Puroresu Pulse, issue 118: Two moonsaulting returns

Section 1- Results

Dragon Gate: All titles were retained on the 11/25 show, including CIMA vs Shingo going over half an hour. They drew very well at Osaka Prefectural Gym for the show. Also on the card they seem to have sent Kenzo Suzuki packing. Notable results from round 1 of King of Gate include Dragon Kid over Shingo, BB Hulk over Ryo Saito, and Austin Aries over Doi.

HUSTLE: Hustlemania featured Sapp over HG and Sakata over Esperanza.

NOAH: Kobashi returned at an overstuffed and red-hot Nippon Budokan show on Sunday, looking good though he was pinned by Misawa. Morishima beat Marufuji and will be Misawa’s challenger at the next Budokan show (in March). Earlier in the tour, Marufuji & Sugiura retained the tag titles over Saito & Bison Smith while Doi & Yoshino won the junior tag belts. Ricky Marvin broke a leg early in the title switch.

Section 2- News

Dragon Gate: After Yokosuka beat Yoshino in King of Gate round 1, he will challenge Yoshino for the lightweight title on 12/23. Second round matches for King of Gate include Dragon Kid vs Yokosuka and CIMA vs Aries.

NOAH: Doi & Yoshino defend the GHC junior tag belts on the 12/28 Dragon Gate card, against Kanemaru & Aoki.

Section 3- Tis the season to be shilling

The All Japan ‘90s vote has been extended! You have two more months to watch the goodness and submit your ballot!

Glazer wants to make Cary and Gabe rich. That’s sweet of him!

Phil has doubts about the GPWA. I hear that.

Phil compares WWE and TNA’s big acquisitions.

Section 4- Kobashi’s return and what it means for NOAH’s 2008

First off, for those of you who haven’t seen the Kobashi return match, you really should.

Kobashi was able to draw NOAH’s first sellout since the July show with Takayama’s return, and it was a fast sellout, and they charged extra for tickets. If that isn’t proof that Kobashi is the biggest star in puro I don’t know what is. His absence caused a dramatic decline in NOAH’s business and product. His return changes everything. Having rested his joints for 3 of the last 6 years, and with cancer hopefully beaten, Kobashi should be able to do his thing for a while to come. Kobashi with the GHC title is a matter of when, not if. He can elevate NOAH’s young stars far better than Misawa, Akiyama or Taue. Now the question is how NOAH can best capitalize on having puro’s MVP back.

It all starts on 3/2/08 when Misawa faces Morishima. This decade’s title reigns have tended to see repeat challengers win, and considering all that Morishima did since his last match with Misawa now would tend to be the time to give him the belt. Meanwhile, Kobashi is not going to be on every show, I’d guess because they want to see how much he can handle. Why someone who might not be capable of wrestling full-time takes a top-rope emerald frosion… well that’s Japan for you. I expect Kobashi to be full-time before long. Assuming Misawa drops to Morishima, two more singles matches seem destined to happen in 2008: Misawa vs Kobashi and Morishima vs Kobashi. The former because Kobashi got pinned, the latter as a result of it. Kobashi needs to earn a title shot and what better way than beating Misawa?

I’ve seen a fair amount of puro fans talk about wanting to see Misawa vs Kobashi be for the GHC title. I think that’s overkill. Fans will go into the match expecting it to be their final epic, and the title would be secondary by quite a lot. After 12 singles matches between 1995 and 2000, they’ve had 1 in the 7 year history of NOAH (not counting their 10 minute ‘random match’ draw on a year-end show). Fans are dying to see it. The instant it gets announced for Nippon Budokan the place will sell out, meaning NOAH should do now what they also should have done in 2003: book the dome.

Of any match that’s politically viable in the realm of Japanese professional wrestling, Misawa vs Kobashi is the only one I can think of that belongs at the Tokyo Dome. If it can quickly sell 16,000 to fill the Budokan, it should be able to muster up at least 25,000 if not 30,000 for the dome by itself. With a decent undercard including a Morishima title defense against a big name, maybe calling up some favors through the semi-defunct GPWA, that can add another 5,000 tickets. One more promotional gimmick and the dome will be filled, perhaps the last time a pro wrestling company does so. Three words: one last time.

With the glacial pace at which NOAH does rematches it would be another two or three years before Misawa vs Kobashi would come up, and by that point Misawa wouldn’t be in any condition to pull off an epic. He’s not really in any condition to do so today for that matter, but that’s beside the point. If the 2010/2011 iteration of the match would be a life-threatening disappointment, why do it when you can have them finish the series in a reasonably satisfying manner and sell out the dome in the process? NOAH had the top show of 2005 and looked like the top dog in the industry; their prestige would get a big boost if they do the same in 2008.

