Let's get ready to rumble!
Let’s just say I am the kind of person who would proclaim, without hesitation, that WWE is awesome. All the acrobatic moves coupled with love-and-hate dramas makes for a unique excitement that one cannot expect from any other form of entertainment.
Not everyone feels that way. Some critique professional wrestling as being staged or scripted. Others say it’s not a serious “sport.” But if you ask me, pro wrestling is an art in which the participants have to put forth serious effort to entertain and compete at the same time.
Putting themselves in harm’s way, pro wrestlers walk a thin line between entertainers and athletes. And sometimes, it takes more than watching bouts on television to realize how much work goes into a match and how much excitement pro wrestling can carry for spectators.
The Navel Kadena Arena, near Kadena Air Base, was packed April 24 with fans young and old, many of whom had T-shirts or towels with the logo of the Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling, proudly displaying their dedication to the local wrestling federation. Among them, I could spot many Americans, who shared the excitement of local fans.
“I have come here before. It was fun, very exciting,” said Antonio Harris, from Camp Hansen. “The small (organization) makes it all the better. You get to see all the fighters fight. During halftime, they come out and talk, take pictures with folks. It’s very cool. The small (nature) makes it a little more fun, I think.”
As soon as the bouts began, I realized how much proximity matters. With the ring being so close to the crowd, the sound of bodies slammed against the mat or the heavy breathing of wrestlers trying to free themselves from submission holds or even the smell of their sweat let you know that the pain is real. Without realizing it, I became one with the crowd, which rooted passionately for each wrestler. Some cheered by shouting, “Come on Dingo,” or “Go Saver,” calling the wrestlers by name. Others were booing wrestlers who would not relent a submission hold, ignoring the rope escape rule.
Sometimes, there was interaction between the crowd and the wrestlers in the ring. During a bout between two female wrestlers, Hamuko (meaning “Ms. Ham”) Hoshi and Hibiscus Mii, the crowed started booing Hamuko as she cornered Hibiscus and made the local baby-face cry by pressing the sole of her right foot against her opponent’s face. The crowd started chanting, “You made her cry! You made her cry!” But, next thing I knew, Hibiscus got out of the corner and did the same to Hamuko for payback. Now, it was Ms. Ham’s turn to cry, asking for sympathy, which was, as expected, met instead with laughs. If you boo the wrestlers out loud, they will often fire back at you.
When the fights make it out of the ring, that’s a signal for the crowd to get out of their seats so the wrestlers can beat on each other with collapsible chairs or dive off the ropes for Plancha suicida. Most likely, one of the wrestlers ends up on the floor. If that’s the case, you may need to root for the wrestler on the ground in front of you, with the referee counting on the side. With no boundaries between the crowd and the ring, the fight can take place right next to your seat.
Last man standing
If you watch a pro wrestling show, there is almost always a moment when a wrestler barely avoids a pinfall, as a referee nearly hits the mat for a third count. The cliffhanger certainly heightens the excitement level. It can even draw in skeptics who think there is a storyline behind the fight. Watching the bouts of the Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling, I found that by the time a third count was called the wrestlers were very close to the limits of their physical strength. Whether they ended up with a win or loss, the wrestlers gave everything they had to make the fight as entertaining and challenging as possible.
When the stakes were high, they would even try to go beyond their limits. The main event of the day, which was a match between Gurukun Mask (“The incarnation of local fish) and Churaumi Saver (“Saver of Beautiful Sea”) for the title of Ryuou (Ryukyu Champion), was all about such desperate effort. Although the names of these two wrestlers may sound a little humorous, there was no doubt that their fight was very serious. When Guruku Mask came on top after countless exchanges of suplexes, elbow smashes, and submission holds, both masked men were out of breath, unable to get on their feet for a while. Some fans had tears in their eyes.
Share the excitement
The way these local wrestlers hustled in the ring and interacted with fans outside of the ring won the hearts of WWE fans as well.
