Section 1- Important results & title matches
Zero-One- The team of Tanaka & Sakata won the tag titles from Ohtani & Omori. Very bad news came from this, however, because Ohtani fractured his right orbital bone (which is in the face), and he might miss shows at a time when he’s needed most.
Section 2- Other news & Upcoming matches
All Japan- In addition to Nishimura becoming a semi-regular wrestler, they announced a huge card for Keiji Mutoh’s 20th Anniversiary show on 10/31 in Sumo Hall. Kaz Hayashi will defend his junior title against AKIRA. Satoshi Kojima will take on a mystery opponent, most likely the Colorodan monster himself Vader (which would mark Vader’s return to Japan after a long absence). A very, very odd teaming will have Nishimura and Jinsei Shinzaki (aka Hakushi) against the 67 year old Abdullah the Butcher and CZW spot machine Rukus. The main event is Kawada defending the Triple Crown against Taiyo. Kea. But the biggest news is the semi-main, where Mutoh teams with Misawa against Kensuke Sasaki & Hiro Hase. Not only does this mark the second post-split appearance of Misawa, but it’s also the first time Misawa and Sasaki have ever faced each other.
New Japan- Not to be out-done by much, New Japan announced a big card for what at the time looked like a risky booking of Kobe World Hall on 10/24. Heat will defend the IWGP junior title against Koji Kanemoto, in a rematch from March that’s being bigged as the biggest junior title match in years. There will also be a four team tag tournament featuring Chono/Shibata, Tenryu/Sasaki, Tenzan/Nakamura, and the New Japan return of Kawada (who teams with Nagai). This tournament appears to be replacing the usual round-robin tag league for this year.
Section 3- Info shills
I spend much of my time online in discussion-oriented message boards, which wouldn’t be the right place for newbies. However there are plenty of places to go to find news, results, and history. These can give you some more background on what I’m talking about, so you don’t have to wait for me to cover certain topics.
www.puroresupower.com- Run by Zach Arnold, it can best be described as the Drudge Report of the American puro scene. Zach is an avid follower of Japanese wrestling media and the Japanese online community, and this along with his insider connections makes him someone with unique insights and plenty of breaking news. I’m also a regular feature on his weekly radio show, and I do op-ed columns (which earned me this column!)
www.puroresufan.com- Run by New Japan superfan Stu, this site focuses on New Japan news and results. Within is an absolutely mind-boggling amount of data on much more than just NJ; there are show results, title histories and tournament compendiums galore covering New Japan, All Japan, NOAH, Zero-One, Osaka Pro, and others. I’ve spent countless hours there boning up on trivial information, but even casual trips through the site can reap lots of useful data. Also take a look at his profiles for info on specific wrestlers.
www.puroresu.com- Run by the Great Hisa, it’s more of an old-school oriented page, with tons of history (which I used heavily last week). There’s also a related title histories page spanning practically every title of any significance in the entire world, though the histories don’t go into quite the detail of those on puroresufan.
www.prowrestlinghistory.com- Somewhat combining the last two sites, this has a lot of data on big card results and tournament histories from around the world. Another great resource.
www.njpw.com- Not really all that useful, just interesting. This is New Japan’s US-based website, mostly revolving around their Los Angeles dojo. It also has info on New Japan itself, though this tends to be rarely updated and done in hilariously messy english.
Section 4- Puro styles & highlights
King’s Road- Heavyweight-oriented, pioneered by Giant Baba and practiced very well in All Japan through the ’90s, King’s Road is for my money the best style ever developed. It’s geared towards long, deep matches that are considered high-quality and cutting-edge when they happen. Jumbo Tsuruta deserves a huge amount of credit for helping to guide its progression, as there were clear changes if you watched shows from ’76 to ’81 to ’86 to ’91 to ’96. Jumbo passed the leadership to Misawa et al in the early ’90s, and he provided them with many of the trademark style elements associated with the fantastic run of All Japan in the middle of the decade.
Unfortunately the style degraded as Misawa took over completely, favoring big moves over subtlety, and the All Japan split in 2000 exacerbated those problems. I’ll get into that in a future column. As for what I’m recommending, because King’s Road depends so much on history to provide depth, and because the old-school stuff isn’t accessible for newbies, AND because I don’t want you to start with the best and work your way to less-good stuff, I’m limited to a narrow window. Recommendations: Any block of TV episodes from the first half of 1993; October Giant Series 1998; New Years Giant Series 2000.
