On Saturday the 20th of November, Pro Wrestling NOAH and New Japan Pro Wrestling held a joint conference to announce that on Saturday January 8th 2022, Night 3 of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 would be a special NJPW vs NOAH show.
This sent ripples through the wrestling world, both east and west. NJPW vs NOAH isn’t something new, the two companies have worked together in the past. But they haven’t had any sort of working relationship together for five years.
I’ve already written a four part series covering the history of NJPW vs NOAH:
- Part 1 – the history of NJPW and AJPW, the birth of NOAH & the first battles
- Part 2 – 2002-04
- Part 3 – the 2nd war (2009-11)
- Part 4: Suzuki-Gun invades NOAH & the 3rd war (2015-16)
But during that entire time period, we never had a straight-up NJPW vs NOAH show where the entire card was built around the competition between the two companies.
We did have ALL TOGETHER 1 and 2 in August 2011 and February 2012 respectively. These were charity shows put on by NJPW, NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling, featuring talents from all three promotions in tag-team matches.
It was no surprise to see the NJPW vs NOAH card be a majority of tag matches. I know people were disappointed in that, but please remember this is how it is in Japan.
First of all, they want to give the opportunity for as many wrestlers to appear on the show as possible. Secondly they can’t really do singles matches between their top guys as someone has to lose. It’s much easier to do tag matches and have a fall guy who is expendable. And lastly, this show could easily be a one off. At the beginning of the year, NJPW said that they wanted to work with 50 companies (both in and out of wrestling) to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. NOAH will be the first of 49 if they stay true to their word.
But look at the tag matches themselves. If you wanted Shingo Takagi vs Katsuhiko Nakajima, you’ve got it. Kazuchika Okada vs Kaito Kiyomiya? You’ve got it. How about Tetsuya Naito vs Kenoh? There’s that, too! you got it. Tomohiro Ishii vs Yoshiki Inamura, they’ve got you covered. If you want Dick Togo vs Go Shiozaki, then first of all what the hell is wrong with you? But you’ve got it.
At the end of the day, this is a show for charity. And we have no idea if NJPW vs NOAH will ever happen again after this show. Hopefully it will lead to further conversations between the two promotions and future collaborations. But right now let’s just take it as it is. There’ll still be promotional pride at stake. And guys like Nakajima, Shingo, Kenoh, Tanahashi, Kiyomiya, Okada, Inamura and Ishii will definitely be very keen to show that their promotion is the best. And there will be wrestlers just interested in their own personal glory.
The show starts at 4pm in Japan. That’s 7am in England, 2am East Coast USA and 11pm Friday January 7th West Coast USA.
According to the website, it’ll cost under $35. I know that is quite expensive, so it’s your call to watch live or wait a week for it to be on your streaming service of choice. But hopefully if it is a success it will encourage the two promotions to work together again.
It’s an 11-match card (9 on the main card and two pre-show matches) so it’s a big one! Let’s get right into it!
MAIN EVENT – Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI) vs Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, Manabu Soya, Tadasuke & Aleja)
When this show was announcedm Shingo Takagi was the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and Katsuhiko Nakajima was the GHC Heavyweight Champion. Nakajima retained his title over Go Shiozaki in the Nippon Budokan on January 1st, while Shingo Takagi would lose the IWGP World Heavyweight Title to Kazuchika Okada on January 4th.
These two stables do have their similarities. Both were created to be heel groups, but have turned into sort of anti-heroes. Both have strong willed leaders, although Kenoh could do with some lessons in tranquilo from Tetsuya Naito.
LIJ is the older of the two stables having formed in November 2015, with Naito, EVIL & BUSHI as original members. Kongo wasn’t formed until May 2019 with the original members of Kenoh, Masa Kitamiya, Yoshiki Inamura & Atsushi Kotoge. That already tells you the difference between the two groups. While LIJ added SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & Shingo Takagi before losing EVIL to Bullet Club; Kongo added Haoh, Nioh, Manabu Soya, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Aleja but lost Kotoge, Inamura & Kitamiya.
I’m excited to see so many of these guys squaring off. Shingo against Nakajima. Naito against Kenoh. Shingo against Kenoh. Naito against Nakajima. SANADA against Soya. Hiromu against Tadasuke. BUSHI against Aleja. Hiromu against Aleja.
A lot of them are first time pairings, but some do have history. Deep history. Let’s start with Shingo Takagi and Katsuhiko Nakajima. Both debuted in 2004, a year that saw the wrestling debuts of Shingo, Nakajima, Go Shiozaki, Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada and AJPW’s Suwama. If 2004 was a wine, it would be a very good vintage.
But in the early days of their careers, Shingo and Nakajima stood out as prodigies. They took to wrestling as natural as breathing. Both of them stood out as can’t miss prospects. Of course, everyone I just mentioned achieved fantastic success, but Shingo and Nakajima achieved notoriety sooner.
They had their first singles match in November 2005 in Dragon Gate. Shingo was a Dragon Gate dojo product, while Nakajima was a freelancer through Kensuke Office. Despite their young age and relative inexperience, they had an incredible match together. In the end, it was Nakajima who got the win.
Their second singles match together (and so far, their final) didn’t happen until six years and three months later, taking place in February 2012 on a Diamond Ring (the rebranded Kensuke Office) show. It was a longer and better match. Both had achieved major title wins since that first match. Shingo was a former Open The Dream Gate Champion, holding it just once at that point. Nakajima was a former AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Champion, as well as a three-time and current GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. Nakajima would pick up the win here, too. He held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title at the time, and was in his home promotion so he was incredibly motivated to beat Shingo.
