[Disclaimer: Mark Pickering and Masa Kitamiya are both employed by Pro Wrestling NOAH, the promotion being discussed. Fanbyte was not paid for this content.]
All athletes are naturally consumed by a quest for individual glory.
Team success can put you on the global sporting map and into the minds of legions of fans worldwide but to reach the next level often involves breaking out on your own and capturing a coveted singles championship.
To achieve something you’ve never achieved before you need an opportunity, timing, and to deliver a career-making performance that is befitting of the occasion. When everything goes right and you eclipse your peers to attain gold it can often feel like fate.
This is the current challenge for four-time and reigning GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Masa Kitamiya, 32, who faces Japanese kingpin and NOAH GHC Heavyweight Champion Keiji Muto, 58, on Thursday, April 29, in Nagoya, Japan.
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The 2016 Global League finalist and 2020 N-1 Victory 2020 (the successor to the Global League) semi-finalist, who is one half of The Aggression with his long-term real life friend Katsuhiko Nakajima, broke into the wrestling business in 2011 having trained under Japanese greats Kensuke Sasaki and the late Masa Saito.
Kitamiya’s successful career has been building to a fitting and fateful meeting with Keiji Muto, who often teamed with his challenger’s mentor Masa Saito in America and locked horns with the 1964 Olympian and former AWA Heavyweight Champion in Japan.
“The way Masa-san displayed his wrestling as a Japanese wrestler inspired me very much,” Kitamita told Fanfyte.
“I have watched WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and the team of Masa Saito and the Great Muta, I just simply enjoyed watching the matches.”
“I admired pro wrestling itself.”
There was always going to be immense expectations for the former amateur wrestling standout having been introduced under the watchful eye of all-time greats Sasaki and Saito and the general feeling is that he’s now entering his prime as professional wrestler.
Kitamiya grew up in Toyama Prefecture in the centre of Japan and was a fan of wrestling from an early age.
“I admired pro wrestling itself, for me it’s about the culture rather than admiring any specific wrestlers. I watched wrestling on TV most of the time as I was living in the countryside. Sometimes, I had opportunities to go to see various promotions live events when they had live events near my home.”
Kitamiya, whose dad practiced judo, admitted that he took up the sport of amateur wrestling with a pro wrestling career already in mind.
“I started amateur wrestling because it would be a good way to start my training and establish my fundamentals for pro wrestling.”
“My greatest memory of my amateur wrestling career is training camps in summer. We had training camps at an abolished school building in summer and this experience, training under the challenging environment and temperature helped me to develop self-discipline and my fighting spirit.”
Kitamiya trained alongside Sasaki, who himself was nurtured by Masa Saito early in his career, and was still an active wrestler until 2015.
Sasaki was the first man to capture the ‘Grand Slam’ of heavyweight titles in Japanese wrestling in the form of the IWGP Championship (NJPW), Triple Crown (AJPW) and NOAH GHC Heavyweight Championship.
“My training with Sasaki-san and with the help of Saito-san was hard. It involved squats, push-ups and sit-ups and all those training routines went beyond human limits. I had to push the envelope. Sasaki-san was doing everything, so I had no choice but keep up with the training routine.”
Now Kitamiya will face the third man in history to hold the IWGP, Triple Crown and GHC Heavyweight crowns after Muto ended Go Shiozaki’s legendary title reign at the Nippon Budokan in February.
Following in the fabled footsteps of Sasaki and Yoshihiro Takayama, Muto has added another major accolade to his golden career and in doing so earned worldwide headlines as he was trending in Japan and America on Twitter at the time of his stunning title win.
Kitamiya has the words of his mentors in his mind and a special place for them in his heart as he closes in on the biggest match of his life.
“Pro wrestling is entertainment which is built on trust,” Kitamiya revealed as the best piece of advice he ever received from Masa Saito, a former rival of Hulk Hogan in the AWA in the early 90s in America.
Kitamiya’s resemblance to Saito is not by chance but even so it’s quite staggering. Everything from his wrestling style to his attire and his appearance is modelled on his hero.
“I am humbled and honoured if Masa Kitamiya is a wrestler who reminds people of the great wrestler, Masa Saito.”
Kitamiya did concede that while he wants to honour Saito, he also has to achieve success for himself and carve out his own legacy.
“I cannot deny that I have a conflict between the identity of Masa Kitamiya and Masa Saito.”
“I think it’s time for me to burst the frustrations that I have built as a singles competitor and grab the GHC championship belt in my hands.”
“Age and experience doesn’t matter.”
On the day Kitamiya was born, October 27, 1988, Muto was in America and the following day wrestled as The Super Ninja against Kevin von Erich in the main event for World Class Wrestling Association which best illustrates the extraordinary 36-year gap in age and experience.
“Age and experience doesn’t matter once we get in the ring and I don’t think they will be a factor in this match. On the other hand, the champion may be the one who’s wary of me.”
Kitamiya revealed to Fanfyte why he feels that now was the right time for him to challenge Muto having rushed the champion and hit a Saito suplex following the Muto’s successful first title defence against Kaito Kiyomiya in March.
“Winning the Tag Team Titles in March definitely helped me to build momentum. If it didn’t happen, my feeling wouldn’t be the same. We hope to face young generations, new powers, but right now I’m focused on one match and one match only.”
“It’s not just the fact we defeated the team which won the Tokyo Sports Best Tag Team Award (Sugiura and Sakuraba), it’s about the fact that I won against Sugiura who I couldn’t defeat for a long time. It was a really good feeling just as it was to recapture the Tag Team titles.”
When asked about his strategy for NOAH The Glory’s much-anticipated main event against Japan’s living legend, Kitamiya explained how he plans to succeed where Kiyomiya failed.
“I am looking to overpower the champion with belief, I believe in ‘Go For Broke’.”
“Go For Broke” was an expression associated with Saito and now Kitamiya, having featured on merchandise for both men and as the name of their theme music.
Kitamiya declared why he sees this title match as a must-see bout.
“Both the current champion and Saito-san had reputations around the world and especially in America. I will show to the world that I’m a man who carries on Masa Saito-san’s legacy here in Japan and here in NOAH.”
“I have had five attempts so far and all five attempts to win GHC Heavyweight gold did not end up with success. I am now obsessed with winning this championship belt.”
This is a match that has all the hallmarks of being a classic. The GHC Heavyweight Championship has produced some of pro wrestling’s greatest matches and now one of Japan’s favourite and most internationally acclaimed wrestlers, Keiji Muto, faces a young, hulking powerhouse who is fighting for himself and for his mentor Masa Saito as he aims to win the most sought after prize in Japanese wrestling and take down a legend in the highest profile match of his career.