This weekend has back-to-back big shows, with titles on the line. Ditch, Clark and Mulligan tackle the events with predictions and analysis.
Weâ€™re going to focus on the top matches for each card.
All Japan, March 1st at Sumo Hall
-Suwama vs TARU
Clark: Definitely an interesting one here. While the angle with Suwama’s return from the VM is a perfect set up angle for this one, the angle will likely turn out better than the match. I’m not downing either of these guys (I haven’t seen a whole lot of either), but from what I have seen, my guess is that this will be a more American style heavyweight match with plenty of VM interference leading to the finish and making the people believe that the main-event will go the same way. My Prediction: TARU
Ditch: Suwama got a â€˜young phenomâ€™ push, then when that didnâ€™t catch fire he turned heel. Now heâ€™s back to being a babyface, and hasnâ€™t become much of a marketable commodity. TARU, meanwhile, continues to be a featured player despite dragging down every match heâ€™s in. Suwama for the win, and hopefully he can move on to take full advantage of his physical gifts. Heâ€™s young yet, thereâ€™s plenty of time for him to break out.
Mulligan: Suwama is rising up the ranks with his new face persona, so he needs to go over TARU here, and he will continue to climb as a main player.
-All Japan junior title: Nakajima vs Silver King
Clark: Only Nakajima’s injury kept this match from happening months ago after the controversy at the 35th anniversary show. My guess is that this will be a good match with a crowd hot for Nakajima, plenty of excitement, and the result that would’ve been had it happened in January. My Prediction: Nakajima
Ditch: What a strange angle. Silver King, who hadnâ€™t been touring, suddenly gets a title shot that turns into a heated feud. Nakajima gets hurt. Months later we get the conclusion. Nakajima wins.
Mulligan: This is a tough one. Nakajima may be destined to be a heavyweight, but he’s not quite there yet, and a loss here could cripple him. Simply based on my expected result of the main event, I’ll say he takes the win here, and they worry about moving him up later.
-Mutoh & Tanahashi vs Kawada & Kea
Clark: When you want to build a dream tag involving home promotion talent and outsiders, this is the way to do it. With participation from three separate promotions (All Japan, New Japan, and I guess HUSTLE), you have the makings of a really good tag match considering the fact that three of the four still have plenty in the tank and Mutoh is protected with it being a tag. I’m going to go wild on the prediction because if Kojima does win the title, I’m sensing a Mutoh/Tanahashi singles match main-eventing a future Sumo Hall card. My Prediction: Kawada & Kea
Ditch: Good addition to the card, with a â€˜dragon system vs kings roadâ€™ style battle. Kea took a nasty chairshot that broke his jaw, and this is his first big match back. Tanahashi, who made some appearances in â€™05, is now much better â€˜dream matchâ€™ fodder. Iâ€™m guessing Kea drops the fall.
Mulligan: This is a special attraction, nothing more, nothing less. Mutoh and Tanahashi will string together some signature spots, and eventually put away Kea for the win.
-Dory Funk Jr Retirement: Dory Funk Jr & Nishimura vs Tenryu & Fuchi
Clark: As a way of paying homage to Funk and the whole Funk family, it’s no surprise who the participants in this match are. Expect a lot of MUGA-style wrestling on the mat along with some fun brawling likely between Tenryu & Funk considering the background between the two. A match made strictly for fun and entertainment, it will likely create both and end in a rare way for retirement matches in Japan, but again considering the matchup, it’ll end the right way. My Prediction: Funk & Nishimura
Ditch: Dory should have bowed out a while ago, but at least he gets to go out in style. Iâ€™m not expecting much from this given that Fuchi is the second-youngest guy in the match. Iâ€™d guess that Fuchi taps to the spinning toehold.
Mulligan: No one here can get a “rub” from beating Dory, so based on previous results of the tour, I say he submits Fuchi with his spinning toe hold.
