*This article is going to talk about the British Wrestling scene and as a result will mention people implicated in the Speaking Out Movement. All I will do is mention names during results I cannot omit. However, I am neither blind nor deaf to the reprehensible actions of certain individuals. I just don’t want people to think Speaking Out has passed anyone by.*
A lot of people on the New Japan Pro Wrestling vs Pro Wrestling NOAH show spent time being employed by the other company before they found themselves employed where they are now.
On the NOAH side of the card for example, Keiji Muto, Kazushi Sakuraba and Akitoshi Saito were all employed/worked for NJPW.
For many people of a certain age, Muto or his alter ego The Great Muta is synonymous with NJPW. He hasn’t been under contract with them since early 2002 – so almost 20 years by the time this show happens – but the time he spent with NJPW began in 1984 and, because of his American presence in NWA and WCW, many people would think NJPW with Muto/Muta. Sakuraba first worked with NJPW while contracted to UWF-I during the NJPW vs UWF-I feud in the mid 1990’s they did fantastic business for the former. He returned to NJPW (and Pro Wrestling as a whole) after a successful MMA career in late 2012. Spending over 3 and a half years there, I don’t think he was ever under contract but he was pretty much an exclusive freelancer for the most part.
A lot of people seem to have forgotten that Saito joined NJPW in early 1992, less than a year into his career, and left in December 1998. He spent well over 6 years there and wrestled all of the NJPW Third Generation that he will be facing at the NJPW vs NOAH show (Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan).
For the NJPW side, KENTA, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taiji Ishimori and Zack Sabre Jr all have strong ties to NOAH.
Like I said with Muto, for many of a (younger) age, KENTA was and is synonymous with NOAH. For me personally I got into NOAH due to KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji working for the American promotion Ring Of Honor as the two companies had a relationship. KENTA was one of the coolest, most bad-ass wrestlers in the mid 2000’s. He’d started with All Japan Pro Wrestling in March 2000, just a few months before the split into NOAH. And he remained with NOAH until May 2014 where he felt he’d done everything he could in NOAH as he’d held the GHC Heavyweight Title for a year and wanted to chase his dreams of wrestling in America. Well dreams can turn into nightmares and when he returned to Japan in June 2019 he did so by shockingly joining NJPW.
Kanemaru also started in AJPW and moved with the majority to NOAH in June 2000. And he was NOAH’s most decorated junior heavyweight as he was a 6 time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and 4 time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion before he left NOAH at the end of 2012 (he and others resigned in protest at the firing of Kenta Kobashi). He did return to NOAH at the beginning of 2016 and as a freelancer joining the villainous, outsider stable of Suzuki-Gun. The joining of Suzuki-Gun would be legitimate and when they left NOAH to go back to NJPW in early 2017, Kanemaru joined NJPW with them.
He may not have started in NOAH, but Ishimori was a crucial part of their roster from May 2006 to March 2018. It took a long while for Ishimori to finally achieve singles success in NOAH, only capturing the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in January 2013. This was after Marufuji, Takashi Sugiura and KENTA had all moved up to heavyweights and Kanemaru and Kotaro Suzuki had left at the end of 2012. But Ishimori has the longest singular reign out of any GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion at 405 days. And he held the belt two more times before he left NOAH as, like KENTA before him, he felt like he’d achieved all he could there. He would join NJPW in May 2018, where he would be revealed as the new Bone Soldier.
And then there’s Zack Sabre Jr.
Really good articles could be written about Muto & NJPW and KENTA & NOAH, but I imagine there are a lot of them already out there. But if you look at Zack Sabre Jr’s Wikipedia page, his entire NOAH career is reduced down to one sentence. Four years where he spent the majority of his time in Japan, flying back home to England for shows there and Europe while on breaks between tours. Eventually wrestling in Japan, England and the USA, sometimes all in the same month.
So Zack’s time in NOAH deserves to be highlighted. And, from a personal perspective, I’ve watched Zack long before his first time in Japan with NOAH. I’ve watched him grow and develop into one of the best wrestlers in the world and his time in NOAH played a key part to that.
The Early Years
Zack began his training to become a wrestler at only 14 years old. In the UK it is common for a lot of youngsters to begin training in their early teens. He trained at NWA:UK Hammerlock ran by Andre Baker which also produced other wrestlers like Doug Williams and Finn Balor (Prince Devitt back then) and didn’t make his debut until June 2004 at just under 17.
