The Reality of Wrestling: The Joe Higuchi Memorial Show

This past Sunday, NOAH entered Budokan Hall one final time in 2010 with what became the Joe Higuchi Memorial Show. While the memorial aspect of the show came after the show was announced, the show could act more as a memorial for the past of Pro Wrestling NOAH as this was the first Budokan Hall show in NOAH’s history not to have participation in any form from Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, or Jun Akiyama. That alone is symbolic of NOAH’s current status within the industry in Japan, but also about what their future plans may hold.

The show did have some older names with Kensuke Sasaki, Akira Taue, Yoshihiro Takayama, and Takuma Sano on the card, but for the most part, it was younger or less known guys making up the bulk of the card. Ring of Honor’s presence on this card can’t be denied as their tag champs, the Kings of Wrestling (Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli), challenged for the GHC tag titles and Ring of Honor’s new booker, Delirious, was in singles action on the undercard against one of NOAH’s young phenoms-in-training, Atsushi Aoki. The Bison Smith/Yutaka Yoshie match was a good example of the “new” feel to the card as a so-so in the ring gaijin that NOAH has been trying to push as a legit title contender for quite some time faced off with a guy who’s been freelance since 2006 and hasn’t been in a NOAH ring since the July Ariake Colosseum show. But the uppercard and lack of Kobashi or Akiyama has finally forced NOAH to completely fill its uppercard matches with the guys they need to lead the promotion in the coming years, and they did.

Morishima wasn’t the only candidate for a title challenge of Sugiura, but NOAH was in a pinch to give Sugiura an opponent for this show. So they just had Morishima destroy Sugiura in his return tag at Korakuen Hall, and with a fast comeback comes a title match made just as fast. Kotaro Suzuki’s challenge of the GHC junior title going above Marufuji’s comeback match (against longtime partner/rival KENTA) also showed NOAH’s mentality to introducing new people to the top of the card as not only was Suzuki—the main junior that NOAH has been pushing since Misawa’s death—above the two most known juniors on NOAH’s roster, but he won his first singles title under his own name in the same match. To review, a title match not using a New Japan or elder NOAH wrestler, a tag title challenge coming from an American Indy team, a junior title match without KENTA or Marufuji, and a gaijin now is in line for a GHC title shot. I know change is never a quick thing, but if this is an indication of a change in direction for NOAH into the future (finally), they made a great first impression.

The main-event saw Takashi Sugiura successfully defend the GHC title for the seventh time in 364 days. With the quality of these matches being what they were said to have been in Japan, Sugiura could be in line for wrestler of the year when the Tokyo Sports wrestling awards come out later in the month. Bison Smith won contendership and will likely be next in line for Sugiura. Most (including myself) don’t see Smith winning the title, but nevertheless this title match should be in a lesser big show in Yokohama or possibly Differ Ariake as NOAH won’t try Budokan Hall with a Sugiura/Smith title match on top unless they have a helluva undercard for it, or they’re that desperate to run the building.

With the fact that Sugiura is 99% assured of making it past defense number eight, the question becomes who will take the title from him? Sugiura beat Shiozaki for the title this time last year and won a rematch in September, so he’s out. With defenses over Makabe, Takayama, Akiyama, and Goto, my only conclusion is that NOAH is either going to try and elevate someone in the undercard, say Rikio or even Smith if they decide to go that route, or a New Japan wrestler will wear the GHC title belt in 2011. If it’s not Rikio or Smith or KENTA or Marufuji—and it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be any of these guys—to dethrone Sugiura, a New Japan wrestler is the only logical choice left. Sugiura’s already beaten Makabe and Goto in title defenses so another New Japan challenger coming in isn’t going to be noteworthy, but who that challenger is could be. In any case, if a New Japan wrestler is going to win the GHC title, my guess is Goto. I know that sounds weird since he challenged for the GHC title at last year’s Tokyo Dome show for New Japan, but as of right now that’s the way I see it. With Goto having a “special singles match” against Kojima the day after the Kojima/Nakamura IWGP title match, my guess is Goto is eating the match-ending lariat and Kojima will head to the Tokyo Dome to face Tanahashi, who has gotten singles wins at basically every major New Japan show since losing to Kojima in the G-1 final back in August. With that in mind, a loss by Goto this Sunday means he’s not challenging for the IWGP title January 4th, and if that ends up being the case, Tanahashi (despite already losing to Kojima this year) would be the only choice for New Japan. If that scenario takes place, Goto would be free to be more of an invader in the NOAH/New Japan agreement and show up in the green ring more than he has. Some may question not having Shiozaki win the belt back in September and I can be included in that group as Sugiura’s title reign had already made its point that this guy truly deserves to be in NOAH’s main-event circle and it’s a positive for him to be there, but the future of the GHC title wouldn’t be quite as unclear if a new champion had just made his first successful title defense instead of a champion who has had a full title reign, but still has the belt.

