Pro Wrestling NOAH are holding three shows on back to back nights in Korakuen Hall – Wednesday February 9th, Thursday 10th and Friday the 11th. This will be the first time that they will be using their 1080p cameras to present what they are calling a ‘Cinematic Mode’ live experience.
They’ve used those cameras before during ring entrances, brief moments of action in the ring and post match show downs and exits. They look very good, so I’m interested to see what full shows filmed in 1080p look like.
Night one airs live on ABEMA. ABEMA is a Japanese streaming service that, while free to the Western world, is live only. Replays are only available to those who pay for a premium service but that is only an option for those in Japan. So, if you can’t watch it live, Wrestle Universe will have the show on a week delay.
Wrestle Universe are airing nights two and three. Wrestle Universe is a paid for subscription service, offering live shows from Pro Wrestling NOAH, DDT, TJPW, GCW & Ganbare Pro for just £8 per calendar month. All that, as well as shows airing on a delay and a pretty good back catalogue of shows now. NOAH has been airing shows live through Wrestle Universe for almost two years now.
All three shows start at the same time, 6:30pm in Japan. That’s 9:30am in England, 4:30am on the east coast of the US, 1:30am on the west coast. Nights two and three will be up for replay straight away on Wrestle Universe. You’ll have to wait a week for night one.
Night one has 9 matches, night two has 8 & night three has 7. Usually I’d do full cards and a run down of each match, the current story between the wrestlers and also their histories. As you can imagine with 24 matches spread over three nights, it would be a lot to write/read and may end up being very dry.
So I’m going to try something completely different and see how it goes. I’m going to pick out certain wrestlers, matches and storylines that look likely to play a big part over the three nights. Let’s start with the cards.
Wednesday, February 9th:
MAIN EVENT – Go Shiozaki vs Masato Tanaka
GHC Heavyweight Title Preview – Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh & Manabu Soya) vs Sugiura Army (Kazuyuki Fujita, Takashi Sugiura & Kendo Kashin)
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship – Daisuke Harada (c) vs Tadasuke
STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa, Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Eita, NOSAWA Rongai & YO-HEY)
Kaito Kiyomiya vs HAYATA
Naomichi Marufuji, Atsushi Kotoge & Junta Miyawaki vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Kotaro Suzuki & Super Crazy) & Daiki Inaba
Kongo (Nioh & Aleja) vs Haoh & Hajima Ohara
Funky Express (King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito) vs Masa Kitamiya, Yoshiki Inamura & Kinya Okada
Yasutaka Yano vs Kai Fujimura
Thursday February 10th
MAIN EVENT – GHC National Championship – Masakatsu Funaki (c) vs Masaaki Mochizuki
Go Shiozaki vs Naomichi Marufuji
Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba), Masato Tanaka, Daisuke Harada & Hajima Ohara vs Masa Kitamiya, Yoshiki Inamura, Daiki Inaba, Atsushi Kotoge & Junta Miyawaki
Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Eita, Kotaro Suzuki & Super Crazy) vs Kaito Kiyomiya, Yoshinari Ogawa & Yasutaka Yano
STINGER (HAYATA & Seiki Yoshioka) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (NOSAWA Rongai & YO-HEY)
Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh & Manabu Soya) vs Funky Express (King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito)
Haoh vs Tadasuke
Kongo (Nioh & Aleja) vs Junta Miyawaki & Kai Fujimura
Friday February 10th
MAIN EVENT – Go Shiozaki vs Kenoh
M’s Alliance (Naomichi Marufuji, Masato Tanaka & Masaaki Mochizuki) vs Kaito Kiyomiya, Masa Kitamiya & Daiki Inaba
Seiki Yoshioka vs YO-HEY
STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa, HAYATA & Yuya Susumu) & Yasutaka Yano vs Momo No Seishun (Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge), Hajima Ohara & Haoh
Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima & Manabu Soya) vs Yoshiki Inamura & Kinya Okada
Takashi Sugiura, King Tany & Junta Miyawaki vs Kazushi Sakuraba, Muhammad Yone & Kai Fujimura
Kongo (Tadasuke, Nioh & Aleja) vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Kotaro Suzuki, Super Crazy & NOSAWA Rongai)
Go Shiozaki’s Road To GHC Series
After Go Shiozaki lost to Katsuhiko Nakajima on January 1st in the Nippon Budokan for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, and then lost to Kaito Kiyomiya on the 4th, he seemed directionless. He’d been synonymous with the GHC Heavyweight Title since January 2020 & looked to be floundering without the belt.
