NJPW WWW Editorials

I Grew Old (And I’m Finally Ok With It)

The following is my response opinion piece to Quentin Moody’s article called “I Grew Wings” in which he explained his affection and connection with the second Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada match from June 11th Dominion show.

It’s been one week since New Japan Pro Wrestling put on a great show called “Dominion” in front of a sold out crowd at Osaka-jō Hall with the main event of Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada being once again the talk of the wrestling community. They put on a performance that had fans saying it topped their previous match from Wrestle Kingdom 11, which caused hysteria among fans across the world. Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter added to it by giving the match 6 stars and saying, “Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada may have put on the greatest match in pro wrestling history in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11 on 1/4 at the Tokyo Dome.” Meltzer reviewed this recent Omega/Okada match with a 6 star and 1/4 rating, thus preceding to turn Wrestling Twitter upside down. Fans were debating the merits of the match and the rating once again. Now, I’m not gonna down the route of star ratings and Meltzer in general as you can read David Bixenspan’s Deadspin article about that. However, I will go down the road of my own personal journey of watching this match, seeing the aftermath of it, being a fan and coming to the realization that modern wrestling doesn’t have the same connection to me and other fans that are getting older but it’s perfectly fine.

Quentin Moody is someone I respect because of his passion for wrestling and I am personally happy that I get to know him ever since I joined Wrestling With Words. When he typed up the article called “I Grew Wings”, I read it in a hotel room during my week long (real job) business trip that I recently had and wasn’t surprised by it. Quentin, being the big Kenny Omega fan that I know he is, penned about the match being the greatest wrestling match he had ever seen in his entire life and it’s a sentiment that many other fans that have come across New Japan in the last five years share collectively. I know that Quentin is not a new viewer of NJPW or a new viewer of wrestling in general (the kid watches 1970’s All Japan with Jumbo Tsuruta and Jack Brisco semi-regularly) but he’s young enough to have the feeling that Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada are two of the greatest wrestlers he’s ever laid eyes on and won’t back down from that. I agree with him that Okada is heading into the all-time great status with the Japanese aces like Tsuruta, Shinya Hashimoto, Mitsuhara Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Keiji Mutoh and others while Omega is breaking down doors for foreign talent in Japan and Omega should be recognized in history. But, I don’t have that feeling that Quentin has or others young writers from our site have like Trask and Liam.

I got to listen to Mike Sempervive host a solo show of Sports Byline’s Wrestling Observer Live on Sirius XM Radio following the Dominion show. Callers came in one after the other talking about the Dominion show and putting Okada into the all time great category and showering him with praise saying he might be the greatest wrestler of all time. Sempervive took it in stride as he’s been watching wrestling longer than I have (and I’ve listened to him talk about Japanese professional wrestling ever since he did the Puroresu Power Hour radio show with Zach Arnold and Dr. Keith Lipinski.) but he said something that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here but he said that the wrestling that you grow up with is the wrestling that you think is the best. I’ve heard him and Meltzer talk about this before multiple times but it popped into my head once I read Quentin’s article about his love for Omega/Okada II. Quentin, Liam, Trask and the litany of young writers that we have on our staff feel like this because they feel a special connection with this current crop of wrestlers and I’m genuinely happy for them. It’s something that I wished I had on a consistent basis but I can’t because 1) I have a genuine connection with wrestling from the past and 2) I’m getting older which means everything is was better when you reminisce.

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Steamboat vs. Flair is still the gold standard in pro wrestling circles.

In my opinion, both matches were great and I don’t want to take away from the performances of Okada and Omega. However, I feel like I’ve seen better matches to give the title of Greatest Match of All Time to. Whether it is the forever lauded June 3rd, 1994 match with Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada, the June 9th, 1995 tag match with Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs Kawada & Akira Taue, or any of the three matches Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat had in 1989, there are staples that older fans automatically go through as the greatest wrestling matches of all time. And as time goes on, those staples are being plucked as this new digital age has made watching wrestling more accessible than ever before and new pages of matches are being stapled into the book of Greatest of All Time.

