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    Monday, January 22, 2018

    New Japan, Sagot Sa Kahirapan: My Journey To Wrestle Kingdom

    Editor's Note: The following blog post was written by Anton Achacoso, who went to Tokyo over the Christmas and New Year's holidays with his family, and ended up catching Wrestle Kingdom 12 in the process. A couple of hours after the main event ended, he emailed Smark Henry and asked if he could write about his experience. And why would we say no to that? At this point, let's turn you over to our Wrestle Kingdom 12 correspondent, Anton Achacoso.

    This was a conversation my wife and I had while doing some Christmas shopping on December 17:

    Me: What dates are our Japan trip again?
    Wife: December 31 to January 8.
    Me: And we’ll be staying in Tokyo right? The whole trip?
    Wife: Yes, why?
    Me: BINGO!

    "January 4 runs smack into that schedule! Wrestle Kingdom 12! Tokyo Dome!"

    This was an event I had been just hoping to watch even on livestream, right after work.

    Little did I know that my parents-in-law, who have a knack for travelling and sometimes bringing the whole family—the parents-in-law, the children, the children’s spouses, and the grandchildren—have booked us tickets and accommodation to Tokyo for eight nights! Plus, the dates are also fell during my work shutdown, so no work would be compromised either! And then, the 13th month pay had just been released, which meant that the ideal scenario was right in front of me. There’s no way I wouldn't purchase a ticket for Wrestle Kingdom—okay, there was one condition: my wife said I had to go on my own so that she could take care of our 20 month-old daughter. Lucky me!

    The Ticket

    I had to wait a couple of days before the trip became official, meaning all the tickets were bought and all Airbnb rooms reserved, before I could buy my tickets.

    When I finally got the go-signal from my wife, I waited until work shift ended before I searched for the best deal. While it would be great if I could get the cheapest one available, I also wanted to make sure I got good seats even if I had to spend a little more—remember, 13th month! So I set a budget between PhP 5,000-10,000 or 11,000 to 22,000 Yen. I used this as a guide in searching through StubHub, the NJPW website itself, and another independent ticket exchange site. The problem with all of them was that there was no info on how long it would take to deliver the ticket, given that our flight was a few days away.

    There was however one ticket from StubHub that could be purchased electronically which cost around PhP 6,000. It was actually a bit more expensive compared to the prices in the same seat level (1F). but it looked like I didn't have a better choice unless I just purchased it on the site on the day of the event, which might have been even riskier.

    So I followed the instructions, filled out my details and all, and a message prompted me that I would be receiving a series of emails to confirm that the transaction pushed through and that I could already download my ticket. All that happened in less than a day as I received three emails—one confirming the purchase, another informing me that the credit card transaction was successful, and the last one gave the link of the ticket that I downloaded. I got a little suspicious, though, when the said link led me to a QR code instead—no ticket details, nothing but just a QR code.

    Since I was unsure, I tried getting in touch with StubHub online but couldn’t get through to their customer service, so I tried their Twitter account. They actually had a couple of accounts and the first one I tried was the American one. I sent them a DM to clarify if the QR code that I downloaded was the actual ticket, but the customer service agent who answered for them—coincidentally a wrestling fan as he/she told me how lucky I am to be seeing Jericho/Omega!—referred me to the other StubHub account because the event would be held outside the U.S. I then messaged them and confirmed that the QR code was all I had to present to get in. I guess that meant, well, I HAVE MY WRESTLE KINGDOM 12 TICKET!

    The Day Has Come

    Time to fast forward: Christmas Day, flight to Japan, New Year’s Eve, Tokyo Disney Sea… they were all a blur to me. Let's skip ahead to January 4!

    Suidobashi Station was right next to the Tokyo Dome and only five stations away from our Airbnb in Nishi Sugamo, but I told my in-laws that I had to go ahead right after lunch. Yes, the pre-show battle royal was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., but I had no idea how the crowd flow would be and I needed to familiarize myself with the area.

    We were coming from the temple that morning and the whole family went with me to the Tokyo Dome because they also wanted to see the rest of the area since it was an attraction in itself with a theme park, some restaurants, and malls.