-Triple Crown: Sasaki vs Kojima
Clark: If there were more faces within the heavyweight title picture, I’d say Kojima in a heartbeat because I believe that he very well will win. However, since Mutoh is getting too old to be a legit contender, Kea is not back at that level yet, and every other potential contender is a heel or an outsider, my guess is that they’ll keep the belt on Sasaki for a little while longer leading to either Kojima winning it later in the year or another outsider formerly from All Japan coming back to take the gold. Either way, Mutoh is strategic enough to know that a heel Kojima champion can only go so far without legit face contenders trying to knock him off the top. However, the VM/Kensuke Office feud could be a feud that dominates the undercard for the rest of the year. My Prediction: Sasaki
Ditch: A match almost a year in the making. Theyâ€™ve done an excellent job of drawing things out, such that now the match could go either way, and thereâ€™s more to it than the somewhat obvious â€œcan Kojima finally beat Sasaki?â€ title match in â€™05. The obvious choice is Kojima, since he hasnâ€™t held the belt in a year and a half, and as a heel would have a good set of challengers (Mutoh, Kawada, Kea, Suwama). Plus, after all this time Voodoo Murders hasnâ€™t gotten the Triple Crown. If Kojima doesnâ€™t do it here the stable might as well fold. I donâ€™t think that will happen.
Mulligan: Another tough one. The feud has shown Kojima to really push the envelope, and he’s quite hot right now. Therefore, I think Sasaki’s rage will cost him the match, as he will turn down opportunities to defeat Kojima, in order to inflict more pain. And in the end, Kojima will cement his status as the top heel by taking the Triple Crown, and continuing the feud.
-General show thoughts
Clark: Building a show around feuds and angles; WHAT A CONCEPT. Every big match has at least some type of background to it and it traditional All Japan fashion has been built during the course of the tour leading to this show. This is a polar opposite to NOAH’s mostly cookie cutter show and because of that, I’m going to say that this will be a better overall show even if NOAH may have more good-great matches on their card.
Ditch: I think theyâ€™ve done a worthy job of working up to this card. Getting the scoop of the Dory retirement tour, not bringing in too much expensive outside talent, and most importantly making the fans anticipate the main event for months on end. All Japan clearly recognizes that they need to put a lot of effort in if they want a shot at filling a 10,000+ seat venue.
Mulligan: Should draw well, with the additions of Funk and Tanahashi to the card. I think, if the storylines don’t cause them to be clusters, both title matches should be good at best, and the fans will go home quite satisfied. AJPW put together a very nice card here, and the VM vs. Kensuke Office feud seems hot enough to draw fans in.
NOAH, March 2nd at Tokyo Nippon Budokan
-Kobashi, Honda & KENTA vs Takayama, Sano & Aoki
Clark: This is the best six-man tag that NOAH could probably have come up with that would involve undercard and uppercard talent. Expect the Takayama/Kobashi exchanges to be intense and heated (my guess is a match between these two at Budokan will happen soon). But don’t underestimate the talent involved here as TakSano was a great team in ’07, Honda has always been under appreciated, and KENTA loves to step up against bigger guys (as his match with Takayama a few years ago and his Budokan main-event with Morishima last year will demonstrate). I’m guessing this should be a pretty entertaining one and if it gets the time that some of NOAH’s six-man matches this tour have been getting, it could really surprise a lot of people. My Prediction: Kobashi, Honda, & KENTA
Ditch: Hmmmmm, I wonder whoâ€™s going to lose? That said it doesnâ€™t matter much as to who the weak link in the match is, because fans are going to greatly anticipate Kobashiâ€™s second match in Tokyo and his first return match opposite Takayama. Why give away something bigger? Oh yeah, Kobashiâ€™s side wins, Iâ€™ll say Honda getting the fall.
Mulligan: Well, I’ll take as much KENTA vs. Takayama as I can possibly get. I see this as being Kobashi getting his big, first win back in Budokan Hall, but he shouldn’t pin Aoki, it could look kinda…lopsided. So, after whatâ€™s sure to be a ridiculously stiff encounter, I see KENTA pinning Aoki with the go 2 sleep.
