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Damage control: NOAH yakuza crisis (the state of Japan in 2012)

By Zach Arnold | March 23, 2012

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Given how close we are to the fifth anniversary of PRIDE’s transactional death to Zuffa, this story seems all too fitting… and predictable.

When Cyzo first came out with information last January regarding a ‘black money’ scandal in NOAH involving a yakuza couple taking 50M yen from the widow of Mitsuharu Misawa, it created a ripple effect. NOAH, no longer on broadcast television (Nippon TV), basically saw their chances of getting back on network TV crushed.

According to Cyzo, the yakuza couple got involved in essentially being a glorified money mark of sorts for NOAH wrestlers to keep them around by gifting them. The classic term ’sponsor’ in Japan often means a yakuza money mark in the fight game. What blew up in the face of Misawa’s wife is that she trusted the couple and didn’t know they were yakuza. Read our link from January to find out how deep the yakuza scamsters got their hooks into Misawa’s wife, now the owner of NOAH. She ended up going to civil court in Tokyo to seize the couple’s house.

As would soon be revealed, it was long-time veteran hand Haruka Eigen & Mitsuharu Misawa right-hand man Ryu Nakata (the famous ring announcer from All Japan) who had hooked up NOAH with the yakuza money people. Eigen essentially took over the role of Mitsuo Momota (Rikidozan’s son), who promptly left NOAH after Misawa’s death. Nakata became the GM of NOAH and the iron fist after winning a political battle with Kenta Kobashi over how to manage the company. It is Nakata who has taken a ‘hardline’ tact of releasing wrestlers.

What blew up the black money scandal for NOAH is that it was revealed that the yakuza couple in question were basically stealing money from senior citizens and financing their charades with the NOAH boys. In other words, a Bernie Madoff-type scandal.

Last week, publisher Takarajima released a new scandal book on NOAH. The angle of the book was from ‘an insider’s perspective’ on what happened. It turns out that the face of said book is Jun Izumida, former All Japan & NOAH wrestler. Izumida’s reputation is well-known — permanent mid-carder for life, coffee boy like Tamon Honda was for Misawa. Izumida made a lot of money during his wrestling career, way more than you would expect. So, for him to publicly be the guy to lay the hatchet down, that was quite a statement.

Around the same time as the release of the book, Kodansha publication Flash soon jumped on the black money scandal story. At that point, NOAH was in crisis mode.

Today, the company released a statement saying that both Haruka Eigen & Ryu Nakata would be demoted, at the very least, if not resign. Akira Taue claimed that NOAH would implement new anti-yakuza protocols and that management would undergo training soon on how to avoid yakuza connections.

Whether the resignations are real or not, Japan has always been about saving face and image first more than substance — especially in the fight game. Last year, Keiji Mutoh ‘resigned’ as President of All Japan after a major scandal involving a wrestler (Nobukazu Hirai) getting beat up & crippled backstage at a show in Hyogo. Despite said resignation, Mutoh is still the face of All Japan. No one’s batted an eye and nobody brings up Hirai’s name any more.

So, yakuza involvement in the Japanese fight game is nothing new but it’s still as corrosive as ever. Without yakuza money, it’s hard to see where money is going to come into play for promoters in the fight game. As one friend put it to me recently, they see the Japanese fight scene as having their own version of a ‘lost decade’ if not longer over what has happened.

DREAM is dormant and basically Real Entertainment is a booking agency at this point. Despite all the big talk & promises about a come back, Kazuyoshi Ishii is impotent as far as his power goes. He’s also aged very much in the last few years. New Japan is the only real player because of the fact that they are backed by Bushiroad, which isn’t afraid to throw around cash. However, it should be noted that Bushiroad acquired New Japan from Yukes when it was revealed that Bushiroad had made a significant loan to Yukes to keep things afloat.

All of this is bad news for the Japanese scene. The police are furiously moving into territory they haven’t gone after before with such aggression. Will they win the war? Can a fight scene exist in Japan without yakuza money or scamsters looking to glom on? History says no.

Topics: DREAM, Japan, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

7 Responses to “Damage control: NOAH yakuza crisis (the state of Japan in 2012)”

  1. Ditch says:

    “management would undergo training soon on how to avoid yakuza connections”

    I love corporate BS more than regular BS because it’s so hilariously serious and obvious.

