On Saturday the 20th of November, Pro Wrestling NOAH and New Japan Pro Wrestling held a joint conference to announce that on January 8th 2022, Night 3 of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 will be a special NJPW vs NOAH show.
That sent ripples through the wrestling world, both East and West. NJPW vs NOAH isn’t something new but they haven’t had a working relationship together in five years.
So with January 8th not that far away, I want to bring attention to the history of NJPW vs NOAH. As there is a lot of ground to cover, I am going to do this as a weekly series.
Part 1 last week covered a bit of history about NJPW and AJPW, the birth of NOAH, and the early days of NJPW vs NOAH.
This part will cover the rest of 2002 into 2005, the first NJPW vs NOAH war.
The Junior War
February 2002, it was the junior heavyweights who made it more than individual glory. This was Us vs Them, and Jushin Thunder Liger really brought the heat right to NOAH.
Liger & Wataru Inoue were beaten by Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru and post match Kanemaru made a challenge to then-IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Minoru Tanaka.
In April, Liger returned to NOAH with Tanaka as his partner and the two beat Kikuchi & Kanemaru. Tanaka had Kikuchi trapped in an armbar and the referee had to stop the match.
Everything kicked off after the match. Both teams were accompanied by wrestlers from their home promotions and those seconds ended up brawling after the match. The war between NJPW and NOAH had begun.
There was another NJPW vs NOAH match later in the show as Manabu Nakanishi & Yutaku Yoshie challenged GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Takeshi Rikio & Takeshi Morishima. It truly was a heavyweight affair but the two Takeshis would successfully defend their belts against the invaders.
Pillar vs Musketeer
The very next month, Mitsuharu Misawa returned to NJPW for the first time since he was Tiger Mask II in 1990. Now as I’d already said in Part 1, AJPW’s Four Pillars were made up of Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue. NJPW’s Three Musketeers were Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono.
Three of the Four Pillars left AJPW to NOAH with Misawa as the founder, the emerald green and white ring synonymous with Misawa’s ring gear. However by May 2002, only Chono remained in NJPW.
Hashimoto had left NJPW the previous year to form ZERO1. Muto had helped out AJPW after the NOAH exodus by splitting his time between NJPW and AJPW. He had held the Triple Crown Championship, and decided to jump over to AJPW full-time in 2002 as he was offered the job of President.
NJPW was actually struggling a little here. So again they asked NOAH for help and a main event of Chono vs Misawa was booked. This may not have been the first time a Pillar had faced a Musketeer as Kawada vs Muto had happened just three months before, but it was still a big deal.
Big enough that it headlined over Liger & Tanaka becoming new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions, The Steiner Brothers beating Kensuke Sasaki & Hiroshi Tanahashi and Yuji Nagata defending his IWGP Heavyweight Championship over Yoshihiro Takayama.
Takayama I will make mention of here in that he was a NOAH wrestler but ultimately was a freelancer who would end up eventually splitting his time between NOAH and NJPW. The Nagata match was his first NJPW show in actual fact.
Misawa and Chono would wrestle to a 30 minute draw. This did not have the fire and heat of the junior heavyweights but was still a spectacle to see these two have a first time ever singles match.
If you have an NJPW World subscription, you can watch the match here.
Later in May, Yoshie would return to NOAH to beat Morishima in a super heavyweight clash and the fall out from their GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title match the month before.
NOAH Strike Gold
Things went quiet between the two promotions. But that would end on August 28th, when there would be 3 NJPW vs NOAH matches on a NJPW show.
Wataru Inoue beat KENTA. Although this was a young KENTA who had not yet adopted the attitude and kicks that would become his entire personality a year later. Koji Kanemoto beat Makoto Hashi. And, in a rematch from April, Liger & Tanaka faced Kikuchi & Kanemaru again.
But this time it was for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. And this time Kikuchi would pin Liger to crown brand new champions. This was the first time that a NOAH or NJPW wrestler(s) would hold Title(s) in the opposing promotion.
Kikuchi & Kanemaru took those belts back to NOAH so now the war was exclusively fought in the emerald green ring. They beat the NJPW team of El Samurai & Masayuki Naruse in September. The NOAH team of KENTA & Takashi Sugiura in October. NOAH gaijins of Donovan Morgan & Michael Modest in November. NJPW team of Gedo & Jado in December.
