The Story So Far:
NOAH had an incredibly strong conclusion to 2017. Kenoh won the Global League then took the GHC heavyweight title from Eddie Edwards, declaring his intention to take NOAH back to Budokan Hall. “Follow me, you bastards!” At that same show Kaito Kiyomiya returned from his excursion, immediately challenging Kenoh to his first title defence on this show. Elsewhere, Maybach Taniguchi turned on his tag team partner Naomichi Marufuji and aligned himself with Mitsuya Nagai, setting up a singles match between the former GHC tag team champions on NOAH’s opening show of 2018. Moving on from the “NOAH the REBORN” branding of 2017, we’re now in the “NOAH the LIVE” era, which sounds like the name of an awesome “WWE Originals” style album.
1. Junta Miyawaki vs. Yoshinari Ogawa
The life of a Pro Wrestling NOAH rookie is tough here in 2018. Turns out, there’s not that many of them. Junta Miyawaki is the only one currently working on shows and while he’s certainly a spirited young lad – he runs at a hundred miles an hour to get to the ring, he tries his best to survive Boston crabs and he sometimes does it (but not always) – but this boy cannot win. He doesn’t even have classmates to beat up. He’s been wrestling over a year and never tasted victory, never even been on the winning team in a tag match. This continued here as Junta’s own popularity cost him. He attacked Ogawa at the bell and got his feet all caught up in the streamers, allowing the sneaky rat Ogawa to backdrop and pin him. Okay, the match time was 29 seconds but for 25 of them Junta was definitely winning. Junta’s quest for a victory continues!
2. Mitsuya Nagai, Cody Hall & Yuko Miyamoto vs. Akitoshi Saito, Quiet Storm & Muhammad Yone
God help Yuko Miyamoto here, what a ragtag pair of teammates. While he had business of his own to be announced (more on that later), this was more build around the GHC tag team title feud with Mitsuya Nagai getting the win over Quiet Storm with the Hyper Knee Kuga and laying down the challenge to Storm and Yone, demanding a title match for himself and Maybach Taniguchi. This was short and clipped but it did the job. I find myself strangely intrigued by Nagai in this role as he continues his tour of “revived” promotions after his spell in All Japan. The group of Nagai, Maybach, Cody Hall and Yuko Miyamoto is one Black Tiger away from being a serviceable DARK KINGDOM reboot and I’m all for it. 2017 was the year Yone and Maybach really stepped up and made NOAH’s tag division a lot of fun to watch. If they get me excited for Nagai there’s some miracles going on in this promotion.
3. Minoru Tanaka, Hi69, Seiya Morohashi, Hitoshi Kumano & Hajime Ohara vs. LEONA, YO-HEY, HAYATA, Tadasuke & Daisuke Harada
It’s a shame that this match suffered from the usual undercard clipping because what they aired of it owned hard. It actually went 18 minutes, they aired about half of it, but it was all exciting and fast-paced fun. The ultimate goal was to hype up the Harada vs. Ohara singles match and my word it did that. Harada has always been a very impressive wrestler but he seems to have stepped it up in his role as a unit leader and singles star, and pairing him with Ohara, one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world, should lead to a fantastic match. This match also gave us some more Minoru vs. Harada action which is never something to complain about. However, those weren’t the only stories. If NOAH the REBORN saw NOAH’s elder statesmen rise up and became standout performers, like the aforementioned Maybach and Yone, then I’m terrified for NOAH the LIVE for one reason. LEONA actually looked halfway decent here. Perhaps his best match since Jun Akiyama beat the soul out of him on a Fortune Dream show, except there’s positive things to say about LEONA in this one! He didn’t move around the ring like it was his first day at wrestling school! He applied a figure four leg lock correctly! He showed fire! He made new friends! He told his new friends what to do and they listened! LEONA IS THE TEAM CAPTAIN! Then Seiya Morohashi made him tap out to a crossface. Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Recommended.
