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2002 - Year of the Juniors

It's not secret by now that three name New Japan wrestlers have left and signed with All Japan. While Keiji Muto and Satoshi Kojima are definite losses, the departure of one Kendo Ka Shin will have strange results. I tend to think his leaving is a foolish err since he had the junior division in his hands, however this may be the greatest gift to New Japan's juniors since Minoru Tanaka signed up.

First and foremost, Jushin Lyger has been granted full control of the division. Secondly, he has a hand in the heavyweight booking for whatever that's worth. The question is how fast can he make this thing boom? With Riki Choshu trying to get his power rolling again, we've got to wonder if he'll try to crush the juniors again and if Lyger will go along with it. I'd say no because there's always a fresh breed of juniors coming up to pop the division and if they get a few they rewind things to 1994. Since Chono took the book a while back the division's been as good as it could be with two bad champions (Ka Shin and Naruse), I think he'll be a laissez-faire head booker.

I found it no coincident that Kaz Hayashi asked out of his WWF contract last week and Jim Ross said he had plans of returning to Japan. Though the WWF probably didn't see losing one of their top five workers under contract as much of a loss, it may very well be a huge gain for New Japan. I recall an excellent Lyger-Hayashi match from `98 that is one of my favorite junior matches. I'd also like to see Hayashi's MIA Jung Dragon counterpart Jimmy Yang join him, though he's not exceptionally good compared to the others there for a twenty year old he's awesome. Realize he's younger than the division's young lions by a few years. Eddy Guerrero has also signed on to tour with the company in the spring, which is either very good or very bad. Guerrero hasn't looked exceptional in some time (I haven't any of his indy spots), so he may just be name coming in and not a talent. Hopefully he will be paired with some youngsters, put them over and help them, basically he'll take Negro Casas' spot. These kind of guys are needed to elevate the division because Lyger and El Samurai can only do so much himself. Best candidates: Eddy Guerrero is actually a very good one; Great Sasuke, if they can get him in for it; Super Delfin, if they can't hook up with MPro; and Takaiwa and Otani would be good, but highly unlikely.

Bringing in fresh faces is a necessity as well. I already mentioned Hayashi as a top-notch wrestler and Yang as a good young wrestler. Personal preferences would also like to see Minoru Fujita as he's wasting away doing various US indy stuff. If they could steal Tiger Mask IV, they would have one of the best junior workers in the world and a top guy for sure. The APW show (which I just reviewed) displayed a handful of moldable gaijins like American Dragon and Low-Ki who can work a style that would interestingly match up with Kakihara reasonably well. Ki, love him or hate him, is extremely versatile and could surely pick up whatever style they put in front of him with time. Don't forget with BattlARTS closing down those guys are still floating around, I think establishing a that sort of a division could be interesting, if not profitable. TAKA Michinoku (and logically Sho Funaki with him) have teased returning to Japan when his contract is up. Though I don't know how much time is left on his contract (I've heard it's up October 2002), I think he could be a good addition for the division and even Funaki as his partner. We'd all like to see Tajiri free of the WWF world, but I think he's content there and the WWF doesn't just let go of workers of that caliber and adaptability.

Let's not forget all the great talent they have right now as everyone is good to great, except for Naruse, but I think he shows promise. They really have a strong foundation, but I think with proper expansion and alliances with outside groups: Toryumon, MPro and/or Osaka Pro, they could have a rebirth of the glory days of the New Japan Junior Division. I think Toryumon should host another J Cup and we'll see one another strong all-junior show to prove no matter how bad the heavyweights get, the juniors never let us down.

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