The Reality of Wrestling: NOAH and New Japan Head-to-Head (For One Day)

Despite a work agreement that has seen one of the better feuds in all of wrestling over the past two years, New Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH were competitors this past Sunday. Both were holding big, tour-ending shows with New Japan’s acting as more of a setup for their Sumo Hall show in two weeks. For NOAH, it was the final show (minus a small one at Differ Ariake) before the NTV cup with the teams for that tournament being announced. Some nice flavor this year in this tourney with a AAA team in the form of Extreme Tiger & Jack Evans, The Great Sasuke being involved, Roderick Strong & Eddie Edwards making up the ROH team, and there are teams from DDT and Osaka Pro. With New Japan it was the in-between of Satoshi Kojima’s G-1 win and his challenge for the IWGP title; the main event was the climax of Togi Makabe and Masato Tanaka’s tiff stemming from Tanaka’s surprise appearance at the G-1 final.

Makabe retaining over Tanaka was a formality. The point of the Tanaka’s run-in on the final day of the G-1 was to do a quick angle and give Tanaka a quick IWGP challenge. You could almost say it was a thank you for his work in the Zero-One feud of 2008 and last year’s G-1. Satoshi Kojima’s win caught no one by surprise as it was the kind of match that you would have to get the fans ready for a big title challenge that’s on the horizon: quick and to the point. Nine minutes, Lariat, see-ya seems quick and to the point.

With NOAH, I wasn’t 100% going in on either Shiozaki and Sugiura. The fact that Sugiura got the win—against the man he beat for the title—better mean that he is the pony NOAH is betting on for the time being. Giving Shiozaki his second title reign here wouldn’t have been the worst idea, but the fact that they didn’t tells me that NOAH may be waiting for a better and (hopefully) bigger moment go give Shiozaki that push that makes him the new ace of the promotion. Sugiura’s title reign faces the following dilemma at this moment: challengers. There aren’t that many fresh matches left outside of having a few more New Japan challengers come in. Sasaki hasn’t challenged yet, but after that you’d have to either have to look at KENTA or Marufuji before you’d need another New Japan challenger. In the case where a New Japan wrestler would be needed, Yuji Nagata is an obvious candidate considering his past exploits in NOAH and his exchanges against KENTA in the summer being the stuff that hints at a future encounter in the green ring. Kojima is another obvious challenger in the near future as he could very well start doing shows for NOAH right after his Sumo Hall challenge and with NOAH’s next Budokan Hall show being December 6, there would be time for the necessary build up. After that, it would really depend on who New Japan would be willing to send as none of the older guys are legit title challengers at the moment—based on how they’re booked in New Japan—and then it would come down to protecting your own people of importance. Out of the younger guys, Nakamura’s recent matches in NOAH would also make him a potential candidate, but it would have to be through some sort of invasion angle ala Nagata in 2003 (as mentioned above) for it to seem like something more than a forgone conclusion title match.

Title movement was at a standstill as both promotions had title matches for their world, tag, and at least one junior title with all six champions retaining.

Neither tag champs retaining came as much of a surprise as Bernard & Anderson are a team that New Japan has been pushing throughout the year, but their feud with NO LIMIT and Nagata & Inoue has had its time. They’ve done various tag matches ranging from elimination rules to dogfight rules (two straight falls, one on each opposing team, wins) to plain old triple threat rules to regular tags with Bernard & Anderson against either. At the end of the day, Bernard & Anderson have won basically all of these and have had the belts for three months, so I think it’s well past time to move on to something new. On that note, it’s too bad New Japan pissed away the last few months as far as getting anything ready in the tag division is concerned. With NOAH’s tag belts, Takayama & Sano had won the belts a week before the show and while NOAH has had scenarios like this where the title has changed hands right before a major show and then at that major show, it wasn’t likely that this team would be dropping the belts on this day. NOAH has been pushing the Takayama & Sano team for a while now, more subtly with them rarely losing in big tag matches and winning NOAH’s tag league to start the year. Like New Japan, NOAH really doesn’t have anything going in the tag division other than the Disobey team of Rikio & Yone, but as far as challengers go, it’s a real crapshoot.

I don’t think Devitt & Taguchi losing the junior tag belts to Jado & Gedo was even an option. I love 2/3 of the Impact Players as much as the next guy who loves 2/3 of the Impact Players, but they’ve had title reign after title reign and wouldn’t benefit at all from another one. Devitt & Taguchi, on the other hand, would benefit from a win over a team with legend tag to them within the division. Even more unlikely is Devitt & Taguchi losing the belts at Sumo Hall against Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega of DDT, but the match should be really fun. As for NOAH’s junior singles title, that was the curveball that beaned me right in the head. I honestly didn’t believe there was anyway that KENTA wasn’t walking out of Budokan Hall with the GHC junior title. Consider the following: KENTA was the champ when he injured himself last October (during their junior tournament), his only major losses since returning were his return match and a match against NOAH’s world champ, and the man he was challenging for the title is a multiple time junior champion who only got the belt because of KENTA’s injury. In this case I believed Kanemaru was keeping KENTA’s belt warm for him since it’s been clear for years that this is as high as Kanemaru is going to go. It would make the most sense, especially since Kanemaru has held the belt for almost a year, that KENTA would get back to that spot and get the belt back. In terms of fresh matches, both of these guys have been at the top of NOAH’s junior division for so long that next to nothing is 100% new anymore, so that line of reasoning for Kanemaru keeping the gold is out. The one thing that instantly hit me was that maybe the more permanent move to heavyweight that was being rumored near the end of ’08 for either Marufuji or KENTA could be coming to fruition. While neither man reaches two-hundred pounds in weight, both men have had numerous singles matches against all of the major heavyweights in NOAH with both having had singles matches against both Misawa and Kobashi, so a little bulking up would likely do the job. The other thing to consider is that as smaller guys with the styles each man has, both are perfect underdog heavyweights. As juniors turned heavyweights they’d be underdogs regardless, but the fact that KENTA can dish out the strikes right with the heavy’s and Marufuji’s high-flying moves create a different dimension than a regular heavyweight match. Have their larger opponents get more than 50% of the match on offense and you have an easy story in the ring with everlasting appeal because who doesn’t love an underdog?

