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Japanese GOAT

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Every time a greatest-ever debate comes up people end up arguing about this magical International Date Line that happens some time in the early nineties, when drawing power and emotional connection give way to workrate. Except it isn't a magical line defined by some intangible cultural shift. It's kayfabe. Plain and simple.

Post-kayfabe? If Tanahashi isn't in your discussion you either have an incredible anti-recency-bias or a far-flung opinion on Tanahashi's output.  I don't prefer Tana to Kawada, Liger, Hokuto, Jumbo, Misawa, Liger, Aja, Hashimoto, and probably a few others that aren't immediately coming to mind. So if you want to say he's not in the running on your personal list, hey man, go for it. To say that a dude who's been a drawing champion in Japan's main promotion for a decade and a half and has been putting out critical-consensus-classics for a decade, as the most visible face in a resurgence of the puroresu artform isn't in the argument? Fuck out of here. Fuck out of there, too, while you're at it.

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Thank you for drawing the house Mr.Okada. 

okada-tanahashi.jpg

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if I had to go top ten (I don't but I am)

01. Akira Maeda
02. Antonio Inoki
03. Rikidozan
04. Mitsuharu Misawa
05. Giant Baba
06. Genichiro Tenryu
07. Riki Choshu
08. Keiji Muto
09. Shinya Hashimoto
10. Nobuhiko Takada

I don't have a recency bias but it's hard to put the greats of post-2000 in just yet.

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Not that anyone cares about my opinion, and not that this opinion isn't liberally cribbed from stuff jdw said back in the day, but one argument I haven't heard is that of adaptation.

I mean, let's face it: professional wrestling is on the downswing.  We have one real promotion in the United States, and one real promotion in Japan, and by and large, everything else is scraping the bottom of the barrel made out of barrels.  But hey, that's fairly normal.  Practically everything that's ever lived or existed has gone extinct, so there's a lot of company in that pile.  That said, the one thing that alters that trajectory, however briefly, is diversity.  The first inter-promotional feuds that changed the dynamic from Native versus Foreigner to Native versus Native; the rise of worked shoots and eventually MMA; the garbage feds; the women's feds arguably lapping the men and becoming just as big at various times - all these things kept this whole charade from crashing and burning 20+ years ago (or from entering this trajectory a lot sooner).

And if you're really going to point to one, and only one, person, who changed with the times and made his promotion better as a result, with his presence and in-ring work, I'd be pointing to Jumbo Tsuruta.  A Funk-trained, 70s-style wrestler who could work with anyone, who took up the mantle of The Man in his promotion by duking it out with the likes of Hansen and Brody for years, until Choshu's invasion turned All Japan on its head and spun things off in the new direction that New Japan had already kickstarted, then helping set up Tenryu as his own man with their feud (though being the only native to pin Baba for about 5 years there probably helped Tenryu, too, let's face it), *then* doing the same once again with Misawa.  The business fundamentally changed throughout the course of his entire career, and all the guy did was have great matches and make everyone around him look great - and came out looking great as a result.  The 15-year transition from spunky youngster to top dog to grumpy veteran is an idea as old as ideas themselves, but I don't know that anyone did it *better*.  And sure, other workers did a lot more individually for pushing the business in new directions - Onita, Maeda, Takada, even Inoki from a booking and drawing standpoint - but, again, no one took those kinds of changes and turned them into in-ring gold and box office success as well and as long as he did.  

You could make the argument of, "Oh, someone like Jumbo couldn't do now what he did then - people expect so much more, the style is so different" but that's like saying Citizen Kane wouldn't be that great of a movie if it played today because it's not as complex as, say, Inception.  The difference is, in this case, you can watch Orson Welles become Orson Welles and see how that made the Spielbergs and Nolans and Scorseses and everyone else of the world possible in the first place.  Other guys meant more; others drew more money (a lot more); others had better matches; others compelled more young people to become wrestlers; others were better trainers.  I don't know if anyone compares at doing *all* those things that well, unless you're talking about the other bigs from that generation.  The one strike against him is that clearly Baba was calling the shots, and maybe no one had a head for how to book better than Baba, so Jumbo and everyone else who took All Japan where it went owes him for that.  But, that's a fairly small strike.

