Puroresu Pulse, issue 190: Mister Zero-One USA

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Kenzo Suzuki won the #1 contenders match.

Dragon Gate: CIMA’s team retained the trios titles. Mochizuki beat Gamma to win the Sumo Hall title shot. Pac retained over Ricochet, and they seem to be teasing a rematch. The new elimination match format allows for eliminated people to return one at a time if their team gets eliminated, and if it goes to the time limit then the team with the most eliminations wins. It’s sorta like wrestling mixed with dodgeball.

New Japan: Tanahashi, Devitt, and Bernard & Anderson all retained on the 20th.

NOAH: Suzuki retained over Hirayanagi.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Matches set for Sumo Hall include Sanada & Soya defending the All Asia belts against Sekimoto & Okabayashi; Minoru defending against Kondo; and Suzuki & Funaki vs Nagata & Liger. Nishimura has returned to politics, but again it’s to run for office so he could be back in a few months.

Dragon Gate: They will return to Aichi Prefectural Gym on May 5th. Blood Warriors defend the trios titles against World-1 at Sumo Hall. Saito & Horiguchi defend against Yamato & Shingo. Iwasa makes his return from a neck injury after 18 months. Doi vs Arai will be a #1 contenders match for the lightweight title.

Korakuen Hall: This happened a few months back and went under-the-radar. With smaller venues taking some of Korakuen’s business, the owners have opened a low-cost option with most of the back section (ie. not facing the camera) blocked off. It’s only for weekdays, since weekends are still booked year-round at no discount. The price for using Korakuen Hall is many times what a similar-sized venue would cost in the US, and it’s not exactly luxurious.

Misc: If it weren’t for Nick Gage, NOSAWA would have committed the dumbest crime by a pro wrestler so far this century. He got drunk and wanted to take a taxi ride to his hotel, but the driver didn’t know where it was. NOSAWA then got out, opened the driver’s door, pulled the driver out, and started driving away but was immediately pulled over by police. The cherry on top: he didn’t have his driver’s license. He said that he is stepping away from wrestling because of this, and both All Japan and New Japan have sworn never to bring him back.

Hero vs Sekimoto has been booked for WXW’s show at the ECW Arena on April 9th. Very fitting, after Hero praised Sekimoto in the interview a few weeks ago.

New Japan: Notable round 1 matches for the NJ Cup include Kojima vs Makabe, Nakamura vs Goto, and Nagata vs Bernard. Assuming MVP wins his round 1 match over Karl Anderson, he’ll face the Kojima/Makabe winner in round 2. Final will be on the 20th, and the winner gets a title shot on April 3rd. They’ve announced shows through May, and assuming the typical Super Juniors schedule it looks like they won’t use Sumo Hall until the G-1 Climax. Considering that they can draw 4000-6000 at less-expensinve venues outside Tokyo, and that there’s much more ‘big event’ competition in Tokyo, that makes some sense.

NOAH: The full card for the 5th is out. Takayama & Sano defend against Shiozaki & Taniguchi, Suzuki defends against Nakajima, Marufuji & Aoki defend against Ogawa & Marvin, and Akiyama faces Yoshie. The next big show will be May 8th at Ariake Colosseum.

Zero-One: Sekimoto will defend against Sai at Sumo Hall.

Section 2a- Meltzer News

All Japan: Dave says to expect Kono & Doering to defend against Kea & Omori, and at this point the match would have to be at Sumo Hall. This is tied to Akebono’s contract running out. Akebono doesn’t have any dates scheduled, so they might be using the money to bring in Omori.

IGF: Predator (Sylvester Terkay) vs Keith Hanson (Luke Gallows) at their last show was so bad that Inoki came out and had the match end early. What’s especially odd is that they had the same match just a few weeks earlier without incident.

Section 3- The Weekday Shill In Puropulse

Shoutout = linked. I’ll add that Gepp put some effort into an attempted project of mine that didn’t get off the ground. Sorry!

