Puroresu Pulse, issue 192: California Connections

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Suwama retained over Kenzo Suzuki;said to be a bad match because of its length. Kono & Doering and Minoru both retained. Nagata & Liger got a mild upset win over Suzuki & Funaki, with Nagata pinning Funaki. Sekimoto & Okabayashi won the All Asia tag titles, making it three years in a row Sekimoto has won gold as an outsider.

New Japan: Nagata beat Bernard in round 1, Tanaka in round 2, and Nakamura in the final to win the NJ Cup. Makabe handed MVP his first loss. Devitt retained both the junior and junior tag titles on consecutive shows; I’d be shocked if he loses the singles belt before the US tour.

NOAH: Sugiura and Suzuki both retained. Takayama beat Morishima.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Nagata and Akiyama will be in the Champions Carnival. In Nagata’s case, he might come in as IWGP champion (since his title shot is on the 4th), but I doubt it. The ‘tournament winner gets a title shot’ match wouldn’t be on the following tour, since it lacks any big venues. I’d put my money on Akiyama. Block A includes Suwama, Nagata, Funaki, Kono and Omori. Block B includes Akiyama, both Suzukis, Kea and Doering. The last night has the final set of round-robins and the finals, and based on that it looks like Akiyama vs Kenzo and Suwama vs Kono will be the deciding bouts.

Dragon Gate: They cancelled the Sumo Hall show as a result of the disaster. They have yet to announce a replacement for a big show in Tokyo. They’ve slightly changed the April schedule and re-named a trio of shows (including the 14th at Korakuen) “Champion Gate”, and the main Sumo Hall matches will take place there.

Earthquake: A number of other shows were cancelled, most of them run-of-the-mill house shows. Korakuen Hall was damaged but will be repaired soon. Jinsei Shinzaki’s house was damaged, and he’s spending his days getting and delivering ramen noodles for those made homeless by the disaster. He’s still scheduled for Chikara’s King of Trios. All Japan was on its way to a show in the hardest-hit prefecture when the quake happened, and they were stuck in their tour bus living off protein shakes for 39 hours.

Section 3- Spring Samba Shill

Roundtable!

Section 4- Simon & Zach

As usual, my comments in parentheses.

Simon Kelly-Inoki background

Simon Kelly married into the Inoki family, and took the Inoki name out of respect. Over time his connection to Antonio gave him more and more prominence, culminating in him becoming President of New Japan from 2005 to 2007. He then moved to help form Inoki Genome (IGF), where he has been ever since.

Notes from Simon Kelly-Inoki interview on Scars Radio

Link.

-He was in kindergarden with Hiroko Inoki. They started dating in the ’90s. While he was a kid, Inoki brought him to shows and the dojo. It wasn’t stressful to eventually marry into the Inoki family since he’d been around them so long.

-Back then they didn’t have the fire codes, so Korakuen would be much more packed than today. (I’ve often seen a discrepancy as to whether 2350 or 1800 is the true ‘sellout’ number for Korakuen. The former is what it was pre-code, and promotions often claim it today.)

-He started working for New Japan in ’99.

-On the All Japan crossover feud: it was exciting. Simon liked it both as a fan and from a business perspective, but there was some tension since both sides wanted to get the better of the feud.

-Looking back, he’s surprised he was able to get Lesnar vs Angle to happen. (And, as it turns out, that was Lesnar’s last pro wrestling match.)

-Leaving New Japan allowed him to return to the US, since he doesn’t have to be in Japan full-time for IGF.

-Simon helped Hashimoto with booking gaijin when Z-1 started (for instance the Howard Brody connection).

Simon Kelly Inoki Q & A

After my interview with Howard Brody, he recommended I send Simon questions on Facebook. Simon answered a fair amount, certainly quite a bit more than wrestlers I’ve tried to communicate with on FB and MySpace. I’ve done some light editing for grammar.

Q: What led to IGF using Necro Butcher? Will he be brought back again?

A: Necro is a great wrestler. He knows how to not get himself over but make his opponent shine too. I think he will be back.

Q: There was a big ceremony with lots of New Japan wrestlers that was essentially announcing the creation of IGF. That seemed to be followed by a lot of back-tracking, since New Japan didn’t end up cooperating with IGF. What happened?

