Keiji Mutoh makes his first defence of the GHC Heavyweight Championship this Sunday, March 14th, as Pro Wrestling NOAH present Great Voyage In Fukuoka. Also making their first defence is new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, Seiki Yoshioka, so it’s a night of new champions trying to keep hold of their titles.
The show starts at 3pm JST. That’s 6 AM GMT, 1 AM EST & 10pm Saturday March 13th PST. It can be watched for FREE live on ABEMA with Japanese commentary or purchased (outside of Japan) for $19.99 through FITE TV with English commentary done by the great pair of Mark Pickering and Stewart Fulton. The ABEMA version will stay up for a week before moving over to Wrestle Universe (a paid for subscription service with NOAH, DDT, TJPW, etc) while the FITE TV is yours to stream indefinitely.
It’s an 8 match card with a lot to unpack, so let’s get right into it!
MAIN EVENT – GHC Heavyweight Championship Keiji Mutoh (c) vs Kaito Kiyomiya
The 36 year ring veteran can claim to be only the third person to have held the top Heavyweight Titles in New Japan, All Japan and now Pro Wrestling NOAH after beating Go Shiozaki in the main event of NOAH’s long awaited return to the Budokan on February 12th.
Currently undefeated in singles matches in NOAH, he holds victories over Naomichi Marufuji (as The Great Muta), Kaito Kiyomiya, Shuhei Taniguchi and now former champion, Shiozaki. Kaito Kiyomiya is the first of those men to step up and challenge Mutoh to a rematch. The lasting image at the end of the Budokan show was Kiyomiya staring a hole into Mutoh as he left with his newly won belt up the ramp.
While Mutoh stands as the oldest GHC Heavyweight Champion in the history of the belt, being the age of 58 when he won the belt, Kiyomiya remains the youngest GHC Heavyweight Champion. He was 22 years old when he won the belt.
Kaito Kiyomiya was NOAH’s supernova. While he had the typical Japanese rookie first year of nothing but losses, he was the first NOAH graduate in quite some time to go on a foreign learning excursion to Canada, something which Kaito himself requested. When Kiyomiya returned to Japan, his first match back was his first challenge for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. His 2018 was an incredible year and he closed it by winning the belt on his second attempt. All within 3 years of his debut.
Usually wrestlers in Japan, especially NOAH, only get to hold the gold when they are ready. Sometimes more than ready and they’d been waiting years. When Kiyomiya won the belt, he wasn’t quite ready yet, if we can be honest. But he was given that opportunity to grow into himself and into his role as champion and he more than delivered. He rose to the occasion and became the man that helped build not just himself, but NOAH, up in 2019. If I could compare him to another wrestler in another promotion, it would be Kazuchika Okada. When Okada had the Rainmaker Shock in 2012, it came out of left-field and although his first reign would be brief, he was made a main eventer over night and was built towards a bigger and better second reign.
Kiyomiya, on the other hand, had to hit the ground running. He held the belt for over a year, knocking off such big NOAH names like Sugiura (twice), Kitamiya, Marufuji, Nakajima and Kenoh (twice). When he lost the belt to Shiozaki on January 4th 2020, he was a bonafide main event star in NOAH, and was already in a position to be their present and future ace with years left ahead of him.
Not even Mutoh had the meteoric rise that Kiyomiya had. But then, the mid to late 1980’s aren’t quite the same. Mutoh spent a lot more time abroad and found success in the NWA; where he was a World Television Champion (Kiyomiya instead toured the Canadian wilderness with a VICE documentary his highlight) but that took him almost 5 years. Mutoh, as himself, would first challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in May 1992 but lose to Riki Choshu. In August however, as The Great Muta, he would beat Choshu to win his first major title belt. That’s almost 4 years before Kaito Kiyomiya was even born!
In fact, before Kiyomiya was born on July 17th 1996, Mutoh was a two time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, four time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, G1 Climax winner, NWA World Heavyweight Champion and NWA World Television Champion. So, while Kiyomiya was in nappies, Mutoh was one of NJPW’s Three Musketeers and one of the biggest names in puroresu, who was already building his name internationally.
Growing up a fan of wrestling, Kiyomiya watched mainly NOAH and cites Mitsuharu Misawa as his greatest inspiration. But he had to be aware of Mutoh and his impact on wrestling, not just in Japan but across the world too. After Misawa split from All Japan to form NOAH, Mutoh was in America at the time for WCW. When he returned to Japan at the beginning of 2001, he started to wrestle for All Japan while still contracted to New Japan. He would beat Genichiro Tenryu for the Triple Crown in June and spend his time split between NJPW and AJPW until the end of the year.
