Pro Wrestling NOAH return to Korakuen Hall for the third time this year on Thursday January 27th for Higher Ground 2022 Night Two.
We have one of NOAH’s biggest rivalries in the main event as Go Shiozaki begins his Road To GHC series against Takashi Sugiura. Plus the new GHC National Champion and latest member of Kongo, Masakatsu Funaki, teams with his new stablemates Kenoh and Katsuhiko Nakajima as they face his old colleagues in M’s Alliance: Naomichi Marufuji, Masato Tanaka and Masaaki Mochizuki.
Not to mention we have the return of all the NOAH roster members that were affected by the recent COVID-19 outbreak. How will Yoshinari Ogawa react to being stripped of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles? Kaito Kiyomiya also returns, as he engages in a battle of the NOAH born; facing Kotaro Suzuki.
The show starts at 6:30pm in Japan. That’s 9:30am in England, 4:30am East Coast USA and 1:30am West Coast USA. It’ll air live on Wrestle Universe but with Japanese commentary.
Let’s get right into it!
MAIN EVENT – Go Shiozaki vs Takashi Sugiura
The last time these two faced each other in a singles match, Big Bad Dave Meltzer went for the full five stars. That was December 2020 and it was for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. They’ve been intrinsically linked to the GHC Heavyweight Title that they’d had six matches against each other with the belt on the line, December 2020 being their seventh. I wrote an article covering their history involving the belt, which you can read here.
Overall, they’ve had fifteen singles matches against each other. Takashi Sugiura has won eleven, Go Shiozaki has won four. They’ve had seven GHC Heavyweight Title matches with Sugiura winning four to Shiozaki’s three. Their longest match was the last, clocking in at just under 52 minutes. Pro Wrestling NOAH have uploaded the match in full with English commentary if you want to watch it:
Now, there is a reason as to why this match is taking place. On January 1st this year, Shiozaki lost in the main event in the Nippon Budokan against Katsuhiko Nakajima for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. As a result of Nakajima’s victory, Shiozaki can no longer say “I Am NOAH”. Then, on the 4th, Shiozaki lost to Kaito Kiyomiya.
Shiozaki is directionless right now. He held that GHC Heavyweight Title, his fourth reign with the belt, from January 4th, 2020 to February 12th, 2021. That title reign was merciless on his body, to the point where he required shoulder surgery which he took time off for in mid-March. When he returned at the end of November, he went straight after the GHC Heavyweight Title now owned by Nakajima. So for the past two years, everything about him was connected to that belt.
Losing to Nakajima puts him at the back of the line for another shot at the GHC Heavyweight Title. Shiozaki knows this, so he petitioned NOAH management for a series of singles matches which, if he wins them all, he will challenge for the GHC Heavyweight Championship again. Sugiura on January 27th. Masato Tanaka on February 9th. Naomichi Marufuji on the 10th. And Kenoh on the 11th.
This is the start of Shiozaki’s Road To GHC series, but it’s not going to be an easy road at all. Shiozaki has only beaten Sugiura four times out of fifteen. Only once when the GHC Heavyweight Title wasn’t on the line like here. And that was October 2018. They’ve had two more singles matches in March and September 2019 with no belt on the line and Sugiura won both of them. Sugiura is no push over. He’s not going to allow Shiozaki to just beat him as part of his redemption arc. Sugiura is also tied with Shiozaki (and Marufuji) at four reigns each with the GHC Heavyweight Title. He was the first to reach four and I’m sure he’d love to be the first to reach five. Sugiura hasn’t challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Title since July 2021 and he hasn’t held the belt since December 2018 when he lost it to Kiyomiya.
Sugiura was the the first to debut in December 2000 at the age of 30. Shiozaki debuted in July 2004 at the age of 24 and by that time Sugiura was already a former GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, holding it from September 2003 until January 2004 where he lost it to Jushin Thunder Liger in the Tokyo Dome. But Shiozaki was the first heavyweight to debut from the NOAH dojo (Sugiura was technically the final All Japan dojo graduate) so was ear marked for greatness.
