On January 1st 2022, Pro Wrestling NOAH return to their spiritual home of the Nippon Budokan. For many, this will be the first available to view show of the new year so a lot of eyes will be on NOAH.
This is the second time NOAH has ran the Budokan in the past year after a decade absence. NOAH had a long history with the Budokan from 2001 to 2010, running 45 shows there during that time. I wrote an article at the beginning of this year before the February return highlighting NOAH’s history with the venue and why the return was so important which you can read here
To me this is arguably a better card than February 2020. You have the biggest main event that NOAH could do – or at least in my eyes – for the GHC Heavyweight Title between two generational rivals.
And the GHC National Title being contested between two long lasting rivals. Plus the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title being fought for by tag partners and Champions together. And four legends of Puroresu involved in the match for GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles.
All that as well as the Pro Wrestling NOAH return of KENTA since he left in May 2014 (Hideo Itami is the man who wrestled Naomichi Marufuji in September 2018 as opposed to the *real* KENTA).
The show will air live on Wrestle Universe with English commentary provided by Mark Pickering & Stewart Fulton. Wrestle Universe is a subscription service at just £8 per month. With live shows from Pro Wrestling NOAH, DDT & TJPW almost weekly it’s well worth the cost.
Starting at 4pm in Japan, that’s 7am in England, 2am East Coast USA and 11pm New Year’s Eve for West Coast USA.
It’s a ten match card so it’s a very, very big one. So let’s get right into it!
MAIN EVENT – GHC Heavyweight Championship – Katsuhiko Nakajima (c) vs Go Shiozaki
I genuinely believe this is bigger than what Go Shiozaki vs Keiji Muto was last year. The Muto match was more to bring in more of a mainstream audience who’ll have known Muto/The Great Muta from the 1990’s heyday of New Japan Pro Wrestling. And for Muto to become the third man to have held NJPW’s IWGP Heavyweight Title, All Japan’s Triple Crown Title and then the GHC Heavyweight Title.
That was big for Muto and for fans of Muto. But for Pro Wrestling NOAH, for it’s history and for it’s fans, Shiozaki vs Katsuhiko Nakajima is the bigger match. These two have been generational rivals since their first meeting in November 2005. And, to me, these two represent NOAH’s glory days.
Yes most people will quite rightly think of Misawa, Kobashi, Akiyama, Marufuji, KENTA, etc. But Shiozaki was the NOAH dojos second graduate in July 2004. Nakajima joined NOAH in June 2008 and was full time before he finally signed in 2014. For me, Shiozaki and Nakajima were both part of NOAH while it was still rising and they were there during the dark days (for the most part but we’ll get to that).
I wrote a lengthy article before their November 2020 GHC Heavyweight Title match which covered their history from that November 2005 match – incidentally which also happened in this same building, the Nippon Budokan – up to November 2020 which you can read here.
Since then I’ve had even more thoughts about the parallels and differences between the two. It’s widely accepted that Shiozaki is the protégé of Kenta Kobashi and Nakajima is the protégé of Kensuke Sasaki.
But think about this – Shiozaki idolised Kobashi. He wanted to be a wrestler because of Kobashi. Kobashi was his mentor figure while training so when Shiozaki debuted, he wrestled a lot like Kobashi. The chops and then eventually the lariats and the moonsault.
Now with Nakajima, Riki Choshu found him while he was training for MMA. Choshu convinced Nakajima to move to wrestling and then it was Sasaki and Kensuke Office who finished his training. Nakajima does not wrestle like Sasaki. But Nakajima had a rough home life so he became practically adopted by Sasaki and his wife Akira Hokuto.
Shiozaki may have had Kobashi as his father figure and he wanted to be exactly like him. But Nakajima had Sasaki as his Father where he needed to be his own person and his own wrestler. In ring each was a fantastic mentor and protégé team. But the relationship outside of the ring was widely different.
That explains why Nakajima has never wrestled like Sasaki. He has had to be his own person, play to his own strengths and his strength was in his kicks.
If you didn’t read my article, then the TL;DR is that Sasaki & Nakajima beat Kobashi & Shiozaki in November 2005. Their next meeting didn’t take place until June 2009 where Shiozaki & KENTA beat Sasaki & Nakajima. Shiozaki was GHC Heavyweight Champion too at that time. They’ve had several singles matches. Shiozaki won the first two in June 2009 and June 2010. They went to a 20 minute draw in England in May 2011.
When NOAH encountered financial difficulties in 2012, they released Kobashi. Shiozaki and others took offence to this and left NOAH at the end of 2012. Nakajima, on the other hand, stayed with the company.