Now when they meet, it will be in a NJPW ring. A ring which has been Shingo’s home for over three years now. The Dragon has risen up the ranks, being an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champion, two-time NEVER Openweight Champion and now a former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Shingo is firmly NJPW, and has achieved a lot in a short amount of time. But with losing the IWGP World Heavyweight Title so recently, perhaps another title opportunity could open up here?
Nakajima, on the other hand, has been appearing in NOAH since 2008, but only signed a contract with them in late 2015. After that he won the GHC Heavyweight Title for the first time in October 2016, where he held it until August 2017.
It took him until October 2021 before he finally won the GHC Heavyweight Championship again. He’d had the unenviable task of leading NOAH out of the dark days of the Suzuki-Gun invasion while crowd interest was at an all time low. So his second GHC Heavyweight Title win was redemption. He got to hold the belt while NOAH was on the rise and take it to the Nippon Budokan on January 1st, and now carries it into this show.
Shingo isn’t the only one Nakajima has faced. During the 2016 NJPW G1 Climax, Nakajima was in the same block as Naito. They’ve had the one and only singles match. It was the main event of night 12 and, at the time of the match, they were both tied at six points and a win would see them rise up to the top of the block. Naito would be the victor, winning after just over 19 minutes after reversing a Brainbuster attempt into a Destino. A second Destino saw him get the three count. Great match between the two in what was a first-time encounter. Nakajima at that point still hadn’t won the GHC Heavyweight Title, while Naito had won the IWGP Heavyweight Title in April before dropping it in June, a quick first reign to test the waters. And that April title win saw the NJPW debut of SANADA.
And that segues nicely into SANADA and Soya. SANADA started with AJPW originally in March 2007. The story of him and Naito both trying out for NJPW before then and Naito being the one to pass the try out is known, and the basis of SANADA being a member of LIJ. He and Naito could have been partners and generational rivals if they’d debuted in the same promotion. Someone who did debut in AJPW in April 2007 and was SANADA’s partner (and should have been rival) was Soya. The two teamed together the first time they shared a ring in November that same year. They had their first singles match against each other in May 2008 at Korakuen Hall, which SANADA won.
They had a PPV singles rematch in November, which Soya won. The two then entered the Real World Tag League later that month but only won 2 of their 7 matches. Their next singles meeting took place in March 2009, to determine which one would make their Champion Carnival debut. SANADA won, once again. Soya would win their next meeting in November 2009, before the two went their own ways for a few months. They would reunite in August 2010 in the New Generation Force stable and win the All Asia Tag Team Titles together.
I didn’t actually start watching (current) AJPW until 2011. And that was solely because of the buzz SANADA & Soya were getting in their tag matches against Strong BJ, Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi. Strong BJ had been favourites of mine since I saw them in CHIKARA’s King Of Trios the year before. And they had three excellent matches against each other within two months. On February 6th and 11th the two teams wrestled to 30 minute draws. On March 21st Strong BJ dethroned SANADA & Soya to become the new All Asia Tag Team Champions.
Soya was again overlooked for the Champion Carnival and only SANADA would take part in 2011. And he did very well for himself, reaching the finals where he lost to Yuji Nagata. After that, SANADA and Soya had another singles match, which SANADA won at the end of April. It was clear which of the two AJPW saw as a star but Soya did have his own charm. On June 19th they won the belts back from Strong BJ. And July 31st SANADA had his first Triple Crown Title match against Suwama.
ALL TOGETHER, the joint NJPW/NOAH/AJPW show, saw them on opposite sides in a six man tag team match. SANADA, Naito & Shuhei Taniguchi beat Soya, Yujiro Takahashi & Muhammad Yone. ALL TOGHETHER would be the first time that SANADA and Naito teamed up, interestingly enough.
On October 23rd, they lost the belts again, again to Strong BJ. But that was for the last time as their tag team was over the very next month. SANADA started teaming with KAI and Soya started teaming with Takao Omori, a team that would last and be called Get Wild. On March 20th 2012, Get Wild won the AJPW World Tag Team Titles. SANADA and Soya had another singles match on opening night of the Champion Carnival, which Soya won. On May 20th, SANADA and new partner Joe Doering beat Get Wild for the belts. And just three days later, SANADA beat Soya in their final ever singles match. SANADA won their overall series 4-3 as a result.
Get Wild won the belts back the very next month and retained them in a third and final title match in July. And then the two were on completely different paths. Soya was a tag team wrestler and SANADA was the rising singles star. Both followed Keiji Muto to Wrestle-1 in 2013. And their last in ring meeting happened in November 2014. Meaning it will be well over seven years that they’ve not shared a ring together before January 8th.
Another member of New Generation Force was BUSHI. A lot of people forget that BUSHI’s career began in AJPW – March 2007, to be exact – the same time frame as both SANADA and Soya. AJPW and NJPW worked together briefly and AJPW agreed to “loan” BUSHI to NJPW for one year beginning in May 2012 with the Best Of The Super Juniors. One year would eventually become full time as BUSHI chose to remain with NJPW.
So people may be aware that SANADA and BUSHI had a connection before LIJ but that same connection also connects him with Soya.
Now that’s the end of the connections between opponents in this match. Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI have never faced Tadasuke or Aleja and have little to no connection to them.
Tadasuke debuted in April 2007 to Takahashi’s August 2010. BUSHI, as already mentioned, debuted in March 2007, Aleja didn’t debut until March 2016.