Strong Style- Associated with New Japan’s heavyweights, currently it leans more towards shootfighting and the use of ‘deadly’ submission holds. In the past it’s varied according to what was happening in New Japan at the time, and has often seen very sudden shifts often the years. Matches in this style rarely surpass 25 minutes, let alone 30, and are much more likely to be high-energy sprints rather than carefully constructed epics. ‘Strong Style’ covers a very broad spectrum of sub-styles, as New Japan’s wrestlers are stylistically diverse (at least more so than All Japan). Zero-One’s heavyweights also tend to fall into this category, though Zero-One as a whole often spits in the face of any attempts to categorize it due to its prismatic collection of wrestlers from various places.
At times Strong Style is linked to all Japanese heavyweights and the concept of ‘fighting spirit’, but this is a misnomer as King’s Road is equally vital to both. Recommendations: G-1 Climax 1992, New Japan’s January 4th 1996 supershow, Zero-One July 13th 2001 show (aired August 7th), Zero-One March 2nd 2002.
Junior Heavyweights- In recent years New Japan’s junior heavyweights have taken to using a modified Strong Style approach, with less flying and fewer high-impact moves. However, in the ’80s and ’90s New Japan’s juniors were pioneers. New Japan was one of the major hubs for juniors as the fast-paced highspot-generating style was created by Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask 1. The likes of Shiro Koshinaka, Hiro Hase and Owen Hart brought it to the next level in the late ’80s. In the ’90s it was built upon and brought to America by legends like Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Ultimo Dragon, El Samurai, Great Sasuke, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero.
Of course it goes without saying that lucha libre was also a vital part of the evolution of juniors style, but Japan made it much more straight-laced and midcard-friendly. All Japan didn’t really have much of a role in this, because there wasn’t much emphasis on juniors there, and there were hardly any notably good matches. Recommendations: Best of the Super Juniors 1993, 1994 & 1995.
Lucharesu- Probably the most accessible for those of you new to puro, this is juniors wrestling that’s closer to lucha libre. They often incorporate the lucha no-tags-needed rules, they’re more reliant on flying, and some (especially Michinoku and Osaka Pro) revolve primarily around masked wrestlers. Michinoku Pro, owned and operated by Great Sasuke, made an impact in ECW and WWF with members like Taka Michinoku, Sho Funaki, Sasuke and more making appearances; they were the primary origin of lucharesu. Osaka Pro, run by Super Delfin, split from MPro in 1999. Toryumon (now Dragon’s Gate), the home of Ultimo Dragon’s students, uses a more ‘sports entertainment’ approach to booking but still has its share of great action. Recommendations: Michinoku Pro Mask League 1995, MPro From Lucha Land 1996, MPro October 10th 1997, Toryumon Comes to Japan, Toryumon November 13th 2001 (aired November 23), Osaka Pro January 4th 2000.
Later FMW- As FMW moved away from garbage wrestling with the slow (well, never-ending) retirement of Atsushi Onita, they developed a rather unique style. Sometimes using weapons and gore, sometimes wrestling perfectly clean, always trying to be high-impact, FMW’s core crew of Hayabusa, Tanaka, Mr. Gannosuke, Kanemura, Fuyuki, Kuroda, “Gladiator” Mike Awesome, Ooya and others managed to create lots of very fun (albeit light on psychology) wrestling. It was somewhat of a hybrid of heavyweight and junior styles due to its wrestlers often straddling the size line between the two (either small heavies or big juniors). This allowed them to do pretty much whatever they wanted, be it gimmicky/garbagey brawling or fighting spirit clashes or finisher-filled semi-spotfests. Recommendations: Starting Over Again (May-June) 1995; May 5th 1999 Supershow.
Shootstyle- UWF (multiple incarnations), BattlArts, U-Style, etc. Based on shootfighting, but of course entirely worked. Not exactly my cup of tea, so I’ll leave it up to you to find out more about it.
Joshi- Ah, the ladies. Beauty and brawn in ways you’ll never see from a Trish Stratus (well, Jazz is pretty brawny… nevermind). Japanese women range from tiny fliers to slender divas to hulks who border on being male heavyweights, and they incorporate elements from pretty much every other style over the span of several federations. The major federations to keep in mind are All Japan Women, Arsion, GAEA and JWP, with still others in addition to that. For some time now the world of joshi has been extremely chaotic with many feds on the verge of closing, and going further back there’s been an absolute ton of cross-promotion. Unfortunately I haven’t seen near as many of the classics as I should, but don’t let that stop you. Joshi has produced some of the greatest matches in wrestling history, with all the action and drama that are lacking from WWE Divas. Recommendations: AJW Dream Rush ’92, AJW Dreamslam 2, AJW Queens’ Holy Night.
Next week: More updates, analysis of the situation with New Japan’s TV deal and how it effects their business, and a look at the powerful effect Giant Baba’s death had on puroresu.