Friday, July 27, 2007
WRESTLING WORTH WATCHING: PRO WRESTLING NOAH
Last week, we took a look at Ring of Honor and how it presented something of a hybrid, by blending an old school wrestling philosophy with modern-day sports entertainment action. As in the case of ROH, if you’re someone who enjoys pro wrestling that puts aside over-the-top silliness, nonsensical characters and inane skits, then Pro Wrestling NOAH is the place you want to be. This Japanese organization, which came into existence in 2000, convinces even the most jaded viewer of its legitimacy by relentlessly offering the appearance of a genuine athletic competition. NOAH is the epitome of realism, and any effort required on the viewer’s part to suspend disbelief is minimal, if at all.
What may appear to be a Johnny-come-lately outfit actually has ties to a promotion with a long, storied history. In 1972, “Giant” Shohei Baba formed a company in his homeland, known as All Japan Pro Wrestling. Because he had a well-defined vision along with a philosophy of how to present professional wrestling credibly, All Japan quickly earned great respect for its hard-impact and no-nonsense attitude. It’s not an exaggeration to state that All Japan Wrestling, along with Antonio Inouki’s New Japan Wrestling, were regarded as the two top promotions in the country. They were similar in their respective presentations, although each had his own name for it. In All Japan, it was King’s Road Style, while in New Japan it was known as Strong Style. But no matter what it was called, the image was that of a genuine and true competition.
When Shohei Baba passed away in 1999, the proprietorship of All Japan was left to his wife, Motoko, while the planning of the company’s direction remained with top wrestler and booker, Mitsuharu Misawa. Before long, he became disenchanted with what he believed were poor business decisions, entertaining grave doubts about where the company was heading. His increasing unhappiness caused him to look at the possibility of starting his own promotion, and that’s precisely what he did in mid-2000.
Taking all but a very few members from the All Japan roster, Misawa announced the formation of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Nowhere else in the history of pro wrestling had such a mass evacuation occurred, and it left All Japan reeling in its wake. And, true to his word, the first pro Wrestling NOAH champion was crowned in April of 2001. It was Misawa himself who became the first titleholder, defeating long-time rival Yoshihiro Takayama after a grueling tournament. He held the GHC (Global Honored Crown) heavyweight title for three months before losing it to Jun Akiyama in a great bout at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall.
The name of the company itself is evocative of the mass departure from All Japan. According to Wikipedia, “The promotion's name alludes to the Biblical story of Noah, in which the people and animals in the ark survive the flood and make a new beginning in the world, a story which was seen as a parallel to the wrestlers’ departure from All Japan. NOAH's promotional symbol, an ark with a dove holding an olive branch, refers to this.”
Now, in 2007, Pro Wrestling NOAH is among the strongest and most respected wrestling organizations in the world. Featuring a stellar roster of Japanese and foreign talent, NOAH pays homage to its lineage by adhering to the philosophy of realism. On occasion, two combatants will wander outside of the ring and even resort to the use of a chair as a weapon, but it’s done sparingly and without prolonged exaggeration. Otherwise, it’s all about the testing of skill, strength, strategy and wrestling acumen.
Along with everything else, it’s fair to say the action is not limited to mat work alone. There are plenty of high flying maneuvers to be seen, especially among the junior heavyweights. But they, too, adhere to the NOAH demands of believability while simultaneously displaying death-defying aerial acrobatics. Consequently, the vast majority of bouts become increasingly exciting as they are built to powerful and well-executed climaxes.
We here in Canada are fortunate. Pro Wrestling NOAH can be seen every week on The Fight Network. Adding to the proceedings is The Fight Network’s own Mauro Ranallo, a man with a long history as an announcer in both pro wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. His easy-to-follow fluid call of the matches is beyond reproach, and one can’t help admiring how comfortable and fluent he seems to be with Japanese terminology. His color man, Dan Lovranski, has been a favorite as host of the weekly radio program, Live Audio Wrestling, and he too knows his stuff. Together, they comprise a refreshingly solid and informative two-man team.
In talking with Mauro, it quickly became clear of his dedication to what he views as one of the best wrestling companies in business today. “Frankly, I’m in awe at much of what I see in Pro Wrestling NOAH. When I’m given to shout, ‘Mama Mia!’ at some of the action, it’s not your typical wrestling hyperbole. It’s because what has just taken place is truly astounding from an athletic standpoint. I’ve seen the best there is in combat sports, and as far as I’m concerned, Pro Wrestling NOAH has reached the pinnacle when it comes to wrestling. The standard that Misawa and company have set would be very hard to top.”
Pro Wrestling NOAH is indeed an oasis in the professional wrestling landscape. A new episode can be seen every Wednesday night on The Fight Network, debuting at 8 p.m. EDT and repeated again at 3 a.m. Thursday. It is also televised several times over the next six days.
Richard Berger is a freelance writer and editor with an extensive background in professional wrestling. His career includes media production for Stampede Wrestling, ring announcing, regular columns for WOW Magazine and IGN.com, and special feature work for other publications. Between June, 2007 and June, 2008, he wrote a weekly column for The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. To discuss Richard’s articles or just about anything else, contact him at: WriterGuy1A@hotmail.com.
The small sampling of his work found here was originally published at The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. The majority will appear in a soon-to-be-released book along with new material. Stay tuned for information as it becomes available!