The Reality of Wrestling: Roundtable August

Ditch helps me start August in a fitting way

Quick announcement: I will be starting a radio show, Phil Clark’s World of Wrestling, on blogtalkradio.com. First show is this Wednesday at 5PM. I’m looking for every Wednesday for tapings.

August has arrived and with it possibly the busiest month of the year for pro wrestling. Tournaments are all over the place in Japan with big shows to follow or go along with them. In the U.S., there’s TNA’s ECW show—already done by The E five and four years ago—as well as SummerSlam, The E’s number two pay-per-view of the year. In Mexico, AAA has its Verano de Escandalo show, one of their big four of the year. And a slew of big Indy shows across the globe coming in the month that has just begun. And with all of that comes plenty to discuss from various sources, the key ingredient in any roundtable.

1. DDT’s big sumo hall show drew 8,800 last Sunday at Sumo Hall. If the number is true–and I don’t have as much reason to doubt DDT as I would NJPW or NOAH on the numbers–what does their recent success and Dragon Gate’s in major shows say about the direction of the industry in Japan?

D.D.: DDT is a real mystery. I’ve heard that for their Sumo Hall shows, the wrestlers do a ton of selling themselves and convince friends, relatives, coworkers and acquaintances to buy tickets. That, plus their regular fanbase coming out for their biggest event of the year, is enough for them to have a respectable showing. Let’s face it, if ROH could sell even 3500 tickets to an event that would be enormous. But what’s confusing is that DDT can’t sell out their monthly show at Korakuen Hall, which in turn has a smaller-than-average seating arrangement because they use a lot of space for a projection screen. Can the wrestlers not convince 1/10th the number of people to come once a month? Anyway, I think this is a very different issue than Dragon Gate, which is able to draw 2500+ in many regions of Japan.

While I’m not a big fan of Dragon Gate style, they have a lot going for them. Their fanbase doesn’t cross over heavily with other wrestling or MMA, so in theory they aren’t facing the inevitable downward spiral that other companies are. Their variety of titles, willingness to throw out gimmick matches, and constant storyline progression means that a large number of shows have something worthwhile going on; there’s a smaller percentage of plain-jane house shows. Last but not least, their roster is in theory just as strong as it was several years ago, with a mix of Toryumon originals (CIMA, Dragon Kid), T2P grads (Doi, Yoshino), Toryumon X (Kagetora, Tanisaki), and Dragon Gate trainees (Shingo, Hulk & Yamato). With other promotions you know you’re at best watching a shadow of former glory; with Dragon Gate it’s wrestlers in their prime and overflowing with former champs who remain credible. Dragon Gate benefits from the huge amount of energy Ultimo Dragon put into training students during the late ’90s and early ’00s, so the lesson for the rest of the wrestling industry is invest in the future. This is especially true in Japan where they can count on the loyalty of trainees.

P.C.: I’m with Ditch in the opinion that DDT is a mystery. I’m not going to chalk it up to the sports entertainment nature of DDT because history is littered with examples in Japan that sports entertainment in wrestling doesn’t go over well. What I will chalk it up to is the novelty factor that many (including myself) believed this year’s show wouldn’t have. The belief going in was that because it wasn’t DDT’s first show at Sumo Hall, it wouldn’t have the appeal that a first-ever show would have. However, since it’s the only time they venture to an arena above Korakuen Hall level seating (around 2,100 seats maximum), it’s easy to sell as DDT’s Wrestlemania to DDT’s fans. As for the rest of the wrestling fans in Japan, the best I can guess is that people see it is a Sumo Hall show that is guaranteed to be different (a full on mix of sports entertainment, comedy, and actual wrestling) from any other at the arena for the year.

They announced at the show that DDT will be heading back same time next year, and I don’t care what the card is, I’m not going to predict a poor showing because being wrong about the same show two years in a row apparently for the same reason is weird enough. Kudos DDT on another strong Sumo Hall showing.

2. A lot of the edge to the Nexus angle seemed to be lost once it became established that they were just regular heels on RAW. If they had continued to go in a more nWo direction with the angle, would it have even been possible and what would the results have been?

D.D.: Would it have been possible in a perfect world? I’m not sure. At some point they were going to need to look credible 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 against top stars, and that wouldn’t really make sense either in kayfabe (they’re green trainees) or from a show quality standpoint (most aren’t ready to be headliners). I think the ideal would be for them to quickly have aligned with one or two major stars, who would use them to sow chaos and make the rest of Raw and/or Smackdown easy pickings. Nexus could still do beatdowns on Cena, but there wouldn’t be a sense of looming anticlimax because nobody associated with Nexus would have a prayer against him. Now, for all that said, the real world is that Vince doesn’t tend to like giving a big push right away and he changes his mind constantly about booking plans. An angle like this lives and dies based on planning.

