The Western Lariat: The Evolution of Pro Wrestling in Japan May28

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The Western Lariat: The Evolution of Pro Wrestling in Japan

Professional Wrestling (known as “pro-wres” and written as “puroresu” in English, with the o and u silent as they are in many translated Japanese names and words) in Japan is a completely different entity to the version of wrestling that exists in the United States or anywhere else. A lot of that has had to do with the way that the various styles have evolved and lead to a lot of confusion, particularly over the way MMA is treated. Many Americans are completely bewildered by the way Japanese people seem to consider MMA and pro wrestling as one and the same, but really, when you know the history, it’s not all that silly. It’s just the way the culture evolved. A lot of people are also in awe of the style that was on display in All Japan in the 1990s and to some extent in NOAH to this day. That, too, evolved in a very unique way…

In the 1950s and 60s the main company in Japan was Rikidozan’s Japan Pro Wrestling. In the post World War II-era, professional wrestling became wildly popular by being used as a form of retribution for the Japanese public. Rikidozan defeated many of America’s biggest stars such as Freddie Blassie, Lou Thesz, The Sheik and in the process became a cultural icon the likes of which has never been or will ever be seen in the United States. Everyone, even today, in Japan knows who Rikidozan was. Children learn about him in school through history books, he was that big of a star. He was the country’s hero and someone who they lived vicariously through, defeating the evil American enemy and sending them packing. In terms of the in-ring style, the company was very similar to the one that was seen in the United States at the time, due to that still being the main influence on what people thought puroresu was.

Riki was murdered in 1963 and in the wake of his death Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba emerged as the two biggest native stars in the country. The company was plagued by in-fighting and following a failed coup by Inoki, he was fired by the group in 1972 and went on to form New Japan Pro Wrestling. A few months later, seeing the writing on the wall, Giant Baba followed and formed All Japan Pro Wrestling, taking the JWA’s NWA affiliation with him due to his connections in the US. The company would fold shortly thereafter.

This was the first great change in the stylistic history of wrestling in Japan. Inoki would promote realistic fights, with lots of strikes and matwork. His vision was to promote pro wrestling not as entertainment or spectacle, but as the strongest fighting style and with NJPW being the leader of that style, the self-proclaimed “King of Sports”. Inoki, of course, was the charismatic Ace of the new “Strong-Style” and took on many practitioners of other sports such as Judo or Boxing, beating all-comers in matches billed as “Different Style Fights”. Baba, conversely, would hold true to his roots and continued to promote a highly American influenced product with the main hook being Baba (and later his young prodigy Jumbo Tsuruta) battling the top gaijin – or foreigners – of the era such as Harley Race, The Funks, The Destroyer and many others. Both companies flourished and became television staples around the country, turning Inoki and Baba into cultural icons in the process.

Inoki and Mohammed Ali in their disastrous “Different Style Fight” from 1976

In the 1980s, two great transitions took place. In 1983 Riki Choshu sensationally turned heel and formed the radical “Ishin-gun” faction. The rebellious Choshu represented the increasingly disillusioned Japanese youth, flouting long established conventions and fighting the powers-that-be. Wrestling a much quicker style with less restholds and more action, he jumped to All Japan in 1984 and dramatically changed a main event style which was often criticised by the public for being too slow and dated. Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu would build on this, adding to it while still retaining the awesome psychology of the wrestling showcased in the company in the 1970s. In their seminal series towards the end of the 1980s, they featured an extremely quick pace, hard hitting moves as well as great psychology and drama with long, complicated finishing sequences. This would eventually become King’s Road as Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi and Akira Taue pushed the boundaries even further in the 1990s, producing arguably the greatest wrestling matches in the greatest wrestling style ever seen.

Jumbo Tsuruta during a bloody brawl with Harley Race

While New Japan’s style was also heavily influenced by Choshu and still is to this day, another group of men would have an even bigger one. Disgusted by the, as they saw it, unrealistic style that Choshu had helped to introduce, Akira Maeda, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Nobuhiko Takada, Satoru Sayama (Tiger Mask), Kazuo Yamazki and others quit the company and formed the original UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation). They felt that NJ had lost its real direction and was no longer promoting a realistic enough style befitting of the King of Sports. Promoting themselves as being legitimate tough guys, they eliminated Irish Whips and other superfluous aspects of the “fake” pro wrestling and instead focused on wickedly hard strikes and hyper-realistic matwork. The company was a roaring success at first, but infighting largely based on the creative direction of the group (Maeda felt that the matches should be based around submissions while Sayama wanted strikes) cause the group to collapse in the aftermath of an ugly in-ring incident that saw Maeda kick Sayama – for real – in the groin.

