Future Stars In The Making?

5335108.jpgby Alan Counihan, JarryPark.com contributor

Many have questioned the ability of World Wrestling Entertainment to produce future stars. Furthermore, WWE’s current developmental system has been strongly questioned. The system headed by Jim Cornette and Danny Davis in Louisville (which produced Cena, Orton, Batista and countless others) is now a thing of the past and a new system based in Florida is where the current crop of young WWE hopefuls are learning the ropes. The decision to scrap OVW has been criticized mainly because there are now 70+ guys being trained in one school, all learning the same in-ring style, cutting the same promos etc.

Thus, the output of the system will most likely be a lot of clones. I’m a firm believer that you need a wide variety of characters and wrestling styles on your roster and limiting yourself to just one developmental territory is a mistake when you could have had the Florida territory, the Louisville territory and who knows how many more all over the country. WWE just had one of their best financial quarters ever, so money does not appear to be a problem.

Now, I may be completely underestimating the current system. It may well produce the next generation of main eventers. But what if it doesn’t? In that case, one must look to the current roster and see what guys have the tools to break out and become bigtime players, guys who are only a push away from really making it.

I’ve picked out two wrestlers who fit this category: John Morrison and Lance Cade.

John Morrison:
Strengths: I don’t think WWE could ask for a guy with a better look than Morrison’s. He’s perfect for the character he plays with his movie star looks, Rick Rude-esque body, and, perhaps most importantly, he carries himself like he’s above everyone else. He also gets better every time I see compete in the ring. With the help of Joey (Mercury) Matthews, he became a good tag team wrestler several years ago and in recent years he’s become a great tag wrestler, as evidenced by his current run with The Miz. More important than his tag skills, though, is he’s development as a singles wrestler. He recently had a match with Batista which was, without a doubt, his best singles match ever. The bottom line is that the improvements Morrison has made in his solo efforts have been remarkable.

Weaknesses: His promo ability is still a little weak right now. He can definitely cut an entertaining promo but I’m not sure if he’s able to cut a “money” promo. There’s an important difference between the two.

Chances: Very good. I’d be shocked if Morrison didn’t get a chance to run with the ball at some point in the next two years. He’s got everything Randy Orton has minus the behavioral problems.

Lance Cade:
Strengths: Cade is, as Jim Ross would so eloquently put it, “a hoss.” Wrestlers as big as Lance Cade who move as well as he does are a rare breed. He has improved leaps and bounds as a worker over the last few years after initially not looking like anything special when he initially debuted on the active roster. He’s an underrated talker too.

Weaknesses: He has been stuck in mid-card status for so long that fans might forever view him as a second-tier performer.

Chances: Uncertain. A lot will depend on how his current program with former partner, Trevor Murdoch, pans out. The fact that the turn has been largely forgotten isn’t a good sign.

Mick Foley Needs To Clean It Up

foley.pngVery excited to see Mick Foley back in the WWE mix, especially in his current role. Of course, the hardcore legend is now the color analyst on Smackdown and, in case you haven’t been paying attention, he’s doing, expectedly, a masterful job. Foley seems to understand the business and, more importantly, the art of selling a storyline to the public better than most.

On a seperate Foley note, he appeared on MLB.com’s “The Dish” to talk about meeting Barry Bonds and a bunch of other things. I could have sworn that I saw him wearing the exact same leopard shirt outfit on Smackdown a couple of weeks ago (or was it last week?).

This certainly isn’t new territory for Foley as we all know his wardrobe cycle is quite limited but now that he is representing the sport on the other side of the camera, so-to-speak, I think he needs to clean up his act a little. Basically, the look worked as a wrestler but not so much as announcer.

And before you tell me wrestling announcers are supposed to have their own style (see: Ventura, Jesse) let me say that I completely agree with that notion. Except Foley looks more like the guy who hangs out at the corner of my street than a man wearing sunglasses and boa. I think it must be the hair. I am glad to see wrestling move on from the long hair, fanny pack days. That was a much need evolution. However, it appears as though Foley didn’t get the memo.