Takeshi Morishima spent a year travelling between America and Japan in 2007 where he was Ring Of Honor World Champion. That run was to prepare him for returning to Japan full time in 2008 and beat Mitsuharu Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight Title, which he did in March. Shiozaki was also sent to America for ROH (and their sister promotion Full Impact Pro) in 2008, where he had a schedule similar to Morishima of America and Japan for NOAH’s biggest shows (including main eventing NOAH’s first ever show outside of Japan in England).
The second NJPW vs NOAH war began in January 2009 in the Tokyo Dome where Shinsuke Nakamura & Hirooki Goto beat Misawa & Sugiura. When NJPW invaded NOAH turf, it was Sugiura and the returning Shiozaki who beat Nakamura & Milano Collection A.T. Shiozaki was then entered into the Global Tag League with Misawa which they won. I think it’s a lock that Shiozaki & Misawa would win the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s from Akitoshi Saito & Bison Smith on June 13th but Misawa tragically died in the ring.
Jun Akiyama vacated the GHC Heavyweight Title in light of Misawa’s passing and because he was dealing with his own injuries which he was just working through because that it was expected in Japan, especially in NOAH. Shiozaki was selected to face Takeshi Rikio for the vacant GHC Heavyweight Championship the very next day, where he would beat Rikio to win the belt.
From there, Shiozaki and Sugiura were on different paths for the rest of 2009. Sugiura would return to NJPW to beat Goto in a singles match, lose to Hiroshi Tanahashi in an IWGP Heavyweight Title match and enter the G1 Climax where he reached the semi-finals. Sugiura became NOAH’s defender in the NJPW war and got a lot of support. Shiozaki spent his time trying to grow into the role as Champion and NOAH’s main man and it’s not like he was doing a bad job. But on December 6th 2009, Shiozaki’s second defense, Sugiura beat Shiozaki clean in the Nippon Budokan to become the new GHC Heavyweight Champion.
Fantastic match. Genuinely one of my favourites from that era of NOAH. And the very first time two wrestlers who hadn’t debuted in All Japan or were outsiders headlined the Budokan on a NOAH show. Shiozaki had been destined for greatness but Sugiura usurped him. And Sugiura would go on to have the second longest GHC Heavyweight Title reign of all time with the most defenses. That included beating Shiozaki in a rematch in September 2010 before finally losing the belt back to him in July 2011.
Shiozaki’s second reign with the belt would be longer but was still not the reign to make him the Ace that he was supposed to be before he lost the belt to Morishima in January 2012. NOAH were struggling financially, they had been for some time, so management made the decision to release older and inactive roster members from their contracts. Something Misawa or Giant Baba would have never done in their day. And an unfortunate casualty of that was Kenta Kobashi. In protest several wrestlers resigned from NOAH as a direct consequence from Kobashi’s firing. Akiyama, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Kotaro Suzuki, Atsushi Aoki and Shiozaki. Therefore, in Shiozaki’s second to last ever match in a NOAH ring (at the time), he lost to Sugiura in a singles match. There’s a great bit of happenstance there as Shiozaki’s second ever match in a NOAH ring was a singles loss to Sugiura.
All Japan would become Shiozaki’s new home for several year’s where he became a Triple Crown Champion. Sugiura would not hold the GHC Heavyweight Title during Shiozaki’s time away despite how many times he challenged. 2015 was a rough year for many companies in Japan. NOAH as part of their relationship with NJPW had the Suzuki-Gun invasion. AJPW even struggled financially to the point many wrestlers had to take part time jobs to support themselves. Shiozaki had a job as a personal trainer. So Shiozaki would end up leaving AJPW to rejoin NOAH in November. And in December Sugiura would betray NOAH and join Suzuki-Gun after Marufuji had beaten Minoru Suzuki to bring the GHC Heavyweight Title back to NOAH.
