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TRS: The IWGP title comes home and an unfortunate case of events



19 February 2008

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Today was a good day… the IWGP Title returned home

Sunday saw a massive show for NJPW, a massive one in that they needed to finally push Nakamura all the way and reclaim the 3rd generation IWGP Title and unify it once more with the 2nd generation belt they have been forced to use since Lesnar refused to return what he called ‘his belt’ to the company.

Also they where pushed into a horrible place by the predicament of Yuji Nagata whose hotly anticipated match with Hirooki Goto had to be cancelled due to a brain injury Yuji suffered at the start of the tour and has been keeping secret (more on this later on).

Bottom line is this was a stacked card with four titles on the line in three matches (IWGP 2nd & 3rd, IWGP Tag titles, IWGP Jr Tag Titles), a rematch of a good match TNA ruined the last time it happened (Tanahashi v Styles) and also the continued usage of supposed TNA talent Christopher Daniels, I say supposed of course because anyone familiar with TNA will know that Daniels is currently ‘fired’.

The main thing the card needed to deliver was the continuation of the momentum previous shows and storylines where providing the company – and I’m glad to say they did.

Liger and AKIRA defeated Minoru and Devitt to claim the IWGP Jr. Tag belts which makes sense seeing as the two have more experience then both the RISE wrestlers and also because it always the more even distribution of titles amongst the groups (before this show RISE held the Jr Tag and IWGP Tag belts as well as the IWGP title with only Inoue with the Jr title not being affiliated with the group).

Also Makabe and Yano, the men voted Tokyo Sports tag team of the year, got over their defeat to Team 3D at the last big show and defeated Tomko and Bernard for the tag belts thus bring gold to GHB once more.

Daniels defeated Inoue in a non-title match to continue their rivalry and also Tenzan, leader of GHB returned to face off against the Legend-Gun team led by his former mentor Chono.

But all that paled to the main event, as the man who has history of unifying titles (he sealed the NWF and IWGP titles in 2004) Shinsuke Nakamura faced off against Kurt Angle…

Now before think how in the world could this be a big deal, you know Shinsuke beating Kurt, you have to put it in the view point of the rank and accomplishment based Japanese system and then look upon it in the glasses of kayfabe.

Angle has done the following in his career….

  • World Freestyle and Olympic Freestyle Champion in the Heavyweight class
  • 4 x WWF/W Champion
  • 1 x World Champion
  • 1 x WCW World Champion
  • 2 x TNA World Champion
  • 1 x NWA World Champion
  • 1 x TNA Tag Champion
  • 1 x TNA X Division Champion
  • 1 x IWGP ‘3rd Generation’ World Champion
  • 2000 King of the Ring
  • WWE World Tag Champion
  • 1 x WWE European Champion
  • 1 x WWE Intercontinental Champion
  • 1 x WWE Hardcore Champion
  • 1 x WCW United States Champion

Compare that to Shinsuke Nakamura…

  • 2 x IWGP Champion
  • 1 x IWGP Tag Champion
  • 1 x IWGP U-30 Champion
  • 1 x G-1 Tag League Champion

Looking at that and the ways fans treat Angle the feelings and view is clear – Naka may be good for a young one but Kurt is a wrestling god. Seriously that’s how they see him over there – a wrestling god.

So when Nakamura strapped old Kurt in a cross armbreaker and made him tap quicker then Bo Jangles on speed it was seen as a BIG deal. This was a man who had won one shoot fight in his career taking down and making a wrestling god via submission. There is no bigger rub that result can give until you realise that not only did Naka ‘achieve’ this but he also returned the IWGP 3rd belt to its home by defeating an American who claimed his was better then everyone in the company in the Sumo Hall.

In NJPW and Japanese wrestling terms that is huge, in the US scene it would be like Hogan putting you over at WrestleMania in the main event hosted from the Garden for the World Title AFTER you kick out of a leg drop and with no outside interference. That big seriously, it’s huge and pushes Naka as THE ace of the company above all others.

Thing is where does the company go from here?

It has Bernard, Tanahashi, Makabe and Goto as potential challengers but given this win Naka will be expected to roll over all of them easy as hell, such is the kayfabe position his win places him in as a wrestler.

Then of course is a bigger problem….

Yuji Nagata to be exact, a man who would have been an ideal challenger for the title given his history with the title, Angle, Nakamura and the fact that before Naka’s big win he was seen as the ace of the company.

But this has all taken a back seat in light of events that unfolded before the Sumo Hall show today….

Unfortunate Case of Events

Now previously in one of my articles here way back when I addressed the ‘Strong Style’ used by Japanese wrestlers after the stroke suffered by Yoshihiro Takayama after his HARD match against Kensuke Sasaki during the G-1 Climax that resulted in old Taka taking 2 years off from the profession to recover.