The LIJ juniors are more experienced when you look at it that way. And they have more title pedigree, as Takahashi is a four time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Tadasuke has held the Osaka Pro Championship on one occasion, but no belts in NOAH. BUSHI had a brief reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion in 2016. And Aleja is yet to hold a singles title at all.
Takahashi has won three Best Of The Super Juniors. His first win came in 2018 with a win over Taiji Ishimori in the finals; before he won back-to-back tournaments in 2020 and 2021, with wins over El Desperado and YOH, respectively. He’s recently said that he’s looking at the NOAH junior division with great interest in case any of them enter BOSJ 2022.
And we’ve already seen NOAH juniors hold IWGP titles. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in August 2002, and Naomichi Marufuji had a fantastic run with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title in 2010. I’d love to see Aleja in BOSJ. Involvement in BOSJ in the past helped show off Takashi Sugiura and Atsushi Aoki in the past, so I think Aleja would do well with that opportunity.
On the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 16, every single NOAH roster member taking part on January 8th came to the NJPW ring. Yes, even Kongo appeared alongside the rest of the NOAH roster. Kenoh and Kaito Kiyomiya even shook hands in the ring as both said they were going to bring the fight to NJPW on Saturday. LIJ’s Takagi, Takahashi & BUSHI were the only NJPW roster members to respond to the NOAH invasion. Takagi took the mic to say that he will show the difference between NJPW and Kenoh was the one to confront him. So it will be interesting to see what happens between Takagi and Kenoh in this match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada vs Keiji Muto & Kaito Kiyomiya
In a way, Kazuchika Okada and Kaito Kiyomiya are responsible for this show. At the Tokyo Sports Awards held in January 2020 – before the world got turned upside down – Okada expressed a desire to wrestle the young aces in other promotions. Kenta Miyahara of AJPW, and Kaito Kiyomiya of NOAH.
At the first height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, Kiyomiya took the mic at the end of a NOAH show and specifically called out Okada. He said he didn’t know how long it would take but it was his wish to make it happen. Kiyomiya is the young ace of NOAH, the same way that Okada was for NJPW almost a decade ago. It’s hard to believe that the Rainmaker Shock will be ten years ago this February!
Due to that, a lot of us were expecting a singles match between the two. But when the NJPW vs NOAH show was officially announced on November 20th, Kiyomiya was the only wrestler there to represent NOAH, while Hiroshi Tanahashi was the only wrestler representing NJPW. Kiyomiya again expressed the desire to wrestle Okada when questioned.
When asked who he would like to wrestle from NOAH, Tanahashi brought up the history between himself and Keiji Muto and said he wanted to wrestle someone who represented NOAH. After the press conference, Kiyomiya and Tanahashi squared up against each other for photos. Neither were GHC Heavyweight or IWGP World Heavyweight Champions but both are synonymous with their promotions. Perhaps we were going to be thrown a curve ball and this would be the match instead?
However a bigger curve ball was thrown when the card was announced. Okada would team with Tanahashi to face Kiyomiya & Muto. Okada & Tanahashi have a long history of being rivals, a story that has defined a generation of New Japan. Kiyomiya & Muto have feuded for the past year and a half. Muto & Tanahashi have their own deep history against each other.
Because for many of a certain age, Muto is and was NJPW. His career began there in 1984. The Great Muta may have been born in America but he became a legend in NJPW when he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
When Tanahashi debuted in October 1999, Muto was already fifteen years into his career and fourteen years older than him. And Muto was the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at that time.
Muto left NJPW in early 2002. He had spent the year before juggling his time between NJPW and an AJPW that had struggled after the NOAH split. But in 2002 he was offered the role of President of AJPW so he took it. Tanahashi mentions in his life story biography that he was Muto’s assistant at this time (young lions routinely perform this role for their seniors) and Muto asked him to jump ship with him. But Tanahashi declined.
That shows how much Muto thought of Tanahashi, even at a young age. The two didn’t have their first singles match until February 2005 in a AJPW ring. And it was the semi-main event on a PPV. This is before Tanahashi was an IWGP Heavyweight Champion, too.
Muto won that match in just under 19 minutes. And then three years later they faced again, this time during AJPW’s Champion Carnival. April 2008. By this time Tanahashi was a former two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. In this match, the two wrestled to a 30 minute draw.
Later that same month Muto returned to NJPW and beat Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He held that belt until January 4th 2009, Wrestle Kingdom III, where Tanahashi beat him in the main event in the Tokyo Dome.
That started Tanahashi’s true rise to being the Ace of NJPW. He’d had two IWGP Heavyweight Title reigns before, but here he was beating a former Ace. He was beating one of the Three Musketeers, his senior and a legend in puroresu. It was in his eventual fourth reign that Tanahashi had the second longest title reign in NJPW history, which was ended with a shock. A Rainmaker Shock.
Okada debuted in August 2004 as part of Toryumon Mexico under Ultimo Dragon. So Tanahashi had just under five years more experience and was eleven years his senior. He would follow Ultimo for a few years but would join NJPW by himself in August 2007. And he had to start from the bottom again. He would very, very slowly work his way up. And in 2009 he got murdered. A lot. By NOAH wrestlers. Takashi Sugiura, Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki. So I’m sure Okada has not forgotten how he was treated by the NOAH roster during the second NJPW vs NOAH war.
His last match before going to America was against Tanahashi in January 2010. America for Okada was, of course, TNA, Who did absolutely nothing with him. So when he returned to Japan full time in January 2012, expectations were pretty low.