He seems to have realised this and petitioned NOAH management for a series of singles matches to build himself back up for another GHC Heavyweight Title shot. He had matches against Takashi Sugiura on January 27th, Masato Tanaka on February 9th, Naomichi Marufuji on the 10th and Kenoh on the 11th as his Road To GHC series.
That match against Sugiura was a fight. It was a war. Both men were chucking bombs at each other as neither was going down without a fight. Those were some of the hardest hitting chops and elbows you will ever hear. They always bring out another level of hard hitting brutality when against each other. They’ve had seven GHC Heavyweight Title matches against each other so that pairing has happened more than any other with the belt at stake.
In the end it was Sugiura who choked Shiozaki out with a front face necklock and the referee had to step in and stop the match. Not the start of Shiozaki’s Road To GHC that he would’ve wanted. That was now the twelfth time he’d lost to Sugiura in their sixteen matches. And I’d like to say that as Sugiura is one of Shiozaki’s biggest rivals that his series would get easier from here. But it won’t.
Masato Tanaka and Shiozaki have only faced each other the once. It was August 2012 and the Finals of the ZERO1 Fire Festival. Shiozaki beat Daichi Hashimoto, Ryuouji Sai, drew with Tomoaki Honma and beat Shinjiro Otani to win Block A. Tanaka drew with Kohei Sato, beat KAMIKAZE, Muhammad Yone and Daisuke Sekimoto to win Block B. The Finals took place in Korakuen Hall and after just over 20 minutes, Tanaka won the match after two Sliding D’s, one to the back of the head and then one to the face.
Surprisingly, Tanaka didn’t challenge for the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship after that win. And that was the fourth time he’d won the Fire Festival after winning it in 2006, 2007 and 2008. So that was their one and only singles match. They’ve only ever had six man, eight man and ten man tag team matches against each other since, four matches in 2018 and four in 2021 after Tanaka returned to NOAH as a member of M’s Alliance.
Tanaka will be just as big a roadblock for Shiozaki to get through that Sugiura was. Currently, Shiozaki has a 100% loss record against Tanaka. He now has a 69% loss record against Sugiura (Sugiura will love that number, the dirty man that he is). And he has a 73% loss record against his opponent the next day, Naomichi Marufuji.
They’ve had eleven singles matches before now. From between 2004 and 2020. Marufuji won their first eight matches. August and October 2004, both untelevised. November 2004 for the now defunct GHC Hardcore Openweight Championship (don’t let the name fool you, it was just a midcard belt with no hardcore match stipulations). December 2006. August 2008 for Ring Of Honor in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. April 2010 in Shiozaki’s return match from injury after three months off. November 2016 during the Global League. And then October 2017 during the Global League again.
It took Shiozaki until match nine in June 2019, almost ten years after the passing of Mitsuharu Misawa, to finally beat Marufuji. And then he repeated the feat in August that same year during the first N-1 Victory (replacement of the Global League). Their final match before February 10th was their first GHC Heavyweight Championship match together. And in August 2020, as part of Shiozaki’s epic fourth reign, Shiozaki beat Marufuji to retain his belt.
Five of their matches have took part in Korakuen Hall, with Marufuji winning three to Shiozaki’s two. Although Shiozaki has won the last three matches, Marufuji has been wrestling straight through Shiozaki’s injury, he’s still older and more experienced, plus he beat the man who Shiozaki lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship to in Keiji Muto. So even if recent history skews in Shiozaki’s favour, Marufuji is still not to be counted out.
Kenoh and Shiozaki have only faced each other three times. In their first meeting in June 2017, Shiozaki beat Kenoh. Kenoh returned the favour in November 2017 in the Global League Finals, the only time that Shiozaki reached the final. That victory would propel Kenoh to a win over Eddie Edwards for the GHC Heavyweight Title the next month. Their last singles match was a sixty minute draw for Shiozaki’s GHC Heavyweight Title and Kenoh’s GHC National Title in August 2020. That was the first time that the GHC Heavyweight Championship went to a time limit draw in its 19-year history at that point. Now its had two sixty minute draws after Kenoh wrestled Katsuhiko Nakajima to another in November 2021.
