Spotlight on Japan

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack. And this column is getting overhauled, because I have a lot more fun writing about my own opinions rather than reporting news. So from now on, this column will be covering puro in a much more editorial tone. For news, I suggest you check out the puroresufan.com network, and I’d also like to plug thecoolkidstable.net for there puro reviews and general news. I’d still like to hear what companies you want to read about, and I want to hear any comments you have, so please email feedback to jmull911@yahoo.com, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page. So now let’s get to what was one wild weekend…

JAPAN GOES INSANE? FOUR BALLSY CALLS AND WHERE THEY CAN LEAD

This weekend saw NOAH, NJPW, AJPW, and Dragon Gate all run major shows, and all three companies made unpredictable decisions regarding main storylines. It’s quite interesting, because all these decisions have the potential to be disastrous, but none of them are out-and-out retarded. The biggest show of the weekend saw New Japan Pro-Wrestling run a PPV with a legend returning in the main event and challenging for perhaps the biggest championship in the world, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

In the main event of NJPW’s PPV, AJPW President and full time roster member Keiji Mutoh, defeated Shinsuke Nakamura, making his third defense, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. There are a number of obvious downsides to this decision. Mutoh will not be able to work a full schedule, leaving NJPW in the position of having to draw, essentially, without a champion for small shows. And this comes after losing top star Hiroshi Tanahashi for up to a year. However, after examining the issues, I feel this is a move that really needed to be made. NJPW has tried drawing based on their old stars (Chono, Tenzan, etc), the new guard (Tanahashi) and the man in between of sorts, Mr.IWGP, Yuji Nagata. They’ve tried gaijin superstars like Giant Bernard and Kurt Angle. But the fact is, the attendance has never been great, and after building everything to a Nakamura reign, he simply hasn’t been a draw, with the top non-1/4 shows getting about 6,000 fans, regardless of how huge the match is. Tanahashi vs. Nakamura, arguably the biggest match they have on deck, just had to be run in Korakuen Hall. A big name native is the last real option they can try, and I can’t fault them for going for it. There’s enough dream matches to last Mutoh through at least 1/4/09, presumably the latest they’d run with him as champion. And Tanahashi should be back just in time for the end of his run, so they can save the biggest possible dream match for last. And before that time, Goto vs. Mutoh II has been set up (Goto challenged him post title win), he can face LEGEND leader Masahiro Chono, Tenzan is gaining a lot of support in his war vs. GBH, Makabe will always be over, a match with Nagata is a near must, and they even may be able to match him up with Kurt Angle. There’s certainly not a shortage of matches for Keiji Mutoh, so unless they fuck up further down the road, I completely support this call by NJPW.

Pro-Wrestling NOAH, surprisingly, gave their huge Global Tag League to the team of Bison Smith and Akitoshi Saito. While there were many all-star teams in the tournament, Marufuji/Suguira, Sasaki/Nakajima, Akiyama/Rikio, etc, they put the underdogs over in a huge win. This is even more interesting because Smith and Saito have already had a shot at Marufuji and Suguira and lost. Also, MaruSugi definitely have steam left in their tank as champs, as the biggest tag match NOAH can book now is with them as champs defending vs. Akiyama and Rikio. However the next tag title match is almost certainly MaruSugi vs. Smith and Saito, and it would almost seem that you must put Smith and Saito over after all this momentum, obviously, say, Smith pinning Suguira. BUT WAIT~! Also on the Budokan show, Suguira pinned Morishima in his first Budokan appearance as champ, immediately setting himself up for a title shot. So, whose momentum do you slow, Smith and Saito’s, or Suguira’s? I think the tag division has far more depth than just those two teams, while you NEED the singles scene to pick up, and therefore, I’d have Suguira grab a big fall in the ensuing tag title match, leading to a big time Champ vs. Champ match vs. Morishima in his v1. That, also, can lead to further booking, like a MaruSugi vs. MoriYone tag title match, or even Marufuji challenging Morishima in what would be huge match, in order to defend his partner. While these random swerves scream out pointlessness, if NOAH has a plan, they can really come through here and help elevate a number of people.