The reality is there is no easy fix for the issues that plague NOAH. The 8,600 they claimed for the show is likely quite the blown up number as they claimed 7,200 back in September in the same building and the reality turned out to be around 5,000 with most of them not paid—the lowest numbers for a major wrestling show in the building’s history. I don’t think it will be that bad this time around as they were dumb enough to go up against a somewhat major New Japan show the same day back in September and thus were doomed from the beginning. The fact that they didn’t go up against any major show means that they should be able to do better numbers than in September. Hey, maybe they’ll be lucky and the claimed number will be closer to the real one than I think and most of it will be paid. If that’s the case, it’s a win considering the card and the recent numbers for NOAH Budokan shows without New Japan assistance (or the Misawa show). Going forward means a more concrete plan of action; the little things are being put into place as seen in the pushes of Suzuki and Smith as well as continuing to bring in foreign and/or outsider talent in addition to their agreement with New Japan. New Japan does the same thing, and for a simple reason: it helps the cards. Not to mention you might get lucky and get someone to stick around a lot longer than either expected; NOAH has had experience in this area as multiple extended stays in NOAH for Yoshihiro Takayama and Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima were based on a few bookings that turned into more long-term booking. This long-term booking included a GHC Title for Takayama in 2002 and both singles GHC titles for the Kensuke Office duo during 2008-09. Bottom line: NOAH has to move forward and if some of the older guys are left behind, it must be. Better feuds, better use and booking of titles, more young guys getting the beginnings of pushes in the undercard, and the roster as a whole putting on more and more quality cards are all issues that NOAH must address in 2011. At this point, NOAH really doesn’t have a choice; if they aren’t able to improve their numbers on major shows and garner some brand new word of mouth and attention for themselves as a promotion that can still put on the best product, then we all may have to revisit the short-lived rumors of NOAH recombining with All Japan.

PLUGS
Check out the radio show. This week: tons of results from IGF to TNA to AAA as well as the murder of El Hijo de Cien Caras and my thoughts about C.M. Punk at the announce table.

And here’s NOAH’s U.S. site

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

GHC Jr. Title: KENTA (c.) Vs. SUWA, NOAH, 9/18/2005

The best match of SUWA’s career and one of the best of KENTA’s as well. This is also one of the best examples of storytelling within a match that has ever graced the green ring. KENTA & SUWA play their roles so well here that it provides a rare conclusive face/heel dynamic for a match in Japan as heel and face aren’t as cut-and-dry as they are in the U.S. SUWA’s heel work really is something to behold here, as is his confrontation with Joe Higuchi. Fabulous stuff and the match that really began KENTA’s rise in NOAH as a singles wrestler. SUWA, you left this business much too soon.

GHC Title: Jun Akiyama (c.) Vs. Naomichi Marufuji, NOAH, 9/9/2006
Part 2
Part 3

“The Fluke of the Century” as Dave Ditch once attributed to this match, and he’s not far off. Nobody and I mean nobody expected Akiyama’s second world title reign to end here, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking it out as the crowd actually gets behind Marufuji, but I suspect that’s just because he played the underdog role well here.

Yutaka Yoshie Vs. Yuji Nagata, NJPW, 8/13/2008

I’ve always believed that Yoshie is an underappreciated worker and this match is another example of that. It had no bearing on the winner or the final or the semi-finals, but it’s Nagata in the middle of his comeback as a worker and Yoshie. It’s going to be fun.

Yoshihiro Takayama & Takuma Sano Vs. Takeshi Morishima & Takashi Sugiura, NOAH, 6/22/2009

There’s a lot of beef in there. And in NOAH that means only one thing: stiff shots ahoy. And that’s exactly what you get.

Takashi Sugiura Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, NOAH, 10/3/2009

Takayama was the main guy who trained Sugiura so Sugi’s moveset of suplexes, stiff forearms and kicks, and some mat wrestling shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. Put both of them in there and let them beat the hell out of each other and you’ve got an entertaining eight minutes. Enjoy.

Takeshi Morishima Vs. Toshiaki Kawada, NOAH, 2/28/2010
Part 2

After a disappointing title reign and 2009 spent mostly in the tag division, there were worries that Takeshi Morishima had peaked as a worker. This match would start a great 2010 for Morishima (compared to the last two years). And it’s almost cosmic that the jumpstart to this workrate rejuvenation for Morishima would come against the man who withstands time, Toshiaki Kawada. While his All Japan comrades are either broken down, injured, or dead, Kawada keeps chugging along kicking people’s faces all along the way. It makes for a great sprint for the Budokan Hall crowd.

Go Shiozaki Vs. Kensuke Sasaki, NOAH, 7/24/2010

Ditch complimented on this match’s storytelling and action in the second half, and I believe he’s right about both things. Just about everything in this match comes as a surprise when you consider NOAH’s heavyweight division and its inability in recent time to put out great matches regularly.

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