Thursday, January 12, 2017

Podcast Deep Dive: New Japan Purocast, Ep. 69

The Most Polarizing Match of... the Week
Photo via 411 Wrestling
Show: New Japan Purocast
Episode: 69
Run Time: 2:02:00

Last week, New Japan Pro Wrestling put on their biggest show of the year, WrestleKingdom 11. They do it in the Tokyo Dome and it's a huge deal. If you're a wrestling fan with your finger remotely on the current pulse and you're not just watching Nitro reruns or something, you undoubtedly heard some chatter about this supposed phenomenon of a match that happened in Japan, and how some people loved it and some people thought it was just okay and how other people got mad that anyone would like wrestling that doesn't happen in America because, what, does that make them better than them?

The feverish conversation that happened around the main event needed to be put down and thoroughly gone over by Collin Miller and Damon McDonald, the co-hosts of the New Japan Purocast. They live and breathe NJPW, they're not idiots, and they can take a moment to think about everything that happened at Wrestle Kingdom 11 without losing their minds.

The only issue with that losing of the mind thing is that McDonald is still in Japan, where he has been hanging out for the last week, going to Stardom and NOAH shows, and obviously to the Tokyo Dome for WK 11. He is Skyping with Miller as he recovers from a hangover brought on by booze and karaoke, and it sounds like he is in a hotel suite trying to not disturb a sleeping friend. McDonald's voice is measured and slightly hoarse, but the hushed tone can't hide the happiness that is poring from his very soul.

Miller and McDonald run down and review the whole show, making sure to not fanboy out for everything, because not everything was great. Some of it was just okay. But the most important match, for the sake of hot topics and hot takes, was the main event between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega. In contrast to their usual calm nature, Miller said he was so moved by the match that he was worried he wouldn't be able to discuss it on the podcast without "turning into the 'It's Still Real to Me, Dammit' Guy." McDonald shares the story of being in the audience during the show, and how the people around him were reacting, "Grown men were in tears because they knew they saw something they had never seen before."

As you can tell, Miller and McDonald adored the match. McDonald declared it to be the best match he has ever seen. Elsewhere, Dave Meltzer made a similar declaration and gave the match six stars out of five, a mathematical impossibility meant to convey the special nature of what Omega and Okada were able to do.

This riled up fans and non-fans of NJPW in a way that can't accurately be measured. We can only know what people who express their opinion online had to say, and judging by their reactions, this was NOT the best match of all time. Aubrey Sitterson, host of the Straight Shoot podcast (of which I am a huge fan), said the match was just fine, but probably the fourth best match on the show. He might have even liked the pre-show Rumble match better, despite that literally being a throw-away match that rarely means anything.

Another of Sitterson's points had to do with the Okada/Omega match and how it was structured. He felt that much of the early action was meaningless and rote, such as Okada pulling out a table. Sitterson felt that this was a forced action, only done because "this is the part of the match where we get the table." What Sitterson obviously doesn't know is that on the final Korakuen Hall show before WK 11, Omega One Wing Angeled Okada through a table. So the spot in the match is a clear callback to this, but one could only know this if they were a fan of NJPW's product and kept up with its happenings.

Sitterson is not an educated NJPW fan, but here's the thing; he doesn't need to be. There is too much wrestling out there for all of us to watch, and we can't be expected to know everything that's happening. But what we do seem to be expected to do is weigh in with an opinion on everything. If it's a big story in wrestling, we have to let people know what we think, even if the participants rarely enter our thoughts in every day life. We just have to say things because we think we're supposed to.

If one guy thinks Okada/Omega was the best match he's ever seen, he's right. And if another guy thinks it was an overrated mess, he's right too. We are all right about our taste in the quality of a match. How could you possibly prove your case in this scenario? I suppose the rabid reactions of the live crowd might be a benchmark, but many other matches have popped crowds just as loudly. But when Dave Meltzer sets the bar at six stars, apparently everyone needs to either jump just as high, or cruise under it and complain about it the whole way.

The point of a show like the New Japan Purocast is not to solve any of these issues. It is merely a safe haven for people who love NJPW and enjoy hearing others discuss it. And that's all any of this ever needs to be: a sharing of opinions, but not a debate team faceoff.