(NOAH) Heir To The Ark ~ Naomichi Marufuji's biography


CONTENTS
PROLOGUE: Closure
1st September: Towards the dream card

CHAPTER 1: The Long Jump
The dream of aiming to be a wrestler

CHAPTER 2: Kings Road
The teachings of Giant Baba and the Four Pillars of Wrestling

CHAPTER 3: Departure
The decision to board The Ark and being crowned GHC Junior

CHAPTER 4: Fight to the Death
Battles with KENTA, GHC Grand Slam, returning to the juniors

CHAPTER 5: Trials
Misawa's death, injuries in succession, Noah's predicament

CHAPTER 6: Chaos
Returning to the heavyweight division, conflict, wrestlers leave, Suzuki Army and a new Noah in November 2016.

CHAPTER 7: Hope
The new Noah and the 20th anniversary debut

EPILOGUE: Inheritance

The outcome of the genius's dream
=====================================================

PROLOGUE: Closure
1st September: Towards the dream card

I will celebrate my 20th anniversary at Sumo Hall on September 1st. Even if he could not compete, I wanted him to be involved in some way, so in the spring (of 2018, translators note), I made contact with KENTA. 
However, WWE's "Wrestlemania 34" was on April 8th. 
Four years ago, long before the 20th Anniversary event was decided, KENTA (Hideo Itami), had left Noah for the WWE.  He and I have always had matches, and through the eyes of the fans we have been seen as rivals, the outcome of this, even if he was not in Japan, was that it could only ever be KENTA. Although it came to mind that at first it would be difficult for him to be involved, it is a funny story right from the beginning; even if there was only a 1% possibility, I wanted to try it. 

For WWE "Wrestlemania" is their biggest event of the year, and I thought it would be difficult to speak with them until it was over, so I personally sent an e-mail to KENTA before entering the full scale negotiations with WWE. His attitude was positive, and I couldn't hold back my true feelings when KENTA said, "I want to have a singles match". As expected he couldn't confirm whether or not he could do it right away, but said he would need to speak to WWE first.
From that point on I did not get a reply, and the subsequent negotiations did not necessarily proceed smoothly. Still, it was possible to bring it to fruition and realise the ambiton, because of KENTA'S passion in persuading WWE. They finally gave me the go-ahead, and I am grateful to them, especially a company of WWE's size.
However, since the match was decided, we have not talked at all (laugh). I did not meet with KENTA when WWE came to Japan at Sumo Hall on the 29th & 30th June, and he did not even get in touch with me (laugh).  It was like long ago when we tagged as Marufuji and KENTA and we didn't eat together, but since everything was decided, we would meet at Sumo Hall on September 1st.

I knew KENTA, but not Hideo Itami, so I did research on my opponent and watched some matches on YouTube. I couldn't watch everything, but I got the impression that he was hanging in there and peservering (wry smile). Even in the WWE, he does not change.
Now, looking ahead to everything, KENTA will come to the 20th anniversary and it is likely that we will have a match together. It seems to me that we are looking forward to it just as much as the fans, and a special atmosphere is being created between us.

Although our physical conditions might not be as it was during our heyday, there are still things that we can do due to the years of experience we have spent together. As for my condition, well, its not as it was in its peak, but I can fight with technical emotion, which in recent years I have been able to put together. In one match I am able to do about only four or five mere techniques I think, although it is still said that "it is amazing when I fly or bump", although during the match I do not fly or bump so much anymore. That image is imprinted on the fans of when I was young. Stylish moves, stylish manners and work, which is widely seen, and of course making it brilliant.
It hasn't really changed much from the debut.
Although it has been four years since we parted, I want to feel the KENTA who has worked hard in the new place, and I want KENTA to feel the current me, who has desperately protected The Ark.
My present thoughts now is that there was a moment in time when the both of us were injured, it0 happens, but I want us to welcome in the day when it comes, with the both of us being in our best condition.

"Flight" is the name of the event.

"The regulation at the time was that I had too small a body to become a professional wrestler. I have been doing it for twenty years."

"My body has lasted twenty years. I named it "Flight" not as a goal, but as an aim to fly further"

In the sense of appreciation for this anniversary, I asked other wrestlers and those who were freelancers, and those who had left Noah for a number of reasons to be involved. I talked directly to the seniors, such as Mitsuo Momota, Jun Akiyama and Tako Omori, and they were able to participate.
I want to thank all the people involved, all the fans who have supported (and continue) to support me, and who have made these twenty years irreplaceable.
Please have fun!

CHAPTER 1: The Long Jump
The dream of aiming to be a wrestler

I was born on September 26th 1979 in Kōnosu (now Kōnosu City), Saitama, as the fourth son.
(Next part doesn't really translate well, but he talks about his name. I think originally he was going to be called "Masao", this then became "Masamichi" and then finally "Naomichi". By naming him "Naomichi" - lit. "Right Path", his parents wished him to follow his true path in life).

I have three older brothers; Hirotaka, Fumitaka and Kimiyasu (Kimiyasu is the eldest, the other two being twins with Hirotaka the second son of the family and the elder twin).
From six years of age or so, Hirotaka was an active animator. Later he would work as both the animation director and character design for the animated series "Aquarion" and on "Macross" as well. His relationship with pro-wrestling was on March 15th 2009 at Differ Ariake for the winged tiger design of the limited edition t-shirt for the produce "Shiranui Tiger" (rough translation of name).



He was also in charge if a Pachinko TV commercial animation featuring Tiger Mask.

On January 27th 2017, my older brother was in charge of animation for the 30th anniversary event of the creator of the "MOMOTARH", professional wrestling manga. He has an interest in pro-wrestling, and I was influenced by it. Now, I don't remember whether it was him (or any of my other brothers), but someone had a picture of The Road Warriors*. Until that time I have had no memory of watching wrestling on the television, but the pictures of the Road Warriors were sensational for me, a child in the 1st or 2nd grade of junior school**; the huge bodies covered with muscles, the strange hairstyle known as "The Reverse Mohawk".
"What is this? Where is it from? Animal's Mohican haircut...who are these guys?"
From that moment on I was hooked on wrestling. I wanted to see more of The Warriors, and Saitama TV were doing re-runs that day from 6pm, I went to watch this broadcast after this accidental meeting with pro-wrestling. However, it was more of an impression that "I am watching pro-wrestling on Saitama TV", because had never heard of the existence of New Japan.
Like a gale, The Warriors would appear to Black Sabbaths "Iron Man", and kill their opponents in seconds; the wreck they left behind was cool. I was a young boy in Elementary School, and I knew the difference between Animal and Hawk enough to draw them like crazy.
So, excuse me for this, but as for the Japanese athletes, they did not leave an impression on me at the time.

ANYTHING GOES!

Combine professional wrestling and having three older brothers, naturally we had wrestling matches. At home physical wrestling was prohibited between us because it was dangerous, but our pro-wrestling practice was pretty extreme. The unskilled brawl would develop into a violent fight on a futon spread out in the house, both parents were working at the time, so there was no one around.
There was nothing really much except crotch kicks and face attacks, it was like a primitive rule in the early days of martial arts. Jumping from the closet to the futon was one way of attacking in the battle against strikes and locks, and the best way to win was via an arm-lock or foot-lock.
My oldest brother did not really take part that much, and the twins would beat each other to a pulp. As for me, between me and my brothers and junior high and elementary school, the size and power of bodies are completely different, so pro-wrestling was painful (strained laugh.)
Pro-wrestling was mainly done inside the house, but during the rice harvest I could practice drop kicks and body presses in the fields in the front of the house when the rice was piled up. I have had good reflexes since childhood, which I attribute to my father who liked sports such as running, diving (he would always get something to eat when we went to the beach) and was the person who always swam in the butterfly strokes when at the pool.

Adding to my inspiration to be able to do pro-wrestling, was the influence of the idol group GENJI that was popular at the time. I thought "if these people can backflip, then I can also do it". So I practiced repeatedly with a futon, and I mastered movement that way.
It wasn't just the GENJI backflips, I also rollerskated and danced in them excessively.
I think I liked showy performances as a child.

Getting back to wrestling, the next big thing after the Warriors, was watching the scene when Tiger Mask was unmasked and turned back into Mitsuharu Misawa, and showed his real face. It was May 1990, and I was in the fifth grade at Elementary School. So now I knew who Misawa was, I was more interested in wrestling. I also learned that there was other wrestling aside from New Japan, and I began watching All Japan. New Japan would broadcast at midnight on TV Asahi, and usually I would tape it, but I liked to wake up and watch when there was a big match.
In Junior High I was more addicted to New Japan than I was All Japan; in All Japan, Misawa led the Super Generation Army*, and then they became the Four Heavenly Kings. In New Japan it was the era of Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto who were known as "The Three Muskateers". It was a good time to be addicted to professional wrestling.

It was while I was in Junior High, I actually went to a venue to see wrestling in real life. I always went to Kumagaya, which was near to home and I saw New Japan there once, and All Japan twice, in addition I went to see Wrestle Dream Factory's dojo matches and the launch of their business.
I don't remember the card at all, but when I went to see All Japan, I went to touch Tsuyochi Kikuchi as he entered and was caught with an elbow which made my face ache, and Steve Williams sprayed cola from the bus...it is a happy memory for a fan.
When Wrestle Dream Factory had their inaugural dojo matches I went to see it because I heard that "The Beast God, Jushin Thunder Ryger is appearing", but it was only someone imitating him (laugh).
Masayoshi Motegi was in Dream Factory, also at that time was Kamikaze (who was masked back then, he is still active and works as a freelancer), Onryu and Shinigami.
If you asked Kamikaze in the lobby of the venue, "please do arm wrestling", he would not move it all, and I remember thinking, "as expected, pro-wrestlers are strong".

In those days, everyone was a professional wrestling fan. Even at Junior High and among friends, everyone was divided into either New Japan and All Japan at school.
I can write about it now, even though my entry to wrestling was through All Japan, when I was a Junior High School student, I was hooked on New Japan and watched it like crazy; it had a better production, and I was attracted by the flamboyance of the wrestlers. In All Japan you saw a fiercer fight, but as a child, it seemed a bit sober to me. New Japan was so showy, there was a brilliance to even the van driving into the Tokyo Dome.
That said, if I was to list the wrestlers that I liked at the time, Misawa and Muto are the two at the top. Their aura was different from other wrestlers.
There was also Jushin Thunder Lyger, who I wanted to see at Dream Factory. He flew so well, and I loved it.

The VHS videos (Volume 1 and Volume 2) of "Beast God: Jushin Thunder Lyger Special" taken from wonderful matches of his debut, are still at my parents house.

I was addicted to pro-wrestling, and in junior high I joined the wrestling department, it was then that I decided I wanted to be a professional wrestler. I began to think seriously about it, and had what is known as "Secondary Disease"*.
When I graduated from elementary school, I wrote in the graduation book that I wanted to be a "professional wrestler" in the future.
Well, to be exact that is not really what I had written, to be exact I had said, "Pro-wrestler, soccer player, singer" (wry smile).

When I was in elementary school it was a hazy dream, but since I entered junior high, Misawa had said "I did it to make professional wrestling more interesting. In Junior High basketball, and other club activities are not what you can see, it is what you can do".
It was an awareness, and although he was a professional wrestler, I thought we had a similar feeling.
Wrestling is why I started playing basketball in order to get stronger. At first, although I became a regular at school, my body was not that strong, so I could not score. My original purpose was to grow and gain height, but I did not grow at all. People who play basketball are tall from the beginning, but I noticed that I did not grow after joining.
People who play basketball are tall from the beginning, but I noticed that I did not grow since I joined. I had an image that the ideal height was 170cm (rough translation).
When I entered All Japan, I was 176 centimeters, which is what I grew into during my High School days; but what I really wanted to do was jumps and dunk shops all the time. In terms of jumping power since I was able to grasp the basketball goal I think it was effective, especially since Jumbo Tsuruta also originally did basketball, and that never made it futile.

High School Wrestling Era

In the High School era, I had a stern confrontation with my parents over joining the wrestling department; they told me "You had better graduate."
I thought it was going to be a useful course towards becoming a pro-wrestler, so for the time being I decided to do wrestling in High School.

As I wasn't too sure about how to go about it, or even knew too much about the rules of professional wrestling*, or where would be a knowledgeable High School, I bought a High School exam guide in a book store, and I found that Saitama Rong High School had a wrestling department and it wasn't too far from my parents house.
I went to visit it at once, and saw that Akira Maeda and Riki Chosu's autographs were displayed in the dojo, and "it was amazing"; it may sound funny, but I was so excited, I loved pro-wrestling.
The teacher also wanted to be a wrestler, and he had a body like one.
"I want to become a professional wrestler after graduating from High School"
"That's not too good" (rough translation)
Although I had said at the time of the tour that I wanted to make professional wrestling my future, the teacher had a different way of thinking.
Professor Atsushi Noguchi, the director, welcomed it, as up until now wrestling was a sport that had not received that much attention, and I wondered if it would be good for the teachers if many people gathered.
My heart was clearly set on this course, and although I did not like studying, I worked hard to stand at the starting line of my dream.

I remember. I really tried hard. I entered the department, but the reality was severe. I worked hard, and it was worthwhile and it was a success.
I want to be open about wrestling now, kids - wrestling is thriving, but those who came from junior high and elementary school, were all newcomers. There is no difference in the beginnings from anyone nationwide. They do not talk about starting practice from the stance of bending down, knowing nothing about the rules as I did and sparring with the seniors in High School.

I had never seen it on television, and this was the sense I got when I joined the wrestling department.
I had been doing basketball in junior high, and I had done some muscle toning with my older brother, so I had some basic physical strength, but it was still quite hard. In any case, the memories I have of High School, are only club activities. We went to the United States on a school trip, but the club activities consumed everything and the memories are hard to recall.

Looking back at life at that time, there were alternate days of running and alternate days when we did weight training for preparation. Because Saitama Rong was a sports school, they had a gymnasium with a running balcony which was about a 200 meters lap raised to the second floor, on running days it was a 1 kilometer full speed run. It was timed and it was tough.
After finishing running I would return to the dojo, and finally practice tackle and ground attacks. There was also sparring, and various reinforcement exercises. Truly, exercises were dense, and lasted three or four hours each day.

During the three years of High School, it was my first encounter with Takashi Sugiura, and in the corresponding period I also met Eichiro Nijima, who later served as a medical trainer in New Japan.
He was also aiming to be a professional wrestler, and we would talk about our future dreams and would sometimes went to watch wrestling matches together. Nijima had more physical strength than I did, and always was the top runner. He later became a trainee in New Japan, but it is really a pity that he was injured and did not debut. Had he done, he might have fought in Noah vs New Japan, and I might have challenged him for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Looking back on my High School days, I was 68 kilograms and doing freestyle, only those in the national teams participated in Greco Roman.

