Category Archives: Foreign Objectification

Happy New Wrestle Kingdom 2016

New Japan Pro Wrestling Wrestle Kingdom 10

 

On the surface, the news coming out of NJPW’s January 4th Tokyo Dome show is dire. Attendance for the annual spectacle dipped to 25,000, reflecting critically on what many have called attention to over the past year: the at times stale booking of NJPW matchmaker Gedo. If losing 11,000 fans wasn’t enough to cause panic, the next day saw the rumored and all-but-confirmed departures of top draws Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, and the tag team of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, for World Wrestling Entertainment.  On the upswing, however, Wrestle Kingdom 10 was an artistically satisfying, hugely significant show that is completely worth spending five hours with.

 

Leaving aside the NJPW Rumble (King Haku! Cheeseburger!), the main card featured nine matches, eight of which were for championships. The first of these, a four-way scramble for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, is easily the most exciting of the opening contests. Tag team wrestling is largely inconsequential in the United States in 2016 and NJPW’s Junior Tag Team Division, while exciting, has suffered from repetitive booking, but that’s hardly a reflection of the talent in the division. Matt and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks, are by far the best tag team in wrestling right now, and no team, not even the other three in this match, can touch them. Just listen to them wrestle: The two are in constant communication with each other, in peril or otherwise. All four teams (reDRagon, Aerial Dogfight, and Roppongi Vice) have great tag team moves and work cohesively as a unit (which is more rare than you’d think), but it’s the way the Bucks talk to each other that puts them over the edge, in a way that’s over the top while belying the extreme cohesion you’d expect from a pair of brothers who’ve been teaming for over a decade.

 

The middle of the card featured two matches that symbolized a changing of the guard, and the evening’s one non-title affair. In the Junior Heavyweight Division, Kenny Omega lost his IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship to KUSHIDA. The match more than set-up KUSHIDA as the new ace of the juniors, fighting, as he did, from underneath Omega and his Bullet Club back up, The Young Bucks. Omega’s a human cartoon on offense and when he’s selling, and that’s either a thing you like or have a big problem with. I happen to be a big fan, and Omega was over the top against KUSHIDA, who is a very serious competitor once the Marty McFly bubble vest comes off.

 

The evening’s one non-title match, between Tetsua Naito and Hirooki Goto, was interesting mostly as a means of tracking Naito’s progress as a scumbag heel. Naito is currently the dark horse of New Japan’s roster, a former semi-main event caliber wrestler who turned heel and really found himself as a member of CMLL’s Los Ingobernables. His heel persona took off in NJPW, but the creation of Los Ingobernables de Japón seemed to weigh him down a bit, if only because it feels so forced. Joined by junior heavyweight BUSHI and laughably named and attired heavyweight KING OF DARKNESS EVIL (with whom Naito nearly won the World Tag League), Naito’s matches have largely become a showcase for routine cheating and sneak attacks, and this match against Goto did nothing to shake that pattern up. After two Bullet Club matches that began with surprise sneak attacks, that a third match on the card began the same way was noticeable, and I can’t get over how backyard KING OF DARKNESS EVIL is. BUSHI, though, is a good compliment to Naito, someone who has spent time in CMLL and, as a masked character, was ripe for reinvention. The match does its job, which is to establish Naito’s stable as a legitimate threat while also establishing Goto as a threat to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

 

At the top of the card, Wrestle Kingdom 10 featured three matches that showcase what New Japan Pro Wrestling does better than any promotion going right now, in-ring and long-term storytelling. A title like the NEVER Openweight Championship may seem superfluous in a promotion that has two top-tier championships (or, I suppose, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship may be the superfluous one), but has largely been defined by the stout, hard-hitting brawling of Tomohiro Ishii and Togi Makabe, who switched the title back and forth several times over the course of 2015. With Makabe in the tag division, Ishii took on Katsuyori Shibata, who pinned the champion twice during the 2015 World Tag League. Looking at the two next to each other, the odds would seem to be pretty clearly in the larger man’s favor, but for all the pain and misery a Tomohiro Ishii lariat so obviously inflicts, Shibata’s kicks are capable of that and much more.

