KAI-EN-TARY #15 (2/28/02):
Now that all the big shows from February have carved out the initial winners and losers of the recent chaos in the Japanese wrestling scene, I figured it was time to sit down to reflect on the last 2 weeks and see where things go from here in Japan. The first big winner has to be All Japan hot off the heels of their sold out 2/24/02 first PPV show this past weekend. One of the most important results of the show (pictured above) was Kawada capturing his fourth Triple Crown Title pinning Keiji Mutoh in just under 30 minutes. I think it was an important win to finally reward and cement Kawada as the ace who carried All Japan after the NOAH split nearly by himself. Tenryu scored a win over the debuting Kojima in a number one contenders match, which leads us to the “Re-match of Pain” for Kawada’s first title defense (where he should retain, he has a strong list of challengers to chase him). Kojima and Mutoh’s losses also opens the door on a lot of possibilities for this year’s Champion Carnival as places to re-build them and perhaps gain some important wins if not the Champion Carnival itself. Kawada, Kojima & Nagai are the favorites in Block A while Tenryu, Mutoh & Kea are the favorites in Block B which will surely bring a higher quality level to the tourney than it has seen since the NOAH split. Kaz Hayashi made his debut for All Japan running in after the Kashin/Miyamoto match joining in the post match scrum that also involved Masa Fuchi. All Japan is looking to re-build their junior division with the guidance of Mutoh and may bring in some US indy workers to fill things out – sounds excellent to me as long as Kashin is stuck in grumpy groin-shot matches with Fuchi and the division can be built around Kaz and Miyamoto (who has said to have been very impressive of late). Mutoh, Kojima, Kashin & Hayashi all signed their All Japan contracts on 2/26/02 so that deal is now secure, and All Japan can continue to move forward.
NOAH has continued to build their steady rise, especially in terms of workrate, that began this fall (see KAIENTAPELIST ) with another highly successful show on 2/17/02 as Kenta Kobashi returned to the ring (pictured above). Kobashi teamed with Misawa in a losing effort against Jun Akiyama and Yugi Nagata in what looked to be an outstanding main event. Unfortunately, word has since surfaced that Kobashi suffered significant knee damage in the match and will take some more time off to recover – surprisingly, Kobashi did not where hard knee braces in the match and may be forced to now if he wishes to continue wrestling. The 2/17 undercard was stacked as well as Marifuji defended the GHC Jr. Title against Juventud Guerrera, Suguira & Ikeda scored a win over Modest & Morgan in a match on paper that should be excellent, Kicuchi & Kanemaru defeated the New Japan team of Jushin Liger & Wataru Inoue in a match that was complete with mega-heat then a post match pull apart between the seconds (Minoru Tanaka, Tanahashi, Suzuki, Suguira included) and even the opening match where KENTA & top rookie Kotaro Suzuki downed Mohammed Yone & Ray Gordy looked interesting. This show continues and actually improves upon the trend of NOAH putting on some excellent large shows with this looking to have been the strongest in the series. Hopefully, NOAH will be able to build the young lions/juniors feud with New Japan and Kobashi can return soon to take a run at the GHC Title (and maybe a singles match against Yugi Nagata too).
Michinoku Pro has put together some strong TV to close 2001 (especially recommend the block taped 12/1/01, aired 12/19/01 on Samurai TV) and had a great showing at the 1/4/02 New Japan Dome show. Unfortunately, injuries have struck taking Dick Togo out of action for an unknown length of time and more recently Tiger Mask IV suffered a severe arm injury while working for New Japan. MPro has forged ahead though with Ikuto Hidaka stepping to the front recently winning the Independent World Junior Title in a one night tourney and carrying on the in ass stomping rudo tradition taking the lead in Far East Connection with Tomohiro Ishii at his side. I can’t wait for Dick Togo to return from injury to see that trio work together in a reign of terror over MPro, and I also am anxious for Tiger Mask’s return so that he and Hidaka can continue in what has become a heated, bloody feud producing some extremely crisp matches. MPro has a big sold out show coming up on 3/10/02, as Mutoh will team with Shinzaki (as Hakushi & Kokushi chances are) against the interesting team of Kojima & The Great Sasuke. Jushin Liger will also be in working some MPro shows in March as repayment for the loss of Tiger Mask. Some of the strongest dates and matches on the upcoming tour (in addition to the 3/10 show) include: 3/5/02 - Great Sasuke & Jushin Liger & Gran Hamada v Ikuto Hidaka & Curry Man & Super Boy, 3/6/02 - Great Sasuke & Yuki Ishikawa & Kazuya Yuasa v Ikuto Hidaka & Curry Man & Tomohiro Ishii and 3/7/02 - Great Sasuke & Yuki Ishikawa v Ikuto Hidaka & Tomohiro Ishii.
On the downside of the recent Japanese transfers, New Japan has suffered some big losses and the return of Inoki to really stir the political kettle has left their heavyweight situation a mess and last PPV a bomb. I’m not gong to into that mess at the moment as it would take far too much time and involve too much frustration for me. I’d rather look at the bright side of New Japan, the unreal junior division that truly powers New Japan. The March tour looks to be a great one for the juniors with Eddie Guerrero returning to Japan for the first time in several years and Silver King making his first tour of 2002. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but it looks like Eddie may work as Black Tiger II and Silver King as Black Tiger III – both as faces as the early tour cards indicate. The 3/8/02 show will feature Eddie/Tanaka/Liger vs. Jado/Gedo/Kanemoto and the 3/10/02 show will feature an elimination match of epic proportions as Liger/El Samurai/Tanaka/Black Tiger II/Black Tiger III vs. Jado/Gedo/Kanemoto with two mystery partners (could be MPro reps like Hidaka, Togo, Curry Man or could be someone turning like Eddie or Kakihara early in the tour or perhaps AKIRA will return). The March tour could produce some really strong junior action for New Japan without question. While on the subject, I have to take a second and recommend the Eddie Guerrero Shoot Interview that RF Video conducted. It may not have gone quite as in depth about lucha as I had hoped, but a great deal of territory is covered with Eddie being very open and honest. It definitely has some very moving moments (especially talking about Art Barr) and perhaps most importantly shows Eddie is taking responsibility and moving forward with his life and wrestling career even stronger than in the past. Eddie has been working indy dates (more on some of those in the next column) and recently had an incredible match with Chris Daniels in Alaska. Eddie also may have a match in the making against Jerry Lynn on the next WWA tour of Australia that has some huge potential based on the tease they gave us on last week’s WWA PPV.
Finally, I have to touch on the upcoming Zero-One 3/2/02 one year anniversary show (which should be big considering the promotions future may be in jeopardy if a permanent return to New Japan for Hashimoto, Otani, Takaiwa and possibly Hoshikawa are in the works – I’m hoping not since their shows have picked up recently with a more pro wrestling focus). The card looks strong with Takaiwa working with KENTA in the opening match, Hoshikawa having are-match with Marifuji from their great battle last year on Zero-One’s first show, Steve Corino & Gary Steele challenge the continually improving/impressive Samoa Joe & his partner Tom Howard and Shinya Hashimoto faces Masato Tanaka in one potentially hellacious and brutal main event (that may be an NWA Title match). I am very interested to see how this show plays out.
Next time, I’ll take a look at some US Indy action, some red hot lucha and have more news from Japan…
*Please take a few minutes to check out the now updated KAIENTAPELIST which I've added several new listings to with many exclusive comps and some my favorite individual shows from 2001... I hope to update with more tapes when my next column goes up... Thanks...*