So, with tickets packed in my carry-on and thousands of pounds of steel under my ass, I flew on my merry way to Tokyo… with the least leg room imaginable and a seat that didn’t recline. After a nearly sleepless, cramp inducing 14 hour flight i landed in my Mecca: Tokyo!
The two days I spent in Tokyo before Wrestle Kingdom 11 flew by in a brief whirlwind of great food, wandering around Akihabara, and nervously making certain it wasn’t January 4th yet. Seriously, with that time change I kept thinking I had somehow missed the show. On the day of the event, somewhat to my Girlfriend’s chagrin, I spent pretty much the entire day in the shadow of the Tokyo Dome. I met up with the good people I had met online, hung out, talked wrestling, met the author of the best book available about NJPW. My day escalated to the point where I was having cameras pointed at me for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it was because I was a big white guy in a Bullet Club T-shirt and the Japanese fans wanted me to be center in their group shot. Three times, however, it was for professional coverage of the event. I was lucky enough to be in a video with Steve Corino and Kevin Kelly, thanks to my association with those great people I had met online. Then I was ambushed by a cameraman while I was returning from getting a beverage at a vending machine, where I awkwardly sputtered out some words of support for The Cleaner. Finally, as I shared last time, I was interviewed in my seat for the NJPW World documentary on Omega.
As the show started and the crowd began to pack in i could feel the energy intensify. You know you’re in for a good show when, before that first match even begins, there is a certain electricity in the air. It’s rare at a smaller venue, but large arena shows certainly do not hold an exclusive license on big match feelings. I sat next to a Japanese man wearing a Yano Toru shirt. He spoke next to no English to me and yet, through the magic of Pro-Wrestling, we shared some cool moments as the show went on. We shared annoyed glances and laughter between us as a nearby drunkard yelled incessantly throughout the show, somehow I managed to communicate to him, before the entrance, that Tiger the Dark was ACH and he got really excited, and even though I was repping Bullet Club and he was for Chaos, we laughed and smiled at each other as we enjoyed big spots and exciting moments throughout the show.
I’m not going to review the card, as more qualified people have already done so. But I did want to talk, briefly at least, about the energy in the Tokyo Dome during the greatest match I have ever seen. Each near fall and big spot that built towards the climax elicited a rumbling of energy and a tingling that seemed to run through the crowd in waves. Highs and lows for different fans in attendance seemed, as the action swayed back and forth between the performers, was balanced so well that up until that very last moment I don’t think anyone in attendance knew how it would all play out. I had flown all the way to Tokyo to see a fellow Canadian potentially claim the biggest win of his career at the biggest show of the year and I walked away with my hopes dashed against the rocks, but a full and satisfied soul. Riding the waves of the match was exhilarating and there’s nothing like a live audience around you to really push that feeling to the next level. Wrestling always transcends barriers of language and culture and this match, it was the epitome.
When I set out on my journey, as I wasn’t traveling alone and had many non-wrestling things I wanted to do in Japan, I knew the number of shows I would see would be limited. Somehow more meaningful to me than even Wrestle Kingdom was the January 7th Pro Wrestling NOAH show in the legendary Korakuen Hall. For many years, thanks to a variety of factors, NOAH had been my favourite wrestling company, but they had fallen on hard times and bad booking. Their gates and attendance had been declining steadily, and this show was dubbed as “NOAH the REBORN”, branded as an effort to kickstart the company after cutting ties with NJPW financially and creatively. The hard bench under my ass was uncomfortable and yet, somehow I had managed to get one of the best seats in the house by buying my ticket the day before. The atmosphere was amazing and the in-ring competition presented truly returned to the roots of what NOAH was all about. It truly felt like a new era as, during the main event, the crowd slowly changed from vocally supporting Takashi Sugiura to supporting Katsuhiko Nakajima, the new champion and the face the company is clearly trying to build a new legacy on the shoulders of. Since there’s no real way to watch it other than online, please watch this match here.
It meant the world to me for a NOAH show to go back to basics and present such solid action and story telling, as Sugiura fought to reclaim the title he had lost to the babyfaced veteran (seriously, Nakajima has been wrestling for a surprisingly long time for his age). It gave me hope that I could see, just maybe, NOAH’s tide rise again to the heights it was at with Misawa and Kobashi at the helm. Do yourself a favour and go see a NOAH show while you’re in Japan for Wrestle Kingdom next year.
Have you been to Wrestle Kingdom? Do you have any advice or questions? Please leave a comment here.