Section 1- Results
New Japan: As I’m sure you heard, Lesnar quit New Japan and the IWGP title was vacated. A tournament was held on Monday to determine the new champion. Tanahashi went through Nagata and Bernard to win the title belt, which is actually the second-generation ‘Hashimoto’ belt instead of the newer minting that Brock still has (and refuses to return, not unlike a certain other Man-Beast in TNA). Nakanishi & Omori gained more gold by beating interim tag champs Koshinaka & Makabe. Tiger Mask retained the NWA junior title against Wataru Inoue.
NOAH: A strangely uneventful (though apparently sold-out) Budokan show saw Akiyama down Takayama in the main event tag, busting out the exploder ’98. Underneath, Rikio & Morishima vs KENTA & Marufuji went to a 30 minute draw. There were no title matches, a first for a NOAH Budokan show.
Section 2- News
All Japan: Sasaki is having a broken facial bone (caused by Shibata a few weeks back) repaired and thus the All Asia tag title match on 7/30 won’t happen. Sasaki toughed it out through NOAH’s Budokan show. Kawada will work the 7/30 and 8/20 shows, which could signal a deeper relationship with the company (as opposed to being a ‘thank you’ from HUSTLE).
Dragon Gate: Raimu “Daniel” Mishima and Naoki Tanisaki have left Dragon Gate, though under somewhat confusing circumstances. Mishima said he quit, while Tanisaki seems more to be moving towards a freelance situation that could leave him still working DG shows. Kanda has compensated for this by making a return to full-time wrestling. The 7/29 contendership match is now Magnitude vs Iwasa vs King Shisa. Ummmmm okay. Three-man tag titles will be decided in a round-robin tournament of unknown date or makeup.
New Japan: More on the Lesnar situation below. Chono attacked Nakanishi & Omori right after their win, signaling a TenChono vs Hooooo Fear tag title match as soon as Chono gets back. Kanemoto vs Minoru for the junior title, which was expected to happen on Monday but was never announced, is still in the works. Liger is in line for the next shot at Tiger Mask. Finally, Tanahashi doesn’t have a G-1 match on the last round-robin day (8/12 at Sumo Hall), which gives me a sneaking suspicion that he won’t be in the semis. Maybe I’m overanalyzing there.
NOAH: KENTA will challenge Bryan Danielson for the ROH title on 9/16 in NYC. Kobashi is expected to get out of the hospital soon; he’s actually taking longer to mend because they had to carve through so much muscle. This is a problem I plan on avoiding, personally.
Section 3- Shilling fo’ real’z
Phil Clark brought me on board to help out with his Hashimoto tribute column. Check it out. Phil is good people.
Section 4- Crisis on Infinite New Japans, a Shin Nihon Civil War
Maybe I’m spending too much time in the comics section.
Anyway, imagine an image of a single tree, healthy and tall. Its surroundings have been blanked out. Similarly, imagine the charred husk of a tree, with bare branches and blackened bark. Can you reasonably expect to guess at the state of the rest of their wooden brethren in the forest? Certainly not, because the condition of a single tree can be at one end of an extreme. That’s why having a macro view of things is so vital to having the proper understanding of current events. Focus too much on the headline or the story at hand and you run the risk of missing the connection to the big picture.
As huge a story as Brock Lesnar refusing to put over Tanahashi for the title (aka “visa issues”) is, the impact on New Japan will actually be more indirect than direct. Fans have come to expect this sort of thing from non-touring champions and once Lesnar signaled a desire to head for the greener pastures of K-1 it was obvious that New Japan had ceased to be his top priority. Nobody needs to go through the “Lesnar is a selfish prick” or “New Japan needs to stop putting the belt on people it doesn’t control” talking points again because both are memorized.
On the flip side, a relatively minor story about Fujinami naming the Muga promotion “Muga World Pro Wrestling”, and a resulting copyright issue with New Japan’s “World Pro Wrestling” TV show, hints at something much larger. It’s coming out that Fujinami has for some time been trying to oust Simon Inoki from power, and he’s been doing some behind-the-scenes work to pull the rug out from under the young Inoki-in-law. Macho Dragon might get his wish, albeit a bit too late.
