The Amazing Red vs Will Ospreay – NJPW Super J Cup 2019 Day 1

The Amazing Red vs Will Ospreay

Super J Cup 2019 First Round Match

08/22/2019

Temple Theatre Plaza Grand Ballroom, Tacoma, Washington, United States

(reviewed 10/09/2019) Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’re at least passingly familiar with the Amazing Red. The guy is a legend of independent wrestling in America, one of a handful of people active in that scene in the early 2000s that truly broke new ground. More so than simply paving the way for countless imitators, the work that the likes of Red, Low Ki, AJ Styles, Jody Fleisch, and others were doing back then completely reinvented wrestling such that entire generations of wrestlers and fans alike have never known another way. Sadly, it didn’t lead him to finding the same level of fame and success that many of his contemporaries enjoyed. Being small even by indie standards, Red had fewer opportunities in larger companies even before a series of debilitating injuries took their toll, forcing him into a brief retirement a bit over ten years ago. Even though he was able to make a fairly fruitful comeback, further injury has kept him sidelined for long stretches of time in recent years. Coming into this match, Red had only wrestled 15 times since 2015.

This match, if you weren’t aware, came about due to Red announcing his retirement back in April following what seems to be a neck injury. Will Ospreay, having grown up watching the veteran, couldn’t stand the idea of never having a match with one of his idols and publicly pushed for it.

Eventually Red relented, strongly hinting that this would be his final match ever. The match itself is… unusual. Cruel and unusual, you might say. Ospreay clearly reveres Red but his reverence is undercut by the ways in which he approaches working this match.

For one, Ospreay treats Red like he’s any other wrestler. Like I said before, Red’s a small guy. His entire career has been based around him struggling to overcome larger opponents, especially in his best and most famous matches. The man’s size is an inherent factor in how he wrestles. Here, Ospreay has Red toss him around on early cutter attempts or drops to his knees after a chop from the smaller man or is sent stumbling out of the ring after a slap to the face. It’s not something that makes Red look bad, of course, but it de-emphasizes the diminutive underdog dynamic that made Red great in the first place, focusing instead on things he’s not particularly skilled at. When he no longer has to scratch and claw for every little thing, Red’s eventual jaw-dropping offense carries far less weight. That disparity is highlighted further when Ospreay takes control, as his strength-based maneuvers are far more impressive and explosive than anything the veteran is capable of here and his own highflying isn’t diminished by that fact.

Ospreay does still dig into the sorts of sequences that Red’s famous for but again it feels like the wrong call. Red came to prominence over 15 years ago for stuff like this…

…which obviously became super popular in the wrestling community and unavoidably began to change over time. These sorts of faux-cinematic reversal sequences are not only much more common today than they were in 2002, they’re also far more intricate and convoluted. You’ve seen something like it if you’ve ever seen a Will Ospreay match before. Naturally he wants to try something similar here but it doesn’t work out so well:

Both men look lost and unsure of themselves. They don’t have nearly the same sort of familiarity and trust that allowed Red and Low Ki to make magic all those years ago as well as in their recent matches. Obviously Red’s physical state plays a part too, as this is a fair bit more frantic than anything else he’s doing in this match. We’ve seen Ospreay pull off these sorts of sequences well (“well”) with plenty of other wrestlers, so it’s easy to point the finger at the vet. Still, I’d argue that it’s Ospreay’s desire to live out his childhood fantasies—or worse yet, act as Red’s rehabilitator—instead of playing to what the man can still do that leaves so much of this match feeling awkward, feeling uncharitable toward Red. You’d think if Ospreay cared about the guy so much he’d go out of his way to make him look good.

Watching this match, it’s sort of hard to feel like Ospreay does care, though. For all his talk both before and after the match about how highly he thinks of Red, what he does bell to bell fails to evidence any sort of admiration. Instead it feels like he’s clowning around. Some of that comes from his usual Disney cartoon sidekick gesticulation…

(“Gawrsh, I’m so goldurn excited to do this flip, a-hyuck!”)

