As wrestling tries to power through the Coronavirus outbreak by hosting empty arena events, Kazuchika Okada has taken some time to reflect on just how important an audience is to the presentation of professional wrestling and how valuable they are to the athletes themselves when providing motivation.
Speaking with the official website of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Okada opened up about missing performing in front of an audience and being eager to show the world the power of professional wrestling once everything is allowed to resume normal procedures.
“It’s hard to explain. We’re not entirely off, right? We don’t have matches- I’m not sure whether the right word is cancellation or postponement- but it’s not a case of ‘right, time to go on holiday!’. I have to stay in top shape, but it’s hard to exactly put my finger on what it is I should be doing. At any rate, just standing in that Dojo ring, it hits you: this is home,” he began. “It’s not just us, of course. It’s baseball, it’s soccer, it’s concerts. In the situation we’re in, we have to cancel or postpone anything that has people gathering in large numbers, and there’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t just keep going because people seem healthy enough, because we could end up spreading this without knowing it. If one of our wrestlers gets it, they could carry it with them without even knowing. We kind of have to accept this for what it is, but we have to be ready for when we come back, to really show the power that professional wrestling has again.”
Continuing on, Okada would comment on the current trend of professional wrestling companies running in front of empty arenas. His response was not quite as cut-and-dry as the response Kota Ibushi gave about this issue but he does share the same sentiment.
“Hmm. It’s not that we can’t do it,” Okada responded when asked about companies running empty arena events. “But wrestling involves a lot of punishment. A lot of bumps, a lot of moves you have to take from opponents. To not have that encouragement of a live crowd, I’m not sure how I’d deal with that. If someone takes a hell of a chop, say. You feel and hear that contact but there’s no reaction, no encouragement. I’m not sure in an empty environment that a wrestler can give all they have, and give any audience something they’d be happy with. I know the audience reaction is incredibly important to me. It’s a reaction from a live crowd that makes me know whether I’m having a good match.”
Okada would remark that his own character in front of no audience might be easier to defeat because of how much he draws on the energy of the people. He would also say that a comedy character like Toru Yano playing to an empty arena is something that nobody would want to see. Ultimately, Okada would urge the fans to save up their emotion for when NJPW can return to full strength, saying that he still wants to make 2020 a banner year for the sport of professional wrestling.
“Just save all that emotion up. It’s not like we’re going away forever. Not just the fans, but the wrestlers, the staff, all of us have a lot of pent up tension, and when the time’s right I want us all to release that, all at once. I think in a way, we can make 2020 a banner year for pro-wrestling, still.”
In Japan, there is some good news as some promotions are beginning to perform in front of audiences again. Learn more about that at this link.