Since winning the GHC Heavyweight Title in January 2020, Go Shiozaki has been one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. And alongside his title run, Pro Wrestling NOAH is gaining as much positive momentum as they’ve had in a decade. Still, after Katsuhiko Nakajima turned on his mentor Go Shiozaki, joined KONGOH and then won Pro Wrestling NOAH’s N-1 tournament, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Nakajima would defeat Go Shiozaki for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. But on November 22nd, 2020 Go Shiozaki shocked everyone in attendance and watching live online when he defeated his former AXIZ partner and retained the GHC title. This left several fans asking, “Where is this title reign going?”
Pro Wrestling NOAH’s storytelling relies heavily on history. It is impossible to view Go Shiozaki’s current GHC title run outside its historical context. It is also impossible to view Go Shiozaki’s current GHC title run apart from his mentor’s, Kenta Kobashi, GHC title run that lasted from March 1st, 2003-March 5th, 2005.
Pro wrestling companies are defined by their main event champions. Championships matter. WWE’s boom periods are always defined by highly successful main event champions, whether Bruno Sammartino, Steve Austin or CM Punk. The most famous feuds from WCW, namely Sting and Hulk Hogan or Goldberg’s streak, are centered around their main event championship. Brock Lesnar himself proves so controversial because his controversies are linked to his relationship to main event titles, whether WWE or IWGP.
Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada are generally thought to be the two best pro wrestlers in the world at this current moment. They achieved this status through their famous series of matches, competing for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in New Japan. And when Kenny Omega finally defeated Okada in June 2018 it was impossible not to compare Okada’s IWGP title run to Kenta Kobashi’s GHC title run in the way it elevated the IWGP championship and New Japan.
And as 2020 turns into 2021, if there are two pro wrestlers that could challenge Okada and Omega for their best in the world status, it is probably either Kota Ibushi or Jon Moxley. It is no surprise that these two are either coming into or implicitly involved with main event title storylines. Championships matter in pro wrestling.
Pro Wrestling NOAH, like New Japan and All Japan, relies heavily on generational storytelling. The golden eras of All Japan and New Japan are primarily eras of well executed generational transition. The 2010’s in New Japan are an excellent example of this. Hiroshi Tanahashi’s feud with Kazuchika Okada created a boom period all over the world of professional wrestling. New Japan’s success and growth created a platform for the Bullet Club to gain exposure. And the high sales of the iconic Bullet Club t-shirt is a large part of what proved that there was a market for companies like AEW. But the success and growth of New Japan could not have happened without the historic feud between Okada and Tanahashi. And this feud specifically relied on their main event title, the IWGP heavyweight championship.
Pro Wrestling NOAH is primarily associated with Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi by most casual wrestling fans. And naturally that is well deserved. Misawa and Kobashi are two of the greatest professional wrestlers in the history of the sport. But given NOAH’s generational mode of storytelling, the tragedies surrounding both Misawa and Kobashi’s careers make establishing future generations extremely difficult. Misawa’s tragic death and Kobashi’s early retirement are coupled with the legal issues NOAH faced in the early 2010’s. These tragedies created an environment where some of the logical storytelling directions for Pro Wrestling NOAH weren’t possible.
This is, in essence, part of the beauty of Go Shiozaki’s current title reign. It is a story primarily concerned with redemption and exorcism and simultaneously the future and possibilities. Shiozaki’s defenses against Akitoshi Saito, Naomichi Marufuji and Takashi Sugiura each explored the history of the individual athletes as well as their mentors and partners. It is impossible to forget Akitoshi Saito honoring Mitsuharu Misawa and Bison Smith throughout his match with Shiozaki in June 2020. That particular match is my match of the year for 2020.
Go Shiozaki’s GHC title reign has already lasted one calendar year. His title run has already started re-establishing Pro Wrestling NOAH’s relevance throughout the sport. Therefore, it is important to consider NOAH’s upcoming show at the Nippon Budokan. This will be the first time NOAH has held at show at this important venue in several years. And since Keiji Mutoh arrived in NOAH it has been somewhat obvious that he was going to challenge for the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
To be candid, I would prefer Mutoh not defeat Go Shiozaki. It certainly would be historically significant for Mutoh, as he would then have held the GHC, IWGP and Triple Crown heavyweight titles. Certainly, Keiji Mutoh still looks great and oozes charisma. And it was extremely exciting to see him do the segment with Masahiro Chono, M’s Alliance and the Sugiura Army at the November 22nd show. And Mutoh could ultimately put over Kaito Kiyomiya, Katsuhiko Nakajima or Kenoh. And if Mutoh does defeat Go Shiozaki at the Nippon Budokan, that would be better than Mutoh defeating Nakajima. An early loss for Nakajima would absolutely diminish the momentum he would have gained, had he defeated Go Shiozaki in November of 2020.
But the main appeal of a Shiozaki victory over Keiji Mutoh is the appeal of NOAH’s future. Kaito Kiyomiya, Kenoh, and Katsuhiko Nakajima are all three generational talents. NOAH’s brightest young stars are the best options to eventually defeat Shiozaki. Kenoh in particular is an especially exciting future opponent for Shiozaki. He is the only person to not be defeated by Shiozaki in a title defense, as they went to an hour draw in August 2020. Coupled with seducing Nakajima away from Shiozaki, Kenoh could be his most dangerous opponent. And Kaito Kiyomiya has not challenged Go Shiozaki since he lost the title to Shiozaki back in January 2020. And while Nakajima has lost to Shiozaki once, it is obvious that Nakajima has the talent to lead NOAH as GHC Heavyweight champion. Especially after the inevitable Nakajima and Kenoh feud which will likely happen sometime in 2021 or possibly 2022.
The future is always hard to predict. And generally the only sure prediction is that nothing will happen the way we expect it to. But, at 24, it is hard to deny the similarities Kaito Kiyomiya shares with Kazuchika Okada, who was also in his early-mid 20’s when he began his legendary feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi in New Japan. Tanahashi and Okada’s feud also followed on the heels of one of New Japan’s biggest crisis periods. It would be impossible to imagine, say in 2007, the success New Japan would experience in 2017. Shiozaki also has much in common with Tanahashi, a champion and ace who defies impending doom and helps to re-create and re-ignite their respective companies.
Ideally, Go’s eventual loss should set the groundwork for Kaito Kiyomiya and Kenoh and Nakajima to establish a new era in Pro Wrestling NOAH. And if this does eventually happen, Shiozaki defeating Nakajima at the finale of the N-1 will prove wise. History is strange. Who could honestly say that in 2006, Bryan Danielson would be main eventing WrestleMania a decade later? If Pro Wrestling NOAH is to have another iconic era, Go Shiozaki’s current GHC Heavyweight Title run is likely the bridge that will lead them there.