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Kazuyuki Fujita: Japanese Bill Goldberg?
Ever since Kazuyuki Fujita shocked the mixed martial arts world in Pride's Grand Prix finals show when he scored a huge upset over Mark Kerr, he has been getting bigger and bigger. Though he was not a big star in New Japan before stepping into Pride, Fujita's success in Pride made him a superstar. This gave Fujita's top backer and New Japan big wig the power to push Fujita in the company. Inoki, a fan of Bill Goldberg, hoped to turn this legit fighter into one of New Japan's biggest stars. But will Inoki see the faults of Goldberg along with the strengths? Fujita is a work still in the making.
Objective #1: Establish Fujita as a mixed martial artist.
Pride is the biggest organization in puroresu today and for good reason. It combines the excitement and spectacle of wrestling with reality combat. By bringing in the very best in the world, Pride is the dominant force in MMA worldwide. It also, unlike UFCs, is a place where pro wrestlers can shine. Fujita entered in the Grand Prix tournament, despite the fact he was a nobody in MMA (though he was a three-time national wrestling champ). After a concise first round victory over Hans Nyman came the shocking win over Mark Kerr. Fujita showed he was a capable wrestler and a powerhouse to boot. He continued with wins over UFC and Pancrase legend, Ken Shamrock, and kickboxing extraordinaire, Gilbert Yvel. These wins elevated Inoki's boy in Pride and though one could argue they were over a has-been and a one-dimensional fighter, Fujita's stock had risen substantially.
Objective #2: Give Fujita the IWGP Heavyweight title.
It didn't take long for Fujita to be pushed in New Japan after his successes in Pride. In one of the stiffest title matches ever, IWGP champion Scott Norton battered Fujita, whose strong chin was well-known. In the end, Inoki's protégé was made the champion and a new era of New Japan was born. This was a credit to Inoki, who had always wanted a legit fighter, which is how he tried to appear, to hold the IWGP championship. Though great NHB fighters seldom make exceptional pro wrestlers, Inoki was willing to take that chance on Fujita.
Objective #3: Find opponents for the new IWGP champion.
Inoki knew Fujita needed wins over New Japan stars and MMA stars alike to become a convincing champion. He met the likes of Don Frye, Yoshihiro Takayama, and Yuji Nagata and got victories over all. Frye has been a decent fighter turned pro and has been a definite player in New Japan because of his stellar MMA past. Takayama is a former shoot-style fighter and made for an okay opponent at Pride 14. Nagata seems to be on the verge of winning the IWGP title, but his shot ended in a loss, but the best match of the three. Inoki has also brought in Tadao Yasuda, whose been in Pride; Gary Goodridge, a well-known and charismatic fighter; and Mark Coleman, the Pride Grand Prix champion. All three are potential challengers to Fujita. In fact the three beat Michiyoshi Ohara, Manabu Nakanishi, and Yuji Nagata respectfully in the Sapporo Dome, which drew horribly. Though these guys work in Pride, their drawing ability in New Japan is terrible. It seems for Fujita that he needs a drawing opponent, rather than being a draw himself in stark contrast to Bill Goldberg.
Objective #4: Keep Fujita a credible fighter and pro wrestler.
Fujita's problem is that he needs to increase his acceptance in the pro wrestling without losing sight of his place in MMA. He has been involved with New Japan longer than Pride, but it was the later that made him. The characteristics that make him a solid star for Pride are not what make him appeal to the New Japan fans. Bill Goldberg, who had a football and Sambo background, had an explosiveness to his style and WCW played to his strengths very well. Fujita's strengths can not be appropriately met in a pro wrestling ring, so he needs to be involved in worked shoots or given lesser challengers. But as we recently saw at the K-1 Andy Hug Memorial show, Fujita's legacy can be bruised if he is not careful. Mirko Filipovic caught him with a kick to the head that showed Fujita can sustain head trauma, but not a head wound. The match was stopped and Inoki's boy had lost in under a minute.
Conclusion: Fujita must chose between wresting and fighting.
The biggest flaw WCW made with Goldberg was they did not build him up for as long as they could have. Though having him squash mid-carders was particularly impressive, he met, defeated, and won the Heavyweight title from "Hollywood" Hogan way too quickly. Fujita captured the title almost instantly after he'd achieved great success in Pride. Now he was to bounce between New Japan and Pride, which means one will take a backseat to the other. He cannot afford to lose a shoot, so Pride will always be his first objective. This means Fujita will not be worried about improving as a pro wrestler, which is not as simple as he may take it to be. Fujita should have had a bigger hype, met a better champion, and used his IWGP reign as a break from Pride, not a stepping stone to its main events. Kazuyuki Fujita, like Bill Goldberg, has appeal, but unlike Goldberg it has not been tapped.
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