There was a time during the previous decade that Pro Wrestling NOAH was my favorite promotion. Hard hitting, sports based wrestling with a world class roster, steeped in tradition. No frills, no nonsense, no bullshit. Just non-stop fantastic wrestling. Those days are long gone.
NOAH’s major problem as the first decade of the millennium creeped closer and closer to a close, was that mega stars Mitsuhara Misawa & Kenta Kobashi were getting older, and they had failed to create new stars to take their place. An experiment to push exciting young juniors Noamichi Marufuji & KENTA to the top in 2006 backfired when their GHC Heavyweight Title match bombed at the gate, scaring the promotion back to Misawa as champion two months later. Takeshi Morishima had trouble staying in shape, and like the junior experiment, his title run was cut short before he had a chance to gain momentum. Go Shiozaki, put in the tough position as champion after the death of Misawa in 2009, never caught on like they thought he would.
With Misawa dead and Kobashi beyond his last legs and unable to wrestle even a semi regular schedule let alone carry the company, NOAH at one point had an entire roster of native wrestlers over the age of 35, which is mind boggling. With other Japanese promotions churning out trainee after trainee from their dojos, NOAH had gone years without not only establishing new draws to replace Misawa & Kobashi, but also failing to debut a single new rookie.
Struggling financially, NOAH released Kobashi in December 2012. In a show of solidarity, fellow Burning members Jun Akiyama, Go Shiozaki, Atsushi Aoki, Yoshinobu Kanemura, & Kotaro Suzuki walked away from the promotion in January when their contracts expired and joined All Japan. This was a crushing blow to an already thin roster, with arguably the top two heavyweight stars, plus three key juniors leaving all at once. Already lagging way behind promotions like New Japan & Dragon Gate in popularity and struggling financially, with no new stars on the horizon , this exodus was the potential final death blow to the company.
NOAH finally restocked the roster with some younger talent, most notably Daisuke Harada from Osaka Pro, a small indie level promotion that could no longer afford to retain Harada, a two time champion and former ace. NOAH also signed full time Mickey Nichols & Shane Haste (current GHC Tag Team Champions TMDK), two increasingly impressive Australians who had been doing tours with the promotion since late 2011. With them came other TMDK members like Slex & Jonah Rock.
These additions added some much needed youth to the roster, with some intriguing potential, but did nothing to help the dire star power situation. Aside from the Kobashi retirement show, which was more about nostalgia & saying goodbye, and supplemented by the stars of other promotions, NOAH has been struggling at the gate. KENTA defeated Morishima for the GHC Heavyweight Title, in a move probably made two years too late, in a match devoid of heat. It was sad to watch.
Waiting to pull the trigger on KENTA until 2013 was a terrible mistake. While 2006 may have been a bit too soon to turn the company over to a junior, KENTA was clearly the man the fans wanted to see as the ace since essentially 2009. Four years of teased pushes and lost title challenges, combined with the overall malaise people feel towards the company have resulted in a flat title run. A lack of decent challengers hasn’t helped. Even KENTA’s most synonymous opponent, longtime rival & tag team partner Marufuji, has appeared to peak as a worker and lost a ton of steam. A KENTA/Marufuji GHC Title match on July 7th barely registered a tick, making the failed 2006 match look like a massive success is comparison. The long awaited KENTA title run simply has no juice, because they waited too long to do it, and Kobashi, Misawa, Akiyama, Shiozaki, etc are no longer around to put him over and give him star beating credibility.
Aside from cherry picking KENTA title matches, I had given up on full NOAH shows in 2013. There is just too much other interesting wrestling going on to spend time on what amounts at this point as a large indie with a dry roster. The opening of the Junior Tag League tournament on July 14th was the first full NOAH card i’ve seen since the Burning exodus. I figured this was good time to jump in, since I always enjoy junior action, and this field featured some new faces that I wasn’t familiar with. This year’s tournament would also crown the new GHC Junior Tag Champs, since the titles were vacated by Genba Hirayanagi & SUWA due to SUWA being out with an injury.
One word sums up the show. Sad. From the dead Korakuen Hall crowd (a generous announced figure of 1600) to the mostly bad to mediocre matches, this was nothing like previous red hot Jr Tag League shows from a half dozen years ago, and a sad, sad departure from the NOAH of old.
1. TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) vs. Kaiser & Gaston Mateo – Kaiser & Mateo, from South American promotions in Peru & Chile respectively, are part of the Jr Tag League, but were in a non tournament match here, against the heavyweight tag champs, TMDK. Heavily clipped, only three minutes or so are shown. I couldn’t take anything away from this, other than TMDK are showing tons of confidence as champions. NR
2. Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Maybach Taniguchi – Another great mystery of NOAH, is why they fail to pull the trigger on Nakajima, the 25-year old star Diamond Ring student & adopted son of Diamond Ring head man Kensuke Sasaki. Nakajima, along with KENTA, looked like the future of NOAH in 2009, while they were tearing it up in one of the greatest in ring feuds in years. Since then, Nakajima has been in limbo, with one junior title run that ended abruptly due to injury, and second that only lasted a few months. With three key juniors having left in the Burning exodus, I just don’t see how Nakajima isn’t the junior ace these days, or at minimum feuding with current champ Taiji Ishimori. And why isn’t he a part of this junior tag league? Shouldn’t he be teaming with a young Diamond Ring up and comer? Instead, he’s booked here with Taniguchi, a gimmick heel who most NOAH fans wish would go away. This match was terrible, with Taniguchi using his giant hook like device to attack Nakajima, until the ref finally had enough and called for the DQ. Just awful, and a total waste of Nakajima. DUD
3. Jr. Heavyweight Tag League – Block B: Shiori Asahi & Hiro Tonai vs. Roderick Strong & Slex – Arashi & Tonai are representing Kaientai Dojo. Slex is part of the TMDK crew from Australia, and Strong of course is representing ROH. This was heavily clipped, but what was shown was good. Strong was all over the place with his trademark stuff, and Slex, who I had never seen before, looked good and showed good fire. The Michinoku Pro team picked up the win when Asahi pinned Slex with a backslide. From what I saw, looked to be around **1/2 or ***. **1/2
4. Jr. Heavyweight Tag League – Block B: Yoshinari Ogawa & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Daisuke Harada & Hitoshi Kumano – Ogawa, the old All Japan veteran who had a cup of coffee run as GHC Champion a decade ago during the NOAH glory days, teams with Zack Sabre Jr, the young semi regular from the U.K., as “Anglo Japanese Technicians”. They do the team that doesn’t get along gimmick, with Ogawa as the salty veteran and Sabre Jr as the wide eyed babyface. Ogawa is fantastic in his role, and this team is a lot of fun. Harada jumped from Osaka Pro in May. Harada was at times the Osaka ace, and is 26 years old. Kumano, a rare NOAH dojo graduate, is only 21. They bring much needed youth to the NOAH roster. I wasn’t familiar with Kumano before this match, but he was very impressive as the young overmatched dude showing heart. I always love that role in puro, and he was very good. The Anglo Japanese technicians overcame not getting along and Ogawa pinned the fiesty Kumano following a back drop driver to keep pace in Block B with the K-Dojo team. This match was a lot of fun and probably the only thing from this show that I would recommend watching. **3/4
5. Jr. Heavyweight Tag League – Block A: Taiji Ishimori & Atsushi Kotoge vs. Pesadilla & Dual Force – Ishimori is the current junior champion, and he teams with fellow BRAVE (top babyface unit) member Kotoge, another former Osaka Pro star who joined NOAH about a year earlier than Harada & Kumano. They won this tournament last year. Dual Force is Takuya Sugi doing a lucha gimmick. Sugi is the man of a thousand gimmicks (best knows as Yoshitsune & El Blazer) who at one time was probably the most exciting and innovative flyer in the world. He was in the middle of a scandal last year when he planted drugs on NOSAWA Rongai & Lo Shirai on behalf of the AAA & New Japan liaison who disliked Rongai, in exchange for either money or a new contract depending on who you believe. He had been essentially blacklisted from Japan since until this tour. Pesadilla is the nephew of Super Crazy. This match was ok, with the lucha team doing some spots that worked, and others that didn’t. On the first night of a tour, sometimes things can be a bit disjointed. Ishimori didn’t do all of his crazy flying, apparently saving the big bumps for later in the tour. Smart man. The defending champs won t when Kotoge pinned Pesadilla. **1/2
6. Jr. Heavyweight Tag League – Block A: Super Crazy & Ricky Marvin vs. Genba Hirayanagi & Maybach SUWA Jr. (No Mercy) – Crazy & Marvin are a fun team, and they did all of their key stuff here. Hirayanagi was forced to vacate the GHC Junior Tag Titles when SUWA was injured, and he’s trying to win them back by winning the tournament with Maybach SUWA Jr., who is the veteran freelancer Hajime Ohara, who dresses like The Shield, wears the Maybach Tanaguchi mask, and has taken the SUWA name. He is played for comedy. The luchadores won this one, to keep early pace in Block A. **3/4
7. KENTA & Takashi Sugiura (No Mercy) vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Mohammed Yone (BRAVE) – KENTA is teaming with Sugiura here, who joined No Mercy after failing to defeat KENTA for the GHC Title a few months back in a brutal, physical match. KENTA defeated Marufuji seven days before this match, and defends against Yone next at the end of this tour on 8/4. I like Yone, always have. He’s rock solid and has had more good years as a pro wrestler than a lot of other quality guys. But Yone as a GHC title challenger? I don’t know about that. So the story was Yone vs KENTA. In a bit of a surprise, Yone ate a Go 2 Sleep out of nowhere following a stiff slap exchange, then took three stiff kicks to the head for good measure, for the pin. Interesting way to set up a title challenger, with KENTA looking dominant at the finish. Nothing wrong with the match, but it was a bit dull, and I was expecting more since the rest of the show was so mediocre. ***
Tiger Mask & Jushin Liger, representing New Japan, are the tenth team in the tournament but had the night off. I don’t see very many matchups that excite me in this field, with the only intrigue being who comes away with the titles since the finals fill the GHC title vacancy. I can say with full confidence that this was the worst NOAH show i’ve ever seen. Dead crown, mediocre matches, and no juice. NOAH needs help, I just don’t know where it’s going to come from. They are firmly behind New Japan, Dragon Gate, DDT, & Big Japan in the puro pecking order, and would be behind All Japan as well if All Japan hadn’t went through their own exodus & split last month. About the only matches on the horizon with any juice would be KENTA defending against Kensuke Sasaki, which could give KENTA the much needed credibility of knocking off a legit legend, and a potential Taiji Ishimori vs Katsuhiko Nakajima feud.