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NOAH’s Beating Heart: Naomichi Marufuji

3 years ago

NOAH’s Beating Heart: Naomichi Marufuji

The Living Legend Proves Why He’s The Right Vet, For Right Now

By: Jamie Johnson

Naomichi Marufuji’s career path is unparalleled – he is, unmistakably, a vibrant pioneer and veteran who beats as the heart of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Now in his 23rd year as a pro-wrestler, NOAH’s perennial hero is in the midst of his fourth GHC Heavyweight Championship reign.

The journey has been anything but typical.

Marufuji has evolved throughout his history-defining career, with the wrestling world following in his footsteps. From merely a promising junior, to NOAH’s great hope as Misawa’s understudy, to now a titan of the business, his greatness is positioned firmly in the wrestling history books.

His evolution was blissfully clear when he used, to great effect, Misawa’s Emerald Flowsion to claim the GHC Heavyweight title from Keiji Mutoh earlier this year. While nodding back to his senior, Marufuji showcased the continuous shifts his career has taken by using a move he’s not relied on prior to his ongoing reign.

All About the Gold

Amassing the most GHC Heavyweight title reigns at four (tied with Takashi Sugiura and Go Shiozaki), Marufuji’s name is etched into the NOAH history books. His career stands out like a lighthouse on a dark night; maybe it’s serendipity that Marufuji came into the promotion so well equipped to steer the Ark through troubled waters.

His heart beats for one reason, after all: Professional wrestling. And NOAH veterans aren’t known for being boring or stationary.

As a lightweight, Marufuji first became GHC Jr. Heavyweight champ way back in 2001. This was followed by a still record 609-day reign as GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team champ alongside career rival KENTA, before each moved up the ladder to Heavyweight.

His first singles GHC Heavyweight prize was crowned in the latter half of 2006. Since then, Marufuji has produced countless Match of the Year contenders, including two critically acclaimed Tokyo Sports MOTY award winners (2006, vs KENTA in NOAH and 2009, vs Shuji Kondo in AJPW). The match with KENTA especially, one of the greatest of all time.

Although reference points like Cagematch may vary in substance, it does carry some eye-popping statistics that add mystery to Marufuji’s legend. This year (2021) has been his highest rated year, with an average of 9.63/10, with only one year swaying below a 9/10 average – that being 2011 (with still an impressive 8.75 average).

A career average rating of 9.35 puts Marufuji up there with the very best in wrestling history; and for me this displays his staggering longevity. For over two decades he’s wrestled superb matches, with it not just limited to NOAH. NJPW, AJPW and more have all been graced by the excellence of Marufuji’s unique talent and propensity to create luster around top titles around the world.

It’s hard to believe, then, it wasn’t until 2014 that he claimed his second GHC Heavyweight title. After an up and down year he claimed his third a year later, winning the belt back from the man he lost it to, Minoru Suzuki, in a feud that would go on to help define two of Japan’s biggest promotions.

This couldn’t have been imaginable as the Ark first set sail in 2000.

The Heartbeat of NOAH

Marufuji’s current reign has helped NOAH navigate its most recent typhoon season.

Just as the de-facto Ace of NOAH, Go Shiozaki, was leading the charge of its rise back to mainstream puroresu prominence – his shoulders tore under the pressure, removing a surefire star from NOAH’s foreseeable 2021 plans. However, as that weight was removed from Shiozaki’s broken shoulders, the bulletproof Marufuji was waiting in the wings.

After defeating Mutoh for the GHC Heavyweight Title in a thrill ride at CyberFight Festival 2021, the company’s beating heart provided wrestling clinic after wrestling clinic in cards stuffed top-to-bottom with Strong Style legends.

By no means is NOAH a deeply troubled promotion – as it continues to do good business and produce routinely great wrestling matches, but its issues are visible to fans in Japan and abroad.

But Mutoh’s 2021 GHC Heavyweight Title reign is the most damning evidence to NOAH’s over-reliance on older, past-their-prime wrestlers. The fact that the 41-year-old Marufuji looked like a spring chicken next to the grizzled legend really does show the age problem NOAH has. While wrestlers like Fujita, Sakuraba and Ogawa are still capable of producing thrilling matches, they’re holding down the younger talent that could capably be fronting the promotion.