Section 4- Media Corner

I Love the ‘90s Part 16: I Love Real World Tag League 1991

A question: I’ve noticed that often times these matches don’t get much downloaded. I’m wondering if it’s because people have too much to watch as it is, or if most of y’all are long-time regulars of my media sites and have already seen the stuff, or if I’m not making the matches seem very appealing, etc. I do put a fair amount of time into this and it should either accomplish something or be replaced, probably with the sort of stuff that normally goes in the ‘grab bag’ columns. I figure that since this is the last 1991 entry it would be a good endpoint if that is indeed the case.

Real World Tag League 1991 is not one of the more famous All Japan tours. No match-of-the-decade candidates, at most two MOTYCs (which is mediocre by All Japan ‘90s standards), and no shocking developments. But it’s worth a deeper look.

Already covered: Misawa & Kawada vs Jumbo & Taue.

Misawa & Kawada vs Hansen & Spivey.

Dan Spivey’s time in All Japan was rather unique. He never got a singles push but he was always relevant as Hansen’s tag partner, similar to how Ted DiBiase was pushed. Spivey wasn’t an elite-level worker so he wasn’t in the MOTYC-type bouts that get lots of attention, but he wasn’t bad either, just middling by the high standards of the company. Anyway enough about Spivey, because ultimately he was tagging with STAN HANSEN, who tears it up from bell to bell and makes what would be a routine match into something worth highlighting.

Misawa & Kawada vs Kobashi & Kikuchi.

Misawa/Kawada is a team whose body of work doesn’t stack up well compared to Misawa/Kobashi, let alone Kawada/Taue. Yet there is one thing in their favor: versatility. When in a match with big gaijin they’re essentially an All Japan version of the Rock ‘n’ Rolls, relying on speed and agility and heart to survive. When faced with Japanese opponents that include a ‘weak link’, Misawa and Kawada become rugged veterans who deliver punishment and make the underdog build up to fiery comebacks. This match is an example of the latter, with Kikuchi absorbing a beating and going right after the champs.

Jumbo & Taue vs Hansen & Spivey.

I really wonder about how I can watch a match with my favorite wrestler, and one of my other all-time favorites, and come in with low expectations. But I did with this, and I suppose that’s for the best because it was a very pleasant surprise. A bit more ‘sprinty’ than you normally get from All Japan style, and the crowd is just *losing it* by the end. These four do best with the better athletes (Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi) in there to help, but they do darn good hitting highspots by the skin of their teeth.

Misawa & Kawada vs Gordy & Williams.

Winner of the match wins the tournament. I consider this to be the best of the Miracle Violence Connection tags. They were remarkably consistent in both All Japan and WCW, but rarely reached that ‘extra gear’ to where the bout was a MOTYC. Well, I think they got there in this one. Plenty of action as you’d expect from them, but also a lot of drama and tension to add meaning to the impact moves. If you’re generally a fan of this group and you haven’t seen this match, DO SO.

Section 5- 3, 2, 1, Zero One, ooooooo, Matt!

I forget how long ago it was that I first met Matt Nordstrom on the DVDVR board. We had bitter debates about politics, but (at least on my end) there was a certain ‘respectable adversary’ feel to it and we didn’t end up hating each other. Over the years I found out that he has quite a lot of connections to the Japanese wrestling scene. He was responsible of facilitating my interviews with Yuki Ishikawa and Sanshiro Takagi, and helped out in other ways.

Matt is the owner and operator of Zero1 USA. Because of Zero-One’s upcoming anniversary event I decided that now would be the best time to bring him up. This is a combination of a recent phone interview and things he mentioned online.

Matt discovered puro in much the same way I did. First came ECW (especially with his living in Jersey), and that opened him to the prospect of other styles and non-mainstream wrestling. In the early 2000s he was attracted to the vibrant east-coast indy scene, and was intrigued by online discussion of Japanese wrestling. Because he knew there were so many promotions and time periods to choose from, he decided to limit his focus to one promotion. And because he recognized names like Masato Tanaka, Kintaro Kanemura, Steve Corino and Low Ki on Zero1 match lists, he chose Zero1 as his promotion to focus on.