Shiozaki would finally return home to NOAH at the end of 2015 during the middle of the Suzuki-Gun invasion and Nakajima had officially moved up to heavyweight. Shiozaki would have a month long third reign with the GHC Heavyweight Title after winning the belt from and losing it to Takashi Sugiura.
But it would be Nakajima to be the one to dethrone Sugiura in October 2016, becoming GHC Heavyweight Champion for the first time and be the one responsible for ending Suzuki-Gun in NOAH. Shiozaki would challenge Nakajima for the belt in March 2017 but Nakajima would retain. Their fourth match, the first for the GHC Heavyweight Title and it would be the first time Nakajima beat Shiozaki.
The two would eventually become tag partners by the end of 2018. AXIZ as they were known were three time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions together over the next year plus.
In December 2019 they faced each other in a number one contenders match for the GHC Heavyweight Title. Shiozaki would win their first singles match in two and a half years and January 4th 2020 he beat Kaito Kiyomiya to become GHC Heavyweight Champion for the fourth time.
Shiozaki and Nakajima would continue to team until the end of August when, after they failed to win back the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s, Nakajima attacked Shiozaki and joined Kongo.
Nakajima would win the N-1 Victory 2020 which would lead to the November 22nd, 2020 GHC Heavyweight Title match between the two. Now the roles were reversed as Shiozaki is GHC Heavyweight Champion although he led their series 3-1-1 at that point.
If you’ve never seen that match, NOAH have very kindly uploaded it to YouTube which you can watch below.
And it’s an incredible match. If you get the chance, give it a watch. I know Big Bad Dave Meltzer gave the 5 stars to Shiozaki vs Sugiura but, for my money, Shiozaki vs Nakajima is the better match.
Shiozaki would beat Nakajima after over 40 gruelling minutes. At the time Shiozaki was banged up and Nakajima was merciless. But Shiozaki was able to survive and defeat his former partner so now their series stood at 4-1-1.
After losing the belt to Muto in February, Shiozaki took time off in March for shoulder surgery and some much needed rest and relaxation. Of course getting a NOAH wrestler to take time out is another matter as we learned from Kobashi and unfortunately Misawa. But Shiozaki did take the time needed and was silent the entire time.
Nakajima would win the N-1 Victory for the second year in a row on October 3rd. And on October 10th he would beat Marufuji to win the GHC Heavyweight Title for only the second time. After he beat Masato Tanaka on October 30th he said the words that got people talking – “Ore ga NOAH da!”.
Or, translated into English, “I Am NOAH!”.
Now Nakajima said those words in Japanese. But Shiozaki from June 2020 to February 2021 had said those words, in English, through the majority of his fourth GHC Heavyweight Title reign.
So it felt like Nakajima was calling out his old tag partner. Nakajima was calling out the man who had beaten him for that very belt the year prior and was currently on the injured list.
But there’s also another wrinkle in the usage of those words. “I Am NOAH” may have come to define Shiozaki’s fourth GHC Heavyweight Title reign. But it was Nakajima who used “Ore ga NOAH da” originally during his 2016/17 GHC Heavyweight Title reign.
As already noted, Nakajima’s first GHC Heavyweight Title reign came during the dying days of Suzuki-Gun. He was saying “Ore ga NOAH da” because he was the top dog in NOAH, NOAH’s protector and defender against Suzuki-Gun.
When Shiozaki said “I Am NOAH”, it was different. It wasn’t that he was saying he was NOAH’s top dog or defender against outsiders. It was him reaffirming that he IS NOAH. He’d left NOAH in December 2012 and then came back in November 2015. It seems like he regrets that decision – although he did achieve success in AJPW as a former Triple Crown Champion – and he had to win back the NOAH roster and it’s fanbase.
Therefore Shiozaki’s “I Am NOAH” is a rallying cry to him and the fans. It’s him showing that NOAH is his home and that he is NOAH. And he defended that point against Marufuji, Kenoh, Nakajima and Sugiura. All former GHC Heavyweight Champions.
Despite Nakajima saying the words, it didn’t feel real that Shiozaki would be back in time for the Budokan. That and wrestlers rarely return from a substantial injury straight into a Title match (different story in the West, Japan doesn’t usually work like that).
So after Nakajima and Kenoh had beaten the hell out of each other for 60 minutes in a Double Title match on November 28th, when the lights dimmed and Shiozaki’s theme music hit, there was an element of disbelief. When Shiozaki came out to the ring and squared up to Nakajima and we all knew the reason was for the Budokan, I was punching the air with joy.
