This week I wanted to do something different, so I was able to get an old friend of the column, Kevin Wilson, to return and share his thoughts on some of the happenings in the world of wrestling. These topics range (in terms of promotion) from NOAH to The E to UFC and look at the good, bad, and potentially ugly having to do with the world of pro wrestling.
At this moment, I think that the Zero-One MAX/New Japan feud might be the best feud in all of wrestling. Whatever Masato Tanaka touches seems to turn to gold these days and the feud has run on an intensity that has given it a different feel than most inter-promotional feuds of recent years. With New Japan wrestlers in the Fire Festival and at least one Zero-One MAX participant in the G-1 tourney, how far do you see this feud going and does it make it to a Sumo Hall card?
K.W.: It doesn’t appear as though the feud will be ending any time soon, which is great, as so far it has brought some fun fresh matches to both promotions and the crowds seem to be enjoying it. Back in April Nagata challenged Tanaka for the ZERO-ONE World Heavyweight Title (which was accepted), so if that match ever does take place I am assuming that Nagata will win, have a few defenses, and then drop it back to a Zero-One wrestler. That alone would automatically push the feud through the rest of the year. Even if the match never does take place, unless there is a serious political issue like the one that killed the original Wild Child union, the feud is too hot to end anytime soon and I easily see it lasting until the end of the year.
P.C.: I am totally marking out for the 01-MAX/NJPW feud simply because thereâ€™s too many wrestlers involved that I enjoy watching and are putting on some great stuff. The 30-minute draw between EMBLEM & NakaGata, Tanaka/Kanemoto, Tanaka/Nakanishi are just a few examples of the great matches this feud has produced. Plus, the involvement of major stars Chono and Nagata give the feud even more credibility as itâ€™s not about an Indy promotion clashing with one of the Big 3, but instead itâ€™s about inter-promotional hatred the way it â€˜ought to be. Ohtani being in the G-1 is a must considering the feud and his former ties to New Japan and it creates the potential for some entertaining block matches as I donâ€™t see Ohtani making it to the final dayâ€”a six-man involving EMBLEM & Takaiwa against a NJPW six-man seems plausible. Plus will Ohtani winning the PREMIUM tag tourney with Tenzan (yay!) be somehow implemented into the feud? As for Sumo Hall, I could see them saving Tanaka/Nagata for Sumo Hall and dare I say Chono/Ohtani, or am I just a dreamer on that second one? This feud will likely go through the rest of the year, but if it does make it to the end of the year, donâ€™t be surprised if January 4 is the end.
Ric Flair has made a few short and sweet T.V. appearances in the past few weeks. What do you make of Flair’s mini-appearances?
K.W.: I liked the first appearance, but the second seemed less special and almost pointless. Flair coming out in defense of Michaels made sense as they obviously have a close bond. But coming out just to WOOO into the microphone seemed like a way to get a cheap pop. I hope that WWE remembers what happened with Foley and doesn’t repeat it. Foley used to get big pops when he made his returns, but over the years he had too many feuds against wrestlers no one cared about (such as Carlito) and too many appearances just to get a pop. By the time he had his feud with Flair, in which he did a great job, he was getting a significantly quieter reaction. Flair appearances are fine, but they need to make them special and not the norm.
P.C.: First, can I get a WHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! from whoeverâ€™s reading this? I completely agree with Kevin on this one as the first appearance made perfect sense, seemed spontaneous and surprising and had my eyes glued to the set. Now, I know itâ€™s time to shill the DVD (who isnâ€™t getting it?), but I hope they donâ€™t overdue the â€œcomeback momentsâ€ like they almost did with The Rock a few years back.
Manabu Nakanishi’s win over Hirooki Goto has given him a title shot against Keiji Muto in July for the IWGP title. Muto’s win was a surprise to me and where it goes (if that’s even past Nakanishi) is something of a mystery at the moment. If Muto gets by Nakanishi where do you see his title reign going?
