Katsuhiko Nakajima will face Go Shiozaki for the GHC Heavyweight Championship on Sunday the 22nd of November. Nakajima earned his title shot by winning the N-1 Victory, winning his Block with 4 wins and 1 loss, and then beating Kaito Kiyomiya in the finals.
Nakajima and Shiozaki were tag partners. On August 30th, after the two lost a match for the vacant GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles, Nakajima turned on Shiozaki, attacking him and joining Kongoh in the process.
But their history and rivalry goes far deeper than that. In fact, the first time they faced each other was back in November 2005. Before we get to that match, let’s talk a little about the wrestlers.
Nakajima debuted in January 2004 while Shiozaki made his first appearance in July of the same year. Nakajima was just under 16 when he debuted, 6 years younger than Shiozaki, who started at 22. Nakajima was the protege of Kensuke Sasaki. Shiozaki developed under Kenta Kobashi.
You may be familiar with that infamous match between Sasaki and Kobashi in the Tokyo Dome in July 2005. The chop war to end all chop wars, as it were. Not as often talked about and severely underappreciated is a rematch of sorts between the two where they included their young students.
The First Encounter
For my money, this was better than the prior singles match. Shiozaki and Nakajima are fired up and hungry for this match. They take the fight to each other, going hell to leather as soon as the bell rings – Nakajima bloodied Shiozaki’s nose in the first minute. Both men show their heart throughout, squaring up against their elders. Shiozaki attempts to take on Sasaki early and gets the slap to end all slaps, while Nakajima takes Kobashi’s chops like a gun shot.
Both get time to shine and look like future stars. And while the team of Sasaki & Nakajima win, it’s mainly about Sasaki getting a win back after the defeat in July, even if it was Shiozaki, not Kobashi who got pinned. And he had to destroy him with a lariat to keep him down.
To me, this is a great example of peak NOAH. A hot crowd. Two beloved veterans. Two future stars. And, like the name of this website, there are chops, kicks and near falls aplenty.
Burning vs Kensuke Office would go down again in 2008, but with KENTA replacing Shiozaki – leading to the revered feud between KENTA vs Nakajima.
Shiozaki and Nakajima wouldn’t cross paths again until June 2009, three and a half years after their last tag match.
Shiozaki’s Time To Step Up
The Kensuke Office team of Sasaki & Nakajima remains unchanged from the last tag encounter, but here Shiozaki finds himself partnered with KENTA. In June 2008 it was the team of Kobashi & KENTA who faced Kensuke Office. Now Shiozaki is the GHC Heavyweight Champion, and takes the role that Kobashi once held in the previous tag matches.
June 2009 was a rough month for NOAH – and pro wrestling in general. Mitsuharu Misawa, the founder of NOAH, passed away in the ring in a match where Shiozaki was his partner. Jun Akiyama vacated the GHC Heavyweight Championship and Shiozaki won a title match against Takeshi Rikio, the day after Misawa’s death.
It’s not been more than a week, but now Shiozaki has to carry both the title and the promotion. Sasaki is a former GHC Heavyweight Champion and the first man to have held the top titles in New Japan, All Japan and NOAH. So he is a big test, early in Shiozaki’s reign.
Kobashi & Shiozaki lost to Kensuke Office in November 2005. Kobashi & KENTA took Kensuke Office to a 30 minute draw in June 2008. Burning then lost an Eight-man elimination tag team match to Kensuke Office in August 2008.
So, Burning is yet to beat Kensuke Office and that weight carries heavy on Go now. But this write up is about Shiozaki vs Nakajima. And there are fireworks between the two in this match. Shiozaki takes on Sasaki in the very beginning to a stalemate to show his growth, but when Sasaki tags in Nakajima, Shiozaki refuses to tag in KENTA because he wants Nakajima for himself.
Shiozaki chops Nakajima square in the face with his first move. Whether that was accidental or payback for the bloody nose 4 years earlier is unknown. It’s almost as if Shiozaki still needs to prove himself against Nakajima too. KENTA when he comes in brings the fire and hatred for both Nakajima and Sasaki alike. And Shiozaki gets to look like a star and champion, trying to repeat 2005 by murdering Nakajima with a lariat but then eventually pins Nakajima after a Go Flasher for the finish. But Nakajima is not happy about that in the slightest and slaps Go before the two get separated.
