July 2019 can be summed up in two images…
We’ll get back to Mr. Harrington in a bit.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling?
OK, a detour that has little to do with 2019, but everything to do with why I used a lot of my time the way I did in 2019.
I’ve watched on and off since I was 10 years old, when Cyndi Lauper was a gateway drug to it pre-Wrestlemania I, though there’s been a lot of “off”. My mom took me to a closed-circuit live screening of Wrestlemania II at Convention Hall in Asbury Park (Thanks, mom!), I got a bunch of action figures (Really wish I still had all of the Remco AWA figures I had initially, and the wrestling ring, rather than just some and no ring), I read a bunch of the Apter mags, and I ended up watching, through the magic of cable competition, wrestling from WWF, pre-WCW Jim Crockett Promotions (when they were calling it the National Wrestling Alliance, before Eazy-E and crew made those initials stand for something else), AWA, World Class Championship Wrestling, and even Championship Wrestling from Florida when my local cable access station picked it up for a bit (though I did not get to see the Bruiser Brody/Lex Luger cage match until many years later).
I’m not sure why I stopped watching initially, in ’87, not too long after Wrestlemania III, but it may have been a combo of my inability to afford pay-per-views, and my annoyance as still-basically-a-kid at the Andre/DiBiase/Hebner brothers screwjob on Hogan, not even so much because I was a huge Hogan fan, more that screwjob endings never made anyone happy except a promoter.
A video game (WCW/nWo World Tour for Nintendo 64) got me back into it in late ’97, and had me watching and caring about WCW, WWF (eventually WWE), the little bit of ECW I was able to see, a tiny bit of Impact (which used to be TNA back then), and here and there, thanks to the Internet and weird grey-at-best-market sources, I saw some stuff from Japan for the first time during this stretch, which included me being blown away by the Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid series from ’82-’83, and having my idea of what pro wrestling should look like changed forever. I made it to a few live wrestling cards around this time, all independent promotions, but saw people like Gangrel, Steve Corino, and Christopher Daniels when they were still relatively new to the sport (and yes, it is definitely a sport, even if success isn’t quite measured in conventional wins and losses), and hadn’t gotten much, if any national attention yet. (Daniels was already being acknowledged as probably the best independent wrestler in the world when I saw him in ’02, but was still relatively new. He’s still working 17 years later in AEW.)
What got me to tune out again? In a name, Randy Orton. I REALLY didn’t like Randy Orton, and, as he was being pushed to the moon by Vince McMahon on some of the only viable television left after Vince bought WCW and ECW, he pretty much single-handedly caused me to lose interest for many years.
What got me to tune back in? Sort of unfortunately, it was a Vince McMahon product (albeit one run by his son-in-law), NXT. I’d first heard from a friend that the stuff happening in NXT was actually very good, and I was told about a woman wrestling there called Blue Pants, which I of course thought was a great name, and then I saw her and saw that she could actually really work, as could whoever I saw her wrestle against (this was at least 4 years ago now, probably closer to 5, and it’s been kind of hectic in my life lately, so while I wish I remember which one of Leva’s matches I saw and who her opponent was, I don’t). Not too long after that, I heard something, probably on Deadspin, about a Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn match (NXT Takeover Dallas 01/04/16, just under 4 years ago) that was off the charts, and I did, in fact, enjoy the hell out of it when I saw it.
That sort of opened the door, but then, about a year later, the door got blown the hell open a year later when I saw Kazuchika Okada fight Kenny Omega for the first time. And the second. And then the third. And finally, the fourth. At that point, I knew that the best wrestling in the world was in Japan, but it was just starting to try to inch its way across the ocean, and I had a bunch of other stuff going on, so I didn’t get to it right away.
In the meantime, I dealt with as much WWE as I could until the WWE in Saudi Arabia deal happened and made it completely unpalatable to do any kind of business with the McMahons once and for all (it was always bad, but that was next-level disgusting), and also found out about a bunch of different indie wrestlers who were doing great work and entertaining people a bunch like Keith Lee (now with WWE, alas), Marko Stunt and Orange Cassidy, so they kept me busy until I could clear time on the schedule. It took me until this July, after a bunch of urging from a friend because the G1 Climax was about to start, to order NJPW World, New Japan’s streaming service.
So, that brings us here. What is the G1 Climax? It is a month long pro wrestling tournament in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where (at present) 20 of the world’s best wrestlers fight each other to see who the best one is. If that doesn’t set you on fire, or you don’t quite grasp the drama of all of that from 1 sentence, you can watch these English-language instructional videos on it, hosted by Kevin Kelly (at present, he’s the best play-by-play guy in wrestling), which go over the history (and pre-history) of the tournament!
And, as 54 hours of pro wrestling is a LOT to catch up on, if you’d like to be brought up to speed on how things went in this year’s G1 Climax (or “G1 Climax…TWENTY-NINE!”, as their lead announcer, Baron Yamazaki, so dramatically enunciated it this year), the video below is an hour-long recap of the tournament, complete with English subtitles.
G1 Climax 29 is widely considered to be the best edition of the tournament in history, even without Kenny Omega participating (he left to help form AEW in January), and watching it live at odd hours of the morning (as it was held near-entirely in Japan, and there’s some time zone differences there) was one of the most rewarding experiences of not just my time watching wrestling or sports in general, but my time watching television. It was incredible, and everything that’s followed since has been incredible.
Television seasons binge-watched in July 2019 (1): Stranger Things Season 3 (Oh, and Stranger Things was pretty good, too. Nah, it was my second favorite season so far, the “Hero’s Journey” of Steve Harrington is amazing, and then there’s that bit with the song toward the end…)