K.W.: The obvious answer is that Tanahashi wins the G1 Climax and wins the title back from Mutoh in the fall. Personally, I hope they do something a little different since that is too predictable, so I’ll choose a different path. After Mutoh defeats Nakanishi, I think that he will have two more successful defenses before dropping the title to Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome event. One defense will be against Makabe, but I don’t see him winning the G1 Climax, so he will have to have another defense in the fall against the winner of it. If New Japan really wants to surprise us, they could have Giant Bernard or Hirooki Goto win the G1 Climax for the 2nd Mutoh defense, but I don’t see the promotion taking that much of a risk with their biggest tournament of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nagata wins it and Mutoh takes him out and Makabe before dropping it to his young apprentice.
P.C.: Iâ€™m getting scared that New Japan may revert back to their goofy 2004-like booking techniques with the IWGP title, but Iâ€™m holding out hope as the last few years have been progressive in all departments. Nakanishi does deserve the title shot in the sense that he hasnâ€™t gotten one in five years, has stayed with New Japan throughout his career and there isnâ€™t anyone else at the moment. If Nagata/Mutoh happens for the belt, itâ€™ll be in the fall, but if Mutoh loses the belt before the year is out, I could see New Japan making it happen for Tokyo Dome. I honestly see Mutoh beating Nakanishi, getting the win back against Nagata or going the sixty against him, and finally dropping the belt to Tanahashi January 4 to give Tanahashi that big Tokyo Dome win heâ€™s never gotten and regain his top spot at the same time.
Another surprise was Suwama’s Triple Crown titles win over Kensuke Sasaki less than a month after winning the Champions Carnival tournament. However, in his first tour as champion Suwama has dropped four falls to his first challenger Osamu Nishimura. I am a fan of Nishimura’s, but I do find it almost puzzling that a challenger would get that many falls in the tour leading to a title match. I understand the “young, still learning champion” angle of it, but I think even two would’ve gotten the message across. Where do you see Suwama’s title reign going from here with the August Sumo Hall show around the corner and beyond?
K.W.: One of the fun things about All Japan is that I never know where they are going. I honestly have no idea where they will go next. Joe Doering would be a natural defense for Suwama since Doering has owned him in the last year but I don’t see that being a Sumo Hall defense. If they are commited to Suwama, then I think he will beat an established star at Sumo Hall (Kojima if he is back, Kea, or a New Japan star such as Nagata), and then defeat Doering in a fall defense. Beyond that, they have a number of smaller challenge possibilities but I think they will hold off on the Mutoh defense until after Mutoh has lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
P.C.: The fact that the match went nearly 40 minutes and the stories of Suwama wrestling really injured for it are only going to strengthen Suwamaâ€™s title reign heading into the Sumo Hall show in August. Kawada is the obvious choice at this moment for August with Doering being the natural next challenger for a smaller arena show. After that is anybodyâ€™s guess with Kea & Suzuki preoccupied with their tag title reign at the moment (one I hope lasts a while). Kojima would be a good potential opponent as Kojimaâ€™s title reign was built around him passing all the old guard people he normally hadnâ€™t been able to, and that is exactly the kind of thing that should happen with Suwamaâ€™s. By the time February and March rolls aroundâ€”the other time of the year when All Japan runs Sumo Hallâ€”Mutoh will likely have lost the IWGP title, and that match would be a natural for Sumo Hall solidifying Suwamaâ€™s title reign to the point that he could drop it on the next defense and it wouldnâ€™t be hurtful.
Bobby Lashley’s entrance into MMA after leaving The E was surprising, but what was was Lashley’s signing by the AFL (American Fight League) with a debut rumored for October. Will Lashley’s participation do anything for this promotion and what is your thoughts on Lashley’s chances in MMA?
