Now the thing about the title, Critical Acclaim is that, well there isn’t enough of it banded around these days. Everyone wants to look to the negative and even those that will praise the standard of the matches of a show in Japan they will then declare that despite this the show hasn’t drawn and wrestling is dying in the East.
But the fact is people love to say how vital and important the 90’s were in Japan as it saw the rise of the two companies to a level that verged on WWE’s domestic success with fast selling spin off computer games and figures etc.
See thats the thing, people often give this period in wrestling a vast amount of credit and say it was the most important time ever in Puro.
But it’s not THAT important.
The 1970’s for instance saw Baba and Inoki break away and form the twin peaks of NJPW and AJPW. It saw the death of the old superpowers of Japanese wrestling, most notably the home of Rikidozan, the JWA.
This time saw the debut of Fujinami, Choshu, Tenryu, Koshinaka, Hirata (a.k.a. Super Strong Machine), Hiro Saito, Kengo Kimura, Jumbo Tsuruta and many more.
These people formed the back bone of the cards that where dominated by Inoki in NJPW and in AJPW the likes of Jumbo and Tenryu helped replace Baba at the top as he grew older before having the first ever big name and drawing native v native feud which changed Japanese wrestling for ever.
The 1980’s saw the debut of Muto, Chono and Hashimoto as well as Liger, Misawa, Kobashi, Kawada, Taue oh hell, lots of wrestlers vitally important to the 1990’s actually started wrestling on shows back in the mid to late 80’s, learning vital lessons from the other older stars before breaking through in the next decade. It also saw that first ever vital native v native feud take place in AJPW. It saw the formation of the Triple Crown, the establishment of the IWGP Heavyweight, Junior Heavyweight and tag titles, the formation of the Double Cup titles in AJPW as well.
It was the decade that saw the biggest drawing card in history take place as Ric Flair took on Inoki in the ‘Wrestle for Peace’ festival in front of 150,000 fans… that’s 57,000 more then the claimed (that’s right claimed not actual according to reports) attendance of WrestleMania III, Andre v Hogan, the biggest Supercard ever in US Wrestling history in terms of attendance.
Then of course comes the decade we are in at the moment, the first decade of the new millennium no less.
This decade so far has seen the formation of a break away federation from AJPW in Pro Wrestling NOAH, the result of which ended up with a former NJPW wrestler taking over as the president of the company no less. Also it meant a return to the company by Tenryu who had left in 1992 to form SWS which later became WAR and in return had led to Baba’s vow that he would never be allowed to return… this of course ended when Baba died and his widow no less allowed him to not only return in the wake of the NOAH defecation but become the Triple Crown champion.
It also saw the rise of MMA in Japan and as a result joint MMA/Puro cards held by NJPW with shoot wrestlers with no previous pro wrestling experience becoming the IWGP champion such as Bob Sapp. It also led to the first and possibly only duel IWGP and Triple Crown champion in Kojima, something thought unthinkable in the time of Baba.
It saw the break up of the Three Musketeer’s in Chono, Muto and Hashimoto which led to Hash’s death at the age of 40 due to a brain haemorrhage. Behind Inoki and Rikidozan, Hash was the biggest main event star in terms of drawing in Japan ever and it led to the death of Zero-One and its re-birth as Zero-One MAX later in the same year.
It has also been the decade with the most inter-promotional feuds with… Z-1 v NJPW, Z-1 v AJPW, NJPW v AJPW, NJPW v NOAH, NOAH v Dragon Gate, NJPW v K1, APACHE Pro v NJPW, Z-1 v NOAH and many more….
It has seen the longest reign ever by a GHC, IWGP or Triple Crown Champion as well as the longest reign’s by an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champion, IWGP Tag champions and IWGP Jr Tag champions. That’s right, ever.
It saw Brock Lesnar become the first man to be both the IWGP and WWE/F champion in the course of a career ever and the re-start of the NJPW/NWA working relationship which then led to the TNA v NJPW friendly war and co-operation.
But the main problem has been despite all these firsts and pieces of history the gates have been the worst in Japan in decades, in fact the worst since the death of Rikidozan which saw Puro tainted with a Yakuza brush it nearly never recovered from and that is the main problem when people look on this decade in terms of its importance and quality.
In wrestling a promotion and wrestler is always looked upon with glowing eyes if the money is flowing. If you do not draw money and interest then it seen almost automatically that nothing of true importance is happening, after all if it was theYen would be flowing in right?
The fact is the decline started in the late 90’s and has continued from there with the problems inherited from that decade carrying on like a bad legacy. All the problems that Puro has can be traced back to this time…
* NJPW embracing shoot style – 1990’s
* Generation gap causing a stagnation of talent and overlapping of opportunities – 1990’s
* Pushes of talent too younger and the subsequent over exposure of talent at a younger age – 1990’s
The fact is Puro right now has gone through a decade that in twenty years time will be seen as one that defined the wrestling landscape in the east. It has seen SO much happen that never had a chance to occur before good and bad that has led to an industry that even in adversity and apparent decline has still churned out the best matches on a more consistent basis then anywhere in the world and the most exciting environment for news and stories since WCW in it’s death spiral, although this time with some good news nuggets as well as the bad.
However due to the fact that rose tinted glasses have not been afforded it due to a lack of vast amounts of money being pulled in, well it is sad that it may take fans that long to see just how important and deserving of critical acclaim this era has truly been…
Until next time Puro-heads…