Double header weekend ahoy. Down to Basingstoke with Harry, dodgy knee and all, on Saturday for training ahead of a tumbling competition on Sunday. On the Saturday evening I'll be leaving him in the care of the other Mums (usually I am the only Dad who does on these outings) loop out to London for a prowrestling show headlined by Jushin Thunder Liger, one of the greatest wrestler in the past 30 years, vs Prince Devitt, who we'll be talking about as one of the greats in 20 years time. Knackering but terrific.
The venue is York Hall in Bethnal Green, which sounds super for fight sports. The venue is important. A good venue like the Wulfrun Hall or Broxbourne Civic Hall really helps build the atmosphere.
Liger's wrestled in Britain before, but not for 25 years. You might have seen him on the telly. Here he is, under the name Fuji Yamada, in a terrific 20 minute match with Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco. By modern standards, many of those Saturday afternoon matches were somewhat lacking, but they put on a fast-paced scorcher that wouldn't look out of place on a card today. And listen to that crowd! They are completely into it.
Here's mid-period Liger in a match against the Great Sasuke, then at the start of his career. I love Sasuke whipping off his mask when he's announced, and his balletic footwork during the match.
It's the crowd that makes wrestling work. The wrestlers feed the crowd and the crowd feed the wrestlers. When the crowd is hot, the wrestling is better. It doesn't just seem better, it is better. If the wrestlers can't engage the crowd, or the crowd is withdrawn or simply doesn't like one of the wrestlers, then it just doesn't work. When I say the crowd doesn't like the wrestler, I don't mean they're booing a villian, a character, I mean they don't like the wrestler, the person playing the character. He can be a technical wizard, but if he can't get a rise somehow he may as well go home.
Another ten years on, here's Liger in a match with another collossus of Japanese prowrestling Keiji Mutoh. Both are in their early forties at this point, but they still put on an energetic, athletic performance. There's a school of thought that says prowrestling is pure symbolism - that a punch is just a punch. And sometimes that's true. For this match, though it's utter cobblers. The reason this match works so well is because of the reputation as a wrestling titan each man brings to the ring. The crowd undoubted knows, and the commentators are certainly selling to the television audience, Mutoh's long standing and pretty serious knee problems. The whole narrative of the match is laid out around Mutoh's bad knees, and that's why everyone goes so bonkers at the finish. As far as I know they had only wrestled once before, ten years earlier. The whole thing is, therefore, laden with history and expectation. It's a cracker.
So on Saturday, Liger, both debuts in and returns to Britain. He's still a terrific wrestler, but he's towards the end of a scintillating career. Rocco, who was also a big star in Japan in the 80s, wrestled Liger many times, and whose career was cut short by a heart condition, will be at ringside. Devitt, who's started wrestling in Britain but has been working in Japan since 2006, current holder of the two Japanese titles, is a superstar on the rise. It's laden with history and expectation. It'll be a cracker.