Pro Wrestling NOAH closed out their 2015 with some undeniable momentum. Their big Destiny event had more buzz coming out of it (just ask famed puro uploader RealHero…) than almost any NOAH show in recent memory (if not years, in fact), and the show delivered in a big way. Now, entering their first big event of 2016, NOAH looks to keep things rolling with a stacked card. Will Great Voyage in Yokohama be able to follow up on Destiny’s momentum?
Yoshihiro Takayama, Quiet Storm, Hajime Ohara & Genba Hirayanagi vs. Yoshinari Ogawa, Akitoshi Saito, Hitoshi Kumano & Kaito Kiyomiya
Your standard opening eight-man tag starts us off. It’s sad to see Ohara & Genba stuck with nothing to do on this show, given that they’re two of the most talented wrestlers in the promotion (and Ohara just came off of tearing the house down with Kenoh at Destiny), but you can’t feature everyone on every show. The rest of the guys in this match kind of are what they are this point- Takayama, Ogawa, & Saito are all old, Kumano & Kiyomiya are young and still sorta green (one of them is obviously getting pinned, of course), and Quiet Storm sucks. A nothing match, but it’s a NOAH show; nothing multi-man tags kind of come with the territory. Let’s just consider ourselves lucky we only have one of them on this card.
El Desperado vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Instead of a lot of multi-mans we get a lot of singles matches on the undercard instead, which is A-OK by me. And we start off with a good one here: Kanemaru is just back from All Japan (he and Go are, yes, “AJPW Garbage”) and immediately feuding with Suzukigun. On a personal level as a longtime NOAH viewer it felt immensely satisfying to see Kanemaru back in the green ring at Korakuen earlier this month. The storyline with he & Go as the dudes who betrayed NOAH, are back now, and want to try and do the right thing and fight Suzukigun even though the rest of NOAH doesn’t like or trust them is an incredibly fascinating one. There really are a lot of different ways it can go, and like most of the best storylines it’s based heavily in reality. Anyway, this match itself has the potential to be really fun, even though presumably it won’t get a lot of time. If you haven’t seen any of Desperado since he left NJPW he improved immensely in 2015, so there’s no reason why he and Kanemaru can’t have a really fun junior sprint. I would think Kanemaru is winning this, just to keep his momentum going from his return.
Shelton X Benjamin vs. Mitsuhiro Kitamiya
This is probably just going to be almost a squash for Shelton, with Kitamiya getting some hope spots here and there. Kitamiya is a guy who NOAH originally had some plans for, putting him in Takeshi Morishima’s unit as the heel young boy who would eventually get more focus, but obviously things went south there after Morishima’s forced retirement (it’s really too bad how that turned out because I thought that stable had some promise, but it was never meant to be). I suppose this match could be the start of trying to rehabilitate him, but I think it’s more likely that it’s just to get Benjamin a win on the undercard. Shelton is another guy who had a really great 2015 in NOAH (especially his 2nd half) and has been used far more effectively here than he ever was in New Japan. If you haven’t seen his match with Minoru Suzuki from the Global League last year, it’s worth going out of your way to see; luckily for you, you don’t have to go out of your way to see it because I embedded it below!
Maybach Taniguchi vs. Takashi Iizuka
Look, every show needs a pee break match, right? There’s not much left to say about ‘ol Maybach except he isn’t very good, and NOAH clearly understands that. They’re a company that is hard-up for top native Japanese stars and have a homegrown guy the size of Maybach, and yet they aren’t really pushing him at all (certainly not at anything close to a top level), so that should basically tell you everything you need to know about Maybach Taniguchi. Iizuka is what he is at this point: an old man doing a gimmick (albeit pretty effectively). This match will probably be pretty awful, hopefully won’t get a lot of time, and will likely see Maybach win.
GHC Junior Tag Team Titles
Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge (c) vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi
Our first of four title matches sees Momo No Seishun Tag looking to make their second defense of their GHC Junior Tag Titles against TAKA & Taichi. The junior division in NOAH was one of the few things that actually already was clicking on close to all cylinders even before the Suzukigun guys showed up; thanks in large part to NOAH aggressively taking in the best of the best from lower junior promotions who were looking to jump, the junior division still had some depth even in their darkest times. You had Taiji Ishimori as the veteran ex-Toryumon ace, Hajime Ohara as a young up-and-comer from the same Toryumon system, Kenoh as a Michinoku Pro standout, and Harada & Kotoge as young stars from Osaka Pro, among others. That’s a really solid core of junior talent to build around. Now you add in the Suzukigun juniors, all of whom have stepped up big-time compared to what they were doing in NJPW, and you have a legitimately fantastic junior division. Anyway, as far as this match specifically goes, I’m really looking forward to it. Taichi returning to the junior tag division after a strong run as top junior in 2015 should be fun, and he & TAKA could easily take the belts here. It might seem a little early to take the titles off of Harada & Kotoge (this is just their 2nd defense after all), but I really would like to see either one of them (or both!) against Ishimori for the Junior Title. And TAKA/Taichi-Ohara/Kenoh would be a fresh program (while if Harada/Kotoge retain and then go up against Ohara/Kenoh that would be the exact opposite of fresh). It’s tough for me to give an exact prediction here because I think it’s kind of a coin flip, but I’ll go with what I want to see and say TAKA & Taichi get the belts. Of course, given the possible main event stipulation, they might not have a chance, but we’ll get to that a little later.
