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New Japan: Power Rankings (11/10/17)

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New Japan Logo

New Japan is still a big mystery to a lot of fans, since many only started following it this year. It makes a little bit of sense to do a pre-Wrestle Kingdom Power Ranking, just because NJPW is very good at having Wrestle Kingdom be the end of the year’s storylines instead of just an excuse to drag things out. New Year’s Dash will start to shake things up immediately, so the start of 2018 will be interesting.

5. Hiromu Takahashi w/ Daryl

One of the few wrestlers who’s character and stuffed best friend translate to the Western crowd without needing to be involved in the title scene all the time. He’s got a great look, great in-ring ability, got a stuffed cat so over that when the internet thought he was dead, we collectively had vigils and even ROH wrote an apology for him not being at future shows.

Plus, thanks to his hockey outfit at Power Struggle, he was able to insert himself into the Fatal 4 Way at Wrestle Kingdom 12 for the Junior Heavyweight Championship. So it should be nice to see if he can get Mr. Belt back.

4. Hiroshi Tanahashi

The Ace of the last decade, went from having a down year to now one of the most overlooked years. His trilogy with Tetsuya Naito is arguably a more solid all around feud than Omega vs Okada, but, because of the hype around Kenny and Kazuchika and how over the top the first two were, that trilogy was gonna be the “feud of the year” since June…just because fans already had it in their heads.

Now at Power Struggle, Tanahashi and Ibushi had to follow up the Chris Jericho news, so people were more like “It was a great match…BUT JERICHO”.

It’s hard to really believe that he’s been seeing such great success this year, at his age, and after tearing his bicep (which is still torn) . So if he can get placed on the card to not get overshadowed by perception, then people may get an idea of his character and his ability to work.

3. Kenny Omega

Some may argue that he should be higher, but the two people ahead of him, had his number this year. Even though he got his win on Okada, it was still a weakened Okada and the match was still close.

Kenny benefits heavily from the “cool factor” and the fact that he speaks Japanese and English fluently, so there’s no language barrier disconnect with fans.

The big news for him going into Wrestle Kingdom is the Jericho match, but win, lose or draw — it won’t effect his status in New Japan. Bullet Club, The Elite and him alone are still so over, that as long as he comes back to the company in 2018, he will still be billed as a Top 3 guy.

2. Tetsuya Naito

The challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, and the best character in New Japan. He’s had the most intriguing storylines of 2017, the best trilogy and won the G1 beating the man who kept him out of the finals last year (Kenny Omega).

Everyone believes it’s a lock that Naito wins at Wrestle Kingdom as the payoff to his storyline from 4 years ago of his last failed briefcase challenge that got down voted to Semi-Main Event. However, if the Chris Jericho angle doesn’t prove it, New Japan is always full of surprises.

2018 could be a new era with Naito, but until he overcomes Okada, he’s got to be second.

1. Kazuchika Okada

*drops mic and explains nothing cause it’s not necessary*

What? You need reasons? PWI #1, master of the Match of the Year, carries lower card wrestlers to a “5 Star” match, got the biggest pop of G1 Special in California Day One, and he’s now the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion (single reign).

He elevates most wrestlers he’s paired again, elevates anime that he makes cameos in (World Trigger), and he has the look of a champion…you really can’t look at the man and not think he’s a main eventer.

After winning his 2 year feuds with Tanahashi and Styles, it cemented him as the new Ace, and until he retires or if he just severely falls apart, he will be a legend within 5 years. He’s already highly regarded by Eastern and Western fans, so he doesn’t have many more heights to climb to.


Does this really come as a surprise to anyone that follows New Japan? Probably not, the 5th place could be Kushida (his wrestling is phenomenal but his character didn’t make as huge of an impact as Hiromu and Daryl), but the top 4 have been the top guys for about 2 years now…so all the surprise faces may become meh faces. After Wrestle Kingdom 12 we can see where the New Year’s Dash takes us new story wise and we may get a little movement in the top guys.


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Is Shinsuke Nakamura Right Where He Belongs In WWE?

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Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the top stars working in the pro wrestling business today. That’s due in large part of course to his proven track record in New Japan Pro Wrestling. But it’s also due to his time in WWE. But some fans are wondering where he stands today.

Nakamura is a born entertainer, there is no denying that. He has the ability to turn on his charisma at the push of a button and it may very well be that he never turns it off. Shinsuke looks and acts like a star because he is one. He has a full understanding of how to play the game and very few play it better than he does. So is he right where he belongs?

Many would argue he’s not and that’s understandable. He was so hot in New Japan that imagining him as anything any less was impossible when he left the company. He was the rockstar of New Japan and he embraced that role like no one before him ever had. It was logical to assume that his success would directly translate to WWE’s main stage.