I also seem to have won twice against Genba Hirayanagi, but I don't remember it at all, and I don't remember him at High School. I learnt the story from Hirayanagi after he came to Noah, and it was really nice not to be defeated by him (laugh).
Takashi Sugiura, however, I intensely remember.
It was 1997 and he and I were together in the Osaka National Training Camp at Daito Bunka University when I was in High School, and the college students, senior high school students and SDF* gathered there. Sugiura at that time was in the SDF and was in the 82kg weight class of Greco Roman. I was in the second grade at High School, and he was 27 year old man when I met him (laugh), and although there were a lot of other wrestlers, he was the most scary.
He was thinner than he is now (as was his face), and had a hybrid body like an old PANCRASE wrestler, I was scared to look at him (laugh). So, when he came to All Japan two years later it was, "Ah, it is that guy from back then". I didn't have any contact with Sugiura at the training camp at Daito Bunka University, as I had been sparring with someone else from the Self Defense Force.
About ten mouthpeices were used for nothing but sparring, which seemed to go on forever.

There was one person from High School that I knew, who later became a pro-wrestler, Ryuji Hijikata was a senior when I was in the 1st grade, and he was active in the Judo Club. I didn't know him personally though, but that was not end of things as my superior in the department was friends with him. When he graduated Hijikata was introduced to Battlarts, it was straight from High School. I was progressing down the path of wrestling, and at the time when I heard, I had a look of envy.

CONCENTRATING ON FIGHTING SPORTS AND THE SUPER TIGER GYM

When I first started wrestling in High School, I could not do anything much, it was impossible to do anything, to defeat opponents, and to adapt to the circumstances.
However, as I gradually became able to get results in official matches such as prefecture events, I began thinking about the people who did fighting sports.
"The wrestling that you are doing, can make use of it"
At the time, Rickson Gracie, was very popular and I watched his RINGS matches at WOWOW, and I wanted to do it myself.
Professor Noguchi, the director of the High School Wrestling Department, held a submission arts wrestling tournament once long ago, and hearing that he won wrestling with using submissions alone, gave me the feeling that "as I thought, wrestling is great".

Also, my classmate had a family sushi shop, which was where the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, shopped. In the meantime, it was so easy for me to be influenced by the Okiyama Skating Center*, so as soon as I was released from chores on the 2nd year of High School, I became a member of Satoru Sayama's Super Tiger Gym Dojo at Higashi-Omiya, and I went to see an event.
At that time Enson Inoue and Noboru Asahi were at the gym, and although it didn't happen often, Noboru Asahi taught me ground attacks. It was fun to learn another technique that was different from wrestling, and I was quite into submission. Before beginning training at All Japan I underwent an introductory test of a group of so-called UWF based organisations with a strong presence in Fighting Sports. Thanks to Kingdom*, Akira Maeda had been inspired to create RINGS, I did not receive an introductory test to it.
All the foreign wrestlers, especially Dick Fry, Hans Nijman, Volk Han, and Andrei Kopylov were cool, especially Kopylov as although he looked like an old man, he was a powerhouse in Sambo*, and I was strongly impressed by the master.
The group that I actually got the introductory test for was Masakatsu Funaki's Pancrase, and I was a sophomore in high school at the time. I think at the time of the test, Suzuki was not there as he was launching the business, and a lot of the athletes were training with Funaki.
Among them was a young and impressive Osami Shibuya.

The test itself? Well it was useless.
I had injured my back in High School wrestling practice when I was dropped during a reversal, and I had to take the test in a state that my feet were numb, I couldn't even do the basic bridge, and the Pancrase test required a lot of physical strength.
After that, back in the dojo, there was a tremendous hill to climb and I practiced. Even if an amateur can show endurance, he couldn't apply, the program would not accept anyone without any combat sport skills.
My condition previously was of that...

The next time I got a test was with "Kingdom", who had been launched as a receptacle for UWF International wrestlers led by Nobuhiko Takada, who had disbanded it at the end of 1996.
When writing this autobiography, I thought that the test was on May 4th 1997, but that would mean that I was in my third year of High School, and that means that I must have gone to Pancrase when I was in my second year. My memory is fuzzy, but I think when I went to Kingdom, I must have been in Grade 3 of High School.
However, I remember the test clearly on the 6th floor of the Kingdom offices in Higashi-Azabu, the dojo was on the 1st floor. I was greeted by the referee, Mr. Yoshihiro Wada. When it came time to do the introductory test, I was surprised to see Yoshihiro Takayama doing weight training when I entered the dojo. He was so big.
The examination was taken by Nobuhiko Takada, and I think that other wrestlers, aside from Takuma Sano were there such as Masahito Kakihara, who would be in All Japan with me.
The test itself started with basic exercises such as 300 push ups, squats, bridge etc. Finally, sumo on a wrestling mat where you had to win three rounds against Daijiro Matsui
I guess the watching seniors thought it would be awful to be taken down by high school students, but two fell in quick succession.
As I was a High School student, I was told to come back after graduating as the "content is okay", and I had passed the exam. In other words, I had done well, and would have been in Kingdom, a UWF style professional wrestler.

TRY OUT WEEK AT ALL JAPAN

Again, my memory has mismatched things.
I thought that Kingdom had closed before I graduated from High School and I went to All Japan. However, on closer inspection it was on March 7th 1988 when I entered All Japan, and Kingdom held their final show on March 20th with the announcement that their offices and dojo were closing in February, and by that time I had chosen to enter All Japan.
Looking back on things again, I was a third year student and everyone around me was studying hard towards going to college, and as I had no intention of going to college, I did not take any trial examinations. While everyone else was doing the practice tests, I studied by myself. I had decided to go to Kingdom when I graduated, so I didn't plan to go to university to study wrestling. Professor Noguchi, who was the wrestling department's honorary adviser, had a conversation with my teacher about me, and they had a meeting to talk to me.
Professor Noguchi had a teacher who was connected to Mitsuharu Misawa.
The teacher did not usually make very many appearances, but Professor Noguchi said, "You are a student who wants to be a professional wrestler. Lets talk about it for a bit."
He spoke directly to Misawa, and at a stroke, the path of professional wrestling opened.

I first spoke to Misawa by telephone.
The memory is tense.
I don't know whether Misawa had talked to Giant Baba, but what he proposed was that I spend the three weeks of winter vacation (eleven days) living at the dojo and experiencing life as a new trainee.

I transferred to the camp by bus from the Den-en-Metashi line at Tama Plaza Station, but I got a little lost on the way on the route I was told to take, and so Jun Izumida came to pick me up on a moped.

At that time Kentaro Shiga, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Takeshi Morishima and Makoto Hashi were all living there as trainees. Kenta Kobashi was also there, along with Satoru Asako.
I thought at the time that Masanobu Fuchi "was so heavy", I was amazed at his size as I thought he was a heavyweight athlete. Kobashi, however, really was a big deal, and even Shiga, who may look thin to fans, is 186 cm.  It was only Kanemaru who was about the same as myself, and he was thrown down easily. Suddenly, my experience of All Japan was a compression of everyone's size.

I appeared in the "Variety Show" which Nippon Television showed at midnight on Monday, it was called "Rombo Sou Seishun", and consisted of the comedy duo "London Boots 1 & 2", and they bought the "garage sale"* portion of the show to Saitama Rong, and I think they had a plan to introduce the wrestling department. The teleprompter introduced it as something like "Candidate beginning training in All Japan". Perhaps someone in the department told them I was going to have an experience of All Japan, and I guess they assumed that my entry had already been decided, and so because no one had checked with me, I was surprised to be announced as an introductory student when I saw the program.
I was so embarrassed and prayed that no one from All Japan saw it.

The first practice in passitivity* came immediately after being told by one of the seniors to "change clothes!"

So, although I could not say hello, I started practicing with them. We did warming up, abdominal muscle training, back muscle training, push ups, sparring and passivity, and finally on the practice menu, 500 squats.
I had done sparring when I did wrestling at Sayama's Gym occasionally with the seniors, and the pressure they applied was not half-hearted. I did basic wrestling exercise at Saitama Rong department too, it was demonic.
There was sometimes a scene, but most of the time it was problem free at most, and it was only then that I appreciated the practice of High School. The most difficult thing that week was the passive practice that I had never done. However, that week was for High School Students on a formal provisional entry, and I did not become a new trainee formally, I only did the basic things such as passivity from rear moves and passivity from the inverted side, still it was hard as there was no flying passivity in wrestling.

Besides practice, I helped make the chanko, and I did the chores such as cleaning. Cleaning was no problem as I had done the same thing at the High School Wrestling Department, but I had never had experienced a group life before, having gone back home to my parents house after school. I got up with people I did not know, and to be honest, I did feel uncomfortable.
I was allowed to stay in Hashi's* room, and as he was a trainee just before his debut, it seemed like I was a freeloader and it made me feel bad. But, because he is a friendly person, there were no incidents, and in that respect it was saved.

I was able to meet Misawa only once at the time of the temporary entry during that week. He did not come for the joint exercise, but usually came to do bench presses etc round about 8 or 9 in the evening. He was a quiet man, and I returned home saying that there was a special aura about him which made me not afraid of meeting him for the first time.

Decision to enter All Japan! A new determination arises thanks to my mothers words. 

"I'm going to see Baba!"
The first time I met Baba was at Korakuen Hall in the New Year.
I was officially cleared to enter All Japan after one week, Shiga, who was seconding Baba, took me to him who was in the merchandise booth before the match, and said, "I will help you".
I don't remember anything else of what I was told. I was sitting at the back of the booth, sitting on my legs* and nodding with a smile without saying anything.

There was no opposition from my parents about becoming a professional wrestler, my mother had told me, "if there is anything that you want to do, then you do your best".
My mother was someone who never got to do what she wanted. My maternal grandparents were not related to her by blood, and although I do not know the details, my mother was their adopted daughter. So out of a sense of duty, and in order to take care of them, she swallowed what it was she really wanted to do, and became a hospital nurse. And so, when I entered All Japan, I heard this, "mother has been living like this, and she could not do what she wanted to do in life, so I want the children to do whatever it is they want to."
The bud grew when I heard these words, and the feeling rose that "I have to work hard".
If there was a no, it would have been from my father on his children's education, but my father was not a person who talked much, and my mother said yes, and he left it to her.

In the meantime, I wondered what exercises a professional wrestler would do with the input I did each day with wrestling practice.
After finishing the provisional entry for a week, I was able to rest for the three months until graduation, and on March 5th 1998, when I graduated from Saitama Rong, I took one day off, and on March 7th I entered the dojo.
I had officially become a trainee of All Japan Pro Wrestling.

CHAPTER 2: Kings Road
The teachings of Giant Baba and the Four Pillars of Wrestling

The passivity of All Japan was not imprinted on me yet when I entered the training camp on March 7th 1998

Many fans think that Morishima and Hashi are the same, both beginning training and then debuting one after the other in less than a month. It seems to be close, probably because I debuted in August 1998 of the same year.
I think that I practiced without wasting any time in the three months from the temporary entry to the official one, but it seems that my debut from five months and a half from my official entry, seemed to be a record after Misawa's five.

But, after all, practice after the official introduction was hard. The hardest thing to learn was the passive part. I started with about 30*, gradually began to take 50, and ultimately came up to 100. The passive exercise was All Japan's.
At that time I was in contact with, Niijima, who was my contemporary who had gone to New Japan.
In All Japan we were taking 30 to 50, and they were taking about 10. He commented, "there is a lot of sparring there, isn't there?" and that's when I realized that the styles were different between the two companies, and I wondered what different styles would come out.
After sparring, All Japan took a lot of passivity and this was to ensure you could still do it, even if you were exhausted. No matter how tired everybody was, it was imprinted thoroughly in both body and soul that "passivity is important". Noah came from All Japan, and many people were discouraged before their debut and therefore didn't grow into rookies, probably because the passive practice was hard.

Imagine that you have to endure 100 passive exercises in one day, and then imagine you have to endure it every day, you do not know how demotivating that becomes.
However, this is a technique that you must learn absolutely in order to protect yourself while doing professional wrestling. I am honest in the fact that I am glad that I do not want to do it anymore, but I think it was really good to be kept at it so thoroughly as a trainee.

Height does not matter! What are the passive secrets?

The first difficulty from the time of the provisional entry is practicing the passivity that comes from falling compactly from a handstand, and making your waist go with it.
If your body falls normally, the waist will go ahead of the hand, so it was hard to grasp the timing to ensure that the waist is properly positioned at the hand position. This exercise is called a "flat passive" as it is to control the body properly to pass through a limited space such as a pro-wrestling ring. Doing so will make the sound solid. Basically, it is important to use all of your body, such as your hips, to unite the sound. Those who are passive, cannot scatter the impact, unless it becomes one sound.
Arms, feet, shoulder, all are ukemi* that everyone collides into as an obstacle. But, if you fail and fall on your ass, it is really painful as the internal organs become clogged and you can't breathe.
I teach passive, even though the shoulder throw is not often used in matches, although there may be some groups that still teach it.
When you are hurled into midair, it is important to see the mat for the shoulder throw. When it comes to me, I pull in my chin to take it passively. It doesn't matter whether the wrestler is big or small, the way he tucks his chin it, is the same. I tell people that, "you can be passive from any size", and it doesn't matter if one opponent is two meters and is thrown into the other who is 170 centimeters, it is the same distance to the mat. Therefore, passive can be taken, regardless of height.
In other words, height doesn't matter, the point is whether you can pull in your chin or make your body flat. If you roll up your body when you are thrown, then you cannot see the mat. So I will watch it properly until the end, and determine the timing of the correct posture. If this can be done correctly, then there is nothing to be scared of. I think you can understand when you watch the mat, but as passive wrestler when thrown, will try to flip quickly without looking at the mat when thrown.
Whether they look at the mat or not, depends on their passive skill.

The passive shoulder throw, and the monkey flip go together.
When I was thrown by Misawa's monkey flip, I stole Yoshinari Ogawa's passive technique on how to protect your body as he was not a big wrestler, and I wonder if I gained his technique.
When I was watching as a second, Ogawa's technique really became a model.
A few days ago on tour, I took a shoulder throw and monkey flip, and I talked with Ogawa over a drink when we reached our destination. As I expected, I got a common answer.
It is a lot of fun to talk with Ogawa about technique. Basic skills differ, such as the body slam, between All Japan and New Japan; from the beginning, New Japan will teach neck twists. All Japan wrestlers lock their opponents, and finally at the end, they will twist the neck. It is not easy when the neck is twisted to be passive. In that state, in theory, as you are falling without the neck being twisted, you can watch the mat. If you are thrown with your neck twisted, you cannot control yourself properly as you are at the mercy of your opponent, but if you are in a state where your neck is not twisted, passivity can be taken at your own distance.