However, at the beginning of 2002, Mutoh would shock the world when he left NJPW. Not only did he leave NJPW for AJPW, but he assumed the position of President in September and took the Baba’s family stocks in AJPW. Misawa was President before he left AJPW but not even he held that level of power.
Before Kiyomiya made his wrestling debut on December 9th 2015, Mutoh would have countless singles accolades. A four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, three time Triple Crown Champion, NWA World Heavyweight Champion, G1 Climax winner, winner of 3 Champion Carnivals, founder of Wrestle-1 and Wrestle-1 Champion.
So there is a gulf of experience between champion and challenger. And the champion has already beaten the challenger in their one and only singles match. Kiyomiya is determined to not lose to Mutoh again.
And while he’s already held the GHC Heavyweight Championship and beaten some big names in NOAH, that’s just it. He didn’t face or beat any outsiders to bring external press to NOAH. He’s too young to have faced any of AJPW’s Four Pillars or two thirds of NJPW’s Three Musketeers, the legends of puroresu. Mutoh is the only one still active that he could get a big victory over.
They were at a stalemate in their preview matches on February 24th and March 7th. It was six-man tag matches on both nights and Mutoh’s team won on both occasions. In the first match, Mutoh pinned Daiki Inaba for the win. In the second match, Mutoh pinned Yoshiki Inamura to win. The only time the two have had a direct victory over each other was when Mutoh forced Kiyomiya to tap out to his figure four leglock.
I was always under the impression that Kiyomiya would be the one to dethrone Mutoh. Well before he even challenged Shiozaki for the belt, I felt like this was the bigger story that NOAH was going to tell with Mutoh as the third man to complete the trifecta and Kiyomiya to get the rub by beating him. However, Mutoh signing a two year contract with NOAH has made me doubt that this changing of the guard will happen here. It will happen, of that I have no doubt. But I was so sure Mutoh would fall on his first defense, Kiyomiya would be avenged for August last year. Now I wonder if it’s going to be third times the charm for him unfortunately.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship – Seiki Yoshioka (c) vs Atsushi Kotoge
These two do have history together and only the ones singles match in the past. After Yoshioka joined NOAH following the closure of Wrestle-1, he was originally a part of Sugiura Army. However, after Atsushi Kotoge left STINGER, Yoshioka and Hajima Ohara left Sugiura Army to join Kotoge and form FULL THROTTLE.
FULL THROTTLE were formed while the pandemic, meaning the no fans era was in full force unfortunately. So the time Kotoge, Yoshioka and Ohara spent as a trio was short. However, there would be squabbling between the three of them as to who the “leader’ was. So it was decided that on August 1st the three would have a round robin against each other to determine whom the leader was. It was there, in their one and only singles match before this one, that Kotoge beat Yoshioka.
Kotoge would also be crowned “leader” of FULL THROTTLE that day. But it would not last long as on the 23rd of September, Kotoge went to save old partner Daisuke Harada from a beat down. This did not sit well with Yoshioka and Ohara, who ousted Kotoge from FULL THROTTLE and remained a trio with the addition of YO-HEY (who was the original cause for Harada’s beat down, might I add).
Harada would go on to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship from Kotaro Suzuki on November 8th. He would make successful title defences against Tadasuke and Ohara in December and January respectively before losing the belt to Yoshioka at the Budokan on February 12th.
Fellow Momo No Seishun tag partner, Kotoge, wasted no time in challenging his former subordinate. In Kotoge’s mind, I’m sure he believes he’s better than Yoshioka. He was the “leader” of FULL THROTTLE and he beat Yoshioka to prove it and did it under 10 minutes. Kotoge is a two time former GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion and he is the only one to voluntarily give the belt up in order to move up to being a heavyweight. And he didn’t just hold the singles Junior Heavyweight belt, he also held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts with Harada and vacated those belts at the same time too.
In order to win the belt, Yoshioka had to dethrone a four time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in Harada. Now, in order to keep the belt, he has to beat a man with similar qualifications. Yoshioka has a trial by fire ahead of him now as the NOAH junior division is volatile at the best of times and he is now the one with the biggest target on his back.
