Text by CHRIS JONES, photos by RICKY HAVLIK
VILLA PARK, Illinois – This is a story from wrestling’s newest fan told by a first time viewer. I only heard about wrestling in the late 1990s but never really grasped the concept until one day you I had a long time fan tell me more about the shows and I could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in their voice. The interest of seeing something action packed and exciting just got even greater for me, so I told Ricky Havlik, a long-time wrestling fan and photographer that I wanted in.
That’s how I found myself at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, Illinois, for the New Japan Pro Wrestling Windy City Riot show.
It was time to see what the hype is about. Walking into the venue early with an open mind to whatever I’m about to experience. Getting in early to get a glimpse of the meet and greet told me instantly how great the night was about to be; just by seeing the joy radiating off of fans getting to meet some amazing athletes. Let’s get to our seats — I’m freaking ready.
The atmosphere was set, a centrally located stage, music, hot lights and a haze in the air. One look at the stage and your heart pumps a little harder as you finally get to the point that you don’t want to wait any longer. Let’s get to the action … and my newbie reactions to what I am seeing!
The first wrestlers get announced the music blaring the lights strobe. The dark match begins, right away guys are jumping off the ropes like mad men. I had no expectations to see so much so early. Standing in the back you can hear the slaps, smacks and takedowns showing the pure adrenaline that the show will bring throughout the night. The crowd noise slowly builds as fans find their seats. Cheers and boos alike everyone is instantly engaged. Ding ding — next fight.
The lights drop the area is dark and the fans get a little more rowdy. On the big screen the lineup preview starts and the broad voiced announcer gets everyone locked in to start the show. My first real look at a wrestling match exceeded my expectations, a six-man tag are you serious. Although I don’t know the “teams” there is a clear favorite in the crowd. The good guys versus the villains. Through the ropes onto the floor. Backflips and acrobatics seem to be base level for the daredevils smacking and jumping from ten feet onto one another. The bar has officially been raised. Let’s get it.
Red lights pan across the arena as the next match begins. Most fans have found their seats, the noise has increased and the crowd is officially all in. It doesn’t even matter who wins when the biggest man I’ve ever seen swan dives over the ropes onto other people already out of the ring. Next up is a one on one matchup for a belt. The crowd chants for who is the clear favorite. There is not a great word to describe how the crowd will boo and cheer for the favorite over the bad guy. It’s incredible to hear the crowd boo after a match because the wrong person gets the belt. Nevertheless the crowd cheers and gets jacked up for the next match. The matches roll one into the next. The event is more action packed than I had expected no breaks or down time just constant action.
Here we go again a five-on-five tag team a reboot from an old wrestler as he makes his return. The crowd chants for him but he doesn’t prevail victorious. The other team takes everyone out and wins the match.
First street fight — FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) & Brody King vs. TMDK (JONAH & Shane Haste) & Bad Dude Tito — has to be the most exciting part of the night thus far. And to all the other wrestling newbies, yes the chairs are real. These guys full on smash the metal chairs into each other. The match moved its way throughout the venue well outside the ring. Right in front of me the street fight continued while getting smashed by wet floor signs as well as anything they could grab from concessions. Everyone goes crazy as the match ends back in the ring crashing through a door. What an explosive match.
Next we had a what I was told is a typical style New Japan match and these guys — Minoru Suzuki and Tomohiro Ishii — were relentless. Slapping constant punches and a match that the crowd and I both never wanted to end. Two total brutes going at each other until there was no fight left in the dog. The crowd erupted as they join the ref in the three count.
The main event, simply unbelievable. What more could you ask for? Flips off the ropes, table smashing and best of all blood. These guys — Jon Moxley and Will Ospreay — literally bleed for the sport and if you’ve ever said it’s fake, I can assure you it’s very real. Seeing the battered bodies as they celebrate the crowd eats it up. You are on the edge of your seat the entire show. If you’ve never been to a wrestling match new Japan is a great place to start. Once again from a new fan, here are your Keys to the day. One, get in early to feel the excitement build as the energy in the arena grows with every fan who enters. Two, don’t leave your seat because if you miss a moment you miss a lot. And last of all and most importantly, stay until the final match. Not only will it excite you, pump you up but it will leave you wanting more.
After my first show all I can say is, when is the next one?
- The Factory (Aaron Solow, Nick Comoroto & QT Marshall) defeated Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks & Yuya Uemura
- Alex Coughlin, Chris Dickinson, Fred Rosser, Josh Alexander & Ren Narita defeated Team Filthy (Black Tiger, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson, JR Kratos & Royce Isaacs)
- NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: Tom Lawlor (c) defeated Yuji Nagata
- United Empire (Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb, Kyle Fletcher, Mark Davis & TJP) defeated Bullet Club (Chris Bey, Doc Gallows, El Phantasmo, Hikuleo & Karl Anderson) & Scott Norton
- Chicago Street Fight: FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) & Brody King beat TMDK (JONAH & Shane Haste) & Bad Dude Tito
- U-S-of-Jay Open Challenge: Jay White defeated Shota Umino
- Tomohiro Ishii defeated Minoru Suzuki
- Jon Moxley defeated Will Ospreay
TOP PHOTO: Will Ospreay flies at Jon Moxley. Photo by Ricky Havlik, https://www.instagram.com/havlik_photo/