On Sunday the 22nd of May, English promotion Wrestle Carnival announced they had a partnership with Japanese promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH and that NOAH talent would be featured at their upcoming show.
Set to take place on Sunday the 7th of August, The First Anniversary will be at the Portland Centre in Nottingham, NG2 2HE.
Wrestle Carnival is a young promotion. So much so that August 7th will be their first-anniversary show and their eighth show since they started. Ordinarily such a new promotion promising international talent would set alarm bells ringing for me, however Wrestle Carnival is not promoter Gary Ward’s first rodeo.
He started Wrestle Gate Pro in early 2019 and successfully brought over Mil Muertes, Ben K & Eita from Dragon Gate, Konosuke Takeshita from DDT, Adam Page & PAC mere months before AEW was formed and Joe Doering & Shuji Ishikawa from AJPW.
I’ll be honest, when Wrestle Gate Pro was first announced with Mil Muertes appearing, I doubted whether it would happen. The curse of being a long time British wrestling fan. But Gary proved me wrong and delivered on all the above names. So I am cautiously optimistic about August 7th.
Right now no talent has been announced. Realistically the partnership could just be one name from Pro Wrestling NOAH which I am sure would be a potential disappointment to many. However because the comapny logo is so prominent on the poster, I am hopeful that we will at least get a handful of names.
Pro Wrestling NOAH and England do have a history, but I do not claim to be an expert. @Hi5ame is a NOAH fan living in England who has spent years writing about the promotion on her site and @bluegodzilla has spent years travelling to Japan and following NOAH. They both know more than myself.
While I’m not an expert, I am passionate. And my first experience watching NOAH talent live was sixteen years ago this month. Plus I was front row at all three Pro Wrestling NOAH shows that took place in England, so I do have some knowledge on the subject.
The first time Pro Wrestling NOAH talent came over to the UK was in March 2005. FWA, Frontier Wrestling Alliance was the premier English promotion. In the 1990’s, BritWres was more about local “American Wrestling” shows with wrestlers pretending to be the popular American stars of the time. And Doink.
But in the 2000s the FWA made a name for themselves by bringing over ROH and TNA stars like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, CM Punk, Colt Cabana, etc and attracting fans of modern wrestling. FWA would feature one or two imports per show, and they eventually brought ROH over for a co-promoted show. They then began running York Hall in London and ran their biggest show at the Coventry Skydome in November 2004.
FWA were riding the wave of popularity from the non-WWE American promotions, helped by The Wrestling Channel (TWC) launch in 2004. TWC was unique – a UK based TV channel exclusively for wrestling. TNA, ROH, CZW, FWA got in on there, and they had arguably the biggest wrestling promotion in Japan – Pro Wrestling NOAH.
FWA and TWC teamed up to do a second show at Coventry Skydome in March 2005, International Showdown. The show had almost 3,500 fans in attendance, significantly higher than FWA’s typical 1,800. They had AJ Styles vs Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe vs CM Punk, plus Raven, Chris Sabin and Petey Williams from the states. Plus NOAH brought over Mitsuharu Misawa, Yoshinari Ogawa and Kotaro Suzuki (as Tiger Emperor) to make their UK debuts.
If you were a Puroresu fan in the 90s, you had to be trading tapes of Misawa from AJPW. Ogawa was always known as Misawa’s second, and was the third GHC Heavyweight Champion and Suzuki was the first-ever graduate of the Pro Wrestling NOAH dojo after debuting.
Misawa & Ogawa wrestled up in Scotland the night before International Showdown, and in Coventry, Misawa, Ogawa & Suzuki beat Too Cold Scorpio, Doug Williams & James Tighe. Scorpio is a name you may recognise from ECW, WWF, AJPW and then NOAH. Williams was one of the stars of FWA during its boom period and debuted with NOAH in May 2003 so was an ambassador for BritWres of sorts, while Tighe was an English wrestler that FWA had high hopes for and was put in this match for the rub.
Scorpio & Williams had just beaten Misawa & Ogawa for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in January.
Naomichi Marufuji & Minoru Suzuki travelled to England in June to take those belts from Scorpio & Williams at an FWA show – the first time that any of NOAH’s GHC Titles were defended outside of Japan. Marufuji & Suzuki would cross the pond to debut in Germany for promotion wXw, who would be as heavily involved in helping use NOAH talent on future excursions.
Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama & Go Shiozaki were the next NOAH names to come to England. Again for another FWA/TWC co-promoted show at the Coventry Skydome, Universal Uproar in November 2005. This show also featured Amazing Red, Nigel McGuinness vs Colt Cabana, Low Ki vs Homicide, Shannon Moore vs Sonjay Dutt, D’Lo Brown, Steve Corino, The Sandman and Mick Foley. But it was the NOAH stars who main evented when Akiyama & Williams beat Kobashi & Shiozaki.
FWA was pretty much done as a major UK promotion in 2006 but the promotions it had inspired created a healthy UK scene. Which meant that NOAH decided to send talent to Europe for more than a weekend. They sent talent, in pairs, for several weeks at a time as they could work FWA, wXw, IPW:UK, 3CW and 1PW along with other UK and European promotions.
This is where my first-hand knowledge comes into play as I started attending live shows in January 2006 when I went to my local promotion, 1PW. 1PW took the FWA supershow model and thought they could one-up it. They booked entire shows with imports with any English names being mainly enhancement talent at the start. Takeshi Morishima & Muhammad Yone, reigning GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions came over at the end of April 2006 and wrestled two nights for 1PW at the end of May.
My very first NOAH match I saw was in a live setting (front row too to brag) as Morishima & Yone defended their GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in a 30-minute draw against Williams & McGuinness. Morishima had a very successful tour for himself as he captured the 3CW Heavyweight Championship – the first NOAH wrestler to win an English title. He would drop it by the very end of his tour at an IPW:UK show in a four-way match, with a young PAC walking away with the strap.
Then GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, Takashi Sugiura and his tag partner Yoshinobu Kanemaru were next to come over in July. Sugiura defended his belt in Germany and I was lucky enough to see both wrestlers at a 1PW show where they were in a six-way match also featuring future NOAH wrestler, Chris Hero.
Go Shiozaki returned to England in August and brought SUWA with him. The two most notably wrestled during ROH’s debut weekend in England. SUWA even challenged Bryan Danielson for the ROH World Championship at two different shows. Shiozaki officially made his ROH debut in England, a year and a half before America for an excursion.
April 2007, Shiozaki returns with Atsushi Aoki. Shiozaki took part in the King Of Europe Cup (KOE) in England and the 16 Carat Gold tournament in Germany on back to back weekends. KOE happened to be my first time seeing Shiozaki and he had an incredible match against Davey Richards.
Aoki would stay in Europe after Shiozaki returned back to Japan, replaced by Makoto Hashi. Unfortunately Hashi did not wrestle in the North of England at all so I did not get to see his thick skull live at all before he had to hang up his boots a few years later.
Former GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Rikio and Ippei Ota would join Aoki & Hashi on their final weekend in mid-June. Marufuji would also make a one-off appearance that same show to wrestle Doug Williams before returning to Japan. I got to see Rikio & Ota wrestle at 1PW – Rikio had a genuine happy reaction when our small section of the crowd started chanting “NOAH” in appreciation of the two.
End of July saw Shuhei Taniguchi and Genba Hirayangi head over. I was lucky enough to be at their first night in the country where they faced each other at a 3CW show.
August saw the final excursion for NOAH talent for that year, with Kentaro Shiga & Kishin Kawabata coming over. They did not make a good impression at the two 1PW shows they appeared on. One of their matches, a tag match against two Scottish wrestlers, had the dubious honour of being voted the worst 1PW match of 2007. Ouch. I’ve not watched it back but live it was… not good.
Early January 2008, A-Merchandise announced that Pro Wrestling NOAH would be coming over to put on a full show, their first outside of Japan, on June 21st at the Coventry Skydome. A-Merchandise (now The Wrestling Store) is run by Mark Sloan who had been heavily involved in the FWA glory days and is an overall stand up guy.
Misawa, Kobashi, Akiyama, Marufuji – the then GHC Heavyweight Champion Morishima – Shiozaki, Sugiura – the then GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Kanemaru – Yone, Aoki, Suzuki: all would return, as well as the UK debut of KENTA. Plus you had the UK debuts of Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Junji Izumida, and the inclusion of NOAH’s international talent of Williams, McGuinness, Danielson, the Briscoe Brothers, Bison Smith and Eddie Edwards.