Sayama would leave wrestling while Maeda & co would return to New Japan for a historic promotion vs promotion battle and a round of record business as the Japanese public flocked to see who the real tough guys were. As it unsurprisingly turned out, New Japan’s men were strongest and many diehard UWF fans were left disillusioned. Maeda was fired by New Japan in 1986 for breaking Riki Choshu’s orbital bone in another cowardly in-ring attack as Maeda decided to show Riki what real fighting was. Maeda would reform the UWF, which later split once again into UWFi lead by Takada, Fujiwara-gumi by Fujiwara and RINGS by Maeda himself.

The UWFi was the last great hurrah of shoot-style as Nobuhiko Takada, endorsed by the legendary Lou Thesz, once again proclaimed that the UWFi was real and that New Japan was phony pro wrestling. Once again he had a loyal following of diehard fans who really believed that Takada was the strongest fighter in the world. Meanwhile, NJ was doing extremely well on the back of the rise of their immensely talented new generation which included the spectacular Keiji Muto/The Great Muta, the charistmatic Masahiro Chono and the new standard bearer of Strong-Style, “Destructive King” Shin’ya Hashimoto, who had also made a reputation for himself by beating fighters from other disciplines. Elsewhere, upstart promotion Pancrase had begun promoting shoot-style without the predetermined finishes and the Gracies, using their Brazilian Jiu Jitsu style, lead by Rickson were also gaining significant attention in the country.

Nobuhiko Takada ensures that Kijo Kitao will respect pro wrestling from now on

In 1994, attempting a publicity stunt, Takada sent a young UWFi wrestler by the name of Yoji Anjo to the Gracie Dojo in California. Anjo came in unannounced and started kicking up a fuss, demanding that Rickson fight him. Takada had figured that Gracie would not want to fight with no notice and he could tell the media in Japan that Gracie had been basically punked out by one of his guys. It backfired spectacularly, however, as someone at the dojo rang Rickson at home and, taping his fists in the car on the way, he arrived at the Dojo and proceeded to beat Anjo soundly. Word quickly spread to Japan and the general public felt that Takada was honour bound to avenge his fallen friend. They expected a challenge to a match to quickly follow. Takada, however, knew that if he was to fight Rickson he wouldn’t stand a chance and it would be the end of his career as well as massive dent in his legacy. Once the people realised that the fight was not going to happen, they quickly figured out what the deal was and UWFi began to severely decline. Desperate, they once again called up New Japan and made a deal.

Takada entered the company in October 1995 and went on to beat Keiji Muto for the IWGP Title on 1/4/96 in front of a sold-out Tokyo Dome. Strong-Style, however, would yet again prevail as the inter-promotional feud came to a close as Shin’ya Hashimoto won the title back from the despicable invader in front of a rabid 65,000 fans on 4/29/96. Eric Bischoff was in attendance and decided that the whole evil-invaders from a rival promotion deal just might work. In 1997 Takada, needing money as his company continued to flounder, sacrificed his legacy even further on PRIDE I by finally accepting a fight with Gracie. While Takada’s reputation as a fighter died that day, off his back launched what was essentially the rise to prominence of a new evolution of pro wrestling. The Gracies, Wanderlei Silva and other gaijin would dominate MMA over the next few years, until Kazushi Sakuraba valiantly managed to defeated Royler Gracie in November 1999. He would go on to defeat many of the other Gracies along with a number of other top foreigners. Sakuraba, who had wrestled for UWFi, represented pro-wrestling in his fights and when he became the country’s new hero, the industry had, in a sense, come full circle.

All Japan, meanwhile, also entered into heavy decline in the late 90s as the style took its toll on the top wrestlers and Giant Baba passed away in 1999. Mitsuharu Misawa took almost the whole roster with him in 2000 to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. However, NOAH has continued to draw respectably as the style was never based on their wrestlers being great fighters, but rather about stories of personal struggle and courage.

PRIDE gained massive momentum at the turn of the century and Inoki, seeing what was happening, attempted to ensure that New Japan would retain its place at the top of the industry. In order to do this, he decided to put many of his top wrestlers into actual shoot-fights against some of the biggest names in the fighting world, figuring that if his guys could beat the likes of Fedor, Cro Cop and co. then he could prove once and for all that New Japan was still the King of Sports. His idea backfired spectacularly however, as the likes of Yuji Nagata had their careers irrevocably tarnished by humiliating defeats and NJ entered into the biggest decline in its history as its identity was robbed. If Strong-Style was no longer the best style, then what is the point of New Japan? It’s a question that the company has still not properly answered, even if it has shown a recent upswing in fortunes.

