The Reality of Wrestling: Champions Carnival and Beyond

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This past week, All Japan Pro Wrestling completed their yearly singles tournament, The Champions Carnival. The final saw new generation ace of All Japan, Suwama, defeat new generation ace of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, in an epic half-hour final that has gained rave reviews already. The tournament itself also saw not only a contrast in brackets, but a contrast in booking as well. Block A could be considered the group of elites with Kawada, Kojima, Mutoh, Kea, and Tanahashi comprising it while Block B could be considered the wild card group with a vast array of talent (style and personality-wise) consisting of Suwama, Minoru Suzuki, Triple Crown champion Kensuke Sasaki, Joe Doering and Osamu Nishimura. The booking of both groups saw obvious differences as well with the “legend block” being booked as such with Tanahashi engaging in 30-minute draws with Mutoh and Kawada while Block B saw many more short matches including Sasaki beating Doering in eight minutes despite Doering gaining a few notable wins during the tourney and Nishimura beating Minoru in under four minutes on the final day. Still, when it was all said in done, the final lived up to what a Champions Carnival final should be historically and the winner is one everybody can be happy with.

P.C. Says: The decision for Suwama’s first Carnival win is a look into the future

There’s no question in my mind that Suwama’s win in this year’s Champions Carnival was the first step towards his first Triple Crown title win. However, don’t expect that title win to come later this month when he challenges Sasaki in Osaka. What will happen in that much will be Suwama giving Sasaki a mother of a match and looking like his CC momentum carried over, but Sasaki will still be champion at night’s end. To make Suwama champion less than a month after his FIRST Champions Carnival win would be a bit excessive and very wasteful.

With Suwama being the serious new blood wrestler, the chase has now begun. To use a bit of All Japan’s history to make my point, Mitsuharu Misawa could’ve been given the Triple Crown after his first win over Jumbo Tsuruta back in 1990; he had already been having great matches for years and was credible especially with the big singles win over a living legend. But instead, Giant Baba—All Japan’s booker at the time—decided to play out the title chase to ensure more great matches and more big gates as nothing draws in wrestling quite like the chase (dream matches get you one big gate, chases can get you multiple big gates without trouble). In the case of Misawa, the money and crowds continued to flow in and by the time he finally won the title—just over two years after the first win over Jumbo—he was the biggest star in All Japan and would be their biggest star and draw for the rest of the decade. Am I saying that’ll happen with Suwama? No, because you can’t predict this kind of thing as any number of things can derail even the best push (Nagata, Tenzan anyone). However, history has shown that the slow build is the best way to create a star. Anything else is hit or miss and recent years has shown that “better safe than sorry” isn’t just a saying anymore, it’s a sound booking strategy.

Suwama obviously is the young ace that Mutoh and everyone else is banking All Japan’s future on. While that may be a bit overblown a statement, it seems to be the case with Nakajima still being a junior even though a bump up to heavyweight is obvious in future years. What Suwama does have that a lot of younger talent doesn’t in Japan is a fast improvement as his matches have been getting more and more praise, a welcome change from even a year ago when I didn’t know who the guy was; trust me, I do now.

I do believe that the differences in the blocks did make this the most noteworthy Champions Carnival in some years. Because of the state that All Japan has been in since NOAH’s formation in 2000—a deflated roster always in need of reshaping—the Champions Carnival has become somewhat bland with little reasons to pay much attention. The last one I can think of that had much merit to the promotion as a whole would be 2001 when Tenryu/Kea ended the tourney back when the match meant something. Other than that, a stale nature has attributed itself to this singles tournament. However, this year with two distinctly different blocks in anyway you can think of combined with the outsider from a rival promotion who’s been on a role in the ring and the fact that this promotion has its own new generation star equaled five glorious nights at Korakuen Hall.

The Reality is…I initially thought Kojima was going to win. Kojima is still the only legitimate choice as the one to unseat Sasaki as Triple Crown champion. Looking through the list of candidates: Kea laid a goose egg in the CC so he’s out, Minoru was the previous title holder, Mutoh is too old for another title reign and doesn’t need it, Kawada is dedicated to his outsider status and already challenged for it back at the 35th Anniversary show, Doering is way too green still, and Nishimura just doesn’t fit the bill as a world champion. So, despite losing to Sasaki in February, Kojima stands tall as still being the most viable next champion: he’s a heel (easier for fans to know who to cheer for), he’s still got the stuff in the ring, and a legitimate heel champion is something that All Japan hasn’t seen in a while, and would make title defenses that much easier to make without much trouble. As for Suwama, I said it already: he shouldn’t win April 29. A spirited performance against a legend will gain him more recognition in the fans eyes than a lucky title win (which it will likely be perceived as if he does win). Please don’t screw this up All Japan, New Japan seems to have learned a bit from their past booking mistakes in pushing talent, now it’s your turn as for the first time in a while, you may not have to rely on the old guard for a main-event that attracts people. Screw it up and prepare for more years with zero progress.


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