a concise summary of the promotion's journey to present day
Pro Wrestling NOAH was founded by Mitsuharu Misawa in 2000, as the vast majority of All Japan Pro Wrestling left to join the new promotion. After Giant Baba died, Misawa was made the President of All Japan in 1999, but he and Giant Baba's wife butted heads on many issues including pay, expanding the business, and healthcare for wrestlers. This led to Mrs. Baba replacing Misawa as President, which helped lead to Misawa's decision to leave All Japan. Since many of the wrestlers agreed with his stance, every native wrestler in All Japan left the promotion and joined NOAH except for Fuchi and Kawada. NOAH also got All Japan's television show and much of its fan support, and it is a rare occurrence of a new promotion forming that instantly had a great deal of success and a built-in fan base.
The promotion saw immediate success as their attendances were high from the start, and at Tokyo Ariake Colosseum in December saw a crowd of over 10,000 watch Misawa defeat Vader and Kobashi defeat Akiyama. In the spring of 2001, a tournament was held to crown the first GHC Heavyweight Championship, with Misawa defeating Takayama to become the first champion. A Jr. Heavyweight title was created in the spring as well, with Yoshinobu Kanemaru becoming the first GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion. More concerning for NOAH, popular wrestler Kenta Kobashi missed a year as he recovered from knee injuries, a sign of things to come as the core wrestlers of NOAH (Misawa, Kobashi, Akiyama, and Taue) were already worn from a decade of fighting a physically demanding role in All Japan.
Kobashi returned in 2002 and quickly won the GHC Heavyweight Championship in 2003, and in one of the most epic title reigns in recent memory, he held the GHC Heavyweight Championship for two years. Not only was he popular with the crowd, but he was having entertaining matches with a variety of wrestlers. The promotion's success helped them twice wrestle at the Tokyo Dome, in July of 2004 and 2005 with a crowd of around 50,000 people each time. In these years, NOAH was the undisputed leader in Japan as their attendances were higher then all the other promotions as they also sold out the Budokan on a regular basis. The 2005 Tokyo Dome was main evented by Misawa and Kawada wrestling for the last time, the only match in NOAH that Kawada would have when Misawa was still alive.
Besides a popular heavyweight division, a similarly dominate team was wrecking the Jr. Heavyweight Division as Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA teamed up to win and defend the new GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. With quality heavyweight matches up top and entertaining Jr. Heavyweight matches underneath, NOAH was on top of the world. But the foundation began to crumble a bit in 2005, when Kobashi finally lost the GHC Heavyweight Championship to Rikio. The crowd didn't accept him as the champion as he had such a hard act to follow, and the popular but aging Akira Taue won the title from Rikio as even though he was older, he was more legitimate in the fan's eyes. This started a trend in NOAH that a new wrestler would win the title, attendance would falter, and the belt would go back on one of the old guard. There are many theories as to why the crowd wasn't accepting any champions that weren't also popular while they were in All Japan, but it became a serious problem.
To make matters worse, in the summer of 2006 Kobashi was diagnosed with cancer, and he missed most of the next two years as he wrestled only sporadically after returning due to his health scare. Without Kobashi, Misawa was the only guaranteed draw in the promotion and he won the title in December of 2006, holding it until March of 2008. The wrestler that beat him, Takeshi Morishima, also did not get the same support that Misawa and the other older wrestlers did, and soon he lost the title to Freelancer Kensuke Sasaki who in turn lost it to All Japan trueborn Jun Akiyama. By this time, NOAH was no longer selling out the Budokan and were regularly having an attendance of under 10,000, something that would have been unheard of only three years prior.
In June of 2009, tragedy struck as Pro Wrestling NOAH founder, President, and star Mitsuharu Misawa died in the ring after taking a backdrop suplex from Saito. Misawa had numerous injuries over the years but never took time off as he was one of the only reasons that NOAH was staying afloat. NOAH had lost its television deal in early 2009, and Misawa was teaming with future star Go Shiozaki to help get him over with the fans. Shiozaki won the GHC Heavyweight Championship the next day, honoring his mentor and vowing to fight for NOAH. Finally, NOAH had a star that the fans were getting behind, and NOAH had a brief attendance surge as fans came to pay their respects to Misawa. While attendances did not recover back to 2005 levels and there were still concerns that there was a lack of young stars, there was some hope, and no one knows what the future holds for Pro Wrestling NOAH.