That saw an end to 2002 and in the first NOAH show of 2003, Chono made his NOAH debut to team with GHC Heavyweight Champion Misawa in a loss to Kobashi & Taue.
It took Liger and new partner Kanemoto until the 26th of January 2003 before they were able to beat Kikuchi & Kanemaru and finally take the belts back home to NJPW.
Pillar vs Musketeer Part 2
All was quiet until May. Kobashi had beaten Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight Championship on March 1st. So for his second defense he headed to NJPW on May 2nd to face the man he had met in a tag team match earlier in the year – Chono.
This was only the third Pillar vs Musketeer singles match to take place after Kawada/Muto and Misawa/Chono. And it was the second one where a Title was on the line. Kawada had beaten Muto to take the Triple Crown Championship from him.
However that was not the case for Chono as, after just under 30 minutes, Kobashi beat him with a lariat. This was the second GHC Heavyweight Title match between NOAH and NJPW and NOAH again won.
If you have an NJPW World subscription, you can watch the match here.
Kobashi defending the GHC Heavyweight Title in NJPW sparked something inside Yuji Nagata, the NJPW wrestler who had lost the first GHC Heavyweight Title match, as he returned back to NOAH 12 days later to decimate Masao Inoue.
BOSJ & Nagata’s Vendetta
Takashi Sugiura from NOAH took part in NJPW’s annual Best Of The Super Juniors tournament that month. So while he was competing in NJPW, Nagata was having tag matches in NOAH.
Sugiura ended up with victories over Ryusuke Taguchi, Ebessan, Liger and Minoru Fujita in order to reach the semifinals on June 11th where he was beaten by Kanemoto.
Also, the day before, June 10th, Naomichi Marufuji & Kotaro Suzuki made their NJPW debuts to unsuccessfully attempt to take the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s back to NOAH but Liger & Kanemoto retained.
Nagata beat Taue on June 6th and it seemed like he was on a collision course with Kobashi and the GHC Heavyweight Title.
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Meanwhile, NOAH had such a great junior heavyweight division on it’s hands with the likes of Marufuji, KENTA, Sugiura, Kanemaru, Suzuki, etc that it decided to create GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles.
A tournament with 8 teams was created. Marufuji & KENTA. Kikuchi & Mitsuo Momota. Kanemaru & Sugiura. Modest & Morgan. Liger & Takehiro Murahama from NJPW. Hashi & Suzuki. Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Yoshihito Sasaki from ZERO1. And Ricky Marvin & Superstar Steve.
Before the tournament began, Liger, Murahama & Marvin beat Marufuji, KENTA & Suzuki in Korakuen Hall. This set up a few things. How good the junior heavyweight tag team division was going to be. Ricky Marvin debuting in NOAH where he’d make his home for the next 11/12 years. And, because this is a NJPW vs NOAH article, Liger & Murahama vs Marufuji & KENTA.
Because that did end up being the tournament finals on July 16th. Marufuji & KENTA vs Liger & Murahama. Murahama may not be the name or wrestler the likes of Tanaka and Kanemoto. However he more than held up his end of the match. But that wasn’t enough to stop the NOAH team becoming the first ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. And they held those belts for almost two years, that lengthy reign still yet to be broken.
This same tour, Takayama who remember was part of both NOAH and NJPW due to being a freelancer (and, who was ever going to tell that man no with his size and attitude), had brought in Shinya (Togi) Makabe to be his tag team partner from NJPW.
They would challenge Kobashi & Tamon Honda for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s but would come up short on the same day as the finals, July 16th.
Liger, Murahama and Makabe would not be alone from NJPW on that same show. Nagata had a long awaited rematch against Jun Akiyama. Their first match headlined a NJPW Tokyo Dome January 4th show for the GHC Heavyweight Title in which Akiyama won in 20 minutes.
Here Nagata made quick work of Akiyama and finished him off in under 7 minutes. His GHC Heavyweight Title match was all but inevitable.
Now that was a crushing blow for Akiyama. He’d lost the GHC Heavyweight Title in April 2002 and was nowhere close to a Title rematch. And here was a generational rival that had crushed him. So Akiyama wanted revenge. But not just on Nagata. NJPW too.
