Pro Wrestling NOAH presents a major show on Sunday, August 1st where 3 GHC titles will be on the line.
Cross Over 2021 In Hiroshima will air on Fite TV, Wrestle Universe, and ABEMA. Fite TV is for outside of Japan only and will have English commentary at a one-off cost of $19.99.
Wrestle Universe is a paid-for subscription service that is FREE for the first calendar month. After that it’s under £8 per month and seen as you get live and VOD shows from NOAH, DDT & TJPW each and every single month, it’s well worth it.
ABEMA is a Japanese streaming service so will have Japanese commentary and while it’s free, it will only be available live with no replays.
The show starts at 4pm in Japan. That’s 8am in England, 3am East Coast America and 1am West Coast.
There are 8 matches on this show and the card is STACKED. You have Kazushi Sakuraba challenging for the main belt in a Japanese wrestling promotion for the first time when he faces Naomichi Marufuji for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in what will be Marufuji’s second defense.
Hiroshima native HAYATA looks to make his second defense of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship when he takes on former friend turned rival, YO-HEY. And GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Daisuke Harada & Hajima Ohara, are also after a second successful defense against the STINGER team of Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu.
That plus you have the return of The Great Muta in tag team action as he and NOSAWA Rongai square off with Kaito Kiyomiya and Atsushi Kotoge. Plus this is just days away from there 21st Anniversary Departure shows to celebrate the promotions founding.
Let’s get on with the card!
MAIN EVENT – GHC Heavyweight Championship – Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs Kazushi Sakuraba
As already noted the 52 year old Sakuraba had never challenged for the main title belt in any Japanese promotion before today. And this is not just a token title defense to honour a long-serving roster member. Sakuraba is an MMA legend and since he has joined the NOAH roster in 2019, he’s become an integral part of Sugiura Army and a main eventer.
Starting in August 1993, Sakuraba debuted with UWF-I, a shoot-style promotion that focused more on grappling and striking like MMA would. Trained by Yoji Anjo (and later Billy Robinson for the European Catch style wrestling), he was one of Anjo’s main trainees along with Yoshihiro Takayama, Kiyoshi Tamura & Masahito Kakihara. Like most rookies he spent his first few years on the losing end of matches more often than not.
The New Japan vs UWF-I inter-promotional feud made big business in the mid 1990’s. And Sakuraba was part of that on the UWF-I side. Unfortunately the losing continued but his technical prowess and skills were exposed to a wider audience. But New Japan absolutely dominated the feud and while they were able to ride that momentum to new heights and stay competitive with All Japan, UWF-I faltered by the wayside.
His performance in the NJPW feud did elevate him at home so in the final UWF-I show in December 1996 he defeated his trainer, Anjoh, in the main event. Sakuraba and other UWF-I alumni joined Kingdom Pro Wrestling, created by Nobuhiko Takada, and here Sakuraba was presented as a main eventer. However MMA promotions like UFC were taking an audience away from shoot style wrestling promotions so, to promote Kingdom as being as authentic as possible, Anjoh and Hiromitsu Kanehara signed up to a one night UFC tournament called Ultimate Japan.
In a twist of fate, Kanehara was injured in training so Sakuraba was drafted in as a last-minute replacement. Now bare in mind early UFC was a lot rougher than it is now. Weight classes were more… Fluid shall we say. Sakuraba was 183 pounds but competed against heavyweights who were ordinarily a minimum of 200 pounds. But despite his first match being incorrectly stopped early and then ruled a no-contest and Tank Abbott (yes, the WCW Tank Abbott) withdrawing from the tournament from injury after beating Anjoh, Sakuraba made the finals with a rematch of the first match.
Marcus Silveira weighed 243 pounds so he had a massive weight advantage over Sakuraba. The first match ended prematurely after Sakuraba dropped low to try and take Silveira down, but as he was getting hammered by punches at the time, the referee misread it as a KO. In the rematch it only took Sakuraba under 4 minutes to submit Silveira via an armbar. After the match, Sakuraba took the microphone to state that “Pro wrestling is strong!”.
And that set up Sakuraba’s entire MMA career. He had the choice of MMA or wrestling when he first started out and he picked wrestling. When he moved away from wrestling into MMA, he kept the thematics and flair of wrestling. When he made an entrance, he made an entrance. With his bright orange hair and attire, he definitely stood out. Sakuraba, much like Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki, took to MMA like a duck to water.
He went from December 1997 to May 2000 unbeaten with a record of 9-1-1 at that time. Sakuraba became a legend in the MMA community with victories over 4 of the Gracie brother’s at a time when they ran MMA. By the time he wrapped up his MMA career in 2015 he had a win-loss-draw record of 26-17-1 but took some notable victories with the Gracies and, for the wrestling world, Ken Shamrock, Katsuyori Shibata and Masakatsu Funaki.
