Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keep Moving Forward: An Essay Inspired by Ricochet and Will Ospreay

Ricochet (shown here vs. Uhaa Nation/Apollo Crews) is attempting to advance the business, and that's good
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Will Ospreay and Ricochet wrestled in New Japan Pro Wrestling's Best of the Super Juniors Tournament on Friday, May 27. Their match headlined the show, but it was still a contest within the confines of the round robin phase. One might think such a match wouldn't cause an uproar, but it has polarized an entire portion of the wrestling fan community. While most observers (including William Regal, Fit Finlay, and THE Observer himself, Dave Meltzer) praised the match to high heaven, some people didn't like it. Those folks included fans, journalists, and even former NJPW competitor Big Van Vader, who was saddened by the direction the match was taking wrestling into. The source of all the consternation came from a certain moment in the opening relay of the match, which was captured in .gif by the esteemed and talented SenorLARIATO.

The .gif only catches the tail end of the sequence, which was rife with athletic counters to basic moves. One can discern a taste of that with Ospreay cartwheeling out of a satellite headscissors and Ricochet countering a crucifix takeover with a backflip. But I feel like it's what follows the last counter that's what really raised the ire of those critics, when they both handsprung into the ropes and used the momentum to flip forwards and land in pose facing each other in the center of the ring. Detractors have called it a synchronized dance routine, that it lifted the veil of competition on wrestling in match. I understand those complaints, but I wholly disagree with them.

Ospreay and Ricochet are amazing high flyers, so their matches should have intense aerial pyrotechnics, even the opening segment. They were feeling each other out, and they did so using amazing agility, which was displayed through the massively impressive counters. Ending on the pose-note wasn't really any different than when other wrestlers go through arm drags and hammerlock counters and end with simultaneous dropkicks that don't hit each other.

Of course, the dropkick is an attempted offensive maneuver at least, but at the same time, both Ricochet and Ospreay had just thrown some gas at each other with either one of them twisting out of it, Matrix-style. When they both went into the handspring into the ropes sequence, they could see each other doing the same, so their recourse was just to end in some kind of stalemate and start again. Why end in a pose though? Well, the most well-regarded wrestlers aren't always the bruisers, but the showmen as well. Ospreay and Ricochet are showmen, right? It was a true outcome that popped the crowd. Crowd reactions are so important because in a way, they're the only valid outcome in real time (as opposed to money or ratings or whatever other valid outcomes exist because they're measured after the fact).

Of course, that move in specific might be disorienting to old school viewers because their favorites, or in the case of Vader, they themselves didn't do that sort of thing. The situation is akin to people getting riled up over the bat flip in baseball, or more accurately, since wrestling is a work and taunts are just as vital for crowd engagement as an arm drag or a piledriver, the proliferation of three point shots in basketball. It's foreign to them because it's too new, and its spread represents something changing into an unknown territory. For some, the unknown is exciting. For others, it's terrifying, and for those whom it terrifies, of course the reactions are going to be that it is not to be trusted.

However, history again and again has proven that the greatest successes have come when wrestling forged into the unknown. From Gorgeous George through the launch of Monday Nitro opposite RAW, bold ideas have pushed wrestling forward into its future while critics badmouthed them from the sidelines. From an in-ring standpoint, even the most acclaimed wrestlers in history today, from the World Championship Wrestling cruiserweights even back to Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, were accused of ruining the business at the time they came up to prominence. Quite contrarily, they ended up shaping what it is today. They kept moving forward. They charted into the unknown, and wrestling got better. Those whose influence survived were only a portion of those who tried something new. Others that did and didn't get over didn't end up submarining the business; they just faded into obscurity.

Only time will tell whether Ospreay and Ricochet will be among the influential or the fizzlers, but at the same time, failure in the service of innovation is hardly failure at all. Ones who are bold do so in the spirit of keeping wrestling, or anything really, alive. Artforms may be able to survive on stagnancy, if barebones survival is indeed living or relevance, but they never thrive without evolution. Failure in fear of change, however, is completely short-sighted because it is doomed to fail. Existing things, no matter what persuasion, have had so few examples of pure revivals ever exceeding the original incarnations, especially in entertainment, that it's futile to think going back to the Attitude Era, the Rock 'n Wrestling Era, the Four Pillars of All-Japan Era, any bygone era, will infuse life enough into wrestling to make it "boom" again. It might sustain interest for awhile, but with no changes, no evolutions, it's a doomed failure.

Wrestling needs people like Ospreay and Ricochet to push envelopes and skirt edges. Without the innovators, wrestling dies, not because of them. Even if one doesn't like what they do, and it's perfectly valid for people no matter what mind, to dislike what they did in the ring. Vader's opinions aren't invalid, but he and those of his ilk are not entitled to their own facts. Fact, it is supremely necessary for things not to be exactly like they once were. Additionally, wrestling is such a diversely wide art that even if Ricochet and Ospreay are pushing the envelope in the wrong direction on their accounts, so many other wrestlers may be attempting to change the game in others. Meaty lads hammering away on each other is never going to go away. Sheenily-produced WWE sports entertainment won't go away even if WWE eventually does in the future. Lucha libre definitely won't disappear. Wrestling is almost infinite in scope that one can find something within it that takes them far, far away from whatever Ospreay and Ricochet are doing.

But for those, like myself, who wish to be in the epicenter of their doings, that place is definitely where they want to be. Those folks still love pro wrestling, and hey, after that short-tenured flip-into-pose, they went into one heckuva wrestling match, and they don't wish for it to turn into choreographed dancing. Hell, maybe they do. Wrestling will go wherever it goes, no matter who comes with it. Regardless, it's just that those people, again, myself included, have bigger ideas of what wrestling can and should be. Those who don't share those same ideas in this milieu are fine, obviously. Homogeneity is boring, even in thought. But one cannot be stuck in the mindset that wrestling has to stay frozen in some arbitrary point in time for it to be good. One has to welcome the idea of evolution. The best thing about change is that it is both infinite and unpredictable, so every wrestling fan on earth can have a different idea on how it can change and get better, and the wellspring of ideas would still be deep and diverse.

But to stay in the past is a death sentence. Wrestling needs to keep moving forward in order to survive. Ricochet and Will Ospreay get that, and that's why they can never, ever be accused of killing the business, whether one likes the things they do or not.

But hey, you don't have to take my word, Vader's word, Meltzer's word, anyone else's word for it. Check it out for free, because NJPW uploaded the match to YouTube. Enjoy!