They’ve had five tag matches since Go’s return. December 5th Shiozaki & Kiyomiya beat Nakajima & Kenoh when Kiyomiya submitted Kenoh. 7th Shiozaki & Kiyomiya beat Nakajima & Kenoh when Shiozaki pinned Nakajima. 12th Nakajima, Kenoh & Manabu Soya beat Shiozaki, Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura when Kenoh pinned Inamura. 25th Nakajima & Kenoh beat Shiozaki & Nakajima when Kenoh knocked Kiyomiya out. And on the 27th Nakajima, Kenoh, Soya, Haoh & Nioh beat Shiozaki, Kiyomiya, Daiki Inaba, Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge when Nakajima pinned Shiozaki.
So the challengers started December strong with direct victories over their opponents but the champions rallied back at the end of the month.
Shiozaki has shown no signs of ring rust since his return. He’s taken that time off to heal and rest up and seemingly has waited until he was 100% before returning and making sure he was ready for a GHC Heavyweight Title match.
Nakajima has gotten stronger in the past year plus since their last Title match. He won a second N-1 Victory, being the first person to win it in back to back years. He beat Marufuji whom he had never beaten in a Title match. He’s beat Tanaka whom he had never beaten in a singles match at all before that match.
Their first ever meeting was in a tag match in the Budokan in November 2005. Now it comes full circle as they face each other again with the biggest prize at stake, all in the same venue they first clashed in back when they were youngster’s during NOAH’s glory days.
This match means a lot to many people, myself included. And I can’t wait for New Year’s Day to watch it.
GHC National Championship – Kenoh (c) vs Kaito Kiyomiya
I said above that Shiozaki and Nakajima represented NOAH’s glory days to me. Well Kenoh and Kaito Kiyomiya represent NOAH’s rebirth to me.
Kenoh joined NOAH in January 2015. Kiyomiya only made his wrestling debut in NOAH in December 2015. So both were there during NOAH’s darkest days.
Nakajima carried the company out of the Suzuki-Gun days. He may have lost the belt in August 2017 to Eddie Edwards but Kenoh was the one to dethrone Edwards in December.
Kiyomiya was Kenoh’s first challenger upon his return from international excursion in January 2018. This showed how much faith NOAH had in Kiyomiya, he was only two years and a bit into his wrestling career and he was getting a GHC Heavyweight Title match.
Kenoh would make proclamations that he was going to take NOAH back to the Budokan as their last official show there (discounting the Kobashi retirement show in May 2013) took place in December 2010. However, he would lose the belt to Sugiura in March 2018.
2018 would be the year of Kiyomiya. He and Shiozaki won the Global Tag League by beating Kenoh & Sugiura in the finals, before beating Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya to win the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles (even if they lost the belts right back to them the next month).
Kiyomiya won the Global League, beating Sugiura and Shiozaki during the Block stage and Nakajima in the finals. Then on December 16th, just over three years from his debut, he beat Sugiura to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
He became the youngest champion in history. The wrestler to win that belt the quickest in their career. And he wasn’t the complete package at the start of his reign. He had to grow and develop as both a wrestler and a champion in order to keep hold of the belts.
And he did amazingly. His first defense was a return of the favour against Kenoh in January 2019. And then, after Kenoh had won that year’s N-1 Victory, Kiyomiya beat him again in November.
That would be Kiyomiya’s final successful defence before he lost the belt to Shiozaki in January 2020. But his reign had lasted 384 days and six successful Title defenses. Kiyomiya established himself as NOAH’s present as much as it’s future and truly earned the Supernova moniker. I genuinely believe Kenoh and Kiyomiya both played crucial parts in NOAH’s recovery from their darkest days. That Kiyomiya would not have had the reign and growth that he’d had over those two years if he didn’t have Kenoh.
The two were tag partners. Title match opponents. And then officially rivals when Kenoh formed Kongo.
But Kenoh’s role wasn’t just to be Kiyomiya’s opposite. His rise from junior to heavyweight, Global League winner and then GHC Heavyweight Champion in December 2017 was incredible. He’d only been with NOAH a little under four years at that time but he won over the audience and his wrestling style fit in perfectly with NOAH.
So I’m so happy to see these two face each other in the Budokan. In NOAH’s biggest stage, in the semi-main event for NOAH’s second most important (openweight) singles Title.
This will be their ninth singles match since June 2017.
June 25th 2017, Kenoh beat Kiyomiya in Kiyomiya’s last match before international excursion.
