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"Wrestling, isn’t that for children?” is a question I face on practically any occasion in which my hobby of watching (and shockingly, enjoying) wrestling is brought up. It’s jarring, particularly because after the umpteenth time, it gets a little tiring seemingly having to justify something you are fond of whilst people watch on, judging you at every possible second. When they then find out your favourite wrestling promotion is one based in Japan, you start to feel the glares strengthen. To them, I’m now a complete outcast, a weird hipster of sorts who probably didn’t get enough love in their childhood.
Whilst I won’t dispute the latter point, I am, surprisingly enough, not a hipster, nor am I any kind of outlandish figure. My fashion sense is about as plain as dry toast, I look like James McAvoy’s incarnation of Mr. Tumnus who decided to get a sensible haircut, and I have "normal" interests such as football and music.
My exception to the rule, New Japan Pro Wrestling, or NJPW for short. Sure it’s not a completely off-kilter passion or something bizarre enough for people to take a curious interest in (it is after all pro-wrestling, something that dominated the mainstream for a brief time in the early 00s), but it’s a different form of pastime that some admittedly do grow out of. It’s a Santa-like revelation to some when they realise it’s all one big pre-determined charade, but that doesn’t and will never hinder my enjoyment. In fact, part of the aura and fascination for me comes from getting behind my personal favourite wrestlers, hoping the company sees enough in them to allow said wrestlers to move up the card and win Championship gold.
I realise reading that last sentence is more than enough to make some people click off the article and label me as pathetic, but if you just stay with me, I’ll explain just why it is I feel a strong connection for NJPW that allows my passion for wrestling to stay with me through life.
For background purposes, New Japan Pro Wrestling was founded in 1972 by Antonio Inoki, and is currently owned by Bushiroad. Current President Harold Meij started his reign in May 2018, and will be integral to the company’s continuing Western expansion. It is the largest wrestling promotion in Japan and second-largest in the world, and will look to improve on its rapidly increasing, passionate fanbase in the coming years.
Now you’ve had time to divulge that information, here are my views on why NJPW captivates both myself and many others. I hope you’ll find it of interest and consider giving what I believe to be a fantastic form of entertainment and relaxation a fair chance.
The Wrestling Quality
Starting with the obvious, the actual quality of wrestling on show is superb. From main event talents like Kazuchika Okada right down to unsung stars such as Tomohiro Ishii, everybody is capable of stealing the show, and everybody has their own unique style and way of pulling the audience in.
Taking the match above as an example, the difference here between what is on show compared to some mainstream alternatives is night and day. It’s investable, suspends your disbelief, and takes you away from whatever problems you may have whilst you lose yourself in the moment. Captivating is the only word to truly describe what good pro wrestling is, and there are few better kicks for me than being able to watch a good pro wrestling match.
Originally I was going to make this two separate categories, but I feel the two go hand in hand. As a kid who was always into flashy things, and a person who as time went on became passionate about art forms such as music, there’s always something about showmanship and seeing over the top characters that will grab me.
For example, as a regular live concert attendee, I get a sense of tangible energy from seeing the artist really giving his all and having a real presence on the stage, taking the music and turning it into something larger than life. In many ways, pro wrestling does the exact same.
For me, there are few more evident examples of this than Taichi. An almost Phantom of the Opera type figure, Taichi is flamboyant and bold in almost indescribable ways. The enjoyment here comes from watching this character weasel his way to victories through dastardly tactics, but also being able to revel in the fact than when needed to, he can wrestle extremely well, proven in bouts against Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi back at the start of the year.
It’s characters like this that help make the product interesting; providing colour and flair to the shows, and appealing to a range of different people. There are bound to be some wrestlers that connect with you more than others, and a huge part of the fun is rooting for those that do.
The Presentation and Scheduling
One of the biggest flaws I have with the likes of WWE is the presentation. It’s not exactly a secret anymore that wrestling is pre-determined, but by the same token, it doesn’t take much to at least present your product in a way that ensures people are willing to ignore that and enjoy what you show them.
NJPW present their shows as real sporting events. Through press-conferences, interviews, hype-packages, and commentary that actually builds the match like a real fight rather than a ‘sports entertainment’ spectacle, the company get over every match with the crowd, making sure they are invested enough to buy a ticket and get in the arena to watch the bouts unfold. Sure there are still some of the pantomime-like angles such as the typical attacking a man from behind shtick and using weapons mid-match, but generally there is a much bigger sense of realism to what New Japan try to show an audience.
In addition, the schedule itself feels a lot fresher. Rather than pigeon-holing themselves into weekly shows, New Japan have a selection of tours throughout the year. The most important event in this schedule is WrestleKingdom, an event that takes place on January 4 of each year, and from there you have tours and shows of varying importance, from the G1 tournament which takes place every Summer (the winner of the G1 headlines the previously mentioned WrestleKingdom show providing they defend the contract to the match) right down to Kizuna Road (a filler-like tour).
It’s a much more engaging approach to wrestling in my opinion, and allows for me to not have my life consumed by too much content. For example, "Road To" shows are occasionally skippable, often being used to build to the next marquee event rather than have major bouts of their own. There’s always the option to cherry-pick certain content too, allowing yourself to catch-up on things without having suddenly missed weeks worth of storylines.
Finally, the fan community is a lot more welcoming. To once again reference my love of music, I occasionally find myself looked down upon by gatekeepers or older fans when getting into a new artist, and sometimes sense some hostility from people who decide that there is some sort of hierarchy based on trivial criteria such as your favourite song.
However, there is none of that here. For the most part, fans of NJPW are welcoming, polite, and will happily talk to you about the product without asking you to name your favourite Tiger Mask incarnation or be informed your opinion is suddenly irrelevant because “You only started watching when...” It’s an inclusive and fun community to be a part of, with a shared love of the product all you need.
With all that considered, I feel like I’ve justified why I’m still into professional wrestling and probably will be for the rest of my life, but I do urge you to broaden your horizons and give it a chance yourself. There is a wealth of great resources available everywhere to help you delve into the product, and provide links to those at the end. Thank you for reading, and I hope you had some sort of enjoyment from my self-indulgent look into one of my favourite hobbies.