The Reality of Wrestling: Wrestling Kingdom III In Tokyo Dome

TNA large and in charge in one continent at least

The new year doesn’t officially begin in pro wrestling until New Japan runs their yearly January 4 show at the Tokyo Dome. The year’s show, Wrestling Kingdom III in Tokyo Dome, appears to be the promotion’s biggest success in years. The show has already been praised as a great outing for New Japan with Hiroshi Tanahashi’s IWGP title win over Keiji Mutoh being praised as match of the night. TNA participated for the second year in a row and ended up with both IWGP tag belts, Team 3D winning the IWGP tag titles and the Motor City Machine Guns winning the IWGP junior tag titles. Mistico and NOAH invaded the Dome giving us a total of five promotions with at least one wrestler on this show; truly fitting of the all-star theme New Japan was going for. Overall, it was a great day for New Japan and a great day for pro wrestling in Japan.

P.C. Says: This was a show that pro wrestling in Japan needed bad

After years of disappointment in The Dome, New Japan seems to be back on the upward trek with the past weekend’s show. After being forced to close the upper sections due to poor attendances years ago, they were able to draw 40,000 (not all paid) to The Dome for a card that was built around not only multi-promotion participation, but great booking as well. More on that later.

First things first and that’s TNA going 3-0 at New Japan’s Wrestlemania and snagging both of their tag titles in the process; these events I didn’t see coming. I figured the Machine Guns would be used as elevating tools for No Limit’s initial title reign and any match with Angle is a given as he’s the one guy TNA will send to Japan, but will be immune from jobbing unless a world title is concerned and that wasn’t the case in the eight-man tag that Angle was involved in; and yes Angle was involved with the fall in case you were wondering. Team 3D should thank Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s detached retina as it handed them the IWGP tag titles. While I’m against Makabe & Yano jobbing two years in a row in the same match, their title reign had run its course, the message was sent, and with no legitimate classics someone else needed to get those belts. Unfortunately Team 3D was that time, unfortunate because TenKoji was pretty much penciled in as the new champs before Tenzan’s injury and subsequent surgery. TenKoji’s reformation started down with them losing most of the big matches they were in before they won New Japan’s G-1 tag league and All Japan’s Real World Tag League with and IWGP tag title win the next likely step. How’s that for a turn of events: Bubba & D-Von go from being in a match strictly for their name to becoming the second ever team (the Steiners being the other) to win the WWE, NWA, WCW, and IWGP tag titles.

Looking at the Global !MPACT! special, it probably won’t be as good as last year. The main reason is that the match TNA will likely show in its entirety will be Team 3D/Makabe & Yano because the eight-man is short and would only serve to promote the MEM—not the point of the Global !MPACT! shows—and the Machine Guns won’t be shown for the obvious reasons despite the fact that their match was very likely the best match with TNA participation on the show. Cutting back on the pre-show happenings (something they needed to show on last year’s special) and showing both tag matches in their entirety might be a nice way to go as it would be the best possible scenario for a double win for TNA as their two frontline tag teams are showcased while the MEM reps. at this show get the clipjob, could be a one-week catalyst to a big tag match or something.

My only real beef with this show—like NOAH’s Budokan show in December—was the time allotted to each match. While I understand Mutoh and Tanahashi getting thirty because their Champion’s Carnival match went to a 30-minute draw last year and it’s the big match and all that, but in the process Liger’s 20th Anniversary match, Low-Ki/TM IV, and Nagata/Tanaka got downsized. Liger should’ve gotten more time simply out of respect due to this being an anniversary tag and not a comedy anniversary tag where the people involved are there specifically for nostalgia; all four in this one can still go. I am a bit peeved that Nagata/Tanaka got shafted on time. This was the likely culmination of the best inter-promotional feud New Japan has had in years that produced one of New Japan’s best matches of 2008 and it only gets twelve minutes? However I’m going to let this one go as those two seemed to put a lot into the time given as that match is almost the consensus second place on the show. Despite the fact that junior matches of any kind rarely get a big reaction at The Dome, I am pissed that Low-Ki’s title loss didn’t get more time as at under nine minutes that does seem a bit short for a title match of any kind. While not having the best or most groundbreaking build, it was still a nice build that allowed Low-Ki to look like a beast while TM chased him leading to their big title match. Simple enough and worth at least ten minutes.

All debating about the show aside, New Japan should be extremely proud about the events of January 4, 2009. I will say that this show is the exact event that has ended MMA’s domination over wrestling in Japan and started Puro’s comeback in the land of the rising sun. With the 40,000 announced being closer to the real number than most claimed attendances and with the paid attendance getting past 10,000 in advance that gives this show pro wrestling’s first new year victory over MMA since MMA began being broadcast on Japanese TV on New Year’s Eve in 2001. K-1’s Dynamite!! show ended with 10,000 paid and the number should be equal or less for World Victory Road when the final numbers for that one come in. And with neither MMA show doing a big T.V. rating, one must wonder if Fuji TV taking New Japan off its regular January 4 timeslot was a good idea or not. With wrestling being on T.V. only sparingly and barely at all compared to what it once was, the numbers continue to be promising for New Japan as of late.

In the end, it all came down to the main-event. Throw away all the inter-promotional participation from around the globe and everything centered on Mutoh/Tanahashi for the IWGP title. This was the other example of superb booking on New Japan’s part this past year along with the Zero-One MAX feud as this match went into building almost right after Mutoh won the belt back on April 27. After the G-1, when Mutoh/Tanahashi for the belt wasn’t directly being talked about it was subtlely being talked about and after beating Nakamura at the October Sumo Hall show, there was only one person New Japan could match up against Mutoh for this show. The teacher/pupil angle, the long build, the dominance upon returning by Tanahashi going a whole tour winning the fall in every match he was in all combined into an early match of the year contender for the Japanese awards and a torch passing moment for New Japan. Now Tanahashi/Nakamura is no longer a match of two up and coming stars, but two main-event stars. Hopefully the receipts on February 15 will show just that.

The Reality is…New Japan is now #1. With NOAH losing their NTV deal, New Japan is now the only wrestling company in Japan with a fairly decent T.V. deal. Add to that the fact that New Japan beat K-1 and World Victory Road in the attendance battle over New Year’s weekend is something even NOAH probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish had they gone out for a multi-promotion show. Maybe more important than the T.V. deal is the fact that New Japan will likely have the most momentum of any Japanese promotion aside from maybe Dragon Gate when NOAH goes off NTV later this year. That cancellation—thanks economy—is going to force NOAH and pretty much every promotion in Japan to do what they’re doing right now: elevate new talent while creating a good product. All of those years of taking for granted the power T.V. held over a promotion’s fortunes has now sent these promotions into overdrive trying to come out with a new crop of stars for those final T.V. viewers to hold onto when the show is no longer on every week. Most promotions have already had to resort to the above mentioned tactic as they either have no T.V. deal or such a miniscule one that it really doesn’t matter. The landscape might be changing in an incredibly dramatic fashion for pro wrestling in Japan during 2009 and with Dragon Gate and DDT in a daring move each running Sumo Hall shows during 2009, those gates more than any of the big promotions’ may show pro wrestling’s standing in Japan. Whether the news will be bad news the kind of which K-1 experienced to end 2008 or good news that could signal a renaissance of sorts for pro wrestling in the eyes of Japan’s general public. Stay tuned.