Plus, he threw the best fucking lariat ever.  Ever.

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I leaned more heavily on culture and influence than in-ring. If I recalibrated for work then Tsuruta goes higher up for sure. Probably the most underrated Japanese worker I'd say. Given how much of the wider conversation around great work in Japan seems to start directly after all the guys he influenced.

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CC nailed it, I've watched a lot of wrestling over the years, I am a huge fan of Tanahashi, (I think I have more dvds of him in my permanent collection than anyone but Arn Anderson and that speaks volumes), that said, Jumbo Tsuruta is without argument the best wrestler I have ever seen `

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I'm trying to think of other workers who have adapted so ably as Tsuruta. It's a great point.

I think you could argue a case for any of the guys who worked traditional matches and then went to shoot-style covered a lot of ground between them. Maeda was working dorky World of Sport matches and finishes doing faux-MMA with Karelin with a bunch of stops between. He wasn't the best at any of them, but he was credible at most. Nobuhiko Takada too, who managed to get himself over with the aura of legitness even though he was, err, not.

Even Minoru Suzuki, who is probably just outside the parameters of this conversation, scores super high on this. Arguably the highest, given his ability to seriously grapple, work NJPW main event style, do a walk and brawl, and various points between.

Tenryu deserves recognition as a late convert to pro wrestling who still spans generations.

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Yeah, that was a point I felt like making but ultimately didn't make.  Jumbo was lucky in that he got to stay in his lane and work a certain way.

It's one advantage that newer guys now have; they don't have any choice but to incorporate different styles, because someone's already done the work of innovating.  So that guy who does all of it well today is fortunate, in the sense that you could drop him back in time into a match with just about anyone from a prior era and still get something worth watching out of it.

I feel like there's a wide swath in the 80s and 90s - certainly Jumbo, Choshu, and Tenryu; also Misawa and some others a little later on - who just couldn't be bothered to try working multiple distinct styles, particularly the shoot stuff, because their situation never called for it.  It does raise the question of how they'd do if you took them at their prime and dropped them in against, say, 1994-96 Takada.  For some people, we have the answer - Mutoh was awful, Hash was unsurprisingly great, Vader was even better than that - but it would have been nice to see firsthand.  And as much as I enjoy Jumbo, what I eventually realized after a bit of a deep dive was that I'd probably rely on Hashimoto to be the guy you could put across from anyone - absolutely, positively any other Japanese worker, any size, any style, who was his contemporary - and get something entertaining out of it.  We saw what he did against Kawada when they were both over the hill, and that was still a classic.  That's a singular skill.

But, neither of them had the year Hokuto had in 1993.  And on and on - it's turtles splitting hairs all the way down.

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Goro Tsurumi.

 

Edit: Prove me...RIGHT. Good luck.

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Maeda is definitely up there for me. I still think he has a last run in him but I doubt it will ever happen. 

I kind of like the idea of, like, themed GOATs. GOAT gaijin jr heavyweight, Chris Benoit. GOAT indie shoot style guy, Yuki Ishikawa. GOAT utility player who never rose above the mid-card, Tomoaki Honma. 

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5 hours ago, Ryan said:

Goro Tsurumi.

 

Edit: Prove me...RIGHT. Good luck.

 

36 minutes ago, Belgian_Waffle said:

I kind of like the idea of, like, themed GOATs. 

GOAT perm.

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I'll allow it.

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chono.png

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It's always interesting to me that greatness in wrestling, quite unlike other performance/art mediums, is so weighted towards financial data. Is it because wrestling is also sports-adjacent, and so we crave something like an objective statistical measure? I didn't watch Al Kaline, but I can check his JAWS score, and the thousand things that go into it. (Hell, I was one booth over from Bill James at India Palace this last Saturday, so I could sit down with him and my copy of the Historical Baseball Abstract, and really go to town.)

