Professional wrestling in Japan: Wikis

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Puroresu (プロレス) is the popular term for professional wrestling in Japan. The term comes from the Japanese pronunciation of "professional wrestling", which is shortened to puroresu ("purofesshonaru resuringu"). The term became popular among English-speaking fans due to Hisaharu Tanabe's activities in the online Usenet community.[1] With its origins in traditional American style of wrestling and still being under the same genre, it has become an entity in itself.[2] Despite the similarity to its American counterpart in that the outcome of the matches remains predetermined, the phenomena are different in the form of the psychology and presentation of the sport; it is treated as a combat sport as it mixes full contact martial arts strikes with shoot style submission holds, which are further intertwined with the hallmarks of the American variation to create the atmosphere of a legitimate fight.[3]

The first Japanese to involve himself in catch wrestling, the basis of traditional professional wrestling, was former sumo wrestler Sorakichi Matsuda[4]. There were subsequent attempts before and after World War II to popularize the sport in Japan, but these generally failed until the advent of its first big star, Rikidōzan, in 1951, who became known as the "father" of the sport. Rikidōzan brought the sport to tremendous popularity with his Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) until his murder in 1963.[5] Following his death, Puroresu thrived, creating a variety of personalities, promotions and styles.[6] It has also created a mass of other cultural icons in Japan including: Shohei Baba, Antonio Inoki, Keiji Mutoh/The Great Muta and Mitsuharu Misawa.[7]

Throughout the years, a number of promotions have opened and closed, but a few have persisted to remain the most popular and thriving companies: New Japan Pro Wrestling is currently considered by many as the top promotion with All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah as viable competition. Japan also has countless shows on what is considered the Independent circuit, which still see great success despite their inability to compete with bigger promotions.[8]

Contents

Rules

Puroresu has a variety of different rules, which can differ completely from wrestling in other countries. While there is no governing authority for puroresu, there is a general standard which has developed. Each promotion has their own variation, but all are similar enough to avoid confusion. Any convention described here is simply a standard, and may or may not correspond exactly with any given promotion's codified rules.

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General structure

Matches are held between two or more sides ("corners"). Each corner may consist of one wrestler, or a team of two or more. Most team matches are governed by tag team rules (see below). One notable difference from North American and, in recent years, European professional wrestling is that puroresu rarely has matches between more than two parties.

The match is won by scoring a "fall", which is generally consistent with the analogous concept in other countries:

  • Fall, the Japanese equivalent of pinning an opponent's shoulders to the mat for the referee's count of three.
  • Give up, or submission victory, which sees the wrestler either tap out or verbally submit to their opponent.
  • Knockout, the failure to regain composure at the referee's command
  • Ring out, the failure of a party to return to the ring at the referee's command, which is determined by a count of twenty, double the time most other companies generally allow.
  • Disqualification, the act of one wrestler deliberately breaking the rules.

Additional rules govern how the outcome of the match is to take place. One such example would be the Japanese version of the Universal Wrestling Federation, as it does not allow pinfall victories in favor of submissions and knockouts; this is seen as an early influence of mixed martial arts, as some wrestlers broke away from scripted endings to matches in favor of legitimate outcomes.

Styles and gimmicks

The dominant styles of Japanese professional wrestling were set in place by the two dominant promotions in Japan. New Japan Pro Wrestling, headed by Antonio Inoki, used Inoki's "strong style" approach of wrestling as a simulated combat sport. Wrestlers incorporated kicks and strikes from martial arts disciplines, and a strong emphasis was placed on submission wrestling. Many of New Japan's wrestlers including top stars such as Shinya Hashimoto, Riki Choshu, and Keiji Mutoh came from a legitimate martial arts background. All Japan Pro Wrestling, under the direction of Shohei Baba, used a style referred to as "King's Road." The "King's Road" style was in large part derived from American wrestling, particularly the style of top wrestlers in the National Wrestling Alliance, such as Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, and Harley Race, all of whom wrestled for Baba in Japan. As such, "King's Road" placed a heavy emphasis on working of holds, brawling, and the storytelling elements of professional wrestling.

Throughout the 1990s, three individual styles -- shoot style, lucha libre, and hardcore -- were the main divisions of independent promotions, but as a result of interpromoting, it is not unusual to see all three styles on the same card.