While wrestling in America, Mexico and practically everywhere else has largely gone uninfluenced by outside forces or undergone comparatively few radical changes, Japan splintered off into a number of different directions. Besides the styles discussed here, concepts such as garbage wrestling, the junior heavyweight style and others were either originated or heavily embellished and exported by Japanese companies. It’s a completely different, fascinating atmosphere that is well worth studying if you’re looking for something new in your pro wrestling fandom.

With credit to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter for his wonderful History of PRIDE article last year and to “Dynamic A” Adam Randis for his equally lovely post about the evolution of the styles of NJPW & AJPW, that you can find in the International section of our forums, as well as on the puroresufan.com forums.

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The Western Lariat: #2 All Japan on NTV (aired 8/22/93, taped 8/20)

Having not really been writing very much since I got hired on the main page (I posted three articles in mid 2006, but then exams got in the way for a few weeks and life became very difficult and hectic over the summer and I lost touch with wrestling a bit), I figured it was about time I started contributing. With there not really being much to write about in the current scene in Japan, I thought a review column might be nice, both as a reference for myself and others once I hopefully build up a bit of a catalogue and as a helpful way to hopefully introduce people at the Oratory to puroresu and some of the characters involved. I’ll probably be following the 1993 All Japan TV blocks for a while, but I may branch out in to other things after a while, perhaps not even involving Japanese companies. Now, with that out of the way, onto the wrestling.

All Japan on NTV (aired 8/22/93, taped 8/20 @ Tokyo Korakuen Hall)

This is the first TV taping of the 1993 “SUMMER ACTION SERIES II”, coming off the back of an amazing “SUMMER ACTION SERIES” tour in July, which featured, amongst other things, arguably the greatest men’s singles match ever and arguably the greatest men’s trios match ever. Oh, and there was one of those Misawa vs. Kawada matches as well.

The Patriot & The Eagle vs. Tracey Smothers & Steve Williams

Only about four minutes air of this, if that, and what’s shown isn’t really up to much. Smothers looks frustratingly bad considering what he’s capable of and he does spots which require obvious co-operation (like a moonsault that The Patriot has to walk half way across the ring to take, and Smothers somehow knows he’s going to be there despite having his back turned) or just plain bad, like an unbelievably slow clothesline attempt. Doc looked good when he was in, at least. Shame, but we’ll give Tracey the benefit of the doubt for now on account of the The Patriot & The Eagle sucking quite a lot.

This is followed by this lovely news segment with lots of whacky Rusher Kimura and Haruka Eigen greatness as they hold up fans and announcers for money, making them put Yen in this big yellow box.

Doug Furnas & Dan Kroffat vs. Kenta Kobashi & Satoru Asako

You should all be familiar with Furnas & Kroffat from their late 90s WWF run, where they had all those fun matches with Owen Hart & The British Bulldog. Well, four years before that series, they were still in their physical primes and having some of the best tag matches ever in All Japan. Meanwhile, Kobashi is really starting to come into his own this year, hot off giving the gaijin Ace Stan Hansen everything he could handle and then some at Nippon Budokan a month earlier. Asako is a rookie and small in stature, so Kobashi may very well have to fight for two against the unforgiving foreigners.

Some nifty exchanges early as Asako shows some fight. Can Ams then tease getting the heat on Kobashi, but he grimaces and spits a bit before saying “NO.” and hitting Furnas with a flying clothesline. He then makes the mistake of tagging in Asako, who promptly gets beaten all of the way down. There’s this one bit in particular where Kroffat just literally kicks the hell out of Asako and young Satoru comes up filthy with this awful dark red blood dripping from his mouth and down to his chest. Just a great segment here, with some excellent teases for Asako’s eventual hot tag. Unfortunately, when he does get it, the pop kind of gets killed because Kroffat runs in to stop it but instead of pulling Asako back, he pushes him into Kobashi, so everyone’s confused and there’s no explosion of cheers like there should’ve been.