4. Takashi Sugiura vs. Jay Bradley
Another quick match here and one that I was asking some serious questions of beforehand. Jay Bradley’s a guy who has been around for a long time and wrestled in a lot of places, with my personal favourite run of his being his team with Ryan Boz in IWA Mid-South where he seemed about 10 feet tall because everyone else was pint-sized. Across all of these runs he’s never really stood out while also never really coming across as bad. He just exists. With that in mind, he actually did okay here. Sugiura is still recovering from his health issues in 2017, apparently choosing to do this by running through the giant humans from the history of Impact Wrestling, but he can still go to a decent level and Bradley was a fine foil for him. He did a dive, he did some big slams, he went strike for strike with Sugiura and eventually fell to the Olympic-Style Slam. It sounds like Bradley has made a positive impression on this tour and there are certainly plenty of examples of American wrestlers who’ve reinvented themselves in Japan so I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more of him in NOAH this year. Presumably Takashi Sugiura will now move on to fighting Knux, Tryten and/or “The Freak” Rob Terry.
5. Masa Kitamiya & Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Go Shiozaki & Atsushi Kotoge
These are two of my favourite tag teams at the moment despite initially appearing to be classic “two singles guys” teams. You have the former Kensuke Office boys in Kitamiya and Nakajima who left the Diamond Ring and both grew horrendous facial hair to mark this accomplishment. Nakajima’s is somehow the worse of the two despite Kitamiya looking like he lives in a bin. Then you have Go and Kotoge, a team seemingly formed to keep Go from wrestling against Kotoge and smashing his skull into dust. The Kitamiya/Nakajima team is particularly fun, they gel extremely well while retaining what makes them great as individuals, and it’s been a nice change of pace for Nakajima immediately after his big singles run. It gets him out of that picture for a while but gives him something interesting to do. He is united with Kitamiya in their aimless aggression. Nakajima vs. Shiozaki was the standout pairing here as they really brought the hate with some brawling on the floor and fierce exchanges at the back end, but really any combination of these four is going to yield entertaining results. NOAH was great last year because these guys were part of the ensemble, reliably providing matches like this. Kotoge continues to be a slightly odd pick as a heavyweight, not all of his stuff comes across well he’s rocking some wild pink tights these days (switching from the bin bag pants that YO-HEY and HAYATA quietly won the rights to), but the guy’s a good babyface and takes one hell of a beating. He’s not perfect for the role and he seems like a dork (by design) (maybe) but he’s keen as mustard! Kitamiya, another underrated wrestler who has potential to be a big star here, was more than happy to dish out that beating and ultimately made Kotoge submit to the Prison Lock. The Prison Lock is a great submission because, while it is a painful kneeling figure four leg lock, it also allows Kitamiya to flex and pose and just generally act like a cool guy, which definitely makes the hold more powerful. Kotoge couldn’t handle the cool posing and he had to give up. Recommended.
6. Maybach Taniguchi vs. Naomichi Marufuji
Hey, a grudge match! And a grudge match with some history, as before they became a tag team (a damn good tag team at that) Naomichi Marufuji knocked Maybach Taniguchi out with a knee, almost exactly a year before this show. Sure, attendances were down at the time, people didn’t know how long NOAH had, but when Marufuji delivered that knee we all somehow knew it was gonna be okay. When Maybach turned heel in December my fear was that we’d be back to brawling Maybach, maybe not with the mask or the stick but not the interesting Maybach we’d got to know over the course of the year. Possibly the best run of his career. Fortunately those fears weren’t realised because he’s still basically the same guy. The differences are that he’s being really mean to a precious angel like Naomichi Marufuji and he has Mitsuya Nagai running around being a pain. Maybach would prove decisive here, as not only did he pull the referee out to save Maybach following a tiger knee, he outright ran into the ring and started beating Marufuji up to cause a DQ. This is part of a larger story so I had no problem with the finish and that match itself was absolutely fine. I think they have a better match in them but there was no need for that to happen here. Atsushi Kotoge trying (but failing) to make the save after the match presumably gives Marufuji a tag team partner if (when?) Nagai and Maybach win the tag team titles.
