Section 1- Results
Dragon Gate: Early results in the Brave Gate tournament have knocked Tanisaki from serious contention, while Doi and Yoshino share the lead.
New Japan: A 2/3rds full Sumo Hall (roughly the expected attendance) had five notable uppercard bouts. Both juniors titles changed hands, with Tiger Mask unseating Black Tiger and Taguchi/Samurai toppling Tanaka/Goto. Tanahashi capped off the best non-G1 tour of his career by pinning Nagata with his dragon suplex. Lesnar & Nakamura won over Akebono & Choshu, Lesnar pinning Choshu to most likely end any chance of a Choshu title shot. In the main event Chono & Tenzan beat Albert & Nakanishi, with the latter bickering. Albert joined up with TenChono afterwards.
Section 2- News
Dragon Gate: Jack Evans is all but a full-time roster member now, and the ROH talent exchange shows no signs of slowing.
New Japan: Kanemoto and Wataru Inoue signed after Sunday’s show. Though Inoue was thought to be gone, it was assumed he’d follow Kanemoto. Main announcer Tanaka bid his farewell, and it was revealed part of the cause was him losing his voice on occasion. Simon Inoki’s recent trip to WWE was NOT to discuss New Japan footage on DVD, but instead was WWE sending yet another warning against the use of Brock Lesnar. March’s schedule is somewhat ambitious since they’ve lined up not only Sumo Hall but also the fairly large Aichi Prefectural Gym. Antonio Inoki continues to clash with the company and is more bitter due to his wishes no longer being carried out.
Finally, New Japan has been doing quite a lot of fan surveys at recent shows. Not only are they attempting to gage opinions on the product, but they’re also taking suggestions on how to improve things. Even if the suggestions go nowhere the feedback is always useful.
NOAH: The only important addition to the 3/5 Budokan card is Zero-One tag aces Hidaka & Fujita going after the junior tag titles held by Sugiura & Kanemaru. The overall card is much more NOAH-focused than other big show cards due to not having Sasaki, Tenryu, Shibata or Kawada. It will be very telling to see whether it’s a success or not.
Section 3- Brief apology
Regardless of what I said last week or how I said it, it was poor manners for me to bring Stuart’s email into public discussion without asking his permission. The basic content of the column could have been done without making it remotely personal so there was really no excuse whatsoever for my laziness and lack of consideration.
Section 4- Turmoil subsides & Akebono in focus
As speculated two weeks ago, New Japan’s political scene has calmed dramatically. At the very least the roster is nearing a point where they don’t need to bring in spot workers via. Choshu. Kanemoto and Wataru returning means a lot for the junior division, Tatsutoshi Goto seems to now be a regular, Albert/Bernard and Akebono are on their way to becoming full or near-full time wrestlers, Scott Norton returns next month (he’d been ill since fall), and Choshu is working more matches than had been expected of him initially. There’s still a chance that some more wrestlers will have to swallow their pride and come back due to a lack of work elsewhere. In addition to all the good news is an end to the torrent of bad news.
What we’re seeing in New Japan is a company being brought into a sustainable state. The company was so incredibly successful in the ’90s that they could afford to pay in some cases over twice as much to some wrestlers as today. The wrestlers are understandably struggling to accept this, and some decided they’d take their chances elsewhere. I’m of the opinion that there won’t be a repeat of the contract talk struggles next year because wrestlers are less likely to get big pay cuts and are more likely to expect the worst.
The one thing I don’t fully understand is Akebono. It’s assumed that he commands a price in line with his ponderous bulk, and this when New Japan is cutting salaries. However if All Japan could afford him, how expensive can he be? K-1 runs his bookings, so there’s an element of him not being under complete control. At the same time they aren’t as two-faced as Inoki Office was, and with Yukes running the show it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see a repeat of Fujita-esque shenanigans. Akebono has done several jobs in less than a year in wrestling so obviously K-1 is willing to play ball.
Something worth pointing out (and I’ll discuss this more another time) is the impact of Akebono’s move. All Japan was getting positive press, house show sellouts and had a solid challenger for Kojima thanks to the big man. With him gone All Japan is left scrambling, while New Japan has another worthy challenger for Lesnar and a fresh face during a time of need. A few months ago on the Puroresu Power Hour I speculated that All Japan could potentially pass New Japan within the next two years; now the chances of that are next to none. Akebono has also brought with him more positive press coverage at a time when New Japan has needed some desperately.
Whether Akebono is costing a lot or isn’t, whether New Japan and K-1 have a healthy working relationship or not, Akebono is going to have as much influence on New Japan as anyone for as long as he’s with the company. If he can improve as a wrestler and maintain the fans’ interest that will be a tremendous boost for New Japan’s 2006. The big test comes whenever Lesnar vs Akebono gets signed.