January 6th 2018, Kenoh beat Kiyomiya to retain the GHC Heavyweight Title and Kiyomiya’s first match back after his international excursion.
January 25th 2018, Kenoh again beats Kiyomiya, this time non-title.
June 10th 2018, Kenoh beats Kiyomiya to become number one contender to the GHC Heavyweight Title he’d lost a few months before.
January 6th 2019, Kiyomiya finally beats Kenoh to retain his newly won GHC Heavyweight Title.
November 2nd 2019, Kiyomiya again beats Kenoh to retain the GHC Heavyweight Title.
November 22nd 2020, Kenoh beats Kiyomiya to retain the GHC National Title.
October 3rd 2021, Kenoh beats Kiyomiya in the semifinals of the N-1 Victory.
So six wins for Kenoh to Kiyomiya’s two. Kenoh has been well established as his senior in both age and experience. Kiyomiya may have held the GHC Heavyweight Title for the longest between the two, but Kenoh is still his older brother so to speak.
NOAH have also kindly uploaded that November 2020 GHC National Title match to YouTube which you can watch below:
November 2020 had Kenoh vs Kiyomiya for the GHC National Title and Shiozaki vs Nakajima for the GHC Heavyweight Title.
Both matches for the same belts are happening just over 14 months later. But now in a bigger venue and the Champion and Challenger changing in the Heavyweight Title match.
I love the fact that we have rematches from Yokohama Budokan on this show. It shows that those matches deserve the larger platform that the Nippon Budokan represents.
Now this match was made official on December 5th when Kiyomiya submitted Kenoh in a tag match with Shiozaki and Nakajima as their partners. But on December 25th, Kenoh would win a repeat of that tag match when he knocked Kiyomiya out after a high kick to the head. Post match he posed with his title belt over Kiyomiya’s prone body. And on the 27th, after Nakajima had pinned Shiozaki in a ten man tag team match, Kenoh had Kiyomiya down on the ground while shoving his belt in his face.
As for the quality of this match, I think by now that these two could have a great match together in their sleep. They know each other so well and have great chemistry together. I’m expecting this match to be more GHC Heavyweight Title quality.
KENTA & Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba) vs Masa Kitamiya, Daiki Inaba & Yoshiki Inamura
KENTA’s return to NOAH. And note I said KENTA – not Hideo Itami who was loaned by the WWE to NOAH for one match in September 2018.
For many, KENTA was NOAH. Case in point, I got into NOAH because of Ring Of Honor. I got into NOAH because I watched KENTA beat the crap out of Low Ki, Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson.
Mid 2000’s KENTA was just something else. He had the look. The attitude. The wrestling. And those kicks. Those kicks were absolutely lethal. KENTA was (and still is) genuinely one of my favourite wrestlers.
I saw him while he was the king of the junior heavyweight division. I’ve seen him have two of the best matches I’ve ever seen live. We were all waiting for NOAH to finally accept him as a heavyweight and his GHC Heavyweight Title win over Takeshi Morishima in January 2013 was incredibly emotional.
In a perfect world it should have happened sooner. But we got a year of KENTA as GHC Heavyweight Champion and matches with Takashi Sugiura, Marufuji, Nakajima and Yuji Nagata that still stand out today.
By the time that KENTA lost the belt back to Morishima in January 2014, he’d achieved everything he could in NOAH. He was a three time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. Three time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. And GHC Heavyweight Champion. He’d always been a fan of American wrestling so he ended up signing a contract with the WWE.
His final match in NOAH, and I don’t know if many will remember this, was originally going to be KENTA & Sugiura vs Marufuji & Nakajima. KENTA & Sugiura were in the NO MERCY stable together while Marufuji & Nakajima were both in BRAVE.
However, a few days before the show, the match was changed to KENTA & Marufuji vs Sugiura & Nakajima.
Now KENTA & Marufuji had as much history together as they do as opponents and rivals. They were the first ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and they held those belts for a record breaking 690 days. There is no chance that that record will ever be broken.
It’s a shame we never got to see them team as heavyweights and this was their one and only time teaming together after their tag team ended.
But Sugiura and Nakajima were both integral opponents to KENTA. Sugiura may have debuted after KENTA (KENTA was May 2000 and Sugiura December 2000) but as he was older by 11 years, Sugiura was always a bigger brother.
Sugiura won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title first and successfully defended the belt against KENTA. Sugiura, along with Yoshinobu Kanemaru, ended KENTA & Marufuji’s 690 day run as the first ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Sugiura also ended KENTA’s original 321 day reign with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title.