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The greatest athlete I’ve ever seen dapping up the greatest athlete my younger brother has ever seen. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It’s an evolutionary process and I’ve learned to accept it because everywhere I turn to has the ever growing debate of today’s *fill in the blank* being the greatest of all time. The NBA Finals just wrapped up with people debating if the champion Golden State Warriors could beat the great NBA Championship teams of the past. Weeks before the Finals, sports talk radio hosts were filling up time with the debate that I’ve had with my younger brother whenever I visit my family: Is LeBron James greater than Michael Jordan? Just this weekend, young upstart golfer Justin Thomas broke Johnny Miller’s 44-year-old single round U.S. Open scoring round. It is an amazing accomplishment in golf as it will go down as one the greatest rounds of golf ever played but Miller doesn’t view Thomas breaking his record the same. It permeates into hip hop music debates quite regularly as the legacies of Kendrick Lamar and Drake were discussed in the “Greatest of All Time” status when they dropped both of their albums respectively. Quentin’s passion for Kenny Omega mirrors his love for “Kung Fu Kenny” Kendrick Lamar and he along with other critics will put Lamar on the same level of the greats in music. These debates have one thing in common as critics say that subjects don’t have the same competition as subjects of the past had on a consistent basis. But in wrestling, it has flipped.

The vibe of modern wrestling takes more pride of putting on great performances for fans across the world as they want to build their own individual legacies while older wrestling was more about attracting fans at the gate. Not saying that wrestlers didn’t want to put on great performances in the past but making money was more important. I can firmly tell from watching the wrestling in real time that the late 90’s wrestling wouldn’t hold a candle to the modern wrestling that occurs in wrestling today because selling angles were more important at the time and it showed at the box office as it was the last real boom period across the wrestling landscape. But I still have this weird feeling of putting today’s wrestling in that pantheon of being better than the stuff in the 80’s and even the early 90’s. Part of it is that I’m stubborn. Part of it is because I’ve seen things in wrestling that happen today occur 20 years ago. But the odd thing is that I still have like watching modern wrestling and I gravitate towards matches that give me the old feeling of personal connection that I had with older wrestling.

To peel back some layers here at our site, we have an internal Slack chat where people pitch project ideas, articles, talk about our format but most importantly we at talk about wrestling all the time. Coincidentally, Quentin and I have been in the chat early in the morning to watch these big New Japan marathon shows monthly and Quentin’s enthusiasm for both Okada/Omega matches were through the roof. But one other match that I didn’t bring up yet really told myself where I stood with modern wrestling and the 2012-2017 run of New Japan Pro Wrestling. That match was Okada vs Katsuyori Shibata from the May 9th Sakura Genesis where it left an impression on me and Jahmale (RealHero) as we loved the atmosphere that the match generated from the crowd that we mentioned in the Slack that it “felt like Old New Japan again”. It meant that the sold out crowd in Ryogoku Kokugikan sounded like it went back in a time machine and one of the Three Musketeers (Hashimoto, Muto and Masahiro Chono), Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami or Antonio Inoki himself was facing Okada for the title. That crowd felt electric as they were firmly behind Shibata as the story of him leaving New Japan in 2004 and his comeback in 2012 was a story to wrap your arms around. I, myself, have never had Shibata as one of my favorite wrestlers but his background and the connection I had with him was similar to Quentin’s with Omega as I’ve followed highs and lows. With Shibata, it was mostly low as his MMA career wasn’t good and for many years had no place in wrestling to call home. Shibata was a promising young star before he left New Japan he comes back to New Japan (set aside his 2006 match with Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome) being completely different.

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My personal pick for the 2017 Match of the Year. (Photos by Weekly Pro Wrestling Magazine)

