Puroresu Pulse, issue 121: Bad news under the surface


Section 1- Results

All Japan: Mutoh & Doering followed up their success in the tag league by capturing the tag titles from Kojima & Taru on the 3rd.

Dragon Gate: Doi & Yoshino retained the GHC junior tag belts on 12/28, then lost them on the 15th to Shingo & BB Hulk. There goes one of my “ten to watch” picks already. Also on the 15th, Mochizuki’s team retained the trios titles. Doi & Yoshino got back on the winning track by retaining the DG tag titles against the SATs on the 16th.

New Japan: The Dome show was headlined by Nakamura winning the IWGP title from Tanahashi, Angle retaining his IWGP belt against Nagata, Bernard & Tomko and Wataru Inoue retaining their belts (respectively), and Muta beating Hirooki Goto.

NOAH: Kanemaru retained the junior title against Rocky Romero on the tour opener.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Their first big show of the year is March 1st at Sumo Hall. Sasaki vs Kojima for the Triple Crown is set for it, along with a tag featuring the pairing of Mutoh & Tanahashi, Nakajima vs Silver King for the junior title, and Dory Funk Jr’s retirement match.

Dragon Gate: Following the baffling end to King of Gate, Gamma gets a title shot against CIMA on 2/3. Dragon Kid gets a lightweight title shot that night against Yoshino. Doi & Yoshino put the DG tag titles up against Arai & Iwasa on 2/8.

Inoki Genome: There were rumors of Angle vs Ogawa for their show the day before Angle vs Nakamura, but Inoki nixed that and said he wants Ogawa vs Barnett. Which would mean… ANGLE VS YASUDA~~~~!

New Japan: This Sunday is junior division day, as Inoue defends the singles belt against Taguchi, and Togo & Taka defend the tag belts against Minoru Tanaka & Devitt. Beneath that is an all-star tag of Nagata & Tanahashi vs Nakamua & Goto. Three weeks after that, New Japan has its first Sumo Hall show of the year. It’s already loaded, with Nagata vs Hirooki Goto, Tanahashi vs AJ Styles, Bernard & Tomko vs Makabe & Yano for the tag titles, and an IWGP unification match of Nakamura vs Angle.

NOAH: Kobashi will wrestle at 5 shows on the next tour, up from 2 shows on the last tour, and that includes the 3/2 Budokan. Claudio Castagnoli will make his Japan debut on the tour as well.

Section 3- A sextet of shills

Jake is starting to make me look lazy. You’ll burn out eventually, my friend. YOU’LL BURN OUT! AND I’LL LAUGH! Or not.

Aaron does a ROHtrospective on ’07.

Phil did a timely look at the Dome show, unlike what you’re about to read.

Section 4- When good booking isn’t enough

New Japan used a cheaper/smaller setup for their Dome show, and claimed an attendance of 27,000. Meltzer says the number was closer to 20,000, and even that was heavily papered, meaning the real attendance was likely in the neighborhood of 13,000. That despite a plethora of outside talent, an Angle vs Nagata dream match years in the making, and what on paper was a more appealing Tanahashi vs Nakamura match than headlined three years ago. This was, within the realm of political possibilities, as attractive a card as they could have put together.

I can’t say that they botched anything. Nagata losing to Angle doesn’t hurt him, and Nakamura getting the win over Angle would mean more. Plus it’s one more big match out of Angle, which isn’t any sort of box office smash but is better than putting someone like Makabe on top of a Sumo Hall card. Thus we get into the problem New Japan has: lots of ways to stuff Korakuen Hall, not many ways to draw ten thousand legit.

Angle, like Lesnar, hasn’t turned into the mega-draw he was hoped to be. Kurt is less likely to lead to a debacle the way Brock did, so that’s nice, but it’s not encouraging to have the ‘strongest’ wrestler on the roster (Nagata) against the ‘strongest’ non-WWE gaijin (Angle) lead to a half-sold half-Dome. Not just any Dome show, mind you, but the most visible annual show in puro. Angle is far and away the man from TNA who can draw in Japan, meaning that the NJ/TNA relationship has peaked already.

From an NJ vs other promotions standpoint, they don’t have much to use going forward. Linking up with The Promotion Formerly Known As Muga doesn’t come off with anywhere near the impact and emotion as when the UWF crew returned to New Japan in the mid-80s. Yoshie is fun but he’s not exactly a box office smash. NJ vs AJ? They’ve used Kojima as a high-profile outsider two of the last three years, Mutoh has made several returns over the years, Kea is a nobody, and Sasaki and Suzuki are freelancers. NJ vs NOAH is not going to happen any time soon. NJ vs Dragon Gate is only a draw in Dragon Gate.

That leaves NJ vs NJ having to be the big drawing card. For years I said that was the way to go, and given how few options they have it still is. Sadly, even with solid booking over the last year it doesn’t seem that New Japan is getting momentum business-wise. Last year they spent months pushing Makabe and that all led to an IWGP title shot… in Korakuen Hall. Pushing Hirooki Goto was a good idea but led to one of the worst Sumo Hall draws in company history, if not the worst. Tanahashi and Nakamura are much more respected and credible now than they were a few years ago, but like Tenzan they don’t appear to be anywhere near recapturing the drawing power of NJ stars of yore. Nagata’s second reign didn’t accomplish much.

While New Japan was able to use logical booking to stay the top promotion in Japan throughout 2007, that might not be enough in 2008 by virtue of Kobashi’s return. That one thing has generated more energy than anything NJ has been associated with in ages, and even with NOAH’s weakness outside Tokyo they can still vault up to the top position if they do a halfway decent job of capitalizing on the chop king’s appeal.

Part of New Japan’s allure over the years is that they were (to borrow an old phrase) Where The Big Boys Play; they had the biggest matches and the biggest shows, and had a solid product on the smaller shows. This contrasted with the stodgy All Japan that relied on pure wrestling and hardcore fans, of whom there were enough of in Tokyo to pack Budokan Hall consistently. NOAH might be able to draw the Budokan faithful *and* be seen as the hot commodity in the industry. That dynamic briefly surfaced in 2005, only to be dashed by the falling out with Kawada. This year NOAH’s hopes are pinned on a man who may or may not be up for the task physically, so it’s far from a sure thing, but it’s got more than enough potential to determine who comes out on top.

New Japan needs to be realistic. I don’t know how much it cost them to do a “budget” Tokyo Dome show filled with TNA wrestlers who had to be flown in, but it has to be a hell of a lot more than it cost NOAH to do their Budokan show with Kobashi’s return- a show that had a bigger legit gate. Last year, New Japan ran Sumo Hall five times in addition to the Dome. This year they’re sure to have 3 Sumo Hall shows at the very least, maybe more. It might be a good idea for them to do a bit more belt-tightening: ease up on shelling out thousands for TNA wrestlers who don’t draw, ease up on booking buildings so big that they need to have huge sections blocked off, and so on. That’s not to say that NOAH couldn’t use some of the latter, especially last year, but since its inception NOAH has tended to be more profitable than New Japan. Unlike TNA, New Japan’s backer doesn’t have bottomless pockets. Much like the US housing market, they’d be better off with facing a little pain now rather than a lot of pain later on.

Section 5- Exciting thing of the week

Today I posted an extended edition of the classic Can-Am Express vs Kobashi & Kikuchi match from 5/25/92. It aired as part of a big Kobashi special, and contains the intros and almost all of the first half of the match. If you’ve seen it before, you know why getting to see the match in almost-complete form is so cool. If you haven’t seen it before, you owe it to yourself.