Issue #1: Three Count Fall
Taichi vs DOUKI in a MOTYC, Mirai Maiumi in Stardom, GLEAT Tournament
Thank you for reading this first edition of THREE COUNT FALL! It’s fair to assume that many of you checking out this newsletter are listeners of my-long running podcast with Mike Sempervive, The Adam & Mike BIG Audio Nightmare at wrestlingobserver.com…or you may follow me on Twitter @AdamOfTheBAN where I regular write about the wrestling that I am watching at any given time. Either way, thank you for subscribing here!
So why start THREE COUNT FALL? And why now? As much as I have enjoyed these past 16 years of podcasting (and have no plans to stop), I am a writer by trade. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting this newsletter for years, with the hopefully-not-too-self-important notion that I have something unique and valuable to add to the written discussion of Japanese professional wrestling.
Throughout my years of covering the scene on my podcast and elsewhere, there are a few things that I’d like to think I do pretty well. One is analysis on a macro level—seeing and understanding the trends and trajectories of individual wrestlers, promotions, and the industry as a whole. The other is on a hyper-micro level—noticing and tracking the small changes and significant improvements in a wrestler’s ability and performance as they gain experience, change environments, etc.
Those are the things that THREE COUNT FALL will focus on. I have my biases like anyone else—preferred styles, favorite wrestlers, promotions I enjoy more than others, etc.—and strong opinions on why I feel the way I do. This newsletter gives me the opportunity to share this perspective and continue that conversation with you in a different way. I thank you for coming along for the ride and look forward to your feedback as THREE COUNT FALL grows and evolves.
Enjoy! - Adam
ONE COUNT: Taichi and DOUKI had a Match of the Year Candidate. No, really!
Yes, you are reading that headline correctly! At TAKATAICHI MANIA 3 on January 10th, Taichi and DOUKI may have just had the best match of these early days of 2022.
It was a unique setup to begin with as NJPW World presented this show live from Korakuen Hall as a separate PPV event. This is a further indication of the deepening ties between New Japan and TAKA Michinoku after his recent return to the company following a scandal-induced two-year absence from the promotion. While this was primarily a Just Tap Out (JTO)-branded show, the support from NJPW was clear with multiple company talents on the card and their NJPW World broadcast team on the call.
After an undercard filled with JTO and independent talent, the action picked up with Zack Sabre, Jr. and Minoru Suzuki dissecting the young Ren Ayabe (a 6’7”, very green but intriguing prospect that multiple major promotions are keeping close tabs on) and KANON (a top JTO star and someone who ZSJ referenced wanting to wrestle again in his post-match comments). Following a very good match between IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion El Desperado and TAKA, the main event took center stage before a crowd of nearly 800 fans.
The backstory between Taichi and DOUKI is often referenced on English-language NJPW broadcasts and it was on full display here. DOUKI went to Mexico at a young age on his own dime and toiled for nearly a decade in smaller promotions throughout the country. After returning to Japan and making appearances in K-Dojo (then-owned by TAKA), he was eventually recommended by longtime friend and mentor Taichi to NJPW as an injury replacement after Suzuki-Gun stablemate El Desperado was injured in—of all things—a deathmatch with Jun Kasai at TAKATAICHI Mania 2 in 2019.
Fast-forward to 2022 and DOUKI has slowly established himself as a legitimate threat in NJPW’s junior heavyweight division, most notably as a rival to Hiromu Takahashi. Here in the main event of TAKATAICHI Mania 3, DOUKI would have the most significant singles match of his career.
The match itself hit all of the right notes, starting slowly and building to a dramatic and emotional finishing stretch without feeling overwrought or overstaying its welcome. While the result (Taichi defeating DOUKI) was never in question, the action was so strong and DOUKI’s performance within the story was so compelling that the nearfalls were still somehow believable in the moment.
As DOUKI pressed for victory late in the match, he began to use many of the moves of another very influential figure in his early career: Milano Collection AT. Milano was at ringside for broadcast commentary and became more emotional as the match developed. With DOUKI on the verge of submitting, Milano jumped the rail with tears in his eyes and ran to his corner urging him to escape. Milano’s presence, along with that of DOUKI’s longtime friend, mentor, and legend-in-her-own-right Mima Shimoda, made an already-great match feel even more important and urgent.
Taichi eventually prevailed via the Black Mephisto in just under 29 minutes of action that felt like half that length of time. The post-match scene was every bit as memorable as the match itself, with Taichi bringing DOUKI to tears as he recounted their story and how proud he was of DOUKI’s journey and passion to achieve his dreams.
There have been more purely athletic (Will Ospreay vs Kazuchika Okada) or brutally physical (Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Go Shiozaki) matches in these opening weeks of 2022, but nothing has matched the level of pacing, high drama, and emotional resonance of Taichi vs DOUKI. While this happened in a JTO ring, here's hoping that it leads to more big-match opportunities for DOUKI in NJPW this year.
TWO COUNT: Mirai Maiumi is thrown into the DEEPEST waters of Stardom
If you are a listener of the Big Audio Nightmare at f4wonline.com or follow me on Twitter @AdamofTheBAN, you are likely aware of how high I am on Mirai Maiumi. As a more fundamentally sound and serious-minded wrestler and character than much of the TJPW roster, she stood out as a potential main eventer and a strong contrast to the brighter and more carefree characters in that promotion.
When Maiumi made the surprise announcement in late 2021 that she would be leaving TJPW, my thoughts immediately turned to Stardom. While some lament the sheer volume of talent acquisitions Stardom has made in recent years, it has created a scenario where it is THE place to be if you are a wrestler with high-end potential. With a roster that is several layers deep and full of current and future top talent, it is an environment where you can maximize your ability and learn just how great of a wrestler you can be.
For Mirai, as she is now simply known as in Stardom, this is exactly what she needs. There may be no better wrestler in Japan right now when it comes to running the ropes and follow-through of moves (see her Jumbo Tsuruta-esque lariat for more details). She is untested, though, and has yet to be in a situation where those traits can come together in the form of a memorable main event match. Being regularly matched up with the likes of Mayu Iwatani, Utami Hayashishita, Tam Nakano, Starlight Kid, and others will accelerate her development in a way that other promotions cannot offer.
One of the strengths of Stardom’s booking philosophy is their boldness when it comes to pushing new and/or returning wrestlers: Koguma and Hazuki, for example. Both had been away for a long time, and instead of being eased in they were thrown into the deep end right away. Koguma quickly scored falls on top wrestlers, including Giulia. One of Hazuki’s first matches in her return was a World of Stardom Championship match with Hayashshita. Move forward a few short months and the team of Koguma and Hazuki are now the tag team champions, with no one saying they got the belts too soon or weren’t ready for that spot.
If the wrestler is of a level that they can handle those opportunities and the pressure that comes with them, the end result is that you create another top star in the company credibly and in short order. That is clearly the objective here with Mirai, who challenged Donna del Mondo stablemate Syuri at Korakuen Hall this week after dispatching Cosmic Angels in dominant fashion.
I have little doubt that a Syrui-Mirai match one year from now will be even better than their upcoming World of Stardom Championship match on January 29th at Stardom’s next PPV event. Matches like this, though, at this stage of her career and this early in her Stardom run, are exactly how Mirai will get to that next level from potential to legitimate main event wrestler. Her acquisition by Stardom feels very similar to that of Natsupoi in 2020 as an under-the-radar move that will feel much more important as time goes on.
THREE COUNT: GLEAT Poised for 2022, Announces the G-Rex Tournament
While Stardom objectively (and subjectively) had a successful year across many metrics, several other promotions that also had a strong 2021 while largely flying under the radar. The best example of this may be GLEAT, the upstart pro wrestling and shoot-style hybrid company owned and operated by longtime wrestling sponsor LIDET.
With a promised mix of traditional and UWF-rules matches and wrestlers, GLEAT felt like a company that could at the very least carve out a niche separate from the dozens of independent promotions dotting the landscape in Japan. The scene has been flooded in recent years with new promotions and projects that have a bit of buzz or hype around them, but quickly falter as they struggle to differentiate themselves or build an audience.
GLEAT has managed to, thus far, succeed where others have failed. The LIDET UWF side has only run a few shows and certainly needs more attention from the company in 2022, but the G-Pro Wrestling side has flourished. Crowds in small buildings have been strong and the two full GLEAT shows at Tokyo Dome City Hall have been highly entertaining with major league level production and a welcome stylistic diversity. There are also signs that GLEAT is serious about building a women’s division, with the signing of Michiko Miyagi and the recent announcement that former Ice Ribbon ace Suzu Suzuki will be appearing on their next event.
On the G-Pro Wrestling side, veterans like CIMA, Kaz Hayashi, and Minoru Tanaka are in that sweet spot of being strong enough names to have their own followings while also still being able to perform at a level that helps elevate GLEAT’s young stars. Selfishly, I just love seeing Tanaka in a higher-profile promotion after a few years of largely wandering the Japanese pro wrestling wilderness. At 49 years old and with 27 years of experience, he has not lost a step and continues to be every bit as smooth of a wrestler as he was in his early Battlarts days.
While the acquisition of Stronghearts—particularly El Lindaman, T-Hawk, and the very impressive Issei Onnitsuka—received most of the attention, the future of the company rests largely in the hands of Takanori Ito (formerly of Wrestle-1) and Yu Iizuka (formerly of HEAT UP). Both Ito and Iizuka have the mix of pro wrestling and shoot style ability that allows them to transition back and forth between the two sides of GLEAT, and each has a unique charisma and connection to the fans already. Ito is equal parts Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii, while Iizuka is a Volk Han devotee who has everything you want in a babyface ace of a promotion.
The recent announcement of the G-Rex Tournament, which gets underway on January 26th, finally adds some stakes to the top of the card on the G-Pro Wrestling side. My hope is that this tournament sees either Ito or Iizuka, who have so far shown well but come up short against the highest level competition, at least make it to the tournament final or win the championship outright. As important as it is for the fans to see their struggle and become invested in their journey, the time feels right to pull the trigger on one of them as the first champion in GLEAT’s short history.