Section 1- Results
All Japan: Mutoh & Joe Doering won the tag league for some reason.
Dragon Gate: The semis of King of Gate were CIMA beating Mochizuki and Gamma beating Dragon Kid (after taking his mask and cradling him). Then in the finals, Gamma low blowed CIMA so hard that they had to end the match. Dragon Gate tried to salvage things by having local boy Dragon Kid win an impromptu rematch with Gamma. So why won the tournament? Nobodyâ€™s really sure. Yoshino retained the lightweight title against Yokosuka on Sunday.
Inoki Genome: Their latest show did less than 50% of tickets sold, it had no announced card, Booker missed his flight, and the main event featured Tadao Yasuda. This one is best left alone.
New Japan: Notable results from the 12/8 and 12/9 shows include Wataru Inoue taking the junior title from Taguchi, Tanahashi beating Bernard in a non-title match, and Nakamura beating Makabe to get the 1/4 title shot.
Section 2- News
All Japan: Mutoh & Doering get a shot at Kojima & TARU on 1/3.
Dragon Gate: Team Mochizuki puts up the trios titles on the 15th against Hidaka, Togo & Sawa.
New Japan: MUGA, which has now changed its name to Dradition (not a typo), has started a relationship with NJ and will have a presence at the Tokyo Dome show. So why MUGA in the first place? Anyway, also added to the card is Inoue defending the junior title against Christopher Daniels, Hirooki Goto vs Great Muta, Bernard & Tomko vs The Steiners for the tag titles, and Nakanishi vs Abyss.
NOAH: Kensuke Sasaki will return on the 20th, but for some reason theyâ€™re bringing him in as part of a rookie trial series for Taniguchi. On the 6th, Kanemaru defends the junior title against Rocky Romero.
Section 3- Happy New Shills
My goodness look at it all!
Phil on the Dome show, again
Jakeâ€™s first Spotlightâ€¦
Last but not least, Aaron grills me about puro and I respond at some length. This took longer than anything Iâ€™ve written in the last six months!
Section 4- How I fared for â€™07
Last year I predicted big things for the following names: Danielson, Kawada, Kobashi, Mochizuki, Morishima, Nagata, Kensuke Sasaki, Sekimoto and Takayama. How did they do?
Danielson: Only did a couple NOAH tours, and while he performed well he hasnâ€™t become a regular gaijin for them. Iâ€™d guess that most of that has to do with ROH needing the services of its ace full-time as it expands to pay-per-view status. Nigel McGuinness has been in NOAH less as well, for the same reason I imagine. 0 for 1.
Kawada: I anticipated a shift from HUSTLE to All Japan. I was wrong. And he didnâ€™t even work HUSTLEMANIA. 0 for 2.
Kobashi: His return was grand, but December? 0 for 3.
Mochizuki: Was in two of the first three title matches in Dragon Gate, has become a featured player in the Zero-One junior scene, had a big match with Kanemoto, and is the top guy for any combination he tags with in DG. I expected more but he still had a big year. 1 for 4.
Morishima: I expect anyone reading this knows how his year went. 2 for 5.
Nagata: Oh yeah. Starts the year with a Triple Crown shot, win the NJ cup, wins the IWGP title in a classic battle, defends the belt twice, G-1 final, and finally he drops the belt at Sumo Hall. I expected a longer reign, and his successful defenses were at Korakuen Hall, but this was still his most high-profile year since â€™03 and he was certainly an impact player. 3 for 6.
Nakamura: Could very well have won the G-1 Climax and the IWGP title, but an injury derailed it. 3 for 7.
Sasaki, Kensuke: Won the Triple Crown and is now the ace of All Japan, plus Kensuke Office is growing. 4 for 8.
Sekimoto: Beat K-Dojoâ€™s ace Kengo Mashimo, won Zero-Oneâ€™s singles title and defended it a couple times, had a feud with Nakanishi, was in the stacked Fire Festival field, continued to be Big Japanâ€™s top non-deathmatch wrestler, wrestled in the main event of a New Japan-backed LOCK-UP showâ€¦ yeah. This was his biggest year yet. 5 for 9.
Takayama: Plenty of good tags, but no notable singles matches and none in sight. I suspect heâ€™s taking it easy, which is perfectly reasonable after having a stroke. Still, it does count against him as a top name. 5 for 10.
So, who was big in â€™07 that I didnâ€™t expect?
CIMA: As soon as Liger was announced as coming into Dragon Gate, it was going to be the year of CIMA. Jae of Dragon Gate USA never hesitated to say that CIMA beating Liger in the main event of the annual Kobe World Hall event was a mortal lock, and thatâ€™s what happened. Plus, CIMAâ€™s Typhoon stable has made waves in NOAH, ROH, PWG and more. Another big year for Dragon Gateâ€™s top star.
Makabe: Not exactly Mr. Psychology, but his heel charisma was enough to make him one of the featured players in NJ, including the NJ Cup final, the G-1 semifinals, an IWGP title shot, and a series of matches with Nakamura. Plus he took his act to Apache Pro and dominated that promotion for several months. I doubt heâ€™ll be as big as Goto long-term, but I do expect him to get at least one or two mini-pushes a year.
Misawa: I expected his title reign to end early in 2007, maybe right away. I certainly didnâ€™t expect him to go through the entire young generation, plus Sano and Taue, and wrap things up with his first pinfall on Kobashi since the start of NOAH. All things considered, this has to be his last hurrah.
