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TRS: Pro Wrestling NOAH



4 October 2007

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I know I said last time that I would look at the overall structure of Puro and look at all the organisations histories and all but then I thought why go and blow it all in one piece? Why not just break it down and do it one by one and make it just that bit easier for the reader, afterall I’m doing it for them and not me…

So I decided that yep, one by one it shall be and I decided I would start with my favourite Puro Company… Pro Wrestling NOAH

Everyone who knows about Japanese wrestling knows about how the company came about. It was every single native worker in All Japan Pro Wrestling bar Kawada and Fuchi and nearly all the back room staff who decided that is Mrs. Baba wanted to strip Misawa of the president title and run the company with Kawada on top that they would walk.

She refused to back down and so Misawa, Kobashi, Taue, Akiyama, Takayama, Omari, Marufuji, KENTA, Vader, 2 Cold Scorpio, Kanemaru, Hashi, Rikio, Morishima, Kikuchi, well everyone pretty much all packed their bags and headed down to Differ to start a fresh…

The idea was simple… you take one of the most over and biggest draws in recent years (Kobashi), the much loved work horse (Taue), the fastest rising star in the East of the time (Akiyama) and a living legend who had sold out the Dome twice and engaged in more classic matches in a eight year span then the WWE/ECW roster has between them (Misawa) and the style of All Japan and give it a twist…

For a start Misawa knew he couldn’t keep himself on top forever (he still knows it but can’t do much about, but more on that later) so he drew up the plan of having Akiyama go heel and turn on Kobashi and have that as his first headline feud.

It all started well with Kobashi & Akiyama v Taue & Misawa on their first show in front of a sell out crowd of 1,800 fans. ‘Departure’ it was called and it set the stall out early for where NOAH would go as Akiyama defeated first Misawa with his front neck lock and then Taue with his Exploder to gain both falls for this team… after which Akiyama turned his back on Kobashi and set the ball in motion.

This lead to Akiyama v Kobashi at ‘Departure #2’ the day after where the two took part in a two out of three falls match which Akiyama won, again taking down a former Triple Crown champion with his front neck lock.

Akiyama was now seen as the heel and leading star, it was after all Misawa’s intention to run this feud in All Japan over the Triple Crown but had seen it cut by Mrs. Baba who wanted Kawada v Kobashi to end with a title switch and then a Omari v Kawada feud. She even had Omari win in the Championship Carnival of 1999 over Akiyama in under a minute with the Axe Bomber. Outrage at this lead to Misawa’s departure and now he was looking to right those wrongs…

Ever since this stage and all the way till 2005 the promotion had always seemed focused on the AJPW wrestlers who had headlined in Triple Crown matches in days gone by. Kobashi was the main focus and from 2003 to 2005 was the World Champion. Akiyama was often in the mix, first as the man Misawa attempted to establish as ace and then later as Kobashi’s main rival.

Misawa himself enjoyed two GHC World title runs during this time as was the first ever man to hold that title. Even Ogawa, the former AJPW Junior champion held the title for a while in 2002 much to the fans and critics dismay.

But the change began in 2004 when Misawa realised that his younger stars, Rikio, Morishima, KENTA and Marufuji where gaining a large following. Spurred on by his own condition which was getting worse and also that of Taue and Kobashi he decided to go all out and push the biggest and most experienced of the four.

In November 2004 Rikio pinned Kobashi in the 2 Day Tag Tournament, the first man to put him down since the summer of 2003. Rikio was then made number one contender and in the spring of 2005 ended Kobashi’s two year reign as champion and became the GHC World Champion.

However this was not a move the fans liked and even handing Misawa his first direct loss in two years did nothing for Rikio. Eventually at the fans willing Misawa had him lose the title to the ever popular Akira Taue who himself was quickly deposed by Jun Akiyama.

This did nothing for the title or Aki who floundered in meaningless defences and matches that failed to live up to their billing (v Inoue and against Suzuki) before Misawa decided it was time for Junior Heavyweight Marufuji to grasp the gold.

This was the fourth champion inside a year and after the two year run of Kobashi it was seen as a step backwards by the promotion. To add to their woes Kobashi discovered he had Kidney Cancer and had to bow out from the ring to heal.

Undeterred Misawa went with his next big idea, placing KENTA in the main event slot against his former tag partner and new GHC champion.

It failed, the two attracted less then a sell out to the 16,000 Budokan Hall in Tokyo just a year or so after Sasaki v Kobashi had drawn well over 50,000 to the Dome. Fan became restless and wanted a change, a man to get behind but the question is, who?

Misawa reacted in the only way he knew how to, he dethroned Marufuji (who was by now the only person to have won all five title belts in NOAH) and set himself back up at the top.

But the problem is who can replace him? Akiyama has been damaged by bad booking twice whilst champion, Taue is broken down and Kobashi hasn’t even set a concrete return date which leaves Misawa with the failure, Rikio (who has since gone down with a spinal injury), Marufuji, KENTA and Morishima as his most popular wrestlers but they all are wrestlers who have never made big money, never really drawn and in some cases haven’t had the wins in the rank obsessed Japanese game to be called a definite championship contender.

The general view is that Morishima is being groomed for the top spot along with Kobashi’s young protégée Go Shiosaki. Marufuji is still around the top of the card and KENTA it seems is being kept between the heavy and junior heavy scenes just in case.

But the biggest news in this scenario? Samoa Joe that’s what. When Marufuji and Misawa collide on the 29th the winner knows that they will face the former RoH, X-Division and Tag champion the next month with the GHC title on the line. Joe, who is respected in Japan after his superb match against Kobashi in RoH and his time with Zero One is being hyped as massive threat and star in Japan at the moment but will NOAH take the risk (like NJPW would) by placing their top gold on him?

Would they have him face Misawa in a smarks dream match or take on Marufuji who sparkled against Joe in RoH?

Either way this match and the last months of 2007 are huge ones for NOAH. The top line talent has become stagnant due to poor booking but the match quality is as always high – but in today’s poor market that is no longer enough to guarantee a sell out.

In the past Misawa has been quick to push outside talent almost to the top of the company with people such as Mike Awesome, Bison Smith and Vader coming close but never reaching the top.

I think in the best interest of the company they need an outsider to come in and hold the title, it needn’t be Joe as his TNA commitments could hurt the title as he wouldn’t be able to tour but with NOAH’s relationships with other companies boosted through the new GWPA Alliance they should be able to bring someone in.

This way it can set up for two things, one, have a younger talent chase down the outsider and have the boost of bringing the gold back to the company or two…. Wait for Kobashi to come back and chase him down.

Option one is best for the long term prospects of the company but seen as everyone after Kobashi that has held the gold has not drawn to the same level Misawa could well go with option number two.

Either way the in-ring action still kicks ass so I’ll be watching with interest as the action goes down in the future months.

Robert Heard



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