Since then of course there was the death of Shinya Hashimoto of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 40 due to a combination of in ring damage, stress and blood pressure medication and thats before we look at other in ring events that have led to the retirement of several wrestlers in the past few years.

Nagata in this case started to suffer headaches and problems using the left side of his body two days or so ago after a match on the current tour. He then decided to not tell anyone in the company or seek medical advice and continued to wrestle… twice…

Then came Sunday, the big match and Nagata awoke eager to fight Goto and ensure everything went smoothly and as planned such is his love for NJPW and his constant work for them as a true company man…

Problem was the headaches were getting worse and his left side had become pretty much immoveable and the company had to be told. Yuji did that and the match was cancelled and Nagata was sent to the hospital for tests and scans on his cranial region. First indications that have been gathered from these is that Yuji has had a stroke…. at the grand old age of 39.

Lets put that into perspective… a fit and healthy man who is said to be drug and alcohol free has suffered an injury to the brain usually seen in people who are twice his age and lead the opposite type of lifestyle.

So having eliminated the probable and most likely root causes of the injury there is but one conclusion left to make – wrestling made Yuji this way. I mean it killed Masakazu Fukuda, a former team mate of Nagata’s during the days of G-EGGS. It gave Takayama a stroke in 2004 and also has been seen as leading to the death of Hashimoto, all of them through similar injuries to the brain.

Now a stroke is cerebrovascular accident, where the blood vessels supplying the brain become disrupted or damaged and leading to either a blood clot or haemorrhage which then in turn damages the brains functions, most commonly in the areas of speech and movement. Ergo a stroke or related aliment can be caused by being hit hard in the head and thus causing damage to the brain.

Now Fukuda’s death was sudden, he caught a stiff elbow smash from Shibata and went down straight away, his skull filling up with blood from a damaged blood cell which in turn caused fatal and irreversible brain damage.

However the other men, Takayama and Hashimoto, suffered their afflictions due to the constant wear and tear caused by being dropped on or kicked and punched in the head. All three men also have a history of shoot fighting and also for working tough, hard ‘shoot style’ matches where you hit each other as hard as you can. Even non ‘shoot style’ wrestling is stiff compared to the action seen in the mainstream promotions of the US since the introduction of certain rules in the latter (no piledriver's or sheer vertical drop moves if it can be helped and only certain rosters members are allowed to do so when it is permitted).

The problem is also that workers HAVE to work tight and right at the edge of the stiffness limit due to the rod the Japanese scene made for its own back. Japan compared to the US scene is backward when it comes to the concept of kayfabe. In the 1990’s ECW and then later the other members of the so called ‘Big Three’ tore down the old boundaries of kayfabe to a certain extent. However in Japan kayfabe is still upheld.

For instance Tiger Mask IV wore his mask on his wedding day and in the pictures so as to keep his identity a secret. The Great Sasuke when elected to the Japanese Diet wore his mask all through his campaign and whilst serving as a member of the parliament. Rob Van Dam also stated that if he did not kick and strike as hard as he could then the native wrestlers would hit him harder to make him angry and draw full strength attacks from him.

All this was done to make the product as real as it could be in response partly to the rise of shoot fighting in Japan as well as the old belief that is maintained, that being that wrestling is real and not a pre-determined sport. Status plays a big role as well as I mentioned before in the article. To attain a BIG win you must be built up and defeat people above you more and more before you are considered to be at a level high enough for a title shot or a win over a former champion.

Not only that but Takayama, Nagata and Hashimoto all competed in shoot fighting as well as wrestling on several occasions to try and further their careers in the ring. Hash fought in what were classed as MMA matches on NJPW and there is some doubt about if they were actual shoot matches, Nagata and Taka on the other hand did full on shoot fighting… and got absolutely battered by men who far outmatched them in terms of fighting ability.

This basically is the problem with Japanese wrestling from the performer’s point of view. To get over and move on up you have to take some serious bumps and beatings on the undercard for many years before the chance possibly comes. Then in the main event you generally have to push yourself even further to keep yourself up on the top of the card with the addition of the occasional shoot fight to try and promote your company as ‘real’. Also the tours are numerous, hard and long and unlike in the US where the big stiff is usually reserved for the television tapings etc, in Japan you have to go at it all the time as the main portion of income is still taken from the box office at shows run by the company.

Nothing has changed since the last time I looked at this problem and nothing will likely change due to the continued environment in the scene which has seen viewing figures decline and therefore the need for big matches with BIG moments (e.g. head drops) has increased. Why else would a man in his mid forties in NOAH be dropping a man of equal age and ill health on his head pencil straight?

Hopefully however the numbers of wrestlers stricken down with aliments such as these remain at a low level and maybe the style will be toned down in future so that the biggest moves are kept for the really big occasions.

All I know is that I wish Yuji a speedy recovery.

Till next time Puro-heads

Robert Heard



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