Pro Wrestling NOAH have had an incredible February and 2022 so far. They ran Korakuen Hall three nights in a row with 1080p cameras capturing it all. And then they had an N Innovation show which saw a defection as Hajima Ohara left Momo No Seishun and friends to join Kongo.
Their next big show is on Wednesday February 23rd, Gain Control taking place in Nagoya. Airing live on Wrestle Universe, the show will have live English commentary handled by Mark Pickering and Stewart Fulton.
Starting at 3pm in Japan, that’s 6am in England, 1am East Coast USA and 11pm Tuesday 22nd West Coast USA. Fortunately with it being on Wrestle Universe the show will be available to replay not long after it’s finished in case you can’t watch it live.
It’s a ten match card with three GHC Titles on the line. Katsuhiko Nakajima defends his GHC Heavyweight Championship against Kazuyuki Fujita in the main event.
Daisuke Harada defends his GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship against Super Crazy. And the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s are up for grabs between the STINGER team of HAYATA & Yuya Susumu as they take on Atsushi Kotoge & YO-HEY.
Let’s get right into it!
MAIN EVENT – GHC Heavyweight Championship – Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Kazuyuki Fujita
The two have faced each other in seven tag team matches since Fujita joined NOAH and the Sugiura Army in late 2019. November 9th 2019 Nakajima, Go Shiozaki, Shuhei Taniguchi & Hitoshi Kumano beat Fujita, Sugiura, Hideki Suzuki & Hajima Ohara. January 30th 2020 Fujita, Sugiura & Suzuki beat Nakajima, Shiozaki & Taniguchi.
They then didn’t cross paths for over a year, after Nakajima had joined Kongo in August 2020. February 12th 2021 Fujita, Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazunari Murakami, NOSAWA Rongai & Kashin beat Nakajima, Soya, Masa Kitamiya, Tadasuke, Haoh & Nioh in the Nippon Budokan. February 24 Fujita, Sugiura, Sakuraba & Kashin beat Nakajima, Kenoh, Soya & Kitamiya. August 1st Fujita, Sugiura & Kashin beat Nakajima, Haoh & Nioh. And August 15th Fujita, Sakuraba, Daisuke Nakamura & Kashin beat Nakajima, Kenoh, Soya & Haoh.
After Fujita had made the Title challenge to Nakajima after the latter had beaten Masa Kitamiya on January 16th this year, they had their one and only preview match on February 9th. Fujita, Sugiura & Kashin beat Nakajima, Kenoh & Soya. This time Fujita directly pinned Nakajima. A powerbomb didn’t get the job done but a vicious punt kick to the side of Nakajima’s head did. Fujita even took the GHC Heavyweight Championship with him after the match.
So out of seven matches, Fujita and Sugiura Army have won the last six. They are wrestlers from completely different generations. Fujita debuted in November 1996, a product of the NJPW dojo in which Kensuke Sasaki was a trainer. Now the history between Sasaki and Nakajima is well documented, Sasaki and his wife Akira Hokuto both helped train Nakajima after he’d already debuted and practically adopted him. Now Sasaki wasn’t wholly responsible for Fujita’s training. Antonio Inoki and Satoru Sayama are more commonly known as Fujita’s trainers.
Hence why he’s known as the last disciple of Antonio Inoki or the last successor of Inoki-ism. Fujita went from being an amateur wrestler to a professional wrestler, taking three years of training before debuting. While he was a promising rookie and was expected to be a big name in the future, he was behind other rookies like Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima and Manabu Nakanishi. So in 1999 he requested to be released from his contract with NJPW in order to pursue MMA. Inoki, keen to keep Fujita and because he had a love of MMA himself and thought it was the future of Strong Style, agreed a compromise. Fujita would be sent to train in MMA and compete in PRIDE as a member of Team Inoki.
