Puroresu Pulse, issue 111: It’s the schedule, stupid

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Minoru Suzuki retained the Triple Crown against Mutoh. Kojima has fully turned heel and joined up with Voodoo Murders. Chris Sabin beat Kondo in the final of the juniors tournament.

Dragon Gate: The Kobe World Hall show had an announced attendance record that goes back through the Toryumon days. CIMA beat Liger in the main event to win the top title, while Yokosuka & Ryo Saito beat Jado & Gedo to win the WAR junior belts and Kanda beat Horiguchi for the lightweight title. New Hazard retained the trios titles over MO’z but there seemed to be a kick-out of the winning pin so there will be a rematch. Kanemoto beat Mochizuki and Fujii beat Kuroda in the featured non-title bouts. CIMA’s first challenger will be Iwasa, who won a 1-night tournament on Tuesday.

HUSTLE AID: HG beat Tenryu, leading to OH GOD IT BURNS. Muta pinned Yinling after blowing mist at her crotch. No I’m not kidding.

Inoki Genome: It finally happened. They didn’t come close to a legit sell-out but it wasn’t poorly attended either. Angle beat Lesnar to win Brock’s IWGP title, despite some pre-show rumors that the match wouldn’t happen. With TNA actively hyping Angle’s win, IGF is now very much married to the situation and I fully expect New Japan’s lawsuit to proceed. Other results included Naoya Ogawa over Mark Coleman and Josh Barnett over Yasuda. No sign of Hogan.

New Japan: Despite only reaching the semi’s of the juniors tournament, Taguchi got a title shot on last Friday’s show and beat Minoru for the belt. Also on that packed Korakuen card, Nagata retained over Makabe and Togo & Taka retained the junior tag titles over Kanemoto & Wataru Inoue. Bernard & Tomko managed a third title defense over Tanahashi & Yamamoto.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Suzuki vs Sasaki seems to be the Triple Crown match for the big Sumo Hall show.

Dragon Gate: New Hazard has been hit hard by injuries. Yamato has a busted shoulder, and BB Hulk broke his jaw. The trios title match that was scheduled for later this month is probably off as a result. I know you were all really anxious about that one. Anyone? Anyone? Anyway, CIMA vs Iwasa won’t happen until next month at the earliest. There will be a ten-team tag tournament starting next month as well.

HUSTLE: Hustlemania will take place on 11/25 at Yokohama Arena. I can only imagine we’ll get the return of Esperanza here.

NOAH: The Budokan show this weekend will be headlined by Misawa vs Taue for the title. Underneath will be two junior tags, which will determine the winner of the tournament, along with the Akiyama & Rikio vs Shiga & Kawabata tag title match.

Section 3- Shill’z

My look at puro’s biggest summer shows.

Phil on TNA.

Section 4- Touring saves, geography kills

Jumbo Tsuruta died at age 49. Pain pills and alcohol? Nope, botched kidney transplant in the Philippines. Rikidozan was just 41. Heart attack? Nope, untreated infection from an otherwise minor stab wound. The somewhat portly Shinya Hashimoto, age 40? Brain aneurysm, which might have been from high blood pressure or might have been utterly random. Equally portly Kodo Fuyuki? Cancer.

There is a laundry list of high-profile wrestling deaths in the US, and for every fluke death like Chris Candido there are a dozen Eddies who die as a direct result of the wrestling lifestyle. Heart attacks, overdoses, suicides that stem in part from the long-term effects of steroids, etc. Though Japan has a comparable amount of paralysis and death related to in-ring action, the overall mortality is vastly different.

You can’t say it’s all steroids, because steroid use is widespread in Japan. You can’t say that Japanese wrestling is lower-impact, especially if you compare mostly-matches TV shows in Japan to the gab-fests in the US. You can’t say it’s just a matter of size, because even if you remove 300+ pounders like Bigelow and Yokozuna there’s still a gulf. Access to drugs? If Japanese wrestlers wanted to they could get hooked on pain pills and alcohol just as easily as Americans.

The difference between Japan and the US has to do with life on the road. In the US, full-time promotions hardly take any time off. In Japan, several weeks of shows are followed by several weeks off. In the US, even regional promotions required large amounts of travel time (to say nothing of national). In Japan, tour stops are rarely more than a couple hours apart. Sometimes a tour doesn’t even leave Tokyo!

US wrestlers have less time to hit the gym, thus they need more shortcuts (ie. steroids, HGH) to stay in shape. US wrestlers have less time to rest their joints and see doctors. US wrestlers have very little time to spend at home, which is stressful and harms family life. The end result is that excessively gassed wrestlers put a bigger toll on their bodies and require copious amounts of narcotics (legal and/or illegal) just to get through until a serious injury gives them actual time off.

How much can really be done? In Japan, tour and taping schedules have long caused several weeks to pass before even important matches make air. That wouldn’t be tolerable given the modern monthly PPV system, which is fed by weekly TV shows so long periods of time off doesn’t seem plausible. Nothing can be done about the distance between shows. Of all the fixes, only one stands out as something that would kill fewer wrestlers without really killing business: fewer house shows.

Let’s take WWE for example. If they ran 30% fewer house shows, which would be in the neighborhood of 20% fewer shows overall, they could schedule many more consecutive days off. Throw in the occasional ‘two weeks of shows taped in one’ and it would be possible to give wrestlers an entire week off without doing much harm to the TV/PPV cycle. Doubling the time off for wrestlers would make life on the road exponentially easier. Oh, but what about revenue?

House shows rarely sell out in the US. If they run fewer house shows, that means getting rid of the marginal ones. Ignoring a few small markets and doing a couple less events in major markets wouldn’t significantly impact ratings, it would cause less than a 30% decline in house show revenue, and ‘live event’ revenue is only a piece of WWE’s pie to begin with. Fewer injuries on house shows and less wear-and-tear on the roster would help the TV product, as would improved morale. WWE invests in making its superstars, so any who burn out or die represent a loss. Losing someone like Eddie Guerrero is hard to quantify on an earnings report but it has to mean quite a lot of lost revenue, and when you add names like Jericho, Lesnar, RVD and Big Show who left the company because of ‘the road’ you’re talking about very real money.

The Japanese model works for Japan, it can’t work for the US. That doesn’t mean that WWE should remain fixated on short-term profits at the expense of long-term business, and more importantly, human lives. Misawa has wrestled for all intents and purposes non-stop for 26 years despite countless top-rope and head-drop landings. Chances are he significantly out-lives ten or more wrestlers under WWE contract who weren’t even born when he debuted. It doesn’t have to be that way.