Known locally as “puroresu”, pro-wrestling has become one of Japan’s most popular national sports, with its birth attributed to the debut of Rikidozan in 1951, said to be the “Father of Puroresu”. Big Japan Pro-Wrestling, one of the largest groups forwarding this entertainment-based sport, is well-known for their unique Deathmatches – brutal fights using an array of everyday items as weapons, that draw real blood and wounds.
We decided to check out a Puroresu match, held at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo Dome, to see what this unique form of sub-culture entertainment is all about.
From the moment we entered the floor for the venue, we were greeted with loud and excited shouts of the wrestlers themselves standing behind trestle tables selling merchandise. Fans could see their idols up and personal, and also take photos with them for a fee. The atmosphere was rambunctious and tinged with testosterone. However, there was a surprisingly significant number of women in attendance, with the ratio at something like 7:3 (men:women).
The 3 hour tournament consisted of eight 20-30 minute matches, including 2 intense Deathmatches (to be explained later). After drifting from the entrance hall to the ring, we took our seats and not long after the pre-show commenced. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have never been, but let’s just say it involves buckets of water and screaming audiences jumping out of their seats.
The first match was a tame fists and legs and headlocks only brawl to ease the audience into what was to come.
The real gasps of shock started when the first Deathmatch did.
What exactly is a Deathmatch?
Before attending this tournament, I had no idea either. Fortunately, the wrestlers don’t actually fight to the death and kill each other, as the name suggests. But they do maul each other to a fairly intense degree using an array of every day items, and they do, intentionally, draw blood. The starter was boards laced with barbed wire.
Competitors threw each other onto the spikes, which explained all the nasty scars I spied on the Deathmatch wrestlers’ backs when they first entered the ring. The match progressed to use chairs, mouths hooked with fishing rods, cutters and the climax for which Big Japan Pro-Wrestling is apparently famous for:
Fluorescent Light Tubes
If you’re wondering how light tubes can be used as weapons, allow me to elaborate.
First, during an interval, staff came and attached dozens of fluorescent light tubes around the ring as shown below.
The wrestlers then entered the ring as per usual and began fighting. And then…
Wrestlers were methodically thrown onto the light tube encircled ring, which quite naturally smashed them into a bazillion pieces, showering the closest seats with shards of broken glass. I’m sure pieces were also embedded on the wrestlers’ back.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, the wrestlers then proceeded to pull off tubes from the ring and smash them on top of their own heads.
Needless to say, we were riveted and shocked but just unable to tear our eyes away from the raw energy permeating from the ring.
The remainder of the tournament consisted of “normal” wrestling matches and ended with the standing champion versing other competitors in a good ol’ body-to-body fight, complete with mild acrobatics. It was a relief to watch following the stomach-turning Deathmatches.
I’m not familiar at all with wrestling fandoms beyond stray words like WWF and Nacho Libre, but I believe Japanese Puroresu is a contemporary slice of Japanese underground culture like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s worth experiencing at least once. Who knows? You may even end up getting hooked, and become a regular attendee like many of the fans there that night.
Tips for first-timers:
- Photography is allowed, but no videos
- You can eat and drink all you want, including alcohol
- Prepare to get wet, and if close to the ring, showered with debris (and sweat)
- Wrestlers themselves come out and sell goods, sign autographs, etc before and after the tournament
- There are also (separate) female wrestling shows, and some of them were present to promote their own tournament in a few weeks