-Chapter 4 Love and Hate-
Martial arts is very popular nowadays. How about the wrestling?
I'd like to explain about pro-wrestling for a non-wrestling fan.
If you are wrestling fan, please ignore this page.
There are 2 main categories in pro-wrestling.
Major and Independent.
The major company we can call with confidence are NJPW and AJPW, they both have 30 years history. Maybe it's easier to understand if I call them Antonio Inoki's team and Giant Baba's team.
There is another team derived from AJPW called NOAH, lead by Mitsuharu Misawa.
And also the team derived from NJPW called ZERO-ONE, lead by Shinya Hashimoto. I suppose they both can be called a 'Major'.
The independent companies are FMW, and death match style team called BJW lead by Great Kojika, and IWA Japan, DDT, Toryumon (now Dragon Gate).
And any other small wrestling teams are also called a 'Independent'.
Usually, the difference in between Major and Independent are wrestler's body sizes,
employment condition and the event structure.
If wrestlers can't join the major wrestling company, they make their own.
Generally, 'major' means wrestlers have an annual salary only from wrestling (it means they don't need to have an extra job), and the company is able to a have big event in a large venue. I must admit that there are some powerful independent companies out there. FMW is qualified for it. So are BJW and Toryumon.
On the other hand, there are some 'independent' companies who can't have their own event. (They usually appear in different company's ring.) It is almost like a wrestling agency.
And also there are 'independents' who do Martial arts and cage fights, and there also a 'independent' company which has only one wrestler which is himself!
In fact, there is not much definition.
There are 50 wrestling companies in Japan at the moment. The total number of wrestlers is about 600 including transgender and masked.
It's totally border less.
But why are there so many?
Because not many wrestlers quit. hey stay.
There are new faces just keep joining into this industry.
Long time ago, not everybody was qualified to be a pro-wrestler because of the height and weight.
But now there are so many independent companies allows all kind of wrestlers even 150cm height (4'11).
And many wrestlers come back after they retired once.
Some quit for injury, some quit for private reasons. But many of them came back.
It must be some kind of magic. Once you get on a ring, you can't forget the excitement.
All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling used to have a 25 years old retirement age rule for the changing generation within a company. This rule doesn't exist anymore because of lack of star wrestlers and increased number of wrestling companies.
And a lots of them has come back after they retired once for example the Crush Girls and Devil Masami. They are still wrestling in other companies rings. They are over 30 years old.
Majority of male independent wrestlers have a second job.
So unless they decide by themselves there isn't a retirement age for them.
They can be wrestlers as long as they want.
Some independent wrestlers also work as a sports instructor, office worker, in a catering business or transportation business and so on.
There are also wrestlers who have multiple masks or characters or using different ring names.
It is quite common in Mexican scene. Some have got 4 or 5 different characters in Japan.
Independent wrestling companies are all different.
Some even doesn't own a wrestling ring and borrow for their event.
Their fight money is all different also.
Some young wrestlers only gets paid as much as travel expenses and some famous independent wrestlers and foreign wrestlers get paid 100,000yen (1000 USD) per match.
There is a case that the company only pay for the travel expenses and accommodation for a trainee.
On the other hand, they pay celebrity wrestlers for a first class flight and a five star hotel.
Pro-wrestlers income often includes commission from individual ticket sales .
NEO FMW used to sale tickets for wrestlers with 10-30% discount and let them re-sell, but they weren't doing it much usually unless they have their home town match.
I've heard that some popular independent company give wrestlers 25-30% discount for tickets. It worked wrestlers to sell their tickets so hard, and give them self 1500yen (15 USD) profit per ticket for a 5000yen (50 USD) face valued ticket.
Their tickets do not go to the box office much, it makes it more desirable for the fan.
I have thought about selling the ticket through our wrestlers, but unfortunately,
our old school wrestlers who used to work in a 'major' (Onita, Tarzan, Fuyuki) didn't agree to it, so it didn't happen regularly. They thought it's management's job to sell tickets. If I think about it, maybe I should have improved this sort of things.
Wrestlers might have worked harder if they sold our tickets by them self...thinking of the fan who bought the ticket directly from them...and might have gained more new fans. I know it's too late, but I regret it.
Maybe I was blinded by the good time of wrestling economy.
I never thought of using wrestlers to sell our tickets to secure the event income.
-Unexpected side of a heel wrestler-
All kind of people are in wrestling business.
And I learnt that all kind of people are in the world.
Especially this industry has a different human relations.
The academic career is not so important in this industry, not like sumo.
Nowadays, 'baby face' and 'heel' do still exist, but they change depends on the story line. When Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki were in a front line, there was more of a definition like only 'baby face' got cheered and 'heel' got booed.