Anyway, Kobashi gets in and cleans house on the Can Ams with chops, lariats, leg drops and things of that ilk, pretty much taking the two of them on by himself. The natives dominate for a bit, with Asako getting some really good Kobashi-assisted nearfalls after tagging back in. Finally though, he gets cut off and it eventually becomes a matter of the Can Ams distracting Kobashi long enough so as they can get the pin. Eventually they do, with Kroffat pinning Asako following a Tiger Driver ’85 as Kobashi looks on helplessly from the outside.

Only about ten minutes aired here and they blew some spots fairly badly as well as the hot tag. Still, the crowd was hot and there was lots of positives here. It had an excellent story, with everyone having well defined roles and they kept a good, well structured pace with everyone getting to shine. This is the kind of match that I think every wrestling fan can enjoy and it’s the little matches like this that are a big part of the charm of All Japan during this time period.

***1/2

Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue & Masanobu Fuchi

Some combination of Misawa and his mates vs. Kawada and his mates dominated most of 1993 on smaller shows like this, following the departure of Jumbo Tsuruta. Previously Kawada had sided with Misawa against the established Tsuruta & Fuchi along with their ugly duckling young prot?g?s, Yoshinari Ogawa and Akira Taue. With Tsuruta falling to Hepatitis, however, Kawada moved into his spot and became Misawa’s main native rival, dissolving their tag team in the process. Kawada’s hatred for Misawa is really beginning to grow at this point, as not only has Misawa gotten all the opportunity to be successful where Kawada largely hasn’t, as of the final show of the last tour, Misawa had now beaten Tosh in three successive major singles matches (10/92 for the Triple Crown, 4/93 in the Champion Carnival and 7/29/93 for the TC again).

Match starts slow with mostly Akiyama and Fuchi doing matwork, before Misawa tags in, knocking Fuchi to the outside and teasing his trademark Elbow Suicida. Instead he does his wonderful tease and gracefully rolls back into the ring. Taue takes offence to this and is all “OI”, attempting to blindside Misawa. He eats a stiff elbow for his troubles, getting knocked to the outside where Misawa this time hits the elbow suicida, much to the delight of Korakuen Hall. Fuchi then tags in Kawada and it’s ON. Or well, kind of. They tease actually going somewhere for a minute but they just hit each other really hard in the face a few times, but Kawada tags out and then Misawa tags out and it all settles down again for a while.

After a few minutes it kicks up again, with another Misawa/Kawada exchange, which Misawa gets the better of and tags in Akiyama. Then there’s this great moment. Young Akiyama’s all “look at me! I’m beating up Kawada! haha!”, but then Kawada, enraged having lost his exchange with Misawa, makes a violent comeback and body slams Akiyama off the apron to the floor. Kawada then gives this awesome, petulant look and storms back into the ring, pacing back and forth angrily while Akiyama writhes in pain on the floor. Then Jun gets rolled back into the ring and Tosh greets him with this unbelievably hard and loud kick to the spine. Just a brilliant moment that sums of Kawada’s character perfectly. A long beatdown on Akiyama follows, with Kawada and Fuchi in particular contorting Jun’s body in ways I didn’t know were possible. These are ugly, bitter, angry men and I love them for it.

Finally Akiyama gets the hot tag, being replaced by Misawa who makes a brief comeback for his team before getting cut off by Kawada. Misawa yet again wins their exchange and Kawada is raging. Some more back and forth action, and eventually it’s Kawada and Akiyama in the ring again. Kawada gets a pin on Jun interrupted by Mitsy, and once again we’re treated to more brilliance from Kawada. Fuchi runs in and rakes the eyes of Misawa, so Kawada, seizing his opportunity, German Suplexes Misawa *right* on his head. Misawa rolls to the outside, clutching his head and neck as ring boys rush to his aid. Kawada saunters close to the ropes, looking down at Misawa with a sneer and I’m reminded of Roy Keane getting his revenge on Alf Inge Haaland at Old Trafford in the 2001 Manchester Derby. Reminded of both the look that Keane gave Haaland at that moment and the quote in Keane’s book. “Take that, you cunt.”

With Misawa taken care of, Kawada & Co have their chance. They triple team Akiyama, before Kawada surprisingly breaks out a Nodowa (chokeslam) for a nearfall. Kawada then hits a powerbomb – but no, Kikuchi runs in and rains down punches on Kawada. Tosh is in no mood, however, and swats Kikuchi away before punching him in the face. With that out of the way, Kawada lifts Akiyama again, hitting another Powerbomb Hold for the win.

An excellent match, made by yet another great performance from Toshiaki Kawada, but really dime a dozen in this promotion in this year. A lot of the early stuff was pretty aimless and meandering, but it really, really picked up in the end with a ton of heat along with some really good nearfalls as well as some great character development.

