|Also known as||Japanese wrestling, Strong style wrestling, "King's Road"|
|Country of origin||Japan|
Puroresu (プロレス?) is the popular term for the predominant style or genre of professional wrestling that has developed in Japan. The term comes from the Japanese pronunciation of "professional wrestling" (プロフェッショナル・レスリング?), which is shortened to puroresu. In this sense, puroresu could be transliterated as pro-wres. The term became popular among English-speaking fans due to Hisaharu Tanabe's activities in the online Usenet community. Growing out of origins in the traditional US style of wrestling, it has become an entity in itself. Japanese pro wrestling is distinct in its psychology and presentation of the sport. It is treated as a legitimate fight, with fewer theatrics; the stories told in Japanese matches are about a fighter's spirit and perseverance. In strong style, the style most typically associated with puroresu, full contact martial arts strikes and shoot submission holds are implemented.
The first Japanese to involve himself in catch wrestling, the basis of traditional professional wrestling, was former sumo wrestler Sorakichi Matsuda. There were subsequent attempts before and after World War II to popularize the sport in Japan, but these generally failed until the advent of its first big star, Rikidōzan, in 1951, who became known as the "father" of the sport. Rikidōzan brought the sport to tremendous popularity with his Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) until his murder in 1963. Following his death, Puroresu thrived, creating a variety of personalities, promotions and styles. It has also created a mass of other cultural icons in Japan including: Rikidōzan, Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Tiger Mask, Keiji Mutoh/The Great Muta, Shinsuke Nakamura, Mitsuharu Misawa, and Kenta Kobashi. Throughout the years, a number of promotions have opened and closed, but a few have persisted to remain the most popular and thriving companies: New Japan Pro Wrestling is currently considered by many as the top promotion.
Despite some similarities to the much more popular style of professional wrestling in the United States, Japanese wrestling is known for many differences from the Western style. Puroresu is known for its "fighting spirit" and the wrestlers are known for their full contact strikes. Many Japanese wrestlers have some degree of knowledge in many different martial arts and wrestling styles; because of this, there are usually doctors and trainers at ringside for assisting the wrestlers after a match. Most matches have clean finishes and many of the promotions don't use any angles or gimmicks. Japanese wrestling is also known for its relationship with fellow mixed martial arts promotions. Wrestling and martial arts icon Antonio Inoki usually organizes wrestling matches and MMA fights on the same card. Puroresu still remains popular and it draws huge crowds from the major promotions. With this and its relationship with other martial arts disciplines, the audiences and wrestlers treat puroresu as a combat sport.
It should be also noted that the term "Puroresu" in Japan refers to all professional wrestling, regardless of country of origin. For example, American promotions WWE and TNA are referred to as "Puroresu" in Japan.
Puroresu has a variety of different rules, which can differ completely from wrestling in other countries. While there is no governing authority for puroresu, there is a general standard which has developed. Each promotion has their own variation, but all are similar enough to avoid confusion. Any convention described here is simply a standard, and may or may not correspond exactly with any given promotion's codified rules.
Matches are held between two or more sides ("corners"). Each corner may consist of one wrestler, or a team of two or more. Most team matches are governed by tag team rules (see below). One notable difference from North American and, in recent years, European professional wrestling is that puroresu rarely has matches between more than two parties.
The match is won by scoring a "fall", which is generally consistent with standard professional wrestling:
- Pinning an opponent's shoulders to the mat for the referee's count of three.
- Submission victory, which sees the wrestler either tap out or verbally submit to their opponent.
- Knockout, the failure to regain composure at the referee's command
- Countout, the failure of a party to return to the ring at the referee's command, which is determined by a count of twenty (some federations use ten, but in Japanese wrestling they use twenty).
- Disqualification, the act of one wrestler breaking the rules.
Additional rules govern how the outcome of the match is to take place. One such example would be the Japanese Universal Wrestling Federation, as it does not allow pinfall victories in favor of submissions and knockouts; this is seen as an early influence of mixed martial arts, as some wrestlers broke away from traditional wrestling endings to matches in favor of legitimate outcomes. Another example is that most promotions disallow punches so a lot of wrestlers utilize open handed strikes and stiff forearms; this rule was also applied in the early stages of Pancrase.