 

The NEVER Championship, thematically, is about proving one’s worth as a warrior, and Shibata and Ishii exchanged a sort of delicious violence that can be heard and felt, not just seen. Though the two come out of the gate avoiding each other’s strikes, they soon dare each other to take the other’s strikes. Ishii loses an opening kick battle, flinching with every blow as Shiabata dusts his off. Shibata is, throughout the course of this contest, a man who will not be denied. Every time Ishii has the advantage, Shiabata finds the will, somehow, to turn the tables on the Stone Pitbull. The brutality of his attack, focused around kicks and submisisons, is a beautiful counterpoint to Ishii’s lariats, chops, forearms, and disgusting suplexes. Ishii, for his part, is resolute and terrifying. Every blow seems like a killing blow. Every submission feels like an end. But Shiabata or Ishii gut up and get back into the fight until the point where they’re exchanging headbutts in the center of the ring. All of this to see who the better man is, which is simplicity itself in professional wrestling. I’ve never been much for tracking a wrestler’s “moveset” as a measure of skill, and the NEVER division is proof that such metrics are overrated. With both men working loud and brutal, it’s the subtle things that Ishii does, on the attack and in selling Shiabata, that put this over the top. You know he’s in trouble early from Shiabata’s kicks and the way each one makes him flinch though none are as lethal as the heart-stopping PK. And you know he knows he’s in trouble when he accidentally illegally chops his challenger in the throat, sees that it works, and purposefully does so again. Just an exhausting, classic encounter that revels in physicality.

 

Outside of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, there is likely no more important a title in wrestling than the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, largely because of the man who currently holds it, Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura is New Japan’s top draw and, in terms of sheer presence, virtually unmatched as far as charisma goes. Nakamura put out an open challenge to any wrestler in the world to face him for the title and was answered by AJ Styles, setting up a rare first-time-ever dream match between two stars of equal stature that’s actually worthy of the “dream match” billing.

 

I watched the match live, and while I forget what time it was playing and didn’t have the benefit of caffeine, I was really, really alive for it. Thanks to the invaluable live translation of E. Key Oide (@e_key_oide), I know that the announcers for the contest (which included Jushin Liger and Masahiro Chono) put over the match as a clash of two true originals in the world of professional wrestling, and that’s exactly what it felt like. By extension, this is what the IWGP Intercontinental Championship seems to represent: Stars that are IWGP Championship grade (as Nakamura’s t-shirt has it) but who stand just outside or above it, Nakamura being above it and his Wrestle Kingdom challengers (Styles here; Kota Ibushi, Tanahashi, and Kazushi Sakuraba in the past) just to the side of the dominant narrative of Kazuchika Okada’s ascendency to the position of New Japan’s ace. Unlike last year’s match against Ibushi, this one doesn’t start with The King of Strong Style toying with his opponent—there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship, to be sure, as when Nakamura catches Style’s pantomimed bullet and swallows it whole—Styles has nothing to prove to Nakamura, and the two wrestle an even contest from the start. While I find the story of Nakamura/Ibushi to be the best of his Wrestle Kingdom championship defenses, I absolutely love the pace of this match, a measured heavyweight clash that is punctuated by bursts and flurries of violence and technical wizardry. Both men are in scary-good control of their body’s motions and language, such that spots like an early-match counter backbreaker from Nakamura manage to look and feel more gruesome for managing to be a successful audible.

 

Despite how even the two are, Nakamura is on offense much of the time, with Styles opting to employ the Calf Killer as a defensive submission maneuver designed to neutralize the BomaYe. It’s smart, and gives Styles an edge after all the work Nakamura puts in on his back, but the BomaYe’s success as a finishing blow is such that Nakamura goes for it regardless of injury. On equal footing, the two break out the big strikes and moves, a particularly good near-fall being Styles’ counter knee lift into a brutal 450 splash. It’s a beautiful match that I can’t recommend enough, even if Nakamura and Styles’ tenures with NJPW are over and the future of the Intercontinental Championship uncertain except for its pending vacancy when Nakamura leaves for the United States. Their coda, a tag team match on New Year Dash that also featured Kenny Omega and YOSHI-HASHI in a match designed to make Omega the new ace of the Bullet Club and credible challenger to Nakamura’s championship, which it did, but now mostly serves as a teaser for a match that will not be happening. There’s certainly a number of possibilities for New Japan now, none of which I am qualified to speculate on, but as far as final images go, the mid-ring fist bump between Nakamura and Styles in the Dome is a particularly neat one, complete with the required zoom in.