Sakuraba wouldn’t make his full time return to pro wrestling until he and Katsuyori Shibata (re)debuted in New Japan at the end of 2012. The two known as Laughter7 were very successful initially but both suffered singles losses at Wrestle Kingdom were Sakuraba failed to defeat Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. That would be the first time Sakuraba had challenged for a belt since he lost to Shinjiro Ohtani for the vacant UWA World Junior Heavyweight Title.
Sakuraba would beat and then lose to Yuji Nagata. Get into a feud with the Gracies in a wrestling ring. Partner with Toru Yano and become an unofficial member of Chaos. And then lose his final singles matches against Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata before quietly leaving New Japan in 2016.
He wouldn’t join Pro Wrestling NOAH until September 2019 as a member of Sugiura Army. And he wouldn’t wrestle more consistently until the Covid-19 pandemic meant fewer shows so Sakuraba featured on more of them.
Winning his first ever title belt in professional wrestling at the end of August, he and Takashi Sugiura beat AXIZ (Go Shiozaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima, also their final tag match) to take home the vacant GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. Riding that momentum he entered the N-1 Victory, his first-ever wrestling tournament, where he won 2 but lost 5. In all fairness, he had not had that many singles matches back to back in well over 20 years.
His two victories did come against former 4 time Dragon Gate Open The Dream Gate Champion, Masaaki Mochizuki and a future NOAH main eventer in Masa Kitamiya. So he felt good enough to challenge Kenoh for the GHC National Title at the last big NOAH PPV worthy show but came up short.
As GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, they beat a Kongo team (Manabu Soya & Masa Kitamiya), an M’s Alliance team (Naomichi Marufuji & Masakatsu Funaki), a NOAH new generation team (Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura) but they lost the belts in their fourth defense to The Aggression (Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya).
Sugiura would end up winning the GHC National Title from Kazuyuki Fujita in April and Sakuraba would unsuccessfully challenge his team mate in what was Sakuraba’s longest singles match in well over 20 years as it was over 15 minutes.
When Sugiura failed to beat Marufuji in the latter’s first defense of the GHC Heavyweight Championship, Sakuraba surprisingly stepped forward as Marufuji’s next challenger.
But then it may not be that surprising. Sakuraba holds a direct submission victory over Marufuji from that tag title match back in November. And the two faced off in two preview matches between M’s Alliance and Sugiura Army before Sugiura’s challenge. Sakuraba claims to have found Marufuji’s weakness and that is why he is making his challenge now.
For the champion, his weaknesses could be well known. He didn’t start wrestling until the end of August 1998, after Sakuraba had transitioned from wrestling into MMA. And as one of the most innovative and exciting junior heavyweight’s of his generation, his influence can be seen all over modern wrestling. But that high flying and hard-hitting style over the past 20 plus years has caused a lot of wear and tear on his body.
Marufuji didn’t really come into his own until All Japan split into NOAH. There the junior heavyweight division had more focus and attention than it did in All Japan and he, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, KENTA and Takashi Sugiura were all expected to spearhead a generational change. He was the third ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and only lost the belt after he got injured in a match against Makoto Hashi and was forced into taking almost 7 months off.
He and KENTA became the first-ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and held those belts from July 2003 to June 2005. But within two weeks him and Minoru Suzuki beat Doug Williams & Scorpio in England to become the new GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions although they lost them in their third defense.
2006 was a big year for Marufuji. He beat one of the Four Pillars, Akira Taue, just after the latter had lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship. He faced another Four Pillar in Kenta Kobashi in what turned out to be Kobashi’s final singles match before his cancer diagnosis (and ultimately, his final serious singles match).
Kobashi’s cancer diagnosis would end up being a blessing (and a curse) for Marufuji as he faced Jun Akiyama on the 6th of September in Nippon Budokan and scored the upset of the year when he beat him to become the new GHC Heavyweight Champion. He became the first man to hold the junior and heavyweight singles and tag team belts. He became the first man to ever defend the GHC Heavyweight Title outside of Japan when he beat Nigel McGuinness at an ROH show in New York just one week to the day later.
I know it didn’t do great business at home but Marufuji defending the GHC Heavyweight Title against his long term friend turned rival, KENTA, in Nippon Budokan on October 29th is one of my favourite matches EVER and you really owe it to yourself to watch it at least once. However that dip in business scared the green pants off of Misawa and he himself ended Marufuji’s reign after two successful defenses on the 10th of December.
