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25 Years of Naomichi Marufuji and the Genius of the Ark

10 months ago

25 Years of Naomichi Marufuji and the Genius of the Ark

Looking Back at 25 Years of The Genius of the Ark

I was barely 6 months old when Naomichi Marufuji debuted as a pro wrestler. As he kicked off his career in All Japan Pro Wrestling, I was still sipping Similac so it would be disingenuous to act as if I’ve seen every match in his 25-year-long catalog. However, his influence on the wrestling world doesn’t require you to recite every waking moment of his career. I was introduced to the greatness of Marufuji by hearing some of my personal favorite wrestlers speak about the influence he’s had on their careers.

As I reviewed Marufuji’s match catalog in preparation for writing this article, I realized why so many see him as an inspiration. He was one of the original young stars who stood behind Mitsuharu Misawa when Pro Wrestling NOAH was founded in 2000. Compared to heavyweights like Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama, Marufuji didn’t look like the future heir of the promotion at first glance. He was undersized and short compared to the standard Japanese superstar archetype of the time.

Rather than rushing to gain extra pounds to move up a weight class, Naomichi Marufuji decided to change wrestling instead of himself. He was the pioneer of a lightning-fast, explosive style that included innovative maneuvers and an emphasis on speed & agility rather than strength & power. This pioneering earned him the “Genius of the Ark” moniker that has aptly followed him throughout his career.

In his autobiography, Heir To The Ark, he discussed his desire to do things in the ring that people couldn’t and wouldn’t do. This was evident in his matches with Pillars of Heaven like Misawa and Kobashi. Marufuji became known for being electrifying in the face of icons and giants and that feeling has remained throughout his career.

His most famous bouts are the ones he had fighting both against and alongside KENTA. Together, they redefined junior heavyweight wrestling not just in NOAH but all over the world. Their innovation inspired much of what we’ve seen on the U.S indie scene over the last 15-20 years. When wrestlers wanted eye-catching moves and fresh ways to structure their matches, they turned to videotapes of Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA.

Over the course of his career, Marufuji has stood across from some of the best wrestlers in the world including Bryan Danielson, Go Shiozaki, Kazuchika Okada, Kento Miyahara, and even Eddie Kingston at a House of Glory show last year. No matter who the opponent is or what year it is, he makes everyone around him be better at pro wrestling.

Whether it’s Monday or Wednesday nights, whenever you see a V-Trigger, a Spanish Fly, or a Shiranui, nine times out of ten your favorite wrestler was influenced by Naomichi Marufuji. Last month, New Japan Pro Wrestling held All Star Junior Festival in Philadelphia, featuring the best juniors from wrestling promotions all over the world. Marufuji’s influence shined from the teenage competitors to the seasoned veterans.

Beyond his influence in the ring, Marufuji has been a steady example of what it means to be a leader outside of the ring as well. He has been a part of Pro Wrestling NOAH since day 1 and has carried that distinction with pride. Although he’s dazzled audiences all over the world including NJPW, AJPW, ROH, and more, he’s continued to carry the banner for Pro Wrestling NOAH everywhere he goes whether that’s as a superstar, a champion, or his current role as Vice President of the promotion. Look no further than his May 4 GHC Heavyweight Championship match against the current champion Jake Lee (who debuted on Jan 1 after a long tenure with AJPW) for an example of Marufuji always being willing to put over new stars in style for the good of the promotion. Marufuji has also been vocal about his support of Joshi wrestling, especially over the past year since NOAH had women’s matches for the first time in 2023 on their big shows and they’ve been received positively by fans.

Marufuji and GHC Heavyweight champion Jake Lee. c/o Masahiro Kubota / Monthly Puroresu LLC

Perhaps the greatest evidence of Marufuji’s influence was in his opponent this past weekend, Will Ospreay. As a person who was fortunate to be in the room at the Forbidden Door media scrum when Ospreay pitched himself to be Marufuji’s opponent for his 25th-anniversary event, it’s hard not to see flashes of the Genius of the Ark in Ospreay’s style. Between June 25 through September 17, Will Ospreay defeated Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Shingo Takagi, Chris Jericho, and Naomichi Marufuji. Although the pedigree of his opponents is stunning, what’s more remarkable is the actual matches themselves. A former junior heavyweight who climbed his way up the ranks to being one of the best wrestlers in the world much like Marufuji, Will Ospreay has delivered stellar performance after stellar performance for the better part of the last two years.

Despite this and despite picking up the win, this was not just another “Ospreay is amazing” victory lap match. In fact, this match was a reminder that Naomichi Marufuji is the foundation of so much of the wrestling we love today, and even 25 years into his legendary career, he is STILL one of the greatest wrestlers to lace up a pair of boots.

From the second that Hysteric played in Korakuen Hall, much to the delight of the live crowd and the viewers at home, we were all locked into the thrilling experience that is Naomichi Marufuji in a big match. Throughout the match, his flair for innovation shined in even the little things, whether it was a new way to use a ring post or a barricade or even making a Shiranui feel brand new in 2023. He still chops, kicks, and excites an audience like no other. Ospreay is known as the Aerial Assassin and can typically overwhelm his opponents with his cleverness and athleticism. However, that was until he came face to face with his idol, the man who wrote the playbook that he studied for so long. This Korakuen Hall classic saw two world-class wrestlers elevate themselves and each other to a higher level for the love of the game.

The best wrestlers are always the ones who are able to evolve with the times and adapt to any opponent, venue, or circumstance. For 25 years and counting, Naomichi Marufuji has done exactly that. He is the only man to have held the GHC, IWGP, and AJPW Junior Heavyweight Championships. He is also a 4-time GHC Heavyweight Champion, 8-time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, 2-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, 2-time Global Tag League winner, 2015 Global League winner, and a 3-time Tokyo Sports Match of the Year recipient.

September 26th marked his 44th birthday but based on the “Genius” that Naomichi Marufuji continues to show in the squared circle, I’m willing to bet that he’s nowhere near done influencing the wrestling world for the better.

Five Naomichi Marufuji Matches That Everyone Should Watch

1) Naomichi Marufuji vs. KENTA October 26, 2009
2) Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kazuchika Okada October 10, 2016
3) Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kenta Kobashi April 23, 2006
4) Naomichi Marufuji vs. Go Shiozaki August 5, 2020
5) Naomichi Marufuji vs. Will Ospreay  September 17, 2023

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Photography by Yukihira Kuwahara, copyright Monthly Puroresu LLC

Written by:

Lyric Swinton is a South Carolina-bred Ph.D. student by day and pro wrestling podcaster & writer by night, specializing in race, culture, & international affairs in wrestling. Wrestling has been her love for over 16 of her 25 years of life. Her passions for wrestling and travel have led her on a quest to see professional wrestling in as many different countries & continents as possible, inspiring her weekly Maps & Graps Podcast.