The Reality of Wrestling: Inoki Genome Federation (IGF)

The Reality of Wrestling: Inoki Genome Federation (IGF)
By Phil Clark & David Ditch

The Ditch helps me examine Inoki’s latest foray into pro wrestling

With Brock Lesnar’s successful MMA debut this past Saturday one man is looking to cash in on this more than anyone; that man is Antonio Inoki. Inoki’s new promotion creatively titled Inoki Genome Federation debuts at Sumo Hall on June 29. The main-event for the debut show will be Brock Lesnar taking on Kurt Angle for the first time in over three years with the IWGP title belt that Lesnar took with him when he left New Japan being on the line. Of course other than this match, Inoki hasn’t announced any other matches and has only insinuated via news stories who might be participating in the new promotion. Such possible participants include Josh Barnett, Hulk Hogan, Kazunari Murakami, Kohei Sato, and Naoya Ogawa. With four weeks before the debut show—as in most Inoki promoted shows—there are a lot of unanswered questions, some of which may not be answered until the show itself takes place.

D.D. Says: It won’t turn a profit and probably won’t see a second show

On the promotion itself:

It strikes me as either well-connected insiders taking advantage of a money mark, or well-connected insiders operating a thinly disguised money laundering operation. I see no feasible way for the promotion to turn a legit profit. They have no TV to promote it. Lesnar isn’t a draw and cost New Japan around $50,000 a show, a price that wouldn’t have gone down after his win over a punching bag in LA on Sunday. Angle has clearly been turning down a lot of offers in Japan and US Indies since he left WWE, the asking price for him must be high. The only notable Japanese talent under consideration are Naoya Ogawa, who lost his spot as the face of HUSTLE to a fake-gay backyarder celebrity, and the Muga crew, who can make a watchable undercard but can’t draw more than a couple hundred extra fans.

If you want to build a new promotion in Japan without starting from scratch you need a core of established, marketable talent. NOAH had Misawa, Kobashi, Taue and Akiyama; Zero-One had Hashimoto and Ogawa. World Japan flopped with Sasaki, Choshu and Tenryu. A promotion centered on expensive, egotistical gaijin is a recipe for disaster, especially when none of those gaijin are attached to a promotion with credibility in Japan (ie. WWF/WWE, NWA/WCW). The only way they can turn a profit on the endeavor is if they build to Inoki vs Lesnar or Inoki vs Angle, something which just isn’t in the cards at Inoki’s age and 9 years after his last match.

On a possible Angle/Lesnar match, any other big matches (Hogan/Barnett was rumored):

Lesnar vs Angle for the IWGP belt that Lesnar refused to defend is a pure ego-job for Inoki. It takes a swipe at New Japan because it’s their title and it’s contested between the two big-name gaijin New Japan has hyped in recent years. It makes Inoki look like a big shot as he books the two biggest non-WWE non-decrepit wrestlers in a match against each other. It features wrestlers with a legit background, and who are often discussed in the context of MMA. Oh, and there’s also all kinds of arm-twisting politics involved which led to the match taking place. I would bet anything that this won’t be a legitimate sell-out at Sumo Hall, and I would not be shocked to see less than a half-full house after Lesnar vs Akebono bombed so badly.

The other big rumor swirling around is Hulk Hogan vs Josh Barnett. Josh is a bigger name now than he was when New Japan kicked him to the curb in 2005, thanks to his wins over Mark Hunt and Mintauro last year. Josh was affordable for New Japan so he isn’t a bad choice. Hogan on the other hand is so deluded that he thought he deserved more money than Cena for a short, booking-padded match at Wrestlemania. He’s been humbled by the fact that he only drew a couple thousand for his match in Memphis but he still won’t come cheap if he comes at all. Hogan vs Barnett would be idiotic because both would be far more attractive in matches with Japanese opponents, say Barnett vs Ogawa and Hogan vs Fujinami, while Hulkster vs Babyface Assassin is a styles clash.