2007 he represented NOAH internationally in America (ROH & WLW) and England/Germany (RQW & wXw) but back at home he lost a rematch to Misawa in September. He would win the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team belts for a second time, now with Takashi Sugiura, in October but would lose them in their third defense in May 2008.
This is the year where he began representing NOAH in other Japanese promotions and he returned to All Japan in September 2008 to win their World Junior Heavyweight Title. In something very rare at that time, Marufuji (All Japan) faced KENTA (NOAH) for both junior heavyweight belts and the match ended in a 60 minute draw.
He would lose the belt to Kaz Hayashi in February 2009 in his fifth defense but suffer an injury in March which would lay him off for 9 months. And during that time tragedy stuck when Misawa, NOAH’s founder and Marufuji’s mentor, passed away in the ring in June. It was well known that Marufuji was Misawa’s second and was known as the Heir To The Ark but now it became true as he had to step up as NOAH’s Vice President after Misawa’s death.
Before Misawa’s untimely passing, NOAH & New Japan had entered into an inter-promotional feud for the second time. Marufuji returned to the ring in December and won New Japan’s Super J Cup by beating NJPW roster members Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi and Prince Devitt in the process.
That victory earned him a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship which he took at Wrestle Kingdom IV and beat Tiger Mask IV to win. With that he became the first man to hold the junior heavyweight title belts in NOAH, All Japan & New Japan. Marufuji would make successful defenses over Devitt, Koji Kanemoto, Liger, Taguchi and Tiger Mask IV again before Devitt could finally beat him at Dominion in June.
He would suffer another injury after he made his DDT debut with a win over Kenny Omega in July 2010 and make another December return where he and Atsushi Aoki beat the NJPW team of Kanemoto & Tiger Mask IV to return the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag belts back to the Ark. Unfortunately he was sidelined with yet another injury in April 2011 so they had to vacate the belts.
When he returned in November he now came back as a heavyweight instead of trying to toe the line. He made his first GHC Heavyweight Title challenge in 4 and a half years but lost to Takeshi Morishima in March 2012. He entered the G1 Climax in 2012 after he was originally booked for it before his injury back in 2010. While he didn’t advance from his block he did beat Hiroshi Tanahashi and so earned an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match in September which he lost.
The end of 2012 saw NOAH release Kenta Kobashi and other long-serving, older, less able NOAH rosters so Akiyama, Shiozaki, Kanemaru, Kotaro Suzuki & Aoki all resigned from NOAH in protest. July 2013 saw Marufuji challenge KENTA, this time for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, but he would again be unsuccessful. Another return to NJPW in September would see him fail to beat Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Title.
However, February 2014 saw NJPW wrestler Yuji Nagata beat Morishima for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. It took until July for the match to finally happen but Marufuji, representing NOAH at his very core was able to beat the invader and regain the belt he had lost seven and a half years ago.
He had a good second run with the belt with victories over Katsuhiko Nakajima, Morishima, Maybach Taniguchi, Daisuke Sekimoto, Sugiura & Satoshi Kojima before Suzuki-Gun invaded NOAH and Minoru Suzuki defeated his former tag partner to take the belt from him.
Suzuki-Gun’s invasion is known as the dark says of NOAH. All of NOAH lost their belts to one stable and then a depleted NOAH roster (KENTA left for WWE and Morishima was forced into retirement) all chased Suzuki-Gun. But Suzuki and his stable would all cheat in order to retain and NOAH were completely ineffective against this style of wrestling. This in turn ended up losing more fans than gaining them as this was not the NOAH they had been watching for the past 15 years.
Marufuji for his part would fail to beat Suzuki in a rematch in May but he would win the Global League and take the belt back from Suzuki in December. However Sugiura turned on NOAH to join Suzuki-Gun (and the fans REALLY hated this story) and he ended Marufuji’s third reign in it’s first defense.
We had another year of NOAH vs Suzuki-Gun and by the time Suzuki-Gun were beaten out of NOAH, NJPW pulled all of their support as they were unhappy that NOAH changed ownership and they were not consulted to put a bid of their own in. Honestly I’m glad NJPW’s owners didn’t take over NOAH as NOAH was truly at their worst when NJPW dominated their main angles.
While NOAH & NJPW still had that working agreement, Marufuji & Toru Yano held the GHC Heavyweight Tag belts, Marufuji competed in the 2016 G1 Climax where he beat their ace Kazuchika Okada but again fell short in an IWGP Heavyweight Title match.
2017 was a year of rebuilding, both NOAH and it’s connections worldwide. Nakajima finally got a run with the belt but it was much shorter than he deserved. Eddie Edwards became the first gaijin to win the belt and Marufuji helped put over Edwards in a title match. NOAH entered into a short partnership with Impact but it never really benefited either company. However Marufuji began to make consistent appearances in DDT where he and DDT ace, HARISHIMA won the KO-D Tag Team Title’s.