ROPE WORK TECHNIQUE SPECIFIC TO WRESTLING

The first step is the technique of how to hit the ropes.
"It is the girls who do professional wrestling, who hit the ropes on their backs". Many male wrestlers now hit the ropes that way from heights, but in the past it was considered bad. Of course, that does not mean that the women's level is low in value because of the different in physique, the danger is that the neck will snap back.
When you fail to hit the top rope with your back, your head will fall under and be knocked to the side. Considering that you must make the best use of the recoil from the rope, you need to put the center of gravity on, and he who can do it, will look cool as well. And when you do hit the rope, firmly grasp it (I do). The ways when doing this, seem to differ between promotions.
The right foot is almost drained the moment you hit the rope at your pace, this is why I hit the rope with my right foot.  If you don't do it, it makes it difficult to take your first steps afterwards, but people have different ways of walking.
There is a way to make it look beautiful, and this is by basically taking two and a half steps, for those who are big, it is one and a half steps. Misawa said that Baba taught him that its not the way you run, its also the rhythm, and remembering it is important.

At first it hurts to hit the rope, so because it hurts, you cannot do it very well I think. When you start practicing in earnest, you will bleed and your side becomes purple. It still hurts, but I now I don't feel as I did when young. Although it may seem its just running in the ring, if you do not understand all these details, you cannot really run the ropes.

If you are tackled and taken down, there is a theory that you can get up from the fight, using the right elbow on the rope. The same is true when you fall. The moment you stand up from this, you need to space yourself from your opponent, if there is not enough room to do the next thing, you will not be able to do anything. Even though you have fallen, you must stand, sometimes the technique is not the best, but you must do it.

THE SECRET OF THE ARM DRAG

Baba loathed small poor techniques in professional wrestling, which was why he was strict about ropework. The trainees now don't do it, but in tandem with Baba, and without saying anything, I used steps keep up with his movement. It may move to the front, it may go be beside you, it may be behind. To fit that movement properly, I asked Baba about practicing walking smoothly without breaking the balance, by adjusting the number of steps. It is a practice of timing things with your opponent that can clearly adhere to them. If you can't do it well, then you will probably end up stepping on their feet, and then you become a professional wrestler who is disliked by Baba.

"DO NOT LOOK DOWN, ALWAYS SHOW YOUR EXPRESSION"

Baba watched practice at the side of the ring before matches, and sometimes he got into the ring and taught, but he often gave advice.
Even if you are being hit by your opponent and have a pained expression, it is not wasted if it is conveyed to the audience.

The basis of chest punching and stomping is for the youngsters, and there was a practice if doing it for a minute; the All Japan youngsters were also totally immersed in practicing the arm drag. It was regarded as important as practicing the shoulder throw, as the arm drag is a passive technique and it requires a sense of distance; if you don't remember this properly, then it will look really clumsy, and if your timing does not match that of your opponent, the danger of headbutts can sometimes happen.
Use passive so that you do not fall on your opponent, get up quickly to get the distance, watch him, see what he comes up with, judge it and lead into the next fight.
It is a hard technique as you are thrown and have to roll with one hand, and you have to take it flat. If you do master it, you can soundly protect yourself.
In order to maintain the sense of distance with your opponent, to create space etc in the limited space in the ring, you have to watch the movement of your opponent, for the fight with the arm drag is packed with necessary elements.

If the arm-drag offense and defense is skillful, then when the technique is poor, it looks awful; Misawa was skilled and wonderful. Although he was a heavyweight, the timing was good, and his passivity was really vivid. I usually do this technique twice in a row, but the number of wrestlers who cannot do it, is increasing. Although I am trying to teach it at Noah, I can't really remember it well, that is why it really comes out in the match.

Even though we learned these techniques, it was impossible to do everything, but I learnt the minimum of what was necessary, even when I lost consciousness, it was imprinted in me and it was then at that time I was able to debut. All Japan pro-wrestling, I had become familiar with the training!
Instead of teaching theory, it made you remember it with your body. I don't have any memorized method of teaching, that is why puroresu is hard to put into words.

Debut in Misawa's old tights

"Can you have a match?", one word for Baba abruptly decided my debut.
As usual at the Kisarazu City Kuradou Sports Hall in Chiba I was practising in the ring, when suddenly Baba spoke.
I was practicing for the exam so to speak, and was practicing being thrown, but I thought it would be useless if I said, "I cannot do it", and even though there was no foundation, I answered that I could.
I hadn't practiced combined form.

And so three days later on August 28th 1998, a fifteen minute match with Kanemaru (Yoshinobu) was made for the opener at Okazaki City Gymnasium in Aichi Prefecture. Because it was so sudden and not near Tokyo, no family or friends could come to see my debut match.

I had my ring shoes, I bought them at bargain price as soon as I began, and I was practicing in my amateur wrestling shoes, just like in my High School days.
Then Baba called to me.
"Why did you come here?!"
"I came to become a professional wrestler"
"Then, you wear a professional wrestlers ring shoes"
There was such a conversation about ring shoes, and I practiced wearing black leather ring shoes before my debut, trying to wear them in.
The other problem was with tights.
"Misawa wears long tights over short tights, and I wish could".
However, I only had three days, and could not prepare it in that time. I managed to get a secondhand tights with a signature of Misawa on it from the costume store. I borrowed it for now, and managed to make it in time and wore black ring shoes and green short ring tights. After that, I had green tights made properly, and I made my color green to reflect my aspiration for Misawa. I incorporated the Tiger Mask line drawn on the tights, and around 2000 he sometimes wore green tights with a silver stripe on them.

Although I felt nervous about the debut match, I think I was able to do things properly.
I practiced all the time. I used the arm drag, the chest punch, stomping and skipping techniques such as the drop kick, the missile kick, the diving body attack and so on. I was also debuting a big skewer move to my opponents corner, which is still part of my signature move. I called it "Do it like this". When I was practicing with Hashi, I showed it to Baba and Akiyama. I was told that I could use it if it could be done with two people. It is an elbow attack, which I used in my 20th anniversary.
My debut match lasted seven minutes and 45 seconds, and I lost to the Arabian press, and although I lost, the impression remains that Kanemaru* led well.

Flying from Baba's shoulder after debuting in two months!

At the time of my debut, about half of the tour was a series of singles matches with Kanemaru*. Aside from that, there were a lot of other wrestlers from other promotions in the opener, so after the debut I formed a tag with Kanemaru and had many opportunities to wrestle against Michinoku's Gran Naniwa & Super Delfin.
Although I was a rookie and wrestling against people from other promotions, thinking "I cannot be defeated", was stimulating, and I think that is when I was born.

Two months after my debut, Baba, Jinsei Shinzaki & myself tagged against the team of Jado, Gedo & Kanemaru in a six man. Kanemaru was told that as he was from Yamanashi, he would be treated as a brother by Jado & Gedo, who were just toying with him.
Although I was just a rookie who had recently debuted, Baba made the choice to put me in a tag with Shinzaki, and have a match against Jado, who was then at the top in FMW.
At that time, even if I was busy with the opponent, I don't really have a memory of Jado's defensive, but I watched and listened.

"I will give the money shot to Baba!" Jedo and Gedo announced, but I remember that they failed, because they couldn't reach. Another thing I will never forget, is delivering a missile kick to Kanemaru, from the shoulder of Baba.
Baba asked me, "What was that?"
"Well, you asked me to get on your shoulder..."
Baba's reaction meant I was in trouble, the missile kick!
I was nervous and I could not speak properly, the missile kick from Baba's shoulder was a big event for me, and although I was in trouble, it is now a precious memory.

Looking back on my rookie era, it seems that Kanemaru's influence from fighting and teaming with me and his use of aerial skills, was worth its weight in gold.

About Maru-san and there only being heavyweight wrestlers.

"Because I had a small body, I could not stand out if I did the same things as the heavyweights".
In the past, my seniors might have said to me, "ten years, too early!"; but at that time, my seniors did not use much jump skills, and I was trying not to use the techniques used by the seniors, and I had a hunch to be persistent, so to speak, although it did seem that there was nothing to be done about it. As for technique, it was Kanemaru, and later I studied the gaijin wrestler, Scorpio. In between this, Jun Akiyama taught me timing.
Shiga, who was the dorm leader* told me, "The foundations of the basics are these...", and he taught me well, I learned from him that humanity was the basics, and that the basics of wrestling, were the basics of life.

"Did you clean up here?"
When cleaning the dojo, Shiga would trace the bar of the window with his finger.
"Have you washed the bathroom ceiling?"
"Eh, the bathroom ceiling? Not yet"
He was a serious person.

What I learned as Misawa's attendant. 

"You come to the dojo as you are aiming to be a pro-wrestler. Entertainment is not necessary"
There was a ban on new trainees going out.
It's true, it was forbidden to go out.
It was not that nightlife was purposeless, the environment meant that I had no choice but to practice. The only time I was allowed to go out was to a convenience store near the dojo on a Saturday night, there was no practice on a Sunday, so the life of abstinence meant that I would buy in bulk on a budget.
However, I kept a secret mobile phone.
Actually, I had had a cell phone from the time I was a High School Student, but when I came to All Japan, hardly anyone had one as they hadn't become popular yet. I used to charge it hidden behind a colored box in my room, when I think back on it, what a lonely youth Marufuji had (laugh).
Actually, Morishima* had one too. He was scolded when a certain senior found it, and I could not say what I too had. I do remember talking to my friends on it on a Saturday night when walking down the street, I did go out for a while after making my debut. At first I could not go out often because there were no new trainees, and someone needed to stay at the dojo. However, when Morishima and Hashi set me up with an answering machine, Misawa relaxed a little, and I could go out.
On Sunday morning I would go out, and then Morishima in the afternoon, or a group of young friends would go out on an outing.

"Let's go and eat rice!"
I was able to go outside when I was invited by a teacher, but Kanemaru, who could come and and go as he pleased from the dojo, took advantage of the high rate of invitations by Ogawa.
Ogawa had been living in the dojo since he was young, so I think he understood the feelings of the youngsters.

I became a new trainee of Misawa's, and after my debut I served as his second, but it was never a burden. Misawa was someone who could do things for himself, and rather than have his attendant do it, he would always carry his own bags for the tour.
There was never anything to do before the match, only take off his boots after it, remove the athletic support, and wipe his back. It was always in that order. When packing the suitcase, he became sensitive, as everything had its place; shoes went in one space, and he was decided about it.
Misawa was not a person who said anything about wrestling or his private life, and because I was his attendant, we always ate lunch and dinner together.
He never talked about wrestling. I think he talked about very ordinary things, so before him, there wasn't really much to measure against.
He taught me how to associate with people, and how to act around them, even if I had nothing to say.
I feel he taught me many things in a relaxed way.

On the occasions when Misawa did not eat outside the dojo, I went to buy him a Makunouchi* lunch that he liked from the station, and if it wasn't there he was happy for me to buy him a "Chicken Nanban* lunch". He was always OK about it, and as a second, I was really grateful to him.
Because I was attached to Misawa, I do not think of him as a senior (laugh).

Introduction for the young people is such a scary thing for them, and since I was underage at the time, I was never allowed to drink. Misawa and I only had meals, and afterwards he would go for a drink with a friend. Akira Taue gave then then nineteen year old attendant, Takeshi Morishima, liquor and was scolded for it by Baba (laugh).

Naturally on the tour bus, I was also with Misawa, on the same bus was Baba and his wife Mokoto. I also learned from them too other things than professional wrestling, like how to use a knife and fork...and table manners.
During those days, we often stayed at the Washington Hotel*, and was often taken to the "Gas Light" which was the main restaurant's dining room.
"Idiot, ask for the bigger one!" Baba got angry if I ordered small fried shrimp.
"Do not use knives and forks from the tips!" I remember learning western table manners from Baba and Motoko.
"Marufuji-kun*, please take this!"
I have a good memory of Motoko, who handed me a lot of small change at an arcade, and I managed to win stuffed animals in a crane machine.

Coming into contact with Motoko was a very precious time for a wrestler of my generation, although there was barely time. I think about Baba, and the time that was spent was really short. He died on January 31st 1999, just five months after my debut, and a great regret still remains.

To me, Baba was a friendly, but distant person. 

On the 31st January, members of the dojo were invited to Baba's house in Ebisu. There were five of us; myself, Shiga, Kanemaru, Morishima and Hashi. We were never told the reason, but we were told to "just keep waiting". So, we waited in his home for a while, until a message arrived from Kyōhei Wada or Ryu Nakata that "return to the dojo now". After that, we decided to go at once.
On that day I had an engagement with an acquaintance, I had permission from the seniors and went to see him. That evening I returned to the dojo, but there was no one there. Only Satoru Asako was there practicing.
Asako had already left the dojo, and was living outside of it, so he probably was there and knew nothing.
"This is difficult. I guess, maybe they went to Baba's house again".
There was no one in the dojo, no Shiga or anyone else, there was no choice but to wait.
I think they came back late that night, but no one told me what had happened, everyone was silent. I told Shiga that I had received permission to go out, and he didn't get angry, I was pretty anxious, but nothing came of it.
Actually, everyone had been carrying Baba, who had died that evening, up the stairs to his Ebisu apartment on the 8th floor.

The fact that the death of Baba, that "could not be told to anyone", was made public on the afternoon of the next day on February 1st. I found out from the breaking news from the television just like the general public and other veterans did. The moment I saw the announcement, I knew it was connected to what had happened on the previous day.
"Why, at that time I was meeting a friend...", it was unavoidable because I didn't know, but I regretted it.
The time of contact with Baba was short, and to be honest his death might have been less sentimental compared to other seniors, but it was still a big shock.
As young as I was, I could not help feeling stunned and thinking "What will happen next...?"
He had missed the January tour after being hospitalized, but it was the sensation that he was suddenly gone. Nobody had known that he had cancer, and Kobashi, who had been Baba's attendant since he was a new trainee, said of Baba, "he is like my father", but for me, he was a distant presence that I could not call so. But I also strongly remember him as a touchingly friendly person.