-GHC tag titles: Marufuji & Sugiura vs The Briscoe Brothers
Clark: The never-ending saga for stability with the GHC tag belts hopefully will end here as Marufuji & Sugiura will hopefully get a successful title defense and move on to native teams such as possibly the last two native teams to hold the belts (Morishima & Yone and Akiyama & Rikio) not to mention TakSano possibly challenging or even the reincarnation of Kobashi & Honda looking to regain the belts. The Briscoes will help this be likely the match of the night, but I’ve got to go with the hometown boys getting the win. If it were the junior belts, I’d likely be going with the ROH representation. My Prediction: Marufuji & Sugiura
Ditch: Interesting to see the Briscoes moved up to the heavyweight tag division after they werenâ€™t especially dominant during two tours in the junior division. They wrestle enough of a high-impact style to be credible challengers on paper, but Iâ€™m not sure the fans will see things that way unless the match is *really* good. Marufuji and Sugiura really ought to be taking on formidable heavyweight duos. With Akiyama, Rikio, Taue, KENTA, Takayama, Sano and Yone on the undercard, I canâ€™t help but think that there could be a better pair of challengers. If the Briscoes had more tours and some big wins in NOAH that would be one thing, but this seems forced.
Mulligan: While this should be an excellent match, the result is really in no doubt. All the money in the tag division is in an eventual Marufuji/Suguira vs. Akiyama/Rikio encounter, so MaruSugi is clearly retaining here. Should be an excellent match though, and hopefully will establish the Briscoes as a force in the Heavyweight Tag division.
-GHC title: Misawa vs Morishima
Clark: Misawa would be a fucking idiot if he walked out of Budokan Hall this weekend with the gold. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. First off, their match last January wasn’t very good and Misawa’s age has been showing for the last couple of years. Morishima’s ROH tenure has shown that he is the guy to lead NOAH and is the only respectable native heavyweight to take the title since Kobashi hasn’t officially returned full time and Akiyama likely would’ve won it by now if he we’re going to get another run. It was a nice nostalgia run to see the guy with the green tights get one last heroic run and win wrestler of the year (undeserved, but I get it), but now is the time for a change at the top and Morishima does have a better chance than Rikio to make his first run successful in the ring and at the gate. My Prediction: Morishima
Ditch: I would imagine that barring another fluke injury like last year, this will be the best of Misawaâ€™s defenses thus far. Morishima really has to win the title, especially because they donâ€™t need the title to draw with big Misawa vs Kobashi. Morishima dominated ROH, beat Akiyama, beat KENTA, beat Marufuji, looked dominant against Kobashi in a tag, and really ought to be able to take down the emeraldian ancient. Especially based on the Rikio precedent.
Mulligan: I think it’s time for Morishima to take the strap. Misawa vs. Kobashi is probably where NOAH is headed, but it’ll draw the same amount as a #1 contenders match as it would a title match. So put the belt on Mori, let Kobashi draw the fans to the shows, then have Mori have awesome main events with guys he can work with, like Marufuji, Akiyama, etc. So his reign won’t be the “disaster” Marufuji’s was, and cause people will be at the shows (for Kobashi), they’ll see him, warm up to him, and accept him as an equal to the AJPW established guys. Besides, the 2/21 six man made Morishima vs. Kobashi look like pure gold, so that’s where everything should be leading anyway.
-General show thoughts
Clark: Despite the two big title matches, this still reeks of the usual NOAH big show built around a few matches with everything else (even the potentially really good six-man) being thrown together to get everyone on the show. While I think there will be some good matches, I doubt there will be anything to differentiate this NOAH Budokan show from just about any from last year.
Ditch: A 3-match show is better than a 2-match show, which has been the norm of late. Minus Kobashi this would struggle to sell out, but with Kobashi I think it will be a success. Getting butts in the seats will, in turn, provide a better platform to launch a Morishima title run. If Misawa retainsâ€¦ yikes.
Mulligan: Should be a great show, with the Kobashi six-man and the tag titles sure to be great. Plus, the Kings vs. Taue? Has to be fun. Any and all ROH fans should seek this show out, that’s for sure. Misawa vs. Morishima could go either way, but hopefully Misawa will recognize how important this match is, and we will see a contest much like their 2006 encounter.