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Keiji Muto … forever? Pro Wrestling NOAH Destination 2021 review

At one time, Pro Wrestling NOAH was the top promotion in Japan. However, since founder Mitsuharu Misawa died in 2009, the company has spent more than a decade struggling to find its identity in a shifting pro wrestling landscape.

In 2019, NOAH revamped much of its product to mirror the market-leader New Japan Pro Wrestling from the booking of 22-year-old champion Kaito Kiyomiya to renaming their yearly round-robin tournament the N-1:Victory, and even recommissioning a new Global Honored Championship belt to bear more than a passing resemblance to the IWGP title. However, NOAH’s attempt to follow NJPW did little to improve their standing.

At the beginning of 2020, NOAH was purchased by CyberAgent, parent company to DDT and Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. Since finding stable leadership, the promotion has continued to establish its identity. Under Champion Go Shiozaki, NOAH has redefined itself and its function in the Pro Wrestling sphere. The Destination show firmly established NOAH as the alternative product to New Japan. As NJPW moves closer to embracing western booking and storytelling, NOAH has decided to place its focus in-ring. The NOAH product features top-notch wrestling action with few angles or sports entertainment-style booking. While companies like New Japan and DragonGate present strong rosters with a healthy mix of young talent, outside of Kiyomiya and Yoshiki Inamura, NOAH lacks youth. Instead, the company has decided to showcase some of the nation’s best freelance competitors. This show featured Masaaki Mochizuki, Masato Tanaka, Masakatsu Funaki, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Keiji Muto, who challenged for the GHC title. Like WWE fans, most of New Japan’s fanbase only follow that product. NOAH has targeted lapsed fans who stopped following the sport in the mid-to-late aughts. They’ve become Bellator to New Japan’s UFC.

Establishing these distinctions, the events of Destination become clear.


The second half of the split card opened with STINGER (HAYATA and Yoshinari Ogawa) defending the GHC Jr. Tag Team titles against Kotaro Suzuki and Ikuto Hidaka in a fun opener, with Ogawa pinning Suzuki after flying head scissors for the fall.

Yoshioka power bombs Harada at Budokan

The next bout featured Daisuke Harada defending the GHC Jr Heavyweight Championship against the former Wrestle-1 standout Seiki Yoshioka. This match was an explosive, high-flying affair that might have been the best match on the card. Yoshioka won the title after pinning Harada with a Styles Clash/Liger Bomb combination.

Kiyomiya and Inamura teamed to face NOAH legends Naomichi Marufuji and the returning Jun Akiyama in a generational tag battle. In his first Budokan match since 2013, Akiyama dominated NOAH’s young team early. Kiyomiya scored the fall over Marufuji after a Tiger Suplex.

The semi-main event featured GHC National Heavyweight Champion KENOH defending his title against Masakatsu Funaki. The ageless Funkaki looked incredible, spending most of the match keeping the champ on defense. But with his KONGO stablemates watching, KENOH caught Funaki with a Dragon Suplex for the win. Again, KENOH survived a challenge from an outsider.

The Destination show firmly established NOAH as the alternative product to New Japan.

The main event kicked off with a remarkable video package between Shiozaki and Muto, setting the tone for a special title defense. The champion brought the fight to Muto early, but the aging icon kept battling. Though Muto struggles to merely get around these days, he still moves with fluidity and grace in the ring. His Flashing Elbow and the Dragon Screw legwhip looked as good as ever.

KENOH at Destination

Towards the end of the match, Muto struggled to lift Shiozaki for his famed rib-breaker but rallied all of his energy to lift Shiozaki. Muto delivered the move made famous by Shiozaki’s mentor, Miswasa, the Emerald Flowsion. Shiozaki kicked out, climbed to the top with Muto over his shoulder, and hit an Avalanche Emerald Flowsion of his own. As the champion looked to land one final lariat, Muto countered with a hurricanrana to score the upset victory. The veteran pulled out one last miracle win.

In the aftermath, Shiozaki was furious with his loss. The win was presented as Muto catching the former-champion rather than scoring a decisive victory. However, another former champion made his presence felt, as Kaito Kiyomiya came out to challenge the new champion. Destination ended not with its new champion in the ring but with Kiyomiya looking out onto the Budokan crowd, hoping to get another crack at the man who beat him last fall.

 

Pro Wrestling NOAH Destination: Back to Budokan replay is available for FREE on ABEMA TV.

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