Puroresu Year in Review 2005
2005 has been a roller coaster year for pro-wrestling in Japan. New Japan Pro Wrestling continually struggled to stabilize itself despite tons of bad decisions by the people who run it as well as outside influences, All Japan Pro Wrestling is barely getting by despite putting on some strong showings, and Pro Wrestling NOAH continues to wow audiences as the only promotion in Japan to constantly deliver.
So for those of you who are just getting into the Japanese pro-wrestling scene, or just want to know what you’ve been missing, here’s a little refresher of the big things that went on in 2005 from the Land of the Rising Sun. Keep in mind most of this is off the top of my head, so forgive me if I forget anything or don’t give too many details.
The year kicked off with New Japan’s annual 1/04 Wrestling World Tokyo Dome show. Due to the fact that the than IWGP heavyweight champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan wasn’t at 100%, the main event was the first ever singles meeting between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, the two fastest rising stars in the company, and the match would be for Tanahashi’s U-30 title. The match showed New Japan’s faith in pushing the younger generation, and Nakamura would win the match and seal the U-30 title. Elsewhere on the card, Masahiro Chono would continue his iron man push as he beat both legend Riki Choshu and IWGP champion (the title wasn’t on the line) Hiroyoshi Tenzan in a “Dogfight” match, beating both men in 18 minutes. Former WWE developmental worker and ex-UFC fighter Ron Waterman made his debut on the show, winning the 8-man Ultimate Royal mini tournament. Many expected Waterman to become the new gaijin monster of the company, how wrong they would be.
Pro Wrestling NOAH would kick off the year with the first Great Voyage show at the Nippon Budokan, highlighted by Kenta Kobashi making his 13th defence of the GHC Heavyweight Title against New Japan regular, Minoru Suzuki. The match was not the usual hard hitting, head dropping affair most Kobashi matches usually develop into, but it showed Kobashi is able to adapt his style and not just be the big powerhouse monster most people recognize him as. “Mr. Puroresu” Genichiro Tenryu also made his debut on the show, teaming with Shiro Koshinaka in a losing effort against Mitsuharu Misawa & Takeshi Rikioh. At the end of the promotion’s First Navigation tour, Scorpio and Doug Williams would pull off a huge upset in defeating Misawa & Ogawa for the GHC tag titles. This would turn out to be a bad booking decision as Williams would concentrate more on working in the UK instead of Japan. The First Navigation tour also showcased rising star Go Shiozaki as he took on a 7 Match Trial Series, losing all his matches, but gained a mentor in Kenta Kobashi.
All Japan Pro Wrestling’s first big tour of the year ended with Toshiaki Kawada making his record 10th and final defense of the Triple Crown against Kensuke Sasaki in a very hard hitting contest. Also on the show, the RO&D team Taiyo Kea & Jamal would defeat former NJPW IWGP tag champions Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yutaka Yoshie to win the vacant All Japan tag titles. The titles were stripped from Yuji Nagata & Kendo KaShin after the duo failed to make any defenses despite winning the titles in June 2004! KaShin however refused to hand in his half of the tag belts, and to this day AJPW has been chasing him to get the belt back, going so far as taking the matter to court!
Elsewhere in Japan, the Blood Generation are formed in Dragon Gate as the top heel faction of the company after the firing of the ENTIRE Aagan Iisou faction, the original heel squad of the company. At a K-Dojo show, TAKA Michinoku would defeat Kaz Hayashi to win the All Japan Junior Title, the beginning of a historic run with the titles as TAKA would go on to form the Junior Triple Crown by holding it together with K-Dojo’s Strongest K title and Michinoku Pro’s Tohoku Jr. title.
February 16th, 2005 – Satoshi Kojima comes back from a less than stellar 2004, and dethrones Toshiaki Kawada to become the 33rd Triple Crown Champion. The match is marked as an early Match of the Year contender as both men striked the hell out of each other with Kojima coming out on top after blasting SEVEN lariats at Kawada to take the title.
