The Other Major Sport Signing Last Week
July 15, 2014 7:32 AM   Subscribe

While everyone was distracted by LeBron James returning to Cleveland, World Wrestling Entertainment pulled off an even bigger coup* by signing seven-time Global Honored Crown champion KENTA. Kenta Kobayashi (he capitalizes his ring name to differentiate himself from his mentor, Kenta Kobashi) was one of the biggest stars of Japan’s Pro Wrestling Noah promotion before resigning in April, leading some to wonder whether he would be returning to the bigger All Japan Pro Wrestling. Instead, Hulk Hogan personally signed Kobayashi to a developmental contract while on a WWE event in Osaka.

Kobayashi will be working for the NXT "minor league" in Orlando at first, to adapt his puroresu strong-style to WWE's style. Kobayashi had a tryout at WWE's Performance Center in January, but said that it was more or less a "fantasy camp" experience:
I just did not want to regret later about something I haven’t tried, so I used my time off to participate in the WWE workout.
Japanese wrestlers have been trekking across the Pacific for decades to "compete" in the U.S., but have historically been relegated largely to "evil foreigner" or comedy roles rather than developing into actual characters (the bread and butter of WWE-style American professional wrestling, to which athletic ability is always secondary). And, as pointed out by Dion Beary in The Atlantic, WWE has long had a race problem**. Beary talks mostly about how no African-American has ever held the WWE primary world championship, but no Japanese wrestler has either (Yokozuna was often billed as being from "The Land of the Rising Sun" and used Japanese iconography, but Rodney Anoia was Samoan).

* -- "Bigger" in the sense of… well, not at all, but this is wrestling, and everything is BIG.

** -- There are a few quibbles that can be made with Beary’s article, particularly his dismissal of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but the point is compellingly made.
posted by Etrigan (28 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's the general feel of the WWE these days? I loved pro wrestling as a kid when it was all fun but was badly turned off by the crassness of the 90's. Which way's it leaning now?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2014


I thought the big signing of last week was Suarez by Barcelona.
posted by biffa at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


What's the general feel of the WWE these days? I loved pro wrestling as a kid when it was all fun but was badly turned off by the crassness of the 90's. Which way's it leaning now?

Technically, WWE is putting out a PG/PG-13 product. Most of the craziness of the Attitude Era is diminished: there is less foul language and sexuality. Even the physical violence is lessened, as they don't intentionally bleed, they don't do head shots with chairs, and so on. However, there is still some latent racism, misogyny, and and childish humor. I just yell at the TV when it occurs, since it's mostly stupid.

I'll continue the practice of directing people to Brandon Stroud's writing, especially the Best and Worst entries (covering most of the WWE shows). All of his wrestling writing has been moved from With Leather into a dedicated blog: With Spandex.
posted by bonje at 8:11 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


What's the general feel of the WWE these days? I loved pro wrestling as a kid when it was all fun but was badly turned off by the crassness of the 90's. Which way's it leaning now?

It's not as bad as the Attitude Era of the '90s, but there's still some level of crassness and problematicness.

As noted in the Atlantic piece, race is still very much Not Done Well. It doesn't help things that the Russia-vs-black-Americans angle Beary talks about has somehow become worse, with Tea Party heel (he uses the Gadsden Flag in his entrance video) Jack Swagger turning face to take on Rusev without changing any other part of his schtick. So he's still anti-immigrant, it's just that this particular immigrant he's anti- is a heel. It's not explicitly "Oh look, a third-tier white guy is going to save us from the scary foreigner," but it's damn close.

There was also a recent tasteless mud-wrestling vignette (discussed here). As always, it's one-step-forward-one-step-back.
posted by Etrigan at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2014


KENTA's signing with WWE is exciting, but I am far more hyped for the all-but-certain WWE signing of Kevin Steen later this month after he concludes his final Ring of Honor dates.
posted by mightygodking at 8:13 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


At the end of the day, they're not going to push someone who can't cut a promo. And KENTA, for all his trips over to work the States, does not really speak English.
posted by parliboy at 8:14 AM on July 15, 2014


At the end of the day, they're not going to push someone who can't cut a promo.

