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The Navigation Log 8.03.08: New Japan vs. All Japan, New Japan vs. ZERO1, and Shingo Rules Dragon Gate

August 3, 2008 | Posted by Matt Short

Much apologies for having to miss last week’s column. Situations beyond my control developed at the last minute that prevented me from fulfilling my duties as columnist. Again, my apologies. But hey, enough living in the past, time to focus on the now and possibly some future. And past. Shut up.

Onto the Navigation Log!

A Meeting of Promotions
All Japan and New Japan have had a pretty good working relationship for awhile now. Just this year New Japan had their representative Hiroshi Tanahashi go to the finals of the Champion’s Carnival. Then Keiji Muto, the owner of All Japan won the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Hardly a strong reciprocation right? Get one of your guys into the finals of a tournament and in exchange drop your main title to the boss of another company. Looking at these two incidents together it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

But what a difference time makes. The IWGP Title situation seems set to settle itself. It was announced this past week that Muto will be defending the IWGP Heavyweight Title on an All Japan show. August 31st at the Tokyo Sumo Hall, Muto will put the belt on the line against an as yet unnamed opponent. There’s loads of rumors flying around about who will be tapped to face Muto, with many guessing it will end up being the winner of the G1 Climax tournament with the runner-up being MOTHERFUCKING Masahiro Chono and old rival of Muto. I’m kind of pulling for the G1 winner to get the nod for the title match. Suppose someone unexpected wins the tournament. Main-eventing a huge match to bring the title home to New Japan would be a huge show of confidence. On the other hand, the G1 winner vs. IWGP Champion would be the kind of thing that New Japan would want to produce themselves. They might have a partnership with All Japan, but they’d be crazy not to have a huge match like that not happen on an All Japan show when they can draw huge on their own show. It strikes me as smarter to save that match while giving All Japan a good, high-profile opponent like Chono. On top of all the speculation over who will face Muto at Sumo Hall, even more rumors are flying around about Shinsuke Nakamura challenging Suwama for the Triple Crown. While a match like that would be amazing to see, I’ve got the feeling that they’ll just stay as they are: rumors.

ZERO1 Fire Festival
I missed the chance to preview this last week, but here it is now. The ZERO1 Fire Festival has become one of the major year tournaments in Japan in recent years. It follows the regular round robin-style that is most common in big tournaments. Winning the tournament is a major prestige thing. The champion gets to carry around the Fire Sword for a year. Title shots in ZERO1 open up. Masato Tanaka has won the past two Fire Festival tournaments that have seen increasing numbers of outside participation. Dragon Gate’s Masaaki Mochizuki is participating this year, while New Japan is represented Manabu Nakanishi and Togi Makabe.

The highlight of this year has been the continuation of the feud between New Japan and ZERO1. They’ve been competing against each other for the better part of the year with New Japan usually coming out on top. As such there is a lot of pressure in ZERO1 to keep an outsider from New Japan from winning the Festival. That has so far proven easier said than done as in Block A Togi Makabe has already made it to the finals of the tournament. Meanwhile in Block B Nakanishi is in a three-way tie for first with ZERO1’s Masato Tanaka and Takao Omori. The solution is a triple threat match on the day of the finals to determine Makabe’s opponent. There’s a huge amount of pressure to stop the finals from being an all New Japan affair. Tanaka could very well make it three in a row, but an Omori win could be surprising. Mostly though, I doubt ZERO1 would be able to live down this kind of loss to New Japan.

Shingo Takagi: Rise of a Champion
Last weekend saw the fruition of something amazing. Allow me to gloat for a moment, because I rarely get to do that. Take this quote from my predictions for 2008:

-Shingo Takagi will win the Open the Dream Gate title. -Me

It’s so awesome being right. Hell, looking back a lot of my predictions for 2008 have been coming true. I rule for broad, general guesses!

But it’s true, Shingo Takagi is the new Open the Dream Gate Champion. He defeated his former friend BxB Hulk to fill the title which was vacated by CIMA a month ago due to his severe neck injury. Shingo had been running as a full-blown heel, leading the super group Real Hazard after kicking Hulk out of the unit. The two had a 60 minute draw, something unheard of in Dragon Gate due to few being able to wrestle that long with their particular style of wrestling. Shingo and Hulk not only pulled it off, but it got rave reviews from the Japanese press who are so stringent with handing out praise it makes some corners of the IWC look reasonable.