    We had late lunch at a food court right at the foot of the Dome and by then, I could already feel the Wrestle Kingdom atmosphere as I saw Bullet Club and Los Ingobernables de Japon shirts and jackets all around me! While I didn’t really rush my lunch—and in fact enjoyed it with my second family around—I also couldn’t wait to finally get up to the Dome.

    When lunch was over, I grabbed my backpack containing my six cans of Asahi beers and said goodbye to the wife, family, and my great in-laws so I could walk towards the Dome. On my way up  were a couple of flights of stairs, which led me to a sea of people lining up and swarming the Tokyo Dome.

    I’ve watched a lot of UAAP basketball games before and have seen the Araneta Coliseum at its capacity. I’ve also been to an NBA and NFL game live, but the crowds there don’t compare to this and it’s not even close!

    Make no mistake, the Tokyo Dome is really huge; as in staring at it made me think the Araneta Coliseum is actually small. But the horde of wrestling fans made the Tokyo Dome appear like it’s being wrapped in a big black tape! There were so many people that it was a struggle finding my way to my exact gate, and I wasn't sure where it even was at that point. Even the merchandise section a few meters outside of the Dome was filled with people with very long lines.

    The email that I got said my seat was at Section 1F, but there was no mention what gate I had to go through; so I had to ask one of the gate ushers for help. I showed him the QR code that I printed (the supposed ticket) and the series of emails that I received. However, he didn’t know what gate I should enter and he looked like he was being presented something for the first time (uh-oh) so he sought help from a fellow (I guess a more senior or higher ranked?) attendant, who also looked strangely at my printed QR code and at the emails from my phone. That right there was already a red flag for me, but I didn’t worry because I was confident about what StubHub told me. Plus, a friend had even told me about an experience he had with purchasing a ticket from StubHub and getting a QR code as a ticket for an NBA game and didn’t have a problem.

    Still, Ticket Attendant #2 led me to the ticket office so that they could verify my QR code. I was hoping that that would be the last stop as it was already 4 p.m. and I had wanted to take a stroll inside the venue before settling down at my seat. So there they were in the ticket office, around three or four of them wearing NJPW jackets with official event IDs, looking at my QR code and my phone to check the emails. They kept asking me the same questions about whether that was all I got and asked for my passport for further verification. This went on for around five to ten minutes, while others went by to either buy their tickets or have their online tickets exchanged to actual tickets—wait, what?

    Finally, this long-haired dude from the ticket office, who was supposedly the main supervisor, told me that they are not that familiar with StubHub in Japan and that my name did not match any of those who purchased online. In other words, he was asking for the original ticket purchaser who sold his ticket online in StubHub. I insisted that what he said didn’t make sense since StubHub themselves verified that there was no need for all of that. Unfortunately, he said he still couldn't accept what I had and that I had to get a new ticket to get in. Urgh!

    I pleaded and told him it was my first time in Japan, that I really didn’t have enough money, and that I had already spent a lot just to get the ticket. I also tried to ask for a compromise if he could give me a discounted rate or if he can upgrade the new ticket that I’m about to purchase to make up for StubHub’s boo-boo, but it was a no for all of them. I then asked if they could at least give me a certificate or some sort of note verifying that they denied me entry, but they couldn't accommodate that either. They just told me to get in touch with StubHub to arrange for a refund. (Update: StubHub did ask me for that certificate of proof and the pictures that I showed them of the ticket I purchased was still not enough. ☹)

    What a bummer, but hey, what choice did I have? There were only three sections of available tickets left and they were selling out—fast. My options were the ones that cost 10,000, 5,000, and 2,000 Yen and... welp. The section worth 2,000 Yen had just sold out! Time to decide, man! Well, I had my credit card so I went with the 10,000 Yen ticket as it was in the same section I originally bought. All in all, I had spent a little over PhP 11,000 for this ticket but this is Wrestle Fucking Kingdom, so let’s go!

    I went to Wrestle Kingdom 12 and all I got was this ticket.

    Here we go!

