May 14, 2021

“I Am NOAH”: My Retrospective Watching Go Shiozaki’s 2020 Title Reign

I have to admit first that I am not a Pro Wrestling NOAH guy.

If you want to come in for an expert assessment or a historical record of Go Shiozaki’s title reign, I’m not your guy. Yet, if you love pro wrestling and want to experience a great title reign that rejuvenated me last week, come on in and keep reading. Go Shiozaki’s title reign made me really happy and reminded me what I love about pro wrestling.

My knowledge of NOAH was very basic. This is what I had: why it started, who jumped from AJPW to NOAH, and I saw a lot of the classics with Mistuhara Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, and when US talents went over. Hell, one of my favorite pro wrestling matches is Kenta Kobashi vs Mitsuharu Misawa (check it out. You’ll thank me later). I also paid attention to the promotion when they came to this side of the world with ROH. Eventually, I stopped paying attention and became fully an NJPW guy. That is, until November 2020.

On my Twitter timeline there was buzz with a match: Go Shiozaki vs Katsuhiko Nakajima.

I decided to check out the second half of the card, and while I was impressed with Kenou vs Kaito Kiyomiya, what ended up capturing me was Nakajima slowly torturing Shiozaki. Then two weeks later, I was back watching Sugiura trying to finish up the corpse of Shiozaki, who survived a 50-minute glorious torture session. It was so intense that I ended up exhausted and exhilarated. Then Mutoh came and killed the excitement I had with the GHC title defenses.

I tried getting into Mutoh’s title reign, but, well, he’s not good. Once again my excitement for the promotion went away, until I found links to the matches of Go Shiozaki’s title reign. I’m going to go one on one for each match that I watched. These matches not only reminded me why NOAH is awesome and has great pro wrestling, but made me appreciate Shiozaki on a whole new level and each match gave me something to think about:

Go Shiozaki vs Kaito Kiyomiya (c)
NOAH in Korakuen Hall New Sunrise
January 4, 2020

While Wrestle Kingdom had Ibushi vs Okada and Ospreay vs Hiromu, next door Shiozaki and Kiyomiya were killing it in Korakuen and threatening to take the “match of the night” moniker away from them. This was just a superb wrestling match on a night that had awesome matches all around. This is when Shiozaki’s reign started.

The match had a bit of a different structure from his defenses, where he was killed. In here, he was the killer doing everything in his power to take down Kaito. Kaito tried to take away Go’s chops by hurting his arm and starting the trend that would continue in each subsequent match, but it was not enough. It was also awesome to see a full wrestling crowd go nuts for everything each man did. This was rough, tough, fast-paced, and had me on the edge of my seat. It’s the type of match that if you don’t end up knowing why Go and Kaito are awesome and why Kaito is eventually going to be the ace of NOAH, I don’t know what else to show you. It was a perfect start to what would be, in this writer’s opinion, the best title reign of 2020.

Go Shiozaki (c) vs Kazuyuki Fujita
NOAH Pro Wrestling NOAH 20th Anniversary ~ NOAH The Chronicle Vol. 2
March 20, 2020

We start here with the empty arenas. This is also where fans of this match will call me an uncultured swine because I did not enjoy this. Want to know the main reason why I did not like it? I like when stuff happens.

The first 30 minutes of this match are Go and Fujita just staring at each other. 30 fucking minutes. I get the fun of watching this live with fans worldwide, everyone tweeting and writing, waiting for the first strike. But watching it alone? Forget about it. I fast-forwarded this and was not impressed by the match either. Maybe I felt this way because of the staredown. Also, Fujita spat hand sanitizer on Go, which is a great way to waste resources to protect us from this virus. At least I applaud them for trying something new. But Jesus, a 30-minute staredown with no crowds.

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Go Shiozaki (c) vs Akitoshi Saito
NOAH Go Forward
June 14, 2020

This match occurred on the anniversary of Misawa’s tragic death. Unlike the previous match, this was a banger. I did not know Saito, so when I saw this man entering the ring, looking like a grizzled badass, I was ready. The match started with takedowns and a test of strengths, until Saito got the advantage by attacking Go’s arms and back. Saito was a monster and on this empty arena setting it was felt even more. The sounds echoed throughout the empty room. The match ended with a lariat from Go. After the match both men were standing in the ring, and while I don’t know Japanese, from what I gathered they were talking about their respect for Misawa and Go’s statement that he was at this moment NOAH.

NOAH produces really awesome video packages that you don’t need to know Japanese to understand. I think you will get the gist of it, so don’t miss them to enter the match with a bit of context. This is one of the reasons why I was into all of this too: all of the video packages gave an added importance to each match. All of Go’s defenses felt important and it felt that all of them had some kind of significance, either by the match occurring on an important date or the history with his opponent.