Relations between NOAH and All Japan closed down back in 2012 so it came as a shock when Marufuji was announced to debut in the 2018 Champion Carnival. Jun Akiyama was the president of All Japan at the time and a former NOAH/Kensuke Office wrestler, Kento Miyahara, was then Triple Crown Champion.
Marufuji won the Champion Carnival, defeating Akiyama and Miyahara in the process but was defeated in his challenge for the Triple Crown. And just 5 days later, Sugiura beat him to also retain the GHC Heavyweight belt.
Here now is where it felt like Marufuji had settled into a role. He’d become the brand ambassador for NOAH, was creating and repairing bonds with other promotions, at home and abroad, but for himself as a wrestler it seemed like he was taking a backseat and would only visit the main event scene to put the focus on others.
He did that for Kaito Kiyomiya in March 2019. Gone was the green ring, the NOAH logo updated to move into the future and the message couldn’t have been more clearer when Marufuji lost to Kaito in the main event of that first show.
When Go Shiozaki finally got his ace reign in 2020, Marufuji was the shadow he had to step out of and he did so in August of that year.
Cyber Fight purchased NOAH from LIDET that year also and NOAH was brought more into the mainstream with a streaming service and a big company behind them that had already seen success with DDT & TJPW.
M’s Alliance was formed with Marufuji and later Keiji Muto as the only NOAH contracted wrestlers and the rest all freelancers of representing other promotions that Marufuji had helped maintain a working relationship with.
I think a lot of us felt like Marufuji was a token defense to pad Muto’s GHC Heavyweight Title reign out with. They were in the same stable. They had little build for such a big show that was more about Cyber Fight showing off all their promotions at once instead of Marufuji challenging Muto. It had been well over 5 years since he had last held the belt and even then that was a transitional reign.
But he did it. After almost 15 years from his first reign as GHC Heavyweight Champion, Marufuji beat Muto to win the belt for the 4th time and tie Sugiura and Shiozaki with most reigns.
He is a lot different man that what he was back in 2006. Injuries and age have eliminated a lot of his more agile, high flying techniques. But he is a man who wrestles well within his capabilities and his body has nowhere near broken down yet. At 44 he wrestles smart, he wrestles technical, he can still move quick when the need arises and he has discovered a chop that can remove flesh from bone when done right.
Sakuraba more than has the edge when it comes to grappling. And despite being older, spaced out MMA matches and training plus not that much time in a wrestling ring means his body is in much better condition. But stamina and cardio wise, Marufuji definitively has the edge as he is more used to longer wrestling matches. Whereas Sakuraba needs to get a win in a shorter time frame and the longer the match goes, the quicker his odds drop.
I know I’ve wrote more about the competitors than the match itself. But their history will absolutely play a factor. Sakuraba may have started as a wrestler but his success was made in MMA and he fares better in tag team matches. Marufuji knows nothing but wrestling. And while he’s spent time teaming with names like Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki (and feuding with Suzuki too) he gives up a lot of experience to Sakuraba when it comes to grappling.
However if it came down to striking and wrestling moves, Sakuraba will not be able to compete with Marufuji. Those lethal chops of his have already battered Sakuraba’s chest into a red mess and Sakuraba has already stated that his leadt favourite part of wrestling is the chopping, which, when you watch how disgusting Marufuji’s chops can be, I don’t blame him.
This will definitely be an interesting main event. Marufuji has such a unique hybrid style that he can wrestle any opponent. But Sakuraba will clearly try and ground Marufuji and keep the pace of the match to his favour. Now if Marufuji quickens the pace and/or draws the match out, you’d feel he will be the odds on favourite. However NOAH can be unpredictable at times so what’s to say Sakuraba might not get a reign at this rate?
Either way the two are more than capable of having a good to great match against each other.
The Great Muta & NOSAWA Rongai vs Kaito Kiyomiya & Atsushi Kotoge
You’d think that this match will help set up Muto vs Kiyomiya III (or Muta vs Kiyomiya). You’d think that. But then NOAH, well NOSAWA, has a thinking all of his own. Especially when it comes to Kaito.
He begins a losing streak after losing the GHC Heavyweight Title and loses a big match to Muto? No problem, he’ll get both back in one fell swoop right? Right??? Nope. Well he’ll sink further into a losing slump and then pull out a big victory to redeem himself yeah? Nah. He’ll win the vacant GHC Heavyweight Tag Team belts with Kitamiya.