It took KENTA eleven years and the fifth singles match between them before he was finally able to beat Sugiura. And that came after Sugiura had already held the GHC Heavyweight Title for 581 days. Sugiura leads their series with 5 wins to KENTA’s 3.
If Sugiura was KENTA’s older brother, then in another world KENTA could have been Nakajima’s older brother. However they did not have the shared experience of the All Japan dojo that Sugiura and KENTA did that allowed them to be friends outside of the ring. KENTA and Nakajima were mortal enemies.
Nakajima quickly got a reputation as a no-nonsense, young ass kicker. Pretty much exactly what KENTA was just a few years earlier. So Nakajima was a threat to KENTA. The two were very, very similar and Nakajima was a younger rival who could eventually usurp KENTA’s position.
So their matches were full of fire and hatred. They traded the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship between themselves in early 2009. Nakajima’s first ever GHC Heavyweight Title match was against KENTA in October 2013.
The two never once teamed together. Never. So KENTA facing Nakajima & Sugiura in his final NOAH match on May 17th 2014 made sense.
His time in the WWE was not a happy one. He got injured a few times which really hampered his abilities in the ring. That and the WWE style was not a good fit for KENTA to be KENTA. Obviously he knew what he was getting into but it was still disheartening to see Hideo Itami falter so much.
In a rare move, WWE allowed Itami to face Marufuji in the latter’s 20th Anniversary match in September 2018. It would be fair to say that he showed signs of being the KENTA of old but something just felt alien about the situation. That’s why this is KENTA’s real return home to NOAH.
We never thought this was going to happen when he debuted for NJPW in June 2019. A lot of people were offended that he went to NJPW instead of returning to NOAH. What stung the most was the day of his debut in NJPW coincided with a Misawa Memorial show for NOAH. Plus there was the bad blood between NOAH and NJPW stemming from late 2016 (which I got into in Part 4 of my NJPW vs NOAH: The History series if you want to give it a read).
That’s the reason why a return to NOAH for KENTA felt impossible. But when the NJPW vs NOAH show was announced, while many were excited for dream combinations involving Okada, Kiyomiya, Shingo, Nakajima, Naito, Kenoh, etc etc, myself and others wondered what this meant for KENTA.
Would he even be on the show? Would his “betrayal” see him not even be on the show at all?
On November 28th our question was answered when KENTA was announced to return to NOAH on January 1st at the Budokan. KENTA was coming back to his original home for one night only.
Now a lot of people would have hoped for and wanted KENTA to be facing any of Marufuji, Sugiura and KENTA. So to see him team with Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba to face Masa Kitamiya, Daiki Inaba & Yoshiki Inamura seemed odd.
But remember KENTA and Sugiura were in the same stable when KENTA left NOAH. Yes, they are incredible opponents and had incredibly violent matches against each other, but they are also old friends. Nothing could show that more than KENTA unexpectedly coming out at the end of the Sugiura Army show on December 27th and the two were laughing and joking together.
Also, and I know this was announced after the Budokan card, but on January 8th, the same trio will team again – KENTA being on the NOAH side in a NJPW vs NOAH match – when they face the Suzuki-Gun trio of Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku.
So what do Kitamiya, Inaba & Inamura gain from this match? Well Inamura hadn’t even made his wrestling debut before KENTA left NOAH (Inamura debuted in September 2018). Inaba debuted in May 2013 in Mexico, making his Japanese debut in September 2013. And he was in Wrestle-1 until it’s closure in April 2020. Neither have ever shared the ring with KENTA.
Kitamiya debuted in September 2011 with Kensuke Office but didn’t make full time NOAH appearances until late 2012. At that time he was a junior heavyweight – crazy I know looking at the size of him now – so he only ever shared the ring once with KENTA.
It was September 2012 and it was KENTA, Maybach Taniguchi & Genba Hirayangi who beat Kensuke Sasaki, Kento Miyahara & Kitamiya. That match took place in Korakuen Hall and it was recorded. A skinny and shaved head Kitamiya was pinned by Taniguchi after a Maybach Bomb.
So that is the only time that one out of his three opponents ever wrestled him. Of course Kitamiya has had a fair deal of experience wrestling Sugiura & Sakuraba this past year. It was him and Nakajima who took the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s from them in March. And Inaba and Inamura have both clashed with Sugiura Army, often at their defeat.
Plus remember earlier in the day, Sugiura will defend his ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship against former Champion Tanaka at a ZERO1 show at Korakuen Hall. It’s just been confirmed that Wrestle Universe will also air this show live so if staying awake/getting up early for just one show isn’t enough for you, then you can watch this one too. So Sugiura will likely have had the stuffing beaten out of him to make him weakened for Kitamiya, Inaba & Inamura to take advantage of.
