The Reality of Wrestling: A Wild Weekend at Ryogoku Kokugikan


The Reality of Wrestling: A Wild Weekend at Ryogoku Kokugikan
By Phil Clark

This week’s column involves Kurt Angle, so you know you want to read on…

Japanese pro wrestling has been taking the steps needed not only to spice up its product, but also bring the masses back into the fold during the last six months. The third weekend in February will be a big one for pro wrestling in Japan as New Japan Pro Wrestling, and All Japan Pro Wrestling each will have shows at Tokyo’s Sumo Hall (Ryogoku Kokugikan). All Japan will house the fabled arena on February 17, and New Japan will host their event on February 18. The dates were strategic, as the working agreement between the two promotions that began at the Tokyo Dome has not yet dissolved. Whether or not they can produce on two straight nights remains to be seen, but for once the outlooks aren’t hopeless.

P.C. Says: All Japan’s show will be better, but New Japan’s will draw more

Neither of the two promotions’ cards is fully complete, but they have taken shape. What All Japan has been about under Muto—more than anything else—has been the spectacle aspect of wrestling. And on 2/17, they once again have succeeded in putting together matches that, if nothing else, will attract or entertain based on spectacle alone. Akebono’s return match is one of them. This has gotten a decent amount of press coverage as Akebono was pissed over his December 31 MMA loss in K-1, so he decided to go back into training for wrestling. His training must have been efficient as Muto announced just under a week ago that Akebono would be on their card in February. His opponent is still a mystery, but considering he is where people want him to be on the card, it’s all good. The next is one that I have no idea about and quite frankly have no real interest in: the AH II World match. The final spectacle match is easily the biggest in this variety of match: the dream team of MUTA and Tajiri taking on Dustin Rhodes (not a typo) and Hakushi (Jinsei Shinzaki to people more familiar with his work from Japan). This one won’t be much in the quality department, but has a near 100% chance of entertaining and considering the people involved and the match they’re in, that’s all we, as fans should want.

What All Japan has that New Japan doesn’t is the quality factor. While they do have several spectacle matches, that is part of the overall card and adds something different apart from the rest. However, the rest isn’t that bad either. Looking at the full card, this should be up and down a great show. Right off the bat, All Japan couldn’t offer a better opening that TAKA Michinoku teaming with Kaz Hayashi to take on NOSAWA & MAZADA. This match should offer a nice blend of wackiness and high-flying action (I’ll let you use your best judgment to decide who’s going to do what). The AHII World match will be “there,” but that’s really all I can say at the moment. Next up, Kensuke Sasaki and his unnamed partner taking on Voodoo Murderers members TARU and “brother”YASSHI. First off, watching Sasaki lariat these young guys into putty should make the match worth watching everything else excluded. However, this could turn out to be a good brawl, especially considering the possibilities of who Sasaki’s partner will be. That fact won’t be revealed until the Kensuke Office show this coming weekend, but considering that Nakajima and MUTA are both in matches and that I’ve heard nothing about possible freelance participation by Tenryu or Takayama, I’m all out of ideas. I already talked about Akebono’s return match and the f*cked up tag match that is MUTAJIRI/Rhodes & Hakushi, both of which should combine to give the audience a little fun in the mid-card before the three title matches.

When it comes to three title matches, All Japan is throwing their best possible ones out there. The Jr. title match pitting Kondo and Nakajima should entertain as Kondo’s title match at Sumo Hall against Hayashi from this past August did garner match of the night honors from the majority of people who saw the show. Considering that both men have gotten positive reviews for their work in ’06, it is a match that has a bit of hype to it and is really Nakajima’s first chance to bask in the spotlight without Sasaki. The AJPW World Tag titles will finally be decided as the “Royal Road Pair” of Taiyo Kea and Toshiaki Kawada take on Suwama and RO’Z, who were the runner-ups in this past year’s Real World Tag League tournament. All I can say is that at least the issue of the tag belts in All Japan can be put to bed and whoever wins should get a long title reign; and I don’t care which team wins! And finally, the big one, as Minoru Suzuki (2006 Japanese wrestling MVP) defends the Triple Crown against Satoshi Kojima (2005 MVP). I’m glad that this match is being given the main-event of a big show for All Japan as it shows Muto has faith in these two to draw in that spot and put on a good match. I’m expecting at least a good match as this feud has been raging for nearly a year and after the way Suzuki’s feud with Akiyama ended with a whimper, hopefully he’ll be seeking redemption. Either way, that match is what I’m pumped for the most on either card that weekend.