I remember being baffled when Okada challenged Tanahashi at the end of Wrestle Kingdom VI. This TNA reject was going to face Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship? And when the news broke that he beat Tanahashi for the belt on February 12th, the western world was in disbelief. Please remember this was well before you could watch shows in Japan live. So we had no idea how good the match was and how good Okada looked (even if he was still finding his feet).
The two would then engage in a feud for the ages. They would trade the IWGP Heavyweight Title several times. They’d main event the Tokyo Dome three times (Wrestle Kingdom 7, 9 & 10) There’s not a venue in Japan that they haven’t wrestled in.
They did eventually find respect for each other and started teaming together against mutual threats. But the last time they teamed together as a tag team was in August 2019. And they lost to Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr) in both Japan and England.
So they’ve not teamed in almost two and a half years. But the NOAH team is a mutual threat. And Kiyomiya is an unknown entity to the pair of them, as neither have ever shared a ring with him.
Kiyomiya debuted in December 2015 at the age of twenty. Muto was thirty one years into his career and thirty four years older than him. Tanahashi was sixteen years into his career and twenty years older than him. Okada was eleven years into his career and nine years older than him.
So Kiyomiya is by far the youngest and most inexperienced in this match. But his rise to Ace status was meteoric. He went on international excursion in July 2017, before returning back home in January 2018. He won the Global Tag League, GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, Global League and GHC Heavyweight Title all within his first year back.
He was the youngest GHC Heavyweight Champion in history and the person to win the belt quickest from their debut, taking a few days over three years. And he held that belt for 384 days, which stands as the fifth longest reign with that belt.
Go Shiozaki took the belt from him on January 4th 2020. But Kiyomiya’s horrible year really began in August when he lost to Muto for the first time. That loss really hammered his confidence. He’d lose to Muto again in March 2021 in his first rematch for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, and could only manage a 30-minute draw against Muto during the N-1 Victory in September. And then Muto & Marufuji took the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles from him and Masa Kitamiya in November.
Muto has been Kiyomiya’s white whale this past year and a half. And this is different to how Muto’s relationship/rivalry with Tanahashi went. Tanahashi was Muto’s young boy. He learned directly from him, even if it was a little more about life as much as it was about wrestling.
But with Kiyomiya, Muto was just a legend he had watched on TV. He only had a few tag matches teaming with him before he faced the man himself. And Kiyomiya was youthful. Cocky, almost. And Muto reminded him why he is the Pro Wrestling Master. Now Kiyomiya has to team with Muto against the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Okada and IWGP United States Champion, Tanahashi (Tanahashi beat KENTA on January 5th in a crazy match). This is the man he’s been feuding with for the past 18 months now; a man he has grown to loathe.
Okada and Tanahashi have already found common ground. It seems like their days as heated rivals are over as Tanahashi accepts that Okada is the current Ace. That doesn’t mean that Tanahashi may not have a late career resurgence like Muto and others have done. But he knows that his best days are behind him.
Muto’s best days may also be behind him but that doesn’t mean he’s not still fighting as a reign with the GHC Heavyweight Championship last year proved. He also holds the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles with Naomichi Marufuji as we speak.
The focus should hopefully be on Okada and Kiyomiya. Kiyomiya is in a dark place right now after losing a GHC National Title match against Kenoh on January 1st. He did rebound with a victory over Go Shiozaki on the 4th. So maybe, if he goes after Okada with a vengeance, he could put himself in line for a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Title.
NOAH wrestlers like Sugiura, Shiozaki & Marufuji have challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Title before. Perhaps Kiyomiya could be the first to win it? After all, Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki have both held the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
I know people were down on this match when it was first announced but we’ve never seen Kiyomiya face Okada or Tanahashi. And we’ve never seen Okada face Muto before. So you have Muto against the brand new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion so pray to God, Allah, Buddha, Satan, whoever you believe in that Muto doesn’t pin him.
House Of Torture (EVIL & Dick Togo) vs Go Shiozaki & Masa Kitamiya
I thought that there would be no connection before this match took place. I knew Dick Togo worked for NOAH over a decade ago, but didn’t think there would have been any cross over with Go Shiozaki.
I remembered that EVIL as a young lion, Takaaki Watanabe, wrestled in NOAH but that was very briefly and after Shiozaki had left so there was only a chance he crossed over with Masa Kitamiya. But after checking Cagematch, they didn’t interact as young lions at all.
What I’d completely forgotten was that Togo, before he joined NJPW as EVIL’s Pareja (Manager) in July 2020, took part in NOAH’s Global Junior League in 2020. And he was a member of Sugiura Army during his brief time there.
As a member of Sugiura Army, the team of Togo, Sugiura, El Hijo del Dr Wagner Jr & NOSAWA Rongai beat the Kongo team of Kitamiya, Kenoh, Yoshiki Inamura & Haoh. That is the only time these opponents have faced each other.
EVIL against Shiozaki and Kitamiya are both first time pairings. And, after January 4th, EVIL is the new NEVER Openweight Champion. So he’s not only fighting for company pride, for the triumph of House Of Torture, but for individual glory. As the new NEVER Openweight Champion, he is going to have a target on his back, even across promotions.
Kitamiya also had a successful January 4th in NOAH. He pinned former partner and Kensuke Office graduate, Katsuhiko Nakajima and immediately challenged him for his GHC Heavyweight Title. That match is set to take place on Sunday, January 16th. So Kitamiya will not want a loss here, with a championship match just over a week away.
