High hopes of Hase in AJ, AJ/NJ TV 6/96-9/96, my infamous laughable attempt at picking the top 10 wrestlers in the world
The recent addition of Hiroshi Hase should really help All Japan out. Hase was originally a top junior heavyweight wrestler with New Japan, but “graduated” to the heavyweights after dropping the IWGP Jr. Title to Liger on May 25, 1989. Hase was easily the group’s best working heavyweight until he stopped wrestling in 1995 when he won a seat in the Japanese Diet (equivalent to U.S. Senate). Hase, 35, will only work a few dates a year with All Japan because of his political commitments, but they have the potential to be big money matches. AJ’s biggest shows are traditionally the monthy Budokan Hall shows. Aside from a few recent shows, All Japan has sold out every show at the 16,300 seat arena for 5 years. The problem with running a bigger show has been that all the big matches have been done over and over again at smaller arena’s, so they wouldn’t be able to sell out a 50,000 seat arena. Since no one has seen a Hase vs. Misawa match, it should be able to sell out a larger arena. Nobohiko Takada is also available for $27,000 a show, so he could theoretically fight say Toshiaki Kawada on the same card. One thing that should be noted about Hase is that his style is based on skill and workrate (so is All Japan’s which makes him a great fit) and he probably won’t be in that great of shape when he wrestles. Hase is still good enough to have a good to very good match with any of the “big 5" even if he is rusty and a bit out of shape, but it is doubtful that the match will be the classic that it would have been if Hase was in his prime.
I got a chance to see most of the Japanese TV shows from June to September. The best of the Super Jr. Final between Liger and Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) was amazing. The match was one big move after another with great heat. Guerrero was really on the top of his game. Unfortunately, in the Skydiving J main event, Guerrero looked like he was in WCW. The Guerrero vs. Sasuke match, which was the main event was kind of lifeless. It didn’t seem like a major match at all and, although it had some good spots, it was really nothing special. The match made Sasuke look bad because Dick Togo and TAKA Michinoku of his own promotion, Michinoku Pro, fought great matches earlier on the show. TAKA Michinoku has quietly become one of the 20 best wrestlers in the world. He is a super athlete, a great worker, and he’s very innovative. He lacks size and experience, but has tremendous upward potential. Misawa & Akiyama vs. Ace & Williams where Ace & Williams won the double tag team titles was great. Ace is very underrated tag wrester. He might be the best of all the American heavyweight wrestlers, but for some reason people don’t seem to recognize his talents. I guess he still has the “Dynamic Dude” stigma, or people can’t get past his sometimes goofy expressions. Of all the matches, Ultimo Dragon vs. Shinjiro Otani from round 2 of the J Crown was the best, a definite match of the year candidate. It had heat plus all the big moves, near falls, and an innovative finish. Otani was going for a superplex, but Dragon knocked him off the top rope twice which built the heat. The third time Ultimo countered with a top-rope face first superplex which both men sold big. Ultimo got up first and hit a running Liger-bomb for the pin.
There were three moves on the New Japan TV that I never saw before. El Samurai used a super reverse atomic drop, which was basically the old inverted atomic drop, but both men were on the middle rope. Hamada used a leaping swinging DDT off the 2nd where instead of both men starting in the corner he jumped off the middle rope and grabbed his opponent, who was standing in the ring. TAKA Michinoku did the best new move, a double springboard plancha. Michinoku was going to do a regular springboard plancha, but Super Delfin ran around the corner to avoid it, Michinoku then springboarded to the top rope on that side of the ring and hit the plancha on Delfin. This was all done really fast, so it looked great.
If you were wondering about the name of this column, a quebrada is a springboard moonsault bodyblock off the middle rope. The move was invented by Yoshihiro Asai (Ultimo Dragon), so it is also known as the Asai Moonsault. The move is performed both in and out of the ring.
When I decided to postpone Matt’s recent request for a top 10 to put it in my column, I had no idea how hard it would be. I started out with a list of 24 wrestlers and other than a couple of names I really couldn’t justify leaving anyone out. This is based on the wrestlers overall ability, push was not considered. I could sit here and list the wrestler’s accomplishments, but since this looks like a very controversial list I think it makes more since to justify each wrestlers inclusion. Real names and ages in parenthesis. Without further ado, here is in my opinion, the 10 best wrestlers in the world.
