Puroresu Pulse, issue 108


Section 1- Results

All Japan: Three defenses, no changes on Monday’s show. Suzuki over Tajiri, Kawada & Kea over Muta & Vampiro, and Nakajima over Yasshi. There was movement over the tour that points to Kojima joining Voodoo Murders.

Dragon Gate: Liger retained the main belt against Mochizuki. Horiguchi retained his belt over Dragon Kid. Typhoon took the trios belts from the MO’z. The big Typhoon vs MO’z elimination match led to the formation of a new stable, as Dragon Gate’s post-Ultimo trainees BB Hulk, Shingo Takagi, Cyber Kong and Yamato Onodera will be hooking up.

New Japan: They loaded up cards (and the venue) for a Korakuen double-header on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday featured the first IWGP title match in Korakuen almost 20 years, as Nagata made his first defense against Shiro Koshinaka. Also on that show, Taka Michinoku & Dick Togo beat Jado & Gedo to become junior tag champs. Thursday’s show featured Bernard & Tomko defending the tag titles against Nagata & Iizuka, playing off a Bernard vs Iizuka feud in recent weeks. Also on that card was Makabe downing Nakamura to win their recent three-match series.

NOAH: Misawa retained over Sano. Akiyama & Rikio retained over Takayama & Sugiura, Sugiura having gotten into the match by pinning Akiyama in a tag during the tour. Mushiking Terry put down Takaiwa to become the junior champ.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Minoru Suzuki is hinting at doing Triple Crown defenses overseas because Mutoh isn’t being assertive enough in wanting a shot.

Dragon Gate: A Horiguchi vs Dragon Kid rematch is set for Sunday. Shingo, Hulk & Cyber will challenge for the trios titles on the 10th. CIMA vs Jado is booked for 6/10, and that will set up Liger vs CIMA for the Kobe World Hall show on 7/1.

New Japan: With Makabe having beaten Nakamura, who in turn beat Tenzan during the last tour, Makabe is now the top contender for a shot at Nagata.

NOAH: Taka invaded the Budokan show and said that he’s re-forming RO&D in NOAH with himself, D-Lo Brown, Buchanan and K-Dojo’s KAZMA. Hard to tell if this will be a one-time deal or an ongoing tour mainstay. Morishima will defend the ROH title against KAZMA at the Differ Cup show on Sunday. Also, the junior tag titles will be defended on the “Muscle Outlaw’z” show on 5/12 as Doi & Yoshino challenge Marvin & Suzuki. Finally, Bison Smith gets a title shot on 6/3 after beating Marufuji and Yone during the tour. The 6/3 tour is at the biggest non-Tokyo venue NOAH has run… ever? Certainly that I can recall.

Section 3- A column for your consideration

As a Bills fan I would like to take this opportunity to point and laugh at the Dolphins.

Section 4- The smallness of big shows

In 2004 at this time we were coming off a New Japan dome show and building to a NOAH dome show. Zero-One was two months removed from running Sumo Hall. In 2003, Zero-One crammed Korakuen to overflowing at the same time as a New Japan dome show a couple hundred meters away.

In 2007 we have promotions like Big Japan celebrating a sell-out at Korakuen as if it’s monumental, Dragon Gate running a big interpromotional title match at Korakuen, New Japan having the IWGP title defended at Korakuen, NOAH half-filling the Budokan with its top three titles on the line, and All Japan half-filling Aichi Prefectural Gym with its top three titles on the line. All within a few weeks of each other!

You can list the reasons for this. Roster-wise Zero-One lost its top two draws, New Japan lost a boatload of talent and numerous outside connections; NOAH is without Kobashi; All Japan faltered after losing its main links to the past (Kawada and Tenryu), etc. Booking-wise New Japan had the IWGP match in Korakuen for the sake of hardcore fans, and it’s a match that saves a more attractive matchup from being seen as Nagata’s token first defense; All Japan probably wasn’t expecting a sell-out and used second-tier title matches; NOAH once again used only core wrestlers and thus might have turned decent profit.

The problem I have is that rather than accept the reality of the first (roster) set of restrictions, promotions are often compounding their problems with trite, uninspired and/or unexciting bookings. All Japan doing Kawada & Kea vs Muta & Vampiro isn’t an attempt at making a ‘best bout candidate’, but rather is supposed to be gimmicky. Okay, so why follow it with a gimmicky Triple Crown match? NOAH is struggling in the absence of Kobashi, so why book Sugiura, Sano and Bison Smith as Misawa’s main opponents on consecutive series? Especially when this will likely be Misawa’s last run on top, a sentiment that could be used for a lot more drama than Misawa having a bunch of second-rate opponents. Bison has been good this year but he’s not someone to use when you need momentum.

Japanese wrestling used up a lot of its best weapons in the first half of the decade in an effort to stave off the advance of MMA. From inter-promotional dream matches galore to wrestler vs MMA bouts to title vs title wars to big tournaments, most everything that could be done for the sake of filling the Tokyo Dome or Sumo Hall has been done several times over. Better booking could have made a young star here and there more attractive, but it’s unlikely that any could have reached the level of the top stars of the past by now. I accept that there would be some shrinkage. I don’t accept that the shows seem to have shrunk along with the crowds.

By that I mean, I rarely see a major show and afterwards think that it should have gotten more fan interest. I don’t expect something that tickles my fancy with semi-obscure or B-list wrestlers to set Tokyo on fire, and I don’t expect cookie-cutter “this guy is challenging for the title and he happens to be getting lots of wins” booking to do much. I do tend to hope for a mix of good wrestlers in attractive matchups with either an extended backstory or a ‘both sides have momentum so this is important’ buildup or SOMETHING.

I went on at great length about Tanahashi vs Nagata because that had exactly what I’m talking about. There was backstory (Nagata reigns a year then doesn’t get a shot for four years), there was momentum, both were delivering good matches in the clutch, and the end result was a top-notch title match that left the crowd happy and made both men look strong. Compare to NOAH, which has had puzzling booking decisions on top that make the GHC title look weak without Kobashi, and All Japan which often has Triple Crown matches driven by strong personalities that can’t/won’t back it up in the ring (Muta/Mutoh, TARU, Minoru Suzuki). Crowds have come to expect the total package from pro wrestling and won’t settle for regular disappointments or cruise-control matchmaking.

The number one thing that can be done to solve this is for several smaller promotions to close down. There are simply too many indies, too many heavyweight promotions, and too much detritus for the level of talent that exists today. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that booking decisions will improve, it does make things easier. More importantly, a consolidation of talent would strengthen rosters and hopefully make them more stable. Fewer wrestling shows being held would mean better attendance for ones that do happen.

Unfortunately this seems unlikely to happen, because it’s just barely easy enough to get aired on Samurai TV and just barely worthwhile for marginal promotions to keep going. Even though consolidation could mean thriving instead of just surviving, a mix of ego, pride and old grudges will make sure we have an over-saturated market for years to come. Lots of shows at Korakuen, hardly any paid crowds over 10,000.