The Reality of Wrestling: NJPW/AJPW January 4 Tokyo Dome Show
By Phil Clark & Mike Campbell
Note: This article was written last week, but due to website problems, it wasn’t able to be posted until now
As the end of the year approaches, I like to look towards the first big wrestling event of every new year: New Japan’s January 4 Tokyo Dome show. The event has been described as “The Wrestlemania of Japanese Pro Wrestling” and it used to be booked and looked upon as if it were. In the last couple of years, however, Japanese pro wrestling has been in a decline marred by a number of things that I’ve mentioned already in this column and have been mentioned by any Internet writer who follows Japanese Pro Wrestling. This year, New Japan and All Japan decided to play nice and are working together on the January 4 show. The two companies would have you think that this new working relationship is out of anything other than necessity, but the truth is that New Japan needs a decent paid attendance for a Dome show or this really could be it and All Japan needs to regain the momentum they lost after the Hase Retirement Show in August.
M.C. Says: So far so good
The big question for much of the year was whether or not New Japan was going to run the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, a tradition they’ve had since 1992. It was announced that not only would they be going through with the show, but that it’d be a joint venture with All Japan. Is this alliance based on their mutual refusal to joint the GPWA? I don’t think so. All Japan and New Japan have been friendly ever since Mutoh took over All Japan. Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Manabu Nakanishi both made All Japan appearances in 2004, Keiji Mutoh has appeared on a couple of New Japan Dome shows. Satoshi Kojima was in the finals of this year’s G1 Climax, and Tenzan and Kojima won the annual tag tournament. So it’s not like this pairing is out of the blue. If anything, the agreement of them to run the dome together is a big sign from YUKES. They’ve finally come to terms with the idea that NJ may be the #1 promotion, but they’ve still got their share of issues, and this could be a step in getting them resolved.
So far there are four matches announced for the show. Both Mutoh and NJ President Simon Inoki have already said the show won’t be a New Japan vs. All Japan show, but half of the matches have just that theme. Most Dome shows have at least seven matches, so hopefully we’ll see a match or two featuring strictly New Japan wrestlers or vice versa. Will the show draw a decent gate? Neither New Japan nor All Japan is breaking the bank as far as money drawing goes. I think it’ll have a somewhat respectable attendance from the novelty factor, if nothing else. However, New Japan is wisely already running angles to lead up to the show, so if done right, there could be a boost in attendance.
The first match is a junior heavyweight ten-man tag, featuring the joint New Japan/All Japan team of Koji Kanemoto/Tiger Mask/Kaz Hayashi/TAKA Michinoku/Wataru Inoue against the joint CTU and Voodoo Murders team of Jyushin Liger/Minoru Tanaka/Milano Collection AT/Shuji Kondo/”brother” YASSHI. Dome shows are rarely good places for juniors matches due to lack of heat, but this has potential to be lots of fun. I’ve personally got some reservations about Milano and Kondo being partners, given their long rivalry in Toryumon/Dragon Gate. Hopefully it’ll lead to some heel disagreements, and some CTU vs. Voodoo Murders stuff in the future.
The other tag match is once again a joint NJ/AJ production. The winners of the 2006 Real World Tag League, and former IWGP Tag Team Champion, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima take on their former mentors, Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono. Tenkoji are demanding that this match be made for the vacant AJPW World Tag Team Titles, which (IMO) would add some excitement to the mix. Seeing as tag matches putting Tenkoji against Chono are far from being a rare occurrence; both the 1/4 Dome shows of 2002 and 2003 featured Tenkoji taking on Chono. Tenkoji were victorious over Toshiaki Kawada and Mutoh in the tag league semi finals, so they’re no strangers to Mutoh either. I simply don’t see much reason for this to be taking place. Tenzan has long since left Chono’s shadow, much as Kojima has left Mutoh’s.
Both promotions’ main titles will be up for grabs. Minoru Suzuki defends his All Japan Triple Crown against Yuji Nagata. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I’m not especially fond of Yuji, nor that I am especially fond of Suzuki. I’ve heard that Nagata has stepped up his game quite a bit this year, and the few matches of his I’ve seen have had some good stuff. Seeing as Nagata doesn’t seem to be IWGP bound anytime soon, this is probably the best match he could have: a high profile title match, in the position of defending New Japan. Depending on Mutoh’s plans, I most likely think Suzuki will retain. It was surprising that he won the titles to begin with and Suzuki’s longtime rival, Kensuke Sasaki, is set to return to action soon, so he’ll most likely be the one to relieve Suzuki of the titles. Given Nagata’s intensity and Minoru’s ability to heel it up like few others, this should be something to remember.