This would lead to the first singles match between the two only six days later.
The Early Singles Matches
Go Shiozaki vs Katsuhiko Nakajima 2009/06/22:
Unfortunately I’m yet to find footage of this online to share. If this ever changes, this piece will be updated.
But I remember this being a great match. It’s normal for heavyweights to beat junior heavyweights but Nakajima does not want to be normal. He has the KENTA/Koji Kanemoto attitude of that it doesn’t matter the weight difference, he is going to give it his all and if he goes down, he’s going to go down swinging.
Or kicking in his case. And for Shiozaki, as already stated earlier, he’s just become GHC Heavyweight Champion but nowhere near under the circumstances he would have liked. Sasaki & Nakajima are still technically considered outsiders as Kensuke Office so Shiozaki is defending NOAH as well as himself on enemy territory as this is taking place on a Kensuke Office show.
It would be Shiozaki who took the win in their first singles encounter.
Go Shiozaki vs Katsuhiko Nakajima 2010/06/20:
Unfortunately I can’t find this match online.
But here we are, a year after their first singles match, and their paths have not crossed in the ring at all. Not even in tags.
And a lot has changed in that past year. Shiozaki lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship to Takashi Sugiura in December 2009. He lost an interpromotional match to NJPW’s Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom a month later. He got injured shortly afterwards and spent three months on the shelf. And then the day before this match he was drafted in as a last minute replacement to face Togi Makabe for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship but would ultimately lose that match too.
As for Nakajima, he hasn’t had the greatest year either. He’s no closer to another shot at the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship since he lost it to KENTA. He and Kento Miyahara weren’t able to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts. He came up short in the Junior Heavyweight League, only reaching the semi-finals. And he had high profile losses to Marufuji and Morishima as he continued his quest to beat a heavyweight.
Nakajima also got injured in March so this is actually his return match back from injury. So he’s double against it as junior heavyweights don’t tend to beat heavyweights and the wrestler returning from an injury tends to lose, the same as how Shiozaki did to Marufuji back in April.
(TRAILER! For the full show which can be purchased here)
This match wasn’t originally scheduled to happen. Naomichi Marufuji got injured so the cards for their two night English tour had to be reshuffled. I remember absolutely begging and pleading Mark Sloan to book this match, putting over how good their previous two singles were.
Fortunately Mr Sloan and NOAH seemingly agreed with me and Shiozaki vs Nakajima was confirmed for Night 2 of European Navigation 2011.
It still blows my mind how lucky I have been as a fan of Pro Wrestling NOAH living in England. I have seen the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles defended when Brits Doug Williams & Nigel McGuinness took champs Takeshi Morishima & Muhammed Yone to a half hour draw back in 2006. The GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles defended when KENTA & Taiji Ishimori beat Bryan Danielson & Eddie Edwards in 2008. The GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship defended three times with Yoshinobu Kanemaru defending it against Jay Briscoe in 2008, Bryan Danielson defended it against Katsuhiko Nakajima in Philadelphia 2008 and Kanemaru again defended it against Zack Sabre Jnr in 2010. And I’ve seen the GHC Heavyweight Championship defended twice on back to back nights on this tour in 2011 when Takashi Sugiura beat Dave Mastiff and then Kotaro Suzuki.
But the one thing I feel luckiest as a western NOAH fan was to see Shiozaki take on Nakajima live and in the flesh.
Rewatching it the 20 minute draw seemed obvious from the beginning but I don’t think a lot of people clocked a time limit being announced. They trade shoulder blocks with Shiozaki getting the better of Nakajima. Nakajima is the first to connect with kicks to Shiozaki’s thigh but successfully manages to avoid Shiozaki’s chops.
Until he doesn’t. And those chops echo across the venue to the rapturous applause of the audience and chants of one more time which Nakajima begs against. Shiozaki hits his running knee to Nakajima’s head draped on the apron. He went for it a second time but Nakajima got up and kicked Shiozaki so hard he fell into the camera man.
