Talking with Rob Hunter about The Beautiful Thing

Almost every week I get at least one email from a reader asking me where to get tapes of the non-mainstream wrestling I write about in this column.

There are a number of excellent tape traders and dealers out there. By far, though, my number one guy when it comes to getting tapes and DVDs is Rob Hunter of Golden Boy Tapes. I have no hesitation in recommending his “Best of Japan 1990s” compilation set as the definitive best starting point for those entering the hobby, and his Best of Japan 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 sets are invaluable to anyone with an interest in the current puroresu scene.

Rob recently agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about tape trading and Japanese Pro Wrestling.

What came first for you, an interest in Japanese Wrestling or an interest in tape collecting/trading?

Definitely the tape trading. There’s a certain inevitability when you’re exposed to only WWF and WCW shows – you will eventually get tired of that style. Up in Canada we had no real exposure to ECW either, so in the late 1990’s I began branching out and trying out some new styles.

How did you get into Japanese wrestling?

There was an old tape-trading website, and I’ll be very impressed if anyone can remember the name of this guy because I certainly can’t, he was a very eccentric individual but had very engaging descriptions of all the matches on his site. He just kept going on about all the goodness coming out of All Japan – at first he wouldn’t even send to Canada but I convinced him eventually.
This was back in the days of paying $20 for 5th generation tapes, but I was still blown away by what I saw. My first tape was the Champions Carnival 1997 commercial release. I was really impressed with the 30:00 Kobashi/Kawada draw, but not so much by the 7:00 Kawada match that followed, which is interesting since Kawada has now become one of my favorites.

Have your tastes changed since you first got into it?

Definitely. I think variety is important. Years ago I would watch entire New Japan tours in a matter of days, but now I like to mix up my viewing patterns a little. For instance, some of the NOAH shows are fantastic, but there are so many six-man tags on a lot of them that it becomes a little monotonous if that’s all you watch.

Do you watch WWE? TNA? ROH?

I am still pretty religious about my Raw on Monday nights, but haven’t really enjoyed the product for long stretches of time in awhile. I saw the first eight or so TNA shows, ordered one of the PPV’s – they’re producing decent stuff but their future is so rocky unless they get a TV deal sorted out.
I saw the first two ROH shows, and was impressed, but not enough to have gone out and seen anything else yet – if time permits I’d love to see more of their stuff.

How many wrestling tapes/DVDs do you own?

It’s up in the 1000’s now, easily. With everything from Japan, the WWE, WCW, and everywhere else, I’ve got a real collection.

How many VCRs? DVD recorders?

One DVD Recorder and two burners. VCR’s, man, I’ve lost track – do you count ones that aren’t working? I was unlucky enough to buy into the cheap VCR craze a few years back; unfortunately, the machines were of awful quality despite their cheap price. I’m a pack rat so I’ve kept them around, but they don’t really work that well any more.

How much wrestling do you watch in a typical week?

Not as much as I used to. Raw on Mondays, a PPV on Sunday if it’s time, and then maybe two or three hours of Japan stuff if I can fit in it.

Do you have a favourite promotion? Wrestler? Match? Event? Feud?

All Japan in the 90’s is probably my favorite one. WWE from about 1998-2000 was also lots of fun.

My favorite Japan star is Toshiaki Kawada. For North American workers, I admit to being a Foley mark, although not as much as I used to be. Benoit and Bret Hart round out my top three.

Favorite match is really hard. The 1/99 Kawada vs. Misawa match where Kawada breaks his arm sticks out in my mind as being really near the top. The 1996 Real World Tag League Finals was also just breathtaking. As a Benoit mark, the WM XX three-way was also a lot of fun.

Best event ever? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we’ll be seeing it in a little while with NOAH’s Dome Show. If everyone brings their working boots that will be one hell of a card. Domestically, WM XVII was fantastic, and I also enjoyed WCW’s old Spring Stampede 1999 quite a bit.

Kawada-Misawa for best feud I’d say takes the cake easily. So much story and so many good matches. Can’t wait for the next chapter.

Which aspects of wrestling are most important to you? (Pure wrestling, brawling, high flying, power wrestling, psychology, selling, bumping, stiffness, highspots, story telling, crowd involvement, announcing, historical context…)

I think when you get down to it, everything begins and ends with the story telling, taking the crowd on an emotional roller coaster through a match. There’s many ways to do that, and things like selling/psychology/different styles are all various methods of accomplishing good storytelling.

What bugs you about pro wrestling?

In Japan lately, my main problem is that it seems whenever one of the big three find something that really works in the quality or business department, they go and change things immediately. The Kojima IWGP Title Reign was a good example – you had a year’s worth of matches there if you wanted it, but they pulled the plug way too earlier.

In North America, it all boils down to apathy. I watch Raw, I see good to great matches, and storylines involving characters that I would normally be excited to see, but I really don’t care at all. I just don’t care any more. They need to find something for people to care about again.

What are the best and worst things about Tape Trading?

The people, to both questions! Seriously, 99.9% of everybody I deal with is fantastic, but it’s that 0.1% that really screws things up every now and then. Getting to meet a wide variety of people from all around the world is good fun though.

How many hours a week would you say you devote to Golden Boy?

Not as much as I used to, as I have an assistant helping me out now. A good 20 hours or so on e-mails, watching stuff, site maintenance, etc.

Do you have a day job?

I’m actually a full-time student right now. Just also got my real estate liscence, so I’ll hopefully be buying and selling part time as well.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I also enjoy marathon running, major league baseball, and losing copious amounts of money on that evil, wicked site

Do you have time for a personal life?

