Puroresu Pulse, issue 70


Section 1- News

All Japan: They’ve booked Sumo Hall on 8/27 for Hase’s real retirement match.

Dragon Gate: From 7/8 to 7/12 they will run a series of shows featuring Dragon Gate and US indy stars, with lots of ‘dream matches’ and the like. I’d bet almost anything that ROH will have cameras there.

Section 2- NOAH’s new website and the implications

NOAH USA opened this week. It doesn’t look like much, but I think it could be quite important.

This isn’t the first time a Japanese promotion started an English language website in order to reach its international fans. New Japan, by way of the LA dojo, started one up years ago. I believe there is also an official Zero-One USA site, though I could be wrong. Regardless, though NOAH’s site is not done by professionals unlike the New Japan US site, it does have one vital advantage: merchandise.

With the rabid crowd reactions given to Kobashi, KENTA and Marufuji at ROH shows, not to mention ROH’s tie-ups with Dragon Gate, All Japan, Zero-One and New Japan, not to mention CHIKARA hooking up with assorted J-indies, and NOAH shows airing in the UK, the Japanese are slowly but surely realize that there is a small, hardcore fan base for puro outside their borders. Thanks to having a Hawaiian employee, NOAH has decided to take advantage of said fans. T-shirts, DVDs with English commentary and other things will be available there soon enough. Especially in the case of the shirts, they’re available at steep discounts compared to what things sell for in Japan (perhaps it’s a tax thing?).

Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that this will lead to some huge NOAH online store. The site might fall on its face. What this is, however, is a very low-cost way to probe the market and see whether there is money to be made or not. KENTA is making some nice side money in ROH to boot, at least that’s what his repeated bookings there would seem to suggest. If ROH can get by primarily on DVDs and merchandise, what’s to say that NOAH can’t rake in some profits from the other side/sides of the Pacific?

“But will they start going after bootleggers?” In a word, no. DSE/PRIDE did so in regards to Zero-One and PRIDE, but that was only a handful of high-profile dealers, and only because DSE has a big English-speaking presence, and because they run PPVs in the US. NOAH has one guy who can barely run a website. Even if they had the manpower, I don’t think Highspots, Puroresu DVD Source or my media pages would be in any jeopardy. NOAH must realize that the hordes screaming for Kobashi did not materialize out of thin air. Bootlegging begat international puro fandom. At the absolute most I can see NOAH going after those who bootleg English-language DVDs that they sell at NOAH USA, but that’s about it. I don’t think that they care about TV blocks from small shows that aren’t even on DVD in Japan, for instance.

If NOAH can turn a profit with this, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if others (especially New Japan with its American-born president Simon Kelly “Inoki”) followed suit.

Section 3- Teasing & Payoffs, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Destroyer

I see people rag on Kobashi regularly. Bad words are spoken about Keiji Mutoh, often by me. Giant Baba has a reputation among many puro watchers as being a statuesque goof. Dragon Gate as a whole takes flack for being ‘shaven asian prettyboys’. However there’s one man in particular who I never see bashed, and with good reason: the highlights of his career represent a pinnacle of what wrestling aspires to be. I’m speaking of none other than Buffalo NY’s own Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, and he is the master of teases and payoffs.

Wrestling is a pseudo-sport, so while outcomes are pre-determined there are still points to compare with others. For instance, wrestling has offence and defense. Defense in pro wrestling includes things like counters, escapes, ducks, dodges, blocks and sometimes just squatting down as hard as you can to avoid being lifted. Defense in American football includes tackles, sacks, receiver coverage and forcing turnovers.

I think styles of wrestling can be compared to styles of football, and the clearest analogy is between Arena football and spotfests. Is Arena football entertaining? Of course! More spectacular plays, more scoring, hardly a dull moment to be had. And since scoring is so easy, the individual scores have less impact. It feels like an easier game. Wrestling spotfests operate on much the same principle. Lots of action, lots of spectacle, and the “DID YOU SEE THAT?!” moves are forgotten by both fans and wrestlers ten seconds later. There’s a reason why the NFL captivates so many more people than arena leagues and it’s a lot more than being the established top dog.

When an offence scores in the NFL other than in the midst of a rout it seems important. The fans were teased by potential points but frustrated by the defense until the offense finally broke through to reward them for paying attention through the scoreless section. Destroyer matches, like so many old-school bouts, tended to epitomize the strengths of defense in making the offence meaningful, so much of which revolved around teases and payoffs.