I personally believe that we should cheer only for the 'baby face', and we should send hated booing only for the 'heel'. Like me an old school wrestling fan thinks that's how pro-wrestling should be, but the time is changing...
I repeat again, there are all kind of people in the wrestling industry...
In OLD FMW and NEO FMW also.
Mr. Pogo was very different to his public image, he was very shy nice guy.
After he shouted at his opponent during the match, he was worried in his dressing room.
'Do you think he's okay about what I said?'.
Whoever the opponent was he cared. If it was a older veteran, he cared even more and he often asked my advise. He is such a kind man.
Pogo came out during the right time. It was after Old FMW launched.
Maybe Onita assisted him very well, but when every wrestler from AJPW and NJPW try to be a sports-like wrestler, (UWF style) there weren't many baby faces or heels.
Pure hated super heel and the impact Mr. Pogo gave was huge.
The way he was wrestling was too extreme.
He used a sickle and cut the other's forehead and struck the forehead by a broken sharp stick.
He even blew fire at Mr. Chin, the oldest wrestler who was over 60 years old and suffering from chronic nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).
It was a part of angle, but still it was very shocking seeing breezing fire at the old age pensioner and gave the audience shiver.
It must have been very difficult to do such a horrible thing although Mr. Pogo did it as a professional.
Personally, I like Mr. Pogo very much. He is such a kind person. I have helped Mr. Pogo's shows before, and went to visit his sponsor with him. We started our tour the day after the visit, so I went to pick him up from his house by my car. But he didn't come out for long time.
'Are you ready, Pogo-san?'
'No...wait a moment...I'm still packing...'
I think I waited about half an hour. Finally, he got in my car and I was about to drive and he panicked.
'What's the matter?'
'Eh, I think I forgot my tooth brush...'
He opened his luggage and didn't move until he found his tooth brush.
This big man is searching for something so tiny. I tried so hard to hold my laugh and forgot about being late.
He had a cute side.
These days people already know he is a good man, so it's fun to watch how much this Mr. Nice Guy can do brutal things.
Original member of the Old FMW, Tarzan Goto was a difficult man.
Maybe because of his back ground (from Sumo and AJPW), he liked to be very organized.
When he was in Old FMW, he was in charge of so many things.
We used to get media interviews very often, and I remember everyone looked nervous because Tarzan was watching. He was quite particular for everything, for example about the dressing room use, arrival time of the tour bus. He couldn't be flexible.
'I haven't heard about this.'
'Why is this there?'
'Why can the media enter here?'
I saw he was angry like this very often.
But he looked after me very well. I was invited to his house for dinner.
I liked him very much. I was always with him during our tour. He also trusted me.
Sometimes he said 'Well, if you insist, Sho-chan...(Arai's nickname)' and accepted my request for sudden media interviews.
I don't think Onita and Tarzan's relationship was too bad in first few years.
He looked more frustrated about Onita's behavior towards the end of Old FMW.
Goto is very stubborn but a professional man. He basically followed what Onita said but he didn't accept Onita's demands sometimes, and then Onita would listen to him.
Tarzan stayed at OLD FMW until 1995, just before Onita's retirement match.
He was meant to be Onita's opponent in Kawasaki match.
He suddenly announced his departure with Mr. Gannosuke and Flying Kid Ichihara without telling a reason.
He said, 'I'm not going to tell anybody why. I'm taking it with me to my grave.'
I can think of one reason. In Onita's biography, 'Atsushi Onita's This is the Jado Pro Wrestling!', Onita wrote:
'Spring 1995, I asked Tarzan Goto to do a Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinri Kyo, the leader of a religious terrorist group that performed subway bombings in 1995 in Japan) gimmick. But he got red and got seriously angry.'
Maybe Onita thought it was a good angle, but a serious and stubborn old school wrestler Tarzan got very offended about this idea.
-In between the bullying and the hard training-
Onita didn't like bullying. So I don't think we had a typical bullying to new faces.
There was only one wrestler who used to bully in Old FMW.
Bullying and training are very difficult to see the difference in some cases, but this guy was a bully definitely.
We talked to him, and let him leave the company.
He wanted to go to Mexico, and we said we can't afford to pay the expenses then he just left in the end.
Kintaro Kanemura is a very strict man, but just for training, not bullying. He is putting his effort to bring up a younger generation.
Kanemura also seems to be sending his money to Tomokazu Morita in Mexico since FMW was bankrupted. I've heard it's 500,00yen (500 USD) or 100,000yen (1,000 USD) every month. The company can't send him money anymore, so he's using his own money for it.
Kanemura and Hayabusa weren't getting along well at one point.
They were both very unique, but their wrestling style is very different as well as their personality.
When Hayabusa had a serious spinal injury, Kanemura told me.
'Now I know how Hayabusa is the key for this company. Without him, it's not NEO FMW. Boss, let's hope he comes back soon!'