I didn’t get to see him live until 2007. But by then I’d heard a lot about him. He was already making a reputation for being an incredibly gifted technical wrestler who was making waves in England.
Back then the UK scene was definitely not in it’s boom period. You had a lot of local promotions using primarily local talents. And occasionally they’d have a car full of talent from somewhere else in the country. Whether that was from down south, up north, the midlands, Wales, Scotland, etc.
Now that’s how I got to see Zack live for the first time. Back when he had his emo hair cut and could have been a member of the black parade. But his technical skills as a wrestler was undeniable. It was clear that he was going to be a bright spark on the UK scene. The UK scene at the very least.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see this match live. But back in February 2008, Coventry based promotion Triple X Wrestling even held a spin off show just to put on Zack Sabre Jr vs Bryan Danielson. This was the biggest match of Zack’s career at that point. Danielson himself was no stranger to the UK scene, completing several tours with All Star Wrestling. When Danielson became available on that date, they booked the show solely around the main event.
Honestly, that was not surprising for the UK scene back then. I myself went to plenty of shows between 2007 and 2011 just because the one match felt can’t miss. Maybe two matches if you were lucky. There absolutely was talent there, young talent that was just starting out and yet to become great. Talent who were yet to find that missing ingredient, that spark that made them so great. And then there were the wrestlers who dropped off after 2012 and weren’t booked by any of the bigger, better promotions who weren’t stingy enough to book talent solely because they were local and cheap.
I do regret not seeing Zack vs Danielson live. But fortunately the match was taped and the promoter even uploaded it to YouTube so you can watch it below:
You may have heard before that this match is a 2/3 Falls match. Well, it wasn’t intended that way. The referee accidentally counted a three for something which wasn’t the intended finish.
It’s not clear but after Danielson is announced as the winner, he speaks to the ref who then briefly speaks to the ring announcer. The announcer then says the referee admits that he’d made a mistake and that it wasn’t a three count.
Danielson threatens to go full blown Butlins as he says it was definitely a three, the crowd who are all pro-Zack are wrong but when five more minutes is suggested by the ring announcer, Danielson then asks a little girl in the front row if she wants five more minutes. The girl cheekily shouts she wants half an hour, so Danielson happily obliges and the match is restarted as 2/3 Falls.
It’s cheap and it’s corny but it was fun. Other wrestlers would have just called it a day with that finish, as deflating as it would have been. Danielson was having the time of his life, recognising Zack as a great talent and he wanted more time in the ring with him.
Word of mouth about how good the match was spread, despite the botched finish, and Zack had a lot more eyes on him. Danielson was a regular gaijin (foreigner) for NOAH and I’m sure he would have had nothing but kind things to say about Zack if the office ever asked him about him.
Pro Wrestling NOAH (UK, 2008)
It had already been announced on January 6th 2008 that Pro Wrestling NOAH would hold its first ever show outside of Japan, helped by Mark Sloan’s A-Merchandise (now The Wrestling Store). The date was June 21st and it would take place in England at the Coventry Skydome.
England had seen plenty of supershows. English promotions had done plenty of shows filled with American and Japanese stars. Mitsuharu Misawa had come over in March 2005 with Yoshinari Ogawa and Kotato Suzuki (as Tiger Emperor). Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama and Go Shiozaki came over in November that same year.
Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Ring Of Honor ran full shows in England/Europe in 2006 and 2007.
Doug Williams had been a regular for NOAH since May 2003 and had become a British ambassador of sorts. NOAH talent such as Takeshi Morishima, Muhammad Yone, Takashi Sugiura, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Go Shiozaki, Atsushi Aoki, Takeshi Rikio, Ippei Ota, Shuhei Taniguchi, Genba Hirayangi, Naomichi Marufuji etc etc had all undertaken UK tours for learning experience.
So a full Pro Wrestling NOAH show was the next natural step. And this would be the first time a Japanese promotion had done a show in England.
And it wasn’t a handful of NOAH stars on a card made up of local (UK) guys with NOAH vs UK matches to pad the card out.
This was Misawa. Kobashi. Akiyama. Morishima. KENTA. Marufuji. Shiozaki. Ishimori. Suzuki. Yone. Kanemaru. Aoki. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Junji Izumida. 14 NOAH names with 4 former GHC Heavyweight Champions and the current in Morishima.
Plus you had NOAH regular gaijin like Williams, Danielson, Nigel McGuinness (then ROH World Champion), Bison Smith, Jay Briscoe (his brother Mark should have been on the show but was injured) and Eddie Edwards.
