The Reality of Wrestling: Roundtable April

It seemed to me that along with last month’s theme of change in the roundtable, an extension of that theme could be used this month. This isn’t about change so much as the prospect or possibility of change. Each of the four major Japanese wrestling promotions’ world champions have held the belt for periods of time ranging from three to sixteen months. With that in mind, it seemed like a good enough time to go over those four promotions (New Japan, All Japan, NOAH, and Dragon Gate) and see where these world championships and the people who hold the belts could be going as 2011 progresses. For a fifth question, the topic of pro wrestling on T.V. in the U.S. and whether another promotion would break through with a televised product seemed like a topic to throw in with TNA being the only long-lasting wrestling program outside of The E over the last decade.

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

1. Hiroshi Tanahashi has been IWGP champion since the January 4 Tokyo Dome. Where do you believe this reign is heading and where do you see it ending?

M.C.: If Nakamura doesn’t knock him off in on May 3rd, then I don’t know who will. He’s just about run out of challengers at this point. Goto is gone for an indefinite amount of time. The only real monster Gaijin they have is Bernard, who seems to be busy in the tag ranks and he just lost to Sugiura in NOAH. Of course, I’d have never called Naknishi winning the title in 2009, so who knows? I’d hazard to guess that *IF* he gets by Nakamura next month, he’ll probably face an outsider in July and then it’ll be G1 time.

D.D.: I was quite surprised that they had Kojima lose the title so soon, and to go back to Tanahashi for the 5th time in 5 years seems a bit stale. His next defense is against Nakamura. Since Nakamura has no storyline momentum and won their last title match, I expect Tanahashi to retain, but it’s hardly a lock. The biggest reason why I think Tanahashi will retain is that I suspect the endgame is to have Hirooki Goto beat Tanahashi for the title. Goto turned on Tanahashi in a tag before leaving for another stint in Mexico. He could return for a June or July title match, or maybe even in August to win the G-1 Climax and set up a title switch in the fall.

K.W.: I could see him dropping it to Nakamura in May. If he doesn’t, then I think we are looking at a year long reign which Tanahashi probably needs as he seems to have title reigns of less then six months whenever he gets the belt. Tanahashi and Nakamura are eternal enemies and they met for the belt in a year and a half, which is forever in New Japan years. The only downside is if they keep giving it to Tanahashi and Nakamura they lack new matches, but at this point this is the biggest issue with New Japan. I’d like to see him lose it to someone like Goto, but I don’t see that in the cards.

P.C.: Goto is the best option for the IWGP title in the future. There is no current heavyweight in development that can go in the ring like Goto can and can be made into a believable champion as quickly as Goto could, even with a G-1 win. Looking at the main-event pool in New Japan right now you have Tanahashi, Makabe, Nakamura, Nagata, Kojima, Goto, and that’s about it. Now five of those six have held the IWGP title at least once in the last four years with the belt basically being passed around amongst Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Makabe during that time with the three also being involved in multiple title matches when they’re not wearing the belt. And while Nagata and Tanahashi appeared to have another kick-ass title match (can’t say I’m surprised there), it doesn’t look like Nagata is getting another title reign. Kojima could be given another title reign, but I doubt it’ll be the way Tanahashi’s current reign ends. And while Goto is in Mexico with CMLL right now, what’s to say that Tanahashi isn’t going to get a long world title reign for once? More importantly, he should get that kind of title reign if for no other reason than to distinguish himself from the others in the main-event pool as the ace of New Japan, a title I believe he has had in the ring for years, but hasn’t fully obtained as far as perception is concerned. Bringing Goto back in the summer to win his second G-1 would be the perfect start to New Japan finally going the full mile in pushing Goto to the top of the card. However, if that happens, I believe that New Japan should gamble and hold off on him challenging and winning the title until January 4, 2012 in The Dome. If New Japan wants to continue running The Dome and attract more than 18,000 each January 4, they have to do it based on their own people and not on how many outsiders they can bring in for the show. Outsiders do add something for the show, but they’re not supposed to be the main draws on a show, and at some point is should be on the promotion’s own talent to be the big draws. If New Japan really wants to see where they’re at, this would be a way to find out. This is a time in the history of pro wrestling in Japan where gambles can hurt a lot worse than in other eras, but it’s also a time when gambles are necessary for the future of the business.