He cares about Hayabusa a lot. It might be the friendship in between the fighters...
Hearing something like this made me so proud of our wrestlers, but at the same time I feel so useless. I put shame on myself.
NEO FMW has a female division although there's only one wrestler, Emi Motokawa, and she's on injury leave.
I want to keep female division to differentiate our company from others.
And I wanted to regain more exciting female wrestling in FMW once again.
A lot of wrestlers made the great appearance in the FMW female ring. They retired and gone to separate ways.
Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda, Miwa Sato, Yukie Nabeno, Rie Nakamura, Crusher Maedomari...
The No.1 heel female wrestler who even fights against male wrestlers is Shark Tsuchiya who is from very strict family. Her parents and grand parents are doctors, they were against her to become a wrestler.
I remember she promised them it's only for 1 year, but she wrestles still now.
Miss Mongol was a kind girl and she left me a message on my answer machine when she found out FMW was bankrupted. Now she's become a face of a cat fight team. FMW Female was doing so well, but there were some troubles inside. It's all a good memory though.
I'm a man, so I don't understand women much. I am extra careful with female wrestlers and I don't interfere with them much.
I guess Onita was the same as me, so the female division was kind of extraterritorial.
Maybe that's why there were more complicated problems not like the male division.
Especially during the training session from veterans to new faces, it became more personal with jealousy and turned to bullying. New trainee quits so early. As soon as the new faces gains popularity, they suddenly would quit.
'You don't know anything! You only care about that veteran girl, but the girl is the terrible bully. That's why no one stays.'
Rie Nakamura's mother told me on a phone when she was leaving FMW.
But I didn't believe her at the time. I never thought the veteran female wrestler would something like that.
And I didn't hear the rumor from others either.
Even after she retired, she made trouble.
She was sending multiple hate letters. It was on going even before her retirement.
When I read it, that made my eyes opened. It was unbelievable.
She was pretending as a fan and writing hate letters.
One was addressed to a wrestler from a different company.
'You are just a appearance, and your wrestling is awful.'
Another one was addressed to a FMW female wrestler saying,
'What are you trying to lead FMW? You don't have wrestling sense at all. You will die soon!'
And also she was using office staff's name and sent several new year cards to media. I can not reveal what she wrote.
The letters font she was using matched her word processor font.
And we checked all the stamp's posted dates and locations. According to our tour schedule, we suspected it was all done by one person. I investigated very carefully and finally asked her.
I didn't want to question her especially because I know she worked hard for FMW before. It was quite a depressing job to ask her.
She insisted on her innocence at first, but admitted later and made apologies to everyone who she gave troubles to.
Maybe she was trapped in the wrestling magic and the radiant younger girls made her jealous. The magic of ring can change people so much.
Office love could cause employer's headache.
They are likely to slow the work process, and could cause the problems in between employees.
Fortunately, in FMW, we didn't have many couples. There weren't major problems.
Generally it is said that there are quite a few lesbians in female wrestlers.
I got questions about it from sponsors and friends etc. but I never known such details. According to what I heard from others, there were a few in FMW.
Some female wrestler targeted innocent new faces all the time, and some ended up leaving FMW. When I asked them why they are leaving, they don't say a reason.
I asked people later, they told me that trainees had problems with the lesbian wrestler. Being lesbian is not a problem. I didn't mind as long as they do the job properly at FMW. But I was annoyed if they couldn't perform 100% in the ring because of those personal problems. Anyway, I couldn't sort this out. It was too delicate.
-There was a solution-
Sorry, I wrote a little too much about wrestler's gossip...
Let's talk about my regret of growing an Independent wrestling company.
Usually wrestling behind the scenes is not very well planned out.
Fans think they are all well discussed, but sometimes we just decide for no right reason.
I regret that I didn't plan well for our business.
I should have changed my company revolutionary.
For example, 'Toryumon Japan' was very revolutionary.
They gathered short or small guys who were willing to pay to be pro wrestlers.
The company used their money for funding themselves and train and grow them from the beginning.
Dragon Kid used to be a Old FMW referee. He couldn't become a wrestler in FMW because of our match maker didn't let him. We also didn't know how to use junior heavy wrestlers. Milano Collection AT was also a trainee in FMW.
Chigusa Nagayo's 'GAEA JAPAN' is more like a talent agency style.
They only have a few office staff, but their direction is very clear and the capability for holding events is very strong. They don't let wrestlers give fans autographs very much. That'll make the wrestler's value higher. If they do well, they get a pay rise, if don't then they get penalty.
I had similar ideas for NEO FMW as Toryumon and GAEA JAPAN. But I couldn't make it happened. I didn't have enough courage and desperation at that time. The wrestling business is changing and I couldn't change. That's how I feel right now after we got bankrupted. It is too late to think about it. How ironic.
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