Listen, 2017 wasn’t one the best years in history. Pretty much the entire planet experienced some kind of event that ensures last year will not be remembered fondly. A bit of paranoia and some questionable politics have driven a lot of countries to close their borders and to ignore other countries and cultures. And if you ask me, they’re missing out.
If you need a great example of the benefits of cultural exchange and global unity, you need to look no further than professional wrestling
Look at the story of current NXT Champion Andrade Cien Almas. Being part of a legendary wrestling family, he probably could have had a cozy career in Lucha. Yet, he chose not to take the easy route that was laid out in front of him. Going to Japan and honing his craft with masters of this business such as Jushin “Thunder” Liger and Tiger Mask, he became a better in-ring performer. He combined the character work and sheer spectacle of lucha with the Strong Style that New Japan Pro Wrestling is known for. Without Japan, we wouldn’t have had one of Mexico’s best performers of the last few years, and we certainly wouldn’t have the now-global wrestling juggernaut knows as Ingobernables.
You know the rest of the story. After being on top across both sides of the Pacific, Andrade chose to sign with WWE. In the beginning he was getting “You can’t wrestle” chants. He could wrestle, just not in American style, and that means the WWE style. A year later, and with a lot of help from Zelina Vega, he’s one of the most well-rounded performers in the WWE who combines a look taken straight from Mexican Pachucos, tossed with a bit of strong style, all while perfectly understanding the psychology and production style of WWE.
The open culture and global community of pro wrestling made it possible for Andrade Almas to become an international star.
In the crazy world of pro wrestling, a global environment is beneficial to everyone involved. Japan helped create one of Mexico’s greatest lucha performers of this generation, and Mexico returned the favor in the form of Tetsuya Naito when he was sent to CMLL on his excursion. The version of Naito that won the G1 Climax Tournament in 2013 was a great performer in the ring, but he had the charisma of a slice of wet bread. It took a trip to Lucha Land for him to truly develop a character and to become…Tranquilo (wish he hadn’t lost it at WrestleKingdom, but that’s a story for a different day).
Think about all of the performers that have truly grown and blossomed because of their time spent abroad and because of their willingness to learn from people from other cultures. Without Dragon Gate, we wouldn’t have Neville or Ricochet. Toni Storm became a megastar thanks to her time in Stardom. Timothy Thatcher is one a whole different level after joining the European wrestling scene. Hell, despite his awful gimmick, without Total Nonstop Action, know we wouldn’t have the Okada in NJPW that we have now.
Knowing no borders makes wrestling better. The constant and persistent cultural exchange in this business creates better performers, better shows, and better stories: global unity is good for everyone.
This part of the business is so important that a lot of companies have it institutionalized. The working relationship between Ring of Honor, New Japan, CMLL, and RevPro is constantly generating great matches and building the stars of the future through excursions. Look no further than the Tempura Boyz. They needed that phase in order to become Roppongi 3k.
And this is by no means a new phenomenon. Vader, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, The Great Muta, Masahiro Chono, Sabu, The Steiners, just to name a few, are legends in part because of what they learned in a country that wasn’t theirs.
Want a great showcase? Well, FantasticaMania starts January 12th. CMLL will be traveling to NJPW for what’s one of my favorite events of the year. And while it’s only a 10 day tour, you can almost see everyone level up by the end of it.
Plus, Fuego is going, so you’ll probably get to see Taguchi try to dance a cumbia. And, trust me, that’s always a great thing
So, even in a dark time for the human race, wrestling can be a shining example of what’s good in the world.
Who would have thought?