Pro Wrestling NOAH
NOAH The BEST ~ Final Chronicle 2020 ~
December 6, 2020
Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium #2
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: AbemaTV (Japanese) & FITE (English)

Hey look, I know why you’re here, and you can just scroll to the main event if you want. For the rest of you, NOAH’s Final Chronicle succeeded in providing big-show-vibes. The festivities began with the announcement that NOAH will be returning to Budokan on February, 21st 2021, for the first time since Kenta Kobashi’s retirement show in 2013. The announcement came with a really strong video package, which remained a constant throughout the night. Good on you, NOAH video guy. 

Kinya Okada def. Yasutaka Yano 

I’ve often been impressed by Kinya Okada this year, but seen much less of his opponent, Yasutaka Yano. It’s fun watching Okada be the more powerful, experienced participant in a match. To his credit Yasutaka Yano shows the requisite fire. He bounces around the ring to the point of exhaustion, screaming his little heart out all the while. This is a deserved showcase for Okada though, who finally gets to punish someone with his array of kicks and slams and a Blockbuster Hold Suplex to wrap things up. Kinya’s got the look, and he wrestles like he’s been doing it for way more than two years. Watching him beat someone up for seven minutes was a fine opener. **3/4

Atsushi Kotoge, Daisuke Harada & Junta Miyawaki def. Kongo (Hao, Nio & Tadasuke)

Once you get below the ranks of Nakajima and Kenoh, my interest in Kongo generally ends once their (very cool) entrance pose does. The one exception of course, is Hao, who’s had a strangely killer year, highlighted by a strong GHC Junior Title challenge against Kotaro Suzuki at last month’s N-1 Final. 

So naturally, my interest in this match is piqued when Hao founds himself on the wrong end of a hot tag to the (sort of) rookie Junta Miyawaki. Miyawaki clears house in a sequence that ends with a synchronized set of dives from his team. From here things pick up – we get a taste of Hao’s athleticism with a top rope huricanrana to Harada that launches him directly into a triple powerbomb attack from the Kongo side. We’re left with Tadasuke and Harada in a brief but fun closing stretch. Tadasuke comes up short on his lariat, and gets tumbled around into a neat roll-up from Harada. Hey, Daisuke Harada rules. Not a lot to say here, I just typed two paragraphs about this match and I already don’t remember it. **1/2 

Kongo (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya & Masa Kitamiya) def. Full Throttle (Yo-Hey, Hajime Ohara & Seiki Yoshioka)  

How typical of me to be drawn to Full Throttle, the most inconsequential faction in an increasingly inconsequential junior division. A big part of that is Seiki Yoshioka. As someone who almost never delved into Wrestle-1, and is also a sucker for a kickpads, Yoshioka’s been a revelation for me this year. So it was cool for me when mere moments into the bout, I got to watch him face off with another notable kicksman – the world’s best wrestler in 2020, Katsuhiko Nakajima. 

The real dynamic at play here though, is that of a speedy junior faction taking on Kongo’s beef squad. Soya and Kitamiya are two of the biggest men on the roster, and spend much of the match bullying or acting as bases for Full Throttle’s zippy team offense. That is, until Yoshioka and Yo-Hey practically bounce off Soya and Kitamiya on dives to the outside. Hajime Ohara and Nakajima beat the hell out of each in the closing stretch, before Nakajima wraps things up with a brainbuster. ***1/4 

GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Stinger (HAYATA & Yoshinari Ogawa) def. Kotaro Suzuki & Salvahe de Oriente (17:05)

Let’s step into the deep, winding labyrinth that is the NOAH Junior Tag Titles. The titles were vacated when HAYATA broke up RATEL’S by turning on YO-HEY back in May. He joined Stinger and claimed the titles with Yoshinari Ogawa the following day. Kotaro Suzuki was later ousted from Stinger, and showed at The Chronicle Vol. 4 with a new partner, the masked Salvahe de Oriente. With revenge on his mind, Suzuki brings his mysterious friend to challenge for the belts. At ringside, NOSAWA floats around menacingly with his own new masked friend. 

Confused? Well, we all are. And it’ll only get worse before this match ends. The good news is it doesn’t matter. This division is pretty much just a bunch of names with stylized capital letters shook around and a hat, picked out at random to have matches you hopefully enjoy. Prove me wrong. 

Anyway, there’s some good to this match. Yoshinari Ogawa and Kotaro Suzuki are both esteemed veterans who’ve spent more than eighteen years rolling around wrestling rings together. When they’re the legal men in this match, it’s some of the best wrestling the juniors can offer. Two guys who’ve been around the block, finding crafty ways to outmaneuver one another with a bitterness that only comes with decades of bumps. 

Salvahe de Oriente’s first appearances were pretty clunky, but he looks a lot more comfortable here. Before this match a cunning Twitter detective solved his identity as Yuya Susumu. I’d enjoyed Susumu’s recent run of compact, exciting matches as UWA Jr. champ in FREEDOMS, so I’m glad to see him pulling through here. He enters the match with a slick sequence where he kicks HAYATA into Suzuki’s crucifix bomb, and then leaps forward with his own Jackknife pin. He and HAYATA provide ample clumsy athleticism while we wait for Ogawa and Suzuki to come back.  