At All Japan’s big show, Triple Crown champion Kensuke Sasaki lost his title to the Champion Carnival winner, and a man who has been pro for less than five years, Suwama. Suwama is the future ace of NJPW, and has been put over ridiculously strongly since his face turn a little while back, getting the only win over Hiroshi Tanahashi in AJPW and now winning the Triple Crown. It’s certainly possible that Suwama isn’t ready, and his title matches will be subpar. However, he’s very over, and the crowd is taking to him thus far. And while not necessary, this is a risk that to AJPW, may be worth it. There top stars all have major flaws, with guys like Mutoh and Kawada on borrowed time, and other stars like Sasaki and Suzuki being freelance, with the opportunity to leave whenever. Suwama is going to have to carry this promotion someday, so pushing him strong now with few losses could pay off in dividends…if he doesn’t Rikio himself and screw it all up. We shall see.

Dragon Gate made perhaps the weirdest decision of the weekend, if the least significant. Masato Yoshino absolutely has made the Brave Gate title over the past six months, racking up a number of great defenses. Surely, whoever would defeat him would gain a huge rub. However, they switched the belt in an extremely convoluted finish to Anthony W. Mori, and then held the belt up and started a tournament. Now, they have put the fast paced, lightweight title on super heel Gamma, who does not work the style at all. However, Gamma then tore the belt apart, gave it a bit of a redesign, and renamed it the “Open the Gamma Gate” title, and now has signed his first defense…vs. NEX regular Super Shenlong II, who up to a couple months ago was wrestling as a primate. I don’t know why they wasted the rub they could have given someone by defeating Masato Yoshino, but I suppose that he’s pretty hot now and it’s not worth jobbing him out. This Gamma stuff could ruin all the credibility the belt has gained, but it could also work great. If you set someone up to go after Gamma in order to return the belt to significance, the chase and ultimate victory could make them. It could be Mori, it could be the returning Naoki Tanisaki, or it could even be a turned Masato Yoshino. Either way, devaluing a belt you’ve worked so hard to build seems strange, but if worked perfectly, it could lead to the belt meaning more in the end than ever before, so yet again we must wait to judge on this one.

DRAGON GATE DEAD OR ALIVE PPV PREVIEW

Dragon Gate will run their next PPV on May 5th later this week, with mystery opponents, title matches, and a huge luchas de apuestas main event. In the opener, we have the strange team of Tozawa-juku rep Akira Tozawa, New HAZARD rep Cyber Kong, and NEX wrestler Super Shenlong taking on Typhoon of Anthony Mori and PAC, with comedy worker Syachihoko Machine. I see Tozawa and CyKong developing problems leading to a win by Typhoon. Next up, Stalker Ichikawa faces a mystery big name opponent. For the opponent, I predict GHC Champ Takeshi Morishima, who will win by death. Third is a Hardcore Match between New HAZARD leader Shingo Takagi and Naoki Tanisaki. I see Shingo taking this one down, however, Naoki will impress, and be invited to join the HAZARD, to replace YAMATO. The, we have a six man tag, between the teams of Mochizuki/Fujii/Z1 Rep El Blazer against MO’z of Genki Horiguchi, Gamma, and NOSAWA. I see the MO’z reps winning this one, when Gamma pins Blazer.

After that we have a huge triple main event. First off, KENTA of Pro-Wrestling NOAH returns, to take on rival Naruki Doi. This is a huge, first time dream matchup, and should be incredible. Not only do I see KENTA winning, but I feel post-match, he will challenge CIMA for his Open the Dream Gate title. In the semi main event, Keni’chiro Arai and Taku Iwasa make their v3 defense of the Twin Gate belts, against RyoSuka, Ryo Saito and Susumu Yokosuka. This is an extremely hard one to call, as AraIwa hold a win over RyoSuka on PPV already, and RyoSuka are still a risk to break up soon. However, after recently beating Shingo and Hulk in a non-title match, there’s not much to do with AraIwa past this, and Ryo could use a win after his recent big match loss to CIMA. Therefore, I feel we will see the 3rd Twin Gate champions crowned here, as RyoSuka will claim the belts. And in the main event, we have a huge, six way cage match. It’s CIMA vs. Dragon Kid vs. Masato Yoshino vs. BxB Hulk vs. YAMATO vs. Yasushi Kanda, and there are five flags above the ring. When you claim a flag, you are out of the match. The only man to not have a flag at the end is either shaved or unmasked. I imagine we will see a lot of CIMA vs. YAMATO action, though neither will lose. In the end, I feel it will be Yasushi Kanda being shaved, probably just losing to one of the babyfaces in the match, either Hulk or DKid. This looks to be a great show for DGate, and I will be sure to have results in next week’s column.

