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No, Virginia, Will Ospreay and Ricochet are not killing wrestling

Ricochet vs. Will Ospready

Apart from the surprise twist at the end of the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, there may not have been a greater controversy in any niche of pop culture last week than the one that erupted from the match between Ricochet and Will Ospreay.

Though, given that the reaction to the short clips/GIFs that went viral was almost universally one of awe and appreciation, it would be perhaps more accurate to say that the controversy stems less from the match itself than it does from a few tweets following in its wake.

Since Vader responded on Twitter to a GIF depicting roughly 20 seconds of Ospreay and Ricochet’s Best of the Super Juniors match, calling it a “gymnastic/dance routine” and saying that “it saddens [him] to see the direction wrestling is heading,” there has been much discussion from different corners about whether the style of wrestling that favors aerial offense is somehow representative of everything wrong with the business today.

But for all of Vader’s knowledge of the function and effectiveness of professional wrestling, any conversation that he has started about Ospreay and Ricochet “killing the business” is about as grounded in reality as the assumption in 2007 that (spoilers for a major plot point from a nine-year-old comic book) Steve Rogers’ “death” would be a permanent one. (More spoilers: he got better.)

Vader is far from the first veteran to take aim at something from today’s landscape that is construed as imperiling the sanctity of professional wrestling.

Jim Cornette, for example, has never been one to shy away from giving his opinion on anything or anyone in the business, having associated everything from too many superkicks to Joey Ryan’s dick with being presumptive nails in the coffin of the profession he once knew and loved. Like Vader, any validity that Cornette may have in his points of view is typically overwhelmed by the cantankerous manner in which he expresses it. And, like Vader’s opinion, it ultimately does not matter what Cornette thinks about the wrestling that you enjoy if you yourself happen to enjoy it.

That may be worth keeping in mind moving forward because while Vader may be the latest cranky veteran of the business to lobby a complaint at the state of professional wrestling today, he will be far from the last.

From The Young Bucks to intergender wrestling to characters on Lucha Underground whose fantastic natures inform the audience that what they are seeing is indeed a fiction, many a cause of death has been named for an industry that still seems to have a pretty substantial amount of life left in it. Whether the likes of Vader are capable of seeing it, Ricochet and Will Ospreay are two of the significant contributors to the strength of that heartbeat, and the style they work to perfect and propagate is integral to that rhythm.

Regardless of how myopic and simplistic it may seem to dismiss their work and the work of others as an indicator of the perceived decline of pro wrestling as an art form, the generational divide of artists looking down on the work of their inheritors with derision is not a new concept, nor is it exclusive to wrestling by any stretch of the imagination.

Perhaps like new forms of music and new methods of filmmaking, Ospreay and Ricochet can take comfort in knowing that the ire they have drawn from the likes of Vader is an indication that they are doing something right.

The easiest way to address Vader’s criticism -- apart from simply ignoring it, perhaps -- would be to consider the source. Vader is a man whose Twitter feed -- before, during, and after the ream of tweets related to his comments about Ospreay/Ricochet -- is littered with images of him bleeding profusely from behind his trademark red mask, GIFs of him mowing down opponents with brutal clotheslines, and videos of him stiffing the ever-loving hell out of Ken Shamrock.

This is a man who wears the qualities that he believes typify professional wrestling on his sleeve, so it can hardly be a surprise that he would see the exchange in question and feel like it undermines what he believes professional wrestling stands for.

It is also pretty easy to dismiss Vader’s critique insofar that he is leveling a judgment against a 20-second GIF and not a 16-minute-plus wrestling match. While that one exchange alone may well support his belief that what he is seeing is closer to two men performing a routine, he belies his point by subsequently criticizing Ospreay and Ricochet for “never [learning] to tell a story.”

One could make the argument that the first few minutes of the match actually tell a very clear story that is imperative to both the match and the performers’ roles in the Best of the Super Junior Tournament -- both men are young and brash, quite alike in a number of ways, and each man knows a great deal of what his opponent is capable of. While each man respects the other’s abilities, he also feels compelled to show his opponent up.

Because of their styles, they are both showmen, and while they are obligated to win a match in the hopes of ultimately winning the tournament in which they are competing, Ospreay and Ricochet have a similar obligation to wow the crowd. What you see in these first few minutes, from Ricochet’s pec-popping to the stereo back handsprings, is the conveyance of that story. They are not trying to win the match, per se, because they understand that it will not be that easy. They are attempting to get one up on the other not with strikes or holds, but by winning the favor of the crowd.

When Ospreay and Ricochet land parallel to one another in similar poses and lock eyes, they have ostensibly battled to a draw in their efforts to show off to the crowd, who roars their approval. If that response, and the chant of "one more match" at the end of the bout, is not an indicator that this story was successfully told, then I’m not quite sure what is.

After both men make their superhero landings, that phase of the story is finished, and we move on to the next: 14 minutes of two men attempting to win a wrestling match with everything in their arsenal, from strikes and submissions to aerial offense. In these 14 minutes, there is an equally exceptional story that is being told, and it is unfortunate that Vader did not choose to weigh those 14 minutes in his critique of the match. If he had, he may have found some other more legitimate points -- the incredibly loud spot-calling, the silly double-countout tease -- to nitpick. 

Ricochet and Ospreay ask the crowd if they would like one more match

But, again, that is Vader's druthers. He has his finite idea of what constitutes telling a story in professional wrestling, and that idea does not allow room for moments like the one seen in the opening of Ospreay/Ricochet. One has to wonder why anyone would think that he would in the first place, or even why his feelings on such things are of relative importance to their enjoyment of the match, but such is the way of things.

If we assume that the primary function of a professional wrestling match is telling a story, then perhaps we should consider Best of the Super Juniors an anthology. Ospreay vs. Ricochet is just one of many matches telling just one of many different stories based around a common theme. Consider, for example, the contrast between this match and the match between KUSHIDA and Kyle O’Reilly. Both matches are excellent despite being different in a considerable number of ways, and both are able to co-exist within the confines of the same tournament because the viewer understands that different wrestlers working together creates disparate stories. Some will be good, others not so much.

Some stories, like the ones told in both the KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O’Reilly match and Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet match, will be great. These matches are great because, in both instances, you are dealing with two creators who understand how to play to both their own storytelling strengths and those of their opponent. Should any of these four men find themselves in the finals of the tournament, you can guarantee that they will work to tell the story that best accommodates both themselves and their opponent. That, after all, is what collaborative creative effort is all about.

You could have different people from different demographics sit down and watch both matches back-to-back, and then you could ask them which they preferred and why. You would get different arguments for both matches being the better performance, all supported by a wide array of evidence. None of these arguments would be wholly incorrect, because after all, wrestling is as subjective as any other art form. It should be noted, however, that New Japan World made only one of the BOSJ matches available for free on YouTube thus far, presumably in the hopes that it would drum up more interest for the streaming service.

In the ring, Will Ospreay and Ricochet are storytellers. Whether they tell the kinds of stories that someone like Vader wants to see is of little or no consequence to this fact. While the primary objective of a professional wrestling match may be to tell a story, the objective of professional wrestling as a business is to get the attention of fans and get them to pay their money for the product. Ospreay and Ricochet have certainly gotten the attention, and if their styles can help get more buys for New Japan World, then there is no denying that they are succeeding in doing everything that a professional wrestler should.