Naomichi Marufuji –  Is he criminally overlooked?

Naomichi Marufuji – Is he criminally overlooked?

Naomichi Marufuji. The genius of the ark. When you think about Pro Wrestling NOAH Marufuji is one of the first names to come to people’s minds. For the longest time he was the ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Now he is one of the veterans of NOAH. Due to injuries, he has been forced to change his style. Gone are his high flying antics and instead, he has evolved to a more ground-based style. He still has great matches and when it comes to having big matches, there are few better.

The question I try and answer today is: why hasn’t he received more recognition as one of the greatest of all time? So let’s try to answer that.

Before that let’s have a quick overview of at certain points in Marufuji’s career.

Beginning

Naomichi Marufuji made his wrestling debut in 1998 for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Marufuji would win the Rookie of The Year award from Tokyo Sports in 1999. He would leave All Japan in 2000 as part of the All Japan walkout. He would join upstart company Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Junior Genius

After the move to NOAH, Marufuji became a massive part of their junior division.  He had many impressive and innovative moves that impressed a lot of people. Marufuji, along with his partner and frenemy KENTA, became the aces of the junior division. Marufuji captured the GHC Junior Heavyweight tag team titles twice (once with KENTA and once with Atsushi Aoki). He was the first person to win the AJPW, IWGP and GHC Junior Heavyweight Championships and was the first-ever grand slam champion in NOAH. Marufuji was and still is a pioneer.

US Adventures

Unless you were a tape trader, most of the western fan base’s first exposure to Marufuji was his appearances in Ring of Honor. He made his debut there in 2005 challenging Bryan Danielson for the Ring of Honor World Championship. Although he lost, he showed what he could do to the western audience and what he is about. Marufuji would continue to appear in ROH till 2008, even defending the GHC Heavyweight Championship.

He wouldn’t come back to the US until 2017 where he made his Impact Wrestling debut. This was a result of Impact and NOAH entering a working partnership. He would debut at Slammiversary XV teaming with Taiji Ishimori to challenge for the tag team championships. They would be unsuccessful this time. He would stick around for a couple more matches before going back to NOAH.

His last appearance on US soil and TV was in 2019 where again he challenged for the tag team championships. This time with the first ever non-Japanese GHC Heavyweight Champion Eddie Edwards. He was unsuccessful again.

Influencer

Marufuji was an innovator, having a hand on influencing the more modern western-style (for better or for worse). His junior work helped lay the foundation for that style, with many wrestlers using moves that Marufuji popularised. They have also credited him for moves that became a core part of their moveset.

Seth Rollins has credited Marufuji for the reason he uses the curb stomp. He said he saw him use it and took it. Many people’s GOAT, Chris Jericho, also admits to using or coming up with the Codebreaker after seeing Marufuji using the move in a match in ROH. These are just two big stars in western wrestling admitting to using moves that Marufuji used shows his influence on modern wrestling.

Jericho and Rollins are two people are people who cite Marufuji having some influence in their moveset. Credit (WWE)

Accomplishments

Before I answer my question let’s just run through his accomplishments.

Championships held

  • GHC Heavyweight Championship (3x)
  • GHC Tag Team Championship (7x)
  • KO-D Tag Team Championship
  • GHC Hardcore Openweight Championship
  • WEW Tag Team Championship
  • IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
  • GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship
  • AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship
  • GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship

Tournament wins

  • Global League
  • Global Tag League (3x)
  • Champions Carnival
  • Differ Cup
  • Super J Cup (2x)

As you can see from these accomplishments, Marufuji has accomplished a lot. He has won titles in many different companies all across Japan. Yet he is often not seen as an all-time great, at least from the eyes of a western audience.

Why?

So why is it that Marufuji gets overlooked. Well, I think it could be any number of reasons, but I will go with the one that might be the most probable.

After he left ROH he lost a lot of western eyes. NOAH shows back then were a lot harder to get a hold of here in the west. That point may seem obvious but now I am going to get what I think the main reason is. Its nothing to do with Marufuji himself. It is more to do with NOAH.

I think the reason he gets overlooked is more to do with NOAH. Now, this is not me saying “oh he should have gone to New Japan etc”. He showed an amazing amount of loyalty and that is commendable. I think it speaks to the highs and lows of NOAH that fans do not know how great he has been.

In the mid-2000s NOAH was the biggest company in Japan. Regularly selling out arenas and putting on classic matches. After Misawa’s tragic passing the company slowly starting trending downwards. A couple of scandals and a bad period from the mid to late 2010s had NOAH struggling. Low attendances and changing owners, bad booking, their relationship with New Japan going massively sour. NOAH was on the brink. Thankfully, they have bounced back, stabilised and are on an upward trajectory.

During the down period, Marufuji was in his prime years. While the company’s situation might have not been the best, he was still putting on great matches. Giving his all for the company that meant a lot to him.

Many people missed his prime years. When western fans saw him again, he was not the high-flying genius he once was. He was more hard-hitting, and strike based. The style changes due to his injuries catching up to him. He was not in his prime anymore but still was very capable of putting on great matches.

Even though he did have brief runs in New Japan where people could see him, they were not that regular. I am not going to sit and blame NOAH’s turbulent time for him not getting as much recognition as I think he deserves. Every company has bad times. It is all about how they can bounce back from these times and fortunately for NOAH they have bounced back great, and the future looks bright. It could be several reasons. This is the one that makes the most sense to me personally.

Conclusion

Now in his 40s, Marufuji has settled into the veteran role within NOAH. Originally, he had planned to start to think about retirement when hitting 40 but recently stating that he wants to put NOAH back on top before retiring. With this role, he will be tasked with guiding the young core that NOAH has to try and put them back on top.

Having influenced a whole generation of wrestling. To me, Naomichi Marufuji is one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. He has left an imprint on modern wrestling. Loyal and innovative he will go down as not only one of the greatest wrestlers in NOAH’S history but he will go down as an all-time great and one of my personal favourite wrestlers ever.

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