Pro Wrestling NOAH
Great Voyage in Yokohama 2016
January 31, 2016
Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium – Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan

Genba Hirayanagi, Haijme Ohara, Quiet Storm & Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Akitoshi Saito, Hitoshi Kumano, Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshinari Ogawa

The battle of the old men, the junior vets, the young boys…and Quiet Storm. It’s your NOAH opener. While I’m in the same boat as NOAH Superfan Joe Lanza in thinking that Quiet Storm isn’t as bad most people make him out to be, he’s still pretty bad and makes weird grunty noises during his matches that make me cringe every time. He and the rest of the old men did their thing here, the young boys did theirs, Kiyomiya looked pretty good, and Ohara was obviously the most talented guy in the ring. Ohara locked in the Muy Bien on Kiyomiya and got the win. **¼

Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. El Desperado

Kanemaru joined former Burning stablemate Go Shiozaki in making the jump from All Japan back to NOAH as he made his return at the January 9 Korakuen show. El Desperado (the second-string junior of Suzuki-gun) decided to step out of his spot as TAKA Michonoku’s tag team partner and let Taichi step in. This allowed Despy to take over the Suzuki-gun singles junior spot, pursuing Kanemaru as soon as he stepped foot back into the NOAH ring. The match went a good seven and half minutes which was all the time they needed to have a good, fast paced junior match. Kanemaru got the win via small package which was probably for the best as he (spoiler!) joined Suzuki-gun later on in the show. ***¼

Shelton Benjamin vs. Mitsuhiro Kitamiya

I would like to think this match was a part of Kitamiya’s resurgence after a somewhat quiet 2015 and the cancellation of his “push” as the heel young guy in Morishima’s group prior to Morishima being forced into retirement. Benjamin and Kitamiya went about ten minutes long and was extremely one-sided, as expected. Kitamiya showed a lot of heart and a lot of guts but ultimately fell to Suzuki-gun’s gatekeeper.

Now, I’m not asking NOAH to throw Kitamiya into the main event scene or anything, but I’d love to see him booked in some more singles matches from here on out. We can only hope for the best and look forward to seeing what the new year has in store for the youngster. **¾

Maybach Taniguchi vs. Takashi Iizuka

NOAH made the poor, poor mistake of allowing these two to work a normal match. They had a really good hardcore match back in September and had they recreated that to some extent and not try to wrestle an everyday match where they just forearm each other to death – this would have been a lot less awkward and therefore, better. They went to a double countout finish in about two minutes but unfortunately Maybach demanded the match be restarted. They followed with an eight minutes and Maybach ended up winning. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but not a good match on any level. **

GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge (c) vs. Taichi & TAKA Michinoku

These junior tag matches never disappoint. They’re always entertaining, always technically sound, always compelling. Though I’m pretty much sick of watching these four wrestle each other at this point, this was no different than previous matches. Taichi, as I’ve said in the past, is on the best run of his career. He’s a perfect heel, a great wrestler and a great storyline guy as seen throughout his run as junior champion. He’s a guy I was never into while he was in New Japan but now that he’s here and he’s motivated, I can’t keep my eyes off the guy and I hope he sticks around even after Suzuki-gun is gone. I loved Desperado as TAKA’s partner, but Taichi and TAKA is the big money team. These two are perfect together.

The match was structured much like the previous Suzuki-gun/Momo No Seishun matches, where Harada plays the babyface in peril that the crowd gets behind and Kotoge being, for the lack of a better phrase, the secondary guy. Harada got beaten down for a lot of the match but came back towards the end and got the win for his team, presumably putting an end to this feud once and for all. ***½

Taichi reached out to shake Kotoge’s hand but Kotoge threw him out of the ring, so you can look into that however you’d like, but my guess is that he was just being a dick.

GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Kenoh

Ishimori is the longest reigning GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in history, an ex-Toryumon ace and one of the best junior wrestlers of the past few years. Kenoh is a former Michinoku Pro star and one of the more underrated wrestlers in Japan.