Now that he’s over the Nakamura hump, Hiroshi Tanahashi can move on to his IWGP Title defense in the Tokyo Dome against All Japan’s Taiyo Kea. This is the first of Tanahashi’s title defenses where victory is more or less a certainty as Kea is barely a main eventer in his home promotion. His Triple Crown reign was just a transitional one from Kojima to Suzuki. Ever since he won the IWGP Title in July, Tanahashi has been the subject of several credibility issues. He’s not a big guy, and he had a relatively poor G1 Climax showing. However, New Japan is showing faith in him, as he overcame the challenge of Tenzan in October (whom I personally think should be champion), and Nakamura this past weekend. And now, he goes into what’s traditionally been the biggest show of the year with what should be a surefire victory.
There are still several more matches to be announced. Toshiaki Kawada announced he’d be on the show, and several big New Japan names don’t have matches yet. One match that’s been teased and that I’m hoping does happen is New Japan’s Naofumi Yamamoto taking on the Voodoo Murders’ Kohei Suwama, in what could be a battle of future stars. But from the looks of things so far, New Japan is taking a step in the right direction, a step I was wishing they’d have taken back in 2004 instead of dealing with Bob Sapp and K1. Of course as we’ve seen with New Japan (and to be fair, with just about any wrestling promotion we have faith in) it’s possible to screw it all up.
P.C. Says: It should be a great Dome show
When the words “New Japan” and “Tokyo Dome” are uttered, they used to mean the biggest events in Japanese pro wrestling. In recent years, they’ve been used by many as examples of New Japan’s self-destruction. This year might be different. Since the Brock debacle in July, New Japan has shown new life in every aspect of their product; their booking has become better and more logical, shows have become more and more well received by fans and critics, and New Japan has something they haven’t had for quite some time: momentum. I’m not going to get too ahead of myself, however. Yes, they had a good turnout at Sumo Hall on October 9 and yes they had a great turnout this past weekend for Tanahashi/Nakamura, but The Dome is a totally different beast.
First, let’s look at the full card for January 4:
1. Masanobu Fuchi , El Samurai & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Nobutaka Araya , Akira Raijin & Kikutaro
2. Jado & Gedo vs. NOSAWA Rongai & MAZADA
3. Togi Makabe , Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii vs. D-Lo Brown, Buchanan & Tyson Tomko
4. Riki Choshu , Manabu Nakanishi , Takayuki Iizuka & Naofumi Yamamoto vs. TARU, Suwama , RO’Z & Giant Bernard
5. Koji Kanemoto , Kaz Hayashi , Tiger Mask , TAKA Michinoku & Wataru Inoue vs. Jushin Thunder Liger , Minoru, Milano Collection AT, Shuji Kondo & “brother” YASSHI
6. Toshiaki Kawada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
7. Triple Crown: Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Yuji Nagata
8. IWGP Heavyweight Title: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Taiyo Kea
9. Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
New Japan has done exactly what they did in October: stack the card; and look what results doing that two months ago did for them. Will it happen this time around? I’m not sure, but I certainly hope so, because this does look like a good card. Let’s go a little deeper.
I don’t believe Jado & Gedo are being used properly for two reasons: they’re not defending their titles and they’re facing the wrong people. Yes, NOSAWA and MAZADA may have some momentum with them after competing at Budokan this past weekend, but I still believe a wild, North American style, chair flinging brawl with TARU & “brother” YASSHIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âthe Tokyo Sports tag-team of the yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âwould be a much more entertaining (if not technically good) match and one that could have a lot more hype attached to it than Jado & Gedo’s current match. I’m with Mike that Yamamoto and Suwama should have a singles match. The Dome has been used as a place for the futures of companies to have their first high profile singles matches or at least a high profile singles match on a big card (Tanahashi/Yoshie in ’04, Tenzan/Nakanishi in ’95). Not only that, but if Yamamoto’s merchandise is selling out the way it has been implied, then there must be some drawing power with this guy in a singles match. However, I do like the Bernard angle with the Voodoo Murderers as it adds something to that match instead of it being another meaningless Dome tag.
