I’m not going to do what everyone else does and tell you how weird and wacky and insane 2016 is, I’m not going to ramble about how awesome it is that we don’t have to wait months to receive puro tapes anymore, I’m not going to talk to you about how we live in “blessed times,” I’m just going to keep it simple and I’m going to say that there is a large amount of pro wrestling readily available for us to consume nowadays, and that sometimes there just isn’t enough time of day to consume all of it. I shouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know. 24 hours isn’t a lot of time. People have jobs, people have lives, people have more important things to worry about than random Japanese pro wrestling. What does what I’m saying have to do with this article? Well, let me explain.
This is a new column I’ll be bringing to Voices of Wrestling every month from here on out. The idea of this column is to keep those who don’t pay as close attention to obscure Japanese wrestling up to speed with what’s going on and what they need to be watching. I will continue covering certain shows in full, but this column will be strictly dedicated to covering the key stuff that takes place outside of what we already cover and will continue to cover in full. I will not be talking about any New Japan or any major Dragon Gate shows in great detail since we already have people doing so. As you’ll see at the bottom of the article, there will be a list of recommended matches from the month.
Get the idea? Great. I hope this serves as some sort of use to you.
(Side note: The great Izzac of Wrestling With Words does something somewhat similar to this for that site, and if there’s anyone who watches more puro than I do, it’s him. He and I enjoy some different things in our wrestling and he does an excellent job with that ( and everything else he does), so if you enjoy what I’m doing here, definitely check out what he’s doing there.)
So now that the housekeeping is out of the way…Japanese pro wrestling. An eventful month November was. Akira Tozawa saying goodbye to Dragon Gate, All Japan running Sumo Hall for the first time in several years, HEAT-UP (yes, HEAT-UP, I will indeed cover HEAT-UP) drawing their biggest crowd to date, NOAH selling their company; now is as good a time as any to debut this column, if I do say so myself.
As always, a lot of what aired in the first half of the month was stuff that took place in the previous month. In that lot was a major Korakuen Hall Big Japan show on October 31 which featured two excellent matches between Strong BJ and the Twin Towers and Strong BJ and Yankee Two Kenju in the semi-finals and finals of the Saikyo Tag League respectively, a major Korakuen Hall Stardom show which featured a terrible semi-main event between Chelsea Green and Kairi Hojo (just thought I’d throw that in there, easily the worst semi-important match I’ve seen in a while) and an excellent main event between Io Shirai and Yoko Bito. And while on the topic of Stardom…
Io Shirai Leaving?
It’s been said that Io Shirai is leaving Stardom for WWE sometime in the new year. Hojo’s been a bit more up in the air, but word is that Io Shirai is definitely on her way out. Not to pat myself on the back here (even though that’s essentially what I’m doing), but I’ve been saying for well over a year now that as soon as the time was right WWE was going to go after her, I didn’t think they’d do quite yet, but they are, and I can’t say I’m all that surprised. What they do once she leaves is a story of its own and one that should be interesting to follow. Stardom has put everything they have into this person to the point where they may find themselves in some deep water come next year, especially if Hojo follows in her tracks, because she’s arguably the closest thing they have to her, and she’s hardly as big a deal.
Mayu Iwatani is there but I’m not sure she’s ready for that sort of push, they’ve done a fine job building Yoko Bito as a key player over the past few months but she’s not ready, Jungle Kyouna, while maybe not ready for a serious push just yet, is ready to be elevated to an upper-mid-card role and could end up being someone they can give a serious push to in the future, and aside from those three, unless I’m completely blanking on someone or even multiple others, Stardom doesn’t really have anyone else, at least not under contract. Also, Shirai looks to be finishing things up as a heel, which is probably a good idea given they’re likely going to have her drop the title to Hojo, who, like I said, may also be on her way out, but hey. Again, this should be an interesting story to follow over the next few months.