    I had read that spectators were allowed to bring in outside drinks as long as they’re not more than 500 ml and not frozen. I’m happy that this was something I wasn’t wrong about. After a quick bag inspection, the lady from the customer service poured my Asahi beer on plastic cups and placed them on a cup holder a la take out from McDonald’s. While they were doing this, I peeped into the arena and found out that the New Japan Rumble had just ended (damn), but the main show didn’t really start immediately.

    I had to bump through a lot of other patrons on my way to Section 204-1F. After squeaking my way towards my seat, I noticed that I was seated on the farthest row in my section. Good thing there were several big screens for me to look at because even though I could see the ring from my vantage point, there was also a huge pole blocking one of the corners, so if there was any action going on in that area, I needed to check one of the big screens.

    This was a rather weird crowd with people of different ages all around me. I’m talking about teens, middle-aged folks, senior citizens—all of whom were very well-behaved! In fact, some of those around me were sleeping during the main event while the others watched as if they were in a cinema. Unlike the crowd from the WWE live event held in Manila two years ago where I could feel the electricity even before the show started, this one was rather quiet, although I suppose this is a cultural thing.

    Still, I couldn't help but marvel at the interior of the Tokyo Dome! This is a stadium unlike anything I’ve seen and it was packed! I would find out later on that almost 35,000 people came to watch the show. The only section with empty seats were the topmost sections and the areas right behind the stage.

    A few minutes, selfies, and half a cup of beer later and the opening video was on! Although the crowd was making some noise, it was surprisingly not that loud, or at least not what I was expecting. The buzz just got bigger when they were already showing the primer for the two main events.

    Finally, the lights went off and the Young Bucks’ music and video played!

    The view from my seat

    Here we go!!!

    One important thing that I noticed was the crowd reaction. This crowd was always respectful that it was difficult to identify who were the faces and who were the heels. They didn't go wild for anything nor did they start any chants—could have been the perfect time for a “This is awesome!" chant—and they just generously applauded every well-executed move in every match. In fact, the only time I heard boos was when Jericho was doing his heel tactics, but even he had his share of supporters, this guy included!

    Anyway, here are a few of my observations from the first couple of matches. As a disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who only got interested in NJPW very recently and doesn’t know much about it yet.

    • While I’m not that high on them yet, I now understand the hype behind the Young Bucks! I think they’d have a good match against the Usos if given the chance. One thing I can say is that they are damn entertaining.
    • I wish the second match was a singles one instead of a tag team gauntlet. I just found it odd that they’d start the show with two straight tag team matches, but that’s just a minor peeve of mine.
    • I can see how revived Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr., and Cody (don't call him Rhodes) looked in their respective matches. Cody, in particular, looked great even in defeat against Kota Ibushi.

    Now this is the part of the event when all my Asahis were empty so i needed to take a bathroom break. Oddly though, the men’s room was on the lower level so I had to go down a floor to relieve myself. With the alcohol starting to kick in, I took my chance to see if I could get in the lower boxes of the stadium after getting a snack—so I ended up missing the Hair vs. Hair NEVER Openweight title match between Hirooki Goto and Minoru Suzuki.

    Once I found a section to move to, I asked the usher if I could sit at the unoccupied seats, but she politely said no. So alright I'd just have to go back to my—nah, I still tried another section in that level! I saw that the next section had no usher so in I went to temporarily settle in one of the few empty seats. Although I still wasn't that close, I sure had a better view this time but even then, the crowd was uncomfortably quiet!

    The view from my "new" seat

    I then got to watch the four-way Juniors match until the first part of the Jericho/Omega match in that area (a little more on that later). From here, I felt that the program was slowly getting into high gear:

    • The Ospreay/Scurll/Takahashi/Kushida four-way match was pretty entertaining. I had always thought that Will Ospreay was a mere freak show, or a “spot monkey” as BROKEN #WOKEN Matt Hardy would say, but he impressed and proved that he was more than that in this match.
    • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White was just okay, although Tanahashi was really over with this crowd.

