Puroresu Pulse, issue 191: Howard Brody, The Man Behind Ring Warriors

Section 1- Results

New Japan: Notable round 1 results from the NJ Cup so far include Makabe over Kojima and Nakamura over Goto.

NOAH: All four champions retained on the 5th. They claimed just 4800 in attendance, a new company low for a big Tokyo show. Akiyama beat Yoshie. The juniors of Disobey turned on Yone.

Zero1: Sai beat Sekimoto to win the company’s title at Sumo Hall. Takayama beat Ohtani, Tanaka beat Nagata, and Sato & Kamikaze retained the tag titles over Corino & Sawada. Daichi Hashimoto’s entrance, using his father’s music, got an enormous response. Chono was generous and let him last 13 minutes. Attendance was around 9000, and on a very competitive weekend. There was some discounting, but that’s to be expected these days.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Mutoh vs Daichi Hashimoto has been added to their show on the 21st. Vader and his son will be there for a 6-man.

Dragon Gate: If World-1 loses the trios title match on the 20th, they will have to disband.

New Japan: Taka & Taichi (Ishikari) will challenge for the junior tag titles on the 20th.

NOAH: Ishimori vs Marvin will take place on Saturday to determine who faces Suzuki on the 21st in Fukuoka. Also on that show will be Sugiura defending against Trevor Murdoch, and Takayama vs Morishima. No word as to why Murdoch got the shot.

Zero1: Colorful K-1 fighter Yuichiro Nagashima has said he wants to become a rival for Daichi Hashimoto and will debut for the company on May 5th. Their annual Yasukuni Shrine show (typically the biggest of the year) comes up on the 27th. Meltzer speculates that they’ll do Sai vs Takayama, which would explain having Takayama’s win be the Sumo Hall main event.

Section 2a- Meltzer News

NOAH: Their draw was actually just 4000. As mentioned earlier it was a huge weekend, with AJ and NJ shows at Korakuen plus the Zero1 event. Still, not good.

Section 3- WRESTLING MASTER FINAL SHILLDOWN

Is the ROH ‘great match’ formula enough anymore?

My take: no, but that’s largely because I don’t think the matches are great. The Tyler Black / Strong / Richards main event scene of the last few years has gone for the gusto with ‘epic’ battles and lots of big moves… and it does nothing for me. Give me the simpler style from Samoa Joe’s reign or the technical masterpieces from Danielson’s. The style and the booking quality both went downhill during Nigel’s reign and haven’t returned to form since.

Meanwhile, Chris Hero can wrestle a nobody in PWG and the match gets over because they do a simple vet vs underdog story. Hero as the ‘indy big man’ against smaller opponents wasn’t a storyline per se, but it was a theme that the fans picked up on. ROH has small guys that Hero could carry, but for whatever reason he doesn’t work quite the same style. ROH makes him someone who needs a loaded elbow pad to win. The gimmick isn’t over and doesn’t fit with ROH’s “build to hot nearfalls” focus; why do all the nearfalls when the match can only end after the elbow pad comes into play? Hero as a bully who gives young wrestlers a chance to shine before destroying them would serve to get said younguns over AND would set up Hero as a credible title challenger instead of a midcard semi-joke.

Ultimately I agree that dream match style booking isn’t going to work, but there’s also a feedback loop because the main eventers are so fixated on big spots instead of storytelling in their matches. It’s gotten over with a segment of the internet wrestling community, but it’s a bomb at the box office.

Section 4- Media Corner

I’ve decided to end ‘I Love The ‘90s’. If you’re still interested in those matches, I think you know where to find them.

2010

Things have been slow in getting from Japan to the US, thus my talking about almost four month old matches. Hey, it’s still better than it was in olden times, you young punks with your intertubes and whatever the heck a “G” is. I use my phone for TALKING TO PEOPLE! Surfing the internet on a thumb-sized screen will make you all blind! Where was I? Oh yeah…

HARASHIMA vs Hikaru Sato, DDT Title, DDT November 14th 2010. Lots of tricked-out junior/shoot-style counter wrestling. Sato showed what he can do against Ibushi, and he follows up with another fine performance here.

I already enjoyed Sato’s match against Ibushi, and HARASHIMA is a hard worker, so I expected good things coming in. It exceeded my expectations with lots of innovative counter wrestling and strategic focus.

Hikaru Sato & T. Matsunaga vs Dick Togo & Yasu Urano, DDT November 17th 2010, JIP.