The two juniors clash in their second ever singles match for Ishimori’s championship (which he beat Taichi for just a month prior). These two wrestle very similar styles and it’s no wonder why when you look at their respective careers and where they brought up from/who they were brought up by. Ishimori has really come into his own as a junior ace over the years, and while Kenoh has only been a full-time NOAH guy for two years, he’s also come into his own as one of the most entertaining guys on the roster. So what do you get when you put the two in the ring together? A ton of reversals, fast-paced sequences and a great overall display of professional wrestling. Kenoh put on a good fight and came close but fell short in the end as Ishimori retained. Who’s next in line for a shot, might you ask? None other than Yoshinobu Kanemaru.

Where does that leave Kenoh? Who knows, but hopefully we get to see him in some more big matches this year. ***¾

GHC Tag Team Championship
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) (c) vs. Muhammed Yone & Katsuhiko Nakajima

KES, next to YAMATO and Naruki Doi of Dragon Gate, is one of the most dominant tag teams in wrestling today. Since coming into NOAH last January, they’ve gone through TMDK twice, Takashi Sugiura & Masato Tanaka, Ring of Honor’s War Machine, Chris Hero & Colt Cabana twice. Two months ago, I would have told you that heading into February 2016, Hero and Cabana would be the GHC Tag Team Champions. Two weeks ago, I would have told you that Muhammed Yone and Katsuhiko Nakajima, who recently became a full-on NOAH guy, would be the GHC Tag Team Champions heading into February 2016. Are they? No, they’re not. NOAH keeps on creating the illusion that we’re going to get new champions, but we never do, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to get behind the babyfaces and believe that they’re going to dethrone the heel champions, and then I want to be upset when the heels come out on top. That’s where the YAMATO and Naruki Doi comparison came from. They’re put up against believable challengers, and said challengers may come close, but they don’t win, and that’s fun.

The first several minutes of this match saw Yone get beaten down but continually try to fight back until he eventually landed the hot tag to Nakajima. Nakajima received a decent pop from an otherwise dead crowd.

A quick aside on the dead crowds: a dead crowd is something I can get over in lower-tier matches such as a nothing opener or even a Maybach/Iizuka match, but for these matches that are supposed to be huge deals, I expect them to be at least semi-loud, especially when there’s something to be loud about. This isn’t a random tag match, Go Shiozaki vs. Minoru Suzuki isn’t a random singles match, the fans SHOULD care about this more than they do. They weren’t as bad as some of the Korakuen crowds NOAH pulls, but for 2,500+ people in a big arena…c’mon. Give me something more, guys!

Nonetheless, I thought Yone was a great partner for Nakajima. Yone plays his role as the old veteran who you know you can’t trust to get the job done on his own. Yone got a few hope spots in but of course fell to KES as they claim their sixth victims. The match didn’t peak as high as previous defenses, but this was real solid. ***½

Go Shiozaki vs. Minoru Suzuki

Go Shiozaki made his return to NOAH back in November and has tried desperately to win over not only the fans, but the roster. For the past few months he’s been the man who has no country, no home, he’s just there, no one willing to accept him. (No one except for his friend and fellow AJPW departure Kanemaru, of course)

Suzuki lost his GHC Championship to Naomichi Marufuji in December, ending his nine month run as champ. Shiozaki went through the roster for a month, working his way back up to the top where he knows he belongs, and now he’s here — meeting his biggest challenge to date. They went back and forth for about 15 minutes just doing everything they could to put the other away. Kanemaru, who was obviously in Shiozaki’s corner, showed signs throughout the match that he was no longer on his partner’s side, doing things such as smiling when Suzuki had him in holds and grabbing at his leg when he was near the ropes. The crowd wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, as you could see on their faces the look of confusion. Finally, Kanemaru slid into the ring while the ref was distracted, ripped off his shirt and revealed a Suzuki-gun shirt underneath, and then landed a Deep Impact on Shiozaki. The crowd minorly gasped. Suzuki picked up the scraps and got the win following a Gotch piledriver. The two Suzuki-gun members proceeded to beat down Shiozaki until Maybach Taniguchi made the save, and removing his mask in the process.

