A Modest Response

Welcome to a very special A Modest Response. If you weren’t aware, David Ditch of Inside Pulse’s Puroresu Pulse is just about the most respected name in Puro this side of Meltzer (and in some circles, even more so than the Meltz). This simple fact isn’t mentioned nearly enough so to give some more recognition to the Ditch, this week we’ll begin with an interview where we can get his thoughts on some burning questions of Puro. If you’re a TNA fan, below the Ditch section will be my thoughts on Phil Clark’s analysis of TNA vs. NJPW Part 2.

Pulse Glazer: Why do you prefer the 1990s AJPW tag matches to the singles matches?

David Ditch: With a two-on-two or three-on-three tag involving quality wrestlers, it’s easy to avoid a number of pitfalls that beset so many singles matches. For one thing, the pace tends to be quicker since nobody has to be in the ring the entire time. For another, you get the benefit of having a variety of matchups as the match progresses, keeping things interesting. This in turn allows multiple interwoven stories to be told in a single match. Finally, there’s less need for a wrestler to quickly shake off damage and go on offense in a tag, something that happens regularly in singles bouts and can be very annoying to watch.
AG: You have Toshiaki Kawada and Jumbo Tsuruta as one and two all time in ring. Which ranks ahead of the other and why?

Ditch: I rate Jumbo Tsutura higher because he did a better job of adapting to new styles and the passing of time. Kawada was never as good a technical wrestler as ’70s-era Jumbo, and old grumpy over-the-hill Jumbo in the ’90s was much more effective than today’s Kawada trying to wrestle like he’s ten years younger.
AG: How do you compare the 1990s New Japan junior work with the 1990s All Japan heavyweight work?

Ditch: Each has its merits and demerits. New Japan’s juniors were able to keep submissions relevant as finishers, whereas in All Japan submissions were very rare after about 1992. The juniors were also able to just go out and wrestle a satisfying 10-15 minute match, while All Japan’s heavyweights seemed bound to going at least 20 every time. That said, All Japan’s heavyweights did get more time to work with on average, and they used it to put on absolute masterpieces that simply can’t be done in the middle of the card. Also, I much prefer the All Japan heavyweight style due to the way striking factored into things. Not only is it fun to watch Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Hansen et al dish out punishment, but the striking gave them the ability to add a lot of depth and excitement to things like transitions and setting up moves. The juniors style tends to be more spot-spot-reversal-spot, and it just isn’t as compelling. Last but not least, the juniors just didn’t have anywhere near the volume of great tag matches, though again the amount of time they had was much less.

AG: Who is your favorite 1990s NJPW junior and what was your favorite match in the style?

Ditch: Two ties. Liger is Liger, enough superlatives have been piled on him over the years. Ohtani’s run in the middle of the decade was something special, has he did absolutely everything to near perfection. To go along with this, they’re involved in my favorite matches of the style: Liger vs Sano from January ’90, and Ohtani vs El Samurai from January ’96. The former is a great ending to a rivalry, and the latter is a hybrid of MMA-influenced technical work and slick juniors action. If you go down my top ten, Liger and/or Ohtani might be in all of them.

AG: What is your take on UWFi and other worked shoot promotions? Could it be recreated and should it?

Ditch: I enjoy the style in some instances but not to the extent of some people. The grappling can be quite dramatic when done by the masters of the style, but at the same time it’s much more constrained than normal pro wrestling rules and there’s less ability to tell a story as a result. It can’t really be recreated on the scale it was 15 years ago because the MMA genie is out of the bottle. U-Style made a good try of things a couple years ago and closed after a dozen or so shows.

AG: Who is the best gaijin to work Japan? Who doesn’t get enough credit? Why? Who is the worst of the major names?

