I’ve really gone off the boil with New Japan recently, ever since the shenanigans with Ibushi and the briefcase in all honesty, but NOAH has done a nice job of stepping in to scratch my Puro itch instead. This card intrigued me enough to slap down the cash to purchase it on FITE and, seeing as I’ve got a rare day off scheduled, I decided I’d sit down with a nice cuppa and maybe a cheeky biccie to watch the show.
If you’d like some info on the backstory then there’s an article below that you can click on which goes into detail on the three Title matches. I’ll also try and relay anything that the commentary team throws my way too.
Anyway, enough chatter, let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!
The show is emanating from Nagoya, Japan on the 29th of April 2021
Calling the action are Stuart Fulton and Mark Pickering
We get a fun opening video, comparing the top guys to Kaiju’s. I watched a bit of Godzilla King of the Monsters recently actually, and Kento Watanabe being such a good actor that he could actually make me close to tear up in a wacky Kaiju monster movie is a testament to how good he truly is.
Hajime Ohara, Seiki Yoshioka and YO-HEY Vs Yasutaka Yano, Daisuke Harada, and Atsushi Kotoge
The first team are known as “Full Throttle”, whilst the second team has current GHC Jr Heavyweight Champ Kotoge amongst their ranks, and he defeated Yoshioka for that very Title. Yano is the young lion of his team, which probably means he’s going to be eating the pin or submission when all is said and done. I do this whenever I review a NOAH show, but I want to give them props for actually having graphics at the start of a match showing a guy’s name in English and also a picture of him for good measure. It makes it so much easier to get to know the guys wrestling, which could sometimes be pretty difficult for non-Japanese speakers like myself back in the day.
Kotoge always reminds me of Chris Brookes when it comes to his gear and haircut. YO-HEY is clearly supposed to be the “wacky one” in his faction with his multi-coloured hair and antics, but I don’t know it just feels a bit forced to me sometimes, like he’s playing a character and ticking boxes. He’s a good worker though. Yano is good for a guy with his level of experience and he sells well, which is an attribute that’s helpful to have when you’re in the Young Lion role. He eventually gets worked over for a bit in the Full Throttle corner and shows good determination and grit to keep fighting.
Eventually it’s hot tag Kotoge and he runs wild, looking good in the process, with the Full Throttle team all queuing up to take a move from the Champ. We of course get a bit of Yoshioka Vs Kotoge and that’s good, if brief, with it leading to all three of Kotoge’s team doing dives out onto Full Throttle. Harada gets to do some Heavy Hitting at one stage, and he also looks good. Everyone has had a chance to hit something here, even Yano, and they’ve all acquitted themselves well. It’s been a solid opener. Eventually though the law of the jungle plays out, as Yano takes a triple super kick from Full Throttle and gets beat not soon after via a YO-HEY Meteora.
WINNERS: OHARA, YOSHIOKA & YO-HEY
Good opener, as everyone got to do something and Yano was able to be gutsy until getting pinned
Yano is helped to the back by his partners following that.
Kastuhiko Nakajima and Nioh Vs Akitoshi Saito and Junta Miyawaki
Nakajima and Nioh are both part of the same Kongo stable, whilst Saito and Miyawaki are doing the veteran and youngster pairing. Saito does a wacky dance number on his way to the ring due to “finding the funk” along with Muhammed Yone. According to the commentators, Nioh has suffered a few big defeats in singles matches recently, including a failed bid to claim the Jr Title, so he’s more focused than usual here so that he can get himself back on track.
Nioh and Miyawaki do some nice exchanges in the early going, with Miyawaki having some decent execution but lacking a little bit in presence. That could come in time though. The two heavy hitters of Nakajima and Saito go at it next, trading kicks and its good stiff action. Saito doesn’t really have much of a spring in his step these days, but he can stand and trade just fine, not unlike George Foreman during his comeback run, and Nakajima is happy enough to bump and work around him.
It’s not a great match or anything, but it’s perfectly cromulent under-card action, with Nakajima being the clear best worker of the bunch. Interestingly Saito essentially becomes the babyface in peril, with it all building to a Miyawaki hot tag. Saito sells pretty well in that role too, getting the right mix between being all stoic whilst still registering pain. Miyawaki’s hot tag segment is decent too, as he shows some good fire and nails Nioh with a lovely missile dropkick for a near fall.