P.C.: The initial beat down on Cena had me hooked into the Nexus angle and legitimately intrigued as to where they would go with it. Then when they began the next week with the same in-ring beginning to Raw, I was done with it. Not only was the one guy I wanted to see (Danielson) gone, but the fact was that these were all guys who had only been on NXT and were expected to be taken seriously alongside the main-event circle on Raw. Yeah, a month or so of repeated beat downs in the back and in the ring (with the NXT grads coming through the crowd) has gotten the point across, but I think they could’ve gone a different direction ala Matt Hardy in ’05. That angle—another lost opportunity for the same reasons—still has one of the cooler moments in Raw history with a recently fired Hardy charging through the crowd, being taken away by security, and plugging one of his Ring of Honor appearances on the way out. This angle (like Hardy’s) would’ve benefited from a non-wrestling approach.

How about this: have them wrestling as dominant heels at the FCW tapings to give them in-ring practice and preparation while doing thug beatings on Raw in the back one minute and then showing up in the crowd the next, all the while in street clothes to give off the impression that these guys are still wrestlers, but not on this show (Raw). This was something the initial beating would’ve benefited more from in my opinion, complete with a beating on security before being overwhelmed by tens of “cops” or something, but I digress. And all of that would’ve added to the beating on Vince and set up the SummerSlam match all in one. Here’s how: Vince could’ve come out week after week barking orders at these young punks, maybe throwing in that if firing one of them (Danielson) didn’t get the point across he’d fire them all, follow that up with the beat down on Vinnie Mac, which would be followed by Cena’s SummerSlam challenge.

Doing something different for one week was nice for that one week and did get people’s attention, but it was short-lived momentum because that change of pace was short-lived.

3. Whether Heyman does or doesn’t go to TNA is irrelevant, but would he even be able to fix this mess if given complete control of the product?

D.D.: No, because there’s no way he would get total control over the company, and I also don’t think he’s as big a genius as he’s given credit for. There was no shortage of problems with ECW, and he had plenty of control there.

P.C.: Short and to the point, I like that Ditch. And to be honest, short and sweet is the best way to go when talking about the state of TNA today. Simply put, even Heyman couldn’t fix this sinking ship. If the recently released numbers about buy numbers and the numbers for PPV streams on the TNA website are 100% accurate, then they are doomed. It doesn’t matter that they’re pushing younger guys because it all should’ve been happening two, three, and four years ago. Nobody cares anymore and Heyman must realize it, plus there’s no way in hell he would get the control that he wants. If they wanted Heyman’s touch on the product, he should have the full control that he wants. But with Ditzie, Hogan, Jarrett, and Russo there, that simply isn’t going to happen. And if Heyman’s not going to be able to put his complete stamp on the product the whole experiment is worthless. Good call Heyman, you’ll benefit more from Lesnar’s book than you probably ever would working under the above mentioned people.

4. What does the future hold for pro wrestling in Budokan Hall, since NOAH—the only promotion to regular run the arena in recent years—appears to have made the decision to back away from Budokan Hall shows?

D.D.: Budokan looks to be done for wrestling, joining a number of Japanese venues as too big to be used. New Japan’s annual Tokyo Dome event probably should have been abandoned in favor of using Nippon Budokan several years ago, since fans would expect it to sell out and thus would pay a premium. I’d love to know the exact economics of what each venue costs to use, but the bottom line is that nobody but NOAH has used the building in the last several years, and there’s a reason for it: there just aren’t enough wrestling fans to support it.

P.C.: For the forseeable future, wrestling and Budokan Hall are done. And without Masato, K-1 MAX might be done soon too. However, I don’t believe that pro wrestling will never be run again at Budokan Hall. Considering how closely tied the history of Japanese pro wrestling and the history of Budokan Hall are, I just cannot see pro wrestling never being run in the arena again. The NTV cancellation of NOAH may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back as NOAH had begun to have issues selling well there and with all other promotions trying their best to sell out or get near a sell-out at Sumo Hall—around 5,000 seats smaller—they couldn’t reach that high. Now with NOAH out of the picture, it seems that a full resurgence of pro wrestling in Japan or a supershow with multiple promotions participating are the only things that will bring pro wrestling back to the fabled arena any time soon.

5. Satoshi Kojima said at NOAH’s Osaka show that he may come to NOAH, but he’s in the G-1 tournament this year in New Japan, and (with his All Japan contract up) he could go the Toshiaki Kawada and Yoshihiro Takayama route and become a freelancer. Which way will Kojima go?