I don’t want to make this match all about KENTA but… It is a pretty damn big deal that he’s back in a NOAH ring and especially with it being at the Budokan. So the match itself is going to be overshadowed.
GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – M’s Alliance (Keiji Muto & Naomichi Marufuji) (c) vs M’s Alliance (Masato Tanaka & Masaaki Mochizuki)
Last time NOAH was in the Budokan in February, the 58 year old Keiji Muto achieved what it seemed was the impossible when he beat Shiozaki to become the GHC Heavyweight Champion. With that victory he became the third man to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title, Triple Crown Title and GHC Heavyweight Title after Kensuke Sasaki and Yoshihiro Takayama.
He would hold that belt for almost four months before he lost it to the man he is partnering here, Naomichi Marufuji. Marufuji took the belt from Muto at the big Cyber Fight show in June.
After losing it to Nakajima in October, Marufuji & Muto beat Kiyomiya & Kitamiya to win the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on November 13th. So this will be their first defense.
Despite being in the same stable, this did not stop the Title challenge. Case in point Muto and Marufuji were and are in M’s Alliance when their GHC Heavyweight Title match took place. And on this same show the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship will be contested within STINGER.
Muto, Marufuji, Masato Tanaka & Masaaki Mochizuki beat Funky Express in an eight man tag team match. I’d had visions that King Tany & Muhammad Yone would win that match and be the challengers at the Budokan. However I was pleasantly surprised to see Tanaka & Mochizuki issue the challenge after that match.
Ironically, at the last Budokan show, Tanaka & Mochizuki teamed for the very first time in NOAH (I was surprised to recently discover that they were a tag team briefly in ZERO1 back in 2009) where they beat Tany & Yone.
They’ve teamed together five times this year with a record of four wins and one loss as a tag team. Conversely, the only time Muto & Marufuji have teamed together this year as just a tag team was the Tag Title win. The last time they’d teamed together before then was June 2020.
So Tanaka & Mochizuki actually have had more experience teaming together in the past year. This will absolutely play to their advantage.
But in the one and only night of preview matches on December 7th, Muto beat Mochizuki in their first time ever singles match. And Tanaka beat Marufuji in the night’s main event.
Meaning they are tied at a victory each and they’ve not had much time to wrestle each other in order to learn each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Muto and Tanaka have not faced each other since November 2002 during AJPW’s Real World Tag League. Muto & Road Warrior Animal beat Tanaka & Shinjiro Otani. It’ll be over 19 years since these two last faced each other.
You have four of the best wrestlers in the world for their age in this match. Muto, love him or hate him, wrestles very smartly and around his limitations. Marufuji has blazed his trail through the wrestling world and while he’s no spring chicken as a result, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Tanaka and Mochizuki on the other hand must have located the fountain of youth. There are few wrestlers as good as they are at the age they are. Hell, there are few wrestlers who are ten year’s younger and are as good as they are!
I’d love to see Tanaka & Mochizuki take the belts here. I feel like you could do more with that tag team. But then if Muto & Marufuji are able to have better matches as a tag team, I’d not complain if they retained.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship – HAYATA (c) vs Yoshinari Ogawa
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions meet each other at the Budokan with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line.
After HAYATA had made his seventh defense over Tadasuke on December 5th, Ogawa came forward as his next challenger. They might be stablemates and Tag Champions together but the allure of singles gold will always motivate people.
To show that he was serious and the gravity of the situation, Ogawa attacked HAYATA. Now don’t think this is the end of STINGER. Or at least not yet it isn’t. Let’s see where they stand after this match and then especially after January 4th when they defend their tag belts against Kotaro Suzuki and YO-HEY.
This will be their fourth singles match against each other. Ogawa won the first one and took the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship from HAYATA in January 2020. Then just a few weeks later Ogawa beat HAYATA again during the Global Junior League.
Their third match only just happened on Christmas Day. NOAH have a crazy habit of booking the same match to take place a few weeks later with a title on the line. Ordinary they’d go to a time limit draw, whether that’s 10 minutes or 30 minutes.
However HAYATA surprised everyone, Ogawa most of all, when he rolled him up into a pinfall in just over a minute. Ogawa, understandably, was furious. But there was nothing he could do. He had been pinned fair and square. Definitely do not expect a repeat performance of that in the Budokan. Ogawa referred to himself as the strongest challenger that HAYATA could face and, despite that little Christmas miracle, he isn’t wrong.