Ditch: So many greats had a big impact on Japan. Guys like Thesz, Race, and Flair defending the NWA title, Hansen and Vader as foreign monsters, the Funk brothers doing so well that they became the first major gaijin babyfaces, and the list goes on. Hard to pick who the ‘best’ was. Match for match I favor The Destroyer, someone who in his prime could have great matches with anyone and who was a master at making his opponent look like gold. Destroyer doesn’t get enough credit because his prime was in the ’60s, and not much footage from then is available today. ‘Worst’ of the major names is tricky because wrestlers like Tiger Jeet Singh are probably only considered ‘major’ in Japan. Big-name US stars who toured Japan tended to be good, since if they weren’t able to cut it in the ring they wouldn’t be requested.

Current Puro Questions

AG: What is your take on deathmatches? You’ve been outpoken in your love of Big Japan this year. What’s so good? Who and what should we look out for?

Ditch: I’m not a fan of deathmatches that are mostly loose brawling through a crowd. Big Japan’s deathmatch division in recent years has become focused on in-ring action and a faster pace, with some great results. At the same time they don’t use much in the way of psychology, and often butcher themselves for mediocre results. Thankfully Big Japan has more to it than deathmatches, this year especially. Their non-deathmatch heavyweights wrestle a simple style, often utilizing timeless themes like “underdog against star” and “home team versus outsiders”. The July 30th 6-man tag with one team headed by BJPW’s Sekimoto and the other from New Japan headed by Nakanishi is an incredibly enjoyable match with lots of intensity and crowd heat. Sekimoto, Inoue, Mammoth Sasaki and others provide Big Japan with multiple matches per show that can deliver.
AG: Who would you consider the ace for each major company? Who is the best worker on each roster for the big three (New Japan, All Japan and NOAH)? How does the top of the card for each roster match up?

Ditch: New Japan’s ace is hard to say now that Nagata’s reign ended in somewhat bumpy fashion; I’d say Nagata ans Tanahashi are co-aces. NOAH’s ace is also hard to say, because Kobashi was the ace when he left and he hasn’t had a title shot since losing it in March ’05. All Japan’s ace would seem to be Sasaki, but his title reign is still young and he’s a freelancer. In 2003 there were clear aces (Nagata, Kobashi, Kawada)… not so much right now. Best wrestler is also hard to say exactly, no one person has been consistently great for the entire year. As far as the top of the card goes, All Japan is a distant third, with just two top names under contract and two big freelancers. The status of NOAH’s upper card depends on factors like “will Takayama ever do big singles matches again” and “when does Rikio return” and “can Morishima cut it as a champion” and “will Kobashi be back full-time”. They could potentially have the best by far, but as of this summer things weren’t looking so good. New Japan seems to have a good thing going with the Tanahashi/Nakamura/Makabe/Goto new generation crew, and they still have older names like Nagata and Chono, so they seem to be in the best shape due to a lack of question marks.

AG: In your opinion what goes into a great match? What are your top 5 matches this year?

Ditch: My top five puro bouts this year are quite varied. There’s many ways to have a great match. Tanahashi vs Nagata from April is on top, with all the elements of a great Japanese heavyweight match: structure, technique, impact, build. It’s not something I expect to win MOTY honors when all is said and done but I expect it will hold up quite nicely. Then comes Kobashi’s return, which is incredibly dramatic and emotional, and which does a wonderful job as a ‘return match’ thanks to how everyone performed in it. Marufuji & Ibushi vs KENTA & Ishimori is a big flashy juniors match with loads of spots, and I’d put it ahead of any tag involving Marufuji and KENTA going back at least three years. The July 30th 6-man in Big Japan that I mentioned earlier is somewhat ‘small’ by comparison to the others but it works on such a basic level and harkens back to interpromotional feuds of old. There are a couple other matches that I might put in at 5th, including the Dragon Gate 3-way 3-man tag on June 5th and the GHC tag title match from April 28th, and those are also distinct. One is a sprint, the other is an underdog trying to make it big. Plenty of diversity in the top ranks of 2007 puro, showing a fraction of the countless ways to put on a great match. That’s why I love pro wrestling.
AG: Tanahashi or Nakamura are considerred the future of NJPW. Which do you consider to be superior and why?