In one of the bigger compliments I can pay the match, we get the 10 minute call and it honestly feels like they’ve been wrestling for half of that, which is usually a good sign that a match has been enjoyable. Saito gets to clobber Nakajima with some slams and shows some good fire as well, and that leaves us with Nakajima and Miyawaki for the finishing stretch, which ends as you’d expect with Nakajima getting a beautiful hanging Brain Buster for three. Miyawaki looked good in defeat though.
WINNERS: NAKAJIMA & NIOH
Another decent outing there, with Miyawaki looking impressive and Saito showing he can still go when put in the right environment
Nakajima cuts a post-match promo, where he makes fun of Saito’s new “funky” gimmick and encourages him to get serious. Looks like we’ll have more matches between them then. Saito is both worried and angry following that, which could mean he’ll eventually revert to classic Saito to give Nakajima the big kicking that’s coming his way.
Kotaro Suzuki Vs Yuya Susumu
Suzuki brought Susumu into NOAH, but Susumu then betrayed him to align with the Heel Junior group STINGER, so this is Suzuki’s chance at some payback. We get the RVD/Lynn styled opening counter section, and it’s done really slickly with both men looking good. Suzuki controls things for a bit following that, with Susumu selling it all well and Suzuki showing some good intensity as he works his enemy over. Suzuki mostly focuses on the mid-section, with Susumu getting a good mix between selling the pain and also getting angry that he can’t get anything going.
Susumu does eventually manage to get some offence in of his own, but he remembers to keep selling the mid-section throughout, and I love stuff like that. It means the opening section actually meant something because it’s having a wider effect on the rest of the match, rather than just being a throwaway time killer. The crowd gets into it as we hit the finishing stretch, with both men still bringing the counters and also slugging it out with kicks and elbows. It really feels like an intense fight between two guys who don’t like one another, which is what it needs to be after the build-up.
There are some well-timed near falls, with both men trying a number of pinning holds in an effort to pick up the win, only for them to end up pinning one another at the same time for the double pin finish. Normally I dislike that finish as it’s usually a contrived way of ensuring both men pin one another, but the way they did that with the final pinning hold looked like a natural way for both men to pin one another and it logically leaves the door open for more matches without having to resort to things like DQ’s or count outs.
Good match, with consistent selling from both men and some good intensity shown throughout. The finish won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I thought they executed it well
Neither man is happy with that result of course, and Susumu storms to the back with a grimace on his face whilst I get a personal kick of hearing the classic NOAH “draw” music.
Kendo Kashin, Kazunari Murakami and Kazushi Sakuraba Vs Masao Inoue, Shuhei Taniguchi and Muhammed Yone
Yone’s squad are known as “Funky Express”, as he’s seemingly collected a bunch of the older usually serious guys and turned them into wacky funky ones instead, along with Saito as we saw earlier. Kashin, Murakami and Sakuraba all have legit shoot backgrounds of course, which might suggest that this one will be a veritable styles clash, even though Yone did work in BattlArts at one stage.
This one is a brawl right from the off, as the shooters clearly aren’t enjoying having to face the wacky funky guys and want to give them a solid kicking. Kashin even tries to brain Inoue with some guardrail. Murakami wrestling in a suit like he’s a character from a Yakuza game doesn’t quite play into the more serious gimmick his partners have going on, but to each their own I guess. Seeing these six guys going at it really plays into my own personal opinion that NOAH these days really is just World Japan from the early 00’s, except that somehow NOAH manages to make it work whilst WJ didn’t.
Inoue indulges his old devious ways on Saku at one stage, which leads to Saku giving him some of it back in a funny exchange. Funky Express actually get their fair share of offence in once the match settles into a standard tag, with them even trapping Kashin in the ropes at one stage and mugging for the camera. Taniguchi then piles all of the opposing team on top of one another, leading to a WWF Wrestle Fest styled triple pin from the Funky Express, which the referee decides not to count for. Spoilsport!
Murakami is the only guy in the match who I’d say is actively bad, as his offence looks like the very worst kind, in that it looks really hokey but probably really hurts. Thankfully he isn’t in that much, with Saku and Kashin carrying things mostly for his team. Saku actually looks pretty good for the most part, and the comedy spots continue with a sextuple sleeper hold. That was pretty fun actually. Eventually Inoue ends up taking on all of the shooters by himself, which ends with Saku applying a leg lock for the submission hold.