Shiozaki has not had a successful 2022 so far. He lost his GHC Heavyweight Title match to former tag partner Katsuhiko Nakajima in the Nippon Budokan on January 1st. Then he lost in January 4th in Korakuen Hall to Kaito Kiyomiya. So he is not having a good year so far, after taking eight months off last year due to shoulder surgery.
Togo has settled into his role as EVIL’s Pareja and only wrestles infrequently, usually in multi-man tag team matches. The last time EVIL & Togo teamed together in a tag match was a victory over Shingo Takagi & BUSHI in July last year.
The reaction to EVIL since his split from LIJ and partnership with Togo has been poor to say the least. There is a good wrestler in there. But right now it’s being bogged down by cheating, interferences and the like. Just cheap, lazy heat. The general consensus around his NEVER Openweight Title win over Tomohiro Ishii is that it was not a good match at all.
I have a feeling that House Of Torture will continue their tactics in this match. And it’s Shiozaki & Kitamiya that have to fight through them. As they both experienced the Suzuki-Gun invasion of NOAH, they should be used to it. If we get EVIL willing to go man to man against both Shiozaki & Kitamiya and the NOAH boys beating the life out of Togo, this could be a better match than what most are expecting.
Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) vs Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba) & X (Originally KENTA)
KENTA returned to NOAH on January 1st at the Nippon Budokan and teamed with the same partners he was supposed to have here. After they beat Masa Kitamiya, Yoshiki Inamura & Daiki Inaba, they said that NJPW and Suzuki-Gun was next. Unfortunately, KENTA sustained multiple injuries in his IWGP US Championship Match with Hiroshi Tanahashi, which has ruled him out of this match.
Suzuki-Gun and NOAH being well acquainted with each other. They invaded NOAH on January 10th 2015, won every single GHC Title in just over two months and held at least one belt all the way until December 3rd 2016.
Takashi Sugiura was a member of Suzuki-Gun from December 23rd 2015 until December 2nd 2016. He joined after Naomichi Marufuji had beaten Suzuki to take the GHC Heavyweight Title back and it was Sugiura who beat Marufuji for the belt in his first defence on January 31st. Sugiura would eventually lose the belt permanently to Katsuhiko Nakajima on October 23rd and, after Suzuki was unable to beat Nakajima for the belt on December 2nd, he left Suzuki-Gun by the way of attacking the group leader. On December 3rd, Sugiura would beat Suzuki in the latter’s final appearance in a NOAH ring.
Those two years were dark days for NOAH. KENTA had already left in May 2014 after joining WWE. NJPW were having to help NOAH by loaning them talents and also helping them financially. The Suzuki-Gun invasion was supposed to help by giving the stable something to do outside of NJPW and freshen them up for their eventual return. In reality it hurt NOAH. Suzuki-Gun represented everything that NOAH wasn’t, in interferences, cheating, disqualifications, etc. It was supposed to bring a new audience. People were supposed to be watching NOAH make their comeback. But they turned away NOAH’s diminishing existing fanbase.
This is not a shot at Suzuki-Gun in the slightest. They did exactly what they were asked to do. But no stable doing what they did would have attracted more fans to NOAH or kept the existing ones.
So this will be the first time that Suzuki and Sugiura will have shared the ring together since December 3rd 2016. These two have incredible chemistry against each other. They hit each other very hard and both can take the beating. Before Sugiura joined Suzuki-Gun, they had an amazing GHC Heavyweight Title match against each other in September 2015.
Suzuki also has history with Kazushi Sakuraba. Toru Yano, as part of his long running feud with Suzuki in 2014, recruited the help of Sakuraba. With their backgrounds in MMA, Sakuraba was a natural foil to Suzuki.
The two would have a blow off match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 where Suzuki beat Sakuraba in a UWF-I Rules match. This would be Suzuki’s final match in NJPW as he led the charge into NOAH just six days later. And Sakuraba would have left NJPW before Suzuki returned in January 2017, leaving in July 2016.
KENTA has also had his issues with Suzuki in the past. They had a brilliant singles match in August 2005 which Suzuki won. And we had to wait until March 2021 during the New Japan Cup where both were a lot older and KENTA got his win over Suzuki.
It may seem like NJPW are slowly moving Suzuki down the card. He was absent in this year’s G1 Climax – largely due to his time in the US – and finished 2nd bottom in his block in G1 Climax 30 after being completely omitted from the field in 2019. He and TAKA Michinoku went completely winless during the World Tag League 2021. And he became KOPW Champion on January 5th, meaning he now holds NJPW’s lowest title belt.
But matches like this prove that Suzuki still has it and should not be overlooked. He can still go. NJPW, NOAH, either way Suzuki-Gun is Ichiban.
And I’ve not even mentioned Taichi or TAKA Michinoku. Back when Suzuki-Gun invaded NOAH, Taichi was a junior and he won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. This was his first ever singles title and he held the belt for 283 days. Taichi is now a heavyweight with two reigns as NEVER Openweight Champion and three reigns as an IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, the most recent run only ending four days ago. It seems like Taichi has really turned the corner on fan perception of himself as he’s had great runs in the past two G1 Climax tournaments.
I can’t wait to see Taichi against Sugiura. Taichi has had fantastic matches against Tomohiro Ishii and I’m sure he and Sugiura could have similar chemistry.
Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre Jr & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs Naomichi Marufuji & Yoshinari Ogawa
This is the match that has the most history and the best story on the entire card for me as all four have strong ties to NOAH.
Yoshinari Ogawa trained Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Naomichi Marufuji, both in the All Japan dojo. Ogawa has been wrestling since 1984, and Kanemaru and Marufuji both debuted in AJPW. Kanemaru debuted in July 1996, while Marufuji made his first appearance in August 1998.
