Think of this as a parting gift to you all for the year that was. With time running out on 2011, my thoughts and the thoughts of the roundtable turn to 2012. Yes we go over things and issues that took place in 2011, but also have so much relevancy to the fortunes of their respective promotions in 2012. It is that special month in the wrestling world where you still have to remember that the year isn’t over yet, but at the same time know that the new year will be here in no time and to start a year out without some kind of plan for anything or anybody will come back and bite you probably before January is in the books.
D.D.: David Ditch
1. Do you believe that there will ever be a pro wrestling show on New Year’s Eve in Japan?
D.D.: It depends on how you define it. A traditional show, no, but then there never has been a major big-promotion traditional-style NYE show. Especially now that the New Japan January 4th show is the Wrestlemania of Japan. As for an MMA/pro-wrestling crossover show, the answer is ‘yes’, with the caveat that I’m counting the Inoki/DREAM show set for the end of this year. There are rumors about Shibata and Sakuraba returning to worked matches, which makes sense given how bad they got whupped in MMA. But even if they manage not to bomb at Saitama Super Arena, it won’t lead to anything of long-term significance.
P.C.: I have to agree, with the fact that New Japan’s Dome show has become Japan’s Wrestlemania being the major factor. Had New Japan’s Dome shows continued to really bomb the way they were in the middle of the previous decade, you never know if a promotion or promotions would’ve tried something on NYE. However, now that’s not even an option as the January 4 Tokyo Dome show has been able to continue the 90’s tradition of stacking their Wrestlemania with plenty of outsiders and big names along with everything New Japan itself offers by itself on the show. Only four days apart would be asking too much of wrestling fans to buy tickets to both, and the result would be fans choosing between the two, thus effecting both shows’ potential success. It is too bad that pro wrestling doesn’t have much place on NYE in Japan mainly when you consider how much of a TV ratings gold mine that day can be, ask Pride and K-1 about how well this day of the year has treated them in the past.
2. Will 2012 be Hirooki Goto’s time to finally wear the IWGP title belt? If so, what kind of a title reign can we expect Goto to get?
D.D.: I thought Goto was due last year, and really due this year. Now, with 5 failed title shots under his belt, he’s getting overdue. He’s won a G-1 and the New Japan Cup, but it almost feels like they’ve given him those as a consolation prize while they give Tanahashi and Nakamura cyclic pushes. Maybe they only trust those two, who came up in the early 2000s, to lead the company. Goto is over with the current fanbase but no doubt has less overall name recognition. I’m of the mind that more title wins and defenses by Tanahashi and Nakamura accomplishes nothing at this point. It doesn’t have to be an epic reign, but Goto *needs* to win the title next year. It will provide a fresher set of title bouts and get him out of the upper-midcard funk he’s been in.
P.C.: I’ve written time and again about New Japan’s need to really push Hirooki Goto and the feeling in my mind is almost one of New Japan already missing their shot with Goto. Getting him ready for a title run would’ve been the smart move for NJPW to make after Goto’s 2008 G-1 win, but it didn’t happen. And in the past couple of years Goto has continued to be one of the promotion’s better workers and someone still pretty over with the fanbase. But instead of any kind of title run (or even title win), the IWGP belt has been passed around amongst Tanahashi, Makabe, and Nakamura. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. The matches for the most part have been good and even great between any combination of these three, but it really is Goto’s time. Ditch did sum it all up nicely when he noted that Goto *needs* to win the IWGP title in 2012. It’s “do it or don’t” time for New Japan when it comes to making Goto something more than just an upper mid-card guy who is a great worker. It should have happened already, I’ve been wanting to see it happen for years, and now that Tanahashi seems ready to gain the defenses record for a title reign, it’s simply time for the wrestling world to see if Hirooki Goto can be one of New Japan’s stars of the future.
3. Can All Japan’s Real World Tag League regain the prestige it once had as a tournament?
D.D.: Compared to the Baba era, no. But then, nobody in Japan will be returning to that level, because Japan as a whole won’t. What they can do is make the best with what they’ve got, and I think All Japan absolutely did that. They created an interesting and diverse set of teams, and used it to push a new tandem of young stars. Sekimoto & Okabayashi of Big Japan, current holders of the secondary All Asia tag belts, did the best of any All Asia holders in tournament history. Keep in mind that the tournament has been around 34 years, and the titles are even older than that! So, All Japan is putting a little more thought into things.
