New Japan Rising

Hulk Hogan. Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. John Cena. These are the names that most people associate with professional wrestling, but that’s all about to change. Soon, there’s a good chance that names like Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega, and Tetsuya Naito will be first on everyone’s lips. Over the past decade, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) has risen from its lowest point like a phoenix from the ashes. Having re-conquered Japan, after a disastrous spell of mismanagement, NJPW dared to venture where no Japanese wrestling promotion ever has – the American market, long dominated by the multibillion-dollar monopoly World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).


一说到职业摔角,大多数人可能会首先想到胡克·霍根,“冷石”史蒂夫·奥斯丁、“巨石”道恩·强森、约翰·塞纳这些名字。但他们称霸职业摔角的情况即将被改写,可能用不了多久,Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega和Tetsuya Naito这些名字就会取代他们的位置。在过去十年里,NJPW(新日本摔角联盟)如凤凰涅槃般,从低谷中重回巅峰,并大胆进军日本摔角之前未曾进入过的空白市场——美国。在美国,价值数亿美元的WWE一直垄断了美国市场。

Last year, Takaaki Kidani, who bought NJPW in 2012, made a statement of intent: “We are entering a phase where you are either with WWE or against them. WWE has a lot of weaknesses and time is not on their side.” Even if this assertion was slightly premature, New Japan’s G1 Special in USA this month was long overdue. The occasion marked the company’s first-ever independent tour of the US and the launch of its new United States Heavyweight Championship. Tickets sold out within hours, and the show boasted a rare champion versus champion bout, with the Ring of Honor World Champion, Cody Rhodes, taking on New Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada. Rhodes believes the event, televised live on the American AXS TV network, will have “massive ramifications” for the entire industry. He says a “boom” is underway, but unlike the booms of the 80s and 90s, driven by the WWE and now-defunct WCW. “It’s happening elsewhere – it’s happened in these independents.”


2012 年,Takaaki Kidani买下了NJPW。而在去年,他曾经说过:”我们现在的处境是,你要么是站在WWE一方,要么就是他们的对手。WWE 存在很多问题,随着时间推移,情况也越来越糟糕。“ 即使这种说法有点太早下定论,但经过漫长的等待,NJPW的G1 Special in USA大赛也总算正式举办了。这场比赛标志着该公司第一次独立进军美国,是他们推出自己在美国的新重量级冠军的尝试。数小时内,门票就卖光了。这是一场很少有的冠军和冠军之间的比赛——由荣誉之戒(Ring of Honor)的世界冠军Cody Rhodes对阵NJPW IWGP重量级冠军 Kazuchika Okada。Cody 认为,这场由美国 AXS 电视网络实况转播的比赛,可能会对整个行业产生”巨大影响”。他说,新的摔角”热潮”正酝酿着爆发,但这与 WWE 和现已解散的 WCW 在80 年代和 90 年代推动的“热潮”不同,“这一次会发生在其它地方,由那些独立的摔角团体推动。”

In recent years, struggling to produce its own home-grown superstars, WWE has used its unparalleled revenue and exposure to poach talent from smaller promotions. While it succeeded in luring two of NJPW’s biggest stars, Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, there was one it could not seduce: the newly crowned United States Heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega. Over the past two years, the Canadian has transformed himself from goofy anime character to international superstar, becoming the first foreigner to win the company’s annual month-long G1 Climax tournament, earning himself a shot at the prodigal Kazuchika Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In January, he presented Okada’s greatest threat yet, on NJPW’s largest stage – the annual Wrestle Kingdom show – at the auspicious Tokyo Dome. The pair produced a 47-minute master class of technical wrestling and storytelling, seemingly beating each other half to death. Dave Meltzer, author of the weekly Wrestling Observer Newsletter, rated the match six out of five stars, adding: “Omega and Okada may have put on the greatest match in wrestling history.”