    Finally, the match we’d been waiting for was about to get started! The buzz was starting to get a little louder (but still not that loud)! Still, I was just as pumped as anyone was for this because Y2J is my favorite wrestler. (Context: I’m such a big Jerichoholic that I have all four of his books and his podcasts are what keep me awake at work when I do overtime, of course apart from the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast).

    Not sure if it’s clear from my video but when "Judas" blasted through the sound system, here I was marking out like crazy, even if this was be the third time I’d seen Jericho live. I was singing the chorus loudly... while the crowd was simply observing in silence when I panned my phone cam at them! Well, except the guy on my left, as I heard him scream, “GO JE-RI-KOOOH!” so I knew I wasn’t alone! We exchanged high fives and described to each other how big Jericho fans we are.

    Kenny Omega followed and his entrance was, well, typical Kenny, with the Bucks accompanying him.

    The rest was 5-star history, although I had to miss some parts because a few minutes into the match, the usher from the previous section approached me and told me I had to go back to my original seat. Well, I didn’t want to start any commotion and the seat wasn’t really mine; so I just rushed back to the upper level to where I was supposed to be seated. Of course, I didn't leave without giving one last high five to the fellow Jerichoholic on my left!

    Now a lot of critics labelled this match as Jericho’s best ever so if that’s true then I can’t describe how fortunate I am to have witnessed it. Now if only I have enough savings for me to get into the Chris Jericho's Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea Cruise in October...

    Lastly, while Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega lived up to its hype, for me the best match was still the main event between Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito! The drama, the false finishes, the awesome display of wrestling… all that made my ticket more than worth it!

    All in all, the show lasted for around four and a half hours and ended at 10 p.m. It was an experience that took me through different emotions—yes, including drunkenness. While this was my fifth live wrestling event experience—with livelier crowds at the other events—WK12 at the Tokyo Dome was a different animal not just because I witnessed it in another country, but also because I was watching with the thought that the whole world was watching this at the same time. So I knew that I was watching matches that people were going to keep talking about.

    It doesn't get any less fun, even after having seen Chris Jericho live two times previously.

    This was also my first time watching wrestling alone as I’ve always had my family with me when I watched WWE live in Manila. While I had also enjoyed those, I knew that the WWE wrestlers—err, sports entertainers—were out there at the house shows more to entertain the spectators rather than have compete in matches with something actually on the line.

    Prior to this, my best wrestling experience was the afternoon of WWE Live 2016 when I hung out at the lobby of the hotel where the Superstars will be coming from. One by one they passed by us—Neville, individual members of the New Day, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, recently-crowned Universal Champion Kevin Owens, newly-turned babyface Seth Rollins, and of course Chris Jericho! With the other waiting fans, I took a video of him getting in the elevator but in true heel form, he didn’t mind any of us and just went straight along with no reaction at all. I wasn't surprised because he said in his third book (The Best In The World... At What I Have No Idea) that this is how he really is if he’s a heel.

    As for NJPW, this experience is enough reason for me to follow them more often, even if only through YouTube. While WWE is still my main wrestling fix, from here on, New Japan is now on my “must-follow” list. Never mind that their crowd is not that rowdy, the action in the ring is enough for me to get invested especially at times when I’m really looking for quality wrestling.

    Now, I’m not sure if my in-laws are coming back to Tokyo for the holidays next year, though, but should Daniel Bryan decide to move to NJPW by then, you can bet your booty that I’ll be booking this baby earlier for Wrestle Kingdom 13!

    Hope to see you again next year, Tokyo Dome!

    All photos and videos from Anton Achacoso


    Anton Achacoso has been following wrestling since he was a five-year-old during the Hulk Hogan era. He has seen five live WWE events in Manila—one in 1995 headlined by then recently-turned babyface Shawn Michaels, the RAW and SmackDown live events in 2006, the SmackDown event in 2009 featuring CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy, and the RAW live event at the MOA Arena in 2016. He’s currently working as a Research Manager for a construction media company. He actually joined the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Facebook group for a short time, but left since he was avoiding spoilers (sorry), but he could be making his (grand?) return soon.

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    Item Reviewed: New Japan, Sagot Sa Kahirapan: My Journey To Wrestle Kingdom Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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