    I’m not shocked that Izumida came out, because he doesn’t stand to make anything in the business going forward. He hasn’t been brought back since his release the way others were.

    I am still shocked that it’s taken so long for Japan to deal with the yakuza.

  2. Irving says:

    Izumida just finished working some All Japan house show dates so I wonder if that will continue now that it is known the he was the one who helped expose NOAH.

  3. Vadim says:

    Its sad to see a company that used to be so top notch when they first started out reduced to something like this. NOAH is the only promotion that ever tried to carry the classic All-Japan style of puro (granted, they WERE the essence of All Japan under a new banner after all).

  4. Zach Arnold says:

    Things to take note of here:

    1) Neither Eigen or Nakata are fired. Given what transpired, most companies would have fired these guys. Sure, throwing them under the bus with the yakuza label is a permanent stain PR-wise for them but the fact that they aren’t fired speaks volumes.

    Those guys know where the skeletons are buried in that company. NOAH saying that those guys have been ‘demoted’ to ‘rank-and-file’ employees is a laugher.

    2) The legal aspect here of what happens next – do prosecutors go after NOAH’s assets on behalf of senior citizens (ala Madoff trustee) to recover what was stolen?

    That would all but force a bankruptcy of NOAH and we would probably see NOAH under a new name and new company structure.

    3) NOAH had no choice but to issue this public statement after the damage from Cyzo, the scandal book w/ Izumida, and the Flash item. This is all about trying to stop the bleeding.

    But I suspect, given NOAH’s current financial status, that we’ll see more backstabbing.

  5. Black Dog says:

    I’m not surprised that NOAH got caught up in it all. The Yakuza have a long and tangled history in Japan’s lifespan. They were once I believe called the Black Dragons, a samurai warrior elite that used bribery, coercion and sometimes violence to gain power in the business, political and other worlds.

    Rikidozan, the founder of pro wrestling in Japan was a known associate of the Yakuza; the film recently made about his life romanticizes his early sumo career and connections with those who helped him get it all started. His stabbing and resulting death came at the hands of a footsoldier in a gang rivaling one that Rikidozan was close to. While uncertain as to the facts, some believe the attack was over Rikidozan shooting on another wrestler. Apparently money was on the line, and someone lost big.

    Yakuza like anything where there’s money to be made, and they have long been sumo, wrestling and MMA fans. This couple got their hands dirty by their greed; I don’t think they expected Misawa’s wife to take it public by going to court. It’s one thing to be a fan; I suppose Yakuza members being fight fans and being around was not such a bad thing, it’s their involvement publicly that becomes a serious issue.

    Eigen is a wrestler from way back in the JPA days, and he’s well traveled. He certainly does know where the bodies are buried. The death of Misawa and now this scandal makes me think NOAH’s days are numbered before they either go under or get bought out.

    I really don’t see Taue’s stated vision of getting the Yakuza out of their business happening anytime soon. There is also the taint of it that will stick around.

    The roster these days is not very interesting. I do think they were correct in dumping some of the dead weight (Shiga and Inoue for two). Taue needs to retire once and for all; he just does comedy style matches now and looks a fool.

    Kobashi is again injured; I know he’s a legend and the fans love him, but again he is gone for the forseeable future. KENTA is also on the disabled list. They do have some really good young talent that could be snapped up if NOAH goes down.

    The business model needs to change, but cleaning out the office is not going to happen, I’m afraid.

  6. Chromium says:

    Zach, have the Yakuza ever not been involved in kakutougi in the last 50 years?

    I don’t know much about the Japanese wrestling scene anymore but it sounds like NOAH is essentially moribund, and every promotion other than New Japan is either the minor leagues or might as well be.

    When it comes to MMA, if OneFC continues to expand, what do you think about the possibility of them running the occasional show in Japan? Like a few times a year, starting at around a gate of 6000-8000 people, hypothetically? Like if they utilized Dream’s roster in addition to whoever else they could get?

    Sure they aren’t Japanese, nor are they the UFC, and many of the best fighters on their roster would be Japanese, and so far I’m not aware of any ties to the Yakuza or other organized crime. Does this seem like a possible scenario to you?

  7. [...] to keep NOAH afloat, Ryu Nakata and veteran wrestler Haruka Eigen got caught up in a black money scandal involving shady individuals who victimized Mitsuharu Misawa’s widow (owner of NOAH) over [...]

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