Mark Briscoe got injured a little while before the show. As a result he was pulled from wrestling on the show but was still going to attend for the meet and greets. However his passport was so damaged he was turned away from flying to Europe.
Morishima got injured defending his GHC Heavyweight Title for the first time against Sugiura a week before the UK show so wrestled with a swollen ankle.
The airline lost Morishima and Marufuji’s bags so neither had any gear nor Morishima’s GHC Heavyweight Title belt. They ended up having to buy whatever sports clothing they could fit in from Sports Direct.
The show was incredible regardless, featuring a dark six-man tag team match in which the UK guys decided to go all out and start the show off hot. That match featured Dave Mastiff, Mark Haskins and making his unofficial NOAH debut, Zack Sabre Jr. I’ve previously written a piece about Zack’s time in NOAH which you can read here.
The show proper kicked off with a 15-minute draw between Aoki and Joel Redman. Aoki was only two and a half years into his career by this point but was an excellent technician, while Redman was bigger and an equally adept technical wrestler.
When Williams & McGuinness came out to “Vindaloo” for their match against Sugiura & Suzuki, the crowd came alive in earnest. One, “Vindaloo” is an unofficial British anthem and up there with Blur’s “Song No. 2” to really show how British the wrestler is. Two, Doug was the British face of NOAH. And three, Nigel was the current ROH World Champion after beating Morishima in October 2007 (in which I still believe was supposed to happen in England but someone called Shane, Alex messed it up). If you knew NOAH it was likely you knew ROH so Nigel being British and a World Champion in an American promotion like ROH meant a lot.
With the crowd very much behind their countrymen, Williams & McGuinness picked up the very well received win.
Morishima got a big reaction as the current GHC Heavyweight Champion, as did Akiyama as a former champion himself. Akiyama & Smith would beat Morishima & Yone in a relatively short match which was hampered by Morishima’s injury. My main memory of this match was Smith running down the long ramp to the ring to fly over the top rope with a shoulder tackle.
The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles were defended in one of the best tag matches I’ve ever seen. KENTA & Ishimori retained over Danielson & Edwards, with KENTA vs Danielson having been established in ROH two years prior, making this a match up everyone was looking forward to.
Danielson is usually beloved in England so he went out of his way to get the fans to boo him. Cutting off Europe’s “The Final Countdown” before the chorus because he said England didn’t deserve to hear it. Goading KENTA but then backing off and running away at every opportunity. So by the time KENTA finally got his feet on Danielson, the crowd was baying for his blood.
The main event was the moment we had all been waiting for: Misawa & Marufuji vs Kobashi & Shiozaki.
Misawa vs Kobashi – two legendary rivals. Former AJPW Triple Crown Champions. Former GHC Heavyweight Champions. They were not spring chickens anymore. They weren’t going to be dumping each other on their heads like they were main eventing the Nippon Budokan. However the crowd was going wild for every little thing they did. Every elbow, every chop. Marufuji and Shiozaki obviously had to bring the pace of the match and put more energy into it. This was a real spectacle and one I am very glad to have seen live.
All in all this was an incredible show.
Misawa, Morishima, Akiyama, Marufuji, Kanemaru, Ishimori, Suzuki, Aoki, Kikuchi, Izumida, Yone & Smith all stayed in England for a much smaller show the next night. Titled NOAH vs UK, the show featured Misawa & Suzuki beating Smith & hometown hero, Haskins. Haskins is someone that I consider to be one of the UK’s best, opportunities like this and several tours in Japan for Dragon Gate helping him achieve this. Morishima beat Mastiff, then known as Dave Moralez, and Kanemaru wrestled Sabre Jr to a 20-minute draw.
NOAH suffered a horrible 2009. They lost their TV deal. Misawa died in the ring just under a year after the NOAH UK show. Plus the relationship between NOAH and ROH also seemed to die off by the end of the year. I can imagine that NOAH was focusing more at building themselves back up at home instead of thinking international.
