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TRS: That was the year that was



17 January 2005

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Welcome again Puro fans to the first Rising Sun of 2005, a very happy (and belated) new year to all! Now seen as it’s the turn of the year its time to look back over the past year and then forward to 2005 to see what the future holds for pro-wrestling in Japan...

First the bad points, most of whom are NJPW related...

1. The de-valuing of the IWGP Title in NJPW: From Nakamura’s forced vacation of the gold in January, Tenzan and Kensuke’s short caretaker runs in wake of this and the insistence of NJPW putting the belt on ego fuelled shooters, its been a bad year for New Japan’s top gold. The highlight of this horrid booking and politics came when Sasaki pinned Fujita for the gold in October in just over 2 minutes as Fujita accidentally pinned himself whilst he had Sasaki trapped in a choke. The crowd booed loudly and many felt the belt had been damaged beyond repair.

2. The lack of available challengers to the top golds in all three major companies: In NJPW this year apart from the break through of Tanahashi, Shibata and Nakamura it’s been the same old faces… Fujita, Tenzan and Sasaki had all been champs before 2004 and faced off for the belt so many times. In NOAH until the recent building of Rikio and working relations with AJPW, Kobashi has had to fight outsiders to gain challengers for the gold such has been the booking of his huge near two year reign. People just think Kobashi is unbeatable and fail to truly bite into his matches anymore… hell even Akiyama after a superb build and push fell to him at the Tokyo Dome show despite pasting him with a Wrist Clutch, Super and ring to the outside Exploders… good way to kill a mans finisher… Then Kawada’s 3-Crown run in AJPW has been the least exciting ever by a champ. He has faced Mick Foley, Don Fyre, Taiyo Kea, Jamal, Hashimoto, Tenzan, Omari, Nishimura and Tenryu in his record breaking reign… But only the Tenzan, Nishimura and Foley matches caught most people’s attentions and leaves him only Kojima and Sasaki as possible challengers…

3. The over-pushing of Masa Chono: The man is a legend, I’m not gonna deny that fact. He is NJPW’s biggest house hold name due to the rise of the 3 Muskateers in the 1990’s it would be strange to have a NJPW card without him. Shame that he is now a bit knackered and run down at 42 with bad knees and a glass neck…. His act has become a bit stale but since his new heel turn over the late summer he has been unstoppable…. in a bad way. He’s defeated Nagata and Tenzan, the two men he passed the torch onto, multiple times since his turn and at the recent Tokyo Dome (more later) he defeated Riki Choshu (another has been) and Tenzan back to back to earn a shot at Tenzan’s IWGP title. All the more strange when Tenzan was built to win the IWGP with a 2nd G-1 and then knocked down repeatedly before challenging by Chono, making his eventual win less then ground shaking.

4. Riki Choshu: Why is he still wrestling? Why is he in prominent roles on big cards for NJPW wrestling Nagata, Chono and Tenzan on equal terms? This year he has seen his own company die only to return to the ring in Zero One and Hustle and stink the place up with Lariat dominated short matches. Why is he in there? And why are NJPW paying him so much to carry on now?

5. The Death of Zero One: See edition eight of the Rising Sun for full details…

Those for me where the main problems that have arisen in Puro over the past 12 months, but there has been some bright points for the future…

1. The rise of Tanahashi, Nakamura and Shibata: These three have been a constant highlight and bright point of hope for NJPW. I singled them out as the future in my first Rising Sun and hailed them as the new era and I stand by that, more so since Tanahashi’s performance’s during and since the G-1 climax and he and Nakamura’s friendly rivalry which has seen them claim IWGP Tag Team gold and headline the recent Tokyo Dome show in a early MOTYC…

2. The stability of the title belts: All of the gold in Japan’s major promotions has been stable and held for long periods of time that has seen the value of the holders and belts rise. Whilst not all of the champions reigns may have been constantly thrilling (Misawa/Ogawa’s GHC Tag Title reign, Kawada’s 3-Crown reign) they have proved a platform for bookers to promote a title match that means something. HEAT, Kawada and Kobashi have all held their singles belts for a year or more and Misawa and Ogawa have held the GHC tag titles for over a year as well….

3. The big three working together: Earlier in my articles I warned how puro may become stale as the title scenes and feuds where becoming repetitive. My solution was the companies merging or at least exchanging talent… This year has seen Misawa make up with AJPW and maybe lead to a final bout between the two legendary rivals. It has also seen the ongoing NOAH v NJPW friendly war and also AJPW and NJPW exchange talent again to provide thrilling matches (Muto and Nishimura v Nakamura and Tanahashi, Tenzan v Kawada) and not to mention Sasaki, Suzuki and Tenryu’s frequent roaming into AJPW and now NOAH…. It may even all lead to a 3-Crown v IWGP match in 2005 between Kojima and Tenzan if current booking continues…

4. The magnificent return to form of Sasaki and Kobashi: Kobashi was supposed to be finished. His knee’s dead and his GHC title reign not matching expectations. Sasaki had burned his NJPW bridges before joining Chosu’s promotion where he phoned it in until it died…

Kobashi not only returned to something close to his prime, he also managed to bring back his old knee busting moves, such was his return to health he had the MOTY in Japan with Jun Akiyama at the Toyko Dome Show…

Sasaki returned home and had outstanding matches with Nagata, Tenzan, Sapp, Takayama, Tanahashi, Suzuki and others whilst being crowned IWGP a further two times. He also re-invented his move list with new moves like Plancha’s, Tiger Suplexs and rolling sentons and then ventured into AJPW where he will now face Kawada for the 3-Crown in a hugely anticipated match up….

So a mixed year for Japan… It saw the downturn in business claim a company (although it is re-building) and at the same time saw the rise of new stars (with NOAH also building Morishima and Rikio for big things and AJPW unveiling a new prospect called Suwama…) with the added re-invention of others…

So what of 2005? Well it didn’t start well in a way for NJPW with Chono’s continued push leading to an IWGP match between Tenzan and him in February. But with the shining lights of Tanahashi and Nakamura on board who knows? NOAH looks healthy and plans to run the Tokyo Dome show again with the added weight of Tenryu and Suzuki in their cards…. Plus if all goes well it will have two new stars in WILD II as well… And AJPW looks to start of this year with a huge bang with Sasaki/Kawada III and inter promotional scuffles over its World and All Asian tag titles too… Not to mention the winner of Sasaki v Kawada facing Kojima and the possible return of Misawa and Kobashi!

After some dark months it looks like it could all turn around in 2005 for the better and lets hope so. Till next time Puro heads!

Robert Heard



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