近年来,为了努力培养出自己的本土摔角巨星,WWE 利用自己令人难以企及的收入和知名度,从其它较小的机构中挖掘人才。它成功地将两名 NJPW 中最耀眼的摔角明星Shinsuke Nakamurat 和AJ Styles收揽旗下,但还有一名摔角明星拒绝了他们,他就是新任的美国重量级冠军Kenny Omega。在过去的两年间,这名来自加拿大的摔角选手完成了从搞笑的动漫人物到国际巨星的转变,成为这家公司中,第一个在为期一个月的年度G1 Climax 锦标赛赢得冠军的外国选手,获得与 Kazuchika Okada 争夺 IWGP 重量级冠军的机会。今年 1 月,在NJPW最大的舞台——在Tokyo Dome 举办的一年一度的 Wrestle Kingdom 比赛上,他成为了Kazuchika Okada 目前最大的威胁。在这场47分钟的比赛中,两位摔角选手给观众展示了一场大师级的激烈比赛,双方几乎要对手打到半死。资深的《摔角观察家周刊》(Wrestling Observer Newsletter)作者Dave Meltzer为这场比赛给出了 5 颗星的评分(满分6颗星),并写道:“Omega和Okada的这场比赛可能是摔角历史上最伟大的一场比赛。

What’s unique about NJPW is its “strong style” philosophy. Inoki, who founded the company in 1972, identified “strong style” as a combination of hard-hitting attacks, athletic prowess, and grappling. He declared the NJPW to be the “king of sports” and contended against athletes from different disciplines – even taking on Muhammad Ali, in a sensational, though farcical, MMA bout. In the ensuing decades, he was the chief architect of both NJPW’s success and its demise. As MMA was popularized in Japan, Inoki became obsessed with it, hiring cage fighters like Bas Rutten to compete in NJPW, and forcing New Japan talents to compete in MMA bouts. Wrestlers like Yuji Nagata, who won the 2001 G1 Climax tournament, were knocked out in seconds, humiliating and undermining not just them, but pro wrestling as a whole. 


NJPW独特之处在于它“强烈风格”(strong style)的理念。1972 年,Inoki 创立NJPW公司,并将“强烈风格”定义为有力的攻击、运动员般的身手和格斗技巧的组合。他宣称 NJPW 是“体育界的王者”,对不同领域的运动员发起挑战,甚至包括拳王阿里(Muhammad Ali),虽然那场比赛有点滑稽,但仍然是轰动一时的一场MMA比赛。在随后的几十年里,他既成就了 NJPW 的成功,也一手让它陷入低谷。随着MMA在日本推广开来,Inoki越来越痴迷于它,找来像 Bas Rutten 这样的笼斗战士(cage fighter)加入 NJPW比赛,并强迫NJPW的摔角手参加 MMA 比赛。但是,即使是像Yuji Nagata这样赢得过 2001 年G1 Climax 锦标赛的选手,也在几秒钟内就被淘汰,那不仅是选手,更是对整个职业摔角界的侮辱和伤害。

By 2004, Meltzer had branded NJPW the worst promotion in the world. Live attendances had halved, stars had deserted and the company was haemorrhaging money. In 2005, Japanese game developer Yuke’s bought up Inoki’s controlling interest and pushed him out of the company. The mantle then fell to wrestler Hiroshi Tanahashi, who, together with the company’s new bookers Gedo and Jado, threw MMA out the window and began developing stronger characters and stories, complete with compelling wrestling. In 2012, a cocky, 24-year-old Okada emerged from nowhere and challenged the now-legendary Tanahashi. The two battled for four years, before Okada emerged the new, beloved “Ace” – the number one. While today Okada embodies the ideal “strong style” wrestler, New Japan boasts a variety of other strong performers – from technical wizard Zack Sabre Jr. to high-flyers like Will Ospreay and Ricochet.