…but a lot of it is just the way he chooses to carry himself here. Consider the way he chooses to sell the most basic moves Red throws at him:

That can’t feel like anything other than mockery to me. If Ospreay’s trying to sell big for the guy in a loving tribute to his abilities, he’s coming across more like Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam 2005 than at WrestleMania XXIV. Maybe these moments would work better for me if the match was a little more lighthearted, as is common with retirement matches, but so much of the rest of this thing is as serious as any other match I’ve seen from these two. One man suddenly turning into a cartoon character in the midst of all that can’t do anything but undermine the other’s efforts.

Ospreay playing something of a heel is part of that. Feeding off the sour reaction the crowd gives to some of his cutoffs, Ospreay bats Red around and taunts him lightly. You could argue that it’s all a part of him trying to light the spark in Red’s heart again but I think this goes beyond that, back into straight up mockery:

I spent so much of this match begging Ospreay to make up his mind. Does he want to pay tribute to this legend he loves or belittle the fact that he’s nowhere near the performer he used to be? Maybe he’s trying to gesture at the latter to implement the former by way of his own comeuppance, as one of my favorite wrestlers has done repeatedly of late, but if that’s the case it flies in the face of everything he does before and after the match. The months of begging for a match and weepy post-match exaltation are rendered completely hollow by his behavior in the ring. It’s like he’s gaslighting Red, walking all over him between the ropes before showering him with praise as if nothing was amiss.

Another factor in this being one of the most miserable matches I’ve watched this year is the crowd. On one hand it’s hard to blame them because I think NJPW made a bizarre call in booking this for the Super J Cup on the West Coast and not any of their subsequent shows on the East Coast, where Red spent the vast majority of his career. Additionally the American NJPW fanbase of 2019 is far broader and far less likely to care about who the Amazing Red is than the American NJPW fanbase of even just a few years ago, so I don’t want to make it out like I’m shitting on people for not knowing about someone who hasn’t been all that relevant to wrestling in many, many years. Still, their actions here annoy me greatly.

You can see it in that clip above of Red’s legsweep and failed SSP. People don’t react at all to him deftly taking Ospreay down and contorting up to his feet in the same fluid motion and they only distantly ooh and ahh his missed signature flip. The rest of the match follows that sort of pattern. This crowd recognizes Red’s reputation on some level and recognizes that they’re watching a fairly major match, so they chant for the guy in the usual ways, but it’s only in the vague celebration of any other match you’ll see on the indies today. It has no connection to who Red is or what he’s accomplishing here, so it’s a celebration not for the man doing the moves but for the act of the moves being done, divorced entirely from any human connection. Red might as well be a robot or a hologram to them.

This crowd’s been conditioned to chant “you still got it!” at anyone perceived to be older or washed up in some way (which, I must stress, Red isn’t) and they do that here but there’s nothing behind that sentiment. When a few folks start up a “let’s go Red” chant, the rest of the crowd shouts “Shoes!” at the end to sneak in a little goof about the referee. This truly legendary, truly revolutionary figure in the world of wrestling—who has had a greater impact on the course the sport has taken of late than all but maybe two or three people in NJPW today—is having what may be his final match ever and this crowd can’t help themselves from ironically cheering for the referee instead.

I don’t know how I can view that with anything other than cynicism.

Now, I’m not saying all this to suggest that this match is without value, as in some ways it’s amazing. I watched a number of Red’s recent well-regarded matches in preparation for this and in this match, with Ospreay basing for him, he’s able to pull off stuff that blows anything there out of the water. In particular I love the backflip DDT off the top and satellite DDT, the latter of which is maybe done better here than I’ve seen before. There’s plenty of enjoyable action in this match but the driving force behind it and the way in which everyone reacts to it is simply insulting. It feels like a cruel joke, as if at any moment Red will be dowsed in a bucket of pig’s blood from the ceiling. Ospreay’s post-match promo only makes it all feel worse, as he downplays Red’s torturous injury history (not to mention his own) and guilt-trips the man into sticking around in wrestling but doesn’t let all that emotion stop him from prodding the crowd for cheap pops or calling a fan a virgin to an uproarious reaction. Watching this, I’m bitterly reminded yet again that the only thing anyone in wrestling values is laughing at the expense of others.

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