The Reality of Wrestling: Puroresu News
By Phil Clark & Gordi Whitelaw
I figured it was time to go back to the Puro scene, but in thinking that, I couldn’t figure out what to talk about. Then it hit me: why not talk about everything? March has been a big month for the Japanese wrestling scene as a couple of big shows and big stories have dominated the wrestling news in the land of the rising sun. All of these story offer myself and Gordi the chance to philosophize on a number of things including the booking of a couple of major titles in Japan, the possibility of WWE involvement in Japan, and Japan’s Indy scene, which may get as complicated and overpopulated as America’s. Be warned: this will be a long article to read. There is a lot to be said and since many of these stories may be irrelevant the next time I do a Puroresu story on “The Reality,” we are going to say everything. So grab a soda (I recommend Dew) and read on.
Item #1: NOAH’s March 5th Budokan show. What’s next for Akiyama? What’s next for the CHC Title?
P.C. Says:I have yet to see the big matches from the show (damn YouTube), but I’ve read a few reviews from the show. So far I’ve gotten the following: the “Youth Vs. Experience” series seemed to be the highlight of the show, Misawa may have had the last good match of his career, the Jr. tag title match provided an interesting contrast in-between the series and the GHC Title match, and that title match seemed to be approved by the Budokan fans, but left something to be desired critically. On that note, when I first saw that it went nearly 30 minutes, that sent off warning flares. Considering the feud these guys had and the match that this should’ve been (a war of attrition), I think half the time and twice the action would’ve been better. And this is coming from a guy who still has yet to see the match itself!
In regards to Akiyama, there is still a ton he can do with the GHC Title. NOAH is chock- full of contenders for Akiyama’s belt. Guys like Sasaki, Misawa, Kobashi, Morishima, Kawada, even Ohtani and/or Omori could come in from Zero-One MAX and challenge. I think that Akiyama should have at least a year-long title reign, because then it makes the loss that much more special and it may help the belt regain some prestige in the fans’ eyes after Rikio’s disastrous (in the fans’ eyes) title reign. I think all of the people I listed above could have title matches with Akiyama at Budokan shows, with the exception of Kawada who I think NOAH ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY MUST get for the Tokyo Dome main event in July.
As for whom Akiyama loses the belt to, this is a bit harder of a decision. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Kobashi should beat Akiyama for the belt, but that really doesn’t help anything because Kobashi pretty much put the belt on the map with his two-year title reign; he doesn’t need another. A big question is should NOAH give Rikio a second chance? I say yes; they gave Akiyama a second chance, why not Rikio? I think Rikio’s problem with his title reign was the same problem that Akiyama had with his first title reign: they couldn’t adjust to the role of main-event wrestler as opposed to the mid-level singles wrestler they’d been their whole career up until that point. Akiyama should’ve adjusted fine, but Rikio really wasn’t really introduced into the main-event circle until his first challenge to Kobashi’s belt in 2004 and then wasn’t brought back really until the title win last year. I think the best choice would be the other half of Team Takashi, Takashi Morishima. Morishima is still pretty young, can wrestle pretty well, is unhurt by shitty booking as of now, and is starting to become more than just another mid-card guy in the fans’ eyes. Whoever beats Akiyama for the belt, it has to be a big deal so the GHC Title avoids the tainting it got back in 2002 with the Ogawa title reign.
G.W. Says: As far as I know, NOAH is going ahead with the contenders’ tournament idea. I’d guess they’ll run Akiyama in tag matches while that’s playing out, then give him a couple of defenses against upper mid card guys leading up to some kind of huge title match in July. I’m guessing that a Taue rematch may be in the cards; I know I wouldn’t mind seeing that. The Budokan show drew well with Akiyama vs. MiSu on top, so hopefully that’s a good sign for Jun’s latest reign. If things go well, you could space out big defenses against Taue, Misawa, Kobashi, Sasaki, Morishima, and Rikio with lesser defenses against guys like Honda, Yone, and Bison Smith. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to rush into another title change any time soon.
Item #2: Kojima/MUTA Triple Crown Title Match. What’s next for Kojima? What’s next for the Triple Crown?
P.C. Says: I haven’t seen the match, but I saw Muta/Koji from about four years ago and both men have deteriorated a bit since then, so I can guess that it was a hell of a spectacle, but not much from a wrestling stand point. Most people will question having Mutoh challenge twice during one man’s title reign, but as Dave Ditch pointed out in Puroresu Pulse 58, there aren’t that many people in All Japan that can be viewed as viable Triple Crown contenders. For Kojima, this has been a successful title reign; take a look at who he’s beaten: Kawada for the belt, Tenzan, Mutoh in both forms, Sasaki, Jamal, Giant Bernard, and TARU. Now the last three may not be main-event caliber contenders, but two of them were big gaijin’s, and that always a way to help get over in Japan. As for what’s next for Kojima and the gold, I think all roads lead to two men: Minoru Suzuki and Taiyo Kea.
