Last week, the Japanese wrestling world was shocked when Pro Wrestling NOAH announced that the legendary, Kenta Kobashi, was released from his contract, which prompted several other wrestlers to announce that they wouldn’t resign with the company out of respect for Kobashi. While Kobashi is without a doubt one of the greatest wrestlers to step into a ring, he’s had several injuries over the past few years and it would probably be a wise decision for him to retire, but he deserves a better conclusion to his career than to be released without a retirement show, which is why in some ways it’s good to see the rest of the roster show respect for him to announce they wouldn’t resign if he was released because NOAH can’t afford the contract. However, this is just the latest in a laundry list of problems for the promotion in the past few years, as the company has declined since the death of the founder, Mitsuhara Misawa, who formed the company in 2000 after several stars left All Japan because of a disagreement with management. After Misawa’s death, the promotion had their TV slot moved to a smaller network and has sporadic TV spots since the show was canceled from the Nippon network. The lack of new stars has been the least of the company problems, as earlier this year, it became public that the was a yakuza ties in the promotion, which lead to the dismissal of some NOAH officials and new rules were enforced to prevent further dealings with the yakuza. An organized crime scandal itself can be enough to cause an organization to shut down, which is evident in the damage it did to Pride a few years ago in Japan, but NOAH survived and continued to promote shows.
Following the news that several wrestlers wouldn’t resign because of Kobashi’s release, the NOAH officials went into damage control and made an agreement that Kobashi could finish his career in a NOAH ring in February of next year, which would allow the promotion to cut costs, while also giving Kobashi the proper retirement that he deserves after a stellar career. With the organization looking to cut expenses and rumors of possibly shutting down after the Yakuza incident, it could be an indication that the promotion might close, which would be a statement about not just the current state of the industry in Japan, but it would also impact the business from a historical stand point as well. As I mentioned earlier, NOAH was formed using much of the roster of All Japan Pro Wrestling, which was started when the legendary, Giant Baba promoted shows and All Japan showcased some of the greatest matches in pro wrestling history, including many NWA world title matches. If NOAH closes, it would be the conclusion of the last link to the classic All Japan that Giant Baba promoted. From a modern prospective, it shows the over saturation of the pro wrestling market in Japan, which is mostly because many wrestlers will form their own company when there’s no reason for it and much of the land scape of the business in Japan is an alphabet soup of promotions that don’t have any major impact on the business. New Japan Pro Wrestling, which is now under new ownership after it was sold a few months ago, is the only promotion that is garnering moderate success at the moment because they are doing what the business in Japan has needed for years, the new stars are used to draw for the promotion.
As great as the legends are, they can’t continue to main event shows when they are past their prime or injuries begin to pile up, which has been the case for Kobashi, as he’s had several injuries over the past few years. If Ric Flair was still a main event wrestler in the WWE, it wouldn’t have the same draw as if there was a current star and while Japan featured more of the history of the business, there needs to be a new generation of stars for the company to be profitable. Just an example of this is in the 80s All Japan had Baba as one of the main event stars as well as several foreign wrestlers, including Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, Terry Funk, and others. While All Japan had the foreign stars, New Japan founder, Antonio Inoki was the top draw for NJPW and then there was a transition to the new stars. All Japan passes the torch to Misawa, Kobashi, and Kawada while New Japan used The Great Muta, Chono, and Hashimoto in the main event in the 90s. Since then, there hasn’t been a real next generation promoted in Japan to draw crowds comparable to previous years. New Japan has the right idea and recently started running Internet pay-per-views, which actually gives them a better way to distribute shows, as not nearly the amount of people in Japan have access to traditional PPV channels as people in the United States so iPPV for New Japan gives more people the chance to see the product.
The point being here, the entire NOAH situation could be an indication of what could take place in the other major companies in Japan if new stars aren’t featured in the main event. Specifically, the only major draw All Japan has in recent years is The Great Muta, who will probably retire soon so again, it’s another company that could scramble to rebuild themselves if they don’t promote new stars. It will be interesting to see if NOAH continues to promote shows after Kobashi’s retirement and it will also be interesting to see the direction of Japanese wrestling in a few years.
Until next week
That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It
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