Hello, and welcome to “The Green Guide to the history of Pro-Wrestling Noah”. I do hope this will be helpful in giving you a simple background to the promotion and its history. I have tried to be concise to give newer fans (or indeed older fans wanting to know more) a glimpse of how Noah was during the golden era and the darkness that settled after Misawa’s death, but it is not possible to cover everything, so I have tried to concentrate on the basics.
Noah's founder, Mitsuharu Misawa, was born in Yūbari, Hokkaidō on June 18th 1962. His early years were not happy as his father was a violent alcoholic, who regularly beat his wife (and at one time stabbed her her). Misawa's interest in gym came from the need to protect himself, he felt that if he was well built then no-one would attack him.
While training as a gym teacher, Misawa paid a visit to the All Japan Dojo, where he was met at the door by Jumbo Tsuruta, who told him to graduate first and then come back to train. Misawa did just that. It was to be a momentous decision, and no one yet knew how far reaching the consequences would be.
As the years passed, trainees came and trainees went, most were not be able to cope with the tough life, the gruelling training and the strict hierarchy that existed within the dojo; but people did enter and stick it out, such as Naomichi Marufuji (who would become Misawa’s protégée), KENTA (back then known as simply Kenta Kobayashi, eventually he would Romanise and put his forename in capitals to avoid confusion with his teacher, Kenta Kobashi), Makoto Hashi, Takeshi Morishima, Takashi Sugiura, Takeshi Rikkio and Yoshinobu Kanemaru to name a few.
Misawa & Mrs Baba
Sadly Giant Baba succumed to cancer on 31st January 1999, and everything changed in All Japan. Mitsuharu Misawa was appointed President. Almost from the start, disagreements with Giant Baba's widow, Makoto, especially over the way the company was run and the direction in which Misawa wished to take it soured the role, Misawa wished to make it a little more modern which Makoto did not agree with it. Humiliatingly removed by a majority vote of executive board members, Misawa resigned his position. Makoto Baba, seemingly one to never forgive or forget, issued a statement two days later saying to the affect that Misawa was a fool who had acted inconsiderately. Even after many years had passed she would still continue to punish him by even going as far as to cut off her own nose to spite her face by deliberately leaving off most of his most famous All Japan matches on subsequent DVD releases.
Exodus from All Japan
After Misawa made it known to his colleagues (and their trainees who he personally approached according to Takashi Sugiura), that he was going to start his own promotion, and there would be nothing to worry about, but to please follow him and trust him, All Japan then witnessed its most momentous walkout as twenty-four out of twenty-six people resigned. A few days later, twelve more people walked out to join Misawa.
Gathering those who had agreed to follow him into the unknown and work for the new as of yet unnamed promotion, Mitsuharu Misawa held a press conference in May. Suited and sombre, his face pale, Misawa in an emotional voice read out a statement regarding the situation with All Japan:
“As you all already know, I, Mitsuharu Misawa, have resigned as an officer of All Japan Pro Wrestling. I have also given my notice that I will not be re-signing my contract as a wrestler. In other words, I am leaving All Japan.
For about one year, I have tried my best as President to continue the legend of AJPW, however, I feel there is a disconnect between AJPW and the type of wrestling that I want to do in the future. In order to stick to my wrestling ideals, and not to destroy the AJPW that Baba-san created, I have decided to leave.
Regarding my next step, I will be creating a new promotion with the roster that has joined me here today. To the media, staff and fans, I, along with the rest of the roster, apologize for the trouble and worry we may have created. We are planning to do our best from the start. We appreciate your continued support, thank you.”
The formation of a new promotion, was announced in May in Tokyo
It symbolised those who had been saved from the flood. Over time the image of the Ark sheltering those within it from the raging waters around them on stormy seas would become more than an image, it would become an ideal. From its early days the Ark would be a symbol that everyone in Noah would go the same way together and pull together during times of crisis, like the crew of a ship in a storm. The offices and the dojo were set up in the Differ Ariake arena in Tokyo, and it would become home to Noah for the next fifteen or sixteen years.