2. Takashi Sugiura has been GHC champion for almost 18 months and has 10 successful defenses under his belt. Where does this title reign go from here and who do you see getting the title win over him?

M.C.: While New Japan can usually be predictable in a good way (such as the Kojima and Tanahashi title switches), NOAH can be a bit harder to predcit, which is both good and bad. I’d never have thought he’d hold the title this long. When he beat Takayama and Akiyama, I was stunned. As for who can beat him, it’s really anyone’s guess at this point. Unless it’s been announced and I missed it, it seems like Minoru Suzuki would be next in line, after he choked out Sugiura in a tag match. There’s always the hope that NOAH finally gives Morishima the ball again, but I’m starting to think that the ship has sailed.

D.D.: I have not been a fan of Sugiura’s reign, between the haphazard booking and Sugiura’s inability to have a match with good action from bell-to-bell. Kensuke Sasaki is long overdue for a title shot, but it looks like the next challenger will be Minoru Suzuki, since Suzuki pinned Sugiura in a 6-man. Suzuki is certainly a threat, and it would set up some fresh title matchups, but he’s committed to All Japan and that would mean NOAH wouldn’t have their champion on all the shows. We’ve been in a similar situation before: in January 2005, Kobashi was 22 months into his reign and Suzuki challenged him. The difference was that NOAH had already set the table for Rikio to win the title, so Suzuki was just filler. This time there’s no clear NOAH guy in line (unless you count Sasaki). I’d say Suzuki is a slight favorite. If not him then it’s gotta be Sasaki.

K.W.: I keep on thinking it will end with Go Shiozaki winning the title since he is the only young heavyweight that NOAH has, but Sugiura keeps on beating him. But that is still what I am going with, I don’t know what other options that NOAH has in terms of credible heavyweights. His last three title fights were against gaijins which just shows how shallow their heavyweight pool is. The only other option I can think of besides Shiozaki would be an outsider such as Nakamura, but I haven’t heard any rumblings of them cooperating to that level.

P.C.: Normally I’d agree with Shiozaki being the one to take the belt from Sugiura, but something tells me that a New Japan representative will be the one to do it. Some feeling I have tells me that the New Japan/NOAH feud will restart itself later in the year with more of the big boys getting involved with bigger matches being made because of it. How many poor showings with limited New Japan involvement can NOAH take before they realize how vital an inter-promotional feud is to them right now? And New Japan has benefited from NOAH’s presence on their cards and in the G-1 as it has made things slightly easier as far as creating matches. I don’t see them giving up an opportunity to make some big matches for their bigger cards as the year goes on, as well as the G-1 in the summer. And this line of thinking isn’t because Giant Bernard challenged for the belt last month, but because it is a way to kill two birds with one stone: more New Japan involvement in the GHC title picture would give Sugiura’s reign a second wind, and would allow certain New Japan top-level guys with nothing in particular in the works for them a change to gain some momentum by going to another promotion and raising some hell. As for who, I think it comes down to Nakamura and Nagata. Nagata is making the rounds to other promotions in Japan recently, wrestling on Zero-One’s Sumo Hall show as well as being in All Japan’s Champion’s Carnival tournament, so another run in NOAH wouldn’t be that big of a stretch, especially if it’s in the summer or the fall. If New Japan gives Nakamura yet another shot with the IWGP belt after May 3 (his title match with Tanahashi in Fukouka), then it definitely will be Nagata; if they don’t, it could go either way. Shiozaki regaining the belt from the man who took it from him is a way I could see NOAH ending Sugiura’s title reign, but a more creative way, and one with a lot more options attached to it, would be for an outsider from a major promotion to take the belt and defend it against the local talent. I don’t see Nagata winning the Triple Crown (a partial answer to the next question), and he’s done a successful mini-run through NOAH before, so I think he could do it again.