The only UK talent on the main card were Joel Redman (he was Oliver Grey in WWE NXT), Martin Stone (he is Danny Burch in WWE NXT) and Wade Fitzgerald (he is Lion Kid in the New Forest).
However the Dark match was a six man tag team match featuring UK wrestlers.
Zack Sabre Jr, Mark Haskins & Dave Mastiff vs Luke Phoenix, El Ligero & Bubblegum
And it was an incredible match. They didn’t have much time – less than 10 minutes – so they went out there and made the most of it. They quickly established Zack’s team as the heels and the crowd, in anticipation and excitement of seeing NOAH live, were wild and up for it.
For Zack and his team mates, this was their first time wrestling on a show this big. The Coventry Skydome had been used for shows before but this was all a new experience for them.
My best memories from that day are meeting Kobashi, KENTA and Marufuji. The main event of Kobashi & Shiozaki vs Misawa & Marufuji was an amazing spectacle. The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title match between KENTA & Ishimori vs Danielson & Edwards was absolutely incredible and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen live. And that Dark match six man tag still stands up today too.
Real Quality Wrestling uploaded the match to YouTube so you can watch the match below:
The very next day, the team behind the big Coventry show ran a much smaller show in Faringdon, Oxfordshire.
The NOAH roster was split with Misawa, Suzuki, Morishima, Yone, Akiyama, Kikuchi, Izumida, Marufuji, Kanemaru, Aoki, Ishimori and Smith all remaining in England; while Kobashi, Shiozaki, KENTA, Sugiura, Danielson, McGuinness, Jay Briscoe and Edwards all went to Germany. Don’t feel too bad for wXw, they also had Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro in WWE) and WALTER on the show (back when he was Big Van Walter).
This was advertised as NOAH vs UK. Every singles match, every tag had a UK wrestler against NOAH. The main event was Misawa & Suzuki vs Smith & Haskins, Haskins quite literally being the local lad. Morishima vs Mastiff. Marufuji vs Redman.
And Zack faced then-GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Kanemaru in a non-title match. I’ll be honest, the night before, Kanemaru very clearly had his working boots OFF against Jay Briscoe. He was going through the motions and was doing so very lazily.
If you’ve read my NJPW vs NOAH: The History 4 part series you’ll see that Kanemaru featured quite heavily in the original feud between 2002 and 2004. He was a fired up baby face with something to prove.
Now in 2008, he was having a career slump if we’re being truthful. He was still number one in the NOAH junior division but I guess he was struggling finding a reason to care.
However, with Zack, Kanemaru decided he was going to wrestle that night. A few thousand people in the Coventry Skydome and a hundred or so in a leisure centre. Kanemaru decided to have the better match at the latter.
But that’s the kind of quality wrestler Zack was and is. They went to a 20 minute draw as the second match on the night to show that Zack was every bit the equal of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion.
In fact, that weekend sparked something in all three of Zack, Haskins and Mastiff. All three of them went onto bigger and better things and I would argue that this weekend helped. They got their first taste of wrestling on larger shows. And they got great learning experience wrestling the NOAH talent on the second night.
Things would be quiet on the NOAH front from there for Zack. But he spent the next few months and years wrestling across the UK and Europe wrestling international stars. I was lucky enough to see him wrestle Davey Richards and Kenny Omega in a four way match that September (with Redman). Chris Hero in October. And Claudio Castagnoli in November of that same year.
I even got to see him face NOAH gaijins Doug and Too Cold Scorpio. Zack’s genuine love of Puroresu was evident and it was clear it was a matter of when, not if, he got to Japan.
The NOAH talent tours of the UK had finished in 2007. However short, weekend tours began again briefly in 2010. Morishima and Ishimori came over in April (Morishima had a fantastic rematch against Mastiff). And Shiozaki and Kanemaru came over in August.
There was another rematch of the NOAH vs UK show as Zack faced Kanemaru again. Kanemaru was once again GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and this time the belt was on the line.
They didn’t need 20 minutes this time as they had a sprint. Kanemaru of 2010 was a lot more energetic than his 2008 counterpart and he wanted to have a better match against Zack which I’m happy to say they succeeded at.
Zack would fail in his title challenge but it showed that NOAH were interested in him.