But I digress. I think I know what NOSAWA is doing and then he cruelly laughs in my face. So I’m not doing it again. I’m not going to hurt myself again! Anyway, there’s a match to talk about.
This is The Great Muta’s third match in a NOAH ring. He beat Marufuji in a singles match in November 2019. Then Muta & Marufuji beat Sakuraba & Mochizuki in May 2020. And, more recently, Muta beat Kenoh on June 27th.
So he is unbeaten in a NOAH ring. If Kiyomiya was able to beat him, then that would be the first time Muta was beaten in several years. Or… It could be a case of Muta beating Kiyomiya which opens up Muto & Ogawa challenging Kiyomiya & Kitamiya for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team belts…. Which….. NOSAWA.
Speaking of, they do have odd tag partners. Kotoge and Momo No Seishun do have a loose alliance with the NOAH unaffiliated so I guess that makes sense. But NOSAWA and Muta – assuming Muta is a member of M’s Alliance seen as he has an M surname – are in completely different stables which feud more often than team.
Although this is assuming Los Perros del Mal de Japon have kept their alliance with Sugiura Army, which NOSAWA may or may not still be a member of. And while Muta and NOSAWA have spent years in the same promotions, they haven’t teamed consistently since 2007. And the last time they teamed was back in 2015.
That and NOSAWA did nothing but wind Muto up in their two tag matches against each other last year. So I can imagine that Muta will not take kindly to any NOSAWA shenanigans and chase him like a drone if he displeases him.
While I personally see this match as nothing more than a vehicle to push forward to another Kiyomiya vs Muto (or Muta) match and, unfortunately, most likely a GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title match, let’s not overlook that this is a big match for Kotoge too.
He’s only faced Muto in a surprise 8 man tag team match back in January 2020. And while he got the big reunion with Harada to reform Momo No Seishun and brief runs with both GHC Junior singles and tag team belts, he’s not spent much time in or near the main event.
Now he gets a semi-main event match against a legend of Puroresu. While it’s a random tag match, at least he gets to face The Great Muta in a rare match. And it’s not guaranteed that he’s there to take the pinfall. It could easily be Kiyomiya…..
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship – HAYATA (c) vs YO-HEY
These two have had a relationship since all the way back in November 2013. They first teamed together in Dotonbori Pro. It was at that promotions first show(s) that HAYATA & YO-HEY took part in their Tag King Decision League where they narrowly missed the finals.
The two quickly became friends and teamed consistently, including appearing in other Japanese promotions like DOVE, Big Japan, REINA and All Japan. It was in DOVE that they had their first singles match in July 2016 where YO-HEY emerged victorious.
HAYATA was first to debut in NOAH in late 2016 but YO-HEY was immediately after him in January 2017. They teamed together for the first time that same month and it was only in February that they made their first challenge for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s together when they lost to Taiji Ishimori and Hi69 (now Nioh) for the vacant belts.
Along with Daisuke Harada & Tadasuke the 4 formed RATEL’S in March. HAYATA having known both Harada & Tadasuke from his time in Osaka Pro. Not only was HAYATA the first to join NOAH but he was also the first to claim gold as he won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title from Hajima Ohara in May but lost it to Ishimori by May.
The two entered the Global Junior Tag League and won it, beating Ishimori & Hi69 in a rematch in the finals. While YO-HEY fell short challenging Ishimori for the singles belt, RATEL’S would win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag belts for the first time that August.
Their reign saw them beat DDT’s MAO & Shunma Katsumata, an inter-stable match against Harada & Tadasuke, and Ryuku Dragon Pro’s Gurukun Mask & Shuri Joe in a 5 month reign before they lost the belts back to Ishimori & Hi69 in January 2018.
A few months later the belts were vacated but HAYATA & YO-HEY lost to Hi69 & Minoru Tanaka in a tournament finals to crown new champions. They rebounded back quickly and the Global Junior Tag League 2018 but they could not repeat the success of 2017 and again lost to Hi69 & Tanaka when the belts were on the line.
They had their second singles match, their first in a NOAH ring during the Global Junior League 2018 but it ended in a draw after a double pin.
At the very end of 2018, YO-HEY would turn on Daisuke Harada after he reclaimed the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship (in a match in which RATEL’S would have to disband if he’d lost I might add) and join what would later become STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa & Kotaro Suzuki).
The betrayal did not bring him closer to singles gold as he lost to Harada on the 26th of January 2019. However the bond between YO-HEY & HAYATA proved to be stronger than any stable as HAYATA defected from RATEL’S to join STINGER.
But that defection was only a ruse for HAYATA to re-join RATEL’S within the month and get him & Tadasuke a GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Title shot against Ogawa & Suzuki but they would be unable to win the belts.
