On December 6, the new Joshi promotion Sukeban held its second-ever event. This event was connected to Art Basel, an international art fair making its annual stop in Miami, Florida. Because of this connection, most attendees were not your typical wrestling fans. While some fans were wearing New Japan, AEW, or other pro wrestling merchandise, over half the patrons didn’t appear to be particularly familiar with Sukeban or pro wrestling. The crowd was filled with people from the fashion world, influencers, gamers, streamers, and those just looking for a trendy or different experience while in town for Art Basel week. This resulted in the most diverse audience I’ve ever witnessed at a pro wrestling event regarding gender, race, and attire. Sport coats, dress shoes, high heels, dresses, and jewelry were common among the attendees. Others were styled in their own unique and elegant way. This was all combined with your typical pro wrestling T-shirt and hoodie crowd. The hybrid blend of wrestling and non-wrestling fans combined together set the stage for something special.

The venue for the event was just as unique as the audience composition. It was held in an outdoor skate park under the I-95 overpass. There were no seats available, so everyone stood for the entire show. Many climbed elevated portions of the skate park to gain a better vantage point of the ring. Booths were set up to sell food, merchandise, and beverages (which included a selection of Japanese beers and juice boxes filled with sake). A DJ booth was blasting dance music before and after the show, occasionally overpowered by a particularly obnoxious car or motorcycle accelerating onto the highway above. The vibe felt like they intended to hold a rave, but someone had set up a wrestling ring, and they just went with it. It really was an incredible atmosphere.

While the general audience may not have been overly familiar with Sukeban or pro wrestling in general, everyone was open-minded and willing to go along for the ride. Sukeban makes wrestling easy to understand for the unfamiliar. The wrestlers wear ornate and intricate face paint, hair pieces, masks, and costumes. The babyface and heel dynamics are easily distinguished based on the wrestlers ‘ aesthetic and demeanor. Every wrestler is in a group. Some are goth. Some are Harajuku girls. Some appear to be from the 1950s. Others are something else entirely, but their allegiances are observable based on similarities in their attire. The colorful costumes and characters instantly grabbed everyone’s attention, and their recognizable and upbeat entrance music excited the crowd for each match (though we were decidedly less excited to hear the Spice Girls tell us what they really really wanted the fourth time than we were the first).

Watching such a large group of people experience live pro wrestling for the first time was fascinating. Tropes like refusing a handshake or distracting the referee during a tag team match generated surprisingly strong heat (especially for the poor referee). On the other end of the spectrum, traditional spots like two heel tag partners running into each other or a babyface using a heel’s own tactics against them generated massive cheers of excitement. While the showmanship definitely captured their initial interest, the displays of athleticism and hard-hitting moves generated the strongest reactions of the night. I’ve never heard louder reactions to basic aerial moves. A woman near me yelled, “I want to try that!” after one wrestler landed a top rope cross body that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow at a WWE house show. Loud chops, stiff strikes, or running knees that didn’t show any light frequently generated visceral reactions and outbursts along the lines of “Holy crap, she really hit her!”

While portions of the audience did clear out as the two-hour show that started after 10 PM went deeper into the night, those who remained were getting more and more into the performances they saw and falling in love with the art form. When the babyface in the main event was making a comeback after the heel had cheated to gain an advantage, a woman standing next to me wearing a full fur coat exclaimed: “I get it now!”

As passionate hardcore fans, we spend so much time debating which wrestlers should win annual awards, which promotion has the best shows, whether booking decisions were good or bad, who’s really a draw, who deserves a push, etc. It’s easy to become jaded or forget the charm and simple things that made us fans in the first place.

This week, I was fortunate enough to re-experience that through the eyes of hundreds of people all at once.

Pro wrestling is the absolute best.

Powered by RedCircle