He did work a Dark match for Dragon Gate UK (also put on by A-Merchandise, the second Dragon Gate tour they’d done) the next month, wrestling an IPW:UK Tag Title match where he and Marty Scurll lost the belts to Mikey Whiplash & Robbie Dynamite. And he even defended the wXw Unified World Wrestling Title against Masaaki Mochizuki two days later. But NOAH weren’t worried about that.
Pro Wrestling NOAH UK 2011
On December 25th 2010, A-Merchandise announced that Pro Wrestling NOAH were returning to Europe with two shows in England and one in Germany.
But this wasn’t going to be the Coventry Skydome and a couple of thousand. This was going to be Broxbourne Civic Hall and Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, both 500+ capacity.
NOAH were a different company to what they were back in 2008. Misawa had died in the ring just a year later in June 2009. Kobashi was pretty much finished in the ring. They’d lost their TV deal. They hadn’t built any new stars to replace the All Japan stars, and they’d botched the rises of Akiyama, Rikio, Marufuji and Morishima.
They were currently in a feud with New Japan Pro Wrestling which was keeping them in good business but without it, I don’t know where they would have been.
Back in 2008 NOAH had a strong working relationship with ROH and had gaijins like Danielson, McGuinness, Doug, Richards, Rocky Romero and The Briscoes available to them. But they had lost them all due to them signing to other promotions.
Interest in NOAH was nowhere near as strong as it once was, at home in Japan and abroad. So A-Merchandise and NOAH were realistic with venue sizes.
However they still had KENTA. Sugiura. Shiozaki. Suzuki. Ishimori. Aoki. Marufuji was originally scheduled to take part but got injured so was replaced by Morishima. All of them return from the 2008 show. There were also the UK returns of Ricky Marvin and Taniguchi. And the UK debuts of Katsuhiko Nakajima and Satoshi Kajiwara, both from Kensuke Office.
NOAH gaijins Hero, Castagnoli and Bobby Fish were announced for the show. Hero & Castagnoli were stars from ROH but Fish, like Edwards, spent years in NOAH and their dojo well before they got their breaks in ROH and beyond.
A-Merchandise teased that at least one UK wrestler would be used on both shows. And people, myself included, were very vocal that it should be Zack.
Zack, while not a singles Champion in any of the larger UK promotions, was always great to have on a show. He could have a great singles match. He could have a great tag match with his partner. You knew you were going to get a great match with Zack on the card.
I don’t know if his inclusion was ever in doubt or not. I don’t think it will have been. But mine and others wishes were realised when Zack was announced to appear on both shows!
Against Nakajima. And KENTA.
Oh God, we just got him killed.
But he’d gone from being in the dark match in the first NOAH UK show. From the second match on the card for the small NOAH vs UK show. To now getting the opening match after intermission on Night 1 against Nakajima. And then the semi-main event on Night 2 against KENTA.
And Zack wrestled the matches of his life at that point. He threw himself head first into both matches. Or should that be chest first into Nakajima and KENTA’s kicks. European uppercuts first into his opponents.
Zack really wrestled with more of a striking style back then. He was more… I guess you could say he’s calmer now. More methodical, more deliberate as he moves from hold to hold. But back then he was as wild as he was going to be, giving his technical wrestling style. He was quicker at moving from hold to hold and more focused on his strikes.
After the UK shows, Zack travelled with half the NOAH crew the very next day to work the wXw vs NOAH show where he faced Ishimori. He may have lost all three matches but he’d made an impression on NOAH.
Sadly no footage of this was ever released, the week after NOAH, NWA:UK Hammerlock put on a tribute show to honour Andre Baker who had died the year before. On that show Zack wrestled Prince Devitt for the very first time and it was a great match. And a great parallel as Zack was on the cusp of going to Japan which Devitt himself had done 5 years prior and was now the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, the top belt that he could have held in NJPW at that time.
Zack was the only UK wrestler to have worked all three of the main NOAH UK shows (plus the small NOAH vs UK show) so it was no shock when it was announced that he was going to go to Japan in July for NOAH.
That would make him only the third UK wrestler to join the NOAH roster after Doug Williams and Nigel McGuinness. And it would be a few years after Zack that Chris Ridgeway became the fourth.
The First Tour
July saw NOAH’s NTV G Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League. Zack was originally announced to team with Ishimori, but Ishimori had to pull out of the tournament due to injury. K-DOJO’s Taishi Takizawa was brought in to team with Zack instead.
