Puroresu Pulse, issue 123: New Japan in Focus

Over the last month, a lot has happened in New Japan. Big matches are behind us, big matches are ahead of us, a (possible) big injury and a piece of news that would have been ominous a few years ago but now might not be. This issue is New Japan only!

Section 1- Results

2/17 Sumo Hall: Nakamura beat Angle to unify the IWGP titles. Makabe & Yano beat Bernard & Tomko to win the tag titles. Liger & AKIRA beat Minoru Tanaka & Devitt to win the junior tag titles. Tanahashi beat Styles. The card, despite the big main event, was several thousand short of a sellout.

3/9 Aichi: The NJ Cup tour started with a big show at Aichi Prefectural Gym. Makabe & Yano vs Nakamura & Bernard for the tag titles went to a no contest, and in round 1 action, Tanahashi beat Hirooki Goto and Tenzan beat Ishii.

Section 2- News

-Nagata had to be pulled out of his match with Hirooki Goto on 2/17, and is out for several weeks. At first he seemed to have the symptoms of a stroke, but it wasn’t that bad. There was concern he’d have to retire, but now he might be on the April tour.

-Nakamura gave the ‘2nd Generation’ IWGP belt to Shinya Hashimoto’s son, and a new belt has been made.

-Yukes, New Japan’s parent company, announced that they’ve written off a 170 million yen loan that had been given to New Japan. In other words, they don’t think NJ will be able to repay any of it. Yukes stock is down over 30% since they bought NJ.

-Other round 1 matches in the NJ Cup include Liger vs Taguchi and Nakanishi vs Rhino. A round 2 match set for the 21st is Tenzan vs Makabe. This will be the unofficial climax to a series of Tenzan vs GBH singles matches; in addition to getting Ishii and Makabe in the tournament, Tenzan faces the other four in non-tournament singles matches on the tour. NJ Cup semis and finals will take place on the 23rd.

Section 3- Not-focused-on-NJ-shills

Puroresu Roundtable 1.

Puroresu Roundtable 2.

Phil looks at the NOAH tag tournament. I’m pumped for it myself.

JMull looks at Morishima’s big win.

Section 4- On Nagata and Yukes

Nagata: Despite my column last year on how Japan’s tour system protects wrestlers better than the year-round US grind, there are some things short tours can’t guard against. One of them is concussions. One or two mild concussions over the course of a career isn’t likely to cause long-term problems. Many of them, or a serious one, can cause lasting damage, especially if they aren’t addressed right away. Nagata had dizzy spells and lost control of the left side of his body, forcing hospitalization. One can only assume it’s from too many blows to the head and/or too many bumps.

There are good ways and bad ways for a wrestler to handle this sort of thing. In the case of Chris Benoit, not getting treatment and never wanting to take time off led to perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of pro wrestling. In the case of Takayama, a stroke caused him to change what he does. He’s almost never in singles matches, and usually spends the least time in the ring of given participants in a tag.

Nagata’s case isn’t as bad as Takayama’s, and based on medical tests I’m guessing it isn’t as bad as Benoit’s. Still, it’s a cautionary note for a wrestler who is expected to wrestle a handful of intense singles matches every year. If Nagata has to slow down, it could spell the end of him as a headliner and title contender. That would be a huge blow to his career, which has at least a few years left in it (he’s 40), and a huge blow to New Japan.

Yukes: There’s no way to spin the kind of money Yukes has lost with New Japan. Granted it might only be a fraction of what the Carters have dumped into TNA, and it’s certainly a fraction of what Time-Warner lost on WCW, but Yukes isn’t a multimedia giant or an oil magnate. They’re a video game maker. That several of their top titles are wrestling games might have been enough for them to lend a substantial sum to NJ, but I doubt they’ll do it again, especially with how unlikely it is that NJ will turn enough of a profit to repay them this time around.

There are many questions left unanswered. For instance, when was the loan made? How quickly did NJ run through the money? Are they in the black yet? Was the loan just to pay off debts at the time of Yukes’ purchase? A sign that things might not be bleak is that nobody left during this year’s contract signings, and nobody left last year. In past years, huge salary cuts led to wrestlers bolting. If they’ve stopped cutting salaries that would indicate financial stability. If they did make further cuts the wrestlers accepted them without complaint, which would mean a strengthening of the bottom line.

For all the criticisms I’ve given of how New Japan is operated, they’re a much tighter ship today. One dome show a year from three, a smaller and much more affordable roster, fewer pricey outsiders and attentive booking have done a lot to make the company solvent, and most importantly they seem to be rid of the drag of Inoki-ism. Zero-One survived the loss of Hashimoto, NOAH survived losing Kobashi on two occasions, All Japan survived losing just about everyone, and New Japan seems to have survived what seemed like an unending string of crises. One thing you can say about Japanese wrestling promotions, they’re hard to kill.

Next Time:: I finally return to Kobashi! The AJ Project is done! Lots of non-NJ news and views! Hopefully it will not be four weeks from now!

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