Brock Lesnar can't cut a promo to save his life and he conquered the Undertaker's streak at WrestleMania. If you have physical presence/charisma, you don't need to talk: they'll get Paul Heyman (or someone similar) to be your manager/agent/personal advisor/etc. (They're doing that right now with Antonio Cesaro, and Claudio Castagnoli wasn't that bad a talker in the first place.)
posted by mightygodking at 8:20 AM on July 15, 2014


KENTA is a good get, and I'm feeling very cautiously optimistic. I kind of feel that he's WWE's way of saying "Oh, you miss CM Punk? Well, check out this sweet shit!" Already the wrestling forums are blowing up with discussions of how the WWE is going to address that two of his signature moves have already been popularized in the US by a couple of WWE performers (CM Punk and Daniel Bryan).

If they use him to his full potential, the sky's the limit. On the other hand, Taka Michinoku was as talented a wrestler as has ever crossed the Pacific, and creative just didn't know what to do with him. I personally thought that the Kai En Tai INDEED gimmick was both a hilarious mockery of the entire concept of the evil foreigner gimmick (because they weren't actually evil at all) and a clever work-around for the disadvantage that Taka and Funaki had in terms of all-important mic work, but I understand why some people were upset by it.

I think we'll have a better chance of KENTA shining if Vince retires and Trips takes over (although there will still be the Kevin Dunn hurdle to get past), because NXT has been fantastic lately. I'm curious where KENTA will end up, because he seems like too big a name for NXT, but it has the style for which he's best suited.

Put him in a program with Sami Zayn. Put him in a program with Sami Zayn. Please, God, put him in a program with Sami Zayn.

At the end of the day, they're not going to push someone who can't cut a promo.

I'd like to introduce you to a guy named MIKE LIENTBROCKLESNAR.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:22 AM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


The main problem with the WWE these days is that they have one megastar (John Cena) and no one else remotely on that level, and they're stuck in a loop. The old guard are getting older and many of them are strictly part-timers or once-a-year guys due to age, injuries, concussions or all three.

While I'd like to see Steen, Zayn, KENTA or Prince Devitt pushed to the moon, I'll believe it when I see it.
posted by delfin at 8:31 AM on July 15, 2014


The main problem with the WWE these days is that they have one megastar (John Cena) and no one else remotely on that level, and they're stuck in a loop.

That's always been the case in boom times, though -- Hogan birthed the modern WWF, Austin carried it on his back until he could hand it off to the Rock, and now we have Cena. He's not the cause of the problem, he's just the symptom that Creative is in a tailspin after CM Punk and Daniel Bryan both went home.
posted by Etrigan at 8:40 AM on July 15, 2014


he's just the symptom that Creative is in a tailspin after CM Punk and Daniel Bryan both went home

While the show is moderately boring right now, I don't think they're in a tailspin at all. They're very clearly building up the former Shield members - particularly Roman Reigns, but Dean Ambrose might eclipse Reigns if allowed to do so - to main event level, and unlike the Ryback fiasco where they pushed too hard too soon they're doing it steadily to make the build as organic as possible.
posted by mightygodking at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2014


Any new talent that has a chance of bumping Adam Rose and/or Fahnnndahnnngo off of my TV on Monday nights is a good acquisition in my book.
posted by kimberussell at 8:49 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


They're very clearly building up the former Shield members - particularly Roman Reigns, but Dean Ambrose might eclipse Reigns if allowed to do so - to main event level, and unlike the Ryback fiasco where they pushed too hard too soon they're doing it steadily to make the build as organic as possible.

The closest Roman Reigns has ever come to a solo PPV match was 3:40 at the end of the Survivor Series last year. That's it. He hasn't proven that he can carry a match yet, and they're seriously considering putting the belt on him. I love the guy (not as much as I love Ambrose), but that's a tailspin. They're panicking, and while WWF/E has done some amazing shit when panicking, more often than not, they revert to form (viz Cena).
posted by Etrigan at 9:00 AM on July 15, 2014


KENTA's signing with WWE is exciting, but I am far more hyped for the all-but-certain WWE signing of Kevin Steen later this month after he concludes his final Ring of Honor dates.

I'm just hoping they don't water down Steen's style, my chief concern being the removal of the package piledriver
posted by smackwich at 9:00 AM on July 15, 2014


And, as pointed out by Dion Beary in The Atlantic, WWE has long had a race problem

That article was sad. It's weird because when I was into wrestling, me and my stepbrother would cheer for guys like Mr T and Junkyard Dog. They seemed to us to be no different than any other wrestler like Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant. I guess they may have been stereotypes as well for all I know, I was pretty young at the time.
posted by Hoopo at 9:02 AM on July 15, 2014


I guess they may have been stereotypes as well for all I know

JYD wasn't a stereotype - he was just a big tough black guy who was really popular with kids, and so popular in fact that he was drawing away heat from Hulk Hogan, who was the moneymaker, so he got pushed down the card in response.