His MMA debut took place on January 30th 2000 and between then and December 9th that same year he won 6 fights and lost 1. That one loss happened when his corner threw in the towel during a semifinal match in a tournament on account of the injuries Fujita had already suffered during his quarter final win earlier in the night. After 15 months away from NJPW, Fujita returned and won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on his first match back, beating Scott Norton on April 9th 2001.
Fujita would appear in NJPW infrequently that year as he mixed his time between wrestling and MMA. May 27th he beat Yoshihiro Takayama in an MMA fight. June 6th he defended the IWGP Heavyweight Title over Yuji Nagata. July 20th he made another successful defense over Don Fyre. August 19th he lost an MMA fight to Mirko Cro Cop. October 8th he beat Kensuke Sasaki in a non-title match. And then January 2002 he had to vacate the IWGP Heavyweight belt due to an injury that occurred in MMA training.
Between July 2002 and Nakajima debuting in January 2004, Fujita only wrestled five times. A loss to Takayama in the Nippon Budokan in August 2002 and a loss to Nagata for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in October 2002 being the big matches. Nakajima was the opposite of Fujita. He made his MMA debut before he made his wrestling debut. Nakajima destroyed his MMA opponent in September 2003, winning in just over a minute and a half after being on a relentless offense.
Nakajima’s style of MMA fighting was completely different to Fujita’s. I know it was only one fight but Nakajima was attack, attack, attack. Fujita on the other hand has Homer Simpson syndrome. He can withstand a beating and then beat his opponent when they are worn down. That’s how he earned the nickname Ol’ Ironhead.
Originally scouted by Riki Choshu, Choshu passed Nakajima over to Sasaki and Kensuke Office and bring him over to NJPW in May 2004. Nakajima made his NJPW debut in the Tokyo Dome against Jushin Thunder Liger on May 3rd. At that show Bob Sapp successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura. But just 19 days later, Sapp lost an MMA fight to Fujita so relinquished the belt. June 5th Fujita beat Hiroshi Tanahashi for the vacant belt to become IWGP Heavyweight Champion for the second time.
Fujita would only wrestle three more times that year. A win over Katsuyori Shibata in July to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Then he lost the belt to Sasaki in October in a very controversial match where he basically allowed Sasaki to shoot pin him in under two and a half minutes. Sasaki had already left NJPW once in late 2002 after arguments over the heavy use of MMA stars in prominent positions in NJPW and had only just returned in 2004 as a freelancer. So instances like this and other backstage factors caused Sasaki to leave NJPW again in early 2005, losing the belt to Hiroyoshi Tenzan in December on his way out.
Nakajima followed Sasaki to All Japan full time. Not like he hadn’t already wrestled in AJPW and Dragon Gate the previous year as Kensuke Office explored their freelance status. 2005 would also be Fujita’s last year in NJPW too. He returned in June, won the IWGP Heavyweight Title for the third and final time in July from Hiroyoshi Tenzan and went undefeated in the G1 Climax until he was beaten by Masahiro Chono in the Finals. Chono received his Title shot against Fujita in October but Brock Lesnar was also added to the match – because Inoki-ism. Lesnar, in his very first NJPW match, won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship after pinning Chono. So Fujita wasn’t even the one taking the pinfall to lose his belt. He held and lost the belt three times and was only pinned the once where he basically pinned himself and walked off.
And that was Fujita’s last wrestling match for almost six years before he resurfaced in Inoki’s new promotion IGF in August 2011. During that time Nakajima had won the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship and held it for 378 days making four defenses. The most successful defenses Fujita ever made was two in his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign that lasted 270 days. Nakajima, along with Sasaki, had also moved over to NOAH in 2008 and he had a brief first reign with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in 2009. He would win the belt a second time a few days after Fujita had returned to wrestling but an injury meant he had to vacate it to only win it back a third time in November of that year.
Wrestling for IGF was very infrequent for Fujita. In total he only wrestled 35 times between August 2011 and December 2015. Fujita took another break from wrestling between then and October 2017. In that time Nakajima had finally moved up to heavyweight and, long over due, won the GHC Heavyweight Championship in October 2016. He held the belt during NOAH’s darkest days and had a great reign until he was dethroned in August 2017 by Eddie Edwards. Nakajima would not hold the belt again until October last year, almost four years later.