I think I do okay, getting out a few nights a week usually.

Did you set out to create a big Japanese wrestling tape website, or did it just kind of happen?

It’s been kind of like a house with many different additions to it. I think part of it is that a lot of the competition has disappeared over the years too.

Do you make your own compilation tapes?

Yes, most of the time anyway – all the major ones on the site.

How do you go about choosing which matches make the comps, and which wrestlers get a comp?

Best case scenario, I’ve seen every match on the tape going in and am prepared to declare how wonderful it is. I also put a lot of trust in internet reviewers and Meltzer’s star ratings. Whoever gets a comp is largely decided on a whim, or what I have available, or who is more in the public eye at the time.

How did the idea to do a “Best of the Year” series come about?

It was largely a matter of differentiating myself from the competition, and that’s become more important than ever nowadays.

Again, how do you go about choosing the matches?

The Best of Japan set is decided on three factors, in the following order: 1) Match Quality, 2) Match Importance, 3) Match Variety. #3 is important – it’s the reason there’s not 75 NOAH Junior tag matches on the set. #2 is also a big one – the Misawa vs. Chono match from 5/02 is a good example, it’s about **1/2 at best, but was one of the biggest matches of that year, so it made the set. Ultimately, though, it boils down to #1 – if a match is ****+, it will be on the set.

Are there any matches that you haven’t been able to include even though you felt they were among the Best of the Year?

I’m sure that Michinoku Pro/DDT/Random Indy Group is producing a few matches at least per year that get overlooked, but otherwise no, I don’t think I’ve not been able to include certain matches.

Do you get a lot of feedback when the sets are released? Is it mostly positive or negative?

Largely positive, definitely, the sets are pretty popular.

What are your best selling tapes/tape sets/DVDs/DVD sets?

The 1994 J-Cup is always a favorite for a lot of people. Obviously the Best of Japan sets are also at the top. It’s funny how some tapes are always popular whereas others are only for a certain period of time – the All Japan vs. New Japan 2001 feud tape was one of the top sellers from that year but has dropped off heavily since.

What would you recommend as a good starting point for a Japanese Pro-Wres newcomer?

Pick one promotion to start with and get a few tapes from one specific era for that promotion. Start recognizing moves and the names of the workers, and then branch out from there. Don’t try to do it all at once.

After someone has seen most of the classic matches (for example, after they’ve gone through your “Best of the 90s” set), where should they turn next?

The answer to this question will be up on the site in a few weeks – I’ve got the entire All Japan Classics set coming in, a full 118 volumes, some 235 hours of footage of all the best stuff from the 70’s and 80’s. There really is tons of classic stuff here that the majority of fans have never seen before.

If someone is primarily interested in High Flying/Brawling/Death Matches/Ring Psychology, where should they look on your site to find the good stuff?

High Flying – Michinoku Pro or Dragon Gate, also lots of goodness under the Tournaments section

Brawling – Check out a good Stan Hansen match from All Japan in the 1990’s

Death Matches – Misc!

Ring Psychology – Again, All Japan in the 1990’s is your haven.

Who are the best high flyers/brawlers/mat wrestlers/shoot stylists/story tellers on the Japanese scene today?

This is tough as I don’t watch as much as I used to. Marufuji & KENTA have had some awesome high-flying stuff going on with their good friends Ricky Marvin/SUWA/etc. Kobashi is still one of the best story tellers around. Up until his injury last year, Takayama was the king of a good brawl. U-Style was responsible for some very good shoot-esque stuff, but I don’t know if they’re still doing shows or not.

What are your personal favourite matches on the “Best of 2004” set?

– Mitsuo Momota vs. Jushin Lyger from 2/04 was worlds better than it had any right to be.

– Also really enjoyed Misawa vs. Kojima from All Japan, 7/18/04.

– Sasaki/Tanahashi had a good series throughout the summer and

– The two GHC matches from 4/25/04 are some of my favorite matches as well

Who would be your 2004 Pro-Wres MVP(s)?

Kenta Kobashi, easily. Reinvigorated NOAH and defined the GHC Title. Kawada is also up there, finally getting a long run with the Triple Crown.

What have been the most compelling storylines/developments on the Japanese scene this year?

Kawada entering NOAH has been huge for me personally. The Triple Crown/IWGP Unification had the potential to be a lot more, but it was still a big deal. Glad to finally see Kojima get his run at the top of a major promotion.

What can we look forward to seeing on the “Best of 2005” set?

There have been lots of long matches this year, and this far in I’d say we’re looking at the best year quality-wise since I started doing these sets. Should be an exciting year.

Do you have any other new sets or comps on the horizon?

Best of Mitsuharu Misawa: Ode To Glory is almost finished – at a bare minimum of 10 six-hour tapes, it is the longest thing I have ever done. Keep checking the site for more information and match listings. This is really the ultimate compilation for a fan of Japanese wrestling, old or new, as it’s basically an encyclopedia of the last fifteen years.

Does it seem to you that interest in tape collecting/Japanese wrestling is on the increase or is it declining?

Unfortunately I’d say declining. I would link interest in Japanese wrestling with interesting in American wrestling – when the latter falls, the former goes with it. Definitely not as cyclical as WWE, but close.

How long do you see yourself keeping this up?

Not long! Time to get out in the real world sometime. In all seriousness, likely another year or two.

Thanks for your time, Rob!

Thanks Gordi – best of luck to you!