The Kongo leader lost the GHC National Title to Masakatsu Funaki on January 22nd. Now, he’s supposed to be the top man in Kongo – even with Nakajima still holding the GHC Heavyweight Title. Then Funaki even joined Kongo after beating Kenoh. So Kongo hold two out of the three singles belts in NOAH (and it could be all three if Tadasuke beats Daisuke Harada for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on February 9th) but their leader is beltless.
It’s interesting that Shiozaki’s Road To GHC series ends with the Kongo leader when Nakajima is still very much a part of Kongo. And, with him already having lost the first match to Sugiura, it’s nowhere near guaranteed that he will beat Tanaka, Marufuji or Kenoh. The story isn’t necessarily going to be Shiozaki’s triumphant rise back to the GHC Heavyweight Championship but it could be a case of what does he do without the belt?
He spent just over a decade from his first GHC Heavyweight Title reign until his fourth, the one that finally cemented him as an Ace of NOAH who could carry the belt through troubled times. So Shiozaki should be used to heartbreak and disappointment. It will only make him stronger going forward and make him a more relatable wrestler.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship
Daisuke Harada makes his first defense of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in his fifth reign with the belt. Harada beat HAYATA on January 10th to win the belt for the fifth time, he now stands only behind Yoshinobu Kanemaru (seven) for the most reigns. And his opponent is someone he knows all too well in Tadasuke.
Both debuted in Osaka Pro Wrestling, Harada in August 2006 and Tadasuke in April 2007. Tadasuke’s third ever match was a singles loss to Harada so Harada has always been his senior. The two even formed half of the stable Blood And Guts with Zeus and Atsushi Kotoge in March 2008 which broke up before the end of that year. And these two, along with Kotoge, all made their American debuts together as part of CHIKARA’s King Of Trios as Team Osaka Pro in 2010.
They had fourteen singles matches between April 2007 and February 2009 with Harada winning them all. Tadasuke didn’t win a match between them until July 2009, their fifteenth match. They had another five matches together until Harada left Osaka Pro to join NOAH in May 2013. Harada won three to Tadasuke’s two, meaning that their over all series of matches in Osaka Pro ended with seventeen wins to Harada against three wins for Tadasuke. So very one sided.
Tadasuke joined NOAH himself in late 2016, along with HAYATA and YO-HEY, and those three reunited with Harada to form RATEL’S. Meaning that singles matches were less likely while they were in the same stable so it took until November 2017 for their next match. Harada was the GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion at that time in his second reign with the belt. Tadasuke was Harada’s first successful defense in that reign in his first defense.
Their next singles meeting didn’t take place until September 2018 during the Global Junior League. Tadasuke would win that match over Harada who was still GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion but neither would win their Block. Kotaro Suzuki would win the Block, beat YO-HEY in the Finals and then take the belt from Harada a few days later.
They met again in the 2019 Global Junior League and Tadasuke won once again. This time Tadasuke would win their block however he would lose in the Finals to another RATEL’S member in HAYATA. Harada & Tadasuke even briefly held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles together later that year, beating Yoshinari Ogawa & Suzuki on November 2nd but losing them to Suzuki & Kotoge on the 26th of that same month.
RATEL’S were a constant in the NOAH junior division from their formation in early 2017 until May 2020. HAYATA defected from RATEL’S to join STINGER and effectively shattered the group. Harada, Tadasuke & YO-HEY all decided that the RATEL’S name was done and no longer existed, however the trio still seemed to be on friendly and able to team together.
That would not last as on August 10th, Tadasuke decided to join Kongo. But he didn’t do so with a request and words. He did so by attacking YO-HEY during a match against Kongo members Haoh & Nioh. The very next show on the 20th, Tadasuke beat YO-HEY in a singles match. And then it was Tadasuke against Harada on the 22nd which went to a DQ after the Kongo juniors interfered.
Harada would beat Suzuki for his fourth GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship reign on November 8th. And his first defense took place on December 19th against Tadasuke. This was the second time they’d faced each other with the belt on the line. Their last match had ended in a DQ but Tadasuke had won the two matches before that. The over all history between the two weighed more in Harada’s favour, however Tadasuke had a lot of momentum behind him since joining Kongo. Plus he also had the threat of having Kongo physically behind him.
There was a lot of psychological warfare taking place between the two before the match took place as Harada called Tadasuke the “fourth” member of RATEL’S aka the least, the worst member of the group. Tadasuke on his end would fire back that Harada was twenty first. That was the number of junior heavyweights on the NOAH roster at that time so Tadasuke was saying that he thought Harada was the lowest in the entire company. However Harada would retain his GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the night.
