight back in and got in his face. For the most part, Kiyomiya did not allow Nakajima to get his way.
Kiyomiya fought valiantly taking kick after kick, he was bruised and battered. Kiyomiya threw everything at Nakajima including the tiger suplex but Nakajima kicked out. In the end, a brutal high kick knocked Kiyomiya to the ground. Kiyomiya looked out of it the referee went to check on him. Nakajima pulls the referee off him before delivering a punt to Kiyomiya.
Nakajima drags an out of it Kiyomiya to his feet, hitting the diamond bomb to finish the match. Your N1 Victory 2020 winner the mad wolf Katsuhiko Nakajima. While not a wrestling classic, they told a simple but effective story. the story of the hero refusing to be beaten so the villain brutally puts them down. Very good stuff in my opinion.
Overall, the N1 Victory was a very solid tournament. The blocks while on paper did not look balanced. In reality, however, both blocks were as good as each other with some really good performances. For example, Sakuraba was great and almost all his matches were under 10 minutes. Inamura had a breakout performance, looking good in all his matches and showing that he is ready to make the step up. We had some great matches from both blocks. The tournament was very well done. Both finalists had upsides to the stories they could to tell so NOAH would have been fine either way. But in the end, I think the right person won.