Strong Style – Changing A Fan’s Perception

Lately, I started following New Japan Pro Wrestling, starting with the G1 Climax 28. The G1 was an awesome introduction to this hot product that has started to expand their market in the west. Admittedly, it took me some time to re-programme the way I watch wrestling. In earlier articles, I mentioned that I grew up watching the WWE, the style that’s influenced the way I viewed wrestling programming. The pay-per-views, in particular, WrestleMania and SummerSlam set an expectation on how wrestling should be presented. I wasn’t aware that there was a particular WWE style until years later while watching WCW. I found there to be a contrast in presentation; such as the quality of wrestling in WWE that is aimed towards simplicity to appeal and reel in a casual audience, while WCW provided a higher standard of wrestling for a southern audience that had watched wrestling for generations. In fact, I was shocked at the standard of matches in 1990, WCW; one match which highlighted WCW’s incredible quality was the Midnight Express vs. The Southern Boys, for the United States Tag Team Titles at the Great American Bash; this became my favourite tag team match, followed closely by the Rockers vs. Orient Express opener from the WWE’s 1991 Royal Rumble. I was further surprised at the different variations of suplexes that the Steiner Brothers were executing during this time frame. I rarely saw different variations of the suplex in the WWE, this would change however due to the arrival of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit in 1999 and 2000.

Masahiro Chono and the Great Muta representing New Japan Pro Wrestling during the WCW-NJPW working relationship in the mid-1990s

My first exposure to New Japan Pro Wrestling was in the mid-1990s during the WCW-NJPW working relationship as NJPW wrestlers which included Yuiji Nagata, Masahiro Chono and the Great Muta would make frequent appearances. My second exposure came in 2011 while noticing two members of the NJPW roster, Bad Luck Fale (known then as King Fale) and Tama Tonga. With the addition of the English language commentary to the New Japan broadcasts, I became very interested in the presentation as the English commentary broke the language barrier, making it easy to follow.  This also opened up an avenue to make NJPW accessible to the western market.

Before my association with Fale Dojo, I had a general perspective of New Japan Pro Wrestling; since my time observing the training and culture at the Dojo (which is closely affiliated with the NJPW Dojo training), I’ve grown in familiarity with the NJPW strong style genre – a huge contrast to the WWE’s ‘sports entertainment style’. My experience equipped me with the valuable understanding and appreciation for the NJPW product and the Strong Style.

With limited knowledge of Japanese wrestling, I wasn’t fully aware of the Strong Style genre for the same reason that I wasn’t aware of a presentation other than the WWE’s until I watched WCW. I was not exposed to NJPW and the Japanese Strong Style before and had it not been for the educational experience at Fale Dojo and NJPW’s English commentary, I might not have had a fair appreciation for the NJPW product. The Strong Style presentation is built on an athletic contest; taking influences from martial arts strikes and submission wrestling: NJPW embraces full physical contact. Unlike their American counterparts, NJPW is not concerned with the sound of bodies crashing onto the mat to enhance the moves; rather NJPW’s strong style uses the ear popping and real effects of strikes to the body and the visuals of some effective manoeuvres to enhance the severity of moves. It must also help that wrestlers who came through the NJPW Dojo are also disciplined in shoot fighting, so some of that influence can be incorporated into the matches, adding a genuine legitimate element.

The English commentary team of Kevin Kelly and Don Callis do a fantastic job in complementing the NJPW style with knowledge of the Japanese wrestling and descriptive analogies. Kelly is a rarity in pro wrestling; part of a breed who possesses a sports voice that fits New Japan’s image.

Iishi Tomohiro and Minoru Suzuki exchanging forearm strikes

At first, it took  some time to adapt to the NJPW style as I was used to the enhancement of sound which the American style did exceptionally well; every time a wrestler was slammed or suplexed, or when a wrestler made a stomping noise to sensationalise their punches and kicks, that sound signified that the recipient of the move was hurt; I was conditioned to associate the exaggeration of ‘sound’ with ‘pain’. As I committed to the NJPW presentation, I would hear the raw sound of strikes, which didn’t translate with me, initially, despite the strikes connecting and being very real. I found myself putting aside the tricks of ‘entertainment’ and the clever camera angles used by the WWE which hid the punches and kicks that didn’t really connect to embracing Strong Style. This adjustment allowed me to watch and enjoy the NJPW matches in greater detail. The cameras didn’t change angles when the wrestlers stuck each other, and there was no use of foot stomps when the wrestlers hit each other with martial arts strikes and forearms, and there wasn’t a thunderous sound that accompanied a suplex or splash off the top rope. NJPW’s Strong Style puts more emphasis on showcasing the best athletic wrestlers pushing each other to exhaustion until a winner is determined. Strong Style also embraces the competitive one-upmanship between two wrestlers exchanging strikes. As I look back at Masahiro Chono’s matches in WCW, I can recognise the Strong Style, and noticed that his offence was too overwhelming for many of his opponents, with exception to a few who wrestled in Japan, like the Steiner Brothers and Chris Jericho.

Michael Elgin delivers a chop to Togi Makabe

Since watching the G1 Climax, I now have a number of favourite NJPW wrestlers, two of my favourites that I enjoyed watching exchange strikes are Minoru Suzuki and Iishi Tomohiro. One of the best matches from the G1 was between Michael Elgin and Togi Makabe, which I can only describe as being very physical and competitive; and any match and media hype that involved “Switchblade” Jay White, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale, added an element of excitement to the New Japan product.

“Switchblade” Jay White

In my opinion, New Japan Pro Wrestling has the best wrestling presentation in the world, today; as well as having the top roster. There is an emphasis on match quality and providing fans with the best action which their roster of world-class wrestlers can deliver. Although NJPW has yet to fully expand to the west, there is a growing demand from fans throughout the world for the NJPW product. This could potentially push New Japan to become the top wrestling promotion if all wrestling consumers were made aware of the variety of choices that were available to them. I’m excited that New Japan Pro Wrestling, along with Ring of Honor will be headlining Madison Square Garden in 2019.

Fale Dojo