But I also know, for instance, that Moby Dick was an absolute bomb, while Woman in White the Victorian age's preeminent literary sensation--I don't know of a single university that really bothers teaching the latter, however, while the former is popularly considered the greatest thing any American has managed to write. There are middle roads, of course: Pride and Prejudice was and remains very popular and highly regarded; so too the major Bronte novels. But no one really likes Ulysses--or even attempts it--and yet it is praised in part because of that difficulty. Middlemarch seems to top every list of greatest English novels; unless you poll the public, in which case it's the Lord of the Rings.

One might say that a novel, being published all at once, can't "draw" in the same way--but what then do we do with sequels (LoTR), established authors with a massive audience (Austen), or serialized works (Dickens)? What if we change the question from "greatest novel" to "greatest author"--do we then need to consider how well they sold? How much influence they exerted in their time, and on the present? 

It goes without saying that I can't answer that--I'd venture to say no one has, not really, which is why the conversations are still being had wherever there are Literature departments. Other arts are every bit as difficult to figure (though I didn't spend nearly as much time not getting an MA in them). Few would answer "What is the greatest film of all time?" with "Well, when you look at the box office..."

Of course wrestling isn't literature, or film, or music. The ability to express greatness is, in many respects, contingent on drawing power. Tanahashi isn't Tanahashi if he doesn't have 15 years of main events, and the time and narrative focus/freedom thus afforded. How and to what extent we should consider that context is, I think, important; but I don't have any grand conclusions or even suggestions. My tendency has always been to consider the text on its own terms first, second, and sometimes exclusively; but context is impossible to unknow, once learned, and it seems untenable to suggest it doesn't or shouldn't matter.

Given that, it becomes much easier to consider flavors of greatness: Most influential, biggest draw, most versatile worker, best main event epic worker, best violent sprinter, etc. That's to say nothing of the (potential) gap between "best" and "favorite." Semantics are semantics and language is never perfectly precise; but language is still the best we can do. (And the best I can do is *waves hands at all this* without even attempting to come up with an answer. Sorry.)

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Good post Beech.

I've spoken on this before but (imho) because wrestling occupies this non-academic, 'low culture' spot, where it is sociologised (what kinds of people like wrestling?) and pathologised (why do these people like wrestling?) rather than examined for the same kind of textual merits as literature then, by dint of its ostracisation, it creates and cultivates a fanbase whose mindset is to not see the artfulness.

Just look at the people in the AEW/WWE conversation on Twitter using the term 'major leagues'. There is literally no consideration that, in artistic terms, All In and Wrestlekingdom 13 were unqualified successes in excess of anything WWE has managed in 2018. WWE is major, everything is else isn't.

By turns the academy has largely owned the literature question - sales figures rarely factor in analysing quality. In film and music, the real public arts, the responses are usually a mediation of fan and critic in the winds of time.

Historical importance is a slightly more sensitive judgement that takes into account other phenomenon but really it is a fairly empirical analysis of what was in the past that is still in the present. It casts a strange shadow. Like, it doesn't matter how much enjoyed that amateur-filmed Futen Bati-Bati show, it wasn't important, it was of no significance.

In this history and business-first sense it is also where the overbearing presence of Dave Meltzer is more crushing than his star system - because the public face of wrestling's own commentariat is primarily a historian and analyser of industry and business. That isn't Dave's fault, I love Dave and he is a hero of mine. But those that have tried to fill in a new space online or in print haven't quite managed to make the impact; Fin Martin in Powerslam was good at artistic criticism for a while before turning into a crank and then the magazine went under. John Pollock at LAW was a fun and open-minded critic of wrestling whose opinions I enjoyed. And the LAW went under.

It really doesn't help that many wrestling fans, especially those in the public conversation, are easily-angered online men. I speak as a former one (easily-angered, I am still an online man), before you wield your pitchforks. It is hard for a lot of people to talk emotionally and openly about this thing that at its absolute best provokes profound emotions (like after WK11 I was just on this wild high) that move us deeply, but especially so the fanbase of this thing.

I am proper rambling here, sorry, late afternoon coffee.

I still think Maeda is the best.