(NOTE: the next part doesn't translate well, but it seems that Marufuji was asked by fans if Baba's head chop hurt, and he didn't know as he had never taken one. One day in a lift while on tour, Baba suddenly demonstrated it to him. Baba laughed and asked him how it felt. Marufuji says it was a friendly thing to do to a rookie - he could now tell fans what it felt like.)
Incidentally, it hurt suddenly, and since then whenever I was asked if "Baba's head chop really hurt", I could answer "Yes, unbelievably."

Jumbo Tsuruta was truly a monster!
Regrettably when I joined, his body was already broken, and so he was not on the forefront. However, it was not only Baba, but Jumbo Tsuruta too, taught me pain.
It was round about the time when I started, when Tsuruta came to the dojo, and I wasn't experienced in rope work yet. I was a new student, and I looked at him and thought, "wow". He was wearing a suit and got into the ring, suddenly I flew off the ropes, and hit my face right into his leather shoes.
I didn't know how to run, and I rebounded oddly, because I had not experienced passive taken from the big boot, I got dumped on the ropes and it hurt.
"How is it? Does it hurt?"
Suddenly entering, suddenly being kicked, suddenly being stunned...Tsuruta's existence, was imprinted in me with a strong impact. Probably he wanted to tell the new disciple that "Wrestling will hurt", and his style was very Shōwa era*
Baba's head chop, Tsuruta's big boots, it is an honor to have my genes injected with the "pain" of All Japan pro wrestling!

Tsuruta was a kind person.
Misawa called me "Fujimaru", so Tsuruta liked it, and did the same. Tsuruta's experience in professional wrestling was based in sports theory, which he was studying at the University of Tsukuba, and he published a book called "Jumbo Tsuruta's Natural Power Enhancement Bible", I used it for my debut into muscle training.
After Baba died, on March 6th, Tsuruta left for America to take office as a professor at the University of Portland, sadly he died during a liver transplantation operation on May 13th 2000.

STICKING TO AERIAL WRESTLING, FACING THE CHALLENGES OF VARIOUS DIFFICULTIES

After Baba passed away and Tsuruta left All Japan, I struggled to make my own style of professional wrestling, by studying the aerial method.
"Do something that the heavier people cannot do"
"Do something that your seniors cannot do"
This part of me took root, and has not changed since my debut. At the time I was able to show myself only with that skill, and it was a part I did not want to lose, the match impression after all was of big people.
"I can do this"
"It is my own gimmick that I can show, that other people here do not have".
At that time I was thinking a lot about aerial wrestling done in Mexico, and I wanted to learn about authentic lucha libre. I studied and watched videos, and although it is said that I had a natural gift, it is impossible to do advanced aerial techniques.
So at the dojo in the evening I laid a towel on the big mat to mimic the body of my opponent, I mastered the techniques through trial and error, adjusting the position. Misawa's head scissors, Avalanche Frankensteiner from a whip and the two step moonsault attack by jumping onto the rope from the apron and then again to the next rope up, which is classic aerial method.

When Baba retired on May 2nd 1999 at the Tokyo Dome, I fought in a tag against Naniwa and Hashi whilst partnering with Kikuchi, although I did not take the pinfall, I made a successful shooting star press on Naniwa.

It is the original technique of Lyger, but in those days it was a phantom skill, that didn't really have a user. The Shooting Star press, which is a backward rotation while moving forward, is the most difficult aerial skill.
Four months after the retirement on September 18th at Korakuen Hall on a "Fan ThanksGiving Day", I teamed with Kobashi (who I would not normally tag with), and we fought against Takao Omori & Hashi, and I set up a phoenix splash on him. It was a technique that the original Tiger Mask had devised before his retirement, and had been completed by Hayabusa. Even if the rear half twist forward turn was perfect, it was frustrating that I mistook the position at times, and made a complete bomb of it. Nevertheless, at the end of the match I did the 450 splash and took the pinfall from Hashi. This technique was the one used by Scorpio, and which Hayabusa called "The Firebird".
I was making a good name using the splash skills.

The young wrestler who came to the ring as an apprentice in "Untouchable"* was about to be transformed. 

On 2nd May 1999, at the Tokyo Dome, Baba held his retirement event, and on the 3rd May, Mitsuharu Misawa, Mitsuo Momota and Toshiaki Kawada assumed their positions afterwards as executive vice presidents, and the company became a new one.
Under the new system, I was selected for the semi final eight man tag at KBS Hall in Kyoto on May 25th; "Super Power Series" was to become a new event under the new management.
Masahito Kakihara came to All Japan as an affiliated freelancer became an official member, and he joined myself (a rookie), Sawa-san* and Ogawa in Untouchable. The eight man tag was made up of Kobashi, Akiyama and Shiga who were in Burning vs Untouchable.
When I was a fan, I had often watched the Super Generation Army vs the Tsuruta Army on television, and now it was the first time in four years that All Japan had assembled an eight man tag.
In the match I took the fall due to Shiga's new arm cross swing DDT, but it was exciting that Kobashi and Akiyama were there.
On July 18th, I experienced The Holy Demon Army of Kawada and Taue (who this was my first experience of) waging war with Inoue.

Yoshinari Ogawa was not someone who said "don't do this" or "do that" during a match, because he taught attention to technique. Regardless of being in the same unit, he taught how to attack the neck with the arm, and the best way to take feet...and said you only needed to spend ten minutes attacking the arm. He was someone who taught the art.
At that time I was making more of an emphasis on displaying my aerial skills, rather than attacking an arm for ten minutes, but Ogawa's technique was absolutely important to me for going to the top. In the main event of the 60 minute single match, when that was arranged, there were things I had to bring to the long match using such skills.
He didn't distinguish between the heavyweights and the junior heavyweights, even if they were being squashed by the seniors above them. Until then, I used it on Kanemaru several times, one time it was possible to do it for twenty minutes, but I still had not had my first win.

Niigata City Gymnasium, March 31st 1999, the long awaited first win bought renewal.

In collaboration with Asako, I was able to take the fall using Misawa's Frog Splash from the team of Kanemaru and Hashi. It took 12 minutes and 10 seconds to get the fall using the dive and the body press on Hashi.
"Is there anybody you want to thank?"
"The people who I am indebted to"
I have a memory of speaking to the reports. Although it was Baba who was I was "indebted to" for the tag match, I was pleased that I got my first win in his hometown.
Yes.
The day I celebrated the long-awaited single victory came on Tuesday, August 28th, just twenty minutes after Kobashi had his show at his home town of Kyoto at the Fukuchiyama Sanzaki Park Integrated Gymnasium, in a battle with Hashi.
Finally, I could take the pinfall on my own following a frog splash in 14 minutes and 23 seconds.

Because I was the most junior, there was no younger students below me, and I was glad I had beaten a senior, and got my first white star.
However, I could not rise. I was concerned that it would be a senior who I was close to, who would have to give up his place, but they wouldn't willingly yield. Is that so? (rough)
I guess I was also beginning to learn things.
I think it was due to the influence of Kanemaru was when I began to change my way of thinking. I think it was great that I could see what was around me, while having various experiences and being allowed to show what I could do in the higher matches. When you make your debut, you can only see yourself in the match as you are only thinking about yourself, not your surroundings or your opponent. What I am trying to say is that you can't control the match, because you are only focused on yourself.
It was only a year after my debut, that I began to be able to control my opponents, who were only really my seniors. I was a newcomer, and could not control the match how I wanted by stirring my opponent.
It was not my match.
Although at first you do it to the best of your ability, as soon as you can see what is around you, you can begin to be able to control your opponent, and it was round about this time that I started to see the match in my head, and my wrestling became more and more fun. Because it became one outcome and one form, and the attraction of All Japan was big, I could have gotten the "Rookie of The Year Award" in 1999 at the Wrestling Grand Prix.

The next day the on the 22nd January 2000, "The Asunaro Cup*" was held. In the final I was not able to pass the wall which was Kanemaru, and so I did not get the victory, but I did get the win over Morishima.

SHOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MYSELF AND THE FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS OF WRESTLING 

It was then, when I could win against Morishima, I realized that I did not have to compress everything in, now I was able to to fill it. One year from the debut in High School wrestling, I was able to compare the difference to seniors who were close to one and a half years, it also helped by entering "Untouchable", which meant that I had the opportunity to wrestle the top seniors.
During that era I was watching with longing, and although I was able to experience The Four Heavenly Kings while wrestling, it was a very different feeling for me at the time and it was not part of my stepping into their territory. There was also a sense that I was small, and there was a clear framework for junior heavyweights, the feeling was more conspicuous. There was a clear framework for junior heavyweights, and it made the feeling to stand out in the match stronger.

"In this promotion, I want to compete in my own style as a junior, and surpass the matches of the Four Heavenly Kings"

Of people of their rank and style, it might seem that I was cheeky, writing that I was thinking such a thing. "Rather than aim to go to that stage, let me show you something different"
I think I was considering my own direction while young.

THREE YOUNG JUNIORS OF THE ALL JAPAN ERA (NOTE: rest does not translate well)

On August 19 1999, the former Maegashira* sumo wrestler, Takeshi Rikio, joined. He changed to pro-wrestling at the age of 27.

KENTA is number 13, while at the back from left stands Jun Akiyama, Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa and Akira Taue. KENTA was the only one of these six to stay at the All Japan dojo.

Kenta Kobayashi (KENTA, now in WWE as Hideo Itami), passed the "public audition" exam. In that audition there were 20 to 30 applicants, and Misawa and Kobashi were the examiners, Shiga and I were used for demonstrations. There were about five or six people including KENTA who passed. I think I also said it to him, but KENTA had the most beautiful bridge.

It seemed that had KENTA always been in the dojo.
I did my best, but because there were seniors above me, I didn't give him much guidance. I think I taught him ordinary work like cleaning and chores. KENTA when he was a new trainee, was quiet.
However, there is a remarkable memory that clings to me when he was sparring with Akiyama, who he was no match for either physically or in terms of performance, and while being battered he was hanging in there. The image has remained with me tremendously.
Everyone who entered, other than KENTA had dropped out and not one of them remained. From then on, I had the competitive spirit.

In the case of Takeshi Rikio, he had a large body, so it was hard for him to do the basic movements. When we did push ups, myself, Hashi and Morishima used to put ropes under Rikio's body and pulled him up and so helped him that way.
I thought Rikio was amazing, he was married and so would come to the dojo via car rather than living there. He was a man who had a proven track record in sumo and he would arrive at the dojo promptly in the morning and did everything the new trainees did such as cleaning the toilets and doing the laundry. His Chanko was far more delicious than I made.
What I also thought was amazing was that Kaiō Hiroyuki* and Musōyama Masashi* would come to pick him up from the dojo. Truly, he was a former Maegashira sumo wrestler!
Furthermore in 2000,  the "dangerous guy" who I met in High School entered.
That's right.
It was Takashi Sugiura.

There was a tournament at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and Sugiura came in to talk to Tamon Honda about entering professional wrestling.
"Ah, it's him. The dangerous guy is coming here".

Although he had a wife and child, Sugiura lived in the dojo, and of course with all the new trainees he did cleaning and practice.
However, Sugiura used to drink beer while making chanko, and as no trainees were allowed to drink like this, he would hide it on a shelf so as to not get in trouble with the seniors.

We had first met when I was in High School, but Sugiura called me "Marufuji-san" as I had entered the dojo before him. I called him "Sugiura-san" or "Sugi-san". It is the same as "Riki-san."
Although in this world seniority depends on the order in which you enter, personally, I think that we should respect that person's life experience.
However, after Kotaro Suzuki entered Noah, and even though he is three years my junior, and although Morishima and he were a year older than me, I called him "Kotaro".
Kotaro is Kotaro (laugh).
Out of the three new entries, it was KENTA and Rikio who made their debuts in the All Japan era.

Because of his high potential, there was nothing special that I could advise Sugiura about such as basic motion, sparring, and he done chores already with the SDF. I think the only struggle he had was trying to remember how to be passive in pro-wrestling, but that was after he moved to Noah.

KENTA KOBAYASHI MAKES HIS DEBUT

KENTA and Rikio made their preliminary debuts at the Battle Royale at Korakuen Hall in March 2000, and then they fulfilled their full debuts.
Rikio's debut match with at Korakuen Hall on May 28th, was newsworthy as it was an exceptional clash with Akiyama & Morishima, together with Inoue, despite his defeat by Akiyama, it was talked about enough due to the lariat by Akiyama.
On the other hand, KENTA quietly debuted as a rookie newcomer against me in a 20-minute match at the Aomori Prefecture General Athletic Gymnasium on May 24th.
It was a nervous match.
The newcomer who makes his debut can only be tense because he has suddenly and audience, and does less than in practice, and so it is up to the senior in their professional capacity to pull them up strongly.
When someone makes a debut, the watching wrestlers are not watching the rookie, but rather their opponent. Sometimes when you return to the waiting room, the seniors may be angry with the partner, and not the debut, and so the pressure lies on them. At the time KENTA was only 19 years old (and a year younger than me in grade).
He was only 75 kilograms in weight, but he was doing his best, and I think he tried hard.
The All Japan traditional arm drag, arm attack method, dropkick, missile kick, diving body attack, hurracanrunna...I did as much as I could.
Lastly, I gave my best to KENTA, with a strong intense roll compaction that makes your body warp.
"Catch up, keep up!"
This was the yell I sent to my junior for the first time.
When KENTA came from All Japan to Noah, we became eternal rivals.

LEAVING ALL JAPAN AND MOVING TO NOAH.

After Rikio and KENTA made their debut at "Super Power Series" and the event finished, I followed Misawa, and left All Japan Pro Wrestling. I was not alone. All the wrestlers except for Kawada, Fuchi and Taiyō Kea, quit All Japan and participated in the creation of new promotion, Pro Wrestling Noah.
To be honest, I didn't know the details of the circumstances in the company at the time, I think even Misawa thought that talking to the youngsters about what had happened, would not not have helped the situation.

As a result, the tag match that Daisuke Ikeda and I lost to Johnny Smith & George Hynes at the Nippon Budokan on June 9th was the last match in All Japan. My memory is vague as to whether or not I knew at the time that this was the "final". In other words, I don't remember hearing anything about it.
It was not a situation where many people discussed it and said, "I want to do this...", it was more talked one on one between those who were eating rice together.
I felt it was simple, just go and follow.
"Because it came like this" or perhaps "I will do this".
I think perhaps this was how I felt, but I really don't remember what I was told. I don't believe Misawa did not say "come" to anyone.
That is why I did not know what kind of activity or schedule was needed to launch the news business called Pro Wrestling Noah. I think I heard somewhere that the business was going to start with several people such as Ogawa, and that Misawa and Nakada would raise it from scratch. I heard somewhere that this was the plan, and I got the impression that in truth we were going along with it.
Mitsuharu Misawa had an incredible attraction that people would gather round him.
As for me, I went where everything had been prepared.