For years, Kea has been hyped as the future of All Japan. Well, after screwing up with him for the last couple of years, I think it’s time that the prophecy be fulfilled. Suzuki can participate in the Champion’s Carnival tourney, but because he’s a freelancer and doesn’t spend much time in any promotion outside of Pancrase, I think Kojima must challenge Suzuki out of embarrassment for the sneak attack following the MUTA match. Kojima wins and sends Suzuki into the Champion’s Carnival looking to avenge his loss by winning the tourney and gaining another title shot. The finals of the C.C. should come down to Suzuki and Kea. Kea wins, earns his title shot and whenever All Japan decides to have it happen (preferably at the biggest event they can have it at), Kea wins his first triple crown with Suzuki finishing his feud with Kensuke Sasaki as the semi-final.
Also, for the Triple Crown to re-gain prestige, I think outside participation is needed. This will create fresh matches for the Triple Crown while All Japan’s current mid-carder’s can be elevated to the main-event over time. For a lot of All Japan’s roster, it’s probably too late, but not for every member and that’s where Mutoh really has to get going on creating new stars. But it has to be gradual or else you’re looking at quick draws instead of long-term draws. Anyway, using guys from Zero-One MAX (Ohtani, Omori, Tanaka) and NOAH (Kobashi, Morishima maybe, or even Saito) would be helpful and could help attendances. Plus, the freelancer market is wide open. Kawada could come back for a challenge, and Osamu Nishimura may become a freelancer soon and there’s a guy that could work a long technically sound match. Also, why hasn’t All Japan attempted to bring Tenryu in for one last title shot? It would definitely give that person’s title reign more credibility if they could beat the legend in his final attempt at the gold. These are just some ideas, but at this pointÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âwith All Japan basically being an Indy fedÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬ÂI think co-promotion participation and more freelancers in regards to the Triple Crown is the way to go.
G.W. Says: I guess MiSu is the obvious next challenger. I don’t think he should take the strap, though. I was in Tokyo for the RWTL finals in December, and Kojima was the guy who got the biggest pop out of the crowd. It felt to me like he was far more over with the people there than even the legendary Mutoh and the mainstream crossover star Akebono. If the AJPW hardcore fans are really behind the guy, they might as well keep the belt on him a while longer. Kojima will be competing in the Champions Carnival with Mutoh, Sasaki, Minoru Suzuki, Yoshie, Kea, Arashi, D-Lo Brown, Bull Buchanan, Matt Morgan, Suwama, and Nakajima. I suppose the next title contender(s) will emerge over the course of the tournament. Kojima’s charisma is his biggest asset, and I think he could keep the fans interested in a feud against almost any reasonable contender.
Item #3: New Japan’s March 19th Sumo Hall show. When should Brock/Tanahashi happen if at all?
P.C. Says: Tokyo is officially dead to all Japanese wrestling minus NOAH. Zero-One found this out a few years ago as did All Japan, and now it’s New Japan’s turn to learn the harsh reality that Tokyo fans simply don’t want them around. Why is this? I have no idea. Personally, I think all of three listed promotions were doing just fine (product-wise). They weren’t doing great, but they weren’t creativity or qualitatively bankrupt when Tokyo decided to walk away. My best guess is that the promotions were either too over-the-top (All Japan, and New Japan) or the Tokyo crowd got sick of the same old thing (Zero-One). Either way, Tokyo is NOAH’s town and that’s the way it’s going to be for a while. I’m personally thrilled that this last Sumo Hall show for New Japan didn’t live up to expectations because it proves what I’ve been thinking all along: Akebono may help sell tickets everywhere else or for tour shows, but big Tokyo shows he cannot. That reality, and the fact that this match wasn’t made the second after the two men’s tag match at the 2/19 Sumo Hall meant that this match wasn’t going to draw the kind of money that a money match should. Now had this match happened a couple of months down the line after fans had more time to take to Akebono in a wrestling, would it have drawn better? Who knows, it might have, but we’ll never know. The rest of the card looked pretty solid and, as Stuart from puroresufan.com pointed out, probably would’ve drawn better elsewhere.