A: IGF was created by Inoki & G-Communication which is a huge corporation with over 400 franchise restaurants and business. Inoki-themed “Inoki Saka Bar” restaurant was created by them. Politics started in NJPW with anti-Inoki vs Inoki factions. Yukes (the new owner) along with the anti-Inoki group prohibited the “Inoki-ISM” or the real strong style in the ring and also had made things difficult to create the Inoki Saka Bar restaurant. A lot of other things were happening too. G-Communication along with Inoki thought it was just easier to create a new company with everything and start from scratch then and not deal with Yukes or the anti-Inoki in the company.

(‘Real strong style’, in general, refers to wrestling/MMA crossover activity. Inoki-ism at its core focuses on proving that ‘pro wrestling is strongest’. At first this meant Antono Inoki taking on boxers and martial artists in worked shoots, except for Inoki vs Ali which wound up as a shoot. Over time it changed to include wrestlers in MMA, with decidedly mixed results. Thus the internal strife about it.)

Q: Was the booking of Angle vs Lesnar in IGF done with the idea of getting the IWGP title back to New Japan?

A: From IGF not really. From my personal feeling, yes it was. I felt responsible for that and wanted a way hoping NJPW would catch it and bring it back.

(Lesnar had taken the IWGP title with him when he stopped working with New Japan in mid 2006. Angle beat him for the title in IGF, then dropped the belt in New Japan).

Q: What exactly is your role in IGF at the moment?

A: Pretty much everything. There is only the 8 of us running the whole company. But mostly dealing with overseas related including the booking, some matchmaking, along with office related things.

Q: What is the relationship between IGF/Inoki and Satoshi Ishii (MMA fighter)?

A: Ishii is under the contract with the same company as Inoki for TV appearances. But also Sawada & Ogawa, especially Sawada (wrestles at IGF) is a very good friend of Ishii.

Q: What happened with Josh Barnett and the 2005 G-1 Climax? (Barnett was supposed to be in the tournament but was dropped. The excuse was that it was to make room for Kawada, but in reality he was replaced by over-the-hill jobber Tatsutoshi Goto).

A: Politics kicked in especially with Yukes and the anti-MMA NJPW pro wrestlers.

Q: Why was there so much chaos surrounding the November 2004 show at Osaka Dome?

A: Different ideas between Inoki and the anti-Inoki within NJPW (again politics). Inoki believes in the real strong style.

Q: Was Hashimoto really on the verge of a New Japan return when he died?

A: I was planning to make him an offer at/after the October (2005) Dome event and was asking my staff to set up a meeting with him.

Q: How did you come to be part of the wrestling/MMA business? Was it after you got married, or before?

A: I knew the Inoki along with a lot of people at NJPW since kinder. I did work after I got married, I was helping out with UFO (another pro wrestling company of Inoki) at first and Inoki Intl. Inc. which was his management company. Inoki office signed Fujita from NJPW which he started to be in PRIDE and thats how I kind of got involved with that field. As years past, I helped out with NJPW also.

Q: Did the New Japan wrestlers generally accept you at first?

A: The wrestlers were easier and nicer to deal with. Most of them took turns coming to LA where you really got to know them personally especially after the LA Dojo opened. The staff was the hardest to deal with.

Q: Do you keep in touch with any of them?

A: Some wrestlers and a couple of staff. But all is hidden because of politics. Those people will probably be fired if some people found out.

Zach Arnold background & Interview

I vividly recall going to PuroresuPower for the first time in early 2001, near the start of my fandom. That’s where I ‘came of age’, as it were, during the more-tumultuous days at the start of the decade. Zach Arnold the website and has since moved to covering MMA at Fight Opinion. PuroresuPower covered all promotions, had news and analysis, and eventually the PuroresuPower Hour webshow. The PPH was able to land interviews with a number of prominent wrestling and MMA figures.

Zach wasn’t a fanboy like other puro websites tended to be; he was willing to call a spade a spade and point to long-term problems. He was right about yakuza connections having a deleterious effect on the wrestling/MMA industry, which culminated in the demise of the mighty PRIDE. He was right about New Japan being in peril, culminating in their being bought by Yukes while on the verge of financial collapse. He’s someone I converse with regularly, often gaining a different perspective on events

I spoke with Zach about what things were like online when he got started in the ‘90s, and moved onto other topics.

