My views on Pro Wrestling from the East and West

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tokyo Sports Top 10 Events of 2005

These are the top 10 Japanese pro-wrestling stories as voted by Tokyo Sports readers. I'll try and explain each one below for those of you who don't know about the Japanese scene.

The Top 10:
1. Shinya Hashimoto's sudden death
2. New Japan's sale to Yuke's
3. Creation of the first IWGP Heavyweight & Triple Crown double title, or the brief "4-Crown"
4. Hustlemaniac's use of celebrites leading to major mainstream press
5. All Japan Women's collapse
6. Akebono's pro wrestling debut
7. Eddie Guerrero's sudden death
8. "Absolute champion" Kenta Kobashi surrendering his title
9. Kashin refusing to give back All Japan's tag belt, leading to a court case
10. Livedoor's entry into pro wrestling

The explanations:
1. Shinya Hashimoto was one of the biggest drawing names in Japan. One of the "Three Musketeers" of New Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Keiji Mutoh (aka Great Muta) and Masahiro Chono. Hashimoto founded Zero-1, which originally started out as a faction in New Japan but ended up as an actual promotion (Take that nWo!), and because he was the top draw of what was technically the No.4 promotion in Japan, he worked through injuries just to keep the crowds coming. In late 2003, he was outsted from Zero-1 by his own workers for "siding with the enemy" when he made various appearances in New Japan. He finally had surgery done to fix his busted shoulder and was recovering well, with high anticipation of his return to New Japan Pro Wrestling. That would never happen however, as on July 12, he passed away due to a blood clot in his brain. He was just 40 years old.

2. New Japan may be the equivilant to WWE in Japan as it's the biggest pro-wrestling promotion in the country, but really horrible booking decisions and backstage politics over the past few years really ruined the company financially, especially when founder and owner Antonio Inoki continually used money made by the company to fund his MMA projects and bizarre business ideas (researching creating raw power from nothing?), and of course there were rumours of owing money to the Yakuza. So it came as a surprise when it was announced that Inoki had sold his majority stock share in the company to video game developers Yukes. The results thus far has been positive, with the company debt wiped out and complete restructuring going on, 2006 will be the year we see if NJPW can turn things around and stay by it's claim as the "King of Sports" (note how they don't use "Sports Entertainment).

3. The IWGP is the top title of New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Triple Crown is the top title of All Japan Pro Wrestling. For years, these two companies were at war with each other, so you could imagine the signaficance of the ultimate interpromotional title for title match. This was about as big in Japan as say having the WWE champion face the WCW champion, with both titles on the line. The only problem here was that much like the "Invasion" of WCW in WWE, All Japan's Triple Crown champion going into the match was a former NJPW true born, who made it big in the rival company. So technically it was an all NJPW match for the two most prestigious titles in Japan, add one oddball ending to the match when IWGP champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan couldn't continue due to legit dehydration 11 seconds shy of the 60 minute time limit, and you have one heck of a dramatic dream match. Kojima's reign as 4-Crown champion only lasted about 3 months, as he lost the IWGP title back to Tenzan in May.

4. The true "Sports Entertainment" company of Japan, HUSTLE, has recently been utilizing the use of celebraties on it's shows to pop attendance and TV ratings. The company is owned and run by DSE, who also own and run MMA giant PRIDE FC, which would also expain the use of shoot fighters like Naoya Ogawa, Mark Coleman and Giant Silva on it's shows. The company is considered a big joke by pro-wrestling purists, but they do actually have a big following and despite the oddball angles and storylines, have actually put on quite a few entertaining wrestling matches. But even despite a huge fanbase and popularity, the company has yet to even once sell out it's home venue of Yokohama.

5. I can't believe I actually forgot to mention this in my Year in Review column. All Japan Women was the longest running all-female company in Japan, and probably the world even. The '90s was the true golden era of woman's wrestling in Japan, with the talented femme fetales putting on main events that rivaled that of their male counterparts! But the industry fell on some really hard times after, mainly due to decline of interest in the product. It got so bad that it's been rumoured that some of the girls had to work "private matches" with male fans just to make ends meet. AJW was so heavilly in debt, that one of the owners actually commited suicide not long before the company shut down just so they could use the insurance money to pay off the many debts of the company. Their main rival, GAEA, would also closed it's doors not long after, also due to financial difficulties.