He was the third person to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship, surprising Jun Akiyama with a roll up in under 5 minutes. It took him almost 18 years later before he added the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title to his collection to go alongside both tag belts.
These two have been partners for over a year and a half now, ever since HAYATA betrayed RATEL’S to join STINGER in May 2020. They are now in their third reign as GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions together and, with the exception of the one month, held those belts for almost an entire year.
Ogawa has been wrestling for two years longer than HAYATA has even been alive. His career started in 1985 and HAYATA was born in 87. There is not a single NOAH dojo graduate who does not have Ogawa’s hands all over their training.
But he always taught them everything they know, not everything he knows. HAYATA may not have been one of Ogawa’s students but they’ve been together for that long that I can’t help but feel that HAYATA will have learned a lot from him.
In long singles matches, Ogawa has won two. But HAYATA shocked Ogawa to his very core with that embarrassing defeat in just over a minute.
It will be interesting to see the aftermath of this match. Will Ogawa and HAYATA be able to coexist after this match, regardless as to the result? Will Suzuki & YO-HEY be able to take advantage of any drama between the champions?
It’s very noticeable now that STINGER is made up of HAYATA, Yoshioka & Susumu, three men who have a shared history before they all joined NOAH. Before they all joined STINGER and before Ogawa. So will Ogawa be able to keep control of the stable he created when the ties that bind the other members together are tighter than they are to him?
Sugiura Army (Kazuyuki Fujita & Kendo Kashin) vs Masakatsu Funaki & Ikuto Hidaka
Kazuyuki Fujita and Masakatsu Funaki clashed during the N-1 Victory where Funaki won, going undefeated in their block. This will be their second tag match against each other since then.
On October 10th, Funaki, Tanaka & Mochizuki beat Fujita, Sugiura & Kendo Kashin. Mochizuki pinned Sugiura but Funaki and Kashin of all people brawled around the venue and Kashin even attempted to throw Funaki off of the balcony! So Funaki has to watch out for that sneaky Kashin! Strictly speaking, Fujita & Kashin do have the advantage as they are in the same stable and they’ve known each other since 1997, teaming together since 2011.
Funaki & Hidaka, on the other hand, have never shared a ring together. Not as partners or opponents. But stylistically they are two similar wrestlers. They are both great grapplers.
Hidaka and Kashin haven’t faced each other since August 2003. They had one tag match against each other. And two teaming together. That’s the only times they’ve been in the same ring together and it was over eighteen years ago.
If you like strong style wrestling, then you’re going to love watching Funaki and Fujita go at it. Don’t let Funaki’s movie star good looks fool you. The man was a demon in the MMA community and him, Minoru Suzuki and Kazushi Sakuraba made waves transitioning from Pro Wrestling to MMA. And ol’ ironhead Fujita did quite well for himself in MMA too due to his Homer Simpson genes.
Ultimo Dragon, Momo No Seishun (Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge) & Hajima Ohara vs Los Perros del Mal de Japon (Eita, Kotaro Suzuki, YO-HEY & NOSAWA Rongai)
I was hoping that the interaction between NOAH and Dragon Gate at the end of this year would lead to more. Hopefully it still does. And hopefully having Ultimo Dragon on the Budokan show means there’s still a connection.
I know that’s a reach. I know Ultimo could still be a freelancer who’s just making Dragon Gate his home right now and holds no real power in the promotion. I mean, end of the day, Dragon Gate was formed because they left Ultimo.
Still it’s nice to see him back in NOAH. Back in 2003, he and YOSSINO won the Differ Cup. And in December 2019 he took part in Sugiura Army’s first produced show where he teamed with Hajima Ohara.
He returns to again team with Ohara. Some of you may know that Ohara is one of Ultimo’s former students. Ohara was part of Toryumon Mexico’s last batch of students before the split to Dragon Gate. If not for a few months, Ohara could have been a Dragon Gate member. So that’s the connection between them.
Now there are two Dragon Gate students on the other side. Eita is well known as the leader of the biggest heel stable in Dragon Gate, R.E.D. He’s also a former Open The Dream Gate Champion. The second is YO-HEY who spent a few years training in the Dragon Gate dojo.
Eita made a point of targeting Ultimo when he came into Dragon Gate so I can’t help but feel that he’ll do the exact same in a NOAH ring too. I was surprised to discover that YO-HEY has already faced Ultimo in SMASH, Wrestling New Classic and AJPW. I felt sure this would be a first time meeting.