So at the beginning of 2010 it was a surprise when it was announced that Morishima & Ishimori would return to Europe in April to wrestle for 4FW, wXw and IPW:UK. I was at the IPW:UK show where Ishimori beat The Lion Kid (Wade Fitzgerald in a new family-friendly gimmick to appeal to children and those who love wacky, colourful characters), and Morishima had a rematch against Mastiff for the IPW:UK Heavyweight Championship.
Mastiff was Big, Bad Dave by this point after a stint in America for OVW. The two wrestled to what was announced as a 30-minute draw but in reality was 24 minutes. However those 24 minutes were filled with big meaty men clubbing the beef out of each other. This was an incredible match and my long-lasting memory of it is Mastiff doing an insane Arabian Press moonsault.
The same three promotions had Shiozaki and then GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Kanemaru over at the beginning of August. At the IPW:UK show, Kanemaru defended his GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in another rematch against Sabre Jr.. 2010 Kanemaru was worlds apart from 2008 Kanemaru and he put in a shift with Sabre Jr as he successfully retained. In the main event, Mastiff retained the IPW:UK Heavyweight Championship over Shiozaki. Mastiff was the only man to beat Shiozaki on that short tour, days before Shiozaki entered NJPW’s G1 Climax.
Gone were the days of Misawa, Kobashi and the Coventry Skydome. Instead, they were sensible and booked venues that could hold hundreds instead of thousands. Broxbourne Civic Hall and Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall. NOAH were going to hold full shows in England the Friday and Saturday and then split the roster on the Sunday, with half wrestling in England for IPW:UK and the other half in Germany for wXw.
The UK debuts of Katsuhiko Nakajima & Satoshi Kajiwara, the UK return of Ricky Marvin, foreign NOAH wrestlers Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli and Bobby Fish. Plus UK wrestlers Sabre Jr was given a tryout on both shows and Mastiff would at least be on one.
Unfortunately Marufuji would get injured in April so he and Aoki had to vacate the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. Planned Title defences on the English shows had to be scrapped as a result and Marufuji would be forced off the weekend. Fortunately A-Merchandise and NOAH would be able to secure a huge replacement with Morishima.
The GHC Heavyweight Championship had already been defended in America (twice) and Mexico so it was finally defended in Europe. Those Title matches not being made official until Sugiura successfully defended against Minoru Suzuki just a few days before the European tour started.
Night One saw Sugiura retain over Mastiff, who had earned his shot with those previous matches against Morishima and Shiozaki. It’s a shame that Mastiff never got the opportunity to go to Japan as I’m sure he would have made a good impression in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Shiozaki & Taniguchi beat KENTA & Fish. Shiozaki and KENTA both really represented NOAH to Western fans on account of their ROH runs so it was very rewarding to see how much they had elevated.
Sabre Jr. began his NOAH trial series against Nakajima. As you can imagine, ZSJ had to eat a lot of kicks in this one. And I remember the crowd being equally split in regards to wanting to cheer on “there” guy but also wanting to support Nakajima in his UK debut. In the end Nakajima got the win but he really had to work for it. The Kings Of Wrestling, Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli made their final appearances in NOAH on this weekend.
I remember how fired up Aoki was in this match and how he wasn’t going to let the size of the Kings intimidate him. Of course, Claudio did manhandle him and gave him the big swing en route to victory. Ishimori beating Kajiwara and Suzuki beating Marvin were just good warm-up matches. Suzuki and Marvin had just had a battle for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship a few days beforehand so this rematch was a more condensed affair with Marvin getting over with the crowd by swearing loudly.
Wolverhampton saw a piece of NOAH history when Sugiura beat Suzuki to retain his GHC Heavyweight Championship for the 13th time. With that victory, he tied Kobashi’s legendary reign. Plus this was the first and so far only time that the GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion has faced the GHC Heavyweight Champion with a singles title on the line.
Sabre Jr. had a break from the kicks of Nakajima. By taking kicks from KENTA instead. Guy had a rough trial series, let’s put it that way. But it all worked out in the end as he was brought over to Japan for his first tour in July. He only had to get the crap beaten out of him to earn it.
In a match I begged and pleaded for after Marufuji’s injury left the card open to be changed, Shiozaki faced Nakajima in a 20-minute draw. This was only their third singles match against each other after they’d had two bangers in Kensuke Office in 2009 and 2010. So yeah I was persistent in requesting this match and you have no idea how happy I was that Mark Sloan was able to come through and got permission from the NOAH office to book it. They’ve had classics against each other since, and rewatching it the 20-minute draw seems obvious as soon as the match starts, but live it was an incredible experience.
