Puroresu Pulse, issue 3: The sidelines, the media, and the usual updates.

Section 1- Important Results & Title Matches

New Japan- They’ve now run through their big shows in the September tour. The sole title match saw juniors champion Heat successfully defend against Ultimo Dragon, as expected. Big singles matches focused on Masahiro Chono, who won bloody, chaotic (and interference-riddled) brawls against Tenzan and Tenryu.

Zero-One- A pair of shows at Korakuen have furthered the big stable war. The Ohtani vs Sato feud has to an extent merged with the feud between Ohtani and Masato Tanaka, as both Tanaka and Sato oppose Ohtani. Last week a series of singles matches occurred, with Ohtani’s side coming out on top when Ohtani downed Tanaka. On Sunday there was a 5-on-5 elimination match, and the anti-Ohtani faction won this despite a lack of both Tanaka and Sato on the team. As far as title matches, the tandem of Kaz Hayashi and Spanky won the junior tag titles.

Section 2- Other news

All Japan- Satoshi Kojima has been booked in a series of easy-to-win singles matches on the current tour, going along with the debut of his new finisher, CCD (or KCD, I’m not sure; last two words are Crash Dynamite). The finisher and his win streak are probably designed to build to an upcoming Triple Crown shot, either on the last tour of this year or the start of next year.

New Japan- The planned Tenzan vs shootfighter match on the 10/9 Sumo Hall show has been scrapped, and replaced by Tenzan and Nagata against Chono and someone TBD in a deathmatch. Rumors have had the mystery partner as Keiji Mutoh, but Mutoh will most likely be in a different tag match on the show. In title match news, Jado & Gedo will defend their IWGP junior tag titles on 10/9 against Koji Kanemoto and Heat, who for that match will unmask and wrestle as Minoru Tanaka. Kanemoto & Tanaka held those belts a few years ago. Finally, several New Japan wrestlers competed against each other on a small shootfighting show in North Korea. This was rumored to be bigger, and feature the wrestlers against North Koreans, but that plan was changed at the last minute.

Section 3- The media, kayfabe and shootfighting

It’s a different world in Japan. First of all, kayfabe is alive and well there, thanks in no small part to a cooperative press. Between wrestling-focused weekly magazines and significant coverage in mainstream sports publications, wrestling gets constant attention. As such there’s a steady flow of press conferences done by wrestlers and promotions, both during and outside of the tours, in order to hype matches and angles. A good example of the Japanese press can be seen at a TV taping of a big federation, as the ringside area is cluttered with photographers.

Something that has affected this coverage in recent years is the growth of shootfighting promotions, especially K-1 and PRIDE. They’re covered in the same ‘section’ as wrestling (fighting or combat sports), and generally get more of the limelight. This has had a significant impact, especially in New Japan, as pro wrestling is losing its market share.

Now, in the US this would be like WWE looking at boxing as competition, but then again shootfighting and pro wrestling cross over easier. This is the reason why wrestlers compete in shoots and shooters compete in wrestling. Some wrestlers, such as Fujita and Sakuraba, have had significant success shooting. The other way, names like Frye and Sapp have made a big mark entering wrestling, and New Japan often changes its booking plans based on shootfights. Six of the last seven men to hold the IWGP title have competed in shootfights, for instance. Part of why New Japan has an edge in press coverage is due to the crossover attention, though that’s a double-edged sword because they have limited control over shoot results.

You might ask, how can kayfabe possibly survive in modern press, let alone alongside shootfighting? The answer: I have no earthly idea. I will however go into greater detail on shootfighting in the future.

Section 4- Ringside, countouts, and track suits

In North America, typically there’s only the occasional cameraman and manager at ringside during a match. In Japan there are often dozens, which can cause hectic scenes when action spills out of the ring. As I mentioned above there’s the press, who come out in large numbers especially for big shows. There are also wrestlers, both young lions and veterans, who watch matches from the apron in order to learn and offer non-interference help.

The wrestlers are often seen in track suit uniforms, which helps show that they aren’t affiliated with one particular wrestler. At the same time it’s not unusual to see cornermen like in boxing or shootfighting, and these are seen during introductions. Young lions are also there to do jobs like herding fans out of the way and clearing streamers out of the ring. Despite wrestlers so often being at ringside, it’s quite rare to see a run-in (though New Japan is using run-ins more and more this year).

Something that’s much more important in Japan than North America is the countout, even though the standard there is a 20 count compared to 10 here. Because countouts occur several times a year in pretty much every federation, they’re seen by fans as potential match-enders. While fans accepted countouts in important matches in ‘old-school’ days, today they’ll boo when a big match doesn’t have a real finish. Going along with this, fans will usually applaud when a wrestler in control on the outside rolls his opponent back in before a countout can happen, because this is seen as good sportsmanship and a sign that the match will have a winner.

Next Week: The usual results, the hit-and-miss nature of Japanese hardcore, and how patriotism/nationalism effect Japanese wrestling even more than American.