Suzuki hits Blue Destiny on Ogawa, and appears to be narrowing in on the kill when – and buckle in for this one – he’s interrupted by a superkick from his partner Salvahe. The three make short work of Suzuki together, and the champions retain. HAYATA unmasks Salvahe, and the formal reveal of Yuya Susumu is met by commentary with a type of enthusiasm akin to finding out the deli got your sandwich wrong.

NOSAWA and his masked pal come congratulate HAYATA, Ogawa and Susumu but then, while posing with them for a photo, attack them. They move to Kotaro Suzuki, and appear to strike up an alliance with him instead. Much like the viewer, Suzuki doesn’t seem to have any idea what the fuck is going on. Just typing all this is giving me a migraine. I have to lie down. **3/4  

GHC National Title
Kenoh def. Kazushi Sakuraba (10:03)

Another strong video package plays, culminating with Kenoh, in a three-piece suit, doing a double stomp to Sakuraba off of a table at the “press conference”. The package seems to center on the differences between the two in composure. Sakuraba is a calm, aging and well-traveled fighter. Kenoh is an angry chihuahua, always glaring, yipping or striking a funny pose. He’s joined at ringside by Kongo, with the notable exception of Katsuhiko Nakajima. 

At the bell Sakuraba unloads, downing Kenoh with a flurry of palm strikes. Kenoh, himself a seasoned striker with highlight reel knockouts to show for it, returns with his own onslaught and forces Sakuraba to pull guard. 

Sakuraba’s recent output has garnered all sorts of different reactions. My favorites have been matches that told tidy stories of pro wrestling versus shoot-fighting. His N-1 bout against Kaito Kiyomiya saw Kaito struggle when engaging Sakuraba in mat exchanges, only succeeding with showier techniques, until he finally triumphed with the most pro-wrestling hold of all: the figure four leglock. In his tag team title defense at The Chronicle Vol. 4 he nearly cost his team the match after being lured into a classic pro wrestling chop battle with Naomichi Marufuji. 

Here, Kenoh walks happily into Sakuraba’s world. He tentatively  stalks while Sakuraba butt scoots, he looks for leglocks while trying to pass guard, and he largely succeeds. Sakuraba retreats from the ring frustrated, and when he returns he’s been lured into Kenoh’s game, deciding to trade kicks in the center of the ring. It’s a foolish move, and he’s forced again to pull guard. 

It’s smart storytelling and doesn’t wear its welcome, but might have been a little more compelling on paper than in practice. Sakuraba is able to grab a last-ditch ankle hold; when Kenoh reverses it the camera catches just how far Saku’s left shoulder is off the mat. ***½  

Shuhei Taniguchi, Daiki Inaba, Kaito Kiyomiya, Yoshiki Inamura def. M’s Alliance (Naomichi Marufuji, Yuko Miyamoto, Masakatsu Funaki, Keiji Mutoh) 

You might imagine that this match revolves around blossoming ace Kaito Kiyomiya looking to get his win back against the 57-year-old Keiji Mutoh, after falling to him in August. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong – Kaito comes running at Mutoh at every opportunity, only slowed midway through the match when his overeagerness puts him in the way of a Shining Wizard. There are a lot of fun moving parts at play here, though. 

Daiki Inaba is the star of the first portion of the match, battering Naomichi Marufuji and pushing him to work at speeds we don’t often see in 2020. Masakatsu Funaki continues his run of looking fifteen years younger than his actual age. Taniguchi feels disrespected and hulks out. It’s all here for you, baby. 

It’s eighteen minutes before Yuko Miyamoto enters the match long enough for Abema to bother displaying his graphic at the bottom of the screen. Miyamoto’s one of my all-time favorites, but he’s undoubtedly had the smallest role of the M’s Alliance members. The lowest case M, he’s barely been able to put away Mohammed Yone in two tries. Here, the final stretch belongs to him and Yoshiki Inamura. Miyamoto runs roughshod until Inamura is able to avoid a moonsault. A perfect sequence follows where all of Inamura’s teammates take turns German Suplexing Miyamoto on his head, setting up Inamura to eventually land a huge Musou slam in the center of the ring.

Just like that Yoshiki Inamura, a guy who couldn’t win a single match in the N-1, gets his first major win in the semi-main event of one of the company’s biggest shows this year. And he looked like a boss doing so. This is the first match Mutoh’s “lost” since arriving in NOAH and forming M’s Alliance. Outside the ring, Daiki Inaba continues trying to bash Naomichi Marufuji in the face. ****

GHC Heavyweight Title
Go Shiozaki def. Takashi Sugiura (51:44)

In the leadup to the match, Sugiura made clear that his target would be Go’s right arm, aiming to eliminate the champ’s two greatest weapons – his lariat and his chop. Go’s arm, a nuclear weapon disguised as a human limb, has become one of the focal points of this title reign. Some opponents have attempted to tackle it head-on, like Naomichi Marufuji who opted to lock arms with Go until his torso begged for mercy. Others have simply tried to tear the thing clean off his body, like Katsuhiko Nakajima, or the entire A Block of the 2020 N-1 Victory.