I will always love his work but, for some reason, his appearance in this video just sort of rubbed me the wrong way.

Teddy Hart Tells It Like It Is

I am not even sure what to say about this “shoot” video featuring Teddy Hart (record date unknown but given the content discussed it appears to be fairly new). It’s one of the greatest pieces of media I have ever witnessed in my life.

Actually, in all seriousness, it’s kind of sad. Teddy Hart is a wonderful talent when he wants to be. Unfortunately, a lot of other issues keep halting him from truly realizing that talent. In a nutshell, this video highlights some of these issues.

A few years ago, I worked on a wrestling story for HBO Sports’ Real Sports with Bryant Gumble (made famous due to this altercation between Vince McMahon and reporter Armen Keteyian). That piece also featured an interview with a young Canadian wrestler named Teddy Hart.

Hart wasn’t featured all that much in the story except for one quote where he basically said that he would do whatever it took to make it to the top (WWE) and that included taking performance-enhancing drugs. Yup, he said that.

I don’t have a copy of the story so I can’t quote him exactly but, trust me, that’s what he said. None of the producers working on the story really knew who Teddy Hart (other than the fact that he had a famous wrestling last name) but everyone definitely thought it was strange to hear a person in his position, with his family history, say something like that.

Anyhow, from the looks of this video, it appears as though that was just Teddy being Teddy.

All Aboard The Dragon Gate Bandwagon

1.jpgby Alan Counihan, JarryPark.com contributor

On May 5th, the Dragon Gate promotion in Japan ran one of their biggest shows of the year in Aichi. The promotion drew a crowd of 8,000 which is extremely impressive considering Dragon Gate is not one of the “major” Japanese wrestling organizations.

Now, even though most fans don’t consider them a top tier promotion, I would beg to differ. They’re certainly one of the most successful and profitable, that’s for sure. One week prior to the 5/5 event, New Japan ran a show headlined by IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura against puroresu legend Keiji Muto. Guess what? They drew 2,000 less than the Dragon Gate show.

Perhaps more glaring a fact is that All Japan, a company with years of tradition and big names, ran an event last week too, in the same building as Dragon Gate no less, and only drew 3,200 spectators (less than half the Dragon Gate attendance).

Admittedly, All Japan is not the company it once was but this was definitely a big show for them. That said, Dragon Gate out-performing them so drastically is startling to say the least.

For the last couple of years, Dragon Gate’s attendance has been impressive, both at the big show level (their Kobe World Hall show has approached 10,000 consistently) and the small touring show level. They have a good TV deal on Gaora and they make an absolute killing on merchandise. Most Japanese promotions have difficulty generating good business outside of Tokyo, Dragon Gate, on the other hand, excels when it spreads it wings outside of Tokyo.

A lot of fans may not realize that Dragon Gate runs more shows than any other company in Japan, approaching the 200-date range each year. That is only slightly less than WWE and their shows are split across two touring brands. Therefore, the average Dragon Gate wrestler actually work a lot more dates than the average WWE wrestler.

So what are the reasons behind the success? I think the main reason is that they provide an alternative. A Dragon Gate show is unlike any other wrestling show. They have a different in-ring style which has evolved from the training of Ultimo Dragon and the Toryumon and T2P promotions. They also present a unique (based on Japanese standards) style of booking. Their presentation, from the TV production values to the setups at the arenas, is top notch, as well. All of these factors have led to the promotion creating a very loyal fanbase who seem to be exclusively Dragon Gate fans, a unique phenomenon in today’s current wrestling climate. It’s no secret that they have a huge following in the female and gay community and there’s no doubt that they cater to this sector of society on occasion, a tactic that certainly pays off in terms of making money.