UPCOMING AMERICAN EXCURSIONS

I’d like to quickly note when you’ll be able to see your favorite Japanese superstars in America. ROH has GHC Champion Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji, and Go Shiozaki booked for Manasses, VA and New York City on May 9th and 10th, respectably. In VA, all three men will face the No Remorse Corps of Roderick Strong, Rocky Romero, and Davey Richards. I actually see the NRC picking up the win there, as they could really use it, with Strong pinning Go. The next night, Go will face Strong and Erick Stevens in a 3way, one he’s sure not to win. Naomichi Marufuji will have a huge dream match with Bryan Danielson, which I see Danielson winning, as NOAH went out of there way to give Nao a fall over Dragon this tour. Finally, Takeshi Morishima will have the dream match of all dream matches with NECRO BUTCHER, and while he will clearly win, it’s sure to be the most awesome match in history, ever.

Pro Wrestling Guerrilla will have indy stars Kota Ibushi and KAGETORA in for their DDT4 tag tournament. Their first round match will be against the Dynasty of Joey Ryan and Scott Lost, and I’d be very surprised if they lost. Then, in the end of August, Dragon Gate will send stars over for the Battle of Los Angeles 2008 tournament, before holding Dragon Gate shows in the USA in LA and Hawaii in early September. More news here when it becomes available.

MATCH REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA!

Hey, every week from now on, I’m going to review at least one recent match. This week, we will see Jushin Liger and AKIRA vs. Yujiro and Tetsuya Naito, in Liger and AKIRA’s v1 defense of their IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship. It’s from NJPW’s most recent tour.

AKIRA and Naito start the match with some reversal sequences, into a stalemate. Naito takes control and starts going after Liger! AKIRA tosses him out, in comes Liger, and double dives by the LEGEND team! In come Yujiro and Liger. They work a ‘lil, and Naito’s in. LEGEND double slams Naito, and AKIRA comes in. And now a tag to Yujiro. He slams AKIRA for 1…and smashes Liger. No respect from NO LIMIT! They hit a double back elbow on AKIRA, and now a leg drop/senton combo! They slam AKIRA, and Naito comes in. LEGEND takes control, and Liger is in. Spike piledriver! It gets 2. He hits a shinbreaker, and locks on a leg hold. Yujiro hits out and hits some STIFF slaps. Two lariats from Yujiro! He gets the hot tag! Naito in, and it’s DROPKICK TIME~! After a series of those, he gets knocked off the top, and everyone is down. We get some pinfall reversals between Naito and AKIRA, and AKIRA hits an enziguri followed by a strong forearm (payback time for those slaps, young boys). Both teams tag, and in comes Liger with palm strikes! Yujiro blocks, and hits, basically, Hulk’s EVO (Pumphandle Emerald Frosion). NO LIMIT sets up…Poetry in Motion Dropkick, followed by a Brainbuster! Powerbomb! 1…2…no! A splash hits knees. Moonsault…knees! AKIRA in, top rope dropkick. Naito in…and he gets palm strike’d, Liger style! Liger small package on Naito…2! Spinebuster, and the Old Boy (STF with arm lock) by AKIRA on Naito! He fights…and gets the ropes! NO LIMIT takes control, and they are going for their LIMITLESS EVOLUTION finisher (Gorrilla Press converted into a face slam) LIMIT LESS EVOLUTION! It gets 2!! Twisting Press immediately after the cover!!! 1…2… no!!! Liger with a facebuster, and in comes AKIRA… Old Boy! He taps out!! ***1/2-***3/4

Hell of a good match here, if not up to the standards of the last few IWGP Jr. Tag Title matches. NO LIMIT did a good job of being youngsters here, taking cheap shots and having no respect in doing it. Eventually, of course, LEGEND put them to sleep, after giving them a fairly competitive matchup. Still, a very good jr. style matchup, if a little slow to get going. Recommended.

And that’s it for this week. Check back next week for Dragon Gate results, along with a new match review. See ya then!

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