Spotlight on Japan

Jake Mulligan here with your weekly dose of puro news. This week, we will have a detailed preview of New Japan’s Dome Show next week, a recap of Dragon Gate’s last Korakuen Hall show of the year with a few stables reforming for one night only, a recap of NOAH’s very hit-and-miss 2007, and a quick look at this weekends ROH shows, which I will be at. So with that, let’s get to it!

NEW JAPAN PRO-WRESTLING: WRESTLE KINGDOM II~!

Once again, New Japan goes to war on 1/4, as there will be a TNA vs. New Japan theme throughout the match. Many other companies will send wrestlers over also, such as Zero-One MAX, the newly formed DRADITION, and All-Japan. It’s a ten match card, so let’s go through it with some analysis and predictions (credit to Stuart at Strong Style Spirit for the card).

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

The first match of the card features juniors from the RISE faction taking on TNA representatives. With both Christian and AJ Styles, who recently said he wanted to work Japan more often, on the TNA side, I feel they are too strong to lose here. In what is sure to be a fast paced, fun opener, I see AJ Styles pinning Prince Devitt with his Styles Clash to claim a victory for TNA.

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

The easiest match on the card to predict. Daniels claimed a fall on NJ’s last PPV to build him up, so he is a viable challenger here, but all the momentum is on Wataru’s side here. He had a good 2007, rising up the card and falling in an excellent Best of Super Juniors final, before upsetting Ryusuke Taguchi for his Junior Title at the end of the year. Wataru will even up the score here in what will likely be a technically sound match, and retain his title.

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

This is a tough one to call. Both men can afford a loss here, and neither really need a win. I don’t see this getting hardcore as there is a hardcore match later on in the crowd, but I suppose I see Abyss winning a brief slugfest with the Black Hole Slam to give TNA the advantage in the series.

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

New Japan takes on a Zero-One/DRADITION combo here. I believe the man that will stand out here is Zero-One’s MVP, former ECW Champion Masato Tanaka. Tanaka has recently developed a beef with Ryusuke Taguchi, one of NJ’s top juniors. The NJ side is strong, with Taguchi and veterans Kanemoto and Tiger Mask on their side, but I feel the outsiders take it here to build an issue. Tanaka over Taguchi, in a fun (but unspectacular) juniors matchup.

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

This is a really tough one to call. GBH, of Makabe and Yano, have gotten hot quickly, winning Tokyo Sports Tag Team of the Year award, and look to be on the road to a title shot. However, this is Team 3D’s match, a hardcore match. And Team 3D do have a lot of respect in Japan. So, I predict after a lot of shenanigans to protect GBH, that Team 3D will go over, through a 3D through a table on Yano.

6. ONE NIGHT STAND ~LEGEND vs. VBH~: Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono, Jushin Thunder Liger & AKIRA vs. Jado, Gedo, TARU, Shuji Kondo & “brother” YASSHI

Legend, a super group of older NJ wrestlers, is joined in this match by Tatsumi Fujinami, fellow legend, rival to Choshu, and star of DRADITION. VBH is a combination of heel stables GBH and Voodoo Murderers. Especially with Fujinami on their side, I believe the Legend group is too strong to lose here, so I see them all unleashing their finishers on some unlucky bastard (my guess would be Gedo) before Legend leader Choshu pins them.

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

Another tough call. Muta is a huge star and the way things are booked in Japan, I would expect him to win. However, there will likely never be a rematch, and a win here could set Goto, who is surely a huge piece of NJ’s long term plans, for life. However, I feel Muta is just too big a star, and he will win a bloodbath, hopefully with Goto coming out looking better than he did going in.

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

Bernard and Tomko are the dominant gaijin tag team, the Steiners are the former dominant gaijin tag team. I feel it’s pretty clear that this will be a passing of the torch, and the Steiners name means enough in Japan that the crowd should be pretty hot for this. I say Bernard over Rick to retain.

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

This is certainly a curious match. Supposedly Angle is booked for more dates after this show. Also, he has promised to defeat Nagata in under 15 minutes, which is almost certain not to happen. Angle also works for IGF, which could be disheartening to NJ. However, I think they will work for the big money match, and put Angle over in an epic that will go to 25 minutes or so. Then Angle can be the outsider to build for the unification match.