February 20th, 2005 – A mere FOUR DAYS after winning the Triple Crown, Satoshi Kojima would create history by stepping into a New Japan ring and defeating his ex-TenKoji partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the first ever IWGP/Triple Crown double title match! The marathon see-saw battle would go fifty nine minutes and forty-nine seconds, ending just ELEVEN SECONDS short of a time limit draw when Tenzan was too dehydrated to continue!
On that same day in NOAH, Mitsuharu Misawa would announce that NOAH will be running it’s second ever Tokyo Dome show on 7/18/2005.
Former WWE star Rico makes his All Japan debut on 2/02/2005, teaming with Buchanan (another former WWE star) and the duo pull off a huge upset winning the All Asian Tag Titles from the New Japan team of Mitsuya Nagai & Masayuki Naruse.
On 2/16/05, former Dragon Gate heels Shuji Kondo & “brother” YASSHI make their debuts, aligning themselves with TARU’s Voodoo Murders group and attacking RO&D members TAKA Michinoku, Buchanan & Rico, smashing Buchanan’s hand with an iron pipe.
A special memorial show in memory of the six year anniversary of the passing of Giant Baba is held on 2/05/05, promoted by his wife Motoko Baba. Many workers who were associated with Baba and AJPW work the show, but none of the NOAH workers who Baba mentored appear on the show.
Elsewhere in Japan, Osaka Pro Wrestling ran it’s annual Osaka Hurricane show (OPro’s equivalent to WrestleMania) from the Osaka Prefecturial Gymnasium. The show is highlighted by Super Dolphin, formerly GOA/Super Delfin, beating Big Boss MA-G-MA for the Osaka Pro Title, and the final confrontation between long time comedy rivals Ebessan and Kuishinbo Kamen. Rumours begin flying soon after on if Osaka Pro would even last through the year as many of the big name talents of the promotion would be leaving due to injuries or just plain unhappiness with the company, Takehiro Murahama & long time referee Matsui being the first to leave almost immediately after.
Takeshi Rikioh makes history by finally becoming the man to take the GHC heavyweight title off Kenta Kobashi after an incredible 2 year reign. Rikioh was riding a wave of momentum going into the match, having already held a pinfall victory over Kobashi from a tag match back in November.
After losing the Triple Crown to Satoshi Kojima, Toshiaki Kawada shocks everyone by announcing he’d be leaving All Japan Pro Wrestling to work as a freelancer, and he hasn’t actually been under contract to All Japan for a while now, staying only out of loyalty to the late founder Giant Baba to keep the business afloat, but leaving now that he believes Kojima would be next ace of the company.
Former WWE superstar A-Train debuts in All Japan Pro Wrestling under the name Giant Bernard. He appears as a member of TARU’s Voodoo Murders faction and is given an instant monster push in the company, feuding with RO&D resident big man, Jamal.
4-Crown King Satoshi Kojima stepped back into the New Japan ring on 3/26/05 to defend his IWGP title against a former champion, supernova Shinsuke Nakamura. The match surprises everyone as Nakamura managed to hold off the champion to a 60-minute draw!
The same show saw former champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan win a No.1 Contenders mini tournament by beating Manabu Nakanishi followed by a fresh Masahiro Chono to earn a rematch against Kojima at the May Tokyo Dome show.
Dragon Gate Pro Wrestling holds it’s 8-man Open The Brave Gate tournament to crown the first Brave Gate champion, a secondary title to the Dream Gate title. Naruki Doi beats YOSSINO in the finals to win the title, but the match of the tournament was Genki Horiguchi VS a serious Daniel Mishima.
Takeshi makes his first defense of the GHC Heavyweight Title against Dark Agents leader Akitoshi Saito. The match would turn out to be a big disappointment as fans started booing Rikioh after the less than spectacular match. But that would all be overshadowed by Toshiaki Kawada making a surprise appearance and stepping foot into the green NOAH ring to challenge his arch-rival, Mitsuharu Misawa to a match at NOAH’s Tokyo Dome show in July! But even that would be overshadowed by the announcement of the first confirmed match for the Tokyo Dome: KENTA KOBASHI VS KENSUKE SASAKI! Ticket sales for the event immediately start to sell from that one match alone.
