A sign of things to come? Or, a momentary flash in the pan? Either way, the mini, four-team tournament for the vacant GHC Tag Team Championship on March 13, 2022 was superb. Deciding new champions after Naomichi Marufuji and Keiji Muto vacated, following the latter’s injury, was done in a trio of great matches – two semi-finals at the start of the Great Voyage in Yokohama show, and the final in the main event spot.
Pro Wrestling NOAH’s GHC Tag Team Tournament Was A Highlight
KONGO was represented by Kenoh and Masakatsu Funaki, M’s Alliance by Masaaki Mochizuki and Marufuji, NOAH’s army by Kaito Kiyomiya and Daiki Inaba, and Sugiura-gun by its namesake, Takashi Sugiura and the returning Hideki Suzuki.
All four teams put on good showings, and sparked intrigue and rivalries coming out of the tournament. It was a fittingly honorable event for the Global Honoured Crown tag championships.
Kings of the tag division
Hideki Suzuki returns to Noah to tag with Takashi Sugiura in a tournament to crown the GHC Heavyweight Tag champions. pic.twitter.com/YDMSIsz2oo— Pro-Wrestling Noah Eng (Hisame, 冰雨) (@Hi5ame) February 23, 2022
Where better to start than the winners themselves, the Killing Machine Takashi Sugiura and returning beast Hideki Suzuki. Landing back in NOAH after a pointless stint under WWE contract, Suzuki has hit the ground running. He showcased perfectly why fans had missed his wrestling. He wrestled both his tag matches with the technical style that his name has become associated with. Suzuki’s size makes him immediately stand out from the other proponents of his technical style – the ZSJs, Danielson’s, and Sakuraba’s of the world.
He has a transfixing presence in the ring, a stripped back look, with piercing blue trunks and pitch black, classic wrestling boots. Suzuki fits into NOAH like a glove.
The heavyweight tag team division has needed a metaphorical shot in the arm since it began staggering like a drunk in the early hours, in 2021. Following the Agression’s shocking break-up, Katsuhiko Nakajima was shot to the top of the card, while Masa Kitamiya began a tag title reign with Kaito Kiyomiya.
This was a reign that showed much promise, but it was swiftly ended by Keiji Muto and Naomichi Marufuji, who went on to have a lackluster reign punctuated by poor title matches (because of Muto’s physical ability at this point in his career) and epitomised by its ill-fortuned end.
With the Killing Machine alongside a rejuvenated Hideki Suzuki, the tag titles could receive the push towards revitalisation it desperately needs to restore its legitimacy. Out of the four teams, they were the most logical (and simply, the best) pick to claim the gold, but that doesn’t mean the other four teams didn’t provide much excitement too.
Firecracker Daiki Inaba
The most exciting spark of the tournament was Daiki Inaba’s thunderous, babyface showing. Truly, it a star-making performance.
He showed the most fire, the most intensity, the most passion, and the most skill of his career so far. First, in a surprise roll-up victory over the veteran, Naomichi Marufuji, who he has fought in a spirited rivalry over recent months. Inaba has strived to prove himself against the Genius of the Ark, who will now have the chance to usurp the legend in singles competition, on March 24.
Inaba getting a surprising, somewhat banana-skin, victory over Marufuji – rolling him up in response to a series of offence – is the perfect way to build towards Inaba eventually getting a singles victory over him. This would be the biggest win of Inaba’s career.
Overshadowing Kaito Kiyomiya is no easy feat, but Inaba managed it with a spirited, underdog performance. You couldn’t help but get behind him. In the final he showed much the same passion, ending in a tense submission defeat to the Killing Machine. Sympathy for the babyface, anyone? Very simple booking, executed superbly by a wrestler on the rise in Pro Wrestling NOAH.
The other interesting story arc coming out of the tournament is that of KONGO’s internal troubles. When Masakatsu Funaki joined the faction, following victory over Kenoh for the GHC National Championship, seeds were planted of possible factional dissent.
A suspicious, unwilling look on Katsuhiko Nakajima’s face painted the picture that KONGO harmony might not withstand the wrestling legend, Funaki donning the red uniform and joining their ranks.
After Funaki lost the fall in their semi-final match, doing so to Hideki Suzuki, Kenoh abandoned the faction’s newest member – leaving him in the ring as he went backstage. Kenoh looked upset, unhappy, and almost angry at Funaki.
Slowly, the storyline is developing of Funaki (a very unconventional fit in KONGO) causing faultlines to explode. He was never going to fit in the faction of younger, loveable, devious, big personalities, but the slow burn of this storyline is very engaging.
When will the faction’s troubles come to a head? The fact that we don’t know makes it ever more exciting. The GHC Heavyweight Tag Team tournament was a great step on the road to Funaki and KONGO being at odds.
Where to, sir?
NOAH’s heavyweight tag division seems as if it’s in the birth pangs of a revival – soon to become a phoenix rising from the ashes. The division is in the perfect place to rise to more prevalence within the promotion, with Suzuki and Sugiura as the monstrous, impressionable champions.
Suzuki’s return was impressive, but he’s set to impress even more, when he faces Funaki in singles competition for the GHC National Championship (on March 24th). Suzuki would fit the identity of the title to a T – although it makes sense to leave him solely focused on the tag title ranks.
The Sugiura-gun duo have the potential to be the champions to drive the GHC Tag Team Champions out of the wallowing of mediocrity, and into the highlighting spots of stunning main events and legitimate defences.
A great tournament is the perfect Kickstarter of a division’s rival. We could very well get just that spearheaded by the Sugiura-gun team.
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