“We moved here on island last August. Just by walking around Navel Kadena, we saw the posters of the Ryukyu Dragon,” said Bill, a teacher from Michigan who is also a WWE fan. “We are WWE fans from the U.S., so we thought, ‘Ryukyu Island really has a wrestling promotion?’ I am like, ‘No way!’ So we showed up, and it’s good stuff. Starting at that event, we have been to every single event maybe except one or two. We’ve come whether the crowds are big or small. We come to all of them.
“Any time they have a chance to mix it up with another federation, you know everything’s going to be amped up high,” Bill said. “There is going to be more intensity, there is going to be more craziness off the top of the roof. ... That’s pretty much what I expect from them. Afterwards, we’ll see who makes it out of the ring. I mean, it’s always fun. And hanging out with all these guys afterwards, high-fiving and talking to them – so good.”
Tina, who is also from Michigan said, “They are very friendly about taking pictures with fans. They are fan friendly. They are just very nice.”
“I am actually friends with some of these guys, like Dingo, the Ryukyu Dog,” said Joe, who came to the show with Bill and Tina. “We became friends. These guys, they are nice cool people. I like hanging with Dingo, drinking and all that.”
Even if you have not seen pro wrestling before or have no idea what “angle” means in the pro wrestling universe, no problem.
“There is nothing about wrestling that I ever thought was interesting or I wanted to learn about or watch, and I always thought it was very boring,” said Lina Yamada, who was at the Navel Kadena show. “Coming to the show, I was around lot of good people, I was around a really good environment … I had so much fun. Just screaming, laughing and joking with everyone. It was a great time. I don’t know any history or any names, so (I was just) screaming whatever name came to my mind. I didn’t know anybody’s name. But it was a lot of fun.”
When asked if she would like to come back to the event, Lina said, “Ohhhh, yeah!”
Spend some time with the fans rooting and booing for wrestlers as they hustle and rumble and it’s hard not to like pro wrestling.
Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling
The event on April 24 marked the third anniversary of the local professional wrestling federation. Shortly after the title match for “Ryuou” Gurukun Mask, who is the head of the federation, joined me for an interview.
“Now we have big turnouts for big events like today,” the masked wrestler said. “When we started three years ago, we didn’t have big crowd. But the ‘passion’ and ‘excitement’ were always there.
“One of the reasons why we launched the federation was to provide opportunities to the people of Okinawa, a lot of whom have not seen pro wrestling before,” he said. “We want them to come to our event and just experience what happens in the ring with their five senses. The sound of the wrestling mat, the close-range view of wrestlers, or even the smell of sweat, just to name a few, are part of the viewing experience, which only pro wrestling can provide.
“There is no right or wrong when it comes to how you enjoy pro wrestling. You can enjoy it whatever way you want,” he said.
When I mentioned that many American fans appreciated the accessibility of the wrestlers, he said, “Yes, it means a lot for us to stay close to the fans. The kind of wrestlers we think are cool are the ones who behave as regular guys when they come out of the ring and mingle with the fans. But once they set foot on ring, they become supermen.”
According to Gurukun Mask, every member of the federation is coping with injuries due to the intensity of the fights. The masked man himself is suffering from a ruptured tendon. But the Ryuo champion firmly said, “It is our job to put ourselves at risk for the sake of fans. I want them to feel and get something out of our fights.”
– Shoji Kudaka
Exhibition Match for Gooyaa no Hi
Date: May 14
Time: 4 p.m.
Venue: Music Plaza in Koza Music Town 1F
Address: 1-1-1, Uechi, Oinawa city, Okinawa, 904-0031
Kadena Pro Wrestling Festival 2016:
Ryukyu Dragon vs. FREEDOMS
Date: May 29
Time: 2 p.m.
Venue: Navel Kadena Arena
Address: 372-2 Shimobaru, Kaneku, Kadena-cho, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa, 904-0205
Naha Battle Festa 3
Date: June 5
Time: 1 p.m.
Venue: Naha City Bunka Tenbusu Center
Address: 3-2-10, Makishi, Naha city, Okinawa, 900-0013
For more info, contact Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling at
098-956-5500 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://rd-pw.com or https://www.facebook.com/ryukyu.dragon.