Ditch: Tanahashi, by virtue of having more charisma. Both have shown the ability to tear the house down when they absolutely have to, and considering how much better Tanahashi has looked as a headliner compared to Nakamura in 2003-2005, I lean towards Tanahashi.
AG: Who is the best junior working regularly for each of the big three? Who from the smaller promotions can compare?

Ditch: Honestly? I’m not big on the junior divisions right now. For as much as I preferred the heavyweight scene in the ’90s, it’s even more so today. When it comes to wrestlers currently in the hunt for junior heavyweight titles I don’t expect good singles matches out of any of them. Naturally, Your Mileage May Vary.
AG: What do you think of Dragon Gate’s growth, particularly them outdrawing NOAH and NJPW outside of Tokyo? What’s their peak?

Ditch: Dragon Gate hasn’t grown all that much. The fact that they regularly fail to sell out Korakuen is not a good sign, and they still only use Kobe World Hall once a year. They certainly don’t do better than New Japan outside Tokyo. They seem to do better at putting their big matches in places that can seat over 3,000, something they didn’t do so much before. I’m wary of Dragon Gate’s future, as they seem to be struggling to create another big mainstream name besides CIMA.
AG: Nakajima- pushed too hard too fast or one of the top juniors in Japan and worthy of the attention? Can you parallel him with anyone? He looks to be a huge star and I’d love your thoughts.
Ditch: Tons of potential. I’m not a big fan of the recent All Japan juniors division bouts; too many finishers, too little selling. That said, Nakajima has lots of ability and personality, and clearly is driven. I can’t think of any wrestler debuting and touring at such a young age in Japan. The closest parallel I can think of is Lebron James, though Nakajima isn’t quite THAT good. I see Nakajima becoming a heavyweight soon.

AG: Could the Kobashi return lead to a long term resurgence for NOAH? How should it be handled?

Ditch: If Kobashi is back for years to come and can wrestle full tours, he can absolutely breathe new life into the company. He’s the draw and it never hurts to put butts in the seats. If he can do full tours, he should be given a title reign within the next two years and then ‘pass the torch’ to someone who can actually carry it. Rikio as it turns out was not that person.
AG: How big of a name do you think Angle is in Japan and can he be a major draw for the NJPW vs. TNA card?

Ditch: Angle combines mainstream wrestling appeal with legitimacy. In the US, being legit only means so much. In Japan it’s a huge plus, and if Angle went from WWE to Japan in 2003 he could have been huge. Today he’s just not as good in-ring and sporadic appearances don’t help him. For the January 4th Tokyo Dome show, Angle is the only meaningful draw from TNA, but whether he is enough to sell tens of thousands of tickets remains to be seen. Somehow I doubt it.
AG: What is the ultimate current all-Japanese dream match? What is the current best Japan vs. America dream match?

Ditch: The current Japanese dream match for active wrestlers is probably Kobashi vs Kawada. During their All Japan years the matchup wasn’t Tokyo Dome worthy, but now that Kobashi is “Mr. Puroresu” and Kawada is the anti-NOAH, they would draw a big crowd. As far as a Japan vs America dream match, that’s tricky because “Match of the Year” dream matches wouldn’t draw well, and matches that would draw well wouldn’t get a lot of snowflakes.
AG: How do you compare the NOAH guys American work with what they do in Japan? Who have you enjoyed most? Who have you enjoyed most of the ROH guys in NOAH and why?

Ditch: There isn’t a lot of difference, other than the fact that they have to wrestle mostly first-time matchups in ROH. As far as who I enjoyed most, probably KENTA followed by Morishima, though in both cases their best work was a result of being in there with Bryan Danielson. As chance would have it, Danielson is the answer to the last question as well.
AG: What current American would fit best in terms of look and style as a major player in Japan?

