Section 1- Results
New Japan: This year’s super juniors tournament has featured very unpredictable booking, and at the moment the ones most likely to advance are El Samurai, Taguchi, Tiger Mask and Wataru Inoue. Liger vs Samurai on the last day of block matches seems likely to determine one of the spots.
NOAH: The June tour ended with two title changes, both times with former champs regaining gold. KENTA lost the junior title to Sugiura, while Kobashi & Honda downed Morishima & Yone. Worth noting is that Sugiura beat KENTA with an ankle lock, the first time in NOAH that a singles belt changed hands via submission. In All Japan no singles title changed that way from 1989 until the split. Kobashi seems like a lock to face Akiyama at July’s show in the Budokan.
Section 2- News
Dragon Gate: Added to the 7/2 Kobe World Hall show is a ten-man Outlaw’z tag, with the debut of Outlaw’z member “Dr. Muscle” and a motley grouping of babyfaces in opposition.
New Japan: Lesnar will defend again on 7/17, against Tanahashi. Tanahashi vacates the U-30 belt and will face Bernard in a warm-up on the 18th. Fujinami now seems to be leaning towards leaving New Japan. Chono will have surgery on his left elbow and aims to be back in time for the G-1. That Nakanishi/Omori team I mentioned last week will get a shot at Zero-One’s tag titles on the 24th. Akebono returns on 6/17. Finally, New Japan will be getting some decent money (~20 million yen a year) for the use of Antonio Inoki as a restaurant/bar gimmick, a huge help to New Japan’s bottom line.
Section 3- PRIDE’s trickle-down scandal
Zach Arnold, at both Puroresu Power and Fight Opinion, has been following a scandal that even I don’t fully understand. It involves numerous big players in the shootfighting world, the annual competition between them on New Years’ Eve (in this case 2003), yakuza intimidation, lawsuits and so much more that I don’t have the best grasp of it despite my best efforts. Antonio Inoki’s involvement actually isn’t a major issue for a change. However, the end result has been PRIDE losing its key national TV contract with Fuji TV, along with their Japanese PPV outlet. This not only gave them an outlet for maximum viewership, but also the money necessary to use many expensive fighters that in turn drive ratings and big show attendance. International PPV relies on Fuji TV footage. No new deals were announced at a press conference yesterday.
How much this hurts PRIDE remains to be seen. They aren’t thought to be in dire financial straits (ie. Currently in debt), but at the same time they absolutely need a lot of cash to keep up with costs. It’s a given that they can land a cable deal no matter how bad the scandal is, but a cable deal would give them only a fractional amount compared to Fuji and it seems doubtful right now that another broadcast network would touch them with so many mines yet to be triggered. Cost-cutting combined with the scandal would lower their image, leaving the door wide-open for K-1 and its PRIDE-targeting sub-federation HERO’S (which is where Lesnar will probably fight) to scoop up top names at a discount and dominate global shootfighting. If PRIDE doesn’t cut costs, which is what seems to be the case based on their upcoming card at Saitama Super Arena… well, let’s just say they’ll make New Japan look like the bastion of fiscal sanity.
But I don’t watch shootfighting, nor do I cover it. I cover pro wrestling. What’s the connection? Simple: PRIDE funds HUSTLE, and both are crucial to the continued existence of Zero-One. HUSTLE piggybacked on PRIDE’s TV deal with Fuji, and now they’ve lost it by proxy. They’ll have an even harder time getting on a broadcast channel, though like PRIDE they’re big enough to be assured of cable should the need arise. More importantly, however, PRIDE might not have the money needed to sustain HUSTLE in the future. How much they pay the top stars (HG, Kawada, Ogawa, Takada) per show is unknown, and though right now PRIDE fighters don’t have much presence in HUSTLE, it could be difficult to maintain the core stars. Without PRIDE cash, HUSTLE is just Zero-One with gimmicks. Speaking of HG, the current top star of HUSTLE, he’s expected to leave shortly due to the fall-out.
…and Zero-One could just as easily feel fall-out as well. Though they aren’t officially owned by PRIDE they are at the very least a proxy, if not a puppet. Many of their key names (Ohtani, Tanaka, Sato, Sai, Yokoi) are prominently featured in HUSTLE, and the loss of that spotlight and those extra paychecks would do that much more to harm the struggling promotion. If PRIDE is providing cash behind the scenes to keep things afloat, well I don’t have to tell you how bad this scandal’s implications are. Zero-One has gotten by on the skin of their teeth since Hashimoto and Ogawa left, and this will only make things all the worse. Granted, it isn’t a high-cost promotion by any means, but at the same time their payroll is considerably higher than the ‘indy’ feds. Less money means they’d be more prone to talent raids even from cash-strapped All Japan and New Japan, to say nothing of NOAH. Oh and there’s this promotion called ECW starting up that Masato Tanaka is interested in working for. I think they might have some cash to spare.
Obviously having HUSTLE and Zero-One damaged and potentially crippled wouldn’t be the death of puroresu. Perhaps having the talent pool concentrated into fewer promotions will be good in the long run, as stronger rosters for the big three could shore up slumping ticket sales. At the same time it’s one more shot in the kidneys for pro wrestling in Japan, another in a set of staggering setbacks and blunders over the last decade. With All Japan barely treading water, New Japan losing money (as Yukes’ stock freefalls) and NOAH in a bad creative funk, the last thing we need is yakuza taking the legs out of one-and-a-half additional promotions.
Section 4- Goin’ back?
I have loose plans to go to Japan during the middle of August like I did last year, with the target being the G-1 final two nights. One of the more interesting notes about this is HUSTLE currently having Korakuen booked on the 8th and 9th, but tickets aren’t on sale yet. I don’t recall any company canceling a Korakuen booking so we’ll see what happens.