With the mass walkout, All Japan found themselves without a TV deal as NTV elected not to broadcast them, but instead gave Noah the slot they had been broadcasting All Japan in for the last twenty-seven years. All Japan also found that they couldn’t simply switch to another network as NTV where shareholders. Misawa announced that Noah’s first shows ever would be held over two days on the 5th and 6th of August. They would be called “Departure”. Tickets sold old out in twenty minutes after being released, and for the fans that couldn’t get in, monitors were set up in the parking lot. 1,800 people attended.
The Golden Years
2000 – 2009
Misawa had long admired a gaijin German wrestler called Horst Hoffman, who was active in Japan in the early 1970s, and whose signature color was green, and so he wore green in honor of him. Green was to be the color of Noah, and it would remain that way. After its turbulent and uncertain start, Noah entered a hazy green summertime.
Not agreeing with Baba’s policy that All Japan must stick to All Japan, Misawa happily opened the doors of Noah and working agreements were formed with Ring of Honor (America), WXW (Germany) and promotions in Mexico (where Misawa had spent some time as a rookie). Groups of talent (not just one person) crossed the globe to appear at each these promotions and vice versa.
Misawa admired WXW so much that he was inspired to start SEM in 2006. SEM (named after Noah’s son), was to be a showcase of the up and coming trainees. It was televised, always held in Differ Ariake to 100 people to create a small intimate atmosphere, and Misawa would watch from above. KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji (now fully fledged wrestlers) where trainers, and would appear on the shows with their trainees, other Noah wrestlers and outside talent would often appear. No championships were ever defended on the show, and SEM did not have its own championship league.
The GHC Heavyweight title was inaugurated by Mitsuharu Misawa (who was its first champion), and for the first three years of Noah it was held by the senior heavyweights, until it was decided that new blood should be infused, and it was given to Takeshi Rikio. Naomichi Marufuji, set the record for being the youngest champion at twenty-six, when he held it in September 2006 by beating Jun Akiyama for it. Takeshi Morishima became one of the best Ring of Honor Champions in February 2007 and held the title for 231 days, making twenty defences (many of them memorable, especially for the brutal match in which he caused retinal damage to Bryan Danielson which forced him to wear an eyepatch); he remains the only Noah talent and the only Japanese to have held the title, he himself held the GHC Heavyweight Championship the next year in March 2008.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru was the first holder of the GHC Junior Championship, the GHC Heavyweight Tag belts were first held by 2 Cold Scorpio and Big Van Vader, and the first GHC Junior Heavyweight tag Champions where KENTA & Marufuji in 2003.
Differ Ariake has been called “the spiritual home of Noah”, and it was here that they had their happiest days in the endless summer they were in. As well as holding events and SEM, they filmed their Christmas specials there, other smaller skits (like the famous Power Ranger skit, "Difa Ariake Sentai No Arranger", with the evil Kobashi taking on Green Ranger Misawa), the Fan Appreciation events (which included a talk show, the dojo Chanko, a flea market at Christmas were fans could buy the wrestlers old gear, and other fan events).
Noah opened a small office in Haiwaii to deal with their American and European promotional activities, which could not be easily dealt with in the Tokyo office. They also had an English language website; such was their international presence at this time, which was separate to their official Japanese one (although it never contained any noteworthy news or a good layout, and was not updated as regularly, unlike the main site). They could also afford to run co-promotional short tours in Europe (England and Germany), with full staff and roster in attendance.
It was round about 2002\2003 that Go Shiozaki and Eddie Edwards entered the Noah dojo at Differ. Go Shiozaki was later sent on “expedition” out to Harley Race’s Training camp and later he had a spell in Ring of Honor. Eddie Edwards was one of the first (if not the only) gaijin to train at Noah’s dojo and be considered part of Noah.
This was the era of the stadiums; with a vibrant young roster, outside talent and active veterans with tremendous drawing power still, Noah had no problems booking their larger shows (for example “Destiny 2005” which drew 62,000 people) at arenas such as the Nippon Budokan and the Tokyo Dome. They ran seven shows at the Nippon Budokan in 2006 and 2007, six in 2008 and four in 2009; over that period of time they drew 8,000 - 19,000 people.
It was round about 2005/2006, maybe a little earlier, that Misawa realised that he had to prepare for the future, as there were clouds starting to gather in the sunshine. In June 2006, Kenta Kobashi was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Misawa, already suffering badly from a neck injury, had to postpone not only his own retirement once again due to injury amongst the seniors, but also his own treatment of it in order to carry the promotion, and it made him think of what would happen if he himself were injured so badly that he could not continue (and so far he had been lucky as even while the younger wrestlers went out with injuries, he hadn’t), and he so started to make plans for the future, which included drawing up his will.
