Section 1- Results
All Japan: Final day results on the Champions Carnival included Mutoh over Kea, Kawada over Kojima, and Mutoh over Kawada in the final.
Dragon Gate: Odd happenings on Monday’s show hint at several potential face turns (or a swerve anti-turn) among the MO’z faction. Typhoon retained the trios belts on 4/6, then lost them in a quick rematch on Monday when Gamma got a clean pin on CIMA.
New Japan: Decent attendance for today’s big show in Osaka. Four title matches, only one title change, but it’s the big one: Yuji Nagata defeated Tanahashi for the IWGP title.
NOAH: Akiyama & Rikio have won the tag titles. No big shock since Morishima is going to be very ROH focused.
Section 2- News
All Japan: Tajiri is the next Triple Crown challenger, following his countout win over Suzuki on the final day of the tournament. That will take place on 4/30 along with Nakajima getting a token defense against Yasshi, and Kawada & Kea defending the tag belts against Muta & Vampiro.
Dragon Gate: Mori has suffered a leg fracture and is, accordingly, out. Magnum Tokyo has left the promotion and could retire due to accumulated injuries.
Inoki: The latest iteration of Inoki-ism is a show scheduled for 6/29 at Sumo Hall. Right now the only Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtalent’ confirmed is Yasuda. That won’t even put comp-ticket butts in the seats.
New Japan: Tiger Mask will have several Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdream’ matches in the US, both in NWA Midwest and IWA Mid-South, in May and June.
NOAH: Akiyama & Rikio vs Takayama & ??? for the tag titles is set for the Budokan. The NOAH/TNA relationship is mostly about NOAH being able to book TNA wrestlers, and there are no plans for NOAH-in-TNA.
Section 3- Lock it down
Lord knows I’m not going to risk my sanity analyzing TNA. Phil’s a brave man.
Section 4- Meet the new ace, same as the last ace
Five years since his last title shot, four years since losing the belt, nine champions and fourteen title reigns later, Nagata is back on top. He unseats the man with the most stable reign during the intervening years. He comes in fresh off a tournament win, and with the best combination of fan support and perceived strength since Tenzan’s aborted first run. The Inokis are gone, Choshu’s warped vision of wrestling in 1999/2000 has fallen by the wayside, and thus things are looking better for New Japan’s heavyweight title than they have in quite some time.
It’s hard to put a clear value on what it means to have a capable, respected champion who isn’t shackled by backstage politics. Consider that NOAH has gone downhill since the end of Kobashi’s reign as ace, All Japan took a dive after the end of Kawada’s Triple Crown run, and the floor fell out of Zero-One when Hashimoto (the ace regardless of titles) left. Not that every champion needs to be pushed as the end-all and be-all, and not that every champion needs a dozen title defenses, but it is vital to transition from one strong champion to another.
Strength is a matter of credibility, support, booking and performance. One or more of those elements was missing in Rikio and Kojima (respectively), and when Ohtani was forced to assume the mantle of Hashimoto’s heir he did so without ever having been established as a true peer. New Japan was well on its way from transitioning from ace Nagata to ace Tenzan in 2003 when Inoki got in the way, and that touched off a series of bungled decisions with the IWGP title.
At this point NOAH lacks a strong champion because Misawa is over the hill; All Japan relies on an Ã¢â‚¬ËœMVP’ who isn’t any sort of draw; Zero-One has been relegated to merely the best of the indies rather than one of the big four. Only New Japan has managed to book a productive title reign and follow it up with an upgrade. Tanahashi earned a lot of respect for his title defenses despite a weak start to his reign, and now Nagata can become the first clear ace with a meaningful title reign since the last time he held that position.
I’m not going to claim that Nagata on top means New Japan will start selling out big shows right and left, or that he’ll bring the heavyweight division back to where it was before budget cuts weakened it a few years ago. What he can do is give New Japan a stable core to work off of, allow them to take their time in figuring out who the next champion is, and perhaps most importantly give New Japan the first trueborn/loyalist MVP for all of puro since the last Nagata reign. As it stands Nagata is a prohibitive favorite for the award unless his reign is short or the wheels come off, which seems unlikely. Nagata has been very reliable when given the spotlight.
Remember back when I wrote weekly columns prophesying doom for New Japan? All they needed to do was get back to sound Japanese-style booking in order to stop sinking. It’s just that they had to get rid of several obstacles in order to get there.