 

The culmination of a years long rivalry that’s headlined the Dome on a number of occasions, Kazuchika Okada’s quest to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi on a January 4th show came to an end in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10, where he successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and staked his claim as the true ace of New Japan by defeating the man who previously held that spot. It’s a contest that goes nearly an hour, which was rough going live, and really pays off well if you know the history of the two, just an old-school match wrestled at a classic pace, Tanahashi (who doesn’t look anything like he’s near 40 or ready to relinquish the role of ace) playing the sure veteran to Okada’s justifiably cocky younger rival.

 

The first time I saw the match, it was in sequence with the rest of the card, at the end of a very long night, and I just did not have the patience for it. About 10 minutes in, it seemed like the two would be doing everything in their power to go the 60 minute time limit, which, not including a video package and introductions, they very nearly do. The focus of the match is Okada’s leg, which Tanahashi works over fiercely with dragon screw leg whips, dropkicks to the knee, and targeted High Fly Flow splashes from all over the ring. Okada, never one to back down, often sacrifices his leg or knee if it means punishing Tanahashi. That means not selling the leg when he goes into sequences that involve his leg drops, but if that’s a flaw in the storytelling of the match, than it is a very small one in what has largely been a very satisfying epic novel. That legwork is largely what won Tanahashi the match at Wrestle Kingdom 9, the conclusion of which was one of my favorites of a major wrestling event, Okada exiting the arena in tears as Tanahashi played air guitar. It seems like the strategy will work for him again, only it wouldn’t make much sense narratively for Tanahashi to beat Okada in the Dome for a third time. This is the story of Okada’s ascendency, after all, and torch-passings don’t end with the bearer sucker-punching the recipient and taking the torch back.

 

While I’m able to appreciate the match more in a second and third viewing, I have to admit that my mind continued to wander from the match. There was a sense of destiny to the whole thing, and, in a wrestling match, that’s something I can’t claim to be that big a fan of. Okada fighting from underneath Tanahashi and establishing that he truly is the most dominant force in New Japan Pro Wrestling is fine and necessary, but this one just lacked the nuance of previous encounters and didn’t have a classic moment like Okada crying on his way out of the Dome. With both men in the semi-main event on their way out of the promotion, it’s good that Okada is being firmly planted as the new figurehead of NJPW. The next few months will be vital, both in building the promotion around Okada such that a situation like his and Tetsua Naito’s losing the Wrestle Kingdom main event doesn’t happen again, and in filling the holes left by styles and Nakamura. Wrestle Kingdom 10 showed that the way forward for New Japan is not without hope—this still-young year may be the most interesting in recent memory.

 

Match Results (Recommended Matches in Bold)

 

Pre-show) Jado won the New Japan Rumble

 

1) The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) def. reDRAGON (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, champions), Aerial Dogfight (Matt Sydal and Ricochet), and Roppongi Vice (Baretta and Rocky Romero) for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.

 

2) The Briscoe Brothers (Mark and Jay Briscoe) and Toru Yano def. The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Yujiro Takahashi) for the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship.

 

3) Jay Lethal (champion) def. Michael Elgin for the Ring of Honor World Championship.

 

4) Kushida def. Kenny Omega (champion) for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship.

 

5) G.B.H. (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) def. Bullet Club (Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, champions) for the IWGP Tag Team Championship.

 

6) Hirooki Goto def. Tetsuya Naito.

 

7) Katsuyori Shibata def. Tomohiro Ishii (champion) for the NEVER Openweight Championship.

 

8) Shinsuke Nakamura (champion) def. A.J. Styles for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

 

9) Kazuchika Okada (champion) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

Lucha Underground ramps up for it’s Second Season

Wrestling audiences are living in a blessed time, particularly on Wednesday nights when we’ve been spoiled for choice thanks to NXT, Ring of Honor and the most strikingly different TV product so far, Lucha Underground. Created by TV mogul Mark Burnett and film director Robert Rodriguez for the El Ray Network, Lucha Underground boasts a unique look and style and an impressive roster that includes familiar names such as Johnny Mundo (formerly Johnny Morrison) and Alberto El Patron (better known as Alberto Del Rio) and many from standout Mexican company Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA). Combining striking visuals, excellent wrestling and storytelling, Lucha Underground is one of the most exciting weekly wrestling series I’ve enjoyed since becoming a wrestling fan.