Seiki Yoshioka would dethrone Harada on February 12th 2021 in the Nippon Budokan but Harada would not go long without a Title back around his waist as him and Hajima Ohara won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on May 31st from HAYATA & Ogawa. And Tadasuke & Haoh would be their one and only successful defense on July 11th.
Their last singles match took place on September 3rd where Harada again beat Tadasuke. That win had purpose however as it gave him the boost to challenge HAYATA for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship later in the night, even if he was unsuccessful when the match took place.
He finally took the belt from HAYATA on January 10th and now his first defense is Tadasuke again. He overcame him in 2017. He beat him again in 2020. He’s beaten Tadasuke in 20 out of 25 singles matches. You’d forgive Harada if he was perhaps feeling confident that he’ll be making yet another successful defense over Tadasuke here.
However every dog can have it’s day. Tadasuke has proven that he can beat Harada. Plus could this be third time lucky for Tadasuke beating Harada with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line? Tadasuke is yet to taste singles gold in NOAH and this will be his fifth shot at the belt after also losing to Kotaro Suzuki in November 2018 and HAYATA in December 2021.
The only Title he’s held in NOAH was that 24 day run with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s with Harada back in November 2018. Like Harada he’s also a former Osaka Pro Champion but he only had one reign for 182 days. Harada is a two time Osaka Pro Champion and his second reign lasted 251 days so he has Tadasuke beat there. Tadasuke has always been in Harada’s shadow. So this could finally be his time to step out of it.
GHC National Championship
On February 10th Masakatsu Funaki makes his first defense of the GHC National Title against his former colleague in M’s Alliance, Masaaki Mochizuki. Funaki won the belt from Kenoh on January 22nd, choking him out within four minutes. But, even more surprisingly, Funaki decided to leave M’s Alliance and join Kenoh’s Kongo.
Funaki made his Kongo debut in a six man tag team match on the 27th against his former team mates, Naomichi Marufuji, Masato Tanaka & Masaaki Mochizuki. Funaki and his new team mates, Kenoh & Manabu Soya (replacing the sick Katsuhiko Nakajima) were defeated when Mochizuki pinned Funaki with a Dragon Suplex. I don’t think many of us saw Funaki being the one to be pinned in that match!
After the match Mochizuki issued a challenge to the new GHC National Champion for that belt. Mochizuki himself being a former GHC National Champion and he was the one who lost the belt to Kenoh. He beat Takashi Sugiura for it on October 28th but lost it in his first defense to Kenoh on November 13th. Mochizuki isn’t the only one to have lost the GHC National Title in his first defense, Kazuyuki Fujita being the other one when he lost it to Sugiura, but that still has to hurt Mochizuki.
He’s a three time Dragon Gate Open The Dream Gate Champion and is one of the best wrestlers at his age still going. And these two are not strangers to each other. Back in July 2016, at Dragon Gate’s big Kobe World show, Mochizuki & Yoshiaki Fujiwara beat Funaki & Dun Fuji after Fuji tapped out to the Fujiwara armbar. After the match Mochizuki and Funaki both held up the one finger to each other, indicating another match, most likely wanting a singles, but it never came to pass.
Until now. They are the same age – 52 – but there’s nine years of experience between them. Funaki started in the New Japan dojo in March 1985 with Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, Minoru Suzuki and Jushin Thunder Liger debuting not long before him. Mochizuki debuted in January 1994 in Kitai Dojo with a KO loss to the future Taz. But WAR, Wrestle And Romance, would become his home.
By the time Mochizuki debuted, Funaki had already left NJPW in 1988 and joined UWF along with his mentor Fujiwara and Suzuki in 1989. However UWF would fold in December 1990 and Fujiwara, Funaki and Suzuki would create their own wrestling promotion – Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Group, PWFG. It was wrestling with an MMA influence like UWF before it but disagreements between Fujiwara and Funaki & Suzuki led to the latter two creating Pancrase in 1993.
Pancrase called their roster members “Hybrid Wrestlers” but the reality is that it was an MMA promotion. Pancrase actually held their first show the month before Ultimate Fighting Championship held theirs. Funaki would lose his first MMA match to future WWF star Ken Shamrock but between September 1993 and September 1999 he’d won 38 fights, lost 10 and drew 1 in Pancrase. MMA fighters at the time said that Funaki and Suzuki were year’s ahead of everyone else and would allow their opponents opportunities of offense to put more drama into their fights.
