2019 has been a quite difficult yet interesting year for Naomichi Marufuji. The (very slowly) declining Ace of NOAH had quite a hard time performing in big match situations, reaching a low point he may not have reached in years, if ever.
Today’s topic of discussion will be to see how Marufuji can rise back up after his rough year, and most importantly, how he can achieve that.
If there is one man in Pro Wrestling NOAH who hasn’t truly managed to rise up, or back, to prominence this year as the promotion took a new dimension, it is Naomichi Marufuji. The Ace and standard bearer has wrestled 15 singles matches this year, holding so far a record of 6-9. Most importantly, Marufuji was defeated in most of what we can consider his most important matches of the year. Starting all the way back to March 10th, when Kaito Kiyomiya made his third defence of the GHC Heavyweight Championship at Great Voyage in Yokohama. We then slide to the Mitsuharu Misawa memorial shows, last June. On the 9th, Marufuji lost to Go Shiozaki, which was Go’s first win ever over him. Only 4 days later, he went on to lose to Shuhei Taniguchi, another longtime NOAH figure and one of Marufuji’s former tag team partners. While he managed to regain some momentum back, notably after beating fellow Misawa trainee Kotaro Suzuki in August (arguably Marufuji’s biggest win this year so far !), when the N-1 Victory tournament began, he just couldn’t get the job done. Losses to Masa Kitamiya, Go Shiozaki, Takashi Sugiura as well as MLW’s Openweight champion Alexander Hammerstone left Marufuji with a record of zero wins, and of course, zero points. Marufuji finished the tournament he had dubbed the “M-1” at the bottom of the A block. Lastly in a NOAH ring, and while that last match could be seen as more of a symbolic encounter between two of the all-time greats, losing to The Great Muta in Sumo Hall surely didn’t help at all. Let’s not forget about his encounter with Michael Elgin in IMPACT Wrestling, where he also ended up losing.
It is fairly certain that going through such a rough time, when you are the most recognizable star in NOAH in this day and age, can allow frustration, maybe even desperation to grow. Those emotions, as much as they can bring someone to his knees, can also fill them with a very unique determination and will to give it all, for what that person wants. As you may have guessed, this is where we approach the booking aspect of this article.
The first thing I want to bring up is this : Who wouldn’t feel too redundant to challenge Kaito Kiyomiya for the GHC Heavyweight championship at this point, and who would bring the most interesting story going in ?
First of all, NOAH still has 18 shows to run until the end of 2019, which leaves more than enough time to build up one last championship match. Now, as for the challenger. While Go Shiozaki, who mentored Kiyomiya last year and won both Global Tag League and the GHC Tag Team championship with him, would make for a very, very good opponent for the man positioned as the new Ace aboard the Ark, he also doesn’t feel like the biggest threat he can be as long as AXIZ are holding the tag titles. This is where Marufuji slides back in. Not only he has not faced Kiyomiya since March, which in itself freshens the match up, but a frustrated, desperate Marufuji, willing to truly give it all and possibly even putting something on the line, adds a new spice to this rematch. Let’s also mention the more obvious point, which is the Ace vs future Ace rivalry. Kiyomiya already vanquished Marufuji, who entered this match a bit over confident, which played a part in his defeat. Since then, both men have went through a lot, as Marufuji never fully recovered from this loss so far, and Kiyomiya went on to retain his championship three more times, and main eventing NOAH’s biggest event of the year. The dynamic of this rematch would be completely different from their previous encounter, as the pressure would be reversed. Last March, Kiyomiya had to prove he could be the one to lead NOAH in a new direction, now, it is Marufuji who would have to prove he can still follow along (like NOAH’s other pillar, Takashi Sugiura), and rise once again to the top.
Lastly, let’s speak records, prestige and symbolism. Assuming such a rematch would happen in the near future, this would be Marufuji’s chance to tie Takashi Sugiura for the most GHC Heavyweight championship reigns with four, notably putting himself above his mentor and NOAH founder, Mitsuharu Misawa. Marufuji also has not held the championship in over three years, soon to be four by the next of the January. While in terms of symbolism, think of this : When LIDET Enterprises came in as the new owners of NOAH, the first title defence Kiyomiya had to make, as a symbol of change, was against Marufuji. The championship now has a new design, symbolizing this change and NOAH’s new era, just like last March’s Great Voyage in Yokohama symbolized it. As Kiyomiya will eventually defend the newly designed championship for the first time, who could possibly be better to represent the opposition to change, than the same man who first did ?
Now, while setting up the match is great in itself, this is not exactly how Marufuji can rise back to the top, of course. The point of this is him being the one to end Kiyomiya’s reign, just like he was the one who helped propel Kiyomiya in a new dimension in Yokohama. Of course, you could have the young champion retain once again, but let’s not forget one little thing. We are indeed talking of a young champion, who is in his first reign. It has been close to a year since Kiyomiya won the championship from Sugiura, and while he has so far managed to hang on and deal with the pressure, long reigns are tiring. Especially when you are not used to being the top champion, the man a whole company relies on. A tired young champion may very well be easier to beat for Marufuji, as even at a very low point, filled with frustration, we are still talking about one of the greatest Japanese wrestlers of the 21st century. Such a feat is far from his reach.