Nakajima attempted to take Shiozaki onto the stage for a suplex but Shiozaki was able to reverse it and it was Nakajima who ate it instead. The last three minutes are great. Shiozaki survives the brain buster and penalty kick. And Nakajima may or may not have survived a murder lariat but the 20 minute time limit past.
The crowd gives the two a standing ovation and the two shake hands with the potential of another rematch down the line.
But that would be the last Shiozaki and Nakajima singles match for almost six years.
Shiozaki Leaves NOAH, Nakajima’s Slow Ascension
Shiozaki would win the GHC Heavyweight once more beating Sugiura in July 2011 but lost it to Morishima in January 2012. NOAH would struggle financially in 2012 as they had struggled since 2009 with losing their TV deal and then Misawa’s death in a short space of time and NJPW would secure their spot as the top Japanese promotion. So they had to cut costs and one of those cost cutting measures was to release the inactive Kenta Kobashi.
As a result of this, Shiozaki and others loyal to Kobashi in Jun Akiyama, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki would resign from NOAH and join All Japan Pro Wrestling in early 2013.
He would have some success in AJPW, winning their World Tag Team Championships twice (once with Akiyama and the other with Kento Miyahara who chose to leave Kensuke Office and join AJPW) and their Triple Crown Championship once. But AJPW was not his home and he went back to NOAH in late 2015.
Nakajima on the other hand won and lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight title two more times before Shiozaki left NOAH. And with the departures of Shiozaki and Akiyama that granted Nakajima the opportunity to no longer straddle that line between junior and heavyweight but officially move up to the heavyweight ranks in 2013.
He would rekindle his feud with KENTA in his first shot at the GHC Heavyweight Championship but would be unable to beat him. Nakajima would beat his father figure, Kensuke Sasaki, in early 2014 in his retirement match. A victory Shiozaki himself could not accomplish.
Nakajima would have another failed chance at the GHC Heavyweight title when Marufuji held it in 2014. But when Suzuki-Gun invaded NOAH in early 2015 and took every single GHC title belt in to their possession, Nakajima was called upon to help defend NOAH.
Shiozaki Returns, Nakajima’s Time To Step Up
So when Shiozaki rejoined NOAH in late 2015, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. He had left when they were struggling and came back as all of NOAH was fighting against Suzuki-Gun. He came back with a lot of people wary and pissed off with him.
Shiozaki didn’t join the fight against Suzuki-Gun until Kanemaru also left AJPW and rejoined NOAH in early 2016. And from there it was only tag matches of Shiozaki & Kanemaru against any combination of Suzuki-Gun because no one in NOAH trusted either of them.
And they were right not to. Or at least not Kanemaru as during Shiozaki vs Minoru Suzuki, Kanemaru turned on Shiozaki, attacking him with a Deep Impact and securing the victory for Suzuki. This was the second defection to Suzuki-Gun as Takashi Sugiura had turned his back on NOAH and joined the villainous faction the month prior.
Sugiura would beat Marufuji for the GHC Heavyweight Championship that same night. Shiozaki had earned some trust back within NOAH so now they were willing to team with him, Nakajima included, to take down Suzuki-Gun.
Nakajima would have first crack at the new champ but would lose to Sugiura. Go would be next and he had a brief third run with the GHC Heavyweight Championship, beating Sugiura but then losing it back to him a month later in an unfair lumberjack match.
The beginning of the end for Suzuki-Gun would come when Nakajima finally won the GHC Heavyweight Championship by beating Sugiura in October. Nakajima would make his first defense by beating Global League winner, Minoru Suzuki, and then Sugiura would turn on Suzuki and officially kick Suzuki-Gun out from NOAH.
This has been Nakajima’s one and only reign with the GHC Heavyweight title so far. And with further victories over Masa Kitamiya and a Takashi Sugiura rematch to defend that belt, he now had his next challenger.
Nakajima Is Champion. Shiozaki Is Now Challenger
This is the match right before their GHC Heavyweight title match. Shiozaki is teaming with Kumano who is a NOAH dojo graduate who debuted in January 2013, ironically the very first NOAH show after Shiozaki’s previous departure. They had only teamed the once in 2016 but they managed to beat Sugiura and Kanemaru.
