Posts Tagged ‘Rikidozan’

The cultural significance of PURORESU.

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Having wrestled on 20 trips already in the ”Promised Land” of pro wrestling, Japan, I thought to scribe a piece regarding the cultural impact and significance of Puroresu (pro wrestling in Japanese) on the social and pop culture landscape of not just Japan, but the world in general. After all, were it not for New Japan wrestlers Akira Maeda and Satoru Sayama breaking off in the mid-’80s and forming their UWF promotion in Japan, there certainly would have been no RINGS or Pancrase to jumpstart the MMA craze that has been blazing worldwide for many years now. Truth be told, the entire MMA scene, UFC included, can thank Japanese pro wrestling for their scimilating impact on the fighting business in general.

Going back to ancient Rome, the gladiators of old would reenact famous battles of lore, by dressing up in gimmicks and thereby producing very visual storytelling through their art of battle for the screaming fans of the coliseum. The most famous and loved gladiators were protected to a great degree by the emperors and promoters of their day. The action-hungry audiences at the coliseums had their distinct favorites, and some of the gladiators could even retire alive from active competition, if they lived to see the end of their fighting careers. If a gladiator managed to retire, he would live the rest of his life in luxury, reaping the rewards of his earned fame.

gladiator

In this way, professional wrestling is the natural extension and lineage of the gladiators of ancient Rome. After all, there is no other game or sport in which the competitor must ”woo” their audience, and specifically engineer and draw a desired reaction from their viewers. Just like in the old days of Rome, the success of the fighter is still, to this day, completely dependent on the relationship and interaction that the wrestler has with their audience. A boxer does not trap his opponent in the ring corner, and then turn to the crowd to ask if they would like to see him hit his opponent, but a wrestler can, and will, do exactly that. In doing so, the professional wrestler draws his audience emotionally much deeper into his matches, as compared to a boxer or mixed martial artist, who simply focuses solely on his opponent during the match.

hulk-hogan

In this way, pro wrestling becomes the ”Sport of Kings”, because it mixes the perfect balance of theatrical flamboyance in regards to the characters themselves and hard-hitting, fighting aptitude. Pro wrestling is simply more entertaining to watch than any single other fighting art: There is more variety in the movements, techniques and flow of the match, than compared to any other combat style. The chess-like element of utilizing ring psychology to build a compelling match that builds towards a passionate and dramatic crescendo is a very demanding artform and very few are masters at it. In this way, professional wrestling is the finest and most intricate, psychological fighting art of them all.

lou_thesz

In mixed martial arts, the combatants are solely interested and focused on ending the match as quickly and effectively as possible. This does not always make for a very interesting or emotionally compelling fight. Even nowadays in the UFC, there are many more pro wrestling-like elements to the matches and fighters themselves, as compared to the past. UFC fighters like Chael Sonnen sound like reincarnations of wrestlers like ”Superstar” Billy Graham when doing promos. Some UFC fighters even play to the crowd, just like pro wrestlers do, during the course of their matches. 10 – 15 years ago this phenomenon would have been unheard of, or perhaps even balked at.

In our modern day and age, mythology is rapidly disappearing from our western culture. In the past, mythology was handed down from generation to generation, as a kind of parable of lessons to be learned in life, plus it always featured the ever-present battle between good and evil in mankind. Nowadays, Hollywood and the movie industry offers little in the way of actual substance, instead opting to try and fill the viewer’s emotional register through special effects, multiple camera angles, quick editing cuts and flimsy but funny dialog. In the process, our culture is losing its grip on true heroism and real life icons. In the movies, everyone is a fictional character, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the same character in The Terminator as he is in Conan the Barbarian. Therefore, the movies do not offer actual heroes or icons, but instead they offer virtual, imaginary heroes and icons. This is where professional wrestling comes in to save the day in our modern age.

mythological-gods

In no other game or sport are there such strong characters, as in the world of professional wrestling. When people witness the charisma and passion of Rikidozan, Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, ”Stone Cold” Steve Austin or perhaps even good ol’ StarBuck, what they are seeing is the real thing. The character is real, the passion is real and the charisma is real. Even though the professional wrestler might have an extravagant artist name (such as Hulk Hogan, The Great Muta or StarBuck), it stands to argue that the person behind the character name is as real as real gets.

muta

The Great Muta clamps on a headlock

Sometimes people ask me how much of my wrestling persona behind StarBuck is a made-up, fictional image. I tell them: ”None of it!”. I am not acting or pretending to be something that I am not inside of that ring. I only take my personal strengths and turn up the volume to the maximum level in terms of those traits, to make my wrestling persona even more effective. Yet, the man you see in the ring fighting is the real me.

