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Puroresu versus Lucha Libre (a mock debate): Part 1

As long as I've been writing articles for my man Brandon, I've wanted to do one on Puroresu and Lucha Libre. I tried to get Rob Canzanella, whose definitely knows his lucha libre to debate myself on which style is better. Sadly, Rob said he liked puroresu enough that he did not want to put it down. So, I returned to the drawing board and finally found two pretty well qualified fans of puroresu and lucha libre respectively.

"Strong Style Machine" loves 1990s All Japan, which to many is the defining style in the Orient. In addition to AJPW, he is a fan of New Japan and NOAH as well as the juniors in Toryumon and Michinoku Pro and has seen his share of Joshi (women's wrestling) and garbage matches out of FMW, IWA, and Big Japan. His favorites include: Toshiaki Kawada, Shinya Hashimoto, Taiyo Kea, and Yuji Nagata for heavyweights and Shinjiro Otani, Koji Kanemoto, Minoru Tanaka, and Naomichi Marufuji for junior heavyweights.

"El Hijo Del Lucha" loves mid-90s AAA, which to many was the peak of lucha libre. In addition to that era of AAA, he likes certain aspects of AAA today and thoroughly enjoys CMLL. He's seen luchadors competing and making names for themselves in the US and Japan, but knows they shine best in Mexico. His favorites include: Atlantis, Oriental, Octogon, and El Hijo Del Santo for technicos and Dr. Wagner Jr., Blue Panther, Black Warrior, and Ultimo Guerrero for rudos.

RULES: Style A's history is presented very briefly, followed by Style B. Style A then presents a flaw of Style B, which Style B rebuts. Style B then presents a flaw of Style, which Style A rebuts. In the course of the debate both side will present three flaws of the other side and rebuttals to the three presented against them. The debate will end with closing statements by either side and conclusion by yours truly.

Strong Style Machine (opening): Japan is the birthplace of numerous great martial arts: Sumo, Judo, among others, all of which played a part in the current state of puroresu. The man who made the sport popular is the great Rikidozan, a former sumo, who toured the US and upon his return to Japan formed the Japan Wrestling Alliance in 1953. Shortly after a women's wrestling group is started. The JWA brought in Kanji (Antonio) Inoki from Brazil and Shohei "Giant" Baba from baseball. After Rikidozan was stabbed and died in 1963, JWA fell apart with Inoki starting Tokyo Pro and later planning a coup among other promotions launching. In `71, New Japan was formed and Baba left JWA and started All Japan, JWA folds shortly after. New Japan developed a relationship with the WWF and All Japan did so with the NWA. Both promotions' styles developed out of this with New Japan using a basic heavyweight style and developing junior heavyweights starting with Tiger Mask; All Japan adheres to an advanced form of the Heavyweight style with realism being the focus. Several new groups started focusing on different aspects: UWF/UWFI/RINGS (shoot-style), FMW (garbage), UWA/Michinoku Pro (lucharesu), SWS (star appeal), JWP/LLPW (Joshi). While some of the groups are gone and some have formed in their stead, the major occurrence happened when AJPW president, Mitsuharu Misawa and the majority of the company's native talent leave and form Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Today, New Japan, All Japan, and NOAH are the major three promotions all with different approaches like the independent that are still around.

El Hijo Del Lucha (opening): In 1933, a group of American wrestlers toured Mexico and helped get the ball rolling. Don Salvador Lutteroth formed Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre, which is the oldest promotion in the world. Lucha Libre matches were unlike any other in the world and the masked wrestlers were as well. This paved the way for legendary mask and hair matches, which cumulates any great feud. Stars were quickly born like Charro Aguayo, Tarzan Lopez, and El Gladiador, but the greatest of all came along in the 40s, when El Santo debuted. Formerly Mexico's most hated rudo, El Santo, the wild brawler, joined up with Gory Guerrero, a sound technician, to form "La Parejara Atomica." The duo became huge and when Santo defeated Bulgarian Pete Pancoff, he became a national hero. Certainly the most acclaimed pro wrestler in their homeland; El Santo was god-like with his wresting and legendary horror films. He and Gory Guerrero were pitted against legendary rudo team, Blue Demon and Black Shadow. Another promotion, UWA, and young talent like Mil Mascaras, El Canek, El Solitario, and Perro Aguayo began giving EMLL and the old guard problems. El Santo unmasked and died, which was a major blow to Lucha Libre. EMLL/CMLL remained the promotion in Mexico, until the mid-1990s. Around this time, CMLL's top star, Konnan El Barbaro, and Antonio Pena left the company to start AAA. The two used hot young talent, instead of relying on the drawing power of veterans. Between 1993 and 1996, AAA was the hottest promotion in the world. After most of its top talent sought employment in the US, AAA nearly collapsed. Today, CMLL gives the fans solid traditional-style matches and the veterans shine, while AAA continues to look to younger talent and has tried to adapt an Americanized version of Lucha Libre.