Ring

A match is fought in a square ring surrounded by three ropes, very similar to a boxing ring. Turnbuckles holding the ropes in the corners can be covered either individually (each turnbuckle has its own padding) or collectively (a single padding covering all turnbuckles). Wrestlers often run into the ropes themselves or throw the opponents against them, employing the ropes' elasticity for his next attack. Additionally, there are attacks that utilize the squareness of the ring, including climbing onto a corner and jumping off onto the opponent, or pushing the opponent out of the ring from the corner.

Other kinds of rings may be specified by individual rules. A ring may have barbed wires instead of ropes, have six sides of ropes instead of four, have explosives set on the boundaries, among other gimmicks. Some small, obscure independent promotions which rarely draw above 100 fans to its cards are so devoid of resources that they have to use amateur mats in place of an actual ring. Examples of these are Koki Kitahara's Capture International (shoot style) and Mr. Pogo's WWS.

Female wrestling

Puroresu done by female wrestlers is called joshi puroresu (女子プロレス). Female wrestling in Japan is usually handled by promotions that specialize in joshi puroresu, rather than divisions of otherwise male-dominated promotions as is the case in the United States (the only exception was FMW, a men's promotion which had a small women's division, but even then depended on talent from women's federations to provide competition). However, joshi puroresu promotions usually have agreements with male puroresu promotions such that they recognize each others' titles as legitimate, and may share cards.

All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling was the dominant joshi organization from the 1970s to the 1990s. AJW's first major star was Mach Fumiake in 1974, followed in 1975 by Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda, known as the "Beauty Pair". The early 1980s saw the fame of Jaguar Yokota and Devil Masami, major stars of the second wave of excellent workers who took the place of the glamour-based "Beauty Pair" generation. That decade would later see the rise of Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, known as the "Crush Gals", who as a tag team achieved a level of unprecedented mainstream success in Japan, unheard of by any female wrestler in the history of professional wrestling all over the world. Their long running feud with Dump Matsumoto and her "Gokuaku Domei" ("Atrocious Alliance") stable would become extremely popular in Japan during the 1980s, with their televised matches resulting in some of the highest rated broadcasts in Japanese television as well as the promotion regularly selling out arenas.[9]

It was during the 1990s that joshi puroresu attracted much critical acclaim internationally, and several classic matches during these era competed by select joshi wrestlers were awarded 5-stars by the American wrestling publication Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Notable joshi wrestlers of the 1990s include Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Megumi Kudo, Shinobu Kandori, Kyoko Inoue, Takako Inoue (no relation to the former), Dynamite Kansai, and Mayumi Ozaki.

Primary differences between joshi and American women's wrestling is the depiction of women in a non-sexualised way and that often the audience at joshi promotions will have a large proportion of female fans. Female wrestlers with natural beauty, such as Mimi Hagiwara or Takako Inoue may show off their beauty in non-wrestling related media, such as photobooks, where they are treated no different from tarento and gravure idols

Puroresu on television

Since its beginning, Japanese professional wrestling depended on television to reach a wide audience. Rikidōzan's matches in the 1950s, televised by Nippon TV, often attracted huge crowds to Tokyo giant screens. Eventually TV Asahi also gained the right to broadcast JWA, but eventually the two major broadcasters agreed to split the talent, centering about Rikidōzan's top two students: NTV for Giant Baba and his group, and Asahi for Antonio Inoki and his group. This arrangement continued after the JWA split into today's major promotions, New Japan and All Japan, led by Inoki and Baba respectively. In 2000, following the Pro Wrestling Noah split, NTV decided to follow the new venture rather than staying with All Japan. Nowadays, however, mirroring the decline that professional wrestling in the U.S. had in the 1970s and early 1980s, NOAH's Power Hour and New Japan's World Pro Wrestling have been largely relegated to the midnight hours by their broadcasters.

The advent of cable television and pay per view also enabled independents such as RINGS to rise. WOWOW had a working agreement with Akira Maeda that paid millions to RINGS when he was featured, but eventually was scrapped with Maeda's retirement and the subsequent RINGS collapse.