Now the big question is when should Lesnar/Tanahashi happen? Not will it happen, but when. My opinion is that, THIS is the only money match New Japan has right now. So, with that in mind, they’ll probably screw it up, but I think that a strong, long build to this match will pay off. Right now, Tanahashi didn’t get his win back from Shibata (he lost to him at NJPW’s 1/4 Tokyo Dome show) so he’s not exactly the most deserving contender. However, a repeat win in the New Japan Cup and finally winning the G-1 would make him the only real challenger in the promotion and would be a perfect fit for Lesnar and a title match at the Sumo Hall in October (since they’re not running Sumo Hall in May, I’m guessing they still will in October).
G.W. Says: I know that my Internet friends over at Strong Style Spirit are going to be unhappy with me for saying this, but I think that New Japan has already blown it with Brock Lesnar. By bringing him in, immediately putting the belt around his waist, and having him dominate in every match they’ve done two things to hurt themselves. They’ve put off the fans by forcing Lesnar down their throats; and they’ve fed Brock’s ego to the point where I’d guess it’ll be pretty difficult to convince him to let anyone else look really good in the ring against him. I really feel that they would have been better to build Lesnar up gradually and let the fans warm to him before putting him in a top position. It’s too late for that now, though. I think that NJPW might be better served to hold off on feeding more young stars to Lesnar. If Tanahashi were to look strong in a loss against the champion, that would be a good thing. I don’t see a whole lot of evidence that Brock would have any interest in making Tanahashi look strong, though.
Item #4: The rumored (now false) sale of NJPW to WWE by Yukes.
P.C. Says: I never bought this for one minute. Ditch and I already explained how the E is all but a non-factor in Japan as of now as it is, why would they buy a Japanese promotion now anyway? It never made any sense and furthered my belief that Vince is more rapidly losing his mind by the day. This wasn’t a news item that helped New Japan from a perception aspect as many could interpret this as Yukes trying to unload a sinking ship. Despite months of good press and a product that is slowly beginning to rise back up, New Japan still could be just that. But it doesn’t help if you’re main financial backers are flat out advertising that. That you’re a sinking ship is definitely something you keep private until the zero hour if you can.
G.W. Says: I’m glad that this isn’t going to happen, for purely selfish reasons. I really enjoy trading tapes and DVDs of Japanese wrestling and downloading matches from sites like David Ditch’s. I’m pretty sure that WWE getting involved in the Japanese wrestling scene would lead to restrictions being placed on a hobby that I really enjoy. I would also probably have hated to see New Japan Pro Wrestling turned into New Japan Sports Entertainment.
Item #5: The Japanese Indy scene. What should be done about it?
P.C. Says: Right now, the Japanese Indy scene is overflowing with the largest number of promotions it’s ever seen. As of right now there’s DDT, Zero-One MAX, Dragon Gate, Michinoku Pro, Big Japan, Real Japan, Big Mouth Loud, Riki Pro, Pro Wrestling Shem, Osaka Pro, Pancrase, BattlARTS, and King’s Road; and those are the ones that I know. Quite honestly, I see three options when it comes to this overcrowded market place: leave everything alone, merge all the Indy feds into a new promotion, or merge them all under the Zero-One MAX banner since it’s the most noteworthy of all the Indy feds out there. I don’t have a whole lot of experience covering this aspect of Japanese wrestling, so I’m sure Gordi or someone else may have a better solution, but that’s just what I think.
G.W. Says: There are simply too many promotions in Japan now. The fan base is spread out pretty thinly. Still, there is a huge positive side to the ever-expanding Jindy scene. For one thing, great wrestlers like Tenryu and Sasaki are now working as freelancers, and many promotions freely engage in talent exchanges. This interchange goes a long way in preventing the talent pool from becoming too shallow. Also, promotions like Dragon Gate and K-Dojo are producing young stars, and that can only be good for the future of pro wrestling in Japan. Finally, and most importantly, Dragon Gate in particular is emerging as a major promotion in its own right. I’d say that in terms of match quality DG did about as well as any promotion in the world in 2005. In terms of fan interest, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that they’ve already surpassed All Japan.
The Reality is… Japanese wrestling seems to be in a holding pattern as of now. No promotions (besides NOAH) seems to be able to draw big money anywhere and the business itself has lost a lot of mainstream coverage over the past couple of years. While a lot of this could’ve been foreseen during the last days of the 90’s, a lot of it could’ve also been avoided if common sense would’ve been used by many of the promotions that are now suffering. However, with new stars beginning to emerge and a product that seems to be getting more and more stable by the day, who knows what’s next for pro wrestling in Japan. Let’s just hope it’s something good.
I just found this site a few weeks ago and remembered that he also writes for insidepulse.com, so Kevin Wilson and The Internet Wrestling Encyclopedia this plug’s for you.