Section 1- Important results & Title matches
All Japan: Kea/Jamal downed Tanahashi/Yoshie to win the tag titles. Kawada bested Sasaki in a match that amazingly failed to sell out the Osaka Prefectural Gym.
Section 2- Other news & Upcoming matches
All Japan: Two big matches are already in store for their 2/16 show in Yoyogi National Gym #2 (a mid-sized venue in Tokyo). First off, a long-rumored battle has Tanahashi face a man he idolizes, Keiji Mutoh. Then, the long-awaited Triple Crown bout pits Kawada against Kojima! Also rumored is Jamal vs Yoshie in a battle of superheavyweights. Kawada floated the idea of he and Sasaki challenging for the tag titles. They’ll have to wait, because on 2/2 the team of Mutoh and young Kohei Suwama will be the first challengers. Also on 2/2 will be an All Asia tag titles defense, and Taka’s first junior title defense against the legendary Gran Hamada.
New Japan: It was rumored for the Tokyo Dome, but instead it takes place in Sumo Hall. On 2/20, Tenzan defends the IWGP title against the winner of Kawada vs Kojima in a title vs title match! Beside the potential for a draw of some sort (which is high), the political ramifications of this are enormous. Also added to 2/20 is Choshu vs Nishimura. In contract news, Shibata is holding out on the usual yearly re-signing, in what could be an angle. Finally, there are rumors circulating about cancelling the May Dome show (especially if they don’t land Lesnar), replacing it with another big singles tournament like the G-1.
NOAH: The rumored Misawa vs Tenryu match in March will instead be Akiyama vs Tenryu.
Zero-One: They announced a much larger slate of cards than usual. On 1/23 there will be yet another tournament involving the AWA title, which won’t be for the title itself but rather participation in a tournament held in the US. Two three-way matches will lead to the Japanese final. The first three-way is Tanaka vs Corino vs Simon Diamond. The other, which was previously announced, is Sasaki vs Omori vs Sato. On 1/29, Super Crazy put the junior title up against former champ Spanky. Given that Crazy is likely to go to WWE soon, and given that Zero-One *expects* this to happen… let’s just say good money is on Spanky.
Section 3- WWE in Japan
Japanese wrestling has had to deal with a lot over the years. Losing big American talent as WWF and WCW reduced/ended cooperation; the global death of kayfabe; the splintering of federations; the rise of shootfighting; the fickle nature of TV. Though cable channels mean that even tiny indy feds have a little exposure, filling Korakuen is the best that most promotions hope for. Now comes the news that WWE has its sights set on the second largest pro wrestling market in the world.
There’s a lot to be said about Vince McMahon. His mind doesn’t work like most of ours. After all, who would think that Mabel would draw? That the XFL would compete with the NFL? That little Dwayne Johnson would draw tens of millions of dollars? Ah, there’s the rub; for every laughable idea to come down the pike, Vince was responsible for a superstar to more than make up the difference. He saw the potential of Hulk Hogan. He pushed Steve Austin and Rock. He landed Lesnar, who turned out to be even better than expected until he had visions of gridiron glory. You can doubt the mechanics of Vince’s brain, question his morals, bemoan the damage he’s done to the industry… but you can’t dismiss him. Ever. Not with the raw number of promotions that have been consumed in Titan’s gaping maw.
WWE is what every wrestling promotion, in every nation, wants to be. Maybe not the specific ‘sports entertainment’ aspect of the product, but in so many other ways from profit to power to production values to brand recognition. Mutoh references a desire for All Japan to be the WWE of its nation. New Japan breathlessly offers the prospect of WWE wrestlers on its shows without any real chance of that happening, when 99.999% of WWE fans would scratch their heads were situations reversed. “Who’s this Nishimura guy and why is he so intent on putting JBL in an abdominal stretch?”
WWE’s successful public stock offering a few years back is one of the single best business moves in the history of pro wrestling, as the McMahons can reap more money with less risk without sacrificing an ounce of control. Meanwhile Japanese promotions are bogged down in debt, low revenue streams, ties to unseemly money sources and/or ‘money marks’ who can quickly become a liability. If WWE wants to try its hand at Japanese tours and plunk down a couple hundred million yen for an ad campaign, it can, without breaking a sweat as far as the company’s global bottom line. No Japanese company can afford to throw away that much money, let alone make it back with US corporate tax loopholes like ‘loss leaders’.
The prospect of a WWE PPV from the Tokyo Dome, plus running significantly more shows in Japan throughout the year, plus signing more Japanese talent should have Japanese feds quaking in their collective boots. Even if the Japan expansion doesn’t wind up producing the revenues WWE hopes for, it will still suck up a significant amount of cash and press that Japanese feds can’t afford to lose. And if it winds up becoming a regular, year-in year-out part of WWE’s global strategy? If Vince starts plucking the juiciest young lions and the best business connections like he did in North America? There’s nothing to stop him short of a massive consolidation in the Japanese feds… which is unlikely due to egos and bad will.
Naturally, conquering Japan is a very different beast from conquering America. The Inokis and Misawas and Mutohs won’t go down without a fight, and aren’t sitting ducks. WWE will only go so far to tailor their TV product to Japan, and ‘sports entertainment’ won’t convert many established fans of traditional Japanese style. But for all the difficulties, WWE still has the most money and is led by the man with the strongest will to win. It’s entering a fractured market and can potentially fatten its bank accounts in the process. Blood will be shed, it’s only a matter of who bleeds most. Puroresu is anemic as it stands.