My views on Pro Wrestling from the East and West

Monday, March 22, 2004

Do I Hate New Japan Pro Wrestling?

That’s a question I ask myself every now and then. Especially when it’s time to order new puroresu tapes from overseas. NJPW shows are usually last on my list of shows to get and watch, I’ve even put getting indy shows like Osaka Pro, K-Dojo and DDT ahead of theirs. I know New Japan Pro Wrestling is probably the top game in Japan, much like World Wrestling Entertainment is in America. And like WWE, NJPW has been around for a long time, even before their major competitors came into business. I’ve even known about New Japan’s existence before I became an old-school AJPW fan.

I first heard of NJPW years ago by watching Kensuke Sasaki, Jushin Thunder Liger, Masahiro Chono and the Great Muta on old NWA/WCW TV shows, and was big fans of them, as they had a very unique style (Strong Style) at the time.

So why aren’t I more of a New Japan fan now than I should be? Like I said, I was more into classic All Japan and now NOAH, who was founded on the remnants of AJPW. And I had only come to know of AJPW in 1997 through their SEGA Saturn game, whereas I’ve known about NJPW since the early ‘90s. Both promotions have good, hard working rosters, yet I can’t bring myself to really want to watch a full NJPW show, save for the main events or certain eye-catching bouts and workers.

Everyone asks me why I don’t get more NJPW shows. Well, every NJPW event most of the time has only one match (usually the main event) that appeals to me, but the rest of the card doesn’t make me want to cash in my forty bucks for the tape. Hell, I’m still considering getting some current AJPW shows just to watch Toshiaki Kawada all by his lonesome. That’s HIS drawing power that attracts me as opposed to many NJPW stars. I bought one NJPW tape to watch Giant Silva and Giant Singh in Survival tag match, and the first Ultimate Crush event just to watch Kobashi VS Chono. And I bought Wrestling World 2K2 specifically to watch Silva VS Nakanishi & Nagata VS Akiyama. About every other NJPW show I have were contributed to me by a good friend (and a big NJPW supporter).

So the only conclusion I could come to was that I’m more into NOAH now cause of the workers. Let’s compare the workers of both promotions by rank and file:

New faces:
NJPW has a host of new talent their currently introducing. Goto, Taguchi etc, all of which I don’t really give much a crap about right now since I can’t even remember most of their names. I don’t know if NOAH has anyone in the back waiting to make a debut as no one has even passed the last entrance exam to NOAH’s private school. Either way, I don’t really have any interest to watch a group of green workers trade basics.

Junior Division:
Here’s where I notice a BIG difference. New Japan has a host of established talent from Jushin Liger & Koji Kanemoto to younger talent like Takemura’s rudo faction. However, one thing I also notice is that they ALL DO THE SAME THING! Just about all the Juniors seem to have the same work style; some heavy strikes, some mat work, some big spots to end the match and that’s it. Everything seems to go through the same cycle, just with different faces. I was really disappointed by the Liger/Sasuke/Tiger VS Togo/Jado/Gedo match from Wrestling World 2002 due to all the mat work they were stuck doing, when this could have been an awesome spot fest considering who was in the match. I can hands down say the best NJPW Jr match I’ve ever seen thus far was AKIRA VS Koji Kanemoto for the IWGP Jr Title, and that was all in part thanks to AKIRA’s excellent work in the match who kept an excellent pace which had the crowd hot the whole match through, and I still say he should have won the title that night. And did I mention he’s just a PART TIME wrestler?!?

NOAH: Barring the Differ Cup show, I can honestly say I’ve only watched four Junior tag matches and one Junior singles bout from NOAH. ALL of which were simply excellent! I don’t know why, but nothing they did could bore me like the NJPW crew mostly does. They even keep things going when they do rest holds and mat work. The late Giant Baba’s only mistake when he ran AJPW was not letting the Junior Division get it’s just deserts, but Misawa has totally turned that around in NOAH. And there are also no boundaries in the weight classes as NOAH Juniors and Heavyweights mix it up frequently in tag matches, where as NJPW strictly keeps the divisions apart bar a few mix matches which are few and far between and considered ‘special attractions’ when they do happen.

