The Reality of Wrestling: NJPW/TNA at Ryogoku Kokugikan

Another big show in Japan with TNA wrestlers going unbeaten

New Japan’s first tour of 2009 was a successful one as house show ticket sales have gone up nicely for the promotion, as has the overall quality of the house shows. The tour ended February 15 at Sumo Hall with another stacked card. And while it didn’t do any real damage as far as ticket sales went, the consensus was that it was another great outing for New Japan. TNA once again sent people over the show and once again TNA went undefeated moving their record against New Japan on New Japan shows to 6-0. This of course lead to Kurt Angle being named the next challenger for the REAL IWGP title after his win on the show against Giant Bernard (A-Train). That match will be in May in Fukouka in case you were wondering.

K.W. Says: The Sumo Hall show wasn’t as good as advertised, but New Japan is still on the rise
There is always much excitement whenever a promotion runs an event at Sumo Hall. Since it’s a large arena, promotions tend to put their best foot forward to ensure a good draw and exposure for their wrestlers. For New Japan’s latest event, I was a bit tentative going in as I am not a big fan of them working with TNA (I don’t particularly like TNA) and I was saddened by the departure of Keiji Mutoh from participating in the promotion. But with four titles on the line it was sure to be an important event as New Japan tried to keep the momentum they gained from a great 2008

All in all, I think it was a solid event, but not spectacular. I have gotten a change to watch most of the matches and the only one that really stood out was Tanahashi vs. Nakamura…. which is the best match to stand out of course as it featured the two biggest stars of the promotion, but they didn’t have the undercard that the Tokyo Dome or Destruction had. The only notable thing on the bottom half of the card was the return of Black Tiger, who attacked Tiger Mask after he won his match against Liger. If it is indeed Takaiwa I find it silly they put him under a hood as he is already an established star, but at least it mixes things up a bit, which is what the Jr. Heavyweight Division really needed.

Nagata/Goto and Angle/Giant Bernard were both decent but unspectacular matches. I thought Goto would pick up the big win here, Nagata’s stock has dropped lately and Goto hasn’t had a big win outside of a tournament since his return except for over Tenzan back in 2007. If Goto beat Nagata it would go a long way to establish him as a real threat, but apparently his time has not come yet even after a year and a half since his big return. I figured Angle was winning, but was expecting more from the match, as most of it was bland. The IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match was pretty bad, and the worst on the card, but it appears that they want to save Team 3D’s loss to someone like TenKoji, as I can’t imagine anyone else beating him. Bad match though and I was disappointed by the result, Makabe dropping two straight falls to Team 3D isn’t doing his upward mobility any favors.

Luckily, Nakamura/Tanahashi really came though and they had a great match. Tanahashi has really grown into the ace of the promotion and should hold the belt for a year just to solidify that. These two work great together, and now they can both go to their separate storylines (Tanahashi becoming a Global Champion and Nakamura battling NOAH). Overall it wasn’t the best show New Japan has had and a few of the results surprised me, particularly Goto losing and Team 3D winning. The rest went as expected but in many ways this event seemed more to set up future shows then act as a show itself, but with two big events coming up in the next few months they had to set the wheels in motion.

Based on the results, first of all it seems like we are in store for more TNA, which seems unnecessary but will at least keep the matches fresh. A few wrestlers are left in limbo, notably Goto and Makabe, and I expect them to do well in the New Japan Cup to re-establish themselves. When Tenzan returns in May, if he is able to I imagine he will team with Kojima at the Fukuoka International Center to take on Team 3D, but if he isn’t ready then I am not sure what the back-up plan is as no one has stepped up to challenge Team 3D. It will be fun to see Mistico (who had a bad match at Sumo Hall due to a knee injury) against a New Japan wrestler as the crowd loves him, and Angle/Tanahashi should be an entertaining match. With Nakamura now free, I hope to see an epic duel with NOAH begin, hopefully leading to Nakamura vs. Misawa at Fukuoka International Center. Fukuoka International Center is a big building and since Tanahashi will have a weak defense (assuming he beats Angle) against Goto or Makabe they will need something big to get the crowd to come. I hope that New Japan starts realizing it is the largest promotion in Japan and actually gets some wins over TNA, as right now TNA wrestlers are 6-0 so far this year against New Japan.

