It would be fair to argue that Junior heavyweight wrestling Japan is cresting a particularly nice peak at the moment, with Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado being able to claim they are two of the very best to ever be in the IWGP Junior division, NOAH’s bickering factions driving a hybrid Lucha/King’s Road style that has been one of the driving forces behind the revitalization of the company and big-name juniors competing all over the world at the highest levels. However, there was a time when the depth of Junior wrestling was three continents wide and 16 men deep. Matt Charlton explores the defining moment of that era as championships with lineages from North America, Asia, and Europe were brought together by New Japan Pro Wrestling, Jushin Thunder Liger, and in a period of legendary Junior Heavyweights, they decided to find out who was the best of the best. In these days of the “Forbidden Door,” it was the Juniors of Japan, the J-Crown Tournament, and short-lived title reigns, who truly showed how to make the whole thing swing from its hinges.
Charlton’s approach always makes for fascinating reading. His last effort concentrated on wrestlers from different promotions and the titles they fought for, profiling the big names and the more influential, especially those who have not gotten their due. He follows the same approach here, and the journey is expansive. Given the nature of the titles that were in the tournament, they ranged greatly in style and history. Some emanating from Mexico, some from the UK, sort of, and some from the U.S. It means the stories being told about the wrestlers who fought for those belts and not just the champions at the time of the J-Crown. Mercurial performer Steve Jay is covered, a man who worked through the dark ages of British wrestling, between the end of wrestling on ITV and the start of the big indy boom in the late 2000s, and was revered as a stand out when he got to Michinoku Pro. Danny Boy Collins sits alongside Chris “Lionheart” Jericho, with meticulously plotted biographies that are relevant to today’s wrestling fan. You get a feel for how Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion helped foster this junior heavy environment. How Indie wrestling, a relatively new concept for Japanese audiences, who had seen a two company duopoly sprout up over the previous twenty years, had helped evolve the style of Japanese Junior Wrestling and the never-ending politics of Lucha Libre honing its influence both artistically and historically exerted their pressure on this tournament of eight men with eight titles who fought each other in a winner takes all battle.
The lineage approach also allows Charlton to look outside of Japan in-depth for the first time in his work as the NWA Junior Heavyweight Championship and its tremendous lineage of Dory Funk Jr., Verne Gagne, and the incredible Danny Hodge are given their due. Also reflecting the ever-moving trends in wrestling as the once preeminent title slips sadly into misuse as the Alliance falls from favour and rises again and again. Staying in North America, the NWA Welterweight and UWA World Junior titles are also covered and the history of their holders in CMLL (then EMLL) and long since closed UWA promotions are here too, with perhaps even more storied holders like Lizmark, El Santo, Blue Demon, Negro Casas, and Gory Guerrero given their space. Even the ill-fated but long-standing title that started in New Japan was defended in the UWA and was in fact the WWF Light Heavyweight title that would eventually end up back in its home territory is there, and its wonderfully colourful lineage thanks to UWA working with just about everybody they could.
Having established the lineage of the titles on display that fateful night, August the 2nd, 1996, Charlton sets about retelling the story of the tournament through his excellent illustrations and then on to those who held the J-Crown. The men who defended all eight titles at once. Ever the completist, he then moves on to cover the history of the titles after they had been split up and how they went on to wind their way through the industry.
The book is an excellent read as his previous works have been, and if the title is anything to go by that hints at an annual production we can truly be thankful for. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. Constantly adding new edges on a very simple premise, it presents history as it should be in any form; a story of the people who lived it. In this case, the wrestlers and the fans it affected. Staying largely within kayfabe, but exploring the behind the scenes politics and business decisions as well, it is the book you want if you would like to explore the history of Junior Wrestling’s Golden Age, but also a great grounding in learning about Lucha history, and the vital importance of Japanese indie wrestling, as men like Wally Yamaguchi, Gedo, Jado, and Jushin Thunder Liger would dominate the development of pro wrestling over the next 20 years.
You can order J-Crowned: The J-Crown Edition is available to order here
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