P.C.: The prestige won’t completely return until All Japan takes a page out of New Japan’s playbook and starts running larger arenas for the tournament a la New Japan during the G-1 tournament. As for the in-ring quality of the tournament, I think this year was a move in the right direction. It’s not just that they had an outsider team that their fanbase is used to seeing (Sekimoto & Okabayashi), but they also did a good job getting the new faces into the tournament this year, and not just as cannon fodder for the older/bigger names. Seiya Senada & KAI was the winning team in this year’s tourney; KAI has been in All Japan’s junior division for a few years, but has been overshadowed by guys like Hayashi, Minoru, and Kondo whereas this was just another part of Senada’s year of elevation that saw him put on a great showing in the Champions Carnival, especially the final with Nagata, as well as his Triple Crown challenge during the summer. Kono was part of the runner-up team with Masakatsu Funaki being formed into some weird but fun shoot-style young & old team. So right there we have two new heavyweights that All Japan is grooming as well as the man who might be their junior star of the future. I’m sure All Japan feels the heat to create new lasting faces higher up on the card, especially with New Japan and NOAH pushing (or trying to push) new faces to the top of the card for the past couple of years.
4. When will Jeff Jarrett finally lose the AAA Super Mega Heavyweight Title, and to who?
D.D. didn’t submit an answer for this question
P.C.: It wasn’t a trick question for Ditch, but it was a good gauge to see how much he follows AAA. And I can’t blame him if he doesn’t have any idea what’s going on in AAA or with their work agreement with TNA because I haven’t even been able to watch AAA on T.V. since around June. But I have been trying to keep up with them, despite CMLL being more compelling to me.
To answer the question, it’s going to be Mesias. AAA has used this feud with TNA as an extension of the renewed push for Mesias that had started early this year with the L.A. Park feud. That feud was a legend/younger guy type feud built on hatred and blood. It served to put Mesias clearly at the top of the card in high profile singles and tags against Park. Now with the TNA feud it allows a clearly visible Mesias to be the guy who takes on the invading foreign army. This is a common practice in Mexico and Japan and has its variations in the U.S. The end result is Mesias going through TNA big names like Sting and A.J. on his way to a title match with Jarrett. The win against A.J. at the recent Guerra de Titanes (along with an impromptu win against Rob Terry) guaranteed Mesias his title shot in storyline. Rey de Reyes is AAA’s first major show of the new year and is a few months away. That seems to be good enough a time for Mesias to reclaim the belt for AAA. If it does go down that way I’m really hoping AAA has something planned for Mesias because the AAA Super Mega Heavyweight Title has been in a comatose state for years as far as compelling booking and compelling title matches is concerned.
5. The launch date for the WWE Network has been announced as April 1. What chance does this venture have of succeeding or even lasting a year?
D.D.: It entirely depends on the goal. If they want to be put on packages, it will be a slow and painful proving process. If they want to be a premium channel, the odds increase immensely. People who are willing to plunk down $45 or more for a PPV will easily pony up, say, $5-$15 for 24/7 wrestling content (as opposed to a limited selection on demand currently). If that amount also covers some B-level PPVs, they could go up to $20. Maybe I’m crazy for putting the dollar figure that high, but if the amount of content is high enough between new shows and more classics, they could rake in a lot of money. Samurai TV in Japan, with lots of low-grade content and only available on a certain satellite package, costs about $20 a month and manages to survive on hardcore fans. WWE, with better content, promotion on Raw and Smackdown, and a lower price would absolutely be a reliable revenue stream of millions of dollars a month. Perhaps even tens of millions if you get about 1 in 3 fans to sign on. WWE has done an incredible job of amassing content over the years, and neither On Demand nor DVD releases are going to fully monetize that library. It will be a fascinating experiment. In terms of straight wrestling-based ventures, the McMahons have the best success record in the history of the business. When in doubt, I’d bet on Vince making it work.
