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NOAH THE REBORN
As a long time NOAH fan, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to say that they seem to be headed down the right track in 2017. They’ve been in the gutter for the past several years both business-wise and quality-wise, and while their business hasn’t exactly improved yet (it may even be worse than it was previously), the quality and the overall feel of the product has improved tremendously to the point where I believe they were the highlight of an absolutely stacked month.
It began on January 7th in Korakuen Hall, one of my favorite shows of the year thus far, a show where everyone, and I do mean everyone, busted their ass to put on the best match they could possibly put on. If Akitoshi Saito is breaking a sweat in a prelim, you know you’re in for something good. The top three matches, Hajime Ohara vs. Taiji Ishimori for the junior title, Go Shiozaki and Maybach Taniguchi vs. Atsushi Kotoge and Naomichi Marufuji for the tag titles, and Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Takashi Sugiura for the heavyweight title, were three of the best matches I saw all month.
Kenoh, after losing to Nakajima on January 9th, defeated Shiozaki and Taniguchi for the tag titles with Masa Kitamiya on the January 21st Osaka show, which is the reason I say NOAH is headed down the right track in 2017, because of guys like Kenoh and Masa Kitamiya. They have their Marufuji’s and Sugiura’s and Nakajima’s who they use on top, then they have their Kenoh’s, their Kitamiya’s and even their Kotoge who they as depth and are ready to go whenever they need them. I, like most people, was skeptical of Kenoh and Kitamiya becoming heavyweights, but now I realize it was actually genius. Kenoh and Kotoge are now depth, and depth is what they needed. And on top of that, that Osaka show was right on par with the one from the 7th.
Three upcoming title matches were announced for both February and March, as Hi69 and Taiji Ishimori take on HAYATA and YO-HEY for the vacant junior tag titles on February 18th while Hitoshi Kumano takes on Hajime Ohara for the junior title and Go Shiozaki takes on Katsuhiko Nakajima for the heavyweight title at the big Yokohama show on March 12th. In some more minor news, Alejandro Saez was pulled from the February tour due to family issues back home in Chile.
All Japan Pro Wrestling
A rather quiet month for ol’ All Japan. They ran their annual double shot Korakuens on the 2nd and the 3rd of the month with the first show being the inferior of the two. The January 3rd show had a number of noteworthy matches between Zeus and The Bodyguard vs. Takao Omori and Manabu Soya for the tag titles, Keisuke Ishii vs. Yuma Aoyagi for the junior title, Jake Lee and Kento Miyahara vs. Joe Doering and Suwama, and the rematch between Takuya and Naoya Nomura, while the only match on the January 2nd show I can recommend was the Evolution/NEXTREAM six-man.
February looks to be more noteworthy than January as the Junior Battle of Glory tournament kicks off on the 17th in Korakuen, where Kazuhiro Tamura will take on Atsushi Maruyama and Yohei Nakajima will take on Yuma Aoyagi in the two B Block matches while Koji Iwamoto takes on Keisuke Ishii and Atsushi Aoki takes on Masashi Takeda in the two A Block matches. Also on that show is a tag title match between Zeus and The Bodyguard and challengers Jake Lee and Miyahara, a prelude to the Miyahara/Bodyguard Triple Crown match at the Junior Battle of Glory finals on the 26th. The Triple Crown in which Omori failed to capture on the 15th of January in a rematch from last March, not Miyahara’s best title defense, but that’s not saying a whole lot. Miyahara’s worst is still better than most’s best.
KAI and Yasufumi Nakanoue both return to the promotion in February, with Nakanoue returning on the 14th and KAI returning on the 17th as he teams with Ryouji Sai and squares off against Doering and Suwama in a match that will presumably determine the next tag title challengers. It’s probably safe to assume that KAI will recieve a shot at Miyahara eventually as well. Although I’m not the biggest fan of KAI’s, I don’t mind All Japan bringing him in, and I’m sure Miyahara can get something good out of him.
BJW & Daisuke Sekimoto’s Return to the Top
Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi defeated Shuji Ishikawa and Kohei Sato for the tag titles on January 2nd in Korakuen, thus making Sekimoto a double champion as he also defeated Hideyoshi Kamitani for the Strong title just a few weeks earlier, thankfully. As mentioned in last month’s article, I hated Kamitani’s reign and from what I’ve seen, it was almost universally panned, and maybe that’s just a western thing, but I feel Big Japan owed it to their audience to put the title on someone like Sekimoto who’s guaranteed to deliver, as he did with Yoshihisa Uto on the 29th. Ryuichi Kawakami and Hideki Suzuki go to battle in the main event of the February 10th Korakuen show with the winner challenging Sekimoto on March 5th.
The Ikkitosen Deathmatch Survivor tournament was announced to be running from March 5th through April 8th with twelve wrestlers making up the two blocks. Big Japan alternates between the deathmatch and strong divisions every year, so since last year’s tournament was the Strong Climb, the Deathmatch Survivor replaces it this year. It works for their fans so I can’t complain about it too much, but I doubt I’m going to watch a second of this tournament, personally.
