The Rising Sun

TRS: The shape of puro

Hey puro-heads, long time no see… It’s been a weird few months over in the land of the rising sun what with legal action, take-overs, buy outs, new champions and such and I thought I’d give you a brief on each company and where it may go from here…

The Rising Sun #13

Hey puro-heads, long time no see… It’s been a weird few months over in the land of the rising sun what with legal action, take-overs, buy outs, new champions and such and I thought I’d give you a brief on each company and where it may go from here…

First my first love in puro, New Japan Pro Wrestling which has seen a fair few developments over the past few months.

Now Brock Lesnar is still the champion, now three defences in and looking unstoppable in the role as champion. The problem of WWE lawsuits looming over his every appearance is all but gone and it looks like he could be free to tour after the next tour which is the ‘Best of the Super Juniors’ and not really suited to him.

But a problem looms after all that in the shape of the dreaded iceberg in the path of pro-wrestling’s titanic in the east – K1. Lesnar has since day one said that he would like to move into MMA at some point and his NJPW agreement (which they took over from the Inoki Office after eating it up) has but three defences left according to reports. This begs the question… Will he go to K-1 as a freelancer or sign a NJPW agreement and represent them as champion?

And if he goes freelance and goes MMA full time who will be champion? He’s squashed Choshu, Nagata and Nakanishi in tag and non-title matches and defeated Nakamura and the seemingly unstoppable Akebono and Giant ‘A-Train’ Bernard as he went along as well in his V1, 2 and 3 title defences. The only matches that could fly would be Fujita in a re-match that was supposed to happen in January but was stopped by the now defunct Inoki office, Tanahashi, although that would take time and of course Nagata.

But that aside there have been some other developments in the overall stables of wrestlers, their movements and of course the other ‘lesser’ titles.

Tanahashi now holds the U-30 title once more but has defended it twice against Yamamoto and Goto after winning it in a cobbled together tournament where he the established veteran and former title holder was made out second best to some of the young lions during the tournament. Not a good sign for that titles shelf life to be honest.

The IWGP tag belts once more lay around the waist of ChoTen or Chono and Tenzan to you and me who have been the tag champions a record five times. Their matches have been heated, quite good and built well as you’d expect something involving the politically adept Chono and it does give the IWGP under achiever Tenzan something to do in a meaningful way as well so that’s ok.

As for the junior tag belts, well the pattern at the moment is for an experienced junior (Koji, Minoru and Samurai) to lead a younger one to these belts and help establish them as is the case with Inoue. Goto and Taguchi in recent tandems… It is a great direction and one that allows people like Goto and Inoue to get wins over higher ranked and more established vets like Koji, Gedo and Jedo as well. Long may the nine millionth great decision of Liger’s booking of the division go on.

And that of course leaves the IWGP junior belt which recently saw a change in coming to ‘Aniki’ himself, Koji Kanemoto just this Wednesday (the 3rd of May for those reading later on). Rumour has it that he wanted this reign or he would leave NJPW but I believe that due to the failed fourth generation feud of Black Tiger and Tiger Mask (due to Tiger Mask I might add) and Tiger’s lack of change in move set, structure of match and such it was the only call. With Minoru in the US at the moment and others unworthy or too worthy in the case of Liger then Kanemoto was the only option.

It has to be said that Kanemoto’s fourth reign with the belt (7/19/02 to 4/23/03 – 6 defences) was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular runs any wrestler has had with the belt. It is certainly the biggest in the past three years in terms of heat and match ratings so maybe this isn’t a bad idea. And with potential defences against Minoru (later on), Black Tiger, a revitalised Samurai and the young and vibrant Taguchi and Goto possibly to come, the future looks brighter for the title then it did around the fourth version of the anime character.

So apart from the gold what is the status of NJPW? Well it is about to run the thirteenth annual BOSJ tour and whilst houses are down and the Dome is no longer a viable option as a venue, at the moment it is drawing mostly good critical reviews for its matches and angles. With the re-shuffle at the top and the more secure view of Yukes in the boardroom this could perhaps herald a turn around.

Another great source of news is that the often meddling former owner Inoki is gone from the company apart from the odd suggestion made to his son-in-law Simon who is president. But his stock is in the hands of Yukes and his former off shoot company, the Inoki Office, (a thorn in the side of match making for many years due to their wrapping up of headlining and top level NJPW staff such as Fujita) is now the property of the company.

This means that Fujita, KaShin’s, Brock’s and LYOTO’s contracts all now belong to NJPW as well as the rights to Inoki’s image and anything related to him merchandise wise. This is a booking, drawing and financial boost for them and also removes any trace of Inoki from the board and booking rooms which means a turn away from the MMA-hybrid he was always perusing.

So to summarise….

* The booking is improving although a long term ‘ace’ that dethrones Lesnar needs to be built up for the good of the company.

* The junior division remains as always a highlight and will be wowing audiences in the US even more with the TNA X Cup.

* The working relationship between TNA and NJPW is growing and soon an actual World Cup or wrestling or a project involving Lesnar is being rumoured but nothing concrete at the moment.

* The shadow of Inoki and MMA influences look to be gone from most of the company and they now for once own and control the former founder!

* Young lions like Yamamoto, Goto and Taguchi are showing incredible growth. Nakamura and Tanahashi are showing remarkable potential as well to be the next top level ‘aces’.

* The company trimmed its wage bill and stopped running high rent and expensive areas that will not be filled and cause larger overheads. It may mean losing Kakihara, Yoshie, Nishimura, Anzawa, Nagao, Barnett, Naruse, Takemura, Nagai and Yanagisawa (which looks a lot but did they ever set the world on fire?) and not running the Dome (which at four times a year was a bit much) but it will be a good long term decision.

On the flip side?

* No native ace to replace Lesnar who may go in three matches (which at this rate means around four months) time.
Smaller attendances may see them slip behind NOAH as the top company in Japan in all areas.

* A smaller roster that could fall prey to injury and yet can’t find afford to rely on expensive freelancers or gajian.

* Despite this there is a reliance on Bernard, Norton, Brock and in the past Akebono to add some strength in numbers and size to the roster.

* The age of those currently in the top native positions like Nagata, Tenzan, Nakanishi, Chono etc as they are all in their mid to later 30’s and in Chono’s case in his 40’s!

* Still in the shadows of failed championship runs, Dome shows and MMA…

So it’s about 50-50 really. Some great work by the booking department to change around the alliances and make use of Choshu’s appearance in the fed and breaking kayfabe to build stories around political and personal matters involving his past runs with the company. But at the same time some problems that will linger in the back ground unable to be fixed for the short term and forgotten.

Let’s hope the lads in the boardroom can pull it to 75-25 in favour of greatness by the years end as after all we have the G-1 to look forward to so who knows what could happen?

Next time I shall assault and pick apart All Japan, a topic I don’t cover often here but will do so next time in much the same manner as this.

Until next time puro-heads!

Robert Heard