I know what’s going to be on my tombstone, and there’s no getting around it: “Here lies Ozzy Osbourne, the ex-Black Sabbath singer who bit the head off a bat.” – Ozzy Osbourne
I want to talk to you about a man called EVIL. (Yes, that is his name and that is how it’s spelled.) If you’ve watched New Japan Pro Wrestling at any point over the past two years, you may have noticed a beefy dude walking to the ring looking like an extra from an Uwe Boll video game adaptation. That’s EVIL.
Known as the “King of Darkness,” EVIL is a member of the New Japan stable Los Ingobernables de Japon. He’s a former NEVER Openweight Champion and along with stablemates BUSHI and SANADA, he is also a three-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion.
On October 9, New Japan Pro Wrestling will hold King of Pro-Wrestling 2017, it’s annual October event. In the main event, IWGP Heavyweight Champion and all-around golden boy Kazuchika Okada will defend his title against EVIL.
King of Pro-Wrestling is one of New Japan’s four biggest shows of the year and it’s being held in Sumo Hall, one of the larger venues that New Japan runs. Historically the main event of this show has seen two main-event level wrestlers fighting for the IWGP Title, including Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, AJ Styles, Minoru Suzuki, & Naomichi Marufuji. EVIL is, at best, an upper-midcarder and while he has main evented a few smaller shows, EVIL has never headlined a show at the level of King of Pro-Wrestling. So to say this is a big deal for EVIL would be an understatement.
The upcoming match has had me thinking more and more about EVIL and my perception of him. Looking back, my perception of EVIL for a long time was surface-level.
Perception is a subjective concept. It’s based on our individual interpretations of a person or an event or an idea or anything else. Depending on our own knowledge, tastes, emotions, ways of critical thinking, or personal experiences, we perceive things differently than each other. That’s why human beings argue so much: We may be observing the same thing, but we’re not seeing the same thing.
Here’s an example:
I love Ozzy Osbourne. Not only am I a big fan of his music—both solo work and Black Sabbath–but I’m also a big fan of the man himself. He’s likable, funny, humble, open and honest, and passionate about his music. When I saw him perform with Black Sabbath last year, Ozzy was no less than the enigmatic frontman that I believed him to be. Between belting out Sabbath cuts like “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Snowblind,” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” Ozzy demonstrated his charismatic pull over the audience. He commanded us at multiple times to “Show me your fucking hands” and to “Get fucking louder.” We lovingly obliged.
Still, as much as we loved Ozzy, he probably loved us more. Ozzy has always been monumentally appreciative of his fans and his career. And that night was no different, as he took a moment to thank all the fans in attendance for supporting Black Sabbath throughout the years. Later in the show, Tony Iommi was performing a scintillating guitar solo during the song “Dirty Women.” What was Ozzy doing? Ignoring us. His focus was solely on Tony—body still, eyes transfixed, mouth agape—as the guitarist’s fingers effortlessly worked the strings. Eventually, Ozzy managed to turn his attention away from Tony to look at us, a huge smile etched on his face. He pointed at Tony as the solo continued. The message was clear: I am the luckiest motherfucker in the world that I get to be up here and play with this man.
Being an Ozzy fan—listening to his music, going to his concerts, reading interviews, seeing clips, and plowing through his autobiography twice—has undeniably shaped my perception of who Ozzy Osbourne is. Consequently, that means my perception of Ozzy is markedly different than those who are not such fans. There are plenty of people out there whose perceptions of Ozzy only scratch the surface. When people think of Ozzy Osbourne, they think of the wild madman who took an exorbitant amount of drugs and alcohol and bit the head off a bat. Or, if they’re from a younger generation, they think of the foul-mouthed, befuddled dad who needed subtitles on his American reality show even though he was speaking English.
I would not call these perceptions of Ozzy completely false, but I will say they cloud the bigger picture of who Ozzy is. They’re very surface-level, very tabloid headlines. The Ozzy Osbourne that I know has done a lot of crazy shit over the years. But he’s also a family man who deeply loves his wife and children. He’s a recovering addict who struggled for years to get sober for the betterment of his health and the health of those around him. He regrets a lot of the things he’s done under the influence and how it affected his life. And despite what certain groups may think, he is not and has never been a Satanist; he believes in God and prays every night before going out on stage. I’m not calling him a perfect man—Ozzy’s no saint, he’d be the first to tell you—but he’s more than meets the eye. That’s my perception of Ozzy, something decidedly more complete than what the average Joe might think.
When it comes to pro wrestling, the perception divide is no different.
You can look at it in the macro sense, with the divide occurring between the fans and the non-fans. We as wrestling fans understand that there is a lot of nuance and detail involved in pro wrestling; we wouldn’t be spending thousands of hours watching, reviewing, writing, and podcasting about it if there wasn’t. To the non-wrestling fan, they don’t see the nuance. They don’t dig deep into the soil like we do. They only see the surface-level. To them, wrestling is over-the-top, fake, phony, the male soap opera, or a dozen other catchwords that have been applied to pro wrestling over the decades. Their perception of wrestling is clouded from the details that make it rich and complex. And that angers us. It angers us because we know pro wrestling is so much more than what people think it is. When a celebrity calls pro wrestling “fake” on Twitter, wrestling fans don’t respond with calmness and civility and understanding; instead we go on the offensive, swarming at our target like a plague of locusts. It’s the way we operate: You go after what we love, we go after your neck.
