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All Eyes on NOAH

Historically, Japanese puroresu wrestling has been separated into single-gender promotions. Japan has always enjoyed a robust pro wrestling scene with dozens of promotions and styles that can cater to the taste of any wrestling fan. In the 1990s when Manami Toyota, Aja Kong, & Akira Hokuto were setting the bar high in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW), Masohiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, & Keiji Muto were the three musketeers of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). Today, fans can watch Miu Watanabe & Miyu Yamashita be flag bearers for Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW). At the same time, Jun Akiyama and Kazusada Higuchi carry the torch for Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) Pro-Wrestling.

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic shifts to the rearview of Japanese pro-wrestling, traditional gender norms are shifting as well. At the end of 2022, coincidentally its 50th anniversary year, New Japan Pro Wrestling introduced an IWGP Womens Championship to mark the creation of a brand new women’s division that welcomes talent primarily from its Bushiroad sister promotion, World Wonder Ring Stardom. Since then, the championship has enjoyed a prestigious lineage that includes Kairi, Mercedes Moné, and Mayu Iwatani. In May 2023, NJPW introduced a NJPW Strong Women’s Championship to be primarily defended on American soil, recently won by Willow Nightingale.

However, NJPW isn’t the only major Japanese wrestling promotion looking to include women’s wrestling in their shows going forward. Pro Wrestling NOAH, founded by the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa, is one of Japan’s top wrestling promotions and has been historically all-male during its nearly 23-year history. On January 22, 2023, history was made when Jungle Kyona and Saori Anou faced Natsu Sumire and Maya Yukihi at Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Great Muta Final Bye-Bye show at Yokohama Arena, marking the first Joshi match in NOAH history.

After the match in backstage comments, Kyona called for the creation of a GHC Women’s Championship following the creation of the IWGP Women’s Championship less than two months earlier. GHC stands for Global Honored Crown, referencing NOAH’s governing body much like the IWGP (International Wrestling Grand Prix) in NJPW. In an interview with Kotatsu Studios, Jungle Kyona elaborated on her comments, saying “I think I’m the first ever to say the words GHC Women’s Championship, but I wanted to take the opportunity to have them believe in the power of Joshi and consider it.”

Since January 22, NOAH has had several women’s matches. On February 21, Miyu Yamashita, Rika Tatsumi, Shoko Nakajima, & Yuka Sakazaki faced Maki Itoh, Miu Watanabe, Mizuki, & Yuki Arai in a TJPW 8-woman tag showcase at the NOAH Keiji Muto Grand Final Pro-Wrestling Last Love Hold Out event at the Tokyo Dome. Maya Yukihi and Natsu Sumire made history on April 16 as the first two women in NOAH history to have a singles match. Most recently, Natsu Sumire & Ryo Mizunami battled Maya Yukihi & SAKI at the May 4 NOAH Majestic event.

Although NOAH hasn’t announced any plans to introduce a GHC Womens Championship, the concept has received some support from leaders in Japanese wrestling. Keiji Muto said in backstage comments during a NOAH event, “Joshi Puroresu is the key to spreading Japanese pro-wrestling to the world”. 

As a fan of both Joshi wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH, I’m a fan of creating a GHC Womens Championship. In less than 6 months, women have gotten new opportunities to wrestle in historic venues like the Tokyo Dome and Ryogoku Kokugikan. Not to mention, with NOAH’s partnership with All Elite Wrestling and Ring of Honor, there are more opportunities than ever to bring in women’s wrestling stars from all over the world (fingers crossed for Athena!) to compete for the potential new title.

Only time will tell what kind of space that Pro Wrestling NOAH will occupy in the world of women’s wrestling but based on the 2023 they’re already having, it’s safe to say that the future is bright.

Pro Wrestling NOAH is available to watch with English commentary via Wrestle Universe for 900 yen a month (about $6.40). The Wrestle Universe subscription includes live and on-demand content from NOAH, DDT, TJPW, and Ganbare Pro.

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