Simon Kelly “Inoki” is an odd case. You can hear him translating for Liger on Liger’s ROH shoot, back when such a thing wasn’t beneath him. He married into the Inoki family, worked for the company for years in the states, was handed New Japan’s presidency out of nowhere, and he held onto it despite the Yukes buyout and a chaotic winter. He ‘stormed’ the Inoki Office and staked a claim to all things Inoki on behalf of New Japan, seemingly turning the tables on his own father-in-law. Could it be that Simon had backstabbed his family and in the process done what nobody else could, removing the thorn of Antonio Inoki from the side of the wrestling company he created?
It’s becoming clear that the answer is “no”. You can take Brock Lesnar and Antonio Inoki out of Inoki Office, but you can’t take the Inoki Office out of them. Or more specifically you can’t stop them from acting as though it was 2004 when Antonio could turn New Japan on its ear on a whim for the sake of his Inoki Office fighters, who paid him a cut of everything they earned. Conflicts of interest, gotta love ’em.
Within a very short amount of time the focus of New Japan went from Lesnar’s eventual title loss and the G-1 Climax to Lesnar’s act of treachery and the 9/1 Inoki show at the Budokan. In early discussions about that show it sounded like pure Inoki Office drivel. High-priced shootfighters, unlikely-to-occur dream matches that set the public up for disappointment, New Japan providing support while looking like stepchildren, etc. Antonio Inoki announces that many tickets will go for over $3000 US and then they’re sold out before the general public could even consider buying any, which smacks of lots of behind-the-scenes handshakes and the type of shady business Yukes needs to rescue New Japan from.
While Lesnar has stewed in Colorado, training for K-1 and clearly never intending to do the right thing for New Japan, Simon Inoki has been coordinating things for the Inoki supershow. What makes this even worse is that Lesnar, a gaijin, a former Inoki Office worker, someone with a history of disrespect towards authority, was given the IWGP title and a long reign based on Simon’s recommendation. Simon vouched for the big guy despite an inability to get him to agree to do full tours, and he continued to do so after Lesnar appeared at a K-1 show. When Lesnar informed the company that he wasn’t going to appear on Monday’s show, Simon was in the states and out of contact. Yet boy oh boy that Inoki supershow, it’s coming along just great, yessir. Let’s not focus on how much money New Japan stands to lose by running Kojima vs Nakanishi on the top of its 8/12 Sumo Hall show, where the much more attractive Fujita vs Nakamura match fell short a year ago.
Simon isn’t expected to know the nitty-gritty of putting together matches on an entire tour, or arranging for transportation and venues throughout Japan, or finding some magical concept to turn the company around. One thing he is expected to do is handle the gaijin effectively, yet in the last year he managed to fumble on the three biggest gaijin names signed up. One is Lesnar. One is Scott Norton, whose salary offer was cut so deeply that he left (rumors put it at indy-level pay). One was Josh Barnett, who has made huge waves in this year’s PRIDE openweight tournament and who is now in the semifinals. Josh was going to be in last year’s G-1 Climax, but was bumped for Kawada. While initially this was said to be due to not having enough space in the tournament for both of them, at about the same time Tatsutoshi Goto was added to the tournament, which blows that excuse to bits. Josh hasn’t been back since, and one can imagine how much New Japan regrets it now.
The long knives are being drawn, and they’re pointed at Simon Inoki. The new boss is making the same mistakes the old boss only without the charisma and air of authority. Who wants to back a man who hides in his home country in the midst of a crisis he’s responsible for causing? Who wants to stick their neck out for the man who’s trying to drag New Japan into yet another messy Antonio Inoki ego project? Who in their right mind will vouch for Simon? And as the dust settles, who will vouch for New Japan as TV Asahi comes to question the continued relationship it has with the troubled pro wrestling company, the one with ties to Antonio Inoki, who ran the show in 2003 that led to the PRIDE scandal?
Heads rolled when Yukes took over. Heads rolled and people left earlier this year. More scalps are going to be taken before this ordeal is over, and the lion of New Japan will be lucky to escape with its mane intact.
Next Week: I actually get to the discussion of Samoa Joe in NOAH