On October 10th, the GHC Heavyweight championship will be defended as champion Naomichi Marufuji faces the now back-to-back N-1 Victory winner, Katsuhiko Nakajima.
As this rather storied match-up looms in, let’s ask ourselves one simple question: Where are we going with this title match?
This sunday, Naomichi Marufuji and Katsuhiko Nakajima will clash for the seventh time, in what will be their second GHC Heavyweight championship. In their six first matches, each of them won their matches, so this next title match has the added flavour of giving some kind of mental edge to whoever comes out of Osaka as the winner.
Seven years ago, for their first and only title match to date, Marufuji already was champion and the leader of BRAVE. Who else was part of this faction ? Katsuhiko Nakajima, at the time climbing the ranks of the Heavyweight division, lastly facing KENTA for the Heavyweight championship in October 2013.
In this match, Marufuji retained over the much younger and still quite inexperienced Nakajima, continuing on what would be his longest reign on top of NOAH. They will now clash for the first time in this « new » NOAH, and both men are much different from what they used to be prior to the Suzuki-Gun invasion… Especially the challenger.
Let’s first talk about said challenger, Katsuhiko Nakajima. As mentioned, the relationship he shares with Marufuji is not one to underestimate story wise. Facing and beating Marufuji for the top title in NOAH would mean something in that regard, as the now former protege finally overcomes the everlasting top figure of NOAH for the promotion’s richest prize. Nakajima has now beaten Marufuji three times in a row, each time during the yearly Heavyweight tournament, now named N-1 Victory.
As the now first two-time winner of said tournament, and after losing to Go Shiozaki last year, Nakajima comes in not only confident, but determined to become GHC Heavyweight champion for the second time, finally achieving what he has been chasing for the last four years.
There has been a Nakajima defence once every year since he lost the title in 2017, and after losing to Takashi Sugiura, Kaito Kiyomiya and Go Shiozaki all at different stages of his evolution, he now comes across as the best version of himself, and the obstacle he faces is the most iconic in Naomichi Marufuji.
Can the tides finally turn in Nakajima’s favour, or will the story repeat itself ? Will overconfidence against an opponent full of resources and tricks up his sleeve cost him success once again? Or will the evolution he went through finally pay off?
Now looking at the champion, Naomichi Marufuji has defeated an, if not the idol of his in Keiji Muto to join Takashi Sugiura and Go Shiozaki as the only men the hold the GHC Heavyweight Championship four times, the most amount in NOAH’s history. Through this current reign, he also reached at least a total of 500 days a champion. This match will be Marufuji’s 3rd defence and we can wonder, given he hasn’t held the title since 2015, if a four months reign is « sufficient », especially with the Budokan event in January coming closer and closer, which we will come back to later.
The story from his perspective has a relatively similar feeling to the perspective Nakajima has. The moment Marufuji claimed the Heavyweight championship again, this felt like a « finally » kind of moment. A long road where Marufuji took a backseat mostly towards the upcoming younger generation, and where he went through various ups and downs, had finally ended. The undisputed Ace was back on top, and one can bet he wants this reign to last as long as possible, proving he can still lead NOAH.
Regarding Nakajima, Marufuji did say he was going to « shatter his confidence ». « Break him into small pieces ». Needless to say he also is determined in not only keeping his title, but also makes a personal deal of beating Nakajima in its most physical sense.
So, will Marufuji extend his reign and get one step closer towards headlining Budokan? Or will his destiny be, once again, to take a step back and allow the younger generation, here in Nakajima, to blossom on top?
Lastly, let’s focus on the close future, in January 1st and the show in Budokan. Quite obviously, the idea for NOAH is to feature what can be seen as the biggest main event possible. At the very least, one of. A match so big it is not only worthy of happening in such a historic venue, but also sells every seat available.
Whether it is Marufuji or Nakajima walking out of Osaka as the GHC Heavyweight champion, it is safe to say they will make it to Budokan as champion. Therefore, we can start thinking of opponents for each of them to face. One particular name comes to mind, who shares a rather strong history, and storytelling potential, with both Marufuji and Nakajima. That name is Kenoh.
The leader of Kongo, just like Katsuhiko Nakajima has been eating his bread for a long while, failing to reclaim the Heavyweight championship since his short and only reign lasting less than three months in early 2018. He labelled Naomichi Marufuji as one of his enemies, and these two have yet to face off for a singles championship. This match likely is the most anticipated out of all the possibilities about to be unveiled in this article, as it has yet to happen. Kenoh has main evented Sumo Hall two years ago after winning the very first N-1 Victory, and made it back to the finals this year. He also holds the longest GHC National championship. The man who said he would lead NOAH to Budokan managing to headline in this same venue, in what may be the hottest match to possibly happen, against Marufuji is more than a realistic option for next January.
Let’s take a step back and mention Kenoh’s National title reign, and the man he beat to claim the title… Katsuhiko Nakajima. Speaking of which, a rematch against his fellow Kongo stablemate in Budokan also has a strong appeal to it. The « kickfight from hell » has yet to happen for the richest prize in NOAH, and given how the two strikers’ opposition has been presented over time, main eventing Budokan would further cement this rivalry as a pillar of NOAH’s modern history. Kenoh just lost to Nakajima in the N-1 finals, and Kenoh seeing Nakajima make his way back on top prior to him can absolutely strike a nerve and lead to dissension of sorts, heating up this match even more.
There is one another name which should be mentioned because of the uncertainty surrounding him, and that is Go Shiozaki. Can he be ready by January 1st? Such thing is mostly unknown given the state he was in following his physically breaking, and mentally tiring championship reign. One thing is certain however: If ready, Shiozaki instantly climbs pretty high on the list of opponents worthy of a Budokan main event, and the stories with both Marufuji and Nakajima add more than enough of the spice you want for a main event in such a stage.
Yet, another aspect to consider is that Shiozaki already once main evented Budokan last February, and chances are the will to feature a fully different match-up is stronger than the will to exploit what Shiozaki brings on the table.