A lesson other wrestling/MMA promotions can learn from Dragon Gate is that if you want to challenge the big boys you have to deliver something different out there. You can’t settle by becoming WWE-light or a second rate UFC. Sure, it’s important to have a similar foundation, but you need your own flavor to set you apart from not only the big companies but also the hoards of companies that are attempting to copy them.

I hope everyone will soon realize that Dragon Gate is not just “that small promotion in Japan that has guys come to ROH every year.” No, they’re actually an extremely successful promotion with a large and loyal following to whom wrestlers like CIMA, BxB Hulk, Shingo Takagi and Dragon Kid are big-time stars. If you get a chance to check out Dragon Gate, I cannot recommend doing so enough. This is actually a great time to start watching them as they just re-shuffled a lot of their main factions and there are a ton of new storylines starting up. Bottom line, though, is that their in-ring product will blow you away the first time you see it.

Damn Static…

As I mentioned earlier, I had the distinct honor of being a guest on Fight Network Radio (aka Ranallo on the Radio) today.

We talked a whole bunch of WWE and primarily last night’s episode of RAW and the current direction of the product leading up to Judgment Day this Sunday.

More annoying than last night’s episode was the static that kept popping up every time I spoke. I really hate Vonage.

Anywho, still some good nuggets in there including a quasi-bet I made with Ranallo that if William Regal headlines Summerslam in a match against HHH, I would kiss his Canadian behind.

JarryPark on Fight Network Radio

Pollock’s POV: A Black & White Look At Combat Sports

by John Pollock, JarryPark.com Contributor

The topic of racism reared its ugly head this past week with the suspension of Michael Hayes for racial comments directed at Mark Henry over WrestleMania weekend.

Whether we agree or not, racism is a big part of the combat sports industry where the line between acceptable and unacceptable forms of promotion for a fight are often blurred.

This week, I take a look at the racial fingerprints on the combat sports world.

Pollock’s POV: A Black & White Look At Combat Sports

You can hear much more from John Pollock weekdays at 3 p.m. ET on Fight Network Radio on Sirius channel 186 or via Hardcoresportsradio.com not to mention every Sunday evening at 11 p.m. ET on Live Audio Wrestling.

Has The Return Of Kobashi Been A Success?

by Alan Counihan, JarryPark.com contributor

On December 2nd, 2007, at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan, one of the most memorable and extraordinary comebacks in wrestling history was completed. Kenta Kobashi had overcome serious kidney cancer and follwoing a year and a half away from the ring, he was back to face some of his old rivals. The match was better than even the biggest Kobashi fans (a club of which I’m a card-carrying member) could have hoped for. However the question on everyone’s minds afterwards was whether this was Kobashi’s last great performance. As we entered 2008, Kobashi was set for his first non-Budokan tour dates.

NOAH was obviously taking a cautious approach because he was only booked on two shows during the January tour, both of which were six-man tags. Kobashi was paired with his Burning stable-mates in both bouts and faced off against the likes of Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. The crowd response to each match was unsurprisingly very positive and Kobashi did not look bad at all. However, the next tour saw Kobashi booked for five dates and that’s when things got interesting.

His matches on 2/21 and 3/2 were among the best in Japan this year. 2/21 saw him team with Tamon Honda and rookie Shuhei Taniguchi to face Takeshi Morishima and the GHC Tag Champions, Naomichi Marufuji and Takashi Sugiura. They put on an incredible match with Kobashi seemingly being the spark that lit everyone else in the match on fire. Taniguchi had by far the most impressive performance of his career and the tag champs were tremendous as heels taunting the legend relentlessly including bumping like maniacs whenever he touched them.

However, the most memorable momentwas perhaps the most foreshadowing and that was the interaction between Kobashi and Morishima. They tore into each other inside and outside of the ring and had the crowd going crazy. At the time, everyone knew Morishima was the future of the company and this was proven a month later when he became GHC Heavyweight Champion. A Kobashi vs. Morishima title match, and most likely title change, is bound to happen at some point. If their interaction on this night was any indication we’ll be in for a classic bout.

