One of the main reasons I am as into wrestling as I am is booking. The possibility I have as a fan to project on the stories potentially told through this aspect of the medium, and try to understand it.
Over the last four years I have been watching Japanese wrestling, and the six to seven I started, little by little, to care about the whole concept so I could grasp it, I went through different phases.
Today, I would like to discuss my perception of booking, how it has been influenced over time, and try to answer two questions I very recently truly asked myself : Is projecting a set-up for disappointment, and can there be too much projecting ?
I sort of am breaking my own rules with this article, which won’t quite exactly focus on Japanese wrestling, even though I will absolutely discuss a few things related to what we like to call Puroresu here.
Anyway, back to booking. I started actually caring about this aspect of wrestling back in the last few years I was actively following WWE, let’s say from 2014 to 2016. I was lacking a lot of the necessary understanding to at least grasp what mattered regarding who « should » be pushed higher on the card, who « should » hold a championship, who « should » win or lose matches. For the most part, I was in a state of « I like this wrestler, I want him to become champion », and on the contrary « I don’t like this wrestler, I don’t want him to become champion ». You could say that all I cared about was my own satisfaction and, that makes sense. Being the fan, the consumer, this product basically is for me, so of course I want it to please me.
That had started to change over those few years, but things really took another turn once getting into New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2017. As, hopefully, most of you reading this piece know, New Japan’s current booking puts a certain emphasis on long-term storytelling. While being exposed to such a thing in the past as a wrestling fan, it was only as I followed New Japan, and started to grasp what they were doing with their booking, mainly talking about the main event scene here. I gained a better understanding, and appreciation, of the idea of taking time to develop stories so the pay-off can be satisfying. Which in the end, is something most companies use more or less. Let’s not pretend this is specific to New Japan.
I spent two years actively following New Japan, while not really caring much for other wrestling. I had a product I was satisfied with, one big particular story I was very engaged in (Tetsuya Naito’s chase of the Tokyo Dome main event, and winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship there). By the time I started getting into other promotions from Japan, starting with the likes of Pro Wrestling NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling (and then other ones), I hardly could see booking in another light than « things NEED to take time in order to be established ». Which remains quite true today. I could easily call myself « a long-term booking advocate », given how much I like to see stories being stretched out over time.
Now being in 2021, the advocate of long-term booking I am likes to think he can understand the whole concept much better. To the point I have been producing a good bunch of articles, if not most of them, discussing wrestling through this aspect as its focal point. I still learn, and try my best to « accept » the idea of certain wrestlers being pushed much faster than I would like them to, but most importantly trying to have that same idea make sense to me. One thing I got to learn and have to keep on accepting is that whether their name is Gedo, Shuji Ishikawa, NOSAWA Rongai or Rossy Ogawa just to name a few, bookers won’t always proceed the way I « think they should ». Either the outcome of what they build doesn’t feel right to me, or the road to get to said outcome is what doesn’t feel right when such thing is the case.
Along the way of getting accustomed to this idea and thus trying to adapt my thought process, I have to ask myself whether projecting on booking decisions, and stories, can mostly lead me (and you, everyone in fact) to disappointment. I even ask myself if I project too much for my own good, and appreciation of the medium I love and care so much about. These questions started roaming my mind following two particular decisions : The first one being Utami Hayashishita winning the World of Stardom championship from Mayu Iwatani, following her 5 Star Grand Prix tournament win. The second being Kota Ibushi beating both Tetsuya Naito (and then Jay White) at Wrestle Kingdom 15, to win and retain both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental championships.
Notice how these two decisions are drastically different, yet still accomplish a similar goal : One is about pushing a young, talented and marketable wrestler to the top of a company. The other is about crowning a long awaiting star, who saw others pass him by.
The one thing which connects these two decisions in my mind lies upon how I wasn’t anticipating them to happen, or should I say I wasn’t believing in the credibility of these outcomes at the time they happened. They weren’t making sense to me, and to a lesser degree now, they still sort of don’t. Leading to the Mayu vs Utami match, I saw Mayu as an obstacle for Utami to eventually climb over in the future, after losing to her in what was Utami’s second World of Stardom title match ever. My approach was rather « Gedo-esque », in that sense. You can see which company influenced my thought process the most regarding how to book ascending wrestlers.
Moving on to Ibushi’s win, I explained in my last article why it didn’t make sense for him to win, in my eyes. Now that it happened, I see his whole story starting from his G1 29 win, and the instauration of the double gold dash soon after, as rushed. None of it felt organic for me, and I never was invested in Ibushi like I wish I would have been, given all of this seemingly ended up revolving more around him than I thought it would up to now.
Both are as much about the end goal as they are about the road to get there.
My global point here is : By having set up expectations of what would happen, I set myself up for disappointment, and obviously end up being disappointed when what I thought would happen doesn’t. While getting over this disappointment isn’t the hardest thing in the world, as I still am able to ponder what happens and make sense of it (to various degrees), I projected myself only to feel disappointed, because what I thought was the « right story » wasn’t in the head of the booker.
So, it raises the following questions : Why do I do that ? Is it even something I should keep on doing ? After all, it does lead me more towards disappointment rather than feeling rewarded for investing myself in what I thought was the « right story » from my perspective, and understanding of things. Then again, if you asked me why I invest so much time and energy into caring about wrestling, me constantly trying to anticipate what happens next, trying to « read the booker’s mind » is one of the things I like to do the most. Not even knowing if that’s really worth it.
I guess I just care that much about the booking aspect of wrestling, I just have to eventually set myself up to be disappointed on certain, if not most occurrences, for the pay-off of getting it right a few other times. Then, there’s getting it right and « getting it right ». You can either get it right because the unfolding story is the one you wanted and pushed for, seeing a logic in it, and getting it right because you just know the booker’s tendencies and thus are able to anticipate what will happen, and it’s not the « pleasing » outcome to the story unfolding before your eyes.
One is obviously much less satisfying than the other.
In the end, I’m not sure I have a definitive answer to the questions I ask myself here. In a sense, projecting can set you up for disappointment, but you will never truly be able to tell until enough elements unfolds, if not everything does. It depends on your ability to see through a story as it develops. Yet, it can feel very rewarding in another sense to tell yourself « I knew it ! » after following a story unfold for months, if not years.
Maybe I shouldn’t give it so much care, and just « follow along ». I don’t think I can do that though, at least at this stage of my wrestling fandom. Projecting plays a big part in my investment, and I am unsure if things would be the same if I was watching stories unfold more passively. I probably would feel less bummed and disappointed, but would I get the same kick I get from following and caring about wrestlers, and entire promotions ?