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Pro Wrestling NOAH: The Ascension of Katsuhiko Nakajima

In 2020, Katsuhiko Nakajima turned on his tag team partner, Go Shiozaki, who was then the GHC Champion. Nakajima was a prodigy and student of the legendary Kensuke Sasaki, who he shared a father-son relationship with, but when Nakajima struck out on his own, he found long-term success difficult.

Early in his career, Nakajima was a major player in NOAH’s Junior-heavyweight division, winning the title three times. In later years, he shared half of six NOAH tag title reigns, three each with both Shiozaki and Masa Kitamiya. Though Nakajima won the GHC title in 2016, after representing the company earlier in the year at the New Japan G1 Climax, his reign atop the company fizzled.

Shortly afterwards, Nakajima experienced something of an attitude adjustment in forging AXIZ, his team with Shiozaki. However, both the Nakajima character and the man seemed to strive for more. Shiozaki became a stalwart champion, carrying the company flag during the darkest days of the pandemic. Shiozaki’s cries of “I AM NOAH” filled empty gyms and sparsely-populated arenas across the country. Under new and more stable ownership, NOAH, with Shiozaki in front, achieved prominence both in Japan and in the West, something unseen since the days of Mitsuharu Misawa.

But should that level have been reached under Nakajima? As a sneering bastard, Nakajima finally won fans in the way his babyface, son-of-Sasaki character never had. What better time to turn on his ally, Shiozaki?

Nakajima won the 2020 N-1 Victory Tournament, allowing him to face his former partner at the 2020 Chronicle Vol. 4 event. Shiozaki’s role as NOAH Champion came at a price. Shiozaki’s body, much like promotion and nation under COVID-19, was breaking down. He valiantly fought through every match, turning out a multitude of pandemic-era classics.

Any prognosticator could see there was only so much Shiozaki could handle before his body, not his spirit, would finally surrender. It seemed that Nakajima would finally reclaim the GHC and achieve the notoriety meant for him. But to the surprise of many, Shiozaki defeated his former partner.

In December, Go Shiozaki would close 2020 with an epic 60-minute classic against his long-time rival Takeshi Sugiura before finally dropping the title to an aging Keiji Mutoh. Shortly after, Shiozaki left Noah to have reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Masa Kitamiya shaves Nakajima’s head as KENOH watches

Meanwhile, Nakajima found himself again in the tag team division, once again teaming with Masa Kitamiya. However, their reunion was short-lived. As GHC tag champs, the two feuded with a rivalry culminating in Noah’s fist ever cage match. Again, Nakajima found himself on the losing end, which cost him his hair due to a pre-match stipulation.Unlike in the West, where a hair match loser might act unconscious or pout during the hair cut, Nakajima handled it much differently. He sat in the chair and allowed the act to occur. It was clear Nakajima wasn’t happy. His scowl remained unchanged, but he took the punishment and plotted the entire time.

Nakajima never hid his bald head. Instead, he let the locks grow out while he climbed back up the card. On the final night of the 2021 N-1 Victory tournament, Nakajima found himself in the final four, defeating Masakatsu Funaki and stablemate KENOH on the same night. Both matches featured a series of violent kicks, whose snaps echoed in the semi-full arena. The aggression and violence behind those strikes led Nakajima to his second straight N-1 title. Less than a week later, he again found himself challenging the GHC Champion, this time Naomichi Marufuji. In a for sure match of the year contender, Katsuhiko Nakajima finally ascended to the top of Pro Wrestling Noah and reclaimed the GHC title.

In the post-match, Nakajima simply looked out and said, “I AM NOAH,” a veiled shot at his former partner. Even in the moment of his greatest triumph, Nakajima’s mind drifted back to the mountain he couldn’t climb.

Is a Go Shiozaki return imminent? If so, how long until the most intensely personal rivalry in the company is resurrected? How long until these two former allies battle over the spirit of Pro Wrestling NOAH?

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