The 3/2 match was back at Nippon Budokan. This was the first clash between Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama since the comeback and what a match it was. The hatred between these two grew throughtout the match and when the finish came with KENTA getting the pin on Atsushi Aoki, Takayama and Kobashi were brawling at ringside. The brawl didn’t stop and it took an army of wrestlers and referees (many of whom were tossed off the ramp) to pull them apart. This is probably going to be Kobashi’s main feud for the time being and while a singles match may not be too likely (Takayama rarely has singles outings these days), there are a plethora of big-time tags that could be intriguing, especially if KENTA and Minoru Suzuki (fingers crossed) are involved.

Kobashi has been working a lot more dates on the current Global Tag League tour. I recently saw a match of his against D’Lo Brown, of all people, that was fantastic. The tour ends on April 27th at Budokan and, not surprisingly, it’s going to be a continuation of the Takayama feud. Kobashi teams with KENTA and Honda to face Takayama, Takuma Sano, and, most interestingly, Kobashi’s prize protégé, Go Shiosaki.

I don’t think anybody could have asked for anything more from Kenta Kobashi’s first five months back in wrestling. He has had great matches (with 12/2 being a legitimate classic) and seeds have been sewn for interesting feuds down the road. Touch wood, he stays healthy and doesn’t run into the ground by working too much. Quite frankly, every time the man steps into the ring these days, it’s a bonus because most people wouldn’t have overcome the kind of the problems he’s faced in the last ten years. Obviously, most people aren’t Kenta Kobashi.

All Hail The Regal King!

regal.pngby Bob Boyer, JarryPark.com contributor

Monday night, WWE brought back the King of the Ring tournament and built a three-hour edition of Monday Night Raw around it. The tournament itself was full of great stories and action. I particularly enjoyed the champion vs. champion clash between MVP and Chris Jericho, Khali injuring Finlay and William Regal getting lucky by having to face Hornswoggle in the first round as well as an injured Finlay in the semi-finals. We witnessed the ascension of CM Punk to a big time player despite getting pinned clean by Regal in in the tournament finals. King Regal is an easy gimmick but one has to wonder why this prestigious title was given to someone who doesn’t wrestle regularly and is usually made to look like a fool. The optimist in me would hope that he is finally being given the push he deserves while history says he will probably be jobbing to Triple H next week and have his nose up Mr. McMahon’s ass by Memorial Day.

Also on the show was a huge main event featuring all three world Ccampions and all the respective title challengers at Backlash this Sunday. These types of star-studded matches usually turn out great and this was no exception. Who knows, it may have even sold some people on Chavo/Kane II (no…not really).

Finally, as much as I dreaded the proposed Election skit (see: Rosie vs. Trump), I have to admit that it was quite funny. I always wondered where Umaga stood on abortion rights, gun control and taxes. Now I have my answer!

Mornin’ Muesli: Late RAW Thoughts…

hbk.pngby Larry Palacios, JarryPark.com Contributor

* Obviously, the best thing going on WWE television today is the HBK-Batista feud. Interesting to see where things go now with the addition of Y2J.

* Santino stole the show again with his awesome mic skills. Seriously, when is he going to start hosting his own show? If Jericho can have “The Highlight Reel” then “Santino’s Casa” definitely needs to come to RAW.

* As far as Paul London & Brian Kendrick are concerned, I’m still curious to see if they will get a chance to grow much like their carbon copy, The Rockers. I’m not sure if they can be as good as them but they definitely have ton of potential that isn’t being realized right now.

* Very glad to see Mickie James capture the Women’s title as I can’t stand Beth Phoenix. Sure, she’s big and strong but what else is there to like? I know she’s a heel but she’s missing something that I can’t put my finger on it.

* Please wake me up whenever the Cryme Tyme-Cade/Murdoch is over.

