Monday, July 9, 2018

On Okada/Scurll, and Missed Opportunities

Okada vs. any number of opponents other than Scurll would've been fresh
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
When Kazuchika Okada was announced for All In, the buzz around his match was palpable before any real potential opponents surfaced. Sure, the option was on the table of doing any number of rematches from New Japan with the people first announced. Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes faced him before, and rematches would have played well for the crowd. However, they felt safe, and All In, by its nature, was not a safe event. Six wrestlers (and an actor) going in on a seemingly fully independent event at a big arena in 2018 is the definition of pushing a boundary, so one might hope that the booking of the event would similarly tread on the knife's edge. Two officially-announced options got people really buzzing, Penta El Zero M (or Pentagón Jr. or Pentagón Dark) and Joey Janela. Some other fantasy booking options like PCO (who is booked for King of Trios that weekend, but could still make the trip over with certain booking options), Nick Gage (who is part of Janela's crew), or even someone like a Matt Riddle were in people's minds.

So when Okada's opponent was announced as Marty Scurll, the air went out of a few people's balloons. On one hand, yeah, this match is going to scratch a lot of people's itches, and those people already purchased tickets to the show. Okada/Scurll is a first-time matchup between two of the most critically acclaimed and popular wrestlers in New Japan and among the greater wrestling fandom. Also, a lot of the people nonplussed about the match (myself included) are in, so to speak, a bubble on Twitter whose scope of interest is broader than normal. Many people within that bubble, however, don't have appreciation of Scurll in that scope. I admit that some of the backlash against Scurll being in the match could boil down to a matter of taste.

On the other hand though, the only reason Scurll hasn't wrestled Okada yet is the difference in weight classes, which is the biggest "only on a technicality" thing I can think of when it comes to reasons why two wrestlers in the same promotion can't have faced off, one-on-one. Weight is not a barrier, and movement between classes happens all the time. While Okada will never descend into the junior heavyweight division, Scurll is one intense bulking season away from moving up to heavies, where he'd almost certainly become a main player. This isn't a match where you take a unique opportunity and maximize it for the most exciting and freshest card of the year. It's beating Bushiroad to the punch, which okay, I guess could be considered a feat. Then again, news was reported that this card had silent Ring of Honor backing, so maybe the office had a hand in booking that match.

Either way, when you have a card that includes a diverse and eclectic mix of wrestlers, you really should be looking to put on the most diverse and eclectic mix of matches possible. It's the same principle behind going to a restaurant and ordering the special. You could have what's on the menu, but if you like the place, and you've been there before, you know what you're getting. With the special, it's trying something fleeting, something borne out of the chef's creativity. You don't know if they're going to have that special again, so you eat it to see how it was. In the same token, you don't know if you're going to have Okada and Penta or Janela (especially for the latter, who has rumors of WWE-boundness swirling around him) in the same building together again, let alone on the same card. Because of that, you go for broke, convince whoever in either NJPW or ROH offices is throwing up objections, and book the match that will not only appeal to the All In crowd (because they're already going and would based on the ticket sales without the matches announced), but to the other crowds, who might now be enticed to try out the show via secondary market tickets or watching on whatever streaming option they decide upon.

I know complaints centered around a match because of what it's not instead of what it is ring absolutely hollow, but in this specific case, the opportunity to do something bold and different, to break the cycle of sameness and safety that major wrestling companies have employed for years, was the right play. Yeah, Okada/Scurll will probably be decent at worst, and the people who already watch Being the Elite religiously are going to love it. That's a great strategy for planning a New Japan-affiliated tour date with absolutely no other outside talent involved. Hell, under the right circumstances, it might be a really good main event for a major New Japan show, even at the Tokyo Dome. But when you have Penta and Janela and other guys with whom they may not get the opportunity to work in the future, you should probably go with one of those, right? Otherwise, it's a missed opportunity.