The Reality of Wrestling: Roundtable February

The year is under way as month one is in the books and all major promotions worldwide have had their first tours or T.V. tapings. On the horizon are a couple of major shows in Japan, one for a promotion whose “major shows” have been at Korakuen Hall for the past seven years and one for a promotion that has been going up, up, up during that same period of time. We go over the Ric Flair incident during TNA’s Europe tour that speaks to a deeper problem within the promotion. And to connect all the dots, I brought up the WWE-Japan question just for the fun of it.

P.C.: Me
D.D.: Dave Ditch
M.C.: Mike Campbell

1. Zero-One will run Sumo Hall for the first time in seven years for its tenth anniversary show. What are your thoughts on the card, the fact that Zero-One is running Sumo Hall again after so long, and will they ever run it again after this show?

D.D.: I think it’s not out of the question for Zero-One to draw 5,000 or so and break even or turn a profit. The fact that they’re even trying suggests that there’s a certain amount of financial stability for the company. That said, I wouldn’t bet the bank on it doing much more than a half-house, and I don’t know that it would do well next year without the ’10th anniversary’ and Daichi Hashimoto debut. The card so far is solid, but I expect that the main event will be Sekimoto against Sai or Sato, and both Sai and Sato are proven to not be draws, so that won’t help.

M.C.: I think it’s a gamble for them to try to run Sumo Hall, but I can see why they are. Between the novelty of the two big matches (Takayama/Ohtani and Nagata/Tanaka), the fact that it’s their first time there is so long, and the 10th Anniversary show there’s plenty of reason to expect them to get a nice house. As for whether or not they run it again, I’d say it depends on how well they do on 3/6.

P.C.: I don’t think 5,000 would be out of the question for Zero-One on March 6; whether that’s 5,000 paid is an entirely different question. As the card is shaping up, I’m not going to complain, but since this may be Zero-One’s last shot at running this building, I can’t help but feel a little deflated looking at the card. I know that Tak has been the big Indy drawing card since returning as a freelancer—whenever he’s not in a major promotion for an extended period—and a match with Ohtani does have a certain appeal to it, but I was looking for Emblem to have their day at Sumo Hall, and a match against Tak and Minoru Suzuki would’ve done the trick. As for another Nagata/Tanaka match? I definitely will not complain since it will probably have the most intensity of any match on the card if they play up the two matches in ’08-’09 that the two had during the New Japan/Zero-One feud. Daichi Hashimoto’s debut against Chono makes the most sense with Chono’s history as one of New Japan’s three musketeers (along with Daichi’s father Shinya) during the 90’s, so I expect a nice quick outing with Daichi getting some good shots in, but eating a Shining Yakuza Kick in the end. As for the rest of the card: a Sekimoto match will be appreciated all around, Hidaka had better get the “revenge win” in the wrestling setting against a guy he lost an MMA fight to ten years ago, and I’m guessing there’ll be enough other stuff sprinkled around the card to make the outing an entertaining one, if nothing else.

2. Dragon Gate will be running Sumo Hall for the third straight year in March. What do you see them doing this year for their biggest show of the year, AND is Dragon Gate the greatest success story in pro wrestling over the last decade when you consider how far they’ve come from?

D.D.: Yoshino will defend the Dream Gate title in the main event. How opponent will either be Mochizuki or Gamma, and I just can’t see them putting Gamma in that spot. But Mochizuki hasn’t headlined a major show in a while and doesn’t have storyline momentum, so he would also be an odd choice. I have a feeling the card will end up being ‘smaller’ than the last two, and won’t draw as well. That said, they’ll probably beat Zero-One’s draw. As far as DG’s success, I don’t know that it’s the best in the world, but they’ve done by far the best in Japan. Numbers for the mainstream heavyweight promotions are down by 40-60%, yet Dragon Gate is even with or maybe even ahead of where Toryumon was ten years ago. That’s incredible, and a testament to their ability to create new stars and keep the fans’ attention.

M.C.: I’m not sure what they can headline Sumo Hall with this year. The obvious big match, after the Blood Warriors were formed, would be Yoshino defending the Dream Gate against CIMA, but he already beat CIMA back in November. I suppose they could run Yoshino/Lyger for the Dream Gate, but Lyger seems to be splitting his time between NJPW and CMLL.

I don’t know if I’d say DG is *THE* greatest success story over the last decade. No arugment that they’ve come far, but look at all of Japan: AJPW came back from the brink of death to become a stable fed. NJPW survived Inoki losing his mind with shooter fettish and is once again the top of the Japanese mountain. Not to mention ROH going from running monthly in a dingy rec center to running huge shows at the Mahatten Center.

P.C.: I haven’t been following Dragon Gate as closely as my roundtable compadres, but I do agree that the outsider participation will be kept at a minimum and that is actually a good thing. As far as long-term thinking goes, this year should act as an experiment to see how a basically all-Dragon Gate show draws at Sumo Hall. If it goes as well as the previous two have, then this promotion has really arrived. And as for the “greatest success story of the last decade” part of the question goes: I put it to Ditch and Campbell because I truly believe that this promotion is the best success story in pro wrestling, worldwide, over the last ten years. As for the progress Ring of Honor has made, Dragon Gate routinely fills arenas twice and three times the size of Manhattan Center for major shows, WWE had the ups and downs concerning house shows in the middle of the decade as well as an overall drop in PPV numbers over the course of the decade, and any promotion in Japan coming back from the brink (New Japan, All Japan) definitely don’t deserve consideration because it was all self-inflicted and just plain stupid decision making that put them there. As for any Mexican promotion, TNA, and NOAH, there was a lot of great things to say about all of them, but they all tapered off at the end of the decade due to things like poor foresight (booking for the future), and decreasing numbers in attendance and T.V. ratings. As for Dragon Gate, the last ten years have seen them go from a small Indy promotion/Ultimo Dragon’s gym to a regular running promotion running Sumo Hall for their anniversary show and experimenting with a U.S. branch. I call that progress.