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

Fairly confident in saying that we will see a new champion here. Supposedly, Nakamura would have won the G1 and been champion right now if he didn’t injure himself in a match with Nagata, but shit happens and Tanahashi got another reign. This should be an excellent match, and I think Nakamura is the man who would benefit most from getting the big win from Angle, so I say he wins here and goes into the unification match as strong as he can be.

And there your have it, NJ’s 1/4 Dome Show 2008. It should be an excellent show, and I will try my best to get a review up ASAP. I will have results in next weeks column, and hopefully a huge celebration of my awesome picks.

DRAGON GATE END OF YEAR SPECTACULAR

Dragon gate ran there last two shows of the year this week, with two big cards. And we have results, courtesy of jae at DGUSA. On 12/23, Dragon Gate had their second last show of the year, in Kobe Sambo Hall. At the show, Kanda and Horiguchi defeated Tozawa and Ono, retaining Tozawa-juku’s pants and forcing the juku reps to shave themselves bald. After the match, Taku Iwasa returned, and announced his first match back as happening on the first show of 2008. It will be Arai and Iwasa vs. Kanda and Horiguchi, with AraIwa getting back their stolen pants if they win, and being forced to relinquish all other pairs they have if they lose. Then, in the main event, Masato Yoshino defended his Brave Gate title against his biggest challenge yet, Susumu Yokosuka. Yoshino won in an almost 30 minute match, busting out his Sol Naciente Kai. His next challenger may be gaijin El Generico.

Dragon Gate had its last show of the year last night, in Korakuen Hall. It was a fun night, with three stables reforming. POSHearts almost reformed to battle the Muscle Outlaw’z, however, Super Shisa was injured. Dragon Kid stepped up to the plate, and donned a Shisa mask and fought besides BxB Hulk and Anthony W. Mori. Of course, Gamma spoiled the fun, pinning Mori with his Gamma Special. Speed Muscle (Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino) made their first defense of the NOAH Junior tag titles, defeating Yoshinobu Kanemaru and rookie Atsushi Aoki, Doi pinning Aoki with his sliding kick. That should settle any claims that Speed Muscle only won the belts because Marvin got injured. Their next challengers have not yet been named, but I imagine KENTA and Ishimori will eventually get a shot, probably in NOAH. In the next match, Ryo Saito knocked down Cyber Kong, pinning him with the Messenger. And then, in the main event, Blood Generation reformed for one night, with Typhoon’s CIMA, New Hazard’s Shingo Takagi, and the unaffiliated Don Fujii teaming up to take on a reformed Final M2K of the unaffiliated Masaaki Mochizuki and K-ness, along with Typhoon’s Susumu Yokosuka. The match was said to be very fun, with BloodGen busting out their old team moves and the famous KnesSuka team working well together as well (perhaps a Twin Gate shot at some point? We can only dream). Dragon Gate returns next year, with WrestleJAM 3 occurring in early January.

NOAH INVADES ROH’S FINAL BATTLE WEEKEND

I would quickly like to cover Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji’s weekend coming up, in ROH. On 12/29, Morishima faces Bryan Danielson in another chapter in their epic feud. I am starting to think Dragon will never get a singles victory, due to my long term prediction of Morishima vs. Dragon for the GHC Title in ROH late next year (obviously, with Morishima going over). I think Morishima needs to win to keep this feud going, so I see him winning a brawl clean with a number of Backdrop Drivers. Marufuji has no match announced, but due to some hints from Gabe and, kayfabe wise, show shenanigans from Larry Sweeney, I feel Marufuji vs. Claudio will main event Night One, Marufuji winning with his Pole Shift. On Night Two, Marufuji also has no match announced, and I think he will wrestle Austin Aries, and maybe go to a draw. Morishima is in a 4-way elimination main event, where I feel American Dragon will get a fall on him, eliminating him from the match without getting his full revenge, forcing the feud to continue. Tickets are almost sold out, so if you plan I going I suggest you order now.