So what is it about Lucha Underground that has gotten so many rave reviews and dedicated fans,
like me, on the edge of our seats over the announcement of a second season? Other companies and channels have tried to create weekly wrestling shows. I remember MTV’s Wrestling Society X, which had a talented roster but tried so obviously hard to appeal and fell short. LU provides the familiar, heart-stopping standout action for TV trailers – Angelico leaping off of the roof of the boss’ office onto wrestlers below in the ring – and recognizable characters – the paid thugs, the woman fighting the odds, the bitch who orders her boyfriend around, and more. There are familiar moments glimpsed throughout: Chavo Guerrero can never be trusted, and the boss Dario Cueto is self-serving to the max. So far, so familiar, but this promotion is truly a cut above in terms of storytelling. Settling quite nicely into one of the best comparisons that pro wrestling is akin to a soap opera, we are gifted with vignettes that are recorded on film to mimic the aesthetic of a movie, and there is a plethora of backstory where the kayfabe of contracts and illicit shady dealings are made visible directly to the viewer. What a way to have the fate of a character decided! It’s refreshing to be subjected to promos that serve the same clear purpose as the matches and tell one entertaining, cohesive story.

One thing we truly appreciate is LU hasn’t fallen into the trap where you see the exact same characters week in and week out acting out the feud you got bored of a few weeks back. Instead, stories and characters are able to breathe and just when you think someone has fallen off the radar, their string is pulled and they’ve returned to develop a new twist.

They’ve also got the magic of the craft down pat with the inclusion of supernatural storylines such as Drago: a dragon reborn as a man and Catrina who raises her powerful charge, Mil Muertes, from the dead. It’s wonderful to see the out of the ordinary be played straight while still maintaining some of the camp and humour that makes professional wrestling such a well rounded art form we have all grown to love. That contrast, the release of pressure, is definitely needed to carry the show – a fact that the producers seem sharply aware of.

A promotion that is for everyone, but definitely is aware of it’s mature audience in terms of it’s pacing and tone. They utilize this both to captivate the viewers in the crowd, as well as at home. This is a stark reminder that you don’t need to go full “shock” in order to keep anyone over the age of 9 invested. It is possible to make a wrestling product that’s great for all, and it seems that El Rey has their eye on the prize – so much so that there were even whispers of them being in talks for Emmy nominations this past year.

With the recent announcement of a new season being released on January 27th, 2016, it’s safe to say that wrestling fans are eagerly awaiting a follow up to the finale from season one, Ultimate Lucha, which drew to a close with Dario Cueto fleeing the arena. Will the next season be staged somewhere else entirely and abandon the set which has become so much a part of Lucha Underground’s image and success? That would be both a gamble and brave move, a feat well worth the payoff. So fans, you can breathe a sigh of relief that the spray painted question mark was only asking us what’s to come next, not will we ever see you again.

Check out the trailer for season two, and tune in to the El Rey network for more lucha action.

Kanellis & Gallows return to NJPW, in non-wrestling roles

Maria Kanellis and Amber Gallows are scheduled to appear at the NJPW DOMINION event on July 5th, as well as the “road to” house shows beforehand in late June and early July. As of now they’re featured in the match graphics, but not as competitors. That doesn’t mean they won’t get involved as the storylines between The Kingdom and Bullet Club unfold.

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To complicate matters (and also make them more exciting), The Kingdom has officially joined forces with CHAOS, one of the main factions in NJPW, forming The Kingdom of CHAOS. As a result of this, the multi-person tags now feature CHAOS talent like RPG Vice and Kazuchika Okada as well as Matt Taven and Mike Bennett.

 

A return to manager-shenanigans for Amber & Maria on this tour doesn’t mean NJPW is abandoning the idea of women wrestling at its events, but I think if they do move forward in this area, it will be rare and involve women the company is already invested in, like Maria and Amber. It’s possible that they could bring more women in, but I don’t see them ever creating a new division specifically for the purpose of showcasing women wrestlers. NJPW booking women to actually wrestle on their shows to advance established storylines is always welcome, though. I will, as ever, keep you posted!