By the end of April, YO-HEY realized that he was not a good fit in STINGER and was able to return to RATEL’S. The two friends immediately resumed their tag team and entered the Global Junior Tag League 2019 but could not make it 3 years in a row as they lost to Ogawa & Suzuki in the finals.
Both men, in separate blocks, entered the Global Junior League but it was HAYATA who would win the entire tournament. HAYATA then became a two time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion when he beat Minoru Tanaka in August.
RATEL’S were now a stable four-piece again despite YO-HEY leaving to challenge Harada and HAYATA having to beat Tadasuke in the Global Junior League finals but HAYATA’s first challenger came from within – YO-HEY.
They had an untelevised singles match earlier in the year which YO-HEY had won during his brief time as part of STINGER. YO-HEY had won their first-ever singles match in 2016, they drew in 2018 and YO-HEY then won their third match. YO-HEY was feeling confident going into their title match plus HAYATA had lost in his first defense the last time he held the belt.
But on that night on the 16th of September, HAYATA was the better man and he finally beat his stable mate and friend. This didn’t seem to dampen YO-HEY’s resolve and he requested and received a rematch for the belt where HAYATA again beat him on the 2nd of November to make his second defense.
HAYATA made his third defense against STINGER’s Chris Ridgeway in December. And at a Sugiura Army produced show, Sugiura, the deviant that he is, booked a four-way elimination match between all four RATEL members. HAYATA didn’t only win that match – He eliminated Harada, Tadasuke and YO-HEY himself all in that order.
While he seemed like a dominant champ on that night, he lost the belt to Ogawa on the very first show of 2020.
As the world was just becoming aware at how deadly the Covid-19 pandemic was about to become, HAYATA & YO-HEY won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts for the third time from STINGER’s Suzuki & Atsushi Kotoge at the first show of the no-fans era.
With shows being cancelled and only able to take place in empty arenas, HAYATA & YO-HEY beat Hajima Ohara & Seiki Yoshioka to make their first defense in April. And then they were booked to make their second defense against the STINGER team of Ogawa & Suzuki.
And this is where the NOAH junior division became as crazy as the world around them. That match ended in a no-contest when HAYATA shocked everyone by attacking YO-HEY, joined STINGER (for real this time) and the belts were vacated.
The very next day the newly formed team of HAYATA & Ogawa beat YO-HEY & Tadasuke to become the new champions. The former friends were now turned bitter enemies and they haven’t been on the same side.
HAYATA’s betrayal effectively ended RATEL’S as all three remaining members said they would no longer use that name. And then Tadasuke turned on YO-HEY in August to leave his former friends and join Kongo. More shockingly was YO-HEY leaving Harada to join FULL THROTTLE.
YO-HEY’s group hopping would happen once more as FULL THROTTLE dissolved in May this year and he would join NOSAWA Rongai’s Los Perros del Mal de Japon.
The STINGER team of HAYATA & Ogawa would lose the belts to Momo No Seishun in October but regain them in November and they then held them until they lost to Harada & Ohara also in May this year.
However HAYATA would not have long to wait until he had a title belt to hide behind as he won a Battle Royal on June 26th to become number one contender for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. Actually, the person he out-lasted and had a competitive back and forth with at the end of the match was YO-HEY!
He would beat Kotoge the very next day to become GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion for the third time. STINGER would begin a feud with Los Perros del Mal de Japon but it was Ikuto Hidaka who stepped up to be HAYATA’s first challenger.
After beating Hidaka, it wasn’t Kotaro Suzuki that stepped forward from Los Perros del Mal de Japon. Nor was it NOSAWA himself. Or even Dragon Gate wrestler Eita who has become part of NOAH’s newest group. No. It was YO-HEY.
This is their first singles match since those two title matches at the end of 2019. And once again we find HAYATA as champion and YO-HEY as challenger.
There is a lot of history behind this match. They were friends through thick and thin but now they find themselves on opposing sides. And this is their first title match without them being in the same stable.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships – Daisuke Harada & Hajima Ohara vs STINGER (Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu)
As already written in the HAYATA vs YO-HEY write up, Harada & Ohara won the belts on May 31st from Ogawa & HAYATA. They have already made the one successful defense over a Kongo team of Tadasuke & Haoh.
Harada & Ohara have had more history as opponents than partners. Ohara debuted in May 2004 as part of Toryumon Mexico and the last graduating class of Ultimo Dragon before the Dragon Gate split. Harada debuted in Osaka Pro in August 2006. So both debuted for and were brought up in promotions that blanded Puroresu and Lucha Libre. A style referred to as Lucharesu. But instead of being high flyers, both are more ground-based, technical wrestlers with a lot of similarities.
