The Reality of Wrestling: Roundtable March

“The show must go on” is a phrase not often said, but always used within the world of pro wrestling. No matter how big a wrestler or promotion is, there is no certainty that the same will hold true tomorrow or next month or next year. New people, new shows, new changes are all the norm in this business. They have to be for something that is never-ending while having to adapt to the changes in the world around it and within its own world. With that in mind, and with Wrestlemania on the horizon, it would seem that looking at the future of the wrestling business would be a fitting way to approach this month’s roundtable. This year’s Wrestlemnia features several new faces in the main-event title matches as well as some of the major matches on the show. But The E isn’t the only place where an emphasis on the future is needed. We look into that with a new promotion attempting to start up (we’ve been through this before), a promotion trying to make new stars with the same method that produced it’s greatest qualitative era, a second generation wrestler’s debut, and a major acquisition by The E.

M.C.: Mike Campbell
D.D.: Dave Ditch
K.W.: Kevin Wilson
P.C.: Me

1. Considering the fact that The E’s youth movement is very much real, do you see Team Angle back in The E by the end of 2011?

M.C.: Not at all. WWE has done a fine job getting new faces like Alberto Del Rio, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, The Miz, Sheamus, and others into prominent roles. So unless there’s a rash of injuries and/or big names leaving the company, there’s no reason to bring them back.

D.D.: Haas turns 39 in a couple weeks, and Benjamin is 35. Both spent years in the company without becoming breakout stars. If WWE was going to take a chance on someone in his mid-late ’30s, it would have to be a fresh face with a huge upside, ie. Batista. The odds of Team Angle being anything more than time-filler midcarders is very low, especially in a company as anti-tag team as WWE.

K.W.: Not really, I think that WWE is focusing mostly on brand new wrestlers, for better or worse. True, most of the Nexus got sent back down and the last NXT didn’t have much success, but they seem committed at the moment to bringing in as many “new” faces as possible and seeing what sticks. Nothing against Team Angle of course, and I wouldn’t complain, but unless they went on Tough Enough or NXT they will probably continue being where they currently are for the foreseeable future.

P.C.: Sadly, I’m going to have to agree with all three. As a big fan of tag wrestling—correction, good tag wrestling—maybe it was wishful thinking that The E would bring them back to spruce up that division. With their exploits on the Indy circuit and with Benjamin and Haas exploring singles wrestling opportunities in the Caribbean and Japan respectively, that is usually enough for The E to bring you back if you were there long enough in the past. But it would appear that those great matches and memories from late 2002 to early 2004 are all we’ll ever have of Benjamin & Haas in The E. Their botched singles runs should be forgotten, unless it’s to point out how Vince and Co. botched something that could’ve been good, especially with The Gold Standard.

2. Daichi Hashimoto’s pro wrestling debut against Masahiro Chono is the main reason that Zero-One drew 9,000 to their first Sumo Hall show in seven years—even at discounted prices. He also faced Mutoh at All Japan’s most recent Sumo Hall show. How far do you think this initial surge of popularity will go for Daichi, and do you think that he will be the star of the future in Japanese pro wrestling?

M.C.: I don’t think it’s fair, yet, to call someone the star of the future. People were doing that to Nakamura after his debut in 2002 and it took him years to get to that sort of level, and even then, Tanahashi leap frogged right over him. I do think the Hashimoto name is enough to kick-start him, but in the long run, it’s going to take more than that to make him.

D.D.: We get a big test soon, as he headlines the semi-big Yasukuni Shrine show in a tag match. If the turnout is good, and they follow up with a solid attendance at their next Korakuen show in May, it signals that there’s some legs to it. But since he’s young and small, if his matches continue to be very simplistic ‘young lion’ bouts the fans might stop caring after a few shows. They might get the sense that it’ll be a while until he can reach his full potential. I can’t say whether he’s the star of the future, since so many ‘stars of the future’ have come along over the last 20 years to little long-term effect. I know why people are enthusiastic, and it’s nice to have something positive for a change, but Daichi will have to be an exceptionally good wrestler just to come across as something other than the son of a legend.

K.W.: The surge will go as long as he shows that he deserves it. If he shows the passion that his father did with a natural ability to wrestle, the crowd will continue to get behind him. Legitimate 2nd generation stars for whatever reason are very rare in Japan, so I think the crowd will give him a chance to show what he has. That being said, for it to stick I think he needs to start winning some matches once he gets over wrestling some of the old veterans as if he never wins anything he likely will slowly fade in popularity. If Taue can win his first ever pro wrestling match and Nakamura can get pushed as quick as he did, then a young already popular star that shows some ability doesn’t have to spend a year losing all his matches. So hopefully he progresses to where he is a threat in the ring and we can see his real skill level.