New Japan adding another Sumo Hall in early April is daring, but since they have accurate attendance figures and television ratings I will hope they know what they are doing. Tanahashi/Angle will be a draw, but they will need more, and it will be interesting to see if TNA or NOAH sends wrestlers to flesh out the card. New Japan is one of the few promotions worldwide that is actually growing and making money, and they need to continue on the same path if they hope to continue the trend. Tanahashi needs to keep the title at least through the summer, Nakamura needs to do well against NOAH (especially since at this point NOAH needs New Japan more so then New Japan needs NOAH), and they need to continue elevating wrestlers so that the main event scene doesn’t get too stale. If New Japan can even stabilize through the recession, they will be poised to really explode once the economy recovers. Hopefully they can keep it up, as right now New Japan is hands down the King of Sports in Japan and as long as they don’t make any mistakes they will continue to be so for years to come.

P.C. Says: New Japan continues to keep moving forward

With the current economic climate throughout the world, Japan’s pro wrestling climate has gotten a bit hazy to begin 2009. There are plenty of promotions including Dragon Gate, DDT, and All Japan that already has or will be running Sumo Hall sometime this year. NOAH still has their Budokan Hall shows, and MMA is on the downward slope. However, NOAH did just lose their big T.V. deal with NTV, but ended up with suitable replacement deals on Samurai TV! and G+ (part of NTV), as well as a 30-minute timeslot in Osaka, a part of Japan that has always been a rough area to draw in for pro wrestling. Whether the new promotions to try Sumo Hall will do anything or whether the replacement deals can help NOAH save their stature in the pro wrestling world all remains to be seen.

What was seen February 15 is that New Japan can put on a solid Sumo Hall show whenever they want. TNA is just one example of the vast connections NJPW has in the pro wrestling world, connections that no other promotion can really come close to. Kevin was right about TNA talent keeping the matches fresh as Angle/Bernard was a fresh matchup in Japan, and Beer Money on a New Japan card might be the definition of a fresh matchup, especially considering they were facing Chono & AKIRA. The bad news to come out of all of this was that Team 3D and Makabe & Yano had to put on another stinker, this time in the semi-final of the show, which put all kinds of extra pressure on Nakamura & Tanahashi to deliver in the main-event. Luckily, they did. The good news is that Angle is still over in New Japan and the Tanahashi/Angle match that should’ve unified the IWGP title will take place for the IWGP title in Fukouka in May. And Beer Money not only appeared to have brought their A-Game to Japan, but also was over with the crowd because of it. A good sign for TNA in their continuing relationship with New Japan proving that things can be good abroad and not be quite alright at home.

The Japan versus Japan portion of the card appears to again be what drove the majority of people to the show as the big Nagata/Goto showdown at Sumo Hall finally took place leaving mixed feelings as some liked it and others (like Kevin) felt a little underwhelmed. In the end, Goto could’ve used the victory more, but the fact that people have been sticking with him through the losing streak in big matches proves that New Japan’s fan understand that he’s still young and still on the rise, they don’t expect him to win a world title yet, and Nagata can still be more of a drawing card on top despite his loss in stature lately, something I don’t buy because his preoccupation with the Zero-One feud is the reason for the supposed loss in stature. NO LIMIT may be heading to Orlando sometime soon after their win giving them the right to challenge for the IWGP junior tag belts they lost to Shelley & Sabin at The Dome, belts which we haven’t seen on TNA yet despite Bubba & D-Von being able to show off their IWGP tag titles at least once on U.S. T.V. While I’m looking forward to this match, I’m also shuddering at the thought of an IWGP tag title match (junior or heavyweight) getting less than ten minutes, even if it’s on free T.V. If they got the twelve or so minutes they got in The Dome, these two teams would have Orlando on their feet because I have no doubt that if they only had that much time, they would be going at 120mph.

And then there was the main-event, one that so far has been deemed unanimously good. This comes as no surprise to me as if you watch the singles matches between these two (this was their eighth I believe), they have gotten better through the years as their 1/4/05 match was a great debut for a promotion’s big longtime rivalry, but they kept getting better with their 1/4/08 match nearly stealing the spotlight from Angle/Nagata, and their Korakuen Hall IWGP title match last year being a one-match sell. This one will likely lose to Mutoh/Tanahashi for match of the year in Japan, as that award may have already been sewn up with the importance and build to Mutoh/Tanahashi being better than Tanahashi/Nakamura; I will not take that into account when making my choice between these two because Mutoh and Tanahashi had met only once—in All Japan’s Champions Carnival tournament—before their Tokyo Dome match so there was months and months of build, but after four years people know what to expect when they see Tanahashi/Nakamura on the card, and it’s a good thing.

