Views From The Turnbuckle: Japanese Stars In America
The only Japanese star to achieve big-time success in the US was the Great Muta. Muta's character and move-set lent him very well in WCW in the late-80s/early-90s and he was one of the company's biggest stars. Outside of Muta, no Japanese star has really gotten any higher on the totem pole in WCW or the WWE then light-heavyweight champion.
Probably the main issue in getting Japanese stars over is the language barrier, and that it would be difficult to get someone over if they couldn't speak English very well. The other is that puroresu is vastly different from the American style of wrestling, and adapting to what the fans would like to see would be a challenge. Taka Michinoku was performing incredible wrestling maneuvers in 1998, but fans couldn't care less. They just wanted to see Austin give everyone the finger, stun some chumps and toss back a few. There is nothing like that in Japan, where wrestling is seen as more of an art-form and a legitimate sporting competition.
Could a Japanese star get over today if he was used correctly? I think there is more of a chance then there was in 1998. Wrestling fans overall are more appreciative of actual in-ring ability then they were back during the Attitude Era. If a top Japanese wrestler, such as Hiroshi Tanahashi came to the WWE and was given an excuse to not talk, like he wore a bad-ass mask or something, I think that he could eventually become a main-event guy if they used him correctly.
Because Japanese stars never really go over in America, not a lot of fans consider Japanese wrestling stars to be amongst the greatest ever. Going back to the 100 fan survey, if you asked them to construct a list of the top 50 wrestlers in history, how many Japanese names would pop up? You might see Inoki and Baba one quite a few, and Misawa might crack a couple. Important figures who drew huge crowds for decades such as Riki Choshu and Jumbo Tsuruta would hard pressed to make anybody's list.
Appreciating Japanese stars can be difficult, as the style of wrestling is so different then American wrestling, and many fans would indicate it as being boring and stiff. The fact that almost all the videos are in a foreign language doesn't help either. However, these variables shouldn't prevent some of the most talented, important and influential figures in the history of wrestling from being recognized by the general wrestling public.
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