Cody Rhodes and the art of the promo

October 5, 2018

New Japan Pro Wrestling ran its third show in Southern California – Fighting Spirit Unleashed this past Sunday at The Pyramid in Long Beach, California.  It was an underrated card with some great talent and I was able to check out one of the best promos in the business as Cody Rhodes became a double champ.

The first match of the night featured two “young boys.”  A young boy is a young pro-wrestler still in the training stages of their career.  You might see these young boys act as ringside attendants in other matches to help veteran pro-wrestlers.  This match featured Clark Connors and Alex Coughlin.  Coughlin was a former WWE Tough Enough contestant and has wrestled on the indies.  Connors was trained by Lance Storm and wrestled in the Pacific Northwest.  Notably, I saw him wrestle for Washington state based promotion, Defy Wrestling.  New Japan opened up a Los Angeles-based dojo to train here in the states and these two are a part of the school.

Both Connors and Coughlin were indistinguishable in black trunks, black boots and no knee pads.  Both fighters ran to the ring and bowed to the crowd.  The match was devoid of any fancy moves or fanfare.  But, it was a solid performance focusing on the basics and strong style.  Connors won via Boston crab-type submission where he bridged over to obtain more leverage.

My favorite match of the night was Marty Scurll versus Will Ospreay.  It was a fast-pace back and forth match with both wrestlers working really hard.  Ospreay is one of the truly special guys in pro wrestling.  There are things he can do that no other wrestlers can.  Scurll plays up to his nickname, “The Villain.”  In the post-match press conference, he railed on the media calling them losers.  Perfect.

Then, there was the hometown favorite Young Bucks taking on the Tongans in a battle for the Bucks’ tag team titles.  The story of the match was the back of Matt Jackson.  I am not one to know how much Matt was selling the injury and how much was legit, but Nick had to do much of the load.  This was one of the best matches from Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa.  They came off as great heels and the crowd just hated them.

The main event saw The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) take on Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii.  Most of the match saw the tease between Omega and Okada as it was the first time since one of the best matches fans have seen this past summer.  It was a definite strong style match with Ishii giving and taking some very stiff shots.  In the end the Omega and Ibushi double knee “V-trigger” to Ishii won it for the Lovers.

One of the best promos of the night came after Cody won the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship over Juice Robinson.  After an unsatisfying stint in NXT as CJ Parker, Robinson left for New Japan where he has reinvented himself.  He has been on a roll as of late in New Japan and had won the belt in San Francisco at the G1 Special in July.

Unlike other wrestling promotions, New Japan Wrestling conducts post-fight interviews just like most other sports.  This is a great opportunity for the wrestlers to get reps to respond to reporter questions.  It’s also a way for the wrestlers (in character) to move forward their storylines and establish new ones.

Despite enjoying his time in the WWE, he laid into the company and Juice.  He talked about heritage, “Juice Robinson is one of what the NXT people said he was one of ‘Dusty’s Kids.’ Guess what, I’m his actual God damn kid!” He then exclaimed, “if you didn’t think it was personal, its very personal.”  The promo exemplifies Rhodes’ mastery of the mic and an audience.  Without concern for promoter or promotion, Rhodes rules his own world of wrestling and has attracted many searching for alternative options for pro wrestling.

His years of learning to cut a promo have helped him outside of the company in attracting fans.  The delivery is deliberate when it needs to be and he’s ready to adapt to any situation.  In fact, he called out several reporters when he asked them questions and complemented one who exuded passion for the sport.  He touted his championships and his success in the industry.  And, he’s not afraid to let people know it.  Cody has been able to create his own persona while reminding opponents and fans that the Rhodes name is royalty in the sport.