 

Faby Apache vs Sexy Star | Hair vs Mask

Art by Isz Janeway

We begin with a mantra of late 00’s message boards: In Canada it’s a tradition, in Mexico it’s a religion, in Japan it’s a sport. This sussing of sour grapes plants the evidence of wrestling’s murder on Mr. McMahon (“In America, it’s a joke). He was working alone that night, on the grassy Illuminati bunker, ruining wrestling. The homophobia, the sexism, the greed of the old guard–all these red herrings will make a damn fine fish fry when all this is over.

To label lucha libre as “mexican professional wrestling” might be unconscionably obtuse–it’s an indelible inclination of Mexican culture. Out of the ring, luchadores appear, as themselves, in comic books and monster movies. They advocate for nature conservation and human rights. They are living mythos. The masks that have epitomized the culture, domestically and abroad, safeguard the sanctity of a people’s wonder.

To be unmasked is to be jarred back into mortality, like the clipping of angel wings. El Santo revealed only part of his face to the public, once–he died a week later.

This guardianship remains today, long after the fall of kayfabe. It is less rigid in its discipline–everyone has a phone now, and google is eager to autocomplete any search for a luchador/a with “sin mascara”. It is custom for an unmasked wrestler to reveal their real name, hometown, and how long they’ve been wrestling; Wikipedia gives you all of this with a click of a “Random Article”.

Since her match with Faby Apache, Sexy Star has been willingly photographed without her mask–goddesses can assume mortal form at no cost to them. It’s the act of having that form made manifest through defeat that maroons them with mortals.

Since Samson’s slumber, mortals have removed each other’s hair as a tool of shame, revenge, and assertion of worthlessness. The shaving of an Army recruit’s head strips them of their personhood–they are now slaves of the State. After liberation, the women of Nazi-occupied towns and villages who had “corroborated” would be marched into public view and have their heads shaved.

So much of ourselves is codified in our hair. When MRAs jerk their circles over women with colored hair, they are decrying an abundance of personality they cannot confine to their expectations and pleasures.

Hair vs Mask

The first Lucha de Apuestas–”a match with wagers”–was in 1940. The masked Murciélago insisted, to counter somewhat the unfairness of wrestling someone much larger than him, that the challenger for his championship, the unmasked Octavio Gaona, put his hair on the line.

To quote Shawn Michaels (and hate myself for it), the challenger of a title has, traditionally nothing to lose and everything to gain. While it’s not uncommon for a de-crowned champion to take time off from television, a contender who fails to secure the championship rarely faces any serious immediate consequence. Roman Reigns won’t be wrestling on the pre-show–not right away, at least.

The original apuesta provided a consequence for failure in the main event; it has come in time to be a means of putting rivalries to bed.

First, Sexy Star took Faby Apache’s husband. Then, her AAA Reina de Reinas championship.

In 2009, at Guerra de Titanes, she would claim that final vestige of Faby’s status: her hair.

Family vs Fame

Faby Apache does not merely come from a wrestling family; her career and identity are defined by her struggles to exist within the confines of good daughter and loyal sister. The Apache family have stretched the ol’ “my dad doesn’t like the father of my child” routine out for years of storyline.

To not dismiss the issue of race: the Apache family are dark-skinned indigenous descendants. Sexy Star and the other women of La Legion Extranjera (“The Foreign Legion”, a rotating roster of hired invaders who make trouble for AAA) are either white or light-skinned Mexican. They twirl at ringside, petting the chin of the referee with fishnet gloves, as Faby, clad to honor her indigenous heritage, suffers potshots and slow counts to a chorus of blonde giggles.

In the year following this match, Sexy Star, the only Mexican luchadora in LLE, would claim the Apaches were nothing but maids, proudly mirroring the ugly prejudice and systemic violence sustained against women like Faby, at home and abroad.

It’s likely Sexy is mayhaps motivated not only out of smugness, but from a genuine conviction that Faby and the Apache family are lesser people.

The title would not be enough for this match.

Emotion vs Skill

When the first “Legends of Wrestling” video game came out, critics in the know lamented that you couldn’t quantify what made the slower, brawly style of the 70’s and 80’s into compelling gameplay. Older wrestling relied on tension, banking on the raw emotion of wrestlers to evoke enticement from the audience.

