Section 1- Important Results
Dragons Gate: Naruki Doi won the Open the Brave Gate (super lightweight) title on Sunday in a war with YOSSINO. His first title defense will likely be against Danny of the Florida Brothers. During the tournament’s second round, Danny was cut open hardway by a Doi chairshot to the point where the match was stopped early. He needed 15 stitches afterwards.
New Japan: Nakamura and Tanahashi defended the tag titles against Nakanishi and Norton on Sunday, in a match done very similarly to the classic ‘Japanese vs Monster Foreigners’ style. I’m just glad Scott Norton is still around to powerbomb people really, really hard.
Section 2- Other news & Upcoming matches
All Japan: Taka will defend the juniors title this Sunday against Nosawa, who recently joined the company full time.
New Japan: They finalized the 3/26 Sumo Hall card. The big change is the addition of a Kojima vs Nakamura IWGP title match. Chono now gets a bye in the contenders’ tournament, and he’ll take on the Tenzan vs Nakanishi winner. Nagai blew out a knee in his match on Sunday and is out for at least six months. Shinya Makabe has turned heel, and is probably going to join Chono’s stable.
NOAH/Zero-One: They’ll be running a Differ Cup interpromotional juniors tag tournament in May. The first one, from January 2003, was well-received enough to spawn a sequel. There might be participation from womens’ promotions.
Section 3- Analyzing the Kojima title defense booking
Those of you who have been reading the column for a while will remember the fiasco that was New Japan’s November 13th show at the Osaka Dome. Changing card lineups, strange booking decisions, slow ticket sales, etc… to say nothing of New Japan’s wrestlers doing jobs that will never be reciprocated. Though Inoki’s decisions were baffling, each card change at least had a fundamental reason: an attempt to boost ticket sales with a new card. We’ve now seen something similar (albeit saner) with the 3/26 Sumo Hall card.
First there was a tag match, then a tournament, and finally a tournament with an IWGP title match on top. New Japan couldn’t sell a significant number of tickets based simply on buildup to Kojima’s title defense on the 5/14 show. If you think about it, that only makes sense. The IWGP vs Triple Crown match a few weeks back didn’t generate an instant sellout, so why should a contenders tournament to another such match with less on the line (Kojima won’t defend the Triple Crown on 5/14).
In a perfect world I’d switch some things around. Nakamura would face Koshaka, Nagata and Sasaki would be in the contendership tournament, and Kojima would defend against Nakanishi. At this moment Nakamura does have the tag titles and the 1/4 Dome main event win as momentum. At the same time he’s wasted in what’s clearly going to be a successful Kojima title defense, as Kojima versus the tournament winner is the 5/14 draw. Kojima vs Nakanishi wouldn’t draw well on its own, but it would be enough to round out the 3/26 attendance with the decent undercard. Still the 3/26 show will sell out, Nakamura won’t be hurt by the loss, and Kojima’s second defense will be…
…enough to sell out the Tokyo Dome? Not without a lot of ticket giveaways and a ton of undercard help. Chono hasn’t been a significant draw for years, as evidenced by the lack of attention his ‘dream match’ with Kobashi generated two years ago. Plus he’s a heel, and the storyline demands a New Japan loyalist. Nakanishi is, well, Nakanishi; it would be suicide to put him atop a dome show. Tenzan? He’d would get a nice boost if he beat Nakanishi and Chono back-to-back in one night, but still there wouldn’t be a significant difference in interest between that and 2/20. A Kojima vs Tenzan rematch could sell out Sumo Hall, but it would barely make a dent in selling out the dome.
As an aside, I don’t think any Japanese wrestling promotion should have so much ego as to think it can run the dome without looking like a failure. Last year’s NOAH show might have won praise for the main event, but business-wise they put a Budokan sized crowd in a venue several times bigger. That just looked ridiculous. Similarly, NOAH’s super-sellout for Kobashi vs Misawa two years ago came off great because they packed a big venue, the heat was nuclear and they didn’t need any gimmicks or freebies to pull it off. New Japan can help itself out by only running Sumo Hall and occasionally the Budokan or Osaka Castle Hall, and not having its biggest shows of the year be so fixated on the presence of pricey non-regulars.
Anyway, the Kojima title reign is at the very least drawing more attention to the IWGP title than usual. New Japan has learned a lesson in trying to pass off the tournament as a big draw, and will likely not run into another multiple-card-changes situation. Hopefully they have a long-term plan for the IWGP title, unlike the last several times the belt was put on non-regulars.