With New Japan having the best T.V. deal and being the only promotion willing to run The Dome at all, they do hold all the cards in a way, which would explain why so many promotions are willing to work with them all at the same time. The NJPW/Zero-One feud likely just wrapped up, Koji Kanemoto will be main-eventing Sumo Hall for Dragon Gate’s big anniversary show, CMLL has been sending people (most notably Mistico) and look to continue doing that since New Japan has been sending people to the Mexican promotion (including Nakamura, Tanahashi, and Goto) for the last few years, TNA will continue sending people for the April 5 Sumo Hall show with Angle challenging for Tanahashi’s title, and likely will for Fukouka as well, the NJPW/NOAH feud has just begun with NOAH earning a win at their last Budokan Hall show and the possibility of a Misawa/Nakamura singles match sometime this year seems to be the big finish to this feud, should that match ever materialize, and New Japan has been sending people to other Indy promotions such as Real Japan and Big Japan. The message is clear: New Japan is going to be the place to be or the people to bring in at least through the rest of this year until the economy can stabilize to a degree where maybe NOAH will be brought back on NTV and the general financial worries that plague almost every promotion in Japan can cease to be. Until then, New Japan is number one and they’re going to stay that way.

The Reality is…New Japan is the torchbearer in Japan for pro wrestling. They’ve always been the best at bringing a variety of outsiders in for big shows, only now they’ve been able to recapture the effectiveness that went along with such a practice. The other reason I use the term torchbearer to describe New Japan is because they’re product is simply better than any of the big promotions and rank right up there with the few Indy promotions that you could argue have a better product than New Japan’s (Dragon Gate, Kensuke Office’s Korakuen Hall shows, etc.); think of New Japan as The E when they’re fully motivated to put on a good product. The comparison to The E aside that is what New Japan is to the rest of Japanese wrestling right now. They have the most money to work with (having a profitable end to 2008), they run the biggest arenas in the country, they have connections to basically every promotion that means something in Japan right now, they have a motivated group of bookers, a new group of young stars including a young ace for the first time in years, and of course the T.V. slot. In the end, that is the biggest business of them all in Japan where wrestling is concerned: exposure. The fact that New Japan is number one despite a few promotions having an overall better product is because much, much more people can see New Japan on television than they can the other, smaller promotions. For any Indy promotion that doesn’t have name value in Japan, it’s all about word of mouth; maybe even so for those Indy promotions with name value. For New Japan, they’ve arrived in the catbird seat, a place they haven’t rested their behinds in for quite some time, and I don’t think they’re looking to relinquish the throne anytime soon. For the rest of wrestling in Japan, they’d better hope not for a while at least.

PLUGS

Check out Kevin’s look at the puro world at Puroresu Central.

This week’s “FUCK YOU!” goes to:

CHRISTIAN CAGE’S COMEBACK TO THE E
This is proof not only that Vince can be spiteful, but also that he can take out his anger on the wrong people. Christian Cage’s big comeback turned into Matt Hardy’s big heel turn on a whim when before the Royal Rumble a lot of Internet columnists like myself put out articles not only predicting Cage’s arrival to help Edge regain SmackDown!’s world title, but where the angle would or could go from there. Vince didn’t like the fact that a big angle was apparently so predictable—so predictable that people were chanting, “We want Christian” during the match—and changed it on a whim. I will grant that a Matt Hardy/Jeff Hardy singles match at Wrestlemania does intrigue me, but Cage ended up paying quite the price for it as he was not only moved down to ECW, but lost his first bid to win that brand’s world title. Yes it was a great match, but that’s beside the point. The point I’m making here is that people knew that Cage was done in TNA and knew that he was coming back to The E, so they put two and two together. Apparently that was Cage’s fault or he was simply collateral damage for Vince’s Wrestlemania paranoia running amok. That is the catalyst behind everything involved with Cage and Edge and the Hardyz: Wrestlemania paranoia. If there is one show where Vince is hopelessly paranoid about things going right and things having the most unpredictable feel possible it’s Wrestlemania, which I don’t have a problem with. But, with Cage having left The E on good terms back in 2005 (I didn’t read a single bit of news or rumors to suggest otherwise) and having upped his game both in the ring and on the mic in TNA during his three years there, it seems incredibly wasteful and drastic to devalue and deflate the comeback of a guy who was beginning to be treated as a big deal in The E when he left and should be treated as a big deal now. I have no doubt that Cage will end up on one of the two big brands later this year (draft anyone?), but the shock value of his return has already worn off. Plus, it’s basically starting from scratch as most of The E’s new fans either don’t remember him or only know of his time in TNA. In the end, Vince killed a lot of possible momentum for Cage with the move and necessitated the madness that ensued at No Way Out. The matches turned out fine, but I have yet to see a year in this decade that has had such a chaotic feel prior to Wrestlemania, a time when The E usually gets their matches announced quickly and build and build and build.

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