***3/4

This is a show that’s well worth taking fourty three minutes out of your life to see. It achieved a lot without giving anything away while remaining very entertaining through out. Just a really good taste of what All Japan was all about during this particular golden era.

Next week’s feature match is Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Steve Williams & Joel Deaton & Tracey Smothers, with Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue defending their AJPW World Heavyweight Tag Titles against The Eagle & The Patriot underneath.

Thanks for reading,

Joshua Hughes

lokochita2003@gmail.com

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The Western Lariat: The Sad State of All Japan Pro Wrestling May18

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The Western Lariat: The Sad State of All Japan Pro Wrestling

On June 16, 2000, Mitsuharu Misawa announced that along with the entire native roster of All Japan Pro Wrestling (apart from Toshiaki Kawada, Hiroshi Hase – who was part-time anyway and Masanobu Fuchi) he was leaving Zen Nihon and forming his own promotion, christened symbolically as “Pro Wrestling NOAH” the following day. The move was expected as at the end of May, Misawa had been removed from his position as President due to differences with the wife of the late Giant Baba, Motoko (who had inherited her husband’s company) and several members of the main roster had quit the board earlier in June. With the company and roster gutted, All Japan brought back Genichiro Tenryu, who Giant Baba had sworn would never step foot in an AJPW ring again when he quit the company to join the doomed SWS group in 1990, booked more gaijin, indy talent and eventually opened its doors to working with arch-rivals New Japan, leading to a series of great matches that did big money and kept the company going through the rest of 2000 and 2001. In January 2002, disillusioned with the direction that Antonio Inoki was taking New Japan, Keiji Muto, who had formed a close friendship with Mrs. Baba while Triple Crown champion in 2001, jumped to AJ after being promised the role of booker as well as president. He brought the talented Satoshi Kojima with him as well as Kendo Kashin along with backroom staff like Hideyuki Watanabe, who’s credited as having one of the best wrestling minds in Japan right now, coming up with many successful concepts.

Toshiaki Kawada standing with mentor Genichiro Tenryu ahead of their match with Stan Hansen & Taiyo Kea at Nippon Budokan, September 2, 2000.

Muto, however, wasn’t ready for the role and in 2002 & 2003, despite some successful periods, he made some extremely costly errors and generally ran the promotion into the ground. Concepts like the disasterous WRESTLE-1, which combined pro wrestling with MMA in a sports entertainment manner, lost them a massive amount of money and they overspent (reportedly in the region of $500k for two dates) on bringing in Bill Goldberg in August 2002. None of those shows drew and the company took a massive hit. Muto also largely allowed himself to be out-booked by Shin’ya Hashimoto of ZERO-ONE, during their inter-promotional feud, making the company look weaker as a whole for it. There was a failure to promote new talent as well, as Satoshi Kojima was legitimately ready to be used as a major player in 2002 but consistently was booked to choke in his big singles matches, losing over and over the older stars. In February 2004 after a run of poor houses there, the company was forced to withdraw from Tokyo Nippon Budokan (16,300 seats, give or take), the site of many of the group’s greatest moments during Giant Baba’s glory days. Attempts at running the smaller Sumo Hall (11,500 seats) also did poorly without outsiders like Mitsuharu Misawa and even a relatively big match like the 12/04 Kawada vs. Tenzan match for the Triple Crown did a disappointing house. The company, like it’s old enemy New Japan, killed their business in Tokyo with disappointment after disappointment and, unlike NJPW, All Japan was never particularly strong outside of the nation’s capital. They were basically forced to start at the bottom and rebuild from there, moving to the 5,500 seater Yoyogi National Gymnasium #2 for big shows.