Of course that assumption was perhaps not rooted in reality. WWE didn’t exactly have the best track record when it came to promoting Japanese Superstars. Then there was the fact that many independent talents were often encouraged to change their gimmicks upon arriving in Vince McMahon’s company. But there was reason to hope for the best.

This is not the same WWE that so many indie stars encountered in the past. This WWE embraced the independent scene and used that fact to its advantage. WWE does not force a guy to change who he is, merely for the sake of trying something new. In fact many Superstars are now extensions of their former selves. WWE allows them to bring what they have to the table so they can expand upon it.

It’s true that WWE’s treatment of Japanese talents has been less than stellar but Shinsuke Nakamura is an exceptionally gifted athlete. There was just no way that WWE, or any other company, could ever look at him and not see him for the star that he is. So if he’s allowed to be himself and if he’s given an opportunity to impress on the main event level, then what would stop him from excelling in WWE?

Shinsuke Nakamura came in like a star and that’s exactly how he was booked. WWE did right by him and much to everyone’s surprise, Shinsuke did get the red carpet treatment. He conquered NXT, just as many knew he would. But he also received an impressive amount of spotlight when he came to the main roster. 

Nakamura was presented as a respected athlete known around the world because that’s exactly what he is. The company knew what it had with him and any doubt as to WWE’s ability to properly book him was gone. This was the Shinsuke Nakamura that everyone wanted. He was the real deal.

But somewhere along the way, things began to go a bit south. Nakamura’s heel turn at WrestleMania 34 was shocking and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it was completely out of character for him. Yes, Nakamura had been a vicious heel in New Japan. He was fully capable of turning on anyone at any time and he would do it with a smile on his face. However, that was The King of Strong Style. 

This Nakamura is The Artist. His canvass is the WWE ring and his artwork is beyond compare. Shinsuke was popular because he was different. He was over because he was unique. His flair for the dramatic set him apart from everyone else and it made him a must-see WWE Superstar. He was indeed an attraction.

But the moment he turned on AJ Styles was the moment he put the WWE Championship above his art. Nakamura was no longer an exceptional character capable of wowing an audience of millions. Now he was just another heel with an agenda. What made him special was overshadowed by what made him typical. Shinsuke was just like everyone else. But is that really the case?

Nakamura has thrived in many respects since WrestleMania 34. He was able to use a different side of his personality and he learned to get over in different ways. Instead of using his crowd-pleasing character to make the fans smile, he now uses it to make them recoil in confusion. What’s wrong with him? Why does he act like this? What happened to the lovable guy we once knew?

Now his character is more enigmatic than ever before. Was The Artist persona merely just a mask he wore to fool everyone and now he’s finally showing the world his true self? Is he now Batman when he previously had everyone believing he was Bruce Wayne? Shinsuke Nakamura is fully immersing himself in this twisted version that WWE fans didn’t even know existed. But most importantly, he’s loving every minute of it.

There’s a reason why Shinsuke Nakamura is the United States champion. That belt could have landed on any number of SmackDown Live Superstars but it currently sits on Nakamura’s waist. Why? Because he can wear it like no one else can and because he’s a Japanese Superstar that came to WWE with dreams of doing great work on the worldwide stage. That’s exactly what he’s doing and he doesn’t need the main event in order to do it. 

Would fans love to see him as WWE champion? Yes. Could he wear that title and add value to it? Absolutely. Does he need it in order for fans to consider him successful? Absolutely not. Shinsuke Nakamura may not be the top guy and he may not be the face of WWE but he is an important piece of the presentation. But is that enough?

The fact is that Nakamura will probably leave WWE one day. He will likely return to New Japan and reclaim his throne as The King of Strong Style. But until then, fans have a chance to enjoy one of the most colorful and capable characters that WWE offers today. He may get a run at the top eventually. If he does, then everything that came before will merely be just another chapter in his story. With any luck, that story is far from over.


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Opinion

Who Is The Villain? Charlotte or Becky?

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Becky Lynch

One of the biggest stories coming out of SummerSlam was the complete disintegration of the friendship between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch after Flair seemingly stole the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Lynch when Lynch seemingly had the match won, but hitting Lynch with Natural Selection for the three count. A furious Lynch knocked out her former friend and left her in a heap. Now, the surface narrative has been Becky turning heel, but the WWE Universe hasn’t been cooperating with that narrative, preferring to cheer Becky as the hero of this tale and boo Charlotte as the villain. Are they right or is this another example of fans hijacking the narrative?

Heel!Becky. This is the WWE narrative: Becky was so outraged by Charlotte stealing her moment again, she turned on Charlotte and has repeatedly attacked her former friend from behind, which is certainly what a heel would do.

