Before we get to wrestling, let me just say… COVID-19 sucks.
Wrestling fans are known to be divisive, but that’s something we can all agree on. A few weeks ago, it was a small blurb on international news that I didn’t pay any attention to because I don’t really watch the news—it’s depressing and mostly wrong. Now, it’s literally taken over our lives. All we hear about is Coronavirus, social distancing, hand washing for 20 seconds, six feet of distance between people, hoarding, panic, isolation, and no toilet paper in sight. What a world, right? I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a natural born worrier and being unable to leave the house for going on 12 days has done a number on my mental health. I’m extremely lucky to be working from home, but the wifey was furloughed. My kid can’t go to school or play with his friends. Yes, I spend a lot of my time on games and indoor activities, but I also love going outside and spending (a limited amount of) time with other humans.
Quarantines are new to me. But talking to a family member through glass? Been there.
You may be reading this and thinking the same thing. Call it stir crazy or cabin fever or whatever you want, the point is, quarantine stinks. It stinks like a butt. But we gotta do it. So before I get off my soap box, I just want to say, for anyone out there reading this because you’re stuck at home with no place to go, I feel you. Take care of yourself. Eat decent food if you can get it. Check in on elderly ones or people that struggle with loneliness. Put on clean sweatpants. Don’t neglect your mental health. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you have dystopian cosplay that incorporates a mask, this is your time. Let’s get through this thing. If nothing else, let us all unite in our mutual hatred of this virus until we can go back to cancelling our plans by choice, like normal geeks.
Which brings me to this months’ topic. This was originally supposed to be a review of the New Japan Cup, NJPW’s annual single-elimination tournament that grants the winner a match against any current champion he chooses (although it’s always most likely the IWGP Heavyweight Champion). This year would have been especially good because it was the second year that the tournament included 32 wrestlers (double the size of previous tournaments) and the winner would get a shot against Tetsuya Naito, who is currently the IWGP Heavyweight AND the IWGP Intercontinental Champion. But the day after they announced the brackets for the tournament, New Japan announced that they would be cancelling the event due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They would eventually cancel all of their events in March, including the New Japan Pro Wrestling Anniversary Show. As of now, there’s no word on when regular business will continue.
With no New Japan to watch, I turned to other promotions. I watched Smackdown from the Performance Center and it wasn’t half bad. I was very impressed with AEW Dynamite’s presentation, doing an entire show in an empty arena. I mean, they still let Cody do his standard, “I’m the only person that matters in wrestling” promo and the women didn’t get half the spotlight they deserved, but it was still an excellent show! I even caught up on some NWA and MLW. But it just wasn’t the same. And I know I could go on and on about the prestige and athleticism of New Japan Pro Wrestling, but instead of doing that, let me just say that if you’ve never watched New Japan—and I know many of the people that “hate” it have never watched it—now is a perfect opportunity to give it a shot.
If you’re like me, you’re not going anywhere for awhile. You’ve got plenty of time to sit down and give a new product an honest watch. Just about everything on NJPWWorld has English commentary, so there’s no language barrier. And even if you have no interest in watching the Japanese stars, you can still watch some amazing American and British talent performing in Japanese-style matches. So if you’re hell-bent on never watching Sanada, Okada, or Kota Ibushi, you can watch Jon Moxley, AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, or Will Osprey. So this is Volume 1 of my Wrestling Playlist: Your Introduction to New Japan Pro Wrestling. And for ease of use, I’ve broken my playlist down into the standard cliche soundbites you see in the IWC.
If You Like Saying: I Hate Flippy S***. I like big guys and heavy hitters.
This is probably the most common misconception. Yes, there is a lot of high-flying in the Jr. Heavyweight division, but that’s true of every wrestling promotion’s lighter wrestlers. You just don’t notice it because WWE does everything they can to make you forget they employ people that weigh less than 250 pounds.
In WWE Measurements, he’s 6’2”, 245.
That being said, if you absolutely despise a match that has more than one trip to the top rope, there’s still a mountain of content for you to watch.
You should go to NJPWWorld.com, get an account, and search for:
Tomohiro Ishii—he’s a pitbull of a man that gives no effs and has no neck. He fights to the death and throws murderous elbows.
Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
Also check out Shingo Takagi. His moveset looks like death and even though he claims he’s a Jr. Heavyweight, you can take one look at his matches and realize that’s a lie. Not a little white lie. A bold and blatant untruth.
You can’t leave without checking out Minoru Suzuki. He is murder grandpa. He loves laughing while inflicting pain and he has the best entrance music in wrestling. Oh, you think a bunch of people singing “Judas” as Chris Jericho walks out is impressive? Watch a match where 10,000 people who can’t speak Japanese sing “Kaze Ni Nare” clearly, fluently, and loud.