On June 16th, the promotion held a press conference at Differ Ariake (On June 9th there was an event at the Nippon Budokan, but it did not have a name still).  I was told to attend the press conference in a necktie, even so as I have said, it felt like I just showed up.
When I was asked for comments, I said "I have decided on this as my best choice to improve the mental and technical aspects as a professional wrestler, thank you"
It was only two years and three months since my introduction to All Japan, but it was the place that had made the professional wrestler, Naomichi Marufuji. It was the same for practice, having time with my seniors, the time spent at the dojo also.
It was a very dark time for me.
It may seem like a bitter complaint of the "young man", perhaps it seems like an old person grumbling about this new thing which became Noah, and there may be a difference in era; but the environment for the apprentices now is not at all different, and of course I am not going to put any kind of pressure on the present era to be like then.
But that is why I am glad I experienced that era. Although it became a situation that I had no choice in, and in truth I was forced into, but I had been fortunate. I had been in contact with Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta, so that was good fortune. Each day had been rich, and there had never been a single day that wasn't.
Nothing can compare to those two years and three months spent in All Japan Pro Wrestling.

CHAPTER 3: Departure
The decision to board The Ark and being crowned GHC Junior

Showing off the Shiranui in the first title match!

On August 5th and 6th 2000, Noah had a two day event at Differ Ariake.
The first commemoration match was with Shiga against Inoue and Kanemaru, 3rd on the card. I changed my costume from the tights to trousers. At that time there were not many Japanese wrestlers who wore this, so I thought that I should show new things for a new place. At the same time I decided to graduate from Misawa's green, as it had become the theme color of Noah. At that time, everyone changed their costume, although no one had said to. I think that there was an intention of "Lets do what we can" for all of the wrestlers who had accompanied Misawa out.

It was a rough match at the business launch, but Shiga said that each move and each technique was correct, and we got through the match, and I was able to get the victory.

Before Noah launched, Shiga and Kanemaru has participated in FMW and took the WEW Tag Championship from Jedi & Gedo. I challenged for the NWA World Middleweight Championship at Differ Ariake on a show at Michinoku Pro, it was held by the Great Sasuke. That first year on October 8th was my first title match after my debut.
Mexico's AAA held TripleMania on July 5th and 6th. At that time, Minoru Tanaka was a member of BattlArts, and along with Genki Horiguchi, we did an elimination match and there was a six man with Perro Aguayo Jr. and Gran Hamada.
I participated in the Luchadore exercises, and absorbed a lot of their move set, but even in the early league fights, Sasuke was overwhelmingly different in aura to that of myself, and the match became completely drawn out. It may have seemed that I was able to deal with the characteristic style of Luchalibre, but my attacks looked superficial. In the end I suffered Sasuke's special move, the Thunder Fire Power Bomb.
Still, what I had gained was immeasurable.
I used the finisher that I still use, the Shiranui, for the first time. Actually, I had come up with it during the All Japan era, but honestly, there hadn't been a chance to release it. The Shiranui is a three dimensional technique of securing the neck so that the opponents chin rests on the right shoulder, a run to the corner, a backwards somersault and hitting the back of the head is important, because it is original, I wanted to take care of it. So the technique could be done properly and I was waiting until it is appropriate to do it, I was waiting for a big match which would get a lot of attention, Michinoku Pro was the organisation. To show it during the title match with The Great Sasuke was the best place. The hint for the Shiranui was given to me by the active Shigeo Okumura (currently working as OKUMURA at CMLL in Mexico).
"There are wrestlers doing this kind of technique in Canada, so why don't you try it?"
So, the idea, which was perfect for came from Okumura who was freelancing in All Japan, Okamura often travelled to Calgary, Canada, and therefore to the local boss, Stu.
This was a trigger for a technique that had never been seen before. He talked about Hart's grandson, Ted Hart, and what he was using. I visulised it in my head when Okumura stood for a test and I tried it out, and it gave me a nosebleed with the first one. I don't remember much of it because my shoulder collided with Okumura's face. I practised the Shiranui several times from there, and completed it, no thanks to Okumura who gave me nosebleeds.
So, when I used it on Sasuke for the first time, it didn't have a name, and was listed as a "Moonsault Style reverse DDT".
Twenty days after that, I officially named it "Shiranui".

First belt is FMW'S Tag Championship

The second belt challenge took place at Differ Ariake on October 22nd, which was shortly before the match against Sasuke. I tagged with Honda (Tamon) for the WEW Tag Belts against Kanemaru and Inoue.
I don't remember the circumstances of the challenge at all. Perhaps it was when the business was launched and I won against Inoue and Kanemaru, I challenged by saying "I've won, so let me challenge!". I also don't remember why I was tagging with Tamon, we were too different in physique and style, but on the contrary, it was easy to do.
Tamon had the weight, and with the exception of that, I can bring other parts. Although it looked wrong, I think it was a successful tag.
Tamon had been part of the Olympic Pro-Wrestling in Barcelona in 1992, Seoul in 1988 and Los Angeles in 1984, in his third participation, and despite not being his specialty yet he used techniques such as how to apply pressure and the Olympic Rotating Hell.
In the match, Honda felled Kanemaru with the Dead End, and was able to win the belts, it was two years and two months after my debut.

On October 29th, we went to FMW at Korakuen Hall, and made the first defense against Hisakatsu Oya and Ricky Fuji. Oya and Ricky were veterans, but I fought sturdily as champion as I knew how important this belt was to FMW. I finally decided on the Shiranui on Ricky, and succeeded in the first defense!
It was announced to the media that I took the pin.

The name of the new technique used against Sasuke, was called for the first time "Shiranui", the image was like a slashing knife.
Shiranui is a demon sword.
Since all the techniques of those days were in Western language, I thought that a Japanese-style names had more impact and as it was a unique name I thought it would be difficult for people to imitate it (I didn't think that anyone would imitate the technique either).

After that the WEW titles were taken by Hiromichi Fuyuki and Tetsuhiro Kuroad at Noah's first big match at the Ariake Coliseum. Fuyuki had the aura of All Japan. At the time, Fuyuki was promoting FMW in the entertainment route, and was reigning as the boss who did whatever he wanted. I thought that he was different from us in his physique and movement, but when I actually wrestled him, it was similar to the feeling I had with Misawa. I don't think it was in terms of technique, but more a sense of atmosphere.

Clash with ZERO-ONE.

Since becoming part of Noah, I had good competition with AAA, and although I was also able to go to Michinoku Pro, I feel that the fight over the belts in FMW, was a big opportunity to branch out into other promotions.
In the New Year of 2001, Noah's opposition started, it was led by Shinya Hashimoto (and was the predecessor of ZERO-ONE). On March 2nd, Misawa and Akiyama (who did not team together in Noah),came out for a tag at Sumo Hall in the main event in an exciting match against Shinya Hashimoto and New Japan's Yuji Nagata.
The opening match was myself versus Naohiro Hoshikawa. At this time Hoshikawa was a freelancer, and not signed to ZERO-ONE, having quit Osaka Pro Wrestling 4 months ago; it was a test match as to whether he could join the promotion, and it was on the undercard.
Regardless of the situation, I was proud to be representing Noah, and I stood in the ring thinking about what I would do for that first match.
Hoshikawa, was five years in my senior in terms of career, and struck me head on. Of course, this was pounding.
Lastly, I decided on the Shiranui from the trace kick and won. It was a fun match, and Hoshikawa was allowed to join ZERO-ONE after the match.

There is always a feeling of tension when you go to other promotions, but it is a good feelings because the reactions of fans are different, even when you do moves you normally do. To my audience it may be something fresh I am doing, but when the customer is fresh, it is fun to discover a different reaction to normal.

I was back in ZERO-ONE to participate in the second anniversary on April 18th at the Nippon Budokan. At the time I fought against Tatsuhito Takaiwa, who I had been watching when I was a fan.
The match with Takaiwa was a great learning curve for a student, even though we were both juniors, he made me realize that there were different ways to do matches.
If there is a difference in style, the different is positive, and I think it gave a synergistic effect.
The avalanche type Frankensteiner was beaten by a powerbomb, the Shiranui was caught and turned into the Tombstone Driver, and in the end I was taken down by the lariat. It was a fun match, and I was able to experience a worthy power of the heavyweights.

The days main event was a tense fight. The teams of Mitsuharu Misawa & Takeshi Rikio vs Naoya Ogawa & Kazunari Murakami was bought together, and this was something for the times.
I was seconding the match, and in retrospect I don't think there was much opportunity to counterattack until the end. Normally, a second like Tamon is not affixed, unless it is clear something is going to happen.
It is.
Misawa partnered with Rikio, despite not having a professional wrestling career style. Rikio's strength was prominent as he was a former Makuuchi wrestler, and I think it was a cool time for it, Murakami was blown away by the force of sumo, it was like a bulldozer. I felt like Misawa had said in advance, "you will regret it, if you do not go ahead with it".
In the match, Misawa fell to Murakami and the match was over, but when Ogawa attacked Misawa, we all jumped into the ring, and before I could do anything, Daisuke Ikeda flew over to Ogawa.
"Got it! Done!"
I remember thinking, so I flew over to Ogawa with a flying kick.
Of course I will protect Misawa, but all professional wrestlers have a sense of "lets stand out in such a situation", and so ultimately all of the Noah seconds ganged up on Naoya Ogawa.
Misawa started laughing and said, "Although you did not meet face to face, frankly, I won!"
He did not hesitate in this sudden situation, perhaps he thought that we who crowded round him were trustworthy. Misawa's manipulation of this first fight made it an unforgettable match in this counterattack with ZERO-ONE.

My first match with Misawa was on March 3rd at Differ Ariake, the day after the ZERO-ONE battle.
I launched a surprise drop kick when he entered, over the top rope dive and a second rope moonsault to Misawa when he was on the ramp. I also did the Shiranui.
However, I came to the conclusion that in short, on my own, there was nothing I could do. As I expected, it was too much. As I knew he would, he did as he wanted, and he could move. In other words, this was not drawn out, it was dragged out (rough).
Misawa had originally been a junior, so he could respond to my moves. It was impossible for me to control Misawa at that point in my career at that time. Even though I did what I could, I was completely overwhelmed and was completely in his hands.
In this match, after failing in September 1999, I tried the phoenix splash that I hadn't been able to do, but I wanted to use this match to dispel the image of failure, and I thought the situation, and timing, like when I did the Shiranui for the first time, was important, and it is why I thought the match with Misawa was appropriate.
I had mistook the landing position on the suicide bomb before, but this time I was able to press Misawa with it.
It was not perfect.
My elbow had gone into Misawa's face.
Of course it wasn't intentional, but Misawa was angry...
Finally, after eating Misawa's elbow, he took me down the ramp on his back.
That night my head was banging so much, I couldn't eat, and the result was a ragged loss. The match was a perfect example of Misawa's work. The customer sees that person who seems to be fighting bravely\putting up a good fight, but the feeling of that person in the match is that they are no threat at all, and there are times when I think of my innocence and am regretful of it.
"No threat" as an opponent, I think all the top people, Misawa, Kobashi, Akiyama, have thought that unintentionally. I think now that it was because of such regrettable experiences. Perhaps this might not be understood by the media or the fans, but as a wrestler, there is a part of you that wants to win, and that part as a wrestler, I cannot yield.
For example, the wrestler who has his first match will think, "how can I come back when I take this?"
You can hardly see the workmanship is the competitors skill is clearly inferior such as in early chain wrestling, and there is also a possibility of receiving strange injuries when you receive poor skills as you cannot injure yourself by doing a technique that is not passive, it means the usual way of being extreme with joint locks.

During this period there was an exciting event with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, during mixed martial arts sparring during this period.
Takayama served as a training partner with Sugiura when he left Noah at the end of 2001, and entered "PRIDE" as a freelancer. After leaving he continued on as free talent in Noah, and there were always three people doing sparring for MMA before matches. Sugiura, who was aiming to appear in the Sydney Olympics, and during my High School days I had attended the Super Tiger Gym and lent towards fighting skills, so it was natural that we flocked to Takayama.

Although I was not his second, I went to the Yokohama Arena on May 27th when TAKAYAMA first participated in PRIDE. His opponent was Kazuyuki Fujita, formerly of New Japan. When Takayama lost, I really felt bad for him.
One year later, Sugiura also entered PRIDE as a Noah pro wrestler.
At that time I was absent due to injury, but I honestly felt that I wanted to do it too. However, it would have meant that I would have made time for practice that was different to that of wrestling, and I didn't feel that I had the availability. I also didn't think that the company would think it no good. In the end, I never did mixed fighting sports.
Instead, when Sugiura went, I accompanied him to the gym with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and I have a strong recollection of sparring with himself and Masayuki Naruse.
I was also doing wrestling to some extent, but I was trying desperately not to be too extreme. I was torn when Kohsaka said, "Wow, that's unbelievable." Honestly, such a feeling to be praiseworthy left an impression. Although I had leg cramps, it was not a battle against ZERO-1 that stimulated me, I believe it is absolutely a part that a professional wrestler must have.

I also visited Kohsaka's gym two or three times.
Morishima said he too "also wanted to go", so we went together, he on a voluntary basis. Sometimes we were able to do sparring with Burnett. Because Morishima had done judo, he had a background in fighting sports, but Burnett was able to make movements look light despite the weight of his physique, and after all, he was a fantastic fighter. Its better to practice this when you are young, as it is absolutely necessary to look good, and you need to have the proper technique; it is not cool if you cannot set up, if you cannot learn the tackle in High School and don't want to learn the proper skills as a pro-wrestler.

Defeating Takaiwa and being crowned GHC Junior 

Well, getting back to pro-wrestling, the first GHC Junior Heavyweight tournament was held in June 2001, Kikuchi, Asaki, Kanemaru, Hashi, KENTA (then Kenta Kobayashi), Masashi Aoyagi (the director of the International Karate Kenpo* Federation, Saikokan Kaikan), Juventud Guerrera, Matt Murphy, and Jordy Frans, Pathfinder and BJ Whitmer.
Since the first round was done in seeds, Hashi caught Frans in the Dragon Screw from the Dragon Sleeper (it is the technique of SANADA, the cold skull, now in New Japan), and so he advanced to the semi finals and found a difficult opponent in the Mexican Juventud Guerrera, who had the victory over Asako.
Juvi (nickname for Guerrera) is a Mexican wrestler, and the son of Fuerza Guerrera. He became a lightweight champion both in Mexico and WCW in America, and took the IWGP Junior Championship from Liger. I had participated one year before in Triplemania, and to this genius thoroughbred opponent, "I studied Triplemania to get acquainted with Lucha Libre and made free of use it with opponents worldwide"
It was then fully realized.
Eventually, the dream of becoming the first champion, and the first (singles) championship was broken. It was Kanemaru who defeated Juvi.

