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wrestling / Video Reviews

The History Of Pro Wrestling NOAH – Pt. 1

October 9, 2003 | Posted by Mike Veloza

One of the larger promotions in Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH’s influence is starting to spread here in the U.S. thanks to feds like Pro Wrestling Iron. Tons of U.S. wrestlers have competed there and now some of their talent is invading the U.S. In the first installment of this multi-part series for 411mania, you’ll learn about how NOAH was created and through their first few events that set a tremendous standard for future shows.

When Shohei “Giant” Baba died on January 31st, 1999, a little bit of wrestling tradition passed with him. Baba, who founded All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972 and ran the company until his demise, was seemingly one of the few wrestling promoters on the planet who still believed in actual wrestling.

Baba never went the “sports entertainment” route and instead delivered many of the best matches of the 1990’s involving future hall-of-famers like Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and Jun Akiyama. The matches that these men had, particularly the ones against each other, were truly special. All Japan became a tape-trader’s delight here in the States for fans who wanted to see hard-hitting action in their professional wrestling and not silly “gimmicks” or “television characters.” These men deserved to be called “fighters” and wore the term on their sleeves like a badge of honor.

Misawa, who was the company‘s biggest star in the ‘90s, had differences with Baba’s widow, Matoko, over the direction of the company after being named President about four months after the legend’s death. Misawa eventually grew frustrated enough with his situation to bring his vision of professional wrestling to the public stage and worked his last All-Japan card in June of 2000 (after more-than-a year as president and twenty in the ring) to form his own national wrestling company, later named Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Misawa would not be the only active wrestler to leave the talented and deep All Japan roster. Every native wrestler that competed regularly for All Japan, with the exceptions of Toshiaki Kawada and Masa Fuchi (who was forty-eight by this time), decided to follow their leader in a new direction. The mass exodus of talent gave NOAH credibility from the start and made it academic for them to become a national force.

Wrestlers were not the only ones eager to join up with Misawa, as television network Nippon TV dumped All-Japan in favor of the new group and ave them a late-Friday night time-slot. With the All Japan talent pool depleted and Nippon still interested in pro wrestling programming, the choice became an easy one. Now the upstart group was being assured of national television and Mitsuharu Misawa was well on his way to accomplishing what Shohei Baba had almost thirty years ago- starting a successful, national wrestling company, while still maintaining his status as an active competitor.

August 5th was the date announced for the very first show and expectations were certainly high as Misawa talked about “moving the product into the new millennium.” The event would be held in Tokyo at the Differ Ariake, a building that had been no stranger to great wrestling matches over the years. People were eager to see what kind of changes would be in store for some of their favorite wrestlers and what type of twists Misawa would mix into the world of pro wrestling.

Tickets sold quickly and the general public seemed excited, with some scalpers selling tickets for reportedly well over $1,000 American. A
follow-up show was planned for the next night (August 6th) and tickets for that went just as quickly as the first one. For those who weren’t lucky enough to be on hand, they were able to witness the spectacle on tape delay about a week later via Japanese pay-per-view. All eyes were on Misawa and his new promotion from the very start and there was very little room for error with the stakes as high as they were.

From the very first Pro Wrestling NOAH broadcast, you could tell the difference between NOAH and All Japan right off the bat. Misawa still believed in a very physical pro wrestling style, but he made their television and live events “more special” by enhancing production. The television featured better graphics and more elaborate ring entrances were used for the competitors. While Giant Baba was old-school in just about every sense of the word, Misawa wanted to rely on the “strong style” that made him and many of his wrestlers famous, but bring other elements of his company into the twentieth century and provide more pageantry.

The company’s debut was impressive. The fans seemed pleased by the new look and the same style of wrestling they had grown accustomed to. In the first night’s main event, Misawa teamed with Akira Taue to face Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama. Tag team matches often headline shows in Japan, and NOAH started out with four of the biggest names in the country facing each other in the company’s very first main event match. To top it off, it was a 2/3 fall contest, which made the debut even more special. Akiyama, the youngest man in the match (30 at the time) shocked many by scoring both falls for his team, forcing Misawa to submit first and then pinning Taue with his finisher, “the Exploder” in the second and deciding fall. It was a very strong performance. Not only by Akiyama, but by all four competitors.

As if that weren’t enough, Akiyama and his partner, Kobashi, got into a disagreement after the team’s win. It was then announced that they would face each other in the main event of the following night’s show. The news couldn’t get any better for Japanese wrestling fans, with two of Japan’s best and most respected wrestlers facing each other so soon into NOAH’s existence. The fans were treated to a classic when the two met the following evening. Akiyama beat Kobashi in a tremendous match that went almost twenty-five minutes. It was just as physical and athletic as any All Japan match from the past. The upstart promotion had only ran two shows and had already provided two legitimately spectacular matches. NOAH wrestlers gave fans the same action-packed, strong style they had grown to love over the years, but also provided a fresh look and new feeling. Even though they were only two shows in, Misawa proved that NOAH would be a unique and exciting wrestling promotion.

In the next part…the crowning of NOAH’s first champion and the NOAH debuts of US natives Mike Modest & Donovan Morgan!

Mike Veloza is a writer for Pro Wrestling Iron at www.prowrestlingiron.com.!

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