WINNERS: SAKURABA, KASHIN & MURAKAMI
I’ve seen worse. It wasn’t necessarily a good match or anything, but it was entertaining for a match where the combined age of all six guys was threatening to be in the 300 range
The shooters struggle to keep a straight face following that bizarre outing for them. Kashin was too busy clobbering Taniguchi outside the ring to even realise that his team had won.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles
Champs: STINGER (Yoshinari Ogawa and HAYATA) Vs NOSAWA Rongai and Ikuto Hidaka
STINGER have been feuding with NOSAWA and his faction for a while now, with a bunch of DQ finishes preventing a clear cut winner. This match is supposed to be the blow-off where one of the teams will pick up a decisive win, but we’ll see if that actually happens or not. Hidaka has always been someone that I’ve really liked, with his stints in ECW and ROH first making me aware of him, leading me to look up some of his work in places like BattlArts. Oh man, I LOVED BattlArts at one stage.
NOSAWA gets worked over quite a bit by STINGER in the early going, with them mostly focusing on his arm, and he sells it really well actually. The story is that STINGER absolutely HATE NOSAWA, which is why they are so determined to destroy him, and it works well as a story point, as they spend so much time trying to hurt him that it allows him to eventually tag out to Hidaka. Neither side is really traditional babyfaces here, with STINGER being the “worst” of the two I guess, but it’s not like NOSAWA is going to be winning any humanitarian awards anytime soon.
The work is solid for the most part, with both teams getting a chance to control a member of the opposing team. Ogawa gets up to his usual “Rat Boy” behaviour by coming in to illegally attack the challengers at points, including a moment where he tries to gouge out Hidaka’s eyes. HAYATA spends a considerable amount of time getting worked over and sells it all well, so much so that the crowd actually gets behind him. We get the bizarre visual of Ogawa working a hot tag segment, and blow me down but he’s actually pretty good at it!
Ogawa does eventually collapse in exhaustion following it in a funny moment, but he looked pretty good there with his array of hip tosses and whatnot. The finishing stretch is fun stuff following that, with lots of nice snappy offence and some good near falls. Hidaka busting out the heel hook for old time’s sake sets off my nostalgia senses, especially when he starts throwing kicks whilst having HAYATA hooked. I LOVE that spot. Hidaka really is great and I don’t think it gets said enough sometimes.
As good as Hidaka is though, I’d say that HAYATA is the star of the match, as his selling is on point, his offence looks good and he shows some solid charisma during the bout as well. Whether he could be a viable singles competitor or not I couldn’t say until I see more of him, but as Ogawa’s water carrier in a tag team scenario he’s pretty much perfect. The near falls continue, with both Ogawa and NOSAWA getting close, but eventually Ogawa pulls out one of his many cheeky roll ups and that’s enough to hold NOSAWA down for three.
WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: STINGER
I really liked that one a lot, as it built nicely and the finishing stretch was done really well. I like how we got a mostly clean finish too, as part of me thought we’d get some more chicanery but they gave us a proper blow-off instead, at least for the time being anyway
Full Throttle show up following that and would appear to be next on the list for STINGER, as YO-HEY grabs the mic and throws down the challenge. HAYATA throws the mic away rather than answer, so STINGER doesn’t seem too keen on the idea.
Naomichi Marufuji, Masato Tanaka and Masaaki Mochizuki Vs Kinya Okada, Yoshiki Inamura and Kaito Kiyomiya
Maru’s team are known as “M’s-Alliance”, because they all have a forename/surname that begins with the letter M. Inamura and Kiyomiya managed to defeat Maru and Jun Akiyama at NOAH’s return to Budokan Hall earlier in the year. Personally I’d put the main singles belt on Kiyomiya as he reminds me of a combo of Tanahashi and Ibushi, and you can’t really go wrong with that can you? He’s had it before apparently, but that was before I started watching again. This match is a “Generational Tag”, whereby classic NOAH guys are mixing it up with the new generation.
Maru and Kiyomiya do a fantastic opening sequence together, with lots of neat holds and counters, including Kiyomiya bridging out of a Maru hold into a Kimura attempt in a cool spot. Seriously NOAH, belt this bugger and have him beat everyone, you could program him with the popcorn seller and still have a fun Main Event! It’s kind of amazing to me that Tanaka is still going, and seems to be functioning properly too despite years of getting blasted with stiff chair shots. He’s in great shape physically actually, looking lean and muscular, as well as being hecka tanned for good measure.
Inamura used to look a bit like King Kong Bundy, but he’s since grown his hair in and now looks like, well, King Kong Bundy still, but King Kong Bundy if he had some hair. Mochizuki has never really been someone I’ve been that into, as he always kind of blended into the background when put up against the really good DragonGate guys, but he’s a solid worker, he just doesn’t tickle my own personal taste buds.