While New Japan hasn’t released their full card as of yet, I’m willing to bet that they will draw more for their show because their two big matches have more drawing power than All Japan’s big matches. All Japan’s big matches are the Suzuki/Kojima title match, the Nakajima/Kondo Jr. Title match and the tag title decision match pitting Kea and Kawada against Suwama and RO’Z. While these three each look dynamite on paper, New Japan has them beat. Their three are Tanahashi/Kanemoto for the IWGP Title, Minoru/Wataru Inoue for the IWGP Jr. Title, and Giant Bernard and Tyson Tomko taking on the dream team of Yuji Nagata and Kurt Angle; that’s right Angle debuts for a Japanese promotion in February.

While some here in America may have just found out this information by reading this column, the Japanese media have been too aware as this was HUGE news in Japan. While I believe that a Nagata/Angle singles match has the most drawing power for anything Angle does in New Japan, his participation on the card period should be enough to push New Japan’s card past All Japan’s in the drawing department as both promotions have done or will do (I have faith in New Japan) a good job in putting together a stacked card. What New Japan has is that little extra attraction that sets their card apart from the one taking place the day before.

The Reality is both companies are putting a lot into these shows. God only knows how much New Japan sunk to get Angle, so I’m really pulling for him to bring his A-game unlike a certain next big thing who stunk up the joint for months in big matches. The booking in both shows leaves just about everything open to speculation, especially in the big matches minus the IWGP Title match. We all know that Tanahashi’s going to retain, but New Japan is hoping more that Kanemoto’s momentum from last year’s G-1 entices enough people to make his one and (probably) only challenge worth it. Another interesting aspect of New Japan’s show is, what if Angle wins the NWA title from Cage this weekend? While the NWA title has had a long history in Japanese wrestling dating back to Lou Thesz in the late-50’s, it didn’t exactly drive fans crazy when the belt was Naoya Ogawa’s prop in ’99. However a guy like Angle holding that belt—and talking about a double title match with Tanahashi—could be enough to make that belt mean something again in Japan. Overall both companies have put together shows that are both intriguing and worth seeking.

This week’s “FUCK YOU!” goes to:

Trust me, this won’t be the last of old Vinnie Roo in The Reality. While I will be getting TNA’s Against All Odds PPV this weekend, there are two parts of it that speak to Russo beginning to lose control of himself once again. I’m not talking about the Prison Yard match with Sting and Abyss as it is another copout by TNA so neither actually has to job. No, what I’m pissed about is Basebrawl and Christy Hemme wrestling. First off, who gives a f*ck if a couple of MLB players care about TNA. Is making a token appearance Russo’s way of thinking that it’d be good if these guys get in the ring again? Remember, it did happen back in ’05 with Torborg and now we get a second dose of this nonsense. And for what, a minor article in SI that means nothing? Christy Hemme wrestling is another Russo idea that just not going to pan out. The reason is that Christy Hemme can’t wrestle. TNA has been trying to create a women’s division since they began back in 2002, but when they brought Hemme in, they didn’t get her near the ring unless it was to dance in it. What Christy Hemme is plain and simply is another Diva Search winner who didn’t pan out in the ring despite numerous attempts on The E’s part to make it so she could. TNA sees this, but Russo doesn’t; I believe that clarification is needed. What Hemme should be doing is what she has been doing: interviewing. Like Maria, she’s just fine in that role. Or maybe they should’ve gone the route they were thinking of going with her and put her in LAX (speaking of which: where’s Low-Ki in LAX? That was supposed to happen a while ago). That would’ve been at least interesting and would’ve saved us the whole “women can wrestle too” thing. Yes, women can wrestle; unfortunately, the only really good ones are either retired, on the Indy circuit, or in Japan. And to everyone reading this, on the topic of Russo himself, just remember that I gave him the benefit of the doubt on day 1. Was it worth it? I’m thinking no.