The two finally became part of the same roster again in September 2019 when Fujita joined NOAH and destroyed young rookie Yoshiki Inamura in a singles match. In Fujita’s fifth match in a NOAH ring, the two finally faced off, over 15 years since they were last in the same promotion together. And it was on January 16th this year, after Nakajima had defeated Kitamiya that Fujita came out to the ring and stared at Nakajima’s GHC Heavyweight Championship with what can only be described as a strange look on his face. And now the Title match is official for February 23rd.
It seems to me like Nakajima’s previous defenses in this reign has been about facing his past. Masato Tanaka was one of the first heavyweights that Nakajima faced and lost to when he moved to heavyweight. Go Shiozaki is his generational rival. Masa Kitamiya is his fraternal little brother due to their involvement in Kensuke Office. Fujita has more connection with Nakajima’s adopted Dad in Sasaki. Fujita and the rise of Inoki-ism was responsible for Sasaki & Nakajima leaving NJPW otherwise Nakajima could easily have had a full career in NJPW and been an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and, hopefully, IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Nakajima beat his practically adopted Dad in what turned out to be Sasaki’s retirement match. Now he has chance to do something Sasaki, the first man to have won all three of the NJPW, AJPW and NOAH top Title’s, could never do – Beat Fujita in a competitive singles match. This is not the story NOAH are telling or likely to tell. This is just something in my head to put some story between them. Least with Nakajima getting frustrated with Fujita during the press conference and pouring a drink of beer over his head, it seems to be more than just another Title match.
Kongo (Kenoh, Masakatsu Funaki & Manabu Soya) vs Go Shiozaki, Kaito Kiyomiya & Daiki Inaba
Masakatsu Funaki dethroned Kenoh to win the GHC National Championship and has already made his first defense over Masaaki Mochizuki. So perhaps this match could set up his next challenger.
Go Shiozaki is in a slump. He lost to Katsuhiko Nakajima on January 1st in the Nippon Budokan for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. He lost to Kaito Kiyomiya on January 4th. He set up a Road To GHC series where he pit himself against four of NOAH’s best, but he lost to Takashi Sugiura, Masato Tanaka, Naomichi Marufuji and Kenoh. With the GHC Heavyweight Title out of reach, perhaps he would challenge for the red belt?
Him and Funaki were both members of the All Japan roster at the same time when Shiozaki left NOAH in late 2012 and joined AJPW in early 2013, but they only crossed paths in tag matches between Burning and Stack Of Arms. None of which were taped either unfortunately. And then by mid 2013 the second exodus of AJPW had begun as Keiji Muto broke away and took a chunk of the roster with him to form Wrestle-1.
Daiki Inaba was an Ace of Wrestle-1. Him and Shotaro Ashino were set up to be the faces of the promotion but it unfortunately folded in April 2020. Ashino found a home in AJPW but Inaba chose NOAH. So far that choice has not worked out well for him. He’s struggled to find his footing in NOAH and, despite being a two time Wrestle-1 Champion, is nowhere near the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
He’s not even near the level of the GHC National Championship, truth be told. But he and Funaki do have history in Wrestle-1. They were tag team partners for a brief while during Inaba’s formative years and they had the one and only singles match, untelevised, which Funaki won. That was long before Inaba became an Ace of Wrestle-1. But right now, with his current form in NOAH, would it be possible for him to challenge?
And that leaves Kiyomiya. He’s already fallen in three GHC National Title matches since he lost the GHC Heavyweight Title in January 2020. He lost to Takashi Sugiura in March 2020. And Kenoh in both November 2020 and January 2022. He doesn’t appear to be any closer to the GHC Heavyweight Title either so perhaps he will focus on a Title that has eluded him so far.
