Section 1- Important results
New Japan: On Sunday, Nagai & Naruse retained the All Asia tag titles over Blue Wolf & Yano. Nagai/Naruse will defend again next Wednesday in All Japan.
NOAH: They had an expectedly dismal showing attendance-wise for their Sunday show in Kobe World Hall. Marufuji retained the Openweight title over Eigen, which was a given. What wasn’t a given is the biggest title match upset in NOAH for some time, as the team of Scorpio and Doug Williams beat Misawa and Ogawa for the tag titles. Scorpio’s body continues to seem ageless as he does a plethora of top-rope moves after all these years despite being a heavyweight, and Doug Williams is a hit with Japanese fans. Maybe if fans thought the upset was possible, there would have been better attendance.
Zero-One: Unlike what I initially thought, their Sunday show at Korakuen decided the new AWA champion, rather than just participants in a tournament. As with the initial tournament, Omori won the final, only this time he pinned Steve Corino to take the belt. In a sign of the promotion’s weakness, they drew just 2/3rds of what indy promotion Dragon Gate (formerly Toryumon) did a week earlier, and that’s with Zero-One having Sasaki’s company debut and the AWA title match. With that in mind I’m going to start covering Dragon Gate in the column.
Section 2- Other news & Upcoming matches
All Japan: Kawada signaled his willingness to face Misawa at some point in the future.
BIG MOUTH: The promotion started by former New Japan head Uei announced that they’ve landed Akira Maeda, the man behind UWF’s initial creation in the ’80s and the RINGS promotion, as executive director (head booker?). Their first show will be in March, and should include ‘independent’ wrestlers like Sasaki, Suzuki and Tenryu in addition to some talent from K-1 and other shootfighting feds.
New Japan: Their annual wrestler re-signings hit a huge snag, as Shibata announced his departure despite being offered a 20% pay hike. He’s expected to be a part of BIG MOUTH, and there’s a good chance he’ll return to New Japan as an independent worker like the Sasaki/Suzuki/Tenryu group. Also, New Japan decided to officially cut loose Tadao Yasuda, though he was later spotted training in the New Japan dojo. There are hints of a Chono vs Mutoh contendership match with the winner to face the new Triple Crown/IWGP champion. Lastly, there are signs that Tenzan aggrivated his old neck injury (from a botched moonsault) with his 4-match ‘week from hell’ last month. He’s feeling numbness in his limbs and is being kept off some shows. Could force a major change of plans as far as the upcoming title matches.
Section 3- Dragon Gate
Ultimo Dragon has been responsible for training dozens upon dozens of great workers. The bulk of them went through the Dragon Gym, a dojo run by Ultimo. The first graduating class included CIMA, Magnum Tokyo, Dragon Kid (inventor of the dragonrana), All Japan wrestler TARU and NOAH wrestler SUWA. Since then there have been many more to join up, some who were trained elsewhere like Masaaki Mochizuki, but the vast majority of whom have been under the watchful eye of Ultimo. There were three main ‘waves’, the first simply called Toryumon, followed by Toryumon 2000 Project (T2P) which focused on flashy submissions, and lastly Toryumon X which featured smaller wrestlers and lots of high-flying.
Currently, only about half of Ultimo’s trainees are in the current incarnation, Dragon Gate. Some have retired, some are in other promotions, and Toryumon X almost as a whole is scattered through Mexico and Japan. However, the active roster of the promotion is 20, meaning that it has enough to keep going.
Dragon Gate is nearly a lightweight-only promotion, and is by far the most successful of such promotions, drawing better than Michinoku Pro and Osaka Pro combined. This is thanks to a unique product that combines energetic wrestling with entertaining gimmicks and a more Americanized booking style (ie. run-ins, heel/face turns) all done by very talented wrestlers. With the added values of good production and design, they tap into a young female demographic that most Japanese promotions ignore. Thanks to the ladies, Toryumon and now Dragon Gate have had success running many ‘mainstream’ venues such as Korakuen and Kobe World Hall (which they always do better than NOAH at).
Dragon Gate is split up into four main factions, along with a handful of other wrestlers (who usually don’t factor into big matches). The stables:
Blood Generation- This is the remnant of Crazy MAX, and is led by CIMA, along with Don Fujii (the only heavyweight on the roster), Naruki Doi and Dragon Gate’s first trainee, Shingo Takagi. Blood Gen is the top heel stable and they rely on run-ins and interference for wins.
Italian Connection- Holders of the three-man ‘Open The Triangle Gate’ titles, they are Milano Collection AT, Yossino and Anthony Mori, all of whom were part of the T2P group. A pure babyface faction who focus on submissions and cradles.
Do Fixer- Led by Magnum Tokyo, along with Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi, Ryo Saito and Naoki Tanisaki, they are perhaps the most flamboyant group in the promotion, known for big group dance routines. Formerly heels, now ‘tweeners.
Final M2K- Another somewhat ‘tweener group, it’s led by Dragon Gate champ Mochizuki. Beside him are K-Ness (formerly Darkness Dragon), Susumu Yokosuka and Ken Arai.
Others- Super Shisa, a masked wrestler; Florida Brothers, a comedy cheat-to-win team; Stalker Ichikawa, comedy superjobber of ridiculous weakness.
Since they rarely bring in big names, and have just two titles, there won’t be a ton of news to report. However, they’re worth covering as long as they’re the 4th best drawing promotion in Japan. The next big match is on the 6th when Mochizuki defends the Open The Dream Gate title against Ryo Saito. For more detailed, day-to-day information you can go to Dragon Gate USA at: http://dragongate.puroresufan.com/
Next Week: Phases of All Japan, and why I can’t recommend the best stuff first.