New Japan held it’s first ever New Japan Cup Openweight Tournament, featuring various workers from the company (both heavyweights and junior heavyweights). The tournament would be won by Hiroshi Tanahashi beating out IWGP No.1 Contender Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the semis and Manabu Nakanishi in the finals on 4/24/05.
All Japan Pro Wrestling held it’s annual Champion Carnival Tournament, which had it’s fair share of upsets and big matches. But in the end, the week long tournament was won by Kensuke Sasaki, beating Jamal in the finals. Sasaki defeated reigning 4-Crown champion Satoshi Kojima in the semis, leading many to believe just how much faith the company actually had in him as the champion and ace of the company? On a fun note, the tournament saw Chuck Palumbo score the biggest win in his career when he actually pinned Keiji Mutoh clean!!!
Osaka Pro Wrestling held it’s Osaka Holiday Paradise show at Korakuen Hall. The significance of the show being the last appearance by Big Boss MA-G-MA, Daio QUALLT, YUTAKA, Perro, and Ebessan. Again, questions of the company’s future pop up everywhere. A new stage in the evolution of the company is promised.
New Japan holds it’s NEXESS VI Tokyo Dome show on 5/14/05. The show feels really rushed as many of the matches seem to pointlessly whiz by. The main event of the night saw Hiroyoshi Tenzan win back his IWGP title from Satoshi Kojima in a less than stellar main event, with Tenzan almost killing Kojima with his uber rarely used Ganso-TTD finisher. From the build up video for the match you’d think the company really cared about Tenzan. The ZERO reaction from the commentary team not putting over the ending and the events to soon follow says otherwise.
New Japan also announces it would make a tour of Italy in June, and that the U-30 title would be re-instated with a league tournament to be held to crown a new champion. Hiroshi Tanahashi enters his name into the league, many predicting he’ll put over the next young generation star in the finals. How wrong they would be.
NOAH together with Zero-One MAX held the second ever Differ Cup Scramble Junior Tag Tournament. The two day tournament is won by NOAH’s GHC junior tag team champions, Naomichi Marufuji & KENTA, defeating the Z1M team and NWA IC lightweight tag champion Minoru Fujita & Ikuto Hidaka in the finals.
The All Asia tag titles are vacated as Rico quits All Japan Pro Wrestling after financial disputes (the company wasn’t paying him the amount promised). A tournament is announced to crown new champions.
Yoshihito Sasaki breaks out as he wins the Zero-One MAX Tenkai-Ichi Junior Tournament, beating Takehiro Murahama in the semis and junior ace Tatsuhito Takaiwa in the finals of the tournament.
Former Dragon Gate monster heavyweight Touru Owashi debuts in both DDT and Osaka Pro, and is immediately given the monster big man push.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling goes global, holding a short tour of Italy which was highlighted by Hiroyoshi Tenzan making his first defense of the IWGP title against Scott Norton.
Tiger Mask wins the 13th annual New Japan Best of Super Juniors tournament, beating Gedo in the finals. The original plan was to have young rising star Wataru Inoue win the tournament, but plans had to be changed when Wataru got injured during the Italian tour.
To the dismay of New Japan fan boys everywhere, Hiroshi Tanahashi reclaims his U-30 title defeating Toru Yano in the league finals. Tanahashi would go on to do NOTHING with the title for the next 5 MONTHS.
Naomichi Marufuji & KENTA finally drop the GHC Jr. tag titles to the heel ace team of Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Sugiura on 6/05/05. The duo would go their separate ways after, and Marufuji would team with Minoru Suzuki to capture the GHC tag team titles from Scorpio and Doug Williams at a WXW show in Germany.
Shuji Kondo & “brother” YASSHI win the vacant All Asian tag titles, winning a tournament by beating Tomoaki Honma & Katsuhiko Nakajima in the finals.