January 2016 Sugiura would beat Marufuji to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship for a second time, now as a member of Suzuki-Gun. Shiozaki had to work long and hard to gain the trust back of the NOAH roster and it’s fanbase after his exit a few year’s prior. But by the time he beat Sugiura in May to become a three time GHC Heavyweight Champion, he had done so. However his reign would be short lived as he lost the belt right back to Sugiura in July during a Lumberjack match with the odds stacked heavily against him.
After another loss to Sugiura in the 2016 Global League, they didn’t face each other again until August 2018 during Sugiura’s fourth reign with the GHC Heavyweight Championship. It was their eleventh match against each other, their seventh GHC Heavyweight Title match and again Sugiura won. Shiozaki would win a rematch during the Global League 2018 but Sugiura would win their next two meetings in 2019.
And that then brings us up to that incredible GHC Heavyweight Title match in December 2020. Shiozaki had been beaten up during his fourth reign with the GHC Heavyweight Title. He’d managed to beat Marufuji his senior in their first ever GHC Heavyweight Title match together. He’d beaten his generational rival and former partner Nakajima. And now he was facing a man who he was often on the losing side against. A man whom he had never successfully defended his GHC Heavyweight Title match. A killing machine in Sugiura.
If you’ve taken the time to watch it and I would encourage you to do so, then you know these two have incredible chemistry against each other. Both men are willing to hit hard and take a beating too. Their matches tend to ebb and flow as each wrestles for control and that big move to put the over away. It was far and away their longest match but what a true war it was.
After almost 52 minutes, Shiozaki was finally able to retain his GHC Heavyweight Title against Sugiura. That would prove to be his last successful defense as he lost the belt to Keiji Muto in February in the main event at the Nippon Budokan. But Shiozaki can claim to have won their last match even if the series over all is not in his favour.
This match won’t go anywhere near as long. Their longest match in Korakuen Hall was 27 minutes and 10 seconds long. And I don’t even think they’ll go that long here. Shiozaki is the one who wanted this match, this series of matches, but Sugiura is not just going to be a stepping stone on Shiozaki’s road. Sugiura may even feel like if he beats Shiozaki he should be replacing him! But this is going to be a great match regardless of the result.
Kongo (Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masakatsu Funaki) vs M’s Alliance (Naomichi Marufuji, Masato Tanaka & Masaaki Mochizuki)
Masakatsu Funaki beat Kenoh on January 22nd to become the new GHC National Champion. And he did it in decisive fashion for that matter too, catching Kenoh in a sleeper hold where you could see Kenoh’s face start turning red before he wisely tapped out. All within just under four minutes.
After the match, Funaki surprised everyone by saying that the match they’d had last year had inspired him, that he wanted to team up with Kenoh and he wanted to join Kongo! M’s Alliance members Naomichi Marufuji and Masato Tanaka, who had just a few moments before been Funaki’s team mates and had helped put the belt around his waist, were shocked by Funaki’s actions but respected his wishes to leave M’s Alliance and join Kongo.
Funaki and Kenoh shook hands. Manabu Soya, Tadasuke, Nioh and Aleja all shook hands and gave Funaki a mutual pat on the back. GHC Heavyweight Champion Katsuhiko Nakajima on the other hand seemed to be a bit stand off-ish to the new member. However the two did shake hands even if it seemed to last a little bit too long as neither broke eye contact.
Now Funaki immediately has his first match as a Kongo member and it’s against his former colleagues. Marufuji himself even tweeted that he was surprised to discover he was against Funaki so soon after leaving. Funaki and Marufuji have only been on opposite sides of the ring just the once at a show produced by Funaki himself where they went to an 11 minute draw in Funaki’s third match of the evening.
