Puroresu Pulse, issue 149: Grab Bag

Current news. Old news. Recaps of interviews that, for once, I didn’t do. And a startling look at the fate of Pro Wrestling NOAH. It’s all here.

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Masayuki Kono returned after a few years in MMA. He’s getting a push right from the gate, making Kojima tap in his first match back.

Dragon Gate: Team Kamikaze won the 3-way 4-man tag on the 15th. Yamato lost again, this time to Fujii of all people. They‘re teasing a Real Hazard split.

NOAH: Two results of note from the current between-tours period: Akiyama over KENTA, and Marvin over Ishimori in a junior title contendership bout.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Kono gets a big test on the 30th, facing Suwama in a singles match. Araya will retire on July 26th.

Dragon Gate: Shingo vs Yamato has been added to Sunday’s card. Look for yet another loss for Yamato, just because I thought he’d have a big year. Dangit. Yoshino vs Gamma on the 29th, with the winner to face Doi on 6/11. CIMA defends the lightweight belt vs Tozawa on the 31st.

New Japan: June 20th at Osaka Prefectural Gym is shaping up well. Nakanishi defends against Tanahashi, 3D defends the tag titles against Bernard & Anderson, and Goto takes on Sugiura. Looks like they’re building to Goto vs Shiozaki. New Japan’s poster for the show had Nazi imagery, so the NWA yelled at them to force a change. Kanemoto was knocked silly by a Morishima lariat on the 5th, causing an awkward end to the match but apparently no serious injury. Kanemoto called out Morishima for a singles match, because he’s CRAZY.

NOAH: Akiyama’s next defense is against Rikio on 6/14 at smallish Hakata Star Lane. KENTA vs Marvin will take place on 6/4. They’re hinting at a Kobashi/Akiyama alliance.

Section 2a- Meltzer news

Dragon Gate: Their 5/5 show did in fact draw 8000, another strong showing. Jae speculated that CIMA vs Dragon Kid was the real draw.

New Japan: Their 5/3 show (Tanahashi vs Goto) did 5300 legit, again proving New Japan’s strength outside Tokyo. Tanahashi suffered broken ribs in his match with Nakanishi. If true that’s quite odd for New Japan to immediately announce a rematch.

NOAH: Their Budokan show drew 7300, which is not their worst number to date. That said, it’s likely a padded number (ie. freebies and discounts).

Section 3- Shill Diffusions IV

Wanna know why watch puro rather than Raw, Smackdown and Impact? The stuff mentioned in here.

Section 4- Media Corner

2009 is for Big Japan and Interpromotional Hatred

Ryuji Ito & Shuji Ishikawa vs Takeda & Kodaka, Big Japan April 28th.

Another enjoyable outing for the deathmatch underdogs. Not quite on par with the March match but there’s still plenty of death-y goodness and Korakuen-y heat down the stretch. I’ll take Isami over Onita any day.

Sugiura & Aoki vs Goto & Okada, New Japan May 5th.

Yet another NJ vs NOAH tag is added to the highlights of the year. Okada really shines as he takes a beating (and a sick botched bump) like a man. Sugiura in ‘heavyweight’-style matches continues to bring it, with the ill-timed exception of last year’s title bout with Morishima. Korakuen Hall gives you plenty of noise to spice things up, and everyone goes with the flow. Bring on Goto vs Sugiura!

Section 5- Grab Bag

Jimmy Rave interview

Rave sat down with the Drunkcast and dropped a few nuggets about his tours of New Japan and Dragon Gate.

-In DG he was part of the Muscle Outlaw’z stable. Though he travelled with a group that spoke very little English, they still took good care of him. Additionally the MO’z had a separate locker room because they don’t smoke. How the rest of them can smoke while doing that style is beyond me.
-“They test you”. That was in regards to stiffness, and the above-average number of singles matches he had. Mochizuki is known for kicking hard, but Kanemoto is the only one who caused an injury (a concussion).
-TNA didn’t bring up Rave doing the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. He had some possible reasons why. Easiest way I can think of? TNA is run by morons.
-He’s looking to get back to Japan. I doubt that will happen with all of the budget cutting.