I know that there are many gimmick wrestlers in our business who do not portray their actual selves. Doink the Clown and Eugene in WWE are good examples of this: one is not a true circus clown and the other is not a mentally handicapped person. The Undertaker is not a living dead man. In the same way, I know of big time rock musicians who drink non-alcoholic beer on stage in front of their fans, only to project the image of them being hard drinkers and party animals, while the truth is very different and they might be family men with children at home. Yet, I am not talking about the gimmick wrestlers in my underlying argument here.

Rikidozan - the pioneer and founding father of Puroresu

Rikidozan – the pioneer and founding father of Puroresu

In Japan, we have seen very many ”real life heroes” throughout the years in the professional wrestling business. Men like Rikidozan, Inoki, Baba, Tenryu, Fujinami, Misawa, Mutoh, Hiroshi Hase and countless others have undoubtedly portrayed their real personas inside of the ring. In the same way, famous gaijin talents like Stan Hansen, Dick Murdoch, Dynamite Kid, Terry Funk and many others have also portrayed their ”real me” personas inside of that ring. In this way, professional wrestlers are the modern day equivalents of iconic heroes of lore. We are modern day gladiators. In this role, as modern day fighting icons with strong, cultural, real life characters, we safeguard and uphold the tradition of the ever-burning battle between good and evil, and this in turn makes us the heirs of traditional mythology in modern times.

There are many lessons to be learned from professional wrestling, and it is no light matter that our game is aptly said to be the ”Sport of Kings”, for we, as professional wrestlers, are the Kings of Sport!

Long live our tradition and mythology – SOU DESU NE!

The other night I just landed back home after my latest tour of the “Land of the Rising Sun” this past week, wrestling in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.  The Wrestling New Classic (WNC) cards that I fought on with my team Synapse (StarBuck, AKIRA, Syuri) also featured some interesting new acquaintances: 62-year old legend Gran Hamada, Zero-1/ECW star Masato Tanaka, MMA star Koichiro Kimura, former NJPW Jr. Heavyweight Champion El Samurai and current WNC Champion Osamu Nishimura.

At 62-years of age, Gran Hamada is a legend in his own time (especially in Mexico)!

At 62-years of age, Gran Hamada is a legend in his own time (especially in Mexico)!

On May 24 in Tokyo, I teamed with AKIRA and Syuri to defeat the trio of WNC Champion Nishimura, TAJIRI and WNC Women’s Champion Lin Byron.  AKIRA pinned TAJIRI after a Musabi Press off the top rope, right after I hit the spike-piledriver on “The Japanese Buzzsaw”.  I have to say that Osamu Nishimura is a heck of a wrestler, and I thoroughly enjoyed wrestling against him, as our styles meshed very well.  Nishimura expressed interest in joining our Synapse contingent after the match, after some miscommunication in the six-man match, after TAJIRI mistakenly thrust-kicked Nishimura late in the bout.  We didn’t commit to his wish as of yet, but Nishimura did say that he is bringing my old arch-nemesis Michael Kovac of Austria to Japan next month.  Kovac beat me for the TopCatch European Championship back in September 2011, and there’s still a good deal of heat between our parties, so I am not too excited about the developments that Nishimura is looking to push with his personal agenda now…

A show of respect between WNC Champ Nishimura and myself after our match.

A show of respect between WNC Champ Nishimura and myself after our match.

We hit the road for Osaka on May 25, where AKIRA and I lost a heated match-up against The Big Guns (Zeus and The Bodyguard), who are almost like Japan’s version of The Road Warriors.  The Bodyguard pinned AKIRA after the opposition hit a double-chokeslam on my tag team partner and I was unable to break up the pin.

On the WNC tour bus, AKIRA awaits arrival in Osaka, where we have our next match.

On the WNC tour bus, AKIRA awaits arrival in Osaka, where we have our next match.

Former WNC Women's Champion Syuri washes some midnight laundry in Osaka.

Former WNC Women’s Champion Syuri washes some midnight laundry in Osaka.

May 26 saw us land in Nagoya, where I teamed with Syuri in a mixed tag encounter, against rookie Masaya Takahashi and Makoto.  I pinned Takahashi with my spike-piledriver in about nine-minutes to bring our team to victory once again.

Having a good time at Rikidozan's former chef's restaurant in Tokyo.

Having a good time at Rikidozan’s former chef’s restaurant in Tokyo.

I also had the pleasure of dining at the famous Hong Kong restaurant, headed up by the former chef of Rikidozan, Japan’s pro wrestling pioneer from the 1950s.  The photos on the establishment’s wall tell of the famous Antonio Inoki vs. Mohammed Ali match from 1976.  The real catch in that tale was the astronomous amount that New Japan Pro Wrestling, under whose banner the match was held, had to pay to Ali, to the tune of 10 billion Yen.  That equates to about 10 million USD.   New Japan paid off their debt a couple of years back, after over 35-years of carrying that financial monkey on their backs.  Talk about someone leveraging themselves into a huge personal win situation!