到 2004 年,Meltzer将 NJPW 品牌评为世界上最糟糕的摔角公司。观众减少了一半,摔角明星纷纷离开,公司资金大量流失。2005 年,日本游戏开发商Yuke’s买下了Inoki的控股权,并将他赶出了公司。公司的权力落到了摔角手Hiroshi Tanahashi手上,他和公司两位新“登记人”(booker)Gedo和Jado一起管理公司,他们放弃了 MMA比赛,开始发展更强大的人物和故事,招用更有说服力的摔角手。2012 年,骄傲自大的 24 岁Okada 突然冒了出来,挑战传奇选手Tanahashi。这两位选手苦战了四年,最终Okada获得胜利,成为最受欢迎的“Ace”选手。虽然今天的Okada也体现了理想的“强烈风格”的摔角手,但NJPW还拥有各种各样风格的选手,譬如拥有过人技术的 Zack Sabre Jr ,以及像Will Ospreay和Ricochet那样的高飞型摔角手(high-flyers)。

Despite their stylistic differences, many talented wrestlers have found a home in New Japan, where the craft is king. There are no gimmicks, no screwy finishes, no reality TV melodrama – just pure wrestling. Where WWE is blockbuster, NJPW is arthouse. NJPW’s promos feel more like boxing promos than soap opera segments, with few cuts to backstage or interference in matches. Japanese fans don’t respond well to the unfair finishes popular in WWE. They like to see which warrior is stronger, and, more importantly, who has the greatest “fighting spirit,” a nod to historic Samurai values. It’s a sentiment echoed by Omega, who calls the IWGP Heavyweight Championship “the most prestigious wrestling prize in all of professional wrestling.” On the contrary, he says WWE’s belt means nothing to him. “They pass around that belt like a hot potato. I probably have a neighbor on my block who held that belt at one point. There is no prestige to that belt whatsoever.”


尽管他们的风格各不相同,但他们都在NJPW找到自己的落脚点,在这里,技术是最重要的。没有噱头,没有奇怪的结局,没有真人秀那样的电视情节剧,只是纯粹的摔角运动。如果说WWE是商业大片,那么NJPW 就是一部艺术片。NJPW 的比赛更像是拳击比赛,而不是肥皂剧,很少会有后台镜头,也很少会在比赛期间出意外。日本观众不太喜欢 WWE 那种不公平的比赛结果。他们喜欢看到底哪个摔角手更强大,以及更重要的是,谁更有“战斗精神”,这一点受到了由来已久的日本武士价值观。Omega对这种观念深表赞同,他将 IWGP 重量级冠军称为“所有职业摔角比赛中最负盛名的奖项”。与此相反,他说 WWE 的冠军腰带对他毫无意义。“他们把那冠军腰带传来传去,仿佛那是烫手山芋一样。说不定,在我家附近的某位邻居曾经也拿到过这条冠军腰带。那条腰带现在已经没有任何威望。”

In the past six years, only four people have held the IWGP Heavyweight title. Rhodes, who failed in his attempt to take the belt from Okada, says it has the aura of “a Stanley Cup”. The title is only as strong as its holder, and Okada has held it for over a year, defeating all the company’s top talents, in varied and brilliant matches. While New Japan’s belts become more prestigious by the day, WWE CEO Vince McMahon seems to have gone the way of Inoki and lost touch with his audience. Belts and storylines are dropped on a whim with little regard for narrative. One such example is Jinder Mahal, who was considered a “jobber”’ – someone who loses all their matches – before he unexpectedly nabbed the WWE Championship. Widely seen as an attempt to appeal to the Indian market, the storyline left most viewers alienated. Meanwhile, WWE’s Brock Lesnar has yet to defend the Universal Championship title he secured in April. Okada, on the other hand, has fought to defend his title four times since then. In May, WWE’s flagship show, Raw, had its second-lowest rating ever and its biggest stars are starting to speak out. Veteran wrestler Big Show recently stated: “You sit around all day for some frickin’ idea that absolutely sucks.”


在过去的六年中,只有四人曾获得过 IWGP 重量级冠军的头衔。Rhodes曾试图从Okada争夺 IWGP 重量级冠军,但失败了,他认为这个冠军头衔相当于国家冰球联盟的最高奖项——史丹利盃(Stanley Cup)。这个冠军头衔和它的获得者的能力一样有份量,Okada保持 IWGP 重量级冠军的头衔已经一年多,在多场精彩比赛中,击败了公司里的其它顶尖人才。当NJPW的冠军头衔变得越来越有威望时,WWE 总裁Vince McMahon却似乎在重蹈Inoki当年的覆辙,并且离他的观众越来越远。冠军腰带的获得者和比赛的故事似乎都是心血来潮的决定,几乎不会考虑故事情节是否合理。譬如,Jinder Mahal之前一直被认为是“jobber”(指那结输掉所有比赛的人),但是他竟然突然就抢到 WWE 的冠军。大多数人认为这个结果是在讨好印度市场,但却让大多数观众感到难以理解。此外,WWE 的 Brock Lesnar 还没有进行过比赛,去捍卫他在 4 月夺得的环球冠军赛(Universal Championship)的冠军头衔。而另一方面,Okada 已经打了四场比赛,来捍卫他的冠军头衔。今年五月,WWE的主打节目《Raw》 获得了史上倒数第二低的评分,其最大的明星也开始抱怨。摔角手Big Show最近指出:“你整天坐在那里,就只想了一些糟透了的想法。”