In 2009, due to the bearish global economy, NTV cancelled all wrestling programming, including NOAH's Power Hour (lesser affiliates still air large cards), marking the end of a tradition going back to Rikidozan.

Foreign wrestlers in Japan

Since its establishment professional wrestling in Japan has depended on foreigners, particularly North Americans, to get its own stars over. Rikidōzan's JWA and its successor promotions All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling were members of the American-based National Wrestling Alliance at various points, and used these connections to bring North American stars. International Pro Wrestling was the first Japanese promotion to link in to European circuits. It was through IWE that Frenchman André the Giant got his international reputation for the first time.

Several popular North American professional wrestlers in recent years, such as Hulk Hogan, Big Van Vader, Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Mil Máscaras, El Canek, Dos Caras, El Solitario, and others have wrestled in Japan, whereas others such as Stan Hansen spent much of their careers in Japan and thus are better known there than in their homeland. Even in joshi puroresu, a few notable foreigners have found success wrestling for joshi promotions, such as Monster Ripper, Madusa, Reggie Bennett, and Amazing Kong. The now defunct World Championship Wrestling had a strong talent exchange deal with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ken Shamrock was among the first Americans to compete in shoot style competition in Japan, starting out in the UWF and later opened Pancrase with some other Japanese shootfighters.

As a result of the introduction of lucha libre into Japan, major Mexican stars also compete in Japan. The most popular Mexican wrestler to compete in Japan is Mil Máscaras, who is credited with introducing the high-flying moves of lucha libre to Japanese audiences,[10] which then led to the style called lucha-resu.

Puroresu stars in foreign companies

All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as others, have also sent wrestlers to compete in the United States, Mexico, or Puerto Rico. Usually, these talent exchanges are chances for puroresu stars to learn other styles to add to their own strengths. Some of the more famous examples of these exchanges are Masahiro Chono, The Great Muta and Jushin Liger in WCW, as well as ECW which featured talent from Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling and Michinoku Pro Wrestling.

Some joshi stars from AJW had wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s and 1990s, with The Jumping Bomb Angels and Bull Nakano known for being particularly successful.

GAEA Japan once had a working agreement with World Championship Wrestling in the mid-1990s, when the latter brought in wrestlers from GAEA to bolster the ranks of their then-fledgling women's division, with Akira Hokuto becoming the first and only WCW Women's Champion, and a WCW Women's Cruiserweight Championship was even introduced and defended in GAEA shows.

Recent examples of Japanese wrestlers working in foreign promotions include Satoshi Kojima and Taiyō Kea in Major League Wrestling, Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki in Ring of Honor, and Hirooki Goto, Masato Yoshino, Tiger Mask IV and Hiroshi Tanahashi in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.

See also

References

  1. ^ Tanabe, Hisaharu (1992-11-12). "Chono vs. Takada". Google Groups. http://groups.google.com/group/rec.sport.pro-wrestling/browse_thread/thread/a336dac3032877e9/d75506e7b2e81f21. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  2. ^ "Open Directory category description". Open Directory. 1995. http://www.dmoz.org/Sports/Wrestling/Professional/Puroresu/desc.html. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  3. ^ "Puroresu Dojo Introduction". Puroresu.com. 1995. http://www.puroresu.com/intro.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08.  
  4. ^ Svinth, Joseph (2000). "Japanese Professional Wrestling Pioneer: Sorakichi Matsuda". http://ejmas.com/jalt/jaltart_Svinth1_1100.htm. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  5. ^ "Rikidōzan". Puroresu.com. 1995. http://www.puroresu.com/wrestlers/rikidozan/. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  6. ^ Great Hisa (2009-07-26). [puroresu.com "The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo"]. Puroresu.com. puroresu.com. Retrieved 2009-07-26.  
  7. ^ Wilson, Kevin. "Legends". Puroresu Central. http://www.puroresucentral.com/Legends.html. Retrieved 2009-07-26.  
  8. ^ Wilson, Kevin. "Major Promotions". Puroresu Central. http://www.puroresucentral.com/MajorPromotions.html. Retrieved 2009-07-26.  
  9. ^ "All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling". Puroresu Dojo. August 2001. http://www.puroresu.com/zenjo/.  
  10. ^ The Wrestling Gospel According to Mike Mooneyham

External links


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