NOAH: 2007 IN REVIEW

NOAH had a strange 2007, with the year basically spent building people up, then breaking them down, all while waiting for the savior to return. 2007 started with the infusion of more ROH talent, as on the first show of the year, the Briscoes captured the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Between the first show and the tour ender, the Briscoes only lost one match and didn’t drop a single fall, often teaming with six man partner Nigel McGuinness. However, on NOAH’s first Budokan show of the year, the streak ended, as the Briscoes lost their titles in an excellent match to the team of Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin. Also on the show, SUWA had his NOAH Farewell match, getting turned on by his partners Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki, then getting pinned by KENTA after a go 2 sleep. Then, in a disappointing main event, Mitsuharu Misawa defeated Takeshi Morishima to retain his GHC Title, suffering a concussion in the process. The stage was set for 2007, as we headed for the Navigate for Evolution tour.

Dragon Gate invaded on night one of the tour, as Yoshinobu Kanemaru was joined by Naruki Doi and Genki Horiguchi to face KENTA, Ryo Saito, and BxB Hulk. Tempers flared between KENTA and Doi, though it was never followed up on. Two nights later, the GHC Hardcore title was turned into a tag team title, as Kishin Kawabata and Kentaro Shiga, the Pen Pals, claimed the belts. Later on in the tour, in another really good match, Suzuki and Marvin made their first defense of their Junior Tag Titles, defeating ROH Representative Rocky Romero and Taiji Ishimori. The tour ender, on ¾ in Budokan Hall, saw a number of singles matches. Included were Misawa defeating breakout star Takashi Suguira in a non-title match, and, voted by fans as the main event, Takeshi Morishima beating longtime rival KENTA to retain his newly won ROH World Championship. The show did not draw exceptionally well, but the match order showed the fans were ready for the new generation.

Spring Navigation kicked off on 4/1, and is remembered for a number of really good tag team matches. On the first night of the tour, in Korakuen Hall, Takeshi Morishima and Mohammad Yone lost their GHC Tag Team Titles to Jun Akiyama and Takeshi Rikio. The new champs then challenged Takayama to find a partner and meet them in a match at the tour ender in Budokan. At the next televised show, Akiyama teamed with Go Shiozaki to take on Takayama and partner Takashi Suguira. Suguira stepped up and pinned Akiyama clean, and was then selected to be Takayama’s partner in the title match. 4/28 in Budokan Hall was one of NOAH’s best shows of the year, with a number of great matches. Typhoon invaded, as CIMA, Dragon Kid, and Susumu Yokosuka defeated the NOAH Juniors team of Naomichi Marufuji, Ricky Marvin, and Ippei Ota. Later, Mushiking Terry won the GHC Junior title from outsider Tatsuhito Takaiwa. Then, in a must see matchup, Akiyama and Rikio retained their titles in an absolute war against Takayama and Suguira, in a match where Suguira gained the respect of everyone. In a trend for the year, the main event could not live up to the undercard, as Misawa made his second defense against Takuma Sano, in a good but unspectacular matchup.

NOAH hit up a different part of Japan with their Northern Navigation tour, in mid May and early June. The tour built to two big shows, on 6/3 and 6/8. Bison Smith was granted a GHC Title shot and dominated the tour, having beaten Marufuji in 10 minutes clean in April. 6/3 was another great undercard, disappointing main event show from NOAH. In three excellent matches, KENTA beat Go Shiozaki, Ishimori pushed Marufuji to the limit (and to the Pole Shift) in a losing effort, and Marvin/Suzuki made their third defense (there second in Dragon Gate, against Speed Muscle) against Tozawa-juku reps Taku Iwasa and Keni’chiro Arai. In the main event, Misawa defeated Bison Smith, and sent him packing back to the midcard. On 6/8, Akiyama and Rikio defended their titles against outsiders D’Lo Brown and Buchanan in a good match. And with that, we went to Summer Navigation…

Summer Navigation was run with the NTV Cup, a round robin, juniors tag team tournament. Teams from ROH, NOAH, and other freelancers competed, producing many excellent matchups. It all came down to the tour ender on 7/15, where KENTA and Taiji Ishimori won the cup, defeating Naomichi Marufuji and Kota Ibushi while the Briscoes took Marvin and Suzuki to a 30 minute draw. In the main event, Misawa could not live up to the standard the juniors set, defeating Akira Taue in a very good but still, disspointing matchup with a super head drop Emerald Frosion. Misawa was left with no apparent challengers, so a tournament was set…

