While “Puroresu” covers the broad term of pro wrestling in Japan, it can’t be denied that most promotions have a different feel then their American counterparts. Besides the language barrier, American Pro Wrestling fans can find the change too jarring to immerse themselves into a match. It may be the pacing, the moves, or presentation of those matches that could affect someone’s preference. The slight rule changes and leniency of the refs in Japan can also be very off putting for some people.
In New Japan Pro Wrestling, the biggest rule change is the count out. While American audiences are used to a 10 count, New Japan employs a 20 count, and its started at the referee’s discretion. This can lead to extended brawls on the outside of the ring, giving the wrestlers a bit more freedom to show a more brutal side of the sport. The refs also can be very lenient on the rules being bent, and even broken during a match. Some will even go as far as not count a pinfall after extensive rule bending, to teach the wrestler a lesson. Red Shoes Umino is a referee that will commonly let a pinfall not be counted, if the pinning wrestler has not listened to his instructions multiple times, or is getting the pinfall off a questionable move. The use of chairs sometimes goes unpunished, but frowned upon, as the referees want fans to get their moneys worth and see a match to a true conclusion, rather than a disqualification. While disqualifications can and do happen, they are reserved for extremely blatant rule breaking.
The actual in ring wrestling can differ from its American counterparts as well. The Strong Style wrestling has its origins in MMA, with a style that incorporates more strikes and submissions. Many of the outside theatrics are passed over for in ring match storytelling, letting the wrestling match itself tell the story between wrestlers. Meanwhile, in the actual wrestling, the wrestlers are expected to show off their “Fighting spirit” in their matches. It’s common to see a wrestler invite the other to strike them, to show off their toughness. Trying to outlast their opponent in an exchange of strikes is just one of the ways these wrestlers get the one up on the competition. Kota Ibushi and Taichi’s match during the G1 was a great example of such a showing, as the two exchanged kicks for nearly the entirety of the match. Neither wanted to back down from the others challenge, throwing a combine total of 158 kicks in the match. So it’s understandable when a wrestling fan does not exactly like a match where the action can be a minute or more of two men throwing the same move at one another repeatedly. It’s part of their story they are trying to tell, who can take the punch, and be the last one to deal it out.
Watching a show from New Japan can be very hard, of course, if you don’t speak Japanese. While New Japan used to have live English coverage for most shows, it has become difficult for live English coverage since the pandemic hit. Besides the commentary though, there is very little talking on a show. Unlike American Wrestling Promotions, there is little in terms to promos and the like. The story telling is regulated in the ring, for the most part. Each wrestler has a short backstage segment that airs on Youtube after their match, but it’s not a necessity to watch to understand their story. In my time watching, I’ve seen just one segment backstage that contained storytelling. Gone are the in-ring contract signings, the backstage interviews that are interrupted by rivals, attacks by unknown opponents, and other oddball storylines, like finding out who someone’s father is. The action, the story, is all done in the ring.
These, of course, are not all the differences between NJPW and its American counterparts. Production, camera work, and its usage of large stables are all a part of the differences between companies. But for someone trying to dive into the NJPW World, knowing what to expect inside the ring and its stylization may help for a smoother transition into NJPW.
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