On Inoki’s relationship with TNA and who from TNA may wrestle for Inoki’s promotion or that first show on June 29:

One disaster deserves another, though for a change TNA figures to come out on top. I can’t see TNA allowing Angle to job in his first high-profile singles match outside the company, and Angle is probably the guy Lesnar would be most willing to lose to, so I predict a win for Angle. Using other TNA talent to fill in the undercard would simply not make it more attractive to Japanese fans, though. Samoa Joe, Christian, AJ Styles and Jeff Jarrett aren’t household names in Japan, and anyone who’s a big mark for US wrestling will go for Lesnar vs Angle anyway. It would be nice exposure for any TNA wrestlers who might get the call, and I imagine most of them would jump at the chance, but I’m not expecting anyone besides Angle. Inoki needed an in with TNA to get the Olympian, nothing more.

On whether it will last, will it go past one show:

This will never become a touring outfit. Chances are, there aren’t any plans beyond the first show. Chances are the first show isn’t even fully planned. If they make enough money and get enough publicity, sure, we might see another show a couple months later. That said, anything that loses enough money eventually closes up shop. Inoki has lost enough money for enough people that I don’t think he has much slack with whoever is writing the checks. Plus they’re starting out with about as big a main event as possible, meaning a second show probably won’t draw as well. I’m not saying the ship is sinking already but the sails are looking a bit ratty to me.

Other thoughts:

I started writing about Puro for InsidePulse in the hopes of attracting new fans to it. Sadly the politics involved with so many major events completely overshadows any positive news that might come along. While there’s still dozens and dozens of good to great matches coming out of Japan every year, fewer and fewer come with that ‘big show’ feel that WWE viewers are accustomed to. Having a promotion like IGF come along throwing money around left and right and booking Sumo Hall for its debut only means one more disappointing big show out of Japan when the Puro market desperately needs big hits. One more promotion trying to get a slice of a shrinking pie. Thank goodness for the Indies, who scrape by with heart and determination rather than ego and photo ops.

P.C. Says: Inoki is trying to re-create magic that isn’t there

Will this new promotion amount to anything? No.

It’s as simple as that, but it won’t be only because of Inoki this time. One of the main things that has eluded Inoki since he left New Japan in the late-90’s is that—like any country—a country’s native wrestlers will always sell more than anyone else. Inoki has relied on foreign talent or shootfighters to bring him back to prominence in pro wrestling never realizing that it is an ass backward way of doing things, especially when starting your own promotion. History has dictated this in recent years; look at Choshu’s World Japan (dead within a year) and Mutoh’s World-1 (they didn’t even finish their Grand Prix tourney in ’05), and even Hashimoto’s Zero-One as a big promotion rather than the Indy fed it is right now. All of these promotions died because they never built stars instead relying on old and faded legends, shootfighters, and foreign wrestlers; a lesson that continues to be forgotten in the Puro world.

If you look at the names listed in the intro, the only native wrestler mentioned was Kohei Sato who seems to be a future great, but as of now won’t be able to attract the majority crowd that a promotion needs to be a success. Barnett ironically will probably be the biggest draw of anyone mentioned because he has not been ruined for pro wrestling fans while in pro wrestling. Plus, he did just have a great year in shootfighting defeating Noguiera, Aleksander Emelianenko, Kazuhiro Nakamura, and Mark Hunt in Pride. Hogan is done as evident with the hacked to pieces Memphis show drawing only 2,200 paid, and Sato & Murakami could be good in the mid or undercard. And then, there’s Ogawa. Ogawa is an interesting case in Japanese pro wrestling as he has been T.V. ratings gold not only in wrestling, but in shootfighting helping Pride win the New Year’s Eve ratings war in ’05, but has never been much help with attendances in wrestling. In the case of Inoki’s event, that’s what he’s going to need and Ogawa won’t be able to provide this assistance. Not only that, but—and this is quite the catch-22—this show won’t be on T.V., but PPV (which is NOT what it is in the U.S.). I honestly believe that if Barnett and Ogawa are both on the card, both would be best served and could provide the most drawing-wise if they were pitted against each other in a different style match. That way, it would seem like a shoot, it would be what both are best at in a wrestling ring and it does have some dream match value there.