6. For those of you who don't know, Akebono is the first American (he's from Hawaii) sumo wrestler to reach the rank of Yokozuna in Japan. No doubt you all remember him from his sumo match against the Big Show at WrestleMania XXI. The thing is, he's been getting his fat ass handed to him in Japan, taking part in MMA and K-1 fights (these are real fights, not scripted sports entertainment matches), and it's mostly thanks to Keiji Mutoh who took him under his wing and trained him to be a pro-wrestler that much of his face value in Japan was salvaged. Despite using a lame hip-toss finisher called the "69" (Don't ask, cause I don't get it either), his appearances in All Japan Pro Wrestling helped boost business for them big time, and he really did improve his in ring skills for the short time he was there and was given matching success, forming a strong team with Mutoh and getting to the finals of the annual Real World Tag League tournament. His pro-wrestling future right now is uncertain, as he's been re-called by FEG to get back into MMA (He lost his return fight to ACTOR Bobby Olugun in a K-1 match on 12/31/05!).

7. Eddie Guerrero's death did indeed have meaning in Japan, as that was where he got his start working as Black Tiger in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and even worked a few shows there during his time before his return to WWE after he was released by them.

8. Kenta Kobashi is THE MAN in Japan. No other pro-wrestling champion in recent history has been built up like him and truly earned his spot. Since returning from a near career ending knee injury in 2003, Kobashi has been UNSTOPPABLE, beating just about every big name there was in Japan, and being able to carry and bump for anyone to make his matches memorable and exciting. He held the GHC title for 2 years and a record 13 title defences (no, they don't defend the title every week just to pop a rating there). With every big name he defeated, the question was always asked, "Who will beat/can beat him?". Everyone was sure it would be Jun Akiyama, his top rival in the company and the only man with the credentials to do it, but it shocked everyone when Kobashi was able to retain the title in a match at NOAH's 2004 Tokyo Dome show which was rated by the Japanese media as Match of the Year that year. The unlikely person that was finally able to take the title off Kobashi was young Takeshi Rikioh on his second attempt at Kobashi's title. Rikioh was able to defeat the "ironman" with his Muso (high-angle Rock Bottom) finisher to take the title. Unfortunately for Rikioh, his reign would be far less memorable than Kobashi's.

9. Kendo KaShin is an enigma in Japan. You have fans who love him to death, and you have fans like me who hate him to high Hell and wish he'd go away and never come back. The man has amazing popularity despite a really crappy attitude and craptacular matches which is mostly him doing a flying cross armbreaker for a quick tap out, add to the fact that he cheats like hell to win his matches. The thing here is, while he was under contract to All Japan Pro Wrestling, he teamed with his good friend and New Japan ace Yuji Nagata to take the All Japan tag team titles. The held the titles for six months, but never defended them even once due to Nagata's NJPW schedule, and KaShin basically dissapearing from the company due to not liking the politics there (aka he just didn't want to job to ANYONE). He was stripped of his AJPW Jr. title, which he had held for 2 years but only defended a handful of times against b-grade workers. But when he and Nagata were stripped of their tag titles, KaShin refused to give back his half of the tag belts, and All Japan have been after him ever since, even taking the matter to court where he refused to even show up cause he didn't even want to take his mask off in public (everyone already knows what he looks like due to his brief MMA career). The matter is yet to be settled and has soured relations between AJPW and NJPW working together.

10. This is an interesting one. Livedoor is a blog operator in Japan, with many pro-wrestlers and professional athletes using their services to host their online blogs. The company has recently been rumoured to have actually have a hand in the pro-wrestling industry now, possibly as a sponsor/promoter for the new Dragondoor promotion ran by Ultimo Dragon. I'm really not too sure of the details on this one myself.



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