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It is Jumbo for in-ring followed by Inoki for cultural impact (the case can be made for Rikidozan for culltural impacct but Inoki's impact is like a meteor colliding with the moon!)

Cases can be made for Liger, Hokuto, , Hashimoto and Misawa/Kawada. But Jumbo is my pick overall

James

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2 hours ago, J.H. said:

It is Jumbo for in-ring followed by Inoki for cultural impact (the case can be made for Rikidozan for culltural impacct but Inoki's impact is like a meteor colliding with the moon!)

Cases can be made for Liger, Hokuto, , Hashimoto and Misawa/Kawada. But Jumbo is my pick overall

James

Jumbo is the correct answer, Liger - longest, most successful career and still entertaining at 54 or whatever he is, Inoki did as much harm as good, 1993 Akira Hokuto was the best wrestler in the world and no one else came close.  Hashimoto was always entertaining and could work with anyone. I can no longer watch 1990s AJPW after Misawa's death, it's just too much, when you realize the stupidity of some of the shit that they were doing. A yardtard diving into a bunch of light tubes is at much less risk for injury than the shit that they were doing. Misawa's dead and Kawada's lucky he hasn't joined him. 

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Kawada. Fujiwara is the close second, Hash and Jumbo (a great match we never got) round out third and fourth, Liger fifth. This is all personal preference however.

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Who here's JGOAT is a wrestler they actively followed during their prime? Really really curious.

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Precious few of us, I'd wager.  The RSPW & dirt sheet folks could claim it, but let's face it, a lot of this has been the work of extensive revisionist history, as the one thing we still have in front of us to rely upon is match quality (and to a lesser extent, numbers reflecting drawing power and popularity).

I decided to watch some matches again for the first time in, fuck, 8 years at least?  Not since one of the guys who used to post at OtherArena took his life, and I felt compelled to review something in his memory, had I sat down to watch anything.  I think I had some thoughts and feelings.  Maybe I'll start a running list and call it, "An Idiot Watches Some Wrestling on the Internet".  So thanks, thread.  Thanks for dragging that back out.  Thanks.  Thanks for making me dredge up my old reviews and wonder what I said previously about some stuff.  Thanks.

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I was getting Kobashi's GHC run tapes within a few months of them being aired (not his physical prime but an artistic one) and he's up there in my top 3/4 workers. But mostly not really, apart from Tanahashi.

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The one thing I have  against Jumbo (and the other involved party is my all time favourite) is that his singles matches with Stan Hansen were always huge disappointments. Those guys are either the GOAT and #2 or 3 of all time but they're so used to working with smaller guys and imposing their physicality (differently) that when they couldn't do it, it just made for a boring, jumbled mess of a match. Hansen at least had those epic Andre brawls years prior.

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And Hansen had Vader.

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2 hours ago, Oyaji said:

The one thing I have  against Jumbo (and the other involved party is my all time favourite) is that his singles matches with Stan Hansen were always huge disappointments. Those guys are either the GOAT and #2 or 3 of all time but they're so used to working with smaller guys and imposing their physicality (differently) that when they couldn't do it, it just made for a boring, jumbled mess of a match. Hansen at least had those epic Andre brawls years prior.

Well, you have to consider that Hansen is as blind as a bat without glasses, (although Andre and to a lesser extent, Jumbo were pretty damn hard to miss). Sometimes when you mix two things that are very similar, the result is disappointing. I'll stand by my rating of Jumbo as the best wrestler I've ever seen, certainly there have been more entertaining personalities, nothing quite beats Dump Matsumoto charging into the crowd whacking paying customers with a kendo stick, but I digress. 

As we get farther and farther away from Jumbo's career, only old tape traders like me are really going to remember him in context and if the recent events are any indicator, Tanahashi's star will continue to rise, and I'm not going to say that considering Tana JGOAT is necessarily wrong. I'd like a little distance from his active career to really evaluate it, but he's certainly putting together a strong case.

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has anyone managed to work super matches with everyone or at least everyone on their approximate level? Genuine question. I actually quite like, for some reason, that some guys just don't work out despite their apparent talent.

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