Marufuji isn’t the sparkling young star he once was, but he’s aged like a fine wine in a king’s golden robes – with a belt to match. Where the promotion fits its young stars like Hajime Ohara, HAYATA and Kaito Kiyomiya alongside him is a bigger debate in the wrestling community than the credibility of Marufuji as champ may be.

His Best Reign Yet?

His big victory at CyberFight Festival 2021 was the first time since he lost the belt to current GHC National champ Takashi Sugiura way back in January 2016. This time around, the duel company executive / NOAH champ vowed a lengthy title reign.

And, while the so-called “forbidden door” dominates much of pro-wrestling’s online conversation (while boosting the fortunes of those companies involved), NOAH has curiously remained in its silo, as Marufuji has quietly produced another phenomenal title reign for his company. Beginning with his surprise victory over Keiji Mutoh in a divisive match, Marufuji strode into a stellar double-title match with Sugiura.

Sugiura vs. Marufuji at the NOAH Cross Over 2021 in Sendai was a match that delivered on so many fronts. Even with high expectations, the impeccable chemistry between the two created a showcase that any dedicated wrestling fan deserves to take time and watch.

Then it would be Sugiura’s tag partner, Kazushi Sakuraba who followed in challenging Marufuji – leading to an enthralling technical face-off at NOAH Cross Over 2021 In Hiroshima.

Sakuraba and Marufuji meshed beautifully in a strike, chop, kick, submission intensive match that delivered on exactly what it promised. The visual of Sakuraba’s chest (and back!) purely covered in welts from the vicious chops of Marufuji was the epitome of beautiful violence – wrestling’s dream.

These first two title defences have been nominally different from one another, showcasing the pure skill and flexibility of the Genius of the Ark. He can adjust his patented formula to suit his adversary.

Marufuji’s Heart Bleeds Green

It’s certainly true that the emerald promotion has an evergreen man at the pinnacle of its card. Marufuji has already built a long and fruitful career, but the veteran is nowhere near done. A true wrestling pioneer, and an ever-evolving star, he’s remained fresh, relevant and spritely over upwards of two decades in the ring.

It’s not easy to remain at the top of Wrestling for decades – perhaps Chris Jericho is the best modern example – but Marufuji is comparable to the WCW turned WWF turned AEW centerpiece. The “Genius of the Ark” has continuously proved himself not just to NOAH but to the wider wrestling world.

And every time he bleeds, we know what color will stain the mat.

Pro Wrestling NOAH clearly trusts Marufuji. He is the Captain. And, Monthly Puroresu would argue that his current GHC Heavyweight reign is his most important, delivering up front results on what promises to be an exceptional journey.

It speaks volumes that a Jr. Heavy, by size, has become the figurehead of NOAH – a company born out of, at the time, defectors from AJPW who all wrestled in the Heavyweight division and achieved a mass amount of fame before ever stepping foot into the fabled green ring.

The King’s Crown is Up for Grabs

The list of potential challengers to Marufuji’s crown is as long as possibly imaginable, and while I’m personally rooting for the revitalised Masa Kitamiya (I mean, how can you not? Have you seen his most recent event posters?), he’s by no means the sole good option.

With N-1 Victory just around the corner, Marufuji stands in his palace, draped in gold, like a bored soldier waiting for new challengers. We can only assume his next major opponent comes out of the 16-man tournament as the potential successor for the GHC Heavyweight belt at the end of October.

The strong N-1 field really does show the depth in NOAH’s roster – but Marufuji is bound to write his own ending for this title reign, something noticeably more special than his previous three.

And if it is his last, so be it.

Over his career, Marufuji has changed. He has evolved. No longer is he the high-flying darling of his youth, but he’s still deeply loved by the fans as the veteran heart of Pro Wrestling NOAH. His current role is perhaps the most critical he’s played throughout an illustrious career.

He is NOAH. He is Naomichi Marufuji, the veteran heart.

Written by:

I'm a college student in the UK who writes about wrestling for a variety of outlets, with a special focus on DDT, NOAH, and AJPW for Monthly Puroresu. I also write about TV for Cultured Vultures and enjoy playing cricket and attending live wrestling shows around England.