Nakajima’s partner Ohara debuted back in May 2004 as part of Toryumon Mexico and the same graduating class as Kazuchika Okada. Ohara would join NOAH in May 2013, wrestling under a mask as Maybach SUWA Jnr and as part of the No Mercy stable. He would eventually become GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in January 2017 and Kumano is scheduled to be his second defense on the same show Shiozaki vs Nakajima takes place. Before this match the two have never teamed together.
But it’s all about setting up the two individual title matches. Nakajima tries to assert his dominance as champion but he has a major attitude about it. He cheap shots Shiozaki twice when he is on the apron. So Shiozaki channels his inner surly old veteran Kobashi as he returns the favour, knocking Nakajima off the apron and then taking him on a tour of Korakuen Hall, chopping him up the stairs.
Nakajima is able to get momentum back on his side with kicks as they brawl around Korakuen. In fact Shiozaki chops Nakajima so hard he cuts open his chest. Twice. The two exchange chops and kicks to the crowds delight and really bring the fire to the crowd’s delight.
In the end, it is Kumano who pins Ohara before his title challenge as Shiozaki and Nakajima fight outside the ring.
They have had three singles matches before this one. Shiozaki won the first two. They went to a 20 minute draw in England six years ago. They’ve never had a title on the line before and now Nakajima is the GHC Heavyweight Champion when eight years prior Shiozaki was the one to hold that belt.
Kenta Kobashi is on commentary sounding like a proud parent at the progress of the two of them. Both Kobashi and Sasaki are now retired so it’s on Shiozaki and Nakajima to carry the mantles of Burning and Kensuke Office.
Shiozaki fires off the first chop but when he goes for his running shoulder block, Nakajima connects with a kick right to his jaw. He continues with kicks to Shiozaki’s face, knocking him to the outside but when he goes for his running penalty kick off the apron, Shiozaki catches him into a firemans carry and drops him throat first on to the guard rail. Twice.
Shiozaki finally connects with that running shoulder block, launching himself over the guard rail into a seated Nakajima in the front row. His trademark running knee to Nakajima drapped on the ring apron sounded like a gun shot.
This truly is a big fight feel as both men go all out. Shiozaki even pulls off the running body press dive over the top rope on to Nakajima on the outside. The two trade chops and kicks, going on for several minutes, evoking memories of the 2005 Tokyo Dome match between their mentors as Kobashi smiles on from ringside.
Najajima finally gets his first win over Shiozaki, having a cold dead hard look in his eyes as he delivers a knock out kick to Shiozaki’s head and then delivers a delayed brainbuster to put his rival down
After that their paths didn’t really cross on a frequent basis. Shiozaki began to team with Atsushi Kotoge and won the Global Tag League and then GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles. The same night Shiozaki won the tag belts, Nakajima lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship to Eddie Edwards.
Shiozaki & Kotoge would lose the tag belts to Muhammad Yone & Quiet Storm who in turn lost them to Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya.
Shiozaki would begin teaming with Kaito Kiyomiya after the latter returned from foreign excursion and Shiozaki won back to back Global Tag Leagues, this time with Kiyomiya. And then Shiozaki & Kiyomiya would beat Nakajima & Kitamiya for the belts in April 2018.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the April match so here is the May rematch.
12 and a half years after their first tag match and here they are again. Except now they are the veterans in each of their tag teams.
Kiyomiya is a NOAH born wrestler who only debuted right after Shiozaki returned to NOAH. Kitamiya debuted as part of Kensuke Office in 2011. So while not quite the same as the original Burning vs Kensuke Office match in 2005 you do have some similarities as it’s two NOAH trained wrestlers taking on two Kensuke Office trained wrestlers.
A lot has changed in the past year. Nakajima has grown his hair out and has the beginning of his goatee so he looks more like how he does today instead of the fresh babyface he had for the majority of his career. And if Nakajima seemed like he had an attitude in 2017 he is now part of a tag team called The Aggressor so that tells you where his mindset is now.
