by Erin Dick
Featured Image by Digital Beard Photography
It was only four months ago that Kazuchika Okada appeared via video on an MCW projector in the Melbourne western suburb of Essendon, to announce that he would be venturing down under. When he arrived, he promised he would be bringing friends the next time we saw him. Okada delivered.
New Japan Pro Wrestling kicked off their Fallout Downunder Tour in Adelaide on the 17th, continuing on to Melbourne the next night. The tour had four nights overall, with other shows in Sydney and Perth. Fans, frocked up in their best wrestling shirts, with one too many Bullet Club shirts, made their way to Festival Hall with a skip in their step.
The iconic arts and cultural venue has hosted countless local and international acts over its century-long tenure, from boxing and Roller Derby, to the Beatles. But, tonight was special. The ring in the centre, bordered by rows of chairs and benches, is a welcome sight. In the 60’s and 70’s, Festival Hall hosted World Championship Wrestling’s Dominic De Nucci, Killer Kowalski, and Dream himself, Dusty Rhodes. On this night, history appeared to come full circle.
As bodies filled the seats, light from the emblematic lion washed over the arena. New Japan’s visit to Festival Hall comes with the saddening news of the venue’s imminent closure. Yet, given the turnout for this gig, by no means will the death of “Festy” Hall hinder the rise of pro wrestling in Australia. The magnitude of this night was not lost on fans, old and new, who chanted and cheered until their voices gave in.
To get things started, MCW’s own ring announcer, commentator and broadcaster, Lord Andy Coyne, welcomed punters. Lance Archer defeated returning former MCW Heavyweight Champion Elliot Sexton. The legendary Yuji Nagata triumphed over Chase Owens. The IWGP Heavyweight Tag Champions Sanada and EVIL succeeded against home-town favourite and Bullet Club newbie, Gino Gambino, and Bad Luck Fale. With an even spread of comedy antics, heel tactics and dream-match vibes, the energy of the last of these matches was infectious.
With the crowd revved up, it was time to usher in even more star power. Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA and Toa Henare came together to face the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes. The anticipated fanfare ensued for the three Bullet Club members, and there was a warm magic in the air knowing that a Rhodes played a role in reconnecting Australia to the wider wrestling world once more. With plenty of pops for both sides, some signature novelties from the Young Bucks, and a dash of Being the Elite narrative, plus a Meltzer Driver to cap it off, Bullet Club went over a treat.
The use of international and local talent was commendable. WWE Cruiserweight Classic competitor Damian Slater teamed with fellow TMDK member Marcus Pitt as the Untouchables, defeating Robbie Eagles and Mick Moretti. The boys put on a respectable display, signalling to the future of the local scene. IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion ‘Switchblade’ Jay White defeated a former MCW Champion in Slex, and New Japan’s presence in the western market has never been stronger.
The penultimate, Minoru Suzuki versus Jonah Rock, had big-fight-feel written all over it. Seas of people bowed down to the godly figure Suzuki. The gravity of this match, both in size and spirit, left fans oohing and aahing, as Suzuki strove for his cradle piledriver time and time again. He eventually prevailed, and fans rose to their feet to serenade their hero as he teased, “I’ll be back.”
For those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to be at this show, I’d love to tell you that the main event was underwhelming. I’d love to tell you that the crowd didn’t rumble with eagerness and awe as two global icons (Kenny and Okada) stood toe-to-toe in a Melbourne cultural institution, teasing a fourth encounter. I’d love to tell you that Kenny Omega and the Guerillas of Destiny squaring up against Rocky Romero, Tomohiro Ishii and the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time, wasn’t an other-worldly experience for some very lucky wrestling fans. But I’d be lying.
TV superstars in a battleground so familiar to locals turned Festival Hall into some magical alternative reality. Yet it all felt so right – the noise, the sheer spectacle, fans from all walks of life, collectively nodded toward the turning of a new leaf for the Australian wrestling scene. Aussie wrestling fans, admittedly, have a little bit of catching up to do with their etiquette at times, but the show of gratitude for this event justified our rightful place on the world stage.
Kenny got the pin over Rocky, and after a lovely send-off from the (true) Bullet Club leader, punters left glowing at the prospect of another New Japan visit in the near future.
The symbolism of this night cannot be overstated. The hard work of thousands of Australian wrestlers, the ingenuity and guts of local promotions like Melbourne City Wrestling, and the support of the international wrestling community, sees us at the doorstep of an Australian Wrestling Renaissance.