One of the ways he prepared the next generation for the future was to allow KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji to produce their own shows; he also started bringing the junior wrestlers into the boardroom. Magazines were aghast as they thought him mad, but time was to prove that this was a sensible move. Adding to the problems of Misawa’s own worsening health, the fact that his physical condition was ballooning (never a man with washboard abs but by the later stages of his career he had gained considerable weight as muscles started to atrophy and turn into fat as he could not physically do what he once did), and his painkiller medication rising (he needed to sleep on a mound of pillows due to chronic neck problems), was the additional burden of the Japanese economy starting to take a nosedive. Therefore at the dusk of their summertime, Noah announced cost cutting measures; a full crew would no longer be taken on tour, and anyone on the roster who was lazy, and did not work hard (or train as they should), would not find themselves on any fight cards or even be on the road with the promotion, younger trainees would be left behind in the dojo to train and junior wrestlers (and some old vets) would take their place at ringside.
Tragedy in Hiroshima
On 13th June 2009, Mitsuharu Misawa teamed with Go Shiozaki to take on Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team titles at the Hiroshima Green Arena. Saito did a belly to back suplex on Misawa, and he lost consciousness on landing and the referee performed CPR to no avail. Rushed to hospital he was announced dead at 10:10pm.
Years of putting off his retirement, his neck injury (and probably other injuries as it was suspected) had caught up with him. The official cause of death was never released as per the family's request, but it has been speculated that his neck snapped and caused a fatal heart attack.
The next day Go Shiozaki was awarded the vacant GHC Heavyweight Championship as current champion Jun Akiyama had to vacate it (the night Misawa died Akiyama was suffering a back injury due to herniated discs and collapsed in severe pain), and Shiozaki broke down and sobbed loudly during a press interview after the match with his head in his hands.
Noah ran two memorial shows for Misawa, as they would do every June. Wrestlers cried openly on the way to the ring. Kenta Kobashi was grief stricken.
By far the worst victim of this was poor Akitoshi Saito. He broke down in the ring and sobbed that he would carry this burden with him for the rest of his life, but sadly he was to endure harassment and abuse from the public. His home was vandalised, his children were beaten up, and he received death threats. Unsurprisingly the poor man was placed on suicide watch. Saito credits being able to get through this dark time thanks to the support of the true Noah fans, who did not blame him, and supported him and the support of Noah themselves, who vocally called for an end to the harassment.
Misawa's death was the end of a long summer for Noah who now entered the fall, but there was one positive outcome. There had been no doctor in attendance the night Misawa died, but a law was enacted soon afterwards requiring a doctor to be at ringside (or present with the company), and Noah have not flouted this.
Approximately 25,000 people attended Misawa’s farewell memorial on 4th July 2009 which was held at Differ Ariake. Differ does not have the capacity for such numbers, and so the line stretched all the way to Toyosu station.
Each year Noah hold memorial shows in June for Misawa. The wrestlers usually wear a green wristband in memory of the promotions founder, even though many of them today did not know Misawa, but his memory is sacred in Noah nonetheless. A portrait of him is erected above the ring, and he looks down benevolently upon it just like he did in SEM all those years ago when he would watch Noah’s future.
Entering The Fall
With Misawa gone, Noah went through a corporate restructure. As per Misawa’s will, his protégée (and everything but legally adopted son), Naomichi Marufuji was appointed to the position of Vice President. At thirty, Marufuji was a wrestler, not a businessman and he knew very little of running a corporation, structure, business practices etc. As he himself admits there were days when he couldn’t even look at his computer due to a severe headache, and he relied heavily on the Legal Affairs Bureau for any process issues. He had to learn everything from scratch.
Akira Taue was appointed president, and Kenta Kobashi retained his position as executive vice president. For Akira Taue this was to be a role that was to change him into an old man overnight. A picture was taken of them all together, smiling, with arms extended and hands overlapping as a show of unity. Only Kenta Kobashi looked solemn. Behind the smiles there had been serious in-fighting.