Mr. T is a stereotype of Mr. T and Mr. T alone.
posted by mightygodking at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2014


JYD wasn't a stereotype...

He came to the ring in a dog collar with a chain. They could have invented the word "troubling" for JYD. Plus a lot of his moveset was headbutts, which has long been a dog-whistle in wrestling. Ever notice how it's almost exclusively non-white wrestlers (African-American or Samoan-American, for the most part) who use headbutts, and the exceptions are mostly crazy white guys (Al Snow and Mankind)?
posted by Etrigan at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2014


It sounds like this contract will be good for the WWE, and let the whole narrative universe make some steps forward. Good. But in terms of shakeups, this doesn't hold a candle to Bully Demise's recent signing.
posted by kafziel at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2014


Ever notice how it's almost exclusively non-white wrestlers (African-American or Samoan-American, for the most part) who use headbutts

No. The use of headbutts is cross-racial in wrestling - Harley Race used them, Jerry Lawler used them, even Ric Flair used them.

You might be thinking of the never headbutt a Pacific Islander trope, which is slightly racist but also sort of awesome in that it gives Pacific Islander wrestlers an effective superpower.
posted by mightygodking at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


...thus causing Fandango to dance.
posted by vbfg at 9:46 AM on July 15, 2014


The use of headbutts is cross-racial in wrestling - Harley Race used them, Jerry Lawler used them, even Ric Flair used them.

Yes, there are counterexamples. But you can name a few white wrestlers who used headbutts as part of their repertoire, while it's hard to name a black wrestler who didn't use them, and for most of them, it was a finisher. Bobo Brazil, Johnny Kwango, Shag Thomas, Freight Train Jones, Sweet Daddy Siki, Kamala, Tony Atlas... seriously, you have to look to find an African-American wrestler from before the present day who didn't use headbutts as a primary weapon.

You might be thinking of the never headbutt a Pacific Islander trope, which is slightly racist but also sort of awesome in that it gives Pacific Islander wrestlers an effective superpower.

Seriously? Is it also sort of awesome that blacks are naturally athletic, or that Jews are good with money, or that Asians are good at math?
posted by Etrigan at 10:10 AM on July 15, 2014


It's a pity CM Punk left, they could have had a massive feud over who gets to use Go To Sleep.
posted by PenDevil at 10:39 AM on July 15, 2014


More and more I wish the WWE would spend real time pushing a championship other than the WWE World Heavyweight. Bring back a cruiser/light heavy weight. Have people act like they care about the US or IC other than as "oh, ok, I'll carry this around for a while though clearly I should be competing for the big one".
posted by jermsplan at 10:58 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've never understood the actual structure of how the various belts work. Like, I know there's a Big Best Belt To Rule Them All Belt, and an Intercontinental Champion Belt, and maybe some other belt, too, apparently? Are there multiple circuits in the WWE? How does one qualify for the Intercontinental Championship Belt, and why shouldn't that give you a shot at the Super Big Champion Belt or whatever?
posted by Hoopo at 1:46 PM on July 15, 2014


Right now there is the WWE World Heavyweight championship belt, the Intercontinental Belt, the US Belt, Tag Team belts, and the Divas (women's) belt. There was a second heavyweight championship belt, which was the result of splitting the roster in two a while back, but that belt was unified with the current World Heavyweight Championship belt (aka retired) in December of 2013.

There is no rhyme or reason to how the belts work, other than they're used to build feuds between wrestlers. Basically, as long as you are a male, you qualify for any belt (except Divas) at any time. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt is usually reserved for the big guys (size, strength and/or popularity - naturally exceptions apply.) The IC and US titles scale down from that and usually go to the mid-to-upper card guys.

Take my current favorite wrestler at the moment, Alberto Del Rio. He held the current WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt (and the retired one, too) twice. He's a big guy. But he's not one of the best or most popular wrestlers right now so there's no room for him at the top. So he was entered into a tournament to win the U.S. title. Didn't win. My memory's spotty, but he may have been in a competition to win the IC title after that. Then, he was entered into a tournament to win a guaranteed title shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Title. Didn't win. Now he's entered into another tournament (battle royal) to win the IC title. Like I said, no rhyme or reason.
posted by kimberussell at 4:00 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The original reason for the two-tiered belts comes from the regional territories. Back when the NWA was the "true" World Championship, territories had their own non-world titles -- the Georgia Heavyweight Championship in GCW, the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship in MACW, etc.

