Niche corners of the professional wrestling world often pride themselves on being the hardest of the hardcore fans. During the mid-1990s, followers of cult favorite promotion ECW traveled from all over the world to a ramshackle bingo hall in South Philadelphia. In the early 2000s, Ring of Honor’s fans took that title. In 2015, the distinction has moved towards another section of fandom, the puro camp.
It’s common to find fans complaining on Twitter about a lack of sleep due to staying up to watch a New Japan show. The month long G1 Climax was the most covered non-WrestleMania event of the year for the wrestling media. When Samurai TV pulled illegally streamed content from DailyMotion and YouTube, fans were frantic to find a new source so they could view smaller Japanese promotions.
The passion many fans have for puro is evident, but why are they so attracted to it?
For some fans the breathtaking athleticism is a huge draw.
“I found myself gasping out loud at some of the maneuvers and reversal sequences and was on the edge of my seat when the action spilled out of the ring and into hopping barricades, running cross bodies and beating the count,” said Ru Gunn, a staff writer for Voices of Wrestling, as she described her first time watching a Japanese match.
Reid said during his first time viewing a New Japan Pro Wrestling that, “what really stood out to me, that this show, which I’d been told was an equivalent to a RAW, contained two matches that were better than basically everything WWE was putting out even on PPV. By this point in my fandom I’d realized that I cared more about the matches themselves than the angles and storylines surrounding them, so for me to discover this untapped (for me) mine of sheer in-ring quality made me instantly fall in love.”
Puroresu also offers a show oriented towards adults, unlike major American companies who generally cater to children, a view held by Francis Lane, a fan who has watched puroresu for over twenty years.
“Without question what immediately made me love Puro was Giant Baba and how he presented All Japan,” Lane says. “Growing up with the normal ‘wrestling’s fake,’ ‘how can you watch that crap’ stuff. Baba presented this incredibly realistic product that was more presented like boxing than what I viewed pro wrestling as. Lord James Blears reading the proclamation before every Triple Crown title match, post-match interviews, the realistic selling, and the brutal work. In my mind this was pro wrestling I could be proud to be a fan of, not be embarrassed about like the cartoonish WWF.”
“Every company and every wrestler are different,” Lowe says. “One of my biggest gripes with current mainstream wrestling is that everyone works the same. For instance, they sucked the KENTA right out of Hideo Itami. He’s just a Japanese guy now, a far cry from being the best wrestler of the 2000s. Daisuke Sekimoto is different than Akira Tozawa who is different from Shinsuke Nakamura who is different from Minoru Tanaka. How many guys on the WWE roster are truly different from each other? Not very many.”
Despite having different reasons it is apparent that the passion of Japanese wrestling fans transcends language and distance.
Advances in technology have allowed for fans to access content from their favorite companies with relative ease. New Japan Pro Wrestling started offering paid streaming for live events in 2012 on Ustream. This proved to be so popular that the company launched its own on demand service, New Japan World, in late 2014.
Prior to this development fans often had to wait months for shows to release on DVD or illegally uploaded to file sharing web sites.
Lane recalls a time before the internet when the only access to Japanese wrestling was found in Dave Meltzer’s writing in the Wrestling Observer or in ordering VHS tapes from the classified section of the famous dirt sheet.
“I started buying six hour TV comps of NJPW/AJPW at first from Joel Gertner then RF Video. The source of all of that footage during this era was Jeff Lynch, which I found out years later, and of course started getting tapes from him, needless to say the quality was incredible compared to the many generations dubbed tapes from other sources”, Lane recalled.
Japanese wrestling and its fans are not without their detractors though.
A common criticism of puro by mainstream fans is that the language barrier makes following Japanese promotions difficult.
Gunn says she does not share that view, ”The language really isn’t a problem, and a smart attentive fan can follow plot threads easily, as so much storytelling happens in the ring.”
Whether its Meltzer’s praise of Japanese women’s wrestling or legendary 411mania.com reviewer Larry Csonka’s high grades for New Japan shows, puro wrestlers and matches are often called overrated by some pockets of wrestling fans.
Gunn refutes this attitude as well, “It can be frustrating to see end of the year top ten lists saturated with Japanese names if you only watch American wrestling, and you could feel resentful. All I can do is reassure you that they’re well-deserved, and recommend you start looking up those names as soon as you can.”
Puro opponents also find issue with the fan base. Reid says he believes the critics think the fandom has an “elitist/hipster” vibe. At the same time, Lowe had high praise for the online puro community and said that it is “out there with answers to your questions and links to matches.”
Regardless of criticism no wrestling fan can deny that puro is the hottest commodity in wrestling today and its fans are deserving of the title hardest of the hardcore.