The chance to challenge for the far away GHC Junior Championship came in a big match at the end of 2001.
It started at Ariake Coliseum on the 9th.
"Hey! Marufuji! You are next!"
Takaiwa, of ZERO-ONE, had taken the belt in October from Kanemaru and nominated me after making his first defense against Kikuchi, who was then a Noah junior heavyweight at that time. Although I had lost at the Nippon Budokan in April, I did not feel like challenging a superior, bur I knew that if I did not win here, then I could not step up. Rather than putting it on, I felt it would be the step towards getting one.
Go for it!
I felt a hot boost as I caught Takaiwa with the shooting star press that I had only used once at the Tokyo Dome on 2nd May 1999. I had been practicing at night after night in the dojo before I had used it then, on the ropes at the Ariake Colosseum event, one of Noah's fans at the venue said, "Marufuji fell down, and I was very scared because he fell on his neck to the mat. He completed it with success with so many people watching at the Tokyo Dome, but he did not do it here. People say that his reflexes are good, but I do not think it is, neither do I think that technique should be sealed as a special one."
However, in that situation, I had no choice but to put it in the match with Takaiwa, as unless I did it, I wouldn't be able to win the match. Takaiwa was an opponent I needed to win against with convincing content, and I felt that the junior inside me stirred.
Takaiwa gave me a ride on his shoulders and praised me after the match for fighting a brave fight.
After taking the belt, I commented "Thank you Takaiwa, thank you for walking up the staircase again. There are lots of people who have not yet been defeated, all their pictures are piled up one by one. I would like to be the strongest champion."
Those were my honest feelings.

ACCIDENT IN THE OPENING FIGHT OF NEW JAPAN

In 2002, in response to my words, a new opponent appeared.
It was a New Japan junior. Early in the year on January 4th, Jun Akiyama was the GHC Heavyweight Champion, and he had repelled Nagata's challenge at the Tokyo Dome at New Japan.
Kanemaru was accompanying Akiyama as his second, and said that Jushin Thunder Lyger had spoken about the title.
"Although it has not been directly handed to me, I am extending the hand to Noah, there is no way I cannot say this...can I come aboard!? I have a lot of emotion. I want a championship. Above all, please let me do it".
Listening to this request now, although this was Lyger who I loved my childhood, I had the fighting spirit of the Noah junior champion.
The speech was rousing, and Lyger and Minoru Tanaka appeared for observation at Noah's Korakuen Hall event on January 20th.
I was told, "from now on, there will be many things to do, so please shake hands properly".
"Fujimaru, today WAVE led by Misawa, and Sterness led by Akiyama, will be the main in a four man tag match to illuminate it".
WAVE won, and Misawa whispered after the match to head for the press section.
"Are you willing to do it? Then enter in to it any time!"
I was planning to shake hands normally, but but Lyger is passionately saying bad things about his opponent, I wonder if they have come to the green ring for selfish reasons?
"We, the New Japan juniors are fair and square, and we face you head on! Do not try to run or try to hide! If you want a further fight beyond Akiyama and Nagata, I will do it anytime!"
"Noah juniors are the strongest!"
I again asked for a handshake, but Lyger shook it off.
With this, the New Japan juniors and the Noah juniors entered into a full scale war, but ironically, I could not join in the battle.

At the first round of the Nippon Budokan on February 17th, Kikuchi and Kanemaru combined, and initially, Kanemaru was at the forefront of the whole battle, and got the victory over the team of Wataru Inoue and Lyger. On that day, I was in a championship tournament, and used a successful reverse shiranui in the first match against Juvy.
I changed my focus on March 21st away from New Japan at KBS Hall in Kyoto, and it was my first injury since my debut.
On that day it was a eight person tag match with Vader, Scorpio, Michael Modest, Donovan Morgan, Misawa, Ogawa and Sano. In about five minutes after the start of the match, I went for the two step moonsault on Scorpio, but my left foot turned sideways at that moment, and a crunching sound ran through my body. There was no power in my knee, I immediately felt it and rolled to the ground, and I could not move. This was the first time ever, and the sensation in my knee, well, it was disgusting.
After the match an ambulance was called, and Vader embraced me backstage and told me "it would be all right".

The result of the examination was a complete rupture of the left knee cruciate ligament.
Since my knee was in a state where it was going to be disconnected by any vertical or lateral movements, I fought with a taping which was hard like a rod, at the defensive match against Hashi at Differ Ariake on the 7th April at Ariake Coliseum as planned. My knee dislocated with a twisting movement, and my whole world ended for four months.

CHAPTER 4: Fight to the Death
Battles with KENTA, GHC Grand Slam, returning to the juniors

IDEAS ON THE JOURNEY TO THE GRAND COMEBACK

On the 7th April 2002, after I was bought backstage after the referee had stopped the GHC Junior Championship match with Hashi at Ariake Coliseum, Misawa looked at me and said, "So, its surgery".
Of course, I had feelings of regret, but it was a time when although I had a belt, my wrestling was not very interesting, and it was in the corner of my mind that this might be a good time to have a rest. I was sorry that I had only been able to sow the seeds during the junior war with New Japan, and not reap them, but I did think honestly as to whether "it will be possible to reset with significance?"
Although it may be traditional for a wrestler who grew up in All Japan Pro Wrestling, it is impossible for me to take a break from wrestling because of injury. Unless somebody stops me, I cannot rest.
This time, it was Misawa who stopped me.

The rehabilitation for surgery and then my return was unimaginable.
The surgery was done under general anesthesia, but when I woke up I was in pain and could not move my left leg at all.
"Okay, I wonder if this is really going to get better?!"
When I first lowered my leg, I felt a severe pain as the blood rushed back in.

First of all I used a wheelchair, and then after I had practiced with them, I used crutches. I went from using two to one, and it was around the summer that I was able to do with out them.
However, as the knee is still bad, I always use a brace.

Before I could have rehabilitation for my return to the ring, the rehabilitation for everyday life started very early.
Because I could not bend and extend the knee by myself, I placed my leg in a machine, and the engine would each day bend and stretch it. After this, I got rid of the crutches and my doctor sent me to a facility called JISS (The Japanese Institute of Sports Sciences), which is located in Nishigaoka, Tokyo.
JISS is a facility where Olympic athletes and Japanese national athletes practice, there is a gymnasium for weight training, sports facilities of all kinds such as a swimming pool, a pool for artistic swimming, an archery range and a facility for fencing practice. At the facility, athletes such as those representing Japan, were working on rehabilitation, and meeting and having exchanges with such people, has allowed me to broaden my horizons. Among these amazing people, there were a surplus of women athletes from Switzerland (hee hee).
It was so great that I got the opportunity to rehabilitate for such a time in that environment, and I rarely saw pro wrestling on TV, and to this day, I still do not see much wrestling on TV at home. There wasn't really any big reason that "I wanted to be an ordinary person in the ordinary way", but I watched pro-wrestling when I was a fan, and since I became a pro-wrestler, I did not see much.
Some people, like Kobashi, are professional wrestlers for 24 hours, and there are people who will watch video footage and thoroughly study the opponent, but not to give away too much to the customer, there are many things that they do. As for me, well, I don't study video. I find it is more fun to be ad-hoc and without prejudice and have no prior knowledge when having a match. Misawa was the same as me, he was not someone to do it either, as he liked to play it by ear too.
Watching matches, researching them, and being simulated by them, I wasn't aware that I didn't see professional wrestling on TV during the time I was missing. But, what I was thinking was "there is a skill I wish I could do", and even though my leg was still immobile, there was a thought spreading in my head. I did not think about changing my fighting style because I had become injured, and would go on with the same style as before.

FROM ABSENCE TO RETURN, THE SAME AS MISAWA

Nine months later on January 1st 2003 at the Nippon Budokan, I fought with Kikuchi & Kanemaru, together with WAVE senior, Ogawa. As soon as the bell went, I moved around nonstop to show my resurrection. I did a missile kick from the top rope in co-operation with Ogawa, and also the Shiranui which Ogawa used a backdrop afterwards for the finish.
"Like the original Tiger Mask, even a junior can be the face of the promotion".
I was returning with the hope of making the promotion interesting, and showing the world "Wrestling is amazing!". I wanted to show great things, make wrestling interesting, and make Noah the same; that is why I chose the last event at the Kobe World Memorial Hall on January 26th to set it up.
On that day, together with Misawa, he and I teamed against the teacher-student combo of Kobashi and KENTA. I was defeated by Kobashi's lariat, but, regardless of the result, I picked up the microphone and said, "Misawa! It is not you guys who lead Noah, but me!"
Kobashi, Taue, Akiyama, it could not be their time forever.
Now, when I look at the youngsters in Noah that are screaming about the generation change, I remember myself at that time wanting to publicly show my recovery. It was a shift change...I think that I wanted to fight and learn faster by myself, than to have been side by side with Misawa forever.
"Wasn't it cool?"
Not for the purpose of developmental graduation.
I did it with my own strength, although it did lead to the dissolution of WAVE out of necessity. Misawa himself was for the freedom of opinions, as everyone was responsible for them, and so there was nothing to oppose. "I appreciate what you did".
The slogan in Noah at that time was, "freedom and belief".
Because it was Misawa's opinion that you should take responsibility for your actions, he had let me do it for that reason.

Infact, as I thought, it was the tag of Wild II (Rikio and Morishima), who responded to my appeal in both their heavyweight and their junior days.
In the opening of the February tour, I tagged with Rikio and we were able to get the victory over Taue & Suzuki (Kotaro). It was exciting and interesting to be able to mix junior and heavyweight without regard to it, and it was the first time taking Taue's open handed slaps*.
After that, it was Kenta Kobashi and KENTA, then Morishima joined in midway after defeating the Takayama & Sugiura team, and we were able to finish by defeating the team of Bison Smith and Sugiura. But, even with the trio with Akiyama, Akitoshi Saito & Hashi, and teaming with Takayama, of course I did not neglect the juniors in the tour.
It was again during the opening of the February tour, when Kanemaru & Hashi teamed together against KENTA & Sugiura in the Junior Tag match. KENTA and Sugiura fell apart, Sugiura joined with Kanemaru and a scene developed whereby the three of them beat KENTA.
This was delicious material, and I couldn't keep out of it. Inside I knew that no matter what the war with the New Japan Juniors is, I recognized that Kanemaru was the opponent, and so I came to KENTA'S rescue.
Kotaro also came to his rescue too. Kotaro had debuted a year earlier, and I think he was looking for an opportunity to play an active part. So, it was in this way that the juniors divided into two groups: the group of Marufuji, KENTA and Kotaro and Sugiura, Hashi, and Kanemaru. At the Nippon Budokan, KENTA and I won against Kanemaru and Hashi on the final night of the series.
The heavyweight fight with Wild II was interesting too, as was the new layout that the juniors had, and it made me feel there was great potential.

I fought both heavyweight and junior, and on April 15th, together with Morishima I challenged in Kanazawa for Akiyama & Saito's GHC Heavyweight Tag championship.
It was my first challenge for a heavyweight belt.
In the end I was put away by Saito's "Death Brand", but for Morishima, myself and our generation it was meaningful, it had been 25 minutes and 58 seconds of a match, and the content of the match had been dense. We had fought Akiyama and Saito, and for us, that had been the best harvest. Although the wall we had to get past was thick, it made us feel Noah's future, and because of them, I thought there was meaning in our action.
It might have come at a price, but it was good.

Tag champion with KENTA 

In July on the junior front, the GHC Junior Tag Championship was newly established, and it was decided that the first tournament would be held.
The entries were Marufuji and KENTA, Kanemaru and Sugiura, Kikuchi and Mitsuo Momota, Hashi and Kotaro, Michael Modest & Donovan Morgan as well as teams from New Japan and Osaka Pro, such as the mixed team of Lyger and Takehiro Murahama. From ZERO-ONE came Yoshihito Sasaki and Tatsuhito Takaiwa.
Our first round opponents were the veteran team of Kikuchi and Momota. In A All Japan, all the youngsters had learnt a variety of things from single matches with Momota, but when I made my debut he had been part of the Family Unit* and fighting against the Villain Firm*, so it never happened.
At the time of the tournament, Momota was 58 years old. It was Momota who had bought the rope suicide dive from Mexico to Japan!
Although he never had a big body, (although you would think he would, his father being Rikidozan, the founder of Japanese wrestling), he takes pride in it and has a spirit of "I do not think so" and "Do not underestimate me", in a way you do not see in professional wrestlers now. Out of courtesy I fought him with my full strength, and in the end I bought him down with the Shiranui.

The second round was the first one for a year and seven months since facing Tatsuhito Takaiwa and and Yoshihito Sasaki of ZERO-ONE, and the first match with Sasaki for the GHC Junior championship. As Takaiwa and I knew each other well, we had a great match. Sasaki was easy to read, he was a powerful young man and was full of fighting spirit.
The fans may have been paying attention to the reunion of myself and Takaiwa, but it was the intense offense and defense battle between KENTA and Sasaki that became the leading part of the match. KENTA got the win with the Busaiku knee kick, but the intensity between himself and Sasaki was transmitted.

The final took place on July 16th at the Osaka Prefectual Gymnasium against Lyger and Takehiro Murahama. One month before, on June 10th, at the same venue in New Japan, I had taken Kotaro with me for the first time and we challenged Lyger and Koji Kanemoto, New Japan's strongest team, for the IWGP Junior Tag Championship. The first encounter with Lyger had been delayed due to injury. It was fun to be in the situation of facing this wrestler who I had liked ever since I was a fan, but this time I had to win because I had failed to take the belt last time.
This was the Noah Jnr, and it was a big match for KENTA and I and a real crucial moment for our future.
KENTA was shoot boxing, and exchanging kicks with Murahama, and I fought directly with Lyger. Participating (and exceeding in) RINGS, DEEP, and K-1, in the match, the opportunity came when KENTA knocked Lyger down with the Busaiku from the top rope while I had Murahama on my shoulders. This was a physical skill! The same kind as the Warriors "Double Impact", and lastly, right in front of Lyger, I did the Shooting Star press. This was the third time I had done this, ever since I had taken the GHC Junior from Takaiwa, and in this way, KENTA and I became the first ever GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Champions.
Again I announced that, "the Noah juniors are the strongest".

