He was the first GHC Heavyweight Champion to be a gaijin*, but as Kenoh himself admitted "Eddie Edwards did not simply get on a plane and come to Noah. He is from the Noah dojo, and from there he grew wings and took flight in the world."
This is the story of Eddie Edwards and Kenoh, and how like the other seniors, Edwards did his part to ensure the future of Noah at a time when that future looked bleak.
By August 2017, Noah were trying to restore what was left of their shattered promotion. The alliance with New Japan had proved to be a disaster, and after the invading army had left, Noah had crept back to their village, found they had a population problem (i.e. they only had a small percentage of their viewers remained from the disaster of the last couple of years) and started trying to repair their home.
Never ever again would they rely on anyone or anything else other than their own, which is a huge sign of why Eddie Edwards was trusted with the GHC Heavyweight title, despite being a gaijin. They could have chosen Marufuji or Shiozaki (Takashi Sugiura's heart problems had caught up with him and he was on long term absence because of it), but no, they chose Eddie Edwards to take the belt from Katsuhiko Nakajima.
By October 2016, Nakajima was in his late twenties, and had been wrestling since he was about fifteen. He had partially grown up in Noah's green ring, he had at a young age wrestled all the old guard in Noah, and while the fans were fond of him (nicknaming him "Katchan", a name which still sticks despite his current heel persona), as a champion he did not connect. Any other belt could be put on him, but not the Global Heavyweight Crown. He wasn't ready to be the face of the promotion just yet.
Since Takashi Sugiura had been sidelined with health issues, Kenoh, his tag partner, had refused President Uchida's offer of another tag partner, and instead concentrated on the singles league. His breakout moment came when he competed in Zero-One's "Fire Festival"; his hard hitting style, constant scowl, foul mouth, and disdain for authority was winning him over both at home in Noah and outside of it. Noah, seeing the opportunity for new blood to have the title in both Kenoh and Edwards, plus a chance to generate publicity, took the decision of having Eddie Edwards beat Nakajima for the GHC Heavyweight title, which he did on August 26th 2017.
Never ever before in the history of Noah, had a gaijin held the GHC Heavyweight title. Never ever before had a gaijin been the face and the ace of the company. Never ever before had a gaijin been the one who would traditionally lead the company. Admittedly for Noah (and their fans) it was a strange situation. Although Edwards was one of them (despite working for Ring of Honor previously and then with IMPACT), he had commitments in America, and so unlike the other gaijin in the company on long term visa (i.e. Cody Hall and Quiet Storm), he would be unable to spend any length of time in Japan.
Global League was also coming up, and this worked in Noah's favor.
For the first time in seventeen years, the GHC Heavyweight Championship was not resident in Noah. Edwards took it back to America, where it was defended on IMPACT wrestling. In an article in Yahoo Japan, it was said that Noah were disturbed by the situation and there was talk of "sending thugs over" to get it back.
This never happened.
However, it suited Noah to have both the champion and the belt out of the way, as it gave them the chance to build up Kenoh without concentrating on the champion or the belt being physically present.
During Global League 2017, fan attention was focused on three people; Katsuhiko Nakajima, who wanted redemption for losing the belt to Eddie Edwards, Go Shiozaki, who felt the belt would redeem him, and Naomichi Marufuji, who wanted redemption for not defeating Edwards for the belt before Global League began. So while everything boiled down to Marufuji vs Shiozaki, no one at all saw Kenoh rising quietly. His wins were acknowledged, but very few fans gave much thought to him, seeing him as simply someone who was doing well, but would ultimately not reach the final hurdle.
Then the unthinkable happened. Masa Kitamiya defeated Naomichi Marufuji, meaning there would be no one on one for himself and Go Shiozaki in the final (Go Shiozaki at the time of writing has never defeated Naomichi Marufuji in a singles match), but instead it would be Kenoh vs Shiozaki.
I sometimes wonder how Korakuen Hall, with all its weight, all its history and all of its drama, is still standing. It has been witness to some incredible moments in Puro, and this night was another memory added to the ether that those four corners had witnessed since the doors of the venue opened in 1962 (long before either of the competitors in the ring had even been born), when after what can only be described as one of the most hard hitting and electric matches Pro-Wrestling Noah had ever put on, Kenoh defeated Go Shiozaki and made his challenge to Eddie Edwards for the GHC Heavyweight title. Without even questioning what type of champion Kenoh would make, the fans were behind him, but this didn't mean that he didn't need Edwards. On the contrary, he needed him very much.
Takashi Sugiura had helped Kenoh get into the heavyweight league as his tag partner, (a tried and trusted method that works), but now he needed to be put over as someone who could do little more than just simply win the tag league, and who the fans liked. Everyone knew he could do it, but knowing and seeing are two different things, he and Edwards needed to make it a reality.