* Did you notice Regal nearly suplexing Orton into an early retirement? Every time I see something like that I cringe because we’ve seen so many wrestlers have their careers cut short because of a some neck injury. Luckily, Orton recovered and was able to continue the match. Sure, he might be a bit sore, but other than that he should suffer no ill effects.

* I’ve got to give Hacksaw Jim Duggan credit. The man beat cancer and is still wrestling. No doubt, he’s a shell of his former self, but, hell, if you love to do something then why stop? Especially if someone will pay you for it.

* I’m really not that excited for this Fatal Four Way match at Backlash. Just doesn’t do it for me. First off, didn’t we just see Orton, Cena and Triple H at Wrestlemania? Throw JBL into that mix and it just makes me care less about the match.

* Where have you gone, part I: Jeff Hardy. It’s amazing how much more exciting he made RAW.

* Where have you gone, part II: Joey Styles. Mike Adamle? What a joke.

Zero1-Max vs. New Japan: The Best Is Yet To Come

By Alan Counihan, JarryPark.com Contributor

An interpromotional feud, when done right, can be a thing of beauty. New Japan vs. UWFI, New Japan Juniors vs. NOAH Juniors and ROH vs. CZW are all examples of this. These feuds sparked the interest of the fans, created heated atmospheres, elevated younger stars and utilized established stars better than ever. There is a believability and legitimacy brought about by an interpromotional match that rarely occurs in a regular bout. Invaders are hated more than the average heel and the home company defender is beloved more than the average babyface. It’s a simple formula that many have butchered but those who haven’t have produced some memorable and exciting feuds that will be remembered for years to come.

The latest example of such a feud is the one occurring between Zero1-Max and New Japan. The two sides have been battling since the beginning of the year with an intense hatred simmering with each passing show. Throughout this storyline, the smaller Zero1 has showcased their biggest guns since day one. Ikuto Hidaka, Takao Omori, Kohei Sato and champion Masato Tanaka have all taken post at the front lines backed by younger stars Munenori Sawa, Osamu Namiguchi and Shota Takanishi.

New Japan, on the other hand, have used this feud as a means of giving focus and direction to some their mid-card talent. The best example of this is the use of Koji Kanemoto, a veteran of interpromotional wars past. Kanemoto has been at the forefront, sparking much of the hostility in the beginning and making his impact felt on Zero1 shows regularly. Kanemoto has been backed by the likes of Manabu Nakanishi, Ryosuke Taguchi and a collection of fiery younger wrestlers including Yujiro, Hirasawa and the impressive Tetsuya Naito.

The majority of altercations have taken place on Zero1 turf. Of course on that territory Kanemoto and his teammates are despised while Tanaka and his partners are adored.

However, this feud’s most memorable match actually took place in New Japan. It featured the strong Zero1 team of Tanaka and Hidaka taking on the team of Kanemoto and Naito. This was one of the only matches in this feud that didn’t involve Kanemoto bullying people around and getting tons of heat instead the focus was on the youngster who was by his side. Naito, in the “away” matches was following his partners lead and thriving in a heelish role. Meanwhile, at home, against two established outsiders, he was in for a beating and boy did he get one. He sold every kick, forearm and submission like death and gained so much sympathy from the crowd. He finally got to make a big comeback which resulted in a rocking Korakuen Hall. Of course, he fell in the end to a vicious sliding elbow from Tanaka but he was truly elevated in defeat.

For the most part, the matches on Zero1 turf have been quite stellar. On 4/6 the sides split two big singles matches. Kanemoto defeated Ikuto Hidaka, Zero1’s second in command, and Tanaka defended his belt against Nakanishi. Along with a fiery six-man tag featuring the younger wrestlers, these matches contributed to a show that really gave the feud momentum leading into what could be the blow off – Masato Tanaka vs. Koji Kanemoto on New Japan turf.

Personally, I cannot wait to see this match as these guys have been the central characters throughout this angle and have had heated altercations in many tags. This big singles match was inevitable and we should expect nothing but greatness from these two. It’s safe to assume that the best is yet to come.