And I heard that Koji Kanemoto’s 20th anniversary match—against Davey Richards—may have stolen the show at the New Japan event. Can’t say I’m surprised about that.

The reality is both promotions are still trying to carve out a plan for their futures at least some years down the road, the difference being that NOAH’s isn’t as clear yet. What New Japan has that NOAH doesn’t is telling of how different their futures look right now: an establish set of younger stars. While New Japan had to move up their younger guys in order to survive (literally) years back, NOAH was in a comfortable position as a promotion and continued to half ass it when it came to building up their younger talent. Opportunities were wasted as impatience and half-hearted pushes all lead NOAH back to the drawing board. Then the global economy took a shit. Then they were kicked off NTV. Then Misawa died. During this time, the older wrestlers of New Japan as well as the rest of the promotion both in and out of the ring were slowly doing the things and having the matches & shows necessary to get more people back on board with their promotion. Fast forward to the present day and the two promotions are working together in an almost dying business with big crowds hard to come by and overall interest at a passable, but not even safe level. The point: September 26th was one day. There will be other days where both NOAH and New Japan have shows, because these promotions have lives outside of their work agreement with each other. Not every match on every big show or house show can be New Japan/NOAH. Both promotions have to continue looking out for themselves, but maintain the spirit of cooperation that has allowed their partnership to last as long as it has. While New Japan holds the big bargaining chip with them being undisputed #1 for pro wrestling in Japan again, that isn’t as concrete a spot as they might think. Any number of things could take that number one spot away from New Japan or, even worse, make them being #1 meaningless.

PLUGS

Check out Ditch’s site and his column

KevinWilson’s Puroresu Central is a very good Japanese wrestling source. As is Keiji Mutoh Central and Ichiban Central.

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Mistuharu Misawa Vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW, 6/8/1990
Part 2
Part 3

As far as historically important matches go, this one ranks up with the most important in Japanese wrestling history. This is the one that started the feud that helped start All Japan’s sell-out streak in Tokyo and was the passing of the torch to their younger talent. My favorite story about this match: that upon hearing Misawa’s merchandise was selling the most before the show, Baba says Misawa wins the match that night. When asked if it would be by count out (common in All Japan at the time), Baba’s answer: no. Does that spoil anything for you? Not a chance.

Mitsuharu Misawa Vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW, 9/1/1990
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The rematch. I am of the opinion that this was the better of the two Misawa/Jumbo matches in 1990. While not as historically important as the first one (for that reason), this is the match, I believe, that Jumbo begins to recognize his role as the ornery old man facing off with the younger guys. That equals greatness trust me.

Jushin Liger & Brian Pillman Vs. Chris Benoit & Beef Wellington, WCW, 1992

From a Clash of the Champions, this was part of the NWA tag title tournament WCW was having during 1992. Because it was in WCW (or something like that), the top rope rule was abolished and this match was allowed to flourish.

Jushin Liger Vs. Naoki Sano, NJPW, 8/10/1989

Want to see Liger when he was the man before he was the man? That’s right. This is one of the matches that made him a star in Japan and for good reason. To be fair, Sano does his part and then some.

Bruiser Brody Vs. Leon White, AWA, 5/13/1986

Leon White is known to most people as Vader. This was during the “Baby Bull” phase of Vader’s career and was near the end of Brody’s life. Brody chasing the ring announcer while he introduces Brody: classic. Not the best match, but a fun sprint to be sure.

Triple Crown: Mitsuharu Misawa (c.) Vs. Toshiaki Kawada, AJPW, 7/24/1995
Part 2

This comes a month after Kawada pinned Misawa for the first time—that was in a tag-title match that has also garnered greatest match ever hype—and earned another shot at Misawa and the belts. It’s not the best match the two ever had (that’s the 6/3/1994 title match—another with greatest match ever hype), but it’s still awesome.

TAKA Michinoku Vs. Madoka, K-Dojo, 4/8/2007
Part 2

Most people remember TAKA only from his brief stint in The E and that’s a shame. Not only for the brilliant high-flying spectacular that was Michinoku Pro in the 90’s, but also for the more muscular, but still extremely potent TAKA in this past decade. Here’s an example.

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