AAA in Japan
AAA ran a show in Korakuen Hall on October 26, a show that didn’t air on TV until November 1 so gets a pass and counts as something that happened in November since I make the rules, and a show that top to bottom was arguably the most enjoyable show the promotion has put on in a very, very long time. AAA, as they did last year, is getting my vote for Worst Promotion of the Year in this year’s Observer awards and it’s not particularly close, although TNA has begun making a nice little push for themselves lately. Aside from all of the wonky bullshit that happens within AAA, their shows are drier than dirt and are some of the most unenjoyable wrestling shows out there, at least in my personal opinion, and I’m sure others feel the same way. This one was different, this one had some life to it. This was an extremely fun show from top to bottom with a handful of good-very good matches and absolutely nothing bad or unenjoyable. The main event saw Akebono, who should not ever step foot in a wrestling ring ever again, bless that man for rolling out of bed every morning with the numerous health issues he has, team up with Naomichi Marufuji and Rey Mysterio Jr. to take on the AAA trio of Brian Cage, El Texano Jr. and Pentagon Jr. in what was the spectacle of all spectacles, to say the least. Maybe not the best match on the card, but a match I’d recommend seeking out if you enjoy the idea of seeing Rey Mysterio, Pentagon and the rest of the crew in Korakuen Hall, because that’s what it was all about. If you care more about workrate and not so much cool visuals, the Ikuto Hidaka and Masato Tanaka vs. Angelico and El Hijo del Fantasma and the Taiji Ishimori/Drago/Aero Star three-way were both tremendous matches from a workrate perspective.
Pro Wrestling NOAH Sold
While it appears as though no major changes are going to be put into effect and things will carry on as they did before, it was announced on October 31 that Pro Wrestling NOAH sold their company to a new organization by the name of “Estebee (now NOAH Wrestling Entertainment),” whose executive is former All Japan owner Masayuki Uchida. The first show under the new owners was a Korakuen show on November 3rd, the opening night of the Global League. On that show was a rematch between Takashi Sugiura and my boy Masa Kitamiya, a surprisingly great match between Quiet Storm and Katsuhiko Nakajima, and a main event of Naomichi Marufuji vs. Go Shiozaki, which, as anyone who knows anything about those two and their history would know, was an interesting match. They returned to Korakuen the very next night for the second Global League show, this one featuring two great matches between Marufuji and Alejandro Saez and Sugiura and Shiozaki.
Pro Wrestling NOAH Global League & End of Suzuki-Gun
Minoru Suzuki won the tournament on November 23 by defeating Masa Kitamiya in the finals to set up a title match with Nakajima in December, a match where not only the title will be on the line, but a match where both men’s NOAH careers will be on the line. The loser of the match will be forced to leave NOAH, and it’s safe to assume who that will be. Suzuki is not beating Nakajima, and you can already see that NOAH is setting up a Suzuki-gun exodus if you read between the lines of the booking. KES won their titles back from Yano and Marufuji and will likely drop them to Shiozaki and Maybach on the way out, Taichi is challenging Kotoge for the junior title and clearly isn’t winning; this is it for Suzuki-gun, my friends. Two long, painful years of Suzuki-gun, coming to a close.
Suzuki will find work elsewhere almost immediately, TAKA Michinoku already has work outside of NOAH, Kanemaru will find work in New Japan, Taichi…who cares about Taichi, and KES, I worry about. I don’t know if New Japan has interest in bringing them back. They very well could, but I don’t know if they do. They’re too talented to fly under the radar, so whatever does end up happening, I hope they land themselves a spot somewhere, anywhere. (By the time you read this, most of this will have been sorted out as the shows are very, very early in the month.)
HEAT-UP, a sleazy little rinky-dink indie based out of Tokyo, ran their biggest show to date in front their biggest crowd to date on October 31 (aired on November 14). The show took place in the Todoroki Arena in Kawasaki and drew well over 1,400 fans for a main event of Kazuhiro Tamura and Minoru Suzuki, a match won by Suzuki for whatever reason, but a match I’d recommend everyone go out of their way to see. HEAT-UP has gotten a lot of buzz from the small corner of the internet that follows Japanese indies, and rightfully so. They have a plethora of great young (and not so young, but young to wrestling) talent on their roster who are bound to get more buzz themselves as HEAT-UP continues to grow and continues to get more exposure heading into 2017. The 23-year-old Koji Iwamoto has quickly become one of my favorites to watch, as has the 32-year-old Daisuke Kanehira, who, in more ways than one, reminds me of T-Hawk, probably one of my five favorite wrestlers in the world. Both of those guys were involved in a hot little eight-man tag in the semi-main, teaming with fellow young talent Tatsumi Fujinami and the legendary Shinya Ishida (yes, that’s right) against the All Japan Army of Takao Omori, Yohei Nakajima, Jake Lee and Yuma Aoyagi.
WRESTLE-1 has had an interesting latter part of the year. For a promotion that started the year off hot and finally looked to have gotten on track, they’ve really started slipping these last few months. KAI won the title from Yuji Hino in May and lost to rookie Daiki Inaba in August. Inaba held onto the title for less than three months before losing to Masayuki Kono on the 2nd of November, for reasons I have yet to figure out. There’s a big show coming up on December 9 where all titles will be defended.
