Puroresu Pulse Special: A Retrospective

Four years of columns. Seems like only yesterday I was all excited to start pimping puroresu alongside IWC luminaries like Scott Keith. Since hindsight is 20/20, I figure now is a good time to make use of it, exploring the first 107 issues.

I’ve made a lot of predictions, analyzed a lot of trends and potential trends, discussed various problems and bright spots, and so on. I think it’s worth going back to see how various things panned out, and how today’s status quo came into being. By the way, the ‘author archive’ does go back to the beginning, and those of you who started reading in the last year or so should check out my initial columns covering basic theories and ideas behind the Japanese scene.

Puroresu Pulse issue 7, October 18th 2004. Hoshikawa of Zero-One suffered severe brain trauma in a match against Takaiwa. This not only ended Hoshikawa’s career, but it also ruined his ability to live a normal life. The Zero-One roster has helped support him ever since, including fundraiser shows.

Issue 10, November 15th 2004. If you just glance it doesn’t look like much, but reading it carefully there’s just so much to mention. New Japan’s show at Osaka Dome was an absolute fiscal disaster, the sort of thing that almost sunk them to the point where they had to get bailed out by Yukes. It stands out to me as the low point of Inoki influence. The plans mentioned for the January 4th 2005 Tokyo Dome show were scrapped, and the new plans led to yet another dismal megashow.

There’s also an injured Hashimoto leaving Zero-One, and he seemed set to return to New Japan in 2005. This would have been an enormous boost to the struggling company, and his departure relegated Zero-One to permanent also-ran status. Hashimoto died a few months later, casting a pall over the industry. NOAH referenced big interpromotional plans, and that would eventually become the now meaningless GPWA. They also debuted their new dojo, which two years later produced a huge crop of rookies.

Issue 11, November 23rd 2004. I note that while US indies were clamoring for Japanese talent and concepts, the reverse wasn’t true. Today we have ROH working hand-in-hand with NOAH and Dragon Gate, and even crossovers between Dragon Gate and PWG. Bryan Danielson as GHC junior heavyweight champion and the ROH title headlining a Budokan Hall event are both signs that Japan has come to appreciate the quality of US indies.

Issue 17, January 19th 2005. WWE moving on a wobbly Japanese market! “Blood will be shed”, I declared! Anyone remember this? Well, WWE did actually take a stab, running house shows at some decently big venues and even running a Raw show in Japan. However they haven’t made that serious a push, due to the ticket revenue falling short of expectations. Japan is FAR less profitable to tour than Europe or even Australia. Vince & Co. seem to want to take a few more baby-steps, but nothing that warrants the kind of verbiage I was throwing around there.

Issue 22, March 10th 2005. Holy cow, Kojima has both the Triple Crown and the IWGP title! Guess what? Didn’t draw, like I predicted. The whole thing lasted less than three months and ended with a disappointing main event to yet another disappointing Dome show. Kojima was hot in 2002, and only slightly less hot in 2003; waiting until 2005 seemed to kill the spark he had. And what about that Rikio fella? His title reign was exactly the sort of failure that led me to ponder a bleak future for NOAH. The booking could have been better, but he still could have managed a B- if he’d had solid matches. He didn’t, and now he seems destined to be in great tags and forgettable singles.

Issue 23, March 16th 2005. The failure of the IWGP/TC unification to draw a lot of interest became clear, and New Japan had to hurriedly add Kojima vs Nakamura to a Sumo Hall card. I go on to say that no company in Japan should feel confident enough to book the Tokyo Dome. I was right about New Japan, and they stopped running mid-year Dome shows in 2006, but I had no idea what NOAH had in store.

Issue 24, March 30th 2005. NOAH books Rikio vs Akitoshi Saito as Rikio’s first defense. It was baffling at the time, and made all the more so when the anticipated big semi-main matches didn’t materialize. Also, the Kojima vs Nakamura match failed to sell out Sumo Hall, with a decent undercard to boot. I expounded on that in the next column. I also revisit Rikio vs Saito in issue 62.

