SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
I want to preface this column with my mindset writing this. Traditionally, I’ve been of the opinion that, when I evaluate a wrestling company, I want to figure out who they’re “singing for” – that is to say, who is the true audience, who might come along for the ride, and how that should really inform the booker/promoter as they seek to make money.
Recently, with moves such as the foray into the United States with New Japan’s “Strong Style: Evolved” show, coupled with the opening of the L.A. Dojo, I feel the U.S. fanbase has had more influence than ever in the company’s history. Additionally, the company has attempted to cultivate strong female fans both in the United States and Japan, which also demands a better evaluation and execution of storylines to grow and maintain that base.
Last weekend’s New Japan Cup final between Shingo Takagi and Will Ospreay was great. The post-match angle, howeverk set the stage for what should be a not-surprising negative reaction by some of that aforementioned fanbase.
Similar to the hiring-that-wasn’t with Marty Scurll, pulling Bea Priestley into the Ibushi-Ospreay angle as a victim of Ospreay’s storyline assault is in bad taste. Additionally, any of the scores of female fans featured during crowd shots, or women used as the faces of their ad campaigns during match lulls on New Japan World, have to at least side eye the promotion. There is no upside to the angle, for either fanbase in either country.
When Bushiroad, the parent company of New Japan Pro Wrestling and Stardom (its Joshi sister promotion) spent the last two Wrestle Kingdom shows having the top women of Stardom in dark matches, the prevailing thought was that this was a great way to give the women a platform to show their skill. However, when you don’t film the matches it makes no sense – either at the time and even more so while writing this. Such is the level of divorce between men’s and women’s wrestling historically in Japan.
So when you have women on the New Japan proper show, you will only see or hear Miki Motoi’s color commentary and occasionally promote items during breaks. At no point in my memory has Motoi been featured as a target of ire or torment like her male colleagues specifically because there is no upside to such boorish behavior. In terms of ring talent, Bea Priestley was the first female second in years to be there as a woman who’s wrestling and not utilized as eye candy a la Pieter Rabbit with Yujiro or Miho Abe with Taichi.
As a result, any of Bea’s interactions during matches have been those of a wrestler that can use moves/holds outside of the view of the ref – not in any way a non-combatant a la Motoi. So given that role, what’s the “out” for this storyline? Will Ibushi fight for Priestley’s honor and either beat Ospreay or, in an even sillier option, get sucked into some sort of ruse that results in Priestley being “in” on the abuse? Does Priestley get a chance to get revenge in a one-on-one intergender match in New Japan, of all places?
The fact that there was more emotional weight in the “he punched the highlights out of her hair” scene between Knives Chao and Todd Ingram in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” – which, by no means is a high bar to clear – than Ospreay and his girlfriend in a main event, title match-setting angle at the end of the New Japan Cup is also ridiculous.
What is the impetus? That Ospreay is “that focused” on the IWGP World Heavyweight Title? Didn’t just winning the New Japan Cup prove that? There was no need to use Bea Priestley as a throwaway element in a match that already would’ve been seen as a huge main event, given the history of the wrestlers involved.
When you look at WWE’s current “Head of the Table” storyline with Roman Reigns and his family, it would have been easy during Jey and Jimmy’s in-cage dialogue with Roman to have either Jimmy’s wife Naomi (an actual wrestler) or Jey’s wife (non-combatant) show up and Roman slap them. WWE, despite all of their ridiculousness, knew that would be a bridge too far and didn’t do that.
When AEW had Jade Cargill and Shaq lead up to their match with Cody and Red Velvet, Cody could’ve, like Dusty 30-plus years ago, slapped his opponent’s female counterpart and blamed her for being in the ring. Shoot, a few weeks ago Randy Orton did a similar move (RKO vs. Os-cutter) to Alexa Bliss in her “Goddess” role, but that was dismissed as WWE silliness. However, in the case of the Bliss-Orton feud there is consent by both parties to be in the feud. Ospreay-Priestley was presented as a one side (Ospreay) doing something to prove a point without the other person’s (Priestley) permission. And that opens the door to see New Japan as the promotion in the wrong.
For the last ten years, New Japan has enjoyed, for better or for worse, the reputation as the “anti-WWE option” in North America. That branding can help give them gain a foothold in the United States. Whether it was teaming up with Ring of Honor to show that they’re about the “pure” nature of professional wrestling, or the placement domestically of their non-wrestling focused storylines in the periphery of the lower card, at no point did something of the nature of the Ospreay-Priestley angle sneak its way to the main event. The closest was the “I can love him better than you” three-way feud between Cody, Ibushi and Omega, but that stayed in the U.S. via Ring of Honor and was never spoken of again after the triple threat IWGP title match.
The matchup of Ibushi and Ospreay itself should have been the treat for fans who already had to deal with a post-Speaking Out Ospreay push. Now it’s not only marred with this silliness, but also creates the “it’s just wrasslin” defense force. There wasn’t a need to have Ospreay yuck it up in the post-match promos about “single life,” or to by proxy give the rest of the stable the heat. Especially considering that in the past year in the real world, during this pandemic, domestic violence cases against women nationally in Japan have jumped from 20,189 in 2019 to 82,643 in 2020.
In storyline, it’s cheap and crass; out of storyline, it again points a light on the company deciding to make this asinine decision with Ospreay. At no point does this read as Will going into business for himself; it seems more in line the company had an angle and they executed it with either a tone-deaf attitude towards their fanbase, the current issues regarding domestic violence in Japan, and the lack of an out for what happens next.
If this is the plan, my hope is that Bea Priestley gets more out of this than being a footnote in a really ill-advised angle.
(Rich Fann is a Pro Wrestling Torch columnist. His editorials appear regularly here at PWTorch.com and also longer-form articles exclusively in the PWTorch Newsletter once a month. He joins Wade Keller for the new weekly “Everything with Rich Fann” VIP-exclusive podcast and also has been a long-running cohost of the “PWTorch East Coast Cast” with Travis Bryant. He appears regularly with Sean Radican on his “Radican Worldwide” VIP podcasts, too. Follow him on Twitter @rich_fann)