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TRS: The Road to unification



20 January 2008

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The past, the present and maybe the future?

Yes as the above states the past few weeks in Japan have been about history, making it to be precise, as events have unfolded that could shake the scene for months to come…

The Dome – a venue not just Kurt’s bald skull

The main focal point of this possible history altering event was part two in the on going friendly war between TNA and New Japan, this time taking in the traditional January 4th show at the monstrous Tokyo Dome which can hold up to 68,000 people…

But not on this night or in fact any NJPW event going back years, now the company is more likely to pull a 32,000 number at best which they have come to realise and now do not rent the top tiers of the stadium, thus saving the extra cost of doing so…

It was a strong card by any standard, almost a US v Japan Supercard in some ways and with one ‘Dream’ match that had been touted since 2002 finally coming to pass…

The History between Nagata and Kurt…

Both men are respected amateur wrestlers, Nagata obviously less then the gold laden Angle… both men have been at the top (or near as dammit) of their profession for the same amount of time and both men have been mentioning in various articles since their first meeting that they would one day like to lace up and face each other one on one…

It all began back in 2002 when Angle, then part of the WWE and Lesnar did some promotional work as part of the US based titan touring the Far East…

Once in Japan they met none other then the soon to be most successful IWGP champion of all and 2001 G1 Climax winner and all three men, Lesnar, Angle and Nagata spoke highly of each other and Nagata said that one day he wished to take on either man in a NJPW ring…

The first part of the trilogy came true when Lesnar, freshly cut from the practise squad of the Vikings in the NFL after bringing the curtain down on his WWE career made the jump to NJPW against the WWE’s wishes in 2006… a court case happened and the WWE failed to stop Lesnar going to the land of the rising sun and becoming the IWGP champion, a feat which earned him the newly made ‘3rd Generation’ version of the belt. He would then face Nagata in a non title match later on in 2006 which ‘The Pain’ won with his F-5/Verdict finisher…

Lesnar then split with the title after NJPW decided to no longer work with him after disagreements over appearance money and also the chances of Brock doing tours with the company rather then one off shows… Tanahashi won the tournament for the vacant gold (which had to be reverted to the old ‘2nd Generation’ or ‘True’ IWGP belt) and the world went on…

But in 2006 Kurt Angle also left the WWE and signed with TNA… who just happened to have a working agreement with NJPW. As a result Angle and Nagata teamed up in 2007 to take on the American pair of Bernard and Tomko (two other former WWE men) and won when Nagata used the Nagata Lock II on Tomko. The pair shook after the match and once more Angle made positive motions to coming to Japan and facing Nagata one on one…

Instead Angle signed an agreement (as did TNA) to work with the IGF, run by former NJPW president and founder Antonio Inoki…. as did the very man who NJPW tossed aside earlier in the year, a certain Mr. Lesnar who also still had the ‘3rd Generation’ title in his care…

Angle and Lesnar then collided on the first ever IGF show and Angle extracted a tap out via Ankle Lock and became the owner of what should have been a NJPW sanctioned title… rumours quickly began to spread that this meant one thing and one thing only – a unification match between the two ‘IWGP’ champions, one of whom at this time just happened to be a certain Yuji Nagata…

But that dream seemed to end when Nagata lost the title to Tanahashi in a MOTYC and Nakamura, now healed up, would face Makabe to decide who would fight for that title… undeterred Nagata sent out a call via the media that if TNA was coming to Japan and wanted to wrestle on his turf then he wanted Angle to bring the ‘3rd Generation’ title with him and defend it against him…

TNA eager to boost its exposure and fan base wanted to help NJPW with its big shows (Sumo Hall and Tokyo Dome) and allowed Angle to sign on for the match and finally the dream was back on… January 4th 2008 would finally see the pair, six years after meeting for the first time, get it on in the ring with Nagata promising to bring the ‘lost’ title home and then face the IWGP champion in a match to unify the titles…

The fans get what they want… but not Nagata…

The match went back and forth as many expected it would, with the suplexes, mat wrestling holds and high speed action flowing in what was described as an early MOTYC…

In the end though it came down to the submission game as Angle Slams, Backdrop Holds and Exploders just weren’t getting the job done… Nagata tried to utilise his four Nagata Locks but Kurt used his calling card, his end it all finish and Ankle Locked Yuji until he could take no more…

The fans stood and applauded the effort which Nagata said ‘burnt me out’ but they did not see the lost gold return home… but still to come was a match for the ‘True IWGP title’ as Tanahashi faced great generation rival Nakamura in their second Dome main event together.

New dream match decided?

Naka and Tana had headlined the Dome over the U-30 title back in January 2005 and it was Naka who came out on top with a cross armbreaker… but both men had changed since then, both in move list and fighting style… not to mention the fact that this was Nakamura’s third Dome main event in four years as well.

These two also went back and forth, throwing everything they had at each other until Nakamura spiked Tana with his Landslide (Wrist Clutch Samoan Driver) off the top rope before nailing the regular version a few moments later (just to be sure) to capture the title…

The fans went mad as this now meant that Nakamura – former national amateur champion and a man who had defeated some of the best in K-1 earlier in his career would be in line to face Angle in the long awaited unification bout… this claim made stronger when none other then Kurt himself came down to the ring and the two exchanged words with Naka motioning that he – not Angle – was the true IWGP champion…

Unification at the Holy Hall?

Soon after it was decided… Angle v Nakamura, title v title would take place at none other then the holy place of NJPW, the Tokyo Ryogoku Kokugikan a.k.a. the Sumo Hall on the 17th of February this year.

Should either man win then they will become the one and ONLY IWGP champion, something that arguably has not been the case since July 2006 when Lesnar and New Japan parted ways with the title still in his possession.

But there are several matters that stand in the way of either Nakamura or Angle doing such a thing… for a start Angle is seen as the ace of TNA both in the US and in Japan and is viewed as a wrestling god by the Japanese. Losing to Nakamura shouldn’t harm his stock given his achievements and Kurt never usually has an ego when it comes to the J.O.B.

However TNA management might not see it that way and they are the biggest stopping block to Nakamura ending the two title farce AND becoming the complete ace of NJPW. If they don’t want Angle to lose by pinfall or submission then the dream is over before it has even started…

However should the TNA big wigs want their red, white and blue machine to earn the undisputed title then will have to face NJPW management that whilst mindful of the strides others have made on the US market (Dragon Gate and NOAH especially) they will be mindful after the Lesnar fiasco to hand their title over to another American who will not be able to do full tours with the company…

Prediction?

What do I want to happen?

Easy, I want the two titles brought together and the whole Lesnar/IGF/3rd Generation saga over and done with, as would most NJPW fans… and like them I want that to happen with Nakamura bringing home the title…

But what I want doesn’t come into it… because when I think about it the more and more I really do think this sucker is going Broadway and ending a draw. Both group’s management have a lot at stake in this event and this match – not least the possibility of a mega bucks re-match…

So the smart Gringo money is on a time limit or double KO draw… even though it will annoy the hell out of me.

But until next time… goodbye Puroheads!

Robert Heard



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