Much More Than Sumo

The Wild World of Japanese Pro Wrestling

As American martial arts undergo a crisis, with UFC spiraling under the concussed reputation of Dana White’s PowerSlap and growing infighting within major wrestling promotions like WWE/F, a new scene is quickly gaining popularity worldwide. Japanese wrestling is everything WWE has to offer turned up to eleven with bright costumes, larger-than-life characters, and ridiculously cinematic storylines. 

The Japanese wrestling world tends to revolve around several main promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling or the women’s Ice Ribbon, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for smaller groups too. Triple Six is a company known for outlandish themes and being banned from several venues after extreme and even destructive performances. They also promote several sub-brands such as Shinjuku Nichome, a wrestling show created in collaboration with the gay magazine Badi and named after the Shinjuku area of Japan’s Nichome district, notable for housing the world’s highest concentration of gay bars. 

But trashing stadiums isn’t anything new to Japanese wrestling. It was 1987, and the king of the NJPW was Antonio Inoki, the man who founded NJPW and had fought Muhammad Ali to a 15-round draw. But with a hero larger than life NJPW’s promotions were beginning to go stale. Enter Big Van Vader. Like his name implied, Vader was a 370 pound monster of a man, who’d earned the nickname Bull from his fights in the Americas, but his character would be completely revamped for this battle. To create the ultimate villain for their king of sports, the president of NJPW (also Inoki) commissioned Go Nagai, known for the Cutie Honey series to create a fresh look and backstory for the wrestler. Thanks to him when Vader entered the hall for his battle with Inoki, fans were greeted by a massive Geiger-esque helmet, sprawling into spiked shoulder pads and equipped with CO2 tanks that could blast steam on command. And, in a sold-out Sumo Hall, Inoki’s fans watched him serve their champion his second loss in the past decade and just keep going, beating the piss out of their ‘King of Sports’. Soon, seat cushions were lit on fire and thrown into the ring. Vader couldn’t even safely retire to the locker room, fans were storming the halls out for his blood. It took police over an hour to stop the rioting and NJPW was banned from Sumo Hall for two years. But it worked, and soon people in their thousands began buying tickets to Vader’s matches in the hopes they’d get to watch him lose.

 Another interesting promotion is DDT or Dramatic Dream Team. DDT shows feature fantastic characters and costumes and often parody aspects of American pro wrestling. How often championship titles change hands is often a complaint you’ll find from hardcore WWE fans and DDT’s Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship has changed hands over 1500 times and is currently held by Yoshihiko, a long-time fan-favorite member of DDT’s lineup and also a blow-up doll. Previous holders of the title include Killing the Business by The Young Bucks, a Japanese swimsuit magazine, a couple of rice cakes, and Danshoku Dino, a DDT staple whose signature piledriver shoves the head of his opponent down his pants to plant it. So if you ever feel like college isn’t for you,  there’s always Japanese Pro-Wrestling