Ditch: Brock Lesnar if he was motivated, Kurt Angle if he could wrestle more than once a month in Japan, and other than that I’m not sure. Someone like Albert, now known as Giant Bernard, was mostly forgettable in the US but made an impact in Japan. Jamal didn’t do much until he went to Japan and was able to return as the monster Umaga. Who knows what mediocre heavyweights could turn into greats in Japan? Any number of non-heavyweights could be effective in Japan but not at a ‘major player’ level. Japan is in many ways more size-discriminatory than Vince McMahon.
AG: What do you think of Danielson? Is him winning the GHC jr title realistic? If it isn’t, what would be a realistic peak for ROH gaijin in NOAH? How is the relationship beneffiting each company?

Ditch: I think Danielson is the best in the world. As far as what’s the best an ROH wrestler can do in NOAH, that depends on what ROH can commit to. NOAH wrestlers can work most ROH shows since they get weeks off at a time and ROH only runs on weekends. ROH wrestlers on tour with NOAH will be unavailable for several weeks in a row, and the ones good enough to hold a title (ie. Danielson) are too valuable for ROH to lose. Especially now that they’ve expanded into PPV. As far as what the relationship provides, ROH gets international stars for DVD-selling dream matches, while NOAH wrestlers gain valuable experience and a lot more overseas exposure than they would otherwise. Wrestlers who go back and forth are able to make good money. Everyone wins!

Glazer: Thanks for taking the time David!

A Modest Response: Phil Clark’s The Reality of Wrestling: NJPW vs. TNA Part 2

Match 1: THIS IS WAR! ~NONSTOP RISING~: Milano Collection AT, Minoru & Prince Devitt vs. Christian Cage, AJ Styles, & Petey Williams

Phil sees this as proof that TNA is taking this seriously and making this part of a storyline. I see the throwaway TNA team as a haphazard assortment because TNA doesn’t care who goes where on this card. Ultimately, that’s not what matters. Ignoring Petey and Devitt for a moment, since both are solid but neither is anything special, we have Cage, mostly a brawler, against AJ, Milano, and Minoru, consummate Juniors. AJ will, hopefully, go back to his normal style for Japan and because of that this could be special. Milano and Minoru are both very flashy, very good submission wrestlers who can flat out go. They and AJ should be awesome, particularly if AJ is in the mood to sell properly. If not then Cage likely will and AJ would make a hell of a flashy tag after that, as would Petey. There’s just too much talent here for this to be bad and I’m really looking forward to it since Milano and Minoru simply rarely have bad matches. I expect the TNA team to win because of Cage’s presence, though Petey does give them a fall guy.

Match 2: IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Wataru Inoue (c) vs. Christopher Daniels

This won’t be so good. Daniels does, as Phil suggests, have some drawing power, but at this point in his career, he just isn’t that good. He’s a solid worker with some nice flash, but besides some body work doesn’t add any real character or intensity to his matches. Inoue is good, but won’t carry Daniels to anything special. This should be solid and the Fallen Angel will job.

Match 3: Japanese Muscle Monster vs. The American Monster: Manabu Nakanishi vs. Abyss

Nakanashi is good and over and really, too high up the card to lose to Abyss whose main job is to look good in defeat. That’s what he’ll do here. This will be stiff and fun.

Match 4: NEW JAPAN vs. The Alliance GROUND ZERO: Takashi Iizuka, Koji Kanemoto, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Masato Tanaka, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Yutaka Yoshie & Katsushi Takemura

This will be an entertaining spotfest. For the uninitiated everyone here is at least good. Tiger Mask IV can be spectacular, while Kanemoto and Taguchi are very good wrestlers. Tanaka is among the most underrated wrestlers in the world and can take a big spotfest then add much needed story. He’s a bit much on fighting spirit, but really, with all the juniors to bounce off him, this will be mighty fun. New Japan should win since they have most of the big name juniors and the two (maybe three) best wrestlers in the match.

Match 5: GET THE TABLE! GET THE HIGHEST! – Hardcore Match: Togi Makabe & Toru Yano vs. “Team 3D” Brother Ray & Brother Devon

I love the name of this match. Makabe and Yano are, as Ditch noted, the Tag Team of the Year in Japan (though Tomko and Bernard deserve it more), so with that award expect them to be further built for a tag title shot. The former Dudleyz kind of suck horribly now, so I don’t expect much.

