Pro Wrestling NOAH February 24th Preview

Pro Wrestling NOAH February 24th Preview

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

Now that the dust has settled after Pro Wrestling NOAH’s first Nippon Budokan show in over 11 years, NOAH will hold a show at Korakuen Hall on Wednesday, February 24th, in the build up to Great Voyage In Fukuoka on Sunday, March 14th.

The fall-out from Budokan is huge as we have a new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in Seiki Yoshioka and a new GHC Heavyweight Champion in Keiji Mutoh. The 58-year-old managed to complete the trifecta and become only the third man to hold the top belts in New Japan, All Japan and NOAH, joining Yoshihiro Takayama and Kensuke Sasaki in a very exclusive club. More shockingly, it was announced that Mutoh had signed a two-year contract with the promotion.

March 14th will see both new champions defend their belts, while March 7th sees the GHC National and GHC Heavyweight Tag Team belts on the line, so Korakuen will be serving up some preview matches for three out of those four Title matches.

This show will air live and for FREE on ABEMA. The show starts at 6pm JST, 9am GMT, 4am EST and 1am PST.

There’s a lot to unpack on this card, so let’s get right into it!

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

MAIN EVENT – M’s Alliance (Keiji Mutoh, Naomichi Marufuji & Masato Tanaka) vs Kaito Kiyomiya, Go Shiozaki & Daiki Inaba

The new GHC Heavyweight Champion and former champion, Go Shiozaki, square off again as Mutoh prepares to make his first defence against Kaito Kiyomiya on March 14th.

Before getting into this match, let me talk about Mutoh as GHC Heavyweight Champion.

I’ve seen people think it’s a joke that 58-year-old Mutoh is a champion again. That they could not believe Mutoh could beat Shiozaki and some believe that Pro Wrestling NOAH are as bad as certain western promotions for putting the belt on an old, fading star.

But let me tell you now that 58-year-old Mutoh, with artificial knees, put on a genuinely great main event with Shiozaki. They had the drama. They had the crowd heavily invested in the finish. Yes, there were two botches, but if anything they actually added to the match! They told a great story and ultimately, the finish, a confident Shiozaki going in for the kill but to be rolled up after a Frankensteiner was the perfect ending to that match.

Losing to Mutoh does not damage Shiozaki. This was his fourth reign and he’d held the belt for over a year and had the reign that finally defined him as an ace. Realistically, he could not have taken the belt any further. The weight of that belt and his incredible defences over Kenoh, Nakajima and Sugiura had all taken their toll on his body. He could not break Kobashi’s record for longest individual reign without doing some serious, lasting damage to his body. He also couldn’t break Sugiura’s record amount of title defences in an individual reign, and you’d also have the matter of padding it out with matches he stood no chance of losing.

Go Shiozaki’s fourth reign was perfect and the culmination of his career to date. The first defence against Kazuyuki Fujita was something out of the norm and a victory over a multiple IWGP Heavyweight Champion who (rightly or wrongly) doesn’t lose many singles matches. Akitoshi Saito was a throw back to his first reign and symbolically took place in June, the month of Mitsuharu Misawa’s passing 11 years prior. Naomichi Marufuji was a senior who he had never faced for that belt and usually lost against. Kenoh was a rare Title vs Title match in NOAH (Heavyweight vs National) and resulted in Pro Wrestling NOAH’s second ever hour limit draw. Katsuhiko Nakajima was a former partner turned enemy, and they had 15 years worth of history together. Takashi Sugiura was the man who ended his first reign with the belt – 11 years to the day of that original match – and a man whom Shiozaki had a long, storied history with over the GHC Heavyweight Championship and had never successfully defended the belt against.

His reign was ended by a legend in professional wrestling. Taking age away, he lost to a four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and three time Triple Crown Champion. There is not a bigger name to have lost to in puroresu. Mutoh – either as himself or as The Great Muta – and Jushin Thunder Liger are two of the biggest Japanese stars in wrestling, both at home in Japan and across the world. Yes, he’s not the youngest wrestler in the world, but the name Mutoh still commands respect and attention. And realistically, that is what Pro Wrestling NOAH wants and needs. They want to put as many eyes on them as possible to help with their expansion and growth to return to their glory days.

