Here's what I learn from this thrilling New Japan Pro Wrestling match from Day 2 (28 May 2011) of Best of the Super Juniors XVIII: Bring It On!
First, the debate over whether babyfaces are best tormented or allowed to triumph is effectively, if only temporarily, put to rest when both combatants have face-worthy looks. Nineteen out of 20 commenters on this blog (and senders of private emails) favor the former, though factions differ over whether the face and heel should give and take for the first half of the bout or whether the heel should just relentlessly squash the babyface from beginning to end. Naively, I prefer that goodness and beauty triumph over adversity, an angle that decades ago was the norm in wrestling, though rarely seen today. A hardy minority occasionally chimes in to agree, evidence of their good taste, of course, or, I suspect, of the lasting imprint of early exposure to pre-1981 pro wrestling shows. Naturally, I have no objection to the babyface's running a sweaty, grimacing gauntlet of ordeals and interferences so long as, in the end, he abruptly and solidly turns the tables and kicks the heel's sorry ass. As I said, though, the debate quietens a bit when the heel is every bit as hot as the face, satisfying not only both sides of the debate but also both sides of my mind, which frankly prefers to have its cake and eat it too. With TJ Perkins glaring down the saintly Prince Devitt in this match, I am delighted by every turn, regardless of who benefits.
Second, to my continued surprise, I think I might like TJP better as a heel than as a hero. He can play both roles convincingly, with hardly a change in attitude or expression. His somber fight face, which reads as both nobly stoic and grimly cutthroat, works in either direction. (I don't much like the blond patch over his forehead, though--and I hold him partly to blame for Seth Rollins' risible Cruella-de-Ville look last year.) Devitt, on the other hand, is most convincing as the good guy, and in a happy throwback to 1974, a good guy distinguished by his technical knowhow and ability to rise from almost certain defeat to an exuberant--and entirely believable--win.
In the opening acts of this match, Perkins appears to be having his way with Devitt. He shows more determination, grit, and willingness to abandon the moral high ground. Both men are well matched to each other. Perkins, 5'10", 172#, and Devitt, 5'11", 178#, are masters of both scientific catch wrestling and jujitsu-flavored high kicks. I would not want to suggest that Devitt puts up anything less than his best fight, but for much of the contest, Perkins bullies him, outmaneuvering him and ready, even eager, to "go there," cross boundaries of sportsmanlike behavior to gain an easy if not particularly fair victory. Eventually, though, Devitt has enough of this hotshot punk and proceeds to knock the blocks out from under him towards a heroic pinfall that pretty much pantomimes the expression "Spank that bitch!"
This is yet another match that defines what I love about professional wrestling. And once again it's NJPW that restores my enthusiasm (sometimes lagging these days) for the ring, the lights, the sweat, and the crowd.