So Zack’s first ever match in Japan was an eccentric three way match against Delirious and Jack Evans. Definitely not a match you would have expected to see. A British technician. An American high flyer. A Parts Unknown, incoherent masked wrestler. All happening in Japan and not DDT but the super serious NOAH.
Zack and Takizawa won 2 out of their 4 matches, failing to qualify for the finals. They beat Kenoh & Kenbai (now known as Haoh) and Aero Star & Jack Evans but lost to Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Osamu Namiguchi and the eventual block winners, KENTA & Kanemaru.
He would have his first televised singles match in a NOAH ring on August 6th, the 11th Anniversary Show, and it would be against Ogawa at Differ Ariake. You can call the Nippon Budokan NOAH’s spiritual home, but Differ Ariake was literally NOAH’s home. Although you had pandemic clap only crowds there well before the world knew anything about Coronavirus…
Now Ogawa has been with NOAH since the very beginning and is very hands on in the training at the NOAH dojo. Ogawa would also be very important in Zack’s NOAH career but we’ll get to that in a bit.
March 2011 saw an Earthquake which in turn caused a Tsunami and resulted in severe damage to Japan. So NOAH, NJPW and All Japan Pro Wrestling all joined together to put on ALL TOGETHER on August 27th in the Nippon Budokan to raise money for charity.
Zack would play only a small role in the show, being part of a large Battle Royal but you also had younger versions of Hiromu Takahashi, Kento Miyahara, KUSHIDA and EVIL in there. It was only his second month in the country, but he was wrestling in the Budokan on a show which featured every major Japanese star still active at the time. Not bad going for the lad from Kent.
In September he got the opportunity to wrestle the legendary Kobashi in a six man tag team match and it was taped too. I won’t lie, seeing Kobashi chop Zack outside of the ring was absolutely glorious.
And then he had his last match of his first tour on October 2nd with a loss to Suzuki at Korakuen Hall.
So he did quite well for himself. Almost three months in a foreign country. He did have some other gaijins around him for weeks at a time but there will have been times when he’ll have been the only outsider, there by himself in a foreign country.
But it was absolutely worth it for him. I straight away saw the improvements he’d made from his time in Japan. Although I most likely saw him only 4 or 5 times between November and March, Zack had used that time in Japan to become a better wrestler.
Zack returned to NOAH in April 2012 with a televised loss to Aoki in Korakuen Hall. This, for me, was the match I was hoping and waiting for. Two of the most skilled technical wrestlers of their generation finally having a singles match. Sadly this would be the first of only two matches between the two which bookend Zack’s second tour.
He had a lot more singles matches this tour. Televised singles matches. Aoki. Ricky Marvin. Kanemaru. Atsushi Kotoge. Kanemaru again. Marvin again. And Aoki to finish.
One of the unexpected highlights of Zack’s second tour was a six man tag team match between Zack and TMDK, Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls as they faced Luke Gallows, Roderick Strong & Bobby Fish. If you want to see Zack on offense, this is not the match for you. What it is is the big, mean bully taking all of his life’s failings out on poor Zack as his two, smaller bullies help out. And Zack in a desperate battle to survive.
His last match of his second tour was on June 30th but he was back to begin his third tour on September 8th. And, surprisingly for someone new to NOAH, achieved his first singles win over Genba Hirayangi.
Equally surprising was Zack’s partner in the NTV G Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League – Paul London. The former ROH and WWE star did not seem like an obvious fit in NOAH. Or tag partner for Zack. However opposites do attract sometimes.
But it would not result in success as they only won one out of the four matches. They lost to Marvin & Super Crazy, Daichi Hashimoto & Ikuto Hidaka and Nakajima & Kajiwara. But beat Kanemaru & Hirayangi.
The rest of Zack’s time in Japan, until November 23rd, was spent as a mixture of singles and tag matches. He beat Hirayangi again but also beat a young Masa Kitamiya (hard to believe he was ever a junior) and Atsushi Kotoge who had only joined the NOAH roster full time.
His fourth NOAH tour didn’t start until June 1st 2013 with another match and loss to Ogawa. But that match started a tag team. Zack & Ogawa were announced as partners for that year’s NTV G Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League which started on July 14th.
The winner of the league wouldn’t receive a Title shot for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s. They would become the new Champions as the belts were vacated due to injury just a few months later.