After Mutoh had won the belt, Kiyomiya was the first one out. No words were exchanged and Kiyomiya gave him a hard stare as Mutoh left the ring. The Budokan show ended with a powerful image – Kiyomiya stood alone in the ring as he stared down Mutoh. The NOAH born, youngest GHC Heavyweight Champion in history was clearly positioned as Mutoh’s first challenger.

And this, to me, was simple story telling. Mutoh had beaten Kiyomiya in August. This would be Kiyomiya’s revenge, his redemption as he would beat Mutoh in the rematch for the belt. Mutoh wouldn’t need a long reign. Being the third man to complete the trifecta should have been enough. And he’d put over NOAH’s long term ace.

I’ve heard derisive laughter about how much of a rub Kaito will get for beating a man over twice his age. But remember, Kaito is the youngest GHC Heavyweight Champion of all time, winning the belt at just over 22 years of age, only three years into his career, and he held that belt for over a year before losing it to Shiozaki. And he beat some big names in NOAH over that year. Sugiura twice. Masa Kitamiya. Marufuji. Nakajima. Kenoh twice. But that’s just it. Big names in NOAH. If you weren’t already watching or aware of NOAH, Kiyomiya’s reign would likely pass you by. Beating Mutoh and doing it for the GHC Heavyweight Championship would put some more eyes and a wider attention on him.

And that to me was going to be the story. However, Mutoh signing a two-year contract may have put a spanner in my great prediction. Now I’m wondering if Mutoh wins the second match and Kaito wins on a third attempt. Which, truthfully, will be a little damaging to Kaito. And while Mutoh can work smart matches that hide his weaknesses and play to his strengths, he is on borrowed time even in those matches. I thought the best course of action would be for Mutoh to win and then lose it not long after. However time will tell there.

With that being said, let’s get back to the match.

Budokan ended with Kiyomiya staring a hole in Mutoh, and now he gets his first opportunity to face the new champion. Of course this is not the first time Mutoh and Kiyomiya have clashed. In June 2020, at the formation of the M’s Alliance, Mutoh, Marufuji & Masaaki Mochizuki beat Kiyomiya, Muhammad Yone & Shuhei Taniguchi. They would be the beginning of Kiyomiya pushing for a singles match against Mutoh. And in July, Mutoh & Marufuji beat Kiyomiya & Shiozaki. Then in August, their first singles match, Mutoh made Kiyomiya tap out to the figure four leglock after just over 27 minutes.

They have faced off recently, with two six man tag matches at the beginning and end of January that were more to preview Mutoh’s upcoming title victory over Shiozaki; so their interactions were fleeting. Now all their focus and attention will be on each other with their title match less than a month away.

Daiki Inaba joined NOAH after the collapse of Wrestle-1 in July. Since that time, he has had several tag matches against Marufuji, and they have really gone after each other, often fighting after the match has ended and having to be separated from one another. This is another chance for the two to tear into each other in what has been quite the underrated mini-feud. I hope we eventually get a singles match between the two this year. The two time Wrestle-1 Champion has been underutilized in NOAH so far (in my opinion) and I hope that 2021 could be his year.

I’m torn with Go Shiozaki. After a long run with the GHC Heavyweight Championship, a career defining reign, the man deserves to take some time off. Rest up and heal his body. However, this is the first of two six man tag matches between him and Masato Tanaka. They’ve had just one singles match in 2012 as part of the ZERO1 Fire Festival in the finals. I’d love to see them have another match in 2021, and I’m hoping this is the start of that.

So. We have Mutoh vs Kiyomiya, Marufuji vs Inaba and Tanaka vs Shiozaki all built up in this one match. Plus other interactions, like Kiyomiya and Marufuji after their Budokan tag match. Marufuji and Shiozaki; as their battle to be the definition of NOAH continues. Inaba has rarely spent time in the ring against his former boss in Mutoh. Tanaka beating the crap out of two youngsters in Kiyomiya and Inaba. And former champion Shiozaki gets to take it to the current champion, Mutoh, and put himself back into contention. Big match.