Naturally, Kobashi would pin Misawa and go on to challenge Morishima, which would be another packed Budokan Hall. Who wins? That depends on how much Kobashi still has in the tank. If they think Kobashi only has a couple years left, then Kobashi wins and Morishima gets to end that reign. If Kobashi will hang around even close to as long as Misawa, then having Morishima retain before dropping to Kobashi in 2009 would work out nicely. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The point is, NOAH has many good options to have a vastly more successful year than they did in ’06 and ’07, and if they play it out right they can come close to matching ’05. If Kobashi sticks around a while they won’t have the bottom fall out like they did last year, and hopefully with the spotlight back on the company the young generation will be able to fully break out. Rikio flopped, KENTA and Marufuji might be on the small side, but there’s still a lot of potential in Morishima and Shiozaki. New Japan has cultivated its headliners for the next decade, and now NOAH can as well.

Section 5- American Balloon, 1 year later

When we last left the American Balloon he had just completed a few shows in DDT. After that he fully relocated to Japan, briefly returned to the US, and broke into Zero-One. Here’s a Q&A filling in some of what he’s been up to!

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Q: Since we last spoke, you have become a full-time wrestler living in Japan. How soon into your time with DDT was it determined that you would become part of their roster?

A: I was never exactly a part of DDT’s roster, but it was kind of me wrestling for them on a long-term match-by-match basis. It was more or less determined by me moving full time to Japan.

Q: Did it take long for the DDT crew to accept you as one of their own?

A: I don’t know whether I was every accepted as one of their own. Of course I was a part of DDT when I wrestled for them, and I had my friends, but everybody kind of has the pro wrestling time and the personal time, and for the personal time, I only really made good friends with KUDO and Ibushi.

Q: Did you find it hard to adapt to life in Japan?

A: Living in Japan is just like living anywhere else once you get used to it. I speak Japanese so it really wasn’t a problem for me. The hardest part is the differences in culture, being able to speak freely and harshly to people younger than you, and being unable to say no to people older than you. They have a “this person is better than that person” kind of system here called Sen-pai Ko-hai.

Q: What are your personal in-ring/storyline highlights from the first year in DDT?

A: I went though a few gimmick changes, becoming a part of the Snake-humans, and becoming a hawaiian 50-year-old king. Personally, I enjoyed having two single matches with Kota Ibushi the most.

Q: On the US indy scene, the vast majority of wrestlers have a different career that they earn a living from. DDT is a Japanese indy, but does it pay enough for most of the roster to live on?

A: It varies from person to person.

(Given that on the US indy scene you can count the wrestlers without a day job on one hand, that says it pays better in Japan)

Q: How was your experience coming back to the US for Chikara’s Tag Grand Prix?

A: I had a lot of fun with Chikara and hope that I can go back there again. I consider everybody from Chikara fantastic, very creative, and very friendly.

Q: Do crowds differ much within Tokyo, say, at Shin Kiba 1st Ring compared to Korakuen? How about Tokyo compared to the rest of Japan?

A: It actually varies more depending on what promotion you are wrestling for. DDT’s crowds are more of the wanting to see strange things, incredible things, and hilarious things variety, while Zero One fans are more interested in two or more people fighting. Korakuen Hall is always fun because people are drinking there.

Q: How were you able to get to tour with Zero-One?

A: Some people brought my name up, and I introduced myself at their office. One thing lead to another.

Q: Are you happy with your first tour there? Any particular highlights?

A: I feel it was so – so, with ups and downs, and the highlights would have to be matches with Kamikaze and Takaiwa. I did get a new best friend out of the tour though I might not say who he is yet.

Q: Is Zero-One a new home promotion for you, or is DDT still your base?

A: As I am no longer with DDT and am now free, I am looking to make Zero One my base.

Q: Are there many Japanese wrestlers who speak much English?

A: I use Japanese when I speak to Japanese wrestlers, so I don’t really know well enough to rate anybody’s English, but I hear that Ryoji Sai of Zero One can speak English well, and I know that Michael Nakazawa of DDT speaks English fluently.

Q: What advice would you give to readers who want to take a trip to Japan?

A: I would say it’s a great place to visit. Japanese people are almost always more friendly in English than in Japanese, but if you can speak Japanese you’ll get a very different outlook than people who can’t, so it might be a good idea to study hard!

(Even though I took the easy way and as my friends say “gaijined” my way through two vacations, it really is best to know a decent amount of Japanese. Especially if you plan on going to nice restaurants and/or visiting the countryside).

Q: Anything else you’d like to say to the readers?

A: Get your Zero One news at zerooneusa.com and support Japanese wrestling more directly, by buying DVDs and merchandise directly from the promotion! Also, if you have a PS2, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is a must!

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Thanks again to the Balloonsaulter. Who knows what next year will bring for this gravity-flaunting young man?

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