Could Katsuhiko Nakajima be the one to dethrone Keiji Mutoh ?

Following Keiji Mutoh’s history making win over Go Shiozaki on NOAH’s return to Budokan, Kaito Kiyomiya being the first challenger to the title, and Mutoh signing a two years contract with NOAH, there is a lot to discuss and ponder when looking at the promotion’s landscape.
Will the length of Mutoh’s reign be impacted by his new commitment, and does that lower Kiyomiya’s chances of reclaiming the belt ?
While we could focus on such topics, today I suggest we dive into the potential story to develop between Keiji Mutoh, and Katsuhiko Nakajima.

Keiji Mutoh, the new GHC Heavyweight champion, the third man to win the top championship in New Japan, All Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH, now is a full-time member of the latter company’s roster for the next two years. Being the top champion in NOAH already raised a few questions, and this new commitment adds some more. With the first defence coming on March 14th, there are reasons to wonder if Kaito Kiyomiya will reclaim the Heavyweight title from the man he lost to last summer. If he doesn’t, who will ? And how long would Mutoh’s reign last from that point ? We can even wonder how NOAH will manage to have the 58 years old champion defend the championship rather regularly.
Following Kiyomiya, who comes to mind as potential challengers ? The first name may very well be Go Shiozaki, who looked frustrated to say the least following his defeat, and may wish for another chance to avenge his loss. Another name coming to mind is Naomichi Marufuji, Mutoh’s comrade within M’s Alliance. A match between two legends, as well as a rematch from the Ryogoku Sumo Hall event from November 2019. The third name, and the one we will be focusing on in this piece, is NOAH’s own devilish figure : Katsuhiko Nakajima.

Why would anyone throw Nakajima in the mix when his current program for the next couple of months seems to centered around a return within the tag division, alongside Masa Kitamiya ? For a couple of reasons. First of all, let’s make one thing clear : If such a match were to happen, there isn’t a clear cut outcome above all else, depending on context and timing. Second of all, NOAH hasn’t been shy to book current tag team champions (which Nakajima could be in a few weeks) in Heavyweight championship matches. Now, I suggest we look at the story and in-ring reasons why this particular match is a possibility to look at, if your name is NOSAWA Rongai.
Let’s start by discussing the backstory. In February of 2020, Katsuhiko Nakajima came to the now defunct WRESTLE-1, Mutoh’s own promotion, to challenge then top champion Daiki Inaba (who now also wrestles in NOAH). It didn’t take Nakajima’s greatest effort to dispose of Inaba, thus claiming his first singles championship since his first GHC Heavyweight run from 2016-2017. In his run as WRESTLE-1 champion, Nakajima kept showing disrespect to the promotion, the wrestlers and the fans, in a short yet impressive heel performance. He retained the championship against Shotaro Ashino, and ultimately was vanquished by the promotion’s president Kaz Hayashi in March. While Mutoh didn’t intervene during Nakajima’s short reign of terror, surely seeing an outsider throw the W-1 belt on the floor a bunch of times, and show constant disrespect to everything he built must have been quite infuriating. Both men likely haven’t forgotten about this, and one could say Mutoh wishes to teach Nakajima a lesson himself. On the flip side, Nakajima being his cocky self, would anyone be surprised if he mentioned that while making a hypothetical challenge ? Besides the obvious wish of becoming champion again, such a thing could even be another source of motivation.

Now then, let’s talk about the hypothetical match-up in the ring. Not only, in case Mutoh’s reign lasts several months, will NOAH need to find challengers, but they need to find ones who are able to work at a slower pace, and manage to bring emotional investment to the table. Nakajima ticks most, if not all boxes needed for a relatively good Keiji Mutoh title defence. His rather methodical yet hard-hitting offense, his character work in matches can help bring emotional investment, more precisely sympathy towards Mutoh. Speaking of the GHC champion, he would have an easy target to focus and work on to get the edge over his opponent, in Nakajima’s greatest offensive tool : His legs. With trademark moves such as the Dragonscrew leg whip, and the Figure Four leg lock, Mutoh has his own path to potential victory laid out for him in such a match-up.
No matter the result, which we will come back to, the main point here is to say that this match isn’t solely credible regarding story bits, but also due to how both wrestlers work. Nakajima sliding in after a few months of Mutoh reigning, and disposing of him in decisive fashion would be believable. Just like Mutoh managing to retain by weakening Nakajima’s kicking ability, while possibly exploiting his opponent’s overconfidence, which has cost him in the past would be.

Let’s now discuss the outcome, and its meaning, of such a match before ending this piece. If Mutoh were to retain, a defence against Nakajima would serve the purpose of buying time, like any others before the chosen man eventually reclaims the GHC Heavyweight championship. If Nakajima were to be that chosen man, however ? I would say things get rather interesting from that point on. The first thing is that this story around Mutoh as champion would take a rather surprising turn, as it wouldn’t be the expected « heroic » figure who gets the victory at the end of the day. The more villainous one would. Heroes like Shiozaki, Kiyomiya and Marufuji all failing to bring the belt back in the hands of a NOAH born (or NOAH made) wrestler, for NOAH’s own devil to do it in their place. An unusual, yet potentially logical depending on your perspective. It would at the very least be interesting enough to tell a story where the usual heroes of the Ark fail in their attempt to be the acclaimed figure standing tall in the end. Having to run after the evil inside the Ark for the title, and make up for their failure that way.
The other bit of story a Nakajima win opens is, of course, the match-ups with former W-1 wrestlers. Daiki Inaba has yet to meet Nakajima one on one in NOAH, and has never been in any big match situation there besides one match against Kiyomiya. He who needs to be elevated surely would benefit from being featured in a Heavyweight title match. The same could be said about Nakajima’s current comrade in Kongo, Manabu Soya. The two former WRESTLE-1 champions both have reasons to run after Nakajima : Avenging the man they will always be linked to through W-1, while avenging previous losses they suffered at the hands of Kongo’s Joker, and make him regret his ways while he was roaming in their previous home.

Could NOAH revive a story made-in WRESTLE-1 to tell around Keiji Mutoh and the GHC Heavyweight Championship ? Who knows. As unlikely as Katsuhiko Nakajima being the next champion sounds given the current context, I hope this piece made you think about this idea, and potentially convinced you of its on-paper credibility.
Until then, let’s see what NOAH has in store for us on March 14th !

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