P.C.: As a fan, I think it comes down to how much of their extensive video library they are going to use on the channel. Do wrestling fans really care about outside projects that wrestlers have like movies? I don’t believe they do within the context of paying for a channel with WWE on it. So then it comes down to what this channel is going to be. If it doesn’t show any differences from USA or Syfy when RAW or SmackDown is on, it’s just another channel and most will be turned off right away feeling like they’d gotten burned (we wanted more wrestling, new wrestling, and we got this?). Most of Vince’s ventures outside of wrestling have not gone well and if Vince tries to make this “more” than a wrestling channel, it’ll probably go down that same road of failure.
SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
Nobuhiko Takada & Keiji Mutoh Vs. Don Frye & Ken Shamrock, Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2000, 12/31/2000
The main-event of the only all-wrestling show in Japan on NYE. This was Mutoh’s return after a stint in WCW and the debut of the bald look he’s kept to this day. For Takada it would be his last wrestling match before going full-time MMA, and it was the first wrestling match for Shamrock post-WWE. Needless to say there’s plenty of ring rust as far as wrestling goes. But this is shoot-style, something that all but Mutoh know how to do at least mildly well. Plenty of big names, plenty of time given, and some good action. Also, the finish could be seen as an unintentional set-up for the Shamrock/Frye fight in Pride that happened a little over a year after this.
The Great Muta Vs. Hirooki Goto, NJPW, 1/4/2008
With Muta you can’t expect a whole lot wrestling-wise at this point, but he still has the charisma, the character, and the ability to make his matches a spectacle. For Goto, this was his biggest singles match to date and came just after he went to CMLL for some seasoning and made the move to permanent heavyweight. Is Goto good enough at this point to save the match if Muta drags it down? If Muta drags it down that is, you never know.
Hirooki Goto, El Terrible, & El Texano Vs. Strongman, Black Warrior, & Super Porky, CMLL, 4/10/2011
From Goto’s latest excursion to CMLL. I wrote at the time he returned to Japan that it should’ve been a longer vacation and this tag is one of the reasons I think that. I do love CMLL tags because they get the time that six-man and eight-man tags should get, and everybody knows their role. Even Strongman, who doesn’t offer a ton as far as in-ring talent & skill are concerned, plays his role perfectly and looks very, very effective for doing so. Also, El Terrible & El Texano are becoming a favorite heel team of yours truly.
Terry Funk & Dory Funk Jr. Vs. Abdullah The Butcher & The Sheik, AJPW, 12/??/1979
The finals of the first Real World Tag League (Strongest Tag League). Considering the presence of three Americans and one Canadian, it’s a testament to all four that the Japanese crowd is as hot as they are. It also explains why this match had a completely different feel from any other match in the ’79 tournament, as well as almost any of the finals that would follow.
Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama Vs. The Headhunters, AJPW, 11/15/1998
Talk about a style clash. This was during the brief period when All Japan brought in FMW wrestlers and did use teams from FMW in the ’97 and ’98 Real World Tag League tourneys. This is from one of the smaller shows of the tournament. It features the biggest (in size) team in FMW against one of the best (as far as ability) in All Japan.
Mickie James, Angelina Love, Velvet Sky, & Sexy Star Vs. Mari Apache, Fabi Apache, & Lolita, & Cinthya Moreno, AAA, 6/??/2011
It’s TNA women against AAA women, sort of. Sexy Star is one of the main heel women in AAA at this time, so her alignment with the foreign invaders at least makes sense. It’s also worth noting that Angelina and Velvet were feuding at the time, but it was a better draw within this match if they were teaming because of their team name and its reputation within TNA and its fanbase. Worth a look as the match has women that are sexy and most of the women involved are also really good wrestlers, especially those Apache’s.
El Mesias Vs. Sting, AAA, 10/9/2011
Looking at the characters and personalities in this match, this is straight up AAA’s alley, as well as their fans’. These are two guys with dark characters, great personalities, and great charisma. And since this is AAA and TNA all in and outside the same ring, expect the usual overbooking. With a turn for good measure, but I’m not saying who.
Tags: aaa, jeff jarrett, TNA, WWE, WWE Network