Tanahashi: Like CIMA, I expected him to cool off from a hot 2006, and he didnâ€™t. Tanahashi was in 5 of the 7 IWGP title matches, he won the G-1 Climax, he was the two most highly touted singles matches of the year, he won numerous awards, and heâ€™s now embraced by hardcore fans as worthy of the hype he had been given by the company for years. Tanahashi will wind up being the top NJ Dojo product since the Nagata/Kojima/Tenzan/Ohtani group.
Masato Tanaka: Came back lean, won Zero-Oneâ€™s heavyweight and junior-heavyweight tournaments, and mixed it up with Nagata during Ohtaniâ€™s anniversary match.
Section 5- My picks for 2008
For â€™07 I picked ten wrestlers who werenâ€™t â€œbig in â€˜06â€. This year Iâ€™ve got several who I either picked or should have picked for â€™07.
Akiyama: You know how I know Kobashiâ€™s return will revitalize him? He was SMILING while taking Kobashiâ€™s machine-gun chops. Maybe not the best moment for kayfabe, but certainly an indication that he knows where his bread is buttered. If he and Kobashi face off one-on-one, thereâ€™s an instant Budokan sellout. Even if they donâ€™t I expect many heated tag battles, and hopefully heâ€™ll fully recover from the disappointing â€™06 title reign.
Doi & Yoshino: I wasnâ€™t expecting to pick a team, but here we are. Dragon Gate/Toryumon is a system known for trios matches, especially with its lucha roots, but the 2-man tag scene really picked up in 2007. They now have the Dragon Gate and NOAH (junior) tag titles, Yoshino has the DG lightweight title, and Doi has emerged as a potential big-belt holder himself. With Dragon Gateâ€™s main title dragged down by the antics of Gamma for at least part of the year, the tag division could well be the highlight of the junior heavyweight scene. These two will certainly be the highlight of said division, and in two companies no less.
Goto: For a â€˜partial yearâ€™ in 2007 he did much more than Kobashi. Returned with a new physique and generated a lot of buzz right away, then proceeded to plow through one opponent after another with his new finisher. Sent Tenzan packing in October and looked like he was about ready for the spotlight, then went all-out in November against Tanahashi in a match that probably cemented him as a centerpiece of NJâ€™s heavyweight division for years to come. All this from someone who was a somewhat green part of the junior division in 2005! More mainstream, professional and adaptable than Makabe, heâ€™s bound to be in title matches and tournament finals.
Ibushi: The DDT star who made an impression at the â€™05 Differ Cup tournament continues to be one of the indy sceneâ€™s brightest stars. With the Independent Junior Title in hand, a successful NOAH tour under his belt and the â€˜green boyâ€™ stigma behind him, Kota Ibushi could be a major player in the junior scene.
Kobashi: One match back and heâ€™s already Mr. Puroresu. The X-factor is whether or not he can return for full tours. If he can, then it will almost be assured that heâ€™s Puro MVP for 2008. If he doesnâ€™t, and/or if he sticks to tags like Takayama, the air could come out very quickly. Fans want to see NOAH ace Kobashi, and thatâ€™s who showed up at Budokan Hall on December 2nd, but the same could be said about Takayamaâ€™s return. Whether 100% or not, Kobashi will have the most impact on puro by a wide margin.
Kojima: The long-teased Sasaki vs Kojima Triple Crown match seems certain to happen this year. It should be All Japanâ€™s biggest bout of 2008, and Iâ€™d say Kojima should be favored to win. Will the heel turn make his second reign more successful than the first? Weâ€™ll see.
Morishima: In addition to continued exposure in ROH, Morishima is at least even money to unseat Misawa come March. Winning the GHC title is nice, but winning it after Kobashiâ€™s return would mean far more than it would have last year. Hopefully his reign as ROH champ will have seasoned him enough to have the first good GHC reign since Kobashiâ€™s ended.
Nakamura: I remember saying he was the favorite to win the 2003 G-1 Climax, then 2004, then 2005. Maybe he wonâ€™t win in 2008, but I do expect him to finally get his first major post-Inoki push this year. Heâ€™s been hampered by the taint of Inoki-ism, the hastiness of his 2003/2004 pushes, and his struggle to figure out what style suits him best. Politics aside he has loads of ability and is seen as legitimately credible, so if he stays healthy he seems a logical choice to follow up the Tokyo Dome spotlight with more big matches.
Mammoth Sasaki: New year, new Sasaki. A favorite of many indy scene followers for the last few years, Mammoth is a fun big-man wrestler in more of a Gordy/Morishima mold than a â€˜fighting spiritâ€™ mold. He could easily follow in the footsteps of Sekimoto and not only be all over the indy scene, but also break into the more â€˜respectableâ€™ leagues. Already heâ€™s had some exposure in Zero-One and NOAHâ€™s SEM promotion.
Yoshihito Sasaki: Two Sasakiâ€™s? Why not. Yoshihito got a big win by pinning Masato Tanaka in Tanakaâ€™s return match. He was one of the favorites in the Fire Festival field, he beat Sekimoto for Zero-Oneâ€™s singles title, and he and Sekimoto have held Big Japanâ€™s tag titles for a while now. Yoshihito came up in FMW and struggled to get past the â€˜young lionâ€™ label, until he started getting some wins in 2006. Now he seems poised to become one of Zero-Oneâ€™s top names for the future.
Next Time: Year-End Review! With special guests!