Matches To Watch:
Royal Quest, 2019. Tomohiro Ishii vs. KENTA
Power Struggle, 2018. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki
String Style Evolved, 2018. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki (Seriously, watch anything with these two guys squaring off)
Best of Super Juniors, 2019. Shingo Takagi vs. Taji Ishimori
If You Like Saying: New Japan is nothing but small guys. No one cares about them.
This kind of plays into the first comment, but from the opposite perspective. A lot of American wrestling fans have this weird belief that guys under 6 feet tall can’t be entertaining. This boggles my mind, because a lot of the guys that say that are around my age, meaning they grew up with Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Jericho, who were all cruiserweights in WCW. And for all of my issues with WWE, I’ve enjoyed a lot of their 205 Live product. So I just don’t get the diversion away from smaller, faster wrestlers. In any case, I can personally guarantee you that Jr. Heavyweight matches in NJPW will not only deliver on real high-flying action, but they can also give you plenty of chain wrestling and technical wrestling you can’t usually find from lighter weight competitors.
You should search for:
Hiromu Takahashi. He might be the most exciting wrestler you ever see. He is high energy and power. He’s short, but he’s stocky and he has no regard for human life, including his own.
Roppongi 3K: Sho and Yoh are a Jr. Heavyweight tag team that don’t get enough credit outside of Japan. Their matches always have a very good mix of high speed action and technical skill. They can be bruisers or they can be high octane speedsters, depending on what the match calls for.
Will Ospreay: I’m not a huge Will Osprey fan. He seems to be doing everything he can to follow in the Dynamite Kids footsteps, with no regard to the fact that Dynamite Kid tore his body apart in the ring, pissed off everyone around him, and spent his last days on this earth destitute, crippled, and poor. That being said, he can be an absolute wonder to watch sometimes. The fact that he has 38 signature finishing moves can be annoying, but he knows what he’s doing in the ring, even if he tends to push it a bit too far just to get himself over.
Matches To Watch:
Wrestle Kingdom 12 – Fatal 4 Way for IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title – Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA vs. Marty Scrull
Dominion in Osaka 6.9 – Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay
Wrestle Kingdom 11 – Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA
Wrestle Kingdom 13 – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – Roppongi 3K vs. L.I.J. vs. Suzuki Gun
If You Like Saying: New Japan can’t tell a story.
This is another one that is simply a case of being too used to one type of wrestling. I’ve been over this in previous articles, so I won’t harp on it, but American wrestling relies on promos and backstage segments to tell its stories. The actual fighting is almost an afterthought; it’s about the spectacle. But Japanese wrestling doesn’t make drama the priority. So when you don’t have the star of a show on the microphone for 20 minutes a night, it makes people think there’s no story.
Don’t forget to plug the Network.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Not only does NJPW have cohesive storylines, but they last for months, even years. It’s so much that I can’t really give you single matches to watch; they’d only tell part of the story. The best I can do is suggest specific events that tell very compacted versions of long stories. For example, the G1 Climax 27 tells the story of Tetsuya Naito struggling to bury the demons of the past and overcome being rejected by the New Japan fans in favor of Kazuchika Okada. It also has Kenny Omega as the leader of the Bullet Club being faced with the possibility of fighting his former tag team partner Kota Ibushi. It also featured the end of the road for Japanese wrestling legend Yugi Nagata and the struggle against time for Hiroshi Tanahashi.
The final match alone makes the whole tournament worth watching.
Guys, that’s one tournament. There’s loads of stories in New Japan. Go check out Jay White trying to destroy the CHAOS faction from within. Or Kazuchika Okada dying his hair and losing his mind when he lost is IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kenny Omega. There are plenty of stories to be told. They just don’t need a hour of mic time to tell them.
If You Like Saying: NJPW is sexist because they don’t have female wrestlers.
It’s crazy that we have to say this in 2020… Just because another culture does things differently than America does, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. New Japan doesn’t have a women’s division. But they do have a sister promotion called Stardom that features arguably the best women’s wrestling in the world. Plenty of WWE and NXT mainstays like Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, Toni Storm, and Nikki Cross cut their teeth in Stardom before coming to the States.
Because Stardom World is a separate subscription from New Japan World (and I don’t have it right at this moment) I can’t give you specific matches to look up. But I can give you some wrestlers to check out.
Anything Kairi Sane did when she was still Kairi Hojo.
Anything related to Oedo Tai, especially Kagetsu’s retirement tour.
Hana Kimura because she’s extremely talented for her age and also I like her a lot. She pretty.
Jungle Kyuna. You’ll see.
If this quarantine continues, I may have some more playlists coming your way. I still have a little bit of hope that by the time I’m writing next month’s article, we’ll see a light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, whatever you decide to watch, happy streaming!
But make sure you walk a little bit every day. Don’t veg out too much. Thrombosis is a real thing.