NOAH’s September tour was run with a 10 man, round robin heavyweights tournament to decide Misawa’s next challenger. However, outside of the heavyweight realm, KENTA and Taiji Ishimori got their shot at Suzuki and Marvin’s belts, losing in over 30 minutes. In the round robin, Rikio was forced to surrender his matches due to injury. Also, he and Akiyama had to vacate their tag titles. At the tour ender, in Budokan Hall, the new generation dominated. Naomichi Marufuji defeated Akitoshi Saito in a surprisingly great semi-final with a roll up. Then, Takeshi Morishima got the biggest win of his life, defeating Jun Akiyama. In the finals, Morishima was very winded, and fell to Marufuji’s Pole Shift, earning Marufuji the title shot. However, some big news was announced during this show. The winner of the Misawa/Marufuji match would be faced with the next challenger, an outsider. Samoa Joe was coming to NOAH. On 9/29, Marufuji got his shot, and fell to Misawa in a very sloppy matchup. The dream match was set, Misawa vs. Joe was coming…

The Autumn Navigation tour was marked by ANOTHER round robin tournament, this one to decide the new GHC Tag Team Champions. Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith were the heavy favorites, but injury befell them and they lost out. Eventually, the belts went to D’Lo Brown and Buchanan, who were then challenged by Naomichi Marufuji and Takashi Suguira. A triple main event of title matches occurred at Budokan Hall. Mushiking Terry lost his first defense of his junior title, losing to Yoshinobu Kanemaru in a surprisingly great match. In another sleeper match, Marufuji and Suguira won the titles from the gaijin, to a great crowd reaction. Once again, the main event could not live up to the hype, as Joe, who claimed a fall on Misawa two nights earlier, fell to Misawa in a fairly pedestrian match. NOAH’s final tour was coming up, marked by a Burning comeback…

NOAH’s last tour of the year featured a series of title matches, with every belt except the GHC Title defended. The GHC Hardcore title was once again made a singles belt, as Kishin Kawabata defeated Kentaro Shiga for sole possession on 11/19. Later that night, Yoshinobu Kanemaru retained his GHC Junior title, defeating Ricky Marvin. On 11/24, Suzuki and Marvin finally lost their GHC Junior Tag Titles, losing to Doi’s Muscular Bomb. In this match, Ricky Marvin broke his leg. Finally, on 11/25, Marufuji and Suguira proved they deserved their tag titles, defeating Saito and Smith. However, a challenge from Akiyama and Rikio will come eventually, and it will be quite the test for the young duo. The tour ended in Budokan Hall, on 12/2. It was a great night of action, every match was good. In the semi-main event, Takeshi Morishima avenged his loss to Marufuji, defeating him with a series of lariats and backdrops to become #1 Contender. In the main event, and one of the best matches of the year, Kenta Kobashi returned, teaming with Yoshihiro Takayama to take on Misawa and Akiyama. Kobashi lost, but it was truly a moral victory. Going into 2008, things are looking up for NOAH…

MVP: Naomichi Marufuji. He stayed in the top half of the card the majority of the year, and almost always had a great match. While others did one half or the other (Misawa stayed up top but was boring, Suzuki/Marvin had a great year but were never the main attraction) Marufuji succeeded all the time, and closed out the year with a big title win and a new rivalry with Morishima. Here’s to a big 2008 for Nao.

Breakout Star: Takashi Suguira. In the first half of the year, he pinned Akiyama clean and got a damn good match out of Misawa. Later in the year, he won his first Heavyweight gold, and defended it in a great match. He also, should have a great 2008, and maybe will see some ROH action.

Top 10 Matches (no order)
Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe vs. Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin 1.21
Jun Akiyama and Takeshi Rikio vs. Takashi Suguira and Yoshihiro Takayama 4.28
Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin vs. Keni’chiro Arai and Taku Iwasa 6.3
KENTA and Taiji Ishimori vs. Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin 7.3
KENTA and Taiji Ishimori vs. Naomichi Marufuji and Kota Ibushi 7.15
Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin vs. KENTA and Taiji Ishimori 8.31
D’Lo Brown and Buchanan vs. Naomichi Marufuji and Takashi Suguira 10.28
Naomichi Marufuji and Takashi Suguira vs. Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith 11.25
Naomichi Marufuji vs. Takeshi Morishima 12.2
Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Mitsuharu Misawa and Jun Akiyama 12.2

So that’s it for this week. Next week, we will recap the 1/4 Dome Show and recap New Japan’s 2007. See ya then!

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