The pros of this has been Becky’s new attitude and her more ruthless approach in the ring. The way she turned was very heelish. To hug your best friend and congratulate her and then slap the taste out of her mouth and beat her up is extremely heelish…or it should be.

The problem is that Becky’s reaction is perfectly understandable. Pretty much everyone knows a Charlotte Flair, the favorite that always gets the breaks, whether or not they’ve really earned it. For Becky, who had worked so hard to earn that title shot, to have Charlotte basically get a shot just for showing up and then stealing the title from her, would’ve been hard to swallow, especially knowing that you had the match won and your ‘friend’ not only cost you the title but attacked you and pinned you to win that title.

Heel!Charlotte.  This is the fan narrative: Charlotte is the heel because she didn’t have to work nearly as hard as Becky to get that SummerSlam title shot, all she did was show up for work and win one match, while Becky had to beat every heel in the division. Charlotte also seems to have made the decision to attack and pin Becky rather than Carmella. That’s an extremely shitty thing to do to someone you consider a friend, especially knowing how hard that friend worked to get the opportunity you stole from her.

Charlotte doesn’t help her case by acting like an entitled princess who can’t understand why people  don’t get why she deserves to always be champion, even when she doesn’t. Her derision of Becky as ‘insecure’ and saying that Becky didn’t deserve the title because she didn’t win, even though Becky HAD the match won and basically derided and insulted the person she used to call a friend, shows a level of narcissism that’s just shy of being a serial killer. It shows that in Charlotte’s mind, it’s ALL about her and that she’s the only one who deserves to be champion and if you’re not going to cheer for her and support her, you’re nothing to her. This is a woman who will not tolerate her flaws being pointed out, even when she deserves to be called out. That’s not much of a babyface.

However, Charlotte’s reaction to Becky’s comments isn’t that uncommon with how other babyface champions have reacted to insults, justified or not. John Cena has been infamous for having similar reactions to being called out, and a lot of women would probably have had similar reactions during a fight with a good friend.

If there is a defense for Charlotte’s behavior, it may be that her path to WWE was SO different from Becky’s which makes it hard for her to understand why Becky was so upset, but at the same time, she doesn’t seem to really want to understand or care. To her, Becky is just jealous and insecure, not someone with a legitimate reason to be angry.

So, who is the real heel here? Well, in the words of Obi-Wan-Kenobi, it depends on your own point of view. Both women have a real claim to be the righteous party in this argument, but it’s pretty clear that, at least to most fans, Becky is the hero who struck back at teacher’s pet, Charlotte. It remains to be seen if WWE will get on board or stick with their chosen narrative.


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Opinion

Brock Lesnar Creates the Kind of Chaos WWE Does Not Need

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Here we go again. The main event scene on Monday Night Raw has once again become even more disturbing with the addition of Brock Lesnar.

The former Universal Heavyweight Champion entered the main event at Hell in a Cell, taking down both the current champion Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman in a  sad but predictable ending to a decent pay-per-view.

WWE cannot seem to get out of its own way in deciding what to do with the red brand’s title. Or, maybe it’s Lesnar who is holding the marionette strings of a company that has not moved on from the Beast Incarnate to forge a new identity of main event stars. The Hell in a Cell match between Reigns and Strowman was muddled with the arrival of Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose as it was.

Adding Lesnar to the chaos and disorder creates more problems than solutions for the creative team, Reigns and the title he wears around his waist.

The thought was once Reigns beat Lesnar to claim the belt, it would be the end of the line for the WWE and UFC star, who has made no secret he wants to dominate the octagon once again. It also opened the door for Reigns to finally assume his role as Vince McMahon’s master plan of having the current Shield Member and four-time champion to step over Lesnar, John Cena and anyone else in his path as the company’s new face.

I’m sure WWE’s fans have finally succumbed to the notion Reigns isn’t going anywhere. To steal a phrase from Ric Flair, “Whether you like it or don’t like it, learn to love it…”

You get the idea.

So now, WWE has a three-headed monster fighting over the same belt it did only months ago with no end in sight. The notion of McIntyre stepping forward as the next opponent for Reigns looks to be squashed. Lesnar’s contract, demands and lack of airtime while wearing the Universal Title finally pissed the fanbase off. Does putting the strap back around his waist make sense?

Now that Strowman has become an ally of Ziggler and McIntyre, how does this all play out? Does anyone care? Is the best thing to come out of the Hell in a Cell match is the return of Paul Heyman? It’s still a tangled web WWE weaves with no ending point. It’s status quo for poor booking.

It appears to be the norm, not the exception. We all just learn to deal with it, mainly because change does not seem to be a good thing in this promotion.


Always Use Your Head and visit the official Pro Wrestling Tees store for The Chairshot All t-shirt proceeds help support the advancement of your favorite hard-hitting wrestling website, The Chairshot!


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