Kenoh needed to prove it.
In early December, Eddie Edwards returned to Japan and took part in Noah's last tour of the year "Winter Navigation". Noah teased pre-matches whereby champions would face their challengers in tag matches. For Kenoh, this wasn't to be as easy as he thought, with Edwards getting the first win over him the first time they clashed, and then again with the same move (Boston Knee Party), second time they met. Kenoh got the win the third time, but the other three times remained inconclusive with the win being got by another member of the team, or by themselves on someone else.
Although there were no backstage brawls between them (it happens in Noah, but not every week), promos also served to ramp up the tension. Kenoh screaming "damn" after being beaten the second time, Edwards saying he realized Kenoh was a novice when he hit him with the Boston Knee Party, and that he was fighting to protect the spirit of Misawa's Noah that Kenoh wanted to destroy.
Unlike the later generation, those raised in the Misawa era (and under his strict eye in the dojo), don't often use profanity. Simply put, neither Misawa or Kobashi would have allowed it from them, and they weren't raised like that, so Kenoh made a marked different from the veterans of the previous generation with statements like "stupid bastard, this is the end of this!".
So when it came to it on the 22nd December 2017, back at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, the facts were this, Naomichi Marufuji, had tried to defeat Eddie Edwards and failed, Kenoh had beaten him only once, and that was in a tag match, and the 1,615 people who packed into Korakuen Hall that night were on the edge of their seats, that is, if they weren't standing up and screaming.
The match was electric, you could feel the tension right away, even before the bell rang when President Uchida showed the belt as traditional to both competitors. Eddie Edwards, raised in the Noah dojo, bowed; Kenoh seemingly didn't even acknowledge it, or Uchida, he was standing completely still.
Then the bell rang.
It was like the first shot of a war. Any war; the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the shots that signaled the First World War, you name it, this was the puro equivalent. Seconding at ringside with Junta Miyawaki, Shelton Jean commented that at one point both he and Miyawaki looked at each other in concern as Kenoh had knocked Edwards out of the ring with such force, they seriously thought he was dead.
The battle raged for almost half an hour. Korakuen was screaming, people at home were watching hiding behind their hands and peeping through their fingers. No man spared the other anything, both knew that they were fighting not only for the belt as the storyline dictated, but for Noah's survival, which was in fates hand, and fate had recently been so cruel to Noah.
Edwards had put Kenoh over as much as he could, and Kenoh typically rose to the challenge. He not only wanted the belt, wanted to lead Noah, but he also wanted to prove to the returning Takashi Sugiura, that he had come far and was ready now to go at it alone.
The end came after 23 minutes and 50 seconds, when Kenoh, to a crowd that was on its feet and roaring (referee Shu Nishinaga later commented about the pounding of feet on the wooden boards), pinned Eddie Edwards with the diving footstomp and became the 30th champion. As Edwards quietly left the ring, Kenoh announced to the hyped up crowd he was "taking you bastards back to the Budokan".
Kenoh had cemented his place in the company, in the main event, and as a heavyweight. Edwards had done his job well.
Eddie Edwards was a gentle champion, a short one, a transitional one, but an important one; he didn't need to scream, he didn't need to point at the camera and yell, he spoke in his soft voice about Misawa and defending Noah, and like the other seniors, he never rose to Kenoh's bait. He was like them in every way.
No one else could have done this, no one outside of the company from anywhere else, would have been trusted with this. Edwards knew how to behave with the belt, he knew what was expected of him as a champion. He had been around Noah long enough to see it first hand and knew how it was to be. Not one single picture ever emerged of a fan wearing it, which would have been seen as a huge insult to both Noah, the belt and Misawa. Never did he try and disrespect it or Noah in any way, even when he defended it abroad. Never was the belt used as a weapon by him or anyone else, never ever was it stolen from ringside by his opponents. It was treated with respect by him, the same way it would have been treated had it been in Noah. He was Noah's champion, and he conducted himself as that.
Noah needed to call on Edwards, he understood what he had be, and what he had to do; namely take care of the belt, keep it out of the way, and put his successor over, which he did very well and without complaint or any hint of tiresome backstage politics. He didn't make any demands, he caused no trouble, he understood what this meant and he did it graciously and enthusiastically.
He may only ever have the belt once, those days he held it, and his safeguarding of Noah, (which he describes as "coming home"), and the fact that he alone will always be the first (maybe perhaps the only) GHC Heavyweight gaijin champion, will be something that no one can ever take from him.
Eddie Edwards said when he won the belt, "Its true, I am an Impact wrestler, but I am also a Noah wrestler", and in these words lies the secret of why Noah put the belt on him in the first place.
He is a Noah wrestler, and he always will be.