Yusuke Kodama, who I’ve really enjoyed since his return, defends the cruiserweight title against MAZADA, Kaz Hayashi and Kotaro Suzuki defend the tag titles against Koji Doi and Kumagoro, former champion Inaba, Andy Wu & Seiki Yoshioka defend the UWA six-man tag titles against Shuji Kondo, Jun Kasai and NOSAWA Rongai, and Kono defends his newly won title against Jiro Kuroshio in the main event, a match that could go either way. On top of all that, you have my personal favorite wrestler in the world Shingo Takagi making a very rare appearance outside of Dragon Gate, teaming up with Keiji Mutoh and KAI to take on the team of Yuji Hino, Manabu Soya and KAZMA SAKAMOTO. Let’s just hope whatever happens from here is for the best, because they’re in a weird spot as a promotion right now and seem to not have much direction.
Kohei Sato 15th Anniversary
Kohei Sato wrestled Daisuke Sekimoto in the main event of his 15th anniversary show on November 6, in a match very, very different from the Kohei Sato and Daisuke Sekimoto matches we’ve come to know and love. This one had a different pace to it, was structured much differently, and had a much different overall feel to it. Also on that show was a red hot Hideki Suzuki vs. Yusaku Obata, two guys I could never get into until this year, BattlArts-style match. ZERO1 announced during this show that they’d be returning to the monthly Korakuen schedule they once operated under, which, from a fan’s perspective, is an absolute positive as ZERO1 is a highly entertaining promotion with a lot of highly entertaining pro wrestlers working for them, but should be something to keep an eye on from a business perspective. I like to be optimistic, I’d like to think they’ll do well, but it’s going to be interesting to see just how well they do.
A WILD KOTA IBUSHI HAS APPEARED!
A wild Kota Ibushi appeared on the November 6 DDT Festival show and wrestled in an eight-man anywhere match, which I shouldn’t have to explain to you if you’ve ever seen a DDT anywhere match. It was bizarre, as they tend to be.
Shigehiro Irie also made his return on that show after spending several months in the United States, teaming with Konosuke Takeshita against HARASHIMA and Yukio Sakaguchi in the main event. It appears he’s back full-time now and may get a title shot here soon if HARASHIMA defeats Shuji Ishikawa on the big December 4th show, given the fact that Irie now has a pin over HARASHIMA after the aforementioned tag match.
Joshi News & Notes
In a bit of joshi news, Sendai Girls drew over 1,100 fans to Korakuen Hall for one of their biggest shows of the year with newly crowned champion Chihiro Hashimoto defending the title she defeated ace Meiko Satomura for just a month earlier against fellow rookie Cassandra Miyagi in the main event, with Ayako Hamada teaming up with Meiko Satomura to take on Aja Kong and Hiroyo Matsumoto in the semi-main on November 9th. OZ Academy then four days later drew 2,000+ fans to the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium for Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Sonoko Kato, a match that’s been built up to for a long time and a match that saw Matsumoto finally dethrone the champion.
Real World Tag League
The blocks for the Real World Tag League were announced, with Kento Miyahara and Jake Lee, Suwama and Atsushi Aoki, Ryouji Sai and Rikiya Fudo, Kengo Mashimo and Tank Nagai, Osamu Nishimura and Yutaka Yoshie (yuck), and Mitsuya Nagai and Black Tiger VII making up the A block while Jun Akiyama and Kendo Kashin, Zeus and The Bodyguard, Takao Omori and Manabu Soya, Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi, Super Tiger and Hikaru Sato, and the WRESTLE-1 team of Koji Doi and Kumagoro making up the B block. Not a super loaded tournament, but a tournament that hopefully sustains the momentum All Japan has after the successful Sumo Hall show on November 27. The finals will be held on December 18 in Korakuen.
Odds & Ends
All Japan is also one of the five promotions participating in the wacky New Year’s Eve tournament alongside WRESTLE-1, DDT, Big Japan and K-DOJO. The teams are as follows: HARASHIMA and Daisuke Sekimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani and Konosuke Takeshita, Isami Kodaka and Yuko Miyamoto, Kazy Hayashi and Danshoku Dino, Kengo Mashimo and Shigehiro Irie, Atsushi Aoki and Kazuki Hashimoto, Sanshiro Takagi and Abdullah Kobayashi, Great Kojika and Joey Ryan, Yuji Okabayashi and Jiro Kuroshio (now that’s a team), The Brahmans, Daisuke Sasaki and Yuki Sato, Yukio Sakaguchi and Daichi Hashimoto, Manabu Soya and Takayuki Ueki, Kazusada Higuchi and Yoshihisa Uto, Naoya Nomura and Kouki Iwasaki, and finally, Ayato Yoshido and my man Takuya Nomura. This tournament is always bizarre and always a good time. It’s not meant to be taken seriously, it’s simply meant to be a fun little show to close out the year, and that it will be.