They had their first singles match in January 2007 when Ohara brought the NWA World Welterweight Title from Mexico to Japan. Ohara beat Harada the show before he lost the belt to Super Delfin but Ohara was able win the belt back and return it to Mexico.
Their paths didn’t cross again until May 2013. The two joined NOAH the very same day but their careers had taken completely different paths. Harada had remained in Osaka Pro the entire time until that point but had made inter-promotional appearances in NOAH before then. He had risen through the ranks and was a two time Osaka Pro Champion before he left. So he was ready for a new challenge in NOAH after making his name in and conquering Osaka Pro.
Ohara’s career was a bit more stop/start. He didn’t really start wrestling in Japan full time until the middle of 2008 in Dradition and then HUSTLE. He then wrestled in ZERO1 and Kensuke Office occasionally but he was always a junior so would not be able to advance in those promotions.
When Tajiri created SMASH he took a chance and decided to build the promotion around Ohara and KUSHIDA with the two main eventing their first show. KUSHIDA was presented as the ace with Ohara chasing after him. But then that idea went out the window when KUSHIDA left to join New Japan and then SMASH folded within two years.
By the time that the opportunity came about for Ohara to join NOAH, he was actually considering retirement. He was friends with SUWA and was on Marufuji’s radar after they had faced each other a year prior. SUWA was portraying Maybach Taniguchi Jr at that time but would get injured (and ultimately never returned back to the ring) so he nominated Ohara to replace him. It took some persuasion but Ohara agreed to debut for NOAH as Maybach SUWA Jr.
So Harada and Ohara were at very different points and Harada would beat Ohara in every singles match for the next 3 years. But during Ohara’s one and only reign with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title he did manage to beat Harada in a singles match. However Harada managed to retain against Ohara in two separate reigns in 2018 & 2021.
When FULL THROTTLE broke up for good in early May, Ohara found himself a new home with Momo No Seishun. Ohara had sound himself feuding with Harada for so long, and it was less than a year ago that he kicked Kotoge out of FULL THROTTLE, that it seemed alien for Ohara to team with them.
But for the chemistry he and Harada had as opponents… It was obvious that they would work well as a team. They are too alike to not have chemistry teaming up together. And they did indeed have chemistry and they’ve proved that through winning and keeping (so far) the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s.
While Harada & Ohara have history as opponents, Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu have spent years traveling in the same circles and teaming together. Wrestle Gate, Dove & KAGEKI, the two teamed together across all of these promotions for over 4 years. They only stopped teaming on the regular when Yoshioka joined Wrestle-1. But even then Susumu made infrequent appearances in Wrestle-1 to team with Yoshioka and the two wrestled together in J-STAGE.
After Wrestle-1 folded, Yoshioka joined NOAH straight away in April 2020. Susumu’s path to NOAH was a bit more convoluted. Kotaro Suzuki, after getting kicked out of STINGER, brought in a masked wrestler to help him in his blood feud. Salvaje de Oriente as he was known was immediately put against Ogawa & HAYATA.
However HAYATA has a shared history in Wrestle Gate and Dove with both Susumu & Yoshioka so when Salvaje de Orienta attacked Suzuki during their match, it wasn’t surprising in the least to see him unmasked as Susumu.
Susumu became a quiet member of STINGER. I say quiet because for months the focus was mainly on HAYATA & Ogawa in their title reign and Susumu was either the third man in six-man tag matches or partnered one while the other was busy. It seemed like he was content to be in the background with the focus on others.
He didn’t finally get a break out match in a NOAH ring until a card reshuffle saw him placed in a last-minute singles match against Ohara. The two had a great back and forth match in the undercard that is well worth checking out on Wrestle Universe. Susumu picked up a surprising victory on that night too.
Despite being in two completely different stables at a time when the NOAH junior division was constantly at each other’s throats, Susumu and Yoshioka never crossed paths for over six months. And when they finally did….
Yoshioka betrayed FULL THROTTLE, the stable was completely broken up in the aftermath and he joined STINGER to be reunited with Susumu (and HAYATA).
The wrestling style of both has now changed that they are back together. They are meaner. More vicious. The two are like a double attack of wild dogs. While Harada & Ohara will try to wrestle a grounded, more technical match, the STINGER team will be more wild and chaotic.
Both Junior Title matches have the potential to steal the show. With the *other* STINGER team out of the title picture for right now, the tag title division already feels more vibrant and exciting.
Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura, Kazuyuki Fujita & Kendo Kashin) vs Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya & Nioh)
Takashi Sugiura is scheduled to defend his GHC National Title against Masato Tanaka on August 15th so there are no real title implications here.