P.C.: I really hope that Daichi succeeds on his own merit and not just because of who his father was. Right now, that is exactly where this immediate surge of popularity and interest comes from. After a while that will fade and it will be on him to make it happen in the ring and get people behind him in a more long-lasting way. That time can be delayed somewhat because there are still plenty of matches that could be made against people that Daichi’s father either teamed with or feuded with. Kensuke Sasaki comes to mind, Inoki would be an absolute fool not to open himself to the possibility of making a match between Daichi and Naoya Ogawa (Shinya Hashimoto’s most famous rival) at an IGF show, a “future of pro wrestling in Japan” match with Katsuhiko Nakajima could be a tantalizing possibility, or maybe even a few more big singles matches in Zero-One against Ohtani and Tanaka—two of the big stars of the promotion under Shinya and Ogawa during the promotion’s early years. As for wins and losses, he does have to win some. His debut and the loss to Mutoh, fine, but nobody is going to take interest in this young lion if all he does is job. It’s all about baby steps; get him out there, get people interested, let them see he can win and get it done in the ring qualitatively, and then see where it all goes.

3. A new promotion, the Urban Wrestling Federation, will be debuting sometime soon. What are your thoughts on it?

M.C.: I hope it dies a quick death. If the video is any indication, it looks like nothing more than a silly attempt to recreate the rock ‘n’ wrestling connection using hip-hop instead of rock. Hearing him talk about the music artists are going to be “Leaders in the hood” doesn’t do much to change my mind.

D.D.: Crappy third-tier promotions backed by a money mark come and go. So many have claimed to be the next ECW, or the next big thing, and none of them are still around. Something like Urban Wrestling won’t survive without TV, and if ROH can’t make it, how the heck can they?

K.W.: Probably not the right reaction but it made me laugh. On paper it isn’t a horrible idea, sounds like Def Jam Vendetta which was a fun game. The thing that is funny though is more the ECW vibe they are trying for way past when ECW means anything at all. Also I am not holding my breath for them to ever debut, as a lot of promotions that talk big never actually happen. So it isn’t that I don’t think that hip hop/underground and wrestling can mix, but in this particular case it seems like more of a joke then an actual wrestling promotion. But if it does take place, I’ll be anxious to read the review for it.

P.C.: I would take the Sean Davis Project over this every day of the week, twice on Sunday. I don’t have anything against hip-hop, but inserting it into wrestling has been shown not to be a winning formula unless it’s a light touch, like John Cena’s rhymes when he was first coming up in The E. As the basis for an entire promotion, you’ve got to be kidding me. As for my reference to the Sean Davis Project, at least what they were going to use as inspiration for how they would present their product—70’s pro wrestling, HBO boxing, and MMA—speaks to me as a way of making pro wrestling appear more legit and not denying that it’s a wrestling show, like The E has done for the last few years and basically what this promotion would be doing if it even gets started. I hope it doesn’t, but it won’t last long if it does.

4. Why has All Japan’s youth versus old feud not achieved noticeably good results in the ring and at the gate as of this moment?

M.C.: The issues at the gate are because All Japan doesn’t have the overall exposure that New Japan does. The issues in the ring are because a lot of the guys are still young and have a long ways to go. Kevin W. can tell you that in 2008, I was 100% behind the Suwama megapush, but the fact is that his best match was with Hiroshi Tanahashi in the 2008 Carnival, which was full of good-great Tanahashi matches. I also don’t think it helped that they jumped the gun and put Kono into the Voodoo Murders right away.

D.D.: I’d chalk it up to the wrestlers as much as anything. All Japan’s fanbase is very open-minded and responsive, so it doesn’t take much to get them to react positively. But between Minoru Suzuki’s semi-uncooperative, often lazy wrestling style, and Suwama simply not being a world-class wrestler, the matches simply don’t bring the house down. Ultimately if you’re not getting the fans excited they aren’t going to keep spending money.

K.W.: Well the “in the ring” part is in the eye of the beholder, the only matches I haven’t enjoyed are some of the really extended main events by wrestlers that aren’t ready for that length of matches. As far as at the gate, course one issue is that many of the ‘old’ aren’t really good draws themselves, so no one is paying to see the young overtake them. Course Mutoh is fine and Suzuki has his moments, but aside from special events here and there drawing has never been one of All Japan’s strong points. It might just take a bit longer for the young to gain their fanbase, unfortunately that is something that can’t be forced, but I think they have a solid crop of young stars that hopefully just need a bit more time.

P.C.: All Japan is number four of the big four in Japan so it’s not as if they have the general public in the palm of their hands. But what better way is there to bring in new fans to a promotion than its talent generating word of mouth with consistently great matches and great effort at expanding storylines, feuds, and their own personalities/characters. These things do take time and, something I’ve tried to stress in my years writing this column, these things—which guys become big stars and when—cannot be predicted or planned. So this question may have been a tad premature, but it would help if the old versus young feud not only continued, but would be a more prominent part of All Japan’s product. Reinserting Suwama’s title reign into that feud would be a start. Or at least inserting him into the young side of the feud could be a step in the right direction, even if his defenses weren’t all against older guys.