Arriving home today from participating in the opening round of the WNC (Wrestling New Classic) title tournament this past Friday at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, I have to admit that I am feeling battered and bruised.  I fought a very violent, spirited match against my former FCF teammate Hajime Ohara, a brawl in which he managed to blacken my left eye socket, only to see me lose the match, thanks to the chicanery from his DQN contingent members.

Piledriving Ohara — a sure win sabotaged by his DQN teammates (photo by Susumu Tobari)

I have faced Ohara on several occasions prior to this tournament match this past weekend, and in every encounter that we have had in the 2+ years prior to this encounter, I have soundly defeated my former protege every time, with my famous jumping spike piledriver.  This match was no different, up until the end, when I piledrove Ohara for the seeming victory once again.  However, this time his new team members Jiro Kuroshio and Nagisa Nozaki interjected themselves at the moment of the pin, causing the referee to become engaged with their antics.  Ohara was able to come around and shake the cobwebs off enough to hit me with a low blow behind the ref’s back, and then nail me with a loaded forearm strike to the throat for the tainted win.

Team SYNAPSE: AKIRA, Syuri and StarBuck

The last time I was in Japan prior to this trip, my SYNAPSE teammate AKIRA took me to a special physical trainer for pro wrestlers named Mr. Kenji Ohkido.  I have now gone to Mr. Ohkido about four times, and I plan on making an excursion to his offices whenever I visit Japan, as Mr. Ohkido knows exactly what kinds of duress and physical challenges pro wrestlers’ bodies undergo, due to his extensive experience in treating fighters over the years.  For anyone visiting Tokyo or living in the area, be sure to visit his establishment and get your torso lined back into shape.

Physiotherapist Kenji Ohkido knows his stuff!

I was able to visit a few extremely cool restaurants with various friends on this trip to Tokyo.  All of them bear mention, so I will start with the excellent Stomach Hold yakitori (chicken) restaurant, run by famous former PRIDE Fighting Championships and Pro Wrestling NOAH grappler, Yoshihiro Takayama.  Takayama-san is a truly nice gentleman to boot, and my good friend Dr. Hiroaki Terasaki often takes me to Stomach Hold to eat when I visit Japan.

My good friend Dr. Terasaki and me, visiting Takayama’s Stomach Hold

Another tremendous place to eat was named Hong Kong, run by Japanese wrestling pioneer Rikidozan’s (RIP) former personal chef, Mr. Masanobu Takanashi.  Dr. Terasaki took me, AKIRA and All-Japan GAORA champion Sanada to eat at Hong Kong, and the food was off the charts awesome!  The food at Hong Kong was traditional Japanese cuisine, and I highly recommend checking out the video below about the owner and the establishment.

From left to right: GAORA champion Sanada, me, head chef Mr. Takanashi, AKIRA, Dr. Terasaki

Last but not least, a couple of my female fans named Mayumi and Atsuko took me to eat at a small but superb sushi establishment, named Shin-Zushi, in a quiet neighborhood of Tokyo last night.  I have never enjoyed such mouth-watering, fresh sushi in my life!  I am talking about tastes that would make anyone’s sensory overdrive explode!  Just amazing sushi, done right by a master chef who knows his piece of business.

The head chef at Shin-Zushi prepares everything truly fresh

Seafood so good it melts in your mouth

With great fans like these, your enemies seem like a distant memory

I should also mention that our SYNAPSE team logo was created by the famous Manga cartoon writer behind the super-popular Cobra comic in Japan, Mr. Terasawa Buichi.

SYNAPSE team logo by Mr. Terasawa Buichi.

My special fan Mayumi also took me to see the world-famous Senso-Ji Asakusa temple in Tokyo.  The place is a major tourist attraction, and I also found a very cool shop next to the temple called Caricature Japan, where artist Itsumi Nakabachi drew up a cartoon portrait of Yours Truly as a special memoir.

The Asakusa Senso-Ji temple

I think my pic looks like a cross between Vince Neil of Motley Crue and Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Johnny Van Zant — which is a cool thing!

I would like to wish my SYNAPSE team members Syuri and AKIRA the best of luck in the WNC title tournament, as they vie for the women’s and men’s championships respectively, moving on to round two — the semi-finals — next month.  On October 26, Syuri defeated Lin Byron to advance to round two in her division and AKIRA defeated Adam Angel to advance.

Syuri (photo by Kazu Yanagi)

For anyone who does not know, Syuri is also a kickboxer, and she will be competing in the next KRUSH event in Japan once again next month.  In her last KRUSH match, Syuri downed her competition via knockout in the second round.