By Zach Arnold | March 23, 2012
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.