Inoki and Vince Russo together, kind of gives you shivers doesn’t it? Well, Inoki had to develop some kind of relationship with TNA in order to get Angle for the main-event. If he wanted, Inoki could fill his mid-card with TNA talent without having to worry too much about finding people in the weeks remaining before the debut. I know I just made a big point about native wrestlers being the drawing card, trust me, read on, and I’ll explain that later. Anyway, guys like Joe, Daniels (as Curry Man maybe), Styles, Sting, and Christian Cage could easily be put in matches and viola, your full undercard is taken care of. Will it happen? No. Should it happen? That is an interesting question as TNA talent would provide talent for the show, interesting and probably good-great matches through the card, but Sting hasn’t been in Japan in years, same for Joe, Styles’ last Japanese appearance was a token match for BML in ’05 and Daniels hasn’t been in Japan for a while either, so drawing power is sketchy—as Ditch mentioned—at best.

But wait a minute; doesn’t Yukes own the rights to Inoki’s image and name? So, how is this even happening without New Japan being involved? I think there is the answer to two things: the talent situation and what TNA talent could do if put on the card. TNA guys and New Japan guys would create several dream matches (in the eyes of insiders) and matches that may arouse interest in casual wrestling fans in Japan. I don’t think this promotion could even be mentioned without New Japan unless Yukes is lenient about what Inoki does thus negating any reason to buy out his stake in the promotion, but recent history would suggest the opposite. Look for New Japan names to start being mentioned in regards to this card (Nakamura, Chono maybe, Tenzan, Liger are all possibilities) as I smell a joint venture with Yukes in the making. If not, I don’t know how the hell this is even happening?

And finally, the main-event. Lesnar/Angle. I guess I should be happy that these two are getting one more match after being able to witness their greatness in The E, but I’m really kind of numb to it all. Don’t get me wrong, if the match is great I’ll be jumping at the chance to pick up a copy of the show (something I may do anyway), but I don’t think the match is going to be good. When Lesnar came to Japan, I thought, “Finally, the shackles are going to be taken off.” What I didn’t count on and in retrospect should’ve counted on was that Lesnar was given everything right away (again) and arrived an uninspired lazy mess. His matches supported that description and the fact that he was given everything right away automatically alienated him with fans most of whom have traditionally demanded the chase towards titles in ANY wrestler. Not only that, but talent has always been appreciated and Lesnar didn’t bring the goods despite having done so for three years under Vince’s rule. With Angle, his body is too gone for this match to be what it was in ’03 when these guys were tearing it up; they literally couldn’t have a bad match that year as even the worst of their ’03 series (Summerslam) clocked in at ***1/2 from many including yours truly. But four years later, the wrestling world is a very different place and both Angle and Lesnar are treading on their final days in this world, Lesnar not regretting it a bit. It is interesting to think what this match would’ve been like if it had been on Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2000—Inoki’s one true success as a pro wrestling promoter outside New Japan—when Angle was a successful E wrestler and still the Olympic gold medal wrestler in many people’s minds and Lesnar was an NCAA champion wrestler. Two amateur wrestling studs in Japan does equal money. Today, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Reality is Inoki is at it again. The fact that Lesnar/Angle is the main-event isn’t surprising, the fact that Ogawa will more than likely be on the card isn’t surprising, the fact that Hogan is in talks isn’t surprising; what is surprising is that some of Inoki’s other famous clients aren’t involved yet. Where’s Fujita? Where’s Nakamura? Where’s Sapp? Would any of these guys help the card or the gate? No, unless the matchup was good enough. I’m with Ditch in that this promotion probably won’t see a second show and I personally believe that if Inoki promoted this as just a supercard, a one-time deal, it would probably help it draw more towards a full house at Sumo Hall. I think Inoki is going to have to stack this card to even get close to a sell-out as New Japan and All Japan have been doing the same for the last year with their cards getting close to, but never quite getting that sought after 11,500 paid.