When Funaki finally returned to wrestling in August 2009, joining Muto’s All Japan Pro Wrestling, Mochizuki had held the MPW British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Championship which was the highest ranking singles Title in Toryumon Japan. He was the second ever Dragon Gate Open The Dream Gate Champion. And a ZERO1 International Junior Heavyweight Champion. Funaki, during his seven years in professional wrestling had never held a belt of any kind.
That would change on change in January 2010 when he and Muto won the AJPW World Tag Team Title’s. And the first singles belt he held was the Triple Crown Championship in August 2012 after he decimated Jun Akiyama in under four minutes to win it. Mochizuki himself had a second reign with the Open The Dream Gate belt before then too. Funaki would also be a ZERO1 World Heavyweight Champion and Real Japan Legend Champion three times. Mochizuki would claim the Dream Gate for a third time.
Between the two Mochizuki has definitely been wrestling more consistently. Even without Funaki’s 17 year break to focus on MMA, Mochizuki has been wrestling week in, week out – Sometimes even day in, day out – for the past 28 years now. But in saying that MMA is, ironically, less taxing on the body than non-stop wrestling. So Mochizuki has an experience edge in wrestling, but Funaki may have less miles on his clock so to speak. In saying that, both are in tremendous shape for 52 year olds.
The longer the match goes, the more it goes in Mochizuki’s favour. Funaki hasn’t gone longer than 15 minutes in a singles match in well over 5 years. So if Mochizuki is able to drag things out and wear Funaki down, he may have the advantage. Funaki is paid by the match not by the hour as his under four minute Title victories over Akiyama and Kenoh can both attest too so he will want to get thing’s done quickly.
GHC Heavyweight Championship Skirmish
Katsuhiko Nakajima aims to make his fifth defense of his GHC Heavyweight Title against Kazuyuki Fujita on Wednesday, February 23rd. They are only having the one and only preview match before the Title match takes place when Nakajima, Kenoh & Manabu Soya face Fujita, Takashi Sugiura & Kendo Kashin.
The two have faced each other in six 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. On 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.
So out of six matches, Fujita and Sugiura Army have won the last five. Neither man have directly pinned or submitted the other. Yet. That could all change on February 9th. Nakajima has been pinned by all of his challengers for the GHC Heavyweight Title since he won it (with the exception of Kenoh). Masato Tanaka pinned Nakajima in a singles match on the first night of the N-1 Victory and in a tag match later. Go Shiozaki pinned Nakajima in a tag match. Masa Kitamiya pinned Nakajima in a tag match.
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, splitting his time between wrestling and MMA. On May 27th he beat Yoshihiro Takayama in an MMA fight. June 6th he defended the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Yuji Nagata. On July 20th, he made another successful defence, this time 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 titles, 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.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships Skirmish
Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu won the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles on January 22nd. Their STINGER team mates were forced to relinquish the belts after Yoshinari Ogawa caught COVID-19 and for some reason HAYATA was not given the chance to pick a new partner. Yoshioka & Susumu beat Atsushi Kotoge & Hajima Ohara, Ogawa & HAYATA’s scheduled opponents for that show, in order to win the belts.
That win was also a form of redemption for Yoshioka & Susumu as they’d lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s to that same team in September last year. The STINGER team looked poised to have a long reign with the belts but Kotoge & Ohara ended their first reign in just their second defence.
They didn’t have long for challengers to emerge either. On January 27th, an eight man tag of STINGER against a Los Perros del Mal de Japon quartet of Eita, YO-HEY, Super Crazy & NOSAWA Rongai, saw YO-HEY pin Susumu. After the match YO-HEY took a microphone to challenge with NOSAWA as his partner… NOSAWA who had already left the ring at that point.
This will be the first time YO-HEY & NOSAWA have challenged for the belts together. Both are former GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions in their own rights so they have both had experience with the belts. NOSAWA is the one to have held them most recently, him and Eita losing them to Ogawa & HAYATA in November – And via countout too. NOSAWA has to be a little disappointed that it’s not the other STINGER team he’s facing.
Yoshioka and YO-HEY do have their own history. Both were members of FULL THROTTLE after YO-HEY joined Yoshioka & Ohara, replacing Kotoge who had just been kicked out in September 2020. The trio were together until May last year when Yoshioka betrayed his team mates in a six man tag against STINGER and reunited with his long time tag partner Susumu. Yoshioka achieved that betrayal by attacking YO-HEY.