Credit to Go, whose reign has been a graduate class in both history and anatomy. In a career repeatedly snake-bitten by poor timing, his moment seemed to finally come. An updated look befitting of a champ, a world-class bout with Kaito Kiyomiya to start the year, and the GHC World Heavyweight Title. Then COVID came. Go and the company attempted to adapt. His first defense against Kazuyuki Fujita told an (admittedly heavy-handed) tale of fighting off the remnants of Inoki-ism, and took viewers on a tour through the empty Korakuen Hall. His next against Akitoshi Saito was a battle between surviving participants in Mitsuhara Misawa’s final match. When crowds finally returned in May, Go welcomed them with the aforementioned chop war against Marufuji, and then a one-hour draw with Kenoh in the same week. 

His N-1 was a series of matches defined by that right arm, by now seemingly held together by chewing gum and twine. He suffered the betrayal of his longtime partner Nakajima, then withstood a forty-minute beating at his hands that recalled the violence of their respective mentors Kensuke Sasaki and Kenta Kobashi. That was just two weeks ago. It’s no wonder he claims the mantra “I AM NOAH”. He’s defended the company and its title from traitors, invaders and even a pandemic, all while donning the colors of Misawa and Kobashi before him. And that’s why Takashi Sugiura makes for such a poignant challenger; he checks all boxes. He’s also a NOAH lifer, his debut pre-dating Go’s by almost four years. He’s also ready and more than equipped to fuck that arm right up.

 I don’t have to tell you all this though, because the match does so with all the succinctness I lack. Shiozaki controls the opening portions with chops that echo through the venue. Each is the period of a sentence, they each force Sugiura to withdraw. And still, Go grimaces, shaking the arm out each time he’s forced to put it to use.  

Still, it’s only a matter of time before Sugiura manages to twist the arm sickeningly behind Go’s back, or slam it into the guardrails on the outside. By the fifteen minute mark, when Shiozaki can finally rise to his feet and chop once more, Sugiura hardly budges. In fact, Sugiura simply grins and slaps him in the face. We have a newly leveled playing field; Sugiura’s bleeding chest looks like it just came out of a deep fryer, and Shiozaki’s right arm has been reduced to that of a regular old human’s. 

The champ seems to be operating on the fumes that remain after a year from hell, and sheer will. His brief openings, including a set of Kobashi-esque lightning chops, are dismissed by Sugiura in short order. At thirty minutes he slithers into the ring, narrowly avoiding a countout, and slumps into the corner. Sugiura hovers over his prey for a moment, before unloading with some of the stiffest forearms you’re going to find. Go’s exhausted eyes recall that scene at the end of The Fly where Goldblum tearfully nudges the pistol up against his mutated head. Go reaches his feet, only to have his skull driven back into the corner by a German Suplex. The elbows re-commence. It only lasts about twenty seconds, but it feels like an eternity. I quietly repeat to myself, “wrestling is fake, wrestling is fake.” 

At thirty-seven minutes Go is able to swing the momentum with a dive over the top rope. It’s an interesting way to recontextualize the dive. Often, the dive to the outside is simply an opportunity to make an audience gasp. Here, a man is flinging his broken six-foot and 250-pound frame over the top rope as an honest hail mary. It can’t hurt much more than everything else has to this point. 

Back in the ring, Go struggles but manages to hoist Sugiura up in a powerbomb position. The crowd is strikingly silent. You can hear every grunt, down to Sugiura’s drowsy murmurs. When they finally collide with the mat, the crowd comes back alive. Go gestures out to them, he and the audience finally afforded a second to breathe. 

At forty-four minutes Go survives the Olympic Slam for the second time. Sugiura places a lifeless Go on the corner turnbuckle, hoping a third from up high will finish the job. Setting up an Olympic Slam from the third rope requires a little bit of cooperation from both parties, and watching it take shape could be disappointing after a match this brutal, this grueling. Even that’s washed away though, when you realize Go is actually lining up a top rope Limit Break of his own. 

Then he hits another on the mat. Both men unload their holsters, emptying their arsenals with holds that have finished countless past opponents. When Sugiura’s exhausted his options, his last card is a three-piece of closed fist punches that thud against Go’s jaw. But Go’s still got one play that Sugiura can’t quite trump: his right arm. One last standing lariat ends it. Fifty-one minutes. ****¾ 

Final Thoughts

In the post-match Keiji Mutoh returns to challenge Go for the big GHC title match at Budokan. Go’s last two matches were practically snuff films, I don’t know how I’m supposed to buy Mutoh beating him. Even so, don’t this spoil the afterglow of that main event. Final Chronicle was an alright show that picked up for the final three matches, but ultimately, Final Chronicle is “the show with Go Shiozaki vs. Takashi Sugiura on it.”