Professional wrestling as a medium has one main goal among others, which is to allow the audience to feel emotionally invested into what is presented to them. Accomplishing such a feat in any form of art or, in the case of wrestling, in “a medium with artistic potential”, never is an easy task which should never be overlooked.
There are many matches I could talk about in order to highlight how well getting an audience invested can be done. The goal here will be to do so while putting the light on a match which wouldn’t necessarily get it otherwise, for various reasons.
Therefore, let’s look at one of the most unique matches of 2020, at the Plum Hanasaku ~ OZ No Kuni Buntai Final event on August 28th, for the Oz Academy Openweight title match between the leader of Ozaki-Gun, also called Seiki-Gun within the promotion, and Joshi legend Mayumi Ozaki, and Saori Anou, who had joined the faction back in September of 2018. Close to two years after joining, the much younger Anou will get to prove her worth against the veteran leader Ozaki.
I suggest we get into things straight away. Let’s break this match down, discussing it through three key points: Emotional investment, visual symbolics and the idea of catharsis.
First of all, let’s focus on how this match manages to get you invested in the story it tells. On one hand, Mayumi Ozaki is the undisputed, forever main figure of Oz Academy. The promotion, quite literally, is her playground and she, alongside her fellow Ozaki-Gun stablemates, does whatever she wants. On the other hand, the latest addition to Ozaki-Gun in Saori Anou, handpicked by Ozaki to be the next challenger for the Openweight title. She has everything to prove and decided prior to the match itself to show defiance towards her leader, as shown in the video package hyping the match up.
The match shows this very early on, as Anou throws the first shot by slapping Ozaki. Beyond that, the match in its globality is all about showcasing Anou’s defiance, her will to never go down until every ounce of her body refuses to get back up. Fighting back against all odds, taking the Ozaki-Gun style beating, spending most of the match bloodied and still managing to mount a desperate yet filled with hope comeback, and coming rather close to winning on a few occasions.
The stage and structure are set for fans to not only watch this spectacle, but feel its energy and receive all the emotional bagage it carries and tries its best to convey.
Then looking at the visual symbols, let’s focus on the two womens gears. For this match, Saori Anou unveiled a new white attire, while Mayumi Ozaki was wearing her red gear. There is an interesting parallel to make between the color choices and how this match goes. As it is a particular kind of proving ground for Anou, she enters the ring as “pure”, which is reinforced by her wearing white. A purity which, as the match goes on, gets tainted as she takes the beating of her life and blood pours from her head, drooling over her face and gear. The “angelic” Anou walked into the “devilish” Ozaki’s playground, leaving it changed, scarred even in a way, as the match ultimately ends with Ozaki being victorious.
Let’s not forget that, Anou’s white gear here also contrasts with her typical black gear she wears while being part of Ozaki-Gun in Oz Academy. She does not represent the group here, but only herself and her babyface status in this match.
Now let’s look at the cathartic aspect of the match. After witnessing the beating Anou took and beautifully sold, her offense felt so much impactful, and as a fan watching, you are drawn into supporting Anou as she desperately tries to find a way to win. Anou’s showcase of defiance, by the end of this match, resonates with the fan as every strike she lands and every move she executes make you believe she can pull off the impossible. The interferences from Police, Ozaki-Gun’s enforcer, help reinforcing this idea late in the match, as Ozaki ends up truly needing those interferences. She doesn’t need them to gain or reclaim the advantage, but more so she doesn’t lose and gets to keep the Openweight title.
What does this have to do with catharsis? Let me explain. Originally, back in Greece during Antiquity, catharsis was the process of liberating the spectator from its passions, its strongest emotions, as they were watching theatre, more specifically tragedies. What that means is, what the spectator would see would reflect those passions on stage and allow the spectator to relieve themselves from them, and help maintain order within Greek society.
This match, to me, takes an approach which is somewhat similar. It creates a context where strong emotions are involved for the spectator, and what follows allows them to liberate these emotions as the match goes on. Where it gets even more interesting is that, with such a logic, one would expect the result of this match to come off as the ultimate emotional display, with the challenger overcoming the odds and winning.
Yet, Anou ultimately lost, and that result allows the spectator to release another feeling, another emotion, which is frustration. The frustration of seeing someone you cheer for 20+ minutes yet have to see fail to claim victory in the end.
When you think about it, such a hopeful build-up ending up in what may be a frustrating result, depending on who you ask, may be very reflective of many things in our real lives. This is what catharsis ultimately is all about.
This emotionally charged showcase of defiance from Saori Anou turned into a star-making performance. This unique match not only delivered as an emotionally strong spectacle, but it also elevated Anou in a way only such a match could have. She came in, fought the devil in its playground and came out of it being a bigger star than she was prior to this match.
This match possibly was where the modern Ozaki formula shined the brightest (From what I experienced of it, it certainly was), and where the most rewarding aspect did not rely on its result. Instead, it was witnessing the elevation of a talent in this unique, cathartic spectacle we call professional wrestling.
All screenshots illustrating this article come from the GAORA broadcast of this match.