The action is really good here, with all six guys being able to get in there and work, and eventually Okada gets singled out for some loving attention from the M’s-Alliance squadron. He sells all of that well and the M’s throw out some good offence whilst working him over. They’re clearly not pulling any punches either, as Okada ends up bleeding from the mouth as a result of the stiff shots getting sent his way.
Okada eventually saves himself by tagging in Kiyomiya, who looks great doing the hot tag segment, with the M’s-Alliance bumping around to make him look good. Inamura comes in following that to do some power stuff and Stewart is fantastic on commentary saying that Inamura quite literally slams the world into you when he does his big moves. He also got a great line in earlier too by saying he eats breezeblocks with butter on them instead of toast. The English commentary team have got progressively more comfortable with each show and I’d say that they’re a really good unit right now.
Okada throws some stiff kicks to Maru at one stage to get some revenge for his bloody mouth, as things break down and we get some near falls. There are some great moments where someone looks to have it won, only for the rest of the team to dive in to break up the pin just in time. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff in Japanese Wrestling, especially when you get guys preventing others from getting into the ring to break it up. It’s one of the first things that I really liked about NOAH when I started watching it in 2003. Eventually though Maru manages to get Okada alone and wears him down before finishing him off with a knee strike.
Another good match there, as everyone looked good and Marufuji in particular sold a bunch to make the new generation guys look good before picking up the win
Okada is in a lot of pain following that and needs helping to the back, and after the kicking he took in that match I can believe it!
GHC National Title
Champ: Kazuyuki Fujita Vs Takashi Sugiura
Fujita ended the long reign of Kenoh, who had the belt for quite a while and beat a lot of experienced and respected veteran wrestlers along the way. I sought out that match on YouTube and it was pretty decent, with some outrageously stiff shots being thrown. Sugiura and Fujita are stablemates and friends, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to knock seven shades of humus out of one another here.
As expected, there are plenty of slugs getting slung here, with both men also going at it amateur style on the mat due to Fujita having a shoot background and Sugiura coming from the amateur wrestling world prior to joining the pro ranks. The fight actually heads outside for a bit, where Fujita flings Sugiura into the metal railings around ringside before putting him back inside for a single leg crab. Sugiura sells all of this in a believable manner and the crowd gets behind him as a result.
Sugiura does eventually make a bit of a comeback, giving Stewart a chance to work in his favourite line of saying “X is as serious as cancer”. I can just picture him looking at that on a notepad or whatever and mulling over when it will be the best occasion to unleash it. Fujita is soon back on top again though, even going as far as to shove the ref down at one point when he tries to stop Fujita clobbering poor Sugiura in the corner.
Sugiura won’t stay down though, and locks in an ankle lock for a submission tease, forcing Fujita to do the big dramatic crawl to the ropes to break the hold. That was done really well, with Fujita selling the hold big, although you can possibly argue that he was in it for a bit too long. Something like an ankle hold is a legit move that ends MMA fights in seconds, so sometimes you run the risk of taking people out of the moment if you milk a submission tease too much with one. More wrestling specific holds like Figure Four’s work better because you rarely see them in real fight situations, so it’s easier for a viewer to suspend their disbelief.
Fujita is ruthless though and comes back with a powerbomb and two soccer kicks to seemingly send Sugiura to meet the choir eternal, only for Sugiura to dodge a third and get an Olympic Slam for a double down. The timing on that little exchange was done really well actually, and the crowd is into this. It’s been a solid stiff effort, and both guys have worked really hard. We get the big elbow exchange following that, with neither guy backing down and the shots echoing through the arena.
Fujita moves up to slaps, and Sugiura starts fading at that stage. Man, these slaps sound like a gun going off. I know that’s a cliché but I honestly can’t think of a better analogy, and the sweat is flying off both men. Goodness me I think I’m going to need a lie down after watching this, and all I’ve done is sat down and watched it! If big lads throwing bombs ain’t your thing then this likely won’t convert you, but if that sounds like something you’d enjoy then I heartily recommend this. Eventually Sugiura survives the slaps and delivers multiple Olympic Slam’s to finally keep Fujita down for three.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: TAKASHI SUGIURA
Fujita looks like a felled tree following that, whilst Sugiura can barely raise the belt in victory. That one sure lived up to the Kaiju BATTEL theme they were going for in the opening video package. Fujita even has to go out on a stretcher, and these two guys are FRIENDS. Just imagine what either one would do to an enemy?!?! Sakuraba lays down the challenge following that, and earns it following a stirring game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Hey, that sure beats having a tournament or battle royal!