I believe that this tag belt win was due to the fact that KENTA was my partner, but I don't think it would have worked when KENTA was still in orange tights. During my absence, he had found a good place for himself, and put an emphasis on kicking, and through this his personality had come out.
"It's okay to do it, but lets try it together!", that was my feeling from early on during my return, and I reclaimed it when I nominated him as my partner in the tournament, and it grew rapidly during it.

The "MaruKEN" era lasted about two years

KENTA gradually became a wrestler, who normally was next to me in juniors, into his own. Our tag matches were reassurance, and we could always make a match with that. When you make a tag, you have to see the other people and of course your partners, but with KENTA, you only have to look to your opponents, and so you can concentrate on yourself and the match is comfortable.
However, we were two people that hardly had any communication at all. It is said that two comedians lead separate private lives, and I have few memories of eating together with KENTA. Usually, there was no such thing as keeping in touch. However, outside of the ring, I did lend him a CD, "0 DA PUMP", which he still has not returned (laugh).
It wasn't just limited to KENTA, I didn't really drink that much at the time and I had so many matches that after them I would have something to eat and go to sleep.
This was life during the tour.

Although Kotaro was the new attendant, Misawa asked me along, but I could not afford the luxury anymore. Since I had resumed, I was making a conscious effort of trying not to interact with Misawa. In the ring, even when we were fighting, even when we were eating, during the tour I felt closer to Morishima and the others. While the relationship with Rikio and so on was like that, my relationship with KENTA was standing side by side at the venue, and sometimes face to face.
He was a wrestler who you could trust to take care of everything.

KENTA said "Kotaro changed the match at different parts because of his aerial attacks" (rough), and he was trustworthy source about the Noah juniors in those days. What was magnificent was different from his brutal vibe, his fighting spirit emanated from his whole body, and this was something I did not have.
"I was often given the name "Genius", but personally I don't know why I was called that, and part of me was jealous to see KENTA fighting with such emotion.
There was envy even among those said to be "Weeds".
I was not elite; I had entered the same way, practiced the same way, and did the match in the same way, but to even those who are called "Weeds", there is a hungry spirit.
I did not feel like a "genius", and to be clear about it, I found it annoying.
Now twenty years since my debut, while things that could be done in the old days which we can't do now because of physical condition, have decreased, I felt it was more difficult to show emotion rather than skill. Anyway, lets return to the story about the impressions of KENTA.

"You can do this, right?"
KENTA and I never needed to make any special arrangements, just like the knee strike when we got the belts, my trace kick and KENTA'S high kick sandwich, the avalanche-type Shiranui and the power bomb; our technique during matches increased with intuition.
KENTA and I were not a tag team in that we talked deeply and reached a conclusion, mutually, we sometimes did not know what do, so maybe the customers were more interested and made it an interesting tag team however. Maybe the two of us had different views, but fundamentally the basis remained the same, even if you differ, you are professional and so it will mesh together. Until we lost in Sapporo on June 5th 2005 to Kanemaru and Marvin*, we had faced Kikuchi and Momota, El Samurai and Wataru Inoue, and Ogawa and Kotaro. We had also defended nine times to Kotaro and Marvin, Sugiura and Kendo Kashi, SUWA and Marvin and Aguila and Juvy. We built a long term reign of about two years, and our defensive record has not been broken yet in the history of the junior tag.

Each combination has strength and individuality, and I think that KENTA and I got stronger with accumulating experience, but the impression remains the strongest with the team of Juvy and Marvin. Although they differed from us subtly, it was a match where experiences for KENTA and I rose considerably as we were able to do it them, the two top in Mexico. It was memorable as I used the Shiranui-Kai for the first time. The hint for the technique came from Ricky Marvin, who did a protype of the move. He had a technique of striking the opponent at the same time as holding them in the corner. In Mexico, Marvin and Volador Jr used the technique in tandem under the name "Mosca Española" (Editors Note: The Spanish Fly).
In Japan, Jose and Joel, The Maximo Brothers, were using this name in ZERO-ONE. The skill involved the hooking of the arms, and it changed in terms of holding it, so the reform of the Shiranui had really been made by seven people.

Besides the GHC Junior Tag defenses, there was the challenge to Misawa and Ogawa, who were the GHC Tag Team Champions, at the Nippon Budokan on 25th April 2004. In May 2005, there was the Junior Tag Festival which was held at Differ Ariake (2nd Differ Cup), with KUDO & Kota Ibushi, Kaz Hayashi & Leonardo Spanky. I won the championship group against the team of Ikuto Hidaka & Minoru Fujita.
The biggest impression I have of this competition is that of Ibushi, who had debuted only less than a year. His use of aerial attacks appealed strongly to me.

WHAT KENTA AND I CHANGED

In addition to defending the belts, and spreading fights, the combination of KENTA and myself, "MaruKen", took pride in that "we made an era in Noah". Even though we were the GHC Junior Tag Champions, I think it was permissible back then to challenge the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team champions of Misawa ad Ogawa.
During the All Japan era, the junior matches were organized on the under card because the line between junior and heavyweight was firmly drawn and in Noah, the main event was of course heavyweight. The battle of the juniors, however, would not be defeated by this. For those of is who felt strong, it was disappointing that we could not challenge something just because our bodies were small, so I think that became the appeal of it.

The promotion, the venue, and even the box office was the same when Misawa and Ogawa responded intentionally to us, I think perhaps that I wonder if I wanted to make various changes to the company, as well as to Misawa. I had a feeling that Misawa, (being someone who turned from junior to heavy), felt that junior was more interesting, and being better than the heavyweights was a sentiment that I had to respond to.
I used the revised Shiranui on Misawa, (since I had also used it on Marvin), but in the end was sunk by his variation of the Emerald Flowsion. Despite this, I felt that KENTA and I had definitely crossed the bridge between heavyweight and junior. Truth is that when you do it when heavyweight wrestlers, the damage is great when the body is small, and ultimately it is the movement, and because I could not win or compete unless I made the effort against those bigger, I did my best each match. We had speed, high power and stamina, and our mettle was not defeated by the heavyweight offensive. I was thinking that I did not need to draw whether my body was big or small.
So, while the heavyweight and the juniors are lumped together as names, the fact is that we crossed the border to make it better or worse in the current situation. The fans had favorites in juniors too, and besides that there were fans who liked the heavyweights before too, and customers doubled. I don't apologize for thinking that.
We broke the fence between the heavyweights and the juniors, and because it united the fans, their preference was divided between the two, and it became the expression "for better or worse."

Another thing that KENTA and I changed, was the nature of the fans I think. We were the target age, and I think there was a familiarity like idols, not wrestlers who had not been approachable in the past. However, the next year when I had announced my marriage, I was only given two pieces of chocolate (laugh), but in the MaruKEN era, I was given 70-80 pieces on Valentines Day. Now, its "Harada-Kun", "Kotoge-kun" or "YO-HEY-kun", but there were not many athletes being called to by female fans, and it definitely started with KENTA and myself.
"Marufuji kun!"
"KENTA kun"
I get nostalgic when I hear the high pitched voice calling that name (laugh)

Junior Festival Victory and Akiyama's White GHC Take Over

The GHC Junior tag team era with KENTA lasted for about two years from July 2003 to June 1998, but of course, I was aiming for single matches as well.

On February 21st 2004, I participated in the 4th Super J Festival held in Osakajo Hall. The first round was against the ZERO-ONE representative Jun Kasai (currently FREEDOMS), and in the semi final the WMF representative, Garuda. In the final I met the Osaka Pro representative Takehiro Murahama, and I won the match and the championship.
However, the strongest impression remains of Kasai. Despite the fact that this was a junior fight, it was characteristic when he hit me on the head with the edge of a desk, and the atmosphere of that was amazing.
Murahama, who I met in the finals, had also been in the GHC Junior Tag determination match. I felt his ability to respond to puroresu was natural, and he did not have any of the offbeat rhythms or habits that people who came from other fighting sports often had, and I think it was probably because he did the top rope suicide dive, and we both had the love of wrestling in common, and we interacted properly. Perhaps because I had learned what I should have, I think he seemed clumsy, but I do think he was an athlete who could rise to professional wrestling.

It was at the time when I was partnering with KENTA, that I won the first heavyweight single belt for the first time.
On the 16th October 2004, I took the Global Hardcore openweight championship from Jun Akiyama at Tokushima City Gymnasium.
The belt had been planned by Akiyama to "heighten the entertainment for the regional shows who do not usually have a title fight", and it was the plan that it would be openweight and so it could be challenged by any wrestler of any weight class. The heavyweights would have forty minutes, and the juniors 15 minutes. If it came to a draw, then the basic rule was that the belt would be handed to the junior, but it was possible to change the original rules when you were champion and had your own ideas.
It wasn't just a matter of having a match, it was a belt that wouldn't be established unless I myself, took into consideration various things, maybe Akiyama had created it for the mid-ranking and the younger wrestlers for the purpose of them thinking about other things than matches.

The belt was white as it was "based on the champion, the color of the foundation is white", and it was also called for that reason, "The White GHC".

Akiyama was a heavyweight, and I was a junior...the weight difference was 27 kilograms, so I got 15 minutes, and even I didn't win, I would have a victory if I fought for fifteen minutes. I wanted to win the belt in a convincing way, so I focused both my mind and my body. It is usually at this time I would study for the match when I left the venue, but I didn't do any tactics, had I done it would only have been an assessment of wrestling.

Akiyama is a professional wrestler, who scares me. I am scared just by standing face to face with him. This fear is not the sort of thing that comes from being beaten. Its not the case of just talking about being beaten, Akiyama is a scary person. Like the Four Heavenly Kings or The Three Musketeers; Akiyama is overwhelming, and perhaps as a youngster, I had no choice but to exceed anything that Akiyama had thought of in an opponent so far.

From the offense and defense on the apron, I used the metal fittings in the corner as stepping stones and did an avalanche style Shiranui to the outside.
I did not say that without any fear.
But I did it, finally in the fight I used Akiyama's second bridge as a stepping stone for the Shiranui, I slipped into the ring with the count at 18, and I won by count out.
The feeling was good!

My first defense was on November 21st at Miyagi Sports Center in Sendai, the challenger was Go Shiozaki, who had just debuted in July of that year.
The basic rule was that if the time runs out, then it will be my defense, and as Shiozaki is heavy, its not that fun. So, we changed the rule to that if it came to a timeout, it would be Shiozaki's victory.
"Is this the brilliant achievement of a rookie who only debuted four months ago?"
It wasn't just the defensive match, but making it a topic is also an important job that the White GHC Champion is required to do.

The match was partly trying out Shiozaki's potential, and for myself it was seeing how well I could lead the juniors. While drawing out the special ability of Shiozaki, it came to the ending within 15 minutes. I decided the Shiranui in the last 15 seconds, and defeated him in 14 minutes and 48 seconds, but it was a risky match.

At the beginning of the year on January 23rd 2005, I was challenged by the veteran, Haruka Eigen, who had just celebrated his 59th birthday. The indiscriminate grade now meant not only the weight class, but also the age. With this title match it was a ten minute one, and when the time runs out, there was the rule that Eigen would win.
Eigen commented, "I may have it in 10 minutes", and I was surprised to see him aggressively come out with lariat, DDT, throat shots etc. When I rushed to Eigen in the corner, he caught me with the counter kick, and a lot of saliva struck my face...The match time was 7 minutes and 40 seconds.
Eigen, who took the Shiranui as the finish, was fine.
There was respect for Eigen.
It is a big challenge to wrestle the top people, but it was just as much a challenge to do it with veterans like Eigen. It was a challenge as to how much you could boost customers, and so I was able to think that since it was an issue, I was experiencing more growth.

The next defensive match was at the Nippon Budokan on the 5th March.
Until now I had come across a newcomer, and a veteran, and so the third challenge was against someone of my own generation, Mohammed Yone. Yone was three years senior to me, and like Morishima and Rikio, was one of the people who should upgrade the heavyweights.
Yone had a wonderful spirit that day.
Its true I lost to the Kin-Meat Buster, but the first GHC Heavyweight champion of that generation was born, and it was very meaningful as it meant I could get results, and somehow "Strong Yone" was glad too.
In the main event on that day, Rikio destroyed Kobashi, who was called the "absolute champion", and our generation thought of the belt for himself. I am lucky that Yone came out in such a wonderful place.

Tagging with Minoru Suzuki and expanding my professional wrestling.

Even though I had lost the white GHC, it wasn't the end of my existence, and as there were many things that I wanted to do, I never stopped.

In 2004, Minoru Suzuki had come to Noah the previous year, and so I combined with him.
I had fought him at the Nippon Budokan on the 10th September the previous year. Everything was different about him; his career, his sphere, match delivery, and although he was older than me, it was fun just having a match. Out of everyone I had come across so far, it was the first time I had come across someone of his style, whose style of blows came in quick succession. He made a point of ever surrendering his ground in offence or defense. He had profound wrestling and judo skills, and he presented them. For example, I think he was fascinated by ground attacks. For example, like wrestlers who show aerial attacks fly, when someone was on the ground he was striking them because he was fascinated by attacking, and I think he wanted to show that.
Although he was different from Noah wrestlers, each skill and each attack was appropriate, he was someone who had firm ideas and a world view.
"I will extinguish the light of the opponent", he was a wrestler who could make his opponent shine. It's more to say that I myself shone with victory, and although in the past Minoru Suzuki had said the opposite thing, but I had no intention of being swallowed by this world. My light was lit to the point where it was turned off, even so, the match was fun.
I lost via a sleeper hold, but I asked for a handshake. Because the match had been fun, I think I offered my hand in all honesty.
Sure enough, I was rejected, but when I was talking backstage he appeared.
"Hey! Bring out your hand"
Minoru Suzuki said to me to do that, and then he shook it.
I felt it was surely because he enjoyed having the match as much as I did, and I think that is why he did as he did. I wanted to have one more match, but looking at the styles of Marufuji and Suzuki, I thought it would be surprising for us to engage, and I felt that a man who could expand my wrestling had appeared.

Minoru Suzuki appeared before me at the Mito Citizen Gym three days before the match. After the white GHC match with Yone he said, "I have come to pick you up", and he put me in his car and we returned to Tokyo.
We talked a lot over dinner, and the thing that we had the most in common was "that's interesting".
Of course it may be interesting for us to fight forever, but the thought of fighting those in Noah with this guy would be a stimulation for us all, and so tagging with someone so willful, gave me a sense of excitement of what kind of tag team we would be. I had tagged with various people until now, but Minoru not that much.
He told many old stories, and I talked like a tiresome Suzu* about puroresu like it was my sweetheart (smile). I don't think it looked like I was working hard at anything (laugh).