As a viewer, I felt similar as I stopped watching wrestling altogether around 2008-2009 only to come back to watching wrestling in 2013. I was very happy to see that New Japan turned around their business as I was a fan of theirs during the dark period where Yukes owned the organization and Simon Inoki led the ship astray. I was infatuated by the talent of Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hirooki Goto, Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata and Prince Devitt because it was undeniable but Yukes did enough damage that I thought they couldn’t fully recover. I come back as a viewer now that New Japan is back in vogue and a skinny guy that I saw in black boots and black tights teaming with Ultimo Dragon vs. the Motor City Machine Guns in 2006 was now the number one guy in NJPW – Kazuchika Okada. The wrestling style in New Japan changed for the better as it was more in the vein of what Hiroshi Tanahashi wanted in his wrestling. Guys like Tetsuya Naito were coming into the main event scene and Nakamura became what he is today in WWE, which is a sharp contrast from the ultra serious supernova that he was in the early 2000s. The hype that surrounded the new era of NJPW was hard to ignore and I had to catch up to speed and see if I was missing out on matches that were being proclaimed by fans and writers as some of the greatest wrestling of all time. When I finally checked it for myself, I thought the New Japan was very good and sometimes great. But I didn’t feel blown away every time I saw them as I thought they delivered really good wrestling but not the constant hyperbole that I saw on social media, review sites and message boards. Fast forward to May 9th and the hype finally hits me. I felt Shibata vs Okada on that night was the best match that I saw from this current 5 year period as it gave me everything I want in my wrestling. It gave me wrestling that was believability, violence, thoughtful storytelling and raw emotion that kept me on the edge of my seat for 40 minutes on a Sunday morning. I felt this match gave those factors in handfuls a lot more compared to both Omega/Okada matches. It had the feeling that I was watching an old boxing champion trying to get out of tough title defense against a challenger that had nothing to lose and was willing to risk it all to even have a chance to win. The aftermath of the match scared the hell out of me as Shibata’s injuries made myself question why I was fan of wrestling as guilt overcame me similarly to when I was fan years before I quit watching wrestling. Up until the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit, I would’ve made him my favorite wrestler without question. After that horrible tragedy, I told myself that I wouldn’t get wrapped up with wrestling as a fan like that again. It was my first taste of getting older in terms of as you get older, the idols you see as your heroes growing up were never heroes to begin with. But I let myself go for the Shibata/Okada match as I was actively rooting in my apartment for Shibata to claim the crown that he deserved like he was an old gunslinger that came back to his previous home against the new gunslinger.

Months later, we arrive at the June 11th Dominion show and I’m stuck in a hotel room with so-so wifi watching the most important non-WWE match in years on my iPhone and it goes 60 minutes like I thought it would. Great match but not the match I thought it would be. I say in our eternal Slack chat that I have to watch this match when I get home with a TV screen because I thought I would have a similar experience. When I saw the Tokyo Dome match on a TV Screen and the match quality was better seeing it on a bigger screen. I finally get home at the end of the week and I watched all 60 minutes of this epic match. And … nothing has changed. Not one feeling of mine has changed about the match.

I wondered if I really got old and jaded about wrestling but I stumbled across the repeat telecast of NJPW on AXS TV with Okada vs Shibata. It’s the first time I’ve seen the match since the report of Shibata’s injuries surfaced and it still gave me chills watching it. Josh Barnett gave great insight as usually and Jim Ross gave a great performance even though he isn’t a good fit calling New Japan matches. Jeff Hawkins from the podcast Shake Them Ropes said, when talking about Ross doing commentary for the out of this world match with Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne, that Ross doesn’t have his fastball anymore but he’s still Jim Ross. It’s the perfect description for him as Ross was the voice of my wrestling memories whether I was watching WCW on TBS as a little child or WWF during the “Attitude Era”. Ross gave me that cushion when watching wrestling that fans nowadays don’t have or think they have with Michael Cole now and it’s debate in our Slack chat with Cole being better than Ross (I take Ross every time). But with this match, Ross did a great job because of the violence and simple nature of the story that transcends to any viewer. Ross also gave me the connection that I wanted to feel for a while now and made me realize that my older memories should never go away and I shouldn’t be ashamed. But it also made realize that this new stuff can always hook me too as it taps into the joy that I got 20 plus years ago when I was a young wrestling fan. If I didn’t havethe  feeling, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article or even watching modern wrestling anymore. I found that I’m not jaded. I’ve just learned from history and will proceed with caution about debates like this. But, I do realize greatness when I see it and Okada was great in this match.

Did this match and the rest of his resume make me think “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada is the greatest wrestler of all time? Of course not. That still goes to the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Just like how I won’t say LeBron is better than Jordan or Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of all time, my seasoned brain can’t succumb to the hot take that something being the greatest of all time at that very moment. But my brain also tells me that over time, greatness gets better over time and I have to acknowledge it when it comes. Omega and Okada put on a hell of a match, just not the greatest of all time yet. Hopefully, Omega and Okada will face for the third time so that I can have the opportunity check into my mental storage one more time to see if they put a match is worthy of the moniker of the greatest of all time.

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