NJPW held the G1 Special in San Francisco on Saturday, which was reportedly the largest NJPW show ever held in the United States. Unfortunately, the biggest news out of The Cow Palace was not the “record-breaking” ticket sales, but a terrifying neck injury suffered by IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi.
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The injury occurred when Takahashi’s opponent, Dragon Lee, failed to accurately perform a Phoenix Plex and dropped Takahashi on his neck. Footage of the spot is below, but fair warning – it’s hard to watch.
Somehow, Takahashi managed to finish the match and retain his title. However, he reportedly collapsed backstage and was rushed to the hospital. An update posted on NJPW’s website stated that Takahashi was “undergoing a precision examination” and could “sit and talk with consciousness.”
Following the news of Takahashi’s injury, many wrestlers and fans took to Twitter to wish him well. X-Pac, who has also broken his neck, even boldly proclaimed that Takahashi isn’t “done yet.”
Ive had my neck broken twice in the ring. 2nd time had it surgically repaired. I was able to make a full recovery & return to Wrestling for the most successful run of my career. Takahashi walked out of the ring on his own. He's not done yet. Mark my words.
— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) July 8, 2018
However, despite X-Pac’s confidence, is Takahashi’s injury more proof that NJPW’s style of wrestling is too high risk?
Is NJPW Dangerous?
Many people say “yes.” In the hours after the G1 Special in San Francisco, social media exploded with people calling on NJPW to take more precaution, including wrestlers and journalists.
I wonder if a broken neck is going to wake up the pro wresting "media" to talk about how unsafe and dangerous the @njpwworld style is instead of marking out for the "match quality.". They lose journalistic integrity if they don't. That is an irrefutable fact.
— Glenn Gilbertti (@TheRealDisco) July 8, 2018
As I saw someone say earlier, you would think that one of the two biggest Japanese stars of the past 25 years dying in the ring from too many head drops would teach some people a lesson.
— David Bixenspan (@davidbix) July 8, 2018
However, when people asked wrestling journalist/professional NJPW fanboy Dave Meltzer whether he thought NJPW was more dangerous than WWE, he answered with a resounding “no.”
You say that yet WWE has far more frequent injuries. https://t.co/APCwdKRVvr
— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) July 8, 2018
Even renowned in-ring technician Lance Storm couldn’t get Meltzer to just admit that NJPW is exceptionally dangerous.
Both companies have that,. I was just talking to a New Japan guy who remarked how NXT is so unsafe with all the high risk moves they do. It's a matter of perspective. Murphy vs. Ali was no different than a high-end crazy New Japan match except they didn't get hurt.
— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) July 8, 2018
The only part of Meltzer’s response that matters here are the last five words: “except they didn’t get hurt.”
Furthermore, Takahashi wasn’t even the only person injured at the G1 Special in San Francisco: Jim Ross reportedly broke a rib when he was knocked out of his chair during the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship match between Jay White and Juice Robinson. Ross later clarified on Twitter that the bump – and, presumably, Josh Barnett’s furious reaction – was not planned or part of the storyline.
— AXS TV (@AXSTV) July 8, 2018
For the record, the ‘bump’ I took at ringside at #G1SanFrancisco was not storyline driven matter nor was it discussed.
I think I broke a rib.
Couldn’t put my roller bag in the overhead today after a sleepless Sat night. pic.twitter.com/E9hd2FDsXi
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) July 9, 2018
And for what it’s worth, Ross “liked” Disco Inferno’s above tweet about NJPW being too dangerous.
Is Japanese Culture to Blame?
When it comes down to it, ALL wrestling is dangerous. Every pro wrestler puts their body on the line every time they step into the ring; but, comparatively, the wrestlers in NJPW seem to take far more significant risks than others. Could it be because their schedule is not as grueling as WWE’s and therefore they go harder in the ring (and around it)? Perhaps. But it could also be due to Japan’s highly work-driven culture. Just look at Takahashi’s now-ominous comments following Katsuyori Shibata’s career-ending injury in 2017:
— chris charlton (@reasonjp) July 9, 2018
Japanese people are so overworked that they have a term for “death by overwork”: karoshi. Could NJPW’s wrestlers be overworking themselves in the ring to put on the best, most death-defying match possible?
Again, all wrestling comes with risks. But wrestlers should learn to weigh those risks against their future and ask themselves what matters more: one cool spot or their health.