Pro Wrestling NOAH has announced that Toshiaki Kawada has been booked to face Masao Inoue on February 18th in Osaka and Takeshi Morishima on February 28th at Tokyo's Budokan Hall. This will be only Kawada's third and fourth appearances with the promotion and is a pretty big deal given the company's history.
Toshiaki Kawada was one of the few All Japan Pro Wrestling stars to stay with the company when Mitsuhara Misawa left the promotion in May 2000 to form his own company Pro Wrestling NOAH. Kawada was Misawa's greatest career rival, but their relationship behind the scenes was acrimonious, once even coming to blows backstage, so it was not a surprise when Kawada opted against joining Misawa's new promotion to stay on as All Japan's top star. However, his position as All Japan's top star was fairly short-lived, as New Japan Pro Wrestling's Keiji Mutoh defected to All Japan in January 2002 and soon after bought the company from Motoko Baba.
In the spring of 2005, Kawada finally left All Japan and became a freelancer. With obvious money to be made from the first Misawa vs. Kawada match in five years it wasn't a surprise that the match was quickly booked to headline Pro Wrestling NOAH's second and what turned out to be last Tokyo Dome show on July 18th 2005. Despite the show coming close to selling out the 52,000 seat arena, the decision was made not to bring back Kawada after he cut an unscripted promo on the televised show causing it to overrun.
Kawada would not wrestle for the promotion again until Mitsuhara Misawa's second memorial show in Osaka on October 3rd 2009 where he returned for one night only to reform his tag team with Akira Taue, who had numerous classic tag matches with Misawa and his partners Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama in the mid 1990s. On that night they defeated KENTA and Misawa's former partner Jun Akiyama in a well received match.
The return of Kawada is a logical move to make, but perhaps also a desperate one, as Pro Wrestling NOAH tries to bounce back from a series of promotional setbacks, including the loss of network TV, the death of owner and top star Mitsuhara Misawa, and the recent losses of Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, Go Shiozaki and Kotaro Suzuki due to injuries. NOAH is undergoing a period of restructuring, with six of their undercard wrestlers and one referee cut from their contracts at the start of the year to save costs. There's also a greater reliance on using big name freelance talent and outsiders to help them draw on their larger shows, with not only Toshiaki Kawada being used on their most recent tour for selected dates, but also Yoshihiro Takayama, Kensuke Sasaki, Yutaka Yoshie and New Japan's Togi Makabe. In the short term it should work, but in the long term they need to do a better job of promoting their homegrown younger stars to still be able to run the 17,000 seat Budokan Hall on a fairly regular basis.