Tonight on AXS TV another episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling will air. If you aren’t watching this or recording it onto your DVR, dare I say you are a fool. NJPW is exciting and fun to watch. But for the newly exposed, it can be slightly confusing as the rules differ compared to other countries.
Japanese style wrestling, or Puroresu, differs in several important ways from American wrestling. Japanese style focuses on presenting each match as an actual, e.g. “shoot”, fight and the psychology of the match is tailored around that. The theatrics are limited, instead wrestlers utilize “strong style” to show off their fighting spirit and unyielding perseverance to overcome impossible odds. Whereas Vince McMahon prefers the term “sports entertainment”, Japanese wrestling considers itself a combat sport, similar to mixed martial arts. Most notably, an emphasis is placed on realism. The match outcomes are, of course, still predetermined beforehand.
As with most wrestling promotions, winning a match in Japan can come via pinfall, submission, countout, TKO or disqualification. There are small, subtle differences in the aspect of match finishes, however. For instance, in America, a countout is when the ref counts to 10 and the wrestler fails to roll back into the ring from the outside. In Japan, the wrestler gets 20 seconds. It might seem like too long a time, but remember Japanese wrestling hits hard and wrestlers often need recovery time.
Another rule in Japanese strong style wrestling is that punching with a closed fist is considered illegal, although it is at the ref’s discretion as to whether or not to disqualify a wrestler. Disqualification finishes are extremely rare. Illegal things can be done such as using foreign objects, team beatdowns, etc., within full view of the referee without causing a disqualification.
Throughout NJPW broadcasts, you may notice a difference in terminology being used, as well. Clotheslines are referred to as lariats. Vertical suplexes are instead called brainbusters. It isn’t too big of a difference, but it can really add to the eloquence of what you are watching. And gives the vibe a different feel from Michael Cole talking about Mtn Dew Kickstart being a sponsor during a match.
The biggest and most notable difference in Japanese wrestling is the crowd in attendance. In America, every fan has an opinion. They will cheer, boo, hiss, cuss, and chant their way into a show, often overshadowing the actual match. There are signs everywhere, people are standing and waving to the camera trying to get on television. NJPW is not like this. The audience is respectful and sits calmly in their chairs. They only respond when warranted and to get admiration from them during a match means you actually did something good. They will still cheer their favorite wrestler or boo a heel’s sneaky tactic, but for the most part they sit and enjoy the match in a respectful way.
Lastly, you’ll notice after each match, the sweaty, exhausted wrestlers go to the back and give impromptu interviews with “reporters”, fielding questions while looking directly into the camera. They talk about the match and what they plan to do next. It’s a really cool thing that other promotions could benefit from. It’s like a press conference, only with bare chested behemoths yelling in Japanese (there are subtitles) at their opponents or apologizing to fans for losing. It really helps you connect with the wrestler.
NJPW is arguably a better product than WWE. Their matches are high quality. The wrestlers care about their craft. There is a vivid fluidity to each move performed, to each dangerous leap or painful submission. It’s poetry in motion and if you aren’t tuning in, you’re really missing out.
Article by Jamie Curtis Baker