3. TNA announced that it will be holding its Lockdown PPV at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena (17,000 capacity). Considering what happened when they tried to run Joe Louis Arena for Slammiversary a few years ago and the disastrous results that went along with that, how bad will this end up being from an attendance (paid and papered) standpoint?

D.D.: I couldn’t begin to guess what the draw will be. US Bank Arena isn’t exactly MSG in terms of cost, but then Cincy isn’t exactly a wrestling hotbed. Since it’s TNA, I’ll predict that it goes badly, since that’s a safe assumption with them.

M.C.: I don’t really know the whole story of Slammiversary at the Joe Louis arena, TNA is only slightly higher on my priority list than Jersey Shore and Toddlers and Tiaras (my wife’s new TV addiction), but based on Phil’s wording I’m assuming that 4,000 is a low number for that building. As for how Lockdown will turn out, it’s hard to say. 2011 TNA is different than 2009, they’ve got a lot more ‘name’ talent that could theoretically puts some butts in the seats. Nonetheless, even if it’s a total washout, it won’t matter, TNA will keep on kicking.

P.C.: To Mike: yes, 4,000 was a bad number; a very bad number as a matter of fact. However, the lessons that were supposed to be learned at Joe Louis Arena were lost by the time I got my piece on Russo’s time in TNA out around five months later. And history will in fact repeat itself when they head to Cinci. When you consider that the biggest numbers for TNA non-Orlando shows on PPV haven’t passed a little over 5,000—and their most effective period as a promotion is long behind them—it seems not only unrealistic, but almost certifiable to believe that they are going to leave those numbers in the dust. And that would only add up to a half-filled house at best. Trust me, even that has no chance of happening.

4. Ric Flair was almost booted off TNA’s Europe tour and some say nearly booted from TNA entirely. With Nash gone probably for good, how bad does TNA need to purge itself of its proverbial senior citizen center of wrestlers?

D.D.: The number of big names they brought in to no visible effect is quite something. It seems painfully obvious that their fanbase is comprised of people who will watch a reasonably well-produced wrestling show that happens to be in front of them, but don’t care enough about the product to spend money. In that case, TNA should give up on being Russo-era WCW (which is already a bad idea to begin with) and focus on younger, cheaper stars. They can draw close to the same ratings and revenue, they’ll have a much bigger potential upside, and the profitability and locker room sentiment will improve rapidly.

M.C.: I don’t think it’s the age of the wrestlers that’s the problem, but rather the actions of the wrestlers. Lord knows I love and respect Ric Flair, but he’s had a history of flaking out since his retirement. He’s got pending lawsuit with Highspots, he walked out on ROH last year, and now this. Nash has never been known as a company man. Remember when the X-Division feud was going to end with him putting over Chris Sabin? TNA doesn’t need to purge itself of wrestlers over the age of Forty. They need to purge themselves of wrestlers who are only out for themselves and not for TNA.

P.C.: As someone who was in the Citrus Bowl for what was supposed to be Flair’s last match, it has been quite the spiral over the last year. The highspots and ROH stuff kinda passed me by and when he was A.J.’s manager at the beginning of his time in TNA I thought it was a perfect fit for Slick Rick. It was perfect, and even after he had gotten in the ring a few times (we all knew in Orlando that it wasn’t going to last) I held out hope that he would stick to the managing gig as it still allowed him to be The Nature Boy while giving the rub to a younger guy without Flair having to get in the ring. Instead we’ve gotten the wrestling equivalent of Mays on the Mets, Jordan on the Wizards, and Ali against Holmes.

5. Will WWE ever open a Japan office like they’ve wanted to for years?

D.D.: If they couldn’t pull it off years ago, I don’t see why they’d do it now. WWE made a lot of noise about Japan, but when they started drawing poorly all that talk evaporated. They didn’t start signing big-name Japanese talent, they didn’t start doing regular tours, etc. There’s just no money to be had promoting heavyweight wrestling in Japan, or at least not WWE-level money. WWE just signed a new TV deal, but from what I can tell it isn’t a game-changer. Japanese wrestling fans don’t care about the bland WWE product, especially when they remember colorful wrestlers like Hansen, Vader, Terry Funk and Abdullah the Butcher that were mainstays in All Japan and New Japan. Cody Rhodes ain’t no Dick Murdoch.

M.C.: Never say never, but I don’t think it will last long if they do. There is no shortage of wrestling promotions in Japan right now. The WWE draws good houses for the odd Japanese tour, but make it a regular thing and watch them drop.

P.C.: Never say never; I’m saying never. It’s never going to happen. First of all, if that haven’t been able to make some kind of a real dent with their programming or their shows at Budokan Hall (they are the only worldwide promotion in wrestling), then it’s not going to happen. The business itself in Japan is on the way back up—even if it isn’t entirely obvious—and there are simply too many variables that don’t go in The E’s favor when it comes to regularly running shows there: the style of wrestling in Japan, how sports entertainment is perceived, how pretty boy wrestlers are perceived, the kind of matches and feuds that people want to see, the schedule, the variety, how television for pro wrestling has been done in Japan for years and years and years, and so on and so on.

Sorry, no SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN this week as YouTube is acting like quite the bitch taking down five of my seven choices within a 36-hour span.

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