The world of wrestling is one that the phrase over the top isn’t quite big enough for. It’s bright, shiny and packed with characters that would be mocked if you wrote them into any other universe. Take a second and try to imagine explaining Juice Robinson to someone who isn’t in the know? More than one person has compared it to drag, and while I can’t claim to be an expert, on the surface, the similarities are evident.
However, despite all that, the very best wrestling relies as much on subtlety as it does showmanship. It relies on the twitching of a man’s eyes or the clasping of a wrist. Constructing a story in a wrestling ring requires that you show not tell and if you wish to do that you often need to rely on the smallest of gestures to get your point across.
It’s the ability to use that subtlety that makes New Japan the best wrestling company in the world. While people are rightly raving about Okada vs Omega for all the spectacular moments, what made it special was the small stuff. The way Omega used Okada’s head to push himself up in the final seconds or how Okada’s face would come to life when he sensed he was about to take the One-Winged Angel and knew he had to escape. I highly recommend you give this fantastic article on the final sixty seconds of the match a read.
It was a subtlety that extended past the feud. I’m a bit annoyed at my Kizuna Road review because I missed a lot of what was going on in Okada’s performance. It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to me that I went back and caught what he was doing. He came into that arena as a man defeated. One who looked unsure of himself and lacked the cockiness that characterised the end of his title reign. CHAOS didn’t even come out to his music, with Jay White instead taking the lead. The IWGP Heavyweight Title wasn’t a prop to Okada, it was his identity, and without it, he was lost.
Now compare that to the thousands of times that John Cena has lost a belt or a big match. Cena would always return to Raw the next night and be perfectly fine. He’d maybe look sad for a second, but then he’d crack a few jokes and get on with it. In that world, the belt being a prop make sense.
Let’s not just pick on Cena either. Gargano vs Ciampa is a feud that I have praised to high heaven with their two matches earning a lot of my stars. However, when you watch NXT TakeOver: Chicago and put it up next to Dominion, the differences are startling. While Okada and Omega are working with precision tools, Ciampa and Gargano are smashing things with sledgehammers. There is nothing about Ciampa screaming in Gargano’s face before spitting on his wedding ring that requires you to unravel their story. It’s all being shoved into your face like a comical birthday cake.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Ciampa and Gargano are probably capable of having a New Japan style bout. I’m pretty sure John Cena could too. It’s not their fault. It’s what they are told to do. WWE wants everything to be big and brash and to reach the back rows. Subtlety isn’t a word that Vince McMahon has spent much time pondering.
However, for me (and I am very much speaking for myself), that’s the reason that WWE can’t be my favourite wrestling company. I’m not an idiot, and I’m pretty sure most of my fellow wrestling fans aren’t idiots either. We all watch films and TV shows where you are expected to keep up and catch all the little details. So, why shouldn’t we do the same with our wrestling? Sure, you sometimes miss something (as I did with Okada earlier this week), but more often than not you pick up on it, and when you do, you feel rewarded for having spent your time studying this world.
I love wrestling for being over the top. There is a joy to be found in Hiromu Takahashi and his talking belts while PCO’s journey to indie superstar is fascinating. However, that over the top nature shouldn’t stop it being smart. It has an incredible ability to take you to a different place, and the more in-depth the stories are, the better that place will be.
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