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

Kongo (Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya & Manabu Soya) vs Sugiura Army (Takashi Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kendo Kashin & Kazuyuki Fujita)

A preview for two GHC Title matches taking place on March 7th. Sugiura & Sakuraba will defend their GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles in their 4th defence against Nakajima & Kitamiya; while Kenoh will defend his GHC National title in his 6th defense against Kashin. Not quite the match we were expecting. And Fujita and Soya have clashed like bulls in their tag encounters before now.

I think the majority of us were surprised when the Heavyweight Tag Team title match was confirmed for March 7th as opposed to the Budokan. The Budokan instead saw a twelve-man tag team match, so Korakuen Hall gets a scaled down version of that – Sugiura/Sakuraba vs Nakajima/Kitamiya remains along with Fujita vs Soya.

The Aggression, as Nakajima and Kitamiya were known a few years ago, are former two time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. They have their own history, as both were trained by Kensuke Sasaki as part of Kensuke Office and have an older/younger brother relationship, with Nakajima being the senior by quite some distance. But just because they are family don’t mean they like each other. And after The Aggression broke up, they spent years estranged from one another until Nakajima joined Kongo, and they began to team together in six and eight man tag team matches. Now they’ve rekindled that old magic together.

I don’t think anyone expected Kendo Kashin to challenge Kenoh. Even with Kenoh taking on challengers with an MMA background, no one considered Kashin. Truthfully, his MMA background is nowhere near as impressive as Sakuraba, Funaki and Murakami. 1 win, 1 draw. 5 losses. But he is a two time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, All Japan Junior Heavyweight Champion, and winner of the 1999 Best Of The Super Juniors. So it’s not like he’s without championship pedigree. He’s also known for vacating two of those belts without ever losing them and having a poor performance in ROH during a one night tournament, which he won, despite being nowhere near his best.

Kenoh also is not taking his next challenger that seriously. He’s known for being irate and often shouting, but it seems like Kashin has genuinely annoyed him. Then again, Kashin is making outrageous claims, like he got into wrestling to win the GHC National Championship. Except, he began wrestling in 1992 and the belt wasn’t created until 2019.

Soya and Fujita are two big heavyweights who usually knock other people down. So naturally they have gone to war with each other in the attempt to knock the other down. Fujita definitely has more miles on his clock as he’s 50 years old and a three time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Soya is a 36-year-old former Big Japan Strong World Heavyweight Champion and two time Wrestle-1 Champion. Manabu Soya can definitely be a future title contender in NOAH, so hopefully, Fujita does a rare job to help put him over.

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa, HAYATA & Yuya Susumu) vs Momo No Seishun (Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge) & Junta Miyawaki

STINGER managed to retain their GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles over Kotaro Suzuki & Ikuto Hidaka. Daisuke Harada, however, lost his GHC Junior Heavyweight title to Seiki Yoshioka. And his partner, Atsushi Kotoge, stepped in as the first challenger.

No opponents came forward to challenge STINGER. If Momo No Seishun were to make that challenge, then this would be their third match since October. The first match saw Momo beat STINGER for their belts, while the second saw STINGER take the belts back just a month later. A third match between the two does seem inevitable, so this match could serve as the catalyst for it.

Yuya Susumu has been a bit of a third wheel since joining STINGER. He was brought in with great mystery and intrigue as the masked Salvaje de Oriente who betrayed Suzuki to join STINGER. But now he’s only been involved in tag matches, where he is an afterthought and was missed off the Budokan card.

Junta Miyawaki would have been on the Budokan show if not for a case of acute appendicitis. Late 2020 saw some growth in the NOAH dojo born who graduated in 2017 so missing the Budokan must have hurt. I’m hoping both him and Susumu take this opportunity to bring it and not be pieces of furniture lost in the bigger picture.

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

FULL THROTTLE (Seiki Yoshioka & YO-HEY) vs Kotaro Suzuki & Ikuto Hidaka

The new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion brings his belt to Korakuen for the first time. Having experience as a three time and final Wrestle-1 Cruiserweight Champion so I have no doubt he will be comfortable atop the NOAH junior division.