The dominant styles of Japanese professional wrestling were set in place by the two dominant promotions in Japan. New Japan Pro-Wrestling, headed by Antonio Inoki, used Inoki's "strong style" approach of wrestling as a combat sport. Wrestlers incorporated kicks and strikes from martial arts disciplines, and a strong emphasis was placed on submission wrestling. Many of New Japan's wrestlers including top stars such as Shinya Hashimoto, Riki Choshu, and Keiji Mutoh came from a legitimate martial arts background. All Japan Pro Wrestling, under the direction of Shohei Baba, used a style referred to as "King's Road." The "King's Road" style was in large part derived from American wrestling, particularly the style of top wrestlers in the National Wrestling Alliance, such as Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, and Harley Race, all of whom wrestled for Baba in Japan. As such, "King's Road" placed a heavy emphasis on working of holds, brawling, and the storytelling elements of professional wrestling. Due to the rise of the "shootwrestling" promotions in the early 1980s, promising a decisive winner and loser at a time when the two mainstream promotions protected their top stars with screwjob or double count-out finishes, the major promotions have usually maintained a format of only clean finishes since then.
Throughout the 1990s, three individual styles -- shoot style, lucha libre, and hardcore—were the main divisions of independent promotions, but as a result of interpromoting, it is not unusual to see all three styles on the same card.
Puroresu done by female wrestlers is called joshi puroresu (女子プロレス?) or joshi puro for short. Women's professional wrestling in Japan is usually handled by promotions that specialize in joshi puroresu, rather than divisions of otherwise male-dominated promotions as is the case in the United States (the only exception was FMW, a men's promotion which had a small women's division, but even then depended on talent from women's federations to provide competition). However, joshi puroresu promotions usually have agreements with male puroresu promotions such that they recognize each other's titles as legitimate, and may share cards.
All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling was the dominant joshi organization from the 1970s to the 1990s. AJW's first major star was Mach Fumiake in 1974, followed in 1975 by Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda, known as the "Beauty Pair". The early 1980s saw the fame of Jaguar Yokota and Devil Masami, major stars of the second wave of excellent workers who took the place of the glamour-based "Beauty Pair" generation. That decade would later see the rise of Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, known as the "Crush Gals", who as a tag team achieved a level of unprecedented mainstream success in Japan, unheard of by any female wrestler in the history of professional wrestling all over the world. Their long running feud with Dump Matsumoto and her "Gokuaku Domei" ("Atrocious Alliance") stable would become extremely popular in Japan during the 1980s, with their televised matches resulting in some of the highest rated broadcasts in Japanese television as well as the promotion regularly selling out arenas.
It was during the 1990s that joshi puroresu attracted much critical acclaim internationally, and several classic matches during these era competed by select joshi wrestlers were awarded 5-stars by the American wrestling publication Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Notable joshi wrestlers of the 1990s include Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, Cutie Suzuki, Aja Kong, Megumi Kudo, Shinobu Kandori, Kyoko Inoue, Takako Inoue (no relation to the former), Dynamite Kansai, and Mayumi Ozaki.
Puroresu on television
Since its beginning, Japanese professional wrestling depended on television to reach a wide audience. Rikidōzan's matches in the 1950s, televised by Nippon TV, often attracted huge crowds to Tokyo giant screens. Eventually TV Asahi also gained the right to broadcast JWA, but eventually the two major broadcasters agreed to split the talent, centering about Rikidōzan's top two students: NTV for Giant Baba and his group, and Asahi for Antonio Inoki and his group. This arrangement continued after the JWA split into today's major promotions, New Japan and All Japan, led by Inoki and Baba respectively. In 2000, following the Pro Wrestling Noah split, NTV decided to follow the new venture rather than staying with All Japan. Nowadays, however, mirroring the decline that professional wrestling in the U.S. had in the 1970s and early 1980s, NOAH's Power Hour and New Japan's World Pro Wrestling have been largely relegated to the midnight hours by their broadcasters.
The advent of cable television and pay per view also enabled independents such as RINGS to rise. WOWOW had a working agreement with Akira Maeda that paid millions to RINGS when he was featured, but eventually was scrapped with Maeda's retirement and the subsequent RINGS collapse.
In 2009, due to the bearish global economy, NTV cancelled all wrestling programming, including NOAH's Power Hour (lesser affiliates still air large cards), marking the end of a tradition going back to Rikidozan.
Relations with professional wrestling beyond Japan
Foreigners in Japanese circuits
Since its establishment, professional wrestling in Japan has depended on foreigners, called gaijin, particularly North Americans, to get its own stars over. Rikidōzan's JWA and its successor promotions All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling were members of the American-based National Wrestling Alliance at various points, and used these connections to bring North American stars. International Pro Wrestling was the first Japanese promotion to link into European circuits. It was through IWE that Frenchman André the Giant got his international reputation for the first time.
