Pro-wrestlers open the lock in Tokyo, one suplex at a time

June 28, 2020



In Japan, the Covid-19 outbreak left in its wake a crushed Olympic dream. Now professional wrestling is helping unlock the country, one suplex at a time.

While it tried, and failed, to avoid the Tokyo Games postponement to next year, the Japan government seems to have successfully flattened the curve, with daily cases below a hundred since May 15. The nationwide state of emergency was lifted on May 25, and last Monday, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) — the largest promotion in Japan — held its first show since the lockdown, becoming the first sport to restart in the country.

Pro-wrestling’s return, facilitated by working closely with the sports and health ministries, also highlights cultural differences between Japan and America.

While promotions worldwide continued to run shows through the pandemic — most notably WWE which held its annual WrestleMania event over two nights behind closed doors in April — NJPW and most other Japanese promotions effectively shut shop late February.

“The responsibility we hold as an industry leader in Japan and worldwide weighs heavily on our shoulders; ultimately this was the only sensible decision we could have taken as a responsible corporate citizen,” NJPW president Harold Meij tells The Indian Express. “A business must be viewed as a long-term entity, and I believe our decision to side with caution over profit will in the long term be seen to have been the right one.”

It certainly wasn’t an easy one. On track for a record profit this year, NJPW had to cancel 56 events which left a huge dent in the revenue. The company executives, however, took pay cuts ranging from 15 to 95 per cent to shield the workforce.

Conversely, WWE, which also had a profitable quarter, released close to 30 workers – including wrestlers, producers, referees, and writers – in April; two days after being allowed to run shows as an “essential business” in Florida. On April 15, while WWE was busy announcing the layoffs, representatives of seven different companies in Japan met government officials to discuss the way forward and request testing kits and compensation for lost pay