So with Shingo finally conquering Dragon Gate and reaching the top of the company, things are obviously looking up for him. Not so fast! Shingo made some peace with Hulk after their title match, which drew the ire of Real Hazard. A mutiny led to the expulsion of Shingo from the group and he was saved from a full beatdown by Typhoon. Though he was offered a position to join the super face stable he declined, but will team with Dragon Kid during the upcoming Summer Adventure Tag League. Here is where I have a little bit of concern for our new champion.

In my opinion, they really missed the boat by not having Shingo beat CIMA at the end of 2007. This is mostly a hindsight call. Shingo was booked well in that first title match in that he proved he had the strength and skill to beat the ace of Dragon Gate. CIMA barely escaped with the belt, but said after the match that he was sure he wouldn’t be able to beat Shingo a second time. That was a beautiful way to set up the eventual title match. Unfortunately, no one anticipated CIMA’s career threatening injury (in retrospect they should have). You could feel that things were set to put Shingo over as the top heel of the company and its ace. He would beat CIMA, send him away for rehab, and then continue on leading Real Hazard and feuding with Hulk and others. They gambled on CIMA being healthy and lost big time.

So instead of a bad ass Shingo being backed by an awesome collection of heels in Real Hazard, we see him shift back into his old character. Which makes me think they would have ended up with a similar situation had Shingo won the belt before all this. The best way to salvage this would be for him to take over Typhoon while CIMA is out. There’s no reason for him to not be affiliated with a group at this point. I’ll admit to being behind on watching Dragon Gate, so maybe the crowd reactions made it necessary to turn him face again, but I would much rather have preferred a monster heel Shingo Takagi over unit-less face champion Shingo Takagi. We’ll see how it goes. His first title defense will be against Cyber Kong, which should lead to an interesting power battle but an easy first defense for Shingo. Unless Kong reveals himself to be some hyper-intelligent being as opposed to the… whatever he is now and the whole thing was just a set-up. Come to think of it, that’d be kind of awesome.

Since I mentioned the Summer Adventure Tag League, here are the participants:

-Speed Muscle (Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino)
-Taku Iwasa & Kenichiro Arai
-Ryo Saito & Susumu Yokosuka (Open the Twin Gate Champions)
-Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fuji
-Shingo Takagi & Dragon Kid
-BxB Hulk & Naoki Tanisaki
-Yasushi Kanda & Gamma
-YAMATO & Cyber Kong
-The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson)

Speed Muscle, Iwasa & Arai, and Saito &Yokosuka are the only teams returning from last year, while the rest are new combinations. I’m glad to see the Young Bucks in the mix as they have been really making a good name for themselves. They’re West Coast guys who don’t get a whole lot of press in the East, but their tours of Dragon Gate are definitely raising their stock. They’re also being given a shot at Saito & Yokosuka’s titles during Dragon Gate’s LA show. Nick & Matt are a really fun team from what I’ve seen of them and the experience they’re getting will help them in the long run.

ROH’s Tokyo Return
So far it looks like Ring of Honor is set to outdo last year’s shows in Differ Ariake. A partial card has already been announced for their first night there, but the second night has no matches but some big names signed.

I have to say, the smartest idea for their first night there was putting on Nigel McGuinness vs. Bryan Danielson. I can already hear the people complaining that the match has been overdone, but hear me out on this. Their first ever Tokyo show ended with a confrontation between McGuinness and Danielson which got the crowd riled up. It’s perfect to put this on now as it will be completely fresh for a new audience to watch. This match, over the Age of the Fall vs. The Briscoes and most of the matches announced so far featuring Dragon Gate, stars will be the big draw.

The big coup though will be ROH getting “Papa Bear” Kensuke Sasaki in an ROH ring. No, he’s not making the trip to the US, but don’t underestimate the importance of having him appear in a match. Damn, I wish this was last year so I could go to these shows but sadly that isn’t possible. Always next time around I guess.

Here’s some quick, bullet-point news:
-The team of Marufuji & Kento Miyahara from the Kensuke Office has been added to the NTV Tournament in NOAH.