Since leaving the WWE, Cody has remastered his legacy and instead of being relegated to the mid-card and relative stability of WWE, he opted to go outside of the company on his own.  He’s linked up with the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Marty Scurll in creating a buzz with The Bullet Club.  Coming off of All In, his brand is at a high and concern about going back to Uncle Vince is always a worry.  He did talk a bit about this in his post-match press conference.  While he has used the WWE as a heel straw man in most of his setups, he admitted that he had a good time with the company.  He also didn’t rule out going back.  A concern for many non-WWE wrestling fans as the Bucks and Rhodes cite January 1, 2019 as the end of their current contracts.

With that being said, Rhodes is enjoying the freedom of being his own boss.  He talked about not being concerned about any of the promoters he worked for in New Japan, Ring of Honor or the NWA.  That’s why it doesn’t appear that Cody will be going anywhere.  Its always hard to do it yourself but its clear that Cody is happy where he’s at and how he’s done it.  While I wouldn’t rule out a return to the WWE (Royal Rumble surprise anyone), he’s become a much bigger star than he’d ever would have been in the WWE.

If you didn’t watch Fighting Spirit Unleashed, you can catch it Friday night on AXS TV.

Kenny Omega is the most interesting man in pro wrestling

July 6, 2018

Kenny Omega is the most interesting man in pro wrestling.

It’s not because he is one of the most athletic and entertaining wrestlers inside of the ring and a great promotional speaker, it’s his thoughtful delivery that makes him one of the best today.

Via AXS TV

In a recent teleconference to promote this Saturday’s New Japan Wrestling show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Omega answered a variety of questions about the upcoming event, video games and how he learned Japanese.  It was impressive to see how thoughtful and articulate he was in answering and responding to all of the questions.

If you have watched Omega, he has the versatility to converse with Japanese audiences in their native languages.  Omega promised to speak more in Japanese to the fans.  The Japanese promos are done in a conversational way and it took Omega time to learn.  He started to learn from a book in 2008.  But, he stated that he couldn’t learn from a book because that was not really used in everyday conversation.  He had a Japanese friend that he was fluent in both English and Japanese.  He’d ask about words and phrases and kept them in a notepad.  From the words and phrases, he began to recognize sentence structure and grammar.  By 2011, he had a breakthrough where he could approach someone and have a conversation.  It was also the first time that he was able to cut a promo.  He noted that it was difficult at first to cut a promo in Japanese as the intent is to be intense and strong and to do it without stumbling over the words.  But now, he’s able to do it with confidence and without having to search for the correct words.  The out-of-the-box thinking to learn Japanese to use in front of audiences is bold and dedicated for a non-Japanese wrestler.

The strategy, commitment and execution of learning Japanese is similar to his in-ring ability.  His ability to put on 60 minutes plus matches with the same intensity and athleticism is remarkable in a day and age when most WWE fans are used to short, TV-style snippet match.

Pro wrestling fans are beginning to see more and more of what he can do.  “I don’t want to be limited to strictly America, I would love for New Japan to have a multiple presence in numerous countries,” stated the NJPW champion.  “I’ve increased my training,” Omega said of his ability to perform in the ring as a heavyweight.  “I’m a better athlete and a more healthy athlete as of now,” said the NJPW champion in response to his move to heavyweight from junior heavyweight.

At 34, Omega does not see an end in sight.  Omega stated that he modeled his career similar to Chris Jericho, a man who he faced early last year.  He spoke highly of Jericho’s career outside the ring.  He noted his work with E3.  Omega is a gamer and did some work at the annual video game expo in Los Angeles this past June which included a face-off with the WWE’s New Day.  It’s clear that he would like to expand his reach into some of his interests.  During the teleconference he talked about shooting commercials and other promotional activities on behalf of his brand and New Japan.  “If it brings eyes to our company [New Japan], that’s what I’m going to do.”  As a veteran of the New Japan roster, he sees himself in more of a senior role for the company. “It’s not just to carry the belt out for every house show,” he added, “We have such and deep and talented roster, I think that they will be fine on the house shows. I think it’s my job to bring more eyes to the product and with the skill set that I have I can do more that is equipped.”

