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Scout Report by Wrestlingscout
A Look Back at the Year that was 2001
What a wild year it has been with the wrestling world's three capitals have all hit some lows. Like any recession there have been a few winners, but those positive do not outweigh the negatives in my opinion. We've seen companies fail, companies fall, and companies fold. Though we've seen some good wrestling, 2001 will have to be remembered as one of the darkest years in the history of pro wrestling.
Japan's Mixed Martial Arts Boom - the big winner in Japan is unarguably Pride. They've become the biggest and most successful mixed martial arts group in the world and are the top Wrestling/MMA company in Japan. They've been able to be everything UFC couldn't be and even more entertaining than Pancrase was and have created what MMA fans (not necessarily the hardcores though) wanted. Their success has been incredible, but it has not been without consequence. BattlARTS, the shoot style indy that has produced some of the stiffest and best wrestling in Japan closed shop. Then Akira Maeda's worked shoot turned legit shoot group RINGS died as the year came to a close. One has to wonder, where worked shoot and shoot style groups are so popular will one spring up again or will Pride do what none has done before and remain a strong draw?
The popularity of Pride even splashed into New Japan as Kazuyuki Fujita won the IWGP title early in the year and had some of the worst title matches in New Japan history. Inevitably he hurt the title, losing a shoot and then suffering a serious injury, so now the title has been vacated. We also saw Mark Coleman, Gary Goodridge, and Masayuki Naruse all step into the ring and didn't really impress anyone. Kendo Ka Shin also got buried after being annihilated by Ryan Gracie, but received a monster push after winning the rematch via Gracie injury.
Strong Style Struggles - New Japan did have its share of excellent matches though as Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan showed that they're the future of New Japan. All Japan continued to struggle to regain its footing after the split turning to New Japan and Genichiro Tenryu to help them. This meant for some classic interpromotional matches, but the ambiance that should've been there wasn't. Keiji Muto on two of the worst knees imaginable put fourth a superhuman effort and is almost inarguably WOTY. NOAH's first full year was somewhat lackluster by my estimation, though they're still braving the harsh waters and mostly established their new belts and top stars. Zero-One seemed like it may have been the biggest thing in Japan in a long-time, but after doing some great things have been reduced to a very poor off-shoot (no pun intended) promotion. On a good note, their seems to be a resurgence of very good independently promoted supercards that bring in some excellent talent and just have good matches of all styles.
A Comeback for Juniors? - The success of juniors in Japan seems to fluctuate year-to-year depending on if there are hot new stars to captivate audiences or not. The previous year was the year of CIMA, whose well-roundedness, consistently good matches and sex appeal made him a national sensation and boosted Toryumon's popularity. The group had a great year with the Toryumon Army-Crazy Max-M2K feud raging and providing great matches along the way. Though many criticize their redundancy of matches and interference in the finishes, no one can say Toryumon doesn't have the consistently best cards. Michinoku Pro also has had a rebirth of sorts with super junior rudo Dick Togo's return and the pending feud between him and the still-pretty-damn-good Great Sasuke. Osaka Pro still continues to do exceptionally well with their uniqueness, kingpin Super Delfin, and future phenomenon shooter-wrestler Takehiro Murahama. Ultimo Dragon also release his next batch of protégés with T2P, which I haven't seen personally, but have heard very good things about. In the big three (and Zero-One), juniors have had a solid year as well. All Japan used them (for once) to have good openers, Zero-One did the same, NOAH established the junior division All Japan always should've had and New Japan continued to hold excellent bouts between more established juniors. All in all, if you like junior wrestling, the future looks very bright as everyone from Jushin Lyger and Tatsuhito Takaiwa to Naomichi Marufuji and Michael Modest work hard tour after tour.
Around the World - With ECW's pockets empty, Paul Heyman had to turn to the WWF, who hit their greatest height in income with "Attitude" a watered-down version of ECW's hardcore style. For fans in the US, ECW's death meant the death of some classic matches that we've never seen and never will see in the WWF. Personally, ECW was always my promotion of choice in the States as they offered: the most over-the-top stunts and I hate second rate copies, even if its something that I don't particularly care for; the most unique storylines, as in not rehashing their own stuff over and over; the best used wrestlers; and above all they generally had the most exciting pay-per-views. A few months later, WCW was sold to the WWF for a fraction of the price Fuscient Media was trying pay. This propelled a great Flair promo on the last Nitro, the death of the WCW Cruiserweight Division that I thoroughly enjoyed and the beginning of one of the biggest angles that many have waited years to see. In the months that followed we've seen WWF choke worse than anyone could have ever predicted, push away their oldest and most loyal fans, struggle creatively to salvage their losses and eventually turn to their late 90s scheme that hasn't spelled success at the least. In Mexico, AAA, once the powerhouse of lucha libre has become more Americanized and with the exception of a few good workers is repetitive and a poor copy of the WWF style. CMLL on the other hand has been one of the best promotions in the world with some of hottest young talent, the very best veterans, and even a handful of the ex-WCW luchadors. All three groups have made for some of the best lucha action the companies produced in some time. Foreign markets are becoming more important as well following the success of the i-Generation show and dying WCW in Australia, World Wrestling All-Stars has done very well with mediocre talent in the deprived markets of Australia and Europe. This has prompted the WWF to do "Smackdown Asia" in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia in March of next year.
As 2001 draws to a close, I'm thankful its over. I've had a rollercoaster year personally and wrestling was not always the reliable release it has been for me. I'm one who likes to toss out quotes and have people make of them what they will
"Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius." William Blake's Proverbs of Hell
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