Chapter 1 – “2014”
It’s 2016, and wrestling is advancing faster than ever through its contracts, developments, rosters, styles, worker mentalities, and so many other variables of the art form. I love professional wrestling, and have since I was a young child. My first words were ‘The Rock’. However, my love for it has advanced much like wrestling has itself, and through multi-media platforms that now exist — and are more accessible than ever, I am able to view a show that’s either airing live, or that has happened mere hours beforehand. We’re not even talking about America. Not even North America. We’re talking about the land of the rising sun. Japan.
This takes us to the year 2014. I was getting sick of Bray Wyatt and John Cena; I was getting sick of the “same old shit” displayed in some pay-per-view main events and the same wrestlers being booked to seemingly break down my wall of excitement. Although U.S. wrestling, particularly WWE still exists in my life, it doesn’t nearly take up as much time as it has the last 15 years prior. I never was aware that there was wrestling outside of World Wrestling Entertainment, aside from the rarely mentioned WCW and ECW brands via their programming, and the brands that partook in one of my favorite times to look back, the Invasion Angle. It’s 2014. Neither company is in business. WWE rules my wrestling world, but the inner struggle caused me to take an interest in a certain company gaining buzz on Twitter. New Japan Pro Wrestling.
It was the spring when I really started to explore other options, hence the Cena vs. Bray feud mention. It was May 17, 2014, and a few hours before the event, I came across an ordering page for Ustream. It was Ring of Honor, and the event was War of the Worlds 2014. Looking back, it all of a sudden became one of my favorite shows EVER, which is hyperbole, but what I meant was it has historical significance for myself as it was the first ever non-WWE event watched live. It’s also cool to look back on, because it was the first time Brady (fellow staffer, one of my best friends) and I bonded over wrestling. That was the track-meet gun shot that launched us into being buddies. I was so excited for the show, and sort of had the idea of who was who on the card and what was going to happen. It was on the show that I was fully introduced to aplenty New Japan stars, as well as the crash-course tag team style of wrestling that The Young Bucks and reDRagon deployed. That match still is my favorite match between the two teams, elevated with ‘first exposure’ bright eyes. I remember watching my favorite independent star Kevin Steen take on someone who gives you that international star feeling, Shinsuke Nakamura. Steen kicking out of a Bomaye at 1 was an insane moment before being put away with another one. We also got Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Bennett have an OK match, with my first exposure to Tanahashi being such, as well as two great title matches – Adam Cole who I became a huge fan of against noted legend Jushin “Thunder” Liger who is one of the best ever, and a triple threat that was built to from the first segment: AJ Styles retained his IWGP Heavyweight Championship vs. Kazuchika Okada and Michael Elgin. This event was an incredible first-time experience that helped me ease into the New Japan product. About a month later, it was time to see a New Japan match for the first time ever, live.
I recall tuning into the Dominion 6.21 pre-show on Ustream, watching The Young Bucks for the first time. I was captivated by the Japanese crowd. I was oddly traversing around the presentation of the product, asking myself how I’m even watching this and how foreign it is to me that this isn’t a USA Network flagship program, or airing on Monday or Sunday nights in primetime. Their opponents were The Forever Hooligans of Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov. This was for the much more intriguing (at the time) IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. This was on another planet, yet so refreshing. I was watching The Bucks do their shtick, tearing it up with the goofy Hooligans. They went 15 minutes plus, and this was one of the better Bucks matches in memory, as well as a better representation of the juniors/junior tag division in comparison to today’s constant annoyance, although that may change come April 2016.
Something that 2016 me does all too often, 2014 me was too scared to do. I went to bed that night, but days later, came back into the alienated Japanese world that was so spectacular and heroic. I watched Ricochet vs. Kota Ibushi from the same event for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship. To this day, I don’t recall ever being so excited during a match. I went berserk for every fast movement, every athletic achievement, this was a Jenga game stacking as I continued to mark out, hoping the tower would never fall down. Even though I don’t think of Ricochet in nearly the same light, I definitely think of Ibushi highly still. This, ironically to some people, and as weird as it sounds; was the match that fully nudged me into the world of Japanese professional wrestling.
A world so foreign to me a mere days before this event. Two junior matches influenced me to jump fully into the New Japan product, although with limitations of schedules and such; the next thing I clung onto was the G1 tournament in 2014. I was such a plain and simple, paint by the numbers mark, much like I was for prior years in my youth. I rooted for Shelton Benjamin, as he was the guy in the tournament I was most familiar with. I predicted him to win the G1. I said he was going to scorch through the field and take it all! 2016 me says, that is absolutely hilarious. I popped so hard when I was in chat rooms with dudes such as Bonski, shadow lurking them but still popping myself for every match Shelton won. Shelton went on something like a 4 win streak, and it so happened that Gedo’s booking ran a parallel pattern to my first ever NJPW bold prediction. It was meant to be. It was also a bitter sweet G1 Climax, as the guy I was most familiar with nearly right away, Ibushi, was out due to injury. In came Tomoaki Honma, who instantly connected with me as the underdog he was — although it took time for me to completely understand the whole character and exactly what a Kokeshi was. Fast forward to when Shelton began to lose matches as well as the notorious G1 Climax Final that happens every year.
The Seibu Dome was a venue unlike anything I’d seen before. I was so used to WWE-ran arenas, it was so wild to see a venue that gives you a 360 degree view of the outdoors. That, along with “Ms. Screaming Lady” doing the ring announcing; it was a spectacle that once again took part in the ongoing professional wrestling Jenga game. The blocks kept building up. I stayed exposed to more and more epic puroresu and its environments. This was the grand daddy of them all besides the Tokyo Dome, which I’ve stayed up for twice in a row because of my hardcore fandom growing. It’s the G1 Climax Finals. The thing I remember the most from this show was not the incredible final in Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazuchika Okada; but the ‘Special Singles Match’ between Karl Anderson and Tomohiro Ishii.
The match was a battle of two large men that hit hard; a constant matchup in Japan as well as New Japan. However, near the end of the match saw a spot in which both guys fell off the ropes and Ishii grasped on to his shoulder for dear life. There was an awkward moment in time in which the crowd was still routing, but worried for Ishii, as was I, as this was the first ever “botch”/injury I witnessed in my live puroresu viewing career. Ishii’s shoulder would continue to get worse after that, and if you see him in an arm sling, don’t be alarmed! The Stone Pitbull is merely healing up his body part after putting himself through so much pain.
As for the rest of 2014, I don’t recall any full events past the G1 Climax I was invested in, as September to December is a fairly ‘dark’ period for New Japan in comparison to the rest of the year, although I remember being hyped for Shibata vs. Nakmura, shocked at the fact that Yoshitatsu broke his neck via an AJ Styles Styles Clash, hearing raves about Ishii and Goto in their NEVER title match, and much more as the build to the Tokyo Dome was electric. I had no doubt in my mind that a second WrestleMania type of show would soon be coming into my life, but I had no idea about certain little things that would formulate the Wrestle Kingdom big picture. All I knew was general news such as Global Force Wrestling partnering up with New Japan to broadcast Wrestle Kingdom 10 live on pay-per-view, the matchups, especially highlighted through their GFW x NJPW video packages – with a highlight being stupid Matt Striker calling Shelton Benjamin, Shelton “Times” Benjamin. That’s a classic moment looking back for sure. None the less, that just about wraps up my 2014 year of getting into non-WWE wrestling, launching us into the year that was 2015, with Chapter 2 coming soon – Wrestle Kingdom 9 from The Tokyo Dome!