After spending my summer watching New Japan Pro-Wrestling, I jumped at the opportunity to see a show live when they announced their Fighting Spirit Unleashed U.S. tour.
I made it to the first night, which was labelled as being in Boston, but was actually in Lowell, MA at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
Not only that, I got to meet a few of the wrestlers! Here I am with Lance Archer, who did the first of what would be a couple surprise meet-and-greets in the lobby of the venue.
After I met Lance, I headed up to my seat, and was talking to the people in my section, when one of them casually mentioned that Tomohiro Ishii was also taking pictures and signing things for people downstairs, in a part of the venue that I didn’t make it over to.
You have never seen someone with bad knees and equally bad feet traverse two flights of stairs quicker.
Those of you who don’t care about pro wrestling, or who are unfamiliar or uninterested in NJPW might not get why I ran, so I’ll do my best here, above and beyond what you’d read at the Wikipedia entry, or see in that so-fast-it’s-blurry GIF of him and Shibata: Tomohiro Ishii is maybe the toughest, most shit-talkingest, punch way above his weight class badass in the world. He’s a billed height of 5’7″, but built like a tank, impossibly strong (I’ve seen him throw around Bad Luck Fale, who’s around 400 pounds), deceptively fast, and fearless. Due to the scripted nature of pro wrestling, he doesn’t win the big matches quite as often as many of us feel he should, but I can guarantee you that everyone he’s in those matches with walks away feeling like they got their ass kicked, and with their self-esteem pretty wounded by the demoralizing things they’ve had him say about them, but probably strangely proud and grateful for the experience. My Japanese isn’t good enough to pick up on all of what he says, and Chris Charlton, the resident Japanese translator on the English broadcast team, doesn’t repeat some of what he says, for what I assume are obvious reasons. He’s one of the people who the wrestlers themselves tend to stop and watch, because he’s great at his craft (he can carry just about anyone to a very good to great match), seemingly able to turn off his pain response at will, and also incredibly entertaining.
I also met TJP outside before the show, as he’d come outside to meet up with a super-fan of his, then ended up talking and posing for pictures with what seemed like about 100 people before he found her. I didn’t get a picture with him, but I did get to say hi for a minute, and he liked my Orange Cassidy shirt.
All of the wrestlers I met were totally cool to me and everyone I saw them spend time with. Not a shocker, as, generally speaking, when I’ve met pro wrestlers, they’ve been solid citizens.
As my seats were pretty far back, I didn’t get many pictures (I also wanted to watch the show without pretending to be a photographer), and the ones I got were not great (it was tough to balance the dark arena/bright wrestling ring thing, clearly), but I figured I’d give those of you who are familiar with NJPW one shot that should give you an idea of the star power at this show.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, a pretty strong case can be made at this point for Kazuchika Okada being the best professional wrestler who’s ever lived. Hiroshi Tanahashi‘s really not far behind him, and carried New Japan for many years. Kota Ibushi has singles wins over both of them (though he fell short in his match vs. Okada at Wrestle Kingdom last month), and he still has a good chance of catching up to both of them. EVIL is also an awesome, and still very steadily improving wrestler with a great gimmick (think of him sort of like a Japanese version of The Undertaker) who’s a member of New Japan’s most popular stable of wrestlers, Los Ingobernables de Japon. If the people in this picture weren’t enough, LIJ’s leader, Tetsuya Naito (who beat “Switchblade” Jay White for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, then beat Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on consecutive nights, becoming a double champion on this level for the first time in NJPW’s history at Wrestle Kingdom) and EVIL’s partner SANADA (who many feel is a future IWGP champion, and is also one of the best wrestlers in the world right now) were both in the match, as well. (Oh, and “Red Shoes” Unno is more or less the present-day god of refereeing.)
Full results for the night are here, and it was a great night. Along with the main event, Lance Archer vs. Ren Narita, and Tomohiro Ishii and Amazing Red vs. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi (which Ishii did win) were my favorite matches of the night.
If you have the means (and you will at least have the opportunity; NJPW have announced an expansion of their company, New Japan Pro-Wrestling of America, were just over here for a tour of the Southeast, and will be back in Tampa over the first week of April when seemingly every wrestling promotion on Earth are in town to capitalize on Wrestlemania week), I highly recommend catching a NJPW show.