Zack & Ogawa started incredibly well with victories over Daisuke Harada & Hitoshi Kumano, Strong & Slex and Hiro Tonai & Shiori Asahi. A win over Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV would see them in the Finals and the chance to become GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
However the match on July 28th was a wild, chaotic brawl that ended in a double countout in two minutes. The match was restarted but TM IV pinned Zack after just another four more minutes of wrestling.
Liger & TM IV would go on to beat Ishimori & Kotoge in the Finals to become the new GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. So at least Zack lost to the team that would win the whole thing.
First GHC Junior Heavyweight Title Match In Japan
Zack’s fourth tour with end with his first GHC Junior Heavyweight Title shot on August 4th against Ishimori. It had been over two years since his first day in Japan. His fourth tour and he now felt completely at home in a NOAH ring. He’d even been put into the semi-main event.
It wasn’t his night though, as Ishimori successfully retained after almost 20 minutes. But it goes to show how quickly he had risen through the ranks. He went to a foreign country, lived in the dojo for months at a time and got to semi-main event the promotion’s Anniversary show.
Zack wrestled in the UK and Europe during the summer but he was pretty much a special guest star on shows now. And he returned back to Japan for NOAH on October 26th.
Because him and Ogawa were on a collision course with Liger & TM IV. The NJPW team had kept hold of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s all summer and were heading into the winter as dominant champions.
It took a few shows for the two to be set up as challengers but on November 27th, Zack faced Liger at Korakuen Hall. Don’t know about you guys but I’d be insanely nervous to wrestle a Japanese legend in Korakuen Hall. However Zack handled it like a Pro. He may have lost the match but he can tick it off the bucket list.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
December 7th Zack & Ogawa would finally get their first GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title shot together. And in under 15 minutes they became the brand new Champions after Ogawa pinned Liger from a sneaky roll up.
Zack had won gold in the UK. And Europe. And now Japan. USA was yet to come but we’ll touch on that later.
He returned back home for the holidays but was back in Japan for February 27th 2014. And on March 8th Zack & Ogawa made their first defense over Kenoh & Hajima Ohara in Tokyo Ariake Coliseum.
But when they went to ride that wave of momentum and make a quick second defense just 13 days later, they lost the belts to Ishimori & Kotoge on March 21st.
They immediately evoked a rematch and on April 12th they won the belts back from Ishimori & Kotoge to become two time Champions.
May 3rd they beat Hiro Tonai & Shiori Asahi to make their first defense and then Zack returned back to England.
It had been three year’s since they’d faced each other at the NWA:UK Hammerlock show but PROGRESS Wrestling (which didn’t even exist when Zack first went to Japan) booked the rematch with Prince Devitt that we’d all wanted to see.
But before I get to the Devitt match, I want to touch on a point I just commented on earlier.
PROGRESS Wrestling had quickly become one of the UK’s biggest promotions despite only being formed in March 2012. Revolution Pro Wrestling, which technically formed out of a split with IPW:UK, was formed in 2012 but started running larger shows at York Hall in London in 2013.
British Wrestling, or BritWres, had hit a boom period. UK promotions had (for the most part…) learned from the mistakes of the promotions before them. The talent on the UK scene was at an all time high.
And, crazily enough, I do think Zack had a little part in helping improve the UK scene. A-Merchandise first and foremost were instrumental in bringing over full promotions like NOAH and Dragon Gate to show that the UK was a safe place to do business with.
Getting to work over in Japan and America was a real possibility several years back like Doug, Jody Fleisch and Jonny Storm did. Now Zack going to NOAH and Mark Haskins going to Dragon Gate showed it was a possibility again. WWE and TNA were signing UK talent again to help with future expansions.
So guys like Zack showed that wrestling full time was a real possibility if you worked for it. Zack returned back to the UK and Europe each time a better wrestler and he helped bring up the guys working with and around him.
Americans wanted to come over to the UK not just to learn the World Of Sport style of British wrestling but because they’d heard at how good BritWres was.
Zack vs Devitt II was a world away from the match it was just three years ago. Gone was a leisure centre in Kent and it was replaced by a icon in music venues in the heart of Camden Town, London. And the Electric Ballroom was sold out. Zack vs Devitt wasn’t the ONLY thing on the card worth seeing like it was three years ago (although it is the main reason why I went to this show which hooked me on PROGRESS), the rest of the card was filled with the best of the best of the UK scene.
Zack was now almost three years removed from his first NOAH/Japan tour and Devitt was finishing up everywhere he could before he joined the WWE to become a Demon King. So this was a great snap shot in time of the pair of them.
