Angle, Inoki & IGF
June 12, 2007 by Will Byard
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Japan has a lot of wrestling promotions. An awful lot. A quick count reveals around a hundred groups, between them covering every niche imaginable - You want blood and light-tubes? Then Big Japan's for you. Looking for more of a wacky, WWE-esque 'fighting opera'? HUSTLE might be just your cup of tea.
You'll understand then, that with every base seemingly covered twice over, why the announcement of yet another promotion is hard to get excited about.
That is, unless it's headed up by Antonio Inoki.
Perhaps the second most influential figure in the history of Japanese pro-wrestling, Inoki has been a major mainstream star in Japan since the late 60s, and was the top dog in the country's most successful promotion - New Japan Pro-Wrestling (in and out of the ring) for decades. Following his retirement in 1998, Inoki began to scale back his involvement with New Japan, removing himself entirely a few years back. His new brainchild, the Inoki Geome Federation marks his first efforts at promoting a major show in Japan for 4 years.
Inoki's grand designs are what separates the IGF from the pack. Whilst most new promotions would be content to pull a decent crowd at the 2,000 Korakuen Hall, Inoki's ambitions are always stadium-sized. And with any new promotion of that scale, you're in for some fireworks. After all, where does a brand-new promotion - with one eye on the 60,000 capacity Tokyo Dome - go to find names big enough to bring in the fans?
Point in question. When Inoki somehow secured the services of PRIDE's Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko for his 2003 Inoki-Bom-Ba-Ye show, it set off a series of events that resulted in PRIDE (then the biggest MMA promotion in the world) losing its TV deal, most of its top fighters and ultimately being sold off to rivals UFC.
With a budget of $850,000 and Tokyo's 11,000 capacity Ryogoku Kokugikan to fill, it seemed inevitable that there'd be more shenanigans from the IGF.
As is his wont, Inoki set about building the show around tough, credible athletes - much as he had done with his earlier (failed) Universal Fighting Arts Organization. Whilst only one match had been announced beforehand, the line-up was looking pretty healthy, with the possibility of some very intriguing matches. Confirmed names included Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Kiyoshi Tamura, Josh Barnett, Alexander Otsuka, Yuki Ishikawa, Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman. Perhaps the biggest coup of the lot (and certainly from the perspective of the Japanese media) Inoki poached Naoya Ogawa from rival promotion HUSTLE. An Olympic Judo silver-medalist and a major mainstream celebrity, Ogawa equals column inches, though not necessarily decent matches.
Whilst the acquisition of Ogawa was certainly a spanner in works as far as HUSTLE was concerned, it was that one announced match that was prove the biggest story. Kurt Angle was to fight Brock Lesnar for Lesnar's version of the New Japan's IWGP heavyweight title.
Back story - Lesnar signed with New Japan in 2005 and quickly (like, in his first match) gained their version of the world title, the IWGP (International Wrestling Grand Prix) heavyweight championship. After a disappointing run as champ, New Japan requested Brock drop the belt to bright young thing Hiroshi Tanahashi. Lesnar refused. New Japan fired Lesnar. Lesnar kept their title. Tanahashi then won a hastily put together tournament, received an older version of the IWGP belt, and things carried on as if Brock and his belt had never existed.
Lesnar arrived mid-week at Tokyo's Narita airport complete with belt, proclaiming himself to be the real deal and publicly challenging New Japan's current champ Yuji Nagata. Instead of Nagata however, IGF management instead received a visit from New Japan's lawyers, who threatened legal action if Inoki went ahead with the proposed title match. Knowing full well that New Japan owned the rights to the name,Inoki stopped billing his main event as an IWGP championship match, though confusingly the belt was still on the line. Initials or not however, the message seemed clear; Inoki's crew were the real deal.
0. Munenori Sawa beat Yuki Ishikawa (7:06) by TKO after a Shining Whizard
0. Rocky Romero beat El Blazer (6:09) by referee stoppage (Cross Armbreaker)
1. Kevin Randleman beat Alexander Otsuka (5:09) with a "Shrimp Setting" (modified Powerbomb).
2. Michiyoshi Ohara beat Taka Kunou (6:05) with the Tombstone Piledriver
3. Kiyoshi Tamura & Ryuki Ueyama beat Hidehisa Matsuda & Yuki Kotake (15:00) when Tamura used a Cross Kneelock on Matsuda
4. Josh Barnett beat Tadao Yasuda (4:17) with a Cross Armbreaker
5. Naoya Ogawa beat Mark Coleman (06:44) by referee stoppage (Sleeper Hold)
6. Kurt Angle beat Brock Lesnar (10:36) with an Ankle Lock
Card was poorly received overall, with some wrestlers, notably Ogawa and Barnett, seemingly phoning it in. They didn't sell out the building; though claim a respectable attendance of 8,426. Angle vs. Lesnar was disappointing, though if you've seen Lesnar's efforts in New Japan hardly surprising. Kurt Angle publicly appealed to Nagata for an IWGP unification match, and TNA are billing Angle as IWGP champ.
Plenty of questions coming out of the show - Will we be seeing more of Kurt Angle in Japan? Is there any real chance of a Nagata vs. Angle dream match? Where would they hold it? Will there even be another IGF show? If this whole thing isn't some elaborate angle, how can Inoki expect to use another company's title and not to get sued out of his boots? Time will tell. With Inoki around things may not always be pretty, but they're rarely dull.
by Will Byard (View/Submit your feedback here)..
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