The Sato vs Togo parts are quite good and do a lot to set up their match.

Hikaru Sato vs Dick Togo, DDT November 28th 2010.

Despite their disparate backgrounds they mesh quite well. In fact, they mirror each other in a few ways: both are willing to throw a closed fist to the face, both are skilled techniciants with an arm-based submission finisher, both can lob a mean kick, and both have the last name of Sato. I don’t rate this as high as some but the consensus on this being good is quite strong.

Section 5- Howard Brody Is The Most Interesting Man You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I was told to read ‘Swimming with Piranhas’ by Howard Brody because he’s interacted with so many Japanese wrestlers and companies. I was somewhat leery at first because of its length (440 pages); did this gentleman really have that much to talk about?

YES.

Howard has been a magazine writer, a promoter, a TV producer, president of the NWA, and much more. It is an interesting, honest and well-written book from a very hard-working man who managed to get himself involved with all sorts of companies and big names. His biggest accomplishment was the ‘Ring Warriors’ TV show, which was New Japan footage with dubbed-in commentary that primarily aired in Europe. That such a thing could be a success, and then be gone in a flash, is just one of many projects in a rollercoaster of a life that Howard has led.

Book Notes

While reading the book I took down shorthand notes, like I do with Meltzer columns. When I’d gotten to the end there were pages and pages worth of material, because there’s a lot of interesting things that can’t easily be explained. And that’s with me essentially ignoring US-focused items, which make up most of the book. There’s just that much to it! So keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Howard, living in Florida, met and befriended Hiro Matsuda. Matsuda started in JWA and spent most of his career in the US, like Masa Saito. Matsuda was a longtime friend of Antonio Inoki and thus had connections to New Japan. That was the basis, in one way or another, for pretty much everything Howard did relating to Japan. Matsuda was good enough in his prime to have been under consideration for an NWA title reign, and he trained the likes of Hogan. Luger and Orndorff. The book provides a very nice biography that is one of the many things I’m leaving out because I want you to buy it!

In 1994, Matsuda told Howard that he had an idea for creating an American promotion with a New Japan-like mindset. Hiro had gotten Hogan on board, since this was a period in which Hogan was between WWF and WCW. Matsuda was able to obtain rights to New Japan footage from TV Asahi, for use overseas. The idea was to make fans accustomed to the style and perhaps some wrestlers/gimmicks, while funds and wrestlers would be put together for the actual promotion in the US. Hogan pulled out somewhat quickly over fears that he would lose out on remaining WWF royalties, and that the deal might somehow be spoiled by Antonio Inoki.

The first step was to select some footage and do voice-overs with an English announcer. With a few episodes completed they started shopping the show around to see if any networks were interested. The big break came from Eurosport, which wanted to get wrestling content that wasn’t also airing on competing channels (which ruled out WWF and WCW). They signed a 1 year contract, allowing Howard and Hiro to really get serious about it. Howard was able to upgrade the voiceover announcer to Gordon Solie, a fellow Floridian who he’d worked with in the past. Sir Oliver Humperdink was on color. Matsuda got international rights to manga-based gimmicks like Liger and Vader, which allowed them to do merchandising. This part got a big boost when they tied up with LCI, a licensing company that handled the logistics of merchandise and helped with getting on TV via. syndication. LCI later became 4Kids Entertainment.

Hogan’s premonition about Inoki was proven somewhat correct. The first roadblock to success came when Howard and Matsuda met with Inoki in order to get more New Japan support for the venture. Inoki decided that he didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship with WCW, and so not only did he turn down their proposals, but he also told them to not use any footage of wrestlers currently in WCW. Despite those limitations, the Eurosport broadcasts did several times the ratings that WWF had done. Unfortunately the bad news kept piling up.

-Bandai refused to make Liger/Vader toys because they were afraid of Inoki’s alleged yakuza ties. This despite Inoki not having any dire ties to the company.
-With ratings in Europe high, they went to Inoki with the idea of using New Japan wrestlers for a tour of Europe. Inoki passed because the rest of the NJ board only cared about the product in Japan.
-ESPN was interested in using the show for the then-fledgling ESPN2, but passed because the show was ‘too Japanese’. The company’s original plan to set up a promotion in the US would have fulfilled it, but they never made the necessary money because the various expansion plans (above) fell through.
-Eurosport said that because of government subsidies, the show (now called Ring Warriors) would need to take place and be produced in Europe. That meant having new content (ie. wrestling events in Europe). Starting a new promotion with production quality on par with WWF and WCW would take a huge amount of money, and they weren’t able to raise it.
-The last idea was to put episodes online. The first few would be free, then people would have to pay. With a focus on the US they brought in Bruno Sammartino to be the color commentator and re-edited a lot of footage. Unfortunately the technology simply wasn’t available to make that work in the late ‘90s, and they got little return on the $30,000 investment. This was the end of Ring Warriors.