However I will never say no to Sugiura and Nakajima beating the crap out of each other. Sugiura and Soya beating the crap out of each other. I’ve given up hope of Soya ever getting a win over Fujita but, hey, maybe. Who knows. Stranger things have happened. And of course Kashin getting the crap beat out of him.
I hate to say it but I hope NOAH don’t set up anything between Nakajima and Fujita. They have been in multi-man tag team matches before but rarely interacted and I hope it stays that way.
But there’s bound to be something to enjoy in this match. Even if it’s just Kashin getting the crap beat out of him.
Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Kotaro Suzuki & Ikuto Hidaka) vs Yoshinari Ogawa & Yasutaka Yano
Now this is an interesting one if just for Ogawa teaming with NOAH’s last dojo graduate. Ogawa has been in the STINGER tag title bubble for so long that it feels weird to see him not teaming with another STINGER member.
Yano has clearly had Ogawa’s hand in his training. Even though he only debuted at the end of October, he is already wrestling like he’s had a year’s plus of experience.
It’s also intriguing to note that Yano’s inspiration to wrestle, the wrestler he was a big fan of growing up was Kotaro Suzuki. Suzuki was the NOAH dojo’s first-ever graduate and was pulled right into Ogawa’s circle as Suzuki stayed close to NOAH founder, Mitsuharu Misawa.
Yano has now had chance to wrestle his idol a few times over the past few months including a singles match aired from the NOAH dojo.
Hidaka recently lost to Kotoge for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title so will want to air some of his frustrations out from that.
Plus you know you’re going to see some sparks when Ogawa and Suzuki are in the same ring.
Kongo (Kenoh, Tadasuke, Haoh & Aleja) vs Masa Kitamiya, Daiki Inaba, Junta Miyawaki & Kai Fujimura
Kongo recently promoted their 4th show as Kongo vs NOAH and held six singles matches (would have been seven if not for an eye infection removing Soya from the card).
Kenoh beat Kitamiya in the main event via sleeper hold establishing his dominance as the Kongo leader. New Kongo member Aleja went straight into winning ways with a victory over Miyawaki. Tadasuke beat Kinya Okada. And Haoh, like Nioh, were Kongo’s only losses as they lost to Harada and Kotoge respectively.
Aleja, formerly Alejandro, is a graduate of the Wrestle-1 dojo. Debuting in March 2016 under the name of Kohei Fujimura, he spent the back half of 2017 in Mexico learning Lucha Libre from the source. Returning to Japan in a big way in 2018 he unsuccessfully challenged Seiki Yoshioka for the Wrestle-1 Cruiserweight Title.
When Wrestle-1 closed in April 2020 he freelanced for a little bit but much like Soya, Yoshioka, Inaba and Fujimura before him he has now found himself a part of NOAH.
Daiki Inaba returned from injury in the main event of the last Korakuen Hall show to partner the new GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Kitamiya & Kiyomiya against Kongo. And like how he made his debut last year to challenge Kiyomiya, he did the same again this year. Unfortunately for him the result was the same with Kaito winning.
While I reckon the next challengers for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team belts will be decided in the semi-main (ugh) there’s still going to be a little heat between Kitamiya and Kenoh after their singles match.
Kitamiya left Kongo, not necessarily on bad terms, but with no bad blood between him and his former leader. Beating Nakajima in the Cage match and then reclaiming the GHC Heavyweight Tag belts probably had him feeling like he could do anything, including beating Kenoh.
Losing was most likely a wake up call that he’s not quite where he wants to be yet. So any chance to avenge that loss will be greatly received.
Funky Express (Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito) vs King Tany & Kinya Okada
Huh. I actually had to double-check that this match graphic was correct. And that it wasn’t some horrible handicap match for Kinya Okada.
But no. Yone & Tany are not teaming together. They started Funky Express but they are on opposite sides here.
There’s no story here. No drama. Just a random tag match with the leader of Funky Express, King Tany, teaming with a fellow NOAH born to face his teammates.
It’s odd, not going to lie. But please God, don’t let Funky Express recruit Okada. I hope for good things in his future. Big things. But that could kill them dead.
And that’s your lot.
Long one there so I do apologise. I do try to keep every preview as if this was going to be your first ever NOAH show you watched that you’d learn about the wrestlers and why the matches are happening (for the ones I can even tell you why).
But I know that results in very long pieces so if you took the time to read this or, hell, just even skim it, I really appreciate you doing so.
NOAH has not been predictable this year, for better or for worse. But they are still more than capable of putting on good to great shows.
So on that note, I hope that you enjoy the show!