3. Suwama has held the Triple Crown since last August. He has a few defenses under his belt, but none too impressive. Where does his title reign go from here and where does it end?

M.C.: All Japan really isn’t all that different from NOAH in this sense, but it’s much more pronounced in NOAH. They’ve really dragged their feet over the last six to seven years with elevating new guys up the card. They did a fine job with Suwama, but we’re still waiting for the Tenryu to his Jumbo or the Misawa to his Kawada if you will, which is why his reign hasn’t been too impressive. I think KONO will be the guy, but it didn’t help that he was basically shoved into the Voodoo Murders seemingly on a whim. It’s Champion Carnival time, so I’m sure Suwama will probably put over a few guys to make some fresh challengers, KONO, Nagata, and Omori are all in his block. Depending on the status of the NJ/AJ relationship, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nagata win the titles.

D.D.: It’s clear that Suwama’s next challenger will be the Champions Carnival winner. At this point I’d have to consider Akiyama to be the favorite, with Kono as 2nd most likely. In Akiyama’s case, why bring him in and only use him at Korakuen Hall? Well… they *did* do that in 2008 when Tanahashi was used to put over Suwama, but in that case the payoff was Suwama beating quasi-outsider Sasaki. The only All Japan person who makes sense to challenge Suwama is Kono, but heel Kono beating Akiyama in the final wouldn’t have the same ring to it. Plus, Akiyama has been challenging Suwama, and they could only face off in the finals or a title match. From the looks of things, said title match won’t be until late May or early June. If the plan is to have Akiyama win the Triple Crown, it would happen there. If not, I expect Suwama would drop the belts to Kono at the August Sumo Hall event.

K.W.: I think if Suwama is going to shine he needs to focus on his generation and not the older generation. KENSO is good at what he does but I don’t want to see him against Suwama. I want to see Suwama against KONO, Sanada, even Hama rather then KENSO and Suzuki. To answer the question, I’d like to see KONO take it from him at Sumo Hall, if he can hang onto it for that long. A good defense would be against Mutoh as well, maybe have him vs. Mutoh at Sumo Hall and then drop it to KONO in the fall. Of course I am biased and that contradicts what I said two minutes ago but Suwama/Mutoh would at least be fresh at this point and help extend his reign until dropping it to Kono.

P.C.: It’s going to be Akiyama. There I said it. It’s an out-of-left-field prediction, and one I’ll probably be wrong about, but why would they bring Akiyama in only for the Champion’s Carnival and maybe a title challenge down the road? Even if Akiyama doesn’t win the Champion’s Carnival, his only loss in Block matches was to Minoru Suzuki (an outsider) and he beat all other All Japan representatives he faced minus a time-limit draw with Taiyo Kea. With Suwama’s reign needing a shot in the arm, a successful defense against Nagata at Sumo Hall in June followed by a defense against a younger opponent like Senada (who’s gotten quite the push in this year’s tourney) at a lesser venue would be the perfect set up for him dropping it to Akiyama late in the summer at Sumo Hall, as All Japan has had an August Sumo Hall show for the last couple of years. By this point, Suwama’s title reign could have a little momentum behind it and if Akiyama wrestles at enough major shows in between for All Japan, with an Akiyama/Kea rematch being a possible one for June’s Sumo Hall show, his time in All Japan could be considered more than a nostalgia act. And I do agree that Kono is the one that All Japan wants to push now that Suwama is somewhat established as a main-event guy. But I don’t believe they should waste a Suwama/Kono match if they don’t have to, and maybe they saw in the Suwama/Kenso match the wisdom of waiting for a youth vs. youth title match at a place like Sumo Hall. What I’m getting at is if Akiyama gets the belts from Suwama and then drops them at the first Sumo Hall show of 2012 to Kono, then a Kono/Suwama title match this time next year would have a lot more going for it. By then the story would be Kono looking to establish himself as the new main man of the promotion against a 2-time champion, than what it would be now: a title change that wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it could have had the title matches in Suwama’s title reign been booked better.

Note: the following responses were made and posted before Yoshino’s title loss to Mochizuki on April 14
4. Masato Yoshino has held the Open the Dream Gate belt since last July. How long do you see his title reign going and who ends it?