But it’s not like Yoshioka isn’t used to the pressure of being a champion. He is a former three time (and final) Wrestle-1 Cruiserweight Champion before the promotion folded. The man who he beat to remain the final champion was Heat, otherwise known as Minoru Tanaka and only the second man to hold the junior titles in NOAH, NJPW & AJPW (the first being Naomichi Marufuji).
Since Kotoge made the challenge, they have had two preview matches. In the first, Yoshioka rolled Kotoge up for the victory in a tag match. However Kotoge had an emphatic win over Yoshioka where he headbutted him so hard he was able to get a pinfall and busted himself open in the process. A crazy, crazy man is Kotoge. And it shows how far he is willing to go to beat Yoshioka and regain the title he once vacated.
The match between Harada and Yoshioka ended up subverting expectations, as it was a fast sprint at just over 10 minutes. I imagine this match will be longer than that (and their first match) but you just never know. I just imagine that we will have a worthy champion at the end of it.
Kongo (Nakajima, Kitamiya, Soya & Tadasuke) vs Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji, Takashi Sugiura & Kotaro Suzuki
The new GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Nakajima & Kitamiya (The Aggression) will wear their gold to the ring for the first time. Back in January a Kongo quartet, with leader Kenoh instead of Tadasuke, beat Shiozaki, Marufuji, Sugiura & Kiyomiya. That was billed as Kongo vs a Pro Wrestling NOAH all stars team to celebrate the new year and this match doesn’t feel that far off of it.
Tadasuke has been part of Kongo since August and has been straddling the line between junior and heavyweight, as he can throw some mean Jumbo Tsuruta-esque lariats. Kotaro Suzuki is the original Pro Wrestling NOAH dojo graduate. He was the very first to graduate and despite a few years in the wilderness, he will always be associated with NOAH.
And when I say it’s an all-star NOAH team, I truly mean that. Sugiura has held every single singles and tag title currently active in NOAH, junior and heavyweight. Marufuji is only missing the GHC National Title which was only created at the back end of 2019 (and Sugiura was the very first champion) otherwise he would be equal to Sugiura there. Shiozaki is the most recent GHC Heavyweight Champion after losing the belt to Mutoh at the Budokan on February 12th and is tied with Sugiura for the most reigns with that belt on four. Suzuki was and has been a staple of NOAH’s junior division and has held their singles title Four times and tag titles Five times.
In the original match Kongo got the victory. Here they have the new GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. And Nakajima will definitely have a psychological edge over Shiozaki as he is now the one holding a title belt and he will revel and gloat in that fact. Kitamiya scored one of the biggest wins of his career when he knocked Sugiura out with a headbutt to win the belts. I mean, he may have also shortened his career as his forehead immediately began bleeding upon impact. Manabu Soya suffered a disappointing loss to Kazuyuki Fujita (although Fujita is challenging Kenoh for the GHC National belt on March 21st) so he will want to rebound from that in a big way. And Tadasuke, while he isn’t Kenoh, is no slouch in the ring and will definitely keep Suzuki busy and can hold his own in the ring against the rest.
Shiozaki against Nakajima is always a good combination. Sugiura and Kitamiya have built up a great rivalry over these past few months and I’d love to see another singles match between the two in the near future as big Sugs has won all but one of their singles matches. Marufuji and Soya have been a surprisingly heated combination in the past and I was disappointed they weren’t in the same block for the N-1 Victory. And Suzuki and Tadasuke do have history together as a result of the STINGER and RATEL’S feud that dominated the junior division at that time.
Due to Shiozaki, Marufuji, Sugiura & Suzuki all being apart of different stables, I can’t envision that we’ll see either of the heavyweights team up to face The Aggression in the future. But a Sugiura victory could see a rematch for him and Sakuraba in the future. A Marufuji could see him and any other M’s Alliance member like Masakatsu Funaki, Masaaki Mochizuki, Masato Tanaka or even Keiji Mutoh to challenge. Shiozaki is seemingly the odd one out although he does have history with Kaito Kiyomiya (and they both won and lost the belts to The Aggression back in 2018).
Kongo (Kenoh, Haoh & Nioh) vs Sugiura Army (Kazuyuki Fujita, Kendo Kashin & NOSAWA Rongai)
The other half of Kongo are in another multi-man tag with direct title implications. Kenoh defeated Kendo Kashin on March 7th to retain his GHC National Championship; but there is no rest for the wicked as he will make his next defence on March 21st against Kazuyuki Fujita.