Vader shoot

Vader took part in a unique shoot with Kayfabe Commentaries. They had Vader watch and comment on matches being watched on a TV that faced away from the camera. That way KC doesn’t have to worry about getting video rights. I’ll just cover the Japan stuff, but they do cover other parts of his career if you’re interested in watching the video.

One of the weirder themes of the interview was that Vader would remark about how long his matches were, and he was usually overestimating things by 2 to 1. It’s especially notable because he was talking about going ’30 minutes’ a lot, when most of his singles matches were 15 minutes or less throughout his career.

On his start in Japan: He was initially scheduled to start in All Japan, but for some reason it changed to New Japan. The ‘Vader’ gimmick was initially supposed to go to Sid or Warrior, both of whom like Vader were still on the green side, but things didn’t work out so they picked Leon. The character is some sort of ancient samurai.

On the debut match and the ‘riot’: He was supposed to wrestle Fujinami, but Fujinami backed out and there was a card change. Vader was backstage drinking beers with Masa Saito when word came back that Inoki was calling Vader out for a match. This might sound incredible for such a big event but Inoki did it at other times as well.

On Hashimoto: Vader thought he was pushed too much early on, which is a fair complaint given the timeframe he was talking about (’89-’90). He felt that Hashimoto took liberties, including one incident that caused a long-term elbow injury. Their IWGP title match on the 4/24/89 Tokyo Dome show ended early because Vader knocked Hash out with a lariat.

On the ‘eyeball match’ vs Hansen: Outside of this incident they were friendly, and Hansen is the one who got Vader into All Japan in ’98. However everything went wrong with this match. During the entrances Hansen was swinging his rope/cowbell wildly (as usual), and it busted Vader’s nose. Vader blames Hansen’s legendarily poor eyesight. When that happened Vader shoved and yelled at Hansen before the bell, so things were heated at the start. Eventually Stan thumbed Vader in the eye, popping it out. Vader shoved the eye back in place and it was able to heal. Vader spent more getting his face repaired afterwards than he got for the match. In regards to Vader going from WWF to All Japan, he couldn’t take the WWF schedule.

On his physique: He blames his belly on the high-quality beers of Germany and Japan.

On his start in WCW: He was offered a contract after a few matches in WCW. He also had a long-term offer on the table from New Japan. Vader chose the WCW deal with more money but also more shows. In hindsight he thinks the New Japan deal would have been best because of the physical toll WCW’s touring schedule took.

On UWFi: He signed a multi-match deal with UWFi, and they in turn paid WCW a booking fee. Vader would fly in for a show and fly right back out. WCW agreed to let Vader lose to Takada in ’93, despite Vader being WCW champion, because it was felt that people in the US wouldn’t find out. And for once WCW was right!

A little history lesson

This comes from a combination of Meltzer, “Worked Shoots” by John Lister, and the always venerable Wikipedia.

In August ’83 there was major turmoil in New Japan when it was discovered that Inoki was funneling lots of the company’s profits into a failed energy venture in Brazil. The revolt was led by Sayama, and it almost worked, but in the end Fujinami saved Inoki from expulsion. When he did that it led to the creation of UWF as Sayama and his allies bolted. Oddly enough Inoki threw his ally Hisashi Shimna under the bus, and Shimna became the key non-wrestler behind UWF. In the year between Sayama leaving New Japan and the start of UWF, Sayama started leaking stories to the press. He even wrote a book that broke kayfabe. UWF’s worked-shoot gimmick was effective in large part because of Sayama’s credibility among hardcore fans, and that following is what kept the UWF crew hot for years afterwards. Sayama eventually had a falling out with UWF and left wrestling. Between that and a failure to draw outside Tokyo, UWF folded and the remaining roster returned to NJ. The NJ vs UWF feud was such that they were able to get more mainstream fans around Japan prior to the start of “UWF 2” in 1988.