Kanemaru would beat Marufuji in the latter’s first 2 matches. Both were singles matches. But both would lose to Ogawa in singles matches for years. Kanemaru lost to Ogawa in both AJPW and NOAH, while Marufuji didn’t face Ogawa for the first time until April 2002.
Ogawa and Marufuji would both be in WAVE with Mitsuharu Misawa, and Kanemaru would be in Sterness with Jun Akiyama in the earlier days of NOAH. So there is precedent for Ogawa & Marufuji teaming up.
Now, I wrote a whole article dedicated to Zack Sabre Jr’s path to NOAH, his four years in Japan with NOAH and then his time after NOAH before he joined NJPW. You can read it here.
But, in a nutshell, Zack’s first ever NOAH opponent in a singles match was Kanemaru. It took place in June 2008, the day after European Navigation on a much smaller NOAH vs UK show. Three year’s later, Zack would finally get over to Japan to wrestle for NOAH and Kanemaru would be an opponent of his on several occasions. Zack & Ogawa would form a tag team in 2013, which resulted in two reigns as GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions together. They beat Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV to win the belts for the first time. And Atsushi Kotoge & Taiji Ishimori for their second and final title reign.
Zack’s final singles match in a NOAH ring in November 2015 was an elusive victory over Ogawa. They’d been teaming for over two and a half years at this point, and Zack had never beaten Ogawa until that time.
We don’t quite know why Zack left NOAH. It did happen around the same time that TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) left the company, so NOAH were losing all their gaijin talent at around the same time. It could have potentially been budget related if NOAH couldn’t afford international flights as frequently. Or if Zack was frustrated with being booked only as a junior and overlooked due to the Suzuki-Gun invasion.
But Zack returned to Japan in March 2017 in a NJPW ring to face Katsuyori Shibata in a match for the RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship; the belt that Zack had lost to Shibata in England the November just gone. This could have been a one and done for Zack in NJPW but the manner in which he won the belt back from Shibata proved that he would be back.
Suzuki-Gun interfered in the match to hand Zack the victory. And Zack was quickly announced to be the newest member of Suzuki-Gun. Ironic, considering he and the rest of NOAH were feuding with Suzuki-Gun when he left the company.
Zack is now a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, losing those belts just four days ago. And he’s challenged for the NEVER Openweight, IWGP Intercontinental, IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP World Heavyweight Titles. His status as a established, credible heavyweight absolutely cannot be questioned, despite his slim build.
This will be the first time that Zack has faced any NOAH wrestlers since he left the promotion in November 2015. What does his former partner Ogawa think of this new Zack? Marufuji and Zack unfortunately barely had any interactions in NOAH, but Marufuji is synonymous with NOAH. What does he think about facing the man who left NOAH and not only joined their competition in NJPW, but the stable that tried to destroy NOAH?
And Zack is not the only one to have left NOAH to have joined Suzuki-Gun. Kanemaru, back in the early days of NOAH, was the number one junior heavyweight. He was the first-ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. He and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi were leading the charge for the NOAH junior heavyweight division in the first NJPW vs NOAH war and they won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.
Kanemaru was also the one to take the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship back to NOAH from Jushin Thunder Liger in June 2004. But, for whatever reason, Kanemaru did get lazy in the mid-2000’s. I don’t think anyone could argue that point. So he got over taken by the younger generation – Marufuji, KENTA, and Takashi Sugiura.
Marufuji especially, as he won the GHC Heavyweight Title in September 2006. He was the first junior since Ogawa shocked Akiyama in April 2002 to win the belt. While Kanemaru kept doing the same thing in the junior division, Marufuji was able to ride that line between junior and heavyweight.
At the end of 2012, Kanemaru and others left NOAH in protest at the firing of Kenta Kobashi. Kanemaru would go to AJPW and held their World Junior Heavyweight Championship for 295 days. But in early 2016, he came back to NOAH. However after a deceptive first few shows back, Kanemaru betrayed NOAH and joined Suzuki-Gun. He won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship for a seventh and final time as a member of Suzuki-Gun.
And when Suzuki-Gun left NOAH in December 2016, Kanemaru left with them. And when Suzuki-Gun returned to NJPW in January 2017, Kanemaru was still with them. Suzuki-Gun and NJPW has been his home ever since.
He’s not done too badly for himself in NJPW. He’s won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles another five times – once with Taichi and four times with El Desperado. Kanemaru hasn’t faced Marufuji in any way since November 2016. Their last singles match took place in July 2010 where Kanemaru beat Marufuji to retain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. And he hasn’t faced Ogawa since the night before he left NOAH. He hasn’t faced Ogawa in a singles match since March 2002, and has never been able to beat Ogawa in a singles match.
I’m very excited for this match, if you can’t tell. You have two men who symbolise NOAH on one side, against two men who used to be NOAH but are now a part of Suzuki-Gun.
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI), Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato vs Yoshiki Inamura, Daiki Inaba, Daisuke Harada, Hajima Ohara & Kinya Okada
No opponents in this match have ever faced each other. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI, the new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, have appeared in NOAH (not partnering each other back then) but have never faced anyone on this NOAH team.
Ryusuke Taguchi has also appeared in NOAH but everyone in this match arrived after his two matches in 2010. In fact, there is no one on the NOAH team that has been there since before 2013.
