New Japan And Innovation In Pro-Wrestling

 

Kenny Omega drove his knee into the side of Okada's head.

There was an audible pop as boot met flesh, and Okada tumbled to the canvas, devastated. The crowd, enraptured by every strike, let out an awe-struck gasp (this knee was particularly vicious). That gasp spread out as a wave within the arena, and then fractured into light clapping and sporadic cries of "Kennnnnyyyyyy!"

My jaw was firmly on the floor. My eyes were stretched wide, straining to confirm what they had just seen.

Was this real? How could that have just happened?

Well...yes, it was real. It was New Japan Pro-Wrestling. And I was in love.

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Pro-Wrestling Is An Art...But It's Better When Wrestlers Don't Know That

Professional wrestling is an art.

That's the simple truth.

Proving and reinforcing that truth with my style of pro-wrestling-arts-criticism has always been the purpose of my writing and my podcast. It is an accurate way of analyzing the medium that quickly dismantles the age-old claim "wrestling is fake", and simultaneously positions pro-wrestling to be watched (and created) with the respect it deserves.

The idea that pro-wrestling is an art is by no means new: philosopher Roland Barthes wrote about wrestling as theater in the 1950s, Bret Hart stated with his trademark tempered pride, "There is an art to wrestling" in the 1998 documentary Wrestling With Shadows, and CM Punk told GQ in 2011, "It's truly, I believe, one of the only art forms that America has actually given to the world, besides jazz and comic books".

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The Magic Of Wrestling Action Figures

I held Anakin Skywalker in my hands, and I felt nothing. 

For the first time in my life, an action figure wasn’t anything more than a piece of cheap plastic. His poorly molded head stared up at me, devoid of magic. His unarticulated arm was stiff so that a lightsaber would go in and out the hilt extending from his hand, making it appear as though the blade could be turned on and off; the kind of gimmick I always hated even as a little kid. Toys with “Chop action!” buttons, bells, and whistles assumed I didn’t have an imagination. His fixed pose felt like an insult to my intelligence.

My mom sat next to me in the car, watching me open two more figures inspired by Attack of the Clones: a similarly stiff Obi-Wan Kenobi and a tiny Padme Amidala. We were in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, our custom during these sacred action figure openings.

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Is WWE Too Smart For Its Own Good? What The Women's Money in the Bank Controversy Reveals

"Too smart for their own good" is a criticism that doesn't just apply to pro-wrestling fans, though.

It's a criticism that also applies to the WWE.

How exactly?

We needn't look further than the way the WWE booked the first ever women's Money in the Bank ladder match to see "too smart for their own good" on unapologetic display. 

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Stop Lying To Me, Babyfaces: Or Why WWE Heels Always Win

Whether it's Triple H pontificating about the value of hard work or The Miz describing, in minute detail, how meaningless the Intercontinental Championship was on Dean Ambrose's shoulder, heels consistently make accurate and even inspired observations about life and their opponents. Heels tend to speak with confidence and certainty, and, more often than not, they're proven right. They say they're going to win and they win. They lose, and they talk their way out of it through snarky humor or they immediately retaliate (demonstrating cunning, resiliency, and decisiveness). Or they vanish off television for months after their loss, and so their loss is forgotten.

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The Demise of the American Babyface

A prone Dolph Ziggler lay flat on his face in the middle of the ring. He struggled to regain his bearings as Baron Corbin approached with a steel chair in hand. Having just earned a nefarious victory over ‘The Showoff’ wasn’t enough; the vitriolic fire in Corbin’s heart would continue to rage until the satisfactory pound of flesh was properly extricated from Ziggler’s battered physique. Luckily Kalisto, a previous victim of Corbin’s post-match antics, raced down the entrance ramp just in time to chase the cowardly heel away and save his friend from further violence.  

This familiar pro wrestling scene took place on the first SmackDown Live of 2017 and came on the heels of a satisfying resurgence of Ziggler’s babyface character thanks to a compelling program with The Miz in the later stages of the previous year.

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The Women's Evolution In Wrestling: Breaking The Cycle of Sexism

On April 1st, WWE Announced they will air a Global Women’s Tournament this summer with 32 competitors from 17 different countries. The Cruiserweight Classic and United Kingdom Championship Tournament were both critical successes for WWE Network. The single elimination tournament format created stakes based in reality for those involved and was portrayed as legitimate sport, real people with backstories all vying for a championship and the opportunity to be seen by the WWE Universe.

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Wrestling Sexism: An Interview

Although the pro-wrestling industry often appears content to exist on the fringe of popular culture, fancying itself apolitical, asocial, and purely "entertainment", it does not, in fact, exist apart from society.

Pro-wrestling is every bit a reflection (the good, the bad, and the reprehensible) of society as any other theatrical medium. Just as Hollywood, the video game industry, the sports world, and every other business enterprise where creativity, athleticism, and culture collide, professional wrestling is undergoing a transformation.

In pro-wrestling, particularly in the past few years, those fans & performers who have historically been underrepresented, marginalized, or vilified are pushing back. The bigoted and sexist caricatures in pro-wrestling, as well as those fans who dismiss people who don't fit the white, straight, eighteen to thirty-five year old male demographic as "fake fans", face a mounting resistance. Pro-wrestling fans are combating the tired, false narrative that this form of art is "for the few, by the few".

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