Destroyer vs Baba from thirty-seven years ago features a classic sequence involving one of the most basic holds out there, a headscissors. Instead of just sitting in the hold to kill time, Destroyer was almost constantly struggling to defend himself against it. He gets out, Baba slips it back on. He gets out another way, Baba waits for him to walk back into it, and so on. Because Destroyer puts so much energy into escaping the hold seems important, and there’s a sense that if he can get out for good it’ll be a major accomplishment. It’s Dick’s defense against the hold that sets up Baba’s amusing ‘gotcha’ spots throughout the sequence. The escapes were teased, then paid off when they happened, and paid off even more when Baba rendered Dick’s hard work moot.

Destroyer vs Mil Mascaras from thirty-two years ago is especially notable for one spectacular tease. Destroyer’s finisher was the figure-four, and Mil wanted no part of it whatsoever. They would tussle on the mat in the usual methodical old-school way until Destroyer began to set the hold up even a tiny bit, at which point Mil scrambled for dear life. The teases didn’t happen bang-bang-bang such that it became obvious the hold was about to come, but instead they were used throughout the match. Mil was ready for the leglock and Destroyer would need to be patient if he was going to get it. The eventual payoff is about as rewarding a figure-four as I can recall seeing, just because it was expertly built to.

The aforementioned Destroyer vs Baba contains one of the more unique teases I’ve ever seen, that being a tease sequence. As the match picked up speed Baba started to tear it up and Destroyer, being a smaller heel, had his hands full in not getting ripped to shreds (by 1969 standards of course). Thus Baba went for several of his trademark moves one after another only to barely miss out each time. It was a flurry of attempts and dodges one after another, the kind of which are more commonplace today but at the time were rare (and certainly when a big man like Baba was involved). Later in the match with Destroyer reeling all the more the entire sequence returned, only this time it was hit after hit. Destroyer teased getting put down hard, and paid it off by eating Baba’s moveset like a champ.

That mindset of properly setting up the biggest spots of the match is a huge part of what makes the high-end All Japan ’90s matches stand out so much today. Spotfests and quasi-spotfests contain more and bigger finishers, but lack the teasing and payoffs to instill the meaning behind them. If the finishers and highspots are easy to hit and easy to survive they’re nothing more than flash. There’s a marked difference even between, say, 1995 All Japan and 1998 All Japan. The moves were mostly the same, but the time spent on low-level weakening moves and selling was traded for low-end finishers and heatless pin attempts prior to head-drop fests.

During the early and mid ’90s, big All Japan matches would feature extended struggles over everything from small holds to deadly impact moves. The powerbomb block spot was repeated endlessly, which in turn is why Kawada had one of the few credible powerbombs in Japan; since he had to fight like a demon for each powerbomb they were sure to count. Some of the best nearfalls ever got so much heat not because of simplistic big-moves-followed-by-kick-outs, but because those moves were set up. Finishing stretches were long in terms of the length of time but were done so with a shockingly small number of finishers, and the use of teasing was crucial to that as well.

In 1995, Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue happened five times. Two of those were sixty minute draws, and those draws stand as models of economy. The 10/15/95 installment in particular struck me for how well they built to a small number of dramatic nearfalls off of trademark moves, such that one move felt as though it could end the match when it was being kicked out of regularly throughout the year and earlier. The teasing of those moves and uncontested pinfalls led to the payoff of credible nearfalls. By 1998 those teams would work a very different match, and I don’t think they would have had the *psychology* to go for an hour properly even if they were healthy enough. This is part of why the Samoa Joe vs CM Punk 10/16/04 match was so special, because so few workers today have that kind of patience, including wrestlers Joe and Punk idolize.

Properly-done teases and payoffs can make even the smallest, simplest moves and holds entertaining. The mindset can also take big moves and turn them into nuclear-hot finishing stretches. Although I believe that improving on the matwork would allow for potentially better matches than the mid-90s All Japan classics, the chances of having that sort of thing happen are slim to none. There is no shortage of wrestlers with the basic physical ability and training to do so, but rather a lack of wrestlers who understand what Dick Beyer did. Some might argue that the Beyer of the ’60s wouldn’t get over today; I say that if you took 1969 Dick Beyer, put him in a time machine and sent him to 2006, he would have no problem whatsoever in putting on the best matches in the world. Hopefully younger wrestlers like Bryan Danielson will find a way to carry on that legacy into the future.

In the meantime, be sure to watch some Dick Beyer over at the All Japan Archive if you haven’t yet.