Jun Akiyama was not happy with the decision, and took Marufuji out to lunch and pleaded with him not to do this, several others (such as Mitsuo Momota, one of the older generation and Rikidozan’s son who had followed Misawa from All Japan), quit the company.
In 2011 Noah announced that Kenta Kobashi had stepped down from his position within the company, in December 2012 he was released from his contract. In a reversal of the All Japan walk out Kenta Kobashi returned to All Japan. Jun Akiyama followed him in protest, and four others vocally sided with their teacher and refused to renew their contracts with their old promotion. Atsushi Aoki, Go Shiozaki, Kotaro Suzuki, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru departed for varying careers with All Japan and beyond.
The depths of winter
“We have lived too long off the account of our seniors, and now there is nothing left”
In March 2012 Japan and the wrestling world was scandalised by the revelation that Noah had ties to the Yakuza. The investigation had come about after Jun Izumida (died 2017) had written a book and in it mentioned (or hinted, sources vary) that the promotion had Yakuza ties. Horrifying details came to light that tickets had been sold to a Yakuza gang by an executive board member and former wrestler, Haruka Eigen, and the deal was brokered by the General Manager, Ryu Nakata. Unbelievably this had been going on since 2003. It was further revealed that not only had tickets been sold to the gang, but they had also helped with promoting live events. Both Haruka Eigen (died 2016) and Ryu Nakata (died 2014) were demoted to general employees with no executive power or influence, and Noah instituted strict anti-Yakuza measures and attempted to control the damage. It was too late, their reputation was in ruins and they looked like hypocrites having always had strong anti-crime work as part of their social outreach.
Trust and respect were not the only things Noah lost; they also lost their TV deal which they had had for twelve years since taking it from All Japan which had been broadcasting weekly.
By 2013, Noah had seemingly patched things up with Kenta Kobashi, and they ran his retirement show at the Budokan. It was not only Kenta Kobashi’s last show at the Budokan, but also Noah’s. It was attended by 17,000. Very sadly for Noah, they would not see the Budokan or these figures again for a long time.
In 2014 another blow was struck to the promotion when KENTA (who was one of the biggest stars left in Noah) announced he was not going to renew his contract, and left to sign with the WWE.
Noah entered its winter, but it hadn’t yet reached the depths. The office in Hawaii was closed, and SEM ceased to function in 2015, partly due to money issues (Noah were not drawing as they once were) and partly due to the fact that trainees did not want to come to their dojo now thanks to the scandal of the tickets, the extremely bad image Noah now had in Japan, no TV deal any more, and the fact that the promotion seemed to be dying and it was a thing that very little people wanted to be a part of. A sense of crisis was growing in the company, and this was transmitted to the remaining fans, the wrestlers felt it, the fans felt it and they fed off each other and created a vicious circle.
2015 bought more woe as Takeshi Morishima became injured during Global League, a blood test found that he was at risk of developing diabetes and so he had to retire. KENTA was gone, now Morishima, Misawa was dead, Kobashi retired, Akiyama gone, and Akira Taue had announced his retirement from wrestling in 2013 to concentrate on the job that was slowly killing him.
Something had to be done, and Noah looked to New Japan for help, and head booker, Jedo, was appointed to try and get the struggling promotion seaworthy again. At this time Go Shiozaki returned; he would be the only one out of the five who had walked out with Kobashi to return home to Noah.
While initially a successful partnership, Noah found that they were now playing second fiddle to New Japan. An invasion angle was decided upon whereby Minoru Suzuki would try and take over the promotion with his gang of thugs and it would pit Noah against them. It had the desired effect, although not in the way anyone intended; the “Suzuki Army” did take over, they drove away most of Noah’s fans who weren’t too impressed by seeing what was left of Noah being beaten up each week by New Japan (and the defection of Takashi Sugiura who was one of the few who had remained loyal to the promotion left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths). It was at this time that long term Noah associate, Katsuhiko Nakajima, signed with Noah on the closure of Diamond Ring, and that a young awkward looking boy from the dojo (who had been inspired by Mitsuharu Misawa whom he had watched on TV as a child), made his debut in December; his name was Kaito Kiyomiya.