K.W.: No, it won’t do anything for the promotion, and I don’t see Lashley lasting long in MMA. Lashley is about a tenth as big of a name as Lesnar (and that is being very generous), and I don’t see his appearance helping the promotion as Lashley has been off TV for well over a year and wasn’t overly popular in the first place. From interviews I have read, Lashley seems serious about it, but my gut says that while he might win a match or two in the end he will never be a force in the MMA scene.
P.C.: Iâ€™m actually surprised that EliteXC didnâ€™t pick up Lashley and give him the same propaganda campaign that UFC gave Lesnar because the principle wouldâ€™ve been the same. As it is, Lashley has likely screwed himself here and doesnâ€™t have the name value that Lesnar did to escape to Japan and wrestle again. However, once this AFL thing goes down the tubes for Lashley, which it likely will, I expect to see him in HUSTLE wrestling Scott Norton or Akebono.
Brock Lesnar was signed to fight Mark Coleman before an injury brought Heath Herring into the fray. Lesnar lost his first UFC fight (second career fight) quick against a former Heavyweight Champion and Herring’s last outing was a less than stellar win over Cheick Congo. Should Lesnar lose this fight (or even if he wins), will UFC ever pair him against a fighter of his experience level (in MMA)?
K.W.: The easier answer is no, for a few reasons. First of all, few fighters at his experience level have Lesnar’s natural abilities such as his size and wrestling background, so the matches might not be as competitive. Secondly, and more importantly, UFC is paying Lesnar a huge amount of money so win or lose they are only going to put him in matches that they feel will be competitive, entertaining, and that people will buy. They are going the opposite route that EliteXC took by not feeding Lesnar easy wins, which I think with their fan base, is a smart move. Lesnar could still lose a few more times and be a good draw for UFC as long as he looks competitive and continues showing growth. I think that Dana White is more concerned about developing Lesnar and him putting on entertaining matches then he is on his win/loss record.
P.C.: A win against Herring would be the kind of win that would make Lesnar a star if only for one night. The problem is that there is no guarantee of consistency with Lesnar because of the fact that heâ€™s only had two career fights. What Iâ€™m worried about is that if Lesnar gets this win, UFC will hype him to the moon for whatever fight he has next and then what if he loses? The MMA world can be a fickle one especially to those who time is put into and donâ€™t come through (as is the case in any business), but that could mean only one fight as was the case with people pondering if Mauricio â€œShogunâ€ Rua was done after losing to Forrest Griffin last September. All Iâ€™m asking for is perspective here and that being that Brock Lesnar might be the best MMA prospect in years, but thatâ€™s all he can be until he gets a few wins under his beltâ€”and that means more than two to me, ok.
NOAH’s “Summer Navigation 2008” tour line-up was released and Morishima’s first GHC title defense will be against his old partner Takeshi Rikio. The Rikio match was going to happen at one point or another just because of their history as a tag-team. I’m still hoping for the Kobashi match and am curious as to how he will fit into this Budokan show (I smell a six-man against Kensuke Office), but I do find it interesting that two days before Budokan they have Misawa/Nakajima and Morishima/Sasaki at a Hakata Star Lane Show. Thoughts?
K.W.: The big NOAH vs. Kensuke Office matches prior to the Budokan is a bit puzzling. I don’t think much is odd about Misawa/Nakajima, as that wouldn’t be a money match but it furthers the off again/on again feud between NOAH and Kensuke Office. But Morishima/Sasaki would have been a very solid defense for Morishima and it seems like poor timing to have it two days before a defense, especially on a small show. One part of me thinks that Sasaki will win to set up a re-match for the title, but having your champion lose in a singles match two days before a big title match almost seems unthinkable (unless Rikio is winning, which seems almost just as unlikely). So I think that NOAH will come out victorious in both matches, but is is certainly interesting timing.
