On March 10th, the GHC Heavyweight championship will be defended by Kaito Kiyomiya, against Naomichi Marufuji. The young and upcoming champion facing the longtime Ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Let’s dive into what makes this match as important as it is, for the champion, the challenger, and possibly even, the future of NOAH itself.
You probably have already heard about the “passing of the torch”, right ? A generation slowly fades away to let the next one takeover, and guide the ship towards the next step. When looking at some of promotion’s established stars, some of them are either starting or definitely getting up there in age. A few examples would be Takashi Sugiura being 48, Go Shiozaki recently turning 37, or Naomichi Marufuji himself approaching 40, which I’ll come back to later on. You would think naming only three wrestlers doesn’t legitimize my claim, but we are talking about three of the last seven GHC Heavyweight champions, apart of a roster counting around 30 people.
Here, the point is to show that NOAH, while still disposing of the likes Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima or Eddie Edwards (who recently returned) for years to come, there is a need to build up one, or a few guys to be alongside other main event talents. There will also be a need to fill up the void which Marufuji will eventually leave, when it’ll be time for him to step aside.
The man who seems in position to fill this eventual void is none other than the current GHC Heavyweight champion, Kaito Kiyomiya. Kiyomiya, since returning from Canada in late 2017, has never stopped rising. From winning both the Tag Team championships and the Global Tag League with Go Shiozaki, to win the Global League and defeat former Heavyweight champion Takashi Sugiura, all in the course of one year. Since then, Kiyomiya has defeated both Kenoh and Masa Kitamiya to retain his first singles championship ever. We are talking about someone who made his official debut less than four years ago. That same someone who is clearly perceived as NOAH’s future. When your nickname is literally “NOAH’s future Ace”, I believe things are clear concerning Kaito. Not to mention how big of an inspiration Kiyomiya sees Misawa as, which only adds to the persona Kaito Kiyomiya is, what he represents to the promotion and what he aims to be. It is exactly what Kiyomiya represents, what he can hopefully become, that is probably his biggest burden at the moment. The expectations around him being as high as they are, he is in a position where defeating Marufuji is a necessity for him, in order to reinforce the idea that he can indeed be the next Ace, to cement himself as a dominant champion besides his young age, and to fully take the responsibility of being the face of NOAH for the next 10 to 15 years.
On the other side of the spectrum is Naomichi Marufuji, the current Ace, who hasn’t been GHC Heavyweight champion for nearly as long as Kiyomiya’s whole career in NOAH. Marufuji, who came back on his word to retire by the age of 40, hopes to win back the Heavyweight championship, from a young man he doesn’t seem to believe has what it takes to carry the Ark after him. While this upcoming match is the ultimate test for his opponent, Marufuji walks in with confidence, which has been reinforced by a submission win over the champion during a multi-man tag match recently, with the use of the “Perfect Key lock”.
The other big thing to consider about Marufuji here, is that he was supposed to face Kiyomiya in the Global League finals last November, but as we know, he had to be sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Therefore, Marufuji must feel like his opponent hasn’t validated anything before he actually beats him. Sure, the champion has defeated Nakajima in the finals, but even Nakajima is no Marufuji, in the eyes of NOAH’s own genius.