What is a first time is for Ultimo and Harada to share the ring together. Ultimo and Kotoge already having teamed the once in Osaka Pro back in 2008.
Suzuki first faced Ultimo in the Differ Cup all the way back in 2003 and they had three singles matches in AJPW from 2014 to 15. NOSAWA and Ultimo are well acquainted, wrestling each other for the first time back in 2002 in California.
We also have Eita & NOSAWA who dethroned Kotoge & Ohara in just 4 minutes. And also Suzuki & YO-HEY who beat Harada & Kotoge on Christmas Day to become number one contenders for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles to take place on January 4th.
With Suzuki & YO-HEY so close to that Title match, they aren’t going to be able to afford a loss here. So it will be up to Ultimo, Ohara and Momo No Seishun to halt their momentum.
STINGER (Seiki Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu) vs Kongo (Aleja & Haoh)
Seiki Yoshioka has beaten Aleja and Haoh on back to back shows in singles matches recently. But since Yoshioka & Yuya Susumu lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in September, they haven’t been able to win a tag team match together at all.
Susumu hasn’t been in NOAH as much since then, spending more time in FREEDOMS. He wasn’t even on the Budokan return show last February so I’m glad he has a place on this card.
And speaking of February, Yoshioka beat Harada in the Budokan to become the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. But he lost the belt in his first defense just a month later.
We all had high hopes for Yoshioka, still do, and hopefully he’ll get a better shake on his second reign. He’s still young so will have plenty of opportunities in the future.
Aleja is also another youngster with a high ceiling. Only debuting in 2016, he still has his best years in front of him. He’s already challenged for both junior belts so it’s only a matter of time before he wins one or the other.
This could be a great tag team match if given the right time. Yoshioka & Susumu and Aleja & Haoh are both great pairings and four very talented wrestlers in their own right.
Kongo (Manabu Soya, Tadasuke & Nioh) vs Funky Express (King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito)
Kongo face Funky Express once more. And they do it on the biggest stage possible in the Budokan. The same Funky Express trio beat Tadasuke, Haoh & Nioh twice last year, May and August.
But, and I say this with no disrespect to Haoh, here they have an upgrade with Manabu Soya.
Now they have a heavyweight on their side. And Tadasuke is a stocky junior heavyweight with some Jumbo esque lariats that he can throw down.
They’ll need to use Nioh’s speed, Tadasuke’s power and Soya’s brute strength in order to get a victory here. Because while King Tany, Muhammad Yone & Akitoshi Saito may be the loveable losers of the NOAH roster, they are living proof that any dog can have its day. They’ve pulled off some big upsets in the past and, when they have the size and weight advantage, they are more likely to take home the win.
Will Kongo win or will Funky Express get the Budokan dancing with their victory?
Kinya Okada & Junta Miyawaki vs Yasutaka Yano & Kai Fujimura
Opening match and it’s the NOAH youngsters to get the Budokan rocking. Well NOAH youngsters and Fujimura who started his career in the Wrestle-1 dojo.
Plus this is the return of Junta Miyawaki who has been out injured since the middle of October. And I’m so happy that he’s back in time for the Budokan.
Miyawaki is the veteran in this match too. He debuted in August 2017. Kinya Okada in December 2018. Kai Fujimura July 2019. And Yasutaka Yano October 2020.
So they are all young, by Japanese wrestling standards. Well by NOAH standards. In more youth minded promotions like DDT and Dragon Gate they could already be champions, Miyawaki and Okada especially. But NOAH is NOAH and Kiyomiya was the exception not the rule.
But you’ll get four fired up young wrestlers in the opening match absolutely giving it their all. Miyawaki, Yano and Fujimura could be staples of the NOAH junior division for year’s to come.
Okada could one day have a meteoric rise on the heavyweight scene if all the stars align. I do genuinely see good things in his future but how his future plays out seems to be entirely in NOAH’s hands and less in his own.
And that’s your lot.
Big card. Big show. Big preview.
I genuinely can’t wait for Shiozaki vs Nakajima. I think these two are going to have a Match Of The Year contender on day one of the new year.
And then the card around it seems to have been better built up than the previous Budokan show. Many staff and wrestlers in NOAH have said they are going to start the year the way they intend to keep it for the rest of the year. Well they could genuinely start the year with their WrestleMania of shows. And I am so excited for it. As always thank you so much for reading. I do genuinely appreciate every read, like and share. Pro Wrestling NOAH deserves to have a bigger audience. And with this show and the NJPW vs NOAH night of Wrestle Kingdom just a week later, I think they’re going to get it.