Now this is an interesting kettle of fish. Everybody I’m sure knows the story of what was the All Japan of the 90’s basically turning into NOAH, and leaving a few remnants to scrape together some semblance of a promotion with guys from all corners of the map. Then of course, Keiji Muto jumped from New Japan and took over as president of the new AJPW. Operating on a small, near indy, scale – modern day All Japan has a unique feel to it modelled after Muto’s “ProWres Love” ideals. Through a combination of booking which gets the most out of a thin roster, and the hard work of a promising crop of young wrestlers, this fed has continued to produce an enjoyable product.
This year has been all about pushing the next generation. Suwama leads the way as the Triple Crown champion, having just won the belts in an incredible 40 minute war of attrition against Minoru Suzuki in Sumo Hall. He’s hot-headed, aggresive and a damn good wrestler. Most importantly he’s over with the crowd, and thus is the perfect man to lead the charge. The afformentioned Suzuki has formed an alliance with his former Pancrase rival from the 90’s, Masakatsu Funaki. These two have looked great in tag matches and complementeach other well with Suzuki’s off the charts charisma balanced out by the more stoic, intense Funaki. The near 15 year break from wrestling has allowed the former shootstyle star to come back in incredible shape with little mileage on his tyres.
Often teaming with Suwama was Masayuki Kono, another young star who just took a big step in his progression by turning full-on heel and being renamed KONO as part of the rudo unit “The Voodoo Murders”. He will be someone to keep an eye on for the next few months. As will the new All Asia Tag Champs – Seiya Sanada & Manabu Soya. These are the two youngest heavyweights on the roster and have looked great in recent times, particularly Sanada who has almost all the tools to be a huge star. With top class veterans like Taiyo Kea (who has been in great form this year) there to rub off on them, they can only get better.
The junior division has gone from one I wasn’t really interested in to one that is awesome. Kaz Hayashi has held the title for almost 20 months and has pretty much run out of challengers so it will be interesting to see where they go next as he tries to beat Masa Fuchi’s record for defenses. Underneath Kaz is the ever reliable Shuji Kondo and Minoru, youngsters KAI, Hiroshi Yamato (who is so so great) and BUSHI, and veterans like Super Crazy.
The only negative to All Japan is there propensity to bring in wrestlers who are less than stellar in the ring. Generally if you steer clear of the matches with Akebono, KENSO and the like, you’ll be fine. Some would lump Ryota Hama into this category but his incredible charisma and “lovability” overcomes any shortcomings he has between the ropes. A great great man!
If ever there was a promotion with its house firmly in order it’s Dragon Gate. Compared to the likes of New Japan and NOAH they’re a tiny company, but only if your measuring sticks are things like number of employees, big sponsors, external funding etc. When it comes to ticket sales, popularity and global presence – Dragon Gate are right in line with them and in some cases ahead. They are doing A LOT of things right both in the ring and outside of it.
The product is top notch. If you go to a live show (as I did last month), you’ll see the most jaw-dropping, incredible action you’ve ever seen before your eyes. If you watch the TV show, you’ll see one of the most well produced, engaging and action packed hours of Pro Wrestling television ever. Yes, ever. They know exactly how to book for their fans and they create storylines which range from the hilarious to the emotional.
With guys like Shingo, Masaaki Mochizuki, YAMATO, CIMA and Open The Dream Gate Champion, Masato Yoshino they have what I consider far and away the most talented roster anywhere in 2010. There are no passengers here, everyone works to the high high standard that’s drilled into them from training. I would say my top 20 matches of 2010 has more Dragon Gate presence than any other fed. Matches like Shingo vs. Hulk hair vs. hair, Mochizuki vs. YAMATO and Doi vs. YAMATO were all legitimate match of the year contenders.
Right now a unit shuffle may be on the horizon. The promotion consists of several stables and every so often there will be a big switch sparked by one or two guys changing allegiances. The spark right now is Naoki Tanisaki (a really great wrestler and character) turning on World-1 and taking a lead role in the dastardly Deep Drunkers. Tani now wants to kill W-1 off and will have a chance with an impending “losing faction must split” match.
There are two more big PPVs for them to build to in 2010. November in Osaka and December in Fukuoka. With that, the year will close and 2011 will have the impossible task of topping Dragon Gate’s best year ever.
Over the next week or so, I’m going to be posting a series of articles EXCLUSIVELY here at FGB documenting the state of Japanese Pro Wrestling at the moment. Each article will highlight one or maybe a couple of feds. We kick things of with …
One could quite easily make a case that this is the most well rounded wrestling promotion in the world right now. New Japan offer up a bit of everything. You have a junior heavyweight division headed by Ireland’s Fergal Devitt which has been producing one classic MOTYC after another. Matches like Devitt vs. Kanemoto, Devitt vs. Marufuji and Fujita vs. Kanemoto all deserve to finish high in any match of the year list. There is a tag division which after a few years of neglect and tarnishing (cough…Team 3D… cough) is really making a comeback with IWGP Tag Champs, Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard & Karl Anderson) leading the way. With the G1 Tag League upcoming, this division is about to get even hotter. Then there’s the heavyweight singles guys, and among them are some of the best in the world – guys who are right now in their prime like Tanahashi, Nakamura, Makabe and Goto, and dependable veterans like Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and Satoshi Kojima. Shinsuke Nakamura in particular is on fire right now and has a case for being the best heavyweight in the world.
All of this is backed up by sensible booking with a willingness to create interesting storylines that allow the wrestlers to display their characters. There are numerous clear heels which you don’t have in alot of Japanese companies.
The future looks incredibly bright too. Tetsuya Naito looks a lock to be the ace of the promotion for years to come. He has it all – a unique charisma, incredible natural talent, and a great look. His partner Yujiro Takahashi may end up more suited for being the ace of the junior division due to his height but he too has great skills and personality. With the talented Kazuchika Okada due back from his US excursion soon and the new crop of young lions that debuted this year there is even more reason to be optimistic.