Each of these is explained in plenty of interesting detail in the book.

Howard’s position in the NWA and as a promoter led to two more collaborations with Japan. The first was in 1999, when he was NWA president. Inoki came to him with the idea of having Naoya Ogawa beat Dan Severn for the NWA title. Ogawa would then return the job in the US. They brought in Dory Funk Jr. (another Florida connection) as the ref and were able to get a lot of press. The most interesting story of the book revolves around Howard trying to secure the bond that was required when a promotion obtained physical possession of the NWA title belt. This almost led to a change of plans, but Howard ultimately decided to let the match go on and things turned out okay. Ogawa defended the title a few times in the US and even did a short title switch before vacating the belt because of a ‘back injury’. Inoki’s group returned the belt without incident.

Two years later it was Howard who reached out to Japan. He asked Simon Inoki if any promotions might want to work with the NWA, and Simon got him in touch with Zero-One. This led to then-champion Corino getting his first tour of Japan, and was supposed to be followed by Hashimoto going to the US for a title shot. That almost didn’t happen because Hashimoto was afraid of flying in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Howard, who didn’t know that and just wanted the deal to happen as promised, called out Hashimoto using the Japanese press. That worked, and Hashimoto flew over for the match. Steve came up with the idea of a worked shoot finish, leading to the title being held up. Steve wanted Hashimoto to throw hard kicks to the head, but Hashimoto didn’t want to do serious damage so they found a way to make it look that way without killing Steve. (That probably earned some respect for Steve, showing his willingness to do whatever it took.) Howard left the NWA shortly after that and so he wasn’t involved in the rest of the angle, which was highlighted by Hashimoto winning the title.

Interview

After reading the book I had a number of questions, so I asked Howard for an interview, which he quickly agreed to. Much of the conversation involved clearing up my misconceptions. Here my other notes from it.

On Ring Warriors:

-Eurosport provided commentary for other languages in Europe.

-At first they focused on New Japan matches with American, European and masked wrestlers for the shows. Commentary was used to create different storylines than what was going on in Japan. Once viewers were familiar with the style they expanded to include Japanese vs Japanese matches. They edited out comedy and overly violent (ie. bloody) matches to focus on serious, scientific wrestling. Getting Solie and Bruno as commentators was a perfect fit. The end result was a throwback to old-school presentation of wrestling as a sport.

-There was an idea for a cartoon series that would be paid for by Bandai in order to promote toys, but the idea went away when Bandai backed out.

-Howard thinks the idea of online video was simply done at the wrong time. They got thousands of website hits, which was remarkable considering internet traffic levels at the time and the lack of advertising. With today’s streaming video quality they could have capitalized. Sadly, when he thought to try again a few years later he found that the master tapes were ruined.

Other:

-He’s sure Ogawa didn’t have a back injury, and just didn’t want to job. This is borne out by the fact that Ogawa was in an MMA fight not long after vacating the title. There was a fear that Ogawa might “throw the belt in the river” if pushed too hard.

-The ‘calling out Hashimoto’ incident blew over quickly. Howard came to love Hashimoto in the ring, because he was tough and had an old-school mentality as opposed to being a bodybuilder.

-Despite living in the US, Brody’s biggest ventures were overseas. He said this was because it’s nearly impossible to do big indy shows in the US, whereas the foreign markets were mostly or completely untapped.

-Nishimura has spent a lot of time in Florida, starting when he trained with Matsuda and Dory Funk Jr. Howard says he’s friendly, although his English isn’t as good as it used to be (since Nishimura now only does occasional vacations in Florida). Howard and I had a brief disagreement over Nishimura appearing in NWA title tournaments before and after Shane Douglas infamously threw down the belt. It turns out we were both right: Nishimura was in the tournament Douglas won, and in the tournament following it. Nishimura is a huge mark for James Bond.

-He used the phrase “Forrest Gump of pro wrestling” to describe his career, in that he ended up going everywhere and meeting lots of important people, often by happenstance.

In conclusion, buy the book!

My thanks to Mr. Brody for his time and patience.

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