Monday, July 2, 2018

Vet Your Talent, Man

Omega could've saved a headache by using Google
Photo via SI Extra Mustard
Friday, New Japan Pro Wrestling presented a show at the CEO Fighting Game Championship convention. To be completely accurate, NJPW allowed Kenny Omega to put its branding on his own personal "produce" show. The current IWGP World Champion put the whole thing together, and on paper, it looked tremendous. The main event pit the Golden Lovers, Omega's tag team with Kota Ibushi, against Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi. The show's execution left a lot to be desired. Whether it was the creaky ring, streaming issues, or the overmatched commentators who were plucked right from the Fighting Game Championship broadcast and had never called wrestling before, Omega's first foray into promotion could've gone better. However, the most egregious error was with the first "dark" match put on.

"Dark" is in quotation marks because usually they're warmup matches for the live crowd only. Yet, Chasyn Rance and Aaron Epic worked for the Twitch stream as well as the live attendees, and well, it started to cause a stink. If you want to know the reason, it's because both wrestlers have a checkered past if I'm putting it lightly. Epic has domestic abuse accusations against him, which disappointingly doesn't put him in a class of wrestler that would force someone to apologize for booking him nowadays. Again, the plight of domestic abuse victims in America, hell, the WORLD is that they often have to suffer in silence while their abusers live their lives consequence-free in most cases. However, Rance's cobwebs are out in front on the second hit on searching his name on Twitter. He drove across state lines to get a girl inebriated to have sex with her.

One could make the argument that people can be rehabilitated, and lord knows I am an advocate for forgiveness after one truly puts in the time to change and shows the fruits of that labor. I mean, I keep going back to this example, but Michael Vick went to prison for charges associated with his dogfighting ring, and when he came out, he not only obviously stopped dogfighting, but he's been doing work for animal advocacy groups. People still dog him (no pun intended) for his past when he's shown he's changed, whether it's because of racism or the fact that for whatever reason, people seem to hold dogs in higher regard than women or whatever. Still, Vick is proof that the system works. If you want a wrestling example, Nick Gage is another success story.

The question is, is Rance? Seeing as Rance spent little if any time in jail, has a reputation for hitting on girls who look younger than the legal age, and blocks people on Twitter who bring up his past, it seems he's unrepentant, that he feels he's done nothing wrong. They're not really the actions of someone who appears rehabilitated. Shindies in Florida might be okay with this kind of behavior, which is why they're shindies. That being said, New Japan Pro Wrestling — and for better or worse, whether or not it was a NJPW show and a glorified Omega Produce, it had the NJPW name and logo on it — really shouldn't be okay with this. Rance's transgressions are not a matter of digging through tons of bullshit to find the source. It's within the top three hits of his Google search, and the other two are his Twitter and now the Pro Wrestling Sheet article about the blowback to him appearing on a NJPW-branded Twitch stream.

To his credit, after a disastrous first attempt that came off as a non-apology, Omega offered a second, more comprehensive apology that actually offered a refund for anyone who felt unsafe with him in the building. Offering the refund is probably the best damage control he could have done, but phrases like "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" are cliches because they hold truth. All Omega had to do was google the name "Chasyn Rance" to get the dirt on him that he's probably not the kind of wrestler anyone should have on their show. Epic might be a little murkier since you have to dig deeper to get the 411 on him.

Then again, maybe New Japan deserves the black eye. The company continues to book wrestlers accused of rape, rape apologia, and domestic abuse unrepentantly. Tomoaki Honma is coming back to a hero's welcome after suffering a life-threatening neck injury. What about the girlfriend he's accused of beating? Michael Elgin still gets bookings despite covering for an accused rapist and facing abuse allegations himself. He's simultaneously suing the accuser for defamation while signing extensions with NJPW. Yeah, those allegations are really messing with his career, right?

The thing is, New Japan knows how toxic Elgin is stateside, so he's not booked on any dates of its American excursion. Even so, he's in the G1, has held titles since the accusations hit, and continues to figure into the long term plans of the company. Maybe Omega shouldn't shoulder as much of the blame as he's getting for booking Rance and Epic. He's only following company precedent, and hey, he's gone above and beyond anything that Gedo or the Bushiroad Corporation have done in response to people mad about Honma or Elgin.

Regardless of any circumstance though, this Omega/Rance incident is a teachable moment for any promoter looking for an audience wider than the hundred people within a ten mile drive who always come to their shows. If you've got a prospective talent who wants a booking, do a goddamn Google search. Make sure they're not on a sex offender registry or have ties to neo-Nazi groups or are domestic abusers. No matter whether you promote family-friendly wrestling or are full-on blood-and-guts deathmatch central, you want your audience to feel safe. Trust me, the effort going into making sure no one in the show has any moldy skeletons in their closets is worth far more than backlash you'll receive afterwards.