Professional wrestling. To the average person, those words conjure up images of steroid-injected meatheads throwing wildly misplaced punches and executing body slams on suspiciously bouncy ring mats. Pro wrestling has taken its place in the American pantheon as a hillbilly answer to the opera and a top-secret guilty pleasure for anyone else that can pass themselves off as “cultured.”
Whether or not it actually belongs in that place is a matter to be contested, especially considering that the market is nearly monopolized by World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE features a product rooted much more heavily in characters and storylines than it ever has been in what actually happens between the four corners. As a result, there is a very limited public awareness of the more athletic, hard-hitting style of professional wrestling popularized outside of the United States, primarily in Mexico and Japan.
In recent years, independent wrestling companies have made efforts to change that, spotlighting a new generation of exciting young wrestlers heavily influenced by the foreign styles that are more concerned with pushing the limits of their craft than they are with pushing their latest T-shirt design or personally-endorsed protein shake.
Of all of the companies promoting the “strong style” of professional wrestling, the Philadelphia-based Ring of Honor promotion presents what is arguably the best overall product of the bunch, even without the financial backing of similar promotions such as NWA: Total Non-stop Action, which will debut on Spike TV Oct. 3.
But during the weekend of Oct. 1 and 2, Ring of Honor will look to top all that with what is easily their biggest international guest spot to date. For two days only, the promotion will play host Kenta Kobashi, a Japanese heavyweight who rose to fame in the mid-90s for his legendary series of extremely hard-hitting matches in the All Japan pro wrestling promotion.
Kobashi may not seem like a big deal due to limited American exposure, but he does experience popularity in his home country similar to what “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock experience in America.
Kobashi is one of, if not the epitome of the strong style of wrestling ROH is trying to popularize statewide. These two dates, Oct. 1 in New York City and Oct. 2 at the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, are Kobashi’s first-ever stateside appearances, and given that Kobashi has been taking inhuman beatings for the past 15 years, they may very well be his only appearances.
To make things even more once-in-a-lifetime, both venues are around 1,000 person capacity, an enormous change for someone like Kobashi, who has headlined shows in front 60,000-plus at the Tokyo Dome. When asked to elaborate about the importance of having Kobashi competing on American soil for Ring Of Honor, Temple alum and ROH promoter Gabe Sapolsky affirmed just how special this opportunity is.
“I actually remember living in the Temple Towers and watching Kobashi tapes for the first time. If you told me then that I would have the opportunity to book him one day I would have thought you were crazy. It is really a dream come true to have Kobashi in Ring of Honor. He is one of the most influential wrestlers ever, especially when it comes to the athletic style of ROH. I remember there being a lot of wrestling fans at Temple when I went there in the early 90s, and if the attitude of Temple students is still the same today, I think they will really enjoy this rare opportunity to see Kobashi in action.”
When he steps inside the ring in Philadelphia, Kobashi will be a part of a very unique tag-match situation. On one side, Kobashi will team with one of the most vicious performers in wrestling today, Brooklyn-born Homicide; and across the ring from them will be Kobashi’s opponent from their one-on-one match in New York on Oct. 1, Samoa Joe and his partner, Low Ki. Whether you’re a wrestling die-hard, casual follower or just a curious observer, the high-energy atmosphere of the ROH live experience will surely win you over, 1-2-3.
Slade Bracey can be reached at email@example.com.