Kiyomiya has only been in the one match against Funaki. It was an eight man tag team match in December 2020 pitting the unaligned NOAH heavyweights against M’s Alliance. Kiyomiya’s team won when Yoshiki Inamura pinned Yuko Miyamoto which still remains Inamura’s biggest win to date. With Funaki’s close ties to Muto and Muto being out of action with a hip injury (the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s have been vacated and a tournament to crown new Champions begins on March 13th), this could be cathartic redemption.
For Kenoh & Manabu Soya, Kenoh is already involved in that tournament to crown new GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions but has Funaki as his partner. Kiyomiya & Inaba are one of the other teams. So the wrestlers on the side of Kongo have more to fight for.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship – Daisuke Harada (c) vs Super Crazy
This is Super Crazy’s first shot at the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title since October 12th, 2014. Ironically, the champion who beat him at that time was Daisuke Harada himself. And this is his fourth shot at the belt in total after losses to Yoshinobu Kanemaru (August 2012) and Taiji Ishimori (July 2013).
That October match was the third singles match between them. Super Crazy won the first on June 2nd 2013. And the second on July 18th 2014. But Harada won the all important third match with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line on October 12th that same year.
Super Crazy definitely has the experience edge. His career started in February 1988 at the age of just 14 (but Cagematch doesn’t list his first match until 1994). He’s wrestled in all the major Mexican promotions, as well as ECW and WWE in America. Before WWE, he spent his time in Japan with New Japan, HUSTLE and ZERO1. After WWE he went to All Japan for a spell before joining NOAH in February 2012.
Daisuke Harada’s career didn’t begin until August 2006. By that time Crazy was already signed to the WWE. Harada would debut with Osaka Pro Wrestling, representing them abroad in CHIKARA and at home in NOAH but he would eventually leave to join NOAH in May 2013. So that Super Crazy match in June 2013 was only his eighth match in the promotion as a signed roster member.
Crazy was already a GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with Ricky Marvin before Harada even joined NOAH. But Crazy left NOAH at the end of 2015. In that time Harada had already been a GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s with Atsushi Kotoge at the moment Crazy left.
Harada has gone on to be a six time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion and is in his fifth reign as GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. That title match against Crazy happened in his first reign with the belt and he’s only gotten better in the time since.
Super Crazy, even at 48 years old and in his 34th year as a professional wrestler, is not showing any signs of slowing down. He won the All Japan World Junior Heavyweight Championship this past December. Even if the reign was brief, Crazy has shown that he can still go when the time is right. And he’s never held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship before so would love to bring it into Los Perros del Mal de Japon.
In Harada’s fourth reign with the GHC Junior Heavyweight he said he was going to bring in a new era for the junior heavyweights in NOAH. Now that idea seems to be taking shape with the N Innovation U-Cup Shows and that NOAH are holding two shows in Sumo Hall at the end of April, the first show being entirely a showcase for the junior heavyweight division. So Harada will want to be the GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion for that show.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships – STINGER (HAYATA & Yuya Susumu) vs Atsushi Kotoge & YO-HEY
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles have been cursed this year. First Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA had to vacate the belts after Ogawa tested positive for Covid-19 and couldn’t make a scheduled defence. Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu won the vacant belts but then Yoshioka injured his foot so the belts were vacated just a few days after they had won them.
And this match has changed since it was originally announced too. Yoshioka & Susumu were originally supposed to face YO-HEY & NOSAWA Rongai. But with Yoshioka’s injury that was turned into HAYATA & Susumu vs YO-HEY & NOSAWA Rongai. However on the 11th of February, NOSAWA turned on YO-HEY and then the rest of Los Perros Del Mal de Japon kicked him out of the group.
YO-HEY found himself a new home in Momo No Seishun and friends with Daisuke Harada, Atsushi Kotoge, Hajima Ohara, Haoh & Junta Miyawaki. Harada he had history as a part of RATEL’S with. Ohara he joined FULL THROTTLE to be alongside, ironically replacing Kotoge. So he kept the Title shot but chose Kotoge to be his new partner.
