The biggest wrestling show of this past weekend was WWE Stomping Grounds, the but it was not the best or most important. The best and most important was the one I found myself watching the night of June 22, DDT BOYZ Harajuku Kawaii Special ~ Women Festival 17. I expected it to be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be the entertainment equivalent of an extreme sugar rush, from which I crashed at about noon the next day. When I recovered from the crash, my mind and soul were rejuvenated. I realized I hadn’t just enjoyed a wrestling show, I had had a revelation about wrestling. That why I’m writing this article; to share that revelation with the party that needs to read it the most: World Wrestling Entertainment.
People talk and write about what WWE main roster programming could learn from NXT, from New Japan, from itself twenty years ago, but after watching BOYZ and then Stomping Grounds in a period of under twenty-four hours, I realized that all of these takes are stupid and wrong and that the only wrestling brand WWE should be taking pointers from is the only flawless wrestling brand in the world, DDT BOYZ.
What Is DDT BOYZ?
BOYZ is one of the brands of DDT Pro Wrestling, the Japanese promotion that features a variety of wrestling styles but is most widely known for its more absurd comedy matches, some of which have taken place in places like campgrounds and office buildings. Some of DDT’s side brands, like those of WWE, have their own identities based on who is on the roster and what style of wrestling occurs there – Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) is all women, while Basara is less flashy and has a roster of all men. Two of DDT’s brands, however, also build their identities based off of who makes up their audience. The currently inactive YaroZ brand sold tickets to live shows only to men and BOYZ sells tickets only to women.
Here’s how BOYZ’s new producer, wrestler Akito, described the brand after their most recent show (translation from DDT English Update):
“BOYZ, being a female-only audience show, was designed to be fan service for the regular DDT female fans, but I also want to bring new fans in, which continues to be the most important challenge for the whole industry. I do feel that more females are interested in the product now, so I want to run shows that get them more interested.”
As someone who doesn’t live in or attend wrestling shows in Japan, I’m not the primary target demographic of BOYZ. However, I am closer to being in the primary target demographic of BOYZ than I am for any other wrestling brand in the world. After watching the revived BOYZ product (the brand had been inactive since a show on Halloween 2017), I finally understood why some people who were adolescent boys during the Attitude Era still pine for it to return. Watching a wrestling show that cares about entertaining you specifically is an addictive feeling.
This article isn’t about pining for that high though! This is a serious and well-thought-out editorial about what WWE can and must learn from this company that is objectively doing pro wrestling better than anywhere else on the planet right now. These are the five crucial lessons WWE can and must learn from BOYZ. Vince, if you would like to discuss any of these points in depth or use my DDT Universe password to watch the show I’m talking about, you can DM me on Twitter.
1) Group Dance Numbers
BOYZ Harajuku Kawaii Special – Women Festival 17 ended with a coordinated group dance by the wrestlers on the show. This isn’t unique to BOYZ – TJPW’s Up Up Girls dance to open every show, the Natural Vibes dance in Dragon Gate is undisputably wonderful, and everyone was sad when Stardom’s Oedo Tai lost the right to do theirs.
WWE, I know you’re trying to take over the entire world of wrestling and WWE-ify it through the NXT system and planting Performance Centers everywhere, but maybe skip the NXT Japan attempt and just lift a group dance or two from the scene. Yes, you have No Way Jose and the Seven Second Dance Break and Naomi’s entrance, but these are not as powerful as three or more people performing a dance meant for three or more people to perform together that isn’t a conga line. Just say it was inspired by Too Cool and no one will ever have to know it was actually inspired by BOYZ, and specifically this article about BOYZ.
2) Tell Me What Members Of Your Roster Would Wear On A Summer Date
BOYZ opened with another incredibly strong segment, the themed costume fashion show. The theme was outfits these boyz would wear on a summer date. As you can see above, these ranged from more straightforward “hot guy in a swimsuit” fan service (bonus example) to goofier, cuter outfits (bonus example.) The DDT English Update translation thread informed me that the explanations of the costumes were mostly jokes. Essentially, the BOYZ opening showed the same awareness of what could be called the, “female gaze,” or the, “male-attracted gaze,” as the 2017 video for the Charli XCX song also called Boys. This is when the sugar overload feeling of this show began. This was part of an actual wrestling show and it was designed to activate the stupidest part of my brain that isn’t a part that enjoys fake violence! How could this be???