Match 6: ONE NIGHT STAND ~LEGEND vs. VBH~: Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono, Super Strong Machine, Jushin Thunder Liger & AKIRA vs. Jado, Gedo, TARU, Shoji Kondo & “brother” YASSHI

This is one of the coolest effing matches I’ve ever seen. Choshu is old, but a legitimate legend and ridiculously over. Chono is one of the Three Musketeers who ruled 1990s NJPW, Liger is the best junior ever and has been seen stateside in WCW having classics with Bryan Pillman and Rey Misterio and even visited ROH where he wrestled Danielson at the Weeekend of Thunder. Super Strong Machine is another legend, Jinji Harata, who is an important man in the office, tag specialist, and a Chono loyalist. AKIRA is an on again off again junior who can always bring it and has been around for three decades, finally joining up with long time rival Jushin Liger.

Their opponents are what make this so interesting. They are facing a ton of pure heels. The sheer heelishness that these monster faces and legends will encounter guarantee this to be a blast. Kondo, by the way, is among the best junior workers in the world. I totally echo the love Phil has bestowed on this match and fully expect it to steal the show.

Match 7: Generation of Chaos: Hirooki Goto vs. Great Muta

Goto is in the midst of a huge push since his return. First, he beat perennial contender Tenzan, then he managed to have a great match for the IWGP strap with Tanahashi. Fortunately for Goto, it was Tanahashi chosen to be his big match as Tana is the best in the world (non-Danielson division) and carried him to a great match. Goto’s uber-push looks to continue as defeating Muta isn’t as big of a deal as beating the normal Mutoh so he looks to win. I don’t expect much, but the Goto uber-push will continue.

Match 8: IWGP Tag Team Title: Giant Bernard & Travis Tomko (c) vs. Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner

The Steiners are legitimate draws and legends in Japan. That doesn’t change how badly broken down they are and how bad this match will be. For those that don’t know, Giant Bernard is the former Prince Albert of WWE and he has become the best big man wrestler in the world today bar none. Won’t matter though, the Steiners are done. I can, unfortunately, see a Steiner win here just because they are so over in Japan.

Match 9: Final Resolution~REAL vs. Justice~IWGP 3rd Belt: Kurt Angle (c) vs. Yuji Nagata

Three years ago I would have killed any one of you to see this match. Nagata is still among the best, even if he is slightly overrated. He’s a submission master who can throw suplexes with the best of them. It’s easy to see why this would be a dream match with Angle, yet Kurt is so utterly broken down, all he seems to do now is spam the ankle lock and Angle slam. He’s also forgotten how to sell and make others look good. Expect a load of submissions here, but also expect Nagata to take the belt to build to a match with the winner of the main event since there needs to be a unification match.

Match 10: IWGP Heavyweight Title: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura is the supernova, mega-pushed future ace of the company. Tanahashi is a better wrestler with more charisma though, but hasn’t takent he world by storm in the same way. If Nakamura hadn’t been injured at the G1 Climax, he’d be champion right now. I expect this to rectify that as Nakamura should win. That isn’t the point to me. The point is these two are the future of wrestling in Japan and this should be a classic. Clark had an awesome list of the elite company these two join by headlining two dome shows. Nakamura will establish himself as the ace here then go on to solidify that by beating Nagata and unifying the titles. Tanahashi better not get lost though, as he’s still fantastic and just no longer has bad matches, elevating everyone he faces. Seriously, getting Americans a glimpse of these two stars against each other is the real draw of this show for me.

This show is all about NJPW, despite TNA sending over announcers and camera crews. This is the big one and really, I’d expect attendence to be great on the strength of Angle, the drawing power of the legends stable, and the clear classic in the making of the main event. This can’t be oversold and is a much needed supercard even without the TNA involvement. The only thing that could make it better would be a Murder City Machine Guns match, but we can’t have everything.

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