This time of year, Japan is usually known for its fall sumo tournament or tsukimi, the annual moon-viewing celebration. In our bubble, however, September 2020 will be remembered as the month of the heavyweight league.

In its second year as the rebranded N-1 Victory, NOAH’s annual heavyweight league features two blocks of six wrestlers. The top finisher in each block with meet in the finals on October 11 in Osaka. This article will introduce our entrants, incorporate some personal perspective, and outline the schedule for the autumn heavyweight battle for supremacy of the ark.

A Block

Go Shiozaki

GHC Heavyweight Champion
Affiliation: NOAH
2020 singles record: 4-0-1

As Go Shiozaki’s catchphrase claims, he is NOAH. Shiozaki is the connection to the company’s past and its current ace.

In the ring, the GHC Heavyweight champion uses a classic NOAH style, mainly inspired by his mentor Kenta Kobashi. Shiozaki was part of perhaps the two most noteworthy (and certainly longest) NOAH matches this year: his title defenses against Kazuyuki Fujita and Kenoh. Shiozaki is a favorite to win the block. While I assume most fans would like to see him face off against his former AXIZ partner Katsuhiko Nakajima or rival Kenoh in the finals, we’re not guaranteed to get either of those. Looking at the league matches, I’m most looking forward to his match against the next entrant, a rematch of one of the best NOAH matches to take place in 2020.

Kaito Kiyomiya

2018 Global League Winner
Affiliation: NOAH
2020 singles record: 10-3-0

Known as the “Supernova,” Kiyomiya is positioned to fully inherit Shiozaki’s ace status soon. Reigning GHC champ at the time, he sat out last year’s N-1; opting to defend against the league winner. Kiyomiya uses a flashier style than Shiozaki. Taking inspiration from Mitsuharu Misawa and Naomichi Marufuji, although he may start to incorporate more influence from his recent opponent, Keiji Muto. Kaito has a chance to win but has taken a step out of the main event scene since losing the title to Shiozaki in January. His rematch against Shiozaki on the October 4th Korakuen show will likely decide this block.

Masa Kitamiya

Affiliation: Kongoh
2020 singles record: 6-2-1

While researching for this preview I was reminded that Kitamiya was defeated by Minoru Suzuki in the finals of the 2016 Global League. A disciple and spitting-image of New Japan legend Masa Saito, Kitamiya has seen more success as a tag-team specialist, most recently teaming with Inamura in THE TOUGH. I would expect Kitamiya to get a win back over stablemate Manabu Soya, by whom he was defeated in the National Title contender tournament earlier this year.

Manabu Soya

Affiliation: Kongoh
2020 singles record: 5-3-0

Soya is a recent arrival to NOAH, joining the roster after the closure of WRESTLE-1. His biggest achievement in NOAH so far is his performance in the National Title contender tournament. The Kongoh member uses a traditional power-heavyweight style. His rematch with Kitamiya in Gunma on the 20th will be one to keep an eye on.

Masaaki Mochizuki

Affiliation: M’s alliance
2020 singles record: 1-0-0

In 2019, Dragongate’s iron man saw mixed results in his NOAH league debut; the highlight was his victory over Kenoh in Korakuen. Along with Katsuhiko and Kenoh, he ranks as one of my top-three hardest kickers in Japan. While he will surely have great matches with Shiozaki and Kaito, I’m looking forward to seeing how he stacks up against his generational peer, Sakuraba on the September 20th show in Gunma.

Kazushi Sakuraba

Affiliation: Sugiura-gun
2020 singles record: 1-0-0

From my perspective, the legendary mixed martial artist is an unlikely yet welcome addition to the field. His inclusion undoubtedly adds variety and an element of unpredictability to the results. He could conceivably beat any of his opponents with the 39 lock. Just ask Shiozaki, who he submitted back in August in a six-man.



B Block

Kenoh

GHC National Champion
2019 N-1 Victory Winner & 2018 Global League Winner
Affiliation: Kongoh
2020 singles record: 3-0-1

Coming off a 60-minute double-title draw against Shiozaki, the relatively newly crowned GHC National champion is a good bet to win his block. Kenoh wrestles an aggressive and fast-paced kick-heavy style. Even if he doesn’t win the block, I’m sure he will close his fair share of shows on the microphone. The Kongoh leader faces his newest recruit, Nakajima, on opening night in one of the most compelling matches of the entire tour.

Naomichi Marufuji

2015 Global League Winner
Affiliation: M’s alliance
2020 singles record: 0-1-0

Believe it or not, Marufuji hasn’t won a singles match in NOAH this year. Moreover, he did not win any of his matches in last year’s N-1. I wouldn’t expect Marufuji to win the block, but I certainly think he will get a few meaningful wins this time around. At this point, I think less is more with Marufuji, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he deals with the relatively inexperienced Inamura in Gunma.