I was surprised to discover that Funaki and Tanaka have also had a singles match together. A Current Blast Bat And Street Fight Death Match in ZERO1. Despite the name I’m sure it was nothing more than a hardcore match between the two but as it wasn’t taped I guess we’ll never know. Funaki and Masaaki Mochizuki had a tag match against each other in Dragon Gate at Kobe World in 2016. So Mochizuki has experience, minimal as it is, against his new adversaries.
Mochizuki is a former GHC National Champion himself before he lost the belt to Kenoh on November 13th. This is a chance at getting revenge on the man who beat him, the current GHC National Champion and former colleague and the current GHC Heavyweight Champion in Nakajima, whom he has his own history with.
Tanaka has only challenged for the GHC National Title just the once. A loss to Sugiura in August 2021. And he’s challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Title just the once in his long career with a loss to Nakajima that October. This is his chance at revenge against Nakajima for that match as well as putting himself in line against Funaki depending on the outcome of this match.
And for Marufuji, he lost the GHC Heavyweight Title to Nakajima in October. He could take it to Nakajima to avenge that loss. But he’ll also have a target on his own back as he’s the current GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with Keiji Muto. They just beat Kenoh & Manabu Soya on January 16th and are yet to have challengers step forward.
As just mentioned, Kenoh has had a rough few weeks. Him and Soya were beaten in their GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title match. And then Funaki choked him out in under four minutes to take the GHC National Title from him. Ordinarily Kenoh would be furious with a loss like that. However with Funaki joining Kongo, he can’t channel his rage against the man who took the belt from him. So all his rage will be directed to Marufuji, Tanaka and Mochizuki.
Kazuyuki Fujita is already set as Nakajima’s next challenger for the GHC Heavyweight Title on February 23rd so Nakajima has time to kill before then. His role right now is to support his Kongo team mates, including the new guy Funaki – who is yet another alpha added to the stable. How long can a group with so many dominant personalities coexist?
STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa, HAYATA, Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Eita, Super Crazy, YO-HEY & NOSAWA Rongai)
Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu beat Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara on January 22nd to win the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. And those belts were only vacant because Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA were stripped of them after Ogawa had to miss a scheduled title defence due to COVID.
Ogawa seemed to be supportive of his team mates going after the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s and suggested that he and HAYATA could pursue “other tag team belts” instead. GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles? New Japan’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles? Dragon Gate’s Open The Twin Gate Titles? Who knows. 2022 could certainly be an interesting year for collaboration between Japanese promotions.
But before we get carried away with ourselves, we have the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and potential challengers in this match. After all, Eita & NOSAWA Rongai lost the belts to Ogawa & HAYATA via count-out. This is the first time a GHC Title has ever changed hands due to count-out. So Eita & NOSAWA Rongai have a very strong claim for a rematch for those belts.
Or could it even be a new Los Perros del Mal de Japon pairing? Super Crazy has rejoined NOAH in a big way as the groups new member and linked the original Los Perros del Mal in Mexico to the NOAH group. He is also a former GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion as he held the belts with Ricky Marvin from July 2012 to March 2013.
Ogawa and Eita still have quite the issue together after Eita humiliated him and poured a bottle of water on Ogawa’s head. And now Eita has been kicked out of R.E.D in Dragon Gate, the stable he created. So Eita will want a show of force in both NOAH and Dragon Gate to show that he is still powerful and in charge. I’d love Los Perros del Mal de Japon to return to Dragon Gate again like they did when Eita & NOSAWA defended the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s in order to feud with R.E.D but that’s getting away with myself mentality.
The NOAH junior division is like gang warfare and STINGER have gone from holding all the GHC Junior Title’s at the beginning of this year to now only holding the tag team belts, and with different people holding them now too. STINGER’s position at the top of the junior division has slipped with Momo No Seishun and friends winning the first N Innovation U-Cup and then Daisuke Harada beating HAYATA for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.
HAYATA has definitely had a rough few weeks. He lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title on the 10th. And then he and Ogawa were stripped of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on the 20th. He beat YO-HEY in a singles match at the last show on the 22nd so now he has to work his way up through the ranks again.