M.C.: Out of all four of these questions, this one is the hardest for me to predcit. Mainly because Yoshino has already beaten the two most likely candidates, in my eyes, CIMA and Doi. Of course that was pre Blood Warriors CIMA, so maybe his heel turn will bring something new in him. Looking at the current DG landscape, there’s really nobody I see as the next champion. DG is usually smart about building up the next champion, so if Yoshino gets by Masaaki, then I’d guess maybe they start building up someone as the next champion.

D.D.: I can’t imagine Mochizuki winning at Korakuen Hall this week. The two big shows after that are next month in Aichi and the annual July event at Kobe World Hall. Either of those locations should be where Yoshino loses. But to whom? He’s already topped Yamato, CIMA and Doi. He’s a stablemate of Hulk, and they’ve never done a title change like that. Shingo Takagi seems like the logical choice, though the company de-pushed him quite a bit after the monkey abuse scandal that he was implicated in. One interesting scenario is that the World-1 stable will be in jeopardy on the 14th, and if it folds then Yoshino vs Hulk would become a possibility. But their personalities simply don’t lend themselves to a heated feud, so I’m going to predict Shingo as the man to beat the Speed Star, with CIMA after that. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Yoshino will retain until July and lose to the winner of the King of Gate tournament in May.

K.W.: Ah, the promotion I don’t watch or know anything about. I just have trouble keeping track of Dragon Gate. I’ll guess YAMATO, he seems to get around quite a bit. Be a shame if I was right with the one promotion I don’t watch.

P.C.: I am familiar with Dragon Gate’s product and do love the promotion, but sad to say, I haven’t really been keeping track of the titles. I am aware that Yoshino’s title reign has been fairly long and that he has gotten past the two men who I could have seen being the next champion, CIMA and Naruki Doi, so I’m not really sure where they’ll go. For the sake of giving an answer, I will go with Shingo if only because it’s not that common in Japan to have a champion lose the belt to someone he’s already successfully made a defense against; it’s something that does happen, but not that often. That and there doesn’t seem to be too many other names in the pipeline, that aren’t in Yoshino’s Blood Warriors stable, that look like they’re getting that title win.

5. Do you see another TV network ever taking a serious shot at pro wrestling (not just a few episodes)? If so will that product be like The E and what TNA has become, or will it be a real alternative to that kind of product?

M.C.: Never say never, but I don’t think it’ll happen for a long time. Hell, TNA only got onto Spike when WWE buggered off back to USA in 2005. During the five year interim when WWF was on Spike, USA had no interest at all in wrestling. ROH may have a shot at getting on a network, based off their time on HDNet, but I don’t see them being on a major network in a coveted timeslot.

D.D.: It’s not going to happen. It was one thing for the Carters and Spike TV to take a chance when WWE had no real competition. For a new major brand to open it would mean either paying outrageous sums of money to steal talent, investing in development and indy guys for years, or TNA closing. I can see a very rich money mark like the Carters trying to do this, but no significant network in their right mind would go along with it. The utter failure of TNA, following the failures of WCW and ECW, means that there hasn’t been a reliably profitable wrestling promotion other than WWE since the death of the territory system. In a fragmented cable TV world, the cost/benefit ratio simply isn’t there. It would cost too much to have top-grade production values and a competitive talent pool, and you’d be starting from scratch. TNA at least had the NWA name to get it started as the heir to WCW. What would #3 build on? Nothing, that’s what.

K.W.: In a word, no. MTV has dabbled in it completely unsuccessfully, trying to make a real alternative. As bad as it sounds, if one does eventually succeed down the road it will not be as an alternative. Alternatives have proven to not work in the US, people expect their wrestling a certain way. Sure you can start the same and slowly add in new elements, but if you start as some off the wall alternative I don’t see it working. Promotions have tried in the last decade and they all failed. I think we should just all except the monopoly that is WWE, that is wrestling in the US and the only change I see is when HHH takes over, he might make it a bit more “traditional” then it currently is.