#10 Juventud Guerrera (Anibal Gonzalez) (21)-Although he seems forever stuck in the shadow of Misterio Jr., Guerrera is nearly his equal. The main thing that separates him from the rest is his nearly flawless execution of even the toughest moves. Guerrera attempts and has to sell the toughest moves in the sport while working against Rey Misterio Jr., and unlike Sabu he hardly misses any spots. In my opinion, his program vs. Rey Misterio Jr. has produced the best match (3/9/96) and the best fued of the year. If you have only seen him in WCW, where he is totally wasted, then you probably think this is a joke.
#9 Mitsuharu Misawa (34)-Regarded by many as the best wrestler in the world. Hasn’t lost a step despite an age that would suggest he is past his prime. No wrestler combines psychology with work-rate like Misawa. Ability to build a match is almost unparalleled. Can wrestle a 30-minute match and still get each move to build toward the climax. Early in his career he had the unenviable task of following Sayama as the 2nd Tiger Mask, but stepped up to the plate and the rest is history. If you just listed all the 4+ star matches he has been a part of it would fill a book.
#8 Chris Benoit (29)-The expressionless wrestling machine. Doesn’t have great charisma and doesn’t do a very good interview, but in the ring few are better. He is probably the best pure worker in the sport. Can match almost anyone hold for hold. His WCW work has dropped him a lot on my list. He is much better in Japan where he has a defined role (New Dynamite Kid) and can work stiff. He has had tons of great matches including The Super J Cup Final (4/16/94) vs. Sasuke, which is one of the five greatest matches of all time.
#7 Shinjiro Otani (24)-The most versatile wrestler in the sport. Can work any style. Works to the strengths of his opponents so he can have a great match against any capable wrestler. Was one of the two best (Yugi Nagata) in New Japan in working the UWF-I style. Has great charisma to go along with his great matwork, technical skill, aerial skill, psychology, and facials. The sky is the limit as he is only going to improve.
#6 Ultimo Dragon (Yoshihiro Asai) (29)-Defeated Sasuke for the octuple Jr. Titles on 10/11. One of the great innovators of the Jr. style. Invented several maneuvers during his career. Originally tried out for New Japan, but was deemed too small and they didn’t take him. He went to Mexico and became a great worker and a huge star. All the years of performing daredevil maneuvers (and the injuries that accompany them) are catching up. Due to his injuries he can’t wrestle his best possible match every night. He can wrestle up to and in many cases above anyone when he wants to though. No wrestler can work the Japanese junior style and the Lucha style as well as Ultimo.
#5 Great Sasuke (Masanori Murakawa) (27)-Trained by Ultimo Dragon. Founder of Michinoku Pro Wrestling which he runs, recruits talent for, books, and is the top star of. His style blurs the lines between the Japanese jr. style and Mexican Lucha Libre style. Took daredevil maneuvers to a new stratosphere. Has to be very seriously injured to miss a match. Will give you his heart and soul whether there are 50 people in the crowd or 50,000.
#4 Kenta Kobashi (29)-Kobashi is the most talented and best working heavyweight wrestler ever. Extremely versatile wrestler who incorporates all styles into his matches. This allows him to work to the strengths of his opponents and mask their weaknesses. Master of psychology. Great stamina. Will always give you at least three match of the year candidates.
#3 Manami Toyota (25)-Gives 110% every time out and is unhappy if her match isn’t the best. Fights extremely fast-paced matches despite the fact that her matches are generally 20 minutes long. Takes way more bumps than she has to. It is a disappointment if her match isn’t at least 4 stars. Unfortunately, it looks like injuries and age (women tend to peak at 22-23 years old) are catching up to her. Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs. Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki 4/11/93 and Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue 5/7/95 were the best matches of their respective years and among the best of all-time.
#2 Rey Misterio Jr. (Oscar Gonzalez) (21)-Wrestling’s premier aerial wrestler. The greatest innovator of moves since Satoru Sayama. Matches are nearly flawless with great timing and superb execution. Can do it all. A threat to have a match of the year any time he sets foot in the ring. If promoted properly his lack of size would be a bonus, but don’t expect WCW to ever realize that. Should be one of the top wrestlers for several years, but may not hold up for two reasons. He doesn’t take any time off to let his injuries heel and he allows himself to be overbooked.
