Pro Wrestling NOAH returned to Budokan Hall Friday with its Destination 2021 with the show built around Keiji Mutoh and ending the 405-day GHC title reign of Go Shiozaki.
The championship win by the 58-year old places him alongside Kensuke Sasaki and Yoshihiro Takayama as the only ones to hold All Japan’s Triple Crown, New Japan’s IWGP heavyweight title, and the GHC championship.
It was a show designed to pull on the nostalgia strings for the largest audience they could attract while making their current generation of stars coming off as significant, which is a difficult balancing act but also clear what NOAH is attempting to accomplish specifically with the Mutoh title win. Immediately after the match, Mutoh was confronted by the company’s long-term future star Kaito Kiyomiya and indicating the two are headed for a rematch after Mutoh’s victory last year that makes more sense today.
The main event was a challenge for Shiozaki to prove he is among the very best in the industry to attempt and get a 30-minute match out of Mutoh, who is significantly limited from decades of damage. The match was far from a masterpiece, but the elements of a great match were there by the end with an audience engaged with the near-falls and willing to go along with the ride of Mutoh going for the upset. The scariest moment of the night occurred when Shiozaki had Mutoh lifted on the second turnbuckle, slipped, and Mutoh crashed down at a frightening angle but continued the match. It was a reality check of how far you can tempt fate and this spot could have had horrific consequences.
The two drew upon key moments in the closing stretch to elicit the greatest response such as Mutoh hitting the Emerald Flowsion (which took two attempts so late in the match), and even teasing the top rope moonsault, which he didn’t follow through with. Shiozaki hit his own moonsault and survived multiple shining wizards before Mutoh hit Shiozaki with a Frankensteiner and sat on top of the champion for the three-count.
The fact they got thirty minutes out of Mutoh is a miracle. There were definitely rough spots to the match, but the closing minutes did elevate this match to “great” status, and I was blown away by the performance of Shiozaki, who did have an opponent at the usual caliber to share accolades with. Mutoh got by with the usual array of limited moves and trying to generate maximum impact through facial expressions, close-ups of his frustration, and the hope that the crowd would get behind the legend.
I expect short-term anger over the booking decision to use Mutoh to end such a magnificent title reign, but the goal is a long-term one to solidify Kiyomiya. The jury is out if this one will serve its purpose, but we aren’t there yet.
GHC National Champion Kenoh defended his title defeating Masakatsu Funaki after using a Dragon Suplex and winning out of nowhere. Funaki worked very effectively for his style and age and it was a compelling ten minutes they put together. Funaki used his slaps to irritate Kenoh and was a device to leave the champion vulnerable for a submission attack. After absorbing huge strikes, Kenoh landed his own kicks during the comeback and used a Dragon Suplex, and got the pin.
The finish came out of nowhere but not in a negative way. Funaki endorsed the champion afterward by offering his hand, but Kenoh refused.
Kaito Kiyomiya and Yoshiki Inamura defeated Naomcihi Marufuji and Jun Akiyama after Kitomiya pinned Marufuji with the Tiger Suplex.
This match was designed around the legends putting over the younger tandem of 24-year old Kiyomiya and 28-year old Inamura, who is a big powerhouse with a lot of fire.
Kiyomiya had to overcome an arm injury and was the focal point of the match. After, Akiyama shook hands and endorsed the winners.
The other title change on the show saw Seiki Yoshioka defeat Daisuke Harada and become the new GHC junior heavyweight champion. This was a strong match highlighted by Yoshioka’s strikes and a beautiful moonsault off the top to the floor. Yoshioka won with the Crash Driver ending Harada’s three-month reign.
After the match, Yoshioka was immediately challenged by Atsushi Kotoge, who was victorious earlier in the show during a six-man tag.
There was English commentary on FITE TV with Stewart Fulton and Mark Pickering and I thought the duo did a great job. They were extremely well researched on every wrestler on the show and understood that there might be new eyes watching NOAH but it never felt like they were adjusting their call for a new audience.
WH Park and I will share our thoughts on the main event and the rest of the card on Saturday’s edition of POST Puroresu.
Here are the results from the show:
*Akitoshi Saito over Kinya Okada in 5:11
*Masaaki Mochizuki & Masato Tanaka over Mohammed Yone & Shuhei Taniguchi in 6:59
*Atsushi Kotoge, Daiki Inaba & Yasutaka Yano over YO-HEY, Hajime Ohara & Kai Fujimura in 7:53
*Takashi Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuyuki Fujita, Kazunari Murakami, Kendo Kashin & NOSAWA Rongai over Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya, Manabu Soya, Haoh, Nioh & Tadasuke in 10:58
*GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles: Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA (champions) over Kotaro Suzuki & Ikuto Hidaka in 13:06
*GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship: Seiki Yoshioka over Daisuke Harada (champion) in 11:00
*Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura over Naomichi Marufuji & Jun Akiyama in 18:14
*GHC National Championship: Kenoh (champion) over Masakatsu Funaki in 10:10
*GHC Championship: Keiji Mutoh (champion) over Go Shiozaki in 29:33