Wrestling is Everywhere:
In almost every region of the world, there are professional wrestling organizations. The vast majority of these can be thought of as the equivalent of indy federations in the U.S. They typically do not cross any territorial borders, the wrestlers do not make much money and are typically not known outside of the wrestling business. The only countries in the world where the wrestling organizations are globally respected are the U.S., Mexico, and Japan.
The WWE is the biggest wrestling organization in the world. According to the WWE annual report, their programming can be seen in over 100 countries. No other wrestling organization comes close to this total. The WWE has been working hard to expand their global presence and this can be seen by the frequent overseas tours that the company embarks on.
This style of wrestling is popular in Mexico. If you were a WCW fan, then you probably remember seeing many of the Luchadore stars on Nitro. If you have never seen Lucha Libre, imagine a roster filled with wrestlers like Rey Mysterio. The wrestlers typically wear masks and are relatively small when compared to WWE wrestlers. They make up for their lack of size with high flying maneuvers that have made their way to the U.S. wrestling scene in the past decade.
Lucha Libre vs American Wrestling and the Legends of Lucha Libre:
In Lucha Libre, nothing is more important than a wrestlers mask. A wrestler would rather keep their mask than hold onto any title. A majority of the matches are 6 man tag team matches. There is a clear division between the faces (technicos) and heels (rudos). The most famous luchadores ever are El Santo, El Hijo Del Santo and Mil Mascaras.
Where to See Lucha Libre:
Starting in 2010, Lucha Libre has finally been made available in English. It can be seen every Friday night on MTV 2. Lucha Libre can also be seen on the Galavision network but the shows are telecast in Spanish. Lucha Libre has become more prevalent in American culture thanks to the cartoon series Mucha Lucha and the Jack Black movie Nacho Libre as well as the popularity of WWE star Rey Mysterio. Lucha Libre is not typically an option for most American wrestlers due to the different style of wrestling and monetary issues. When a wrestler gets released from the WWE, they very often wrestle in Japan.
Japanese wrestling is often referred to as Puroresu. Pro wrestling was introduced to Japan after WW 2 but did not become popular until Rikidozan became popular in the 1950’s. The Japanese style differs from the US in that it is typically portrayed as being real and the wrestlers work a very stiff style. The death match craze started in Japan in the 90’s. The matches usually do not have the good guy/bad guy angles. Matches are just athletic competitions between two men.
Current Japanese Wrestling Trends:
There are several wrestling organizations in Japan. The biggest is New Japan where the titles are known by the initials IWGP. Japanese wrestling is facing big pressure from the mixed martial arts federations like K1 and Pride. The WWE is also trying to make inroads to Japan. Tough American wrestlers (ex: Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody) can make more money in Japan than in the US. It is common for ex-WWE wrestlers to go to Japan).
Watching Japanese Wrestling:
Unlike Lucha Libre, there is no Japanese wrestling programming available to U.S. citizens. Tape trading of Japanese wrestling is very common and commercial tapes of Japanese wrestling can be found on wrestling specialty sites and at wrestling conventions. Most famous wrestlers have spent some time in Japan and it is interesting to see how they adopt to the style. The only drawback to these tapes is that they are in Japanese.
Famous Japanese Wrestlers:
Antonio Inoki is the most famous Japanese wrestler known to American fans. In 1976, he fought Muhammad Ali in an exhibition match that was seen world wide. In 1989, he became the first pro wrestler to be elected to office due to his popularity when he was elected to the Japanese House of Councils. In 2003, masked wrestler The Great Sasuke was elected to a political office and made international headlines by demanding that he be allowed to wear his mask at assembly meetings.
Sources Include: PWI Almanac, WWE Annual Report, Wrestling Information Archive, Puroresufan.com, Luchalibreusa.com, fwakanimation.com, & ESPN.com