Omega noted that the wrestling is only just the surface to the package.  “I think as wrestlers we have to show ourselves as multi-layered.”  He eschews the meat-head moniker of pro wrestlers.  “That’s why I really want to have my voice heard.”

He preached being a positive role model and as pro wrestlers have more of their voices be heard.

Earlier this year, Omega was indifferent about perceptions about whether his character was a homosexual as he and Kota Ibushi reformed The Golden Lovers. “I can’t lie, that story was created for us,” Omega said about getting back together with Ibushi.   He told Yahoo, “If LGBT people can identify with our story, if they think ‘the Golden Lovers are my team,’ I’m good with that.  It’s the story of two wrestlers who share dreams on their way up, who became fast friends, who are now reuniting at the top of their game.” Omega’s viewpoint reflects an open-mindedness and sense of inclusion which is welcoming of all types regardless.

Via AXS TV

Perhaps the only concern fans have with Omega is that he might become to big of a star that the WWE will come calling.

Yet, he has amassed a following without the help of the WWE and is on the cusp of being a bigger star with AXS TV’s second United States show for the Japanese promotion.  Later this summer, he’s sure to be one of the headliners for the “All In” event in Chicago, an all-independent wrestling show which sold 10,000 tickets in one day, a remarkable feat.

Omega is in the main event against Cody Rhodes Saturday night at the ‘G1 Special in San Francisco’ on AXS TV.

Has pro wrestling evolved with The Golden Lovers?

March 25, 2018

A gay wrestling tag team?  Almost 20 years ago, the WWE gained notoriety when Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo teased a gimmick in which they feigned a homosexual relationship which led to a televised “commitment ceremony.”  In 2018, a similar tag team relationship is being teased, but with the times, it is not that controversial.

Billy and Chuck received national attention for an alleged stunt in which they were going to have a commitment ceremony.  The WWE had worked with GLAAD in securing publicity for the event.  Once the ceremony took place (which turned out to be a swerve), GLAAD denounced the stunt as they were duped into helping the WWE obtain awareness for the purpose of gaining ratings.

The Golden Lovers, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi are taking on The Young Bucks on Sunday Night in Long Beach, California in the main event of the New Japan Wrestling Show to be televised on AXS TV.  The promotion has taken off since airing on AXS and the event in Long Beach sold out its 6,500 or so venue within 15 minutes.

The issue of homosexuality in wrestling is no longer a de facto heel character as in the days of the WWE’s portrayals of Adrian Adonis or Goldust.  Omega even invites the thought that the characters may be homosexual.

For that matter, there is not much backlash from NJPW fans.  Arguably, Omega is the biggest fan favorite in the company, and maybe even all of pro wrestling.  His demand is through the roof and its clear that he is in no way looking to parlay his popularity into a shot in the WWE.

 

Via AXS TV

Omega does not care about the ambiguity of his character’s relationship with another man.  In an interview with Yahoo this week Omega let it be known:

“Let people think what they want to think.

If LGBT people can identify with our story, if they think ‘the Golden Lovers are my team,’ I’m good with that. It’s the story of two wrestlers who shared dreams on their way up, who became fast friends, who are now reuniting at the top of their game.

I think it’s important to show in the 21st century that if you’re gay, lesbian, trans, whatever, that you should feel just as welcome to be a wrestling fan as anyone else. You’re welcome in the space.”

Pro wrestling is made up of characters and sometimes it’s based on dredging up the stereotypes to illicit a response from the fans.  From the bad Russians, to the savage Samoans to the good guy American, characters were premised upon typecasts.  Since the WWE became a publicly traded company, the era of focusing on race, gender or ethnicity have largely gone by the wayside.

The newfound view of sexuality is inclusive for everyone and indicative of a new viewpoint on pro wrestling in 2018.  The fans have evolved and are much smarter and are less likely to be pulling for a wrestler based on vanilla characters.