As already mentioned, Suzuki & Hidaka lost their bid to become the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles at the Budokan. Suzuki in his previous reign as GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion was able to beat Yoshioka in his first attempt at the belt so could make a claim for a title match after Kotoge. Hidaka is a former five time ZERO1 International Junior Heavyweight Champion between 2005 and 2011. No one has held the belt more than him. He definitely has experience at being a champion and should be considered a future challenger for any junior heavyweight belt if the opportunity arose.

So Yoshioka already has a big target on his back. Not only has he got Kotoge on March 14th but every junior heavyweight will be trying to get a direct victory over him in order to make their own challenge. Fortunately he and YO-HEY have teamed up a lot since YO-HEY joined FULL THROTTLE in September and they already have their own dynamic and team work together.

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

Kongo (Tadasuke, Haoh & Nioh) vs Yoshiki Inamura, Muhammad Yone & Shuhei Taniguchi

While the heavyweights of Kongo are busy taking on Sugiura Army, the junior heavyweights are tasked with their own big challenge. Tadasuke is able to toe that line between junior and heavyweight due to his bulky size and power, but Haoh & Nioh are firmly in the junior category. Unfortunately for them, they are facing three heavyweights. Three big heavyweights at that.

Yoshiki Inamura is definitely their next big star. He was Kiyomiya’s partner at the Budokan when they faced Marufuji & Jun Akiyama and Inamura, a big lad in his own right, was able to stand toe to toe with the veteran in Akiyama and hold his own. It’s obvious that Inamura is going to be a big part of NOAH’s future and 2021 is going to be a big year for him. So expect him to be a bulldozer in this match.

Yone & Taniguchi have been a team since the start of the year to mixed success. Both have tag team expertise and are multiple time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, so are hoping to find their own groove as a tag team in order to find success together.

The Kongo junior heavyweights likely don’t stand a chance of winning this match. But I am going to be firmly behind them as they have one thing their mismatch opponents don’t – they are a cohesive team together. Kongo is like a military unit, they have precise team work. A win here would be a massive upset as juniors don’t tend to beat heavyweights, especially not a team featuring such a rising star like Inamura, but it could be achieved just by them being such a good unit.

Photo Credit – Pro Wrestling NOAH

Hajima Ohara vs Yasutaka Yano

This will be their third singles match since Yano’s debut on October 28th 2020. Yano had his second ever match against Ohara and they have clashed in tag matches too, most recently at the Budokan together.

Yano is showing a great deal of promise for someone with less than six month’s of experience. And a lot of that is due to wrestling guy’s like Ohara. I’ve said this before but for those not familiar with Ohara he is a student of Ultimo Dragon and came from the same class/timeframe as Kazuchika Okada. He’s a Toryumon Mexico graduate and raised up through the ranks of the defunct SMASH promotion. He was actually about to quit wrestling before attending a NOAH show and SUWA along with Marufuji convinced him to join.

I am glad he decided to join NOAH and remains a roster member today. He was a great GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and deserves another reign. He and Harada had a highly anticipated and fantastic title match last month. So Yano really can’t learn from many better.

And that’s the show. Six matches so it will fly by and the last two matches are definitely going to be worth watching and build up for the big shows in March.

NOAH are really keeping things simple here. Smart matches to build anticipation for the bigger matches and keep the moving parts going. Even stuff like Marufuji vs Inaba, Shiozaki vs Tanaka and Soya vs Fujita are unofficial matches but have been bubbling over and are potentially about to begin in Shiozaki and Tanaka.

They had a great 2020, despite the pandemic, and that helped them return to the Budokan. But it does not feel like that this is the end to the story. Budokan will, hopefully, be the first of more to come in the future.

I hope Pro Wrestling NOAH have a bigger and better 2021 and while there are some (valid) concerns, I hope that NOAH will end this year in a better place and will be in a much stronger position to be seen as one of the best promotions going in Japan.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Enjoy the show!

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