Taniguchi and Shiozaki did a lot of teaming a few years back and Taniguchi eventually turned on Go and donned the mask. This transformation saw the former Shuhei Taniguchi becoming a stronger and more powerful version of himself, named Maybach Taniguchi. Shiozaki then of course went to All Japan the next year. Now that he’s back, and he and Taniguchi are back together, Taniguchi has shed the Maybach persona. It all comes full circle in the end, and the crowd knew what was going on.

The match itself was good, an enjoyable match that set up some cool angles. ***½

GHC Heavyweight Championship
Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs. Takashi Sugiura

In a time of need and desperation, Marufuji seemed to be the last real hope for Pro Wrestling NOAH. They threw everyone they could at Suzuki in attempt to rid him of NOAH but no one was able to get the job done. This was about more just a championship belt, this was about more than winning and losing, this was about pride, and honor and respect. They threw an old war veteran in the form of Takayama at Suzuki, and he failed miserably. They threw Maybach at Suzuki and he fought hard but fell short. They threw Sugiura at Suzuki and while he came real close but couldn’t get the job done. Marufuji put his pride on the line by putting NOAH at stake in December, and he came out on top. Takashi Sugiura, seemingly having had enough of seeing Marufuji in the spot he wishes to be back in, turned on Team NOAH and joined Suzuki-gun and immediately pursued Marufuji.

All month long, Marufuji chopped away at Sugiura’s chest and busted him up for the foul deed and the mistake he made. It took no more than two minutes for Marufuji to break the scabs on Sugiura’s chest here. Marufuji fought as hard as he possibly could, pulling out every move in his arsenal and doing everything in his power to overcome Sugiura. He showed a lot of passion, he didn’t want what happened last March to happen again. He was here to protect NOAH, and you could see the look of disappointment on his face when he failed in doing so. He slipped up, and Sugiura brought the GHC Championship back to Suzuki-gun, and stomped on the NOAH flag afterwards to symbolize the fact that NOAH has been destroyed once and for all, and that Suzuki-gun has truly overcome every obstacle.

Go Shiozaki and Shuhei Taniguchi came out to help Marufuji back to his feet, and he was tentative at first, but Marufuji finally accepted the hand of Shiozaki whilst tossing Taniguchi the NOAH flag, hoping that the two could eventually do what he could not.

As for the match, like most Marufuji main events, long, very story driven. On a personal level, I’m not the biggest fan of Marufuji as a main event star. His big matches tend to drag on and on and don’t click for me on the level they should. He and Sugiura showed great chemistry and beat the hell out of each other for 30 minutes, threw in some cool sequences and structured the match very well, so this here was unlike his previous main event matches in my eyes. It’s one I’d recommend going out of your way to see. ****

Where this leaves Marufuji, I don’t know. He and Sugiura may have another match. They may not. Sugiura defends against Katsuhiko Nakajima, who seems to be getting a major push now that he’s officially apart of NOAH. Even though he’s been there forever, this kind of stuff matters a lot in Japan, officially being apart of a company means a lot to them and most of the time will affect the way one is booked, as seen here.

Final Thoughts: A rollercoaster of a show. You had your ups and your downs, your highs and your lows and everything in-between. A lot felt flat because of the dead crowd and I don’t know who’s to blame for that. Could they just not be invested in what was going on even though they every reason to be? Did NOAH just have bad luck and caught a bad crowd in general? Whatever the reason, there were a lot of big spots and things that went down that should have gotten a bigger reaction. This show didn’t peak as high as the December show and the September show, but the big matches all delivered to some extent while the undercard was mostly solid and exactly what you’d expect. It gets a thumbs up from me.