Section 1- Important results & Title matches
New Japan- Sunday’s show had several big results. A title match I failed to mention, Tanahashi vs American Dragon for Tanahashi’s U-30 title, was yet another win for Tanahashi. Minoru Tanaka (the Heat gimmick is dead) vs Koji Kanemoto ended in a double-KO. Tanaka broke Liger’s record for consecutive number of junior title defenses with 9. In a match that will have big ramifications on the tag title division, Nagata & Blue Wolf downed the ‘New Jurassic Powers’ of Norton/Nakanishi. The JPs had a big win streak going. Finally, the 4 team tournament was won by Tenzan/Nakamura, who beat Kawada/Nagai in the semi and Chono/Shibata in the final (Tenzan pinning Chono). More on Tenzan later.
NOAH- Four title matches, four retentions. Kobashi beat Akitoshi Saito for his 11th title defense, the most of any major heavyweight title’s current incarnation. Other matches saw Kanemaru retain over Taka, Marufuji/KENTA down SUWA/Marvin, and Misawa/Ogawa beat Taue/Sano.
Section 2- Other news & Upcoming matches
New Japan- They announced 3 big matches for the Osaka Dome show. Sasaki vs Minoru Suzuki has been hyped (I’m not sure why) for two years now, and will finally happen. In a match the fans voted for due to not having happened yet, ace prospects Tanahashi and Nakamura will square off. The winner of Sasaki vs Tanahashi on 11/3 could defend the IWGP title here. And in the big one, Tenzan will face none other than Toshiaki Kawada, following a heated confrontation between them during the tag tournament on Sunday. This could be for the Triple Crown if Kawada retains over Kea as expected this Sunday. In theory this is a clash of aces, much like the spectacular Kawada vs Sasaki match at the Tokyo Dome four years ago. Unlike then, Tenzan can’t shake off a loss the way Sasaki could afford to. A rumored match is a Minoru Tanaka vs Kanemoto blow-off for the junior title.
Zero-One- Hoshikawa remains in a coma, but is now stable enough that doctors want to try and wake him up.
Section 3- The new generation & Passing the torch
The three champions, Kawada, Sasaki and Kobashi have 22, 18 and 16 years in the wrestling business respectively. Put another way, the man the internet (including me) wish would step aside in WWE, HHH, was still several years away when Kobashi debuted. They’d all held a world title as of seven years ago. Kawada and Kobashi are shells of their former selves; Sasaki’s bad IWGP win and repeated singles jobs this year make him less of a draw despite being a superior worker. What alternatives are there for the future, and what’s being done to get there?
All Japan- The only viable ace candidate from the ’90s era is Satoshi Kojima, a 13 year pro. They seem to be grooming him to unseat Kawada, so at least that’s a step in the right direction. However, Kojima has had five title challenges to date against top names (Hashimoto, Sasaki, Mutoh, Tenryu) and none of them were in big venues. It’s unknown how well he can draw. Then there’s Taiyo Kea, the only ‘young’ remnant from before the split. Kea is, well, mediocre. He lacks charisma and has yet to pull out a really good match. Thankfully for them, All Japan has debuted its first new heavyweight in some time: Kohei Suwama, hailed as being in the mold of Jumbo Tsuruta. Suwama will likely get a fast push (for Japan), and if he’s all they say he is, he’ll be ready in time to lead when the Kawada/Mutoh/Tenryu group retires.
New Japan- Without a doubt, they’re in the best position as far as youngsters when it comes to developing the new generation of heavyweight champs. Thanks to their active dojo, they’re debuting several wrestlers a year. They already have acceptable champions from the early ’90s graduating classes in Nagata and Tenzan, plus potential transitional champions (or at least halfway-decent challengers) in Nakanishi and Nishimura. It’s the long-term, however, that looks best for them.
The ‘New Three Muskateers’ of Tanahashi, Nakamura and Shibata received big pushes over the last year due in large part to Uei. All three are solid athletes, hard workers, and show a lot of potential. Tanahashi and Nakamura in particular are already very popular with the ladies and are legitimate enough to be seen as threats to anyone. Shibata has gotten some big pins as well, and just needs a few more ‘important’ wins under his belt. Though Nakamura hasn’t been the instant-megastar New Japan hoped for when they put him over Tenzan for the IWGP last year, neither is he resented by the fan base as having been forced on them. The rumored Inoki split I discussed in my 6.3 column would take Nakamura, Shibata, or both, but New Japan is sure to keep at least one of the long-term. After that there’s still the developing powerhouse of Blue Wolf, young giant Hiroshi Nagao, and too-early-to-tell young lions Yamamoto and Yujiro. The junior division is in about the same shape.
NOAH- Kobashi’s title reign borders on absurd until you look at the alternatives. Misawa has fallen several levels as a worker and doesn’t excite fans as much as Kobashi, not to mention that his two GHC reigns were far from spectacular. Taue is capable of spirited performances but is at best a transitional champion, and he doesn’t have much left in the tank. Yoshinari Ogawa bombed as champion. Midcarders like Yone, Ikeda, Saito, Bison Smith and Sano are doubtful to ever get a ‘main event’ level of respect from fans. Jun Akiyama, who was supposed to lead when NOAH got started four years ago, has failed to be the draw that the Four Corners of Heaven (Misawa/Kawada/Taue/Kobashi) were. Akiyama probably has a good title reign in him if he’s booked properly, but he’ll never lead NOAH to the top.
That leaves NOAH with the young Wild II tandem of Morishima and Rikio, who have the size and ‘impact’ needed to seem legit, and have had some decent matches as they’ve gained experience. However, they haven’t exactly been groomed as ‘impending aces’, and Morishima has been injured for several months. If one of them is expected to knock off Kobashi, they’d better get a huge push, and fast. As for the juniors, most of the division’s current members debuted in the late ’90s, so they have a lot of time left. Thus far the only NOAH trainees (Sugiura and Go Shiozaki) are juniors, so in theory the division has even more stability… almost too much when compared to the heavyweights.
Next Week– A look at IWGP title reigns effected by shootfighting, and how puroresu (and the internet) changed US independent wrestling.