So if you were a regional wrestling promoter, you had your local champion under contract in your territory. The NWA World Heavyweight Champion (generally a heel) would occasionally come barnstorming into your territory, where he would briefly feud with your top babyface, who would come thisclose to taking the World Championship off that dastardly out-of-towner, who would run back to where he came from with his tail between his legs (or, more likely, he would run to the next territory on the circuit, lather, rinse, and repeat).

When the WWWF became the WWF and started destroying the territory system, it kept the idea of a secondary belt, for a few reasons:
First (and probably most important), to give your up-and-comers a tryout. Is Curtis Axel ready for the big time? Give him the Intercontinental Championship to see how the crowds respond.
Second, to give yourself a draw for the B-team house shows. People will pay to see Jake Roberts or Ricky Steamboat come thisclose to taking the Intercontinental Championship away from the Honky Tonk Man in the main event of a house show in South Carolina while Hulk Hogan defends the World Championship in the main event of a house show in Oregon on the same night. (Honky has long claimed that he was selling tickets comparable to Hogan's A-team circuit when they were the two solo champions in the WWF.)
Third, like the World title, it's a ready-made feud-making machine. There's no need to gin up a fight between Cesaro and Kofi Kingston if Cesaro has the U.S. Championship. You just decide that Kingston wants it, and set them off against each other. A match between two mid-carders becomes a Championship Match.
Fourth, to massage egos. You only have one World Champion, and odds are that your top faces are engaged with that at any given moment, so you put the U.S. title on Sheamus to make him feel like a valued member of the team.
Fifth, to make stables more important. Last year, the Shield held the Tag Team Championship and the U.S. Championship, cementing them as the heel faction. The Four Horsemen were legendary in protecting each other's title reigns; ditto the various people under Jimmy Hart's management.

The U.S. and Intercontinental titles were show-exclusive in the Brand Extension days, but no one's had the guts to pull the trigger on only having one of them since then, because obviously, if having one secondary solo title is a good idea, clearly having two secondary solo titles is a great idea.
posted by Etrigan at 6:52 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Battleground recap etcetera:

Preshow: Adam Rose over Fandango. I really want to like Adam Rose more. Maybe eventually it'll snap into place for me.
Cameron over Naomi: yawn.

Usos over Wyatts, 2 out of 3 falls (Tag Team title): Wyatts, Usos, Usos. Perfectly good workrate match with nothing great about it (double superplex was one of those stupid moves that can't possibly happen and takes me out of the action). Didn't use the 2/3 falls stipulation well. Clearly, the Rhodes Brothers are coming up on their next big push, but why against the Usos?

AJ Lee over Paige (Divas title): Paige isn't coming along as quickly as she should. Or AJ is still rusty. I can't quite tell.

Rusev over Swagger: Uggggh don't use the Malaysian Air flight to build heat. Even if you're just obliquely referring to it. Good big-dude match, kind of a lame ending when Rusev takes about half an hour in the Patriot Lock to set up the KO and countout.

Rollins over Ambrose (forfeit): Reaching the end of my rope with "Ambrose assaults Rollins to no appreciable point." If this match had been set up to be for the MITB briefcase, then Triple H protecting Rollins makes sense; as is, it's a Raw plotline setting up a PPV match, not a PPV storyline.

Jericho over Wyatt: Good match, but pointless. Bringing in Jericho just to mark time with Wyatt until Creative figures out what to do with him produces some nice spots, but there could have been more flow to it.

The Miz wins Intercontinental Battle Royal: Nice spots, good use of "heel falls out of ring, plays possum for like an hour, jumps back in." Miz and Ziggler could put on some good matches. Speaking of Creative not knowing what to do with something -- how many crazy deadlift suplexes is Cesaro going to need to do to get more than one comment about how strong he is?

Cena over Reigns and Orton and Kane (World title): Well, at least we had some Orton-Kane plot developments.

So, we all know that Cena-Lesnar is the SummerSlam main event. I can only hope that they do some kind of insane Boondock Saints thing where Triple H comes to rue letting Lesnar loose on the title scene.
posted by Etrigan at 10:21 AM on July 21, 2014


Thanks to Etrigan's persistence we have a WWE FanFare thread!
posted by kimberussell at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2014


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