Issue 27, April 20th 2005. All Japan Women and GAEA, the two big women’s feds at the start of the decade, close. The descent of joshi from big money to no money in the span of a decade has largely gone unnoticed in the US, but it’s very troubling. There are a lot of similarities to problems in Japan’s male promotions: young stars weren’t as good as old ones, old stars stuck around in main events longer, lots of interpromotional matches lessened the allure of non-interpromotional ones, and the overall decline in quality all contributed to a downward spiral. Joshi wasn’t impacted by MMA the way the men’s promotions were, and to me that says the men’s promotions could go down faster.

Issue 28, April 27th 2005. NOAH announces Misawa vs Kawada and Kobashi vs Sasaki. It wasn’t clear at the time if Kawada or Sasaki would become NOAH regulars, but since neither was seen as representing All Japan I decided to comment mostly on the effect of their no longer being AJ loyalists. Kawada has been more closely tied to HUSTLE over the last several years, but Sasaki did go on to be a ‘regular outsider’ until the jump to NOAH this spring.

That said, you got the impression he was never that strongly tied to All Japan the way Mutoh and Kojima are, and to me that showed weakness. A large portion of All Japan’s big names were freelancers, and they didn’t have the depth of a New Japan in order to afford losing said freelancers the way New Japan (mostly) did in early 2005. The fact that since then the only ‘big name’ they got was Nishimura has forced All Japan to do things like give Suwama a huge push in 2006, way before he was ready. I’ve complained about the state of NOAH’s future, but their problems have nothing on All Japan.

Issue 30, May 18th 2005. Tenzan, having beaten Kojima to win the IWGP title for the fourth time, badly needed a meaningful reign. Instead he got a token title defense in Italy and yet another Inoki-forced loss to Fujita in July. Fujita, who ruined his image in 2004 by not doing a decent title loss to Sasaki, manhandled Tenzan. I believe this was the nail in the coffin for Tenzan as a big star. He’s still a good hand and all, but three G-1 wins and four IWGP wins should give him a hell of a lot more cachet than he has. The constant abortive title reigns made him look like a chump, and he doesn’t have the charisma of Chono to get by entirely on tournaments and tag titles. More on that in issue 35.

Issue 31, May 25th 2005. After saying that nobody should use the Tokyo Dome, two things pop up to make me reconsider. One, the NOAH show was quickly approaching a legit sellout. Two, New Japan’s fiscally responsible president Kusama was admitting to past excesses and inflated attendance numbers, and he said that they were using ‘budget’ configurations. With everything taken into account they could do reasonably well even with a half-full venue. Nowadays they can’t even muster that much, so it made sense to cut back to just January 4th. Inoki griped at Kusama in public about the small announced number, because he cares about appearances more than business.

Issue 32, June 8th 2005. CM Punk and Samoa Joe, whatever happened to those boys? Heck even Danielson’s star rose quite a bit, with his epic title reign and ROH’s growth. I don’t think Punk would have amounted to anything, but I do think Joe would have done well in New Japan, and Danielson clearly should have gotten a bigger push than the one they eventually gave to Rocky Romero as Black Tiger.

July 13th 2005. RIP Hashimoto.

Japan trip 2005 part 1.

Japan trip 2005 part 2.

Japan trip 2005 part 3.

Japan trip 2005 miscellany.

Japan trip 2005 pictures. They still work?!

Issue 41, October 6th 2005. A look at what was the last ‘mega-disaster’ level show for New Japan. Lesnar wasn’t selling tickets, the card was slapped together AND unappealing, and they were following up on NOAH’s stellar July show. What I said about New Japan vs Zero-One still holds. Also, I believe that Misawa’s refusal to appear at the show was the start of the NJ/NOAH fallout that came to a head with the Yukes bailout.

Issue 42, October 13th 2005. More details about how screwed up New Japan’s booking had been in recent years.

Issue 43, October 27th 2005. Things were looking good for NOAH at the moment, but I feared the long term picture was not so bright. The way business and the product declined from late ’05 to early ’06 (before Kobashi left) bore that out, to say nothing of the fact that now Rikio, Akiyama and Morishima have all had disappointing title reigns.