DDT & DNA
Although I’m not the biggest fan of DDT’s as I’ve let it be known, even I can admit that they had a decent month, with a successful roll out of their streaming service and two successful Korakuen shows on the 3rd and the 29th, headlined by HARASHIMA vs. Mike Bailey for the KO-D title on the 3rd and HARASHIMA vs. Daisuke Sasaki for the KO-D title on the 29th, two very good matches. Perhaps the best and most noteworthy DDT match of the month, however, was KUDO vs. Konosuke Takeshita on the 29th, where Takeshita pulled out the victory and earned the right to challenge HARASHIMA at the March 20th Saitama Super Arena show, the biggest event the company’s ever produced. HARASHIMA and Akito also challenge Yukio Sakaguchi and Masakatsu Funaki for the tag titles on February 12th, Sakaguchi and Funaki’s first defense of the titles they took from Bailey and Takeshita on January 9th.
Kazushi Sakuraba and Kotaro Suzuki are working the February 23rd DNA show as Sakuraba teams with Tatsumi Fujinami’s son LEONA against rookies Kouki Iwasaki and Mizuki Witase while Suzuki takes on Shunma Katsumata. Keep an eye on that show as it’s the first outing for DNA as its own entity on the DDT branch and not just DDT’s rookie system. In the main event is Naomi Yoshimura, who made his debut in December and left a huge impression, and Yuji Okabayashi vs. Akebono and Kazusada Higuchi. Subscribe to DDT Universe to watch live.
WRESTLE-1 & Masayuki Kono
Manabu Soya failed to capture the title from Masayuki Kono on the 8th, as Kono now moves on to defend against stablemate Shotaro Ashino on March 20th. I still don’t understand why Kono’s on top of this whole new guard vs. old guard feud, and if I had the book, I would have had Soya take the title from him as Soya’s more believable in the role and could probably produce better matches. Certain wrestlers have that “top guy” quality, and Kono doesn’t have that “top guy” quality. He’s better in a supporting role, or a secondary role, never the main role. See his work from late 2015 and early 2016 when he was essentially Shuji Kondo’s right-hand man as example. That’s the role he’s best in.
The January 8th Korakuen show also saw MAZADA retain the cruiserweight title over Andy Wu and the team of Kotaro Suzuki and Kaz Hayashi retain over Yusuke Kodama and Daiki Inaba, two months in a row of the old guard overcoming the new guard. Fortunately for the new guard, they do have something going for them as WRESTLE-1 is running a tournament to crown a new champion, which will be focused solely on the young guys. The eight-men in said tournament are Koji Doi, Kumagoro, Masayuki Mitomi, Kohei Fujimura, Seigo Tachibana, Hiroki Murase, Jun Tonsho and Ganseki Tanaka, with Mitomi, Fujimura, Tachibana and Tonsho having been eliminated already. The champion will be crowed on February 22nd as either Koji Doi or Ganseki Tanaka meet either Kumagoro or Hiroki Murase in the finals.
Koji Doi and Kumagoro ran what looked like a fun little produce show on the 25th, with them losing to Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi in the main event, Shinjiro Otani defeating Daiki Inaba in the semi-main event, and the veteran team of Isami Kodaka and Yuko Miyamoto defeating Andy Wu and Seiki Yoshioka, the trend there obviously being the young guys yet again losing to the old guys, even on the young guys’ produce show. Jiro Kuroshio was scheduled to defend the GAORA TV title against SUSHI on the show but was pulled due to injury, which will keep him on the shelf for a few months.
As I mentioned last month, ZERO1 has returned to a monthly Korakuen show model this year as they ran their January 1st show and return on February 3rd, which sees Kohei Sato defend his title against KAI, Shinjiro Otani defend his junior title against Kotaro Suzuki, and newly crowned tag champions TARU and Hartley Jackson (terrible team) defend their titles against Akebono and Shogun Okamoto. The January 1st show was decent for what it was, with Sato vs. Yusaku Obata and Strong BJ vs. Akebono and Okamoto being the only real standouts.
Joshi News & Notes
Chihiro Hashimoto lost the Sendai Girls title to Aja Kong on January 9th, and given that Hashimoto has clearly been built up as the next ace of the promotion, one could consider it a shocking turn of events. So long as she gets her win back over Kong, I’m perfectly okay with Kong having one more run on top.
Kyoko Kimura challenged Hiroyo Matsumoto for the OZ Academy title on the 8th just two weeks before her retirement show on the 22nd, where she teamed with her daughter Hana Kimura and ISAO and lost to Minoru Suzuki, Aja Kong and Meiko Satomura. Io Shirai was on that show, Mayu Iwatani, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Mayumi Ozaki, everyone was there, so if you’re looking for a mixed bag of joshi, it’s everything you could dream of and more. Speaking of Io Shirai, she retained her World of Stardom title over Viper on the 15th and defends against Shanya Baszler on February 23rd. Kairi Hojo also retained her titles this month as she and Yoko Bito defeated Nixon Newell and Kay Lee Ray in a tag title match on the 15th and then Nixon Newell in a Wonder of Stardom title match on the 29th.