PLUGS

Pro Wrestling as MMA? Read on and find out

This week’s “FUCK YOU!” goes to:

K-1
This weekend’s Dynamite!! USA PPV was not worth my $35. I bought it mainly for Sakuraba/Gracie II and K-1, not the two fighters, managed to f*ck it up. Three five-minute rounds? For a rematch of a 90-minute match? Are you out of your minds? It’s a superfight so at the least they could’ve given them five rounds instead of three or had it been no time limit and just let them go. Instead you got a match that didn’t live up to expectations and a fairly shitty crowd to boot. The other big reason I got the show was to see all the empty seats (didn’t I say running the Coliseum in your U.S. debut was a bad idea?) and I wasn’t disappointed with 15-20,000 maximum being there (most of those comp seats I’m sure). Then, K-1 claims 54,000! That alone earns K-1 the position it has in this column. And what about that DJ? I don’t know his name and quite frankly he doesn’t deserve for me to know or care what his name was? After the opening two minutes I was screaming at my T.V., “Get the guy a script please!” And by the way, it’s pronounced Hoyce Gracie even though it’s spelled with an R. Learn your shit before a “big” event that seemed very disorganized with audio problems throughout, a hokey flame lighting ceremony and Dennis Rodman. To put it simply: K-1 dropped the ball and jacked the dog with this one.

Uh-oh, I smell a “DOUBLE FUCK YOU!” for:

THE NBA
What does pro basketball have to do with wrestling? I’m sure anyone reading this is asking the same question. Trust me, I can explain. Saturday night, LeBron James clinched a birth in his first NBA finals and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Why they needed to sigh in relief is beyond me. The notion is that LeBron being in the finals is saving the NBA; at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten based on what pretty much every single sports personality, sports writer, sports fan, etc. has said over the past few days. I didn’t know the NBA was in need of saving and quite frankly when mediocre teams can still pull in 10-20,000 fans per game, I think the league is in fine shape. Let it be known that I’ve got nothing against LeBron and I do believe that he is one of the best all-around players in basketball and is in fact King James. What I dislike is this notion in sports that being the best isn’t good enough, that having the two best teams in the championship is boring. Are you hearing this? This anger on my part is directed to the pre-series bashing before the Pistons/Spurs 2005 NBA Final. No star power, no larger than life personalities apparently made it not worth people’s time to watch. Forget the fact that it was the two best teams in the NBA that year. Forget the fact that the series turned out to be the most interesting Finals in years (far more interesting than the Mavs self-destructing last year, or the Pistons beating my Lakers five to nothing in ’04, or the Spurs and Lakers pistol whipping the Nets in ’02 and ’03). What we got was an intriguing series that went as followed: two slaughters by San Antonio, two slaughters by Detroit, an overtime thriller with a Robert Horry game winner, a game six that was close the whole way, and the Spurs coming back from double digits to win the title. Now THAT was a series. Daniel Stern was once quoted as saying that he wished there could be a Lakers/Lakers series. While I am a big Laker fan, I didn’t like this because of what Stern implied: that only big names make the Finals watchable. If it’s not enough to be the best team and if only big names equal ratings then you know what the NBA has to do? Start fixing their games so the team they want in the finals gets there. If they don’t, then they have to shut the f*ck up. That is the essence of sports: the unpredictable nature of the post-season and the goal of the two best or most deserving teams vying for the title. While other sports and sports personalities bash pro wrestling because the results are fixed, at least people within wrestling are getting what they want. Why? Because they are in charge of saying who wins and who loses. In sports, that’s illegal. So, what are these people whining about Tim Duncan apparently not being a star looking for? These people who said that Spurs/Pistons ’05 wasn’t “sexy enough” or “didn’t have enough star power”; they would probably be ok with some fixing as long as they got a LeBron/Wade matchup supported by Cavs/Heat, or a Kobe/LeBron entrée with a Lakers/Cavs appetizer. If you hear that Vince McMahon is keen on a guy or wants a certain match, you can be damn sure that he’ll do everything in his power to see that it happens even if it’s not good for the company or if the fans don’t want to see it. Daniel Stern and people of his opinion on matchups like Spurs/Pistons are the ones most to blame for that series not doing ratings any better than the Laker series’ before it because if you bash the series on T.V. 24 hours a day, seven days a week leading into the series, you’re causing more people to not tune in than the series is. So, all these people so overjoyed that LeBron got in need to chill out and look at sport the way it should be looked at: as a sport. And, if you can’t more reason to watch basketball other than one player, don’t watch it at all.

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