In 2005, Genichiro Tenryu, Toshiaki Kawada, Jamal and Giant Bernard all left the company. Some of them, like Kawada, were believed to have left due to money issues as the company has long been rumoured to be struggling to even keep paying the talent. Watanabe, who had come up with the RO&D, VOODOO MURDERS and other concepts (he also played a big part in getting them Akebono last year, which was a big shot in the arm for their business, though with Watanabe leaving, Akebono also moved on) that had played a big role in keeping the company going once the bottom fell out in 2003 also left due to differences with Muto, recently heading back to New Japan to produce their WRESTLE LAND brand. There has been an awful lot of backstage turmoil, generally, for AJ recently which hasn’t helped matters. In addition to this, talented youngsters like Masayuki Kono, Kazushu Miyamoto and Taichi Ishikari departed. Though they’ve made moves to replace those who have left by bringing in the likes of Minoru Suzuki, Yutaka Yoshie and Milano Collection AT, as well as pushing Kohei Suwama and Taiyo Kea harder than ever, none of them have any real drawing power. The only person from that group with real long term potential for them is Kohei Suwama, who only debuted in the Autumn of 2004 and even despite his recent heel turn has struggled to generate fan interest due to his lack of personality. They also have Brute Issei who debuted at the beginning of the year, but it’s likely going to be close to the end of the decade before he’s anywhere near ready. Katsuhiko Nakajima is a sure-fire superstar but he’s not contracted to AJ and companies like NJ & NOAH who aren’t as restricted financially will likely end up nabbing him when he’s older.

Satoshi Kojima and the Triple Crown

The top three names in the company right now, both in terms of rank and star power, are probably Satoshi Kojima, Keiji Muto and Kensuke Sasaki. Kojima finally got his big push in late-2004, winning the Triple Crown on February 16, 2005 from the soon-departing Toshiaki Kawada and after winning the IWGP title just four days later, became All Japan’s success story of 2005, winning the MVP in puroresu award from the media over the likes of Kenta Kobashi. There’s still enough steam left in his reign to see him through the end of the year (the excellent booking of the Champion Carnival set up Taiyo Kea, Kohei Suwama and Minoru Suzuki as challengers while Yutaka Yoshie could likely also go for it), but then there’s nobody for him to drop it to unless they put it on Kensuke, though he’s not actually contracted to AJ and it’s entirely possible that he could move onto another promotion at some point in the future. Muto is an option, but only as a nostalgia reign and his knees are so far gone at this point that he’s really incapable of more than one or two really good performances a year. They could try with Suwama, but he’d likely tank both in terms of carrying the role and drawing fans due to his inexperience. Taiyo Kea had great support from the fans en route to winning the 2006 Champion Carnival and while it’s probably worth a shot to try him as champion given their limited options, it’s more likely that he’d fail than succeed, sadly.

So, this begs the question – where next for All Japan? The company is $2m in debt with no major backers, relatively poor TV coverage and with one viable star that’s actually contracted to the company. Even then, there have been strong rumours that Kojima wants to follow Watanabe back to New Japan, such is his admiration for the man and he probably sees the writing on the wall for AJ, to some extent, too. There have even been rumours of some kind of merger with New Japan, or the company being absorbed into it. This would likely be the best thing for business with Muto & Kojima being New Japan Trueborns while Issei, Suwama, Kaz Hayashi and Taiyo Kea all having potential to add a lot to NJ’s roster, which took a major hit in January as a lot of lower/midcard wrestlers decided to try to their luck as freelancers or even retire. There’s potentially money in matches like TC champion Satoshi Kojima vs. IWGP champion Brock Lesnar and Koji vs. generation-rivals like Nagata or Nakanishi, who he’s been apart from for some time now. If I had my way, this is what would happen as Japan really needs a few strong promotions right now rather than a lot of weak ones.

If Muto decides to plough ahead and continue trying to turn All Japan around, I’m really not sure how he’s going to do it. There is young talent there and there’s apparently a number of people in the dojo with potential, but the problem is keeping things ticking over long enough until they’re ready and realistically, it’s going to be at least another two to three years before the two main candidates – Suwama and Issei – are ready to become major stars and accepted by the fans. That’s if they’re actually used in the right manner. Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi, who got somewhat similar pushes in NJ in terms of how quickly they were advanced up the card, still aren’t really accepted yet by the fans, over four years later.

What was once the greatest promotion in the world in terms of their in-ring product is now a shadow of its former self, with nobody left capable of working the style that made it famous, giving the product its feel and identity. Its spirit long since transferred to NOAH and extinguished with the departure of Toshiaki Kawada. Meanwhile their current style is one that is not unique to them while all of their top stars are from other promotions (or in the case of Sasaki, made their name elsewhere), originally, apart from Kea and Suwama. One of them isn’t Japanese and the other has already strayed from being someone who the fans could look up to and follow. Many of its fans either followed Mitsuharu Misawa or grew disillusioned by Muto’s booking during his first two years with the company. What made people love All Japan in the first place is gone and they’ve failed to build anything substantial in its place. As much as I want All Japan to survive and become something special again, part of me wishes that it would be stopped before it sinks even further. Both for the good of its legacy and for the good of the industry as a whole.

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