One of Pro Wrestling NOAH’s most storied rivalries exploded on Sunday at Pro Wrestling NOAH’s year-end The Best: The Final Chronicle. In the main event, Go Shiozaki defended his GHC World Heavyweight Championship against former champion and current GHC Tag Team co-champion, Takashi Sugiura.
Just two weeks ago, Shiozaki defended the championship in a match of the year contender against his former friend, Katsuhiko Nakajima. It wasn’t surprising that Sugiura would challenge the champion: what was surprising was just how quick the match came.
NOAH’s 2020 resurgence rua adjacent with Shiozaki’s GHC championship reign. This weekend’s defense seemed to have had higher interest due to the length and intensity of the rivalry.
Both competitors have four separate reigns with the GHC, having won and lost the titles to each other in the past. Expectations were high, as two of their previous encounters have ranked as some of NOAH’s all-time classics. Before the match, the NOAH production team screened an emotionally charged video package detailing their extensive history in the company starting with NOAH’s founding in 2000. The video paid special focus on Shiozaki’s relationship with the late founder, Mitsuharu Misawa. To longtime fans of the promotion, this video segment made clear both men’s deep roots in the company.
The match was a war. Sugiura constantly attacked Shiozaki’s injured shoulders to the point that the champion wore agony across his face even as he used his own strikes. Fifty-three brutal minutes culminated with three huge lariats from Shiozaki. The first two staggered the challenger, but Shiozaki roared and delivered the final blow, securing the fall and pleasing the crowd, who showered the ring thunderous applause.
This is the second time in less than a month the GHC Champion has offered up a match of the year contender. Go Shiozaki has achieved the position as the promotion’s “ace” performer, but with every match, his body looks closer to breaking down each time. Shiozaki has survived his last two challenges with only sheer willpower and fighting spirit, and his connection with the NOAH crowd is as strong as any top performer’s in the world. When he calls out “I am NOAH! We are NOAH!” his words don’t play as a simple catch-phrase; the crowd and its champion are connected on an almost-spiritual level seldom seen in modern pro wrestling.
Afterwards, the legendary Keiji Muto came outand challenged Shiozaki. The champion accepted, and their match is set for February 12 at the famed Nippon Budokan Hall. This will be NOAH time in the Budokan since Kenta Kobashi’s retirement in 2013.
In the GHC National Championship match, KENOH retained his title against Kazushi Sakuraba. Late in the match, the challenger secured a leg lock on KENOH, who pushed backwards pinning Sakuraba’s shoulders to the match, in a finish similar to Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII.