This Week in NJPW: Shuffling the roster

Tetsuya Naito addresses fans at an event in Kobe - https://twitter.com/njkikaku

Tetsuya Naito talks his return; MVP, Shelton Benjamin, and Low-Ki removed from the roster page; Koji Kanemoto goes freelance; Hiromu Takahashi goes to the UK; Yuji Nagata gains weight

A newb-friendly guide to some of the biggest stories in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) for the week of February 20 2013 through February 26 2013. Thanks as always to enuhito and his bilingual blog for covering the sports pages in Japan.

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Antonio Inoki turns seventy years old

The founder of NJPW and current head of the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF), Antonio Inoki, turned seventy this month and threw a big party in Tokyo, with the highest profile guest from NJPW being IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. Not much more to the story, except it serves as an excuse to post a video of Inoki slapping the shit out a line of willing fans.

Tetsuya Naito plans on returning June or July

In a talk given to fans in Kobe, Tetsuya Naito revealed he plans on returning to action in June or July of 2013 after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in October 2012.

At the time, Naito's stock was on the rise as he had begun wrestling bigger and bigger matches. He initially injured his knee during the 2012 G1 Climax in August, and injured it further in his match with Yujiro Takahashi in October. That match was stopped by the referee after Naito's knee was injured to the point that he could not continue, and he was stretchered away from the ring.

The Okada vs. Naito match during Okada's IWGP Heavyweight Championship run was praised as one of the best matches of 2012, and Naito's return opens up a lot of new singles heavyweight possibilities.

MVP, Shelton Benjamin, and Low-Ki removed from website

The bios of three of NJPW's former WWE talent have been removed from the wrestler bios section of NJPW's website. It's unclear when exactly the change occurred, but as of Feb. 25 they were no longer listed.

Since leaving WWE, MVP signed with NJPW and was their first IWGP Intercontinental Champion, a title established in late 2011. Shelton Benjamin had been brought in through 2012 mostly to fill spots in their larger tournaments. Low-Ki had been wrestling consistently with NJPW since April 2012, including holding the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship on two separate occasions in 2012.

The latest appearances of all three were at WrestleKingdom in January, and they have not been announced for future dates. Their removal from the roster page likely signals they will not be used regularly going forward.

Koji Kanemoto goes freelance

Veteran junior heavyweight Koji Kanemoto revealed on All Japan Pro-Wrestling's (AJPW) website that he had not resigned with NJPW and declared himself a freelance wrestler with the intention to now wrestle primarily with AJPW. For those unfamiliar, pro-wrestling in Japan is much more open to the idea of using freelance talent for appearances and programs beyond a one-off squash match.

Kanemoto debuted for NJPW in the early 1990s and has had NJPW as his home base ever since. Kanemoto is a five-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion and one of the most well-known junior heavyweights from NJPW's juniors division of the 1990s. He last held the title in 2006 for 235 days.

Hiromu Takahashi being loaned to 4FW in United Kingdom

Twenty-three-year-old jr. heavyweight Hiromu Takahashi will go to the United Kingdom for six-to-twelve months to work for 4FW after competing in this years Best of the Super Juniors tournament concludes in June. Takahashi has been wrestling in openers and on the undercard, and often teaming with fellow young lion Takaahi Watanabe.

NJPW will typically send young talent overseas as a prelude to giving them a push upon their return. A best case scenario is that young talent further develop while gone and are exposed to a different style of wrestling. If nothing else, they are able to be re-introduced to fans after an extended period away, sometimes with a new look or completely repackaged.

Most recently, Kazuchika Okada returned from a stint in TNA reborn as The Rainmaker, going on to have a breakout year in 2012. Despite Okada getting little use in TNA (probably a mistake on their part, in retrospect, especially since Okada can speak English), it did allow him to be re-introduced to fans as something different than when he went away.

Push for a better timeslot on TV Asahi

The Wrestling Observer Newsletter is reporting that NJPW fans in Japan are pushing TV Asahi to move its regular NJPW TV show from airing dead in the middle of the night at 2:30 AM to prime time--or at least a more reasonable time. NJPW's popularity has been on the rise the past couple years to the point that many bigger shows are now starting to sell out smaller (think 2,000 seat) venues very quickly, even before a card is announced.

Currently, some bigger non-PPV events are aired live on Samurai TV, a satellite television station that focuses on combat sports and wrestling. TV Asahi is one of Japan's five major over-the-air commercial networks, and with cable/satellite not as popular in Japan as it is in the west, NJPW's TV Asahi program is the only NJPW television many people would see.

The TV Asahi program is taped matches from recent past events and promotional video packages, and used to push upcoming events and keep fans abreast of what's going on.

Nakamura's Intercontinental Championship

In his ongoing quest to prove his IWGP Intercontinental Championship is the supreme singles title in NJPW, Shinsuke Nakamura stated that if he won the New Japan Cup in March that he'd relinquish the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match awarded to the winner and instead demand that a New Japan Cup be created for the Intercontinental title.

The New Japan Cup is seen as secondary to the G1 Climax in August in terms of singles heavyweight tournaments put on by NJPW, so it might be an interesting way to further embed the Intercontinental title in the NJPW schedule.

Also this week, at a screening of WrestleKingdom 7 in theaters (in 3D, no less), Kota Ibushi said he next wants to wrestle Shisuke Nakamura for his Intercontinental Championship. Ibushi unsuccessfully challenged Prince Devitt for his Jr. Heavyweight Championship at WrestleKingdom. With Tanahashi vs. Devitt coming up, it would mark another high profile heavyweight vs. jr. heavyweight match.

Yuji Nagata drowns his sorrows in too much beer and bar food

Ever since WrestleKingdom, Yuji Nagata has been telling the press about how disappointed he is that he can't seem to break out of the undercard and back into the main event scene. Nagata is one of NJPW's longtime veterans and a two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, last holding the title for 178 days in 2007.

So the story goes, according to Tokyo Sports, the night after The New Beginning iPPV in February Nagata and NJPW's resident masked babyface Captain New Japan hit the town. Nagata proceeded to drink too much beer, eat too many noodles, and gain eleven pounds in four days. Now Nagata finds himself too heavy to wrestle in the New Japan Cup and is trying to get back in ring shape in time.

The best to come out of all this, though, is enuhito's English commentary on the whole thing:

We may be able to see Nagata's fat body in March 3rd NJPW anniversary show. Nagata is now on diet. He is training to lose his weight. We have to keep eyes on this.

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That's it for this week. If you feel we missed a story let us know in the comments section. In the mean time, check out Inoki slapping around fans above. There's dozens of videos of Inoki slapping people around. It's actually considered an honor in Japan to be slapped by Inoki.

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UPDATE: Thanks to Cagesider 'rancho king' for tweeting this very article to MVP, who has since confirmed via his official Twitter that he parted ways with NJPW on amicable terms to pursue a television project with Lionsgate TV:

He went on to tweet:

We will of course continue to keep you updated on the world of NJPW from our Alternative Wrestling Promotions & MMA Sub-Site; featuring our Japanese Wrestling & NJPW Sections. Thanks for reading, Cagesiders.
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