D.D.: I get a strong Takayama vibe from him. Kojima is a big enough name and has enough left in him physically that he can be a main event player anywhere in Japan. Since he’s done pretty much everything possible in All Japan, which is currently floundering in 4th place, why not bounce between New Japan and NOAH and collect more yen for the same or fewer dates? At the very least he can get a feel for both companies and see which would be better as a new home for him.

P.C.: Freelancing is the thing to do in pro wrestling these days for more established stars, and Kojima will follow in a long line of noteworthy Japanese pro wrestlers to do so. Kawada was the first big one as in ’05, the man who stood by All Japan in its darkest hour finally decided to explore the rest of the wrestling world in Japan. Even Chono, the only musketeer to stay in New Japan post-2002, has announced his intention to become a freelancer recently. El Samurai and Yutaka Yoshie had been in New Japan for basically their whole careers respectively, but recently did go freelance. Bigger names such as Yoshihiro Takayama, Minoru Suzuki, Genichiro Tenryu, and Kensuke Sasaki have found success and (in the case of Takayama and Suzuki specifically) an opportunity to show their funner side as pro wrestlers (Nosawa Bom-Ba-Ye anyone?). Not only that, but because of the state the business is in right now in Japan, it just seems like a better idea financially to take jobs from multiple sources if they’re being offered to you. Katsuhiko Nakajima, Ultimo Dragon, and Tajiri & Funaki (upon returning to Japan from WWE) have all benefited from being free agents and accepting Indy bookings left and right. As for Kojima, he’ll do G-1, and then probably get some big wins in NOAH before challenging for the GHC title and losing to Sugiura or Akiyama to help either title reign get a big win over an outsider, and then he’ll bounce around doing this or that. But definitely look for another TenKoji reunion at New Japan’s January 4, 2010 Tokyo Dome.

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

IWGP Title: Nobuhiko Takada (c.) Vs. Shinya Hashimoto, NJPW, 4/29/1996

Referenced several times by me, this was the match that helped launch the nWo angle in WCW. It was the climax of the (in)famous UWFi/New Japan feud and unlike Muto in his matches with Takada or Choshu in his match with anybody during the feud, Hashimoto doesn’t dog it in the ring. The crowd heat is pretty amazing, but the feud did inspire that. It is well paced and very well done, not to mention that both men’s styles mesh really well.

Bruiser Brody & Jimmy Snuka Vs. Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW, 1981 or 1982

Looking at the names, you know the match is going to be good. Add to this that Brody and Snuka were just beginning to invade All Japan and you’ve got intensity to go around for all four. And it does. Typical 80’s finish for All Japan, but when you’re dealing with Brody and Baba, that is to be expected, so don’t let it turn you away.

Antonio Inoki Vs. Ric Flair, NJPW/WCW Collision in Korea show, 4/29/1995

This is the main-event of the two-day megashow in Korea produced by Inoki and New Japan with WCW participation littered throughout both cards. As far as dream matches go, this is definitely up there as both men had undeniable popularity in their respective countries and promotions, not to mention their storied careers as the backdrop for the match actually taking place. It doesn’t come across as well as you’d think, but the crowd for this show was 170,000 (the previous day’s attendance was 150,000). Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Triple Crown: Jumbo Tsuruta (c.) Vs. Toshiaki Kawada, AJPW, 10/24/1991
Part 2
Part 3

This was Kawada’s first shot at the titles and he makes the most of it. This was as the Misawa/Jumbo feud was nearing its climax and the younger guys were starting to really gain the advantage in the wins column. Jumbo, at his most magnificent and playing the grumpy old man mode to perfection, didn’t get that memo. I love Jumbo. I love Kawada. I loved this one. You should too.

AJPW Jr. Title: Rob Van Dam Vs. Dan Kroffat, AJPW, 6/9/1995

A young Van Dam in Japan, and Kroffat about a year before he and Doug Furnas were recruited to The E. The match isn’t the best junior match from either guy, but is still good to watch. One of Baba’s few flaws as a booker was never fully developing a junior division like New Japan did during the 90’s. This is one of several examples of Baba not fully realizing what he had in that division.

TAKA Michinoku Vs. Kota Ibushi, DDT, 1/30/2005

Ibushi was still pretty young at the time, hence the length. However, TAKA is still TAKA and that can only mean good things.

Akira Taue Vs. Yuji Nagata, NOAH, 6/6/2003

One of the forgotten gems on NOAH’s first ten years. Nagata’s invasion in ’03 has been overshadowed by other memorable moments, matches, and feuds within NOAH’s first decade of existence, but that doesn’t mean it should have been. Nagata plays his role of invading outsider to perfection, as does Taue as the aging veteran defending the promotion. Great stuff here, and one of the better matches in both men’s careers, and that’s covering a lot of ground on both sides.

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