Big Boss MA-G-MA debuts in Dragon Gate. He joins the Blood Generation and is renamed Magnitude Kishiwada.
Zero-One MAX star Masato Tanaka flies to America to take part in WWE’s ECW One Night Stand PPV. Tanaka battled long time ECW/FMW rival Mike Awesome in what would turn out to be the match of the night, and one of the best of the year for American PPV.
The Japanese pro-wrestling community is shocked at the announcement that Shinya Hashimoto had passed away due to heart failure. Wrestlers from all over the country attend his funeral, with every promotion holding some kind of tribute to the late legend.
1965 - 2005
Arigato, soshite, sayonara.
After months of anticipation, NOAH’s big 7/18/05 DESTINY Tokyo Dome show finally takes place to rave reviews and a legitimate sell out crowd of 40,000+ fans, making it the most successful Tokyo Dome show in recent memory.
The dream match between Kenta Kobashi & Kensuke Sasaki gets the thumbs up from everyone instantly as Match of the Year with a true main event feel to it, featuring stiff shots, high impact slams and an incredible FOUR MINUTE CHOP BATTLE.
Also receiving big pops was the GHC Jr title match where KENTA dethroned long running champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru to win his first singles title in a very exciting encounter. The actual main event of the show though was a bit disappointing as Mitsuharu Misawa defeated Toshiaki Kawada, much to the dismay of many fans, but Kawada refused to shake Misawa’s hand after the match and called for a rematch later down the line.
On that same day, New Japan ran a show at the Tsukisamu Green Dome where fans witnessed Hiroyoshi Tenzan once again hit a brick wall in his career when he lost the IWGP heavyweight title to Kazuyuki Fujita. This ended Tenzan’s 4th reign with the title and again showed New Japan’s lack of consistency with it’s booking. Fans were split in the decision to give Fujita the belt. Some where outraged that New Japan would give the title to Fujita after he basically screwed the legitimacy of the title by laying down to drop the title instead of putting over his opponent a year earlier, while other fans had basically looked passed it and believed Fujita’s word of actually having the heart to wrestle full time. This decision would once again come back to bite New Japan in the ass later in the year.
More controversy flares in New Japan as Josh Barnett is removed from the upcoming G-1 CLIMAX tournament in favor of new freelance Toshiaki Kawada. Barnett had been on the sidelines rehabbing an injury for a long time and the move was seen as desperation on the part of New Japan to max out attendance for the tournament venues, promising a dream match on almost every show Kawada was on against the best of New Japan. All would have been well if New Japan had at least informed Barnett his services weren’t necessary instead of leaving him hanging waiting for a phone call that never came. Things are made worse when Blue Wolf is forced to drop out of the tournament due to injuries, and instead of Barnett, New Japan choose to replace Wolf with over the hill veteran Tatsutoshi Gotoh!
Satoshi Kojima makes his second defense of the Triple Crown against Keiji Mutoh. The match was hyped as Company Champion VS Company Ace, but even though he won the match, the champion didn’t look anymore like an ace since he had to rely on a barrage of lariats to put Mutoh down, who also immediately popped up after the 3 count and no selling any effects from Kojima’s finisher.
Also on the show, Masahiro Chono brought the Black Charisma to All Japan as he aided RO&D in an 8-man war against the Voodoo Murders. Chono looked his best in some time in this match, and put over Giant Bernard as a true monster.
Dragon Gate held it’s annual Kobe World Hall show (the equivalent to the Wrestle Mania of the company) with the theme “Pro Wrestling Festival”. The show sees the Triangle Gate title change hands as the Blood Generation team of CIMA, Don Fuji & Naruki Doi beat the Do-Fixer team of Ryo Saito, Genki Horiguchi & Dragon Kid in the best bout of the night. The main event of the show saw Masaaki Mochizuki successfully defend the Dream Gate title against Jr. Triple Crown champion TAKA Michinoku. Mochi proceeds to challenge TAKA for his Triple Crown after the match.