Big Japan and ran Korakuen shows on the 22 and the 23 respectively with Isami Kodaka vs. Kankuro Hashino headlining the Big Japan show and, in a prelude to the big Osaka show on December 4th, Shuji Ishikawa and Tetsuya Endo vs. HARASHIMA and Konosuke Takeshita headlining the DDT show, which airs on December 1st. And to cap this thing off, let’s go over the card for said December 4th Osaka show. The main event sees HARASHIMA challenging Shuji Ishikawa for the KO-D title, a title he lost to Shuji Ishikawa’s partner Daisuke Sasaki earlier in the year, while the semi-main event sees Konosuke Takeshita and DDT’s new gaijin star Mike Bailey challenge the aforementioned Daisuke Sasaki and the aforementioned Tetsuya Endo for the tag titles. Also on the show is yet another Kota Ibushi appearance as he works a six-man TLC match, and a special tag match that sees Masakatsu Funaki team with Yukio Sakaguchi to take on Yoshihiro Takayama and Kazusada Higuchi.
Recommended Matches (****+)
- Ikuto Hidaka & Masato Tanaka vs. Angelico & El Hijo del Fantasma – AAA Star Battle Japan – October 26th (Aired November 1st) (****)
- Drago vs. Taiji Ishimori vs. Aero Star – AAA Star Battle Japan – October 26th (Aired November 1st) (****)
- Io Shirai vs. Yoko Bito – Stardom October Showdown – October 30th (Aired November 5th) (****1/4)
- Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Kohei Sato & Shuji Ishikawa – BJW Saikyo Tag League – October 31st (Aired November 6th) (****1/4)
- Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi – BJW Saikyo Tag League – October 31st (Aired November 6th) (****1/2)
- Kazuhiro Tamura vs. Minoru Suzuki – HEAT-UP Let’s Make a Miracle Happen – October 31st (Aired November 14th) (****)
- Naomichi Marufuji vs. Go Shiozaki – NOAH Global League – November 3rd (****)
- Tsukasa Fujimoto vs. Tsukushi – Ice Ribbon New Ice Ribbon – November 3rd (****)
- Alejandro Saez vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH Global League – November 4th (****)
- Go Shiozaki vs. Takashi Sugiura – NOAH Global League – November 4th (****1/4)
- Hideki Suzuki vs. Yusaku Obata – ZERO1 Kohei Sato 15th Anniversary Show – November 6th (****)
- Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Kohei Sato – ZERO1 Kohei Sato 15th Anniversary Show – November 6th (****)
- Daisuke Sasaki, Tetsuya Endo, Mad Polly & Shuji Ishikawa vs. Gota Ihashi, Kazusada Higuchi, Kota Ibushi & Sanshiro Takagi – DDT UTAN Festa – November 6th (****)
- Ayako Hamada & Meiko Satomura vs. Aja Kong & Hiroyo Matsumoto – Sendai Girls 10th Anniversary Show in Korakuen – November 9th (****1/4)
- Chihiro Hashimoto vs. Cassandra Miyagi – Sendai Girls 10th Anniversary Show in Korakuen – November 9th (****)
- Jun Akiyama, Zeus & Ryoui Sai vs. Kento Miyahara, Jake Lee & Yuma Aoyagi – AJPW Yokohama Twilight Blues – November 12th (****)
- Sonoko Kato vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto – OZ Academy Yokohama Dreams Park DK – November 13th (****)
- Zeus & Suwama vs. Kento Miyahara & Jun Akiyama – AJPW Chiba Extra Dream – November 13th (****)
- Masa Kitamiya vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH Global League – November 22nd (****)
- Kazuki Hashimoto, Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daichi Hashimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani & Ryota Hama – BJW – November 22nd (****)
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Masa Kitamiya – NOAH Global League Finals – November 23rd (****1/4)
- Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Zeus & The Bodyguard – AJPW New Explosion – November 27th (****1/4)
- Kento Miyahara vs. Suwama – AJPW New Explosion – November 27th (****)