P.C.: I’m never going to say never as far as an alternative lasting on T.V. is concerned. I’m never going to because for people to simply give up on trying to create something different from The E would be a terrible disservice to the wrestling business as a whole. While I do believe it will be a LONG time before an alternative makes any waves on T.V. in the U.S., I don’t believe that will stop networks from at least trying every now and again to try and get in on the money that a successful wrestling televised show could generate. Also, there is one simple variable in this equation: the 18-34 demographic. This is the demographic that The E no longer promotes its product for, but still maintains something of a viewership among. If TNA had continued the road they were on right before they brought Russo in back in ’06, they would likely have control of this demographic today as far as pro wrestling is concerned. But more importantly, this is the demographic that MMA now controls because it offers that kind of testosterone filled, action-based product that a wrestling promotion like Ring of Honor could exploit if they were on television in a market where more people could see them (i.e. Time Warner blows). Who’s to say where Ring of Honor’s television show would be today if they were able to be seen in the amount of homes they would’ve been if not for the Time Warner fiasco two years ago.

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Samoa Joe Vs. Masato Tanaka, Zero-One, 9/15/2001

Two of my favorites duke it out in Zero-One’s inaugural Fire Festival tournament. Joe is still really early in his career so it is kept short, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch.

Mecha Mummy Vs. Kikutaro, Michinoku Pro (?), date unknown

Finally I throw a little comedy wrestling into the mix right? Kikutaro is probably the most well-known Indy comedy wrestler on the planet, but Mecha Mummy has been coming along the past few years as the oddity you hate because it’s so cartoony, but can’t help but watch for the same reason. And dig that rocket arm.

Shinya Hashimoto & Yuji Nagata Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama, Zero-One, 3/2/2001
Part 2
Part 3

So many matches that could’ve been made out of this tag and the post-match chaos, and yet so few actually happened. But we’ve still got all the attitude, charisma, stiff kicks, and great wrestling right here in this tag. And did I mention the post-match chaos?

CMLL Welterweight Title, 2/3 Falls: Mascarada Dorada (c.) Vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, NJPW/CMLL, 1/22/2011

Another dose of Fantasticamania for you as a CMLL belt is defended not only on New Japan soil, but against a New Japan wrestler at that. And a good one, specifically for this kind of action.

Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh & Kenta Kobashi Vs. Jun Akiyama, Satoshi Kojima, & Manabu Nakanishi, NJPW, 10/12/2009
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Chono’s last basking in the spotlight as the modified three musketeers (Hash has been long dead and Misawa died earlier that year, so Kobashi gets the third man slot) take on their disciples. It works pretty well with that dynamic despite the occasion for the match being Chono’s 25th anniversary as a pro. Some nice new matchups gets brief play here, but like the Zero-One tag above, no major singles matches materialized out of it. And like that tag, at least we’ve got this one.

GHC Title: Takashi Sugiura (c.) Vs. Jun Akiyama, NOAH, 8/22/2010
Part 2
Part 3

What appears to be Jun Akiyama’s final shot at the GHC belt as Sugiura’s title reign was just getting going at this point. Akiyama had beaten Sugiura in NOAH’s singles tournament earlier in the year at Budokan Hall so it was only fitting that he get the shot at the champ. Plenty of big spots and suplexes to go around.

Nobuhiko Takada Vs. Koji Kitao, UWFi, 10/23/1992

One thing about shoot wrestlers and shoot wrestling is that you’re going to come across a double-cross or two along the way, some more obvious than others. This one is somewhat mythical as it helped launch Takada into the stratusphere as a wrestling star as he legitimately KO’s Kitao in a match done with a round system (similar to an MMA fight) that was agreed to go to a draw. Karma says that Kitao had it coming: his promotion to yokozuma (a top rank in the sumo wrestling community) was a mistake as he was a flop, he was apparently an all around dick in real life allegedly shoving the wife of a stable boss after striking the stable boss during a temper tantrum, and then shot on John Tenta during a wrestling match a year before this. This was the highlight of Kitao’s wrestling career while Takada had plenty more memorable moments in pro wrestling ahead of him.

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