-On the IWC and puro in the ’90s: It was a very limited community, split into cliques. Sources of news and tapes (from Japan) were protected. Zach had some Japanese friends in the US that helped him with sources.

(The ‘Japanese sources’ aspect is still like that. Only a few people have contacts in Japan to get shows, and they almost never divulge that information.)

-How he first discovered it: Tape trading, and friends who sent Japanese magazines (which he has hundreds of). He used to buy commercial tapes for $100, and it was momentous when they came in. Now that it’s easy and cheap to get matches, the special feeling is gone.

(The ‘commoditization’ of puroresu matches is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately. Are things oversaturated? There’s a certain satisfaction about finding a tape/DVD trader, making a tactile purchase, and watching something for yourself. It must have been even more so for people getting shows directly from Japan. On a related note, I picked up some tapes for Zach in my last trip to Japan, and it was amazing how well-preserved they were.)

-He started Puroresu Power on June 20th, 2000. He had worked for the company that owned the Wrestling Observer site. They went out of business, so Zach started PP.

-On the PPH show: It’s impossible do a serious interview with a Don Frye, just let Keith do it. Zach tried to do serious interviews where possible, he wouldn’t shy away from tough questions. Among the notable ones: Josh Barnett, Dana White, Rampage Jackson, and Mauro Ranello. There was an infamous interview with an inebriated Don Frye, and Zach let co-host Keith Lipinski handle that because there was no way to keep it serious.

(Keith did an interview with Akebono consisting primarily of questions I gave him. Sadly, Akebono is not the greatest talker and he was hard to understand.)

-On the downfall of wrestling in Japan: The decline of magazines hurt a lot. With few people willing/able to watch puro on TV, magazines were an easy-to-find source of news, photos, etc. Weekly Pro doing a Tokyo Dome show in ‘95 is proof, and in ’78 they brought together All Japan and New Japan for a big event.

-Can puroresu and Japanese MMA make a comeback? Wrestling: very hard. Wrestling-friendly TV executives are largely gone, and there’s little money in it for TV networks. MMA: Will be tough until the poison (yakuza) is flushed out

-On the very similar decline of the once-mighty Japanese MMA industry: They’re linked, in that wrestling was often a
feeder system for creating MMA stars (ie. Sakuraba). MMA hurt wrestling, and the lack of new wrestling stars hurt MMA.

-On the influence of yakuza on both puro and MMA: MMA generating more money attracted more ruthless yakuza. Pro
wrestling was more of a status symbol (ie. getting front row seats). Things like mobsters sitting front row at nationally televised events brought heat on MMA. Because the scandal also hit Fuji TV, the networks were scared of investing in MMA. Now it’s happening with sumo as well. Also, promotions had the mindset that they didn’t care about what happened outside Japan, because their yakuza backers wouldn’t operate overseas. Zach says there’s more yakuza in wrestling now, but lower-level thugs. It’s easier to bully people, since none of them have the political connections that the likes of Giant Baba had. Newer yakuza are more violent, less professional.

(That ties into what Howard Brody dealt with, not only with Ring Warriors but also with encountering a group of them at an Inoki event.)

-Why yakuza are still able to operate: Yakuza are “their version of Wall Street”. The effort to decentralize gangs led to gangs moving into white collar activity and buying/influencing businesses. Racketeering laws are weaker in Japan.

-On FightOpinion: At first they drew mostly PRIDE/K1 fans. That changed after PRIDE scandal. Readership didn’t grow, but it new people came in to replace those who left.

-On Simon Inoki: They knew each other long ago. Zach mentioned that Simon comes from a successful family, and he’s surprised Simon would stick with a business like pro wrestling. “I’ll give him credit for hanging around for a long time.”

-On Misawa: His funeral felt like a funeral for the business. The way it was covered in Japan, the emotion, hadn’t been there in the last decade. Hashimoto’s funeral drew a lot of attention but not quite as much. Misawa’s in-ring death, status as “Baba’s son”, and relationship with NTV made it bigger.

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My thanks to Zach and Simon for their time and professionalism.

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