The Mid Card:
Both rosters have a big mid card that one could argue about forever. I would give a slight advantage to NJPW for pushing guys like Yutaka Yoshie and Hiroshi Tanahashi as well as the already established upper mid-card in Osamu Nishimura, Manabu Nakanishi etc. Granted they all can put on interesting matches, but once again like the Junior Division everyone seems to work the same match. Well, maybe not Nishimura. Seriously, everyone seems to almost have the same move list other than their finishers. Unless their trying to act like big time shooters which gets boring when all they do is try for hard strikes and take down submissions. Tanahashi is the young lion that wants so badly to prove himself to everyone, Yoshie is the up-coming big man, Yasuda is a really bad shooter wannabe, and so on. I think the only two upper card guys that really stick out are Osamu Nishimura (obviously) and Manabu Nakanishi as they both know how to command the crowd..

On the NOAH side, pushing guys like Rikioh and Morishima to main event level seems to be the gradual idea, as well as having guys like Masao Inoue, Daisuke Ikeda and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi holding down the mid-card. And lets not forget about good’ old Akira Taue and Tamon Honda in the upper card. The difference again being the diverse styles everyone brings to the table. You could argue these guys all aren’t really that impressive at first, but they can really put on entertaining bouts when given the chance.

The Main Eventers:
New Japan seems to have a hard time putting any faith in the new blood. Just ask Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yuji Nagata. Even the established stars like Nakanishi and Nishimura still have a hard time getting in the main event picture. More often than not, one is forced to put his credibility on the line by taking part in shoot fights, which they mostly have no luck in (Nagata, Nakanishi), and only those who do get a win in a shoot almost always seemed guaranteed a run with the IWGP title. Examples? Kazuyuki Fujita, Tadao Yasuda, Yoshihiro Takayama and Shinsuke Nakamura. Please note that 3 of those names are also technically free agents. Nakamura had huge hype when he came out of nowhere to beat Tenzan for the IWGP title and then Takayama to unify the NWF title. I’ve only seen Nakamura wrestle twice and was moderately impressed despite all the shoot-submission work he does. But I think I’d find little joy in watching a guy who’s barely a heavyweight get tossed around by bigger guys only to steal the win in the end with a quick submission move. Say what you want about Takayama, I thought he was entertaining and really did come out of obscurity to make a name for himself after years of hard work. Nagata had a banner year and a record of ten successful IWGP title defenses, but it all didn’t seem to mean anything since he lost ONE shoot fight and never seemed to get his heat back for it. And the company never seemed to have any faith in Tenzan from the start despite and incredible comeback and fan support he gets.

Now remember, this rant isn’t about New Japan’s booking decisions, but about what entertains me. And NOAH has just THREE main-event level men that can do it for me; Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama and Kenta Kobashi. Even Akira Taue can still bring it when needed to. I could probably also agree that Misawa is past his prime and getting lazy. But these three men bring incredible diversity, and between them have a bigger move-list than all of New Japan’s current main event talent combined. And when put into a big match, they can more than deliver. They are also capable of carrying younger guys, or those past their prime, to incredible levels and make them credible challengers in the eyes of the live audience. However, you could also say that the way they were built up, no one below their level will ever get a victory on them unless pinning the lesser partner in tag matches. But this makes it all the more important when someone actually does pin them. New Japan also does this, but seems to be lightening up a bit.

So there you have it. But is it really the roster’s fault? Remember, I was into to All Japan cause of the Oudou style pioneered by Baba which Misawa is currently improving on in NOAH. I could explain what appeals to me about the Osaka Pro, DDT, and old FMW rosters, but that would really make this rant longer than it has any right to be. Than again, if you’ve ever seen any shows by these groups, you might get the idea. I’m also a fan of ZERO-ONE, but they have the same problem as New Japan with a thin roster that doesn’t appeal much to me. And what good shows they have are few and far between.

Maybe NJPW deserves more credit, but in the end, it’s up to what entertains me I guess. A friend of mine recently commented that Wrestling World 2004 was the best puroresu show he’d ever seen, and highly rated many of the matches. But I get the feeling I’d be less than generous with my views (No offense, Dude). In the end, I guess ‘hate’ is a pretty strong word to use. I should just say New Japan doesn’t really appeal to me, though I will continue to watch whatever shows come my way.



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