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    Monday, February 20, 2017

    #MustWatchMonday (2/20/17): The Rebirth of Pro Wrestling NOAH

    At around November last year, it was announced that Pro Wrestling NOAH was experiencing a change in ownership. They moved away from BUSHIROAD (the company that owns NJPW), and switched over to Estbee, an IT company. This change in ownership would directly impact bookings and storylines both in NJPW and in NOAH. Suzuki-gun, an NJPW stable, was loaned to NOAH about two years ago to help bolster their failing attendance and to generate more interest. While at first this did help breathe some life into the company, the invasion storyline went two years too long, and eventually the promotion began to suffer for it. A huge criticism was that they were basically becoming NJPW-lite. Like really lite. The changes behind the scenes finally triggered the story of the core NOAH roster getting the better of the invading stable, and kicking them out once and for all.

    The exile of Suzuki-gun left NOAH with two main things. The first was having Katsuhiko Nakajima as the GHC Heavyweight Champion, and making him the new ace and guardian of the company. The second thing isn't as good. As a result of Suzuki-gun leaving—and due to money-saving moves made in 2016—NOAH was left with a pretty thin core roster. While big names such as Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji, Takashi Sugiura and Nakajima were still around, they didn't have too much support beneath them in terms of being established names and stars. Despite this, NOAH entered 2017 optimistic about their future, and fans were interested to see where they would go from here.

    Cue their first show of the year. On January 7th, NOAH had a show and began relabelling itself as NOAH the Reborn, signifying the new start they were seeking. And you could see it in this show and all the shows that followed. Strikes were stiffer, battles more intense, and there was just a fire in all of the wrestlers that you didn't see while Suzuki-gun was invading the company. One of the new stories they began to tell was the desire of two of the juniors to go up to the heavyweights, namely KENOH and Atsushi Kotoge. They didn't go up together, but they took the same approach to prove to the established heavyweights that they belonged there: they each picked a tag team partner and challenged Maybach Taniguchi and Go Shiozaki for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. Kotoge came up first, teaming up with Naomichi Marufuji (the Tanahashi of NOAH).

    You can clearly see in this match that the champions weren't taking Kotoge seriously, and Kotoge showed that while he could hang with them, it was taking every bit of him to do it. Around the middle of the match, Kotoge was forced to headbutt Shiozaki head-on in order to stagger him properly. This caused both of them to bust open hard way, and the thud upon impact was just sickening and compelling at the same time. Kotoge eventually fell, but he showed to the fans that he would be able to run with the heavyweights, and wouldn't look out of place.

    The next challengers were KENOH and Masa Kitamiya. KENOH is a junior along the vein of Nakajima and Marufuji, very kick-and-strike-heavy. Kitamiya is a heavyweight that NOAH has slowly been building up. Just before the end of 2016, he lost a GHC Heavyweight Championship Match against Nakajima. 

    KENOH's tag team championship match happened on the 21st of January. Much like the match featuring Kotoge and Marufuji—and most other NOAH matches in 2017 actually—this match was worked stiffly and brutally. The story was quite similar to that of the first tag match, only KENOH was able to show more than Kotoge that he could hang with the heavyweights. He picked up the win via a double foot stomp on Taniguchi.

    Of course, we cannot forget the new ace of the promotion, Katsuhiko Nakajima. Nakajima is like TJ Perkins in the sense that, while he's only 28 years old, he's already a 13 year veteran of the business. He won the GHC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Takashi Sugiura, who was holding it for Suzuki-gun when he won it. He then further established himself by defending the title against Minoru Suzuki, and had a filler defense against Kitamiya. He was challenged to defend the belt by Sugiura, the man who he defeated for the title. Sugiura had distanced himself from Suzuki-gun a few weeks before their departure by assaulting Minoru Suzuki, and had declared himself on no one's side but his own.

    The fight is hard and grueling for Nakajima, which isn't a surprise given his opponent. Eventually though he does pick up the victory, and vowed to protect NOAH and guide it in its new future.

    While the upper card of NOAH has been great, this resurgence though would not be happening though were it not for the quality of the undercard as well. For example, Kaito Kiyomiya, the young boy of NOAH, was starting to show his fire and his determination to break through his glass ceiling. The juniors, arguably the only shining aspect of NOAH during the latter half of the Suzuki-gun invasion, are continuing to thrive and have great matches. NOAH has bolstered up the roster for tours as well by recruiting freelancers from the Japanese independents. The stiffness I described in the earlier matches wasn't just limited to the championship matches, they were also present in the undercard. How hard everyone was working is what makes me optimistic for NOAH in 2017. A few other recommended matches will be shown below.

    Also a reason for some cautious optimism: NOAH and TNA announced that they would be working together in 2017. While doubts persist on how TNA would use NOAH talents in the States, there is no doubt however that NOAH having access to TNA talents on their shows can only make them better. Imagine the wrestlers above going up against the likes of Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Bobby Lashley or EC3. This could potentially be very good for both sides.

    Truly, this is the rebirth of Pro Wrestling NOAH.


    Brandon Sy is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics currently based in Sydney. Since he wasn't allowed to watch wrestling as a kid, he's been overcompensating ever since. Despite being a huge fan of Japanese wrestling, he still holds a soft spot in his heart for WWE's Kane. He's good for recommending matches from pretty much anywhere, whether it be Japan, Europe, the US or Mexico. He'd be ecstatic if you watched Dragon Gate though.
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    Item Reviewed: #MustWatchMonday (2/20/17): The Rebirth of Pro Wrestling NOAH Rating: 5 Reviewed By: bodonium
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