Fujita beat Soya on the night he challenged Kenoh in a result I was disappointed in. However with him being Kenoh’s next challenger it does make sense. Fujita has been an absolute beast in NOAH, making short work of Inamura, Taniguchi, Inoue and now Soya. His one and only loss in NOAH was to Go Shiozaki in a love it or hate it match for the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
Kenoh has not faced someone with Fujita’s reputation before. A three time former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Fujita is not paid by the hour to put it lightly. The Shiozaki match is the one exception to his get in, get out philosophy in wrestling. Someone who has the same wrestling/MMA hybrid background that Kenoh has been facing over the past few months, but Fujita has more championship experience than the rest of them. Even Masakatsu Funaki as a former Triple Crown Champion only had the one run with that belt. Fujita has beaten some big names like Scott Norton, Yuji Nagata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in order to win and retain his titles.
One good thing for Kenoh is that he too has not been paid by the hour in his title matches and his last few title matches against the wrestler/MMA hybrids have all hovered around the 10 minute mark. Suffice to say their title match won’t go to an hour draw, unless Fujita wants another staring contest for the full hour.
This won’t be the first time Kongo and Sugiura Army have clashed with Kenoh and Fujita involved. So far, Fujita and Sugiura Army have won every multi-man tag match against Kongo. They have had two six-man tags and two eight-man tags and although Kenoh and Fujita did not interact much, Sugiura Army won all four of them.
Supporting Kenoh are two great junior heavyweights in Haoh and Nioh. And supporting Fujita is Kashin who only just lost to Kenoh and NOSAWA. I imagine Haoh and Nioh will quicken the pace of the match. While Kashin and NOSAWA will slow it right back down and try and do as little wrestling as possible to win, preferring to cut corners. But then this match is all about Kenoh and Fujita.
Yoshinari Ogawa vs Junta Miyawaki
Junta makes his first ever challenge for a title belt when he and Daisuke Harada will challenge Ogawa & HAYATA, STINGER, for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles. This is not the first time Miyawaki has faced Ogawa. Debuting fully in 2017, Miyawaki no doubt would have been trained by Ogawa.
They have had 8 matches and Ogawa has naturally won them all. Rookies never get victories over their superiors until much later into their careers. Miyawaki has pinned Ogawa just the once in a tag match and that was due to a fast count from special guest referee Kotaro Suzuki.
Yoshinari Ogawa is a Pro Wrestling NOAH loyalist. He is one of the few remaining members on the roster from All Japan before the split into NOAH. By my recollection there’s only Ogawa, Inoue, Marufuji and Sugiura left. Ogawa is another one like Marufuji and Sugiura who has held all the singles and tag belts, heavyweight and junior alike in NOAH. I think there’s only one other to have done that and his name is KENTA.
Unlike Marufuji, Sugiura and KENTA who won the junior heavyweight belts before moving up to heavyweight, Ogawa did the reverse. While he was a three time All Japan World Junior Champion, the first belt he won in Pro Wrestling NOAH was the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles with Mitsuharu Misawa. He would shock the world when he beat Jun Akiyama for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in under 5 minutes in April 2002. After a second reign with the Heavyweight Tag belts with Misawa, he would go almost 9 years before he won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts with Zack Sabre Jr in December 2013. He would not actually become GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion until January 2020, almost 18 years after his Heavyweight Title win.
Realistically, Ogawa should be guaranteed the win here. However, stranger things have happened, and if Miyawaki is going to strike lightning, in the build up to his first ever title match would be a good start. Stylistically expect a lot of technical wrestling and submissions from Ogawa to keep Miyawaki grounded. But then, he is not showing his 54 years of age by any stretch of the imagination and can surprise with some athletic abilities.
Akitoshi Saito vs Muhammad Yone
I said earlier that Ogawa, Marufuji, Sugiura and Inoue are the only All Japan wrestlers left from the formation of NOAH; but both Saito and Yone joined NOAH during it’s early years. Both are former GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Both have, whether they wanted to or not, accepted their positions lower down the card as they work with the least experienced roster members and can only flirt with the top half of the card on rare occasions.
Saito has a long-running tag team with the long suffering Masao Inoue, known as the Anti-Wrestlers Alliance. Generally played out on prelim tag matches for laughs as Saito encourages his opponents to beat up Inoue, but Saito can get serious every now and then.