#1 Jushin “Thunder” Liger (Keiichi Yamada) (31)-One of the great innovators of wrestling. Very influential wrestler who set the standard that his predecessors have attempted to copy. Knows more holds than anyone in the sport. Best technical wrestler. Great psychologist. Can work a great match against any style of opponent. Doesn’t fly as much as he used to, but picks his spots well. Can work high spots into a shoot style match without losing any realism. Books the juniors for New Japan. As unselfish a booker as there is. Willing to do jobs to much lesser opponents for the better of the company. Great at selling his opponents moves. Makes sure his opponent gets over, usually makes you look like a star whether you are or not. Major injuries caused him to miss a lot of 1993 and 1995. 1/31/90 match vs. Naoki Sano was probably the best match ever when it occurred. Has had too many great matches and fueds to list. Has slowed up some, but has improved his psychology, mat skills, and transitions. Still has a lot of great work left in him.
Note: Originally published 10/18/96, still haven't lived down Kobashi as "master" of psychology Quebrada #3
Konnan/Antonio Pena split, Kawada/Kobashi 60:00 draw, Pancrase Tokyo Tough
There is a huge amount of turmoil in Luchaland, which probably comes as a surprise to nobody. The current situation is a lot more important than the usual squablings between promotions. I will go back a few years in an effort to try to make sense out of this, but there are so many problems that this may be a bit confusing. AAA was formed 4 years ago when EMLL’s booker Antonio Pena split with the group. Televisa, which is Mexico’s number one TV network, owned the company and produced AAA’s TV shows. Pena brought a lot of the top EMLL talent with him, so he had big draws from the start. Their situation was similar to WCW’s in that they were a small part of a large corporation, so they could operate in the red and write off debts if need be. Needless to say, AAA was a big hit from the start. They built the promotion around Perro Aguayo, Cien Caras, and Konnan who were all great draws. In their 1st year, they were able to sell out a bullfighting arena that holds approximately 50,000 for their Triplemania card with a Konnan vs. Cien Caras retirement match as the main event. Konnan lost the match due to Jake the Snake’s interference, but as you can guess his retirement didn’t last long.
Things ran as smoothly for AAA as they ever do in Mexico, but the Mexican economy kept getting worse. Televisa was affected by the weak economy and was forced to downsize. In March of 1995 they ended their ownership of AAA. This left Antonio Pena in total control. Pena had basically the same duties as Paul Heyman in ECW in that he both ran the group and did the booking. Without Televisa, AAA had to make cuts. Initially they got rid of the props such as the models that accompanied the wrestlers, the video wall, etc. They had to run fewer shows because they couldn’t afford to run money losers. In May of 1995, Pena lessened his workload by dividing his group into territories. Each territory was run by an established AAA star with Pena overseeing. Konnan was put in charge of all international bookings. The other established stars got territories in Mexico, but this didn’t work out well because ½ of them such as Rey Misterio, Sr. and Misterioso winded up leaving the promotion. AAA had so many wrestlers that it was hard to give them all enough work (at one point they had something like 200 wrestlers under contract). This was made worse by the fact that the bad economy forced the local bookers that Pena lent his wrestlers to for a commission to either run fewer shows or close shop totally. Two of AAA’s biggest stars, Fuerza Guerrera and Blue Panther basically formed a new league called PROMELL. They got some AAA wrestlers to jump, but Fuerza couldn’t get his own son to leave AAA because he preferred working with his friends Misterio Jr. and Psicosis. PROMELL didn’t experience much success.
Konnan’s took over promoting the border shows and he changed the style significantly. His new Extreme Lucha Libre was a Mexican version of ECW. The shows had excessive brawling (often with little structure), stiff chair shots, and table breaking. He re-did some of ECW’s most famous angles such as Dreamer being crucified. At this point, Konnan aligned himself with ECW and booked his friends Psicosis, Rey Misterio Jr., and Juventud Guerrera into the promotion. This new style brought Pena tons of heat from the commission in Mexico. The commission didn’t approve of several of the angles run and they suspended Konnan and some of his wrestlers on a few occasions. These suspensions were usually reduced or dropped once the commission’s palms were greased. The fans in Mexico react differently to angles than anywhere else in the world. The fans rioted during some of the shows because one of their favorites was laid out. Some of the shows, particularly in Tijuana, had tremendous crowd heat, but in other areas the fans didn’t react at all and walked out during the show.