“Mr. G-1” Masahiro Chono regains his namesake as he wins his fifth G-1 CLIMAX tournament, defeating IWGP champion Kazuyuki Fujita in the finals. Fujita had been undefeated in his bracket, beating all his opponents in under 10-minutes each, including Toshiaki Kawada in the semis, only to lose to Chono in under 10-minutes in the finals! In an emotional moment after the match, Chono dedicated the win to the memory of the late Shinya Hashimoto.
FEG, the guys who run K-1, holds it’s first all pro-wrestling show in the form of the WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix, which is highlighted by a big tournament set to span several shows. 10,000 plus fans pack the Tokyo Sumo Hall to witness the event with the highlight of the night being NOAH’s Jun Akiyama VS Katsuyori Shibata in a stiff bloody battle, which gets MOTY nods from many. The rest of the card ends up as completely forgettable.
Keiji Mutoh takes former sumo Yokozuna Akebono under his wing and brings him to wrestle in All Japan Pro Wrestling. The move is seen as “damage control” by critics as Akebono had been crashing downhill big time thanks to a less than stellar MMA career, and by taking part in pro-wrestling matches, it was looked at as a move to salvage his name value in the fight industry.
Shinjiro Ohtani won the 5th annual Zero-One Fire Festival tournament, beating Kensuke Sasaki in the finals.
NOAH ran it’s 2ND GREAT VOYAGE SHOW from the Nippon Budokan Hall, with the main event of Takeshi Rikioh making a successful defence of the GHC heavyweight title against company ace Mitsuharu Misawa. This would be Misawa’s first direct pinfall loss in well over TWO YEARS, yet the match is panned by critics due to Misawa’s increasingly lazy attitude and Rikioh’s inability to carry a match.
There were two bright spots on the show however. First, KENTA finally got his revenge on SUWA, making a successful defense of his GHC Jr. title in a heavily heated match, with SUWA showing that he didn’t need a whole mob to back him up to be a great heel. The second big surprise of the night was veteran Akira Taue pinning Jun Akiyama in the semi-final tag match on the show. This big upset of sorts would earn Taue a shot at Rikioh’s GHC title.
Satoshi Kojima made a successful third defense of the Triple Crown against Jamal. It would be Jamal’s second shot at the title, and he would again come up short.
With the Miyagi Sports Center due to be torn down and rebuilt, New Japan held one last show there, which was highlighted by Team Japan (Yuji Nagata, Kazuyuki Fujita, Manabu Nakanishi & Kendo KaShin) defeating Team New Japan (Masahiro Chono, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Black Strong Machine & Hiro Saito) in an elimination match.
Rumours begin spreading of Brock Lesner coming to work for New Japan, as well as other former WWE stars.
On 10/08/05, New Japan’s third Tokyo Dome show of the year saw Brock Lesner make his Japanese wrestling debut, despite breaking the “no-compete” clause on his WWE contract. Lesner made a big impact by winning the IWGP title in his debut, beating Kazuyuki Fujita and Masahiro Chono by pinning Chono in just 8-minutes with the F5, now known as the Verdict. Fujita promptly disappears from New Japan after again having never put anyone over AGAIN.
The same show saw other former WWE talents debut on the show. Matt Morgan pulled a huge upset by defeating former NJPW ace Yuji Nagata, whereas Mark Jindrak & Charlie Haas came up short, losing to Manabu Nakanishi & Kendo KaShin.
In NOAH, Kenta Kobashi makes an overseas excursion to the US and works two shows for American Indy fed Ring of Honor. The result is a MOTY candidate against Samoa Joe and very hot contested tag match where Kobashi teamed with Homicide against Joe and Low Ki.
In All Japan, Satoshi Kojima had a rather quiet 4th defense of the Triple Crown, beating Giant Bernard. The list of challengers for Kojima continue to thin…
On 10/22, Shuji Kondo finally puts an end to TAKA Michinoku’s Jr Triple Crown as he defeats him for the All Japan Jr. title.