Yone has started a tag team with Shuhei Taniguchi earlier this year which has now officially been deemed the Funky Express so I guess I need to stop calling them Funky & Bland. Both were at a loss with Taniguchi always going to be a challenger instead of champion and with Quiet Storm leaving NOAH and ending his tag team with Yone. On paper the two are both hard hitting wrestlers with Heavyweight Tag Team title experience. Yone is a bright and colourful appreciator of disco while Taniguchi…. Was not. I say was because on March 7th Taniguchi embraced his funky disco side.
However it did not end up with a win. The Funky Express lost to the Anti-Wrestlers Alliance. And so, this is where we are at, with Yone taking on Saito on this show. And on March 21st the two teams will have a rematch and the losing team….. Will have to wear the outfits of the winning team.
It’s the serious stuff like this that keeps us watching NOAH. But at least Saito and Yone are heavy hitters and Saito had two entertaining matches against Yuko Miyamoto last year so I don’t imagine that this match will be too far removed from them.
STINGER (HAYATA & Yuyu Susumu) vs Daisuke Harada & Kai Fujimura
While young Miyawaki gets a single match against crafty veteran Ogawa later in the show, their tag partners face off with each other in this tag match.
Harada and HAYATA have history with each other dating back to both being members of RATEL’S. It was HAYATA who was the first to leave RATEL’S, effectively disbanding them and that betrayal sparked off a chain reaction that saw the NOAH junior division engulfed in flames and chaos throughout all of 2020.
HAYATA has been a loyal member of STINGER since then, and it was HAYATA’s relationships outside of NOAH that helped influence Yuyu Susumu to betray Kotaro Suzuki when the moment arrived and join STINGER.
So far, Susumu has just been a supporting player as part of STINGER and realistically that will be his role here too. But against Kai Fujimura he will definitely have the experience edge and then some. Fujimura began wrestling for the Wrestle-1 promotion in 2019 so outside of Yasutaka Yano who only just debuted last year, he’s the second least experienced on the NOAH roster, although he has yet to officially sign with the company.
Harada, whether he partners with Miyawaki or Fujimura, will have a weak link when it comes to experience against either STINGER team. So this will be a good opportunity to show how he is able to handle being in charge completely for his team.
Shuhei Taniguchi & FULL THROTTLE (Hajima Ohara & YO-HEY) vs Yoshiki Inamura, Kinya Okada & Yasutaka Yano
Yoshiki Inamura suffered a loss on the last show when he was pinned by GHC Heavyweight Champion, Keiji Mutoh. Now here he is in the opening match building himself back up again. It’s clear that he’s going to be NOAH’s break out star of 2021 after his position on the Budokan card, so expect a tour de force from him in this match.
But someone who is well worth keeping an eye on is Kinya Okada. He only debuted a few months after Inamura and has been positioned lower than Inamura, Okada is someone who in my eyes has a lot of potential. Still straddling that line between junior and heavyweight, I can’t help but feel that when he puts on a few more pounds that his position in NOAH will begin to get elevated.
And speaking of junior heavyweights, Yasutaka Yano is the most recent NOAH dojo graduate. Influenced by Kotaro Suzuki he wears the blue that Suzuki once did as a rookie and he is showing potential that he could be a cornerstone of NOAH’s junior division for years to come. All three members of this team are NOAH dojo graduates.
They aren’t the only NOAH dojo graduates in this match. Debuting almost a full 13 years before Inamura and Okada and almost 15 years before Yano, Shuhei Taniguchi graduated in December 2005. As already noted in the write up for Saito vs Yone, Taniguchi is a multiple time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion although singles gold seems forever out of his grasp. Embracing his funky side, if Yone is not available, YO-HEY has to be the next best thing.
FULL THROTTLE replaced one slightly over the top and eccentric person in Kotoge with a completely over the top and widely eccentric person in YO-HEY. Most likely the wildest person on the NOAH roster, there are few that can come close to his energy. So if Taniguchi wants to truly embrace that crazy, zany side of wrestling, teaming with Yone and YO-HEY will surely bring that out.
Hajima Ohara, on the other hand, is more level-headed and calm when compared to his stable mates. He’s got a bit of a unofficial mentor/student back and forth with Yano as the two have faced off in several singles and tag matches.
And that’s the card.
However you watch the show, be it through ABEMA or Fite TV, I hope you enjoy!