In early 2003 Zero1 ran a couple of shows with a ‘US-style’ theme to them, highlighted by Low Ki vs AJ Styles. To go along with this the company opened an English-language website. The website had a forum, and Matt became one of the few patrons of it. He got to interact extensively with people like Corino. The next year… ah, but now I must side-track for a moment to offer some Zero1 backstory.

In 2000, Shinya Hashimoto had a very turbulent year. He said he would retire if he lost a match to Naoya Ogawa in April, and indeed he lost. Instead of retirement the story was changed to one where Hashimoto would come back wearing plain rookie gear and earn his way back to the top. That didn’t happen, and he ended up having a somewhat uncooperative singles match with New Japan president Fujinami in his return match. Hashimoto and Fujinami had a feud that was both on-screen and off-screen, culminating in Hashimoto deciding to leave the company. New Japan, not wanting to have a NOAH-like split on their hands, decided to roll with it. They offered Hashimoto financial support for a new promotion and a couple wrestlers to help get off the ground. The theory was that they could continue profiting from Hashimoto’s star power while giving him the creative freedom he wanted. The partnership didn’t last long, however, and the companies severed ties by the end of 2001. It wasn’t a nasty split, but it was still a split.

Hashimoto gave up ownership in late 2004, citing financial problems. The company was then taken over by Shinjiro Ohtani and Yoshiyuki Nakamura. Nakamura had been a major office worker in New Japan and has run the business end of things from Zero1’s beginning. As part of the transition from Hashimoto they decided to find someone outside Japan to run the US website. Corino recommended Matt, and he was happy to accept. Matt was given news and results directly from the company, and was able to talk directly with Nakamura, who speaks English. He’s a web designer by trade so it was a perfect fit. And for a time he even got paid for the site!

Over the next few years Matt utilized his Zero1 contacts and Japanese wrestling websites/blogs in order to network. In 2007 he made his first trip to Japan and ended up returning six more times, typically once in the summer and once around New Years. Zero1 helped out with accommodations. Since he makes sure to meet people wherever possible he now knows quite a few wrestlers and has developed some friendships. He’s able to use his status with the company to get a ‘press pass’ to see shows and make the trips affordable.

Assorted notes from Matt, with comments by me in parentheses:

-Zero1, with its small roster, is able to break even at Korakuen Hall with as few as 400 tickets sold. (That’s part of how so many smaller promotions are able to survive. With multiple tiers of small to mid-sized venues, a company can typically guess what the draw will be for a given card and choose the optimum venue. For instance, Zero1 uses the smaller Shinjuku Face arena if they figure they’ll get around 500 people, a number that would barely be profitable at Korakuen.) Their Samurai TV contract limits their ability to use Korakuen footage on DVD, but Samurai pays them for each taping and that helps lower the break-even point. The talent costs are affordable enough that they can tour the country effectively, which puts them ahead of assorted indies that focus primarily on one region (usually Tokyo).

-Zero1’s wrestlers are salaried, so there isn’t the dramatic small show / big show pay shift like in the US. Also, they’re allowed a generally free hand to make their own bookings elsewhere, which has been especially good for Masato Tanaka.

-First On Stage, Mr. Nakamura’s production company that runs Zero1, was used by HUSTLE for most of its original run. Even though HUSTLE was much bigger than Zero1 as of five years ago and had support from Dream Stage, its costs were so much higher that it eventually collapsed while Zero1 has chugged along without significant difficulties.

