The Rising Sun

TRS: Whatever happened to the Golden Generation?

Before you start this is not a piece on the supposed team people believe should have won the World Cup for England in 2006…. or qualified with ease for Euro 2008 the lousy over paid… sorry, where was I… oh yes. This is a look instead at the generation of wrestlers who came before the likes of Tanahashi and Nakamura but after the generation of Hashimoto, Misawa, Kobashi, Kawada, Muto, Chono and Taue…

Before you start this is not a piece on the supposed team people believe should have won the World Cup for England in 2006…. or qualified with ease for Euro 2008 the lousy over paid… sorry, where was I… oh yes…

That is the wrong sport for this article numb nut…

No, this is a look instead at the generation of wrestlers who came before the likes of Tanahashi and Nakamura but after the generation of Hashimoto, Misawa, Kobashi, Kawada, Muto, Chono and Taue.

This was a generation full of promise and talent and had the all round package from former Junior Heavyweights to fully fledged monsters (for the Japanese scene anyhow).

These men are Tenzan, Kojima, Nagata, Nakanishi, Otani, Omori, Takayama, Akiyama and then some. But looking at those names your thinking, well every one of them has won a world title or tournament in their weight division…. Well yeah but compared to the generation before it came as too little and too late and maybe at the expense of the generations to come.

See in this business and in any part of the world it is run you need to make new stars… they don’t just drop out of the sky ready made, even Hogan, Rock, Austin, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart where around for quite a while before they hit the BIG time and winning world titles.

To do so you need an established star and favourable long term build and booking to manufacture a situation where a rising talent is ‘cooked’ to the point where the oven goes ping and you pull them out ready to give a big win over said star for a title or in a meaningful situation where by you can say to the fans ‘hey this guy has ARRIVED!’.

Rock did it with his second run as the IC champion in the WWF and through his KOTR run in 1998 and onto the title tournament at the end of the year. Before that he was a green horn whose push was hated by the fans who felt he was in this position because he was a 3rd generation superstar. He didn’t do that all on his own of course, Vince McMahon and his booking squad drove him there with the booking and he of course capitalised.

In Japan the G-1 Climax was brought into the world to do this for rising stars Muto, Chono and Hashimoto in 1991 and they grabbed it. Hash was already a man who was known so Chono and Muto where given the push to the final and they performed amazing well with a fantastic and classic match that said to people ‘LOOK AT US’ and this started the legend of the Three Musketeers.

But this generation has never really had that chance early on in their career’s, they just had too much in their way as the people in charge saw these men’s elders drawing magnificently from their beginnings in 1991 to the latter stages of the 1990’s. So there is of course an argument NOT to push these men at the expense of those ahead of them…

But this leads to a stacked talent base, one that has talent in abundance and potential and no time to realise it before the next batch is due to come through to be in a similar situation. It leads to stagnation and devaluing of wrestlers as they need to lose matches so that the current top guys keep strong enough to carry on the fight as the bookers want and to carry on drawing.

Nakanishi was OVER in 1999, he won the G-1 Climax by defeating the then IWGP champion Keiji Muto in and he was ready to go on and win the title… he didn’t though… instead the title stayed with Muto who defeated Naka in his next defence (backward step anyone?) and then dropped the title to aged Puro legend Tenryu who then dropped it a match later to Kensuke Sasaki.

Old boys keeping the toys… this is a theme that carried on in not just NJPW but in AJPW as well. Yes Kobashi won the Triple Crown three times in the company… but it was not until March 2003 that Misawa allowed Kobashi to finally win a singles title match against him… to put that into context that is a span of nearly EIGHT years after they first collided for a title. Even Akiyama managed to win a title from Misawa before then as he won the GHC title from the old master in 2001.

But to put that into context, that is four years after Akiyama first challenged for a singles title and he was hardly that young when he finally won the gold, he was in fact thirty two years old. Randy Orton won the title in 2004 at the age of 24, Brock Lesnar at the age of 25 in 2002.

I mean to put those facts into context lets stick up a list of the generation and what they have achieved in terms of world titles…

Kojima – Triple Crown and IWGP champion in 2005 aged 34
Nagata – Won his first IWGP title in 2002 aged 33
Tenzan – IWGP champion in 2003 aged of 32
Akiyama – GHC champion in 2001 aged 32
Otani – AWA Heavyweight Champion in 2006 aged 34, graduated to Heavyweight in 2001.
Takayama – GHC World Title in 2002 aged 35 (it was nine days before his 36th birthday)
Omori – AWA World Title in 2005 aged 35

If your 35 or so in American wrestling and your put in for a title run then it is assumed that you will after a while put over a younger star like Benoit did with Orton, Rock in his last title run with Lesnar etc, etc…

Who did Nagata put over aged 34 in 2003? Was it an emerging Tanahashi? No, it was Takayama who was by then on the way to his 37th birthday. Akiyama, who did he put over? Well a junior heavyweight who wasn’t over and got the gig as he was a friend of Misawa, that man was Ogawa and he was 35 at the time.

To put this even further to shame lets look at how old the previous generation where when they won the titles that shaped and made their careers…

Hashimoto was 28 when he won his first title, a whole five years younger then his supposed replacement Nagata, Muto was 30 when he won his first gold and Chono was 29 when he won the NWA World Title…

So yeah, Tenzan was only two years older then Muto and was still in his early thirties… but he then lost the title soon after without a defence to his name, won it and then lost it and so on and so on… In fact by the time he was 34 he was a four time champion, but with only TWO successful defences to his name. Now thats a botched push.

Akiyama also won the title at a younger age then most… only to drop it after a few poorly received defences in under five minutes thanks to a cradle hold to a light heavyweight and then when he finally got another run he lost it to another light heavyweight to yet ANOTHER cradle hold after more poorly received defences. Again, great booking.

You can argue of course that Tenzan did drop his title to a 23 year old rookie in Shinsuke Nakamura but that worked out to the detriment of the company in the end as well. Plus you could say the likes of Fujinami, Tenryu, Choshu etc who came before the likes of Hash didn’t win titles until they were in their mid thirties but that doesn’t compare to today as in those days most Japanese federations shared their world titles with the NWA and it wasn’t until they broke away in the late 1980’s and made their own titles did these stars get what they deserved.

Bottom line is that at the moment the title scene in Japan is being dominated still by the older generation, the likes of Sasaki (who won his first title at the age 31 in 1997 and the WCW US title at the age of 29) who is at the ripe age of 41, Misawa who is even older at 45 and who won his first title at the age of 30 in 1992 and their challengers are the likes of Nagata, Minoru Suzuki, Akira Taue, Kawada and NOAH are pinning their hopes on the return of Kobashi who has turned 40 this year.

The aura and shadow of the Three Musketeers in NJPW and the formidable trio of Kobashi, Misawa and Taue in NOAH and the likes of Muto, Kawada, Tenryu in AJPW and even Hashimoto before his death in Zero One has never really passed. The ‘golden generation’ lives under it as it wrestles on the same cards as these men even now, all of them pushed as an after thought after the former glories of the older generation faded.

Now the same fate could be in front of the next men to step up. Morishima, Shiosaki, Nakamura, Makabe, Goto, Suwama et al face a dual barrier now with the remains of the biggest drawing generation in history still lingering near the top of the card and also the now tarnished Golden Generation ahead of them as well can they stake a claim?

Here’s hoping…

Till next time Puro-heads.

Robert Heard