From a technical standpoint, Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 3 is a no-selling prima donna running circles around a disabled veteran nearing the end of his life. You could get better fundamentals having Jim Cornette try to put his own tennis racket in a spinebuster. It cinched the (however dubious) honor of being the lynchpin of WWF’s rise to the mainstream for the psychology and narrative; the unstoppable force overcomes the immovable object.

This match wouldn’t wile its any into either wrestler’s highlight reels. It’s a largely kick, choke, pull the hair affair. The narrative in place doesn’t require a flourish of skill. This isn’t about who’s the best–Sexy Star has already taken everything else from Faby, and needs not the affirmation of her skill.

This is about kicking Faby while she’s down, and hard enough that the referee has to check Faby isn’t concussed on more than one occasion.

Sometimes it’s about working smarter, not harder: the close-ups of Faby’s clearly dazed, fatigued face suffices where others would think to put some goofy fucking weapon up on a pole or some such bullshit.

The crowd percolates steadily–there are no “spots”. There is no heat. They clatter and erupt at Billy Boy grabbing Faby’s hair from the outside, at Sexy choking her in the ropes, at the arrival of Jennifer Blade and Rain to Sexy’s corner mid-match.

The math: Sexy has the belt. She’s joined La Legion. Billy Boy’s marriage to Faby and the resulting turmoil with the Apache family has, to date, landed him in a mental institution, kicked out of his own stable, and cost him his hair after he was pinned by Faby in a lucha de apuestas, following a heel turn spurned by Faby slapping him because she was upset she lost a match. Faby Apache has, despite her earnest character, done a lot of damage to someone she once claimed to love, the payment of which has been overly delayed.

She has no chance in winning the match. The audience bristles not at Sexy’s fortunes but at her underhandedness.

Faby vs The World

This match followed Vince McMahon’s playbook down an alley and ran off with its wallet.

Faby fends off flurries of kicks to the face from the woman who took her title and her husband, who himself keeps jumping into the ring to attack her.

La Legion is at ringside–what has she even done to piss off all these people? Is it because she’s an Apache? Is it what she represents? Do they just hate goodness? Why are all these women out to get her?

And then oh fuck: she bumps the ref.

The arrival of El Hijo del Tirantes, AAA’s rudo referee, puts the lingering doubt out of its misery.

From here it’s all cocktease. El Hijo del Tirantes flirts with Jennifer and Rain to excuse himself from counting Faby’s cover on Sexy. Faby’s punch drunk frustration becomes searing desperation, fermenting into anger. This match is a nail that traces the collarbone before going in for the stranglehold. It’s a drawn out parade of shame, population: 1.

The audience seems to gradually accept this fate–American audiences make camp on the edges of their seats because they’ve become spoiled by brutally contrived solutions to the esoteric and unsolvable. Steve Austin just knocks out the stooge referee, counts his own three with the limp hand, and then beats up the timekeeper until he rings the bell to acknowledge his win.

El Hijo del Tirantes watches Rain run in to push Sexy out of Faby’s hanging vertical suplex, and then fast counts Sexy’s roll-up into a three.

Even the crowd has turned on Faby Apache, popping for Sexy’s win–from the beginning, really, they were promised a head-shaving. And here comes the sun.

Or so they thought.

Fairness vs Honor

Faby doesn’t lose her hair. Gran Apache comes out, pushes Billy Boy around–because I guess he can’t turn rudo on your family for the same reason twice–and clips a couple of locks from her admittedly gorgeous earth-tone mane before she hulks out and, breaks free from the bounds of honor and charges at Sexy Star.

The crowd’s upheaval at this is as loud as it is ambiguous–are they cheering because Faby got her heat back, or because they’ve been denied the opportunity to see a woman ritualistically stripped of her beauty and dignity? Have even the crowd turned rudo/ruda on Faby Apache, or are they outraged at besmirched tradition?

Randy Savage loses a retirement match against Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 7–he’s the fucking World Champion by WrestleMania 8. Ric Flair loses a career match against Shawn Michaels and just goes to another company. Nobody cares. Most modern American fans don’t even know what a tag rope is or what it does.

Faby does not return to the ring to have her head shaved. Nor does she visit a barber. And the internet will not ever, ever let you forget this. Every article about this match, every wiki notation, and like 1 out of every 2 or 3 YouTube comments makes mention of Faby skipping out on the stipulation. Some writers have even gone as far as to accuse her of fraud. Not AAA. Not Gran Apache, who didn’t even try to finish the haircut, but Faby specifically.

