Section 1- Results
All Japan: The Kojima heel turn angle has led to Kojima becoming a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœloner’. Nakajima defended the junior title against Hijikata.
Dragon Gate: CIMA vs Jado had to be cancelled, which means tomorrow’s CIMA vs Gamma match is the only test for CIMA before his title shot against Liger. In theory CIMA vs Gamma is a contendership match but, c’mon. Both of the 3 vs 3 vs 3 tags went over half an hour, and they could be great but probably will only be shown in brief clips due to DG’s lack of television coverage and inefficient editing style.
New Japan: The annual juniors tournament is nearing its close, and there is a very unique group of semi-finalists: Minoru Tanaka, Milano Collection AT, Taguchi and Wataru Inoue. For the first time ever, a tournament with both Liger and Kanemoto saw neither advance to the semi’s. The only title match in the last month (in May) had Minoru defending the junior title against young lion Yujiro.
NOAH: Three title bouts, zero new champs. Their biggest June shows were sparsely attended, and neither card seemed as though it was an all-out attempt at interest. The top non-title match saw Murakami invade again and beat down Marufuji in five minutes.
Section 2- News
All Japan: A two-block, ten-man juniors tournament will take place this month with a final on 7/1. Included are Nakajima, Kondo, Taka, Hayashi, Dick Togo and Chris Sabin. Also on 7/1 will be the Suzuki vs Mutoh Triple Crown match, and a tag where I suspect Kojima will wind up turning heel. Finally, All Japan will do a Sumo Hall show on 8/26.
Dragon Gate: An odd booking for the Kobe World Hall show, Fujii vs Kuroda, is in jeopardy due to a hand injury to Fujii. In related injury news, former DG star and Florida Brothers member Raimu Mishima is retiring due to a bad hernia. He had joined up with Kensuke Office. Oh and Nagata will be at the Kobe show versus Stalker Ichikawa.
HUSTLE: Their show at Saitama Super Arena has cobbled together a odd and interesting card. Tenryu vs HG with a stip where if HG loses he unmasks and if Tenryu loses he dresses like HG; Muta & RG vs Tajiri & Yinling; a match featuring former baseball player Warren Cromartie; and perhaps most promisingly, Takayama & Minoru Suzuki vs Kawada & Ohtani. There are hints of Esperanza (Takada) vs Muta for HUSTLEMANIA ’07.
Inoki Genome: Lesnar vs Angle for Lesnar’s version of the IWGP title will take place at the IGF debut on the 29th. Josh Barnett and Naoya Ogawa are also confirmed (maybe against each other), along with wrestlers from Muga. Ogawa left HUSTLE for IGF. Oh, and Nakanishi & Iizuka from will be on the show whose main event is a direct swipe at New Japan. A bunch of other names, from HIV-linked boxer Tommy Morrison to rising MMA star Lyoto to Shibata to Ken Shamrock to Kawada, have been thrown around. Hogan seems pretty much out of the question at this point. Inoki himself is playing the “no card Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtil the last minuteÃ¢â‚¬Â game, probably because he can’t actually get the card together.
New Japan: Nagata vs Makabe for the IWGP title will happen at the 7/6 Korakuen show.
NOAH: Misawa has issued an open challenge for the main event of the July Budokan show. The next tag title challengers will be Shiga & Kawabata, aka “Pen PalsÃ¢â‚¬Â, who have been dominating the vast NOAH undercard of late and scored an upset win over Takayama & Sugiura. The next junior title challenger will be Ogawa, who lorded over All Japan’s junior division before the split. This has led to the odd situation of Ogawa feuding with Mushiking Terry (including unmasking him) while teaming with Kotaro Suzuki. Yeah. There will be a junior tag tournament on the next tour, concluding at the Budokan (there won’t be a final unless there’s a tie). The five teams are Suzuki & Marvin, Danielson & Davey Richards, the Briscoe brothers, Marufuji & Kota Iifushi, and KENTA & Ishimori. Finally, Kobashi has said that he won’t return until winter at the earliest.
Section 3- Hey it’s me
Phil’s and I talk IGF.