The Kings Of Wrestling had another match against Morishima who this time had Taniguchi as his partner to try and even the odds a little more. However, Kings reigned supreme as they were again victorious.
That four-match run was absolutely incredible and really elevated the entire show as a result. And the lower half wasn’t half bad either. Ishimori beat UK wrestler The Saint from 4FW who had faced Morishima & Shiozaki the last year. Marvin beat Jonny Storm, James Mason beat Fish, and Aoki beat Kajiwara.
I followed the NOAH wrestlers down to Sittingbourne for IPW:UK on the Sunday. Fish lost to Terry Frazier, Aoki beat Redman in a rematch from their 2008 draw and Mastiff faced Morishima again, this time in a three-way with Sha Samuels. Honestly it was an underwhelming match.
That would be the last time NOAH came to Europe en mass. We still don’t know how many NOAH talents will be coming over on August 7th. It could be just one guy – two, three, four if were lucky. It sounds like it’s going to be a cautious build like 2006/7 was, sending over a couple of guys for the experience and to build relationships.
Of course this wasn’t the last time NOAH talent visited our shores, but there was a lengthy gap. This was most likely attributed to NOAH’s struggles over the next few years that culminated in NOAH letting older wrestlers go, including Kobashi, which resulted in several prominent wrestlers resigning in protest, financial troubles which saw them require NJPW’s assistance and then the Suzuki-Gun invasion which turned off more of their original fanbase than attracting a new audience.
It was a rough few years for NOAH and it’s a shame it coincided with the BritWres boom. Said explosion was helped by the international talent from NOAH, Dragon Gate, ROH, TNA, etc visiting our shores – each promotion doing full tours of the UK and helping improve and inspire both our talent and promotions. I can’t help but wonder what KENTA, Marufuji, Nakajima, Shiozaki, Sugiura, etc would have been like utilised on the bigger UK promotions and against the talent of that era.
Thursday October 5th 2017, Marufuji returned to England to face Pete Dunne who was the NXT UK Champion at that time too. The promotion in question was Lucha Forever, ran by Ryan Smile (RIP) and Will Ospreay. Running Marufuji vs Dunne in London and not having the common courtesy to do it on a weekend? How rude. For obvious political reasons, the match ended in a 20-minute draw.
Ospreay started a new promotion as Lucha Forever collapsed not long after the Marufuji show called Frontline Wrestling. For their debut show they brought over Kenoh to face Chris Ridgeway on June 28th, 2018.
Marufuji returned to England for what is his last appearance to date in September 2018 for IPW:UK. Originally Kaito Kiyomiya and all four RATEL’S members, Daisuke Harada, HAYATA, YO-HEY & Tadasuke, were supposed to come with him. He made it and wrestled Williams in what was supposed to be one of Doug’s final matches. Wrestling retirements, eh?
RATEL’S did come over to England for IPW:UK in January 2019. All four took part in a one-night tournament to crown a new IPW:UK Junior Heavyweight Champion. Harada would win the belt and take it back to Japan with him. Fortunately, that’s not the only thing that went to Japan as Ridgeway was invited to tour NOAH. It had been almost 8 years since Sabre Jr went over but now we had another Englishman back in the company, and Ridgeway more than deserved it.
I didn’t go to this show and I do regret that now. I did not trust IPW:UK, but @flame286 travelled from Finland to attend so that shows the dedication of NOAH fans.
And that’s the history of Pro Wrestling NOAH and England. 2005 to 2019.
32 NOAH roster members have wrestled in England, 13 of whom are still with NOAH today.
Go Shiozaki is the current GHC Heavyweight Champion in his fifth reign, HAYATA is the current GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in his fourth reign, Yoshinari Ogawa & Chris Ridgeway are the current GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
I’m excited for what the future holds for Pro Wrestling NOAH and Wrestle Carnival. Legitimately, when I saw the Wrestle Carnival The First Year Anniversary graphic on Twitter, I had a mini freak out at another wrestling show I was attending. Three front row tickets were purchased within a minute.