The 10-man Jr. match is why politics and The Dome suck when combined. Both companies want to get as many names as possible on the card, hence the need for ten men in this tag instead of the tradition six or eight. Juniors can’t always get the big crowd heat in The Dome despite having great matches that a lot of times outshine the heavyweights, who always get big heat in The Dome. However, it’s not as if Juniors never get heat (they do), but neither company wants to risk that and believes that it is less risky to put all these guys in one match instead of spreading them around. The reason why politics sucks in this case is that these ten guys could make up the entire mid-card of this show (and would make up the entire undercard more than likely at Sumo Hall) with singles or tag matches. I still believe that Liger/TAKA has some dream match value to it as would just about anybody against AT, who has come along nicely since he started touring regularly for New Japan. In the end, I do believe that New Japan is making the right call by making it a ten man, but I do believe they should think very hard about using their juniors in more high profile matches, especially if they’re going to help each other out with their upcoming Sumo Hall shows in ’07. Trust me, the drawing value is there.
Kawada/Nakamura is to this Dome card what Kobashi/Sasaki was to NOAH’s last Dome card. This should the biggest drawing point for the card. It is what the crowd wants at The Dome: it’s a dream match, it has the future of one company against a legend from another, and both men can go. The beauty of this match is that it is taking place now and didn’t take place before Nakamura was ready. The fact that Kojima/Nakamura didn’t draw in 2005 could be attributed to the fact that the fans saw through Nakamura’s flash title reign and knew that he still wasn’t ready. Now Nakamura is back, he’s had three Dome main-events under his belt, and most importantly, he’s bigger. This match no longer is Kawada facing a smaller opponent in Nakamura, now it’s simply the old veteran against the new veteran.
The Triple Crown title match will be the title match that draws more people to this show. As of now, the match sells itself: you have the Tokyo Sports wrestling MVP in Minoru Suzuki, who also happens to be the Triple Crown champion; you have Yuji Nagata who is known by many as one of the best wrestlers in Japan, still holds the record for successful IWGP title defenses (something I’m sure is still working in his favor) and a guy who had what could be described as a comeback year in the ring in terms of match quality. Not only that, but there’s history between these two as they had a bit of a feud in New Japan during late 2003, which means that pissed off Nagata is going to come to this match (always a good thing) and Suzuki is Suzuki. I’m a fan of both men, I think both men are great workers and put on great matches, what more do you need?
The IWGP Title match is one with two guys who have a lot to prove. This match should draw some people to the show, but it won’t be the title match people will come to see. I think that’s sad since there are two good workers involved, but with the way that Kea was booked in recent months, it’s no surprise that his drawing power may have taken a hit. Tanahashi on the other hand has shown signs that he may fulfill the prophecy made by those inside New Japan: that he will be the future ace of New Japan (or one of them). This match can upstage the Triple Crown title match only if both men go out and work as if they have something to prove to everybody. They should do that regardless because it’s true, and it’s been the theme of Tanahashi’s title reign as of now.
And finally, the main-event. I’m in agreement with New Japan that this match go on last, and not just because I’m a fan of everyone involved (especially TenKoji as a team). No, I’m in favor of it because you can’t have a Triple Crown match go on last in a New Japan show and the IWGP match doesn’t have enough drawing power as a main-event, so what other choice do you have? Besides, this match deserves the main-event if for no other reason because it’s a dream match. TenKoji has faced Chono twice in tag matches at The Dome in recent yearsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âagainst Chono & Silva in ’02 and against Chono & Nakanishi in ’03ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âwith those matches not have nearly the drawing power or possibility of being good as this one. It is true that both Chono & Mutoh are not what they were in the ring as close as three or four years ago, but since TenKoji are their disciples, they know them and could carry them to a great match. Plus, for symbolism, this is THE opportunity to make it official that TenKoji are the aces of Japanese pro wrestling and a clean, pretty convincing win over Mutoh & Chono should do it.
The Reality is”¦the futures of both companies aren’t up for grabs, but a lot about the futures of both companies will be revealed with this show. No Sasaki/Choshu was inevitable considering their recent history; another example of the teacher-pupil relationship getting f*cked up due to money. I think it’s too bad, because the spectacle and crowd heat would’ve been great for thisÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âa dream matchÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âand it would’ve helped the card draw more people since dream matches are both men’s only drawing power outside of Indy promotions these days. On the other hand the match would’ve broken the record for most lariats in a match and probably would’ve sucked, so I guess I’m fine either way. No Akebono I can live with, but no Takayama I can’t. My guess is the two promotions wanted to keep this show strictly between them. However, I do believe that a Wild Child/Takayama & Akebono tag title match would help draw something with the Takebono “dream team” and the match itself would be very entertaining to the live crowd (hell it might be universally entertaining). As it is, if you want to know how intrigued I am with this show, I’ll put it to you this way: I will be hunting down the DVD or tape of this show starting January 5th.