GHC Heavyweight Title
Champ: Keiji Muto Vs Masa Kitamiya
Muto improbably ended the long reign of Go Shiozaki earlier in the year, and has managed to hold onto the belt ever since. Both these guys had a connection to Masa Saito, and the issue between them has gotten progressively more personal since the match was announced. Kitamiya even busted Muto open in a tag match with some head butts, so Muto is not best pleased and looking to get even here.
As it’s a Muto match a lot of the early going is on the mat, and Muto has had twenty years to perfect that aspect of his game so it’s decent. If patient mat wrestling isn’t your thing then you probably won’t enjoy it, but if you enjoy stuff like that then this will likely scratch that itch. Kitamiya clearly isn’t as proficient on the mat as Muto is, so he spends a lot of the opening section on the ground fighting off Muto’s attempts at holds, with the idea being that he wants it on the feet so he can use his size to deliver some power moves.
Eventually Kitamiya realises a sure fire way to get an advantage against Keiji Muto, start attacking his legs. This gives Muto a chance to sell for a bit whilst Kitamiya applies some leg based holds, but Kitamiya then misses a charge in the corner and that allows Muto to get back into the match with some hot Dragon Screw action. This has been meticulous thus far and hasn’t really come to life for me, although the work has been fine and they’ve worked it so it actually feels like two guys are trying to out wrestle one another.
To me there’s a definite ceiling on 58 year old broken down Keiji Mutoh, and working long Main Events for the World Title is probably beyond him at this stage. Yeah, he can do it I suppose, but you’re already fighting an uphill battle due to his limitations and there aren’t a slew of super workers on tap for him to work with either. There are plenty of solid guys who can work good matches, but you need something a bit more when you’re in the Main Event scene, especially when Go Shiozaki had this fantastic reign where he tore it up with pretty much everybody.
It’s not like this match doesn’t grip the crowd, because it does, and if you shaved some time off it and stuck it in the mid-card it would be a fine addition to the show, but it just doesn’t “feel” like a GHC Heavyweight Title match to me if that makes sense? Still, I feel like I’m being overly harsh on it, especially as it starts picking up into the closing sections and Kitamiya starts busting out some Masa Saito inspired offence, including the jumping back senton and back suplex. The crowd is really with it too, so Muto is working as the Champ in that regard if nothing else.
Kitamiya goes to the Prism Lock, the hold he used to beat Muto in a previous tag match, and goes for the head butts again too, although Muto is ready for them this time and fights them off before dragging himself to the ropes to break. Kitamiya keeps coming with a piledriver though and then gets another Saito Suplex for two. Both of these guys are just dripping with sweat here, as you can’t claim they haven’t been pushing themselves past their limits.
We go back to the Prism Lock and Kitamiya gets the head butts this time, although he busts himself open in the process in a grizzly image, and it’s all for naught as Muto manages to make the ropes once again. Kitamiya keeps going after the knee of Muto, even shoving down the ref at one stage, which allows Muto to deliver the cool move of leaping off the ref’s back to deliver a Shining Wizard, before following up with four more, which not surprisingly is the finish.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: KEIJI MUTO
They were working super hard there, but it would have probably benefitted from having five minutes shaved off it as it dragged a little bit in places. Kitamiya showed a lot of fire and had Muto on the ropes on a few occasions, so he gained something even from losing. About as good as 58 year old Muto was going to achieve when in there with a solid guy, but he’s barely scraped the surface of what Go was doing as Champ and, fairly or not, that’s the barometer he’s going to have to be matched up against as the successor
M’s-Alliance come down following that to check on their stablemate, and Marufuji lays down a challenge for the belt, which Muto seems down with.
As usual with NOAH, this was a solid show from top to bottom with some good matches on offer. The show was lacking the exceptional Go level Main Event though, but Maru might hopefully be able to have a really good outing with Muto, so that’s something to look forward to at least. I certainly felt like I got my monies worth and the presentation of these shows gets better and better from an English language perspective. I’ll certainly keep my eye out for more NOAH shows down the line as and when they appear.
If you’d like to get in touch to suggest shows to review, ask questions, share your love of those wonderful Royal Blue Toffees, or just generally chat the grapple game, then feel free to hit me up at [email protected]