This match demands to be seen.

I don’t typically do this when I write reviews about matches but I truly must urge anyone who hasn’t seen this match to watch it first before reading on. I think there’s something truly special here in terms of an experience that is unique in wrestling. Few things in any medium or art form feel new and bold so finding something in that vein really should be experienced by all.

Watch it first then come back, please.

In 2013, a friend of mine took me to see the movie Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan by local director Lav Diaz. More than the actual content and plot of the film itself, I remember the actual viewing experience most of all. My friend and I watched it at the cinema and I had been warned ahead of time that the runtime went beyond the four hour mark.

One of Lav Diaz’s stylistic trademarks as a director is the use of long, extended shots that hold on moments in the film for minutes at a time whether or not actual plot is transpiring on screen. This explains the long runtime of his films but also creates a distinctly challenging experience for any viewer. For some, boredom will inevitably arise. But in the moment, while trying to make sense of it, such scenes can evoke a sense of focus and concentration on the movie that heightens the experience of viewing it. The act of watching a movie suddenly shifts from the passive to the active as stillness draws the eye in much more than frantic movement.

This is what came to mind when I watched the GHC Heavyweight Title match between Go Shiozaki and Kazuyuki Fujita.

The most notable aspect of this match is definitely the extended staredown that takes up the first half of this near hour long match. Shiozaki and Fujita use up 35 full minutes keeping their distance in the ring simply staring each other down. Shiozaki does so from the center of the ring while Fujita stands his ground in the corner, shifting only once to move to another side of the ring. The 35 minutes plays out in near silence as the show is being run in front of an empty Kouraken Hall. The only sounds come from the clicks of cameras and the light nudging to action from wrestlers at ringside as well as the referee.

In that 35 minutes, I found myself getting sucked in by the nothingness on display. There’s a hypnotic quality to seeing so little in a wrestling ring. Pure minimalism somehow mixed with the excess and grandeur of pro wrestling. Doing nothing in the most spectacular way possible. It was such a bold and compelling choice that I found myself far more involved in this half hour stillness than most ten minute opening segments in comparable matches elsewhere. In fact after a while, I couldn’t help but feel like the segment took on a satirical tone in its absurdity. It takes the often maligned uneventful first acts of many an epic title match and extending that to its unnatural and overblown extreme–making it fresh again in the process.

Of course, this segment could not possibly have existed without the extreme circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak. There’s simply no way that a segment like this could work in front of a Kouraken Hall crowd. It’s too much of a risk to run in front of a live audience who can provide their instant feedback. But in the controlled and quiet environment of an empty arena, something as risky as this is allowed to thrive.

So often, we hear about the ability of wrestler’s to feed off the crowd. To take the energy being given to them and amplifying it as a part of their performance. Here, we get exactly that. Without the crowd, what Fujita and Shiozaki have to feed off is silence. And they do it perfectly. Instead of fighting against and trying to futilely fill the void, they enhance and amplify it instead. It is truly stunning.

A lot of this, of course, is projection on my part. There’s no telling what the true intent of any of this was. But the fact that it struck such a chord with me and got me thinking not only on what I was seeing but even questioning the aesthetic of what good pro wrestling should look like means that it has an innate value for anyone to watch. Regardless of its intent, it is a provocative piece of pro wrestling in how it attacks both emotion and one’s critical faculties.

I dedicated so much time to discussing this segment only because these two wrestlers in turn dedicated so much time to it as well. It’s impossible not to talk about given the space that it consumes as part of this match. But don’t let all the talk about this particular aspect of the match take away from the fact that when these two do start going, it kicks unbelievable amounts of ass.

Kazuyuki Fujita is an absolute beast of a man. He’s wide, thick, and almost grotesquely shaped. When he starts laying in on Shiozaki, it runs a wide gamut of emotions. There’s the subtle almost dismissive violence of trying to smother Shiozaki by covering his mouth as they struggle on the mat, the hilarity of the man spitting hand sanitizer on Shiozaki or even trying to batter his way into the Kouraken Hall elevators, then the sheer visceral horror of a man trying to kick another person’s head off.

The magnitude and excellence of Fujita’s performance here does a lot to overshadow Shiozaki. In discussions of this match with two separate friends of mine, both found most of their issues with the defending GHC Heavyweight Champ in this match. Funnily enough, their problems with Shiozaki came from opposite ends of the spectrum with one not enjoying his offense and the other not enjoying his selling.

For me personally, Shiozaki was fine. Credit where it’s due, the man took an absolute beating at the hands of Fujita. The strikes that Shiozaki absorbed here were horrific especially those two head punts down the stretch. His lariats aren’t amazing by the end but the structuring of the match that made Fujita feel like such an insurmountable force making Shozaki fight from beneath helped me to overlook that.

What an absolute spectacle of a match. Ranging from peaceful silence to cacophonous violence, this is a title match that has an ambition that I truly don’t see being matched for a very long time. This might be too bold a claim to make in only the third month of 2020 especially when global level doom seems to loom on the horizon, but this is an early match of the decade candidate for me. It feels so far beyond anything else that I’ve seen this year and it will be near impossible to match.

It’s also an anomaly of a match that invites any and all opinions that will each have pretty much the same amount of validity. Anyone who says that 35 minutes of no action is both wasteful and boring is just as right as anything else I’ve said above.

But in the end, I return to the idea that this match must be seen.


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