2016 was the year that finally the snows started to melt, but a thick frost still needed to thaw. Noah was sold to IT development company Estbee, Co, Ltd. The remaining fans were worried as to what this meant, so Marufuji had to issue a statement to reassure people of the changes that were happening in Noah:
“When something is about to end.
Even if it is said that it will end, it is not "the end"
We are taking over the most important "wishes", that of the seniors.
Whatever is said, there are only things that we can understand.
Please think of this as a step to the new stage.
It is not good to affirm something at this time with speculations and rumors.
I told you a few months ago that you would see "only the front" and "it is better to regret doing something than to regret not".
The people in the offices and in the ring are the most familiar with adversity.
What I understand now is that "Noah will evolve",
I thought that some people might be uneasy, so I decided to write to them".
With Estbee came Masayuki Uchida, who had been the president of All Japan, and now became the new President of Noah (Akira Taue remained on in an advisory role). New Japan pulled out in late 2016 (some reports state they were sent packing) and Noah picked up the pieces, including a 29% drop in their attendance figures. From now on they would concentrate on their own talent.
Another change was in the cold air, after sixteen years they had to leave Differ, which they did in December. This wasn’t due to any money worries, but more to the fact that the old venue was now closing. Differ; which had been their home, which the majority had grown up in, now became a silent shuttered place.
The children of a turbulent era
"Noah's ship will continue to go forward with the wrestlers and staff who have the same will and everyone who supports them" (Mayumi Misawa, 2015)
2017 was the year everything started to turn around, at first it looked like again it would be another struggle to survive (in February 2017 bankruptcy proceedings were started), but there was a candle in the gloom by the business alliance announced in February with IMPACT. In March 2017 it was announced Border City Wrestling (BCW) would also partner with Noah.
2017 was also the start of an event which would change everything and breathe new life into the promotion. Having been defeated soundly by Kenoh (who had arrived as a freelance in 2014, and signed with Noah in 2015), Kaito Kiyomiya left on June 5th for an “overseas expedition” and Noah kept it very quiet as to when he would return.
Noah bounced the GHC Heavyweight title between Takashi Sugiura and Go Shiozaki. Like Takeshi Rikio (who had retired in 2011 due to severe neck injuries) seventeen years or so before them, it was decided that the belt needed new blood infusing and it was put on Katsuhiko Nakajima. While accepted as a good GHC Junior Champion or indeed a good GHC tag team champion (in either weight), Nakajima did not connect with the fans as GHC Heavyweight Champion. What was needed was to shake the boat to speak, and Noah took the unprecedented step of building a story arc around putting the belt on Eddie Edwards and wanting to get it back. No foreigner before had ever held the GHC Heavyweight title, Misawa’s title, and fans were divided on it. Although he hates being called it, they don’t call Marufuji “Noah’s Genius” for nothing, so during Global League, everybody was focused upon the rivalry between Go Shiozaki and Naomichi Marufuji, the two most likely contenders. Marufuji (who had attempted to take the title in November from Edwards but failed) was bent on getting it back, and Shiozaki was also in the race as he wished to be the one who would represent Noah and also to “redeem himself”. Unfortunately for Shiozaki this meant going through Marufuji, a man who he had never beaten in a singles match. In the end neither was victorious, Marufuji being beaten by Masa Kitamiya in the semi-final, and Shiozaki having one of the matches of his career against Kenoh.
The buds of spring were stirring under the frost as Kenoh got on the microphone and announced to the crowd that he would defeat Edwards for the title, and defeat him he did. At “Winter Navigation 2017” in front of a sold out crowd at Korakuen, Kenoh won the title back in an epic match. He got on the microphone and told the crowd (in his own typical foul mouthed style) that he was “taking you bastards back to the Budokan” and that he was going to create his own era in Noah, when someone walked in that no one had expected to see, and no one at first recognised as he had changed so much.
Kaito Kiyomiya had returned home, and he challenged him for the title.
A young promotion with a history of varying fortunes, achievement, scandal, tragedy and crisis, Noah had weathered a lot during its first seventeen years, and despite all of this had somehow managed to stay afloat. Maybe the best line that can be summed up about it is the rallying cry that was created in 2000 in its infancy, almost its first words where “We Are Noah”.
With kind thanks to for helping me out with the All Japan era.
With kind thanks for allowing me to reproduce his translation of Misawa’s speech
Jojo (Voices of Wrestling)