WWE, I know you do themed costume photo shoots sometimes, but if you occasionally commissioned your performers to wear dumb costumes in a way that felt less glossy and more like they had some say in what they were doing, that could increase fans’ devotion to them even more. I would have already thrown myself in front of a bus for DDT’s Mao (the middle guy in that picture) before this show, but now I would throw myself in front of a bus for him even faster after seeing that this idiot would ask someone out on a summer date to go bug catching. Raw and Smackdown ratings would not be falling if people could see some of your many attractive independent contractors do something as charming as this fashion show sometimes.
3) Let Someone Bring Their Pets
Shunma Katsumata brought his dogs out at BOYZ for both the costume portion and his entrance for the opening match in which he tagged with baby ace Konosuke Takeshita against the team of Kohei Kinoshita and Jun Masaoka. It was adorable and now I would jump in front of a bus for him as well.
Showing affiliation with cute animals is one of the easiest ways to make people seem more likable. That’s why there’s a whole screenwriting trope called “pet the dog” or “save the cat” people use as a shortcut to endear audiences to their protagonists. If Aleister Black was holding his cat during those vignettes on Smackdown, no one would be trying to untangle his weird dialogue or worrying about if he’s cooling off because everyone would be too busy being in love with him and wanting to pet his cat. That’s just science, WWE.
4) Recognize That Anyone Can Be A Pervert
I haven’t talked much about the actual wrestling part of this wrestling show yet, but most of it was actual wrestling. In typical DDT style, some of it was fairly straightforward (Daisuke Sasaki vs. Kota Umeda) and some of it more comical (the trios match that included guest star Chris Brookes, Keisuke Ishii vs. Kazuki Hirata.) The main event, First Special Tag Match of the Reiwa Era for the BOYZ to be BOYZ, featured Harashima (think DDT’s Tanahashi) playing to the crowd more than usual and more politely to humorous effect, but not in a way that said, “this is a wrestling show performed by all men for an audience of all women, most of whom probably want to have sex with men in general if not some of these specific men.”
There was one match that did say that, however: the Good Shape match of Mad Paulie and Hiroshi Yamato vs. Yuki Ueno and Koju Takeda. Three out of four of these men were chiseled and wearing trunks. They did some flexing and posing. At one point, as you can see in the video above, Yamato rubbed down Takeda with oil in a suggestive manner so that he could better show off his muscles while posing. The audience freaked out a little bit.
Like the aspects of the female/male-attracted gaze I mentioned earlier, the idea that people in the audience might actually find male wrestlers sexually attractive isn’t something that’s leaned into very often in American wrestling. The closest WWE has gotten recently is probably Finn Balor’s innuendo around the time of WrestleMania 34. One-off lines have recognized guys like Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose (RIP) have fangirls and NXT has alluded to Matt Riddle and Velveteen Dream’s handsomeness. But the pointing out the attractiveness of these men isn’t played straight or in as overtly sexual a way as, for example, Alexa Bliss’s was during her kickoff show introduction to WrestleMania 35. We don’t see any male wrestler’s sex appeal being as directly acknowledged and parodied in a way that isn’t meant to make the performer/character seem any less straight-up hot either, like the way Mandy Rose is presented.
This isn’t a double standard solely used by WWE though. Impact‘s handling of Scarlett Bourdeaux’s “Smokeshow” persona (like Rose’s “Golden Goddess,” a source of eye candy while having a tongue-in-cheek element) didn’t have an equivalent on the men’s roster. One of the first pieces of original content on the website of the purportedly world-changing AEW was a “poolside photo shoot” of three of their female wrestlers (Brandi Rhodes, Penelope Ford, and Britt Baker) who weren’t even labeled by name.