You can also look at the perception divide in wrestling in the micro sense within the community of wrestling fans itself. There is no set way to “do” pro wrestling or to enjoy pro wrestling. Therefore some wrestling fans are going to perceive aspects of it differently than others. That’s why we argue about this wrestler or that angle or this promotion or that style of wrestling. Having such strong perceptions can make for entertaining conversations on 3-hour podcasts, but they can also be dangerous. Hold too strong to your perceptions and you run the risk of becoming clouded as well.
This brings me back to EVIL. When Takaaki Watanabe returned to New Japan as Tetsuya Naito’s new partner at King of Pro-Wrestling 2015, I was intrigued. I hadn’t seen much of his work during his excursion, but I found him to be a capable wrestler. Partnering him with Naito (who himself was becoming exciting again due to the LIJ turn) could only do Watanabe good.
Then, in a backstage promo, Naito gave Watanabe his new name: “King of Darkness” EVIL. I was a little taken aback by how on-the-nose it was (especially since his finishing move would also be called EVIL), but I told myself to wait for his first match before giving judgment.
The next month, EVIL faced Hirooki Goto at Power Struggle 2015. His entrance shook me. Not by how scary or disturbing it was, but rather by the goofiness of the whole affair.
EVIL came out from the back dressed in a black and purple silk robe, his head shrouded under his hood. I could barely make out the black eyeliner that surrounded his eyes. In his left hand he held a cartoonish-looking scythe, as if it was plucked directly out of an anime and into the real world. On his right hand, laser pointers were attached to his fingers. The lights in the arena went out and EVIL lifted his hand. Green lines of light emanated from his malicious digits, piercing the veil of night with their verdant glow.
To quote Gordon Cole from Twin Peaks:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some stuffed shirt. I enjoy my goofy wrestlers from time to time, even in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Wrestlers like Ryusuke Taguchi and Toru Yano have made me chuckle with their antics over the years. With EVIL, though, it was different. Here was a wrestler who was being brought in as Naito’s number two guy. He’s the hoss asskicker, he’s the muscle, he’s all that and a bag of chips. But here he was in his big debut and he’s dressed like a goofy 1993 WWF guy. Combine that with his over-the-top name and his catchphrase (“This is EVIL. EVERYTHING is EVIL!”) and I was left wondering how I was supposed to take him seriously.
That was my perception of EVIL from the beginning and I held that perception of him for a long time. I was steadfast in my belief that EVIL was too corny to be taken seriously as a badass wrestler. I never thought he stunk in the ring and I liked his matches to some extent, but I couldn’t get the goofiness of his attire out of my mind. It was this inability to truly take him seriously that kept my perception of him surface-level.
In 2017, I started to change my mind about EVIL. I don’t know exactly how it started. It’s not like I put “Think more positively about EVIL” on my new year’s resolution list. But as the year went on, my nagging obsession with EVIL’s outfit began to fade away. I focused more and more on what EVIL did rather than what he looked like. His team with BUSHI and SANADA gelled really well together and they put on a lot of fun trios matches for the NEVER 6-Man belts. He also had a nice little feud with Tanahashi.
By the time the G1 Climax rolled around, I was actually excited to see what EVIL was gonna bring to the table. As it turns out, EVIL not only brought the goods, he delivered a surplus. He had awesome matches with SANADA, Juice Robinson, and Michael Elgin, he beat Minoru Suzuki in less than ten minutes, and he had one of the best matches of the entire B Block against Kenny Omega. His biggest moment of the tournament came on night fourteen with his match against Kazuchika Okada. Going into the match, Okada was undefeated in the tournament and had not lost a singles match in a year. EVIL, out of the blue, dropped Okada with the EVIL STO and won a tremendous, hard-hitting contest that got the crowd on their feet. He then closed the show with a promo, his catchphrase, and entrance music.
This was the tipping point for my perception of EVIL. Something just clicked. And if I had any doubts about it, the final night of the G1 featured a match between CHAOS and LIJ. After the match, EVIL attacked Okada with chairs and put his foot on him.
That cemented it. I didn’t care about his attire or his name or anything like that. I had dug deeper and found the wrestler underneath the surface. Who better to embody the ungovernable spirit than a serious asskicker who refuses to look like a serious asskicker? And should you doubt his abilities as a serious asskicker, he will drop you like a rock. It was right there under my nose the entire time. And it’s this new perception of EVIL that makes me so excited to see him and Okada meet in their rematch at King of Pro-Wrestling.
It’s very hard to change your perceptions about someone. We can become so stuck in our ways that our opinions can become permanently ingrained in us. But it’s possible to change. Welcome to the darkness world, everybody.