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Embracing youth in wrestling...



I've recently started to gradually collect all AJW releases from mid-1990 through to the Dream Slam interpromotional era. I had a fair few to begin with; but prior to the summer of 1992 they were very sporadically spaced between events and, as I guess would be obvious, the idea is to see and plot the development of the top talent of that era; Hokuto, Aja, Toyota, Kyoko, Yamada... I mean as a twenty-three year old it's actually rather daunting to think of the ages of those girls at that time. Even Bull Nakano, who was an "over the hill veteran" by the time she worked WWF in 1994, was still only 26 having been born in 1968, albeit an eleven-year veteran.


Now of course, with its hierarchal structures Puroresu has always embraced rookies; the crowd accept that they won't be too good, they'll miss spots, they'll over-reach, they'll work too fast for their own good... but will eventually (assuming they grow to become a good talent as all the aforementioned did and countless others; not to mention men too) develop past that.


But it was really watching Takako Inoue against Mariko Yoshida from late '91 that really put the whole thing into perspective for me. Maybe you've had those matches yourself, where something just happens to you as a viewer and you have a form of epiphany during the course of the match. The match, for the record, is from the Grand Prix Final '91, August 18th, and for the AJ Title. I actually enjoyed the show as a whole although some of the matches felt slightly abridged; Kyoko and Manami were already showing signs of their great chemistry sprinting together, Bison Kimura and Aja Kong had a very focused match which stands out for the era for being so, and I seem to recall even the opener of all matches having far more spice and intensity to it than you'd expect.


But anyway, the match is a mess. Well... it's structured to a degree, Yoshida targetted the back IIRC, and the match swung totally on a missed dive from her which given their youthfulness and exurberance was a very fitting conclusion. I just realised though; both women were 21 years old, they debuted on the same show together in October of 1988, so were approaching their third anniversary of being wrestlers, and having a messy match where they scrap over everything and fly about the ring far too fast for their own good... was the totally right match for them to have.


In other places, other countries, wrestlers making their debuts, or wrestlers as rookies (outside of pushes as a "super rookie"), they're expected to wrestle as fully fledged professionals from the start. Naturally, they don't do it particularly well; they're green and inexperienced and lack the poise and control that more experienced talents have. They look poor in comparison, and the audience, aside from obviously being able to say so-and-so (veteran) looks mid-40s whereas so-and-so (rookie) looks about 20, are judging them at the same level.


One of the good things about British wrestling in the past was they would, too, embrace the youth of a Davey Boy Smith, say, who I have on tape as a fifteen year old wrestling a seventeen year old Bernie Wright (IIRC), a match that's very repetitive and not as polished as Jim Breaks, Johnny Saint, Marc Rocco or whomever... but the crowd can get behind them because they're presented as juniors, as rookies, as young... now it's apparent that they're young just by looking at them, like I said, but by average most wrestlers debut in their early 20s when they're somewhat more physically developed and may look older.


If you embrace the youthfulness, though, recognise their inexperience and present them to the crowd as people learning their craft as opposed to treating them no different to vastly more experienced veterans, you give the crowd another, and very strong, reason to care for them. Crowds will always give young guys a broader scope and bigger room for error, if they're presented as the young guys/gals that they are. And in time it pays off when people get to watch them grow. Even in the WWF/E, one argument people always made for Bret and Shawn was how the crowd could invest in them more having watched them develop from young talents (much moreso in Shawn's case who started with the company at 21 I believe) into seasoned, very talented wrestlers. It's the same with Edge and Christian, Matt and Jeff Hardy. Look at how over Mikey Whipwreck got in ECW without hitting any offensive move for months. Their journey resonates with people and nothing helps an audience associate with anyone, be it in wrestling, acting, music or what have you, than feeling they too have grown up with them.


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