Issue 46, November 17th 2005. A huge one. You had NOAH’s November 5th show, which I thought would be the start of a really hot run in the coming months but wound up as the last show of its caliber… well from anywhere in Japan. You had Yukes buying New Japan, which finally put an end to Inoki-ism. New Japan has clearly been better off under Yukes, and it’s hard to emphasize enough how vital the change was for their survival.

Issue 49, December 15th 2005. The Yukes change becomes apparent when the latest round of Inoki-related drama pops up. This sort of unprofessional garbage hasn’t happened in the last two years or so.

Issue 52, January 19th 2006. Yet more New Japan drama. The core thing here is that they needed big budget cuts to balance the books. This eventually led to the departure of the Muga/Dradition crew, Scott Norton, and many others. More on that in issues 54 and 57.

Issue 53, January 26th 2006. A look at Akiyama’s most recent title reign. I said he needed to do something with it, and for all intents and purposes he didn’t. Akiyama as a big time star, the way he seemed in the first part of the decade, is for all intents and purposes dead. Since he’s also the booker he has only himself to blame.

Issue 58, March 2nd 2006. A look at the woes of All Japan. This was a low point for them the way late ’05 was a low point for New Japan.

Issue 59, March 9th 2006. After a darn good Budokan show, NOAH’s booking for the April tour took a turn for the worse. The April Budokan event was in my mind the turning point from a company that could regularly get 15,000 plus at Budokan to a company that averaged closer to half-full. They’d totally lost the momentum from the 7/18/05, 11/5/05 and 3/5/06 shows, and even Kobashi’s return couldn’t restore it.

Issue 61, March 23rd 2006. A look at Brock Lesnar and why he didn’t catch fire in Japan.

Issue 63, April 6th 2006. Early 2006 was a very good time for Dragon Gate. You had several hot angles, the well-received debut in ROH, a move towards creating new stars, and a steady flow of quality matches. In the next issue I size them up quite favorably with NOAH. I’m sadly not so keen on what happened in DG since. They moved away from sprints and more towards an attempt at epic tag matches, a style they aren’t as uniquely skilled at. Long title reigns for old-timers Liger and CIMA didn’t do much, nor did the reigns of Saito and Yokosuka before them. Business seems decent enough at least, but I have my concerns about their future. CIMA could well be to them what Kobashi is to NOAH.

Issue 65, April 27th 2006. Yet more New Japan turmoil, this time an event that resulted in the Muga split.

Issue 68, May 11th 2006. Quackenbush interview #1, part 1. The Chikara/Japan connection has grown rather strong for such a small promotion; next month they’re bringing in a contingent of Big Japan wrestlers.

Issue 69, May 18th 2006. Quack #1 part 2.

Issue 70, May 25th 2006. NOAH opens a US office and website! What huge implications! …or not. At most this helped facilitate the NOAH/ROH relationship.

Issue 72, June 9th 2006. Scandal in PRIDE could shut down Zero-One and HUSTLE! …or not. PRIDE did fold, but Zero-One escaped relatively unscathed, and HUSTLE rebooted with no ill effects in late 06/early 07. The decline of MMA in Japan is interesting to have alongside the MMA boom overseas. More on this in issue 76

Issue 73, June 15th 2006. Takayama’s back! And as it turned out it wasn’t anything important in the long run. One singles match of any note in that time and a small number of meaningful tags are only a fraction of the impact he had before his stroke. However he’s avoided a relapse, and I’d rather Takayama live to 70 than be in a few more MOTYCs.

Issue 75, June 29th 2006. Kobashi diagnosed with cancer. No need to explain that one.

Issue 78, July 20th 2006. Brock Lesnar refuses to drop the IWGP title, and gets ‘covered’ by the Inokis. This led to the creation of Inoki Genome as a separate promotion, Angle winning the title from Lesnar, and finally earlier this year Angle dropping the title to Nakamura.

Issue 79, July 27th 2006. I hypothesize that NOAH would never use Samoa Joe because it would cost them too much money and time to properly build him up. A year later they brought him over anyway, and it fizzled because he hadn’t been built up. There ya go.