Konnan used basically the same group of wrestlers on all his shows, which pretty much alienated all the AAA workers who weren’t getting booked. On the regular AAA shows that Pena booked, there was a split locker room with Konnan and his friends whom he booked and all the other wrestlers that were getting half the work because Konnan didn’t book them. Konnan also had problems with the established AAA stars such as Perro Aguayo (not that they got along well before), Octagon, Cien Caras, and Los Villanos. The aforementioned wrestlers were opposed to the new style because, among other things, it was a lot more dangerous. They figured that at their age they didn’t need to be powerbombed through a table to get over. The situation only got worse when Konnan started booking his friends into WCW. Even though the AAA wrestlers (other than Konnan) make less than anyone who is anyone in WCW they still make more working WCW than they do working AAA. You can understand why Konnan would be resented when he was shutting most of the wrestlers out of the “big money.” To Konnan’s defense, WCW is only going to book so many luchadores and they can’t promote them using a revolving door style. WCW can’t even figure out how to use the small group of Mexicans they have now without dividing the bookings between 30 wrestlers. Between Konnan’s shows, WCW’s shows, and for Misterio Jr. & Psicosis WAR’s shows Konnan’s crew had little time left to work the regular AAA shows. This was a big problem for Pena because most of his best workers were unavailable for his shows. The fans realized they were getting a watered down card and attendance dropped.
PROMELL, now owned by TV Azteca, became Promo Azteca or ProAzteca depending on where you see the name. TV Azteca is a major network, but not as powerful as Televisa. Azteca got Cien Caras to jump from AAA to join his two brothers and reform Los Hermanos Dinamitas. Luckily for AAA they got a new TV contract with Televisa in late 1995 where Televisa had some money interest in AAA.
Pena took some of Konnan’s power away including reclaiming the Baja California territory, which was doing good business. This pulled the plug on what would have been Konnan’s biggest show to date. The show was planned for 11/1 in Tijuana with a Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Misterioso in a mask vs. mask match. Pena was also unhappy that he didn’t receive a commission for lending his talent to WCW. Pena was able to work out a deal with WAR for a commission. Psicosis and Misterio Jr. were told by WAR they were getting a raise from $1,500 per shot to $2,000 per shot, but when they got their check they were for $1,600 per shot and they were told the missing $400 was Pena’s commission. Many of the wrestlers are unhappy about low pay.
Konnan & Pena also disagreed about AAA being on the new 24 hour combat sports channel in Japan. Konnan thought Pena should take roughly $1,750 a week for the show, but Pena decided to hold out for more money. I am not a businessman, but when you look at all the money AWF is shelling out for middle of the night slots this seems like a decent deal to me. It’s not like they have to produce another show. This would also be good for AAA because they don’t have a TV show in Japan. It would be easier to get their wrestlers booked in Japan if they had TV exposure. With no TV exposure in Japan, the fans are only familiar with the wrestlers through the magazines. Instead of being a name that could put fans in the seats, every new guy booked in Japan, no matter how talented, has to get over in Japan.
Konnan and Pena split and Konnan took his crew to Promo Azteca. The deal reported in the Wrestling Observer between Konnan and TV Azteca (Promo’s owners) looks pretty good for Konnan. The following points should assure that most if not all of his crew will jump because they are guaranteed to make at least what they were making with AAA. The deal states that Azteca won’t charge any commissions for deals already done with the wresters that jump. WCW (which pays better) gets priority on all dates with the wrestlers they are currently using. The wrestlers would be allowed to be booked by any promotion worldwide with the exception of Televisa shows. This means that they could work EMLL house shows (the matches couldn’t air because EMLL is also on Televisa), but not AAA. They will earn the same amount per match as they got with AAA. The group will have two TV shows per week on TV Azteca. One will be the traditional Lucha Libre style and the other show will be Konnan’s extreme Lucha Libre style. Konnan will be in charge of the extreme show, which is on a two-month trial basis. I can’t imagine what will happen is Azteca decides to cancel the show on Konnan. The extreme show will be held outside of Distrito Federal which means the commission won’t be able to do as much about the content of the show.
