While the WWE has quite famously dialed back their wrestling style, basically eliminating things like chairshots to the head, blood of any kind, and even a handful of moves that target the head (like the piledriver, for example). With concussions a heavy talking point in all sports these days, it was probably a smart move by the WWE — both to protect their athletes, but also to limit their own legal liability.
Wrestling in Japan hasn’t exactly followed suit.
New Japan Pro Wrestling is well-known for its stiff style. They didn’t call Shinsuke Nakamura “The King of Strong Style” for nothing. However, a string of recent injuries has some wrestlers reconsidering the risks they take. Most notably, a traumatic career-ending brain injury to Katsuyori Shibata has NJPW star Kenny Omega ready to scale back the violence.
Omega recently appeared on the X-Pac 12360 show on AfterBuzz TV and discussed how he’s changing up his style in an effort to better protect himself and his opponents.
“I am definitely, I mean more than ever … it’s sort of a strange statement to make, but I’m trying to make it clear through the way that I work that I’m very much avoiding that style. And the thing is, by saying that, I’m doing it, but I’m disguising it, so how would anyone know?
“But it’s stuff — like with forearms, I’m not even making contact anymore. Before, it was kind of like, okay, you make it a little bit snug, and you can kind of get a little bit of contact. But with the G1, you’re wrestling matches almost every day, you don’t need to be getting rocked by forearms or palm strikes or whatever every day of the tour. So it’s stuff like that, like I was relying on chops more than ever. More or less faker stuff.
“Some of the guys, they don’t want to change what they have been doing all these years. They don’t want to reinvent their own wheel. And that’s their own choice, but if I work with guys like that nowadays, in the matchmaking process, I’ll just kind of say, like, ‘Hey, we need to be careful about the message that we’re putting out there.’
“Considering the actions that have happened — which of course were accidents — but we need to kind of take down the risk percentage as much as we can, and show that we are actually the kings of strong style. And by doing that, it’s not just by being the toughest, like yeah, we can absorb a ton of damage to our brains. We can do this, and we can do this safely, and it still looks like we’re killing each other. I think that’s the most important part.”
One of the proudest things a professional wrestler can say about his or her career is that they never seriously injured an opponent (right, Bret Hart?). The truth of the sport is you have to put a ton of faith in the athlete standing across the ring, trusting they won’t botch a move that could cause serious injury.
While some fans may miss the over-the-top violence of the Attitude Era or ECW, the simple truth is that the business has changed. The WWE has already made the switch, and it sounds like Omega is leading the charge in Japan. And honestly, that’s probably best for everyone.