NJPW’s Hiromu Takahashi sustained a suspected broken neck while defending his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on Saturday.
The injury occurred during a match with long-term rival Dragon Lee at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.
It is the latest in a series of incidents that have raised questions about the style of wrestling in New Japan. Last year at Sakura Genesis, Katsuyori Shibata was forced into retirement after delivering a stiff headbutt to Kazuchika Okada. Earlier this year, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer compared Will Ospreay to Dynamite Kid, expressing his belief that while Ospreay is extremely talented, his career will be a short one due to the toll his style imposes upon his body.
Takahashi’s injury has prompted online debate yesterday and today, with several fans and wrestlers chiming in to share their opinions. Meltzer, responding to a fan question, claimed that the more restricted style used in WWE is generally safer than NJPW’s characteristic ‘strong style’. However, he did seem to imply that the lines are a little more blurred than that:
As a genera rule yes, but I've been seeing more things like busted up mouths in WWE of late, all the time, so not sure what the guys in WWE are doing is really any lighter https://t.co/cxf2ShUupr
— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) July 9, 2018
Several wrestlers have chimed in as well. Lance Storm took a more hardline view than Meltzer, claiming that style is irrelevant, and that safety depends upon the skill of the individual wrestler:
I've worked several "Strong Style" workers that were safer and lighter, than your average "light" worker. It's about skill and care, not style.
— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) July 9, 2018
Finlay also commented, seemingly siding with Storm. He drew attention to the idea that working ‘stiff’ or ‘strong style’ is different to injuries like a broken neck.
I think I may have been, at times, strong style. Whatever that is. A busted mouth and a broken neck are 2 different things. https://t.co/1C6uoJoAD7
— Fit Finlay (@ringfox1) July 9, 2018
It’s perhaps worth noting that Takahashi’s injury came as a result of a phoenix-plex rather than a heavy strike. Then again, Shibata’s 2017 retirement was enforced as a result of a strike.
Finlay’s words are particularly interesting given that he is currently a producer in WWE. One would maybe therefore have expected him to side with the notion that WWE work a safer style generally. Then again, his decades of experience maybe explain his refusal to blame any one style, and side with Storm’s view that safety is more of an individual quality.
Ultimately, there’s no simple answer to the debate. Wrestlers’ safety is always a thorny issue on both sides of the argument, but conversations like this could be partially responsible in shaping the wrestling industry in future.