PROGRESS once upon a time had this entire show uploaded to YouTube but they seem to have removed it. Punk rock indeed.
Anyway, before Zack returned back to NOAH he faced another NJPW star in England. One that was going to be going to the WWE too in a few years time although you would have never thought it at the time. Shinsuke Nakamura.
Technically you could call this match NJPW vs NOAH but as it happened in England for RevPro at York Hall, it most likely doesn’t count. Zack was GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. Nakamura was the IWGP Intercontinental Champion at the time too.
And it was a fantastic dream match. Unfortunately this was also up on YouTube, uploaded by RevPro themselves, but they have removed it too. Guess they are wanting to pimp out RPW On Demand. So take a look at their free 2 week trial if you want.
Champion No More
Zack would return to NOAH on July 5th but it would be an unhappy return as he and Ogawa lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles for the second and last time, once again to Ishimori & Kotoge.
For the fourth year in a row, second with Ogawa as his tag partner, Zack would enter the NTV G Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League.
They lost to Liger & TM IV in their third and final match against each other. Beat Kenoh & Ohara plus Hirayangi & Kikutaro. But a loss to Matt Striker & Super Crazy took them out of the finals.
Zack would get his second GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship opportunity in a three way match against Harada (Champion) and Ohara on August 17th. Three technical wrestlers is not what you’d expect from a junior heavyweight title match but these are three of the best technical wrestlers in the world. However Harada would retain.
His seventh tour ended before the end of August and he went to America to debut in Pro Wrestling Guerilla during the Battle Of Los Angeles 2014. He made it to the quarter finals and made one hell of an impression on their audience. Plus he then returned to EVOLVE after a three year absence. PWG and EVOLVE would become big parts of his career.
He’d be back in Japan for his eighth tour beginning October 12th and, because Ohara was the one pinned in that three way in August, Zack would have a claim to challenge Harada once again.
Final GHC Junior Heavyweight Title Match
That title match would take place on November 4th and Harada would retain after just under 20 minutes. This would be Zack’s third and final GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship match. He would be with NOAH for another year but this was his last title shot.
December 6th saw perhaps Zack’s strangest match in NOAH. Zack, Ogawa & Pesadilla vs Super Crazy, FUNAKI & Scotty 2 Hotty. This would be Hotty’s one and only match in NOAH. Definitely not a match I would have ever expected to see. And it was Zack’s final televised NOAH match of 2014.
2015 became less about tours. And, just to clarify, when I say tours I mean several weeks/months spent in Japan and then leaving with a month or two at home before going back.
Well in 2015 Zack practically lived in Japan. And he’d go outside of Japan to UK, Europe or America for a weekend, two weeks at most, before going back to Japan. So Japan was his home base.
He started the year on January 10th with a loss to Jonah Rock. This was the same show that Suzuki-Gun invaded and dominated the NOAH shows and storylines for the next two years. Two days later he had his first rematch against Nakajima since the NOAH UK show.
Taichi beat Zack on February 4th to become number one contender to the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title. And Zack flew to Germany to take part in wXw’s 16 Carat Gold tournament in early March before flying back to NOAH.
Where he spent only two weeks before flying to America to challenge Roderick Strong for the PWG World Title on April 3rd but then went straight back to Japan.
El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title’s on March 15th. And on May 10th, for Desperado & TAKA’s second defense, they beat Zack & Ogawa.
May 23rd Zack wrestled in Japan for NOAH, caught a flight to England that same night to wrestle on PROGRESS inaugural Super Strong Style 16 which started on the 24th. Crazy. And Zack wrestled four times over two days, reaching the finals where he lost to Will Ospreay.
And then he was back in Japan by May 30th until June 19th, wrestled in England on the 21st and then America on the 26th to beat Chris Hero at a PWG show. He took a little break before wrestling for EVOLVE on July 10th & 11 to beat Strong and TJP, then back in Japan for July 19th.
That was to take part in NOAH’s Global Junior Heavyweight League. And he started well with victories over Harada, Sho from NJPW, Ogawa, but a loss to Desperado, win over Hitoshi Kumano and finally a loss to Kenoh saw him fail to win his Block. Harada was the one to win the Block and would beat Kotoge in the Finals on August 5th.
He wrestled in Japan on the 10th and then flew to America to lose an EVOLVE Title match to Timothy Thatcher on the 15th but he did beat Hero again the next night.
Returning to PWG’s Battle Of Los Angeles on August 28th, 29th and 30th, he would win the whole tournament and book in a future PWG World Title shot.