The Inoki/Brazil fallout didn’t end with the UWF crew. An NJ house show booker got Choshu’s crew in touch with Baba, leading to them jumping to All Japan. Oddly enough Choshu’s popularity stemmed from a worked shoot angle where Choshu and others hinted at not being satisfied with NJ’s booking. That dissatisfaction was real, and it simmered until they finally left.

When Choshu returned in ’87 there was now too many egos to fit in one company. Maeda was frustrated at not being the top man in the company, and there was no change in sight with Choshu back and the newly arrived Vader to be Inoki’s big feud. It all boiled over on 11/27/87 as Maeda broke Choshu’s orbital bone with a shoot kick. New Japan forced him out, leading to the second UWF, which in turn spawned a slew of shoot-style promotions that in turn led to shoot promotions. The shoot kick boosted Maeda’s stock with the fans and hurt Choshu’s. Even though most other UWF wrestlers worked with New Japan again eventually, Maeda never did.

NOAH downsizes

In 2004 and 2005, NOAH used the Tokyo Dome for their big show of the summer. In 2006 they went back to Nippon Budokan, which was realistic because they didn’t have a huge draw handy. 2007, also Budokan. 2008 saw a dip in business but they still sold enough tickets to be worth booking the big venue. Now, in 2009, they’ve announced that they won’t be using Nippon Budokan at the end of July. They won’t go for the slightly more affordable Sumo Hall, or a mid-sized venue outside Tokyo. No, they’re dropping all the way down to JCB Hall, aka Korakuen 2, which is about 1/5th the size of Budokan. The 5/6 attendance seems to have been bad enough that they’ve decided not to take the risk of using their own money to pay for Nippon Budokan, at least for now. NTV had been heavily subsidizing the cost of running the venue, so while 7000 for Misawa vs Samoa Joe wasn’t a game-changing money loss, 7300 for the tag league final might have been.

The next GHC title defense will be at the smallest venue it’s ever been in, aside from the two in ROH. If there’s going to be a defense in July it will be at JCB, which is also smaller than any GHC venue to date. What’s more, Tokyo is supposed to be NOAH’s home turf. If they aren’t up to running somewhere bigger than JCB for their biggest show of a season, they slip all the way to the #4 promotion in the country: New Japan, then All Japan and Dragon Gate, then NOAH.

Now, I’m sure NOAH will charge a ton for seats in an effort to get somewhere around half (maybe more) of the revenue they were getting for the last couple Budokan shows. JCB’s location and upscale environment combined with a ‘big show’ card should be enough to command premium pricing. Still, this sends a very clear message about the impact of losing NTV. In the long term I’m sure NOAH will move back up to bigger venues once they adjust to their new situation and determine how much they can expect to draw without a major TV deal. If All Japan can run Sumo Hall a couple shows a year, there’s no reason NOAH can’t. Though I must say that with the NOAH vs New Japan feud in full swing, this shows a lack of confidence in big interpromotional matches being able to sell 6000 or so tickets. Either NOAH couldn’t get New Japan to agree to someone like Tanahashi facing Akiyama at a big show, or NOAH doesn’t think that such a match would draw well. Neither scenario is appealing.

Additionally, NOAH is going to have to cut their payroll by quite a bit. There’s simply too much deadweight. Their cost cutting so far has only been to use some of the slugs (ie. Kawabata, Shiga) less often. However they’re still under contract and the minimum salaries of such a large roster will make it impossible to break even without serious bloodletting. New Japan went through a lot of pain when for several years in a row as they cut salaries to the bone and effectively pushed out several underperforming veterans with lowball offers. Now they have a sustainable payroll and a reasonably stable roster. However New Japan’s cuts only happened when outsiders took charge of the company, and wrestler-operated NOAH is less likely to take such drastic action. To put it in Biblical terms: moving to a smaller ark means that some of the animals
will have to drown. Are Misawa and Akiyama cold-blooded enough to do what it takes?

It’s going to be a long year. And it’s looking increasingly like Kobashi won’t be able to bail them out.

Next Time: Takayama vs Suzuki results! Best of Super Juniors results! And possibly a mini-interview. I take what I can get.

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