-Ryouji Sai of Zero1 is a prankster and a ladies’ man. He’s a Korean who went to high school in the UK and speaks English. Once he made sure to have a conversation with Matt in public in order to show off his fluency. Sai got a big push from Zero1 two years ago after he was featured on a major reality show called AINORI. Matt went on to demonstrate how competitive Japan’s TV business is by noting that AINORI got 29th place in a given week despite earning a 13.9% rating, which would easily put it in the top 10 in the US. (That’s why All Japan and New Japan lost their prime time TV slots despite getting ratings that would be unprecedented in the US.) Sai had two WWE tryouts since he’s tall enough and speaks English, but it didn’t go anywhere. (Considering that Morishima and Omori got turned down, that’s to be expected.)

-He’s gotten some weird looks from wrestlers in Japan who first assume he’s just a fan, but then see him later at private parties or talking with management. He also received interesting reactions after making business cards for himself as Zero1 USA’s webmaster, since having a gaijin as part of ‘the office’ is incredibly rare for any Japanese promotion. As things have progressed he’s had even more success interacting with joshi promotions and wrestlers.

-Zero1 listened to a few of Matt’s ideas, for instance making more use of Big Japan’s young non-hardcore wrestlers. Again, not the normal mindset. That openness and willingness to try new things is part of why Matt likes Zero1 so much. For instance, they’re using Groupon to help sell tickets for the Sumo Hall event. Also, there’s an anti-bullying initiative that Ohtani does, giving tips to families and showing children exercise techniques. Local businesses and schools sponsor the events.

-Zero1 largely allowed Kawada to book his own title reign (October ’09 through April ’10). Kawada chose to put over Kohei Sato out of respect to Hashimoto, who trained Sato.

-Osamu Namiguchi, a Zero1 trainee, should have been a success but was repeatedly de-pushed and eventually fired because of his out-of-the-ring behavior.

-Matt was able to help arrange for Masato Tanaka to get booked by JAPW, and he’s helped some other Japanese wrestlers get US bookings as well, including making some suggestions for who EVOLVE and SHIMMER should bring in. Sadly he hasn’t had the same success going the other direction, with the exception of getting American Balloon a tour of Zero1.

-Takaiwa, who was a Zero1 mainstay through 2008, has gotten himself essentially blacklisted from major wrestling promotions. After leaving Zero1 he openly bad-mouthed them in a way that’s just not done in Japan. He was already on thin ice for ending the career of Naohiro Hoshikawa, who is still getting support from Zero1.

-Several big names like Ohtani, Kanemoto and Sasuke were quite gracious, while some indy wrestlers were not. Having met upwards of 100 wrestlers, he had more positive than negative things to say.

-Matt had his own blog on MIXI, a Japanese social networking site. It was followed by a number of wrestlers. (One thing I personally enjoyed was that he posted the results of the ‘Best of 2008’ vote on DVDVR. It was a mark-out moment for Sawa, who was in the #2 and #3 matches of that vote, something that wouldn’t happen in Japan.) Currently he sticks to Facebook.

-The wrestler whose English skills most surprised him was Yoshie.

-Joshi wrestlers get paid much better than comparably-known male indy wrestlers, who in turn do much better than all but a few US indy wrestlers.

-Battlarts lowered the price of their DVDs from 4000 yen in 2007 to 2000 yen in 2008, and saw dramatic sales gains. (For reference, at today’s exchange rate that would be about $49 and $24.50, respectively. Part of the price reduction was probably from things like using a smaller venue and fewer cameras, but mostly it was to lower the price point. 3500-5000 yen is the typical cost for DVDs in Japan because most everything is expensive in Japan.) Tickets were 5000-6000 yen, though that was for a venue with under 200 capacity and just four rows.

-Battlarts lets customers who go to 5 shows get an in-ring picture taken with the roster. When Matt went to his third show Ishikawa said that counted as enough since a gaijin making three shows was unprecedented. He did manage to go to a fourth show after it.

-Sawa’s English skills have improved markedly over the years, and he’d love to get into WWE. Matt advised him to go to Sho Funaki for language advice.

-Indy/shoot-style wrestlers Super Tiger 2 and Tiger Shark are both MMA fighters who love pro wrestling but want to protect their identities.

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My thanks to Matt for his time, and hopefully there will be more insights to share down the line!

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