Excited pro-wrestling fans filter through the doors of Festival Hall, donning merch in support of their favourite wrestlers or teams. They take their seats, snacks already finished well before the show starts, waiting for the lights to dim and the stage to shine.
For some, surely, it would be their first time seeing some of their pro-wrestling idols fight in person. All the fans seemed dedicated enough to go again, sometime when the company would hopefully return to Melbourne.
So, what is it that makes professional wrestling so engaging? Is it the fighters that we cheer our hearts out for? Is it the rivalries? The camaraderie? Is it the community? It’s likely a combination of all of those things and more that makes professional wrestling such an enjoyable and interactive experience for all of those who go to see the matches, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Australia tour delivered exactly that.
The audience, well versed in their chants, references and other in-jokes seemed to have an absolute ball. Even as a first timer to the pro-wrestling scene, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite not being a part of the community.
The atmosphere was palpable from the moment Sexton and The American Psycho took the stage. Australia vs. America, this was sure to be a fun match. Sexton strutted on stage with confidence, and The American Psycho stomped his way up to the stage throwing water onto the crowd around him. The intimidation tactics were on.
Up next were Chase Owens and Yuji Nagata. It was certainly a close match, however Nagata put all his strength into overthrowing the younger fighter. The intensity of the fight sent the crowd into a frenzy. When Nagata started to make a comeback, a fan from the crowd shouted, “Can you taste the Blue Justice?!” ‘Blue Justice’ being written on Nagata’s wrestling outfit.
“Can you taste the Blue Justice?!”
One of the matches that caught and held my attention with a mighty fury was a tag team match between Kushida and The Bullet Club (consisting of The American Nightmare, and Matt and Nick Jackson), each team had three members. Here I was torn, both teams put up such a good fight! Do I cheer for the handsome Kushida, or the relentlessly cool Cody Rhodes?
Needless to say, I cheered for both.
Upon winning, Rhodes took the microphone, stirring up the crowd with comments about The Bullet Club, which got all the fans riled up and ready for the next match. In getting the crowd all pumped up, they did a bit (which contained a word unsuitable for little ears), and as there were children present in the front row Rhodes climbed over barrier to cover their ears, and hi-five them, of course.
The show ramped up again with the appearance of Switchblade, who had strong stage presence and impressive technique. He even had a slight cheekiness to his fighting style, encouraging Slex to hit him before coming back at Slex even harder.
After Slex and Switchblade, was Minoru Suzuki’s match. The crowd roared as his introduction song began, the final line ‘Kaze ni nare’ sung along to by almost everyone in the crowd. The vast majority of them were Australians too! I was so surprised at how many Australian fans Suzuki had.
Suzuki reigned triumphant over his opponent and following the match, fiercely claiming that he would return.
“I’ll be back here!”
Finally, one more three-person tag team match ensued, The Bullet Club, led by Kenny Omega, and the second team, led by Kazuchika Okada. The appearance of these two hot-shot pro-wrestlers was much awaited by the crowd, many of them leaping out of their seats to welcome them as they took the stage.
This particular match had everyone on the edge of their seats, especially when Omega and Okada were tagged in. The match, however also had people jumping out of their seats when they decided that the ring simply wasn’t enough and took the fight into the audience. Okada flew down the aisle where I was sitting, but got back up and fought back. I couldn’t see what was happening on the other side of the audience, other than people racing to pull out their smart phones or cameras to capture the action.
The night ended with a win from the Bullet Team, and Kenny Omega made a short speech before the winner of the prize draw was announced, where a fan got to exchange gifts with him. A young girl got up on stage and presented Omega with two cute stuffed animals, a kangaroo and a koala, in return, she received a shirt.
Just as they had entered, attendees slowly, but excitedly made their way out of Festival Hall, after an event that they certainly wouldn’t forget.