And aggressive is the name of the game for Nakajima & Kitamiya. They double team Shiozaki and do a number on his leg. All four brawl into the crowd. And as an added side note, it warms my heart to see Korakuen Hall packed out after it was well below capacity in the 2017 tag.
Shiozaki & Kiyomiya have great chemistry together but their reign would be cut short as The Aggressor win the tag belts back after Nakajima repeats the 2017 title match and pins Shiozaki after a knock out kick to the head, which he follows up with a delayed brain buster.
The First Time Teaming Together
2018/06/10 – Go Shiozaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Takashi Sugiura & Naomichi Marufuji
(This is the full show. The main event starts at around the 1 hour 20 minute mark)
This was the Ninth Mitsuharu Misawa memorial show. Sugiura & Marufuji are old tag team partners, being former GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions together 10 years prior. But they haven’t teamed consistently in over 5 years and just faced each other for Sugiura’s GHC Heavyweight Championship just two weeks before this match.
Shiozaki & Nakajima have never teamed together as a regular tag team, this will be their first time. All four are very familiar with each other. Sugiura and Shiozaki have traded the GHC Heavyweight Championship. Nakajima won his first GHC Heavyweight Championship from Sugiura. Marufuji and Sugiura have had several GHC Heavyweight title matches and Marufuji and Nakajima also faced each other for that belt.
They are arguably the top four wrestlers in NOAH at that time and this is the biggest tag match NOAH could put on at that time in order to honour Mitsuharu Misawa. In fact you could compare the four to All Japan’s Four Pillars Of Heaven. Shiozaki is Kobashi. Nakajima is Kawada. Marufuji is Misawa. And I guess by default that makes Sugiura as Taue.
You should already have an idea of what to expect with these four. Chops, kicks, elbows, knees, lariats and repeat. And Shiozaki & Nakajima have surprising chemistry. I guess beating the crap out of each other for so long they have learned how the other moves and thinks.
And it was from this unexpected team work that Shiozaki would pin the GHC Heavyweight Champion, Sugiura, but would ultimately fall in his title challenge a few months later.
Old Rivals, New Partners
Later in the year, Nakajima would fall to Kaito Kiyomiya in that year’s Global League. Shiozaki would come out, not to congratulate his former partner, Kiyomiya, but to commiserate Nakajima and help him out of the ring.
The two would decide to partner and chase the newly vacated GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles after Akitoshi Saito & Naomichi Marufuji had to relinquish the belts after Marufuji was injured.
They won a one night tournament on December 7th 2018 to become the brand new GHC Heavyweight Champions. 13 years after their first encounter, here they are as partners, friends and champions.
But it was not a smooth run as champions. Just 9 days later they faced the team of Maybach Taniguchi & Yuji Hino. Taniguchi is a NOAH born wrestler who has a long history with Shiozaki. Yuji Hino, however, only made his NOAH debut the night Shiozaki & Nakajima won the gold.
Shockingly, the new champions lost the belts on their first defense, before losing the rematch.
Muhammad Yone and Quiet Storm would be the ones to dethrone the champions, but found their reign ending in the same way as the previous champions – losing their titles in their first defence. And who was the team that took them away? Go Shiozaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima.
And very soon after the team found themselves a name. AXIZ.
The Birth Of AXIZ
AXIZ would enter the Global Tag League 2019 but would lose in the finals to Takashi Sugiura and KAZMA Sakamoto. This would create a GHC Heavyweight Tag Team title match…. AXIZ would lose again.
Again, not what you’d expect from a tag team with two massive singles stars. But a rematch was quickly booked and AXIZ would become three time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions in just slightly over 6 months.
Both would enter the N-1 Victory but neither would make it to the finals. The eventual winner, Kenoh, would be unable to dethrone Kaito Kiyomiya of the GHC Heavyweight Championship. So now a new challenger is needed…
15 Year Anniversary & Next GHC Heavyweight Challenger
To commemorate their 15th year anniversary in wrestling, and to find the next challenger for Kiyomiya, a singles match is announced between the current GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
It’s been two and a half years since their last singles match. Their record stands at two Shiozaki victories, one Nakajima victory and one draw.