Go Shiozaki (c)  vs Naomichi Marufuji
NOAH Departure 2020
August 5, 2020

On his quest to keep proving that he was indeed NOAH, Go had to face one of the promotion’s most recognizable faces worldwide: Naomichi Marufuji. Before when people spoke of NOAH, my thoughts went to Marufuji, Kobashi, Misawa, and KENTA. Now to me NOAH is Go, and he proved it when he beat Marufuji in 30 minutes. The crowd being back provides a much-needed spirit to the proceedings. The match is well paced and this is when we start to see the champion beginning to break down by his title defenses. Marufuji perfectly incorporated his high-flying moves for much greater impact and excitement. I also loved that Go won with the moonsault instead of the lariat, throwing out his other finisher. This was a fantastic contest to finally give Go the chance to say that he beat one of the faces of NOAH in a hard-fought battle.

Go Shiozaki (c) vs Kenou
NOAH Pro Wrestling NOAH 20th Anniversary ~ NOAH The Chronicle Vol. 3
October 8, 2020

The GHC champion vs the National champion. You don’t need much of an introduction, just two dudes who represent the company figuring out who’s better. With the running time, it does not take a genius to know that it ends on a time limit draw (and if you care about that, sorry for the spoiler). I was worried about this match since I hate long matches that are long for the sake of it, but Go did his magic and it was a really easy watch even knowing the result.

It was moving all the time, and when the bell rang at the end, I was surprised that it was over. I thought that I was 40 minutes in instead of 60. The match had a great pace and was anchored with Go attacking Kenou’s knees, Kenou doing the same with Go’s arms, and there were some seriously crazy spots. When Kenou threw Go from the top rope to the floor outside, and then Kenou jumped with the Coup de Grace on top of him, I cringed. Both men gave their all in this war. Don’t be intimidated by the running time.

Go Shiozaki (c) vs Katsuhiko Nakajima
NOAH Pro Wrestling NOAH 20th Anniversary ~ NOAH The Chronicle Vol. 4
November 22, 2020

This was the 8th best match of the VOW Match of the Year list and each word from the voters is real and not an exaggeration. This was the match that hooked me into 2020 NOAH, a match that blew my mind the same way that an Okada main event blew me away a couple of years ago. I mean, I’m writing about NOAH today! Of course, I was blown away.

Nakajima is one of the coolest dudes in wrestling and he was intertwined with Go his whole career. Like a lot of great friendships in wrestling, this one broke off and Go had to fight his former tag team partner. Both men put each other through hell, especially Nakajima to Go. I can still vividly remember how much abuse Go was receiving that first time I watched it, and the kick vs chop sequence is unforgettable. Go looked exhausted and killed by this man, but since he is NOAH, he was able to overcome this challenge and ended up with the win. This deserves more love, but I understand why the following encounter is the one that resonated with people.

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Go Shiozaki (c) vs Takashi Sugiura
NOAH The Best-Final Chronicle 2020
December 6, 2020

Welcome to the 6th VOW Match of the Year, an orchestra that will sharpen you up for a bit of the old ultra-violence. We have a visibly broken down champ who has had title defenses that have slowly mangled him. Go is made of putty. On the other side of the ring we find Sugiura, the latest Go torturer who does not give a fuck what he needs to do to win. This was such a violent spectacle that 15 minutes in the chest of both men were red, and this match lasts 50 minutes. These are the quickest 50 minutes of your life. You will cringe, you will feel the chops, you will jump in your seat. There is a crowd there, but both men are hitting each other so hard that the sound echoes not only in a room full of people, but said people were gasping. This is the kind of match that friends will hype up and go “YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS”. The match ends with both men exhausted, and while three lariats from Go might seem like a weird way to end this war, it makes sense. I mean, both men are beat up.

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Go Shiozaki (c) vs Keiji Mutoh
NOAH Destination 2021-Back to Budokan
February 12, 2021

This is where the best title reign of 2020 ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper from a man that can barely move. Analyzing the Mutoh situation, I would have understood him taking the title from Go if almost two months had not passed from his last defense against Sugiura. Go’s story throughout his reign was that he was proving that he was NOAH while every opponent was destroying his body, the last war being a high point of this. If the Mutoh match had happened at least 3 weeks later, you could have used the storyline excuse that Go was just fucked up and could not function. But alas, it was two months later and he looked fresh. A positive of the situation is that at least Go was pinned by a surprise pin, he was not beaten down by a 60-year-old. The match itself was not much to write home about and it is the worst match of the title reign, not surprising considering the age of the opponent and his physicality.

While Mutoh’s title reign turned me away from NOAH at the moment, Go’s work was so good that I went back to see the whole title reign and why it was important. He wrestled famous wrestlers from NOAH history, had a war with his former friend, had a match on Misawa’s death anniversary, beat Marufuji to cement him being NOAH, had a 30-minute staredown, a 50-minute war, and went even with the other champion from the company. That’s a lot of important defenses. 6 of the 8 defenses were excellent and great pro wrestling matches, with the two weakest ones giving topics to discuss to wrestling fans worldwide.

A great critically acclaimed title reign is what puts a company on the map, and I think that Go Shiozaki’s output and the importance and excellence that he brought to each of his encounters put NOAH once again on the radar of lapsed Japanese wrestling fans and have possibly gained some frustrated NJPW watchers. Go Shiozaki has been officially added to the great names in NOAH’s history in my head and is the name I will associate with the company going forward. He is truly NOAH.

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