There is going to be a big scramble for talent in the next week or so. Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, & Super Calo have jumped. I am not sure if this will affect WCW in any way. I think all these wresters will stay with WCW because that’s where they make the best money. The only way they will lose their WCW job is if Pena works out a deal with WCW. WCW is supposed to be interested in EMLL’s Miguel Perez Jr., Felino (brother of Negro Casas and Heavy Metal) and Mr. Niebla. Perez is a super worker and he is fairly big, so could be a real asset to WCW. If those three jump, they will most likely end up with Azteca. There was a press conference televised on TV Azteca this week where Konnan ripped Pena several new holes. This was reported on RSPW by Bob Barnett. Konnan said you have to perform sexual acts to get pushed by Pena. He also said Pena is a cocaine addict and he keeps wrestlers as addicted indentured servants. Konnan should be careful of what he says because the way things go in Mexico he may be looking to return to AAA down the road. Supposedly Perro Aguayo, Los Destructores, and the original Mascara Sagrada were there and said they were jumping. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Destructores and Aguayo have been against the extreme style all along. Aguayo doesn’t get along with Konnan and probably likes his booking less than any of the AAA wrestlers. I can see Sagrada because he wasn’t getting along with Pena and jumped to EMLL. Sagrada also wasn’t happy with Pena for keeping the gimmick and using another wrestler in it. To Pena’s defense Mascara Sagrada (which means sacred mask) was the first gimmick Pena ever created, so it obviously has sentimental value and he wanted to keep the gimmick in his promotion. This isn’t nearly as bad as the imposter Diesel or Ramon’s because Sagrada wears a mask and a full body outfit. The new Sagrada is also a far superior worker than the original.
The two top foreign stars in Mexico Konnan and Vampiro will form a tag team. This is interesting because the two have been rivals since Konnan left EMLL and to put it mildly they haven’t been the best of friends. I am not sure if these wrestlers have jumped yet, but I expect Halloween, Leon Negro, Damian, Tinieblas Jr., and probably Pierroth Jr. to jump. Hijo Del Santo may join the group, but so far he hasn’t. Ultimo Dragon may leave if it will help him get a job in WCW. Octagon and La Parka probably can’t leave AAA because Pena owns the rights to their gimmicks. Both got over because they have strong gimmicks, so unless they can get the rights they aren’t going anywhere. Fuerza Guerrera who was one of the founders of PROMELL is now returning to AAA. He no showed his first date with AAA though. Latin Lover should stay with AAA because Pena likes to have wrestlers with the pretty boy stripper gimmick. I don’t expect Los Villanos or Heavy Metal to jump either. The only thing that is definite about all this is that there will be a lot of talent movement back and forth for the next month or two.
The 10/18 Triple Crown Title match between champion Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada was a 60:00 draw. I haven’t heard about the quality of the match, but it should be on this week’s TV show. Based on last January’s 60:00 draw this will probably be a match of the year candidate. Budokan Hall wasn’t sold out again. I don’t know if this is a sign that Kobashi isn’t over as a champion or people figured they could watch the K-1 special on TV for free. K-1 had the return of Masaake Satake, who was the best of the Japanese kickboxers a couple of years ago, not that this says much. Satake has been out with an injury for a year and a half and his return match was against top star Andy Hug. That match drew a 27.5 rating, which is phenomenal. The entire show averaged a 15.6, which is a better rating than the Tokyo Dome shows get these days. Despite being the premier worker in All Japan and possibly the world, Kobashi doesn’t really have any big wins under his belt. When he won the title from Taue it was the first time he ever pinned him in a singles match. He has never pinned Kawada or Misawa in a singles match. Since perception is more important than ability when it comes to drawing power, he could be considered a weak champion. This does not mean that the Japanese fans do not respect Kobashi because he is very popular and they knew he was something special years ago. All Japan is a traditional group and their philosophy has been to let the youngest wrestler get pinned in the big matches. Kobashi is younger than Misawa, Kawada, and Taue so over the years he was usually the one doing the job in the major tag and singles matches. Kobashi had been teaming with Misawa for the past couple of years and Misawa does about 1 job a year, so every time the team lost (which wasn’t often) Kobashi went down. Now they have Kobashi teaming with Patriot, so Patriot does the jobs, but he limits the match and the extent the team can be pushed. It is possible All Japan is changing the youngest does the job philosophy because on this show Dory Funk Jr., Giant Baba, and Akira Taue beat Misawa, Jun Akiyama, and Tomomi “Jumbo” Tsuruta when Taue used his nodowa otoshi (variation of the chokeslam) on Tsuruta. Traditionally Akiyama would have done the job here. Tsuruta who was one of the biggest stars in Japan from the 1970's-early 1990's, but he got hepatitis and that took him from being the best wrestler to a guy with no stamina that isn’t even average. Tsuruta is still highly respected, but for his past and now he generally fights in the comedy match with all the other wrestlers who are passed their prime. This was actually the first job he has done since he returned from hepatitis.