Daisuke Harada didn’t join NOAH until May 2013 (although he had been in a NOAH ring while an Osaka Pro Wrestling member). Hajima Ohara joined that same month as Maybach SUWA Jr. Yoshiki Inamura debuted in September 2018, while Kinya Okada made his debut in December 2018 – both are NOAH dojo graduates. Daiki Inaba joined in July 2020, following the closure of Wrestle-1.
For NJPW, Taguchi debuted in November 2002, while Goto debuted in July 2003, YOSHI-HASHI in July 2008 and Master Wato in January 2016. All are NJPW dojo graduates to show the difference between the NJPW and NOAH teams (and the two promotions as a whole). Tomohiro Ishii debuted in November 1996 and made his way to NJPW in early 2006. He is by far the veteran in this match, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t involved in any of the big NJPW vs NOAH matches during their previous wars. The closest we got was him facing Naomichi Marufuji during the 2016 G1 Climax.
So I’m really excited for several pairings in this match. Ishii vs Inamura sounds incredible, especially after the fire Inamura showed in that six man tag team match against KENTA in the Nippon Budokan. Then we have Goto and YOSHI-HASHI against Inaba in the battle of the underrated and unappreciated roster members. Okada finally gets to show some fire in an interpromotional match, most likely against Goto.
We then get Taguchi & Master Wato against Harada & Ohara. Wato may have gone to Mexico on excursion to learn Lucha Libre, but Ohara debuted in Mexico and knows that technical side inside out.
I can imagine that Ishii & Goto in particular will be very fired up to defend NJPW on home soil. And the big boy Inamura will be very game to take the fight right to them.
Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado & DOUKI) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (YO-HEY & NOSAWA Rongai)
El Desperado finally beat Hiromu Takahashi with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line at the Tokyo Dome. Desperado said that he didn’t feel like a real champion until he finally beat his generational rival in a title match. So Desperado enters this while reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
But the real intrigue here is between DOUKI and Los Perros del Mal de Japon. DOUKI, while not a member of the original Los Perros del Mal in Mexico, was around the stable a lot during his days in Mexico and wrestled on several Perros Del Mal shows. He was in a tag team with Daisuke Hanaoka, known as Los Japonese Del Mal. And the two teamed between 2012 and 2017, pretty much until DOUKI started spending more time in Japan, eventually becoming part of the NJPW roster, as a member of Suzuki-Gun, in May 2019.
I know NOSAWA Rongai got permission from Los Perros del Mal in order to create Los Perros del Mal de Japon. But how does DOUKI feel about seeing a Los Perros del Mal de Japon that he’s not involved in?
Every wrestler in this match is a blend of different wrestling styles. Desperado may have started in the NJPW dojo but he eventually found himself in Mexico. Ironically, he found DOUKI in Mexico too and was the one to bring him into Suzuki-Gun.
NOSAWA has wrestled practically everywhere. Mexico, America, Japan. So his style is a mix of everything. Everything rudo related that is. And YO-HEY started in Dragon Gate but eventually found a home in NOAH.
So everyone has elements of that Lucharesu style, the merging of Lucha Libre and Puroresu. Desperado is arguably the biggest name in this match so he’ll have the biggest target on his back.
YO-HEY has yet to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship despite repeated attempts. So how much of a boost would this be for his career if he could beat the reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion?
A bit of a side note, but a big thank you to Chris Charlton for pointing out the DOUKI and Los Perros del Mal connection. This definitely helped put more context to this match that I don’t know if I would have picked up on had it not been highlighted by Chris.
Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & Gedo) vs STINGER (HAYATA & Seiki Yoshioka)
Now Taiji Ishimori and HAYATA have history in NOAH. Ishimori joined NOAH in 2006 and by the time HAYATA joined NOAH in late 2016, Ishimori was already a former four time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion and two time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Ishimori’s first reign with that belt is still the longest in its history. So Ishimori was a made man in the NOAH junior division at that time. That’s why it’s so surprising that in HAYATA’s second month in NOAH, he beat Ishimori in a singles match in six minutes. It would lead to a match for the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, where Ishimori & Hi69 (now known as Nioh) beat HAYATA & YO-HEY to win those belts. But that one victory alone showed that HAYATA was coming into NOAH in a big way.
And several months later, in May 2017, HAYATA beat Hajima Ohara to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on his first attempt. But he would lose the belt in his first defense in June….. To Ishimori.
The RATEL’S team of HAYATA & YO-HEY would beat Ishimori & Hi69 in the Global Junior Heavyweight Tag League in July and then beat them again in August for the tag belts. RATEL’S would hold those belts all the way to January 2018 when they again lost them to Ishimori & Hi69. But they would only hold them for 43 days because in March 2018, they would lose them to Yoshinari Ogawa & Minoru Tanaka in what was Ishimori’s last ever NOAH match.
He’d done everything he could do in NOAH and it wasn’t likely that he’d ever be able to move up to a heavyweight despite how incredibly chiselled he is. So he left NOAH and joined Bullet Club, getting revealed as the new Bone Soldier just a few months after his NOAH departure. And Ishimori hit NJPW with a bang. He reached the finals of that year’s Best Of The Super Juniors, losing to Hiromu Takahashi. He won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 13. He’s now a two time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and three time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with El Phantasmo. So his success has followed him into NJPW.
HAYATA has had success in NOAH in Ishimori’s absence. He’s a three time and current GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. He will be wearing that belt into this show after making his eighth successful defence against Yoshinari Ogawa on January 1st in the Nippon Budokan.