GHC Junior Heavyweight Title
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Kenoh
Sticking with the junior division, this match has the potential to be an absolute blowaway. Kenoh is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the entire world today, as he’s been simply outstanding for years now (even going back to his Michinoku Pro days; thank god he got out of there, given what low visibility that promotion’s had for well over a decade). Ishimori is one of those guys who will probably never get his due, just based on what he was originally supposed to be (the ace of Toryumon X and the babyface savior for Ultimo as the Dragon system was crumbling around him). Taiji was never going to be a guy that could carry an entire promotion on his back- he just doesn’t have that level of charisma. But as far as the ace of a heavyweight promotion’s junior division, he is perfectly capable of fulfilling that role. He’s really hit another level as an in-ring worker in the past few years, and deserves his spot as champion. This match should be great at the very least, and has the potential to be absolutely fantastic. I would expect Taiji to win, this being his first defense and all.
GHC Tag Team Title
Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.) (c.) vs. Mohammad Yone & Katushiko Nakajima
Killer Elite Squad are the last men standing with their belts from Suzukigun, and deservedly so as they remain a really solid tag team. God knows New Japan’s tag scene has missed them in the past year or so, and they’ve done an admirable job holding up NOAH’s heavyweight tag division even as the company took a huge blow in the form of TMDK’s departure. They had a fantastic match with Colt Cabana & Chris Hero at Destiny, and will now take on a new team in the form of Yone & Nakajima. Nakajima has seemingly been rejuvenated since signing a contract to be part of the NOAH roster full-time, and NOAH has been pushing he and Yone hard as a team all tour long. Yone, as a veteran and solid hand, is the ideal sort of partner to let Nakajima shine. I would like to see them take the belts off KES here, who have had a really good run, and I think that’s exactly what is going to happen. This is another match that has the potential to be quite great.
Go Shiozaki vs. Minoru Suzuki
That aforementioned AJPW Garbage vs. Suzukigun angle from match #2 really comes to a head here. Go Shiozaki walked back into NOAH and immediately got the cold shoulder from Naomichi Marufuji and the rest of the wrestlers who stayed loyal to the promotion, in an angle similar to what New Japan did with Katsuyori Shibata’s return. In this case, what Go did is arguably much worse, because he left the promotion when they hit the bottom of the barrel to go to the one everyone fled from in the first place (rather than just going to be freelance and later an unsuccessful MMA fighter like Shibata). But Go wants to be a babyface and wants to make it up to NOAH, so he immediately rejected Minoru Suzuki’s overtures to recruit him. Suzuki, ever undeterred, has kept on trying to convince Go to join Suzukigun throughout the ongoing tour anyway, but Go just keeps turning him down. Go even said, flat-out, that he “already betrayed NOAH once and won’t do it again” on a recent show, which sums up the entire angle perfectly. It’s just a really, really fun storyline that could go any number of different ways. As far as this actual match goes, I would expect it to be quite good. Go winning this would make sense to keep his momentum going, but Suzuki pulling it out with help from his unit is very possible too. Either way, I’m all-in on this angle and can’t wait to see where it goes next.
GHC Heavyweight Title
Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs. Takashi Sugiura
We’ve reached the main event, and like Destiny it’s a match I’m not really looking forward to as much as many on the undercard, to be quite honest. But if you’re more into Marufuji as a top star than I am you’ll probably dig this match a lot, and it still has the potential to be quite good, don’t get me wrong. Before we talk any further about this, we need to discuss the confusing back-and-forth challenges and warnings going on between Marufuji and Minoru Suzuki on the current tour. First, Marufuji suggested that if Sugiura failed to win the title from him on this show, Sugiura should return to the NOAH roster and the rest of Suzukigun should have to leave NOAH. It’s not 100% clear whether or not this is an actual stipulation or just something Marufuji was saying, but many are leaning toward it being a real stipulation for the match. Remember that New Japan has a much more shallow talent pool today than they did one year ago, when they originally sent Suzukigun away. So this could be a case where some- if not all- of the Suzukigun guys return to New Japan as a result of this match.
(Personally I’m hoping that at least some of them stay, especially the juniors; the New Japan junior division has plenty of depth at the moment, and I’d rather not see TAKA/Taichi/Despy get lost in the shuffle again. But I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.)
The other big thing that’s been going on has been Minoru Suzuki dropping cryptic hints on the past few shows. Here’s what I’m talking about, courtesy of Puroresu Spirit:
Suzuki declared this win means nothing as the bomb that he has set in place is still ticking. Suzuki also mentioned that it will severe a bond/ties
Suzuki is once more trying to play the mind games with Marufuji as he stated that ticking time bomb has been set in place, and once it goes off Maru will be alone.
So clearly Suzuki is hinting that someone is going to betray Marufuji and cost him this match: the question is, who is he talking about? There’s a number of possibilities: it could be Maybach, who has teamed up with Marufuji a lot lately but is probably better suited for the heel side anyway. It could be someone like a Nakajima, which would set up a pretty exciting future title match. Or, it could be Go Shiozaki, but it seems a little early to do Marufuji-Go (and Maru doesn’t trust Go and has made it pretty clear he actually doesn’t want him around, so that “severe a bond/ties” line doesn’t really make much sense if it’s him).
With all these moving parts, it’s difficult for me to make a prediction. My gut tells me Marufuji didn’t win the belt back just to drop it in his first defense, but really I could see almost any result here. I’m not sure on the actual match quality- it could range anywhere from really good to disappointing- but the sheer unpredictability of it is at least very exciting. You know what, I’ve actually talked myself into looking forward to this match a lot, from the time I started writing this part of the preview until the end! Let’s sit back and see how this all plays out.
So that’s Great Voyage in Yokohama, a card that honestly looks stronger than anything New Japan has put together for either New Beginning so far. I don’t want to sit here and claim NOAH is on the cusp of a new boom period or anything, but this has the potential to be another really strong show, keeping NOAH’s momentum going in 2016. Do you feel differently about this card? Have any predictions of your own to share? Leave them in the comments or shout at me on Twitter (@toshanshuinla). Thanks and enjoy the show!