Section 4- Then what?
New Japan’s booking remains the gold standard. They had the New Japan cup in March, the Nagata title win in April, Nagata’s first title defense in May, and have spent the time since then building to Nagata vs Makabe (which was also the NJ Cup final). In August we get the G-1 Climax. They aren’t exactly selling out dome shows or anything, but it’s a heck of a lot more professional than what other promotions are doing.
All Japan’s Champions Carnival tournament ended on March 30th. Mutoh won, and they’ve built to Suzuki vs Mutoh by having one or both of them acting indifferent about the match. Apathy, that’ll put butts in the seats. With a big Sumo Hall show coming up and no apparent outside help for it, they need to have someone lined up from within for a big match.
A Kojima heel turn would seem to accomplish this, but it books them into an uncomfortable corner. Heel Kojima versus heel Suzuki makes no sense, and the last two Kojima vs Mutoh title matches were only big enough to headline mid-range venues. Plus Kojima would be turning heel on Sasaki, who’s a freelancer. If they book Kojima vs Sasaki for Sumo Hall then I have no clue who would challenge, certainly not anyone with internal momentum, meaning Mutoh versus a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdream match’ outsider who isn’t even on the radar. Not exactly the kind of far-sighted booking you need when you can only sell out Korakuen with the Champions Carnival final.
Dragon Gate has been not-so-secretly building to Liger vs CIMA for months on end, including an anticlimactic Liger vs Mochizuki match and a series of even more anticlimactic CIMA bouts that were supposed to be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœroadblocks’. Even the markiest of marks can see through that, so why waste time when you could (for example) have Liger against a NEW HAZARD member in May or June? Liger was naturally going to get one successful defense, but a second is less of a guarantee and it would help spotlight one of their young stars. Liger vs CIMA doesn’t need hype, and once again the attention shines on CIMA. Much of DG’s roster is popular with their core fanbase, but they really could use the mainstream exposure of Liger in a way that lets him give the rub to wrestlers who aren’t as recognized as CIMA. As a result, fter the almost-certain CIMA victory they have no strong challengers lined up.
NOAH remains functionally retarded. Bison Smith is fed Yone and Marufuji with no buildup because he’s in line for a title shot, rather than having him win high-profile bouts over several tours to elevate his status. He doesn’t get a fall on Misawa during the lead-in tour and thus has no credibility or Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthreat heat’ in his title shot, and the match doesn’t draw. Misawa mentions after his win that he’s looking for challengers, with the (correct) implication that nobody stands out after the last couple tours. Since Takayama seems to be shying away from long singles bouts and Kobashi is still out, the only two who make sense to challenge are Rikio (who we now know isn’t a Budokan-level wrestler) and Akiyama. Maybe we’ll wind up with Misawa vs Akiyama, but that doesn’t strike me as the sort of match that results from an open challenge.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœRandom outsider’ is a possibility, but if they’re willing to do it now why not also do it on any number of anemic big-show cards since Kobashi went down? Why in the world have they used LESS big-name freelancers in the last year without Kobashi than they did in the last year with him? GPWA gives them all kinds of connections and they push a bunch of hit-and-miss Taka Michinoku projects?! ARGH. NOAH has no clear challenger for July’s Budokan show and at this point I have to say that they really shouldn’t be using the building again in September without a radical amount of booking effort. But this is NOAH we’re talking about, and effort in booking falls behind “push the worst wrestler on the rosterÃ¢â‚¬Â (Shiga) on the priority list. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that the next HUSTLE show has more conventional puro appeal than NOAH’s next Budokan at this point. Just think about that without your brain going into spontaneous combustion.
In the US, WWE and UFC have a license to print money. In Japan, wrestling and MMA promotions alike are either in a state of collapse, shrinking, or resigned to a shrunken existence. It might not be too much longer before former afterthoughts like Big Japan are competing with the mainstream companies, and their booking revolves around whose turn it is to take ten foot bumps onto light tubes.
Thank goodness for New Japan. If they get back Chono and Tanahashi in time for the G-1, I expect the annual heavyweight tournament to be the highlight of 2007 puroresu.