That did not sit right with Ohara, who had been Kotoge’s partner when they lost that match to Yoshioka & Susumu for the vacant belts so he decided to leave Momo No Seishun and friends and instead join Kongo. Which was surprising, especially when you have Haoh who went the over way last month.
But the drama between Momo No Seishun and friends and Kongo isn’t a factor in this match. This is all about the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. For HAYATA & Susumu these are the belts they never lost. HAYATA was stripped due to Ogawa catching Covid-19. Susumu was stripped due to Yoshioka breaking a bone in his foot. This is their opportunity to win the belts back that they never lost.
YO-HEY has just been kicked out of a group that he only joined in May last year. He only joined Los Perros del Mal de Japon because FULL THROTTLE came to an end when Yoshioka attacked YO-HEY during a six man tag team match against STINGER in order to join them and reunite with Susumu. YO-HEY chose to join Los Perros. While Ohara was invited to join Momo No Seishun and friends.
Now Yoshioka is no longer in this match so YO-HEY does not have that element of revenge there. However YO-HEY and HAYATA absolutely have their own history. They were tag partners and best friends before either joined NOAH. They found themselves in NOAH at the same time and formed RATEL’S with Harada and Tadasuke. They were inseparable for years. But in May 2020 HAYATA put an end to all that when he betrayed RATEL’S to join STINGER.
They have been enemies for close to two years now. They’ve faced off for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, each time HAYATA has had YO-HEY’s number. HAYATA has been the mountain that YO-HEY has yet to overcome. Just last month YO-HEY & Kotaro Suzuki failed to beat HAYATA & Ogawa. And in August last year, HAYATA beat YO-HEY to retain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.
A belt he had actually won from Kotoge in June. So Kotoge won’t have forgotten that. Nor will he have forgotten that Susumu & Yoshioka beat him & Ohara just last month to win the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. The only problem for Kotoge & YO-HEY is that they are a brand new team. They were always in different stables until just a few day’s ago. They only teamed for the first time on February 12th where they lost to HAYATA & Naomichi Marufuji.
HAYATA & Susumu are not a regular tag team but they’ve known each other since 2006 and have infrequently teamed. And they’ve even held gold together, FREEDOMS King Of FREEDOM Tag Team Title’s from September 2016 to February 2017. So they have far more experience than their opponents.
Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura vs Masa Kitamiya & Yoshiki Inamura
Naomichi Marufuji & Keiji Muto had to vacate the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles after Muto was diagnosed with a hip injury. A tournament has already been announced to start on March 13th with Marufuji & Masaaki Mochizuki vs Kaito Kiyomiya & Daiki Inaba plus Kenoh & Masakatsu Funaki vs Takashi Sugiura and a mystery partner.
A lot of people, myself included, were disappointed to not see Masa Kitamiya & Yoshiki Inamura involved in this tournament. These two were the original heavyweight tag team of Kongo and together were known as The Tough. So, with these two already booked to team together, it seemed likely they would be put in contention for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles.
They haven’t teamed together since Inamura left Kongo in October 2020. At that time Kitamiya was supportive of Inamura’s decision and wished him all the best, even knowing the two were now on completely different sides. Kitamiya broke away from Kongo in June 2021 and him and Inamura teamed briefly as part of six man tags but Inamura would get injured in July.
Inamura returned in November and the two have again teamed together often but this will be their first time as just a tag team since September 2020. Inamura is yet to hold a GHC Title and Kitamiya seems to have lost a lot of momentum since the back half of 2021 so I would have no objections to them going forward as a tag team and reuniting The Tough towards a GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title reign.
Of course they do not have an easy first match back. Far from it. Marufuji is the leader of the M’s Alliance and a four time GHC Heavyweight Champion. Sugiura is the leader of the Sugiura Army and also a four time GHC Heavyweight Champion. These two may not be on the same team right now but they are two time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions together in 2007 and 2012.