G1 Climax 2003
Akiyama entered NJPW’s G1 Climax as a result. And he entered Block A with a victory over Hiroyoshi Tenzan on the opening night. Tenzan, like Nagata, is a member of NJPW’s Third Generation. A loss to Osamu Nishimura followed but he quickly rebounded with victories over Manabu Nakanishi (also Third Generation), Hiroshi Tanahashi (before he was Go Ace), and a 30 minute draw with Chono saw him win the Block.
He gained his revenge over Nagata by beating him in the semifinals. This match lasting just under 17 minutes before Akiyama was able to go 2-1 in singles matches against Nagata. And this put Akiyama in the Finals to face Tenzan who had beaten Takayama in the other semifinal.
So in a rematch of the main event on the opening night, Akiyama again faced Tenzan. Akiyama had already been GHC Heavyweight Champion but Tenzan had still yet to win the big one in NJPW. And Tenzan had made it to the semifinals in last year’s G1 Climax.
But this year proved to be Tenzan’s time as after well over 30 minutes, he beat Akiyama via referee stoppage in order to win the G1 Climax.
If you have a NJPW World subscription you can watch the match here
Nagata vs NOAH Continues
September 12th it was finally time for Nagata vs Kobashi, GHC Heavyweight Championship match. This was the third NJPW vs NOAH GHC Heavyweight Title match. The second in Kobashi’s reign. And the second for Nagata.
However Kobashi would retain after over 30 minutes in an absolutely incredible match. This was hard hitting. It was heated. It was everything you want out of an interpromotional match.
Two days later, Akiyama would return to NJPW and take Takeshi Rikio with him to face Nagata & Tanahashi in a 30 minute draw for Nagata’s 11 Year Anniversary. This would actually help establish Nagata & Tanahashi as a team for what would come later.
New GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Sugiura beat Gedo in his first defense on November 1st. But NJPW would take their first GHC Title on November 30th when Nagata & Tanahashi would beat Kobashi & Honda for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s.
They very quickly made their first defense over Rikio & Morishima on December 6th. Marufuji returned to NJPW to try and exact some revenge on the 9th by challenging Tanahashi for the U-30 Title (defunct belt which could only be wrestled for by people under 30, duh) but he came up short in their first meeting.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs NOAH
That would be the last NJPW vs NOAH match of 2003. And 2004 started with a bang as at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, Liger beat Sugiura to avenge his BOSJ loss and become the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. Now NJPW held two GHC Title’s at the same time.
El Samurai & Wataru Inoue would try to make it three on January 10th but would lose to Marufuji & KENTA for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. And that same night, NJPW went down to one as Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa would take back the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s.
The chase for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship was on as Mitsuo Momota fell to Liger on February 15th. Hashi lost to him on March 6th. Suzuki fell on April 27th. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi was next on May 21st.
The End Of The First NJPW vs NOAH War
Finally on July 10th, NOAH’s debut in the Tokyo Dome, their biggest show in their history at that time, Kanemaru beat Liger to take the belt back into NOAH’s possession.
Also the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s were defended for the first time between NJPW and NOAH as Takayama & Minoru Suzuki beat Rikio & Morishima on that same show.
Plus, no longer NJPW vs NOAH, but you had the first time Misawa and Muto ever faced each other in a tag team match for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. Misawa & Ogawa beat Muto & Taiyo Kea. Kea being one of the few to remain with AJPW after the NOAH split. And that show was headlined by an incredible main event of Kobashi defending his GHC Heavyweight Title against Akiyama.
That would put an official end to the first NJPW vs NOAH feud/war. It technically started in ZERO1 between Akiyama and Nagata. We didn’t get the first real NJPW vs NOAH match until January 4th 2002. NOAH struck the first blow when Kikuchi & Kanemoto took the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. But NJPW had more success as Nagata & Tanahashi held the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s and Liger held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship hostage for over half a year and him losing the belt ended the war.
Although the two promotions did work together a little in 2005. May 14th Misawa returned to NJPW to partner Tatsumi Fujinami in a Super Dream Tag Team match victory over Chono & Liger.
If you have a NJPW World subscription you can watch the match here.
And that’s it for Part 2. Two and a half years the first NJPW vs NOAH feud lasted.
The two promotions didn’t have any further cross over at all between 2006, 07 and 08.
So Part 3 will pick up on January 4th 2009 where we’ll see some wrestlers in the original feud get right back into it and the introduction of new wrestlers into this promotional war.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoyed it.