So expect fireworks and drama between the two. You have Yoshioka, Susumu & Ogawa against YO-HEY, NOSAWA & Eita on the first night. Yoshioka & HAYATA vs YO-HEY & NOSAWA on the second night. And then a singles match between Yoshioka and YO-HEY on the third. So you’d be forgiven for thinking the issue is entirely between just the two of them.
After all, they have had two singles matches since FULL THROTTLE disbanded and Yoshioka has won them both. So if YO-HEY gets to become GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion by beating Yoshioka then it will be all the sweeter for him.
Haoh Leaving Kongo
On January 16th, Haoh made the decision to leave Kongo and join Momo No Seishun and Friends (Daisuke Harada, Atsushi Kotoge, Hajima Ohara & Junta Miyawaki). Nioh took particular offence to Haoh leaving Kongo and the two beat seven shades of you know what out of each other in a match on the 22nd.
That match ended in a draw and Tadasuke would attack Haoh after the match to show that all of the Kongo juniors, Nioh, Tadasuke & Aleja are all now Haoh’s enemies. And Haoh has two matches against his former colleagues on these shows.
February 9th Haoh teams with Hajima Ohara to face Nioh & Aleja. And on the 10th Haoh has Tadasuke in a singles match which, depending on the outcome the night before between Tadasuke and Harada, Haoh could be facing the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. This will not be a first time singles match either.
Haoh beat Tadasuke during the Global Junior League in January 2020. And then Tadasuke beat Haoh a month later. Both untelevised to show how good we have it since Cyber Fight bought NOAH. So this will be the first taped meeting between the two of them. And it happens when there’s the most emotion and drama between the two.
I’ve always been a fan of Haoh, long before he was called that name. As expected he’s already replaced the Kongo red with white. But, surprisingly, he hasn’t changed his name as of yet. Before he joined NOAH and Kongo he either wrestled under a mask as Kenbai or unmasked as Yuki Sato. Haoh was the name he took upon entry to Kongo, the same as how Nioh took that name and moved away from his former name of Hi69. So it is curious that Haoh appears to be keeping that name.
Kaito Kiyomiya vs HAYATA
The only other match up that I want to make special note of is Kaito Kiyomiya vs HAYATA. HAYATA lost both the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, the latter without even wrestling to drop it, in January.
Kiyomiya also had a rough January, losing to Kenoh in the semi-main event of the Nippon Budokan for the GHC National Championship before losing in the main event of New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 3. That was a special NJPW vs NOAH show; Kiyomiya & Keiji Muto lost to Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi. Okada pinned Kiyomiya after a Rainmaker.
To top it all off, Covid-19 reared its ugly head and Kiyomiya took that like a Rainmaker too. HAYATA managed to dodge it but it caught his tag partner Yoshinari Ogawa and so they were forced into relinquishing the belts. Now both need to build momentum after a poor start to the year so them meeting in a singles match at this time is very intriguing to me.
HAYATA is a junior heavyweight. There’s no escaping that fact, so Kiyomiya automatically has the advantage from a size point of view. But HAYATA has 9 years ring experience over him as he debuted in July 2006, while Kiyomiya didn’t debut until December 2015. HAYATA joined NOAH in late 2016, back when Kiyomiya was still a rookie, so HAYATA won singles matches between then in December 2016 and May 2017. After Kiyomiya went on international excursion and returned in early 2018 as a heavyweight and rising star, they had their third and final singles match in May 2018, which Kiyomiya won.
February 9th will be their fourth meeting. And Kiyomiya beat HAYATA, then already a former GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion before he’d even had his year plus reign as GHC Heavyweight Champion. Now, Kiyomiya has had rare and unique matches against juniors as of late. He faced and beat Super Crazy. Crazy, who last wrestled as a full time NOAH roster member at the show before Kiyomiya even debuted. And he faced and beat Kotaro Suzuki. Suzuki who was NOAH’s first ever dojo graduate.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of match these two will have against each other in 2022. Kiyomiya does seem to be brushing up on the basics and working on being an all rounder.
And that’s your lot!
I thought I’d do something a little different this time, instead of going match by match. That would be even more awkward, as no doubt events on the previous nights would weigh heavily on a show by show basis.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope you enjoy watching the three shows this week. Thank you for taking the time to read it.