The misogyny and classism/racism that might be perpetuating this anger aside: American wrestling fans never stop to consider that maybe American wrestling is a joke because they are so tolerant of non-committal booking.

Faby Apache’s appeal was so agreed upon that after she won the Reina de Reinas annual tournament, they just made it into a title for her to defend. Then they cheered for her to lose her hair and complained, loudly, when it wasn’t delivered.

This begs the question: who are the participants of these rituals beholden to? The legacy of all the men and women who came before and sacrificed their cultural immortality and aesthetic individuality for the sake of “making it real”? The wrestling community at large? The audience?

If Faby Apache says she’ll cut her hair if she loses, and AAA doesn’t hold her to it, what claim do we as the consumers have to compel her to be shorn?

Once we’re finished discussing how ridiculous Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt in broad daylight was, can we move onto this?

Another inquiry I beseech: Jesus Christ, what the fuck with all this racism? A year later, Mari Apache is forced to serve as a maid for La Legion Extranjera after she, Faby Apache, and Cintia Morena lose a “winners get a personal slave” trios match against Sexy Star, Jennifer Blade, and Rain. And yes, they make her clean up their locker room, on TV, right after the match.

It’s not just me, right? First, Sexy Star says “the Apaches were meant to be maids” at Rey de Reyes,  and then you have a match at TripleMania, three months later , that forces one of the Apaches has to serve as a maid. Doesn’t that sound like a societal fantasy fulfillment to anyone else?

Foreign Objectification: Toyota/Yamada vs Ozaki/Kansai |AJPW Dreamslam II

At WrestleMania 31 this weekend, the entire Divas division will be compressed into a single tag match with no payoff or forward motion for any of its competitors. This bag of crumbs callously offered to long-suffering believers in women’s wrestling in America will purposely underwhelm in the undercard, making assured shit show stoppers Sting vs Triple H and Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns seem like a stumbling attempt to provide an earnest near-miss of what the WWE audiences actually want.

WWE has gotten hip to the social media, but the overwrought hashtags belie veritable tears in the veneer modernity.

A combined age of 167 in your upper card is not progress. Putting 6 of your 8 wrestlers of color on the pre-show is not progress. Shoehorning women into a tag match whose booking goes contrary to the storylines of the wrestlers involved is not a victory lap for diversity and “reaching the people”. It is a stumbling, begrudged forced march into the dark ages of tone deafness that has sunk the industry again and again.

In 1993, one week after Hulk Hogan won the then-WWF title in a main event he wasn’t booked in, Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, Mayumi Ozaki, and Dynamite Kansai put on a women’s tag match in Osaka that broke the gender barrier like a shoot kick to the face behind the referee’s back, earning the first Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year for women in the sport.

When brought up, the match is often weighed down by hobbyist wrestling historians as an example of how far wrestling had fallen in that time. And, for real: WWF had shit every bed at the Sleep Train with their non-televised title changes, mismanaged younger talent, and letting Hogan job to a fireball.

But this was the same year that Shane Douglas won and then rebuked the NWA Heavyweight Championship to announce the formation of Extreme Championship Wrestling. AAA put on their first TripleMania and NJPW’s Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome brought in 63,500 attendees.

A bleach-proof blemish in WWE’s history, 1993 was nonetheless a formative year for professional wrestling across the world.

This match is not the low hanging fruit of an industry in decline. It is, even without the benefit of understanding the commentary, one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. Full stop; fight me.

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To Set the Scene

This match was the second of a trilogy of contests between AJW’s Toyota/Yamada and JWP’s Ozaki/Kansai. While WWF spent the mid 90’s (and really, the whole of their ouevre as an organization) pilfering talent, no matter how useless, from their competitors, fans of joshi puroresu (primarily women) witnessed rival promotions kick and scream through a series of wrestling clinics that cinched Japan’s fourth consecutive Match of the Year award.

David McLane struggles to keep a women’s promotion open in America–there are 12 listed-as-active women’s promotions in Japan, notwithstanding women who appear on the more mainstream “men’s” promotions. The competition in Japan is mayhaps more collectivist than individualist–but it is yet, as Dynamite Kansai’s face will attest, strong style stiff.

Continue reading Foreign Objectification: Toyota/Yamada vs Ozaki/Kansai |AJPW Dreamslam II