Los Perros del Mal de Japon started so well after they were created in June last year as they very quickly captured the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s from Kotoge & Ohara in October. But they’ve not managed to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s as of yet with only Eita and Super Crazy not challenging thus far.
Expect this to be chaos as the NOAH junior division does so well. For Ogawa and Eita to be at each other’s throats. And, potentially, for the next challengers for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles to step forward if Los Perros del Mal de Japon win this match.
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kotaro Suzuki
This is a first time ever singles match. NOAH’s first born against its eleventh. December 2001 saw Kotaro Suzuki graduate from the NOAH dojo. December 2015 for Kaito Kiyomiya. Fourteen years separate them in experience. Eighteen years separate them in age – Suzuki is 43, compared to Kiyomiya’s 25.
Originally this match was pencilled in for the January 22nd Osaka show. But COVID put a stop to that like it has to so many things over the past two years (almost). This will be Kiyomiya’s first match back since he tested positive for the virus and issued an apology for missing two shows. I’ve heard nothing about Kiyomiya struggling with some of the terrible side affects of the virus so hopefully he was asymptomatic or only suffered mild symptoms.
But I am really pleased that this match has been rescheduled. Kiyomiya got to have two singles matches against Yoshinari Ogawa last year, the NOAH head trainer. So it’s only right he faces the very first ever NOAH dojo graduate. Yes there’s a weight difference between the two that will obviously benefit Kiyomiya but Suzuki is still his senior and a four time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Champion, Wrestle-1 Cruiserweight Champion and ZERO1 International Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Everywhere he’s gone he’s won their junior heavyweight championship or equivalent. Suzuki is the most decorated junior heavyweight to graduate from the NOAH dojo and you could argue he’s been as successful as Go Shiozaki and Kiyomiya, weight limit be damned. And Suzuki has been undefeated in singles matches since he scored a big upset win over Masato Tanaka in October. The same Tanaka that Kiyomiya has never beaten in a singles match.
Suzuki can claim to be the only person to have challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Championship while he was the current GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. Other junior heavyweights have challenged for the belt in the past (KENTA in October 2006 as a notable example). But Suzuki is the one and only to have held the junior belt when he did his best to push Takashi Sugiura to the limit in May 2011.
When Kiyomiya debuted in December 2015, Suzuki had left NOAH in December 2012 and was still with All Japan. Suzuki didn’t return until late 2018, by which point Kiyomiya was no longer a rookie, had done his international excursion and was only a matter of week’s away from winning the Global League 2018 and beating Sugiura for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. So the two were on completely different paths by the time Suzuki rejoined the NOAH roster.
So this match is incredibly rare and it couldn’t come at a better time for Suzuki. Kiyomiya has been experiencing highs and lows ever since he lost the GHC Heavyweight Title in January 2020 with a lot of lows. He lost to Kenoh in the Nippon Budokan on January 1st. And he was pinned by Kazuchika Okada in the main event of the NJPW vs NOAH show where Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Kiyomiya & Keiji Muto. And now he’s only just coming back after a spell of Covid where it’s not known how much it took out of him.
Kiyomiya’s redemption arc and rise back to the top of NOAH is long overdue to put it mildly. He has lost, or only managed a draw, in the majority of his big matches over the past two year’s. So a loss here wouldn’t necessarily hurt nor help him. But then it wouldn’t help Suzuki here to beat Kiyomiya nor would it hurt him to lose. I have every faith that this will be a good match regardless.
Kongo (Tadasuke, Nioh & Aleja) vs Daisuke Harada, Haoh & Junta Miyawaki
This is Haoh’s first time teaming with his new partners since he left Kongo on January 16th. On the 22nd him and former partner Nioh went to a twenty minute draw in the opening match and they beat the absolute crap out of each other. After the match Nioh’s chest was bruised and bloody and looked like hamburger meat. And Tadasuke, who was absent on the 16th due to Covid, attacked Haoh.