Issue 81, August 23rd 2006. New Japan’s booking stabilizes as Tanahashi holds the IWGP title and Tenzan wins the G-1. I wrote, “despite the weakness New Japan had going into the G-1, they have the potential to turn things around”. Indeed they did. Every title change since then has been entirely under their control, and the IWGP title has been the best big title belt by a good margin over the last two years.

Japan trip 2006 part 1.

Japan trip 2006 part 2.

Issue 82, August 31st 2006. Kurt Angle: free agent! Surely he can be the kind of huge draw Brock Lesnar wasn’t! …or not. He hasn’t been the drama queen Brock was, but he certainly fell short of box-office expectation.

Issue 84, September 14th 2006. Marufuji wins the GHC title. Unmitigated disaster? No, it wasn’t Ogawa-level bad or Rikio-level disappointing. Neither did it make Marufuji into a big star; now he’s firmly back in the junior division. The biggest impact he had with the belt was probably the acclaimed match with Nigel that was, I think, the catalyst behind the transformation into McLariat.

Puroresu After Action Report #1, October 9th 2006. Holy crap, I was going to do MORE than one column a week?! What was I thinking? To be fair, the first two years of Puroresu Pulse were chock full of meaty news stories. Now everything is dreadfully stable. My energies have turned towards finding and upgrading content on the media sites.

Issue 88, October 12th 2006. NOAH books Marufuji vs KENTA as the headliner for a Budokan Hall event. It was a bold move that didn’t sink the company but didn’t generate momentum for NOAH’s young generation either. In the next column I discuss how in Japan they can’t get by on MOTYCs, even if they are more match-focused than in the US. The column after that I wondered if NOAH was deliberately using MOTYCs as a business model, but that was disproved right away.

Issue 93, November 16th 2006. It’s the GPWA vs New Japan and All Japan! Who will win? Let’s go to GPWA’s website! Oh… it hasn’t been updated since May 2007. Yeah. I’m gonna call it for AJ & NJ.

Issue 96, December 14th 2006. Misawa vs Morishima is announced, and it seemed clear to me at the time that they needed to pull the trigger on Morishima. Instead Morishima got the ROH title, which helped him a little and ROH a lot. Misawa meanwhile held the belt for 14 additional tedious months. Morishima might have been slightly less prepared, but he also would have been more motivated. He seems to have lost a lot of the spark that made him such a star in 2006.

Issue 103, February 22nd 2007. Oh how I remember the wails of ROH fans when Morishima bulldozed Homicide to win the title. He’s just a giant Japanese baby with one move! Turns out that Homicide was gone a few weeks later and Morishima had a solid reign that helped put ROH on the map in Japan.

Issue 104, March 8th 2007. I rip NOAH a new one for their abysmal booking. The Misawa reign was just so bad, there’s no excuse for the weak challengers and lack of direction beyond “he’s obviously losing to Morishima in 2008 after Morishima loses the ROH title”.

Issue 106, March 29th 2007. Man, TNA was eeeeeverywhere in 2007. It’s much less so now, for reasons that aren’t readily apparent, but it is still on good terms with NJ, AJ and DG. TNA is exponentially more willing than WWE to give-and-take with other promotions, and to bring in guys for spot appearances with the goal of having a good match. All that said, TNA isn’t a draw in Japan and never will be.

Issue 107, April 13th 2007. Yuji Nagata wins the IWGP title in a thriller against Tanahashi. He’s going to lead New Japan back to the promised land! …or not. Turns out that his only successful defenses were relegated to Korakuen Hall. I think they could have done better in that regard, using mid-sized venues for Koshinaka and Makabe. They might have still sold out and it certainly would have looked better as far as the title’s importance. Nagata’s second reign was okay but nothing compared to the first. We’ll never know what was supposed to happen at the end, with Nakamura’s injury in the G-1 semifinal possibly killing a Nagata vs Nakamura match in October, but I doubt Nagata would have retained in that instance either.

And that’s it. Looking back I’m struck by how little I talked about “good matches” and things of that nature. Isn’t that the reason we get into Japanese wrestling in the first place? I plan to continue doing more career retrospectives like the one I did for Kobashi, but there should also be a place for promoting more current matches. I’ll try to do that more often.

Thanks to all of you for putting up with my tedium and rants for four years. Here’s to many more.

Tags: , ,