That last part is what makes these examples of eye candy seem so dumb to me. Why didn’t the AEW swimsuit shoot at least inform titillated viewers where they could see these women in the ring or even where people could buy their t-shirts? And maybe I should give Impact more credit, but it seems like the biggest feud Bourdeaux’s hotness helped put over before she was released was one with Disco Inferno. The concept that “sex sells” when talking about attractive women is so ingrained in wrestling that sometimes companies apparently forget to even use it to sell anything.
Yet even as more American wrestling companies say they’re interested in appealing to more kinds of fans (AEW is “for everyone;” John Cena says this is why WWE won’t have one top guy in the future), most seem to think only one kind of fan might be widely interested in the sleazier aspects of their programming. I would never say the Japanese wrestling scene doesn’t have its problems (or that any wrestling scene doesn’t have problems), but this is something it seems like they’ve figured out. The typical NJPW live audience in Japan consists of forty to fifty percent women (according to the company president) and the company catered to the hornier percentage of that part of their audience (and probably a fair amount of men too) with a gravure photobook of tag team Roppongi 3K. Dragon Gate’s been appealing to women who are attracted to men for even longer and judging from the tweet above and some of their YouTube content, it looks that lesson has carried over to Cima’s new China-based venture, OWE.
Wrestling has historically been almost as much about con-artistry and bullshit as it is about athleticism and spectacle, but let’s cut the bullshit about this. If a promotion’s answer to why they aren’t willing to sexualize men the same way they’re willing to sexualize women is that they’re scared it will make male fans uncomfortable enough they won’t watch their product, it’s clear they value their male fans more than their female ones. To tie this back in with BOYZ, the fact that DDT creates some fan service for women helps make it more palatable for me that Tokyo Joshi Pro includes so much fan service aimed at men, with nearly every show containing a comedy match in which the punch line is essentially “boobs” along with its more normal matches. Sexualizing women on screen to a certain degree isn’t nearly as off-putting if the fact that they might enjoy some seeing some people sexualized too is also acknowledged.
In the case of WWE, the company to which this article is directly and very seriously addressed, the industry giant provides more opportunities for women than they used to, which is great, and has done a lot of PR work to send a message that amounts to “We’re not as sexist as we used to be!” But you can’t just sell women stuff through the concept of empowerment. I saw a razor commercial and a tampon commercial today that tried to sell me stuff using the concept of empowerment. If WWE is interested in reaching out to women in a way beyond damage control, they should make an effort to show women why their product is something they should enjoy watching and enjoy watching in the same way as men. If sexualizing a few men as part of that effort is out of the question, maybe they could at least recognize that only overtly sexualizing women could be turning as many people off as on.
5) Have Sanshiro Takagi Show Up At The End
But honestly, Vince, you can ignore the entire rest of this article if you just grant me this one wish: please hire DDT President and veteran comedy wrestler Sanshiro Takagi for a one-off, surprise appearance at the end of one of your shows.
Here is why: as you can see in the video in this tweet, he’s kind of a parody of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, complete with the sound of glass shattering at the beginning of his theme song.
It could be the last five minutes of an episode of Raw. It could be #30 in the Royal Rumble. Just create the moment in which everyone hears the sound of glass breaking and freaks out for Austin and then a 49-year-old Japanese man almost nobody recognizes enters the arena and does his thing. Do not provide any context beyond his name on the TitanTron and Michael Cole yelling, “That’s Sanshiro Takagi!” Then never bring him back again. (Do not use this as an opening to buy DDT! They’re partners with AEW anyway, so they’re taken!) I would just like to see how people would react to this.
A surprise entrance by Takagi is the most important of these five things that WWE must learn from DDT BOYZ in order to maintain itself position as the global industry leader. However, all of the points in this article are extremely important. It’s your move now, WWE. Learn from DDT BOYZ and maybe someday you’ll be able to credibly call any of your brands contenders for best in the world. Right now, however, BOYZ is clearly the winner of that Good Shape Match.