Strong Style Machine (exhibit 1): Submissions. I can't get over how instantaneously wrestlers tap out to submission holds in Lucha Libre. Not only are they usually ridiculous arm or leg entanglements, but both technicos and rudos give up almost before they're on all the way. How is anyone supposed to buy a technico being the ultimate superhero if he can't stand a second of pain? Or that the rudos are these rough n' tough bad asses if they are screaming for mercy when they can't get their arms free? Submissions are just one of the many unrealistic characteristics of lucha libre that kill pro wrestling's credibility as a sport in Mexico.

El Hijo Del Lucha (rebuttal 1): Lucha Libre is an athletic display of moves and holds, among other things. It is like a dance, not like boxing or karate. Everyone knows wrestling is not a real contest, so why insult the fans' intelligence by passing it off as real? Lucha submissions are just demonstrations of crazy holds, which obviously could not be used in real combat, but could a powerbomb or a suplex? No, so why should submissions be any different? Lucha matches have a certain flow and to use a variety of "realistic" holds just to make the match seem more like a mixed martial arts fight or something is meaningless. Why not give the fans more bang for their buck, then give them what looks like a real fight that isn't?

El Hijo Del Lucha (exhibit 1): Pacing. You mentioned how submissions should have some realism to them. Most fans don't watch wrestling because of its realism; they watch it for the spectacle and illusion of violence. People can watch real fights in UFCs, Prides, etc. In fact, MMA hardcores often find pro wrestling to be foolish and fake. Why should we try and appeal to those fans by making things realistic, it still doesn't make it real. Puroresu is too obsessed with making fights seem like authentic competition, which everyone knows it's not. Real fights are usually boring anyway, people either win in the first minute or the fight goes to half an hour of stalemate grappling. Wrestling bridges the gap between the two, so why should it try and duplicate the flaws of those types of fights? Having a start and stop match go on for thirty minutes undermines that idea. When guys spend forever selling a move, working over a body part, or keeping on a hold, it's boring.

Strong Style Machine (rebuttal 1): Wrestling, if you did not know, is a real sport and maybe the oldest competitive sport in the world. When "Strangler" Lewis began doing worked matches in the 20s, he did not intend pro wrestling to be some elaborate mixture of Hollywood and sport, he wanted to offer the fans a more concise package of what wrestling is all about. Pro wrestling today is so far removed from that, though companies like RINGS and UWFI, which are part of puroresu are the closest thing to that style of wrestling, except maybe they incorporate striking. Adding realism to wrestling is not a flaw; it is part of the magic. How better to create an illusion than have it be as close to the real thing as possible. That's why there are so many fans of garbage wrestling, they know the blood and bumps are real. Realism is what suspends the imagination.

Strong Style Machine (exhibit 2): Strikes. To make fans believe what they are seeing is more real than total nonsense; you have to have some things be as real as possible. And aside from a very few luchadors, the punches, kicks, and chops of lucha are generally so weak, they're hardly believable. You can watch a technico hit a rudo with everything in their arsenal and the rudo just pops him one and gets the advantage. There is no realism in that, unless the rudo is a hard-hitter, which is usually obvious in the punch that he is not. Then to use a barrage of pulled stomps to get a win, how believable is that? The worst has to be the spot where the technico kicks the rudo in the leg as he runs by sending him flying into the ropes or sometimes all the way to the floor. These fake looking strikes hardly suspend the imagination of audiences. Surely fans of lucha libre have seen enough De La Hoya fights, so that they know what's real and what isn't.

El Hijo Del Lucha (rebuttal 2): Lucha Libre has nothing to do with two guys pounding the hell of one another, it is entertainment, not actual violence. Pro wrestling in Mexico is supposed to be choreographed fighting, not real fighting with a predetermined winner. Everyone knows wrestling is not a competitive sport, but rather an exhibition of athleticism. You mentioned boxing; well you don't see unrestrained brawls in exhibitions. As for saying rudo's punches and kicks are "unbelievable," why shouldn't they be? If you take two well-trained athletes and one punches another in the face as hard as he can, it will knock him out or at least daze him; that's not what pro wrestling is about. And the technico kick spot is called a "segadora" and the purpose of it is to give the technico an exiting momentum-changing spot. Like how the rudo's punch is sudden and almost unfair. Lucha Libre is playing the face-heel or technico-rudo dynamic, unlike puroresu.

Comeback next week for Part 2.

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