They’ll have their singles match together on February 10th. And there is no doubt in my mind that that Haoh and Nioh will have another singles match in the near future. But for right now it’s the Kongo juniors against the new and improved Momo No Seishun and friends with added Haoh.
The drama is definitely going to be between Haoh and his former colleagues. But Daisuke Harada is the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and as of yet, no one has stepped up to challenge him although he’s beaten Aleja directly in an impromptu tag team match after Haoh jumped ship. Him and Tadasuke haven’t faced each other for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship since December 2020. And he’s not faced Nioh with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line since May 2018, back when Nioh was known as Hi69.
Plus this is Junta Miyawaki’s return after the outbreak of Covid in the NOAH dojo. And that’s after he spent a few months on the shelf injured and only just returned to the ring in time for the Budokan show. So he’s been out with an injury and with Covid in only a matter of week’s. Miyawaki did have a big 2021, finally challenging for a GHC Title in March when he and Harada lost a GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title match to Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA. Plus he reached the semifinals in ZERO1’s Tenka-Ichi Junior Tournament.
Hopefully he’ll have a bigger 2022. And I can see the issue between Kongo and Momo No Seishun and friends dominating the junior division for the next few months. Which, if the fire that Haoh and Nioh showed in their singles match is anything to go by, sign me up please!
Masa Kitamiya, Daiki Inaba, Muhammad Yone & Atsushi Kotoge vs Yoshiki Inamura, King Tany, Kinya Okada & Hajima Ohara
Mixed teams as Masa Kitamiya, Daiki Inaba and Yoshiki Inamura have a group together with the other stable-less roster members. However Kitamiya & Inaba are on one side with Inamura on the other.
Funky Express have been split up as Muhammad Yone and King Tany are on different sides of the ring. Same for Atsushi Kotoge and Hajima Ohara who, after just losing a GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title match together, may need to blow off some steam and give each other some tough love to help them move past that loss.
Now there are several combinations here that I’m looking forward to. Kitamiya and Inamura having a big hoss fight against each other. Kinya Okada doing his best to step up and leave lower midcard purgatory even if I am losing hope that this will even happen this year nevermind in the near future. Kotoge and Ohara showing some junior heavyweight submission based wrestling that they’ve picked up from their different backgrounds.
Inaba all too often gets forgotten and hid in the background but when he has his moments to shine he does make the best of them. So I hope he does here against Inamura and King Tany. Plus then there’s also the Funky Express who do not hold back when they take each other on.
It’s a bit of a throw away match in all fairness. But Inaba, Inamura and Okada have all been cooped up in self-isolation after the Covid outbreak so all of them will want to return to action in a big way. Inamura especially has had a great start to 2022 with his showings against KENTA and Tomohiro Ishii at Budokan and the NJPW vs NOAH show respectively and I hope we get singles matches down the line.
Manabu Soya vs Yasutaka Yano
Yasutaka Yano is back after the Covid outbreak! And he’s going to get killed by Manabu Soya…. Yay?
Soya is a mean, red hair dyed man. One who should be in a better position than where he is on the NOAH roster right now. And so he’s going to take out all his anger and frustration on the poor young boy Yano.
And Yano is indeed a young boy. He’s still the last to graduate from the NOAH dojo in October 2020 and he’s only 21 years of age. But he is showing a great amount of promise. I do have a good feeling that he is going to be the future of the NOAH junior division.
That is if he can survive the bull in a china shop that is Soya. Hopefully it will be a quick death for Yano.
And that’s your lot.
You can tell how excited I am for Shiozaki vs Sugiura. That and Funaki’s dynamic in Kongo and the on-going feud between Haoh and his former team mates. It definitely feels like this show could begin to set up a lot of thing’s. Especially for the next big show on February 23rd.
Thank you so much for reading this, I hope you enjoy the show!