New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to American soil with their G1 Special In San Francisco this Saturday (7 July). Though headlined by Kenny Omega and Cody's IWGP Heavyweight Title clash, the shows biggest highlights were Jay White's coming out party in a character-making loss to Juice Robinson, and Hiromu Takahashi's reckless Junior Heavyweight Championship defence against Dragon Lee.
Takahashi bested the CMLL star in their 18th singles match. Their's has been one of modern wrestling's great in-ring rivalries, with each bout worked at 100mph, pulsing with a sense of violence that regularly tilts too far over the edge of control. Lee opened this clash with a diving Hurricanrana to the outside, and 16 minutes of mayhem ensued, with both taking all manner of dangerous bumps.
Visceral, risky, and utterly captivating, it was everything their rivalry is known for, but Takahashi's victory came at great cost.
Lee inadvertently dropped 'The Ticking Time Bomb' on his head with a late-match Phoenix Plex. It was a gruesome bump, and though Hiromu finished the bout, he was visibly woozy. Something was off.
Dave Meltzer, who was there, reported a few hours later that Takahashi had been rushed to hospital after collapsing backstage (via Wrestling Observer Radio). It's thought that Hiromu suffered a broken neck.
Such bumps are nothing new for the Los Ingobernables de Japon wildman. Renowned for his dangerous bumping, barely a Takahashi match passes without the Junior Heavyweight Champion getting dropped on his head or neck. He does this to generate drama, cultivate his dangerous aura, and leave the audience gasping, but the risks have never been more apparent. Not even a decade of traditional Japanese neck-strengthening techniques could save him on Saturday.
NJPW1972.com posted an update this morning, claiming that Takahashi is conscious and able to sit and talk, but still going through a "thorough examination." A relief, but his injury status remains up in the air.
The bump has, understandably, provoked widescale debate on NJPW, the company's hard-hitting working style, and the performers themselves. Such issues are always hot-button topics whenever someone gets hurt, and the online discourse has been typically fractured.
The critics are vociferous. A 28-year-old man suffered a brutal injury in their ring, partly as a consequence of their lack of working restrictions (relative to WWE), but while they're right to be upset on Takahashi's behalf, pinning the blame solely on NJPW isn't entirely fair. This is a deeper, more nuanced issue than that, and there's truth on both sides.
First, consider the incident itself.