Section 1- Results
All Japan: Minoru Suzuki beat Kojima to retain the Triple Crown. Nakajima ended Kondo’s epic junior title reign. Kawada & Kea downed Suawama & RO’Z to gain the tag belts. Mutoh & Tajiri beat Shinzaki & Golddust. Attendance was good, and considering where they were last year at this time it’s a huge improvement.
New Japan: Tanahashi and Minoru Tanaka retained their respective singles belts. Angle & Nagata won their tag as expected. Koshinaka beat Nakanishi. Attendance was good here as well (though not a sell-out), and again it was a marked improvement from a year ago.
NOAH: Takaiwa retained the junior title in Zero-One against Hidaka. Shiga & Kawabata are now the openweight/Ã¢â‚¬ÂhardcoreÃ¢â‚¬Â tag champs.
Section 2- News
All Japan: The Champions Carnival will be ten wrestlers in two blocks, with the top two in each block advancing. The participants: Suzuki, Kawada, Kojima, Sasaki, Mutoh, Kea, Tajiri, Suwama, RO’Z and Toru Owashi. All shows will be at Korakuen.
New Japan: The New Japan Cup will be a 14-man tournament, with the finals on 3/21 and the winner getting a title shot on 4/13 at Osaka Prefectural Gym. Honma seems to have snuck into the company and will be in the tournament along with all the usual suspects. Notable first round matchups include Chono vs Choshu and a Koshinaka vs Makabe rematch. Tenzan and Bernard get byes. Chono vs Choshu will be the feature match on 3/11 at the semi-big Aichi Prefectural Gym show, along with Nakanishi & Omori vs Bernard & Tomko for the tag titles and Minoru Tanaka’s vs luchador El Texano for the junior title.
NOAH: Morishima vs KENTA at the Budokan will be for the ROH title. Fans will vote on what match headlines, so this could be on top. Ishimori will travel to Zero-One on 3/8 to challenge for the junior title.
Section 3- Part one of a debate!
Section 4- Why ROH would be idiots not to put the belt on Morishima
As an independent wrestling company, you don’t always have a world of options. Stars come and go because there are no long-term contracts. Bigger companies can dictate your booking options. You have to drop whatever you’re doing in order to take advantage of an opportunity that someone else is giving you. ROH has certainly been opportunistic in the past (witness their use of CM Punk and Matt Hardy in 2005), and they’re being opportunistic now.
They have a good chance to have the ROH title defended on the main or semi-main event of a NOAH show at Nippon Budokan Hall. The show won’t sell out, but it will assuredly be the largest live crowd for an ROH title match by close to an order of magnitude. It will be the only singles title match on the card. That’s gigantic in raising ROH’s stature in Japan, which is all the more important because Japanese wrestlers drive ROH’s top DVD sales and ROH will be running Japan shows in July.
Sorry NYC. Sorry Homicide fans. I don’t know if ROH had this planned in the fall when they first brought Morishima in, or if they knew in December when Homicide won the title, or if they even knew a month ago when Morishima vs Misawa hadn’t happened yet. I don’t even know if they would put the belt on Morishima even without the title being featured at the Budokan show.
What I do know is that this opportunity is more important than a few more token Homicide title defenses that nobody- NOBODY- was seriously clamoring for. Homicide as a Puerto Rican Steve Austin chasing the title is an interesting storyline; Homicide trying to get his 5th and 6th title defenses against the likes of BJ Whitmer isn’t. Homicide deserved a longer reign but the company didn’t owe him that at the expense of the Budokan opportunity.
Phil’s argument seems to be that ROH could have gotten NOAH to book Homicide vs Morishima and chose not to. I very much doubt that. First, ROH would jump at the opportunity to get Homicide established in Japan at a Budokan show. Second, NOAH would be very unlikely to book a wrestler like Homicide in a high-profile Budokan match without his having any kind of exposure in Japan. Third, and I base this on what I’ve seen about Japan rather than any slight against Homicide, I’m not even 100% certain that he could get a visa due to his, ah, youthful indiscretions. If he’s at the July shows that will prove me wrong, and if he isn’t it might be because of TNA. Speaking of which, a NOAH booking would need to be cleared with TNA, and the politics there could get in the way.
I’m convinced that ROH took the only option they had for getting the title belt in a prominent place on a big stage in Japan. No serious ROH fan can really blame them for that. Be disappointed, but don’t be pissed.
Section 5- What a difference a year makes
All Japan and New Japan are in remarkably better position today than they were just twelve months ago. They ran what can be called successful Sumo Hall shows, since though they didn’t sell out they were reasonably well-received and didn’t bomb financially. Respectable showings at big venues is just what they need.
All Japan was running out of challengers for Kojima, having to scrape out Muta (after doing Kojima vs Mutoh already) and TARU. Kawada was gone, Akebono and Bernard jumped to New Japan things were dire. Now, All Japan has elevated Kea (through a TC win) and Suwama (in last year’s carnival); they’ve brought in Minoru Suzuki, who was the consensus MVP of 2006; they’ve benefited from the decline of HUSTLE by bringing back Kawada and making Tajiri a semi-regular. Perhaps part of it comes from the Hello Kitty partnership providing financial backing, but however they can afford the better roster they’re stronger for it. Upgrading from Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbig’ shows at Ota Ward Gym to two Sumo Hall events is a nice image boost. Throw in that New Japan relied on them for the Tokyo Dome show and they’re no longer an also-ran after NJ and NOAH.
New Japan had disastrous Sumo Hall shows last February and March, headlined by the Lesnar vs Akebono feud that was a cash cow on paper but a sinkhole in reality. The Lesnar situation was wreaking havoc on long-term planning and the company was struggling with whether to run the Tokyo Dome ever again. A huge portion of the roster left during contract negotiations. Even little things like Uei suddenly pulling Shibata from a rematch with Tanahashi were giving New Japan a black eye. This year they have a more reliable gaijin superstar situation (Angle backed by TNA instead of Lesnar backed by Antonio Inoki), the title is on a native star, nobody left at contract time, they seem to have a handle on how many big shows they can realistically book, and the overall product has an air of stability and competence.
NOAH is in somewhat of a holding pattern, not running many big matches or booking big outsiders but not running up big expenses either. That means the top three promotions in Japan are the most stable they’ve been in years. Keeping even rather than declining is a marked improvement, and we still have Kobashi’s return to give the scene a shot in the arm.