Ishimori only managed ten successful defences in his 405 days and HAYATA already stands at eight, with his ninth taking place on January 10th, opponent to be decided on the 6th. Ishimori holds the record for longest reign and most successful Title defenses. HAYATA may not break the length but he looks on target to surpass the most defenses in a single reign.
HAYATA has dominated the NOAH junior division in the same way that Ishimori once did. So this is almost like the past of NOAH against the present. The future of the NOAH junior division could definitely be in Seiki Yoshioka’s hands, I’m telling you now. I know he’s already 34 and been wrestling since 2008 (a youngster compared to the majority of the NOAH roster) and he’s already had short reigns with both the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in 2021.
But I could absolutely see Yoshioka having several reigns in the future. You talk about Ishimori’s speed, but Yoshioka is just as fast. I’m excited to see Yoshioka and Ishimori face off as these two could be electric together with their speed and kicks.
Sorry that I’m treating Gedo like an afterthought in this match. The man was involved in the NJPW vs NOAH wars back in 2002-2004 where he and Jado went to NOAH to try and win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles back. He was also involved in 2016 where he and Jado briefly held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. So he has experience taking the fight to NOAH as a tag team even if he’s never faced his opponents before. But this match is all about Ishimori against HAYATA & Yoshioka for me and many others.
SHO vs Atsushi Kotoge
Opening match, and it’s the only singles match on the main card. That shows you the level of trust that both promotions have in both men.
These two actually have crossed paths in two matches before. Back in 2015, when Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu hadn’t dropped their surnames and hung around Roppongi with Rocky Romero, they briefly spent time in NOAH. The future YOH would only have two matches in NOAH. His final match would be him and SHO losing to Atsushi Kotoge & Taiji Ishimori.
But SHO would spend a few more weeks in NOAH, where he took part in the Global Junior League. He and Kotoge did not cross paths, but they would have a second tag match where Kotoge & Naomichi Marufuji beat SHO & Manabu Nakanishi. Now that was well over six and a half years ago. SHO was less than three years into his career at that point, while Kotoge was ten years in, with a GHC Junior Title and two GHC Junior Tag Title reigns to his name.
SHO is a lot different to the young boy he was back then. He grew up partying with YOH and Rocky Romero, and he and YOH had five reigns as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
But his heart turned cold and his mood grew darker as he turned on YOH in August 2021, after they failed to win the Super Junior Tag League. He joined EVIL, Dick Togo & Yujiro Takahashi in the Bullet Club sub-group, House Of Torture. His new attitude didn’t help him win the Best Of The Super Juniors or even beat YOH in the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. But he, EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi are still the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions.
For his part, Kotoge has won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles six more times and GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship two more times. He’s held both of them, at different points, just last year.
Stylistically, both are more technical wrestlers than they are high flying junior heavyweights. SHO had fantastic fights against Shingo Takagi. And Kotoge had a knock down, drag out war against Nioh in April where they just beat the life out of each other.
Of course there’s always the potential that House Of Torture members like Dick Togo and Yujiro Takahashi could get involved, especially seeing as the latter is not on the card. It’s not the style of NOAH wrestlers to interfere in other matches so Momo No Seishun and friends are not likely to get involved as quickly, if at all.
Pre-Show: Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Funky Express (King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito)
The opening pre-show match is all about the youth and the future. This match is more about the older generation. The Third Generation to be exact.
Or The Dads, as they are more affectionately known. Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan are all former IWGP Heavyweight Champions. Nagata has also held the GHC Heavyweight Title, and Kojima has held the AJPW Triple Crown Title.
Nagata is one of three people to have held the IWGP Heavyweight and GHC Heavyweight Titles – Keiji Muto and Minoru Suzuki being the other two. Nagata’s run as GHC Heavyweight Champion was absolutely glorious back in 2014.
Funky Express’ King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito have never had singles success. Definitely not on the level of their NJPW opponents. But they have had GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title success. Just not with each other either.
Saito spent a lot of his early career in NJPW. So he’s wrestled all three of his opponents back in the 1990’s. King Tany was part of the NOAH vs Shibata & Third Generation brief feud that resulted in several explosive tag matches. And Tany, as Maybach Taniguchi, challenged Nagata for the GHC Heavyweight Title. Yone has only wrestled these guys when they have guested in a NOAH ring.
This match shouldn’t be too long and I can’t imagine it being as heated as what it was five year’s ago. It’s a shame NJPW and NOAH stopped working together in late 2016 because NOAH vs Shibata & Third Generation would have been a lot of fun.
Pre-Show: Kosei Fujita vs Yasutaka Yano
The most recent graduates of the NJPW and NOAH dojos respectively. The NJPW dojo has created a lot of amazing talent in the twenty plus year’s that the NOAH dojo has competed with them. But Yasutaka Yano is only the fifteenth graduate of the NOAH dojo.
Each dojo is completely different. NJPW has the young lions in all black who perform the basics but do them well. Yano was allowed colour in his basic ring gear, he does the basics very well and has grown into a more all rounder.
Yano even achieved a big singles victory on January 4th, when he pinned Kai Fujimura. Fujimura debuted a year before Yano, so that victory was huge.
Yano is twenty one to Kosei Fujita’s nineteen. And Yano debuted in October 2020 to Fujita’s August 2021. So Yano is older with a lot more experience. The difference in the teachings of the two dojos also means that Yano was already further along at his debut than Fujita.
It will be a match of fire and determination. And it will show that the future is bright for the junior division in both promotions.
And that’s your lot. Big matches, so a big preview.
I’m not going to write too much here other than to thank you so much for reading this.
I hope you learned something, even if only a little, and it helped you get more excited for the show!