In recent years, many of North America's most popular wrestlers, such as Sting, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid, Big Van Vader, Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Mil Máscaras, El Canek, Dos Caras, El Solitario, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Travis Tomko, Giant Bernard, Bill Goldberg, Chris Sabin, Low Ki, Brock Lesnar, Davey Richards, Chris Hero, and others have wrestled in Japan, whereas others such as Stan Hansen spent much of their careers in Japan and thus are better known there than in their homeland. Even in joshi puroresu, a few notable foreigners have found success wrestling for joshi promotions, such as Monster Ripper, Madusa, Reggie Bennett, and Amazing Kong. The now defunct World Championship Wrestling had a strong talent exchange deal with New Japan, Ken Shamrock was among the first Americans to compete in shoot style competition in Japan, starting out in the UWF and later opened Pancrase with some other Japanese shootfighters.
As a result of the introduction of lucha libre into Japan, major Mexican stars also compete in Japan. The most popular Mexican wrestler to compete in Japan is Mil Máscaras, who is credited with introducing the high-flying moves of lucha libre to Japanese audiences, which then led to the style called lucha-resu, later embodied by Tiger Mask.
Foreign wrestlers from diverse backgrounds have earned huge followings, sometimes greater than those of Japanese top rosters in respective Japanese promotions they have wrestled in. American Stan Hansen, Indian Tiger Jeet Singh, Canadian Abdullah the Butcher, and British wrestler Dynamite Kid were among those cited as top foreign grapplers in a recent poll of Japanese fans:
|3||Abdullah the Butcher|
|7||André the Giant|
|8||Tiger Jeet Singh|
|10||The Road Warriors|
Japanese stars abroad
All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as others, have also sent wrestlers to compete in the likes of the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and so on. Usually, these talent exchanges are chances for puroresu stars to learn other styles to add to their own strengths, a tradition that started with Rikidozan himself between 1951 and 1953. Some of the more famous examples of these exchanges are Masahiro Chono, The Great Muta and Jushin Thunder Liger in WCW, as well as ECW which featured talent from Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling and Michinoku Pro Wrestling.
Before the advent of cable television some Japanese wrestlers in the U.S. adopted names that often were inconsistent and often portrayed by more than one Japanese wrestler, such as "Tokyo Joe" (Katsuji Adachi, Koji "Thunder" Sugiyama and Tetsunosuke Daigo), "Mr. Sato" (Akio Sato and Akihisa Mera) and "Great Togo" (Kazuo Okamura and Haruka Eigen). Some names and gimmicks of North American origin stuck to the wrestler and defined his in-ring personality permanently, such as Hiro Matsuda, Killer Khan, Great Kabuki, Great Muta, Mr. Hito, and Mr. Pogo. Japanese wrestlers sent to Mexico, where the wrestling mask was the rule, adopted mask-based personae; examples were Osamu Matsuda becoming El Samurai, Yoshihiro Asai becoming Ultimo Dragon, and Masanori Murakawa becoming Great Sasuke. Despite the advent of cable television and the Internet, some Japanese wrestlers still adopt all-new ring names, particularly when they join World Wrestling Entertainment, which copyrights ring names frequently. Recent examples include Mitsuhide Hirasawa as Hideo Saito, Naofumi Yamamoto as Yoshi Tatsu, Kana as Asuka, and Kenta Kobayashi as Hideo Itami. Japanese wrestlers who appear in other American circuits such as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and Ring of Honor rarely change their names.
Some joshi stars from AJW had wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s and 1990s, with The Jumping Bomb Angels and Bull Nakano known for being particularly successful.
Gaea Japan once had a working agreement with World Championship Wrestling in the mid-1990s, when the latter brought in wrestlers from Gaea to bolster the ranks of their then-fledgling women's division, with Akira Hokuto becoming the first and only WCW Women's Champion, and a WCW Women's Cruiserweight Championship was even introduced and defended in Gaea shows.
Recent examples of Japanese wrestlers working in foreign promotions include Satoshi Kojima in Major League Wrestling, Kenta Kobashi, Go Shiozaki, Takeshi Morishima, and Kenta in Ring of Honor, Hirooki Goto, Masato Yoshino, Tiger Mask IV, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Seiya Sanada, and Ayako Hamada in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Aja Kong, Dick Togo, Great Sasuke, Jinsei Shinzaki, Kaori Yoneyama, Manami Toyota and Mayumi Ozaki in Chikara, Hideo Itami, Yoshi Tatsu, Kenzo Suzuki, Taka Michinoku, Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE, and Ayumi Kurihara, Hiroyo Matsumoto and Tomoka Nakagawa in Shimmer Women Athletes.
- Japanese martial arts
- Mixed martial arts
- Global Professional Wrestling Alliance
- List of professional wrestling promotions in Japan
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