In the ring he was someone who said, "Useless things are useless, good things are good", and because he did not lie to people, I studied him.
There is the odor of lies in doing things, and there are also reasonable or "noble" lies, but it is still a lie, and that is why for Pro-Wrestling, he was a really sincere man.

Our first tag was at Korakuen Hall on April 3rd against Taue & SUWA. It was not intended to force it on the customers, the things we did in the match made us. We did ordinary things instead of doing anything special, things that we did normally.
Taue had a double ankle lock, and I decided on a swan dive combined pile on SUWA, which further evolved into something like a swan dive to a Gotch style piledriver. Recently, everyone had started using combination techniques involving the use of airspace, but I think that myself and Suzuki were running ahead.
As an aside, there were other influences too, I loved "Kinnikuman*" and the playing the game "Fire Pro Wrestling". Seven years later after the tag with Suzuki, I partnered with Yone for "Global League 2012", and like in the cartoon with the Muscle Docking*, we used a combination of my swan dive and Yone's kinmeat buster as a weapon for victory.
But lets get back to 2005.
Even though I was tagging with Minoru, I was still had the GHC Junior Tag with KENTA, and in May I won the 2nd Differ Cup event at the Junior Tag Festival. These were exciting days.

But, on June 5th we lost the belt to Kanemaru & Sugiura which we had defended for two years making nine defenses in total.
I had confidence that as a pair we were different and that we could defend, but Kanemaru in the match very successfully manipulated Sugiura.
The inside work was brilliant.
So, although I lost, I realised that I had reached the highest level of Noah's junior matches. Until then I had really thought of my own feelings, such as tagging with Minoru Suzuki, and so I spoke to KENTA about the loss of the titles and the tag, the issue was settled by him saying he wanted to go at it alone. So as he aimed for Kanemaru's GHC Junior, I decided to devote myself to taking the GHC tag with Minoru Suzuki. The then GHC Tag Champions were Scorpio & Doug, who had taken the belt from Misawa and Ogawa, and we headed to England to challenge leaving Japan on the 16th June, with the first match in Austria which was the next day on the 17th.
This time it wasn't a tag, but a single. I tried to get the victory by rolling up Williams who gave me a suplex, and I lost the fall.
The next day on the 18th we were at the Morecombe Dome in Manchester, Lancashire, England, and the title match had finally arrived, and although we were from away, Noah was very popular in Europe, and we were cheered by the champions team. The aim was to target Scorpio and exhaust him.
I attacked the neck, and Minoru Suzuki came in and caught Scorpio with the camel clutch while I aimed a low drop kick...to the face. It is interesting and also fun to have spontaneous movement with your partner.
In the end, with Minoru Suzuki's sleeper and the Shiranui to Scorpio, we became the 10th GHC tag team champions.
After the match I took memorial pictures with local fans in the ring, and then gave signatures.
Minoru Suzuki signing and shaking hands, was a rare thing (laugh).

The next day I went back to Japan, but Minoru Suzuki stayed in Essen, Germany and had a match with a babyface wrestler, after the match he honored his opponent's good fight, and with the call of "Suzuki! Suzuki!" he was treated as a babyface. Because, he is who he is, he must have calculated this by praising the other (laugh).

The first defensive match was on July 18th at the Tokyo Dome challenged by Akiyama & Hashi, in a teacher\pupil combination.
"Akiyama, I am nominating you, bring your dog, your goldfish shit, your child, and your companion!"
As usual, Minoru Suzuki spoke with a poisonous tongue, and it wound up Hashi.
It was a pleasure to be matched with Hashi, who was a senior when I got into All Japan.

The tag with Minoru Suzuki was unexpectedly short, even when tagging with Minoru Suzuki in the Tokyo Dome. Although we succeeded in our second defense against Saito & Sugiura in Nagoya on September 11th, we were defeated by Morishima and Yone in Osaka on October 28th, and we lost the titles.
After that, we continued the team until the end of the year, and because Minoru Suzuki and I were always people looking for interesting things, and in a developmental sense we both began to turn towards each other again with the feeling of tagging again, and when he did, it was done in a ring other than Noah's.
The kicks such as the rolling, the kick fighting and the middle kick were all amazing still. He was 48 years old when we had the match, and honestly I was surprised, even the desperation kick was sharp. People may not have known that part...
During our match, I had thought several times, "amazing".
Looking at it, he didn't fly so much, but there was the rope kick and the diving headbutt. I got back the feeling from the fans, while wondering what had become of the Golden Era Tiger Mask.

It is said that Sayama said that "Wrestling is a natural fight", what this means is that you either have it, or you don't (rough).
I think that no matter where you have this movement, (although I think it is more of a tackle than a blow), I think it is a four dimensional technological arrangement that fascinated those who see it as a solid assumption.
I think that in all probability, Sayama would have made it tough if I were someone who could not deal with ground attacks. Perhaps I thought, "this is different", while fighting the fear of him as a person.
Eventually I lost the match by a backslide pin, and I think it was the first time in my professional wrestling life that I had been pinned with that technique.
I was able to revenge myself on the first generation Tiger Mask at Real Japan's Korakuen Hall event after seven years and three months on June 7th 2013. I won the victory with an armbar, but Tiger had injured his left leg following an attack by Atsushi Onita and the Evil Ways unit. I was proud that I had won without attacking the left leg and only the arm, but I still feel that it was a reluctant match.

Akira Taue assault!...Kenta Kobashi honorable in defeat.

Five days before the match, there was one event that raised my motivation before the first match against Tiger Mask. I had a singles match against the former GHC Heavyweight Champion, Akira Taue.
The stage was the Nippon Budokan on March 5th. The main event of the show was Jun Akiyama vs Minoru Suzuki for the GHC Heavyweight Title, Kobashi vs KENTA, Misawa vs Morishima and Taue vs Marufuji; there were so many single matches, this could be called a generational struggle.
As a result of course, for me was that I could see a challenge for that one belt. If I could beat Taue and win, then I had a clear goal of achieving a grand slam as I snaked my way through the GHC Junior, the junior tags, the Global Hardcore and the heavyweight tag championships.

Taue has, uh (wry smile), good motor nerves, and he responded to what I was able to do. He doesn't have that much skill, but I was still made to work, because he is someone who shows it.
Looking back on the match, the avalanche type chokeslam, the key is his strength and his long limbs although he may not have had fine technical skills, and the consequences were that it was often wrapped up together. Not only his body, but the scale of his fight was also big.
In the Budokan I won with a neck clutch and roll, this was a technique I thought to use to win against Taue. Although this match was a match where I had to get results, it was a victory, although I felt that I had failed to live up to my ability as wrestler because I was only able to take my chances when moving around. However, a victory is a victory, and next was a single with Kobashi at the 23rd April at the Nippon Budokan.
Kobashi was very strong.

I took the passive by turning it around, and got the Dragon Suplex by one turn, but the last was terrible with a real brain-buster. I fell, and I lost.
There was no moment when I thought, "I can win this!".
I would like to praise that it was huge that I repaid the lariat by kicking out at two.

The utter defeat by Kobashi is hard to communicate, and although what I was doing was reasonable, I was no match for him. I couldn't find the answer to it at all, the equation was broken. Even with addition or division, the answer is still on the other side of the equation.
Against Kobashi, I don't really know what to say, but using anything against him was like this, "Kobashi has an incredible way to stand out", and even though I was trying to be "unreal" myself, Kobashi has been putting out this for a while. Ultimately, you get swallowed up. Kenta Kobashi is unreal to everyone, no matter who you are, and even if everyone was unreal, he will always surpass them.
He is someone who will do a match his own way.

Kobashi falls sick

Jun Akiyama, who was the GHC Heavyweight champion at the time, seemed to think of me as being the next challenger, but it was short-lived after my defeat by Kobashi. However, I became motivated to fight more heavyweights.
As for the way Noah was going, the mood was high for a GHC Heavyweight title match of Akiyama vs Kobashi which was born in one of the three remaining Budokan's of the year, July, September or November. Following this, the team of Takayama & Kobashi vs Misawa & Akiyama was formed for Takayama's return match. Takayama had been absent for a long time as he had suffered a stroke on July 16th. So, Akiyama & Kobashi was meant to happen in September, but then something unexpected happened as Kobashi was discovered to have kidney cancer during the health check for the June tour. He was admitted to hospital for surgery and treatment, and Kensuke Sasaki took Kobashi's place in Takayama's return match.

DISCLAIMER: This work of translation is not for resale or commercial publication. All rights remain to the author and the publisher.

A HUGE thanks goes to Metal-Noah for kindly sending me an autographed copy of the book purchased at Sumo Hall. あなたには感謝してもしきれません

Please note that the original work is written entirely in Japanese, therefore some parts do not translate well, others do not translate at all, and in some parts, Naomichi Marufuji has used Tokyo dialect. In those situations the translator (me, Hisame), has tried to summarize either a rough translation or a rough meaning. I have also changed some sentences for readability for western audiences, but this has not detracted in any way from the original meaning. 

The translator has also added images and some gifs.

NOTES

CHAPTER 1: The Long Jump
The dream of aiming to be a wrestler

Sometimes known in Japan as "The Runaway Warriors" ~ I have used the western version of "Road Warriors" for simplicity.

1990 when The Road Warriors were with New Japan, Marufuji would have been about ten or eleven.

Rules of Professional Wrestling: Greco-Roman amateur high school.

SDF: Japan Self-Defense Forces - Takashi Sugiura (like Maybach Taniguchi) was a special reserve soldier.

The "Super Generation Army" who were Misawa's "next generation" faction attempting to overthrow the older generation of Giant Baba and co, would inspire Noah to create the "Super New Generation Army" twenty-eight years later. In 1990, the youngest of the "Super New Generation Army", Kaito Kiyomiya had not yet been born and wouldn't for another six years.

"Secondary Disease" - Japanese colloquial term that translates to "middle-school second-year syndrome" or "eighth-grader syndrome", typically used to describe early teens who have delusions of grandeur, that desperately want to stand out that they have convinced themselves they have hidden knowledge or secret powers.

Okiyama Skating Center - the mecca of Saitama's pro-wrestling once upon a time (Terry Funk fought Abdullah The Butcher here for UWF). It was demolished in the mid to late nineties and an apartment complex now stands on the site.

Kingdom: Japanese wrestling promotion, 1997 to 1998. It was essentially a continuation of UWF International, having most of its former roster.

Sambo: Russian Martial Art and combat sport

Daijiro Matsui -  Japanese mixed martial artist and sometime professional wrestler

Garage Sale - two comedians would basically have a pop up shop, and try to sell things to passersby.

Passive or Passivity was a technique that Mitsuharu Misawa made gospel; he said that it was not enough to get in the ring and know how to do moves, you needed to know how to receive the moves from your opponent too. It is the equivalent of what we would call in the west of "how to sell".

Hashi - Probably Makoto Hashi

Sitting on my legs - Marufuji would have gotten down to bow deeply to Baba, and was probably sitting back on his legs while Baba spoke to him.

CHAPTER 2: Kings Road
The teachings of Giant Baba and the Four Pillars of Wrestling

30, 50, 100 - number of moves he was able to take.

Kanemaru: Yoshinobu Kanemaru.

Ukemi: a martial arts term which is the art of falling safely.

Dorm Leader: a position of responsibility akin to being a "head boy" in a boarding school. Dorm leaders were expected to deal with problems their seniors didn't have time for, take care of the others and give advice, and delegate tasks (i.e. cleaning roster, cooking roster). Go Shiozaki served in this role during his trainee days in the Noah dojo.

Morishima: Takeshi Morishima.

Makunouchi: Japanese bento which consists of mostly rice along with fish, meat, pickles, eggs and vegetables and an umeboshi (pickled plum)

Chicken Nanban: regional cuisine from Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu Island (most southwesterly of Japan's four main islands) but now it's a very common dish served all over Japan.

Washington Hotel: chain hotel, similar to "Travelodge" or "Comfort Inn"

Kun: Japanese honorific, usually used either by a senior to a junior, between men who know each other well, sometimes women will use it too.

Showa Era: period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, from December 25, 1926 through January 7, 1989. Obviously this encompassed the years that Tsuruta had trained, and Marufuji is basically saying that this he was how he was trained, and it showed, there obviously being a difference to how things were done in 1999 (ten years after the era had finished). This is not to say that Tsuruta's methods were old fashioned, merely that this was how he was trained.

Untouchable: Stable in All Japan of which Mitsuharu Misawa was the leader, aside from Misawa and Marufuji, other members consisted of Yoshinari Ogawa, Jun Akiyama and Daisuke Ikeda

Sawa-san: "Mr. Sawa" ~ abbreviated nickname given to Misawa. "San" is a Japanese honorific which (depending on gender and marital status) can mean variously "Mr\Mrs\Miss"

The Asunaro Cup: All Japan equivalent of Global Junior League, with competitors winning points in a round robin style tournament, and like Global Junior League, it was held sporadically. It started in 1989 and was won by Toshiaki Kawada; in 1994 by Jun Akiyama; in 1996 by Takao Omori and in 2000 by Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Marufuji came 2nd place). After this, with the walk out of All Japan and the severe reduction of the junior heavyweights, it was never held again.

Maegashira: Sumo ranking

Kaiō Hiroyuki: former sumo wrestler.

Musōyama Masashi: former sumo wrestler

CHAPTER 3: Departure
The decision to board The Ark and being crowned GHC Junior

Makuuchi​: top division of professional sumo

Karate Kenpo: the sport which Kenoh does, teaches, and is now also a director of a dojo of.

CHAPTER 4: Fight to the Death
Battles with KENTA, GHC Grand Slam, returning to the juniors

Open handed slaps: sumo move.

Family Unit and Villain Firm: "Family Unit" started off as a tag in 1988 between Giant Baba and Rusher Kimura, however, when Baba withdrew due to injuries, other athletes, such as Mitsuo Momota, took over. The "Villain Firm" where their rivals, and consisted of Izumida, Tsuyoshi and Kamala.

Marvin: Ricky Marvin

Global Honored Hardcore Championship

Suzu: Japanese Shinto bells which sound at the slightest vibration.

Kinnikuman: Manga series about a superhero who must win a wrestling tournament to retain the title of prince of Planet Kinniku

Muscle Docking: a deathblow that appears in cartoon "Kinnikuman" by Yuutama Tamago

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this! Maru-san is the Japanese wrestler who made me fall in love with art of puroresu. His moveset is spectacular and being shorter like me, it made me have faith in myself as a trainee myself. He is a big influence on me. To read from his own thoughts that we share a lot of the same feelings on in ring work and training is nothing short of amazing. I look forward to continuing to read this. Spectacular work Hisame!!!

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