-Kenny Omega, King of the Off-Ring Match and fresh from his Ring of Honor debut is headed to Japan. He’ll be touring with DDT where he has challenged Kota Ibushi to what is being called an Irregular Match. Good times are expected for all.

Weekly Puro
I thought I’d try something epic this week, so here is the match where Naomichi Marufuji became the only Grand Slam champion in NOAH. I enjoy the match quite a bit, but it’s one of those bouts that’s made more memorable because of the way it ended.

NOAH: GHC Heavyweight Championship Jun Akiyama © vs. Naomichi Marufuji

At Home
I recently picked up Chikara’s Young Lion’s Cup VI on DVD and I must say, this is possibly the best trio of shows I’ve seen this year from indy wrestling. The Young Lions concept is simple: hold a tournament with wrestlers under the age of 25 and give the young guys a chance to shine. What is most fun about it is that it leaves everything up to the young guys. They’re not having their hands held by veterans, they’re given a chance to catch people’s attention in a tournament setting. Usually, Chikara students and more well known indy stars will move on but you also get a good mix of guys you’ve never seen before. I love seeing new guys because it feels like with the US indy scene you get stuck with the same set of names appearing everywhere depending on who is popular at the moment. Then there’s the indy fans who think that if it didn’t happen in ROH its not any good at all. I like the established guys, but I always love seeing fresh faces. Even in the WWE, I always get hyped for a new guy no matter what some of the reports say about his skills. I always like seeing what a new guy can bring. Young Lions Cup had some good new guys on the card that stood out. First was Sami Callihan. I don’t even remember what promotion he came from, but he had a solid match with Vin Gerard, but what really endeared him to me and other Chikara fans happened on Night 3:

I didn’t expect to like a psycho character like Sami quite as much, but his devotion to his manic persona was fun. It’s fun little kayfabe homicide threats like that make these DVDs worth the money. Plus, it’s Icarus one of the most fun guys to boo on the roster. Other standouts were guys like Chip Day, Ethan Page, Johnny Gargano, and even last minute replacement for Jason “The Weenie” Blade Christian Faith all had good showings. Best independent shows of the year as far as I’m concerned. ROH can have Hammerstein Ballroom, but Chikara always brings the goods to the Hellertown Star Lanes.

In mainstream wrestling, Mike “The” Adamle is god of Raw. I like that they went ahead with Cena vs. Batista, even though it’s a fairly calculated move. Just in case the Raw main event can’t live up to whatever build it gets, the huge Cena/Batista match will bring in the buys. They’re not blowing their load completely though. If they start building now and keep a steady pace, this could be the WrestleMania main event. The big meeting between these two will be with the title on the line. Chris Jericho has been absolutely rocking in his heel persona. Flashy Jericho is gone, only to be replaced by Jericho in a suit. I see him as a legit title contender now. As for Smackdown… that was easily my favorite Cutting Edge segment of all time. I hope next week Foley puts over the beating and states that Edge is ready for Hell in the Cell. This is the first HITC I’ve been actively looking forward to in a long time.

Short Takes
-Finally saw The Dark Knight. I liked it a lot, but I wouldn’t rate it as high as some people. I really don’t like Christian Bale and parts seemed too dragged out. I’m a lover of long movies, but this didn’t completely click for me. Ledger was amazing though.

-Ron Killings is getting quite a bit of hype for his Smackdown debut. I’m glad that he’s dropping the rapper gimmick though, because it got on my nerves fast.

-With Killings soon to debut, I’m prepared to count the times someone suggests putting him in a new Nation of Domination stable. That is inevitable whenever a black wrestler is about to debut.

-Ricky Ortiz really, really sucks. But at least he was in the ring with Chavo this week and not Estrada. Chavo sold well and it didn’t make Ortiz look like complete shit like his debut with Estrada did. They should be starting guys like Ortiz and Braden “Wild Harris” Walker against the usual jobbers so they look… you know good.

-Mike Knox vs. Finlay has some potential. Knox is developing nicely as a big man and some time working with Finlay could do him good. He needs to go back to using the Backdrop Driver or some huge lariat, because his current finisher is too flippy for my tastes.

That’s all for this week. With luck and a lack of family emergencies I will be back this week with final results for the Fire Festival among other goodies. Peace!

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Matt Short