New Japan may still have some way to go before reaching the 60,000-plus attendance and sold-out shows of its early-90s heyday, but its popularity is rising and its commercial appeal is broadening. This year, Wrestle Kingdom drew 26,000 people, a steady improvement on the 2007 low point of 18,000. Since 2012, revenue has quadrupled, and it is once again Japan’s largest promotion. Few would have imagined that New Japan’s first independent foray into the US, which sold more than 4,500 tickets, would become a social media sensation, trending first in both the US and UK. AXS TV, which broadcast the special live, first began airing replays of the Okada-Tanahashi rivalry in 2015 to test the waters. NJPW claims these shows were watched by 200,000 people, which would make it the second-most watched wrestling promotion in the US. AXS ordered more episodes in the lead up to this month’s live broadcast. With New Japan expecting to pull in $40 million next year, it seems that by rebuilding from the bottom up, the company has found itself in its most stable position ever. With increased income and exposure, the company will be better able to retain its talent going forward – especially if, like Rhodes, they prosper far more outside the WWE – financially or artistically. Though it would be best to avoid a head-on collision, NJPW may soon find itself the go-to promotion not just for talent who are fed up with WWE, but fans too. It might not win over everybody, but with the most prestigious belt, a gritty edge, and the best matches in the world, it won’t be long before hardcore wrestling fans flock over. Strong style is back, and it’s here to stay.


如果NJPW想要重回 90 年代全盛时期6 万多张门票的巅峰,可能还有一些路要走,但其受欢迎程度正在不断上升,它的商业吸引力也越来越大。今年,Wrestle Kingdom 吸引了 26000 名观众,对比于2007年的低谷 18000名观众已经在稳步提高。2012 年以来,这家公司的收入翻了两番,并再一次成为了日本最大的摔角组织。很少有人会想象NJPW首次独立进军美国会成为媒体的焦点,这场比赛卖出了超过 4500 张门票,快要成为美国和英国的第一名。直播这场比赛的AXS 电视台先是重播了2015年 Okada对阵Tanahashi的比赛,看看观众的反应。NJPW 宣称这场比赛吸引了20万人观看,这意味着它成为了美国排名第二吸引最多观众收看的摔角比赛。这个月的比赛直播之前,AXS计划重播放更多场比赛。NJPW 预计明年可以获得4000 万美元的收入。从低谷中逐步回升,可以说,现在这家公司已经到达了其历史上发展最为稳定的阶段。随着收入和曝光的增加,这家公司在将来应该能够更好地留住人才,特别是像Rhodes这样的选手,无论是在财政上或专业上,他们在WWE 之外都会有更好的发展。虽然最好能避免正面竞争,但NJPW可能很快吸引的就不仅是那些受够了WWE的摔角选手,还有观众。虽然它不太可能抢走所有的观众,但是凭借最负盛名的冠军腰带、激烈的风格以及世界上最精彩的比赛,过不了多久,那些铁杆摔角迷就会蜂拥而来。NJPW 的“强烈风格”会再次回归,并将获得成功。

Website: njpw1972.com
Facebook: ~/newjapaneng
Instagram: @njpw1972

 

Contributor: Hareth Al Bustani
Images Courtesy of New Japan Pro-Wrestling


网站njpw1972.com
脸书~/newjapaneng
Instagram@njpw1972

 

供稿人: Hareth Al Bustani
图片由New Japan Pro-Wrestling提供