If you have any interest in legitimate fighting then you should check out Pancrase PPV on November 3. In my opinion, Pancrase has the most talented group of fighters. Due to the high talent level and their familiarity with each other (basically all the natives train with Masakatsu Funaki and all the foreigners trained with now departed Ken Shamrock) it was becoming nearly impossible to get a submission and most of the matches were draws. They made some rule changes that started on this show such as standing the fighters up when there was a stalemate or no action. This resulted in a lot more strikes, which leads to more victories by knock out. The new style is more like Muay Thai with submissions. While I would rather see a strategic technical match, that style has less overall appeal because most people haven’t been educated to it. This show was said to have been far more exciting and brutal than any Pancrase show to date. It has also been billed by some as the greatest Pancrase show to date. Yuki Kondo vs. Frank Shamrock and Bas Rutten vs. Masakatsu Funaki were supposed to be incredible matches. Both were mainly stand up fights with a lot of high impact blows. I look forward to seeing them for myself.
Note: Originally published 10/26/96
More on Konnan/Pena split, AJ tag league preview, Michinoku tag league preview, Liger vs. Otani 3/17/96 review
There have been some new developments in Mexico regarding the split between Konnan and Antonio Pena. Last week I mentioned that there would be two TV shows. One show will be traditional Lucha and the other Extreme Lucha. PROMELL will keep its name and that will be the traditional show. Mascara Ano 2000 is now president of PROMELL. Top draw Cien Caras has joined PROMELL to reform Los Hermanos Dinamitas with his brothers Mascara Ano 2000 and Universo 2000. Konnan’s group will be Promo Azteca and they will have the Extreme show. This basically means that TV-Azteca will be running two separate wrestling companies with separate TV shows and different styles and identities. This will probably lead to a promotional feud later on, but right now I don’t think one group will use many of the other groups wrestlers.
Promo Azteca’s talent roster includes all the former AAA wrestlers that work WCW plus Vampiro. The also got Robin Hood, Frisbee, Halloween (now in WCW), Damian (now in WCW), and Mini Frisbee (will now be Metro Konnan). WCW wrestlers may be used as foreign talent. I haven’t heard any more about Perro Aguayo leaving AAA, not that his leaving made any sense to me in the first place. Tinieblas Jr., whom I thought would jump, decided to stay with AAA because his pay was doubled from $140 per match to $280 per match. As low as that sounds, $280 per match is huge pay by Mexican standards and puts him above most of country’s top stars. You can see why a WCW contract seems like winning the lottery. Pierroth Jr., AAA’s top heel, is expected to leave for Promo. AAA didn’t tell him about their strategy meeting on how to deal with what was happening and when he found out and showed up the meeting was canceled because they were afraid he would leak the information to Konnan.
Some more reasons cited for the split by Konnan were the prominence of AAA heel ref Tirantes. Konnan didn’t like his gimmick (slow counts for faces & fast counts for heels and missing key infractions by the heels such as fouls), nor the fact that he is the focal point of several matches, which takes away from the performers and makes him a bigger star than many of them. Konnan didn’t like the announcing because instead of calling the matches they make jokes and try to get themselves over (wonder what he thinks of the job WCW does, particularly with Juventud and Calo). The press clapped when he cut up the announcing. It’s nice that someone in North America other than ECW cares about announcing and realizes that it is the key to getting wrestlers over, which should lead to making money. Aside from the original Sagrada’s comments about Pena and Aguilla de Acero’s (Sagrada Jr.) sexual preferences, he also claimed the wrestlers don’t see any money from TV or commercial video (AAA doesn’t do commercial tapes, but he was talking about a Japanese company video taping a show for Japan release only). Sagrada said 2% of AAA wrestler’s earnings go to a retirement and injury fund union that doesn’t even exist. This was all on National TV and covered by the nightly news and print media in Mexico.