Team 3D, the former Dudley Boyz, made their Japanese debut for All Japan Pro Wrestling on 9/30/05. The former Dudley Boyz would indeed make a big impact that night as at the end of the show, the Voodoo Murders would come out to cause havoc, only to be ran off by Bubba Ray & D-Von, and “brother” YASSHI would be the unlucky recipient of a super Bubba-bomb through a table!
Round 2 of the WRESTLE-1 GP Tournament took place on 10/02/05. Unlike the previous event, the turn out is horrible and the show itself is marked as one of the worst events of the year, so bad in fact that the rest of the tournament has been cancelled!
A big time of change for New Japan Pro Wrestling as company founder Antonio Inoki sells his share of the company stock to video game developers YUKES. Riki Choshu is brought in as the company foreman to book shows as well as evaluate the wrestlers performances. Many speculate this as New Japan’s last chance to reclaim it’s hold on the title “King of Sports”.
When Terry Funk won the ECW world title from Raven back in 1997, the term “Dreams do come true” was never more evident. Fast forward to NOAH’s 3RD Great Voyage show on 11/05/2005 and no truer words could be said for when Akira Taue won the GHC heavyweight championship from Takeshi Rikioh, his first singles title in over 9 years! The crowd was nuts for Taue throughout the match and went insane when he finally won the big one at a time in his career when it looked like he would have been regulated to the mid card.
The same show saw what has to be said as the best tag match of the year as Kobashi & Sasaki locked horns for the second time, this time with their young protégé’s Go Shiozaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima in tag action. The action and crowd heat during the match was simply unbelievable.
Satoshi Kojima continued a dominant year as Triple Crown champion by defeating Kensuke Sasaki on 11/19/05. The last hurdle of Kojima’s list of challengers and old rivals. Many question who is left for Kojima to defend against at this point, as the pool of challengers was getting really thin.
Magnitude Kishiwada ends Masaaki Mochizuki's long reign as Dream Gate champion of Dragon Gate, winning the title with his trademark Last Ride powerbomb. His first challenger for the title? Kenichiro Arai
All Japan faced some tough times as the year came to an end. Despite Team 3D winning the annual Real World Tag League, the former Dudley Boyz would not be able to return for the January tour. And to make things worse, Jamal as well as Giant Bernard both announced they would be leaving the company, Jamal back to WWE and Bernard to NJPW!
Talk of AJPW being on it’s last legs continue with the announcement of a new group called King’s Road, who claim to deliver a product similar to Giant Baba era All Japan with the first show scheduled to take place on 1/15/06. Many feel King’s Road could be a major player since they already have the support of Toshiaki Kawada, and AJPW regular Kazushi Miyamoto even quit the company to join King’s Road!
Will this truly be the end of All Japan in 2006?
Amidst the restructuring of the company, Brock Lesner made his return to New Japan and made short work of both Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata, beating each in under 10 minutes. Brock now looks to defending his IWGP title on 1/04/06 against Shinsuke Nakamura, despite the fact he’s scheduled to appear in court the day before to appeal against the WWE and it’s no-compete clause.
With the restructuring going on and major changes to the company, will 2006 finally be the year New Japan turns things around to deliver a stable product?
Pro Wrestling NOAH ran it’s final big show of the year 12/04/05, with Akira Taue making his first defense of the GHC title against Takeshi Morishima. The match was said to not be as stellar as his title win, but now Taue faces the challenge of former GHC champion Jun Akiyama on 1/22/06 at the Nippon Budokan.
Will NOAH have another successful year in 2006?
Ryo Saito wins the first ever Dragon Gate “King of Gate” tournament, beating out Susumu Yokosuka in the finals. Will 2006 be the year Ryo truly breaks out? And will Dragon Gate be able to hold on to it’s position as one of the best indy feds in Japan since many claim it above Zero-One MAX even at this point?
There you have it. In a nutshell, 2005 has been an interesting year for the Japanese scene, leaving some big questions as we head into 2006. I know I couldn’t get everything in cause there’s just too much to follow that even I have a hard time keeping track of everything.
Still, I hoped you enjoyed this little trip down 2005.