7. Impact Wrestling X-Division Title Match: Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Andrew Everett
This should have been a smash hit but it never quite clicked for me, which on this show made it stand out. The whole dynamic seemed off, never really straying beyond the aerial showcase it started off as, and the crowd never got past the “mildly interested” stage. Everett is a supremely talented high flier but he was also cast as the heel here against the NOAH star so he dialled it back a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, we still got shooting star presses to the floor, but it wasn’t million mile an hour stuff. The problem is that when it was dialled back it didn’t have much edge so it just got kinda boring. A lot of his flying is also a bit “flowery”, lots of somersaults for the heck of it, which works okay if you’re the babyface but you’re a heel and this is NOAH, baby. We were reborn, now we’re living and we’re living our best lives. You gotta straight up murder fools in this territory, brother. Shoot headbutts all day every day. YO-HEY does similarly theatrical feats but that man has the scum indy credibility to make it work. Ishimori’s never not dynamic so the match had that going for it, and it wasn’t a bad match, but it did feel disappointing. Taiji picked up the win to retain his sticker belt with a 450 splash.
8. GHC Heavyweight Title Match: Kenoh (c) vs. Kaito Kiyomiya
Much like the Maybach vs. Marufuji match, this was the first part of a larger story. Unlike that match, it was decisive – and it needed to be. The story here was that Kaito Kiyomiya may have been eager and willing to take the fight to the champion in his first main event singles match. However, none of that matters when you’re up against a stone cold killer like Kenoh. These two will fight again, potentially many more times, but for their first big main event this needed to do two things. It needed to establish Kaito as a wrestler on a journey, a journey that will take time to complete, and it needed to get the fans interested in that journey. For me, it succeeded on all fronts. Sure, Kaito’s execution and timing wasn’t entirely there, some of his moves didn’t look perfect or get the biggest reaction in the world, but the crowd were with him from the very start. They weren’t familiar with all of the tricks he’d learned in his time away but they were willing to learn. To hear a crowd this vocal and supportive of a young star was so encouraging.
Kenoh is a wrestler who is perennially grumpy, not unlike Toshiaki Kawada always was (his run as the John Barrowman of HUSTLE aside), and one of the most valuable skills a wrestler like that can have is not being afraid to show vulnerability. Everyone knew Kaito was overmatched. He was fired up and going for the win but everyone knew he was probably going to lose at the end. And yet he scored nearfalls that were just a little too close for comfort. He applied submissions that came this close to getting the job done. He was using the moves of Mitsuharu Misawa, such as the tiger suplex, on the man leading the new NOAH’s revolution. He kicked out of things that the young boy Kaito Kiyomiya of years past would have succumbed to. It rattled Kenoh. He had to bloody this persistent youngster, mess that pretty little face up. Much of the match was Kenoh cutting Kiyomiya off with sharp moments of violence, like a snap German suplex on the floor as Kaito beat him around ringside, trying to contain his opponent. The other half was Kenoh peppering Kaito’s chest with kicks and beating him from pillar to post to see what he was made of, like a lion toying with its prey. He had to teach him a lesson by beating him by knockout instead of pinning him, a finish that stood out in a very good way. It’s an exciting time because you can see the path NOAH can take in the next year or so. Kaito will keep on improving, Kenoh will keep on beating challengers up. In their next match, maybe Kaito survives the knockout but still gets pinned. Maybe they fight to a draw in the Global League. Maybe Kaito pins Kenoh in a tag team main event. This is NOAH’s first step; where they go from here, we’ll see, but they’re off to a fantastic start.
The aftermath of the main event was awesome. Kaito slapped Sugiura and Kenoh, who he had been previously aligned with before his excursion, putting an end to that relationship. So what did they do? They beat him up, of course. Cue the entire heavyweight NOAH roster to make the save, particularly Go Shiozaki who seems to have taken on the role as his mentor. They kept trying to make Kaito leave but he kept coming back for more. This whole package, the match and what followed, was the perfect example of a wrestler gaining something in defeat. Highly recommended.
NOAH’s momentum from 2017 hasn’t shown any signs of stopping in 2018 because this was a really enjoyable show. The show as a whole flew by, which is always a nice thing to be able to say. The main event was tremendous, the junior tag and the Nakajima/Kitamiya vs. Shiozaki/Kotoge tag were so much fun, and everything else was either short or pretty good as well. When the lowest point is a mildly boring Taiji Ishimori match you know you’re doing alright. However, the most exciting thing is that the stage has been set for the year to come. There’s a lot of potentially exciting matches and storylines on the horizon and it’d be great to see that potential fulfilled.