Takashi Sugiura

2014 Global League Winner
Affiliation: Sugiura-gun
2020 singles record: 5-1-0

Unlike Marufuji, Sugiura seems to get better with age. He could certainly win the block and, honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he won the whole league. However, he was heavily relied upon to guide the ark in recent years, and I expect that he will continue to take a back seat to the younger generation in terms of the main event. From a match-quality perspective, his matches with Kenoh and Nakajima are as close to sure things as you will see on this tour.

Katsuhiko Nakajima

Affiliation: Kongoh
2020 singles record: 5-2-1

Katsuhiko Nakajima is my favorite wrestler. Having established that bias, I think he is the best choice to win both the block and the league. I’m most looking forward to his matches with Kenoh and Sugiura; the Kenoh bout has an added layer of intrigue now that Katsuhiko joined Kongoh. Along with Shiozaki, his run in AXIZ did an incredible job of reestablishing him as top-tier talent. Now split from his partner, he enters a new phase in his evolution. A potential challenge against Shiozaki could easily headline NOAH’s big show on November 22nd at the new Yokohama Budokan.

Shuhei Taniguchi

Affiliation: NOAH
2020 singles record: 5-2-1

At this point in his career, Taniguchi represents a stable veteran presence on the roster. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets at least one win over his more highly positioned opponents. His match with Inamura on the final night of league matches is probably his hardest to predict…or at least it should be.

Yoshiki Inamura

Affiliation: Kongoh
2020 singles record: 2-8-0

The promising power-fighting youngster is not expected to rack up the wins in the N-1. His two singles victories are over his generational peer Kinya Okada. A win over any of his block-mates would be considered an upset. I’m looking forward to seeing how he kicks things off against Sugiura on opening night.

Full Schedule

Thanks to Hi5ame and metal-noah on Twitter for gathering available broadcast info.

Friday, September 18
Nagoya Congress Center Event Hall

A Block: Go Shiozaki vs. Manabu Soya
A Block: Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Masaaki Mochizuki
B Block: Kenoh vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
B Block: Takashi Sugiura vs. Yoshiki Inamura

Airing on Wrestle Universe

Sunday, September 20
Gunma New Sunpia Takasaki

A Block: Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
A Block: Masa Kitamiya vs. Manabu Soya
B Block: Takashi Sugiura vs. Shuhei Taniguchi
B Block: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Yoshiki Inamura

Airing on Wrestle Universe

Tuesday, September 22
Tokyo Korakuen Hall

A Block: Go Shiozaki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
A Block: Kaito Kiyomia vs. Masa Kitamiya
B Block: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Takashi Sugiura
B Block: Kenoh vs. Shuhei Taniguchi

Airing on AbemaTV

Wednesday, September 23 (Day Show)
Tokyo Korakuen Hall

A Block: Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Manabu Soya
A Block: Masa Kitamiya vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
B Block: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Shuhei Taniguchi
B Block: Kenoh vs. Yoshiki Inamura

Airing on Wrestle Universe and FITE.tv


Wednesday, September 23 (Night Show)
Tokyo Korakuen Hall

A Block: Go Shiozaki vs. Masaaki Mochizuki
A Block: Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
B Block: Takashi Sugiura vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
B Block: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kenoh

Airing on AbemaTV

Saturday, September 26
Niigata Bandajima Sports Park Okama

A Block: Go Shiozaki vs. Masa Kitamiya
A Block: Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Manabu Soya
B Block: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Shuhei Taniguchi
B Block: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Yoshiki Inamura

Airing on Wrestle Universe

Sunday, October 4
Tokyo Korakuen Hall

A Block: Go Shiozaki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya
A Block: Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Masa Kitamiya
A Block: Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Manabu Soya
B Block: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
B Block: Takashi Sugiura vs. Kenoh
B Block: Shuhei Taniguchi vs. Yoshiki Inamura

Airing on AbemaTV

Sunday, October 11
Osaka Edion Arena

N-1 Victory Finals: A Block 1st Place vs B Block 1st Place

Airing on AbemaTV

Summary

I would expect NOAH to save the Nakajima-Shiozaki match for Yokohama, making Nakajima-Kiyomiya the most likely final. If they don’t go with Kaito, I would expect to see the former AXIZ partners face off in the final, setting up a rematch for the title in November.

The September 23 Korakuen (night) and the October 4th Korakuen will probably be the best shows.  Under the radar, the Gunma show seems like a lot of fun even though the current generation “top 4” (Shiozaki, Kaito, Kenoh, and Katsuhiko) are not wrestling league matches.

Now that you’ve made it to the end, check out John Carroll’s G1 Previews, which inspired this inferior one.