Ricochet vs Will Ospreay
New Japan Pro Wrestling Best of the Super Juniors 2016,
27th May 2016
New Sunpia Tagichi, Kanuma, Japan
Why it defined 2016
Think back to a world before social media. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, does it? Neither does it seem like such a stretch to imagine wrestling without the omnipresent hashtag in the top left corner of your Raw, Smackdown, NXT and the like, right? You might be surprised. I’ve had my own Facebook account, shockingly, for over 9 years as I write this and Twitter for over 5, Instagram a few years as well. Hell, Tumblr has been and gone for me. I’ve not been a fan of wrestling for that long- only a year and a half- so it’s difficult for me to imagine but I’m sure some or even most of you reading know. I’m not talking about going back to the tape-trading days, but instead the internet before entire matches could be spliced apart into bite-size GIFs and shared across Twitter and Instagram before they were even half-finished.
It may sound like I’m decrying this but I’m not really. It’s extraordinary. It’s brought so much attention to wrestling and wrestlers that many fans would never have heard of before, not just in New Japan but all over the globe. You see validation every time a wrestler or promotion retweets a particularly clever GIF. It’s modern marketing that makes the insane volume of social media statistics which the WWE pride themselves on in investor calls and the like seem incredibly impressive. Of course, turning the attention into cold hard cash is another thing altogether and I’m sure there are investors in those calls who would understandably prefer bigger numbers in the areas that help their bottom line.
In fact you could definitely argue that as far as wrestling is concerned, the 25/8 nature of social media goes too far and gives away too much, to the point that why would a customer pay? It’s all out there for free in easy 30 second chunks to watch. Certainly there’s a fine balance to be struck but when it works, oh boy it works. And to me there’s no bigger example this year of this power in effect than Ricochet vs Will Ospreay from this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Where were you when Kennedy died? Where were you when Lesnar broke the Streak? Where were you when the New Day and the Social Outcasts had a sweet all-heel 6 man tag match on taped Smackdown early this year in which everyone except the ref is cheating their asses off? Where were you when Ricochet and Will Ospreay tore down Korakuen Hall?
I can answer that last one. I was on my phone, like many of you. I followed several of the more popular wrestling GIF makers at the time and one slow Friday during an otherwise interesting internship my Twitter timeline just became…flippy. This was a match that I apparently had to see, not that I wasn’t going to watch it already.
I wasn’t a stranger to either man. Ospreay had the match of the night at the first live show I ever attended, where he faced Kazuchika Okada in an excellent match that helped get him signed- in kayfabe as well!- to New Japan Pro Wrestling. He had followed it up with arguably my favourite match of the year against Marty Scurll at the 2016 edition of Revolution Pro’s High Stakes and more recently achieved rave reviews in several matches over Wrestlemania weekend, as well as a superb debut against KUSHIDA for New Japan at Invasion Attack in April. I had seen less of Ricochet but he impressed for Revolution Pro as well, wrestling twice in one night in Reading in April including the match of the night in the main event where he teamed with regular partner Matt Sydal against the LDRS. Plus his resemblance to popular Boyle Heights-based luchador Prince Puma, who had been incredibly impressive on Lucha Underground, was definitely a strong point in his favour. They had already had excellent matches in singles and tag at Evolve and Revolution Pro and from the GIFs I had seen over work I was expecting something special.
However let this be said: this match is so much more than a collection of GIFS. The match infamously attracted a lot of negative criticism at the time and at the time of writing it is probably more well-remembered for that than the rest of its reception, which was overwhelmingly positive from what I could tell. Particular voices stood out: Jim Cornette and Vader, both genuine living legends of wrestling. Particular complaints were raised above others: ‘it’s just gymnastics, there’s no story, it’s too “fake”.’ Better writers than me have argued for and against this but I’m weighing in anyway, since it’s Christmas and all. This match has a hell of a story beyond the GIFs and the flips- two preternaturally talented high-flyers desperately trying to simultaneously prove who the better flyer is as well as win the match for the all-important points to finish top of the block.
It’s easy to see from the start- following the tests of strength and chain wrestling the story of the entire match can be seen in miniature. Both Ospreay and Ricochet engage in acrobatics, trying to take their opponent down but neither can. Both land on their feet and reverse spots other wrestlers would bump for to make their opponent look great- because their opponent can do the same. It’s not two guys trying to make their opponent look great, it’s two guys trying to make themselves look like the greatest wrestler in the world because they know their opponent can keep up, culminating in the spot where they both handspring off the ropes and end up landing across from one another, as if two superheroes have flown into the area. Check out Goldberg vs Lesnar in our 25 matches series if you want to see why wrestlers as superheroes is a fucking awesome concept.
And even then, the high flying serves a purpose. For both these wrestlers it’s how they fight and it’s effective beyond its flashiness. Ricochet in particular makes great use of it, adding acrobatic snap to more basic moves for believable effect. Instead of simply hitting Ospreay with a, say, DDT, he sets it up with a Rolling Thunder into a jumping DDT- which sounds crazy but makes sense when you see it! Ospreay is stunned- not “waiting around for 20 seconds on the outside for Ricochet to climb up for an Asai Phoenix Splash” stunned but actually momentarily stunned which allows Ricochet the chance to judge his distance and with perfect timing to a huge shot to Ospreay’s head. That’s another thing worth pointing out- the surprising amount of “limb” work in this match- well, as long as you count the head as a limb. The vast majority of all both combatants’ acrobatics is aimed at the head of the other because that’s where their most devastating moves which can get their opponent more reliably down for the three count target. What the chop block and Figure 4 was for the Nature Boy, the Handspring Enzuigiri and Oscutter is for Ospreay. It’s even the case when he’s throwing the Sasuke Special to the outside!
The importance of their battle carries on beyond the match. Ospreay wins and proves himself the superior high flyer and goes on to win the entire Best of the Super Juniors tournament, facing Ryusuke Taguchi in a surprisingly serious encounter in the final. Whilst Taguchi is famous for his comedy, he throughout the tournament demonstrated his impeccable technical wrestling skills in the A Block alongside Ospreay’s acrobatics in the B block and their clash of styles in the final helped serve as a vindication of high-flying wrestling.
I wonder how we’ll look back on the match in the future compared to now. The resulting social media storm is in itself notable, with Revolution Pro Wrestling selling out their Uprising show at the York Hall on the back of a subsequent Will Ospreay vs Vader(!) match- a whole other story in itself- as well as a sit-down debate. For the moment this match stands as living proof that there’s money to be made in 140 characters or less as far as wrestling is concerned. However it’s also been said that this match might end up being this generation’s Tiger Mask vs Dynamite Kid. It’s certainly excellent enough in my books but you all know how it is. Social media travels fast. Who knows the crazy shit we’ll be digging back to remember at the end of next year?