Juventud Guerrera went on tv and spray painted his AAA title belt. Then he called Antonio Pena a fag and threw the AAA belt in the trash. This sounds like WCW’s NWO spray painting angle combined with the Madusa jump. To my knowledge this has never happened in Mexico, so it would be a real shock.
Supposedly IWA Japan is not going out of business. They have shut operations down, but supposedly will start running cards in early 1997. This is good news, but the shutdown may cause their remaining fans to switch to another garbage wrestling promotion like Big Japan or Tokyo Pro Wrestling.
All Japan’s Real World Tag League tournament starts on 11/16. The tournament is being run differently this year. They have cut the number of teams down to 7 and teams will meet each other twice instead of once. Having each team fight each other twice is good for the fans in the smaller Japanese cities because they will get the same big matches as the big arenas. Other than that, I can’t see this as a good move because it is obvious what will happen, splits. The top teams will most likely beat the bottom feed and split with each other. The fans have already caught on to the split idea when it comes to the big interpromotional matches featuring guys like Takada and Tenryu. In the interpromotional dream matches the first match was highly anticipated because you had two big stars whom in many cases hadn’t fought each other before. On the other hand, the rematch had less overall interest and did worse at the box office because you knew the wrestler who won was going to return the favor by doing the job.
Another reason this tournament doesn’t look that great is the teams themselves. You have three potential winners in Steve Williams and Johnny Ace, Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama, and Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue. The other four teams, Kenta Kobashi & Patriot, Stan Hansen & Takao Omori, Jun (formerly Ryukaku) Izumida & Giant Kimala II, & Gary Albright & Sabu, don’t have much chance. Kobashi & Patriot will most likely come in fourth, with Patriot doing most if not all of the jobs. Hansen was once a great wrestler, but he is so far past his prime now. Since Hansen is a legend he will be protected and Takao Omori will be doing jobs like he did in the 1995 Champion Carnival Tournament (he was winless). Izumida & Kimala II have been getting a push recently, but neither is that good and they aren’t legitimate stars. Albright and Sabu could be an interesting team. Albright is heavily pushed, so I doubt he will do too many jobs. On the other hand, Sabu is liable to walk out on the company if they job him too much. Sabu’s contract is only for one tour though, so if he starts making a bunch of demands he won’t be back. Sabu will not fit in with this group at all. His weaknesses, such as being devoid of any psychology and mat skills were all too apparent during his New Japan stint and he was working with super workers like Koji Kanemoto & Eddy Guerrero there. Not to say that All Japan doesn’t have super workers, but considering he was allowed to use his props in New Japan ( I doubt you will see him breaking tables in traditional All Japan) and the New Japan style is more like what he is used to working, it seems inevitable that he will be exposed once again. Maybe Sabu can learn psychology and how to build a match, but I’d be surprised if he tried and even if he did it’s not something that comes right away. This tournament will produce some great matches, but there aren’t enough contenders and the talent of the non-contenders isn’t Furnas and Kroffat quality. Overall, I’m sure it will be a good tournament because there will be some excellent and great matches to balance off the junk, but seeing these high quality matches two more times in such a short span just increases the burnout factor that much faster.
Michinoku Pro’s annual “Michinoku Futaritobi” tag team tournament began on October 30. This tournament looks a lot more intriguing because every team has at least one of the group’s top stars. The six teams are Great Sasuke & Kato Kung Lee (1995 winners), Super Delfin & El Hijo Del Santo, Dick Togo & Shiryu, Taka Michinoku & Shoichi Funaki, Gran Hamada & Naohiro Hoshikawa, and Tiger Mask & Gran Naniwa (last year Naniwa & Delfin were runners up). The only real weak link is Kung Lee because he is well past his prime. This should be a very exciting tournament with lots of great high spots because everyone in it can fly. I expect this to be booked like a New Japan tournament (parity and even booking throughout). Super Delfin & El Hijo Del Santo are probably the favorites and they have already defeated Sasuke & Lee. I don’t know the status of Santo’s contract with the group, but even if he is only in for one tour I doubt his team will do worse than the finals.
The year is coming to a close, which means it’s about time to start filling out your awards ballot. I thought it would be interesting to review one of the top foreign matches each week, so even if you haven’t seen them and don’t vote for them at least you will have a better idea of why they are great and on the list.