Both Marufuji and Sugiura are on opposite brackets of the tournament. Marufuji & Mochizuki are already former GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Sugiura is a wildcard as he’s not teaming with regular partner and also someone he’s held the belts with in Kazushi Sakuraba. The identity of his partner is a complete mystery. Some are hoping for KENTA on account of them teaming on the NJPW vs NOAH show. Myself I hope it’s the return of Hideki Suzuki after he was released from the WWE.
Masato Tanaka vs Kendo Kashin
Think of Masato Tanaka’s epic wars against Takashi Sugiura. Those insane spectacles of brutality against Mike Awesome. And then be disappointed as you’re getting nothing like that in this match.
Kendo Kashin used to be a good junior heavyweight wrestler who then leaned heavily into MMA. But for the past decade (longer if we’re being honest) he relies on cheap shots and anything but straight wrestling to win his matches. This is a first time singles match between the two. And honestly, it’s come out of the blue. Their last meeting was a six man tag team match in October. So there’s no real drama between them.
Still, I’m not going to complain about watching Kashin getting beaten up and hit very hard in the face by Tanaka’s elbows.
Kongo (Tadasuke, Aleja & Hajima Ohara) vs Haoh, Junta Miyawaki & Kai Fujimura
Hajima Ohara’s first match as a member of Kongo. And on the other side he’s facing the first junior to have left Kongo in Haoh.
Tadasuke has made it his mission to make Haoh’s life a living hell. And, realistically, in this match, Kongo have the advantage. All three members have more experience than Junta Miyawaki & Kai Fujimura. Aleja and Fujimura are real life brothers with Aleja the oldest and most experienced.
It will be interesting to see how Ohara adapts in Kongo. He’s not been in a heel stable since Sugiura Army in early 2020. The Momo No Seishun and friends team have speed on their side as I’d argue that Haoh is faster than Aleja but it will be close.
Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Kotaro Suzuki & NOSAWA Rongai) vs Yoshinari Ogawa & Yasutaka Yano
Yoshinari Ogawa’s singles match against Eita on February 17th predictably turned into a six man tag team with STINGER facing Los Perros del Mal de Japon.
Now he gets to face NOSAWA Rongai in a tag match. And the man who has been a constant thorn in his side for the past year and a half in Kotaro Suzuki.
What’s interesting is that after NOSAWA kicked YO-HEY out of Los Perros Del Mal de Japon, he started calling Kotaro their dogsbody. Now, personally, I don’t see Suzuki responding too well to being treated like that for a long time. So we could see Suzuki exiting Los Perros del Mal de Japon in the near future.
I’m surprised that Yasutaka Yano hasn’t been invited into a stable as of yet. It seems like Yano and Kai Fujimura are the only juniors in NOAH not in a stable yet, most likely owing to them being the least experienced.
Yano has shown himself to be close to Ogawa and STINGER. So I would not be surprised if he joined STINGER. But, with how chaotic the junior division has been, who knows?
Nioh vs Kinya Okada
They’ve had three singles matches before this one. Hi69, Nioh’s former name, beat Kinya Okada in September 2019. And Nioh beat Okada in February and September 2020.
So they haven’t clashed in almost a year and half. And, truthfully, Okada has not progressed much further since then. While I’d love Okada to be moving up the card, I don’t see it happening any time soon. Expect some young lion fire from Okada – who should not be a young lion anymore but that’s by the by – but he will ultimately lose to the lot more experienced Nioh.
Funky Express (King Tany & Muhammad Yone) vs Funky Express (Akitoshi Saito & Masao Inoue)
The Funks collide. And it’s not Terry vs Dory. It’s the King, the Afro, the Surly and the Gout.
They had a four way match between them where Shuhei Taniguchi won to be crowned King Tany, the leader of Funky Express.
So this is a first time tag team match between the four. Is there a reason for it? Not really. But the NOAH audience do love him.
And that’s your lot.
Very quick one. And yes, I copied and pasted Nakajima/Fujita from the last preview as I liked it and not much had changed.
Thank you so much for reading, enjoy the show!