P.C.: For Morishima, the Rikio match was going to happen regardless due to their history as a tag team; the fact that itâ€™s early in the title reign means that both have to deliver and produce a good (at worst) world title match or Morishima could suffer the same fate right out of the gate as his partner did three years ago. NOAH seems to be starting to pick things back up a bit as far as variety and how enjoyable their product is as the tag tournament seems to have been the start of some nice things in NOAH, the best of which is the Burning/Kensuke Office feud that almost screams Kobashi/Sasaki II, but KENTA/Sasaki should be a good substitute for the Budokan crowd. As for Kobashi, I could see him ending up in a singles match with Nakajima, but the more likely match will be a six-man involving Kensuke Office with Takayama maybe being a fill-in for Sasaki (Kobashi and Takayama have met several times in tags this year). And by the way, should Kobashi/Takayama happen here or later in the year? I think if NOAH wants to assure a sell-out for this Budokan show, they should make it happen because Morishima/Rikio, KENTA/Sasaki, and Kobashi/Takayama would guarantee a sell-out that much Iâ€™m sure of (I think). Itâ€™s obvious that should it happen, it would be on a Budokan show as it will likely be their final singles match, but is Kobashi going to get one last shot at the title? I think the title match with Morishima (I donâ€™t see Rikio winning) should happen in December with a defense against Sasaki coming in September after Sasaki goes to a 30-minute draw with Morishima at Hakata Star Lane. NOAH makes all of that happen and by the end of the year, theyâ€™ve made the point about Morishima and the last Misawa/Kobashi match will be able start building (because we all know thatâ€™ll likely be Kobashiâ€™s retirement match).
The World X Cup seems to have picked up right where it left off as the line-ups and matches have been great (MCMG/Doi & Yoshino is at least in the top 3 for T.V. matches this year so far). What are your thoughts on the tournament and my proposal that they get a three-hour special next year for the tournament to be in a one-night format like it originally was?
K.W.: Anything that leads to unique matches with international stars on my television I am all in favor of. MCMG vs. Speed Muscle was fresh and fantastic, and I am sure that the other matches will deliver also. As for your proposal, I am all for it, but I understand why TNA wouldn’t do it. It would be great for me as in general I am not a big fan of the TNA product but would love to watch just the tournament. But for TNA, they no doubt feel that the wrestlers in the World X Cup aren’t draws and that a special wouldn’t get as good of ratings as their shows with Sting, Steiner, Angle, Booker, Styles, and Samoa Joe. I think the wrestlers in the World X Cup could gain enough interest to have a stand-alone special, but I don’t see TNA putting the effort into making that happen.
P.C.:The World X Cup is an event that has come around every two years since 2004. While I agree with Kevinâ€™s reasoning for why TNA wouldnâ€™t go along with the 3-hour proposal I brought up, I still donâ€™t see why TNA wouldnâ€™t already be planning for this next year because as of now it doesnâ€™t look like iMPACT!â€™s ratings are going to go up by a large margin, so why not try some things to bring in more people? Not only that, but so far the matches seem like theyâ€™re giving off the aura of â€œthis is differentâ€ all too well and that could resonate in peopleâ€™s heads next year when the previews for the event would start. If less people watch then iMPACT!, then the drawing aspect did play a bigger part than the tournament as a whole, but at least you tried, and thatâ€™s the main thing.
The Reality isâ€¦wrestling has been REALLY interesting so far in 2008. As of now, all the elements are in place for promotions the world over to start raking in the dough and the promotions are all beginning to collectively show the kind of mentality and creativity that has usually been reserved in recent time for Indy promotions where itâ€™s entertain or go home. The E has a roll call of first time champions, All Japan has an equally intriguing roll call of first time champs, TNA seems content with giving Joe the push he should get, New Japan continues to bring the awesome as is evident by the Zero-One MAX feud, and NOAH/Kensuke Office is filling the green ring with awesomeness. At the half way point of the year, it looks like 2008 is shaping up to be another good year in wrestling and, potentially, a most important year in wrestling no matter what promotion or country youâ€™re talking about.
Tags: Other, Puroresu, Raw, Smackdown, TNA, WWE