They may be champions together but they are still generational rivals and still have a competitive streak. And a chance at the GHC Heavyweight Championship hangs in the balance. Shiozaki is a three time former champion but it’s been 8 years since his last real run as champ. Nakajima hasn’t held the belt for well over 2 years and fell short of the ace run we were all hoping from him.
The two touch tag belts together as introductions are made. But before the bell can even ring, Nakajima kicks Shiozaki who responds with a chop. The referee comes inbetween them as the match hasn’t even started yet so they shake hands and the bell finally rings.
They immediately go after each other, Nakajima with a running kick to the face and then the two exchange elbows. Shiozaki attempts to murder Nakajima by suplexing him over the top rope and drops him directly on to the ring apron. Good friends fight each other. Best friends try to kill each other.
The two repeat the chop/kick war but this time it’s Shiozaki who goes down. Nakajima busts out a reverse frankensteiner and Canadian destroyer but can’t keep Go down. Nakajima connects with the vertical spike brainbuster that pinned Shiozaki in 2017, but he’s able to kick out.
It takes Shiozaki’s ultimate finisher, the moonsault he inherited from Kobashi, for him to finally vanquish Nakajima.
Shiozaki now holds three victories over Nakajima. But they shook hands after the match so their partnership still held strong.
Go Shiozaki Wins The GHC Heavyweight Championship But AXIZ Lose Their Belts
Go would have his title shot on the first show of 2020 and after almost half an hour, Shiozaki beat Kiyomiya to become the new GHC Heavyweight Champion for the fourth time.
2020/01/05 – Go Shiozaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Naomichi Marufuji & Masaaki Mochizuki
(This is the full show. The main event starts at around the 1 hour 25 minute mark)
But there is no rest for the wicked as Shiozaki has to defend his and Nakajima’s GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles the very next day.
And unfortunately AXIZ’s third and so far final reign came to an end when Mochizuki reversed Nakajima’s brain buster into a small package for the three count.
During the no fans era of shows as a result of the ongoing pandemic, AXIZ would reach the finals of the Global Tag League 2020 but lose against Rene Dupree & El Hijo Del Wagner Jnr – the winners would go on to dethrone Marufuji & Mochizuki.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dupree and Wagner Jnr had to vacate the belts on account of not being able to return to Japan in the near future.
The Death Of AXIZ
You may remember at the start of this article I said that Shiozaki & Nakajima lost this match and this is what caused Nakajima to turn on him.
The truth is the two had very different fortunes in August. Nakajima lost his GHC National Championship to Kenoh and the next night Shiozaki retained his GHC Heavyweight Championship against Marufuji. This set in to motion a Title vs Title match where Shiozaki and Kenoh wrestled to a 60 minute draw.
So here we are. Shiozaki is still GHC Heavyweight Champion but it was him who lost this match. It was him who submitted to Kazushi Sakuraba because he got over-confident. And this was the second time in a month that Sakuraba got the best of him.
Whatever reason Nakajima had in his head to justify it, at the end of the match, he attacked Shiozaki. And more shockingly Nakajima joined Kenoh’s faction, Kongoh, in the process.
This match is on Wrestle Universe whereas all the others are not. So this is the only match I will link here as it’s public on YouTube but anything else you can pay for Wrestle Universe. For what you get it is well worth the money.
Shiozaki Is Champion. Nakajima Is Now Challenger
Katsuhiko Nakajima would win B Block of the N-1 Victory with four wins and one loss. In a rematch of the 2018 Global League final, it was Nakajima against Kaito Kiyomiya. Nakajima was able to redeem himself from the loss two years ago and beat Kiyomiya to earn a future GHC Heavyweight Championship match.
Nakajima called out Shiozaki to the ring. Two years earlier, Shiozaki had come to the ring to help Nakajima after his loss to Kiyomiya. Here, he now stood triumphantly. Confident. He ran down Shiozaki on the mic and the champion stood silent, not dignifying his former friend and partner with a response.
I hope this piece provided enough insight and detail into the story of these two men. I can only apologise for the length, but it was necessary to even begin to do this 15-year long narrative justice.
Who do you think will walk away with the GHC Heavyweight Title on November 22nd? Let us know!