Less than week later and he was back in a NOAH ring. That’s because the NTV G Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League returned. Zack & Ogawa now teamed for the third year in a row.
September 13th to the 22nd, they beat Hirayangi & Captain NOAH (Jado), KUDO & Kota Umeda, Ishimori & Masamune but a loss to Desperado & TAKA meant the latter won the block.
He would have better tag team success in Germany a week later when he and Walter won the vacant wXw World Tag Team Title’s after beating Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish in a tournament held over October 2nd to 4th.
And he’d be back in Japan on October 10th. This would actually be his final month in Japan for NOAH. November 8th he would lose a number one contender match to Ishimori for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. Ishimori would go on to beat Taichi on December 15th.
Zack would have another singles match against Ogawa on November 20th in Korakuen Hall. Just six days later they would have a rematch where Zack would beat his tag team partner and former GHC Heavyweight Champion, also in Korakuen Hall. This would be Zack’s final singles match in NOAH.
His final NOAH match took place on November 30th where Zack, Hirayangi & Captain NOAH lost to Ogawa, Kumano & Muhammad Yone. Not the big send off you’d expect to end four and a half years and end a year in which Zack practically lived in Japan.
January 16th 2016, Zack beat AJ Styles to become the new RevPro British Heavyweight Champion. His first ever major singles title in his home country and, due to the history with IPW:UK, the promotion which he was in from near the beginning of his career. And RevPro was one of the biggest promotions in England. Just look at who he beat to win the belt – AJ Styles! A former IWGP Heavyweight Champion and TNA World Heavyweight Champion who was days away from his WWE debut.
On March 5th, he beat Strong to win the PWG World Championship. His very first title win in America. In the same month, he won the 16 Carat Gold tournament in his sixth attempt.
Zack was in high demand in the UK, Europe and America, wrestling each and every single weekend. So it’s small wonder he wasn’t able to take time for a NOAH tour, especially when he was defending titles in England and America.
June 2016 saw him wrestle for the WWE! He took part in the Cruiserweight Classic with victories over Tyson Dux, Drew Gulak and Noam Dar in June, July and August respectively.
He was in the semifinals to become WWE’s Cruiserweight Champion after WWE resurrected the belt but lost on the night to Gran Metalik in September.
Apparently Zack (and Kota Ibushi) refused to sign a contract with WWE so his time with the WWE came to an end. Which, with hindsight and looking at everyone who signed with the WWE during that tournament.. Yeah. You did the right thing, Zack.
In November 2016 Zack lost the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship to Katsuyori Shibata. This was actually a rematch from June and the two have incredible chemistry together. February 2017 saw Zack become a double champion again, when he beat Thatcher for the EVOLVE Title.
His split from NOAH was confirmed when he was announced to be coming to NJPW for their March 6th Anniversary show in a RevPro British Heavyweight Championship rematch against Shibata.
Zack would regain the belt after Suzuki-Gun interfered to help him win and he was revealed as the newest member of Suzuki-Gun. Quite ironic considering what was going on in NOAH at the time he left.
And Zack has become a NJPW regular since then. He’s now spent longer in NJPW than he did in NOAH. Plus he’s recognised as a heavyweight and has challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship several times.
But I don’t think Zack would have achieved that success in PWG, EVOLVE and then NJPW if not for the years he’d spent in NOAH.
NJPW vs NOAH
And on January 8th, Zack’s match is himself and fellow Suzuki-Gun member Kanemaru against Ogawa & Marufuji.
Kanemaru was there in Zack’s first ever NOAH singles match and his first GHC Junior Heavyweight Title match. Both of them left NOAH to join NJPW as Suzuki-Gun members.
Ogawa is Zack’s former GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion partner. Just look at how connected they have been in the past during Zack’s time in NOAH. And now, over six years later, they will be in the ring once again. Against each other this time.
And you may have noticed that Marufuji’s name didn’t come up much in this article. Him and Zack rarely interacted in NOAH. Regretfully they never once had a singles match, whether televised or not. But to many Marufuji is NOAH. So Zack & Kanemaru, two people who have left NOAH, now take on the face of NOAH.
Don’t sleep on this match.
*This article is dedicated to my wife, who came up with the idea for an article to bring attention to and honour Zack’s time in NOAH. She and I have been able to follow Zack’s career and to watch him develop into one of the best wrestlers in the world has been incredible.*