Arisa Nakajima, who went freelance last month, has signed with Nanae Takahashi’s promotion SEAdLINNNG and headlined the January 26th Korakuen show with Takahashi in a losing effort. It was also announced that Yoshiko, also under contract with SEAdLINNNG, will be making her MMA debut for South Korean promotion Road Fighting Championship on February 11th.
Odds & Ends
Not a whole lot of odds and ends this month. Kazuhiro Tamura retained the HEAT-UP Universal title over Rocky Kawamura on January 19th as his focus now shifts towards the Powerful Tag League along with partner Fuminori Abe. The rest of field sees teams Yoji Kondo and Daisuke Kanehira, Kikujiro Umezawa and Hiroshi Watanabe, Rocky Kawamura and Yu Iizuka, Masahiro Takanashi and Tetsuya Ido, Kenichiro Arai and Hide Kubota, Shinya Ishida and CHANGO, and lastly, Mineo Fujita and LEONA.
The card for Keiji Mutoh’s produce show on February 8th is out, and it’s exactly what you’d think a Keiji Mutoh produce show would be. You got Mutoh teaming with Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami and Jushin Thunder Liger against Shiro Koshinaka, The Great Kabuki, Akira Nogami and Akitoshi Saito in the main event, then you got Yoshihiro Takayama teaming with Takuma Sano against Takao Omori and Manabu Soya in the semi-main event, you got a special lucha match between the team of Ultimo Dragon, Shiryu and Andy Wu and the team of Dick Togo, NOSAWA Rongai and MAZADA (lucha experts, I’ll have you know), you got a singles match between Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Daiki Inaba, and then a tag match with Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Shotaro Ashino taking on The Great Kojika and Kumagoro.
Recommended Matches (****+)
- Kaito Ishida & Takehiro Yamamura vs. Shingo Takagi & T-Hawk – Dragon Gate Fantastic Gate – December 27th (****)
- Masaaki Mochizuki, Big R Shimizu, Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino vs. BxB Hulk, YAMATO, Kzy & Yosuke Santa Maria – Dragon Gate Fantastic Gate – December 27th (****)
- Kohei Sato vs. Yusaku Obata – ZERO1 New Year Dream Series – January 1st (****)
- Hikaru Sato, Suwama & Joe Doering vs. Jake Lee, Kento Miyahara & Naoya Nomura – AJPW New Year Wars – January 2nd (****)
- Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi – BJW – January 2nd (****1/2)
- HARASHIMA vs. Mike Bailey – DDT New Year Lottery Ticket – January 3rd (****1/4)
- Keisuke Ishii vs. Yuma Aoyagi – AJPW New Year Wars – January 3rd (****)
- Zeus & The Bodyguard vs. Takao Omori & Manabu Soya – AJPW New Year Wars – January 3rd (****)
- Haijime Ohara vs. Taiji Ishimori – NOAH The First Navigation – January 7th (****1/4)
- Go Shiozaki & Maybach Taniguchi vs. Atsushi Kotoge & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH The First Navigation – January 7th (****1/4)
- Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Takashi Sugiura – NOAH The First Navigation – January 7th (****1/4)
- Kaz Hayashi & Kotaro Suzuki vs. Yusuke Kodama & Daiki Inaba – WRESTLE-1 Tour 2017 Sunrise – January 8th (****)
- Takuya Nomura & Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Kengo Mashimo & Tank Nagai – Kaientai Dojo K-Up Impact in Blue Field ~ New Year Special – January 9th (****)
- Kenoh vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima – NOAH The First Navigation – January 9th (****)
- Kotoka & Ben-K vs. Don Fujii & Masaaki Mochizuki – Dragon Gate Open The New Year Gate – January 15th (****)
- Masato Yoshino, Ryo Saito & Jimmy Susumu vs. BxB Hulk, YAMATO & Naruki Doi – Dragon Gate Open The New Year Gate – January 15th (****)
- Kento Miyahara & Takao Omori – AJPW New Year Wars – January 15th (****1/4)
- Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kaito Kiyomiya – NOAH The First Navigation – January 21st (****)
- Atsushi Kotoge vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima – NOAH The First Navigation – January 21st (****)
- Hajime Ohara vs. Daisuke Harada – NOAH The First Navigation – January 21st (****1/4)
- Go Shiozaki & Maybach Taniguchi vs. Kenoh & Masa Kitamiya – NOAH The First Navigation – January 21st (****1/4)
- KUDO vs. Konosuke Takeshita – DDT Sweet Dreams – January 29th (****1/4)
- Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Yoshihisa Uto – BJW Death Market 36 – January 29th (****1/4)