One of the defining characteristics of most pro wrestling in Japan is how much more hard-hitting it is than the North American version. Much of this owes to the fact that the original major stars of Japanese pro wrestling have their roots in — or first achieved acclaim in — combat sports, the tradition of puro resu as a tooth-and-nail athletic fight is well-established.
From the days of walloping gaijin like Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody through the “four pillars of heaven” in Misawa, Kobashi, Kawada, and Taue, “strong style” has been a big part of Japanese wrestling’s international appeal. That tradition continues today, of course, in every promotion in Japan. The most notable practitioners of the style in New Japan (other than “everyone”) are Tomohiro Ishii, Tomoaki Honma, and Katsuyori Shibata. In the past two months, Honma has suffered a serious neck injury, and Shibata may or may not have suffered a traumatic brain injury that required surgery.
Many fans have pointed out that the style favored by wrestlers like Shibata — with an emphasis on legitimate headbutts and strikes to the head and face — is probably not the best idea in this day and age, given everything we know about brain injuries.
The latest person to agree with this line of thinking is none other than “The King of Strong Style,” WWE’s Shinsuke Nakamura. In an interview with Yahoo! Japan (helpfully translated by Chris Charlton), Nakamura explained that the latest rash of serious injuries in Japan might be a sign that there may be some changes needed in the art form.
“Lately exchanging dangerous moves has become a trend in Japanese wrestling. With serious injuries happening, it might have to change, and wrestlers should look back and think about dangerous moves they do and the risks they take.”
Perhaps it’s a bit surprising that Nakamura — whose career has been defined by a particularly hard-hitting style of wrestling — would take this stand, but he’s been in WWE for a year now, and been part of a culture that has made legitimate strides toward trying to protect wrestlers and prolong careers. Granted, it took a very long time to get to this point, but no one can say there hasn’t been a very real change.
It’s unlikely that any drastic changes will happen in Japanese wrestling any time soon, but if even Nakamura is speaking up about the performers needing to take fewer risks, there might be increased visibility on the choices the wrestlers are taking.