5. What are your thoughts and predictions regarding how Mistico/Sin Cara’s time in The E will go?

M.C.: I’m not the biggest Mistico fan out there (although I did love his feud with Volador Jr. earlier in the year), but unless the powers that be in the ‘E keep tight reigns on him, then he should be fine. Look at when Mysterio first came in, he was allowed to be Rey Mysterio, Jr with all the flying that he’s become known for. I want to expect nothing less from Mistico/Sin Cara.

D.D.: WWE has dropped the ball more times than anyone can count. And yet they are still the greatest wrestling promotion of all time by any order of magnitude, and have made more megastars than anyone. Between their promotional muscle, the wide-open nature of WWE’s current main event scene, and the proven ability of Ignacio Almanza, there’s an excellent chance that a lot of money will be made. I have a feeling management will be more patient with him than they are for cookie-cutter white boys from developmental.

K.W.: I am dreading that he might get the Ultimo Dragon treatment…. really hot to start, slowly fade, get injured, disappear. He certainly will get a push to start but Vince has a short attention span and wrestlers twice his size aren’t going to want to sell for him unless he is over. So if he slips at all in-ring wise, which is possible with the different style, and wrestlers start complaining, he might disappear to FCW and then never come back. I like Mistico, but I don’t know how his style is going to mesh in a promotion with no Jr. Heavyweight division. He can’t wrestle Del Rio, Mysterio, Bourne, and Chavo in every match.

P.C.: The invasion of Mexico has officially begun. I wrote on this last summer and this is the pro wrestling version of a declaration of war. WWE wants Mexico, period. The fact that they didn’t have more of a presence in Mexico until 2009 still puzzles me, but think about this: they have the kind of product that helped make AAA the top promotion in Mexico during the early part of the last decade, they have Rey Mysterio, they have and have given quite the push to Alberto Del Rio (Dos Caras Jr.), and they just acquired the man who just a few years ago was the biggest draw in pro wrestling worldwide. The fact that their television and live shows killed whatever the two major Mexican promotions were putting out even before Del Rio was in The E means that with those three at the top of their card, they could run any arena in Mexico that isn’t under drug cartel control and sell-out in a few minutes max. Whether they use Mistico meaningfully on their own programming is still up for debate—I sure as hell hope they use him—due to The E’s history of misusing or refusing to use extremely talented smaller guys. But with the Indy market being what it is in terms of the physical makeup of the talent out there, more “little guys” is the future of the business. The big guys are in short supply due to MMA and the lesser prospects of making a decent living in wrestling, because without competition and The E being the only game in town, you’re basically living paycheck to paycheck.

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

WWF Women’s Title: Alundra Blayze (c.) Vs. Bull Nakano, AJW, 11/20/1994

These two had a series of matches on WWE TV around this time, but my guess is that this is better than all of them. Even with the limited time they manage to get a lot into the only title match on the biggest show in women’s wrestling history.

Akira Maeda Vs. Dutch Mantell, UWF, 4/11/1984

The end of a long day for Dutch Mantell is Akira Maeda stiffing him, in a manly way of course.

IWGP Tag Titles: Big Van Vader & Bam Bam Bigelow (c.) Vs. The Steiner Brothers, NJPW, 6/22/1992

For anyone who believes that all big men are plodding and worthless in the ring, check this one out. Most people already know that Vader is one of the best big men of all time, but people forget how good Bam Bam was in his time. Not only that, but this one of those rare and fun matches where The Steiners aren’t the most physical men in the match. Great action and it’s not a coincidence that this match was in Japan.

Yuji Nagata & Jun Akiyama Vs. Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase, NJPW, 10/8/2001

Old versus new in New Japan. This was during Mutoh’s resurgence, Hase’s brief comeback, and the beginning of what was supposed to be the transition of Akiyama and Nagata to the top of the respective promotions, but shit happens. Anyway, a splendid Tokyo Dome main-event that got the crowd into it and provided a glimpse of what the young guns could do in their prime.

Kensuke Sasaki & Kenta Kobashi Vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kensuke Office, 2/11/2006

This was Kensuke’s 20th anniversary match, but it might as well have been Nakajima’s initiation to pro wrestling. Yeah, Nakajima had been in wrestling for almost two years by this point, but if the amount of viciously stiff shots he takes here doesn’t amount to an initiation, I don’t know what is. This was also the culmination of the Kensuke/Kobashi tour beginning with their Tokyo Dome match in July ’05 and progressing to this point with the two of them going against each other in tag matches.

Zero-One Title: Toshiaki Kawada (c.) Vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Zero-One, 1/1/2010

Old-school strong style meets new-school strong style to start 2010. Even in his mid-40’s Kawada is still capable of main-event level matches, and in this case it was an easier go for Dangerous K what with him being in there with one of the most underrated workers in the biz. Lots of hard shots await.

2/3 Falls: Mistico Vs. Averno, NJPW/CMLL, 1/23/2011

With Sin Cara’s debut in The E impending, here’s a taste of what he has to offer. I’d say it’s a taste of what you can expect, but we all know that’s not a guarantee and this guy could very well end up jobbing to heavyweights in two minute matches after he’s been there for a month. So here’s what here’s what he’s capable of when allowed to do his thing.

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